It’s a Tragical History Tour tradition (and the Matrix Mutterings before that) that stretches all the way back to 1995. Our annual holiday bit of Christmas merriment heralds Doctor Who’s most prominent (at least until 2005) and obvious holiday crossover.
And therein lies a tale (some of it possibly apocryphal!)
Christmas Day in 1965 fell on a Saturday. DOCTOR WHO was well into a successful third season in its by-now-traditional Saturday tea-time slot on the BBC schedules with William Hartnell in the lead and was going all out to appease the rampant Dalekmania that had taken England and the series by storm by unleashing the massive 12-part story The Daleks Master Plan over a three month period. Rather than take a break for more traditional holiday-fare the powers that were in the BBC decided not to break up the Dalek epic halfway through (at episode 7) and continue to run the series. The Producer at the time John Wiles felt the unusual slotting on Christmas day provided an ideal chance to break from the larger story temporarily and try something totally different.
In England the theater tradition of Christmas pantomimes was a well understood and accepted form of entertainment. Thus virtually all links to the story up to that point were forgotten for a week to indulge in the ‘Christmas spirit’ as it were.
In other words nothing less than a full-blown pantomime and send-up as the Doctor and his companions–Steven and Sara–ricocheted from one ridiculous situation to another. As it was viewers at the time didn’t mind the diversion–although the episode was never sold into syndication overseas.
Even so the most infamous feature in this episode was William Hartnell’s closing speech–directly to the audience! Although this closing exists in the scripts that exist today, both script editor Donald Tosh and director Douglas Camfield insisted it was not in the shooting script! Camfield was reportedly so incensed that, according to Heather Hartnell, he gave Hartnell the original print shortly after it was broadcast and in subsequent years the Hartnell family would then gather together after Christmas dinner to watch The Feast of Steven all over again. Ho! Ho! WHO!
Read more about Doctor Who’s original Christmas Celebration, The Feast of Steven here.