It’s 1965. Over the last six weeks every Saturday evening you’ve witnessed a truly epic Doctor Who serial called “The Daleks’ Master Plan”. Everything in those six episodes you’ve seen so far has been bleak as bleak gets. You’ve seen two companions die, you’ve seen Daleks plotting to destroy time itself and you’ve seen the Guardian of the Solar System sell out his people to certain death. You sit down to watch episode seven and…
…instead of the latest part of an ongoing Dalek epic you got The Feast Of Steven.
The Feast Of Steven couldn’t be more far removed from the larger story it’s a part of. The Daleks and Mavic Chen don’t even appear! The closest you get is a brief reference in between the two segments where the Doctor mentions to Sara and Steven that they mustn’t let the Daleks get the Tarranium Core, but that’s all you get. It’s almost as if writer Terry Nation tacked it on at the last minute as a reminder to viewers that they haven’t dropped that storyline and it will continue next week.
So what are those two segments? The first one is set in a police station and the second is a runaround in 1920s Hollywood.
The police station bit is at least vaguely amusing. The police, quite understandably, don’t believe the Doctor’s story when he tries to tell them he lives inside the police box and the misunderstanding that results wouldn’t feel entirely out of place if the series tried it today. As the segment progresses the three TARDIS travellers find themselves having to negotiate their way back inside so the can get away from the police constabulary, en route giving a meta reference when the Doctor recognises someone because the actor who plays the character had played a role in the show before.
The second segment however has virtually no discernible plot. It doesn’t help that there are lots of people shouting in the background, which I’m sure was perfectly fine to the original audience but for us watching with only telesnaps makes the plot nigh on impossible to follow.
Basically what happens is that the three of them arrive in 1920s Hollywood where they all get separated. One humerous moment happens when the director assumes that Sara is a castmember for his film and keeps trying to make her get changed. She explains later to the Doctor that “a strange man kept making me take my clothes off.”
Then there’s a chase scene that’s totally incomprehensible, which happens to include the on-screen descriptions you’d get in the silent movies of old. Plus, in among it all the Doctor meets Charlie Chaplin and Bing Crosby. It all makes about as much sense as it sounds.
Finally, at the end, the TARDIS trio return aboard their spaceship and this exchange takes place:
DOCTOR: Well, we so rarely get a chance to celebrate. But this time we must.It’s bizarre but it was totally commonplace for 1960s television to do this so the original audience wouldn’t have found it nearly as odd as we do today. That said, while modern audiences would never appreciate it, it’s still a better Christmas Special than The End Of Time.
DOCTOR: Yes. It's Christmas. Don't you remember? The police station. Christmas.
STEVEN: So it was, yes.
DOCTOR: Here's a toast. A Happy Christmas to all of us.
STEVEN: Same to you, Doctor, Sara.
DOCTOR: Incidentally, a happy Christmas, to all of you at home!
Like many other early episodes of Doctor Who, the BBC either destroyed or wiped the original film/print, and, sadly, due to the broadcast schedules being different overseas no copies of The Feast Of Steven were ever sold abroad. Thus of all the 97 episodes of Doctor Who that are currently missing this is the only one with no chance of rediscovery.
When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.