LOOKING FOR TELOS – “Mission to the Unknown”

τέλος • (télosn (genitive τέλεος or τέλους); third declension

completion, accomplishment, fulfillment, perfection, consummation

The Whoniverse is wide, and rich, and crazy.

And sometimes, bits of it go overlooked. There’s no way around it, we, at DoWntime, are children of the New Series. Our cultural sensibilities and our tastes in Who have been shaped by it. And of course, when we’re embarking in the big task of producing Discourse, we naturally tend to tackle recent events, controversies and stories. But that doesn’t mean the twenty-six seasons of Classic Who are undeserving of some in-depth coverage – and what better way to deliver said coverage than to watch it.

ALL of it. In order. Without skipping anything.

We’re looking for our telos, and it starts now.

 

TIBERE: It feels weird to start one of these without a big episode title thing at the beginning.

SCRIBBLES: What do you mean?

TIBERE: Well, we usually write the title of whatever part we’re at in big bold letters.

SCRIBBLES: Ah, yes, so we do. Well, here we get the nice convenience of a one-parter. And god, I’m really feeling the loss of this being missing. This reconstruction is definitely a weaker one, it’s clear there’s not much material to work with. And that’s a shame, I bet that was a blisteringly good opening. A lost man in a jungle. “I remember.” Cut to titles. That’s magnificent.

TIBERE: There’s a lot of jungle here. Between this, “The Daleks” and that bit in “Keys of Marinus”, Nation has a bit of a jungle fetish, hasn’t he?

SCRIBBLES: That’s not going anywhere. It’s definitely a thing.

TIBERE: Classic Who’s love for quarries is turning out to be a myth. It’s more “oh look, a vine!” than “oh look, rocks!”. But eh, I nice the ambiance.

SCRIBBLES: And, strangely, these studio sets of jungles are generally far more visually stunning than the actual locations of quarries. Usually you’d expect a location to be more visually lavish, but nope!

TIBERE: Oh, they do look good. Although there’s a shot, well, a picture where you can see the rocket standing up into the air, and … Well … Yeesh, the set really looks like a set. Feels like you can see the ceiling. Still, so far it all looks good and feels nice. The characters don’t quite hit, though – the brutal introduction is effective but, because of it, we’re just dumped with a bunch of people we don’t really know what to make of.

SCRIBBLES: They’re definitely pulp action heroes 1, 2, 3, and so on. They scarcely feel like they have names.

TIBERE: The Varga thorns are quite an interesting threat. It’s a cool way to weaponize the environment, make the setting into the main danger and adversary. Although, it’s all a bit of a sci-fi cliché, but not badly used.

SCRIBBLES: Great little moment of footage, there, too, with the hole in the hand and a bit of glistening wetness. Genuinely feels like gore.

TIBERE: Yes, that looks great. Also, there’s that one guy called “Lowery” and they seem to pronounce it Larry. “Mission to the Unknown”, or The Epic Adventures of Larry and Cory.

SCRIBBLES: I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but Terry Nation was trying to shop around a Dalek spinoff sometime in the 60s. Would have been just like this, Big Finish adapted it one time. This feels like it’s intended as proof of concept. Can’t see it taking off as a series like this, but I must admit, I do enjoy the Hartnell era going for broke with a hard science fiction adventure survival serial like this. It almost feels like a return to the tones of series 1 in the raw struggles here, but with savviness of the Daleks’ role in pop culture consciousness.

TIBERE: Oh yeah, I did hear that. Read some stuff about it in Simon Guerrier’s really comprehensive book about “Evil of the Daleks”. Also, I absolutely love that incredibly over-the-top DUM DUM DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUM when Cory reveals that there is a Dalek ship that has been spotted in the local galaxy.  Like … Yeah, we guessed it, you just spend two minutes talking about them!

SCRIBBLES: I’m glad it’s not trying to hide the fact that this is a Dalek story. Instead it’s going for suspense. I almost wish it never even cut to them in their ship, because it’s fun wondering how and when the humans will run into the Daleks and what the cost will be. It’d be great to discover that with them.

TIBERE: Oh, that Dalek control room set is pretty nice-looking. Shamefully, that means we’re getting ANOTHER SCENE OF DALEKS TALKING TO EACH OTHER, YAY, I MISSED THAT.

SCRIBBLES: You…you do realize what serial is coming up, right?

TIBERE: Yeah, “The Master’s Dalek Plan” or something? Anyway, their voices feel really weird, here, too. Are they slower than usual or something? Not sure I like it, although that could just be me projecting my dislike.

SCRIBBLES: The soundscape on this serial is very good. I love the jungle sounds, and the music feels suitably large and doom-laden. Shame we can’t judge the visuals.

TIBERE: It’s interesting how they don’t seem to have given the Varga any given sound effect. Bit of a silent, vegetal threat. It’s a cool directing choice.

SCRIBBLES: Silent but veggie.

TIBERE: God, that pun was some seedy business. “That’s the biggest rocket ship I’ve ever seen” – well, he obviously doesn’t watch Space Porn.

SCRIBBLES: Yes, not-Jamie, that is a big one. I know these characters have names. I just can’t remember any of them or really tell them apart.

TIBERE: There’s Larry, Cory and … I’m gonna call him Jerry. They’re like that one character from Parks & Rec, except there’s three of them. Also, the Daleks are terrible at their jobs. I mean, how did they not spot them?! They don’t have, like, heat sensors or something that would allow them to track people that are just hiding behind some shrubs? Seriously, you’re supposed to be the deadliest killing machines in the universe, and there you are, outsmarted by the Predator, who got beaten by a beefy Autrichian. Tss tss.

SCRIBBLES: I adore how stupidly large the Varga thorns are, and the puncture marks on the hands they make are at once absurdly stupid and fake and nicely disturbing. It hits the appropriate horror territory for Doctor Who. And having the guy who just got his hand stabbed not say anything is a nice tension tool.

TIBERE: On the other hand, something this big surely would be quite easy to avoid?

SCRIBBLES: It’s definitely something you can see being done way better with modern effects. I’d genuinely be interested.

TIBERE: There’s a lot of Dalek dialogue happening here. With some dude named Malpha who has an annoying voice and a Jackson Pollock painting / acupuncture board for face. He’s annoying.

SCRIBBLES: Oh, yeah, welcome to something you’ll suffer for a while to come. The Daleks are for some reason making a big coalition of stupid looking aliens. They’re not talking with themselves, I guess, you like that.

TIBERE: I do kind of like the alien designs, though. They’re creative, kinda reminds me of Rings of Akhaten.

SCRIBBLES: Ah, I have issues with a fair number of the Akhaten designs, too. Particularly the ones in Geisha makeup.

TIBERE: Oh yeah, that is iffy.

SCRIBBLES: Just wait till you meet Mavic Chen.

TIBERE: I’m not sure I get why they’re saying the names of all the planets in the solar system. Feels a bit like filler. Although, I guess that’s the whole education angle of Doctor Who showing through again. But … Wait. A bunch of aliens from the outer parts of the galaxy ally themselves with a dark power to take over a corrupter human regime? Is this serial the Star Wars Prequels? Is Jar Jar Binks gonna pop up from under a shrub gonna all “missa gotta stung by a Varga plant!”

SCRIBBLES: I suppose I can see Dalek/Vader parallels. Driven by hate and forced to survive through technology. Speaking of technology, I love the enormous tape recorder the space guy is lugging around to message Earth for help. God bless.

TIBERE: It’s like, one step removed from a full-on ghetto blaster. Also, the characters are all dead. Welp.

SCRIBBLES: And here we see how vaguely sketched the politics here are. Bunch of aliens allying with the Dalek cause and pledging their armies because…well, they’re just evil I guess. Even trade negotiations would be a bit richer.

TIBERE: I mean, of course they would. The Star Wars prequels rock.

SCRIBBLES: They really, really don’t. Anyway, as an appetizer of tone, I genuinely liked what this episode offered, but, like, that’s not a story. Things just kinda happen for a bit until the cliffhanger. There’s strong elements, like the varga plants, but it lacks any conviction in developing its humans to make the pulp survival tragedy hit. And yet, that’s a really great premise for an episode, isn’t it? A tragedy about space exploration and survival against the Daleks in parallel to the Doctor and the companions, it feels like it enriches the universe there. I just wish it bothered to make the audience care.

TIBERE: It’s a bunch of little fun parts that don’t quite connect. I liked most of it, bar the Daleks talking to one another in a big room stuff. It does feel like a bit of a missed opportunity, really – like, you’re doing an entire episode without the Doctor and his companions, that’s great, and honestly, I’ve got to salute the sheer balls of this episode, because that’s a level of experimentation you won’t see again until way, way later. But it kind of doesn’t go all the way through – it tells a story with new characters but never commits to making them memorable or to pretend they’re anything but red shirts destined to die. And I do feel like the power and poingancy it could have had get really undercut that way. Still, it’s pretty enjoyable – efficient, tight directing, great pacing. But it could have been much more.

SCRIBBLES: That opening scene is still magnificent, though. Basically a cold open, right into atmosphere and tension and drama. I love it.

TIBERE: Would be lovely if they blasted the opening credits and their woooo-eeeee-wooooo after it rather than before.

SCRIBBLES: Absolutely. I guess that sums this episode up, really, doesn’t it? It’s something on the cusp of being a brilliantly modern anthology episode, and then never actually works that out.

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