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Doctor Who Enemies: Homo Reptilia

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This entry contains spoilers.

The race known as Homo reptilia in the BBC's popular science-fiction series, Doctor Who is related to two of the Doctor's already established enemies, known as the Silurians and Sea Devils. Like the Silurians and Sea Devils, the Homo reptilia are a sentient reptilian species that lived on Earth in prehistoric times, where they developed an extremely advanced society.

The Doctor himself confirms that the Homo reptilia are a closely related, but distinct, branch of the family with the words: A long time ago I met another tribe of Homo reptilia, similar, but not identical.

Difference Between Homo reptilia, Silurians and Sea Devils

The Silurians were three-eyed reptiles who did not wear clothes, and their third eye controlled a telekinetic power that could be used to deadly effect. The Silurians also trained dinosaurs, such as a Tyrannosaurus rex, for various functions (eg as guard dogs). Their aquatic cousins, nicknamed Sea Devils, are turtle-like, complete with gills, and usually wear net-like clothing, although warriors wear oriental-esque armour. They also used dinosaurs, often combining them with technology such as the creature known as the Myrka. As the Sea Devils had not developed telekinetic abilities, they carried circular hand weapons with which to attack their enemies.

Homo reptilia are a different, though related, species to the other two. They have two eyes, no gills and do not have any telekinetic gifts. They do have a fatally poisonous tongue, which can be used in a whip-like fashion to attack enemies several feet away. Like the Sea Devils they have a warrior caste. They wear masks over their faces and are armed with circular ray guns. Electrical weapons, such as stun guns, can prove fatal to them.

Despite not having telekinetic abilities, they have a limited form of telepathic power. Madame Vastra is able to initiate a trance-like telepathic state she calls a 'conference call' in order to communicate across time and space. She is also able to use her abilities to make the newly-regenerated Doctor fall asleep and seems able to communicate directly to her partner's mind.

Carnivorous, they have been known to eat humans, including Jack the Ripper. They are also cold blooded and susceptible to temperature drops. If, say, bundled into the back of a jiffy van or other refrigerated mobile confectionery vehicle they become docile and easily controllable. Perhaps it is this sensitivity to temperature that helped enable Madame Vastra to realise that the snow seen in 'The Snowmen' was fake as much as the absence of clouds.

It is, however, true that in the episode 'Dinosaurs on a Spaceship' the Doctor, Amy and Solomon1 all refer to them as 'Silurians', as well as 'Lizards' and 'Homo reptilia'. They are, however, called 'Homo reptilia' in official BBC publications, such as The Doctor, His Lives and Times.

Original Origins

The big question about Homo reptilia is: from what period in Earth's history do they originate? In 'The Hungry Earth' the Doctor informs Alaya 'You're 300 million years out of your comfort zone'. Soon after in 'Cold Blood' the Doctor states that:

Their astronomers predicted a planet heading to Earth on a crash course. They built a life underground and put themselves to sleep for millennia in order to avert what they thought was the apocalypse, when in reality, it was the moon coming into alignment with the Earth.

This implies that the species existed at the same time as the Silurians and Sea Devils, before the Moon entered Earth's orbit (which is believed to have taken place around 4.5 billion years ago rather than 300 million years ago as mentioned in Doctor Who). Yet in every story since, Homo reptilia originate from the time of the dinosaurs' extinction a mere 65 million years ago, a time confirmed by Madame Vastra herself. So which is it?

Possibility One: Double Impact Theory

Having survived Earth's capture of the Moon 300 million years ago through being in suspended animation, some of their civilisation awoke at some point prior to the late Cretaceous. Having successfully escaped the destruction of the Earth by the Moon, their scientists now predicted that it was an asteroid's turn to destroy all life on Earth, especially wiping out the dinosaurs. Their science, which by this time now extended to space travel, created at least one spaceship ark2.

At least one Homo reptilian vessel surely survived the flight into space, as the species is seen to be one of the members of the intergalactic alliance that imprisoned the Doctor in the Pandorica. This alliance also included powerful space-faring races the Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans and Autons.

Possibility Two: What the Dino Saw

The Doctor may have been mistaken when he said that the Homo reptilia were from the same time as the Silurians and Sea Devils. His conversation regarding this was overheard by two Homo reptilia, it is true, but they might have assumed that, as an alien, when he was conversing about the Earth being destroyed by the Moon he actually was referring to the asteroid. As the Homo reptilian species were in suspended animation at the time of the impact, they would not know whether the asteroid actually impacted or orbited Earth.

The Doctor tells Alaya that she was from 300 million years ago, but as she is a warrior and not a scientist, she may not have known the truth one way or another. Madame Vastra, who is shown as being someone with highly deductive reasoning3, ascertains that she came from a mere 65 million years ago and was found in the 1880s when the London Underground was being constructed. She reveals that she saw dinosaurs such as a Tyrannosaurus rex when a girl. As Alaya and Restac were members of her gene chain, it seems highly likely that they too were from around 65 million years BC rather than 300 million years BC.

This would all imply that Homo reptilia are from a completely different era to the Silurians and Sea Devils; from 65 million years ago and the age of the dinosaurs, not the age that the Earth gained a moon.

Possibility Three: Canon to the Left of Them, Canon to the Right of Them

Perhaps the most likely explanation is that this is simply a television series, in which consistency of storytelling is secondary to having an entertaining plot. Especially if the contradiction is 'timey-wimey' in origin.

Within the Doctor Who universe, affectionately called the 'Whoniverse', the biggest inconsistencies are often reserved for the most important characters. This includes UNIT4, the deaths of the Master and the numerous times that the Daleks have been entirely wiped out, only to return with no explanation. For the Homo reptilia to have an error in continuity of 250 million years proves their big league status in Doctor Who.

Characteristics

The species has close familial relationships, with members of the same gene-chain having almost identical appearances, as seen in the three different female Homo reptilia, Alaya, Restac and Madame Vastra (all played by Neve McIntosh). Gene-chains, as these matrilineal connections are known, are of profound importance. This is not only demonstrated when Restac mourns Alaya's death, but also seen in the design of their spacecraft. The ark constructed to save their species and the dinosaurs from the asteroid impact was designed to be piloted by two people from the same gene-chain.

The Homo reptilia, in addition to being highly advanced scientists, also appear to observe some form of religion. Madame Vastra, when talking to Clara Oswald in 'The Snowmen', referred to gods without going into any further details, and later mentioning a goddess in 'The Name of the Doctor' and 'Deep Breath'. It seems unlikely that Madame Vastra personally upholds a strong religious belief as in 'The Snowmen' she repeatedly stressed that the Universe does not make bargains, whereas presumably a deity may well choose to do so.

In their society, apes were kept as pets. Travel across the Earth may well have been powered by geothermal currents through a network of tunnels, a method which would have had the advantage of not disturbing the dinosaurs that lived on the surface.

Novelisation Inspiration

The inspiration for the re-imagining of this classic Doctor Who enemy came not from the original television series, but the novelisations of the television episodes written by Malcolm Hulke, published by Target books. These were based on, but not identical to, the scripts he had written for the television series. Steven Moffat, the Doctor Who show-runner who brought them back, admitted:

It was more the idea than the original TV shows, to be honest, and more Malcolm Hulke's wonderful Target novel  Doctor Who and The Cave Monsters than the version of the Silurians we saw on the telly. That novel had proper, complex characters – not just rubber suits.

Chris Chibnall, who wrote the 2010 episodes, also re-read the novelisation and stated:

It was even better than I remembered, and I'd remembered it was pretty good. But in that you can see very clearly Malcolm Hulke's unfettered vision for the Silurian race.

It was the novelisations Doctor Who And The Cave Monsters and Doctor Who And The Sea Devils that first called the species Homo reptilia. The novelisation for The Sea Devils which featured the titular related species, unlike the television series which is set in a Victorian sea fort, is set beneath an oil rig drilling under the sea. This influence is seen in 'The Hungry Earth' which is also set in a mining drill site.

Story Guide

Below is a description of the Doctor Who stories to date that have featured Homo reptilia. Since their re-introduction, they have appeared in many of Doctor Who's series and mid-series finales.

'The Hungry Earth' / 'Cold Blood' (2010)

This two-part adventure written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Ashley Way re-introduced the Silurians with a 21st Century make-over. When a drilling operation in a small Welsh village threatens the survival of an underground Homo reptilian colony, the village soon finds itself under siege as members of the family that live there are divided, and the ground seems to swallow Amy Pond.

The Homo reptilians have a leadership crisis. Their doctor, Malohkeh (Richard Hope) questions the authority of the military while the leader, Eldane5 is challenged by military leader Restac. Can the Doctor avert a war as tensions rise and blood runs cold?

'The Pandorica Opens' (2010)

In a brief blink-and-you'll-miss-them appearance in this episode written by Steven Moffat and directed by Toby Haynes, the Homo reptilia are one of the members of the alliance of races that imprisons the Doctor in the Pandorica.

'A Good Man Goes to War' (2011)

This time appearing as the Doctor's allies against the Kovarian Chapter of the Church of the Papal Mainframe at the Battle of Demon's Run, the episode introduces Madame Vastra and her human partner, Jenny Flint. These characters would prove to be among the Eleventh Doctor's closest friends. The episode was written by Steven Moffat and directed by Peter Hoar.

'The Wedding of River Song' (2011)

In a corrupted timeline in which every moment in history is happening at the same time, Holy Roman Emperor Winston Churchill is treated by Homo reptilian doctor Malohkeh (Richard Hope). This episode was directed by Jeremy Webb and again written by show-runner Steven Moffat.

'Dinosaurs on a Spaceship' (2012)

The titular spaceship is a vast interstellar ark the size of Canada that was constructed to save thousands of Homo reptilian people and their habitat, including 50 species of dinosaur, from the asteroid impact that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Sadly the Homo reptilian people are murdered by Solomon and his robots. Like 'The Hungry Earth' and 'Cold Blood' the episode was written by Chris Chibnall, but this time directed by Saul Metzstein.

'The Snowmen' (2012)

The Doctor has retreated from the Universe and no longer wishes to help those in need6. With all of time and space to choose from, his only communication from his self-imposed exile with the outside world is through one of his closest friends, Madame Vastra, head of the Paternoster Gang7, even though she disagrees with his isolation. It is Madame Vastra who tests and judges Clara Oswald, finding her worthy of becoming the Doctor's companion.

'The Snowmen' pitted the Doctor against Dr Simeon, played by Richard E Grant, who had previously played the Doctor twice: in online web drama 'Scream of the Shalka' and Doctor Who's Red Nose Day spoof 'The Curse of Fatal Death'. Like this spoof, it was written by Steven Moffat. Saul Metzstein once again directed.

'The Crimson Horror' (2013)

The Paternoster Gang rescue the Doctor from the Crimson Horror, a plot to destroy the world in Victorian Yorkshire. Madame Vastra reveals: 'My people once ruled this world, as well you know, but we did not rule it alone. Just as humanity fights a daily battle against nature, so did we. And our greatest plague, the most virulent enemy, was a repulsive red leech.' It is the last survivor of this fatally poisonous parasite which the Homo reptilia had barely survived that the Doctor must now defeat in the 19th Century.

Madame Vastra, who confirms that she came from 65 million years ago, has a golden opportunity. Simply by not aiding the Doctor, humanity would be all-but wiped out and her people, safely slumbering below ground, would be unaffected and later able to regain the Earth. Yet without even considering it, she assists the Doctor in saving the human race.

This was the third story featuring Homo reptilia in a row to have been directed by Saul Metzstein, but this time written by Mark Gatiss. It was also the 100th episode since Doctor Who was relaunched in 2005.

'The Name of the Doctor' (2013)

Another episode written by Steven Moffat and directed by Saul Metzstein. In 'The Name of the Doctor', it is Madame Vastra who realises the significance of the message left for her by the murderer, in 1893. She also initiates the 'conference call' across time and space that allows her to communicate with Jenny, Strax, River Song and Clara.

In the episode, the Doctor travels to the one place he knows he must never go to rescue Madame Vastra, Strax and Jenny because:

They cared for me during the dark time. Never questioned me, never judged me, they were just kind. I owe them, I have a duty.

'Deep Breath'

After the Doctor has regenerated into the Eleventh Doctor, Madame Vastra helps Clara come to terms with the fact that he has changed. She also reveals that the reason she wears a veil is as a judgement against those who do not accept her for who she really is. Vastra, along with Strax and Jenny, help Clara and the Doctor defeat clockwork robots.

This episode was written by Steven Moffat and directed by Ben Wheatley.

Minisode Appearances

A 'minisode' is the name given to short, or mini-length episodes of Doctor Who, typically lasting only a few minutes in length. Here is a list of ones that feature Homo reptilia:

  • 'The Great Detective' (2012)
    Children In Need special introduction for 'The Snowmen'.

  • 'Vastra Investigates' (2012)
    A second prequel for Christmas episode 'The Snowmen'.

  • 'The Battle of Demon's Run Two Days Later' (2013)
    An explanation of how Sontaran nurse Strax, who appeared to die in Glorious Battle at the Battle of Demon's Run in episode 'A Good Man Goes to War', is now Madame Vastra's butler, and somewhat alive in Christmas episode 'The Snowmen'.

Silurian Spin-Off Show Scuppered

When Madame Vastra and her allies Jenny Flint and Strax first appeared in Doctor Who, the audience reaction was so overwhelmingly positive that show-runner Steven Moffat later said, 'since their first appearance... there have only been a few days where someone hasn't suggested a spin-off featuring those three.'

Proposals for such a spin-off featuring those characters, set in Victorian London, were indeed raised by Steven Moffat and tentatively approved by Ben Stephenson, the Controller of Drama Commissioning. Despite this, the series is unlikely to be commissioned at present as Stephen Moffat feels already overstretched producing two of the BBC's flagship programmes, both Doctor Who and Sherlock.

Enemies or Allies?

Although some of the Homo reptilia that the Doctor encounters oppose, threaten and fight him, it is perhaps unfair to consider them all to be a species of enemies. Indeed, it is the Homo reptilia that come to the Doctor's aid at the Battle of Demon's Run and only oppose him when they feel their species' very existence is threatened. One of the Eleventh Doctor's closest friends, Madame Vastra, is a member of the Homo reptilian species. The strength of this affection can be seen in the fact that she is who the Doctor turns to when, following the loss of Amy Pond, the Doctor retreats into a self-imposed exile he later calls 'the Dark Time'.

Many members of the species view humanity as little different to the apes that existed when they dwelt on the surface of the Earth, and have no objection to performing scientific experiments such as vivisection on people. Despite this it is possible for Homo reptilia and Homo sapiens to live in peace, harmony and so on, as married couple Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint demonstrate. If capable of sharing a marital bed, surely the two species can one day share the planet, as the Doctor hopes?

1Played by David Bradley, who portrayed William Hartnell (the actor who was the First Doctor) in An Adventure in Space and Time.2One possible theory which has no backing in the television series is that a group of survivors survived to form the Draconian Empire, which has some similarities.3It is stated that her exploits inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes.4Did the Third Doctor aid UNIT, the Unit Nations Intelligence Taskforce, when they encountered the Silurians and Sea Devils during the 1970s or 1980s?5Played by Stephen Moore, famously the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio and television series.6This plot was inspired by a suggestion made by Doctor Who story editor Douglas Adams in 1979 that was rejected when first proposed, but made it into Doctor Who 33 years later.7Named after Paternoster Row, where Madame Vastra, her wife Jenny Flint and their butler, Strax, live.

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