When the latest broadcast of the investigative TV program Science Report begins, the scholarly host, Tim Brinton, who kinda looks like Isaac Asimov's long lost brother, fills the viewer in on the topic for this week's episode: mounting suspicions and suppositions on the current and alarming brain-drain Great Britain has been suffering lately due to an abnormal spike in the untimely deaths or inexplicable disappearances of many prominent (and not so prominent) physicists, engineers, agronomists, astronomers, and others in related scientific fields.
Things then take on a sinister twinge when the program shifts focus from distraught family members to a Professor Ballantine, who "nervously" delivered a videotape to a colleague before he died in an "accident" but the tape appears to be blank, showing nothing but static. However, the investigative team (Brinton, Munroe, Hazell) of Science Report realizes the tape must be decoded first. And while that is being processed, the investigation continues, which uncovers a huge conspiracy between the Super-Powers that dates back to the late 1950s, which has now accelerated due to the converging factors of an unchecked population explosion and an imminent environmental collapse due to pollutants and dwindling or exhausted natural resources, meaning the Earth's ability to support life has been irrevocably compromised and an alternative means was needed to maintain the species.
Seeking answers, the team tracks down Dr. Carl Gerstein (Manner), who predicted this crisis way back in 1957 and offered three possible solutions: the first solution was a drastic reduction in population by dubious means; second, a series of vast underground bunkers to be populated by those best suited to rebuild once the environmental crisis has passed; and alternative three involved abandoning the Earth altogether by establishing a colony of essential personnel on Mars with the moon as a way station in between -- a plan that already appears to be in motion.
Several uncovered documents reveal the United States and the Soviet Union's space programs are far more advanced than public perception and had landed on the moon long before 1968. They even manage to get testimony of an eye-witness, Bob Grodin (Rimmer), a disgraced former Apollo astronaut, who was written off as a loony when he brought home tales of a secret base spotted on the dark side of the moon. So, yep, that's right. All those scientists and engineers who disappeared are no longer on the planet. And those that died were either involved in a staged death so they could leave with no questions asked or were bumped off to keep things a secret when they refused to go. And after several other leads and informants are chemically lobotomized or disappear without a trace, the episode ends with a bombshell; Ballantine's de-scrambled footage showing a successful joint NASA/RFSA manned landing on Mars in 1962, where something appears to have already beaten them there -- or has been there all along...
Back in October of 1938, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater caused a huge case of the drizzles when many folks tuning in late failed to realize his Halloween treat of an updated version of War of the Worlds as a series of contemporary news bulletins was also a trick, with many listeners believing a real alien invasion had begun in Grover's Mill, and still serves as a landmark case study in blind panic and mass hysteria. Later, in July of 1950, Dimension X, an anthology radio program that "offered a variety of exciting tales of future technology, with a special focus on space exploration (-- including alien invasion), which often reflected contemporary anxieties about the dangers of technology" broadcast an episode called The Man in the Moon, where a Federal investigator unravels a series of transmissions from someone, a scientist, claiming that he and many others have been kidnapped and are currently being held on the moon by a cabal of Nazis who secretly colonized the moon in the late 1930s, who are now prepping to re-invade the Earth.
Both of those radio broadcasts seem to have influence on David Ambrose and Christopher Miles' Alternative-3 (1977), which was written and conceived as an elaborate April Fool's Day prank. Apparently, there really was a news serial called Science Report on the Norwich-based ITV Anglia, and this hoax was conceived and written to fit into that show's investigative format to give it more credibility and a verisimilitude punch-up like Welles' fake news broadcast. However, due to a labor strike, the production blew its broadcast date of April 1st and the program was then finally broadcast in late June. And despite the original host (Brinton) being the only non-actor in the show, confirmed by the closing credits (-- which also show Brian Eno provided the soundtrack), the broadcasters were soon swamped with calls by those duped and concerned citizens, demanding to know how much time they had until the world ended and how to get a ticket to Mars to see whatever the hell that was scrabbling in the dirt.
Like with Welles broadcast, Alternative-3 triggered widespread outrage in the public and the media against ITV Anglia, who apologized and banned the episode from ever being rebroadcasted, which means trying to see it can be a bit of a chore. When I finally tracked it down on YouTube, the poor video quality and shoddy audio actually ads another layer of pseudo-realism to the fake credibility connived by Ambrose and Miles, who do a pretty good job of adding layer upon layer of fidgety interviewees, hidden camera footage, and series of outlandish facts with just enough plausibility to give the narrative more juice, topped off with a pretty effective staged Mars landing that I'm sure was shot in the same rock quarry as that one episode of Doctor Who. (Which one? All of them.) Anyhoo, I know it sucked me in pretty good as it played out, but then this spell was completely shattered when Shane Rimmer showed up as the kooky ex-astronaut, whose familiar mug can be seen in a couple of James Bond entries -- most notably, The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). His performance was fine, mind you, he was just too familiar a face and short-circuited the whole thing for me.
So, yeah, Alternative-3 is a load of horse-puckey -- a very well staged and effectively executed and highly entertaining load of horse-puckey, but horse-puckey all the same. [See also Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County (1998).] Despite all the non-proof being proved false or non-existent, to this very day some folks hold onto the notion that what was featured is real and is really happening -- there's even a "whistle-blowing" novel written to cash in on this bogus conspiracy, proving once again P.T. Barnum was right all along. And with such an intensive backlash, it would be nearly 15 years before any broadcaster in Britain would be brave enough to try something like this again. And Ghostwatch (1992) proved even more successful at duping the audience into believing it was all real and caused even more of a public shit-storm than Alternative-3 did. But that, Boils and Ghouls, is another YouTube tale for another day.
Alternative-3 (1977) Anglia Television / EP: John Woolf / P: John Rosenberg / AP: Bob Bell / D: Christopher Miles / W: David Ambrose, Christopher Miles / C: Richard Crafter, Ian Craig / E: Michael O'Halloran / M: Brian Eno / S: Tim Brinton, Gregory Munroe, Carol Hazell, Shane Rimmer, Richard Marner