Our Favourite TV Documentaries of 2014

2014 was another exceptional year for British telly. Not to say we didn’t have our black sheep (a slew of benefits related programmes perhaps let the standard down…!) but the quality of our documentaries is growing and each year we find new material to entertain and educate us. Here are my 2014 favourites. There isn’t much you can say about David Attenborough that hasn’t already been said, but here goes anyway – he is a wonder, a national treasure and a landmark of British wildlife broadcasting. Last year he bought us another stunning series; Life Story (BBC One). There’s something about his films that makes us find new appreciation for nature and the true wonder of our planet earth. As always the camerawork was stunning and the soundtrack provided pace and tension. We always feel like we’re in a safe pair of hands with David and I dread to think about the day he retires and we can no longer enjoy his presence on-screen. Sacred Rivers with Simon Reeve (BBC Two) was enlightening and educating. A naturally likeable and confident presenter, Reeve took us round three of the most sacred rivers in the world, looking at the River Nile, the Ganges and the Yangtze. We join him on a classic TV ‘journey’ travelling the rivers from source to sea, discovering the importance that each has for the communities surrounding them. Storyville, Russia’s Toughest Prison (BBC4) just fed my fascination for prison docs. This was a dark, hard place inhabited by men who had committed unthinkable crimes. The doc makers did well to portray the almost inhumane living conditions and we got very candid interviews with some of the inmates. It was a world away from many of the shiny prison dramas and documentaries we’ve seen in the past. It created a sense of discomfort for the viewer, which in my eyes is the sign of a successful hard-hitting documentary. Ian Hislop’s Olden Days (BBC Two) was a jovial but insightful look at our obsession with the past, from our most idiolised monarchs to many of the ancient traditions that define our culture today. Hislop hops between various eras to tell us a story about how we use the past to explain our present. Welcome to Rio (BBC Two) was one of many Brazil-based documentaries of 2014 but this BBC Two one stood out for me, mainly for the characters they sought out and followed. Although the voiceover was slightly misjudged, the vibrant favela scene was well documented and we really cared about the people within them. The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins (BBC4) was a fascinating BBC4 documentary telling the story of one of the most controversial animal experiments, which took place in the 1960s. I was glued to this for the full hour – with excellent archive footage and more recent interviews with some of the people involved in the experiment, it was a captivating piece of television. The Secret Life of Dogs (ITV1) is exactly the kind of programme you want to get in to, curled up on the sofa on a cold winters night. Extraordinarily cute puppies turn in to grown-up dogs as we learn about the amazing features that make them man’s best friend.