Doctor Who #98: The Feast of Steven

"Incidentally... a happy Christmas to all of you at home!"TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 7 of the Daleks' Master Plan. It is mission from the archives. A reconstruction was used in crafting this review (Part 1, Part 2). First aired Dec.25 1965.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor breaks the fourth wall to wish us a Happy Christmas, preceded by 25 minutes of shouting.

REVIEW: It's the only time a classic Doctor Who story falls on Christmas day, so they make Christmas special out of it... and it's terrible. Firstly, because it doesn't do much with the idea, half the episode taking place on Christmas in a police station where you can hear occasional carolers, and then the Doctor toasting the holidays with his companions - and us - and a big bottle of booze(!). Secondly, because here in the middle of a huge Dalek spectacular, the plot is forgotten and abandoned in favor of a pointless runaround. No, not pointless. The point seems to be to jerk us around.

It starts with a false cliffhanger, as the Doctor tells his companions the atmosphere is poisonous outside. Then we find out it's just 20th century pollution, but he's not overreacting, Steven and Sara are from the future and used to purer air! And then the whole thing is forgotten, and the Doctor tells them to go outside, and indeed, they feel no ill effects. This is symptomatic of the entire episode. The Doctor is interrogated by policemen wondering why the old boy is caught coming out of a police box on police station grounds, and he tells them the whole time travel story right off the bat. Steven rescues him by posing as a copper and off they go, leaving us wondering what story Terry Nation is telling. There's an inside joke when the actor who played the merchant in The Crusade shows up at the police station to complain about... who knows... and the Doctor recognizes him. It's silly and it's stupid and nothing comes of it anyway.

From a meaningless diversion to an irritating one, the TARDIS next lands in Hollywood's silent film era, where the heroes save a young woman from a spinning saw before noticing that - oops - they're on a movie set and they've ruined a roll of film. Frankly, without the visuals, this whole second half of The Feast is confusing as hell, but I doubt it was much better with them. There's some running around, a lot of shouting, background noise that irritatingly interferes with the dialog, and Sara complaining because a director wants her to take her clothes off. Its one saving grace is, perhaps, the silent film era caption cards and player piano music, an amusing stylistic flourish, and maybe on screen the episode took on a sort of Keystone Kops energy now lost, but it just makes it even harder to take The Feast seriously. So really, the fact that the Doctor breaks the fourth wall at the end is almost a relief for Doctor Who fans who can now find comfort in the idea that the damn thing isn't canon (see Theories).

THEORIES: How CAN we integrate the broken fourth wall into continuity? New Who has been more successful at it with such fare as Attack of the Graske (where the Doctor speaks to an unseen companion) and Music of the Spheres (where a portal to the music hall is the camera's POV). Here though? Steven and Sara don't even notice. Here's one possibility that's just occurred to me... The message is to "all of you at home", which doesn't have to mean the audience. The Doctor's home is Gallifrey, and the impish man might be sending a strange message back to the Time Lords as an off-culture goad (dangerous mischief) or to a family seldom spoken of. Or since Christmas is a human holiday, he could be using the TARDIS to record and send out a message to former companions Ian and Barbara, and even Susan. The POV does seem to be somewhere off the console, and could play into the idea that the ship is always recording the Doctor's adventures as part of the matrix and that all the adventures are telepathically gathered archives. Best I can do.

REWATCHABILITY: Low - The Feast of Steven (were that it were ABOUT Steven) may well be the worst episode of Doctor Who ever. It's irritating, pointless, and doesn't play fair with the audience. After the previous episode's generic meandering, we needed something with substance here, but Nation's last script for The Daleks' Master Plan (the rest is all by Spooner) is a tremendous waste of time.

11 comments:

snell said...

The Doctor was speaking...to himself (& Ian And Barbara & Susan), who were watching on the Time-Space Visualizer back during The Chase (also written by Nation!) The Doctor remembered watching this scene earlier, so he turned and said hello to himself!!

Siskoid said...

Hahaha, I love it!

Matthew Turnage said...

Snell, that's an explanation worthy of Steven Moffat himself.

Siskoid said...

It does have a flaw, however. The Doctor explicitly it only works on the past, but is that the relative past or the actual past? I.e. could they be in the future looking at the Doctor in the 1920s or whatever? It would in fact be insane for the Doctor to look in on his own future, and Ian and Barbara would have seen Sara and Steven in their place on this occasion.

BUT, we can salvage it by saying the Doctor plans to review these events LATER and surprise his companions with a message from across time on the viewer. Kind of like a Time Lord's version of holiday snaps.

De said...

I remember listening to this story in the car and being put off by All. The. Shouting. Eventually I tuned out only to snap back when the end theme played.

Craig Oxbrow said...

I wonder what Christmas Specials for the Second the Eighth Doctors would look like...

And three hours later I've wondered a post up.

Siskoid said...

Craig, you mad genius!

snell said...

What, the Ninth Doctor doesn't get a Christmas special??

Siskoid said...

I guess it's Unquiet Dead.

Craig Oxbrow said...

:D

Quite so. The Unquiet Dead is the greatest Christmas Special ever originally broadcast in April.

Anonymous said...

If this thing aired today, it would be flayed to pieces on the Internet. It would be proof positive that Doctor Who had had its day, that the show couldn't continue without Ian and Barbara, and that its days were numbered.

I do think - going back to the discussion on whether Katarina 'counts' as a companion - that Feast of Steven is the episode that makes Sara Kingdom 'count'. I count Katarina mainly because she bridged the story barrier travelling in the TARDIS, and here Sara 'kind of' does too - they hop away from the story and then back.

 

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