Forgotten TV: Star Maidens
The 1975–76 German/English co-production Star Maidens, without any doubt, is the worst science fiction television series ever made, no contest. This is not up for argument. If you think it is, you should step away, because you are wrong. Whereas so many television shows that come close to the mark might still contain a clunky earnestness (or are stricken with the curse of era or budget that make the effects and sets lacking despite an honest effort), Star Maidens contains all the hallmarks of the traditional criteria for horribleness but with the bonus of being especially smarmy and, therefore, a lot of fun.
The show has a curious set-up. It begins on the planet Medusa and with a long backstory about a disaster that sent its female-dominated society to live underground. The preamble to the first episode describing this history is golden. Two male servants, Adam (Pierre Brice) and Shem (Gareth Thomas, of Blake’s 7 fame), manage to escape the planet to Earth, with two high-ranking females, Councillor Fulvia (Judy Geeson) and Security Chief Octavia (Christiane Krüger), both adorned with fancy and intricate blonde wigs, chasing them to Earth to try and retrieve them. This cast of embarrassingly-costumed aliens becomes entangled with the crack scientists of the Astronomical Institute, who at no point feels it necessary to alert the government that they have aliens in their building.
Eventually, two of the Earth people, Rudi (Christian Quadflieg) and Liz (Lisa Harrow), are taken hostage on Medusa as leverage against the escaped males. This provides great frustration for Rudi, apparently a brilliant scientist, since Liz used to be his lab assistant but now can boss him around while they’re on Medusa. Plus, she gets to wear a futuristic jump suit that makes her look like a spy. Accompanying them is Octavia, who is convinced at every turn that Rudi is going to destroy their society and Liz is going to help him. During these plots, we also get to know a lot more about Medusan society, so much that we learn without question that it makes no sense whatsoever, and the attempts at hard science fiction just as incoherent.
Fulvia remains on Earth, and this gives the show a chance to affect a battle of the sexes romantic comedy style, with Adam attempting to tame the brazen Fulvia into a more equal domestic life, and Shem running around and having a love story of his own, as well as some very clunky action plots and chase scene while Adam and Shem go through a fugitive stage with an unintentional Three Stooges vibe to it. Or maybe Benny Hill.
The mix of the two scenarios is bizarre, to be sure, and the series uses a feigned progressive viewpoint for deception. By presenting the planet ruled by women, it pretends, at first, to have a pseudo-feminist bent, but that’s quickly thrown out the window by the “emotional female” stereotypes constantly on parade. The understanding here is certainly that the society of women are just plain silly, and their doltish male sex slaves are certainly their equals. Well, maybe they’re right about that. Leastwise, any society that would make their armed guards wear tight midriffs, hot pants, and go go boots either has something great going for it or is completely missing the point
Each episode of Star Maidens unfolds as if it was originally filmed as an hour, but got edited down to a half-hour before release. No, you’re right, you did miss something, you are not confused without reason, what the characters are doing actually doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
But I said that this was the worst science fiction television show ever made, not the most unwatchable, so there are plusses in the viewing experience, not the least of which is the groovy musical score by Lipman. Some of the miniatures in the show are fun too, if you like that sort of thing
And I’ll admit that not all the performances are awful, even though most are over the top. There’s no likable characters to latch onto — escaped males Adam and Shem are dolts, Fulvia is basically Veruca Salt, Rudi the captive scientist is a smug bonehead. Liz, the Earthling who lives among the Medusans, is the least annoying of the pack, though what can you say about a female character who wants to give up her new authority so she can just go back to being Rudi’s lab assistant.
Plus, there are a couple respectable names behind the screen. Sylvia Anderson is not credited, but apparently this is her post-divorce baby, a haughty slap-in-the-face to Gerry Anderson and Space:1999. The fashions on the show betray her involvement.
Strangely, many episodes are directed by Freddie Francis, best known for his beautiful work as cinematographer on The Elephant Man. Don’t expect the talent he displayed there to ooze through his depiction of security guards in go go boots or mind torture sessions on the Sexometer, though his visuals of Medusa turning into slime because of acid rain was pretty awesome, if implausible.
If you sit for the whole series, I’d like to say you won’t regret it, but you probably will. Unless you have a sense of adventure and feel that sometime being at least more enjoyable than the original Battlestar Galactica is pretty good criteria. And if you plan some parties around the screening and remember to serve alcohol and copious snacks, you just might thank me.