The BEST episodes of BBC Documentaries
Every episode of BBC Documentaries ever, ranked from best to worst by thousands of votes from fans of the show. The best episodes of BBC Documentaries!
Documentaries produced by or for the BBC.
#1 - The Undiscovered Peter Cook
Season 2016 - Episode 343 - Aired 11/16/2016
Following the death of Britain's greatest satirist in 1995, Peter Cook's widow Lin locked the door of his house and refused all access to the media. Until this year, when she invited her friend Victor Lewis-Smith and a BBC crew inside to make a documentary about the man she knew and loved, with unprecedented access to Peter's private recordings, diaries, letters, photographs and much more.
#2 - Bacchus Uncovered: Ancient God of Ecstasy
Season 2018 - Episode 72 - Aired 4/11/2018
Professor Bettany Hughes investigates the story of Bacchus, god of wine, revelry, theatre and excess, travelling to Georgia, Jordan, Greece and Britain to discover his origins and his presence in the modern world, and explore how 'losing oneself' plays a vital role in the development of civilisation. In this fascinating journey, Bettany begins in Georgia where she discovers evidence of the world's oldest wine production, and the role it may have played in building communities. In Athens she reveals Bacchus's pivotal role in a society where his ecstatic worship was embraced by all classes, and most importantly women. On Cyprus she uncovers startling parallels between Bacchus and Christ. Finally, Bettany follows the god's modern embrace in Nietzsche's philosophy, experimental theatre and the hedonistic hippie movement to conclude that, while this god of ecstasy is worthy of contemporary reconsideration, it is vital to heed the warning of the ancients - "MEDEN AGAN" - nothing in excess.
#3 - Sir Bruce: A Celebration
Season 2018 - Episode 48 - Aired 3/11/2018
A very special event honouring one of this country's biggest and best-loved entertainers, Sir Bruce Forsyth. Join host Tess Daly, Sir Bruce's Strictly Come Dancing co-star of more than a decade, at the London Palladium, the theatre which helped propel him to stardom, for this tribute to the renowned broadcaster. The evening features some of Sir Bruce's favourite songs performed by a wealth of artists, including Dame Shirley Bassey, Alexandra Burke and Michael Ball and Alfie Boe, as well as dance performances from the Strictly professionals and Adam Garcia.
#4 - Generation War: Fact And Fiction
Season 2014 - Episode 321 - Aired 5/10/2014
Following the final episode of the award-winning German drama Generation War, Martha Kearney is joined by a panel including the programme makers, leading historians and cultural commentators, to examine the historical facts behind the series, the controversy it has caused and why now Germany is confronting the difficult issues of its past.
#5 - The 21st Century Race for Space
Season 2017 - Episode 229 - Aired 9/5/2017
A new age of space exploration, and exploitation, is dawning. But surprisingly, some of the boldest efforts at putting humans into space are now those of private companies started by a handful of maverick billionaire businessmen. In this film, Brian Cox gains exclusive access behind the scenes at Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and Spaceport America, exploring what is really happening in privately financed space flight right now. From space tourism to asteroid mining, and even dreams of colonies on Mars, these new masters of the universe refuse to limit their imaginations. But are private companies led by Jeff Bezos, Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk really going to be able to pull this off? How will they overcome the technical challenges to achieve it? And is it really a good idea, or just a fool's errand? Cox meets key players in the story - Bezos, founder of Blue Origin as well as Amazon, and Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic. He wants to find out how entrepreneurs - and engineers - really plan to overcome the daunting challenges of human space travel. It certainly hasn't been easy so far. Jeff Bezos has sold a further billion dollars of Amazon stock this year to fund Blue Origin. Branson has been working on Galactic for more than a decade. Lives have been lost. And some companies have already all but given up. But real progress has been made too. The origins of the new space boom, the X-prize in 2004, proved that reusable space craft could be built by private enterprise. Now the challenge is to work out how to run reliable, safe, affordable services that will show a return on the massive financial investments. Sixteen years since Dennis Tito became the first civilian in space, Cox explores the hardware and companies that are aiming to make daily tourist flights to space. Beyond mass space travel, and even space mining and manufacturing, the dream of Elon Musk and others is true space exploration. His company, SpaceX, already delivers supplie
#7 - Jake Thackray: on the Box
Season 2006 - Episode 63 - Aired 10/6/2006
Examining the career of Leeds troubadour Jake Thackray, which saw him perform his unique style of satirical but hauntingly romantic music and poetry on television and radio, and live on stage, making appearances on The Frost Report, That's Life! and The Braden Beat.
#8 - We Have Ways of Making You Talk
Season 2005 - Episode 59 - Aired 4/5/2005
We Have Ways of Making You Talk is a documentary examining interrogation techniques and they’re consequences. Does water boarding work? What is the history behind that technique? These and other questions will be answered in this intriguing and sometimes disturbing documentary. Filmed in France, Israel, USA, Algeria, Argentina, Uruguay, South Africa and the UK, this BBC documentary explores the history of modern interrogation techniques and the rise of modern torture using revealing interviews with state interrogators and state torturers. The legacy of this history continues to shapes our present, especially in the United States, and some of these techniques have now become routine in the war on terror – be it the use of dogs, water-boarding, or sexual humiliation. This long, unbroken line of inhuman cruelty connects Nazi Germany to Abu Ghraib, and is an essential issue in today’s political landscape.
#9 - Who Should We Let In? Ian Hislop on the First Great Immigration Row
Season 2017 - Episode 159 - Aired 6/22/2017
Ian Hislop looks at the decades from the Victorian era to the First World War, when modern Britain introduced its first peacetime restrictions on immigration.
#10 - Warren Gatland: Lion King?
Season 2017 - Episode 154 - Aired 6/19/2017
Warren Gatland has won nearly everything there is to win in his sport. But one thing has eluded him - he has never masterminded a victory over New Zealand, the country where he was born. Now in charge of theBritish and Irish Lions for the second time, he is set to take on one of his biggest challenges. A decade after he became the head coach of Wales, we find out what makes Gatland tick and how he has achieved such stunning success in his career.
#11 - Mary Magdalene: Art's Scarlet Woman
Season 2017 - Episode 81 - Aired 4/6/2017
Waldemar Januszczak explores the impact of Mary Magdalene's myth on art and artists. All saints in art are inventions, but no saint in art has been invented quite as furiously as Mary Magdalene. For a thousand years, artists have been throwing themselves at the task of describing her and telling her story, from Caravaggio to Cezanne, Rubens to Rembrandt, Titian to van Gogh. Her identity has evolved from being the close follower of Jesus who was the first witness to his resurrection, to one of a prostitute and sinner who escaped from persecution in the Holy Land by fleeing across the Mediterranean to wind up living in a cave as a hermit in the south of France, enjoying ecstatic experiences with Christ.
#12 - Andrew Marr: My Brain and Me
Season 2017 - Episode 21 - Aired 2/14/2017
In a very intimate story, broadcaster and political journalist Andrew Marr is on a mission to understand the mysteries of the human brain and to achieve further recovery after suffering a life-threatening stroke four years ago. Andrew quickly regained his ability to speak and was able to resume work after his stroke, but he is still frustrated by lack of movement in his left arm, hand and leg. Andrew meets some of Britain's million stroke survivors and travels the world in search of a miracle cure.
#13 - Flying Scotsman from the Footplate
Season 2016 - Episode 394 - Aired 12/29/2016
Enjoy the view from the driving seat of the world's most famous steam locomotive as Flying Scotsman travels the length of the Severn Valley Railway, with 'cab cameras' capturing all the action from the footplate. Veteran driver Roger Norfolk and fireman Ryan Green guide this national treasure through the beautiful countryside of the English midlands, from Bridgnorth to Kidderminster. Roger and Ryan explain the skills involved in taking control of the Scotsman, while hundreds of enthusiasts watch and wave from platforms, bridges and surrounding fields.
#14 - Do I drink too much?
Season 2016 - Episode 373 - Aired 12/15/2016
Join Jamie Owen as he explores Wales's long and stormy relationship with the demon drink. With help from a range of alcohol experts, Jamie looks at his own drinking habits and finds out exactly what all that booze is doing to our bodies. Along the way he learns about a little-known but devastating condition caused by alcohol and experiences how cutting-edge science can help us to rewire our brains to control our desire to drink.
#15 - Can Science Make Me Perfect? with Alice Roberts
Season 2018 - Episode 124 - Aired 6/13/2018
Is the human body perfect? Professor Alice Roberts doesn’t think so. Alice has been challenged by the Science Museum to embark on a bold scientific stunt: to find solutions for our anatomical flaws and design a human body that’s perfect for life in the 21st century. Millions of years of evolution have helped to make humans one of the most successful species on the planet. We have some incredible adaptations, but we’ve also inherited plenty of physical flaws. That’s why we have ears that go deaf, knees that ache, and skin that’s easily damaged. Through natural selection animals have evolved incredible biological designs, from super-sharp senses to super-powered limbs. By meeting leading medical and animal experts, Alice learns what the human body’s biggest problems are and discovers how amazing anatomical adaptations found in the animal kingdom could provide inspiration for designing a perfect human body. With the help of a virtual anatomical artist and an expert prosthetics sculptor, Alice redesigns her own body into a hyper-realistic new form - but is banished from the studio as the life-size model is made. Then, in a big reveal in front of 150 people at the Science Museum, Alice comes face to face with her ‘perfect’ self for the first time – has she really designed a body better than evolution could? Ambitious, audacious and packed with cutting-edge science, Can Science Make Me Perfect? With Alice Roberts challenges everything you thought you knew about the perfect body.
#16 - Scotland and the Klan
Season 2016 - Episode 312 - Aired 10/4/2016
Scotland has exported many great things to the rest of the world, and people like Neil Oliver have often celebrated the disproportionate impact of its ideas and energy on places like America. The role of Scots in shaping the concept of the American Dream is a story often told, but could Scottish settlers have also had a hand in America's racist nightmare? Neil Oliver travels over 2,000 miles to examine links between racism today in the Deep South and the Scottish settlers that first occupied it. Throughout the 18th century, hundreds of thousands of Scots emigrated to America, and some believe that it was their wariness and moral certainty that significantly shaped the south into an isolated, fearful society that easily took to slave-owning when the opportunity came. Walter Scott, the creator of a romantic vision of the 'Old Country' is blamed for reinforcing their fantasy world of Georgian gentility. When that world was threatened, the southern states opted for civil war rather than give it up. After the devastating war, attitudes in the south were hardened by defeat and fear of the now-freed slaves. When six Scottish-American former Confederate officers formed a fraternal society, clan turned to Klan. The oldest and most feared racist hate group in America - the Ku Klux Klan - was born. Now, well over 800 hate groups stalk the United States, and Neil finishes his journey by visiting the Neo-Confederate League of the South. The League advocates a return to a separate southern society run by what they call 'Anglo Celts', and Neil discovers that here Scottish-ness still abides and that attitudes don't seem to have changed much in the last 200-300 years.
#17 - The Story of Skinhead with Don Letts
Season 2016 - Episode 298 - Aired 10/14/2016
Documentary in which director and DJ Don Letts looks at a very particular and very provocative British subculture - skinhead. He explores how skinhead has become associated with street fighting, trouble on the football terraces and violent racism in the public consciousness in Britain and around the world, but reveals that its origins lie in a cultural coming together that could not be further from its tarnished image. Don shows in fascinating detail how the roots of skinhead are in a brilliant cultural collision between the young white working-class kids and their Jamaican counterparts in British inner cities, a moment of multicultural harmony. He traces the history of skinhead from the late 60s to the present, looking at the music and styles of skinhead from the reggae-influenced ska to the punk-influenced Oi. Throughout Don meets people who were committed members of various skinhead scenes, and he considers the conflicts and the contradictions that skinhead has attracted over five decades.
#18 - The Marvellous World of Roald Dahl
Season 2016 - Episode 201 - Aired 7/23/2016
Fighter pilot, inventor, spy - the life of Roald Dahl is often stranger than fiction. From crashing his plane over Africa to hobnobbing in Hollywood and his remarkable encounters with everyone from Walt Disney to President Roosevelt - this is the story of his greatest adventures and how his real-life escapades find expression in his most famous books, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Matilda. Through a vast collection of his letters, writings and archive, the story is told largely in his own words with contributions from his last wife Liccy, daughter Lucy and biographer Donald Sturrock. Long-term collaborator and illustrator Quentin Blake also creates exclusive new drawings for the film which are specially animated to bring Dahl's marvellous world to life.
#19 - Bodyhack: Metal Gear Man
Season 2016 - Episode 140 - Aired 5/18/2016
This powerful two part short-form documentary follows 25 year-old James Young as he tries to regain control of his body after a terrible accident - by becoming part Cyborg. Part 1 [14:28] Following his accident, the first short film sees James, an avid gamer, respond to an advert by gaming company Konami, who are looking for an amputee who is interested in wearing a futuristic prosthetic limb. Part 2 [16:28] After months of waiting, James receives his new arm and interest in the project with the media starts to grow; he is invited to be a key speaker in the first ever ‘Bodyhacking’ conference in Austin Texas.
#20 - Attenborough at 90
Season 2016 - Episode 128 - Aired 5/8/2016
In celebration of his ninetieth birthday, Sir David Attenborough shares extraordinary highlights of his life and career with broadcaster Kirsty Young, including the inspiring people he has met, the extraordinary journeys he has made and the remarkable animal encounters he has had across the globe. Joined by colleagues and friends, including Michael Palin and Chris Packham, Sir David shares some of the unforgettable moments from his unparalleled career, from capturing unique animal behaviour for the first time to the fast-paced advances in wildlife filming technology, as well as stories of the wonder and fragility of the natural world - stories that Sir David has spent his life exploring and championing.Watch Now:Amazon
#21 - Stacey Dooley in Greece: Migrant Kids in Crisis
Season 2016 - Episode 112 - Aired 4/19/2016
Stacey Dooley travels to Greece to follow children on the migrant trail, as they flee wars and seek new lives in Western Europe. From small toddlers travelling with families to unaccompanied teenagers journeying thousands of miles alone, Stacey witnesses their experiences first hand. During her trip, Greece closes its borders to migrants and Stacey sees the striking impact of this on the young and vulnerable.
#22 - Britain's Biggest Superyachts: Chasing Perfection
Season 2016 - Episode 106 - Aired 4/15/2016
Welcome to Sunseeker, Britain's biggest superyacht builder who has been hand-building customised boats for the world's super rich for the past 50 years. For the first time ever, they have allowed the BBC behind the scenes of their extraordinary production line in Poole and into the rarefied world of the multi-millionaire's favourite plaything. The company built their reputation on making small to mid-size yachts, but the recession saw this market flounder as even the super-rich tightened their belts, seeing Sunseeker sink into the red. So in a high stakes move, they're sinking millions into building a larger opulent superyacht to reel in the uber-rich who still have cash to splash on life's ultimate luxuries to help sail them back into profit. The film follows the build of a new £20m, forty-metre superyacht and their most challenging specification to date when a customer takes full advantage of their made to measure service and asks for more extras than any other yacht in the history of the company. When it falls behind schedule we discover it's not all plain sailing when you're in the business of engineering luxury for the super-rich. Whilst the Poole shipyard works hard to meet the customer's exacting standards, the London sales team are working just as hard to fill the order book during the all-important Boat Show season where they hope to sell over £40m worth of boats in just thirty days. Every boat is built in Poole but is found basking in the international playgrounds of the rich and famous and, filming across the summer season, we also hop on board the charter side of the business to meet the people paying £60,000 for just a week's holiday.
#23 - Chasing Dad: A Lifelong Addiction
Season 2016 - Episode 102 - Aired 4/10/2016
This original and compelling documentary depicts one father’s long-term struggle with heroin addiction, told through the uniquely intimate perspective of his own son. After years of acrimony and estrangement, young film-maker Phillip Wood seeks out his father to try and understand what’s happened to him. But his father is now seriously ill and over the next few months Phillip’s visits force both to confront some uncomfortable truths about their past. Developed from Philip’s graduation film – Chasing Dad offers a strikingly stark exploration into a subject that significantly affected his childhood. This intimate, revealing documentary will show addiction from a different side and challenge our assumptions about how families can rebuild their broken relationships.
#24 - Tim Rhys-Evans: All in the Mind
Season 2016 - Episode 87 - Aired 3/27/2016
Tim Rhys-Evans shares his personal experience of mental illness in this one-off documentary. A few years ago Tim's career was on a high - his choir Only Men Aloud won Last Choir Standing, they signed a major record deal and Tim was awarded an MBE by the Queen. But internally he was struggling to survive - he had a serious mental health crisis and had to rebuild his life. In this moving and heartfelt film, Tim reveals what happened to him with the aim of helping others going through similar experiences.
#25 - Scruffts: Britain's Favourite Dog
Season 2016 - Episode 80 - Aired 3/16/2016
This warm, witty and entertaining documentary meets the pet dogs with the character and class to compete in the final of Scruffts, Crufts' competition for crossbreeds.