Sunday 24 December 2023

Episode 97: The Feast of Steven

NB: This episode no longer exists in the archives, nor is there a full set of telesnaps. Representative images are therefore used to illustrate it.

The TARDIS has materialised at its next destination - but the Doctor announces that the atmosphere outside is highly toxic...
It is not some far distant alien world, however, but a city in Northern England.
The Doctor decides that he will carry out the repair to the scanner himself as he is used to alien environments, whereas they hail from a time when the air was much purer, and the pollution would harm them.
The TARDIS has already been noted by the local police force, for it has materialised right outside their station.
When he emerges he is spotted by a Constable who suspects him to be a vagrant squatting in their new Police Call Box. He is taken inside to be questioned by an Inspector from CID.
Steven has observed this and follows him out of the ship. He spots a spare uniform in the back of a car and puts it on. Posing as an officer from another division, he claims to know the Doctor of old so as to help extricate him. Fed up waiting, Sara then follows them both. She is also arrested, but Steven helps her and the Doctor flee back to the TARDIS which dematerialises - leaving the policemen wondering where their new call Box has gone.
The ship rematerialises after a few minutes - and they are shocked to see a man dragging a young woman towards a circular saw.
Rushing to the rescue, they discover that they are actually in a Hollywood film studio of the silent era.
A Victorian melodrama is being filmed on the sawmill set, starring Blossom Lefavre and Darcey Tranton, and directed by Steinberger P Green. He sees Steven and Sara in action and wants them for his next movie.
Sara then find herself on the set of a movie about an Arab Sheikh, and director Ingmar Knopf also wants her to be his next big star. The Doctor is mistaken for an English professor named Webster, who has come to Hollywood to act as adviser, and meets a clown who is thinking of changing careers - but is worried about being taken seriously with a name like Bing Crosby.
After being chased by the directors and getting mixed up with the 'Keystone Cops', they finally make it back to the safety of the TARDIS.
As they ponder the weird environment which they have just left, the Doctor appears with a tray of  drinks. He points out that when they had been at the police station he had noticed that it was Christmas Day. They rarely have the opportunity to acknowledge these events in their travels, so will do so now.
The Doctor wishes everyone a Merry Christmas...
Next episode: Volcano

Written by: Terry Nation
Recorded: Friday 3rd December 1965 - Television Centre Studio TC3
First broadcast: 6:35pm, Saturday 25th December 1965
Ratings: 7.9 million / AI 39
Designer: Raymond P Cusick
Director: Douglas Camfield
Additional cast: Clifford Earl (Police Sergeant), Norman Mitchell, Malcolm Rogers (Policemen), Keneth Thornett (Detective-Inspector), Reg Pritchard (Man in Mackintosh), Sheila Dunn (Blossom Lefavre), Leonard Grahame (Darcy Tranton), Royston Tickner (Steinberger P Green), Mark Ross (Ingmar Knopf), David James (Sheikh), Paula Topham (Vamp), Robert Jewell (Clown), Albert Barrington (Prof. Webster), Buddy Windrush (Props Man).

Of all the missing episodes of Doctor Who, The Feast of Steven is the one least likely to ever be recovered. The reason for this is simple: it was never sold to any overseas territory thanks to its uniquely festive nature. Unless the original BBC master copy turns up, this is lost forever.
Having listened to it, there are many who might argue that this is no great shame...
As soon as it was noted that the seventh episode of The Daleks' Master Plan would fall on Christmas Day, it was realised that this instalment would need to be something different. It had to be lighter in tone, and it was decided that the Daleks should not actually feature. After The Chase, it was clear that the Daleks and humour did not go happily hand in plunger.
Whilst there would be mild threat, there would be no deaths in this episode.
The production team were looking to The Chase for the second half of their Dalek epic. A pursuit through time and space would help it reach its necessary twelve episode duration, and allow for a mix of locations which would hopefully retain audience interest.

The Christmas instalment - originally called "The Feast of Stephen" before Peter Purves' character was given his final name - would have two settings.
For the first of these, it was hoped that the cast of the popular police serial Z-Cars might be involved as a special festive cross-over event.
It was intended that the Hollywood section would take place first - with Vicki being tied to a railway line by a melodramatic villain - and then the police station.
The draft script set up more of a mystery as to what lay beyond the TARDIS doors, until the Doctor got the scent of a local delicacy:
"The warm and inviting aroma of fish and chips! Ah! It brings back memories... In 20th Century England they were nectar... A piece of crisp, golden rock and two penn'oth... Divine... Hot, greasy chips... a pinch of salt... a dash of vinegar... Last Sunday's newspaper... I can't resist! I'm going to get some...".
Sara began to think that fish and chips were addictive, and Steven wondered about the terrible things people had to eat before they invented vita-pills.
A power loss was the reason why the TARDIS only moved 30 or 40 years and remained on Earth to visit the film studio. The Doctor told Green that his film worked out fine as he recalled seeing it, and there was mention of the "talkies" destroying the careers of many silent stars - and the actor playing the Sheikh had a high-pitched voice.
The Doctor was to inadvertently invent the custard-pie fight (and fight-arranger Derek Ware was booked to rehearse the regulars in a climactic fight only a week before recording, so it must have been a late change to cancel it).
The episode would have ended with the Doctor, having somehow avoided the mess, being pied by Steven and Sara in the TARDIS.

On Friday 1st October checks were made that the Z-Cars set would be available for filming, as well as some of its cast - Collin Welland, Brian Blessed, James Ellis and Joseph Brady as the Inspector. It had originally been hoped that the Inspector might be Charlie Barlow, played by Stratford Johns.
Unfortunately, the Z-Cars producer David Rose then vetoed the idea of a cross-over. His reason was that it would undermine what he saw as a hard-hitting crime drama. It was also found that the police series would still be in production on the dates the Doctor Who team wanted, so the cast would be unavailable anyway.
Donald Tosh rewrote the section to feature alternative characters, so that it ended up spoofing the serial.
A Liverpudlian setting was retained, though the accents are variable. Purves manages a passable Scouse.

The dating of the Hollywood section is debateable. Some BBC documents claim the setting as "c.1919", with others citing "California 1921".
We do have two real historical figures appear. Charlie Chaplin is seen in passing, and the Doctor talks with a man who reveals that he is Bing Crosby. Crosby only moved to California in October 1925, when he and some friends performed as a vocal group on stage. His first film work - some short musical comedies for Mack Sennett - was in 1931, after the "talkies" had already taken over. There's no evidence he ever attempted a career as a clown. Additionally, Crosby was always a slight, wiry figure - quite unlike the fuller-figured Robert Jewell.
The 'Keystone Cops' were mainly active between 1912 and 1917. They included future solo stars Edgar Kennedy and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle among their number.
The Arabian movie is clearly based on romantic drama The Sheikh (1921), which starred Rudolph Valentino. It inspired a sequel - The Son of the Sheikh - also starring Valentino and released in the final year of his life, 1926.
Moustachioed villains were a staple of many melodramas based on the old barnstorming plays - often to be seen throwing helpless widows out of their homes on Christmas Eve and lusting after the heroine, who might find herself strapped to the railway line or in front of a circular saw if she did not submit to his amorous advances.
Inspirations for the directors are no doubt Cecil B DeMille, famed for his lavish Biblical epics, and the dictatorial Erich Von Stroheim, with Knopf possibly gaining his name from Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman. De Mille is mentioned by Green, as are stars Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, whom he hopes Steven and Sara will become as great as.

Recording on Friday 3rd December saw the production move back into Studio 3 at Television Centre, after a few weeks in TC4.
Joining the cast for the day was journalist William Hall, film critic of the Evening News. Rather than simply write an article about the experience, he was given the background role of a cowboy in the episode. He had been best man at Douglas Camfield's wedding to Sheila Dunn - cast here as Blossom Lefavre. Hall met the poet Jean Pestell, who was working as an extra in the same scenes as he - and the pair subsequently married.

During the afternoon, a major photocall was held to introduce Jean Marsh's space agent Sara Kingdom to the public. She was pictured on the sawmill and TARDIS sets.
During the TARDIS scene between the police station and film studio locations, the Doctor, Steven and Sara discuss the taranium core and the Daleks, just to remind the audience that this is still the same story they've been watching for the last six weeks.
For the Hollywood sequences, a number of captions in the style of silent movie intertitles appeared on screen. These were: 
"And so the hunt was on...",,
"Meanwhile in the Sheikh's tent...",
"Meanwhile in the Wardrobe Department...",
"Meanwhile back in the Sheikh's tent...",
"But what has happened to Steven?",
"Meanwhile all was not well at the old barn",
"The chase was on",
"Meanwhile back in the TARDIS",
"And so they all lived happily ever after".
The dialogue ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous. From Hartnell we get silliness like "This is a madhouse. It's all full of Arabs!", but earlier he delivers one of his defining lines:
"Well I suppose you might say that I am a citizen of the universe, and a gentleman to boot".

The instalment ended with William Hartnell breaking the 'fourth wall' to directly address the audience at home with "Incidentally, a happy Christmas to all of you at home!", raising his glass to the camera.
In subsequent interviews, both John Wiles and Donald Tosh claimed that this was an unscripted ad-lib by Hartnell, and Wiles especially was furious with him.
They are talking nonsense, or simply have selective memories. The scene was a late addition - replacing the custard-pie fight - but it was properly scripted by Tosh, and Camfield had planned his camera moves for it. Tosh hated the scene, but he had gone along with it.

  • The ratings are a bit of a disaster. People may have had other things to do than watch TV on Christmas night, but the appreciation figure - the indicator of how much people enjoyed a programme - is well below the average for the series. Anything below 50 is poor.
  • Opposition in ITV regions included Thunderbirds and Lost in Space.
  • The Feast of Steven was still the 10th most watched programme of the day. 
  • The resemblance to Z-Cars did not go unnoticed by critics.
  • Ironically, one critic suggested that the Hollywood scenes might have been enlivened by the inclusion of a custard-pie fight...
  • Terry Nation produced a script of only 21 pages for this episode - when the average was around 45.
  • On the day of recording, the Manchester Evening News reported that Hartnell would be quitting the show. The actor had mentioned this possibility when particularly unhappy with Wiles.
  • A deleted scene from the police station section saw the Inspector thinking the Doctor to be the "dusty brush man", someone who sold housewives poor quality goods on the doorstep, and later - when the Doctor mentioned being a traveller in time and space - the Inspector quipped that he might soon be doing time in a very small space if he didn't start answering his questions...
  • The first known instance of a cinematic custard-pie fight goes back to 1913.
  • James Ellis and Brian Blessed would eventually feature in the series during the 1980's - in Battlefield and Mindwarp respectively. Blessed had also been considered as a potential Doctor.
  • Malcolm Rogers had previously been seen as Count Dracula in The Chase.
  • Robert Jewell was a regular Dalek operator.
  • Sheila Dunn would return as Petra Williams in Inferno.
  • Reg Pritchard had featured as cloth merchant Ben Daheer in The Crusade - hence the in-joke of the Doctor thinking he recognised him from the market at Jaffa.
  • Royston Tickner played the man who ferries the Doctor and Jo to the island at the start of The Sea Devils.
  • Buddy Windrush was the alias of actor Brian Mosley, used when he did stunt and extras work. He is best known for his long-running role as Alf Roberts in Coronation Street - but would also be back to portray delegate Malpha later in this story. 
  • Radio Times printed an article on Thursday 2nd December in which parents defended the series, following an earlier piece attacking the violence in The Traitors.
  • The episode's Audience Research Report, comprising the opinions of 177 respondents, ranged between those liking it for its "festive spirit", to one person's claim that it was "one of the worst programmes I have ever seen".

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