One of the horror genre's "most widely read critics" (Rue Morgue # 68), "an accomplished film journalist" (Comic Buyer's Guide #1535), and the award-winning author of Horror Films of the 1980s (2007), The Rock and Roll Film Encyclopedia (2007) and Horror Films of the 1970s (2002), John Kenneth Muir, presents his blog on film, television and nostalgia, named one of the Top 100 Film Studies Blog on the Net.
Thursday, August 10, 2017
Cult-TV Blogging: Star Maidens: "Escape to Paradise" (1976)
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).
selected this obscure, thirteen episode series from the disco decade for a few
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.
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).
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
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
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 , Pathfinders
in Space ), 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
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
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,”
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.
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 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,
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
Despite any tongue-in-cheek tone here, the first 30-minute episode of Star
Maidens flashes by at warp speed, and proves both entertaining
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
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.