Mission to the Unknown

Written by:
Terry Nation
Directed by: Derek Martinus
Starring: William Hartnell
Year: 1965
Audio Availability: Try Amazon

Mission to the Unknown doesn't really get a lot of respect among fans of the series. It's not hated, but as a one-off teaser for the fun hokum/big bag of bollocks that is The Daleks' Masterplan it's something of an oddity. It's easy to claim season three was wildly experimental, and that making an episode with none of the regular cast was innovative, but really it was just an excuse to work around their holiday entitlement.

I quite like it though, to be honest. As it's a story of which next to nothing exists, then the reconstruction team Loose Cannon have really done a fantastic job to make it possibly their best-ever release. Being bookended by interviews with Edward De Souza (Marc Cory), it makes it feel like a really special package, even if the actual material only amounts to 25 minutes. There's also supposed to be a special "making of" that the team produced, but I didn't get that as I twisted the arm of the Loose Cannon contact to record The Celestial Toymaker on the same tape. Don't do that, it's naughty and they don't like it. Using composite pictures from other contemporary works that the leads had appeared in, and footage from other associated stories (such as synchronised Dalek shots from The Chase and Masterplan), this can only really give you an idea of what the episode would have looked like, rather than the usual splicing together of Telesnaps. If this doesn't sound great, then I'm underselling, and the clarity of images really is tremendous. For more detailed information on this, then see The Loose Cannon Making of Mission to the Unknown Reconstruction.

Anyway, enough rambling. The story itself is pretty good, and you get the feeling that with Derek Martinus taking over the Dalek duties instead of the lame Richard Martin then this would be not only a worthwhile view, but also far better than the 12-episode story it's promoting. Okay, it's your usual Nation hack job with a cardboard spaceship, massive tape recorders and jungle wildlife that goes "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrr" (A crime, it turns out, first attributed to The Edge of Destruction), but there's a refreshingly violent content that makes it grittier than your usual Hartnell.

Even Uncle Tel's script is better than normal, with people not standing around saying their usual macho cod cobblers, but realistic things like telling each other to cut the chat or saying stuff is getting on their nerves. But the theme of alien possession and lethal paranoia is a rewarding, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers style horror.

The plot is, as all Tel plots invariably are, complete and utter bollocks. Marc Cory suddenly has a hunch that the planet Kembel would be an ideal place "for any secret preparations that the Daleks wanted to make", being, as it is, "the most hostile planet of the universe." So you're sitting there, having your Sunday tea, when all of a sudden you think to yourself, "You know, I just bet the Daleks are plotting a secret masterplan right this minute. Hmmmmmm, yeah, I bet they are, but where would it be? I know - that planet where no f***er ever goes, it's f***in' ideal!" Oh, stop your swearing! Still, there's a reason why the script editor's name was Tosh.

Okay, a word on the "real titles" for stories. Up until The Savages, all Doctor Who stories had individual names for the episodes, causing much debate about what the first twenty-five stories were actually called. In the 90s official BBC documentation was found, giving out such proper titles as "100,000 BC", "The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve" and, in this instance, "Dalek Cutaway". So, why haven't I used those titles, and stuck to those used for years previously? It's simple - the new ones are shite! Can you imagine that if they ever found this episode in isolation and stuck it on a tape? "Oooh, it's 'Dalek Cutaway', I must buy that!" Why not just call it The Flange of Doom and have done with it? It's garbage, I tells ya!

But this is a Dalek episode, and thankfully they're support to the human characters. I always think they work best in the background, and here they (and their "alien" comrades) look and sound ridiculous. Could this, though, be the best Dalek episode in the Hartnell era? It's not as funny as The Chase or as iconographic as The Dalek Invasion of Earth, but it still entertains and has one advantage over the other four stories… it's over quicker.
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It's pointless trying to judge Mission to the Unknown as an entire entity as it only consists of the episode above. However, this does give me chance to answer a question I get asked on occasion: is the "overall verdict" the sum product of the episodes rated? The answer is "no", because it's always possible for a story to be more or less than the sum of its parts. It's even possible that a story could consist of four outstanding episodes but seem crap as a whole, or vice versa. It hasn't happened yet, though. So, the overall verdict? Same as above…
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