Alternative 3 (TV, 2007)

From Death Ray 08. A review of the DVD of the 1977 superhoax.


1977/ 52mins/PG

Director: Christopher Miles

Writer: David Ambrose

Starring: Tim Brinton, Shane Rimmer, Richard Marner, Gregory Munroe

Intriguing hoax programme that fooled, and continues to fool, thousands…


Alternative 3 is a hoax in the grand tradition of British novelty programming of the kind that also brought us spaghetti trees and Ghostwatch. Presented as part of a the Science Report factual series (which never existed itself), Alternative 3 begins with host Tim Brinton telling us that attempts to make an earlier programme about the Brain Drain led the production team to stumble on a massive conspiracy between the USA and USSR. Further investigation reveals that the superpowers know the world is dying and are exercising Alternative 3 – get the hell off the planet, and are colonising Mars with humanity’s best and brightest.

This is a stonking piece of entertainment, whose final moments, featuring a decoded flyover of Mars, are especially convincing. To modern eyes, the unrestored, 1970’s film stock helps the feeling that you are watching something tantalisingly real, like the Dharma training footage in Lost.

Amazingly, some still believe that Alternative 3 is all true. The film was postponed from its intended April 1st date, and it is played so straight-faced that it’s not totally surprising. But with interviews too mannered to be real, no less than three doomsday scenarios (global warming, an impending ice age and increased vulcanism), a cast list that includes Richard Marner (from ‘Allo ‘Allo) and Shane Rimmer and declarations from all involved that it was a joke, you would have to be a serious Mulder to take it even slightly seriously. (Please don’t write in to tell us that that’s what the military-industrial complex want us to think, and that the film is disinformation, and there really is a Soviet-era Mars base. There’s no arguing with such circular logic).

A nexus between SF, Forteana and science, this is a fascinating look at the fears of the last generation. Doubly interesting now that things such as the global warming theory, once regarded as little better than speculation best kept to SF, is now generally accepted as fact. We might need that Mars colony after all…

Alternative 3 is a very well constructed SF story, whose documentary cloak makes it, well, an alternative to more traditional drama. And as a bonus for rocket-heads, the film makes use of plenty of archive footage of American and Soviet space missions that is rarely seen these days.

Did you know…?

In 1978, Minor author Leslie Watkins wrote a follow up book to Alternative 3 that expanded upon the claims in the film. In a letter to an American magazine, he (allegedly) said that the book was based on fact. He stated that correspondence from eminent scientists convinced him of the truth, which he would have revealed, if the letters hadn’t been lost when he moved to New Zealand…

Proof of conspiracy, or an example of a British author involved in a highly publicised hoax taking the piss out of our American chums? Hmmmm. Check it out.



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