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Best BBC Documentaries — all the must-see TV shows to watch on iPlayer

A Perfect Planet Giant Tortoise
David Attenborough's series A Perfect Planet is one of the best BBC documentaries on iPlayer. (Image credit: BBC)

Here is our guide to the best BBC documentaries available on BBC iPlayer, including how many episodes there are of each series and how you can watch them wherever you are in the world.  

There is something for everyone on iPlayer, from gripping crime and medical documentaries to nature and travel which provide the ultimate escapism. 

Also, don't miss our best BBC dramas guide as well! 

What are the best BBC documentaries available to watch online on iPlayer right now?

A Perfect Planet 

A Perfect Planet penguin

David Attenborough never fails to amaze with his stunning nature documentaries.  (Image credit: BBC)

Sir David Attenborough hits the jackpot once again with this visually stunning series about our perfect planet — Earth. The TV legend reminds us why his shows have become so iconic over the decades as he reveals how humans are changing the world so rapidly that it is affecting earth's weather, oceans and the living world. 

We meet rescued orphaned elephants in Kenya, join ocean patrols off the coast of Gabon fighting to save endangered sharks, and witness wildlife teams saving animals in the shrinking forests of the Amazon — but can we find a way to use natural energy from wind, sun and waves to replace the CO2 emissions that humans are endangering our world with?

A Perfect Planet isn't the only David Attenborough documentary available on iPlayer, there is also two seasons of Blue Planet and Planet Earth along with Frozen Planet, Africa, Seven Worlds, Life on Earth, Life Story and One Planet. 

Number of seasons: 1

Episodes: 5

Average episode length: 58 minutes 

Who Do You Think You Are? 

Who Do You Think You Are?

Which celebrity's past will you choose to delve in to?  (Image credit: BBC)

Discover family secrets, shocking surprises and heartbreaking revelations as some of the most famous faces in showbiz trace their family trees. Who Do You Think You Are? has become a much-loved show on British TV, having aired on the BBC since 2004. 

From Daniel Radcliffe and Kate Winslet to Jodie Whittaker and Danny Dyer, there are 50 episodes on iPlayer waiting for you to immerse yourself in. But be warned, Who Do You Think You Are? will not only have you hooked, it will also have you researching your own family tree in no time. 

Number of seasons: 17

Episodes: 50

Average episode length: 58 minutes 

Forensics: The Real CSI

Forensics: The Real CSI

Discover what cutting-edge forensic science now plays a part in bringing criminals to justice.  (Image credit: BBC)

This fascinating documentary, which is not for the faint-hearted, sees multiple cameras following serious crime investigations in real time, revealing how the most cutting-edge forensic science can help solve the most disturbing of crimes. 

Episode one of the second series sees a husband ringing 999 telling the operator that he has killed his wife. As he is found covered in blood outside his home and arrested, the crime scene coordinator and her team get to work to find forensic clues that could prove crucial in the investigation. 

Number of seasons: 2

Episodes: 5

Average episode length: 60 minutes 


Hospital NHS nurses and doctors

Find out how the Royal Free Hospital is coping in the midst of a pandemic.  (Image credit: BBC)

Filmed just as the second nationwide lockdown came into force, see how Royal Free Hospital is coping with the fresh influx of Covid-19 patients to its wards. Having managed to remain open to all its patients and continue with planned operations throughout the first wave of the pandemic, will the hospital manage to cope with the pressure placed on its intensive care wards? 

Over in Barnet, the trusts's second largest hospital, we see the number of Covid patients more than double in just one week — and when a Covid outbreak hits three of the hospital's wards, how will the senior team cope with a major staffing problem? 

This documentary reveals what is happening in hospitals behind the headlines, following staff and patients as they fight their way through the most unprecedented times. 

Number of seasons: 6 seasons, currently only season 6 is available on iPlayer

Episodes: 6

Average episode length: 60 minutes 

How to watch great BBC documentaries anywhere in the world

There is a handy way to watch your favourite TV shows from wherever you are in the world, and it is called VPN.

This lets you get around the usual digital barriers by changing your IP address, meaning you can watch your favourite TV shows even if you’re away from home.

But which VPN will suit your needs best?

Our favourite is ExpressVPN, which lets you change your IP address on whichever device you want to watch your new favourite TV show on.

From laptops to a Smart TV, Amazon Fire Stick and games consoles to a mobile phone, you can change the address to make your device think it is in a different location.

ExpressVPN is one of the best out there. Not only because it is straightforward and easy to use, but it also has great security and, best of all, it comes with a 30-day money back guarantee.

This is the number one rated VPN in the world right now and as well as trying it out for free for a month, you can sign up for an annual plan and get 3 months absolutely free.

Michael Palin: Travels of a Lifetime 

Michael Palin

Michael takes a look back at some of the most memorable moments from his travelling adventures. (Image credit: BBC)

Join Michael as he reflects on his many adventures around the globe over his impressive career, looking back over the people he has met and the amazing sights he has seen along the way. 

The first episode of this documentary sees Michael revisiting his first ever, groundbreaking travel show, while the second episode sees Michael embark on his ambitious journey from pole to pole. Michael's most impressive series, Full Circle, is documented in episode three, and episode four will see Michael taking a look back at his journey across the Sahara Desert.    

Michael is also joined by some very famous faces along the way, including Sir David Attenborough, Joanna Lumley and Simon Reeve, each sharing their favourite moments from his famous TV shows. 

Number of seasons: 1

Episodes: 4

Average episode length: 60 minutes 

Katie Price: Harvey and Me 

Katie Price: Harvey and Me

Katie opens up about life with her disabled son, Harvey.  (Image credit: BBC)

Whether you're a fan of Katie Price or not, we challenge you not to be moved by this deeply personal film about Katie and her disabled son, Harvey. The mother and son open up about their personal highs and lows as Harvey turns 18, and while becoming an adult is an exciting milestone for anyone, for Harvey it also brings a daunting uncertainty as the care he received as a child is about to change. 

Harvey, who was born with septic optic dysplasia, a rare disorder that affects brain function, hormones and vision and affects one in 10,000 births, also has a long list of medical and behavioural conditions, making his future unpredictable. 

Watch Katie and her son face the challenge of exploring further education colleges and meeting other families with disabled young adults, while we get to see a very different side to the Katie we have got to know through the tabloids. 

Number of seasons: 1

Episodes: 1

Average episode length: 60 minutes 

Cornwall with Simon Reeve 

Cornwall with Simon Reeve

Join Simon on his travels through glorious Cornwall.  (Image credit: BBC)

We have come to know and love Simon for his travelling adventures, and this time he invites us to join him in glorious Cornwall. Filmed as the country emerged from lockdown last year, Simon investigates what the future holds for one of Britain's most popular tourists destinations. 

Simon will also be exploring the environmental challenges facing Cornwall, and along the way he will encounter some of the coasts most iconic wildlife, including the huge grey seal and even finds himself volunteering to help clean up discarded fishing nets that have become a huge danger to the animals. 

Simon will also look into agriculture in the area, asses flooding problems and take in the breathtaking moorlands along the way.  

Number of seasons: 1

Episodes: 2

Average episode length: 60 minutes