Saturday, September 10, 2005

Sci-Fi TV's Sexiest Resident Alien - Maya!

There are a lot of characters to choose from in this category, and because of my orientation, I guess, I'm focusing on women. Various incarnations of modern Star Trek have introduced the world to the Trill officer Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) and her replacement, Ezri Dax (Nicole De Boer), and cat-suited Amazons like Seven-of-Nine (Jeri Ryan) and T-Pol (Jolene Blalock). Outside of the United Federation of Planets, Diana (Jane Badler) and Lydia (June Chadwick) made extra-terrestrial evil spectacularly sexy in V: The Series back in the 1980s; the kind of "Visitor" we hoped would stay around for a while...if they didn't end up killing us and serving us up on a platter.

More recently, Claudia Black's Aeryn Sun gave us years of athleticism, attitude, strength and other sexy qualities on the Sci-Fi Channel's Farscape. Going back to the 1970s, Katie Saylor - as Lianna - was a valuable team and "family" member in the short-lived The Fantastic Journey, and I must say, I get more e-mail at my web-site about Katie Saylor and "what ever happened to her" than virtually any other topic. So we must take time to remember Ms. Saylor and her contributions to the genre too. On Doctor Who, the Time Lady Romana (played by Mary Tamm and Lalla Ward) both proved that "smart" is sexy, and currently, Tricia Helfer plays "Number Six" on the new Battlestar Galactica. When her spine isn't glowing red during sex (wouldn't you notice that detail in certain - ahem - positions?), she's busy proving a kittenish and buxom distraction to the hapless Baltar...

No doubt all of these "resident aliens" are terrific, but I think the award for the sexiest (female) alien character still must go to one of the genre originals, Catherine Schell as Maya on the British TV series from the 1970s, Space: 1999. Why? well, first, just look at the photos accompanying this post, two in character, one in her natural state. Secondly - and more importantly - sexy isn't just about a great body, and it ain't just about brains, either. For me, sexiness is also about a sense of confidence (not arrogance, mind you, just confidence), and also a joy and irony about one's self. A woman who is intelligent, attractive, confident and good-humored is the whole package. I should know, I married a woman just like that, and who - I've been told - actually looks like Ezri Dax from DS9. Of course, my beautiful wife (Kathryn) isn't an alien...though she has dressed up as a Vulcan in an original Starfleet uniform for me from time to time. But enough of that...

Anyhoo, for those who don't remember her, Catherine Schell's Maya joined the ranks of Moonbase Alpha in the first Year Two (1976-1977) episode of Space:1999 entitled "The Metamorph." She is a native of the planet Psychon, and long before Odo first turned into a carry-on bag, she utilized her powers of "molecular transformation" as a shapeshifter. Sometimes she is known as a "metamorph" or "transmorph." Like all her people, Maya is incredibly intelligent, with a mind that can run circles around the most high-powered computer. As a Psychon, she is, we are told in "Seed of Destruction," "hyper sensitive to all forms of living matter." Indeed, Maya is also a pacifist, deploring the violence of the planet Earth when told of it in "Rules of Luton. "You mean, people killed people, just because they were different. That's disgusting!" She decried in that very episode.

But Maya is also one tough cookie. She regularly turns into frightening outer space creatures to stop the monster of the week in episodes such as "The Beta Cloud" and "The Bringers of Wonder." She stands up to the Commander when she believes he is wrong ("Seed of Destruction" again), and is just as comfortable flying an Eagle or running the science station in Command Center as she is in a party dress ("One Moment of Humanity.") The great thing about Maya is that she also has an impish (and sexy...) sense of humor, which she displays on many memorable occasions. In "The Exiles," Maya turns into an exact duplicate of Helena Russell, for instance, and kisses Commander Koenig, demanding to know if he can tell her apart from the real Dr. Russell. Kinky. In other episodes, she torments her would-be lover Tony Verdeschi (the late Tony Anholt) by turning into Mr. Hyde after drinking his abominable beer, and so on.

I also like Maya because Catherine Schell played her as very feminine. Is that a sexist comment? I don't think so. Unlike the message our society sends us constantly, being feminine is not the antithesis of being strong, as some people seem to think. Too many characters in science fiction television (and I'm thinking of the new Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica) seem to believe that for a woman to be strong, she must also be butch; she must be "masculine." I disagree, and believe that strength and nobility are often feminine qualities. For one thing, who else could carry a baby for nine months and then go through the pain of delivery? I'd love to see George W. Bush or some other "strong" "masculine" "cowboy"-type male leader bear up under that kind of pressure. Women are also psychologically strong, and some studies indicate they make better soldiers than men because they better understand working for the common good. So I resent it when "butch" women are fed to us in the media as the "strong" ideal in this culture, because this just reinforces the idea that maleness equates to strength. Not so, I say.

I find Catherine Schell's Maya to be feminine and strong in a way that our culture doesn't often allow. I love, for instance, in the episode "The Taybor" how she puts off the alien trader's sexual advances. He puts his hand on her leg and claims it is just a gesture of friendship. Seeing it as the inappropriate advance that it is, Maya returns the favor with a smile. Her hand shapeshifts into that of some green, scaled-monster, and she squeezes the Taybor's lap. A gesture of friendship reciprocated in full, thank you very much...what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

In Year Two of Space:1999, Maya was definitely Moonbase Alpha's most valuable player (and as critic Tom Shales once famously declared, the only woman to ever look sexy in sideburns). I've had the good fortune to interview Catherine Schell twice, once over the phone in 1994, and once in person at the Main Mission Convention in Manhattan in 2000. I think it's fair to state that Schell has a sense of humor and dignity equal to Maya's, and I've always followed her career with interest. She's fantastic opposite Peter Sellers in The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), and also joined the ranks of "Bond Girl" in the underrated 1969 George Lazenby film On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). Sci-fi fans can also see her in flicks like Moon Zero Two and T
V episodes such as Dr. Who's "City of Death (1978).

It's been just about thirty years since the talented Ms. Schell brought Maya to such memorable life, but many fans - including this one - have never forgotten what she accomplished in those 24 hour-long episodes. Almost fifteen years before Dr. Crusher and Counselor Troi (both nurturers and health-care professionals; one step up from Nurse Chapel...) were looking cute smashing crockery over the heads of villains in Star Trek: The Next Generatioin episodes like "Q-pid" (rhymes with "stupid"), Maya on Space:1999 was co-piloting an Eagle through asteroid belts ("Mark of Archanon"), solving scientific dilemmas and rescuing her stranded crew-mates ("Journey to Where"), standing up to authority in "Seed of Destruction," and willing to sacrifice herself for the good of her friends ("The Dorcons.") It's ironic that Jadzia and Ezri, Seven, Aeryn and the like all came soooo much later than Maya - a character whom producers Freddy Freiberger and Gerry Anderson once considered spinning-off to her own series.

"I never thought of Maya as a role model," Ms. Schell told me during our interview, "perhaps because in my life I have never been held back from doing something just because I am a woman. I'm thrilled that she is seen by many as I role model, but I didn't intend it that way. Perhaps because Maya was an alien, she was allowed to do more than 'human' women were at the time."

For whatever reason it happened, Maya represents one of science-fiction television's most three-dimensional and sexy female alien characters, and that's why I think she's so damn hot. She can be innocent and tortured in one show ("The Metamorph," "Journey to Where"), impish in another ("The Exiles") and passionate ("The Beta Cloud") in the next. Any thoughts about this topic out there? Who do you think is the sexiest resident alien in science-fiction television history (female or male), and why? And, more importantly, do you remember (and love) Maya as much as I do?


  1. Anonymous3:03 PM

    What about Leela on Doctor Who? Wasn't she from another planet originally? She was smokin'sexy and Linda Harrison-savage sexy. I think I read somewhere that she was the most popular DW companion with males over 30 years old.

  2. Louise Jameson played Leela. Heck, I liked her too and I guess she does count as an alien, though she's of earth descent. But let's not quibble...

  3. Ahhh, yes, I remember Maya. She was served up (no disrespect intended) in the new and improved season 2 of S:1999. I wish they had kept Barry Morse on the show; I think the two characters would have had some interesting conversations, maybe make the Tony V character jealous.

    I never thought of Maya as sexy, although I don't disagree with any of the observations of her character. I always thought of her as cool. In any case, I do fondly remember Ms. Schell's powerful portrayal of a very human alien.

    The sexiest resident in scifi TV history... Okay, have to think on that (although I just blogged last night thinking on the history of scifi). While I'm thinking, I want to mention the Tasha Yar character of ST:TNG. She was more than a crockery smasher and caregiver, and put herself in harms way more than once. Although she was conceived with masculine like qualities, she was able to present herself as a woman and even the show's resident android can attest to that. (Leela was atttactive, to be sure, but too one-dimensional for my liking. The poor Doctor was a little taken back when she takes her leave of him...)

    While my character choice can't touch Maya's resumé, I still feel justified in my choice of Devon Adair (played by Debrah Farentino) on Earth 2. She set a goal before her eyes and would not be diverted from it, despite all of the obstacles, both political and incendiary, put in her way. In a desire to save her son, she ends providing salvation for more than just him, and has to take on hostile forces pretty much everywhere she goes to establish a new life on G889. Most of her pretty toys lost in space, she and her fellow colonists have to fend for themselves and while she was naive about somethings (because things did no turn out as expected), her ability to lead through sacrifice and example inspired those to follow her rather than go her own way. Sort of an unofficial election as head of their small band. Had I been stuck on that strange planet, I would have followed her anywhere. And, for me, that is sexy. (She wasn't too bad on the eyes, either, although mosy I know preferred Rebecca Gayheart's portrayal of Bess Martin).