Doctor Who audiobook review: Daleks: Mission to the Unknown adapts and expands a classic story well

Daleks: Mission to the Unknown – the first half of the classic Doctor Who story The Daleks’ Master Plan – works as both a strong novelization and as a highly enjoyable audiobook.

One thing I learned growing up in the Wilderness Years was that John Peel’s original Dalek stories were somewhat…controversial. Fans seem to be divided over these key Doctor Who novels, and it’s easy to see why. Both War of the Daleks and Legacy of the Daleks featured huge amounts of retconning and continuity mashups. While I personally didn’t mind the books too much, they’re not exactly my favorite Dalek stories, even in the expanded universe.

However, what fandom has been generally much more positive about are John Peel’s novelizations of some of the classic Dalek stories. If Mission to the Unknown is anything to go by, it’s easy to see why. The book not only adapts the single episode of the same name but primarily features the first half of the epic First Doctor serial The Daleks’ Master Plan.

Half a story

Splitting the story into two was definitely a smart move. Target novels were usually kept extremely short, so adapting something as long as six or even four episodes was challenging enough for writers.

But The Daleks’ Master Plan was twelve episodes long – thirteen when combined with the episode Mission to the Unknown. So much happens in this story that it’s easy to see why it was adapted so relatively late in Target’s long list of novelizations.

Splitting the story into two books was an extremely smart choice to make – particularly as the story itself was made of two very different halves in the first place. Terry Nation wrote six episodes of the original serial, while Dennis Spooner wrote the remaining episodes. As a result, turning one TV serial into two novelizations works considerably well, with a fitting enough ending for the first part.

The Daleks work well as an extremely strong threat in this epic story.
(Photo by Ronald Dumont/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A thrilling chase

Mission to the Unknown is an extremely thrilling start to The Daleks’ Master Plan. Throughout the entire book, the Doctor and his friends find themselves constantly chased by the Daleks and their new allies, including Mavic Chen, Guardian of the Solar System, a man hungry for more power. From the moment the Doctor and his friends arrive on Kembel, the action kicks off and doesn’t let up, as they find themselves hunted across the universe. They don’t even have the safety of the TARDIS, as they’re forced to leave their ship behind.

Terry Nation’s original episodes worked extremely well at telling a great adventure story with a dark heart. There are many truly terrible characters that feature throughout. Worse, many of the good characters are brutally killed off – including one of the Doctor’s companions!

These are the reasons why I enjoyed the original serial, and John Peel adapts that story extremely well. He captures the thrills and desperation of the characters perfectly, but he also knows how to flesh them out and expand on key scenes. We’re given an even greater idea of Mavic Chen’s ultimate goals, and a key death scene is beautifully built up into an emotional sacrifice. However Peel handled his own original stories, he seemed to have no problem with adapting others, particularly Terry Nation’s.

The audiobook

As for the audiobook itself, how is it handled? Well, like The Dalek Invasion of Earth, the sound design works extremely well, and it’s great to hear Nicholas Briggs as the Daleks. Interestingly, unlike most Target audiobooks, Mission to the Unknown has two narrators instead of just one. Both Peter Purves and Jean Marsh (who played companions Steven and Sara in the original TV story) read the text well, and Purves’s rendition of Hartnell’s Doctor is still amazing to hear.

This is another enjoyable audiobook, one that works well on its own terms while allowing the original story to be explored in a fresh way. It’s a great start to a classic Dalek story, and I’m already eager to listen to Part 2.

Have you read or listened to The Daleks’ Master Plan: Mission to the Unknown? Do you think it adapted the first half of the story well? Do you think the audiobook did it justice? Let us know in the comments below.