“Mission To The Unknown” is interesting more for it’s place in the series rather than the story itself. It was Verity Lambert’s last as the producer of Doctor Who, and features none of the Companions nor the Doctor himself. Even today’s “Doctor lite” episodes have him (or currently her) in a cameo and focuses on a Companion or someone else caught up in the Doctor’s world. This was to give William Hartnell, Peter Purves (Steve Taylor), and Maureen O’Brien (Vicki Pallister) an extra week off. It’s also the only one-episode story in all of classic Doctor Who, though today’s incarnation is usually a bunch of one episode stories, one two-parter, and a season-long subplot arc.
It’s also one of the infamous missing episodes.
For those of you who haven’t heard, the BBC destroyed many of their shows after the season was over to make room for the next set of shows. This included Doctor Who until they realized reruns and syndication worldwide was something important. Many of the episodes that have been found were international releases, but there have also been attempts to use audio recorded by fans (who else up to my generation put the mic of a tape recorder to the TV speaker before home video was a major market?) and either combining them with photos from the studio or animation by Cosgrove Hall. (Some of you may remember them as the folks behind Danger Mouse and Count Duckula.) “Mission To The Unknown” was even released as an audio drama by Big Finish.
Tonight however is something different. The University Of Central Lancaster opted to remake the episode, using the closest thing we have to 1960s film-making techniques on a couch cushion budget (we’ve advanced so far that a kid with a computer and a smartphone can do better). The episode was posted to the BBC’s official Doctor Who YouTube channel along with a making of documentary that will be posted here right under the episode itself. Enjoy!
Of course I don’t know how accurate it is to the actual airing. Presumably they used Terry Nation’s original script, a backdoor pilot to a Dalek series following a special group of Earth command assigned with taking the Daleks down, but it never took hold. The idea would show up in comics though. This episode sets up the events of “The Daleks’ Master Plan”, in which the Daleks form a Legion Of Doom to take over the galaxy. They even included a flubbed line. Apparently when Cory said “Special Security Service” he was supposed to say “Space Security Service”, which I would imagine is how it’s written in the actual script. Nice touch. Now let’s see how they created this special.
I personally think they did a great job and the fact that they used this to show students how times have changed is actually pretty cool. What do you think, folks? If we can’t find all the episodes would you rather have the original audio with animation resembling the actors or a live-action recreation with new actors? I could go either way depending on how good the results are.