Doctor Who – Mission to the Unknown

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 …..

Doctor Who – Galaxy 4. Part Four – The Exploding Planet

After the Doctor and Vicki rescue Steven from the airlock, they leave him to have a chat with the Rill (still voiced in a deep and booming fashion by Robert Cartland).  This is one of the more interesting scenes in this final episode.  Earlier, both Vicki and the Doctor were happy to accept the Rill’s bona fides at face value, but Steven’s a much more cynical sort.

STEVEN: So the Doctor trusts you?
RILL: Why shouldn’t he?
STEVEN: No reason. I suppose you gave right ethical reasons for him, so naturally he does trust you.
RILL: We rescued you from the Drahvins, but you still don’t trust us?
STEVEN: Oh, you could be the same as them – using us for your own salvation.

Steven eventually accepts that the Rills are operating in good faith, but this scene demonstrates Steven’s independence.   Peter Purves’ dislike for the story is well known (he believed his part had originally been written for Barbara and then was hastily rewritten) but little moments like this are good ones for the character.

In the end, the moral of the story is helpfully spelled out after the Doctor, Steven and Vicki have a face-to-face meeting with the Rill.  Even the Doctor is slightly taken aback by his appearance, but after his initial surprise he treats him with equanimity.

Vicki and Steven are equally accepting.  Vicki says that “I mean, after all, we must look just as strange to you” whilst Steven tells the Rill that “what difference does it make what your form is?”  The Doctor is able to cap these noble sentiments off when he grandly proclaims that “importance lies in the character and to what use you put this intelligence. We respect you as we respect all life.”

It’s Maaga’s inability to see past the Rills’ startling experience which seals her fate and that of her soldiers.  The Rills would have been happy to take the Drahvins with them once the Doctor had repaired their ship, but this was never a possibility for Maaga.  For her there was only one answer – kill the Rills and take their ship by force.

But her attempt to launch an attack comes to nothing and she’s forced to watch as the Rills’ spaceship takes off without them.   That we’re denied a pitched Drahvin/Chumbly battle for control of the Rills spaceship feels like a missed opportunity, as is the fact that the Doctor and his friends are able to reach the TARDIS without being stopped by Maaga.

I wonder if some of the other Doctors would have decided to rescue Maaga and the others?  Not Billy though, he’s more than happy to nip off and leave them to their fate.  In the world of the first Doctor it’s plain that the Drahvins had their chance to demonstrate that – like the Rills – they could show compassion for others.  They didn’t, so the Doctor leaves them to face certain death.

With only one extant episode it’s hard to really know how effective the story was.  The Loose Cannon recon certainly makes an heroic effort to provide some visual moments for the other three episodes, but even if the whole story existed I doubt it would be regarded as anything more than a fairly middling story.

The rather simplistic message at the heart of the story (ugly doesn’t have to mean evil) had been covered more fruitfully before – even in the sedate form of The Sensorites.

Doctor Who – Galaxy 4. Part Three – Airlock


Galaxy 4 has never been regarded as one of Doctor Who‘s great tales, something which was made plain when Air Lock was recovered.  The news was met with polite interest, but there was an undeniable feeling that many were wishing something from a “classic” story (like Power of the Daleks) had been found instead.

Hopefully some minds were changed after the episode was released on DVD, as the return of any missing DW episode (even from an obscure and unloved story like this one) should be celebrated.  It’s wonderful to have the audios and recons, but they can only tell half the story – the previously unknown visual moments from Air Lock were a real revelation for me.

For example, we finally got to see a Rill in all its glory.  One of the series’ more mysterious monsters (for a long time even photographic evidence was sparse) it’s fair to say that the visuals didn’t do it many favours.

It does rather look like a piece of cardboard slowly moving behind a screen (so this was one of those occasions where the static image was preferable).  The voice acting from Robert Carland was powerful though – he certainly put everything he could into the role.

But if the visual representation of the Rill was a little disappointing, then the joy of watching Hartnell in full flow more than made up for it.  I love Hartnell’s Doctor (I may have mentioned this a few times before) and he’s in cracking form in this episode.

One of my favourite moments (another of those visual touches that we hadn’t previously known about) occurs when the Doctor orders the Chumblies about.  Lovely stuff!  The scene when he tangles with a Drahvin, using his stick as a weapon (and calling her madam!) is another little gem.

This was Derek Martinus’ directorial debut on the series.  He wasn’t the first, and certainly wouldn’t be the last, to find Hartnell rather difficult, but whilst Martinus may have been inexperienced he was still able to produce some interesting moments.

Most notable is Maaga’s monologue which Stephanie Bidmead delivers direct to camera. The flashback scene showing the moment when the Drahvins and Rills both crashed on the planet was another impressive visual touch – shot from the Rill’s POV.

The Doctor’s in a very reckless mood. He decides to sabotage the Rill’s machine which produces ammonia for them. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he didn’t realise it was vital to their survival. At least he has the good grace to look a little bashful afterwards!

Peter Purves doesn’t have a great deal to do today.  Trapped in the air lock for most of the episode, he might as well have sat this one out.  This passive role no doubt helps to reinforce his belief that Galaxy 4 was a story that did Steven few favours, but had one of the earlier episodes been recovered then it’s possible that he may have looked a little more kindly on the story (as Steven certainly has a more active role in the first two episodes).

Doctor Who – Galaxy Four. Part Two – Trap of Steel

Maaga has allowed the Doctor and Steven to leave the Drahvin ship in order to establish whether the planet really will be destroyed in fourteen dawns.  The audience is several steps ahead though – we know that this estimate is wildly optimistic (the planet will actually expire in another two dawns).

Vicki’s been left behind as a hostage, but luckily she doesn’t have to bear Maaga’s company for too long as the others return with news.  The Doctor decides to be economical with the truth to begin with and tells Maaga that the Rill’s estimate of fourteen dawns was correct.  The only problem is that Maaga then reveals that the repairs to the Rill’s spaceship will also take fourteen dawns.

Maaga once again repeats what almost seems to be a mantra – the Rills are evil and must be destroyed.  The possibility of working together to leave the planet never seems to enter her head.

But it’s interesting that despite the fact she seems to loathe the Rills, she’s also picked up a certain amount of information from them – the notion that the planet’s lifespan is limited to fourteen dawns and the time needed to repair their ship, for example.  If they’re such implacable enemies it’s a little odd that they’ve been so free with vital information like this.

Maaga is able to winkle out from the Doctor the fact that two dawns is all the time the planet has left to enjoy.  So the Doctor and Vicki (with Steven this time left behind as the Drahvin’s hostage) set out to meet the Rills to see if they can speed up the repairs 

This is not before time – after all, we learnt early in episode one about them and there’s a strong sense that the story can’t advance until we hear their side of things.  But the Doctor, and the story, isn’t inclined to rush so we’ll have to wait until the next episode before the Doctor and Vicki come (sort of) face to face with a Rill.

Whilst the Doctor and Vicki are slowly making their way to the Rill’s spaceship, Steven is attempting to sow discord aboard the Drahvin’s ship.  He’s able to easily manipulate one of Maaga’s footsoldiers, but it doesn’t gain him much of an advantage.

Galaxy 4 has long been one of Peter Purves’ least favourite stories, mainly because he believed it was written for Ian and Barbara (and Barbara’s role was then hastily rewritten for him).  There’s not a great deal of evidence for that in this episode though.  Steven has several very decent scenes – especially when he confronts Maaga – and whilst it’s possible that Barbara could have been as strong, everything we see here is totally consistent with Steven’s already established character.

Little of note happens in Trap of Steel.  Events are moving, but we’ll have to wait until the next episode to see how they pay off.  Since episode three now exists that’s not entirely a bad thing, but it does mean that Trap of Steel is rather forgettable in its own right.

Doctor Who – Galaxy Four. Part One – Four Hundred Dawns

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Galaxy 4 opens with a scene of domestic life aboard the TARDIS – Vicki is cutting Steven’s hair. Does she also trim the Doctor’s I wonder? But musings about the barbering requirements aboard the ship are (ahem) cut short when they land on what appears to be a completely deserted planet.

The Doctor is convinced there’s no life out there. Ooops. Just a minute later a strange robot is observed slowing moving around the TARDIS. Later Doctors tended to verge on the omnipotent, but this moment is a reminder that the original Doctor didn’t have all the answers (and also had the good grace to admit when he was wrong).

Vicki’s delighted with the small robot, nicknaming it a Chumbley, because it has a sort of chumbley movement. No, me neither. But it’s as good a name as any and it’s helpful to have the device named since it instantly imbues it with more of a personality.

So far we’re about eight minutes in and the story has proceeded in a leisurely fashion. Things start to pick up when two blonde women throw a net over the hapless Chumbley. Steven’s all over them in a rash. “Aren’t they a lovely surprise” he coos and when they introduce themselves as Drahvins he responds “and very nice too.” A smooth talker, that boy.

This early scene helps to establish that there are two factions on the planet – the Drahvins and the Rills (who control the Chumblies). The Drahvins view the Rills with extreme loathing. “They are not people. They are things. They crawl. They murder.”

I wonder if the story was asking the audience to assume that the Rills were evil and the Drahvins good? But since the script makes it plain that both the Doctor and Vicki view the Drahvins, even after this initial meeting, with suspicion that doesn’t seem to be so. They might be superficially attractive but there’s an unsettling coldness to them.

This does sap the suspense somewhat – it may have been more interesting for the Drahvins to be presented as welcoming and friendly, with their true natures only slowly revealed. Of course, another avenue to explore would have been if both sides were as evil and warlike as each other – meaning that the Doctor and his friends were caught in the middle with no potential allies.

Until the recovery of episode three, Airlock, the only surviving visual material had been a five minute excerpt from this episode. After the static nature of the recon, it’s nice to have moving pictures again (albeit briefly) as the Doctor and the others meet the leader of the Drahvins, Maaga (Stephanie Bidmead). She rules her subordinates with fear, but is cordial with the Doctor, no doubt because she believes he could be of some use to her in the war with the Rills.

Maaga chats a little about her home planet, which adheres to various SF clichés. “Oh, we have a small number of men, as many as we need. The rest we kill. They consume valuable food and fulfill no particular function.” Most of the Drahvins are clones – only Maaga is a real person, the rest are bred to fight and die (which handily explains their wooden delivery and lack of spark).

With the planet due to explode in fourteen dawns time, Maaga has a problem. Their ship is damaged, so she has to find some way to force the Rills to take them (or destroy the Rills and commander their ship). If the episode has proceeded in a rather leisurely fashion so far, then the revelation that the planet will actually explode in two dawns does add a little urgency to proceedings ……

Doctor Who – The Time Meddler. Part Four – Checkmate

It’s not too much of a stretch to see the Monk as an inversion of the Doctor.  Wheras the Doctor has had a strong aversion to changing history (although only it seems to apply to the Earth prior to the 1960’s) the Monk is quite the opposite.

He explains his brilliant plan to the Doctor. “Well, for instance, Harold, King Harold, I know he’d be a good king. There wouldn’t be all those wars in Europe, those claims over France went on for years and years. With peace the people’d be able to better themselves. With a few hints and tips from me they’d be able to have jet airliners by 1320! Shakespeare’d be able to put Hamlet on television.”

No surprise that the Doctor is appalled, although one of the problems with stories which address the possibility of changing history is that they pose more questions than they answer.

Doctor Who’s first script editor David Whitaker was quite clear on this point – the Doctor couldn’t change history.  Not wouldn’t, couldn’t.  Several less than convincing reasons were provided to explain this. For example, if they’d attempted to assassinate a key figure like Napoleon then the bullet would have been bound to miss him.

Quite how this would happen is never made clear, unless we assume that that there’s some mysterious force in the universe which knows the “true” course of history and would automatically deal with any deviations.

This isn’t very satisfying and when Dennis Spooner took over from David Whitaker he quickly changed things around.  Now, the Doctor could change history but the question was more whether he should.  The Doctor voices his fear about the Monk’s meddling.  “He’s utterly irresponsible. He wants to destroy the whole pattern of world history.”

Is the Doctor concerned because the Monk’s plans will have a detrimental effect on Earth’s development or is it that he doesn’t want to see established history changed?  If everything the Monk predicted came to pass then it might actually be positive.  But how would anybody know?  As discussed by Vicki and Steven, as soon as a change is made it would become true history and they’d never have known any other.

VICKI: It looks as though that Monk’s going to get away with it after all.
STEVEN: Yes, but he can’t, can he? I don’t know much about history but I do know that William the Conqueror did win the Battle of Hastings.
VICKI: Up till now he did. If the Monk changes it, I suppose our memories will change as well.
STEVEN: What about the history books?
VICKI: That’s all right. They’re not written yet. They’ll just write and print the new version.
STEVEN: But that means that the exact minute, the exact second that he does it, every history book, every, well, the whole future of every year and time on Earth will change, just like that and nobody’ll know that it has?
VICKI: I suppose that’s what I’m trying to say.

Although the Doctor’s still keen to present himself as an observer and not a meddler like the Monk, every time he visits a planet he makes a material difference and therefore changes history. If he hadn’t appeared somewhere then events would have played out differently. How different this is from the Monk’s plans is hard to say. See, time travel is a tricky business …

The Doctor manages to defeat the Monk, although I’ve always found it slightly strange that he elects to strand him on Earth.  He may not have access to his TARDIS, but he still has his knowledge and a stockpile of anachronistic inventions.  Surely he could do some damage to history with these?

Ah well, probably best to think about it too deeply.  The Time Meddler is content to be nothing more than a comic romp, with the main entertainment to be found in the Doctor’s clashes with the Monk.  It’ll never top any favourites poll, but it’s a solid entertainment and brings the second series to a decent conclusion.

Doctor Who – The Time Meddler. Part Three – A Battle of Wits

At the start of this episode it’s clear that Vicki still has the upper hand over Steven.  She’s the one who deduces that the Doctor must have escaped from his cell via a secret passage (and she also manages to find it).

But the roles are reversed later after they return to the beach.  Vicki is appalled to find that the tide’s come in, as it surely must mean that the TARDIS has been washed out to sea.  Steven tries to comfort her by telling her that maybe the Doctor has moved it, but that only upsets her even more.  If the Doctor’s demateralised the TARDIS then he’d have no way of returning and they’ll be stranded in eleventh century Britain forever.

Although Vicki has developed a pleasingly independant streak over the last few stories, her sudden despair and defeatism does suggest that she’s not too far removed from the naive young girl we met in The Rescue.  It seems hard to credit that she’d really believe the Doctor would just leave them – but possibly this doubt can be put down to the lingering trauma of her life on Dido.

The Doctor’s still very much about though and he pays another visit to Edith.  As he takes his leave of her, there’s a nice shot as the camera moves from behind the actors and refocuses with Hartnell framed in a close-up and a puzzled looking Edith placed in the background.

Apart from Douglas Camfield’s undoubted skill with a film camera, he was also someone who pushed hard to achieve interesting picture compositions in the studio.  Due to the hectic nature of Doctor Who‘s production it wasn’t always possible, but scattered throughout his stories are numerous examples (the grouping of the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria at the start of The Web of Fear is a good one).

Given how unwieldy the cameras were in 1965 it obviously wasn’t an easy task to move it so quickly (you can detect a little wobble as it repositions) but I’m glad Camfield made the effort as it just adds a little something to the conclusion of the scene.

The nature of the Doctor’s relationship with the Monk is still a mystery (which is only answered, indirectly, at the end of the episode).  That the Monk knows his name when they meet again might suggest that they already know each other, but this could also be explained away by a conversation earlier in the story which we didn’t see.

It’s interesting that the Doctor gains the upper hand by using the old trick of pointing a stick into the Monk’s back and pretending that it’s a rifle.  If they were old acquaintances then you’d have assumed that the Monk would know that the Doctor wouldn’t pull the trigger.  Unless, of course, the young Doctor was a bloodthirsty sort who’s only recently mended his ways!

The Monk’s plan is becoming clearer though.  He wants to destroy the incoming Viking fleet and has a helpful checklist to aid his memory, which I love.  It starts with his landing in Northumberland and ends with him meeting King Harold (no doubt to receive the King’s grateful thanks).  Clearly the Monk was a little starstruck.

Two less than fearsome Vikings – Sven (David Anderson) & Ulf (Norman Hartley) are still lurking about.  They decide to hide in the monastery, which is a bad idea as the Doctor and the Monk are able, independently, to deal with them.  Both are attended to in the same way – the Doctor and the Monk bash them over their heads with what appears to be very thin strips of balsa wood.  Is this just a coincidence or is the script attempting to show that the two time-travelers are very much the same deep down?

Various clues – a wristwatch in the forest, the record player – have strongly suggested that the Monk isn’t of this time, but we have to wait until the end of the episode before Vicki and Steven make a stunning discovery – the Monk has a TARDIS.  This is something of a game-changer for the series as it’s the first step on the road to introducing the Time Lords.