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

Best BBC Documentaries: A Perfect Planet Giant Tortoise
Best BBC Documentaries: David Attenborough's series A Perfect Planet is available 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 

Reclaiming Amy

Amy Winehouse arriving at the BRIT Awards in 2007.

Amy Winehouse arriving at the 2007 BRIT Awards. (Image credit: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

Reclaiming Amy is a follow-up to the 2015 documentary, Amy, which was about the life and death of singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse. Although Amy was well-received by critics and even won an Academy Award, Amy Winehouse's father Mitch was critical of the original doc, calling it "preposterous".

Ten years after Amy Winehouse's death in 2011, Reclaiming Amy offers her friends and family the opportunity to present their sides of the story. It's an emotional documentary that presents fresh insights and new stories from Amy's parents. 

Amy's mother, Janis said: "After she died, her dad and I were accused of failing Amy. But the friends and family who knew her best and were with her until the end have a different story to tell. We want to celebrate Amy as the complex, incredible woman that she was."

Reclaiming Amy airs on BBC2 at 9pm on Friday, 23 July, and will be available to stream on BBC iPlayer shortly afterwards.

Episodes: 1

Episode length: 60 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 

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 the best 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 

Roman Kemp: Our Silent Emergency

Roman Kemp: Our Silent Emergency

Roman Kemp leads an investigation into men's mental health. (Image credit: TwoFour )

In this deeply personal one-off documentary, Capital Radio DJ and TV presenter Roman Kemp tackles the growing mental health and suicide crisis among young men. He confronts the loss of his close friend Joe, meets with other young men who've lost friends in the same way and attempts to figure out why so many young men find it difficult to open up about their emotions.

Roman goes back over his memories of his life with his best mate "Producer Joe" and opens up to viewers and his own family about managing his own mental health with medication. Along the way, he also meets with NHS and police workers and mental health support workers about their work from across the UK to see how they're tackling the problem.

It’s not an easy watch, but Roman Kemp: Our Silent Emergency is an eye-opening look that attempts to break the stigma around men's mental health.

Episodes: 1

Episode Length: 58 minutes.

Leigh-Anne: Race, Pop & Power

Leigh-Anne: Race, Pop & Power

Little Mix band member Leigh-Anne Pinnock. (Image credit: BBC/Dragonfly/Richard Ansett)

This one-off documentary follows Little Mix band member Leigh-Anne Pinnock as she confronts her experience being the only black member of the girl group, and of her experience working in the music industry as a black artist.

Following on from former bandmate Jesy Nelson’s documentary about online abuse, Leigh-Anne explores how she’s always felt she’s been made to feel different to the rest of her group. She talks candidly about how supportive the rest of the girls have been and hopes that the documentary will inspire others to be part of the change.

In the programme, Leigh-Anne also met with other black female singers like Alexandra Burke, who revealed she was encouraged to undergo skin lightening treatment at the start of her career.

Episodes: 1

Episode Length: 59 minutes

The Battle for Britney: Fans, Cash and A Conservatorship 

Britney Spears, subject of The Battle for Britney

Britney Spears and her partner Sam Asghari. (Image credit: Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)

The Battle for Britney sees journalist and presenter Mobeen Azhar (Muslims Like Us) tackling the controversial topic of Britney Spears’ conservatorship and the birth of the #FreeBritney movement.

In the documentary, Mobeen journeyed from Britney’s hometown in Kentwood, Louisiana to LA. He visits the Museum of Kentwood (essentially a tribute museum to Britney Spears), meets with members of the #FreeBritney movement as well as members of the paparazzi, the conservatorship team and some of the people closest to the popstar to try and get to the bottom of the issue.

In our interview with Mobeen, he told us he was “fascinated” by the whole conservatorship, and wanted to get to the bottom of the FreeBritney movement’s fan theories. Like the Hulu documentary Framing Britney Spears, The Battle for Britney does its best to explain what is a very controversial and complicated topic.

Episodes: 1

Episode Length: 59 minutes

Secrets of the Museum Season 2

Secrets Of The Museum

Get a look at Slade bassist Jim Lea's scarlet suit in Secrets of the Museum Season 2. (Image credit: BBC)

Secrets of the Museum is back for its second season. The cameras are heading behind the scenes at London's Victoria and Albert Museum (the V&A) once more to get an up-close and personal look at some of the museum's prized items.

The V&A houses an astonishing variety of artifacts in its exhibits, and it's just the usual stuff, either! Expect to learn all about iconic pop memorabilia, classic toys, Chinese art, dolls houses, and stunning pottery collections in the latest series. preserve their exhibits

Along the way, you'll get to hear from experts about the work that goes into preserving the items on display, and see what problems can arise when curators start putting together an exhibit at one of the most famous museums in the world.

Secrets of the Museum Season 2 started airing weekly on BBC2 on Tuesday 20 July, but all six episodes are already available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

Number of seasons: 2 (season 1 is not currently available on iPlayer)

Episodes: 12 

Average episode length: 60 minutes

Bent Coppers: Crossing the Line of Duty 

Bent Coppers: Crossing the Line of Duty screengrab.

Uncover real anti-corruption work in Bent Coppers: Crossing the Line of Duty. (Image credit: BBC)

In this revelatory true crime mini-series, the BBC takes a look back at policing in London. Line of Duty may have exposed fictional police corruption, but this documentary reexamines old cases see what happened in the 1970s when coppers broke bad and crossed the line of duty in real life!

The three-part series uncovers a secret network of corrupt officers that went right to the very top and follows the first-ever anti-corruption unit as they try to put a stop to any dodgy dealing within the police service.

If you miss hearing Ted Hastings uttering the words “bent copper” every Sunday night, this miniseries might just fill the AC-12-shaped hole and keep you hooked as you learn about the very real anticorruption operations that were carried out in the 1970s.

Number of seasons: 1

Episodes: 3

Average episode length: 60 minutes