‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ is one of the most sought-after missing Doctor Who stories of all time. And one of its episodes – ‘The Feast of Steven’ – is particularly elusive owing to the fact that, according to legend, it was never duplicated for overseas distribution. It is thought to have gone the way of all flesh – cast into the skip, never to be seen again. But are we still in with a chance of recovering this lost Doctor Who classic?
First, a bit of history. ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ is one of the longest and greatest Doctor Who stories ever made, spanning 12 episodes, countless planets and (spoiler alert) one or two companion deaths, depending on how you count them. Plus, it stars the ever-popular original Doctor himself William Hartnell, as well as the classic Doctor Who baddies the Daleks at their most deadly (although you could probably have deduced their inclusion from the title.)
And although ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ is technically a missing Doctor Who story, there are some pieces of it residing in the BBC archives. Episodes five and ten, for example, were recovered from the basement of a Mormon church (because why not?) whilst episode two found its way back home thanks to a curious BBC employee, who literally fished it out of a skip while it was being junked. So we have a filmic record of at least one quarter of the story – along with a selection of short clips – whilst the other missing episodes have been preserved in audio form, captured ‘off air’ by passionate fans who recorded the episodes during their original broadcast.
And whilst this includes episode seven of ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ – titled ‘The Feast of Steven’ – the BBC was not quite as invested in its preservation. The episode was made as something of a festive filler, as it was due to be broadcast on Christmas Day 1965. As such, it didn’t really connect to the serial’s over-arching plot; the Daleks don’t even appear, if I remember rightly, and most of the episode revolves around the Doctor getting arrested by the Z Cars B-team, before stumbling onto a Hollywood film set.
And famously, ‘The Feast of Steven’ closes with the First Doctor himself – champagne flute in hand – toasting the camera and wishing everyone a merry Christmas. Quite what his companions Steven Taylor and Sara Kingdom made of this remains a mystery.
Because of the episode’s standalone nature, it’s possible to enjoy the entirety of ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ without ever watching episode seven. Thus, the BBC never film recorded ‘The Feast of Steven’ for international distribution. And at this point in BBC history, the corporation was already starting to spring clean its archives, and it issued a destruction order for episode seven in August 1967 – less than one year after its original transmission. Consequently, ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ was one of the first Doctor Who stories ever to be wiped, and ‘The Feast of Steven’ was among the casualties.
Indeed, the only surviving episodes of ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ that we have today are film copies made for overseas sales, with the surviving versions of episodes two, five and ten believed to have been sent back from Australia – a country that ultimately passed on broadcasting the story, deeming it too violent.
So does this mean that we will never get to see ‘The Feast of Steven’ in all its comedic glory? It’s unlikely, but you can never say never. For one thing, there’s a slim chance that the BBC did indeed make a film copy of episode seven – but if they did, they never told anyone about it. There is also a long-standing (unsubstantiated) rumour that the Beeb gave William Hartnell a copy of ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ episode seven as a Christmas gift, although given that 54 years have now passed without any films showing up in his loft, I think we should take this story with a pinch of salt.
Then we have the Doctor Who missing episodes hunter Philip Morris, who managed to recover film copies of ‘The Enemy of the World’ and ‘The Web of Fear’ some 45 years after their original transmission, and who now claims that “at least” six missing Doctor Who episodes are currently in the hands of private collectors. Could ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ episode seven be among the haul?
Certainly, it’s possible that a passionate BBC employee could have rescued the episode prior to its extermination, and smuggled it out of TV Centre. Although given that the story was scheduled for wiping rather than burning (meaning that its video tape would be re-used) it’s more likely that it was recorded over by some other BBC drama. And then incinerated.
On the plus side, ‘The Feast of Steven’ is unique in ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ in that it’s the only episode for which telesnaps exist – that is, off-air photographs captured during the original transmission. So it’s possible to recreate this episode to a certain degree, coupling these pictures with the surviving audio.
A word of warning, though. This segment of ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ is far from being a high-octane thrill ride. It’s a genteel and farcical number, intended as a piece of festive fun for anybody who happened to be watching TV on Christmas Day 1965, and it’s not really meant to coincide with the rest of ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan,’ as mentioned previously. So just keep that in mind as you settle down with your Loose Canon reconstruction.
Otherwise, sit back and enjoy some 1920s Hollywood tomfoolery, a fourth wall-breaking Hartnell, and one of the greatest Doctor Who lines of all time: “I am a citizen of the universe, and a gentleman to boot!”
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