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Fulvia and OctaviaIt doesn’t mean it was classic TV by any means but I can safely say Star Maidens was a unique series. Sometimes this effect was achieved by design, at other times by accident. Watching as a five year old child in the 70s this was a contextless, often confusing but wonderful thing that had come from nowhere, exotic and vivid. What strange hold did this have over the fledgling Space:1999 fan? Why was this ‘space’ series some weeks set in what looked like our street? Why did some of the people have funny voices? Why was the music so weird?

Many years, some videos, a bit of background reading and a brief smattering of phrasebook German later I can start to piece together the mysteries of the series. At last I have made sense of Star Maidens. Well, as much as one can make sense of it.

The funny voices were easy to fathom - its now well known that the series was made as an Anglo-German co-production. And thus it all makes sense. Ian Stuart Black, one of the writers on the series, recalled that the series’ central problem was that broadly the German producers saw it as a sexy sex comedy, the English saw it as an intelligent science fiction series that addressed gender reversal. Rendered directionless as a result of this culture clash, confusion reigned. Subsequent episodes - no, scratch that, successive scenes - would switch across these predominant styles and the series never knew whether it was comedy or drama. One suspects the viewers didn’t either and so the series was never likely to catch on.

The series format was interesting but on re-viewing it is clearly shaky and ill-defined. The gender-reversal question is only addressed in one superb comedy episode - The Perfect Couple - but even then only for laughs. How Medusan society came to be run by women we know not and this is pretty perplexing and exasperating. Let’s face it, men run the world because in general a) they are physically stronger and thus can exert their will and b) do not have pregnancy thrust upon them to ‘interrupt’ their working lives. If that sounds sexist, yes it is, but those are broadly the facts that ensure the patriarchy persists. On Medusa, a matriarchy reigns - how come? The Perfect Couple offers some woolly throwaway lines that only serve to undermine rather than underpin the series’ central concept:

Rita: But men are physically stronger and use their strength to dominate and exploit. How did you solve this problem?
Fulvia: By reason. They could see life was better run by women. Peaceful... productive. And to everyone’s advantage.

Which nonsense begs the question, yes, but how did the cycle begin?

Octavia, Liz and guardIt’s unlikely anyone set out to make a sci-fi series that would largely consist of women in slinky costumes but as the other ingredients failed to gel properly one is often left with just the visuals to enjoy and so this is its persisting image. Star Maidens isn’t as pervy as you might think/hope - there’s no nudity for goodness’ sake - this is really all in the mind of the (male) viewer. There is clearly something going on in there though and its presumably intentional even if tongue in cheek: the subjugation and domination of men by women is a sexual fantasy and this is definitely played with - the voracious sexual appetites of the Medusan women for their male domestics is hinted at and there are occasional signs of women’s power over their men, although it is the paragun that is their blunt instrument of control rather than physical strength (again, did a woman invent the paragun, a weapon which does not kill?). Star Maidens is definitely playing with a sexual fantasy, even if it is only at a coded level (in much the same way as the Avengers in the 60s often played with kinky ideas of bondage but could play to a family audience) but if it’s those sort of kicks you’re looking for then something like that weird 80s Polish sci-fi film about a world without men - Sexmission - which Channel 4 (UK) showed a few times many years ago is probably what you’re after!

Star Maidens is a hotch potch of ideas and influences - a series of conflicting dichotomies never resolved over its brief run: male sexual fantasy v feminist gender politics, comedy farce v straight science fiction, German humour v British humour and so on. Thus it was never likely to find an audience in the UK except among five year old kids waiting between seasons of Space:1999 (depending where you lived in the UK!). In the UK the series aired sporadically at best over the ITV regions. Finding a slot for the series cannot have been easy - the regions were having trouble finding consensus on how to air (the much bigger budgeted) 48 episodes of Space:1999 at the time. In the regions where the series found a slot it was usually one of the non-network slots common to most regions, that of 5.15pm weekdays. Coming directly after the alloted ‘children’s hour’ and directly following episodes of The Tomorrow People in some areas helped cement the common image of TV SF as kidstuff. The lack of networking helped kill the show - dodgy film prints and an often low budget look also contributed - when its 13 episodes aired in staggered runs across several regions from Autumn 1976 until Autumn 1977 (for more details see the UK Transmission page).

This lack of a communal slot has helped prevent Star Maidens ever developing a nostalgic cult following in the country where it was filmed. This is not true of Germany where the show enjoyed a new lease of life in 1999. Trailed roundly as a campy space series of the tacky 70s (whatever gave them that impression?) this repeat run seemed to tap into a genuine nostalgic fondness for the show among German viewers to the youth/cult slot Late Lounge on satellite channel Hessicher Rundfunk. The series was issued complete (in its German language dub) on video and a soundtrack album and single issued on CD for the first time ever. Early 2002 has seen another run of the series by HR. Whether the series will ever enjoy such a resurgence in popularity in Britain is debatable - was it that popular in the first place?