The womenís liberation movement of
the 1960s and 70s found a home in science fiction in the 1976 Anglo-German
series, Star Maidens. Conceived by Graf and Graefin Von Hardenberg with the
backing of the Jost von Herdenberg Corporation of Frankfurt, Germany, the series
was shot on 16mm film by Portman Production at Bray Studios in England for
broadcast throughout the United Kingdom. Since
the producers couldnít secure a steady time slot for the series, it was filmed
as a serial, with a budget of $75,000 USD per episode. Episodes were aired sporadically as time slots could be secured.
The premise concerned the planet Medusa, a technologically advanced world
originally in the Proxima Centauri solar system, where women were dominant and
men were demoralized slaves. Meant to show role reversals and send a clear
message for womenís liberation movements worldwide, Star Maidens was
spiced up with sexy women enthralled in both love and lust for the men
they dominated. The result was a tongue-in-cheek, low-budget space opera
whose galactic settings looked remarkably similar to those from the hit
British series, Space: 1999.
This wasnít a coincidence.
Keith Wilson, who worked on both seasons of the Gerry Anderson series, was hired
on Star Maidens as the production designer. In that role he reused a lot of the
Space 1999 models fragments and set elements. To compensate for the extremely
low budget, Wilson scrounged everything he could from earlier shows, exploiting
what wasnít prohibited under international copyright laws and making back room
deals to use things that were. His work was admiral, even though it often
resulted in haphazard creations whose flaws sometimes became too apparent.
For example, the
model sets of the Medusan city looked impressive at first glance. On
closer inspection it became apparent that they were made almost entirely
out of common items like table tennis balls, plastic straws, sewing
thread reels, egg cartons, and the like. Compounding the problem, the
establishment shots that showed these models revealed them a bit too
long for the flaws not to become apparent to even the most unobservant
Wilson was also responsible for most of the spaceship designs including
the Nemesis, a snail-come-slug shaped machine, and a drone patrol
vehicle, used to monitor the workforce on the inhospitable surface of
Medusa. Like the models of Space 1999, built under the direction of
expert modelmaker Martin Bower, the spacecraft model work in Star
Maidens was extremely well done and is one of the strongest elements of
The storyline of the series begins when two men escape from the planet
Medusa in a stolen spacecraft. They are pursued and narrowly avoid being
killed by crash-landing on Earth. They appeal to the Earth authorities
to allow grant them asylum from the pursuing women. While explaining
their case, the spokesman, Adam (Pierre Brice) explains that he is a
leader in the ĎMenís Liberation Movementí fighting for menís equality.
On Medusa, all men are considered servants, although slaves would be a
better term for their role. They play no part in the government and are
not allowed to hold any jobs more responsible than that of a cook or
gardener. Consequently, the majority of Medusan men are not intelligent
and have become pre-conditioned to accept a womenís commands without
Adam has long wanted to get to Earth and executed his escape with help
from Shem (Gareth Thomas), whom he had to bully into assisting him to
pilot the stolen spacecraft. They have been pursued by Medusaís Chief
Security Controller, Octavia (Christiane Kruger) and Adamís mistress
Grand Councilor Fulvia (Judy Geeson) who control the spacecraft Nemesis.
Fulvia simply wants
her servant returned. She regards him as her pet and fears that heíll
come to harm outside here care. Octavia has wider concerns. She is
irritated that any planet, even one as backwards as Earth, allows men
positions of responsibility. Its an intolerable situation that must
eventually be changed. Her perception is amplified when the Nemesis
lands on Earth and the two Medusans are confronted by policemen. Octavia
immediately begins ordering the policemen around and is angered when
they donít respond in the obedient manner of Medusan men.
incident draws the attention of Doctor Rudi Schmidt (Christian Quadflieg)
of the Astronomical Institute. He rushes to the landing site with his
assistant, Liz (Lisa Harrow) only to discover the spacecraft empty. He
and Liz board the vessel and begin investigating. Schmidt accidentally
triggers a device which blinds him. When the Medusans return, the
panic-stricken Liz begs them for help. They activate their medical
android, an automaton in female form with pale grey skin and surgical
instruments concealed within each finger. The robot corrects the
blindness leaving Schmidt perfectly healed. Having failed to get the
escapees, Octavia opts to kidnaps the two scientists in order to arrange
an exchange for Adam and Shem.
By this point, the male Medusan fugitives have found refuge with
Professor Evans (Derek Farr) who has been interviewing the aliens in his
never-ending quest for more knowledge. Like the alien renegades, he is a
weak-willed character overshadowed by the Medusan men who seem unable to
cope with or comprehend anything that is happening around them.
Fulvia ventures out
to arrange for the prisoner exchange. Her plan is foiled when she is
kidnapped by a foreign power who wants the secrets of Mendusaís advanced
technology. She escapes back to the Nemesis. Once on board, she decides
that sheís been through enough. She and Octavia lift off and set course
On the way, Dr. Schmidt attempts to debate Octavia on the merits of
their female dominated society. She does not take the challenge well.
Upon arriving at Medusa, she has Schmidt placed on trail before a panel
of judicial computers. They find him guilty and have him sent to a
barren region where he is forced into a servant work detail conducting
the most menial labor.
Sensing that these workers are the best likely source to resist the
female oppression, he organizes a breakout, during which they
successfully destroy a hovering patrol vehicle by reflecting its own ray
back against it with a mirror. The escape is on the brink of succeeding
when it is foiled by the Medusan President Clara (Dawn Adams), who
orders the revolt to cease. The males preconditioning causes them to
obey her orders. They surrender to red-helmeted female security guards
with paraguns, a ray weapon that causes temporary paralysis. The problem
solved, Schmidt learns the manís place in the Medusan world.
to retrieve her servant and takes the Nemesis back to Earth. It is stuck
by lightning and disabled, forcing her to blend into the local
population. She locates Adam who refuses to return to Medusa. Facing her
changed circumstances, she opts to try to live on Earth with Adam in a
normal married relationship, acting as man and wife. Fulvia gains
employment and soon finds herself heading off to work while Adam remains
at home to do the housework. The situation deteriorates when she begins
to return from a long day of work only to find Adam entertaining a group
of female neighbors . Fulvia becomes jealous and the two argue about her
having to do a hard dayís work while he has to slave over a hot stove.
Frustrated with not being considered an equal, Adam packs his bags and
leaves Fulvia. Frustrated, Fulvia contacts Medusa and has a rescue ship
dispatched to retrieve both her and the Nemesis.
Meanwhile, on Medusa, an ecological disaster is brewing. Long ago, a
comet passed close to Medusa and set about a shift on its axis, forcing
it to be pulled free of its natural orbit and move away from the Proxima
Centauri system, to drift through space and ultimately settle just
outside the Earthís Solar System. Since this ordeal, the planetís
surface was devastated, forcing the Medusans to build underground,
mining out gigantic areas into which they built huge cities. The
Medusans have since continually dumped chemical waste topside that gives
off toxic fumes.
At his prison, Rudi Schmidt is caught in a downpour that turns the
ground into thick mud and produces a brightly colored slime. Being a
trained geologist, Schmidt has already determined that the rain is
disintegrating Medusaís crust and that it is only a matter of time
before the planet can no longer support life. He warns the authorities
from his prison work team.
Schmidt is taken before Octavia and allowed to present his case.
Arrogant as usual, Octavia refuses to listen, and the Earthman is taken
away cursing that soon they will be pleading for his expertise. He is
proven correct when the air ducts gradually become blocked by the
accumulation of dissolving debris. At first, the women turn to their
Prediction Computer that keeps insisting there is nothing wrong. In a
last desperate hope, they consult Liz to research the problem and
hopefully find a solution. She in turn demands that Schmidt be brought
in as her assistant, although once work begins it is really the other
Despite protest from Octavia, Schmidt carefully examines the cityís
structure and discovers a new air purification system that is causing
the problem. Water particles, falling through a mixture of gasses from
the chemical waste and the air purifier itself, combines separate
components to form a deadly acid rain. Thankful for the salvation, the
president expresses her gratitude by granting Schmidt a release from
prison, although she still canít acknowledge the Earthmanís intellect.
She declares that the scientist came to his conclusions by guessing.
Soon afterward, the Medusan president falls badly ill. Liz determines
that she is suffering from an Earth cold virus that she caught from Liz.
A spacecraft is launched that retrieves Professor Evans and brings him
from Earth to Medusa. He agrees to cure the president but demands that
all Earth prisoners are to be released. Having no choice, the Medusans
agree. Evans cures the president who honors the agreement. Evans is
returned to Earth.
On Earth, Shem has begun a relationship with an Earth woman, Rose, who
gives him sanctuary. The police have begun actively hunting Adam and
Shem and both are running out of places to hide. The experience proves
beneficial for Shem who finally understands how two people can be
together without one of them needing to be dominant and the other
Things are changing
on Medusa as well. Exerting her influence, the president has Liz
assigned to a new job, checking over abandoned experiments beneath the
Medusan city. Whilst searching through some old records with Schmidt,
she enters a dark, dusty room, only to become trapped as a sliding door
closes behind her. All her efforts to open it prove useless. Slowly, she
realizes that she is not alone.
Several box-like shapes advance through the gloom. When they emerge into
the meager light, she recognizes them as crudely built robots. The
robots donít mean to harm her. They want her affection, indefinitely.
Still a bit shaken, she investigates and learns that they are the
remnants of an unsuccessful experiment that was never completed. In it,
machines were implanted with emotions, a process the Medusans never
really mastered. They left the byproduct of their trial runs locked away
in this vault. Schmidt manages to break through into the vault and
rescues Liz. The robots offer no resistance and seemed resigned to their
fate of loneliness.
Now freed, Schmidt and Liz opt to return to Earth. Octavia volunteers to
return the Earthlings and takes the opportunity to retrieve Adam and
Shem. On the return trip, the Nemesis is attacked by a mysterious vessel
that Octavia recognizes as belonging to the Medusansís age old natural
predator, a reptilian life form that frequently troubled them in the
distant past. The reptiles cripple the Nemesis, leaving it vulnerable to
attack. The enemy prepares for an easy kill.
Out of nowhere, another Medusan vessel emerges and engages the enemy
craft. Octavia is stunned to learn it is Fulvia who convinced Adam and
Shem to return to Medusa. Realizing that Earth life is not for them, the
two male Medusans are hoping to inspire social change on their own world
and have decided to return peacefully. During the battle, the reptiles
deliver a series of crippling blows to the second Medusan vessel. In the
confusion, Adam takes over the controls and retaliates, destroying the
enemy. Octavia thanks Fulvia for saving them only to learn that Adam, a
man, has saved her. Reluctantly she voices her gratitude, albeit much
against her principles.
The reptilian race has been searching for the lost planet, Medusa.
Although they havenít yet located the planet itself, the contact with
the Nemesis proved that Medusa was in the area. These monsters plan to
attack Medusa and annihilate everyone there. Faced with Adamís example
that shows that men can indeed be taught to fight, the Medusans put
aside their cultural differences and prepare to meet the reptiles should
they locate the wandering planet.
Star Maidenís feminist message was largely undercut by its presentation.
To try to gain a regular network slot, the show featured attractive
women in revealing costumes and their at least better-than-average
docile man-servants. Medusa was shown as a planet without children or
old people. In the episode, ďTest for LoveĒ, Liz is attached to a
machine known as the sexometer, which works on a extension of the mind.
On a nearby large video screen we see a muscle-bound, macho, blond
German guy. Such incidents were commonplace throughout the series and
conveyed the unintentional message that if women ever did get to control
things, they would create a world controlled by sexówhich might not have
been a bad thing.
The Season One
ending indicated that the production team planned to make another
season. Had the story continued, Star Maidens would likely have wandered
away from its original premise of forcing the viewer to consider the
implications of issues like sexual discrimination, role reversal, and
environmentalism. By the end of the very short first season, viewers
were already finding the core messages of Star Maidens a bit tiresome.
To be fair, the writers did an outstanding job creatively bringing the
concepts to life, but the message was delivered a bit too strongly and
didnít vary much. Viewers fully understood the feminist premise of the
show after the first episode. After that, the concepts came across as a
bit preachy to a base of viewers that wasnít fond of the real meaning
behind Star Maidens in the first place.
Star Maidenís impact was also reduced by its extremely low budget. Shot
on low-quality 16mm film, the picture was too grainy for many viewers.
Many ITA regions didnít bother to show the series at all. Combined with
the fact that the series couldnít gain a regular network timeslot, with
new episodes released haphazardly, its clear why this show didnít take
off. The few financial backers withdrew their support after filming of
the first 13 episodes were completed. The owners made several attempts
to get the show syndicated but the effort proved fruitless.
Star Maidens did manage to produce some jigsaw puzzles, a couple of
coloring and sticker-fun books, an annual and a paperback written by Ian
Watson from Corgi which contained adaptations of most of the key
Despite its flaws, Star
Maidens should be credited for taking a revolutionary approach to space
opera. Politically motivated from the onset, the series did provide some
good science fiction moments that make it worthy or viewing--if you can
find a copy of this extremely rare series on VHS or DVD.
- written by Russell Sanders