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.
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 TV 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?