The Catacombs Star Maidens

Star Maidens (Die Mädchen aus dem Weltraum in German) was a German/UK science fiction series first shown in the UK on ITV in September 1976. For many ITV regions, this was around the same time as Space: 1999 Year Two first appeared. The series had a single series of 13 episodes, each 30 minutes long.

For many viewers, Star Maidens looks like a low budget cousin of Space: 1999. The space science fiction of the basic plot and some episodes are obviously influenced by 1999. Instead of the moon travelling through space, we have an alien planet that arrives in Earth's solar system. The production design has some striking similarities, because the designer was Keith Wilson, fresh from having done the same job on Space 1999 Year 1 and waiting to continue on Year 2. Two of the lead actors, Judy Geeson and Lisa Harrow, had guest starred in 1999 episodes. The sound effects - spaceship sounds, computer buzzes, laser beams - were often identical to Space: 1999, created by 1999's sound editor Peter Pennell. The film editor was 1999's Alan Killick

It was filmed in Bray Studios in 1975, where the special effects for Space: 1999 were filmed (the 1999 crew were on hiatus at the time, between the two series). Extensive use was made of Black Park (alongside Pinewood, and the location for several episodes of Space: 1999). The special effects were by Allan Bryce, who did the studio effects for Space: 1999. Unlike Space: 1999, Star Maidens was filmed on 16mm film. The difference in quality to Space: 1999 is obvious. Even the large multi-level alien set is underwhelming, and the special effects suffer from much more grain and slight shakiness.

It looked and sounded a little like Space: 1999- but it was a very inferior version. Space: 1999 might have made some pretty poor episodes during it's two series, but it never was quite as bad as Star Maidens. It veers unevenly between light comedy and action, never finding the right tone. Most of the stories are dull run-arounds, and too most are set on Earth (and 1970s England wasn't that exciting at the time). In the odd space episodes, the aspirations of the design and effects are greater than the budget.

Still, the model effects are not bad. The alien city featured in the opening titles looks like a model, but it's impressive compared to what Dr Who or The Tomorrow People managed to do. The alien spaceships rising out their silos on the icy alien surface are really quite good. The air-brushed star fields look a lot like Space: 1999's, and there's a nice rolling planet shot in the first episode.

The central concept is that the wandering alien planet, Medusa, is a matriarchal society in which women rule and men are meek slaves. "Earth proved to be a great disappointed to us. Contrary to all common sense, it was controlled by men." Two Medusan men, one of them played by Gareth Thomas, before his role in Blakes 7, escape to Earth in the first episode. It's clearly a reaction to 1970s "women's lib", a hot topic at the time. It inspires some comedy, which now seems terribly dated, but it's not satirical. Mostly it's played straight, yet there's no serious explanation or exploration of the theme either. The wildly inappropriate costumes of the female guards - crash helmet, crop tops, hot pants, boots - might suggest a more racy interpretation, but it's all so mild that in the UK it was generally shown as children's programming.

A lot of computer panels from Gerry Anderson's UFO appear in the show, but only one prop from Space: 1999 appears (Bergman's sphere, in the final episode). Some of the Medusa computers and costumes look very close to Space: 1999 designs, but they were created specifically for Star Maidens.

Page copyright Martin Willey