Alternative 3

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This article is about the British television programme. For the Brian Eno composition, see Music for Films.
Alternative 3
Also known as Science Report: Alternative 3
Genre Drama
Written by David Ambrose
Directed by Christopher Miles
Starring Tim Brinton
Gregory Munroe
Carol Hazell
Shane Rimmer
Richard Marner
Composer(s) Brian Eno
Country of origin UK
Original language(s) English
Production
Running time 52 minutes
Production company(s) Anglia Television
Broadcast
Original airing 20 June 1977

Alternative 3 is a television programme, broadcast once only in the United Kingdom in 1977, and later broadcast in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, as a fictional hoax, an heir to Orson Welles' radio production of The War of the Worlds. Purporting to be an investigation into the UK's contemporary "brain drain", Alternative 3 uncovered a plan to make the Moon and Mars habitable in the event of climate change and a terminal environmental catastrophe on Earth.

The programme was originally meant to be broadcast on April Fools Day, 1977. While its broadcast was delayed until June 20, the credits explicitly date the film to April 1. Alternative 3 ended with credits for the actors involved in the production and featured interviews with a fictitious American astronaut.

Overview[edit]

The programme was presented as an edition of an Anglia TV series called 'Science Report'. The intended transmission date was April 1, but it seems that Anglia was unable to obtain an ITV network slot for the programme on that date. The script was written by Chris Miles and David Ambrose. Music was supplied by Brian Eno, a portion of his score being released on the 1978 album Music for Films. Apart from the presenter Tim Brinton, all the characters in the programme were played by actors who were explicitly credited at the end.

The episode began by detailing the so-called "brain drain:" a number of mysterious disappearances and deaths of physicists, engineers, astronomers, and others in related fields. Among the strange deaths reported was that of one "Professor Ballantine" of Jodrell Bank. Before his death, Ballantine delivers a videotape to an academic friend, but upon playback the tape appears to contain only static.

According to the research presented in the episode, it was hypothesized that the missing scientists were involved in a secret American/Soviet plan in outer space, and further suggested that interplanetary space travel had been possible for much longer than was commonly accepted. The episode featured an Apollo astronaut "Bob Grodin" (played by Shane Rimmer) who claims to have stumbled on a mysterious lunar base during his moonwalk.

It was claimed that scientists had determined that the Earth's surface would be unable to support life for much longer, due to pollution leading to catastrophic climate change. Physicist "Dr Carl Gerstein" (played by Richard Marner) claimed to have proposed in 1957 that there were three alternatives to this problem. The first alternative was the drastic reduction of the human population on Earth. The second alternative was the construction of vast underground shelters to house government officials and a cross section of the population until the climate had stabilised, a solution reminiscent of the finale of Dr Strangelove. The third alternative, the so-called "Alternative 3," was to populate Mars via a way station on the Moon.

The programme ends with some detective work; acting on information from Grodin, the reporters determine that Ballantine's videotape requires a special decoding device. After locating the decoder, the resulting video turns out to depict a joint American and Russian landing on the Martian surface in 1962.

Production[edit]

The programme was made with stock film used at the time to make it appear like a conventional documentary programme. In a 1989 interview, actor Richard Marner (Dr Carl Gerstein) said he didn't rehearse his lines to make the delivery appear as natural as possible.

Reception[edit]

Within minutes of the programme ending, Anglia Television was flooded with telephone calls demanding more information. Callers were told the programme was a hoax. The Times on 21 June reported that "Independent television companies last night received hundreds of protest calls after an Anglia programme, Alternative 3, gave alarming facts about changes in the Earth’s atmosphere. It was a hoax, originally intended for April 1st." It also pointed out that several of the characters in the programme were played by well known actors.

Nick Austin, who was editorial director of Sphere Books when Watkins' adaptation was commissioned and published, writes that the book was the "best chance I’d ever be likely to get to participate in a hoax of truly Guy Grand proportions — the best thing of its kind since Orson Welles' War of the Worlds radio broadcast."

Austin writes that he was both delighted and disturbed by the Alternative 3 controversy, and adds that the reasons "a clever hoax, openly admitted to be such by its creators, should continue to exercise the fascination it so obviously does the best part of a generation after its first appearance is beyond my feeble powers of analysis and explanation." [1]

An article by Loy Lawhon reports that "everyone involved with the Alternative 3 documentary admits that it was fiction(.)" [2]

One unsourced account reports that the producers of Alternative 3 "announced that the entire thing had been a joke." [3]

A more detailed explanation of the hoax is featured in a study of conspiracy theory subculture and literature, Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America (2003), wherein Michael Barkun devotes a few pages to Alternative 3.

Barkun writes that "Alternative 3 was clearly a hoax — and not only because it was intended for broadcast on April Fools Day. The interviews with supposed scientists, astronauts, and others were far too dramatically polished to have been spontaneous, and in any case, the episode's closing credits named the actors who took the roles of interviewees and correspondents. Though artfully produced, the show's counterfeit documentary style could scarcely have been expected to fool many. As an Anglia TV spokeseman put it, 'We felt viewers would be fairly sophisticated about it.'"

Barkun notes that television and newspapers were "swamped" with inquiries about Alternative 3 and that Anglia Television's sale of the book rights to Leslie Watkins caused the tale to spread far beyond the United Kingdom.

Books[edit]

In 1978, Leslie Watkins wrote a science fiction book based on the screenplay for the television episode. Watkins had previously written a few moderately successful "suspense thriller" novels, and his Alternative 3 novelization detailed many of the claims presented in the episode. It was published by Sphere Books Ltd, of Grays's Inn Road, London. In the book, many of the fictional characters were replaced with real people. For example, quotes from the fictional astronaut Bob Grodin were attributed to real life astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Edgar Mitchell.

Jim Keith's Casebook on Alternative 3: Ufo's, Secret Societies and World Control (Illuminet Pr) ISBN 0-9626534-9-7, argues that some elements of the 1977 broadcast were in fact true.

Ken Mitchell's novel, Alternative 3 (HarperCollins) ISBN 0-7322-7703-5 uses the Alternative 3 scenario as a background to a techno-thriller. [1]

On June 20, 2010, the 33rd anniversary of the original Anglia Television broadcast, an allegedly "unexpurgated" edition of the Alternative 3 text was released as an eBook. [2]

DVD release[edit]

The film was released on DVD in October 2007, together with a 30-minute featurette with presenter Tim Brinton and writers David Ambrose and Christopher Miles who also directed Alternative 3; a production stills gallery; and contemporary press cuttings presented in the form of slowly scrolling rostrum camera shots.

The film is taken from a 16mm print with optical sound. According to Miles in the featurette, this is his personal copy, and the only one to have survived.

Influence[edit]

Barkun notes that Alternative 3 and the intermittent availability of Watkins' book "lent itself to conspiracist interpretations," and though Alternative 3 did not mention UFOs or extraterrestrials, many of the plans mentioned in Alternative 3 have been featured in later assorted conspiracy theories. Barkun argues that Alternative 3 was important in that its "role in the growth of conspiracy theory lay in a later permutation" related to UFOs and the UFO conspiracy theory. Milton William Cooper, for one, featured similar tales in some of his writings.

An episode of Dimension X featured a plot very similar to the later Alternative 3: On the 14 July 1950 episode "The Man In the Moon", an employee of the fictional United States "Bureau of Missing Persons" overhears a radio broadcast from a man who claims to be held prisoner on the Moon. The employee investigates, and uncovers the kidnapping of many persons, including scientists and engineers, who are then forced to toil on the Moon by German overseers, who had colonized the Moon in the late 1930s, and who are preparing an invasion and takeover of the Earth. In turn, the movie Iron Sky also tells the story of Nazi moon-bases and a planned Earth invasion.

The novel Sold for a Spaceship (1973) by Philip High is set in the aftermath of a global ecological catastrophe; a ruling elite who escaped into space attempt to return to Earth, but find that they are unable to survive, whereas those left behind have adapted.

Canadian rocker Ian Thomas' 1979 song "Pilot" clearly has links to the Alternative 3 mythos.

Liverpool doom metal band Anathema's 1998 album Alternative 4 was also named after the programme.

Psychedelic rock band Monster Magnet have a song about the conspiracy, titled "Third Alternative" on their Dopes to Infinity album.

The novel Stark by Ben Elton features a conspiracy of the rich and powerful to escape a doomed Earth which is very similar to that depicted in Alternative 3.

The song "Alternative Three" on the album Karma Had It Coming by Nova Scotia punk rock band, The Broomhandles takes inspiration from the program.

Costa Botes cited Alternative 3 as one of the influences that inspired him to produce the New Zealand mockumentary Forgotten Silver with Peter Jackson.[4]

A character in Richard Linklater's 1991 film Slacker, portrayed by Jerry Delony, claims that Alternative 3 is "absolutely true" and that humans have been on Mars since 1962.

UK punk rock band UFX released a video using allegedly hoax footage from Alternative 3, the Roswell alien autopsy and footage of Nazi flying saucers to accompany the title track of their 2013 album Reverse Engineering.

References[edit]

  • Barkun, Michael. Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. ISBN 0-520-23805-2. 

External links[edit]