Documentary Series

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BBC's excellent documentary series: The Life of Birds

BBC’s excellent documentary series: The Life of Birds

Like documentary films, documentary series are nonfictional and designed to to document some aspect of the world around us. Nearly all of them hope to impart at least some knowledge, perspective, and understanding to their viewers in the hopes that they can (and will) then make more informed decisions about any number of current events and issues.

There are many ways to watch documentary series…and we will surely watch some of them together in science class. However, school classrooms are just one place in which documentary series find a ‘home.’ Other than television, these series are increasingly making their way into homes through pay-for-use services like iTunes, Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, YouTube, the BBC iPlayer and others. These on-demand services now offer some of the most extensive, most convenient ways of watching science.

You might also consider visiting an Internet site that houses free and legal copies of a number of popular documentary series. The Top Documentary Films website has lots of documentary series about science and other science-related topics available for streaming.


Some of Dr. Merritt’s favorite documentary series includes:

From the BBC…

  • Life on Earth (1979)
  • The Living Planet (1984)
  • The Trials of Life (1990)
  • Life in the Freezer (1993)
  • The Private Life of Plants (1995)
  • The Life of Birds (1998)
  • State of the Planet (2000)
  • The Blue Planet (2001)
  • The Life of Mammals (2002)
  • Life in the Undergrowth (2005)
  • Planet Earth (2006)
  • Galapagos (2006)
  • Life in Cold Blood (2008)
  • Life (2009)
  • South Pacific (2009)
  • Yellowstone (2009)
  • Frozen Planet (2011)
  • Africa (2013)
  • Life Story (2014)
  • The Hunt (2015)

Ok, by now it should be clear that Dr. Merritt is unfailingly fond of the amazing and wonderful work of the BBC’s Natural History Unit, but what biologist doesn’t love the voice and television demeanor of Sir David Attenborough and friends? Don’t think you know who David Attenborough is? Chances are that you do. Just press ‘Play’ on the playlist below and you’ll be instantly transported by his distinctively soothing, knowledgeable, intelligent voice…


Of course, there are any number of wonderful documentary science films beyond the work of Sir David and the BBC’s Natural History Unit. Here are just a few more of my favorites:

The Shape of Life: The Story of the Animal Kingdom (2002-2013)
Sea Studios Foundation, USA
– Where education meets computer animation and stunning cinematography. A series devoted to the natural history of the variety of life forms inhabiting the world’s oceans.

Good Eats with Alton Brown (1999-2012)
The Food Network, USA
– Although this show is mostly talked about as a show about food, it is first and foremost an educational show about food. In fact, I’ve probably learned as much about chemistry and physics from the host, Alton Brown, than I did from most of my university professors!

COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey (2014)
National Geographic/Fox Broadcasting
– This show is a follow-up to the 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which was developed and presented by scientist Carl Sagan. The new version has generated immensely positive critical reviews in the United States.

COOKED (2015)
A Netflix Series
– This series explored food through the lenses of the four natural elements – fire, water, air and earth. Packed with science and based on a 2013 book by author Michael Pollan, COOKED is a must-watch for those interested in the chemistry and ecology of food preparation and consumption.

Here’s YouTubes’s official trailer for COOKED:

Also of more recent interest…

  • The BBC’s Wonders of the Solar System (2010)
  • The BBC’s Wonders of the Universe (2011)
  • The BBC’s Wonders of Life (2013)

Do you have a favorite documentary series in which science plays a starring role?
If so, then please tell Dr. M about it through the comment feature below!

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