And Ode to BBC America, or How I Get my Brit Fix

While watching the Doctor Who Christmas special on Christmas night, I thought about how much I’ve really enjoyed the programming on BBC America since I gained access to the station. The shows have good writing and acting, are set in locales that are different than a lot of American television, and I just love hearing how Brits talk, all the varying and interesting accents. So I thought I’d share a list of my favorite BBC shows and ask you to share the same if you’re a fan.

doctor-who-001-main1. Doctor Who — About a Time Lord traveling through space and time in a space/time machine disguised as big blue police box, this classic has been on since 1963 but was rebooted in 2005 after several years of dormancy. There have been four Doctors (he regenerates into different incarnations) since the reboot played by Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith and the current Peter Capaldi. I’ve really enjoyed all of them, but Matt Smith (11th Doctor) is my favorite. Most of my Who-loving friends wax poetic about David Tennant’s 10th Doctor. This is one of my top three, all-time favorite shows along with Firefly (produced in the U.S.) and Spartacus (filmed in New Zealand).

2. Torchwood — This is a spin-off from Doctor Who, focusing on the popular character Captain Jack Harkness and his covert Torchwood team in investigating extraterrestrial incidents on Earth. It’s set in Cardiff, Wales and stars the always crazy and funny John Barrowman.


Me with the Torchwood gang, from left: Gareth David-Lloyd, John Barrowman, me, Burn Gorman and Eve Myles.

3. The Musketeers — I have always loved Musketeers stories, and this one is quite fun and, I must say, has some rather nice-looking musketeers. Before taking on the role of the Doctor in Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi played Cardinal Richelieu in the first series. Series 2 (another difference — Brits call them series, and we Americans call them seasons) begins on BBC America next month.

4. Sherlock — Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as John Watson, need I say more? The seasons are only 3 movie-length episodes long, but the writing and acting are fabulous. My only complaint is it’s so long between seasons.

5. Orphan Black — I just started watching this show last night on the recommendation of friends and watched four in a row. It’s about a girl who finds out she’s a clone when it seems different versions of herself keep popping out of the woodwork an she finds herself impersonating one of the other versions in an effort to figure out how they all came to be and who is out to kill them. This is a Canadian show but is shown on BBC America. Tatiana Maslany is remarkable in that she plays all the clone roles and makes them all so distinct.

6. Broadchurch — Starring David Tennant as a police inspector/investigator in a much different role than his time as the Doctor, the first series of this drama focused on the murder of a young boy in a seaside town. Tennant’s character works with a local police detective, played by Olivia Colman, to find out the identity of the murder. The writing is such that in each episode you’re convinced someone else did it.

7. Ripper Street — I’m not caught up on this gritty crime drama set in London’s Whitechapel area about six months after the Jack the Ripper case and revolves around a copycat killer, but I enjoyed the first series. It stars Matthew MacFadyen, Jerome Flynn and Adam Rothenberg.

8. Copper — This was BBC America’s first original series not brought across the pond, another gritty police drama, this time set in 1860s New York City during the American Civil War and revolves around an Irish immigrant policeman (“copper”) who patrols the notoriously dangerous Five Points area of the city. The policeman was played by Tom Weston-Jones. Sadly, this drama only aired for two seasons.

Hex_s1thumb_01_web9. Hex — This paranormal show, which originally aired on Sky One in 2004-2005, is set in an English boarding school and involves fallen angels, witches, etc. It was the first thing in which I saw Michael Fassbender, and I said to myself when I saw him (the best part of the show) that this two-season show was not the last time I was going to see him. I’m glad I was right. Another tidbit — Joseph Morgan, who plays Klaus on The Originals and The Vampire Diaries, was in five episodes.

10. The Graham Norton Show — There are two shows that are guaranteed to make me laugh. One is The Daily Show here in the U.S., and the other is The Graham Norton Show. He is hilarious, and I love how all the guests come out at once and interact throughout the show.

How about you? Are you a fan of British TV? What are your favorite programs? I didn’t include Downton Abbey here since it plays on PBS here and not BBC America, but I really enjoy it as well. If you’re a Brit, what shows from outside Britain do you most enjoy?



  • Helen says:

    Is he staying with me

    Have fun

  • Jane says:

    Hello Trish,
    I love British TV, especially British murder mysteries/crime shows. I was sad to see Poirot end, but this year I really enjoyed Happy Valley and Broadchurch. Other favorites include Silent Witness and Midsomer Murders. I love Graham, too. It’s nice when all the guests sit together and get to interact with each other.

  • Helen says:

    Hi Trish

    I am not TV watcher at all I have not seen any of these shows but have heard a lot about them my TV watching usually involves sports of some kind 🙂 which I am watching now while reading I love that I can watch the cricket and read 🙂

    Have fun

  • Amy Conley says:

    Graham is fabulous! Also love CALL THE MIDWIFE, although it is on PBS now. The best show ever is MRS BROWN’S BOYS. I swear you will never laugh so hard in your life. Even funnier than ABFAB. The BBC version of COUPLING.
    BBC AMERICA doesn’t show as many things as it used to. So, I’ll watch almost any of them before US shows.
    HAMISH MACBETH with Robert Carlyle from ONCE UPON A TIME, only 3 seasons, but wonderful.

  • Love Hex and Torchwood. I wish we got more British channels.

  • Minna says:

    BBC and other British TV channels have some great TV series and documentaries. I’ve watched some Doctor Who, Torchwood and Sherlock. I’m not familiar with the other series you mentioned, but I imagine they’ll be on TV here in Finland sooner or later -or at least on DVD. Favorite programs… There are so many, old and new. Dempsey and Makepeace (I hope there’ll be a good remake of this one some day), Black Adder, One Foot in the Grave, Last of the Summer Wine, Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, My Family, New Tricks, The IT Crowd, Lovejoy, Attenborough’s documentaries, My Hero, Wycliffe….

  • Shannon says:

    TV is not my thing. I was trying to catch up with a series yesterday with some bing watching By episode 4 (after admittedly a huge lunch at a buffet), I fell asleep. I like the show, it wasn’t boring, but I just drifted off. I’ve saved this list, so that if I get Nexflix, I’ll have some things to look for.

  • Trish, what a fun post! We didn’t have BBC America until we got fed up with our cable company and switched to satellite, which gave us more channels for less money and far better customer service. Now it’s one of my favorite channels, though they do tend to run the same episodes of Kitchen Nightmares ad nauseam

    I _love_ Musketeers despite the fact that it’s a little anachronistic. The swashbuckling is fabulous, the guys are totally swoonworthy, and I love the backstories they’ve given the characters. I got season 1 on DVD for Christmas and am looking forward to a marathon.

    Despite my SF geek tendencies, I’ve somehow never gotten into Dr. Who. I can’t tell you why, but it just hasn’t resonated with me.

    OTOH, I love Torchwood. I’m always happy to see it on the schedule. The premise of a secret group fighting alien infiltration is great, and the camaraderie among the team members is appealing. Enough so that I can forgive the occasional seriously not happy ending.

    Since we don’t Tivo, we miss things. I wasn’t able to see Broadchurch or Ripper Street regularly but am hoping to do better next time they roll around.

    And I noticed that BBC America has picked up not only Sherlock but Battlestar Galactica. I just haven’t figured out whether BSG has a regular time slot.

    Orphan Black also hasn’t snagged me, but you might be interested to know that at the Grimm panel at DragonCon 2013, Claire Coffee said she loves it.

    I’m really hoping some of the BBC documentaries about Richard III will turn up and that they’ll cover at least a bit of the reinterment ceremonies scheduled for three days in March.

    • I’ve heard some of my friends say they didn’t get into Doctor Who until David Tennant became the Doctor. While I enjoyed Christopher Eccleston’s one year as the Doctor, some of the absolute best episodes are when Tennant and Matt Smith were in the role.

      I saw some early episodes of Grimm and need to go back and watch that entire series. I also want to watch Primeval and the British version of Being Human. Of course that could be partially because I like Aiden Turner and just got back from seeing The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies.

  • Jo Robertson says:

    I love BBC and PBS, Trish! Thanks for a run-down on some of my favorites. I think Orphan Black has gotten a real shaft in not receiving the critical acclaim it deserves. Tatiana Maslany is amazingly versatile. And of course, Benedict Cumberbatch is my favorite Sherlock, along with Martin Freeman as Watson.

    We also enjoy the series FOYLE’S WAR, but I think that’s on PBS, not sure because we stream it.

    There’s something so “smart” about British TV, that sets it apart from American television, which I find very intriguing.

    • I think you’re right about the smartness of British TV, Jo. While I think there are many smart, well-written American TV shows, there’s no denying that the British have a knack for that.

      I was glad to see Tatiana was nominated for a Golden Globe this time.

  • catslady says:

    The only one I’ve seen is The Musketeers but is definitely one of our favorites and we’re looking forward to it’s coming back on. I rarely pay attention to what channel I’m watching, especially if I’m watching On Demand. The Vikings is another favorite but that may be a different channel.

  • Oh, Trish. I just did a complete marathon watching of all of MI-5. Seriously, they kept killing off my favorite people. Geesh! Could. Not. Stop. Watching.

    Did the same with all the Midsommer Murders. I’ve been watching Ripper Street. Love the period pieces they have on BBC, as well as PBS.

  • Oh, Trish, you are addressing my Brit TV loving soul! I actually had English friends out to stay and they asked after several days, very wistfully, did I ever watch anything that wasn’t British? They were quite looking forward to seeing something a bit different to what they watch at home. Having said that, I haven’t watched a few of the shows you mentioned – the man candy quotient sounds pretty good on some of them, I must say. One I’ve caught up with on BBC First is Our Zoo which is just a lovely story about the family that set up the Chester Zoo, set in the 1930s. I think the Brits do historical settings just brilliantly. Watch out for that. I loved the earlier Doctor Whos – this new lot are all a bit dark for me although I must admit I watched the Christmas special. Peter Capaldi actually isn’t bad as the Doctor, is he? On Boxing Day, I settled down to watch two episodes of THE SUSPICIONS OF MR. WHICHER which is a Victorian detective show, beautifully done. There were only four made but if they pop up, give them a go – and there is a nice ending to the fourth one. Hate it when they stop making them before the character arcs are completed.

    Oh, and I love Sherlock! Amazing writing and acting. And I love the sly references back to the original stories. Can’t wait for the new series.

    • I love the British costume dramas, North & South among them, which is sort of interesting since the American North & South (about our Civil War and based on a John Jakes novel) was one of my favorite mini-series when I was young.

      I like Capaldi as the Doctor, though I still miss Matt. It’s always interesting to see the new incarnations of the Doctor, how they bring over small bits of the former version while having a whole new look and personality. Matt was like a fun, goofy puppy much of the time, but there is always a darkness deep inside the Doctor. Capaldi’s version is much more no-nonsense, no touchy-feely. He does not suffer fools.

  • Fun post, Trish –

    I miss a lot of the BBC shows during their airing but get a lot of the season broadcasts on DVD after the fact. I’m not sure I can tell the difference between BBC and PBS, but I do enjoy them.

    I used to watch Dr. Who back in the ’60s and loved the show then. I haven’t really gotten back into the reboot – except I love the music. Every time I hear that high whine-y intro I think of the long scarf. LOL

    Love Sherlock. Benedict Cumberbatch does a great job. I saw the Torchwood series about people not-dying which was on cable. It wasn’t bad, but didn’t win my heart. I think the Torchwood you are referring to, though, is different.

    • Donna, that was Torchwood: Miracle Day. It was the fourth and final season of the show, but it only had three of the series regulars in it as the others were already gone. I thought it was an interesting concept, the problems the world would face if suddenly everyone stopped dying.

      I love the intro music too, and I like how they update it with each new Doctor. The credits now have a gear-centric, steampunk look to them.

  • Deb says:

    Trish, British tv has always had good dramas. Their comedies are good, some are weird, LOL. I have not seen Sherlock, but my sister absolutely loves it. I promised to watch this year.

  • EC Spurlock says:

    I’ve been a Brit-TV fan from way back, Trish. My first Doctor was #4 back around 1968; like Donna I keep looking for the scarf! Personally I liked Eccleston best of the reboot Doctors and wish he had stayed longer. But I like what I’ve seen of Capaldi so far, he seems to be harking back to #3 (Pertwee) a lot, whom many old DW fans consider the “ultimate” incarnation. But I remember many old series I used to follow, such as Sharpe’s Rifles (one of Sean Bean’s best roles – and he didn’t die!), Horatio Hornblower (Ioan Gryffud was so great in that), The Six Wives of Henry VIII, I Claudius, etc. Another Blackadder fan here (waves at Minna); and anyone else remember the original Avengers? Nobody is as classy as Diana Rigg! Son #2 and I are both big Sherlock fans as well. Haven’t seen Orphan Black but have been following the recaps on one of the blogs I follow to keep up with the story.

    I agree with Jo, British TV is a lot “smarter” than American TV. I think it’s that American writers are always told to write down to the lowest common denominator, while British writers expect the audience to rise to the material and keep up with them.

    • You said something I was thinking, how American TV writers are told to write to the lowest common denominator. I think you see the results of that in that while there are a good number of good TV shows, there is also a lot of utter garbage. And each year, more and more of the TV shows garnering big award nominations are not on network TV anymore. They’re on cable or pay channels or Netflix.

      I have Sharpe’s Rifles (LOL on Sean Bean not dying) and Horatio Hornblower on my Netflix queue.

  • Cassondra Murray says:

    Trish, I love BBC shows!

    My favorite ever is Cadfael, and I would SO love to have the series on DVD. But it costs a stupid amount of money, so I haven’t afforded it yet. Heck, I’m just now getting netflix, so I’m WAY behind. I also love the old British comedy troupes from 1970s and 80s. I hurt myself laughing when I see the reruns or the (Monty Python mostly) movies. Something about the sense of humor really tickles me. Wish I could get more of it. (Hey, with Netflix, maybe I can!)

    • EC Spurlock says:

      I’m a big Cadfael fan too, Cassondra! DH found the series on one of his torrent streams and burned them all to disc for me. I’m sure you can find them on Netflix. The books are great too!