Marc Cory and Gordon Lowery are stranded on the planet Kemble, a jungle planet that has deadly vegetation that slowly turns you into one of its own kind – a Varga Plant. But the plant life is not the only threat here, for the dreaded Daleks are also on Kemble. But what is their plan that involves the outer galaxies sending delegates for a conference and, more importantly, just where the buggering hell are The Doctor, Steven and Vikki?
If anyone thought that the idea of a ‘Doctor-Lite’ episode was something Russell T Davies invented, then they are very much mistaken and seriously in need of some educating. Trust me on this; Steve Horry has made me King Ming-Mong and therefore my word is law! Plus I won’t argue with him as he is taller than me. Though I did throw the book at him the last time he got something wrong at the Geeks Inc. Doctor Who quiz night when he suggested that Season 21 was the season of returning foes for Peter Davison and not, as we all know, Season 20. Well, unless somewhere along the lines the BBC lost the classic Patrick Troughton story with the first appearance of the Tractators, so much so they forgot to broadcast it.
I seem to have gone off on a tangent here…probably because I’ve just the one episode to review and not the normal four to six that have been the standard of the Hartnell and Troughton eras.
So what’s it all about then? A one off episode set between Season 3’s first and second story, “Mission To The Unknown” begins with the seemingly dead body of Jeff Garvey lying on the floor. He awakes in pain, repeating the words “Kill…Kill…” (familiar to us all first thing in the morning). We cut away and are introduced to Marc Cory and Gordon Lowery, attempting to repair their downed ship in order to return to the mothership and report that the Daleks are on Kemble and up to no good. As they try to escape from the Varga plants, Daleks and anything that wants to kill them, the rest of the Daleks are holding a meeting with the outer galaxies, with the plan of taking over the solar system (or our galaxy as a whole) with the final vote uniting the Daleks into an alliance. Meanwhile, Cory and Lowery are forced to go on the run, their ship having been destroyed. However Lowery is now turning into a Varga Plant and eventually turns on Cory, who is forced to kill him and attempt to deliver his message to Earth warning them of the Dalek plans. Alas, Cory is discovered and killed before he can send the message away in a rocket, leaving it to appear that the Daleks have won and their plans are safe…for now.
What we have here is a Doctor Who story with no Doctor or crew in it and just 2 main actors for the majority of the story who have to carry it off. We’ve all seen that Doctor-Lite episode can work, but this is one of the lost episodes – meaning we’ve only got the audio to listen to. And that’s the main problem; “Mission To The Unknown” is one of those episodes that on audio just doesn’t work because it’s a visual episode. It needs the visuals to carry your interest, especially in a story that is lacking in anything really gripping audio wise. This episode is meant to serve as a prologue to the epic twelve part story “The Daleks’ Master Plan” yet only serves to confuse the audience who have no idea where their hero’s are right now (“Galaxy 4” had hinted the previous week that this is the planet that Vikki was looking at on the TARDIS monitor). To their credit, both main actors do their best with what they have, and try to show the emotions of being trapped on a planet where death is behind every shadow and both ‘heroes’ do not trust each other throughout the 24 minutes on screen.
This may have been intended as a filler episode for a Daleks-only pilot that Nation was mooting at the time (which Big Finish, some years later, finally released on their Lost Stories range) as this was at the height of Dalekmania. But not long after Dalekmania would begin to wane and even a Daleks-only series could not have revived it, due in part to the Daleks needing their main enemy in The Doctor. This episode only goes to show that the Daleks and The Doctor need each other (in story terms) in order for a Dalek story to work at this time in the shows history.
As “Mission To The Unknown” suffers from a serious lack of visuals and main cast, I can only really give it a 4 out of 10 for what it is solely doing within this one episode. Part of the wider story of “The Daleks’ Master Plan”, it does score higher as it gives us a hint as to the plans of the Daleks, but on its own it does not stand up to later ‘Doctor-Lite’ episodes. Actually, if you stood it next to “Love & Monsters” then it looks like an 11 Oscar Wining film that is heralded as a classic for all future generations. For that alone, it deserves an extra point. 5/10.
Written and edited by Alexander James Wilkinson