Mission to the Unknown ★★★★

Space agent Marc Cory faces Daleks and Varga plants in this one-episode curio, which doesn't feature the Doctor at all.

36

Season 3 – Story 19

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“The only place in the universe where Vargas grow naturally is on the Daleks’ own planet Skaro. If the Vargas are here, the Daleks are, too” – Marc Cory

Storyline

A spaceship has crash-landed on the jungle planet Kembel. Among its occupants is Space Security Service agent Marc Cory, who is investigating the sighting of a Dalek vessel. His shipmates, Jeff Garvey and Gordon Lowery, become infected by and taken over by deadly Varga plants, so Cory has to shoot them both. Meanwhile, the Daleks, who are indeed based on Kembel, are plotting the complete destruction of our galaxy with allies from the six outer galaxies. They will begin with the conquest of Earth. Learning of their plans, Cory records a warning message but the Daleks kill him before he can send it. Will anyone ever find the tape..?

First transmission
1. Mission to the Unknown – Saturday 9 October 1965

Production
Filming: June 1965 at Ealing Studios
Studio recording: August 1965 at TC4

Cast
Marc Cory – Edward de Souza
Gordon Lowery – Jeremy Young
Jeff Garvey – Barry Jackson
Malpha – Robert Cartland
Dalek operators – Robert Jewell, Kevin Manser, John Scott Martin, Gerald Taylor
Dalek voices – David Graham, Peter Hawkins

(Doctor Who – William Hartnell; he was credited on screen although he didn’t appear)

Crew
Writer – Terry Nation
Incidental music – library tracks (Synchro-Stings by Trevor Duncan)
Story editor – Donald Tosh
Designers – Richard Hunt, Raymond Cusick
Producer – Verity Lambert
Director – Derek Martinus

RT Review by Mark Braxton

This mini-marvel, long since exterminated by Tapewipers Anonymous, must have once caused furrowed brows up and down the land. Neither the Doctor nor his companions appear for so much as a second (something RT warned readers about in an introductory Mission to the Unknown feature). This makes it unique within the “classic” compendium, as does the fact that it comprises a solitary episode.

Written by Terry Nation as a teaser for the upcoming (but not following) story, The Daleks’ Master Plan, it works perfectly without our heroes and on its own merits, with enough thrills, horror and intrigue to satisfy the most demanding fan.

Mission to the Unknown was an unusual but fitting story for producer Verity Lambert to bow out with, capping a two-year reign distinguished by countless creative highs.

It was also a notable episode for the make-up, costume and design departments, who not only gave us the memorably nasty Vargas (like someone being swallowed by hairy onions), but the sort of exotic safari of aliens we wouldn’t see again till The Curse of Peladon (1972) and The End of the World (2005). Chief among the Dalek sympathisers is Malpha, the summer of 76 in humanoid form (a drought-cracked reservoir on legs).

Edward de Souza heads up a solid cast as a sort of stellar 007, who would have made a fine continuing character had Nation not wiped him out. Perhaps he realised what an awkward name Marc Cory was, with its ugly collision of plosives. And our Tel certainly wrote better dialogue in his time (Daleks are heard to utter the lines “Do not worry” and “Destroy and exterminate!”).

But the short-and-sweet Mission is the epitome of the experimentalism that shaped Doctor Who’s early years. Sometimes, small is beautiful.

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Radio Times archive material

Introductory feature and billing. The three regular cast members were billed for contractual reasons even though they made no appearance in this single episode.

09.10.1965 article
Mission billing

Points from the Post – letters to RT published in 1965

1965 letters

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[Soundtrack available on BBC Audio CD]