Shiny Shelf


Doctor Who: The Feast of Steven

By Eddie Robson on 25 December 2010

Note: Eddie wrote this in 2006, as part of Shiny Advent, but it got lost in an email thread for four years. So here, at last, it is:

The ‘Doctor Who’ Christmas special appears to be establishing itself as a tradition, so ingénues into the world of Who may be surprised to discover that, until last year, there had only ever been one Christmas episode of ‘Doctor Who’. This was in 1965, and ‘The Feast of Steven’ probably still counts as the oddest episode in the programme’s history. ‘Love & Monsters’ is formulaic by comparison.

The episode came about purely because Christmas Day fell on a Saturday in 1965. The BBC let ‘Doctor Who’ keep its regular timeslot, but (correctly) judged that many of the regular audience wouldn’t be able to tune in. So it was decided that the episode – which fell in the middle of a three-month epic Dalek storyline – would be self-contained and light-hearted, so that regular viewers wouldn’t miss the story and everybody else wouldn’t be distressed by the intrusion of intergalactic WAR! into their Christmas Day.

I’ve never seen the episode. The BBC destroyed their only copy many years ago, and never sold it abroad. But I have heard an audio copy, and in fact wrote a sequel to it for reasons which are no longer clear to me. The fact that it only exists in audio form is inconvenient, as the second half of the episode is a spoof of 1920s silent comedies. The first half was intended as a crossover with ‘Z-Cars’, but due to the ‘Z-Cars’ producer Leonard Lewis’ refusal to get involved with something so silly, it’s just a sketch in a police station.

‘The Feast of Steven’ has taken a lot of flak from Who fans, many of whom wish it had never existed at all – not because it’s really quite mad and inconsequential (although that certainly doesn’t help), but because in the final few moments, William Hartnell’s Doctor raises a glass to camera and declares, ‘A Merry Christmas to all of you at home!’ Yes, he acknowledges it’s all just a telly programme and the reality of the whole thing comes crashing down around our ears. Darn.

But take it at face value and it’s got some very good comedy in it, thanks mainly to the talents of Hartnell and Peter Purves. And whatever your opinion on that final moment – and it’s given me so much entertainment down the years that I can hardly begrudge it – it’d be a dreadful shame to exclude ‘The Feast of Steven’ just because of it, because it’s a mark of what makes ‘Doctor Who’ so great that it something as daft and strange as this. I’m keenly hoping for an animated version.


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By Eddie Robson




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