Thursday, August 10, 2017

Cult-TV Blogging: Star Maidens: "Escape to Paradise" (1976)



I have selected, for my next Thursday afternoon cult-TV series retrospective a production from one of the less-visited halls of the Valhalla: Star Maidens (1976).

I selected this obscure, thirteen episode series from the disco decade for a few reasons.  

In the first case, I remember watching it on WNEW Channel 5, out of New York, when it originally aired in American syndication. I was six years old at the time, and the series had the look and feel of a state-of-the-art sci-fi series.

Secondly, Star Maidens is (weirdly) related to Space: 1999 (1975-1977), one of my all-time favorite space programs. Star Maidens was designed by Keith Wilson, the genius production designer for the Andersons’ series, and so shares in common a kind of post-2001/pre-Star Wars visual aura.



Similarly, the sound effects on this series are also, largely, ported over from Space: 1999, which was between seasons when Star Maidens was produced at Bray Studios in 1975. Even key performers on Star Maidens -- Judy Geeson and Liz Harrow -- are recognizable from Space: 1999 episodes (“Another Time, Another Place,” and “The Testament of Arkadia,” respectively).

Surprisingly, the premise of Star Maidens has some touches in common with Space: 1999. The central planet in the series, Medusa, is one torn out of its orbit (by a comet named Dionysus), and sent hurtling on an interstellar voyage, like the Earth’s moon in the Landau/Bain series. 


As the series begins, however, Medusa reaches Earth. (So it’s like Space: 1999, but with the rogue space body traveling in the opposite direction.).

Star Maidens is a British/German co-production created by Eric Paice, based on a premise from Jost Graf Von Hardenburg. This short-lived series made the war between sexes its central dramatic issue.  Specifically, Medusa is a female-run planet (one set off its path by a comet named after a male, incidentally), wherein men are second-class citizens. 

The context for such a plot-line is clearly the late-1960's and early 1970’s second-wave feminism in the UK and the USA. For instance, From 1970 to 1978, the National Women’s Liberation Conference was held in England. And the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was re-introduced in 1971, and sent to the states for ratification in 1972. By 1979, the necessary number of states had failed to ratify the amendment.

What is Star Maidens’ point of view on this war of sexes?

I intend to examine it closely in the coming 12 weeks, but I believe the series makes a satirical point about sexism.

It is utterly ridiculous to American, male ears, to hear women discussing how men are too fragile, too childish, to fly space yachts, or do other high level activities.

That’s the point.

When the “tables are turned” – and men are the victims of sexism -- we are able to fully detect how foolish the sexism towards women actually is.  

It’s silly.  

Star Maidens has been described as camp in some circles, in large part because the blatantly sexist dialogue (against men) borders on outright comedic, yet is spoken with straight facet/tone.  Intriguingly, the same jaundiced dialogue, when spoken of women (in series such as Star Trek, for example) is accepted at face value, and not considered funny.

So Star Maidens, it seems to me -- at least at this early juncture -- is all about exposing a ridiculous double standard.


The first episode of Star Maidens, “Escape to Paradise,” written by Eric Paice (Target Luna [1960], Pathfinders in Space [1960]), and directed by James Gatward, sets up the series’ premise via a school-girl’s “historical program.”

This voice over-narration explains the "golden years" of history on the distant planet Medusa. There, in "Proxima Centauri," the planet developed a peaceful, advanced, art-centric culture wherein women were the unquestioned rulers (and thinkers...) and servile, lowly men functioned as "domestics" or servants.

Then, however, the comet called Dionysus swung too close to Medusa and pulled the planet out of her natural orbit. Consequently, the "vast mass" of Medusa was "dragged" into the "frozen infinity of space." 

The surface of the planet grew uninhabitable as it turned to ice (read: frigid), and the survivors of the disaster moved into underground cities, where the female-dominated culture continued and solidified power due to the crisis. Medusa drifted through space for generations until it arrived here...in Earth’s solar system.

What did the Medusans find on Earth? Well, if you ask the female scientists of that world, only a "great disappointment." Because, "in violation of all common sense," men ruled the planet Earth. Accordingly, this backward planet was judged "out of bounds" for all "civilized" space travelers. It is described in the narration as “disease prone,” for instance.

After this exposition/history lesson, “Escape to Paradise” introduces two male slaves, Shem (Gareth Thomas of Blake's 7) and Adam (Pierre Brice), who are planning an escape from the female-managed Medusa.

Adam

Shem

They are tired of being taken for granted. ("Who looks after the kids?" one man asks, citing his importance in Medusa's social strata.) 

However, before Shem and Adam can escape Medusa in Counselor Fulvia's (Judy Geeson) space yacht, Medusa's secretive and hostile-to-men head of security, Octavia (Christiane Kruger) gets a disturbing prediction from the Destiny Computer (think the Oracle at Delphi).

The computer suggests that the illegal men's liberation movement is about to begin again, and that one such insurgent will be Fulvia's domestic: Adam.

Octavia

Fulvi

Adam and Shem barely escape Medusa in the space yacht. Fulvia and Octavia pursue in their spaceship.




But where are Adam and Shem off to? A "paradise," of course, where men rule over women. In other words, the planet Earth.  Specifically, Adam anticipates “a new life, freedom…submissive women.”

"Escape to Paradise" concludes with Shem and Adam crashing their ship on Earth. ("It's too difficult for a man!" cries Shem, worrying over his landing vectors...).  

Meanwhile, on Earth, scientists from the Institute for Radio Astronomy -- Liz (Lisa Harrow), Rudi (Christian Quadflieg) and Professor Evans (Derek Farr)  prepare to meet the extra-terrestrials, 



"Was life really so bad on Medusa?" asks Counselor Fulvia of her escaped domestic, Adam, during a point of high tension in this episode.

That's a loaded question, I suppose. On one hand, the security forces of Medusa are all Amazonian women who wear skimpy two-piece uniforms (exposing bare midriff and muscular abs). 


On the other hand, the sexy women really do lord it over the men. It's all "prepare me something to eat," or "prepare my hypno-mat" (meaning bed...).

Of course, the women also demand sexual service. "Kiss me," Fulvia orders Adam at one point.

This, I admit, is a bit tricky. 

One wonders, during the flirtatious aspects of the episode, if the series is discussing sexism, or reveling in male fantasies about domination by strong, demanding, gorgeous women.

Despite any tongue-in-cheek tone here, the first 30-minute episode of Star Maidens flashes by at warp speed, and proves both entertaining and provocative. 

The production values are remarkable for 1970’s British science fiction, the actors are pretty good, and we get enough glimpses of the Medusan culture (technology and setting...) to get a sense of the alien-ness of the planet. 

Also, despite the war of the sexes premise, it seems that, at least so far, the series attempts to contend with some nuances. 

Judy Geeon's Fulvia, for instance, thinks the best of her rebellious slave, Adam, despite his insurrectionist actions. She may command in a female dominated society, but she has affection, even love, for her “domestic.”  

And Shem’s lack of confidence -- in direct contradiction to his apparent abilities with machines and ships -- can be traced back as a direct result of his indoctrination into Medusan politics.“It’s a woman’s world,” he declares, not so much with defeat, but as a statement of fact. Shem has heard all his life that he, as a man, can never be the equal of a woman, and it’s clear that he has internalized that message and made it a part of himself.  This strikes me as a very realistic character touch

Star Maidens is a strange show. 

It boasts the look, feel, and sound of a 70’s state of the art epic, like Space: 1999, and yet its obsession is not the stars, but the mysteries of human behavior and belief systems. It should be fascinating journey to watch where this series heads, as it explores the clash of a female dominated world, and a male dominated one.


Next week, “Nemesis.”

7 comments:

  1. John, I never seen Star Maidens and I am glad that you are going to review this series. The second and third pics you posted here look like the set from inside the Darian ark spaceship in Space:1999 "Mission Of The Darians". Keith Wilson was a brilliant production designer.

    SGB

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  2. John,

    I've also never seen this series, but based on those images, I'd really like to watch.

    Which leads me to a question...Not really a nitpick, but close...When you post reviews of vintage films and tv shows, is it possible for you to list how you're viewing them? Youtube, dvd's, streaming...Sometimes your screen caps are of much higher quality than what's out there. Thanks for listening! Carry on!

    Steve

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  3. I've never heard of this show. I look forward to your reviews of it!

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  4. I too would love to know where I could watch these episodes. YouTube sometimes has series to watch (you can see just about the entire run of Blake's 7 for instance) but there are only bits and pieces of Star Maidens available on YouTube. I've always been curious about this show given Keith Wilson's production design. Any information would be greatly appreciated!

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  5. Hi everybody!

    I have been watching Star Maidens on my complete series DVD set, released in the mid-2000s. That's how long I have had the series, but I never finished re-watching it...until now!

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  6. Sheri1:18 AM

    Oh, my God, I remember this! I grew up in a small town where in addition to numerous stations via cable over the mountains from Denver, we had two network affiliate local stations run by people with VERY eclectic, eccentric tastes (I think the chief programmers were drunk half the time). I can't recall which of all these stations ran this series, but I'm sure it had to be one of our nutty local ones. It ran mid-morning among all the Saturday cartoons, just after "Korg: 70,000 BC" and before "Daktari".

    Loved the look of the show, which was interesting but kind of odd--like Space 1999 Meets Logan's Run in a Shopping Mall. But my cohorts and I, all of us in junior high, just could not. stop. laughing. at everything else. The reverse sexism angle was too obvious and overdone with a complete lack of subtlety, so it got old fast. Hitting the audience over the head with an anvil may work for an episode but it won't sustain interest over an entire series. We kids just stopped watching after four or five shows. Maybe it was better than I actually remember it, but I don't think so.

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