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 by industrial action, 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.
In the late 1970s the UK's Anglia Television ran a weekly science series, Science Report. The final episode of the series was allegedly due to have been broadcast on April 1, and as the series was not to be recommissioned, the production team may have decided to produce a spoof edition for April Fool's Day, which was written by Chris Miles and David Ambrose but retained the series' format and presenter. Music was supplied by Brian Eno, a portion of his score being released on the 1978 album Music for Films.
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 when viewed on an ordinary videotape machine the only result is radio 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 such a device, the resulting video turns out to depict a landing on the Martian surface — in 1962! As Russian and American voices excitedly celebrate their achievement, something stirs beneath the Martian soil...