On October 9, 1965, the episode “Mission to the Unknown” was broadcast, part of the third season of “Doctor Who” classic series. It’s one of the missing episodes but exactly 54 years later a remake was broadcast, created by students of the University of Central Lancashire based on audio, existing thanks to separate recordings, and images from the episode.
“Mission to the Unknown” is a unique episode in “Doctor Who” history. The classic series consisted of serials, adventures divided into various episodes, while in this case there’s a single episode. It could happen that in one episode one of the protagonists – the Doctor or a companion – didn’t appear, but in this case none of them appears even if William Hartnell, who played the First Doctor, is credited due to his contract. It also has an alternative title, “Dalek Cutaway”, with the consequence that it’s identified in different ways, sometimes with both titles, in different sources.
In “Mission to the Unknown” a UN Deep Space Force team is investigating the possible presence of Daleks on the planet Kembel but there are other dangers in the jungle, such as the lethal Varga plant. After discovering that the Daleks are actually on the planet and their invasion plans, Marc Cory must try to communicate them before he’s killed.
The idea behind the production of “Mission to the Unknown” was to give the lead actors an extra week of vacation before the start of new production blocks. The plot made it a sort of prologue to the serial that began the following month, “The Daleks’ Master Plan”. Terry Nation wrote the script also because he was interested in developing a TV show about the Daleks detached from “Doctor Who” so an episode in which the Daleks appeared but not the Doctor and his companions could be a first step.
At the time, magnetic tapes were recycled after a certain period and if there were no copies of the episodes sold abroad, the TV shows recorded on them, which were considered ephemeral products, were lost forever. Many episodes of the classic “Doctor Who” series have been recovered thanks to existing copies abroad but still more than 90 of them are missing, including “Mission to the Unknown”. Fan groups created reconstructions of the missing episodes using audio recordings and various images. In recent years several missing episodes have been animated but at the University of Central Lancashire they did much more producing a remake.
Actor Edward de Souza, who played Marc Cory, was involved in the production of the remake of “Mission to the Unknown” together with Peter Purves, who at the time played Steven Taylor, one of the Doctor’s companions. Nicholas Briggs, who produced, wrote and directed many “Doctor Who” audio adventures for Big Finish and in some cases acted in them, also participated in the project giving his voice to the Daleks.
The remake of “Mission to the Unknown” was shot in color with the quality possible using modern equipment although not the state of the art available for large productions. However, it was converted to black and white and broadcast in this way to try to reproduce the episode even more faithfully.
The result seemed to me very good, really similar to the original as far as I can see in the reconstructions created in previous years. In this sense, the fact that “Doctor Who” was a low-budget production even by the standards of the 1960s was useful, making it easier to reproduce the production techniques for the students who recreated the episode.
Already in the past there have been people who suggested to produce completely missing serial remakes, the remake of “Mission to the Unknown” will stimulate this idea even more. However, this was a single episode shot in very few sets and with very few actors, an entire serial would require a far bigger production. There are still hopes of finding at least some of the missing episodes and initiatives such as the production of this remake keep their memory alive.