Doctor Who Project: Mission to the Unknown

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.

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Doctor Who Project: The Chase

Barbara, could I, ah, have your cardigan?

Terry Nation and his Daleks return to Doctor Who in “The Chase” (Story Production Code R), with their own time machine, ready to pursue our heroes through time and space with one aim: to exterminate. The possibilities are endless, the potential locales and eras limitless. And we wind up on a desert planet populated by fish people. And also on Earth three times. And then on a jungle planet with hungry fungi and truculent robots. By the end of the story, one mourns not so much for the departure of Barbara and Ian as for what could have been.

Much like an earlier Nation effort, “The Keys of Marinus,” “The Chase” bounces around from place to place, episode to episode, and as a result, far too much screen time is devoted to establishing the when and what of where the Doctor and his companions have arrived. This influx of exposition overwhelms any sense of anxiety about the Daleks who pursue them just minutes behind in the time and space vortex. And, of course, the intrepid travellers must conspire to get themselves separated from one another in each and every episode. That takes effort, drawing away from any depth of plot.

The action, such as it is, starts on the heels of “The Space Museum,” with the Doctor tuning in various moments in history on the Time-Space Visualizer he insisted on liberating from that eponymous institution. The Time-Space Visualizer is curiously heliocentric, with the names of the solar system’s planets around it, and indeed the entire story resounds with references to the Doctor as human, though likely an unintentional rather than prescriptive description. Shakespeare makes his first appearance in Doctor Who on the Visualizer, and the United States is referenced for the first time as well, as Ian requests a peek at Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address.

A thousand channels and he winds up on the History Channel

But then, in a fortuitous bit of channel surfing, the Daleks appear, chanting “TARDIS, TARDIS, TARDIS!” as they roll one after the other into their own time machine, ready to chase the Doctor and chums through time and space as revenge for the foiled invasion of Earth. They don’t seem overly concerned about the Doctor’s seeming destruction of their species on Skaro way back when, just the whole Earth thing. Because turning the Earth into a hollow spaceship to fly it around the galaxy was totally going to work.

Of course, our time travellers can’t just leave, because the party is split up on the desert planet Aridius, adding yet another lazy planet name to the Doctor Who canon. The fishy Aridians, whose planet was once water covered and who live in fear of octopus-like Mire Beasts, don’t seem at all surprised by the sudden appearance of the Doctor or the Daleks, who threaten to destroy the Aridian civilization if the Doctor and his companions are not handed over.

Fish men. In a desert.

Thankfully, a Mire Beast breaks through a wall and eats an Aridian, allowing Vicki, Barbara, and the Doctor to escape and meet up with Ian, who has passed out from the first of two head-beatings in this story.

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Doctor Who Project: The Dalek Invasion of Earth

What’s worse? The alligators down here or the Daleks up there?

At last, they return! The Daleks appear once more after their resounding first season success in “The Mutants,” invading Earth in Terry Nation’s “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” (Story Production Code K). This time, the Daleks want nothing more than to, um, empty out the core of the planet and replace it with an engine of some sort.

But whatever! It’s the Daleks! And they’re in London!

This story, which Howe and Walker claim “surely ranks as one of the series’ all-time greats” in their Doctor Who: The Television Companion, starts in familiar enough style, which is to say that our travellers leave the TARDIS, become separated from it because of Susan—this time she brings an entire bridge down upon it—and then become separated from each other. Even Ian comments upon the party’s tendency to split up: upon realizing Barbara and Susan are missing from the landing site, he exclaims, “Why, why do they do it?”

Still, the separation works to good effect in this six-part story, as Susan and Barbara are spirited away by the human resistance to the Daleks and Ian and the Doctor are captured by the Robomen, the human semi-cyborgs enslaved as footsoldiers by the Daleks, who are few in number on Earth. The development of the resistance figures adds depth to the story, as thus far in the series, our sympathies have been almost entirely on our travellers finding their way back to the TARDIS. Very few secondary characters have been roundly developed in the series so far, and as will become obvious, the development of one resistance figure in particular takes on real significance.

The capture of the Doctor and Ian gives good reason to explore the Dalek saucers and to see lots of Daleks rolling around. There’s probably a good ten minutes of scenes showing nothing but Daleks moving back and forth in this story. The audience wants what the audience wants.

That said, Terry Nation wisely holds off on revealing the Daleks until the very end of the first episode, where one rises ominously from the murky Thames…

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Level 58 Time Lord: Envisioning a Doctor Who MMORPG

One of the ways to reach Movement Point is to type “doctor who mmorpg” into a search engine, owing to our twin fascinations with Dr. Who and gaming here. This site doesn’t show up until the third or fourth page on that search, though, so you have to be pretty desperate for news about a potential Dr. Who Massively Multi-Player Online Role Playing Game to click through to here. And yet my site stats indicate that someone did.

Derivative work based on Dalek, by theholyllama, via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike license

I can understand the desire. Over forty years, Dr. Who‘s writers and producers have populated the show’s more-or-less coherent universe with plenty of planets to explore, characters to revisit, and enemies to defeat yet again. MMOs, and role playing games generally, put the player into the story universe, to shape it and become a part of it, a form of “active” fan fiction. Millions log in to fight dragons daily; it’s not such a stretch to imagine gamers going online to take down Daleks.

So what, then, would a Dr. Who MMORPG look like?

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Doctor Who Project: The Mutants/The Daleks

Oh, Grandfather! Couldn’t we stay a bit longer? The Thals are such nice people!
And the Daleks are not, which is more important, my child!

From the loinskin clad cave dwellers of “100,000 BC”, the Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara move on to, well, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, padded vest- and leather pants-wearing Thals of “The Mutants” (Story Production Code B). A slight improvement, at least on a hygienic level.

But no one ever spares a thought for the peaceful Thals and their worship of history and penchant for wearing foam rubber, because the Daleks make their debut:

Obey! Obey!

This story, also known as “The Daleks” for somewhat obvious reasons, transformed Dr. Who from that show that came on before Juke Box Jury to phenomenon. As Howe and Walker put it in Doctor Who: The Television Companion:

Virtually overnight, this gentle, partly educational family series for Saturday teatimes was transformed into the show that, for many people, just had to be watched at all costs.

Stretching over seven episodes, “The Mutants” featured the Daleks quite prominently from episode two onwards, and the mystery of just what hid within the machine monsters is stoked by the appearance of a claw peeking from under a cloak where the Doctor and Ian unceremoniously dumped the contents of a disabled Dalek at the end of episode three. Such hints at greater mystery undoubtedly kept viewers riveted.

But the Daleks aren’t the only stars of this show, and “The Mutants” sets up several lasting Whovian themes.

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