We know well by now that there’s no shortage of excellent British comedies, light and dark, readily available to watch. When it comes to science-fiction shows, though, would you be able to name anything other than Doctor Who? For some, that might be an easy yes, but for those of you who need a little guidance, we’ve compiled ten gritty British sci-fi shows worthy of your time — in honor of another foreign import, Canada’s thrilling Orphan Black, in the midst of its fourth season on BBC America — that are streaming right now.
What’s it about? The series opens as a seemingly normal drama — it follows a group of five petulant teens who are forced to work hours of community service due to having committed various small crimes. However, when a sudden electrical storm rages through their London neighborhood, the gang realizes they have procured supernatural powers that reflect their personalities; this, as you might expect, becomes a blessing and a curse. (But mostly a curse.) Soon enough, our lovable chavs are defending their home turf from all types of baddies who also possess newfound, often unconventional superpowers.
How gritty is it? The characters are vulgar, the dialogue is littered with profanity, and brutal violence often sneaks up out of nowhere. But Misfits, at its core, has both heart and an excellent sense of humor, which becomes more evident with each passing episode.
Where can I watch it? Hulu
What’s it about? As the dark, kinky spinoff of Doctor Who, Torchwood primarily revolves around hunky Who favorite Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) who leads a team of alien hunters in Cardiff as they attempt to keep extraterrestrial visitors at bay. When a newbie, Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), joins the covert organization, we become quickly immersed in the very weird world of modern alien lifeforms and technologies.
How gritty is it? Compared to the family-friendly Who, you might be surprised at how inherently gritty Torchwood is. Themes of corruption and existentialism (did we mention Captain Jack is immortal?) are often woven in with biting humor and sex. So don’t be deceived by the Who association — this ain’t for kids.
Where can I watch it? Amazon Prime, Netflix
What’s it about? Part sci-fi, part drama, part thriller, Utopia chronicles a small group of young adults who, after meeting in an online chat room about comic books, find themselves running from a cryptic organization called The Network when it’s revealed they’re in possession of an original unpublished manuscript of a cult graphic novel. As it turns out, the manuscript contains information regarding a deadly conspiracy, and The Network is willing to torture and kill to get it back.
How gritty is it? It’s a nightmarish narrative, and there’s a shockingly high amount of violence. Proceed with caution. (The aesthetics are stunning, though.)
Where can I watch it? Daily Motion
What’s it about? Paul, a teenage boy on the cusp of adulthood, has a lot of issues — he’s a social outcast, has frightening dreams, and wets the bed. So when he begins seeing visions of “the Fades” all around him, also known as spirits of the dead who are trapped and have yet to ascend Earth, it quickly becomes up to him to stop the embittered spirits from wreaking havoc on the human race.
How gritty is it? The Fades has a hearty mix of horror, supernatural drama, and teenage angst. And at six episodes, it’s an easy miniseries to watch in one sitting.
Where can I watch it? Hulu, Amazon Prime
Life on Mars
What’s it about? A skilled inspector wakes up in the year 1973 after being hit by a car in modern-day Manchester. He’s quickly forced to make sense of his new life and continue to work with the police department, but with a lowlier title and an eccentric partner. Perhaps his monologue from the show’s opening credits describes the predicament best: “Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time?” (If Life on Mars indeed piques your interest, a spinoff, Ashes to Ashes, may as well.)
How gritty is it? It’s a gripping police procedural, so there’s naturally a decent amount of grit and violence that comes with it. Tongue-in-cheek humor often makes its way in, though, to lighten the mood, and the '70s soundtrack is killer, too.
Where can I watch it? Amazon Prime, Daily Motion
What’s it about? Four words: Idris Elba, Vampire Hunter. This late ’90s show depicts a detective who stumbles upon a secret government organization that investigates threatening vampire-related activity. He gets recruited into the organization with the hopes of finding out the truth about whether his friend turned into a vampire. In an interesting twist, the show takes a more scientific approach to stopping the baddies, known as “Code Fives.” Gone are the days of simple garlic-clove necklaces — wooden stake bullets are where it’s at.
How gritty is it? Pretty damn gritty. Did we mention Idris Elba stars in it?
Where can I watch it? Hulu
What’s it about? An irresponsible ghost, an intelligent werewolf, and a refined vampire walk into a house ... that’s the premise of the first season of Being Human, which finds a trio of unlikely supernatural friends attempting to live together in perfect harmony while working and socializing amongst humans without arousing suspicion — which proves to be difficult when certain underworldly urges come a-knockin’. (It’s hard to find a constant supply of blood to consume in Bristol, after all.)
How gritty is it? A decent amount. But the dark, horroresque elements are evened out by the humor you’d expect from such an amusing narrative.
Where can I watch it? Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime
What’s it about? A professor of evolutionary biology and his merry band of associates are tasked with investigating “earthquakes in time,” which allow creatures from the distant past and future to appear in, and proceed to terrorize, modern-day England. The gang also has to capture these dinosaurs and parasites before any potential harm is exposed to the country, which often proves to be extremely dangerous, and sometimes deadly.
How gritty is it? Avoid if you have a major aversion to dinosaurs. But compared to other shows on this list, Primeval is noticeably lighter in tone and spirit. You can draw a lot of parallels between this and Doctor Who.
Where can I watch it? Hulu, Amazon Prime
What’s it about? The simple premise of the dystopian miniseries Black Mirror is that it poignantly reflects on the darkest sides of modern human life and the unexpected ramifications of technology. However, it digs much deeper than that, and the anthology format allows the show to explore unique settings and realities to tell different narratives that are credible enough to terrify. (The creator, Charlie Brooker, also created Dead Set, an excellent horror-drama miniseries that chronicles the filming of the reality show Big Brother during a zombie outbreak.)
How gritty is it? A plot from the first episode involves the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom being forced to have sexual intercourse with a pig on live television. That pretty much sets the tone for the series, which is two short seasons, seven episodes total. (Netflix has commissioned a 12-episode third season.)
Where can I watch it? Netflix
What’s it about? Have you ever imagined a world where humans and robots live together in “perfect” harmony? Humans tackles that premise head-on: Set in the present day, the hottest gadget to own is a “synth,” or an anthropomorphic robot whose main purpose is to be a servant in your home. However, they might not be as robotic as they appear, as one family is slowly discovering.
How gritty is it? It’s more suspenseful than gritty, and will likely leave you fretting about a potential future with high-functioning robots.
Where can I watch it? AMC on Demand