MALE-DOMINATED IDEOLOGY AND 'THE MONSTER OF PELADON'
by Peter Gregg
18 August 2000
British television of the 1960s and 1970s saw the arrival and the
most watched years of the children's science fiction serial Doctor Who. The
program aimed to both entertain and educate children by following an
eccentric alien as he and his human, often female, companion traveled the
Universe and time, vanquishing evil and righting wrongs. The lessons
learned by children who watched the program would be able to be applied in
their daily lives. Deeper within the text, however, we find the program
tended to promote a male-dominant ideology, an ideology that would of course
be absorbed by the children at whom the program was aimed. Careful scrutiny
of a particular episode, part one of "The Monster of Peladon" by Brian
Hayles, reveals a subtext of male-dominance and female powerlessness.
Part one of the Peladon series aired on 23 March 1974 and was viewed
by 9.2 million people. The Doctor's time and space machine arrives on
the planet Peladon, which is in the midst of an intergalactic war. Peladon
is a key source of a valuable mineral, and its miners are refusing to use a
new technology to dig the ore. The queen of the planet hopes to convince
her people to use the equipment, but it seems the planet's god Aggedor is
killing the miners to keep them from using it. The Doctor and his companion
Sarah are captured by the miners as alien invaders, but the Doctor is
recognized by the planet's ambassador. The miners try to steal weapons from
the armory, but their revolt is squelched. The Doctor argues that the queen
should free the leader of the miners as a measure of good faith, and when
the Doctor and the queen's champion go to free them, Aggedor attacks them
both. The episode ends on this cliffhanger.
To fully understand the ideology hidden in the narrative, one must
first identify the nature of the ideology. By finding the assumptions and
arguments on which it rests, we uncover the beliefs of the rhetor.
Secondly, we must recognize the interests included in the text. The
artifact supports certain interests and discredits others. Lastly, we must
analyze the the strategies in support of the ideology. We must uncover the
strategies available that will support one ideology over another.
Hayles' script promotes the ideology of male superiority. An initial
viewing of the episode presents a scenario where one social class is
struggling for another, where the poor and impoverished are hoping for
political equality with the royalty. The miners argue with the queen, but
it falls on deaf ears. The queen seems to be too indecisive and evidently
does not understand the needs of her people. The story presents a world
where social equality is ideal. If only the miners had
a say, their leader emphasizes. Clearly, the viewer should see that the
poor miners deserve the same rights as the wealthy on Peladon, and therefore
the poor on Earth deserve the same rights as well. Unfortunately, the
characterization of women, and the males attitudes towards those women,
undermine the apparent message of equality in the artifact.
A closer viewing of the artifact sees that the principal male
characters, the queen's advisor, the miners' leader, and the Doctor, are all
able to make decisions on their feet and have power-positions in the
narrative. The Doctor tries to negotiate out of the war, and the queen
wants his advice. Even the androgynous ambassador is referred to as "he."
The queen and Sarah are indecisive, and the male characters mock their
fickleness and emotional attitudes. If only Sarah could use
reason as he does, the Doctor says. Sarah and the queen talk Women's Lib,
but when it comes to applying those principles in times of conflict, both
are passive and yield to pressure from the males in the narrative. When the
queen finally does give an order, no one obeys it, disregarding it as the
rantings of a "woman."
By showing the power of male control and rationality, the script
advances the ideology of male dominance. We can rely on men to make
decisions swiftly and sagely. Women can not come to decisions on their own,
in that they never have had power and if given it, they would not know what
to do. The only women in the story act as pawns for a male dominated
struggle for control. Sarah is a hostage, and squacks all the while. The
queen is reduced to a blubbering state by the stress of her job, and the
male miners essentially assume control until another male, the Doctor, ends
the revolt. Through ridicule and characterization, the episode represses
the notion that women are equal to men.
Although on the surface it argues that people should be equal, children
viewing the program would be exposed to plot-point after plot-point
presenting the idea that women are unable to care for themselves, and men
should make decisions. Because the audience for the program is so young,
these concepts are probably more likely to be absorbed and applied in daily
life. As kids replay the previous night's episode on the school playground,
they also re-enact the hidden ideology of male dominance.
"The Monster of Peladon" is also a monster of ideology. On one side
the show seems to promote equality, but at a deeper level it simply
reinforces inequality between the sexes. By recognizing this fact, we can
hope to avoid repeating the flawed assumptions the show made. Hopefully the
lesson learned is that one must not put down another group when arguing for
(c) copyright Peter Gregg, 2000.
1) Howe, David J, and Stephen James Walker, _Doctor Who-The Handbook: The
Third Doctor_, (London: Doctor Who Books [Virgin], 1996), 156-158.
2) _Doctor Who: The Monster of Peladon_, (Beverly Hills, CA: CBS/Fox Video,
2000), Original Content 1974.
3) _Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice_, 2nd Ed., Foss, Sonja K.
(ed.), (Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1996), 297.
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