Mission to the Unknown (TV story)

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Mission to the Unknown was the second serial of season 3 of Doctor Who. It is the only Doctor Who television story not to feature the Doctor, any of their companions, or the TARDIS. This story was also notable for being the only one-part serial in the classic era except for The Five Doctors.

It was recorded with Galaxy 4 as part of the series' second recording block. It was a single-episode prologue to The Daleks' Master Plan and was the last episode of Doctor Who for which Verity Lambert served as producer.

Though the episode is currently missing from the BBC Archives, it was reconstructed in an animated format through a private project led by Ian Levine.

The story was also carefully recreated by students, graduates and staff at the University of Central Lancashire and was released on YouTube on 9 October 2019, with original production values of the 1960s.


On the planet Kembel, Space Security Service agent Marc Cory is investigating a recent sighting of a Dalek spaceship. His suspicion that the creatures may have established a base proves well-founded. He learns of a plot by the Daleks to invade and destroy the Solar System, but he is discovered and exterminated. The Daleks and their allies vow to conquer the universe, beginning with the planet Earth.


A man, Jeff Garvey, is lying on the ground in the jungle on Kembel. He wakes and sits up. His face twists in agony. When the pain passes he stands. He starts repeating, "Kill! Kill!"

Meanwhile, two men named Marc Cory and Gordon Lowery are trying to repair their ship from UN Deep Space Force Group 1 with little success. The two men are very hostile to one another, mainly because Lowery wonders why Cory landed on Kembel in the first place due to the fact that it is one of the most hostile planets in the galaxy. They speculate where the third member of their crew, Garvey, has gone. Little do they know that Garvey is hiding in the undergrowth watching them. When Cory goes into the ship for more tools, Garvey sneaks up behind Lowery, drawing his gun. Just before Garvey shoots, Cory returns and shoots Garvey dead. Lowery is initially shocked at Cory's act, but Cory shows Lowery a long thorn from behind Garvey's ear. Cory explains that it is a Varga thorn, one sting from which can render the victim into a homicidal killing machine and eventually themselves become a Varga plant.

Cory and Lowery go into the spaceship, leaving Garvey's body. Once inside the ship, Cory reveals to Lowery that he is an agent from the Space Security Service and possesses a licence to kill. He explains they are all there on a mission to stop the Daleks. Lowery states that he is confused due to the fact that the Daleks have not been heard from for a thousand years. Cory reveals that the Daleks have started to seize planets in different galaxies and that a Dalek spaceship has recently been spotted in the Solar System. Cory also informs Lowery that Varga plants are indigenous to the Daleks' home planet Skaro, so he believes that it is proof positive that the Daleks have established a base on this planet.

Outside the ship, Garvey's hand begins to twitch and hair starts to grow over his body, as well as Varga thorns; he is starting to turn into a Varga plant.

In the Dalek city on Kembel, the Dalek Supreme waits to be updated on the latest developments. He is told that the representatives from the seven planets will arrive soon and their meeting can start. The Dalek Supreme then sends out a troop of Daleks to destroy the human ship.

The Varga Plants surround Cory and Lowery.

After reaching the conclusion that they will not fix the ship on time, especially now they suspect that the Daleks will be aware of their location, Cory takes drastic measures. He plans to use a small rocket containing a recorded message to report their position to any rescue vessels. They leave the ship only to see a large group of Varga plants slowly descending upon them.

As they have this conversation the two men see a large spaceship looming above them. They realise it is nothing that can be seen in the Solar System and decide it must be something hostile. As they start to prepare the message, the Varga plants are the least of their worries — some Daleks start to descend upon them. Unseen, the men hide in the underbrush and watch as the Daleks destroy their ship completely. The two men slink away with their small rocket and their recording device but as they do so, Lowery slips and his hand is impaled on a Varga thorn.

Lowery is in pain and is still trying to suck the Varga poison from his hand. He realises that Varga spines are growing all over his body and quickly covers them when he hears Cory returning. Cory has heard what the Daleks said on the loudspeaker and knows of the plan to conquer the Solar System. When Cory realises that Lowery is becoming a Varga plant, he opens fire and kills him. Cory then picks up the rescue beacon and starts recording his SOS message. However, as he is hastily recounting the new information, some Daleks advance upon him and exterminate him. Assuming Cory's information has died with him, the Daleks leave, chanting "Victory". However, both the beacon and the message survive on the planet's surface unscathed...

In the Dalek city, the representatives from the seven planets have gathered in a conference room. They are worried about the humans; they consider them hostile, but the Daleks assure them that the humans will be dealt with. The meeting is held and the seven delegates all agree to join forces in an alliance with the Daleks. The Daleks lay out the plan for seizing the Solar System by attacking Mars, Venus, Jupiter, the Moon Colonies and, finally, Earth...


Uncredited cast[[edit]]


Animation Crew[[edit]]


Story notes[[edit]]

  • This one-episode story does not exist in the BBC Archives, having been wiped as late as the early 1970s.
  • This episode came about because the previous season's Planet of Giants was shortened from its planned four instalments to just three. An extra episode was slotted in to compensate. Possibly for contractual reasons, it was specified that the regular cast were not to appear.
  • The Doctor, Steven Taylor and Vicki Pallister do not appear and are not mentioned in this episode. Instead, its central character is Marc Cory. Despite this, William Hartnell is still credited on-screen because his contract specified that he would be credited for every episode — even those in which he appeared only in the reprise or did not feature at all. Peter Purves and Maureen O'Brien are not credited because, unlike Hartnell, their contracts did not guarantee an automatic credit. The Radio Times programme listing credits "William Hartnell as Dr. Who, and Maureen O'Brien, Peter Purves", but omits their characters from the actual cast list. While the revived series frequently would produce "Doctor-lite" episodes, to date these have all featured the Doctor in cameos. Discounting spin-off series and specials, the only later BBC productions to feature neither the Doctor nor a companion were assorted prequel minisodes produced in 2006 (a.k.a. the Tardisodes) and periodically since Series 6 in 2011.
  • The episode was made by the same production team as the previous four-part adventure, Galaxy 4, and was essentially treated as if it were a fifth instalment. Both stories shared pre-filming and possibly the same production code.
  • Terry Nation wrote this episode partially as an attempt to develop and sell the idea of a Dalek television series divorced from the larger Doctor Who universe. The proposed series would have followed the adventures of the Space Security Service, an elite organisation tasked with hunting Daleks. This approach can be seen in short stories and comic strips written for 1965's The Dalek Outer Space Book (cover dated 1966). An unmade pilot titled The Destroyers was written, but the series concept was never sold. The Destroyers was later produced as an audio play by Big Finish Productions.
  • A direct link to this story is made in the first episode of the epic twelve-part story The Daleks' Master Plan, "The Nightmare Begins". In fact, the link extends to Galaxy 4; at the end of the final episode, "The Exploding Planet", Vicki complains of a sprained ankle. As she contemplates the planet Kembel on the scanner, we move to a short scene with Garvey as he begins his transformation into a Varga plant. When we next see the TARDIS at the beginning of The Myth Makers, Vicki still has the problem with her ankle. Finally, after taking off at the conclusion of The Myth Makers, the Doctor discovers Marc Cory's reel of tape containing his SOS message on Kembel during the third episode of The Daleks' Master Plan. Mission to the Unknown thus presents an unusual example of the story-to-story narrative flow that was commonplace in the Hartnell era.
  • Both Mission to the Unknown and The Daleks' Master Plan were the only 1960s Doctor Who stories offered for overseas sale but never purchased. The Daleks' Master Plan was intended for sale as an eleven-parter, omitting its Christmas episode "The Feast of Steven". As such, chances of recovering Mission to the Unknown are extremely slim.
    • According to documents, Singapore at one point received a batch of 85 episodes when they were supposed to receive 84, meaning it's entirely possible that Mission to the Unknown was included as a bonus episode, being aired after they had already finished airing Third Doctor serials. Since every print sent to Singapore that wasn't bicycled to another country or returned to the BBC is unaccounted for, its fate is unknown.
  • This is one of three missing 1960s Doctor Who stories — the other two being Marco Polo and The Massacre — which exist only as audio recordings, with not one frame of footage known to survive either on 16mm black-and-white film or 8mm cine film taken from a television screen. Given there are also no telesnaps, only production stills taken on-set by the crew still exist for visual reference. Many key visual moments, such as the costumes of the space security agents, are seemingly lost forever. However, photographs of the actors in said costumes might exist in private hands.
  • According to John Peel's childhood recollection, this episode was transmitted without opening titles. However, audio recordings of this story taken at the time of broadcast includes the opening title music — proving this to be a case of misremembering.
  • In a Q&A session during filming of the University of Central Lancashire's remake of Mission to the Unknown, Edward de Souza stated that when they shot the original episode "None of us thought that it would mean anything at all. It was just another episode of Doctor Who... it didn't really impinge on us at the time; it wasn't much more than a week's work". He also remarked that he watched the original episode with his son sitting on his knee and that "when it came to the moment when the Dalek zapped me, he stiffened and spun round to make quite sure I was still alive." (DWM 537)
  • The alien delegates seen at the Daleks' HQ on Kembel return in The Daleks' Master Plan, but they are recast with some make-up and costume changes and with a notably different line-up including some speaking characters, leading to some confusion over which is which. The disparity only came to light when "Day of Armageddon" was returned to the BBC Archives.
  • Marc Cory was conceived by Terry Nation as a space-age James Bond. Edward de Souza would later make a cameo in The Spy Who Loved Me.
  • The alien delegate Zephon was deleted from the script, presumably due to financial concerns.
  • In the original script, the Varga plants were natural, indigenous form of life. When the planet of the setting was changed to Kembel, they became creations of the Daleks.
  • This was the last story until Fury from the Deep in which the title does not start with 'the'.
  • This was the first Dalek story not to be directed, in whole or in part, by Richard Martin.
  • According to publicity material from the BBC, the names of the six representatives (Gearon, Trantis, Malpha, Sentreal, Beaus and Celation) are also the names of the planets they represent.[1]
  • Mervyn Pinfield was originally supposed to direct, but he had to bow out due to illness.
  • This story is the first ever to not feature the TARDIS. This only happened to 11 stories, the others being Doctor Who and the Silurians, The Mind of Evil, The Dæmons, The Sea Devils, The Sontaran Experiment, Genesis of the Daleks, Midnight, The Lie of the Land, The Woman Who Fell to Earth and Ascension of the Cybermen.
  • When filming an introduction for Loose Cannon Productions' video reconstruction of the story, Edward de Souza claimed that the main reason the episode wasn't sold widely overseas was because of how violent it was.

Title and production code[[edit]]

Perhaps more than any other Doctor Who production, Mission to the Unknown generates confusion and debate over both the title used and the serial/production code allocated.

No Doctor Who story from this period has an overall on-screen title. The story was referred to either by a production code or an internal title by the production team. (For example, the early 1965 story featuring Nero was "Serial M" or The Romans.) The two were confusingly used interchangeably in many production and overseas sales documents.

Mission to the Unknown generates further confusion because some documents do not refer to it as a serial but rather as a "cutaway episode". As the story was produced alongside Galaxy 4, the two appear to have been referred to together. Several of the production codes offered are either Serial T or Serial T +, an appendage.

Early in 1965, the term Dalek Cutaway started to be used to describe the episode in the production office. The on-screen title Mission to the Unknown came later but both continued in circulation, with Dalek Cutaway seemingly being used in places as both a story title and a production term. The abbreviation "DC" also appears on a few early production documents.

Design documents successively refer to the episode as "Serial T/A" and later "Serial T Episode 5". The episode's camera script gives Dalek Cutaway as a description and a handwritten addition states "Serial T Episode 4" (which is the wrong number). Later, when the videotape of the episode was wiped, the relevant paperwork referred to "Serial Ta Episode 1/1".

Publicity material, meanwhile, referred to the episode as "The Beasts From UGH" (Universal Galactic Headquarters).

When it came to offering the story for sale overseas, the synopsis sent by BBC Enterprises gave the title as Mission to the Unknown (Dalek Cutaway). The 1974 Enterprises document A Quick Guide to Doctor Who, which listed the stories produced so far for potential overseas buyers, gave the title as Dalek Cutaway (Mission to the Unknown) and did not offer any production code at all.

When fans started compiling reference books in the mid-1970s it was this latter document which formed the basis of many lists. The story was referred to alternatively as Dalek Cutaway and Mission to the Unknown on many occasions, whilst the production code went vacant until the discovery of the design documents stating T/A. In more recent years the exploration of the BBC's written archives has exposed the problems of the title and production code.


  • Mission to the Unknown - 8.3 million viewers


  • The members of the alliance were named Malpha, Desmir, Stifka, Hjbuj, Pteron, Dbremen and Leemon. (These names, apart from Malpha, were made up for an Australian fan-published novelisation of the story by Rosemary Howe. In the transmitted story, only Malpha and the planet Gearon are named.)
  • This is the only episode not to feature the Doctor. (That's not strictly true. There are episodes — such as the third and fourth instalments of The Keys of Marinus, titled "The Screaming Jungle" and "The Snows of Terror" respectively — which do not feature the Doctor because Hartnell was on holiday. In such situations, the Doctor was sidelined from the main action by being described as ill, on a mission or captured. But this is the only one in which the narrative explicitly fails to include the Doctor in any way. Moreover, it is true to say that this is the only episode where neither the Doctor nor any of his companions are around.)

Filming locations[[edit]]

Production errors[[edit]]

  • When the Dalek Supreme asks for an update from Space Monitor Control, the Dalek replies that "the emissaries from the seven planets will arrive as arranged". However at the conference, there are six emissaries present. It would appear when it was decided to delete the alien delegate Zephon from the final script (see Story Notes above), no-one caught the error in the Dalek's dialogue.
  • When Marc Cory starts to record his SOS message, Edward de Souza fluffs his line — announcing himself as "Marc Cory, Special Security Service" instead of "Space Security Service".
If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.


Home video and audio releases[[edit]]

Video release[[edit]]

  • A reconstruction of this story has been made using the available images and audio — as well as images of Edward de Souza, Barry Jackson and Jeremy Young from other productions as near to 1965 as possible — by Loose Cannon Productions.

Digital release[[edit]]

Audio releases[[edit]]


  1. BBC Written Archives Centre T66/25/1: "TV Press Office: Doctor Who"

External links[[edit]]