Can an episode set in the Doctor Who universe work when the Doctor himself isn’t present? “Mission to the Unknown” would seem to indicate that it can, at least on a limited basis. This single-episode story sets up “The Dalek Master Plan” and focuses on Space Security Agent Marc Cory’s attempts to determine if the Daleks are active on the planet Kembel and if they’re planning military action against the Earth, which of course they are.
The story is fairly economical when it comes to both the cast and the plot. There are two major human characters, Marc Cory and Gordon Lowery. A third character, Jeff Garvey, is overcome by a Varga plant at the beginning of the episode, and so doesn’t really play much of a part. The episode delivers its plot mainly via the conversation between Cory and Garvey, with a few cutaways to the alien delegates who are meeting with the Daleks. The episode establishes that the Daleks are secretly planning to invade and conquer the Earth’s solar system with the help of aliens from the “outer galaxies”, and that Marc Cory has picked up hints that trouble is on the way. Cory makes the mistake of landing to check out his hunch without informing anyone else of his plans, leaving him alone without any hope of backup.
This is an episode that can do what the series generally cannot, which is kill off the lead character. For obvious reasons, the Doctor has to survive in order to go on to his next adventure and keep the series going. All three humans on Kembel die by episode’s end, reinforcing the deadly nature of the Daleks and the planet Kembel itself. And what’s more, Cory fails in his mission to warn Earth of the Dalek threat, at least so far as the audience watching knows. Of course the Doctor later finds the recording, but that’s not even hinted at here. The idea of the Varga plants, which possess Garvey and ultimately Lowery as well, is horrific since they not only kill, but change the victim into one of them. The fact that the Daleks breed these plants is yet further proof, if any be needed, of just how evil and vicious the Daleks really are.
I can’t really comment on the visuals for this story, since it’s one of many missing Doctor Who episodes. The images of the alien delegates meeting with the Daleks are interesting, since some of the aliens don’t match up with the aliens seen later in episode 2 of “The Daleks Master Plan”. The jungle sets look quite good in “Master Plan”, and if the sets in “Mission” matched, then I feel confident the story would have looked quite good on the screen. No pictures of the three leads exist, but the Loose Cannon recon makes use of contemporary pictures of the actors from other productions to recreate the episode. For the most part, it’s a successful effort.
I’d like to have seen this episode. It’s unlikely that it still exists, given that “Master Plan” was never sold abroad, meaning that this trailer was not either. The deaths of all the main characters give it a grimness not often seen in Doctor Who, and the episode sets up many of the plot strands of “Master Plan”, freeing that story to dive right into the action. It’s worth buying the BBC audio story or tracking down the recon to experience this unique Doctor Who episode.