...with a much shorter than usual Docback about a far briefer than usual DOCTOR WHO story: Mission to the Unknown, a Hartnell-era WHO-verse tale featuring neither the Doctor, his companions, nor his TARDIS.
This one-part stand-alone adventure (also referred to as Dalek Cutaway) was transmitted in October 1965 and served as a set-up/prequel to the sprawling, plus-sized The Daleks’ Master Plan (Hartnell, Story #21) that would follow five weeks later. This story also represents a final bow for visionary producer Verity Lambert, who departed DW having been with it since its early inception.
Because this episodes was lost in BBC’s housecleaning purge of many early DOCTOR WHO master tapes, this write-up is being culled from THIS amazing CD collection of audios from lost episodes, as well as THIS Loose Cannon reconstruction.
RECENTLY RECOVERED (PREVIOUSLY 'MISSING') EPISODES SCREENED IN CARDIFF THIS WEEK!!
This is the kind of thing which drives me out of my mind. I want to see these SO badly...
Last year, we learned that two long-missing episodes of DOCTOR WHO had been recovered and were being readied for presentation. Galaxy 4 - Airlock (Hartnell, Story #18, Part 3) and The Underwater Menace (Troughton, Story #32, Part 2). Sounds like the whole of Underwater Menace was presented this week in Cardiff, as was a good chunk of Galaxy 4 - Airlock.
The event was attended by Peter Purves, who played Steven in Galaxy 4, along with Anneke Wills and Frazer Hines, who played Polly and Jamie in The Underwater Menace. Following the screening, all three joined current show-runner Steven Moffat to answer questions about their time on the programme.
More on the presentation over at Doctor Who News!
Mission to the Unknown
“About a week ago, we had a report from the captain of a space freighter. His navigator spotted a spaceship of a type never before used in our system. He saw it only for a second, but he gave us a good description. What he described...was a Dalek spaceship." - Marc Cory, Mission to the Unknown
Scripted by Terry Nation and directed by Derek Martinus (Galaxy 4 - Hartnell, Story #18...in fact, this episode is actually teased in the conclusion of Galaxy 4), Mission finds Space Security Service operatives Garvey (Barry Jackson), Cory (Edward de Souza), and Lowery (Jeremy Young) crash landed on planet Kembel.
They’re here to investigate a recent sighting of Dalek spacecraft, and have good reason to suspect Daleks have set-up a secret base on this otherwise inconsequential world. They’re right...the Daleks are here...and the belligerent antagonists quickly learn of the Space Security Service’s presence on Kembel. A discovery which portends no good end for the beleaguered, outgunned, and outmatched castaways.
While it’s difficult to fully assess the direction and performance of this story due to the limited availability of judgeable material, several remarkable elements still force their way to the forefront when mulling this installment. Perhaps most noteworthy is Mission’s pervasive sense of nihilism. I won’t reveal any spoilers herein, but suffice to say that this tale’s scant twenty-something minute running time throws a number of nasty curve balls towards our wayward human leads, and wraps on a decidedly dark note. Mission feels more like vintage John Carpenter than early DOCTOR WHO, but is also a welcomed reprieve from the “safety” and proverbial “tap dancing” which often characterized DW’s earlier years.
The second notable achievement here is the format of the episode itself, and how it interlocks with overall WHO continuity. Mission marks the only effort of its type in the show’s history, and essentially presents dramatizes for us material that many DW adventures would consider back story - without any of our leads being involved. There’s something hugely appealing and inventive about this notion, as Mission effectively broadens the WHOverse while setting into motion narrative movements that will directly impact its established denizens later on. That’s rather brilliant, a bit Tolkien, and a conceit I wish the show had subsequently employed. There would be many good reasons NOT to attempt this gag too regularly, least DW develop into an anthology, or channel surfers become confused or dissuaded by lack of identifiable personalities. But...every once in a while? Might’ve been, and could still (?) be, a truly fascinating move.
Malpha (Robert Cartland), one of “the seven great powers of the outer galaxies” who ally with the Daleks in a bid for ultimate conquest (a la SUPERFRIENDS' Legion of Doom) .
Interestingly, I uncovered a probable motivator for both of these qualities when researching Mission and its history. Mission was, essentially, a ‘backdoor pilot’ for a series which would’ve featured the Space Security Service - and suggests said show might’ve been a bit harder edged and darker than the average DOCTOR WHO. Fully understanding that Nation occasionally cued off of World War II thematics for his WHOverse jaunts, one still has to wonder if the acronym ‘SSS’ (Space Security Service) might’ve hit a little too close to home for comfort. Another Nation tale, The Destroyers, was ultimately produced by Big Finish audio and represented the same proposed series in a fuller form. The actual title of the series is evidently unknown.
Even in its barest, most unrealized form - Mission to the Unknown is quick and interesting and a fascinating glimpse into the WHOverse through eyes of folks other than our established leads. Perhaps one day it’ll be recovered and we’ll be able to experience it fully and properly once more. I hope so, as this one’s roundly compelling in concept and format, if nothing else...
[SEASON / SERIES SIX DOCBACKS]
"The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe" (2011 Christmas Special)
[RETRO-WHO DOCBACKS - MOST RECENT DOCBACK IS HIGHLIGHTED]
"An Unearthly Child" (Story #1)
"The Daleks" (Story #2)
"The Edge of Destruction" (Story #3)
"Marco Polo" (Story #4)
"The Keys of Marinus" (Story #5)
"The Aztecs" (Story #6)
"The Sensorites" (Story #7)
"The Sensorites" (Story #7 - full DVD release)
"The Reign of Terror" (Story #8)
"Planet of Giants" (Story #9)
"The Dalek Invasion of Earth" (Story #10)
"The Rescue" (Story #11)
"The Romans" (Story #12)
"The Crusade" (Story #14)
"The Space Museum" (Story #15)
"The Chase" (Story #16)
"The Time Meddler" (Story #17)
"Galaxy 4" (Story #18)
"The Gunfighters" (Story #25)
"The Tomb of the Cybermen" (Story #37)
"The Colony in Space" (Story #58)
"The Daemons" (Story #59)
"Day of the Daleks" (Story #60) + Preview of the DotD Special Edition
"The Three Doctors" (Story #65)
"Carnival of Monsters" (Story #66)
"The Robots of Death" (Story #90)
"The Talons of Weng-Chiang" (Story #91)
"The Sun Makers" (Story #95)
"Nightmare of Eden" (Story #107)
"The Awakening" (Story #131)
"Frontios" (Story #132)
"The Caves of Androzani" (Story #136)
"Time and the Rani" (Story #144)
"Paradise Towers" (Story #145) + New WHOvian Documentary / Newsbits
"Dragonfire" (Story #147)
"The Happiness Patrol" (Story #149)
Merrick's Personal Journey With The Doctor (How Merrick Got Hooked On DOCTOR WHO)
"The Crash of the Elysium" (Manchester version - interactive DOCTOR WHO adventure)
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