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

A Perfect Planet Giant Tortoise
A Perfect Planet is just one of the BBC documentaries you can watch. (Image credit: BBC)

If you're looking for a great BBC documentary to watch on iPlayer, you're going to be spoiled for choice, because there's plenty of non-fiction content to enjoy on the BBC's streaming service.

iPlayer has something for everyone, and our list reflects that, with crime, sport, nature and celebrity docs all represented.

If you want something fictional, we've also got a guide for the best BBC dramas, but this list below focuses on the best BBC documentaries.

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

Louis Theroux Interviews

Louis Theroux and Judi Dench laughing sat together on a sofa.

(Image credit: BBC/Mindhouse)

Louis Theroux Interviews sees Louis spend time with some of the most recognizable faces in the country from Oscar-winning actress Dame Judi Dench and platinum-selling rapper Stormzy to global popstar Rita Ora and heavyweight boxer and former two-time world champion Anthony Joshua. The stars let Louis into their homes, giving him exclusive access to poke about their lives, so expect anything and everything to be covered in their conversations.

Louis Theroux's Forbidden America is another of Louis's documentaries also worth watching. The three-part series sees him return to the USA to explore the impact of the internet and social media on some of the most controversial corners of American society.

Number of seasons: 2

Episodes: 12

Average episode length: 44 minutes 


Panorama Alzheimer’s: A Turning Point?

(Image credit: BBC)

Panorama is an investigative documentary series revealing the truth about the stories that matter, bringing viewers everything they need to know about current affairs and more. Each episode focuses on a different topic, with experts offering insights into ongoing investigations and worldwide issues, ranging from the latest Post Office scandal and Britain's crumbling schools to Alzheimer's and Madeleine McCann. Whatever your interests, Panorama has something for everyone. 

Number of seasons: 1

Episodes: 40

Average episode length: 29 - 58 minutes 

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 

The Rescue 

A diver searching between rocks on The Rescue

(Image credit: BBC/Disney)

The Rescue tells the unimaginable story that transfixed the world in 2018 – the daring rescue of 12 boys and their coach from deep inside a flooded cave in northern Thailand. This film shines a light on the high-risk world of cave diving, the astounding courage and compassion of the rescuers who put their lives on the line to rescue the children, and the shared humanity of an international community that united to save everyone trapped.

Number of seasons: 1

Episodes: 1

Average episode length: 101 minutes 

Pep Guardiola: Chasing Perfection 

Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola

(Image credit: Getty Images)

This documentary gives an insight into the Manchester City manager's relentless pursuit of perfection, bringing viewers fascinating interviews with Pep's inner circle, including his right-hand man Txiki Begiristain. The one-off documentary uncovers his journey from a small town in Catalonia to the awe-inspiring Camp Nou and the importance of his pivotal relationship with managerial guru Johan Cruyff. 

Spanish World Cup winner Carles Puyol lifts the lid on Guardiola’s innovative approach to managing Barcelona’s first team while Phil Foden and Kyle Walker bring to life Guardiola’s relentless work ethic. Also, former Oasis singer Noel Gallagher reflects on how Pep took the club from a fourth-place finish to a 100-point title-winning season in the space of the year. 

Number of seasons: 1

Episodes: 1

Average episode length: 62 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."

Number of seasons: 1

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: 20

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: 3

Episodes: 9

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 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. 

A second installment of the documentary called Katie Price: What Harvey Did Next follows Harvey as he starts college. Harvey, who is disabled, is about to move three hours away from home and will have to adjust to life apart from his family. Katie must face what it means to ‘let go’ of her oldest child. How will the Price family cope with the seismic change this next chapter will bring? 

Number of seasons: 2

Episodes: 2

Average episode length: 60 minutes each 

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.

Number of seasons: 1

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

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, 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.

How to use a VPN to watch any stream

  • Download the app at ExpressVPN
  • Choose the location of the streaming service you want to watch (UK, US, etc)
  • Navigate to the streaming service and start watching!

ExpressVPN is one of the simplest and most affordable ways to watch what you want from anywhere you want to watch it.

It's straightforward and easy to use, has great security, is available on loads of streaming devices and, best of all, it comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try it out 100% risk-free.

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.