Women in Space
Fiction and Theory
Today on Doctor Who women who travel in the TARDIS do more than just scream at monsters and run away.
Missy or The Mistress, the Master brought back in female form, is as nasty a piece of work as The Master ever was. In fact she may even be nastier because she is more playful in her wickedness.
A Time Lord in her own right, the Doctor is bound to come across Missy anywhere and any when on his travels in time and space.
Is it possible that women are better suited to space exploration than men?
This question was first examined by the Russians in their space program.
Also, the question of whether, in a long trip in space that would take generations to arrive at destination, it would be possible for women to have children.
When it comes to reproduction, would being in an artificial low gravity prone environment for a long period of time cause problems for men and perhaps even bigger ones for women? These questions cannot at present be satisfactorily answered.
What we do know from past Russian research is that if the heart isn't given proper exercise while in an artificial low gravity prone environment then the shock of being back on earth or on a planet like earth could lead to a fatal heart attack.
It has been theorized that arm and leg muscles will deteriorate quickly in space if not given proper exercise. In the Disney movie Wall E there are humans who are rather rotund aboard a space craft that had been in space a long time.
Earth women on space craft, space stations or alien planets can be found in everything from the science fiction of the early Twentieth Century to early cinema to some of the best known and loved television of all time.
They cover a wide spectrum of desire from what males think females should be doing in outer space to what we would love them to be doing. Then there have been women writers and actors who have come up with their own ideas on women and outer space. All things considered, it has been quite a ride.
To add to it all, there have also been alien women of all shapes, sizes and color, including blue. Some have been really nice and others are straight out of someone's nightmares.
Women from other planets could be out to save us humans from our foolish ways. In 1901 Australian novelist Anne Moore-Bentley wrote A Woman of Mars. She took on the topic of overpopulation and blamed men for the growing problem.
She had the belief that if women had more political and social power, as they do on her fictional Mars, then there would be less overpopulation and, as a further result, less poverty. Australian women got the federal vote in 1902.
Scantily clad women, some from other planets, adorned the covers of early American pulp magazines such as The All-Story.
The American pulp magazine covers of the 1920s and 1930s often featured BEMs (Bug-eyed Monsters). Sometimes you had a woman needing to be rescued from the BEM. On other occasions the woman had a ray gun and it was the BEM in need of rescue. The women were sexy and not always completely human.
Edgar Rice Burroughs, best known for his Tarzan novels, also delved into science fiction with various exotic females running around his famous earth warrior, John Carter.
The first of these John Carter efforts was A Princess of Mars which was published in 1917. In this pulp masterpiece Carter, who happens to be stronger on Mars than on Earth, rescues Dejah Thoris, a Martian princess of Hellium.
The book was followed by The Gods of Mars (1918) and The Warlord of Mars (1919). Burroughs' version of Mars has quite a collection of natives with an interesting assortment of skin coloring. White, Yellow, Black, Red and Green.
In the early 1950s there were a few low budget science fiction shows where women either went into space or were born on other planets. Generally speaking, the women tended to look remarkably human regardless of where they came from and the same can be said for the men.
Budgets in '50s television were small and comedy was a bigger draw than science fiction. Even so, science fiction movies were popular with teens and it was always hoped that this keenness for science fiction would spill over into ratings gold for television.
There was Flash Gordon starring Steve Holland and Irene Champlin. Irene played Arden, a trained scientist whose quick thinking oft times saved the day.
There was also Rocky Jones, Space Ranger starring Richard Crane and Sally Mansfield. Sally played Vena Ray, spaceship navigator. In both Flash and Rocky Jones you had female characters with some get up and go. They made the heroes look good by being great. The ray guns in these shows were charmingly futuristic but the rockets had a very conventional look to them.
It is obvious in the first episode of the late '50s Adventures of Superman that the man of steel wouldn't have left the doomed planet Krypton and have made it to earth if not for the sacrifices made by his parents. His mother might have made it to earth in the rocket ship but she stood by her man and allowed her son to seek a new life on an alien planet in her stead.
Johnathon and Martha Kent, a farmer and his wife, found the child from Krypton and raised him as best they could. They kept the secret of his rather strange origin. As Clark Kent the boy from Krypton became a man, he moved to Metropolis, a modern city, where he became a reporter for The Daily Planet. He also became Superman.
From the start, strong women, or at least women with some get up and go, could be found in the Superman comic book stories put out by D.C. Lois Lane had to be the sort of reporter that wouldn't sit on her hands waiting for a story to appear in front of her. She had to be the sort of female reporter who strives to get to a story first, ahead of the competition. How else could she get into the kind of trouble that required her to be rescued by superman?
In the first season of Adventures of Superman, Phyllis Coates played a cold rather vinegary Lois Lane. Her character never had a pleasant word for Clark Kent (George Reeves) and she tended to pick on Jimmy Olsen (Jack Larson), cub reporter/photographer, way too much. She was a bit of a sour puss and way too school marmish. There were episodes where I thought maybe it wouldn't be a such a bad thing if Superman did arrive too late to save her.
From the 2nd Season of Adventures of Superman onwards, Noel Neill played Lois Lane and what a Lois Lane she played! She was more a team player than Coates with less meanness exhibited toward Jimmy. She was less school marmish and had a definite sense of humor. She could be tongue-in-cheek with Clark rather than nasty. She was still very much a go-getter which, over the years, made her an inspiration to young women who wanted to go into the business world. This Lois Lane was worth saving and I am very happy to have her on DVD.
THE SIXTIES IN SPACE
Gold Key can take the credit for the first launch of the Space Family Robinson which took place in the world of comic books in 1962. The second launch took place with the first television episode of Lost in Space which occurred in 1965. Being a family the Robinsons were comprised of females as well as males.
There was the head of the space craft the Jupiter 2, John Robinson (Guy Williams), his wife and sometimes conscience Maureen (June Lockhart), their eldest daughter Judy (Marta Kristen) who was keen on co-pilot and hot-tempered non-family member Major Don West (Mark Goddard), the Robinson's youngest and sometimes very intuitive daughter Penny ( Angela Cartwright) and, rounding up the original compliment, there's their son, Will who is good with things mechanical.
In the realm of mechanical help which eventually becomes a mechanical friend there's The Robot (Bob May). The Robinsons didn't get lost in space without help from stowaway and saboteur Dr Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris) whose mission, once the Jupiter 2 had been launch with him aboard, was to get back to earth, preferably with riches from outer space.
Even though the show quickly began to revolve around the sinister to silly Dr Smith, the steadfast Robot and the way too gullible Will Robinson, there were episodes where the women members did shine. In season one, episode 7 My Friend, Mr Nobody, Penny teaches a powerful space entity about friendship and love. Meanwhile Dr Smith teaches the same creature about greed and the desire for vengeance almost getting everyone killed. Penny, however, wins out in the end and the entity shoots off into space with much to explore and think about.
Penny also stands out in the episode titled The Magic Mirror in which she becomes trapped for a time in a pocket universe with an alien boy not keen on growing up. Her best starring episode is The Golden Man in which her dislike and distrust of the golden one, coupled with her attempts at friendship with the frog-like alien, result in the Robinsons surviving the betrayal of the Golden Man.
Judy shines in The Space Croppers. In this episode she becomes jealous when the farmer's daughter flirts with Major West.
The Girl from the Green Dimension is worth a mention here because it is one of the silliest episodes involving a romance between Dr Smith and Athena, a rather attractive green female alien.
The Colonists is one episode in which all the women of the Jupiter 2 were needed to defend their men. An alien race of female warriors comes and takes over their planet. The men are made into slaves and the women are groomed to take their place as warriors of space.
Even though it is Will and the Robot that destroy the alien transport system thus freeing everyone, their actions would not have been possible if not for the gullibility of the alien warrior women and help from the Robinson women. It is most definitely a women's liberation episode. Penny acts a bit nasty toward Will which is unfortunate.
Another great sixties television show about outer space in which women were involved was Star Trek. Of the women on board the starship Enterprise Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) stands out. She was chief communications officer. She is perhaps best remembered for being forced to kiss the captain by aliens. The popularity of the character broke down some of the racial barriers in the USA of the time the show was first aired and also resulted in there being plenty of women involved in other Star Trek orientated projects.
In the 1960s, Doctor Who had various women of various ages aboard the TARDIS, his time and space craft. The doctor's first female companion was his niece Susan Foreman (Carole Ford). In one episode she managed to befriend the Thals and thus provide the Doctor with allies against the murderous Daleks. Like the Doctor she was not of this earth. She was a Galifreyian with two hearts. One thing that endeared this young alien to viewers was her love for Earth's 20th Century. Another female companion was Vicki Pallister, young Earth woman from our future. Her knowledge of future Earth science sometimes came in handy. To the dismay of other companions traveling with the Doctor, she once regarded 1960s Beatles music as 'classical' and thus nice but somewhat old fashioned. Hey! Tastes do change in the future.
Of the science fiction films made in the 1960s, Barbarella Queen of the Galaxy (1968), starring Jane Fonda, caused the biggest stir for its use of nudity. This was a somewhat camp very colorful hippy inspired bit of fun in which Fonda as Barbarella spends half the film either in her birthday suit or close enough to please male viewers.
She comes from an Earth that hasn't had war for such a long time that any weapons that are around can best be found in museums. When earth is threatened she is sent on a mission to another planet to bring peace and love. It is a highly fanciful script and not to be taken too serious. Even so, we do have an earth woman in outer space and on another planet saving the galaxy.
Space...the Final Frontier...
The first woman in space was not an Astronaut. Nyet to that. Da! She was a Cosmonaut by the name Valentina Tereshkova. She piloted Vostok 6 in 1963.
It wasn't until 1983 that the Americans got a female Astronaut into space.
Well, that's it for now. I hope you have enjoyed the read.
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