Retro Review: Star Maidens
by Doc on May.14, 2008, under Television
I’ve been threatening to do this review for a while, and I’m pretty sure few of you have seen or even remember this show, but since I remember even the most useless of trivia, I hunted down this show to watch it again. Star Maidens can probably be summed up with: Only in the 70s…
Why this show? I have family living in England, and often visited there as a kid. Back then, they had around 4 channels – two BBC and two ITV, so there wasn’t a whole lot on for an American kid to watch. But if I caught wind that there was an SF show, I made sure as best I could that I’d be in front of the TV. This is one of the shows I managed to catch. I only saw a few episodes, but it stuck in my head somehow – and it wasn’t the women’s costumes (I don’t think…). I remembered that some episodes took place entirely on Earth – and those left me disappointed since there were no spaceships, computers, or anything else I’d associate with an SF upbringing of Star Trek.
Star Maidens is basically about the planet Medusa, torn from its own solar system by a comet and hurtled through interstellar space, which enters our solar system. The planet’s population, surviving by moving underground, is a totally matriarchal society, completely ruled by women – men are limited to servant and other menial roles.
So what happens when they discover another planet primarily ruled by men (this was set in the “present day” of the 1970s, during the height of the women’s lib movement)? Two Medusan men steal a spacecraft and crash land on Earth, hoping for political asylum. In the meantime, two Earth scientists, one man, one woman, are taken back to Medusa and held “hostage” until the Medusan men are returned.
The series, produced in 1976, basically followed two mostly separate storylines. One was set on Earth (which made some episodes less expensive) following the two Medusan men, Adam and Shem, and the efforts of Adam’s master, Fulvia, to bring them back. The other is set on Medusa, involving Liz Becker and Rudi Schmidt trying to understand the Medusan society, with Rudi restricted to menial roles while Liz is given an advisory role to the Grand Counsel. Both try to help with problems facing the Medusans while also trying to get back home.
The main Earth characters were Liz Becker (Lisa Harrow, Omen III: The Final Conflict ), Rudi Schmidt (Christian Quadflieg), and Professor Evans (Derek Farr), who were radio astronomers who discovered Medusa and the spacecraft rapidly approaching Earth.
From Medusa, there was Adam (Pierre Brice), the “domestic” of Fulvia (Judy Geeson, Mad About You); Shem (Gareth Thomas, Blake’s 7), a friend of Adam and a technician; Octavia (Christiane Kruger), in charge of security on Medusa; and Clara (Dawn Addams), the president of Medusa.
Plot-wise, a lot of it could be considered far fetched, and even in some cases, ridiculous. Fulvia at times is hard-nosed about bringing Adam (who she appears to love) and Shem back to Medusa – yet in one episode they get a home, with Fulvia “driving to work” and Adam staying home, to strange stares from neighbors. Rudi proves beneficial a number of times to the Medusans, but since he’s a man, he can’t help. And Shem, played by the same guy who was a galactic freedom fighter in his next series, was portrayed as a meek, homesick child-like servant who simply got talked into taking a ride to Earth.
The show itself seemed to be written as an anti-Women’s Movement vehicle, as if it was trying to show that a society ruled by women would be inefficient and foolish. It even portrayed the women’s movement on Earth as being militant and approving of violence in one episode – today, a group like that would be labeled a terrorist cell.
Production-wise, it was somewhat typical British 70s SF – the visual effects were often pretty poor, but the sets were often passable to actually good. In fact, the sets look like they had been taken right from the Space: 1999 sets, which isn’t surprising – Sylvia Anderson (not-long-divorced from husband Gerry Anderson, exec. producer of Space: 1999) was associate producer, and it also shared production designer Keith Wilson. Even the sound effects, down to incidental sounds, could be recognized by Space: 1999 fans. The model work is also decent, although the opening credit scenes showing the devastation of Medusa looked like nothing more than a model with some firecrackers exploding underneath it. And the giant floating escape bubble with Adam and Shem floating down stream…well, some 30 years later I understand similar things are popular in Europe in which you roll yourself uncontrolled down hills, so maybe the Medusans had some useful ideas.
Now, costume design – well, the women who rule can wear anything they want, right? Apparently they choose 70’s go-go styles. The female security officers wear bare midriffs, hot pants, and high boots in a variety of colors. Others wear leotards with vests. Even some of the mens outfits could be deemed “sexy”, with the domestics wearing loose fitting, chest revealing blouses (although apparently men aren’t allowed to shave their chests). Then again, the technicians like Shem wear a black worksuit with colored circles that looked like some sort of Life Saver pajamas. And apparently all Medusan men have a white streak in their hair.
One thing that bothered me is that it seemed to me like every single line of dialoged was looped over in a studio. There was a lot of outdoor location shooting, so that may have been a factor, but even studio shots seemed to be looped. I don’t know if that was still true at the end, but I may have just been used to it by then. Another factor may have been the European cast – Quadflieg is a Swedish-born German, Brice is French, and both along with native German Kruger did a lot of German productions, but no voices seemed to be replaced and the accents were still strong.
The show only lasted 13 episodes (a typical British series), and no further series were commissioned, but it at least ended on a proper episode, not leaving with a cliffhanger. Although we never seemed to learn much about (or see anything but a hand) the other aliens who had caused Medusa to break orbit and showed up in the final episode.
Apparently the show did eventually get some U.S. airtime, shown late at night on a fledgling Sci Fi Channel (back then they showed SF programs) in an extremely edited form – I didn’t have the channel then, so I can’t comment on them. . I am likely to be among a very few U.S. citizens to have seen this show.
Overall, if you take the show tongue-in-cheek, its a bearable show. It’s tough to tell if the show took itself seriously and was unintentionally humorous, or if the aim truly was to be ridiculous under the guise of seriousness. But it was at least an amusing look into the 1970s.
If you crave more information, mainly to see what the heck I’m talking about, this site is pretty good. And if you can use a Region 0 PAL DVD, that is available as well.
May 15th, 2008 on 4:16 pm
Not Swedish. Or?
Very interesting. I had never heard of Star Maidens before. Sounds like I didn’t miss anything 🙂
I was however a bit sceptical about Christian Quadflieg. You’d remember a name like that. I only looked him up on IMDB, and though he was born in Växjö, Sweden, his father was German and all his works seem to be German, so I think that he is German.
May 15th, 2008 on 6:34 pm
Re:Not Swedish. Or?
This is entirely probable. All I had to start was his place of birth, and I’m not much on picking up non-British accents. I’ve changed it to “Swedish-born German”