Best BBC documentaries — all the must-see features to watch on iPlayer

The Edward Munch masterpieces The Scream and Madonna are shown to the press, 26 September 2006 in Oslo, on their eve of their exhibition at The Munch Museum
Best BBC documentaries includes Stolen: Catching the Art Thieves, which reveals how The Scream was stolen. (Image credit: Photo by -/SCANPIX/AFP via Getty Images)

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 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?

Frozen Planet II

A polar bear cub snuggles up to its mother as they stand in the snow in Frozen Planet II.

(Image credit: BBC Florian Ledoux)

The six-part series follows on from the original award-winning 2011 documentary Frozen Planet, also available to watch, and sees veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough explore the challenges faced in each region due to extreme temperatures and the increasingly worrying impact of climate change.

Four years in the making, the series explores many of the snow-bound landscapes that cover a fifth of our planet, from the Arctic and the Antarctic to icy mountains, forests, oceans and even deserts. Cutting-edge technology including drones, HD camera traps and time-lapse cameras have been used to capture footage of a range of spectacular animals that live there.

Number of seasons: 2

Episodes: 13 across the two seasons

Average episode length: 58 minutes 

Stolen: Catching the Art Thieves

The Scream painting

The Scream (Image credit: Christophel Fine Art/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

This three-part series tells the story of some of the world’s most famous art thefts, among them the stealing of Edvard Munch's The Scream. It opens with a thrilling account of how two Turner paintings on loan from London to Frankfurt were swiped. Among those interviewed in the series are the police who chase the thieves, security personnel impacted by the robberies and art directors from the museums desperate to get their precious paintings back.

Number of seasons: 1

Episodes: 3

Average episode length: 59 minutes 

The Edge

Kevin Pietersen celebrates winning the Fourth Test match between Australia and England at Melbourne Cricket Ground in 2010.

Kevin Pietersen celebrates. (Image credit: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Cricket lovers will love the Edge which tells the amazing story of how the England team rose from nowhere to be the top team in the world. 

The stars talk candidly and amusingly about what it took to get them to be a world-beating side. Among those who share their memories are Kevin Pietersen, Sir Alastair Cook, James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Steven Finn.

Number of seasons: 1

Episodes: 1

Episode length: 89 minutes 

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?

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, first screened in 2021, offered 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."

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. 

The most recent series, season 19, featured among others Death in Paradise star Ralf Little, Richard Osman and Matt Lucas.

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: 19

Episodes: Over 40

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


Average episode length: 60 minutes 

How to watch the best BBC documentaries anywhere in the world

There's an easy way to watch BBC documentaries if you're going to be away from home, and it's called a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

A VPN lets you get around the usual frustrating digital barriers by changing your IP address, meaning you can watch your favorite TV shows even if you're going to be away from home. 

Our favorite is ExpressVPN (opens in new tab), which lets you change your IP address on whichever device you want to watch your new favorite show on. ExpressVPN is the No. 1-rated VPN in the world right now according to our colleagues at TechRadar.

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 favorite 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 behavioral 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 

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

Claire Crick
Assistant Managing Editor at What To Watch

Claire is Assistant Managing Editor at What To Watch and has been a journalist for over 15 years, writing about everything from soaps and TV to beauty, entertainment, and even the Royal Family. After starting her career at a soap magazine, she ended up staying for 13 years, and over that time she’s pulled pints in the Rovers Return, sung karaoke in the Emmerdale village hall, taken a stroll around Albert Square, and visited Summer Bay Surf Club in sunny Australia. 

After learning some tricks of the trade at websites Digital Spy, Entertainment Daily, and Woman & Home, Claire landed a role at What’s On TV and writing about all things TV and film, with a particular love for Aussie soaps, Strictly Come Dancing and Bake Off

She’s interviewed everyone from June Brown — AKA Dot Cotton — to Michelle Keegan, swapped cooking tips with baking legend Mary Berry backstage at the NTAs, and danced the night away with soap stars at countless awards bashes. There’s not a lot she doesn’t know about soaps and TV and can be very handy when a soapy question comes up in a pub quiz! 

As well as all things soap-related, Claire also loves running, spa breaks, days out with her kids, and getting lost in a good book.