Saturday, April 11, 2020

Review: Star Maidens

I'd never seen Star Maidens before ... odd probably ... but I recently nabbed a DVD set of all the episodes for a peruse.

It's a strange beast indeed. First of all, the title is something of a misnomer ... it was made in 1976, and I guess that women in power was a bit of a 'thing' then ... so the basic idea is that there's this planet called Medusa which is ruled by women. The men are kept as slaves and breeding stock ... and thus is life there. In fact, life seems to consist of wandering aimlessly around a sort of three-level complex as that's all we see.

The planet of Medusa is inexplicable blown out of orbit of it's sun and off into space, where it ends up close to Uranus (stop giggling at the back) from where it can send ships to and from Earth. The closest the two get is 1.6 billion miles (2.6 billion kilometers), and based on 'normal' speeds, the Voyager 2 spacecraft was launched on Aug 20, 1977 and it reached Uranus on Jan 24 1986. So, Voyager 2 took almost nine and a half years to reach Uranus. But we need to gloss over this for the sake of our sanity.

The basic plot of the series is that two Medusian men, Adam (Pierre Brice) and Shem (Gareth Thomas), steal a ship and escape to Earth where they hide out. Meanwhile two humans, Dr Rudi Schmidt (Christian Quadflieg) and his assistant Liz (Lisa Harrow) are taken to Medusa.  Henceforth the episodes flip between Earth-bound stories involving Adam and Shem, and Medusian-based ones involving the humans in the alien environment.

To be honest, the Medusian-based ones are much better. The Earthbound stories feel like very low budget affairs, perhaps poor relations to much better series like Ace of Wands and The Tomorrow People. But those on the alien planet have some thought and concept behind them, even if it all gets a little samey.

I was surprised to see Ian Stuart Black writing a large number of episodes (you may know him from his Doctor Who work on 'The Savages', 'The War Machines' or 'The Macra Terror'), and also Freddie Francis directing (the same guy who earlier directed films like Doctor Terror's House of Horrors and Dracula has Risen from the Grave!).

Despite this, the show struggles but never really rises above mediocre. There's none of the panache and sheer narrative and production excellence which made Doctor Who or Ace of Wands sing at the time. I wonder if it's because it's a German co-production, and that there was some behind the scenes conflict as to what sort of show the various companies wanted to make. Is this a comedy or serious SF, a kid's show, or something a little more intellectual ... the show veers between all of these with no real answer.

The cast should be great, with Gareth Thomas a couple of years away from his defining role as Blake in Blake's 7, Judy Geeson as Fulvia, Adam's Mistress, and bond girl Dawn Addams as Clara, the Medusian leader ... there's even a cameo from Alfie Bass (playing the caretaker of a Castle) of all people!  But there's also some German actors who seem less comfortable with the material ... and the overall impression is of something of a mess.

It's a shame as conceptually, the show echoes Space 1999, and has touches of Blake's 7 and The Tomorrow People ... The visual effects were done at Bray - home to the Anderson shows, and the quality of the miniature work is excellent as a result.

The stories are okay, but patchy, and even the final episode which introduces an enemy for the Medusians called simply 'the Enemy' - some creature whose face and head we never see, but who has three fingers Sontaran-like, and who seems to be controlled by some computer thing - fails to really resolve anything, and yet sets up for perhaps more stories and adventures to come ... but it was not to be!

As a science fiction curio from the seventies, it's worth checking Star Maidens out ... a fun series which is better than you expect it to be, without being truly outstanding.

And, astonishingly, and assuming they're not clever fakes, there seem to have been some Star Maidens action figures/dolls released!  Amazing!  I also noted some jigsaws and an Annual too ...

Friday, April 10, 2020

Review: Lost Girl

We've just finished a mammoth rewatch of the TV series Lost Girl ... and if you've never seen it, then you are missing something of a treat.

The show follows the fortunes of a succubus called Bo Dennis (Anna Silk). As we start, Bo doesn't really know who she is, and this is the basis for the entire run: her trying to find out. If you want to watch with no spoilers, then perhaps it's best not to read this piece right now ... as it's hard to talk about the show and its twists and turns without revealing some of the surprises along the way.

Bo befriends a human called Kenzie (Ksenia Solo), and Kenzie is the one you really fall in love with. Solo has a very naturalistic acting style, and you're left wondering how much of Kenzie's asides, face pulling and just attitude was scripted, and which came from the actress. She's the archetypal manic pixie dream girl - something common to many films and TV shows - but she works and is very watchable.

There's also a shape-shifter wolf called Dyson (Kris Holden-Ried) and if you're watching it thinking ... hold on, I've seen him as a werewolf in something else ... then you have as he played a similar part in Underworld: Awakening.

These unlikely characters come together in a neutral bar run by Trick (Rick Howland) and as the series progresses, we learn a lot more about Trick and who and what he is. I really liked him as a character, and Howland is simply superb in the role.

The background to the 'world' in which Lost Girl is set is that there are two 'clans' of Fey present on the Earth, Light and Dark. As might be expected, the Light Fey tend to be kind and nice and use their powers to help humanity, whereas the Dark Fay are nasty and evil and up to all sorts of scheming and nonsense ... The issue is that Bo is neither. She is Unaligned, as she never chose a 'side' and so is able to act apart from all the bickering and malice which both sides get up to when they get together.

The show develops as a series of stand-alone episodes for the most part, with each episode seeing Bo and Kenzie getting involved in some investigation, or helping a fey or a human with whatever issue arises. But there is also a background thread of Bo finding out more about herself.

Bo needs to feed on humans or other fey in order to heal herself, but usually she kills the humans she feeds off, so Fey is always better. She's also bisexual, so it makes no odds to her who she sleeps with and feeds off ... though she is also quite capable of loving and having sex with a partner and not feeding off them.

Into the picture as the series progresses comes, first, Lauren (Zoie Palmer), a human doctor who is, first, working for the leader of the Light Fey - colloquially called the Ash - but who then moves to work for the leader of the Dark - called the Morrigan. The battles between the Ash and the Morrigan form a lot of the series plot arcs, and the electing of new candidates to those roles also forms a significant part of the series.

Bo falls in love with Lauren, much to Dyson's chagrin, but then Dyson also gives up his love for Bo in exchange for the ability to defeat Aife at the end of Season 1, from a character called the Norn. Later on, Bo also falls for a Valkyrie called Tamsin (Rachel Skarsten) who becomes significant in later seasons.

Season two focuses on a battle against a Fey called the Garuda (Raoul Trujillo); season three explores a character called 'The Wanderer' and Bo's relationship with them. Season four sees Bo taken by the Wanderer, and a group of powerful fey called the Una-mens seeking to take ultimate power. Season five focuses on Bo's relationship with her father, Hades (Eric Roberts) leading to a somewhat climactic conclusion!

Overall the series is complex and very watchable, with some great performances and characters, neat ideas of different Fey and their powers, and a fair dose of attractive women and men for everyone to get a little hot under the collar about. The final season is a little disappointing compared with the earlier ones, as it seems to struggle to find stories to tell, and contains a fair few which wander off into more esoteric and whimsical territory. There's also a significant dip mid-way through when Kenzie leaves (although she comes back later, she loses the Goth look, and her personality and snarky quips with it, which is a great shame).