Are the Silurians a Narrative Dead-End?

I have a confession to make.

Whilst I love the Silurians (and by association, the Sea Devils), I find their stories a bit of a dead-end. If the world the Doctor lives in remains as similar to ours – but with added alien incursions – then the Silurians simply can’t take over the Earth. Logistically, it doesn’t bear thinking about either. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship added something new to the mix, but generally, their stories can only really reach one conclusion.

Boom.

So their stories must always fall back on what Agatha Christie says: “The thrill is in the chase; never in the capture.” I suppose that’s what Doctor Who is like anyway. It’s pretty rare the ‘monster’ actually wins, and even if they do, the Doctor still gets some satisfaction from it. Even though their ‘great victory’ is running away to fight another day, the Daleks win in Victory of the Daleks. You could argue that the Great Intelligence wins in The Bells of St. John because it claims to have feasted on many minds. Nero got his own way in The Romans, Genesis of the Daleks doesn’t result in the destruction of those mutants, and The Long Game presents the Doctor with supposed success before Bad Wolf reveals the error of his trust in humanity prevailing.

Sea Devils Warriors of the Deep

Nonetheless, the Doctor comes away from each adventure with some sort of victory, whether that’s saving the planet or merely getting back to the TARDIS in one piece. That’s what the series is: a triumph over evil.

Maybe that’s where cognitive dissonance comes from: the Silurians aren’t evil. Sure, some want to destroy us all, but the only possible true victory for the Doctor would be for homo reptilian and homo sapiens to live peacefully together. And let’s face it: that won’t happen. Why? Because Doctor Who is a reflection of our own world. A modern-day society depicting mankind living side-by-side with advanced bipedal lizards isn’t relatable.

It’s a cruel irony that the Zygons have achieved what the Silurians (on the whole) are after – simply because they’re shape-changers. The show can accurately depict our civilisation, albeit with aliens walking among us, simply because those aliens look and, mostly, act like us.

Nonetheless, their basic premise works: that original 1970 serial – and its 1972 sequel – are great because their concept is a strong one. There’s arguably a place for essentially that same storyline presented again for each generation. That’s basically what we got with The Hungry Earth/ Cold Blood, and to some degree with Warriors of the Deep too. But there’s a limit, isn’t there? As soon as he sees the race again, the Doctor might as well tell the military to ready their missiles there and then.

While casual viewers’ memories might not properly recall what happened to the Silurians last time – and others still just want to see a big explosion anyway – the dedicated fans could grow tired of the same narrative taking place.

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship Siluria

While their 1970s and 1984 adventures left the narrative with bodies on the ground, at least their 2010 outings saw most of their kind go back into hibernation, with the promise that they could reclaim the Earth in 1,000 years. That’s attempting something new, bookended with Eldane’s voiceover from the future, but doesn’t quite get there because that story, too, was a dead-end. The following week, we were treated to Vincent and the Doctor, not Part Three of the same tale (I call it Eldane and the Entirely Peaceful Settlement Featuring Meera Syal, but it needs a bit of work).

But as I said, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship really did do something different. It envisioned a future for a species that’s cemented in the past. It told us that some Silurians searched for a new home – and perhaps even found one, in the form of Siluria.

They do have a place in the ongoing show, but first, they need to escape their trappings. That might be the problem: the race works best because they’re the previous owners of Sol 3, but for them to return, they need to break out of their current narrative.

Madame Vastra, too, shows us that they have a place on Earth, but she’s the exception. She’s just one, lone Silurian, mingling into Victorian London. Her backstory has barely been explored either. The Doctor might’ve stopped her attacking innocent workers in the sewers below the city. Presumably, she alone was awoken from her sleep, and decided it wasn’t time to disturb her peers’ slumber. But she and Jenny seem to accept the futuristic Demons Run when the Doctor enlists their help for A Good Man Goes to War. Have they travelled in time?

silurian

Homo Reptilia’s potential lies in alternative settings, but that could still mean friction between them and humanity. The core tension between the ancient reptiles and the jumped-up apes could still be there… and that’s where I return to the Zygons. The Zygon Invasion/ The Zygon Inversion tried to expose prejudices in our own society, and the Silurians could do similar. The Zygons expressed the enemy within; the Silurians could be a subversion of this, a part of our culture many accept as friendly, while others distrust and hate. Similarly, that’s how the Silurians think about us.

But could that happen on Earth? The show has showed us futures where the planet is occupied by humanity alone. There are no Silurians in Day of the Daleks, The End of the World, or The Ice Warriors. Of course, the audience understands that the reasons they weren’t in these tales (for one, The Ice Warriors came before Doctor Who and the Silurians), but in-universe, if they live among us, it’s odd they’re not in, at the very least, The End of the World.

But the show is all about change. Time is always in flux. The events of The Next Doctor happened, even if they were erased by the crack in time. With that in mind, could there be possibilities for the Silurians…?

It’s a tough one. There’s no definite answer – until, of course, they return in a different guise. I hope they find a new destiny, a new setting and relevance in Doctor Who.

Based on much of the evidence, the Silurians are a narrative dead-end, but they don’t have to be.

  • Dr. Moo

    Seeing as how “[Dr Who and] the Silurians” is a perfect ClassicWho serial I wouldn’t call it a narrative dead-end. The problems lie in their subsequent appearances being a repeat of similar ideas.
    How about following-up “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” with a visit to Siluria? That’s an open field for some interesting new stories right there.

    • FrancoPabloDiablo

      To be honest, I just want a return of the Sea Devils. Always preferred them over the Silurians. And I mean the blue mesh vest originals, not the soppy shoddy samurai things.

      • James Lomond

        I REALLY want the Sea Devils back.

        …as Phil says there is LOADS of room for new narratives for both species. An adventure set back in the Eocene era for example where their civilisation was at its height in what is pretty much an alien environment with dinosaurs and intelligent lizard men – any number of stories are possible there with the added intriguing awkwardness of the Doctor knowing that their ultimate fate and the difficulty of explaining where an intelligent bipedal ape has come from.

        LOADS in there.

        I’d like to see them portrayed in the way they were originally intended – i.e. so unrecogniseable as human in their expressions/ appearance that they trigger “race memory” reactions etc. The “not like us” angle played well with them and is just one facet of the species – there may be lots more we’ve not seen yet.

  • There’s a bit of ret-con going on with the Silurians, though. I can accept that the ones in nu-Who look almost totally different (though they’re rather similar to the Narn in Babylon 5, and the masks of G’Kar and co were better. Note to younger fans: Babylon 5 was the methadone for DW fans in the wilderness years.) But both the Sea-Devils and the Silurians had shelters, not underground cities, and it’s clear that the Silurian cities were on the surface. Why build them underground? Also, the technology they had in Doctor Who and the Silurians wasn’t much more advanced than our own; perhaps fifty years ahead of ours. I doubt they’d have been able to develop deep space flight.
    More important, though: why do they wear clothes these days? If they’re cold blooded, clothes wouldn’t keep them warm. A particular aspect of this problem is why Sea-Devils (or anyone else, for that matter) would choose to wear string vests.
    Even more important: why do female Silurians, who are not mammals, have mammaries?
    Possible answer: they’re actually containers to hold Silurian
    eggs. When a Silurian has laid her eggs,
    she is attached to her young and likes to keep them close. Typically, there are two eggs laid at a
    time. Silurians who have not laid eggs
    follow the example of Silurian mothers and wear ‘dummy’ egg containers as a sign
    of their female dignity.
    This answer will, I hope, resolve all conundrums that keep you awake at night and enable you to get a good night’s sleep.

    • FrancoPabloDiablo

      Wow, your are totally overthinking things – even by my standards! 🙂
      All I can add is the string vests were added late on in the production because the unclothed Sea Devils were deemed unsuitable. Strange how you pick on the string vests but no mention of their Samurai kit later on 🙂

      • I have a thing about string vests.
        If I went out just wearing a strong vest, like the Sea-Devils, I’d get arrested.
        I don’t mention the Samurai kit because I try not to think about Warriors of the Meep. (Btw, an anagram from WotDeep is Waterproofed Heirs.)

        • Dr. Moo

          WotD is a good story. Not great but decent. It’s problem is that it retreads similar ground to some superior stories and has a legendarily bad script-to-screen realisation.

      • TheLazyWomble

        They had spent their time in hibernation watching “Shogun” and “The Water Margin”

    • TimeChaser

      Trying to hard to analyze it will fry your brain. Oh, and can I get some B5 love in here!? Heck yeah! 🙂

  • TimeChaser

    It is of course the problem that you can only do so much with the Silurians on Earth. They can never take over, so in the end they either get blown up or go back to sleep. Occasionally they can be used by a more left-field approach, such as the NA Blood Heat, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, or in a character like Vastra, but even in that case I feel that they are still limited more than most Who creatures.

  • bmacdonald

    If we’re exploring narrative shadowy corners, this has always bothered me:
    If Mondas is Earth’s twin, and the Silurians were the original intelligent life on Earth, did homo reptilia evolve on Mondas? Are the Mondasian Cybermen actually Silurians?

  • Peter Rabytt

    I agree that they don’t have to be a narrative dead end, if you think imaginatively. It’s an established principle in writing that having constraints actually fires the imagination because you have to over come them and have something to bounce off. It’s much harder to come up with a decent story when you have absolutely no boundaries at all, than if you are presented with a box within which you have to work. The silurian situation could be the inspiration for more imaginative stories, rather than being a dead end, if you look at it in that way.