Mission to the Unknown is a bit of an oddity. After Verity Lambert decided that Planet of Giants was a tad dull and could do with losing an episode, the production team were told they had to add this “spare” episode onto another story.
Considering that the BBC has always been rather cash conscious, this has always struck me as a strange move. Four episodes were budgeted and paid for on Planet of Giants, even if only three made it onto the screen, so effectively Lambert and co were given a “free” episode. Surely the scheduling bods could have slipped a few Tom and Jerry cartoons on one week and no-one would have been that bothered?
Anyway, it seems that the original idea was to bolt an extra episode onto a Terry Nation Dalek script. If that means The Chase then I think we dodged a bullet there. I was already losing the will to live with six episodes, so seven might just have pushed me over the edge.
Or maybe they were referring to The Dalek Invasion of Earth which was the final story in the first production block (it begin in late November 1964).
And for no other reason than the fact that I love original Doctor Who paperwork, here’s Donald Wilson’s memo from 1964 to prove that I’m not talking complete nonsense.
So if the circumstances surrounding the creation of Mission to the Unknown were a little unusual, it’s also strange that it’s not sitting directly before The Daleks’ Master Plan. It works as a prologue for that story very well, but the fact you have four weeks of The Myth Makers between the two would have presumably puzzled many of those watching at home.
I’ve a strong suspicion that Terry Nation leapt at the chance to write a Dalek script which didn’t include the Doctor. He was already working on his proposal for a big-budget American series featuring the Daleks (but not that strange old man in the police box) so it’s easy to see Mission to the Unknown (and large parts of The Daleks’ Master Plan) as a dry run for this.
The American series would have featured plucky members of the space corps (similar to Marc Cory, Sara Kingdom and Bret Vyon) facing off against the Daleks week after week.The television series came to nothing, but the seventies Dalek annuals give you a flavour of what it might have been like.
Anyway, back to today’s episode. We open in a jungle on Kembel, which has plenty of lush, aggressive vegetation. You’d better get used to it as there’s going to be lots of jungle action once we hit The Daleks’ Master Plan proper. We see someone who we later learn is Jeff Garvey (Barry Jackson). His first words (“I must kill… must kill… must kill”) have a slightly ominous ring about them. He doesn’t seem at all well.
Elsewhere, space captain Gordon Lowery (Jeremy Young) is complaining to space agent Marc Cory (Edward de Souza) about this inhospitable planet. It’s clear that Cory’s the man in charge though, which is confirmed when he shoots Garvey dead. Lowery’s a tad upset about this, but Cory explains that Garvey had been infected by a Varga plant and it was him or them.
Cory then reveals his true identity to Lowery. “Space Security Service. Licensed to kill.” Yep, this was very much the time when Sean Connery’s portrayal of James Bond was dominating cinema screens and Cory is a blatant attempt to steal a little of 007’s thunder. It’s an unusual move for Doctor Who though, which until now hasn’t tended to be influenced that much by contemporary popular culture.
Cory explains that he’s on the trail of the Daleks. They haven’t bothered the Earth for a thousand years, but all that seems to have changed as a Dalek ship has been spotted in the vicinity. This shattering revelation is followed by the most melodramatic music cue possible.
Wait! Garvey’s not dead. Instead he’s suffered a far worse fate – he’s turned into a Varga plant!
The Daleks are also on Kembel and they’re here to chair a meeting between the leaders of the seven galaxies. Some of the representatives we see here also pop up in The Daleks’ Master Plan, although by then some were played by different actors.
And some of the representatives in The Daleks’ Master Plan are totally different from how they look in this episode, which is another puzzle. Luckily there are those who have pondered these issues long and hard. For the curious, I can recommend this post by Jac Rayner on her blog Delegate Detective.
Whatever names they have or whichever actor is playing them, the delegates are a rum lot who certainly don’t have a lot of love for our precious planet Earth. As Malpha (Robert Cartland) succinctly puts it. “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!”
That spells trouble. I hope the Doctor is somewhere around …..