February 13: "Mission to the Unknown" / "Temple of Secrets"

("Mission to the Unknown" & The Myth Makers episode 1)

So "Mission to the Unknown" (or Dalek Cutaway, if you really, really must16) must have come as something of a surprise to viewers at the time.  Instead of the Doctor, Vicki, and Steven, we focus in on Marc Cory, Space Security Service Agent ("Licensed to kill"), and the crewmen he's forced into service: Jeff Garvey and Gordon Lowery.  They're on the planet Kembel, "the most hostile planet in the universe", where Cory suspects the presence of a Dalek base.  And he's right: the Daleks are using Kembel as a place to form an alliance with six other major galactic powers in order to conquer the universe -- with Earth as their first target; there's a pause when the Black Dalek announces that the first planet to be conquered will be.......Earth! Which could be a dramatic pause, or he might be gesturing at a map of the solar system, but either way, pure melodrama.  (Though not quite as melodramatic as the stock music they've decided to use, which is so over-the-top that it's almost taking the piss.)

But the thing that's perhaps most surprising about this episode is that, fairly unequivocally, the Daleks win.  Their alliance has been formed, Garvey and Lowery both fell victim to Varga plants, and Cory is exterminated by the Daleks before he can send his warning message off.  And no one knows Cory and company are on Kembel.  The Daleks are therefore ready to conquer the universe...

"Mission to the Unknown" isn't really designed as a stand-alone story, but rather as a teaser for an upcoming Dalek story.  What's perhaps most interesting about it is how it's then disconnected from the next four episodes, which means it's sort of a "meanwhile" scene hinting at larger machinations at work.  In this regard it's surprisingly modern (especially since we know with hindsight that a huge Dalek epic is in fact on its way), confident enough to tell a story completely separate from the Doctor and his companions -- and a story that doesn't have a real resolution.  And, thankfully, the Daleks here are back on form as a powerful force in the universe, rather than the somewhat buffoonish characterization we got in The Chase.  And this is where the Daleks really start to become that galaxy-conquering army of terror: a characterization distinct from where we've seen them before (The Dalek Invasion of Earth was pretty small fry compared to this) but one that will launch them into new heights.

And finally: this episode was only made because they had to make up an episode after Planet of Giants episodes 3 and 4 were edited down into a single part.  So this is in production terms Galaxy 4 episode 5, but more importantly it's the last episode to be produced by Doctor Who's original producer, Verity Lambert.  Now Bill Hartnell is the only person from the beginning who's still around...

What was it like for viewers, who, having gotten over the surprise of an episode with Daleks and no Doctor, next got an episode with the Doctor and no Daleks?  "Temple of Secrets" is completely disassociated from events on Kembel, and indeed seems to follow on directly from "The Exploding Planet", as Vicki's still got a sprained ankle.  But fortunately, "Temple of Secrets" makes up for any lack of Daleks by being quite a witty script.  The TARDIS arrives at the end of the Trojan War, and writer Donald Cotton wastes no time in deflating the myths.  Achilles is shown to be something of an idiot, who only slays Hector because Hector is distracted by the Doctor walking out of the TARDIS to ask for information.  And Agamemnon and Menelaus are depicted quite entertainingly, with Agamemnon a ruler using Helen's abduction as an excuse to try and gain control of the trade routes through the Bosphorus by conquering Asia Minor, and Menelaus as a man who's quite content to see the back of Helen ("It wasn't the first time she'd allowed herself to be abducted," he complains.  "I can't keep on going off to the ends of the Earth to get her back.  It makes me a laughing stock."). 

Odysseus is probably the characterization closest to the one we're familiar with today, but that's simply because he's somewhat conniving and refuses to take Achilles' claims of the Doctor's godhood seriously (since Achilles thinks the Doctor is Zeus).  And he gets a great line when he drags Steven into Agamemnon's tent: "Who is this?" Agamemnon asks.  "My prisoner, the god Apollo," Odysseus replies.  "Achilles, will you not worship him?  He is a Trojan spy, but of such undoubted divinity he must be spared."  It's fortunate that an episode that exists only on audio relies so much on dialogue, because it means we can still enjoy the proceedings without wondering as much what we're missing (which often was the case in Galaxy 4).  And that next episode title!  I'm amazed Donald Cotton got away with it.

16 It's one thing to debate the merits of using An Unearthly Child vs. 100,000 BC, but some people insist on calling this story Dalek Cutaway, despite the fact that it's only one episode long and has the title "Mission to the Unknown" on it, simply because there's some contemporary paperwork that calls it Dalek Cutaway (even though no one goes around referring to The Claws of Axos as The Vampire from Space, and that name got as far as a filmed title sequence).  This is basically the Doctor Who equivalent of hipsterism -- referring to "Mission to the Unknown" as Dalek Cutaway simply because it's more obscure.  Or you could call it a form of elitism, but that essentially boils down to the same thing.