Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Original - Mission to the Unknown

Courtesy: TARDISwiki
Suspense.  Unknown sets up Masterplan beautifully ... from the stranded spacecraft to the Intergalactic council and ultimately a believable security operative Marc Cory.  Upon listening, it has a wonderful suspenseful atmosphere that was the very nature of the early Hartnells but was minimised as Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis opted for the base-under-siege stories seemingly lit with spotlights left over from the war.  Doom stalks the rocket's crew - but not too quickly which only increases the audience's expectancy.  The pacing is just wonderful.

All this actually leads me to believe this serial is perhaps Terry Nation's best work.  OK, so he did The Daleks and The Daleks' Invasion of Earth isn't bad, but the best parts of Masterplan are unquestionably Dennis Spooner's work, while the same might be said of Genesis and Robert Holmes.  The dialogue here, so amped up and florid, denotes this as Nation's work just as effectively as the prefix space (as in space garbage, space medicine, space saving ad infinitum).  That said - and against all odds - the melodramatic script meshes perfectly with the inherent tension.

Evil.  In Life, the Universe and Everything, one-time Who script editor describes a the Krikkitmen's xenophobia as "cold, implacable ... not like ice is cold, but like a wall is cold ... And it was deadly - again, not like a bullet or a knife is deadly, but like a brick wall across a motorway is deadly."  And that's the perfect description of the Daleks in both Unknown and Masterplan.  And it's the how the Daleks are best portrayed: in their debut, this episode and it's big brother, Power, Evil, Genesis and, more recently, Dalek.

Courtesy: wikimedia commons
Prequel.  Mission to the Unknown was the prequel for a series solely centred on the Daleks; it obviously never happened.  Such a series would have had to focus on new human characters like Jason Cory and Sara Kingdom as basing an entire series on stilted shouting crosses into pure, naive idiocy - as it turned out, TV execs thought as I do.  As it happens, much of the mythology built up by Nation for this cutaway has been adopted as gospel by the expanded Whoniverse - the Special/Space Security Service and Varga plants chief among them.

The Daleks are kept in the background here - c.f. Evil/Revelation of the Daleks - and are perfectly capable of delivering extended dialogue; their presence ramps up the tension with the happy result that Unknown doesn't miss Hartnell, Purves and the female companion of the month at all.

In three words: Hartnell era's best?

Rating: 5.

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