When Starlight Grows Cold was the sixth illustrated short story in the 1968 Doctor Who Annual. It featured the Second Doctor, Ben and Polly and was notable for being the first time the vast emptiness between galaxies had been used as a setting in a piece of authorised Doctor Who fiction, and the first time that the TARDIS performed a controlled "short hop" between two close points in space.
The TARDIS materialises in nothingness. It is pitch black in every direction, according to the scanner. The Doctor at first waxes lyrical about where they are, before finally telling Ben and Polly that they are actually in the vast, empty space between galaxies. He sends out some probes to check for any biological life-forms nearby, not really believing he'll possibly find any.
Excited by being in such an unusual location, the Doctor entreats Ben to join him for a bit of a space walk. They exit the TARDIS in space suits, leaving Polly behind in the console room to monitor the readings from the probe. While the boys perform their extra-vehicular activity, Polly shouts down an intercom that the probes are beginning to transmit signs of nearby life.
The Doctor guffaws at the very idea, providing a series of objections to every claim Polly is making. Ben finally tells the Doctor to turn around, so that he can see the big, white sphere behind them. Ecstatic at the discovery, he tells Polly that he and Ben are going inside to investigate. Polly strongly protests, telling the Doctor that if he dies, there'll be no one left to pilot the TARDIS home. The Doctor flippantly tells her that this is the perfect time for her to learn how to fly the TARDIS, then. Ben essentially concurs, telling Polly to "stop snivelling".
The two space walkers enter the sphere. They discover that it's housing massive life-forms that are apparently in suspended animation in huge cocoons. The Doctor is absolutely transfixed at the uniqueness of this life-form and the improbability of their incredibly long journey. The cocoons begin to open, and Polly and Ben fill the intercoms with worried chatter. The Doctor, though, is lost in his thoughts about this new species, and cannot understand the gravity of his situation. He is only gradually aware that he is somehow back in his TARDIS.
When he chides Polly for bringing the TARDIS to their location and interrupting his studies, Ben steps in to defend her. The aliens were far too massive for them to defend against, should they turn aggressive. The Doctor can't object, so his anger with Polly fades. Indeed, it turns into admiration because she's managed to do something he's never done before: make the TARDIS perform a short hop in space. When he asks her how she did it, she reminds him that he told her it was time she learned to fly the TARDIS. When he presses further, she admits that she got lucky and can't show him how she did it.
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- This is one of the few Doctor Who stories in any medium that refers to the vast empty space between galaxies that comprises the bulk of the universe. Realistically, the Doctor's early lack of control of the TARDIS should have ensured that he would materialise in empty space much more often, but it's hard to have drama in emptiness.
- Like many early Doctor Who print stories, both comic and prose, the Doctor is referred to as "Doctor Who" or "Dr. Who". The word "doctor" is not even seen as a proper noun here when used on its own to refer to the character.
- Unlike the majority of stories in this annual, the TARDIS is consistently referred to here as "the Tardis", rather than simply Tardis.
- As with other stories in this volume, the second Doctor refers to Ben and Polly as "my children", or, individually, "my child", "my girl", or "my boy". Uncharacteristic of the Troughton Doctor, this seems to be a hold-over from the Hartnell interpretation; there was simply too little time between when Troughton took over and this annual had to go to print for the annual's editors to understand Troughton's approach to the role.
- As in other illustrated stories throughout the annual, the Doctor is shown here wearing his stovepipe hat.
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