We may earn commission from links on this page. Our editorial is always independent (learn more)

Best TV shows of the year 2020, 40-31: Doctor Who, Tiger King and more

Our countdown of the year's very best small-screen entertainment continues.

Doctor who

There’s more than one reason to be excited that the year’s end is looming – yes, it means 2020 is almost over, but it’s also time for RadioTimes.com to reveal its top 50 TV shows of the year.

Advertisement

Over five days, we’re revealing our top picks as selected by our editorial team. Today (27th December), we continue with 41-30 – featuring sci-fi spectacle, reality TV controversy and some absolutely stunning drama.

Be sure to join us again tomorrow and throughout the week as we disclose our full list, including the show that’s landed this year’s much-coveted no. 1 spot.

40. Call the Midwife

Call the Midwife

Available on Sky Go

Call the Midwife aired its ninth season in 2020, and it was a good one. In this season, long-running storylines deliver payoffs, including the relationship between Val Dyer (Jennifer Kirby) and her imprisoned grandmother Elsie Dyer (Ann Mitchell) – but each episode also gives us powerful standalone stories about the men and women and babies of Poplar (in all their variety).

Call the Midwife always manages to strike the perfect balance between the heart-breaking and the heart-warming, and there’s a reason it’s so perennially popular. – Eleanor Bley Griffiths, Drama Editor

39. Tiger King

Tiger King

Available on Netflix

At the height of the pandemic, the eight -part documentary had us hooked with its bizarre storylines and eccentric cast. It looks at the life of Oklahoma-based tiger handler Joe Exotic who is currently serving a 22-year sentence for 17 federal charges of animal abuse and two counts of attempted murder for hire for plotting to kill his nemesis, Big Cat Rescue CEO Carole Baskin.

Including stories from Joe’s lovers and appearances from Baskin herself, Tiger King was full of surprises, pretty much devouring the competition when it came to true crime docs in 2020. – Grace Henry, Entertainment and Factual Editor

38. Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires everywhere

Available on Amazon Prime Video

Adapted from Celeste Ng’s best-selling novel, mini-series Little Fires Everywhere could easily have strayed into the realm of tacky melodrama as it told its story of two warring mothers from very different socioeconomic backgrounds, whose conflict ultimately takes its toll on both their families.

But anchoring the eight-parter were two terrific turns from Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, both utterly magnetic in the lead roles, with Joshua Jackson, Lexi Underwood, Jade Pettyjohn, Gavin Lewis, Megan Stott and Jordan Elsass providing able support as their loved ones caught in the wake of an explosive feud.

Special recognition has to go too to Tiffany Boone, who plays a younger version of Washington’s character Mia in the fittingly-titled sixth episode ‘The Uncanny’ and captures her older counterpart’s voice and mannerisms so perfectly, it’s almost scary. – Morgan Jeffery, Executive Editor

37. Friday Night Dinner

Friday Night Dinner
Channel 4

Available on All 4 and Sky Go

The always entertaining Friday Night Dinner returned for a sixth series earlier this year and while it delivered just as many laughs as the previous five – with Martin’s frustrated efforts to remove a plastic bag from a tree in episode two a particular highlight – the latest run of episodes should probably also be the show’s last.

Simon Bird, who plays Adam, suggested ahead of series six’s launch that it was “probably the end” of the show and while series writer/creator Robert Popper later played down talk of it being the final series in an interview with RadioTimes.com, there was an unshakeable sense of finality about the last episode in particular, which saw Adam and brother Jonny (Tom Rosenthal) both reveal that they and their “females” were expecting a child. “We’re going to be Dads…” they mused. “Terrible Dads.”

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect, full-circle send-off than that for this wonderful, odd, strangely heartfelt show. – Morgan Jeffery, Executive Editor

36. Schitt’s Creek

Schitt's Creek

Available on Netflix

Canadian sitcom Schitt’s Creek swept the board at the Emmys this year, with father-son creators and stars Eugene and Dan Levy finally getting the recognition they deserve as the show concluded after six seasons.

Centred around former video rental magnate Johnny Rose and his pretentious family, Schitt’s Creek follows the Roses as they lose their fortune (after being defrauded by their business manager) and are forced to start again in the titular town, which Johnny bought as a joke birthday gift in 1991 for his son David’s birthday.

Stuffed full of wisecracks, touching moments and glowing performances from the likes of Catherine O’Hara and Annie Murphy, Schitt’s Creek was an easy-going sitcom which left us wanting more. – Lauren Morris, Writer-Researcher

35. Selling Sunset

Selling Sunset: Mary, Christine and Heather
Netflix

Available on Netflix

Do you keep up with the Kardashians and know your Real Housewives of Cheshire from your Real Housewives of Beverley Hills? Well then Netflix’s Selling Sunset could be one for you!

Set in LA, the reality TV show follows the lives of the team at The Oppenheim Group – a professional real estate brokerage serving buyers and sellers of luxury property in Los Angeles and Orange County. However, Selling Sunset is so much more than about selling million-dollar houses, and believe us, there’s plenty of that going on in the Hollywood hills…

From wedding planning, to Botox and Burger parties, Christine Quinn, Chrishell Stause, Maya Vander, Davina Portratz and more are sure to keep you entertained! – Grace Henry, Entertainment and Factual Editor

34. Doctor Who

Jo Martin and Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who (BBC)

Available on BBC iPlayer and Sky Go

After Jodie Whittaker’s first Doctor Who series put an emphasis on all-new monsters and stories, her second run did an abrupt volte-face, bringing back a host of familiar villains and adding new twists as the Time Lord faced a deeply personal challenge.

If the shock return of the Master (played by a scenery-chewing Sacha Dhawan) in the very first episode and a comeback for the Judoon and the Cybermen weren’t enough, series 12’s fifth episode – which saw a surprise new incarnation of the Doctor, played by Jo Martin, unmasked – blew us all away. We can only imagine how they’re going to top it in the (now-filming) series 13. – Huw Fullerton, Sci-Fi and Fantasy Editor

33. The A Word

The A Word
BBC/Fifty Fathoms/Rachel Joseph

Available on BBC iPlayer

The A Word’s Christopher Eccleston has likened the show’s staggered broadcast pattern – with a gap of almost three years between its second and third series – to Richard Linklater’s 2014 film Boyhood, suggesting that the series could return every few years to check in with its cast of characters, revealing how each of them has grown.

As a fan of this fantastic series, it’s hard not to feel torn by that suggestion – on the one hand, the thought of waiting another three series for more (2023?!) is almost unthinkable, but one of the real strengths of Peter Bowker’s BBC drama has always been how it pushes its characters forward into new and sometimes uncomfortable situations. The latest series was no different as Joe (Max Vento) struggled to cope with his partners’ separation, Alison (Morven Christie) navigated her first relationship since breaking up with Paul (Lee Ingleby), Rebecca (Molly Wright) fell unexpectedly pregnant, and Maurice (Eccleston) and Louise (Pooky Quesnel) both had to come to terms with Ralph (Leon Harrop)’s increasing independence, with Ralph’s wedding to Katie (Sarah Gordy) proving to be the series’ highlight.

If we have to wait a little while for TV that good, then maybe it’s worth it. – Morgan Jeffery, Executive Editor

32. The Salisbury Poisonings

The Salisbury Poisonings - dave minty and Tracy

Available on Sky Go and to buy on Amazon

This fact-based three-part drama from June was far from an easy watch, particularly given its proximity to the events in 2018 which inspired it, but then perhaps that was precisely the point.

Depicting the Novichok poisoning crisis in Salisbury, England, and the subsequent Amesbury poisonings, The Salisbury Poisonings featured terrific, heartbreaking performances from the likes of Anne-Marie Duff (as Tracy Daszkiewicz, who played a leading role in the response to the poisonings), Rafe Spall (playing DS Nick Bailey, an officer who suffers terrible trauma after coming into contact with the nerve agents) and MyAnna Buring (as Dawn Sturgess, who was also exposed but died shortly after being hospitalised).

By looking past the headlines and focusing instead on the ordinary people affected, this drama got the difficult balance right of being impactful and emotive but without feeling exploitative. – Morgan Jeffery, Executive Editor

31. Race Across the World

BBC Two Race Across The World

Available on BBC iPlayer and Sky Go

With international travel limited – for obvious reasons – right now, it may be some time before we get another series of Race Across the World, but thank goodness that a third series, as well as a celebrity edition, are already confirmed as “waiting in the wings“, because the show – which originally launched in 2019 – is one of the very best factual entertainment formats on the BBC’s books right now.

Building on the surprise success of the first run, series two of Race Across the World again followed various couples as they undertook an epic transatlantic journey by any means possible – bar flying – and underwent life-changing experiences along the way. Uncle and nephew team Emon and Jamiul were ultimately crowned the winners after beating their fellow contestants to Ushuaia in Argentina, with their decision to donate half of their £20,000 winnings to help the children they’d encountered sleeping rough in South America the perfect cap to this inspiring series. – Morgan Jeffery, Executive Editor

Advertisement

Find something to watch now with our TV Guide.