Sunday, 5 January 2014


"What do you mean our lips move now?"
I've been thinking a lot recently about Jack Graham's opinion that the Silurians and Sea Devils in Doctor Who can be considered as an allegory (intentional or otherwise) to modern-day Palestinians. As so often with these things, I eventually hammered together enough material to form a post, so I figured I'd throw this out to the gallery to see if anyone has any thoughts on the subject.

In brief, I am nervous about the idea of linking these fictional original inhabitants to the Palestinians, purely because too much of the behaviour of these heat-ray-wielding reptiles represents how the right insists Palestinians act, rather than the actual facts on the ground. 

Jack himself points out the most obvious flaw in the comparison; that the Silurians voluntarily abandoned the surface in order to save themselves - leaving our ancestors to die, by the way - and have returned after millions of years in the freezer to insist they should get back what they surrendered.  In other words, humanity is not an occupier of stolen land, it is a squatter living in a building empty for some two thousand millennia. As Jack says, this fits in with the suggestions of many on the right - Newt Gingrich made some hay with this during his doomed campaign for the most recent Republican presidential candidacy, for example - that the Palestinians never actually owned Palestine (what with the British having stolen it first) and indeed the "Palestinian people" doesn't actually even exist.

As I say, Jack explicitly acknowledges this. He clearly doesn't consider this a sufficient reason to view the Silurian/human relationship as meaningfully different from an oppressor/oppressed dynamic.  And to some extent, I get that. Certainly what might seem the most obvious objection, that no-one actually knew about the reptiles beneath our feet, can be dismissed: it's not like widespread ignorance isn't an essential factor in allowing the oppressor to keep on oppressing.

Beyond that, however, I don't see the biggest problem here as being the Doctor telling an oppressed culture that they should try to be better than those who oppress them.  The biggest problem is that this never works because the oppressed are bloodthirsty psychopaths who reach for genocide as a solution faster than you can say "negotiated settlement".  In every story involving the Silurians/Sea Devils as a group (as oppose to just Madame Vastra) the first instinct of our cold-blooded forebears is to steal from and/or murder us.  The Sea Devils start off as utterly hostile, killing every human they find, including their own nominal allies. The allied scaly forces in "Warriors of the Deep" attempt to obliterate pretty much all surface life, because regaining their ancestral home is of more importance than, say, anything being left of it but a charred cinder.

These are not the actions of reasonable people. These are the actions of murderous fanatics.  The Palestinians have those, of course, but what's missing is a) the idea that fanaticism does not exist in a vacuum and b) fanaticism is not some kind of homogenous affliction that grips an entire people.

Neither of these points seem to receive more than briefest consideration from the reflexive Palestinian bashers.  The most I've ever seen be conceded is that, all right, not all Palestinians are murder-hungry suicide bombers, but that hardly matters because it's the psychopaths who are in charge.  Even when they're not in charge, they're in charge, because every Palestinian official calling for peace is either lying or so weak that they're bound to be replaced any day by soulless killers with knives in their teeth.

Which, of course, is exactly what happens in "The Silurians".  The Doctor is making headway persuading the leader of the cave-dwellers that it might be a good idea for everyone to get along, so the second in command murders his superior and launches a plague intended to obliterate billions of sentients (as well as who knows how many gorillas; chimps; lemurs, maybe...).  Again, this is not the behaviour of a reasoning person, it is the behaviour of a caricature someone wants you to think represents people they insist cannot reason. While I don't want to sign up to the Brigadier's ultimate decision to obliterate the Silurian base (or at least to choose to obey an order to that effect), it's worth remembering that the Doctor seems to be immune to the biological weapon unleashed by his new friends, which rather limits my interest in hearing him lecture anyone about how humanity has a moral responsibility to risk its own extinction rather than to destroy the city of a race that attacked them without provokation.

And hey! Anyone want to guess which country insists their treatment of a contained people who are entirely on the back foot is utterly necessary because their entire existence is under threat?

I'll admit some of these problems fade away in the latter half of "The Sea Devils", thanks to the actions of Walker. Chibnall's stab at the material works better in this regard, too (not a phrase one often has cause to write /childish snark).  Even here, though, he takes great pains to ensure that a situation in which the Silurians can reasonably considered analogous to the Palestinians - and therefore by extension, humanity is analogous to the state of Israel - the reptiles are busy conducting Nazi-like experiments on human civilians.

So, a species - or group of species - who at one time or another have tried to exterminate their enemies wholesale twice, have deposed their own leaders for not supporting mass murder, who conduct obscene experiments on kidnapped people (or who would ally with those who do/did), and who pose a genuine existential threat to all those different from them?  These are the Palestinians of John McCain's fever dreams.  For that reason, I'm nervous about trying to sketch out what parallels do genuinley exist here.  It feels like the baggage it drags across with it does more for the neoconservative's approach of mindless animosity than we should feel comfortable with.

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