Monday, November 26, 2012

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Lizards

In real life -- at least officially -- we’ve never encountered aliens.   

And because of that fact, many cult-television series about visitors from other worlds have sought to portray them as variations of familiar but inhuman Earth life: snake people, insect people, or, frequently, lizard people.

Why do lizards prove endlessly appealing as surrogates for alien life forms? 

Well, they are cold-blooded (using exothermic means to regulate body temperature) for one thing, a quality which, metaphorically-speaking portends a very different and apparently less “warm” nature than cuddly mammals. 

For another, our planet’s own pre-history suggests that lizards might have been the dominant life-form if things were just a little different. Dinosaurs ruled the Earth for a significant span, and if a meteor strike hadn’t driven them to extinction, they might have risen to prominence, while mammals became just…dinner.  Indeed, this is the background of the famous Silurians from Doctor Who, first seen in 1970 in the Jon Pertwee era.  The Silurians awoke from hibernation to discover the interloper man ruling their world.

The most famous cult-tv lizard people, perhaps, are The Visitors from V: The Series (1985) and the two mini-series that preceded that program.  These fascist lizard-people from Sirius came to Earth in search of water and food, but sought to gain these resources through underhanded and violent means.

Throughout the series, the Visitors, led by the diabolical Diana (Jane Badler), are seen eating hamsters, guinea pigs, rats, and other small creatures.  Their true, reptilian nature is discovered by cameraman Mike Donovan (Marc Singer).  Underneath their human masks, they are humanoid lizards, green-skinned, scaly, and with forked-tongues.

Various incarnations of Star Trek have also featured alien lizards.  Captain Kirk overcame his (innate?) fear and distaste of lizards to spare the Gorn’s life in “Arena.” 

Meanwhile, Captain Picard and his crew hosted the reptilian Selay -- known to eat their enemies, the mammalian Anticans -- on “Lonely Among Us.”   An early episode of Deep Space Nine, “Captive Pursuit,” depicted a race of hunters from the Gamma Quadrant who used a lizard-like alien called Tosk as prey.

In Star Trek: Voyager, the episode “Distant Origin” involved alien lizard people in the Delta Quadrant called “Voth.”  The Voth had a repressive society that refused to acknowledge that their people might have originated on Earth, on a planet populated by mammals.  Voyager was pinpointed as a kind of space age missing link.

In more terrestrial, horror genre cult-television, lizards have also made several important appearances.  The second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer features an episode titled “Reptile Boy,” about a secret fraternity society (think Skull and Bones) sacrificing teenage girls to a lizard-like demon, Machida.

Meanwhile, the eighth season X-Files episode “Alone,” finds Doggett (Robert Patrick) and Mulder (David Duchovny) tracking a dangerous lizard/human hybrid in a dank tunnel system beneath a wealthy estate.   This is the first episode in which the two male investigators team up, and begin to develop a sense of trust.  The lizard, a solitary creature by comparison, hunts alone and depends on a blinding venom, not social interaction.

In MTV’s Teen Wolf (2011 – 2012), Scott (Tyler Posey) and his friends come up against a shape-shifting lizard creature called a Kanima.  Worse, they think the indestructible lizard may be one of their friends (or at least teammates…) from high school.   The lizard seeks a "master," and finds it in a truly reptilian personality, Allison's grandfather (Michael Hogan).


  1. Interesting concept, John. Also the look to relate 'alien' with 'lizard-like' qualities calls for a step to treat each as 'other-worldly'. And to a certain point, they are. Yet, we as humans evolved from lizards (let's agree to not ask Marc Rubio this question). So, are lizards that dissimilar when our older brain (aka the brain stem, or the reptile brain) still casts its reactions upon each and every one of us? Hmm... The shows you've highlighted are great in that the humans in the story are side-by-side with our reptilian progenitors. The struggle for us, as with our thought of enlightened tendencies, is how we live with that aspect of our own makeup. Great topic, John.

  2. Anonymous2:31 PM

    You missed Enemy Mine (and The Last Starfighter).

    1. Ah, my anonymous friend, I'm afraid that in this case that it is you who missed something: Those are movie titles.

      The title of this post is "Cult TV Theme Watch." Meaning Cult. TV. The Last Starfighter and Enemy Mine are movies.

      But I appreciate your comment.


  3. Anonymous2:53 PM