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Radio Times Top 40 TV Shows of 2015: 10 to 1

The votes have been counted and verified. And our critics' favourite programme of the year is... logo
Published: Wednesday, 30th December 2015 at 6:00 am

10. Mad Men Sky Atlantic
Some of us think Mad Men was the greatest drama series ever, but as only about five of us ever watched it, maybe our view is superfluous. But, oh, it was gorgeous and the final episode of the final series was the perfect farewell salute as tormented ad man Don Draper joined a hippy retreat, only to hit upon one of the biggest campaigns of all time. Anyone who remembers the song I’d Like to Teach the World To Sing will have smiled along with Don in that very last scene. AG


9. Cucumber C4
There are deaths in TV that are incidental: everyday plot devices that allow characters to mourn and move on. And then there is Lance’s death in Cucumber. With a single swing to the head, Channel 4’s series about modern gay life dealt an emotional blow that few dramas, ever, have been able to match. Creator Russell T Davies told the entire story of one man’s life, frame by bittersweet frame, before delivering the crushing finale. “I hope it doesn’t just feel like someone’s dead, it actually feels like dying,” he said. Heart-stopping television. JG

8. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell BBC1
This rich, dark, velvet fantasy was a brave proposition for seven weeks of Sunday primetime. The trailers suggested Hogwartsian whimsy; the reality was something fearlessly other. Peter Harness made an impressive fist of adapting Susanna Clarke’s novel, an alternate history in which a secret English elite uses magic to counter a Napoleonic invasion. Occasionally confusing, it was gorgeously designed, with bravura moments in which statues spoke and sandy beaches erupted into equine life. If Eddie Marsan’s Norrell was essentially unknowable, Marc Warren ate up the gothic scenery as the sinister “Gentleman” and Bertie Carvel gave the show its heart, as well as its moving finale. MB

7. Doctor Who BBC1
This autumn, the Tardis landed in its latest ever timeslot, which seemed suited to a darker tone of storytelling but was quickly denounced as the reason for a ratings plunge of around one million. No decline in quality was visible on screen. If anything, there was an upswing, with provocative themes, bold experiments, intelligent writing and performances. Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi remoulded the 12th Doctor into a “raddled old rocker”, more loveable than last year and painfully aware that his glory days with Clara were ending. Jenna Coleman shone but her job was done, while Capaldi proved in his solo jaunt Heaven Sent (an instant classic) that he’s a one-man constellation. PM

6. The Great British Bake Off BBC1
It just goes on getting bigger and bigger, to the point where the Bake Off is no longer just a television reality show, it’s a cultural force, a phenomenon that goes way beyond cakes and bread. This year’s winner, the modest, funny supremely talented Nadiya Hussain, was hailed across the country as she stepped forward to receive her trophy. AG

5. London Spy BBC2
Writer Tom Rob Smith (Child 44) came up with the most beautiful, sinuous drama that was ostensibly about spying but which, at its heart, was a love story. The magnificent Ben Whishaw was rootless, feckless Danny, who lived an unhappy nocturnal half-life in London’s dingy gay clubs, until an accidental encounter with the strange, attractive Alex led to a collision of worlds. Danger lurked for them both and after Alex was found dead in suspicious circumstances, Danny fought the forces of darkness to find the truth. AG

4. Poldark BBC1
Poldark was much more than “that drama where the fit bloke takes his top off to do some sweaty scything”. It was a thunderingly good romantic adventure, with Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson as Ross and Demelza Poldark, author Winston Graham’s tempestuous, ill-fitting, yet perfect-for-each-other couple. There were gorgeous Cornwall locations where the sun never seemed to stop shining and lots of cliff-top galloping. There was even a cameo role for Robin Ellis, Ross in the BBC’s beloved 1975 version. AG

3. Catastrophe C4
Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney gave birth to two series of this deliciously rude and crude sitcom. They played an Irish primary school teacher and a US ad man, called Sharon and – yep, you guessed it – Rob, who decided to give coupledom a go when their fling ends in an unplanned pregnancy. A motley crew of hilariously hideous friends supported them, including Carrie Fisher as the mother-in-law from hell, a silkily obnoxious Ashley Jensen, and Line of Duty's Mark Bonnar, who deserves a spin-off for his deadpan ripostes. But what really marked Horgan and Delaney’s baby out is its bravery: Catastrophe gleefully made comedy out of delicate issues, like Sharon's decision to take a screening test for Down's syndrome, without making light of them. CW

2. Doctor Foster BBC1
She didn’t go to Gloucester and she wasn’t caught in a shower of rain. But Dr Gemma Foster was washed by a tidal wave of fury and suspicion when she learned of her husband’s affair with a much younger woman in Mike Bartlett’s drama. A career-best Suranne Jones was unstoppably brilliant: THAT incendiary dinner party scene where she spilled the beans (“I’m a wolf tonight!”) was one of 2015’s great moments. AG

1. Wolf Hall BBC2
Mark Rylance was mesmerising as Thomas Cromwell, the watcher, the waiter, the thinker, the man in the shadows at the court of Henry VIII in Peter Kosminsky’s masterly version of Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novel. He was a ruthless pragmatist and a fixer, Henry’s right hand man and confidante. Rylance, who barely raised his voice above an actorly whisper, won our attention just by standing still. How did he do that? I still can’t work it out. True, the authentically candle-lit scenes sometimes left viewers wishing for Tudor strip-lighting, but my goodness it was wonderfully atmospheric. AG

Voted for and written by critics from Radio Times magazine and Alison Graham (AG), David Butcher (DBu), Tim Glanfield, Paul Jones, Jack Seale (JS), Mark Braxton (MB), Patrick Mulkern (PM), Gill Crawford (GC), James Gill (JG), Claire Webb (CW), Ben Dowell (BD), David Crawford (DC), Susanna Lazarus, Ellie Walker-Arnott (EWA), David Brown, Jonathan Holmes (JH), Hannah Shaddock (HS), Ellie Austin, Huw Fullerton (HF), Gary Rose (GR), Kasia Delgado (KD) and Sarah Doran (SD). Compiled by Jack Seale.

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