The Doctor: None
The Companions: None
The plot: Crashed on the planet, Kembel, Space Security Agent, Marc Cory, tries to warn Earth about a Dalek plot while fighting Varga plants
Written By: Terry Nation
First aired: 09/10/1965
Continuity: Prequel to the upcoming The Daleks’ Master Plan
Season 3, Episode 5
Mission to the Unknown is an unusual beast for three very good reasons: it’s the only Doctor Who storyline to be aired without the Doctor or any of the regular cast in it; it’s not a story at all but a single episode teaser for the upcoming epic that was the 12-parter The Daleks’ Master Plan; and finally, after being junked by the BBC in its now infamous tape wiping, it was lovingly recreated by students at the University of Central Lancashire in 2019. Using sets, camera techniques, directing and acting styles of the 1960s, the students tried to replicate the original as much as possible. This includes being in black and white.
The final product is pretty special and can be found on YouTube.
The plot of Mission To the Unknown takes place over a few hours on the planet Kembel, where members of the UN Deep Space Force are racing to repair their spaceship. Among them is Space Security Agent, Marc Cory, who is investigating a possible Dalek base on the planet. One of the signs of the Daleks’ presence is the dangerous Varga plant that hunts and kills other animals and can turn them into other Varga plants. Someone infected with Varga plant toxin becomes homicidal before beginning a physical transformation into the carnivorous plant.
When the episode begins, one of Cory’s colleagues has already been infected. He wakes up in the forest with a new desire to kill and turns into a Varga plant over the course of the story. As Cory and his other colleague, Gordon Lowery, try to rig up a rescue beacon to warn Earth, the Daleks are nearby forming an alliance with representatives of the seven galaxies to take over the Solar System (this strange Terry Nation concept that seems to sub in the Solar System to mean the Milky Way Galaxy and the Galaxy to mean the universe is something I just handwave. Solar system, galaxy and universe seem to almost be used interchangeably at times, an odd choice for a science fiction writer) .
When the Daleks discover that Cory and Lowery are nearby, they send troops to kill them before they can warn Earth. Lowery gets stabbed by a Varga and Cory is forced to shoot him as he becomes psychotic and homicidal. Cory manages to fix the beacon and to record a message but is soon surrounded by Daleks and is exterminated before he can launch it.
Back at the Kembel base, the Daleks and their allies celebrate their new alliance by chanting, “Victory!”. And the Daleks’ Master Plan is about to be launched while Earth is dangerously unaware of what awaits them.
Short and sweet and without any of our main characters, Mission to the Unknown is an evocative little horror story with Nation’s favourite elements: Daleks, mobile carnivorous plants, and the spectre of global (or in this case galactic) war. Marc Cory has shades of the increasingly popular James Bond franchise as a macho, gun-toting spy racing against time to complete his mission.
Mission to the Unknown is also probably the first and last time the classic show aired a bottle episode that was also a teaser for a much larger story arc.
As a recreation, the modern version of the story is laudably committed to 1960s production values. With the antagonists appearing in some of the remaining episodes of the (also mostly missing) The Dalek’s Master Plan, the set and costume design is consistent in all its cheesy glory. It’s just a shame we have to go to Ancient Greece/ Turkey before we get to find out what happens next…