The BritBox hot list: From The Hunt with David Attenborough to Trevor McDonald's Death Row - best documentaries to watch

There’s a wealth of documentaries from acclaimed broadcasters on BritBox, all created to educate viewers on everything from nature and space to travel and crime.

By Sophia Moir Published: 22 September 2020 - 4.30pm
BritBox / ITV Pictures Trevor McDonald

BritBox features the biggest collection of British content available on any streaming service, and that includes a raft of award-winning documentaries from some of your favourite broadcasters.

Whether you want to learn about science and space, nature and the animal kingdom, or crime and punishment, you'll be able educate yourself thanks to BritBox.

From Michael Palin in North Korea and Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends, to  David Attenborough’s Birds of Paradise and Wonders of the Solar System with Brian Cox, we've rounded up the top documentaries for you to watch on BritBox now.

Sir David Attenborough documentaries

Nature fans are in for a treat with BritBox, as it’s home to a whole host of captivating documentaries presented or narrated by broadcasting legend Sir David Attenborough.

Take your pick from one-off specials including Attenborough at 90, where he shares stories of his extraordinary life to celebrate his 90th birthday, or Attenborough and the Giant Egg, Attenborough and the Sea Dragon, Attenborough and the Giant Dinosaur, and Attenborough’s Birds of Paradise.

For those wanting to get stuck into a series, Attenborough narrates the breathtaking documentary series The Hunt, about the animal kingdom’s hunters and hunted, plus Attenborough: 60 Years in the Wild, where he tells the story of our fragile planet from across his 60-year career.

Doctor Who documentaries

BritBox is the ultimate digital home of Doctor Who, with more than 500 TV episodes to watch, but did you know that there are also spin-offs and documentaries available on the service too?

Fans of the show will be able to watch the series Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited, which features interviews with key cast and crew along with classic clips and a montage of the Doctor's key moments.

There’s also the one-off TV special More Than 30 Years In The Tardis, which celebrates the 30th anniversary of the sci-fi series with a whole host of interviewees. 

Michael Palin documentaries

Former Monty Python member Michael Palin put comedy to one side to spend the last 30 years fronting some of the most critically-acclaimed travel documentaries ever shown on British TV. Such was his success as a virtual tour guide, he even received a knighthood for his services to travel, culture and geography.

BritBox is home to many of those documentaries, including Himalaya with Michael Palin, where he spent a challenging six months exploring the extremes of the Himalayas, and Michael Palin's New Europe, which uncovers the rich cultures of people formerly trapped behind the Iron Curtain. 

There’s also Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure, Michael Palin Full Circle and Michael Palin and the Mystery of Hammershoi, but our top pick has to be the 2018 documentary, Michael Palin in North Korea, where Palin explored the secretive communist state - all the while being flanked by members of the country’s strict regime.

David Bowie documentaries

Festival season may be cancelled this year, but BritBox houses a collection of documentaries and filmed performances that pay homage to iconic and beloved British artists - including the late David Bowie.

You can watch the one-off documentary Bowie: Finding Fame, that tells the story of how David Robert Jones became David Bowie, how David Bowie became Ziggy Stardust and how Ziggy became immortal, changing the musical landscape as he did so. 

BritBox also has the 90-minute documentary film Bowie: The Last 5 Years, which takes a detailed look at Bowie's last albums, The Next Day and Blackstar, and his play Lazarus, all created in the final five years of his life.

Professor Brian Cox documentaries

Space fans can rejoice as BritBox has plenty of documentaries from physicist and science broadcaster Professor Brian Cox, including the ‘Wonders of... ‘ series.

You can start off with Wonders of the Solar System, where Cox explains the fascinating story of the solar system with breath-taking footage and digestible stories, before moving onto his follow-up documentary Wonders of the Universe, where he visits ancient ruins in remote places to help explain the origins of the universe.

But don’t miss the Human Universe series, where he explores the evolution of human life, and the Wonders of Life series, where he travels the world exploring how life began billions of years ago on earth - weaving stories in with science to show how physics underpins all human life.

Louis Theroux documentaries

You might have been listening to his Grounded podcast on BBC Sounds during lockdown, but before he chatted with stuck-at-home celebrities from the comfort of his sofa, Louis Theroux began his broadcast career as a documentary filmmaker who turned his camera on less mainstream and certainly more obscure subjects.

BritBox features over 40 episodes of Louis Theroux’s most captivating documentary episodes including his Dark States series, Extreme Love series, When Louis Met... series and Weird Weekends series 1-3

There’s a lot to choose from, so to get you started we’d recommend The Most Hated Family in America, the Bafta-nominated When Louis Met... The Hamiltons, and Louis Theroux - Miami Mega-Jail.

The Up series

All nine series to date of ITV’s landmark documentary series, which began in 1964 and aired its most recent series in 2019, are available to watch on BritBox.

That’s Seven Up!, 7 Plus Seven, 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up, 42 Up, 49 Up, 56 Up, and 63 Up - which is the latest series, consisting of three episodes.

The series follows a group of people drawn from startlingly different backgrounds who have allowed television cameras to drop into their lives at seven year intervals. 

Trevor McDonald documentaries

You’ll find a selection of acclaimed documentaries hosted by newsreader and journalist Sir Trevor McDonald on BritBox.

This includes Trevor McDonald: Return to South Africa, Babes in the Wood, Britain’s Greatest National Treasures, Invitation to a Royal Wedding, Victoria’s Palace and Death Row - where he returns to Indiana State Prison's Death Row five years after his first gruelling visit. 

To complement the selection of documentaries about race on catch-up services, we'd recommend the documentary Martin Luther King by Trevor McDonald, where the Bafta-winning newscaster explores America's Deep South and the life of the civil rights activist.

Bros: After the Screaming Stops

This Bafta-winning documentary film charts the reunion of twins Matt and Luke Goss aka Bros, 28 years after their meteoric rise to fame saw their Push album go to Number 1 in more than 20 countries.

With an incredibly broken relationship - the twins have hardly spoken and not played together since their split - and only three weeks to go until they headline sell-out gigs at The O2 London, will they be able to put their history aside and come together as brothers to play the show of their lives? 

Harry’s Arctic Heroes 

This two-part documentary features four wounded British soldiers in their attempt to make the first unsupported trek to the North Pole by wounded servicemen. 

The programme, narrated by John Hurt, follows the team in a year of training and planning for the charity expedition. Joining the servicemen in their final preparations for the expedition is Prince Harry.

Our Queen at War

This documentary explores how Princess Elizabeth - the future Queen Elizabeth II - was shaped by the events of World War II.

Drawing on interviews with a childhood friend, people who shared her experiences, and royal experts, this programme looks at how what she called, "the terrible and glorious years of World War II" prepared a teenage princess for life as the country's longest-reigning monarch.