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Speculative Documentary

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"The result is speculation built on fact. What I offer is not a firm prediction - more an exploration of possibilities."
Dougal Dixon, After Man: A Zoology of the Future, Author's Introduction

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 science fiction, 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.

This often overlaps with Speculative Biology in the case of documentaries dealing with alternate evolution or alien worlds.


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    Envisioning the Distant Past 

    Envisioning the Distant Future 
  • 2057: A 2007 docu-drama that tries to predict what technology and society will be like by that year.
  • After Man: A Zoology of the Future (1981) by Scottish paleontologist and geologist Dougal Dixon, which speculates on animals and ecosystems that might arise after human existence.
  • All Tomorrows: A chronology of future descendants of humanity evolving millions of years in the future.
  • Evacuate Earth: A 2012 National Geographic Channel special about a hypothetical Homeworld Evacuation as a rogue neutron star approaches the solar system.
  • The Future Is Wild: An animated series describing the animal life of three periods of the Earth's future history.
  • Hyperland: A documentary about hypertext and surrounding technologies, still cutting-edge at the time it was aired.
  • 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.
  • Life After People explores what would happen to the Earth if humans disappeared without a trace.
  • Orion's Arm: A collaborative sci-fi setting describing future Transhuman civilization.
  • The Singularity Is Near: A film about artificial intelligence and the future of humanity.

    Envisioning Alien Worlds 
  • Alien Worlds (2020): A miniseries using imagined alien lifeforms as a means to describe ecology, biology and the future of humanity.
  • Barlowes Guide To Extraterrestrials: A portrayal of the more imaginative aliens of science fiction in the form of an animal field guide.
  • Brackenwood: The "Brackenwood Wildlife Documentary Series" shorts describe the nature and habits of the fictional creatures of the setting, such as Fatsacks and Prowlies.
  • Cosmos: A Personal Voyage by Carl Sagan, while not entirely one of these, has a sequence depicting life on a gas giant planet.
  • Expedition: An early and pioneering attempt to model and envision a truly alien ecosystem. Adapted as the Discovery Channel documentary "Alien Planet" in 2005.
  • Extraterrestrial (2005): A National Geographic miniseries describing wildlife on two alien worlds.
  • Hamster's Paradise : A world seeded with hamsters. The documentary part in particular is strong as most early 2022 words material has been slice of life naturalistic pictures on the world's various inhabittants, even even citing Prehistoric Planet as an inspiration.
  • Serina: A world seeded with canaries, guppies, and a variety of invertebrates.
  • Snaiad: A description of lots of vividly imagined alien vertebrates from an Earth-like planet.
  • Tales of Kaimere is a rather unique case in that it is a seed world like Serina but is flavoured more along the lines of High Fantasy, while retaining proper speculatve evolution of earth organisms harvested into this world.

    Envisioning Alternate Realities 
  • Aftermath: A series of documentaries exploring the effects of apocalyptic events, such as the sudden disappearance of humanity, the world suddenly stopping spinning, humanity running out of oil, and others.
  • Amphiterra: A project about a timeline where conditions were different enough so that frogs ended up being the dominant lifeform of Earth rather then dinosaurs or mammals.
  • C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America: A historical mockumentary created in an alternate universe where the Confederacy won the American Civil War.
  • Death of a President conjectures the consequences to the United States of America if George W. Bush had been assassinated.
  • Har Deshur: Presents complex life on the surface of an alternate universe Mars through the journal of a veteran astronaut, complete with mock-citations and references to fictional scientific papers.
  • Ivory Extraordinaire: Deadly safaris on an alternate Earth where elephants out-competed all other big herbivores, and carnivores have grown larger to keep up.
  • The New Dinosaurs: An Alternative Evolution: An attempt to describe what Earth life might be like if dinosaurs never went extinct.
  • Specworld: A collaborative project modeling what life might be like if dinosaurs never went extinct.
  • World War III: Depicts what might have happened if Mikhail Gorbachev had been deposed and replaced by a communist hard-liner, causing the Cold War to escalate into an actual war.

    Reverse Engineering Fantasy using Real Science 
  • Batman Tech
  • The Science of Doctor Who
  • The Science of Harry Potter.
  • The Science of Star Trek
  • The Science of Star Wars
  • Star Wars Tech
  • 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.

    Mockumentary supported by real science 
  • After Armageddon: Follows the survivors of a deadly global pandemic.
  • 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 Day Britain Stopped: Explores the aftermath of the collapse of British transportation systems, Next Sunday A.D..
  • 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.
  • Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real: An attempt to model dragons as biologically possible creatures.
  • Mermaids: The Body Found: Despite its gratuitous use of CG, this fooled a lot of people into believing it was real thanks to only having a very hard to spot disclaimer during the credits.
  • Prehistoric Park: A miniseries describing a zoo for extinct animals retrieved from the past.
  • Smallpox 2002, although it's somewhat off-base about smallpox specifically, it gets the action of a pandemic largely right.
  • Supervolcano: Follows the eruption of the Yellowstone caldera as it might happen in real life.
  • Threads: Explores the aftermath of a nuclear war.
  • The War Game: Another nuclear war dramatization.