William Gibson's Alien III was a 1987 script draft for a sequel to Aliens. Gibson was the first of six different writers to tackle the Alien3 project, and his first draft screenplay is arguably the most well-known of the unmade scripts for the film as it has been available to read on the internet for many years. The story bears no relation to Alien3 as it was ultimately made, and instead revolves around Dwayne Hicks battling genetically-altered Xenomorphs aboard an enormous space station named Anchorpoint.
Gibson later produced a second draft of his script in 1988, altering the overall tone of the screenplay fairly drastically — whereas the first draft is an action extravaganza very much in the vein of Aliens, the second draft radically scales back the number of Xenomorph antagonists to just three, and instead presents a story more akin to the claustrophobic horror of Alien. However, both iterations of Gibson's screenplay were turned down by the studio. His attempts were followed by Eric Red's script.
The story begins with the Sulaco on its return journey from LV-426. Due to a navigational error, the ship drifts into an area of space controlled by the "Union of Progressive Peoples", a socialist nation-state analogous to the Soviet Union, that is engaged in an ongoing cold war and arms race with the unnamed faction to which the protagonists belong. U.P.P. forces board the Sulaco and are attacked by a Facehugger that has apparently grown from Xenomorph genetic material deposited inside Bishop's severed torso. The victim and the Facehugger are killed and flushed into space. Before leaving, the U.P.P. personnel recover Bishop's remains.
Some time later, the Sulaco docks at the space station Anchorpoint, where it is met by a team of Colonial Marines and scientists, including a science technician named Tully. They board the ship and are attacked by two Soldiers in the hypersleep bay. The creatures kill two of the Marines before they are incinerated with a flamethrower, and in the process Ripley's cryotube is badly damaged by flame. She survives, but is plunged into a coma. Newt and Corporal Hicks both survive unharmed.
Additional Xenomorph genetic material is recovered from Bishop's severed legs in the Sulaco's hangar bay, and Tully and his team secretly begin experimenting on it, under orders from Weyland-Yutani representatives Fox and Welles. Meanwhile, Hicks is debriefed by the senior personnel at Anchorpoint, including Colonel Rosetti of the Colonial Marines and the Weyland-Yutani agents. Soon after, Newt leaves Anchorpoint aboard a decontaminated Sulaco, returning to Earth to live with her grandparents. Hicks is given a job in a machine shop under a man named Walker, but begins to hear rumours of experimentation on the Xenomorphs aboard Anchorpoint. His investigations eventually lead him to learn of the experiments from one of Tully's co-workers, named Spence. At the same time, the U.P.P. return Bishop, whom they have repaired, as a gesture of good faith. In reality, they too are experimenting on the material recovered from his remains, and have begun cloning and genetically modifying Xenomorphs.
The Xenomorph material aboard Anchorpoint exhibits an ability to alter other genetic material on contact. Hicks and Bishop break into the labs and destroy the samples and are detained, but unbeknownst to them they are already too late — Tully and Welles have been "infected" by the airborne Xenomorph contagion in an earlier accident. During a briefing between the senior staff into the incident, it is revealed that some of the material recovered from Bishop's legs has been sent on to Earth aboard the Sulaco. The infection within Welles then manifests itself as she undergoes "the change", tearing off her skin and revealing a form of Xenomorph Warrior beneath. The creature attacks the staff at the meeting, killing Fox before itself being destroyed. Hicks is released from detention by Rosetti when it is discovered Tully has disappeared. While searching for Tully in the bowels of the station, Hicks and Walker are attacked by a Xenomorph and forced flee.
As the Xenomorphs begin to spread on Anchorpoint, the station receives a transmission from the U.P.P., revealing that their own experiments with the creatures have led to a catastrophic containment failure. Realising Anchorpoint is likely doomed, Hicks ejects a still comatose Ripley from the station in an EEV, sending her back to Earth. He then leads a team of Colonial Marines back to the lower levels of the station to fight the Xenomorphs. They discover a Hive and a mutated Queen, and when they attack the Queen's abdomen ruptures, releasing a cloud of airborne contagion directly into the station's main ventilation fans. Hicks blows the Queen apart with a mortar and escapes with the surviving Marines. Bishop manages to shut down the ventilation system, but many people have already been infected and begin to transform.
The station where the U.P.P. were conducting their experiments is destroyed by a U.P.P. cruiser with a nuclear strike. The survivors aboard Anchorpoint elect to overload the station's rector and likewise destroy it, reasoning that they might all be killed before rescue can arrive and if they are, the recovery team will dock with the station and thereby allow the infestation to spread. Bishop goes to detonate the core, while Hicks and the other survivors head for the escape pods, being attacked by Xenomorphs along the way.
The survivors end up donning space suits and walking across the exterior hull of the station, hoping to reach the EEVs. However, they are again attacked by Xenomorphs, including a second Queen. Hicks kills the Queen with his Pulse Rifle's grenade launcher, but the survivors — now reduced to Hicks, Bishop and Spence — end up stranded at the tip of a radio antenna, out of ammunition, the Xenomorphs swarming towards them and the station minutes away from self-destruct. At that moment, a surviving commando from the U.P.P. station arrives in a small fighter craft. She rescues Hicks and the others and flees, moments before Anchorpoint detonates.
The survivors are later picked up by the USS Kansas City, although it is revealed that the U.P.P. commando has fatal radiation poisoning and will not survive. The script ends with Bishop theorizing that humanity is now united against a common enemy, the Xenomorphs, and must find their homeworld so that they can be eradicated once and for all.
Gibson's script is notably the only one written for Alien3 (including even the final shooting script) that attempts to believably explain how there can be Xenomorphs aboard the Sulaco following Aliens — an Egg develops from Xenomorph genetic material inside Bishop's remains, presumably deposited there when he was ripped in two by the first Acheron Queen. From this Egg, a Facehugger then emerges and attacks a member of the U.P.P. team that boards the vessel. However, his body is immediately jettisoned into space, and no explanation is given for the two Soldiers that later attack the boarding party from Anchorpoint; even if more Facehuggers somehow developed on board the Sulaco, there were no hosts from which the adult creatures could have been born, as Ripley, Newt and Hicks are all discovered intact.
Another notable aspect of the script is that it explicitly states the Xenomorphs began as an artificially engineered creature; at one point, one of the U.P.P. characters mentions that it is "as though the [Xenomorph's] gene-structure had been designed for ease of manipulation", going on to theorize that they were created by an unknown extraterrestrial race for use as a biological weapon. This concept has long been a popular theory amongst fans of the series (and is even shared by Alien director Ridley Scott), but has never been officially confirmed.
The script has marked Cold War overtones, mentioning an ongoing war and arms race between the socialist Union of Progressive Peoples and the unnamed faction that the main characters belong to (presumably the United Americas). The U.P.P. are very clearly based on the Soviet Union. Its members hark from nations that were the core of the communist bloc at the time of writing, such as Russia and Vietnam, and much of their dialect is infused with clichéd socialist terms. In the script, both the major powers attempt to develop the Xenomorphs as biological weapons, fearful that their opposition is likely doing the same and that they must meet this threat themselves, mirroring the nuclear stockpiling that took place between the United States of America and the Soviet Union. At the end of the script, Bishop proposes that the existence of the Xenomorphs may successfully unite the two opposing powers against this common threat, thereby bringing an end to their conflict.
Finally, the script is somewhat unusual in sci-fi in that it paints a realistic representation of decompression in space — such an event is often portrayed as causing people to spontaneously and violently explode (as in the subsequent script by Eric Red), which is a complete fallacy. In Gibson's screenplay, when an unnamed lab tech is exposed to the vacuum of space by having his helmet torn off, he simply freezes solid, far more accurate to what would actually occur in such a situation.
As with all of the unproduced Alien3 scripts, Gibson alters the nature of the Xenomorphs, bestowing the creatures with fairly substantial new abilities in his story. Most notably, the Xenomorphs in his draft now exhibit an ability to reproduce via a close-proximity airborne contagion, similar to a virus. When this contagion is inhaled into the lungs, the victim, after a variable amount of time, goes through "the change", as Gibson calls it, and becomes a form of Xenomorph. The transformation process imagined by Gibson can be summarized as a rapid and involuntary change in the human's skeletal and muscular makeup below the skin, concluding with the newly formed Xenomorph graphically tearing the flesh husk off of its body. The concept was intended to introduce suspense, as the survivors would not know if anyone among them was infected until the change suddenly occurs. The idea bears clear parallels to John Carpenter's iconic 1982 horror film The Thing, which revolves around an alien lifeform that can disguise itself as humans in order to hide amongst a group of people stranded in an Antarctic science station.
In addition to "the change", the Xenomorphs also reproduce through the more typical means of Chestbursters, although often multiple creatures burst simultaneously from each victim. One character is even impregnated with Chestbursters after simply being bitten on the lower leg by a Warrior, implying the process is also viral in nature. Gibson mentions that the Warriors in his script are "bigger, meaner, faster" than the creatures seen previously, able to reproduce far more quickly than before, changes ascribed to the cloning and genetic modification experiments undertaken on them by both the U.P.P. and the team aboard Anchorpoint. This concept bears striking similarities to the Cloned Xenomorphs featured in Alien Resurrection, which were similarly altered (albeit unintentionally) through cloning attempts. Gibson also touches upon the idea of Xenomorphs created from organisms other than humans, with one scene briefly featuring Xenomorphs born from lemurs kept in an eco-module aboard Anchorpoint. Later, even vegetation is apparently taken over by the Xenomorph "infection".
Compared to the widely-available first draft, Gibson's second script draft is relatively unknown and hard to find. Whilst it contains the same overall plot and setting as the first screenplay, it is in fact a very different take on the story, featuring less action, fewer human characters and far fewer Xenomorphs that stalk them. Instead of a bustling, heavily populated space station housing a small contingent of Colonial Marines, Anchorpoint is manned only by a skeleton crew while its construction is completed, and the personnel stationed there have access to almost no weaponry.
Another noteworthy refinement in the second draft is that a glaring plot hole in the original version — the presence of two Xenomorph Warriors aboard the Sulaco when it arrives at Anchorpoint, despite there being no conceivable way they could have got there — is corrected. In the second draft, the U.P.P. commando who is attacked by a Facehugger is not flushed into space, and his colleagues are forced to leave him aboard the ship. The Drone that emerges from him subsequently goes into hiding aboard the vessel. When the team from Anchorpoint boards the Sulaco, they are not attacked by Xenomorphs, there is no firefight in the hypersleep bay, and instead of being destroyed by flame, Ripley's cryotube is said to have been damaged by the commando when he was attacked by the Facehugger earlier. The Drone later gets aboard Anchorpoint, and only then does it begin killing the crew. Apart from the Drone, the only other Xenomorphs in the story are the "hybrid" that Welles transforms into, and the genetically modified creature created in the U.P.P. labs, which is killed when the station is destroyed with a nuclear weapon.
Other notable additions/alterations include:
- Many of the unidentified supporting characters are named and fleshed out with additional dialogue.
- During the Anchorpoint team's search of the Sulaco, Welles enters the ship's officer's quarters and inspects some personal belongings, including a photograph of Lieutenant Gorman's wife/girlfriend and Bishop's instruction manual. She also find's the body of the U.P.P. commando, his chest burst open.
- The Drone aboard the Sulaco spends the first half of the story hiding inside a cooling unit on the ship. However, the cooling unit is coincidentally found to be damaged and Walker removes it (using a vehicle similar to the "Flying Bedstead" from a deleted scene in Alien) and brings it aboard Anchorpoint for repairs; this is how the Drone gets aboard the station. The cooling unit is replaced with a new one for the ship's journey to Earth. It is later implied that Fox, one of the Weyland-Yutani representatives, knew about the Drone and intended for it to return to Earth aboard the Sulaco. When he discovers it may be aboard the station, he panics.
- With the Drone aboard Anchorpoint, there is no mention of Xenomorph material of any kind being sent to Earth.
- In the first draft Bishop hesitates before destroying the Xenomorph samples in the lab, and it isn't explained why. The second draft notes that he feels a moment of conflict because it is against his nature to destroy any living organism, even the Xenomorphs. Lance Henriksen made the same observation in interviews following the release of Aliens; Bishop is the ultimate pacifist who is paradoxically employed in military operations and violent life-or-death situations.
- Rosetti survives almost to the end of the story in the first draft, but is killed by Welles when she transforms in the second draft. The earlier version instead had her kill Fox, who lives longer in the second draft.
- Tully commits suicide by locking himself in a freezer before he can change into a Xenomorph. His frozen, half-transformed body is later found by Spence.
- To prevent anyone from calling for help (and either exposing what Weyland-Yutani has done or allowing the Xenomorphs to spread), Fox destroys Anchorpoint's mainframe. After Hicks has sent Ripley to Earth on an EEV, Fox trashes the other pods, rendering them useless as a means of escape.
- Instead of a wealth of advanced weaponry, the only firepower available to the survivors comes in the form of three hand grenades and a "suitgun" — with only five rounds remaining — taken from the dead U.P.P. commando's combat exosuit.
- Spence reveals what the term "bug hunt" means — the Colonial Marines are often tasked with eradicating "redundant species" on colony planets to make the area safe and habitable, and to ensure there is no competing ecosystem for the colonists.
- The survivors learn that Fox has a personal shuttle that they can use to escape. However, when they reach it they find that the Drone has turned the shuttle into a small Hive, inside which Fox is cocooned, still alive. The script explicitly describes this as a tribute to the cocoon scene originally cut from Alien (and reinstated in the Director's Cut). Hicks destroys the shuttle and the nest with a grenade.
- In the first draft, the character Tatsumi is somehow impregnated with multiple Chestbursters after being bitten on the leg by a Warrior. In the second draft, he instead undergoes the change (although he is killed before fully transforming into a Xenomorph).
- The hybrid and the Drone meet and fight each other, with the Drone quickly emerging victorious, tearing the hybrid in half.
- The large action sequence on Anchorpoint's hull that ends the first draft is essentially removed. Instead, the Drone is killed in the station's hangar airlock by the fighter craft piloted by the sole surviving U.P.P. commando. The commando then rescues the survivors as in the original version.
- While essentially none of Gibson's script was used in the final film, his screenplay features a character with an identifying bar-code tattoo, a concept that was used for the inmates in Alien3. Gibson also describes specialist soldiers who wear white suits encased in "disposable biohazard envelopes of filmy translucent plastic", mirroring the look of some of the scientists dispatched to Fiorina 161 in the film.