Sunday, 30 July 2017

Inspirations: Mission to the Unknown

Mission to the Unknown is an odd beast - a single episode storyline that acts as a prequel to the 12 part Dalek epic that follows, though not immediately. There is no Doctor, Steven, Vicki or TARDIS.
Instead we get a space secret agent - Marc Cory - and his astronaut colleagues, investigating the sighting of a strange spaceship seen near the jungle planet of Kembel.
Last week, Vicki had seen this planet on the TARDIS scanner, and wondered aloud what might be happening there. We saw one of the astronauts - a man named Garvey - wandering through the jungle, seemingly obsessed with killing.
Kembel is infested with hostile plant-forms called Vargas. If one of their spines breaks the skin, victims become homicidally deranged as they turn into Varga Plants themselves. Even after death, they continue to mutate. The Vargas are not native to Kembel. They have been bred on the planet Skaro by the Daleks.

Cory is a member of the Space Special Security Service. He is one of their top agents and tells his pilot, Lowery, that he has the right to commandeer spacecraft. He also says that he is "licensed to kill" - letting the audience know exactly where the inspiration for his character comes from.
By the time this episode aired, there had been three Bond movies released in the cinemas, and the most recent - Goldfinger - had really turned the franchise into a global phenomenon. Spoofs and merchandising proliferated. The fourth movie - Thunderball - would have been due in the cinemas a couple of months later (the UK premiere was 29th December, 1965) and the publicity would already have been evident. Terry Nation had been working on a number of glossy spy-fi TV series much influenced by the success of Bond when he came up with his space secret service.
Cory's rocket has United Nations markings on its tail, as well as the Union Jack. Nice to see both geo-political entities are still present in the year 3999.

Cory discovers that the Daleks have set up a base on Kembel and have formed an alliance comprising a number of alien races. They plan to launch an attack on the rest of the cosmos - starting with the Solar System. Advanced publicity referred to this group as UGH - United Galactic Headquarters. The same publicity calls the planet Varga, so can't be relied upon. The alien representatives are called Malpha (the bald white figure with the patterned skin), Trantis (the short black haired fellow with the face tendrils), Gearon, Celation, Beaus and Sentreal. Debate still rages as to which of the other costumes these refer to. Celation will appear in The Daleks' Master Plan, but not looking like any of these, whilst Trantis will lose his face tendrils. The chap who looks like a collection of Hogwarts' Sorting Hats stacked on top of each other doesn't appear at all in the Master Plan.
Giving this group an acronymic title is yet another Bond reference, as he was facing SPECTRE and SMERSH on the big screens. Pity poor Napoleon Solo, who had to contend with THRUSH.

Terry Nation had a love of war films, and in particular those set in the Pacific arena. He loved jungle and swamp settings, and had a soft spot for hostile plant-life which he would return to many times in his writing. A swamp full of mutated creatures had featured in his very first Dalek story, as well as the planet Mechanus in their third outing. That had featured the deadly plant creatures known as Fungoids. Part 3 of The Keys of Marinus had also revolved around plants that killed. When he comes to write his greatest hits package for the show's 10th anniversary year, it will feature jungle warfare and deadly plant-life in a big way.
Cory never does manage to warn his bosses of the Dalek threat. He gets killed, with a tape recording hidden on his person. This marks the first ever story in which everyone on the side of Good gets killed.
This is also where we say goodbye to Verity Lambert, who steps down as producer. She's off to get Adam Adamant off the ground, and John Wiles takes full control of the programme - much to William Hartnell's consternation.
Despite being only one episode, with an on-screen title, there is still some debate amongst fans as to the story title. Some BBC paperwork refers to this as "Dalek Cutaway" and some people seem to think that this should be the correct title. This is clearly a production term - as we are cutting away from the Doctor's adventures to have a stand-alone one with the Daleks. Only an idiot would accept this as a story title.
Having the Daleks on their own, without the Doctor and his companions, will give Nation the idea that his creations might just work on their own, divorced from the parent programme with a new group of heroes to fight against, based on his space secret service. More of this later...
Next time - Great Zeus! It's the Celestial Troymaker...

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