100 Greatest TV Shows to Watch Now – the British dramas

23 amazing drama series to watch on demand, from Broadchurch and Downton Abbey to Brideshead Revisited and Life on Mars

Almost a quarter of our Top 100 shows to watch on demand are great British dramas. Find out why you should watch the highest ranked, and check out the full list here.


Sherlock Netflix / Amazon Prime Instant Video (series 1-2); iTunes (series 1-3)

Why watch? Remember back when you’d never seen Sherlock, before it became a worldwide phenomenon? It sounded terrible. Martin Freeman (that bloke from The Office) and Benedict Cumberbatch (some posh guy with praying mantis cheekbones) take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic stories. The fact that they’re now massive stars shows how well the experiment worked. Writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss realised Holmes’s appeal isn’t the detective work, but the characters. Sherlock starts off confident and, by the third series, erupts into a full-blown swagger. How like the detective himself.

Brideshead Revisited iTunes / blinkbox

Why watch? Arguments over the greatest box sets are set in their ways. The tragedy of Tony Soprano, the triumph of the American serial. All these shows aim to make a novel out of a TV show, and yet we’re all too ready to turn our noses up at literary adaptations. Why? That’s what makes Brideshead Revisited a consummate achievement: two art forms fizzing together like bubbles in a champagne saucer.

Jeremy Irons’s gilded narration comes from another era in entertainment. Long after Downton’s Lady Mary has flicked a last sullen eyelash, Brideshead will – must – be revisited with a challenging mixture of nostalgia and disgust. Like a student’s slap-up meal of plover’s eggs and lobster thermidor, it’s luxurious, heavy and unexpectedly luscious.

Inspector Morse iTunes

Why watch? Everything about this master of TV detectives is deliberately done. The scraping of heels over Oxford cobbles; the heavy thrum of a rolling Jag; the opening credits carefully paced to a cello’s ominous crescendo. And then there is John Thaw.

Morse is constantly given gyp from his superiors for his leaps of the imagination, his lack of what Chief Superintendent Strange calls “sweat and spadework”. Thaw could never be accused of the same thing. Episode after feature-length episode, he grinds out the hard yards: eyebrow arched, indefatigable, deliberate. But there was, and still is, a flicker of genius, too.

Life On Mars / Ashes to Ashes Netflix / Amazon Prime Instant Video

Why watch? Life on Mars combines a modern PC outlook with pre-IPCC police brutality. Think Line of Duty meets The Sweeney, although neither can compete with its exuberant weirdness. Ask Detective Chief Inspector Sam Tyler (John Simm), who gets hit by a car and travels back to the era of 1970s rozzer Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister). Ashes to Ashes, the 1980s sequel starring Keeley Hawes, though enjoyable, never quite recaptured the magic of the original.

Pride and Prejudice Netflix / Amazon Prime Instant Video

Why watch? It is a truth seldom acknowledged that Mr Darcy emerging from the lake, wet in his flannels, is one of the least sexy “sexy” moments in TV history. Jane Austen’s witty novel has never been more capably handled. Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle are perfect as two know-it-alls, struggling to overcome their mutual insufferability. It’s easy to see why this BBC adaptation kicked off our modern Austen mania.

Doctor Who Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video (series 1-7); Amazon Instant (series 8)

Why watch? Oh look, Doctor Who is on this thing! Let’s watch Doctor Who! Sadly the classic era of the world’s longest running sci-fi remains frustratingly hard to find online, but 2015 marks the tenth anniversary of the Doctor’s modern rebirth as Christopher Eccleston. That’s ten years of adventures with four (or is that five?) Doctors, and it’s impressive how well the writing holds up. The special effects? Less so.

And the rest…

The Jewel in the CrowniTunes

Line of DutyiTunes

BroadchurchSky on Demand, iTunes

Downton AbbeyAmazon Instant Video, iTunes

Parade’s EndNetflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video

Doc MartinAmazon Prime Instant Video

LutherNetflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video

Black Mirror4oD

SpooksAmazon Prime Instant Video

Ripper StreetAmazon Prime Instant Video

Call the MidwifeiTunes (series 1-3); Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video (series 1-2)

Death in ParadiseNetflix

Foyle’s WarNetflix

House of Cards (original)Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video

Agatha Christie’s MarpleiTunes

SilkNetflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video

Top Boy4oD


Read the full guide to The 100 Greatest Shows to Watch Now in the latest issue of Radio Times, out from Tuesday 13 January in newsagents and the Apple Newsstand