086 – Mission to the Unknown

Written by Terry Nation
Directed by Derek Martinus

On the planet Kembel, Space Security Agent Marc Cory must fight to survive after discovering evidence of a planned Dalek invasion.

The name is Cory. Marc Cory.

This episode is unique for many reasons.  First, The Doctor does not appear, and neither do any of the companions.  This is the only episode in the history of Doctor Who where this has happened.  Second, what seems to be the beginning of a new serial, is followed by a completely different story.  We end on a cliffhanger, and the next episode follows The Doctor, Vicki, and Steven to Troy, with no mention of Kembel or The Daleks.  Mission to the Unknown is a prologue, a teaser for the forthcoming Dalek Master Plan.

In addition to the above oddities, this episode marks the departure of Verity Lambert as producer.  This is one of many places where Doctor Who could have failed.  In-coming producer John Wiles could have killed the show.  He could have changed the format or the vision of the show.  Arguably, he did make changes and tweaked things, but the show obviously didn’t fail.  But it does seem odd to me that Lambert would leave on such an atypical story.

In Mission to the Unknown, Terry Nation returns in all his B-movie glory.  We have Marc Cory, the James Bond of the SSS, even down to his license to kill.  We have the genetically engineered Varga plants that use thorns and poison to affect the brain and bring out violent tendencies in their victims.  We have all kinds of unusual (and impractical) alien creatures allying themselves with—The Daleks!  We are told that one thousand years have passed since The Dalek invasion of Earth, and The Daleks have not been seen by humanity since.  However, 500 years ago, The Daleks started expanding their empire, conquering other territories.  Only recently was a Dalek ship spotted in the vicinity of The Solar System.  Marc Cory is investigating, trying to determine if a Dalek invasion is imminent.  He commanded Captain Lowery to land on Kembel, feeling it would be ideal for a Dalek base.  The Varga plants confirmed his suspicions as they are native only to Skaro.  Under threat of Vargas and The Daleks, Corey must get a message to Earth.

The tone of this story is quite different from The Chase, and I think that is a good thing.  While I don’t mind The Chase, it is quite silly at times, and The Daleks don’t seem very menacing.  In Mission to the Unknown, they seem to be returning to their old selves.  They also seem aware of their limitations, as they have formed an alliance with other war-mongering races.  The goal is complete domination of The Solar System, starting with Earth.  One can only speculate how long this alliance will last.

This episode is, sadly, lost.  As it was never intended for export, it is unlikely it will ever be recovered.  This is a shame, really, as it is a decent story.  It is well-paced, there is a lot of intrigue, and the actors in this story are quite good.  The alien voices are a bit over-the-top, and the designs of the aliens range from quite good to plain unusual.  With the creation of the SSS, Terry Nation has started to engage in some long-term world building.  In fact, he is starting to set his eyes to America and a possible Dalek series.  There is a good core of ideas here.  In fact, Big Finish has recently released their adaptation of what would have been the pilot of this series, had Nation been successful in wooing U.S. television.  Sadly, I don’t have it, so I’ll have to wait a while before reviewing it.

Mission to the Unknown is a good start, a good preview, of things to come.  We’ll return to The Daleks later, for the next episode we revisit The Doctor, Vicki, and Steven on Earth during The Trojan War.

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