Gather round as we prepare to tackle possibly the most festive novel Doctor Who has ever spawned! Even its title- The Silent Stars Go By- is a quotation from O Little Town Of Bethlehem, as helpfully pointed out by author Dan Abnett in quoting the relevant passage before diving into the story itself. Interestingly the lift from the carol is presented as a song of Earth before, which we'll soon learn is a Morphan term for humanity before their time. It also sets a theme in celebration of the festive season- as the Doctor puts it "We're slap bang in the middle of Christmas. Christmas is all around us!". But as the prologue tells us, its not all heartwarming. Strange hulking brutes have been spotted around the colony of Beside & young Vesta Flurrish is missing.
Joining the man in the bow tie for their final bows in novel form are Amy Pond & Rory Williams, making this a pre-Cold War meeting with the Ice Warriors for the Eleventh. Fittingly there are references to the first time he'd encountered them during his Second incarnation as Jamie & Victoria get honourable mentions alongside the fur coat he wore to keep warm during that adventure. It was dusted off for The Five Doctors, though by now he's lost it somewhere.
Chapter One's title In The Bleak Midwinter just about sums up the state of things once ' Sexy' crashes into the snow. No wonder Rory quickly regrets not bringing a coat, musing on the fact his travel buddies should have no problem waiting for him- he did it for a fair while once! Let Nothing You Dismay follows, & you just might recognise the tune of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen from somewhere...
Winter has been harsh here for many a year now, & things are getting tense. You can probably guess that a degree of suspicion falls upon our travellers three as they're not from round these parts! Indeed the opening of Chapter Three, If Thou Knowst Thy Telling serves only to increase the tension as the Doctor's psychic paper is confiscated. In the process of examining it, the community council led by the brilliantly named Bill Groan are convinced that sorcery's afoot! And Guide has told the Morphans what to do to those types........though adopting a futuristic computer system as a god must surely have its pitfalls.
Another Good King Wencelas quotation gives us the title of Though The Frost Was Cruel as the Doctor & Amy are freed from confinement in exchange for helping Vesta's older sister Bel in the search for her sister. Meanwhile Rory, who's got himself separated from his wife & the mad man with a box he's come to see as a friend, is in a spot of bother. The Hopes And Fears Of All The Years isn't the half of it. Though it does yield yet another nod to O Little Town Of Bethlehem. Remember the preface to the story:
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lieKeeping up so far? Good! Let us trample through the snow a while longer. Snow which happens to be Deep And Crisp And Even just like that which Wenceslas marvelled at of course. Well, we did say there was a theme did we not? Look up & we as well as the Doctor & pals will see The Stars In The Night Sky. Anyone who's ever starred in or witnessed a Nativity play should know where that comes from! Hiding in the cold from the Ice Warriors allows for another almost perfect carol analogy, as they keep a low profile just like Certain Poor Shepherds In Fields As They Lay.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
The Night Is Darker Now, no question. We'll meet the Transhumans Underneath The Mountain soon enough. But just who are these Transhumans? Ancestors of the Morphans, allowing the 'future' inhabitants of Beside to do the work of establishing the place before wiping them out. Wibbly wobbly Christmassy-wissmassy!
It's helpfully pointed out in Chapter Eleven's title that this makes them The Maker Of Our Earth , or at least the makers of their own world in accordance with the carol Maker Of The Sun And Moon. If you spotted that, well done! Brighter Visions Beam Afar for the Doctor at least.
Brightly Shone The Moon That Night is next on our list of chapter titles/carol quotations, yet another sampling from Good King Wenceslas ( which also enjoys a degree of fame as the inspiration behind the title of Doctor Who's maiden festive special The Feast Of Steven). It's not until later on we learn the first of the Transhumans is the creation of the Ice Warriors! Its purpose? Born To Raise The Sons Of Earth, Born To Give Them Second Birth. The moment of creation is again aptly titled, Now In Flesh Appearing heralding its first moments. The folly of the whole thing sparks something of a realisation in the Ice Warriors, and Guide Us To Thy Perfect Light is bang on the money.
Our journey is now almost at an end, but for the heartbreakingly-titled penultimate chapter ( given Amy & Rory's pending deaths) Close By Me Forever. Back to the TARDIS then, in time for Above Thy Deep And Dreamless Sleep- yet another snippet of O Little Town Of Bethlehem.
Not quite "all mince pies and brandy butter, and candied peels and anxious turkeys!" to quote the Doctor, but good enough to sit alongside them among the presents under the tree if you've been good boys & girls!