Doctor Who Project: Mission to the Unknown

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It is done. The seven great powers of the galaxy are one.

Obviously, far too much time has passed since the Daleks last appeared on Doctor Who in “The Chase,” a whole eight episodes ago. And so, to set up their epic return in the twelve-part “The Daleks’ Master Plan” one story hence, we are treated to Terry Nation’s “Mission to the Unknown” (Story Production Code T/A), a one episode “prologue” also known as the Dalek Cutaway but mostly known because there’s no Doctor in it. At all.

From the start, one imagines “Mission to the Unknown” to be Terry Nation’s vision of the Daleks outside of Doctor Who, with neither the Doctor nor his Companions even mentioned in the episode. The music itself seems a departure from the established series norm, with an excessive use of musical “stings”—quick, crashing, slightly discordant sounds more commonly associated with horror or thriller films.

Opposing the cumbersome pepperpots this time is not a Time Lord but Marc Cory, an agent of Earth’s Space Security Service (also called the Special Security Service in this episode). Had Marc Cory survived the episode, I would have suspected an Earth vs. Dalek spin-off series in the making. But one feels nothing for the deaths of Cory and his unwitting colleagues Garvey and Lowery; they are essentially set dressing.

Ultimately, the episode serves as an info-dump more than a teaser. The actors (Dalek and human alike) fairly stumble over big blocks of text as Terry Nation spends most of the story in expositional mode, setting up the scenario (a thousand years after the last Dalek invasion of Earth) and letting us know what the Daleks have been up to in the intervening years (conquering planets millions of light years away). And now they’re back for another crack at Earth, this time in a great alliance with the galaxy’s six other great powers, noted in the script as Gearon, Trantis, Malpha, Sentreal, Beaus, and Celation. And note, too the black dome of the Dalek Supreme.

As is somewhat typical of early (and, who are we kidding, current) Doctor Who, astronomical terms are thrown around with imprecise abandon. One of the delegates at the Daleks’ alliance meeting, from Malpha, proclaims:

This is indeed an historic moment in the history of the universe. We six from the outer galaxies, joining with a power from the solar system: the Daleks.

Universe, galaxy, solar system? Even the location of the planet Kembel, where the action takes place, is unclear. Cory and his fellows suggest that Earth has a huge galactic network, though, so Earth is no slouch in terms of colonization and, perhaps, conquest.

As with “Galaxy 4” before it, “Mission to the Unknown” no longer exists on film, and given the effects work hinted at in the publicity stills and the script, one hopes fervently that a copy turns up at a jumble sale somewhere after decades in an attic, if only to see the giant headed cone alien walk around.

Still, from an continuity standpoint, this episode takes the Dalek timeline and back story seriously, or at least as seriously as possible. The problem with the Daleks has always been the initial story, “The Mutants,” where the Doctor more or less wiped the Daleks out shortly after they came into being—one doubts they would try to conquer the galaxy (or even solar system!) while the Thals were still walking around on Skaro. In “The Dalek Invasion of Earth,” the Doctor claims that the events on Skaro could have taken place millions of years in the future, despite those Daleks being lesser versions than the ones trying to take over Earth, but I’ve never really felt comfortable with that hand-wave. But a hand-wave it is, and that has set the tone for all later Dalek stories.

Nation does his best, dating the events of “Mission to the Unknown” as well after the initial invasion of Earth and referencing the jungle planet Skaro, where the Daleks biologically engineered the Varga, a part-plant, part-animal defensive creature that looks somewhat like a slow-walking cactus and turns its victims into more Varga. Perhaps the Varga were the final tool used to exterminate the Thals . . .

With all the build up, replete with multiple menacing threats about the impending conquest of Earth, the contemporary audience had five weeks to wait for the payoff in “The Daleks’ Master Plan,” as the Doctor and his Companions need to visit ancient Greece prior to stopping the Daleks yet again. One hopes the audience remembered all the exposition they suffered through.

(Image via BBC.)

(Previous Story: Galaxy 4)

(Next Story: The Myth Makers)

Post 19 of the Doctor Who Re-Watching Project

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