Print this page

Star Maidens is back on DVD

Monday, 12 June 2017 17:29

Star Maidens is back on DVDStar Maidens has found its way back on to DVD, courtesy of Simply Media. The title originally came to the home market back in 2005 through the now-defunct Delta Home Entertainment, but it’s enough of a curiosity that copies of that version still command a good price, so there’s logic in bringing it back into the foreground once more. It was originally shown as a regional opt-out in some ITV regions (HTV had it, ATV didn’t – which is why I got to saw an episode or two when I was in Wales at the time).  Popping up here and there between 1976 and 1978, it’s classified as an Anglo-German production, with a take on a planet whose dominant sex is female. This is something which The Two Ronnies would do their own version of in their serial “The Worm That Turned” in 1980, in which women rule the Britain of 2012, and male and female gender roles are completely reversed.

So, here’s your chance to get something in for late night schlock sessions in good company, with all 13 half-hour episodes in a twin-DVD digitally remastered set.  There’s plenty of reasons for Cult TV appreciators to pick up a copy as it stars Gareth Thomas, three years before he played Blake in the Blake’s 7. As per the previous DVD release, it also contains a bonus interview with Gareth, weighing in at a very respectable 34 minutes and covers much of his career, but with a focus on Star Maidens.

Set on the technologically advanced planet Medusa in the solar system of Proxima Centauri, its inhabitants see themselves as having a ‘perfect’ world where men are the inferior sex.  While males are relegated to performing menial tasks, women are regarded as the superior intellectual beings, and are assigned personal male domestic servants to satisfy all their needs and desires.  This peaceful matriarchy, however, is threatened when they start to interact with the modern-day Earth of the mid-1970s – a primitive, crude and savage planet ruled by men!

When headstrong rebel Adam (French actor Pierre Brice) and faithful friend Shem (Gareth Thomas) flee their keepers and steal a space yacht, the supreme councillor Fulvia (Judy Geeson, who had been a guest star in the likes of Danger Man, Mr Rose, Man in a Suitcase, The Adventurer, Doomwatch and even Space: 1999) is outraged by their disobedience.

They head for Earth to claim political sanctuary. Security chief Octavia (who had guest-starred in a 1970 episode of Paul Temple) decides to take two Earth scientists captive, enslaving the male Rudi (Christian Quadflieg) while treating his female assistant Liz (Lisa Harrow – Lynn Blake in 1990, Anna Davis in Space: 1999 “The Testament of Arkadia”) like a Queen, as they hunt down their insolent missing men.

The confused top Earth scientist Evans is played by Derek Farr (Ensor/ Orac/ Satellite in Blake’s 7 “Orac”, Mr Garstanton in Return of the Antelope), while the most senior lady on Medusa, Clara, is played by Dawn Addams (agent Georgie Thompson in Father, Dear Father, Mrs Landers in Triangle, plus guest roles in The Saint, Danger Man, Department S, Hadleigh, The Troubleshooters, and The Adventurer).

Look out too for almost cameo appearances by the likes of Alfie Bass, Graham Crowden, Ronald Hines, Terence Alexander, Ronald Fraser, Kirstie Pooley, Philip Stone, Stanley Lebor, Belinda Mayne, Veronica Lang, Ann Maj-Brit, David Ellison and Anna Carteret.

Much attempted hilarity derives from the set-up, some of it actually raising an ironic smile from the clash in cultures between the two planets. Adam and Shem have various comedic misunderstandings on our male-dominated Earth. The ‘Star Maidens’ are certainly shocked that women could ever be treated as being secondary to men. It is important to realise that, for its time, the series stands out in how bluntly it addresses issues of sex discrimination head on.

The series was shot on location in Windsor, Bracknell, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. The behind-the-scenes team include director Freddie Francis on five episodes - a double Oscar-winner for his cinematography on “Sons and Lovers” (1960) and “Glory” (1989), he also directed the likes of Man in A Suitcase, The Saint, and The Adventures of Black Beauty. Also directing a couple of episodes was James Gatward, who was a producer on the series as well. He’d previously directed episodes of The Troubleshooters, Public Eye, and Spyder’s Web, before going on to the likes of The Famous Five, Minder, and West End Tales. Noting the German co-production element, the other directors were Wolfgang Storch (five episodes) and Hans Heinrich (one episode).

From an idea by cinematographer Jost Graf von Hardenberg, who headed up one of the production companies involved, it was up to Eric Paice to create something which could appeal to broadcasters around the world. Eric had been a regular contributor at the BBC, having written 42 episodes of Dixon of Dock Green, and 25 episodes of The Brothers. He wasn’t a stranger to ‘high concept’ stuff though, having penned scripts for The Avengers (seven between 1961 and 1964), plus the whole of Target Luna and the Pathfinders … trilogy – although all of those had been between 1960 and 1961.

Eric managed to write four of the episodes, but did bring in some good help on the others. Ian Stuart Black was on hand to pen five scripts, and had written for Doctor Who in the Patrick Troughton era with “The Macra Terror”, as well as contributing episodes to 1959’s HG Wells’ Invisible Man, Danger Man, Sir Francis Drake, The Saint, The Man in Room 17, Adam Adamant Lives! and The Champions.

Writing a couple of the scripts was John Lucarotti, known by Doctor Who fans for the William Hartnell stories “Marco Polo”, “The Aztecs” and  “The Massacre”, plus six episodes from  1961 to 1965 of The Avengers.  He had further genre experience from contributing a quartet of episodes to 1962’s City Beneath the Sea, two episodes of the BBC’s Moonbase 3, and even wrote the Joe 90 episode “Children of the Sun God”. He was also known for The Troubleshooters, having contributed 22 episodes.

In another small hat-tip to the German element of the co-production, a guy called Otto Strang scripted two episodes. And that’s about all anyone knows about him! As tends to be the case when this sort of thing happens, it might well be a pen-name for another writer, or pair of writers. Now, don’t say you’re not now curious...

Cinematography was by Ken Hodges (The Adventures of Robin Hood, Espionage, Danger Man, Court Martial, the “Confessions” movies) with one episode by Alan Hume (Space Precinct, The Avengers, various “Carry On” movies, and “Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi”). Alan Killick was the supervising film editor (Man in a Suitcase, Danger Man, UFO, The Adventures of Black Beauty, The New Avengers, Space: 1999, The Professionals, Terrahawks), with assistance from Bob Dearberg (Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The New Avengers, The Professionals, Inspector Morse).

The design of the show will seem very familiar. There’s more than a hint of Space: 1999 season one about it, in fact if you look closely fans of that show will be able to make out various almost-disguised set elements. And fans of the work of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson will also have another element of déjà vu watching the show. Huge chunks from their earlier series UFO can be seen all over the place, both on Earth and on Medusa! Of course, these sets were hired out all over the place right throughout the 1970s, be it unsubtly in Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who “The Green Death”, or more delicately in the likes of Wilde Alliance and “Carry On Loving”, with costumes appearing in The Goodies and even the Children’s Film Foundation production “Kadoyng”.

This is because the futuristic sets and costumes came from Emmy-winning production designer Keith Wilson (the gong for 1992’s “Stalin”), who worked on UFO and both seasons of Space: 1999. In fact, Star Maidens was his ‘gig’ between the two seasons of the later series, so he would have known where to source stocks of both previous show elements. He didn’t ever have a kind word to say about Star Maidens, simply as the budget was so restrictive in comparison to what the Andersons (and later Fred Freiberger) were turning out.

Star Maidens is a bizarre form of ‘eye candy’ in every sense of the phrase. The military female uniforms on the planet Medusa have just that slight nod to the worlds of S&M, and overall everything feels like it’s caught in a fashion vortex taking in both the 1960s and the 1970s. The humour isn’t on the Benny Hill scale, even if you might be thinking from this review that might be the sort of thing on offer. That said, you could imagine this might have been the style which writers whose background was generally drama rather than comedy, with influences from both Britain and Germany, might have attempted for Mr Hill.

If you watch the show without any expectations, you are going to feel your jaw dropping in dumbfounded amazement at least a couple of times per episode. The flagrant use of a new housing estate, with Medusan males trying to get used to domestic life in suburbia, will have you shaking your head in disbelief. And, of course, there has to be a pop at feminists as well, which is about as subtle as dumper truck.

File this show under ‘guilty pleasure’. An EXTREMELY guilty one!

Star Maidens is out now from Simply Media. The two DVD set has a ‘PG’ certificate, a running time of 390 mins, and a RRP of £19.99 – or get it for less at www.culttvstore.com BY CLICKING HERE.

 

Last modified on Monday, 18 September 2017 17:32