Chelonians were turtle-like in physique. Though only coming up to a human's waist, they were far wider and more heavily built. They had four limbs, each with opposable digits and blunt claws. They had a sharp beak and a hard cranial plate in front of their brains. They were long-lived creatures, usually living for more than a hundred years. They smelled of leather. (PROSE: The Well-Mannered War) Chelonians were hermaphrodites and all members could lay eggs. Despite this, Chelonians were referred to as males. (PROSE: The Crystal Bucephalus) Chelonians were herbivores and ate flowers and seeds, and tried to live on verdant planets where such plants could grow. (PROSE: The Well-Mannered War) Chelonians apparently didn't taste very good and were very tough to eat. (PROSE: Mean Streets) They were rather unintelligent creatures as a species. (PROSE: The Body Bank) Like chickens on Earth, Chelonians usually had no teeth. (AUDIO: The Witch from the Well)
The Chelonians were organised into an Empire. This Empire was led by the God-Mother, who was nevertheless referred to as "he". Chelonians were well known for their bragging, especially about their military rank. Chelonian criminals were marked with a sigil on their shell, consisting of a red cross and three green dots. (PROSE: Fegovy)
Most Chelonians were cybernetically enhanced for war. (PROSE: The Well-Mannered War, The Body Bank) This included improved senses (PROSE: The Well-Mannered War) and hydraulic limbs. (PROSE: Fegovy) Some also used jet-packs, Gigga-kill lasers (PROSE: The Body Bank) and matter-disrupters. (PROSE: Heart of TARDIS)
Chelonian technology was made from blocks, which could be reconfigured into spaceships or buildings. (PROSE: The Well-Mannered War) Their ships were squat, black and multi-faceted like crystals. (PROSE: Fegovy) The Chelonians had weapons capable of poisoning seas. (PROSE: The Empire of Glass)
In 102, the Chelonians were among the races who joined the Alliance. They came to Stonehenge and helped imprison the Eleventh Doctor in the Pandorica in order to save the universe. (TV: The Pandorica Opens)
In the 26th century, the Chelonians were known to and studied by St Oscar's University. There was a Faculty of Chelonian Literature, headed by Professor Epstein. (PROSE: Oh No It Isn't!) Hamilton Smith, professor of alien-human interaction and integration, also had theories about them. (PROSE: Dry Pilgrimage)
At some point before the 27th century, the Chelonian Empire was starting to fail. The Chelonian criminals Varzald the Pitted and Jerlot tried to purchase The Face of Humanity from Fegovy, planning to use the phizlomium for the empire. (PROSE: Fegovy)
During the Galactic Federation, the Chelonians were known to the Foamasi. Green Fingers had worked with Chelonians, and the Dark Peaks Lodge used the voices of mid-35th century Chelonian politicians for their voice synthesisers. (PROSE: Placebo Effect)
The Third Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith arrived on Florana in 5968, just as the Chelonian Empire was to sign a treaty with humanity. The Doctor was mistaken as one of the delegates, and Sarah went to go sunbathing. There, she overheard two Chelonians discussing how one had poisoned the emperor's drink. Sarah went to warn the delegates, but the guards would not let her pass. The Doctor noticed the emperor's strange actions, and poured a bucket of water down the emperor's throat, thus removing the poison (PROSE: The Hungry Bomb)
Circa 5,000,000,000, the Chelonians controlled several breeding planets. One was destroyed by Natalie Sharrocks when she was possessed by an incorporeal entity. A Chelonian followed her to Fraxinos to get revenge. The Tenth Doctor and Martha were able to convince it of the truth of the matter and it left peacefully. (PROSE: The Body Bank)
A platoon of Chelonians were brought from the past to around 10,000,000,000, where they discovered Barclow and claimed it for the Chelonian Empire. The humans later found the planet and tried to claim it for themselves. Though neither side wanted a fight, they warred for a hundred and twenty years. (PROSE: The Well-Mannered War)
Behind the scenes
- The physical appearance of Chelonians differed from artist to artist over the years:
- The first depiction of Chelonians was by Phil Bevan for Prelude The Highest Science (1993). They appear as bipedal saddleback Galapagos tortoises with long limbs, two toes, and three fingers.
- Peter Elson's depiction on his cover for The Highest Science (1993) is similar but with skinnier necks, larger eyes, a pointed skull, black and yellow eyes, and smooth green skin. This design was broadly used in later illustations. Tony Masero's cover for Zamper (1995) added spikes to the arms, Lee Sullivan's art in The Last Word (2001) also had spiked arms but with blue eyes, and Daryl Joyce's illustrations in the e-book of The Well-Mannered War (2006) had a domed shell.
- Phil Bevan's art for The Hungry Bomb (1994) depicts Chelonians as human-sized quadrupeds resembling saddleback Galapagos tortoises, domed Galapagos tortoises, and snapping turtles with light blue or light brown skin.
- Alister Pearson's depiction for the cover of The Well-Mannered War (1997) has a shorter and wider neck with brown skin with ridges and bumps.
- Dan McDaid's illustrations for The Body Bank (2007) show a quadrupedal Chelonian resembling a snapping turtle with green skin and no neck.
- Mark Plastow's cover for the Big Finish adaptation of The Highest Science (2014) uses an image of a sea turtle.
- Tom Webster's cover for the Big Finish adaptation of The Well-Mannered War (2015) uses an original design with nearly no neck, a smooth head, and brown skin.
- The designation Chelonian covers the Earth turtles, tortoises and terrapins.
- In an early idea for the 2009 Easter Special which eventually became Planet of the Dead, the Chelonians were to appear. The story would have featured them as part of a war with other aliens which the Tenth Doctor would stumble upon. (REF: The Writer's Tale - The Final Chapter) They would later be mentioned in The Pandorica Opens, the first time in the television series. As of 2020, the Chelonians have not made a physical debut in the televised series.