The Silurians recently returned in a new Doctor Who two-part story (The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood) and I was excited. For most of my life I had loved these creatures and the concepts behind them. Introduced originally in 1970, the Silurians are a classic science fiction concept. If we contemplate that the Earth is well over four billion years old, and if we also consider that humans developed in only a few million, then there is the tantalizing what if that at other times in that long history intelligent life might have evolved. The Silurians are a product of such speculation, a race of intelligent reptiles who ruled the Earth long ago and then had to hibernate in bunkers to escape a natural disaster (itself a classic SF concept that I will pass over here). While they slept we evolved and now human actions (such as mining) wake our predecessors.
Good SF explores more than just amazing natural or technical speculations. It also examines ethical considerations and Silurian tales do just that. They may look like aliens but they are as Terran as we are. Who has the right to rule Earth now? Can we share the planet? Can differences between reptile and ‘ape’ be reconciled. I think these issues were well explored in the new story. I will review that story here while keeping the longer history of the Silurians in mind.
I am a Doctor Who fan with a memory of the old show and a love of things like monster and spaceship design. As such I was concerned by the new Silurians. I feel it was too much of a departure from the older visualizations. The skull crests are still there but so much has changed. New Who is supposed to be a continuation of the original series but often feels like a reboot. However because it is a continuation the writers felt the need to have the Doctor say we were simply seeing a different tribal group. Nonetheless I feel the look is too altered and – frankly – too human.
Do I just say that because I am a tragic fan who wants consistency in my shows? I think there is more to it than that – I am interested in how effects affect the message of the story.
The face makeup reminds me too much of aliens from Babylon-5. It is excellent but it allows me to relate too readily with these creatures. I should find them alien and animalistic. I should have a natural inclination to be scared of them. Fear breeds hate and that is what the story needed. Give me distorted sibilant vocals and creepy snake-like pupils. I want to have to make an effort to accept that what is needed is conciliation with these monsters that want to take my world from me.
A few more comments on design however: I do like the attire and technology of the re-imagined Silurians. It combines the original organic look of Silurian technology with the retro-futuristic feel that defines much of New Who. The guns are a nice tip-of-the-hat to those of the marine relatives of the Silurians. The masks are a nifty way of making the Silurians more menacing while also giving them some useful sense enhancements. I never liked the ‘third eye’ of the original Silurians but now wish it could have been preserved in the form of an infra-red sensor on those masks. But back now to the story itself…
So you can tell that I think the message of the Silurian concept has something to do with accommodating difference, which is why I want them to be monsters and then have us come to terms with that. I think that the new story definitely attempts this but that it is hampered by the anthropomorphic depiction of the Silurians. Yes – the military reptiles were suitably hostile but the civilians were just too nice. There have always been wise elder Silurians but never have they looked like a kindly grandparent. If that elder was offering his technology in return for human land he would never then undermine his ability to offer that by postponing the negotiation process for a millennium (during which any technological superiority may be lost).
Still it is difficult for me to assess the story because of my fannish background. What does someone new to the Silurian concept think of it? Were they challenged or moved? Did they want the humans to win or did they want an accord to be won? At any rate we know what the Doctor wanted – has always wanted – and this time he almost got it. This is good because the latest incarnation of the Doctor is an embodiment of compassion and deserves a happy ending every now-and-then.
There are a few nice touches in the story that show Doctor Who moving with the times and keeping fresh. One was recognition of gender differences among the reptiles and, along with it, a novel demarcation with females as military and males as civilian authority. The other, which was delicious, was seeing a human of Indian descent negotiating on behalf of all Humanity. Overall I enjoyed the return of the Silurians, changed as they are, and am happy that a whole new bunch of viewers have be introduced to these beautiful creatures.