“Mission to the Unknown”, sometimes known as the “Dalek Cutaway”, is both a standalone episode and also serves as an introduction to the 12 part story The Daleks’ Master Plan.
You can read a fan-made graphic novel adaptation of the Mission to the Unknown here
Mission to the Unknown is notable for the complete absence of the regular cast, including the Doctor (although William Hartnell is still credited on-screen) is the shortest episode ever as it is only 25 minutes long.. The story focusses on Marc Cory of the SSS (Space Security Service) and his attempts to warn Earth of the Daleks latest plan. This was the first appearance of the SSS, an organisation Terry Nation continued to write about in Dalek spin-off books and annuals and which he hoped would form the basis for a stand alone Dalek TV series.
On the planet Kembel, Jeff Garvey is lying on the ground. He wakes, and gradually gets up, clearly in pain. He starts repeating “Kill, kill.” Meanwhile Marc Cory and Gordon Lowery are having difficulty in repairing their ship.
Lowery is wondering why Cory landed on the planet Kembel in the first place. They are also wondering where Garvey is.
Garvey is watching the two men working on the ship, still repeating “Kill, kill.” He keeps behind the ship to make sure that neither of the men sees him. Garvey raises his gun to fire at Lowery, but Cory shoots Garvey first. Garvey is in a lot of pain and then lies still. Cory pulls a long Varga (or Vaaga) thorn out of Garvey from behind the ear. He warns Lowery that if he stung himself on it he would have to kill him too.
Cory and Lowery go into the spaceship leaving Garvey’s body. Garvey’s hand begins to twitch and hair and thorns start to grow all over his body. He is becoming a Varga plant. Cory has a licence to kill from the Space Security Service and enlists Lowery to help him. Cory explains that the Daleks have been gaining control of many planets and that a Dalek space ship has been spotted in this solar system.
Garvey is twitching with life as spines are growing all over his body. Cory tries to contact the rendezvous ship, but cannot get through. Cory and Lowery give up on repairing the ship. Cory believes the Daleks have a base on Kembel and that is why he and Lowery are there. He explains that the Varga plant is native to the Daleks’ home planet Skaro and that you become a Varga plant if you prick yourself on it. This is further evidence that the Daleks could be there.
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 be arriving for a meeting. He tells a Dalek to destroy Cory and Lowery.
Cory and Lowery are observed by three Varga plants. Lowery is making a rescue beacon. Elsewhere in the Kembel jungle, the Daleks are discussing how to exterminate the humans. Cory and Lowery are more concerned with the Varga plants than the Daleks. Lowery continues to make the rescue beacon. A spaceship flies above them and they realise the Daleks are planning something big.
Lowery finishes the rescue beacon and is about to record a message when they notice something moving in the jungle. They duck behind some bushes as four Daleks glide into the landing area. They destroy Lowery’s space ship. Cory and Lowery head deeper into the jungle and Lowery discovers a Varga thorn deeply embedded in his hand. He pulls it out and frantically attempts to suck out the poison. They continue to walk deeper into the jungle.
In the Dalek city, the representatives from the seven galaxies have gathered in a conference room. They are worried about the humans, they believe they are hostile, but the Daleks assure them that the humans will be dealt with. The representatives all approve the Dalek plans to conquer Earth.
Lowery is in pain and is still trying to suck the Varga poison out of his hand. Varga spines are growing all over his body and quickly covers them when he hears Cory returning. Cory realises that Lowery is becoming a Varga plant. He kills Lowery. Cory then picks up the rescue beacon and starts recording his message.
Elsewhere in the jungle a Dalek says that they must kill the humans. Cory is surrounded by Daleks and is exterminated; the beacon and the message survive. All the representatives pledge an alliance to the Dalek cause and start to repeat “Victory.”
At times the term “Solar System” is used synecdochically, in that it may refer to the entire Milky Way galaxy. At other times, it is more specific, such as when the seven powers iterate through a list of human planets to be conquered — planets such as Venus and the Moon colonies which clearly lie within the Earth’s solar system.
The Vaaga / Varga plants later appear in the Big Finish audio stories
- I, Davros: Purity
- Dalek Empire II: Dalek War
As well as in the Doctor Who Adventure Games computer game :
- City of the Daleks.
“Mission to the Unknown”
9th October 1965
Only stills and/or fragments exist of the original story
The episode came about because the earlier story Planet of Giants was cut from four episodes to three during post production and an additional episode was allocated to the series. Although the cast contracts had not yet been signed, it was difficult to add a single episode to a planned run of four and six episode stories and so it was decided to make a one-off trailer for the forthcoming epic story The Daleks’ Master Plan.
Terry Nation wrote this episode partially as an attempt to create a story about the Daleks that did not involve the Doctor or his companions, such that he could eventually develop and sell the idea of a Dalek series, divorced from the Doctor Who universe. In the proposed series, the Space Security Service was tasked with hunting Daleks, and it would follow their adventures — an approach that can be seen in short stories and comic strips written for the 1965 Dalek Outer Space Book (cover dated 1966). An unmade pilot titled The Destroyers was written, but the series concept was never sold.
The episode was made by the same team as Galaxy 4 (Serial T), with both stories sharing pre-filming and, possibly, the same production code (see below). It was also the final Doctor Who episode on which Verity Lambert served as producer.
“Mission to the Unknown” is one of the relatively few stories from the Hartnell era that does not lead directly into the next serial. It was followed by The Myth Makers, an unrelated serial. A direct link to this story is made in the first episode of The Daleks’ Master Plan when the Doctor recovers the tape recorder used by Cory to record his final message.
Perhaps more than any other Doctor Who story, “Mission to the Unknown” generates confusion and debate over both the title used and the serial/production code allocated.
All Doctor Who stories from this period have no overall on-screen title, with the story 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 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”.
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” is the only Doctor Who story that does not feature the character of the Doctor or the TARDIS at all. Despite this, William Hartnell is still credited as “Dr. Who” — this was because his contract specified he would be credited for all episodes, including those in which he appeared only in the reprise or did not feature at all.
The Doctor’s companions Vicki (Maureen O’Brien) and Steven Taylor (Peter Purves) do not appear either. Unlike Hartnell, their contracts did not guarantee they would be credited, though they were in the BBC listings magazine Radio Times (and episode guides taking their information from here).
The alien delegates seen at the Daleks’ HQ on Kembel would return in The Daleks’ Master Plan, but recast with some make-up and costume changes and with a notably different lineup including some speaking characters, leading to some confusion over which is which. The disparity only came to light when the Master Plan episode “Day of Armageddon” was returned to the BBC archives.
Along with Marco Polo and The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve, the Mission to the Unknown survives in audio form only — with no visual footage other than photographs taken on set currently known to exist. The audio was released as part of the soundtrack CD The Daleks Master Plan. A fan-made reconstruction using the off-air sound recording, off-air photographs and image compilation was released by Loose Cannon Productions in 2000.
Mission to the Unknown
(The Dalek’s Master Plan – Part 1)
Series Target novelisations
Release number 141
Writer John Peel
Publisher Target Books
Cover artist Alister Pearson
Release date 21 September 1989
Followed by The Mutation of Time
The story was novelised as part of The Daleks’ Master Plan I: Mission to the Unknown by John Peel (published in September 1989). The rest of the book contained an adaptation of the first six episodes of The Daleks’ Master Plan,. An unabridged reading of the novelisation was released in 2010 by BBC Audiobooks.
You can read a fan-made graphic novel adaptation of the Mission to the Unknown here – this was drawn by Tim Keable in 1987 and contains a forward by Gary Russell.
- The Doctor – William Hartnell (does not appear, though listed in closing credits)
- Marc Cory – Edward de Souza
- Jeff Garvey – Barry Jackson
- Gordon Lowery – Jeremy Young
- Malpha – Robert Cartland
- Dalek Operator – Robert Jewell
- Dalek Operator – Kevin Manser
- Dalek Operator – John Scott Martin
- Dalek Operator – Gerald Taylor
- Dalek voice – David Graham
- Dalek voice – Peter Hawkins
- Trantis – Ronald Rich (uncredited)
- Sentreal – Sam Mansary (uncredited)
- Varga plants (all uncredited) – Roy Reeves, Tony Starn, Leslie Weeks
- Planetarians (all uncredited) – Johnny Clayton, Pat Gorman, Sam Mansary, Len Russell
- Writer – Terry Nation
- Director – Derek Martinus
- Producer – Verity Lambert
- Assistant Floor Manager – Marjorie Yorke
- Costumes – Daphne Dare
- Designer – Richard Hunt
- Designer – Raymond Cusick
- Make-Up – Sonia Markham
- Production Assistant – Angela Gordon
- Script Editor – Donald Tosh
- Special Sounds – Brian Hodgson
- Studio Lighting – Ralph Walton
- Studio Sound – George Prince
- Theme Arrangement – Delia Derbyshire
- Title Music – Ron Grainer