In recent years, the BBC has made great strides in attempting to either recover or recreate the missing history of Doctor Who’s lost episodes. Whether that’s the incredible rarity of actual recovery or animated reconstructions, for one of the most intriguing lost tales they’ve now turned to an alternative medium: fan films.
Wednesday, the BBC announced that next week — timed exactly to when it was first broadcast — the Doctor Who YouTube channel would exclusively premiere a brand new, live-action reconstruction of “Mission to the Unknown.” Except it’s not an official product, per se — it’s a fan film, developed by students and staff at the University of Central Lancashire.
Pioneered by Andrew Ireland, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Digital and Creative Industries at the University, the project is a complete recreation of “Mission” as it would have existed as a piece of 1960s television, rather than a modernised take, faithfully replicating the episode’s script. Although it’s still technically a fan film, not only does it have the BBC’s backing, Nicholas Briggs, voice of the show’s modern version of the Daleks, lends his modulated tones to Doctor Who’s most iconic foes once more for the film.
“Mission to the Unknown” is a peculiar episode in and of itself, and a fascinating part of Doctor Who’s incomplete archives. Unlike modern Doctor Who, most classic Who stories were told as serials — a storyline that took place over several weekly episodes.
“Mission” is paradoxically both the only standalone episode of classic Doctor Who (although technically the anniversary special “The Five Doctors” is a standalone story, it was also eventually broadcast in a multi-episode format as well) and also a prelude to something equally audacious in Who history: the 12-part epic saga “The Dalek’s Master Plan,” a story unlike anything the show had previously attempted before and filled with many firsts, like the first death of a companion.
The Doctor and his companions don’t actually appear in “Mission to the Unknown” at all. Instead, it stars a new character, Space Security Agent Marc Cory (played by Edward DeSouza in the original), as he and his squad attempt to escape the planet Kembel and warn Earth that the Daleks are hatching a plan to unite the sinister leaders of seven galaxies to conquer the universe, starting with destroying humanity and Earth itself. However, both “Mission” and the vast majority of “The Dalek’s Master Plan” fell victim to the BBC’s archival junking policy. “Mission” has been lost since its original broadcast, and just three of “Master Plan” — episodes two, five, and ten — are currently held by the BBC.
Which means this fan recreation is likely going to be the closest fans will ever get to see “Mission to the Unknown” at all, let alone in a format as close to how it would’ve been originally broadcast as possible. When the alternative is losing a vital part of Doctor Who history to time seemingly forever, it’s awesome to see the BBC working with fans to do something like this.
The recreation of “Mission to the Unknown” will premiere on the Doctor Who YouTube Channel on October 10 at 2:50am AEST — exactly 54 years to the minute the episode originally broadcast in the UK.