Thursday, 18 April 2013

Mission to the Unknown written by Terry Nation and directed by Douglas Camfield

Wow, I always thought season three was experimental but listening to Mission to the Unknown really drives the point home. No regulars, none of the usual comforts such as the TARDIS, the banter between the crew and nothing to indicate why the Doctor, Vicki and Steven have been excluded. Viewers must have been equally baffled and intrigued by this dramatic cutaway…

The Good Stuff: Kembel is terrifyingly brought to life by director Douglas Camfield from the horrible screaming foliage to the dense forestry and lurking dangers. On audio alone it sounds utterly inhospitable so I can only imagine how this translated visually. There are some delicious sixties dramatic music stings which probably would be better suited to Original Star Trek but they do punctuate the action well, telling us that something terrible is occurring almost as if those making the programme were aware that this would only be accessible on audio in the future. I love how seriously everybody is taking this story, the actors are totally committed to convincing the viewer that this really is a dangerous situation and a deadly threat is being born. There is some fascinating backstory about the Daleks, they haven’t been active for sometime but now have control of 130 planets. Before we even see a Dalek there is a pervading menace surrounding their approach… The Varga’s are a typically crazy but compelling Terry Nation idea, one prick from their thorns will inject you with poison, take over your mind and transform you into a homicidal cactus! The arrival of a rocket ship from the outer galaxies suggests this is the biggest scheme the Daleks have ever devised and that they are really upping their game, getting into bed with a representative of Earth. I love how the Daleks so casually destroy the rocket and hunt the fugitives through the jungle, they are merciless. As if the scale of stories like The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Web Planet and The Chase weren't vast enough, now the Doctor is going to be taking on the combined might of all seven planets of the outer galaxies. People say that Russell T Davies liked to up his game every time he attempted an end of season spectacular but he was only copying what had come before, except Doctor Who back in the day made attempts to be this ambitious several times a season! The Daleks have got their sights set on the Earth again and after their failed invasion this time it's personal. I liked the mention of the moon colonies, a nice attempt at world building before the twelve part epic kicks in. Lowry infected by a Varga is played for real; he literally tries to suck the poison from his wound. Cory becomes aware of the threat and simply guns him down, an Avon before his time. Coldly he turns to the more important task of warning the Solar System of the Daleks plan to invade. With Cory exterminated at the story’s end it is surely the only story ever where not one good guy survives and the Daleks win…for that reason alone Mission to the Unknown deserves much credit.

The Bad Stuff: I found a few of the voices for the delegates’ off-putting and the Daleks still sound a little…camp.

Result: Mission to the Unknown is the only time classic Doctor Who attempted a half an hour prelude to later adventure and what a trailer it turns out to be! This is a dramatic, appetite whetting teaser that manages to hold your attention for its running time without a peep from the regulars. Given it doesn’t have any recognisable Doctor Who elements (the Daleks aside) this could be a pilot for a Doctor-less Dalek series and it certainly looks like it would be a series worth watching. Camfield makes sure everything ticks over with real punch and the episode builds to an unforgettable climax that left me desperately wanting to listen to the whole of Masterplan to find out how it all plays out. This is very season three; wildly experimental, desperate and tonally right on the nail. The show simply gets better and better: 8/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @

1 comment:

zenit46 said...

A stunning espisode, just watched yesterday.
One note about the crew: the Director was Derek Martinus instead of Douggie Camfield. Martinus directed, among others, also Galaxy 4 and later Spearhead from Space. Mission To The Unknown was made by the same crew as had been assigned to the previous story in production, Galaxy 4, including director Mervyn Pinfield. But Pinfield had fallen badly ill and had to be replaced at short notice by Derek Martinus.