by Aaron Peck
We all know the BBC's track record with nature documentaries. They've put together one of the most diverse and wildly acclaimed collection of documentaries that focus on the animals, plants, and humans that inhabit this planet we call Earth.
While they do put out industry-leading nature Blu-rays, we wanted to focus on some of the TV shows you may be missing out on.
British television has a rich lineup, and most of the more well renowned shows are starting to make it across the pond with American Blu-ray releases.
Whether it be BBC America, A&E Home Entertainment or Acorn Media, there are quite a few British TV Blu-rays out there that you should be checking out.
Miss Marple is a harmless old lady who just happens to enjoy solving murders. Her uncanny observational ability, coupled with her innocuous demeanor, means that she can investigate crimes without anyone knowing that she's investigating them. This package of four made-for-TV movies is a fun and breezy way to spend a few hours. Not only is the character of Miss Marple likable, but the plots have the benefit of being based on Agatha Cristie's novels. The mysteries, while always solved in a flood of flashbacks at the end, are tightly wound whodunits where you may find yourself guessing until the end.
'Doctor Who' is one of the longest running television shows out there. New incarnations keep appearing as the good doctor continues his travels through space and time. The newest version of Doctor Who is played by actor Matt Smith. He's the eleventh person to fill Doctor Who's shoes, and by all accounts he brilliantly fills in where other great actors have tread. Our resident reviewer Nate Boss has given rave reviews to 'Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series,' 'Doctor Who: Series Six, Part 1,' 'Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol,' and 'Doctor Who: The Complete Specials.'
'A Christmas Carol' earned the most praise from Mr. Boss with a four and a half star movie rating where he commented, "'Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol' is one of the more intelligent episodes I've seen of this consistently big brained show, with its mixture of time travel paradoxes and classic literature creating some very amazing moments, and an episode that doesn't require too much past-'Who' knowledge to enjoy."
This newest embodiment of 'Doctor Who' has maintained great quality throughout each series. It's a definite must have on Blu-ray. So, if you are ever in the craving for a smart and witty sci-fi adventure, think of 'Doctor Who.'
Before I reviewed 'George Gently: Series 3' for the site, I had no previous knowledge of the show. It's billed as a straight up detective show, but with a period piece twist. Inspector George Gently solves crimes in the 1960s. He's good at what he does.
You may be asking yourself what distances 'George Gently' from the other police procedurals out there. That's a fair question. There are so many detective shows on nowadays that it's hard to sift through the bad ones to find the true gems. Believe me though, 'George Gently' is one of those rare gems. While it does follow the same kind of police procedures as other cop shows there's a realism present here that isn't in other shows. I commented about the series, "Gently gets most of his information from the well directed interrogation scenes that take place. Since it's the 60s, scientific evidence is rather limited, so Gently and Bacchus have to gather information the old fashioned way."
If you ever find yourself hankering for some quality detective action then this is the series for you. George Gently and his matter-of-fact way of solving crimes will not disappoint.
I'm being totally honest when I say that I was pretty heartbroken when I found out 'Outcasts' had been canceled. It's hard to recommend the BBC-produced sci-fi series for that reason. The first series contains eight solid episodes that lead up to some pretty big cliffhangers. The problem is you'll never know where the story would've gonme from there, because the show is over and done with. Low ratings killed it. However, just because it got low ratings doesn't mean it was a bad show. On the contrary, 'Outcasts' was an intelligent, thought-provoking little sci-fi drama about earthlings who have to live on a different planet because Earth is all but dead. Like the island in 'Lost,' the planet they're on seems to have a mind of its own. Does it want to help or hurt its new occupants? That's something we'll never fully discover, but those eight episodes are certainly a fun ride.
Even though the high definition presentations on these three movies left a bit to be desired, they're still very fun to watch. Hercule Poirot is the product of crime novel legend Agatha Christie. The quirky detective who lives an upper class life, takes time out of his schedule to solve some of the most grizzly unsolvable murders in Europe. Each of the three movies in this set is immense fun. David Suchet is fantastic as the idiosyncratic detective. If you find that you like these you'll also want to check out the standalone release of 'Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express.'
Perhaps one of the most famous, and well known British television shows is 'The Prisoner.' Starring Patrick McGoohan, 'The Prisoner' tells the story of a British agent who wakes up in a village in a strange village surrounded by security, and populated with idyllic people known only by numbers. Watching 'The Prisoner' is almost like watching a really well done 'Twilight Zone' episode with a 17-episode arc. It's suspenseful, mysterious, and is truthfully one of the very best sci-fi shows ever. What makes this Blu-ray even better is that this show from the late 60s has been restored fantastically in high-def by A&E Home Video. This is one of those must own titles that you may have overlooked.
Personally, out of this bunch I think this is the most enjoyable BBC Blu-ray release out there. This new incarnation of Sherlock Holmes is an amazingly crafted show which brings Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his pal Watson (Martin Freeman) into the 21st century. What would Holmes do if he had the benefits of the internet and texting? Those questions and more are answered in this delightful series that feels like a perfect blend of a classic story with the modern world. Cumberbatch is truly great as the world famous detective. He channels the obsessive nature of Holmes like no one else. This is a great series that everyone would enjoy.
Not all the shows from Britain on Blu-ray are wonderfully scripted dramas. 'Top Gear' is the famous television show that's all about cars. Only this isn't a normal ho-hum car show that simply goes over the specs and shows cars racing around a track. The 'Top Gear' team push cars to their limits in all sorts of hilarious and fun challenges. You'll never have so much fun watching guys drive cars on TV. Ever. 'Top Gear' easily blends our inherent love for fast automobiles with a truly funny trio of hosts (Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May). You'll tune in as much for the fast cars and insane challenges as you will for their biting humor and dry wit.
Is it any wonder 'Torchwood' is good, since it's a spin-off of the 'Doctor Who' series we talked about earlier? Another sci-fi drama from Britain has become a solid show in its own right. 'Torchwood' is about a group of alien hunters led by Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman). It's a bit more grown-up than 'Doctor Who,' but still just as smart and as fun. If you like shows like 'X-Files,' or 'Fringe' then 'Torchwood' is right up your alley.
I've always liked Rufus Sewell, so when I heard he was in a new show produced by BBC I had to check it out. While 'Zen' may fall a bit on the predictable side of detective shows, Sewell carries the series as Aurielio Zen. He's the reason to watch it, and you won't be sorry you did. Reviewer Steve Cohen commented in his review, "It may not be among the best the genre has to offer, but for fans of classic mystery tales, 'Zen' is still worth a look."
This isn't a definitive list of British shows on Blu-ray, but it's a good idea of what you're missing if you fail to check out the U.S. releases of fine British telelvions. What are some of your favorites? Let us know in the forums.