“The Feast of Steven” and Other First Doctor Christmases

By Steven Shinder

Hello, fellow Trustees, or Decorative Veggies, are whatever listeners call themselves. My Name is Steven (Editor’s note: Steven has been on many of our episodes. Most recently, he joined us to discuss the Torchwood episode From Out of the Rain), so of course “The Feast of Steven” had to be in the blog title, given that this is Christmas themed and that was a Christmas episode. Now that I have explained the joke, I can hear you all rollicking with breathless laughter.

Anyway, Christmas is that time of year when you can watch, listen to, or read a piece of media that focuses on comfort and makes you believe, if only for a moment, that maybe your life doesn’t completely suck. And this blog post is no exception to the rule. So let’s get on with it already. Here are some thoughts on First Doctor Christmas stories. I am not sure if these are all of them, but these are all the ones that I have experienced.

The First Doctor looking into the camera

“The Feast of Steven”

Ah yes. This is where the Doctor Who Christmas specials really started, 55 years ago. “The Feast of Steven” was pretty much a filler episode within the larger serial The Daleks’ Master Plan. The seventh episode of the serial, it was broadcast on December 25, 1965, and it did not really have anything to further the overarching story since it seemed that audiences would probably not be watching this episode. And now, you really can’t watch this episode. That’s right. If you wanna feast your eyes on “The Feast of Steven,” then your only option is to watch a reconstruction.

Even with the still photographs and the audio, the episode seems pretty bizarre and chaotic. The episode takes The Doctor, Steven Taylor, and Sara Kingdom through some wacky events, from evading police officers in 1960s England to stumbling upon a film set in 1920s Hollywood. And Charlie Chaplin was in there somewhere, apparently. I don’t know. It was confusing. We even get a yikes-worthy quote from The Doctor when on the films set: “a madhouse, it’s all full of Arabs.” Never believe anyone who says Classic Who was perfect. So glad that the show has evolved past this.

And as if all of that was not enough, we end on a scene in the TARDIS where The Doctor pours drinks for his companions, and toasts a Merry Happy Christmas not just to them, but “to all of you at home.” That’s right. He looks right at the camera. I’m not even sure how much I even want this complete episode to be found. I’ve had issues with some of the NuWho Christmas specials, but I think it’s safe to say that this is the worst one in the televised history of Doctor Who.
cover of The Little Drummer Boy

“The Little Drummer Boy”

Thankfully, if you’ve endured that whole thing and need a palette cleanser, you can read or listen to the Short Trips short story “The Little Drummer Boy.” Released in prose and audio forms in March 2003 and September 2016 respectively, this picks up right from the end of “The Feast of Steven.” You thought The Doctor, Steven, and Sara went straight back to dealing with Daleks? Hell no! They actually traveled to several different Christmases, including the Christmas truce in 1914. Yes, that Christmas truce. I have more to say about that later, but what I will say is that The Doctor here does focus on how while there is peace for the day, the fighting will continue the next day.

But the real center of this story is a mystery pertaining to a boy who keeps popping up as they keep traveling to these Christmases in different years. The boy looks the same no matter which year they end up. It is a tale that involves twins, illnesses, and a way of avoiding a paradox somehow. The ending is bittersweet. While I think it was well-crafted, I struggled deciding whether to rate the audio (narrated by Beth Chalmers) 4/5 stars or 5/5 stars. Ultimately, I landed on 4 since the resolution felt a bit unethical to me. But this is a story that is definitely worth experiencing.
cover of O Tannenbaum

“O Tannenbaum”

If you thought that was the only Short Trips Christmas story featuring the First Doctor and Steven Taylor, think again! They also experience a Christmas story in the form of “O Tannenbaum,” an audio released in December 2017 (a few days before “Twice Upon a Time” was broadcast, actually). Peter Purves provides the voices of both characters. While this story was not quite as good as “The Little Drummer Boy,” I still enjoyed it. The tale has to do with a father, his son, and…trees. The tree-angle kind of reminded me of a Christmas horror story I wrote five years ago.

To say more would potentially be spoilery, but I also hope I am not raising expectations too high. The story is pretty straightforward, and The Doctor makes an awesome branch manager pun. Weirdly, the story ends with Steven saying The Doctor’s line at the end of “The Feast of Steven,” wishing a happy Christmas “to all of you at home.” However, it is played off like he is saying it to his surroundings with nobody around listening, which is kind of sad. But anyway, this one was definitely 4/5 stars for me.
The Twelfth and First Doctors in Twice Upon a Time

“Twice Upon a Time”

Of course we had to talk about “Twice Upon a Time.” I mean, come on. Its acronym is TUAT. Isn’t that hilarious?

All joking aside, this is actually my favorite televised Doctor Who Christmas special. Seeing the flashback to a classic serial, in this instance The Tenth Planet, and then having the current story follow up from there is what I wanted for the series 7B episodes, given that they aired in the show’s 50th anniversary year. The recreations are done very well, and bringing in David Bradley, who depicted William Hartnell in An Adventure in Time and Space (where I actually felt something when he said “I don’t want to go” after I felt nothing hearing David Tennant say it), was a brilliant decision. And I am glad that he has gone on to play the First Doctor again in The First Doctor Adventures from Big Finish.

Sure, the sexism of the First Doctor is made more overt here, and I understand how jarring that can be. But ultimately, the First and Twelfth Doctors going through this arc where they realize just how important their roles in making miracles happen is is what saves it for me. I remember tearing up when I first watched that scene toward the end where “Silent Night” is sung in the trenches of World War I, and the Christmas truce takes place. For this one day, two opposing sides of a terrible war were sharing a merry celebration. Twelve reminds One that being The Doctor means to keep even just a few people alive for a little bit longer, thus perpetuating the fairy tale that life, at times, fails to become on its own. Plus, this story enhances the story of the First Doctor’s regeneration into the Second Doctor.

As I alluded to earlier, though, this was not the first Doctor Who story to feature the Christmas truce. The Short Trips story “The Little Drummer Boy” featured it in March 2003. And then less than two years later, in December 2004, it was featured in “Never Seen Cairo,” a short story included in Short Trips: A Christmas Treasury. In this instance, the Fifth Doctor and Peri Brown were present, and a soldier declines The Doctor’s offer to visit another place such as Cairo, given his duties, according to the TARDIS wiki. (I haven’t read this story.)

a page from The Forgotten

And then in December 2008, the multi-Doctor comic book story The Forgotten featured a flashback in which the Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler arrive at the time of the Christmas truce. Captain Harkness is mentioned to have survived being shot in the head and sent to the hospital, but Nine and Rose are unfamiliar with the name, as they haven’t met Jack yet. There is also a Benton present, which is funny considering that “Twice Upon a Time” would feature the Brigadier’s father. Nine is the referee during the football game.

So at the Christmas truce, Twelve, Nine, Five, and two versions of One could have been present. I think it would’ve been rather funny had these other Doctors just been in the background during “Twice Upon a Time.”

It is kind of ironic that it took a Chris — Chris Chibby, in this case — to end the tradition of televised Doctor Who Christmas specials. But at least the tradition ended on a high note, and I couldn’t think of better final moments for the First Doctor right before his regeneration.

If you’ve experienced all of these stories, what did you think of them? How would you rank them? Do you agree? Disagree? Wanna throw tomatoes at me? (Editor’s note: throw ’em Steven’s way on twitter: @StevenShinder. Or throw ’em our way on our Twitter or Facebook.) A Happy Christmas to all of you at home!

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