Doctor Who (Classic): S03E02 “Mission to the Unknown”

Season 3
Directed by Derek Martinus
Written by Terry Nation

I’ve talked about just how big the Daleks were before and at this point they already had three serials (where no other villain had more than one) and a movie based on them. The question lingering however was “Could the Daleks support their own series?” While the existence of this single episode can be traced back to the decision to shrink “Planet of Giants” from four episodes to three way back at the beginning of Season 2, “Mission to the Unknown”, this serial also doubled as a test run for a proposed serial called The Destroyers which was never produced but the pilot episode was later recorded as an audio play. Like this episode, it would have followed the Space Security Service as they hunted the Daleks and while it could have made for an interesting series, my guess is The Daleks would have gotten as old as they have at certain points in Doctor Who’s run.

Even beyond acting as a sort of backdoor pilot for another series, “Mission to the Unknown” is an odd duck. It’s effectively a prologue to the “The Daleks’ Master Plan”, the longest Doctor Who serial (well depending on how you count “The Trial of a Time Lord”) which isn’t even the next serial. It’s only one episode where the previous shortest had been only the two episode filler “The Edge of Destruction” and quick Vicki introduction “The Rescue”. It’s also completely missing with basically no hope of recovery (it was never sold overseas), and doesn’t feature The Doctor or his companions. Even the NuWho “Doctor-lite” episodes give small appearances to The Doctor, but this one doesn’t even have that. Since Doctor Who is best when The Doctor is around, the series is already starting at a disadvantage.

The episode picks up with the newly awakening astronaut who under the influence of a thorn (really) attempts to kill the remaining two stranded astronauts. Aside from making the infected human mad murderous, it also slowly turns the infected into another Varga plant which makes for a horrifying transformation (or could be anyway in live action). These plants are endemic to the Daleks homeworld of Skaro which allows for the secret agent from the Space Security Service to offer up a quality amount of exposition. The most interesting thing that happens though with this episode is everyone dies. Well not everyone since there is the other plotline, but all three astronauts die. One by one they are killed off (the first two in self-defense though they were essentially dead already thanks to the Varga, and the third at the hands to the Daleks) and is wrapped up nice and tight. There have been downer serial ending before such as “The Aztecs” but never has it been such a resounding failure on the part of the leads.

The other plotline involves The Daleks making an alliance with seven other alien races to conquer the solar system (or even the whole galaxy though they never seem to list their interests beyond Jupiter). This plot however is hardly developed and even more obviously than the teasing of the other plot, is merely a set up to “The Daleks’ Master Plan”. It feels wrong to even judge this episode as its own thing, and yet it is an interesting curiosity which does stand apart if not in plot, than is form from the rest of the series.

Grade: Incomplete

Stray Observations

– What a memorable thread 1001 this will be.
– Fine if you really want an episode rating, C+. I apparently didn’t like it the first time through, but it was decent enough on rewatch I think largely because I know this time there is going to be payoff.
– At the very least there exists an animated reconstruction of the episode so that’s nice.
– Someone should have told Lowery that you can’t suck out venom. Then again he was dead either way.
– The Varga plants look so much better in the animation than in real life so that’s one advantage of the lost episode.
– The alien delegates seen here would be recast for “The Daleks Master Plan”.
– This is the last episode where Verity Lambert is credited as producer one of the last ties to the first episode.
– This Week in Cliffhangers: I know I usually ignore the mid serial cliffhangers but this is as good point to talk about them aside from the end of serial cliffhangers which I usually highlight here (since this is hardly the end of the story). Some of them are rather good (such as The Dalek first episode ones I’ve talked about in the past), but too often they just feel rather contrived and along the lines of the early film serials such as Commander Cody where the heroes get into serious trouble at the end of an episode only to be quickly bailed out at the start of the next episode. Episodic filmmaking in a serial format is hard and writers still frequently struggle with it to this date, but watching all the episodes back to back (not that that was an option then) just highlights its weakness. The cliffhanger here is simply focusing on The Daleks and their new allies chanting “Victory” which is effective enough but the newcomers are just a bunch of schmucks we have no reason to care about at this point.

Next Up: Back to our regularly scheduled programming with “The Myth Makers” on 2/22.
“The Daleks’ Master Plan” – 2/29
“The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve” – 3/4