"The result is speculation built on fact. What I offer is not a firm prediction - more an exploration of possibilities."This genre openly combines elements of traditional documentaries with Speculative Fiction. While the pure Documentary is entirely based on fact, the Speculative Documentary adds elements which are either an interpretation of actual events based on a combination of speculation and extrapolation from known science, or completely fictional. While a Speculative Documentary can also be Hard SF, a Documentary of Lies, or Mockumentary, the Speculative Documentary takes a very scientific approach to asking "what if" that differentiates it from other fiction. While Hard Science-Fiction places at least some importance on characters, plots and justifying fantastical elements, and the Mockumentary uses a documentary style to tell a dramatic or comedic fictional story, the Speculative Documentary handwaves any fantastical elements and downplays characters and plots to focus on implications and educating viewers about real science. Most dinosaur documentaries fall into this category, due to how little we know about their paleobiology. Speculative Biology is a subtrope.
— Dougal Dixon, After Man: A Zoology of the Future, Author's Introduction
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Envisioning the Distant Past
- Clash of the Dinosaurs
- Deadliest Warrior, a show that uses SCIENCE! to figure out who would win in a fight between ancient or modern warriors who would never normally meet on the battlefield.
- Dinosaur Planet
- Planet Dinosaur
- Jurassic Fight Club
- March of the Dinosaurs
- Walking with Dinosaurs and its various sequels, spinoffs, etc.
- When Dinosaurs Roamed America
- Dinosaur Revolution
- Monsters Resurrected
- Planet of Dinosaurs
Envisioning the Distant Future
- After Man: A Zoology of the Future (1981) by Scottish paleontologist and geologist Dougal Dixon
- Animal Planet's The Future Is Wild TV series, created with feedback from Dixon. Something of an updated Spiritual Successor and Adaptation Expansion of After Man.
- Life After People
- Hyperland (Ironically, or maybe not coincidentally, the Internet boom made Hyperland a near-reality just a few years later).
- The collaborative Orion's Arm sci-fi setting.
- The Weather Channel's It Could Happen Tomorrow: A Speculative Documentary series where the results of a serious weather incident like a hurricane or tornado, or natural disaster like an earthquake or levee break, would affect a major American city.
- The Singularity Is Near by Ray Kurzweil, though he would say it is envisioning a rapidly approaching future.
Envisioning Alien Worlds
- Cosmos: A Personal Voyage by Carl Sagan, while not entirely one of these, had a sequence depicting life on a gas giant planet.
- The 1990 illustrated book Expedition by Wayne Barlowe. (adapted in 2005 by the Discovery Channel as Alien Planet)
- It was very imaginative and subversive for its time (when Rubber-Forehead Aliens and smeerps were still the norm in sci-fi). Like Dixon's After Man: A Zoology of the Future, it helped give birth to a lot of Inspired by... / In The Style OF projects over the years.
- Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials is an even earlier subversion (from 1979) in the form of an animal field guide, but portraying the more imaginative aliens of SF.
- Extraterrestrial, made by National Geographic
- The Snaiad project has lots of vividly imagined alien vertebrates from an Earth-like planet
Envisioning Alternate Realities
- Dougal Dixon's third speculative book, The New Dinosaurs: An Alternative Evolution (1988) and Specworld show what life might be like if dinosaurs never went extinct.
- Ivory Extraordinaire: Deadly safaris on an alternate Earth where elephants out-competed all other big herbivores, and carnivores have grown larger to keep up
- Aftermath: Population Zero explores what would happen to Earth if humans disappeared without a trace. High source of Nightmare Fuel.
- Like the aforementioned Life After People, that is also based on the book The World Without Us.
- They also made other "what if" style Aftermath documentaries, which explore topics like what if the world suddenly stopped spinning, what if we completely ran out of oil, and others.
- C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America
- Death of a President conjectures the consequences to the United States of America if George W. Bush had been assassinated.
Reverse Engineering Fantasy using Real Science
Mockumentary supported by real science, also known as (in The Other Wiki) a Docu Drama
- The Day Britain Stopped.
- Earth 2100 details the events that led to the creation of the After the End Crapsack World that the protagonist, Lucy, lives in on June 2nd, 2100.
- Animal Planet's The Last Dragon aka Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real aka Dragon's World.
- Prehistoric Park.
- The Snouters: Form and Life of the Rhinogrades: a joke "natural history treatise" on a non-existent group of mammals that walk on their noses. A popular in-joke among comparative anatomists is to cite this book in their texts.
- Threads and its predecessor, The War Game
- After Armageddon, a hypothetical After the End scenario.
- Mermaids: The Body Found, which despite its gratuitous use of CG fooled a lot of people into believing it was real thanks to only having a very hard to spot disclaimer during the credits.
- The Age of Stupid portrays Earth in the year 2055 after runaway climate change ravages the planet. The film is shown from the viewpoint of an unnamed Archivist - the last surviving human on Earth - who laments "why didn't we save ourselves when we had the chance?", and plays back real documentary footage from 2008, when the film was made.
- The World Of Kong: A Natural History Of Skull Island is an illustrated coffee-table book released as a follow up to King Kong (2005). It's ostensibly a compilation of discoveries by several research expeditions that took place in the wake of Kong's demise, before the island sank into the ocean and its Lost World ecosystem vanished forever.