On the planet Kembel, Space Security agent Marc Cory uncovers a Dalek plot to exterminate humanity. Will he survive long enough to warn Earth of the Dalek threat?
This review will probably be a bit more along the lines of my reviews of the recently released animated versions of missing episodes, as Mission to the Unknown does not exist. In preparing this view, I listened to the audio of the story with linking narration by Peter Purves, as well as watching the University of Central Lancashire. That makes it incredibly difficult to review in a fashion similarly to how I’d review surviving stories, or even episodes which have a surviving part or two, like The Crusade.
What this story does highlight though is just how inventive the production team were willing to be in Season 3, especially when you think about this single episode in the broader context of The Daleks’ Master Plan later on in the series, a twelve-part epic. Writing about this story in 2022, where Doctor-lite episodes became a sort of given, especially in the first Russell T Davies run, might seem to make this story a bit less special but it would have been an enormous risk to pitch an episode in 1965. One cannot imagine that William Hartnell would have been pleased to hear the news that he wasn’t going to be in an episode of his television show, but I’m sure the fact that he was credited and therefore paid and didn’t have to do any work probably sweetened the deal a little bit. The fact that the Doctor and his companions don’t show up in this story doesn’t jar as much with a modern audience, and in fact, if you think about how much of the Sixth Doctor’s television run features him turning up later in the narrative and what is to come later in the season, Mission to the Unknown perhaps loses a bit of the impact it would have had for a contemporary audience.
It has to be said that, essentially being an episode setting up a broader narrative means that it doesn’t really have much of a plot. Nation gives us a mystery as to why Mark Cory, for all intents and purposes, our protagonist for this story wanted to land on Kembel in the first place, what is going on with the Varga as it possesses first Jeff Garvey, then Gordon Lowery. Terry Nation makes Mark Cory into a James Bond like figure, complete with a licence to kill and a seeming lack of empathy as he puts down both Gravey and Lowery in cold blood, proceeding to be able to send his message to the Space Security Force, and the Daleks feel truly menacing as they hunt for the three humans and prepare for their assault on the universe at large.
I’d like to turn my attention to the University of Central Lancashire’s recreation of the story now. The sheer amount of effort and painstaking research that has gone into the recreation of the jungle planet of Kembel and things like the camera movement and just general set design feels perfect. The actors do the best job they can to recapture the original actor’s clipped received pronunciation and it feels as though it could have been extensively remastered from the original in the 1960s.
Verdict: Mission to the Unknown has perhaps lost something now that it’s not the only Doctor-lite episode in the show’s history, but it does a good job of setting up the massive story to come in Season 3. 7/10
Original Cast: William Hartnell (The Doctor), Edward de Souza (Mark Cory), Barry Jackson (Jeff Garvey), Jeremy Young (Gordon Lowery), Robert Cartland (Malpha), Robert Jewell, Kevin Manser, John Scott Martin and Gerald Taylor (Dalek Operators) & David Graham and Peter Hawkins (Dalek Voices).
Cast of the Reconstruction: Jacob Marisson (Jeff Garvey), Marco Simioni (Mark Cory), Dan Gilligan (Gordon Lowery), Paul Stenton (Malpha), Nicholas Briggs (Dalek Voices) & James Burgess, Mark Burgess, Sean Wilson and Timothy McDonagh (Dalek Operators).
Writer: Terry Nation
Director: Derek Martinus
Producer: Verity Lambert
Original Broadcast Date: 9th October 1965
Behind the Scenes
- A one-episode prologue to The Daleks’ Master Plan.
- The only Doctor Who story not to feature the Doctor, any companion, or the TARDIS. William Hartnell’s name appears in the credits but he does not appear due to a clause in his contract stipulating that he would receive a credit for every episode broadcast, even if he only appeared in the reprise or did not appear at all. Peter Purves and Maureen O’Brien were not credited as this clause did not exist in their contracts.
- It is the first of 11 episodes not to feature the TARDIS.
- The last episode of Doctor Who produced by Verity Lambert.
- The episode is currently missing from the BBC Archives. It has been reconstructed twice:
- An animated version was produced by Ian Levine as part of a private project.
- The students, graduates and staff at the University of Central Lancashire carefully recreated the episode using 1960s production values, which was released on YouTube on 9th October 2019.
- The last story until Fury from the Deep not to start with ‘The’.
- The first Dalek story not to be directed, either in full or in part, by Richard Martin.
- Along with The Daleks’ Master Plan, this was offered for sale to foreign broadcasters but never purchased, making chances of recovering this episode very slim.
- Terry Nation wrote this episode to sell the idea of a Dalek television series that would have been divorced from the Doctor Who universe. An unmade pilot called The Destroyers was written but was later produced as a play by Big Finish.
- Edward de Souza went on to appear in the Big Finish Main Range play The Roof of the World and the Jago and Litefoot play The Woman in White.
- Barry Jackson played Ascaris in The Romans and would go on to play Drax in The Armageddon Factor.
- Jeremy Young had previously appeared as Kal in An Unearthly Child.
- Robert Cartland had voiced the Rills in previous story Galaxy 4.
I thought that the effect used for the Varga transformations looked pretty good, in both the reconstruction and pictures of the original.
This is indeed an historic moment in the history of the universe! We six from the outer galaxies, joining with the power from the solar system – the Daleks! The seven of us represent the greatest war force ever assembled! Conquest is assured!
Previous First Doctor review: Galaxy 4