Stingray – 4. Hostages of the Deep

Directed by Desmond Saunders

Teleplay by Alan Fennell

First UK Broadcast – 13th June 1965

Hostages of the Deep was the 37th episode of Stingray to be broadcast. 37! This one really has the look and feel of an early episode so I don’t know who they were trying to fool by putting it so late in the run. I’ve never watched Stingray in broadcast order but it must feel so strange because the later episodes are just quite different from these early ones, and the progression in production and storytelling is pretty clear. Hopping from one end of the production order of the series to the other willy-nilly must be a bizarre experience for regular viewers. Or maybe I’m thinking about it too hard. Maybe the viewing public just opened their mouths and stuffed whatever Stingray goodness in that was served up to them without very much thought. Gobble gobble gobble. Anyway, what are we doing here? Oh yeah, Hostages of the Deep.

We fade in from the opening titles and, to be honest, the initial shot of the Island of Lull isn’t terribly impressive. I mean the model team have basically plopped some pebbles on the edge of the water tank as far away from the camera as possible. Then we cut to some stock footage. Thunderbirds viewers will, I’m sure, instantly recognise the last shot from its use in Trapped In The Sky. For me, stock footage from the real world just doesn’t gel with Supermarionation. It sticks out like a sore thumb even in live action shows, but the problem is magnified when cutting between stock, and puppet and model footage which is lit and shot in its own distinctive way. All the same, the Island of Stock Footage looks like a lovely place to go on holiday.

Now before I get carried away and say that obviously this house on this beach doesn’t look nearly as good as the villa on Tracy Island, let’s instead compare this shot to say, Venus’ beach house in Fireball XL5 episodes like The Fire Fighters, which would have been filmed just a few months prior to Hostages of the Deep. It’s definitely a step up from that, and I think that’s really important to consider, particularly when looking at early episodes of Stingray. This series is definitely the stepping stone from the rough and ready model shooting of Fireball to the big screen spectacle of Thunderbirds. So there are going to be hits and misses. The design of the house itself is perhaps rather modest considering we’re on a private island, but boy does it look like the 1960s architectural version of luxury.

Henry and Millie Carson are enjoying retirement on their private island. Henry is a former WASP admiral. He’s also a day drinker, and apparently loves to throw newspapers all over the floor. I want to take a moment to admire the puppet scale venetian blinds hanging in front of the window. How the heck did Bob Bell either find or make venetian blinds that were one third life size? They look so real.

Absolute top marks to David Graham and Lois Maxwell who are absolutely delightful as the retired American couple. I want to see a sitcom about these too getting into all sorts of scrapes. Their escalating panic throughout this scene is just perfect. The fact they keep calling each other by their first names is an exquisite detail in the writing. We’ve all seen those old married couples who have to say each other’s names out loud very clearly to ensure the other person is actually listening to them. Millie is right to be worried of course because there is definitely someone lurking around outside. There’s no build up to it at all. Not even a close up at the window. Either you see it or you don’t and that somehow makes it more disturbing. I especially love Henry emphasising how much dough he’s spent on this island 300 miles away from anyone. I see my retirement going in a similar direction.

Henry is sent to investigate which essentially involves him standing in the doorway and looking at some more stock footage of the island. I don’t much care for the pink and purple facade of the house, but you do you Mr and Mrs Carson – Stingray is filmed in colour after all and we wouldn’t want to forget that.

The strange footprints in the sand make it clear that Millie was right. I bet Millie’s always right.

Gadus makes his appearance. His name is pronounced gay-dus in this scene but that’s very much up for interpretation later, apparently. What a terrific alien. Ray Barrett definitely sounds like he’s pinching his nose to achieve the voice, but we won’t knock marks off for that because it sounds great. His outfit is decorated with spiny bits of dead sea creature. His face looks both fishy, and like someone tried to build a road down the middle of it. Gadus doesn’t hang around. He’ll kill them if they do something he doesn’t like. He hates all terraineans, wants to destroy Troy Tempest, and capture Stingray. End of story. This is a baddie who knows what he wants and is unapologetic about it. We don’t know whether he’s working for someone else like Titan, or wants Stingray for himself, but he is the first undersea creature in the series other than Titan to clearly express his desire for war with the land. One assumes that Titan is pulling the strings and has inspired a great many undersea races to rise up and try to bring down the WASPs.

I wish I was a student of architecture who could tell you all about the inspiration behind buildings like the living quarters at Marineville. It’s such an interesting building which very closely resembles brutalist architecture of the period (think of any library or university building from the 1960s), but that’s about as far as I’m prepared to commit myself without looking like a fool.

I think this is the first official confirmation we get in the series that Commander Shore and Atlanta actually live together. I bet the Commander insisted on having his rank put on the sign instead of his first name.

The ultra harsh lighting in the wide shot makes it look like the names have been printed on the sign twice.

Troy’s smiler head is rarely used in the series and I think it’s pretty obvious why. The extra-curved lower lip has a lot of trouble moving in sync with the dialogue – basically remaining open the entire time. It also just isn’t a face that looks particularly pleasant on camera. I recommend not staring at it for too long.

So Troy and Phones are sending a stuffed toy fish on wheels towards Atlanta’s door for some kind of prank. This scene always feels bizarre to me for a number of reasons. The first I’ve already mentioned – Troy’s murderous smile. The second is the fact it was cut from the compilation film Invaders of the Deep, so when I watch this episode in isolation now, it always catches me off guard. The third is just how rubbish the prank is.

So the fish speaks to Atlanta with a high-pitched voice. The lip flaps open and shut on a wire. Apparently the incredible Supermarionation electronic lip sync technology wasn’t going to stretch to a toy fish. It’s smiling heads all around which I can’t say I’m a fan of on Atlanta or Phones either. I think on all Supermarionation puppets I find the frowner heads to be generally more appealing on screen than the smilers. The neutral heads are happy-looking enough for me for most jolly situations.

The side-splitting hilarity is interrupted by an announcement from Commander Shore who calls the Stingray crew to the control tower immediately. The front of the Shores’ apartment looks quite different to what we saw of it in Plant of Doom. The wall is a different colour and texture, the balcony rail is a totally different design, there’s a garage door to the left of the front door instead of a regular door frame, the ornate bench outside the door is gone, and the door bell has gained a white button. Perhaps they moved to a new place after pointlessly fumigating their last apartment multiple times in Plant of Doom.

With no time wasted, Shore brings Troy and Phones up to speed. We learn from the Admiral’s message that “proceed with vigour” is a WASP code to warn of a trap. It isn’t used again in the series, but we assume it’s meant in the same vein as “P.W.O.R.” or “proceeding with orders received.” Maybe there are other codes too? “Proceed with chocolate cake,” might mean that Commander Shore is hungry and if you don’t bring snacks to the control tower immediately there’s a very real possibility that Lt. Fisher will get court-martialed.

Under Shore’s specific instruction, Marina is on this mission to offer her geographical expertise. This is the first time since the pilot episode that we’ve seen the launch of Stingray in full, and it’s the first time Marina has occupied that third chair in the Injector Bay.

The back projection footage behind Troy, Phones, and Marina here looks rather more neat and tidy than the junk which whizzed past behind them in the pilot.

Marina gets popped down in the back of Stingray. I’m not quite sure how that happens because up in the standby lounge, Marina was sat directly in between Troy and Phones, and not several yards behind them. There’s probably a very interesting explanation for that in a Graham Bleathman cutaway drawing.

Commander Shore then leaps to the assumption that Admiral Carson’s coded warning could mean Marineville is about to face an attack, so he calls battle stations just so we can all enjoy the magnificent spectacle of it. Most of the footage is re-used from the pilot except for this one curious shot of the parking ramp descending which is an alternate take to the shot shown in the pilot because the cars are in different positions, the big truck is missing, and the ‘Ramp 8’ sign has disappeared. Otherwise it’s exactly the same model set.

Stingray is on its way to Lull at rate six or 600 knots. Marina is keeping the toy fish company on the back seat. I can’t help but wonder how it got aboard when it wasn’t seen at all during the sequence of the crew boarding Stingray. Maybe Troy has more than one of the little blighters.

Something about this wider shot of the beach house on Lull is much more impressive than the one we saw earlier. The ocean actually being in view probably helps to complete the look.

While they’ve been waiting for Stingray to arrives, Gadus and the Carsons have obviously had time for a bit of a tidy up as Henry’s newspapers are no longer scattered all over the floor. You can just see where the edge of the set is in the bottom left corner. Gadus is very confident that Troy is doomed to die. I like that confidence. He’s certainly an ambitious amphibian. Try saying that ten times fast.

Thanks to the magic of television, the hour that Stingray spends travelling to Lull passes by in a matter of seconds. For anyone that’s still interested in this sort of thing – one hour at 600 knots puts Lull about 690 miles from Marineville as the crow flies. For the first time in the series, Troy makes use of the S.V.S. (Surface Video Scan) which a moment later he decides to call the S.V.C. instead. I assume that stands for Surface Video Camera but for goodness sake Troy just pick one abbreviation and stick to it.

With no visible signs of trouble, Stingray surfaces and Troy plans to go ashore using his secret weapon – the toy fish. Phones is baffled. Marina looks less than thrilled that she’s being left behind.

Meanwhile, parked around the other side of the island we have this… thing. Yeah the alien submarines really are a bit rubbish in these early episodes aren’t they? I thought the jet plane from Sea of Oil was bad but this might be worse for its sheer lack of detail and hideous paint job. They were going for weird and alien, but ended up with naff and ugly.

Back projection is used for the window/viewing screen of Gadus’ craft. The interior design is equally garish. What on earth is that frilly green cushion doing there? That red, blue, and yellow colour scheme on Gadus’ control panel sure gets used in a lot of places during the series so far. I know the production team claim to have had a lot of troube initially getting to grips with filming in colour, so maybe those primary colours were the ones they felt safest with.

Troy and Phones leave Stingray aboard their monocopters. Similar to the jet mobiles seen in Fireball XL5, and later the hover bikes seen in Thunderbirds, the purpose of the monocopters was basically to save the puppet having to walk anywhere over long distances. They also just look quite cool. Phones is clearly having some trouble balancing though while carrying that fish.

Curiously, as the tiny miniatures of Troy and Phones hover towards the island, it is clear that the uniforms on these figures are painted green. This ties in with the notion that Derek Meddings’ original art for the WASP uniforms was also green before it was changed to grey. Now I wonder why the figures seen in this shot are still in green…

As Troy and Phones approach, Gadus watches closely on the monitor and makes it clear that they are doomed – doomed I tell you! He mentions that killing the Stingray crew is his “mission” – perhaps suggesting that he has indeed been assigned to this job by someone like Titan.

The act closes with this gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous shot of Stingray.

Outside the house at a safe distance, Troy sends in the toy fish to investigate. Phones is still struggling to grasp the plan but all will soon be revealed.

As soon as the fish enters, the whole house goes up with quite an enormous bang. Troy and Phones are showered with debris. There’s even a very pretty little purple cloud of smoke which pops up. The fish itself doesn’t actually get obliterated because we see a brief shot inside the house of the toy getting engulfed in smoke. It’s fair to assume that Troy’s going to leave it for dead though. The monster.

Gadus isn’t too pleased that his trap has failed, so it’s time for plan B. He makes a run for it with the hostages. It’s a speedy little craft, I’ll give it that, but sadly even in motion it still looks a bit rubbish. Troy and Phones quickly deduce that Henry and Millie are probably aboard and rush back to Stingray to give chase.

The Admiral then receives a bit of a telling off from Gadus for warning the WASPs about the trap. But all is not lost for him. You see, he has a base. A base where he will be safe. And he’s all about that base.

Stingray dives in pursuit of the enemy craft, which enters a tunnel our heroes probably couldn’t squeeze down. How thoroughly inconvenient.

I love any shot of Stingray’s cabin taken from outside with the fish tank in front of the camera. It just looks very real.

Phones suggests that they use the Aqua Sprites to enter the tunnel – the rarely seen shuttle craft nestled in Stingray’s rear fuselage – but Troy is concerned about making too much noise. He remains very cautious when Phones suggests swimming up the mysterious tunnel. A sound scan of the tunnel reveals it to be about three miles long and well beyond the range of their potential air supply. So from that point Troy is done with the idea of saving the Carsons. Some hero. But Marina takes to the idea like a mermaid to water and immediately goes swanning off for a swim.

Oh wait, Marina’s gone so now Troy insists on risking their lives to save her. A respected senior member of the WASPs – not so fussed about whether he lives or dies. Someone from under the sea that he barely knows who is perfectly capable of surviving underwater – now there’s some rescuing to do. Troy absolutely cannot resist a damsel in distress, even when they’re not in any distress…

Marina swims into the tunnel, hair swirling around magnificently. Troy and Phones fumble around getting into the diving gear which we see here for the first time in the series. We see a miniature shot of Troy and Phones being dragged through the water by their sea-bugs. What’s curious about this is the fact air bubbles are seen billowing directly from their scuba tanks, which suggests the figures are actually in the water tank rather than suspended behind it.

At the end of the cave, right in the background of the shot is a puppet-scale suggestion of the enemy submarine which looks absolutely nothing like the little model we saw earlier.

Marina emerges from the water. I assume getting Supermarionation puppets wet isn’t too much of a problem. The heads are made of fiberglass after all, y’know, like a boat. Anyone who wants to take their Supermarionation replica puppets for a bath can let me know how it goes. On second thoughts, please don’t.

Gadus stands menacingly at the end of the cave, pointing a gun at Marina and unimpressed that Troy has sent a woman to fight his battles. Thankfully, we all know that Marina can make up her own darn mind about going into battle with spiky baddies thank you very much.

Further up the tunnel, it seems that the sea-bugs have had no luck keeping up with Marina. I mean, I’m not surprised that she’s a good swimmer and all, but you’d have thought WASP equipment would be able to keep up at least a little bit. But, rather unfortunately, Phones’ sea-bug is having trouble propelling him at a decent speed and Troy is too good of a friend to leave him behind. The use of back projection as the aquanauts slowly make their way along the tunnel is surprisingly effective.

Gadus has been joined by his buddy, Marran, to do a nasty bit of interrogation. They’ve chained Marina to a bloomin’ rock. Marran decides to play fast and loose with pronunciation by referring to his colleague as “gad-dus” rather than “gay-dus” as we heard earlier. I wouldn’t dare make that kind of mistake. I bet Gadus has a whole room of torture rocks to chain people to that cross him.

So here’s the situation. Gadus wants Marina to speak within ten marine minutes or the candle will burn through the rope and drop an actual swordfish through Marina’s heart. Troy and Phones better hurry up! Oh, one thing though, swordfish certainly don’t have jagged edges like that along their pointy noses, and don’t actually use their “swords” for stabbing. So could dropping one on a person actually cause a deadly injury? I mean, that swordfish looks bigger than Marina, so I’d say just the sheer weight of dropping it on her would do quite a bit of harm. The jury’s out on the stabby thing though. Either way it’s a very nasty thing to do to someone and not a very dignified end for the swordfish either.

So while Troy absolutely refuses to speed up and leave Phones behind, Henry and Millie are doing their bestest to try and save Marina themselves. Gotta love those two. Unfortunately things really don’t look good for Marina who only breaks the tiniest sweat when faced with certain death. Of course, this scene, and any other scene in the series where someone is trying to force Marina to speak, is made even more horrific if you know the truth behind her silence…

Come on boys, get a move on! Yes, Phones is on the brink of death but we haven’t got all day!

Phew! They made it to the cave. Oh great, now they need a minute to get their breaths back.

A full, live action body double of Marina is used to show her struggling with the chains. Who played this role? Nobody knows. It was likely a member of the production team. What happened to that lovely replica of Marina’s costume? Well we’ll be seeing it again next week… sort of…

Guys, seriously, get on with it! Interestingly, the rock that Phones is holding on to folds and buckles slightly as he gets up, suggesting it’s made of rubber.

Finally Troy springs into action and we’re treated to a terrific shootout. Barry Gray’s music really sells it, plus a couple of bangs and ricochets. The alien gun seen in close up appears to fire darts. It is a little bit odd that one of the guns sounds like an old man coughing. It’s also a shame that no flashes were added to the guns of Troy and Phones, so instead they just jolt their arms to indicate that they’ve fired. Eventually they pin Gadus and Marran down who are forced to surrender. Bravo!

Troy puts the flame of the candle out with his bare hand because he’s just so ‘ard like that. Also a puppet would look silly trying to blow a candle out.

Rather than taking a few extra seconds to just carefully tie the rope onto something, and thus secure the swordfish, Troy immediately goes to help Marina out of her chains instead, even though tethering the swordfish would have been a much smarter move to save her life. Check out those live action webbed feet though, if you’re into that sort of thing. Just in the nick of time, Marina escapes and the swordfish goes straight through the solid rock she was just laying on. Blimey.

Henry and Millie are quick to congratulate Troy and praise Marina for her resilience. Phones may have a gun pointed at the villains but he isn’t doing a terribly good job of actually watching them.

Now for a really soppy ending, during which I actually thought Troy was going to break into song. It’s quite sweet though, really. Troy is grateful to Marina for her bravery. Marina is grateful to Troy for coming to save her despite the dangers. Phones is there too, probably still recovering from the intense oxygen starvation. Who’s going to break the news that they now need to swim all the way back up that tunnel?

Overall, Hostages of the Deep, is a great example of an early Stingray episode. It’s simple but still exciting. The exploding beach house, the race to rescue Marina against all odds, and the big gunfight are all thrilling. Troy’s heroism, loyalty, instinct, and resourcefulness are all on display here. Marina, once again, tries to do her bit to save the day. It’s a ruddy good adventure with some engaging guest characters. Maybe the visual effects team have a few hurdles to get over still, but don’t worry, they’ll get there.

Next week – treasure is the name of the game and Phones wants a piece of the action. All Troy wants is a romantic evening with Marina, despite Atlanta waiting for him back at base. It all comes to a head when the Stingray crew get captured by aliens surrounded by gold! Stay tuned for Treasure Down Below, right here on the Security Hazard blog.

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Further reading: by Century 21 Films Ltd.

Stingray: Adventures In Videcolor by Andrew Pixley. First published in 2022 by Network Distributing.

Stingray – 3. Sea of Oil

Directed by John Kelly

Teleplay by Dennis Spooner

First UK Broadcast – 16th May 1965

Another early episode broadcast late in the run, Sea of Oil represents the first of what I would consider a run-of-the-mill Stingray episode, following the formula of the Stingray crew investigating X incident, and discovering Y undersea race who are behind the whole affair. It’s not exactly the most outlandish story of the series, but give ’em a break, it’s only episode three. And hey, there are definitely some hidden gems in there. Can anyone else hear an “oink”?

No arguments to be had about what this episode’s about based on its title. There’s an oil drilling platform, in the middle of the sea, hence Sea of Oil. There seems to just be the hint of a sun rising or setting behind the rig with an orange tint to the sky on the horizon. The platform itself may not look terribly futuristic from our point of view, but funnily enough, the world’s first purpose-built semi-submersible oil drilling rig, Ocean Driller, was launched the same year that Sea of Oil went into production, 1963. So at the time, this episode was covering a pretty hot topic, and it’s no surprise that the rig seen on screen here, is a pretty good match for the contemporary Ocean Driller.

Take a moment to consider how ruddy huge this puppet set must have been. A Supermarionation puppet is typically 22 inches tall, so the top of the set must have gotten pretty close to puppet bridge suspended above. One noticeable detail in the foreground is the two round jet type things which later went on to form an integral part of the Jet Air Transporter in the Thunderbirds episode, Move – And You’re Dead. And I would bet Troy Tempest’s life that the control panel on the left probably came from the set of Fireball XL5 – I just don’t know where… you’ll begin to discover over the course of these reviews that my ability to recognise things from Fireball XL5 isn’t very well honed. Sorry, I just don’t like it that much. Call me a tootie, I dare you.

Meet Preston. He likes drilling and he’s the only member of the crew we see on screen unless you count two tiny little figures at the top of the tower named Jack and some other bloke. With modest tension, we watch the drill descend into the depths of the ocean. The dial on the wall suggests it’s currently at around 50 fathoms or 300 feet – so we’re not exactly breaking depth records here.

A piece of terrain in the foreground disguises the air line in the water tank, which cunningly blows bubbles in the exact spot that the drill is working on the dry model set behind.

It soon becomes apparent that all is not well. There’s a sound like an angry jackhammer as the drill violently shudders from side to side in the water. Not quite sure how that’s physically possible but I’ll go with it.

Preston knows the drill (get it?), having experienced the inconvenience of an oil platform totally disintegrating before, and runs for cover as bits of the rig start to collapse, including a ladder which flings itself into the water like an award-winning duck.

Preston calls for help on the radio, which gives us an opportunity to admire his absolute pigsty of an office. To make up for my earlier Fireball faux pas, I will say that I’m fairly certain the whistle on the desk is from the XL5 episode, Whistle For Danger, and the charts which Preston goes to pick up were originally drawn up by Matt in the episode Trial By Robot.

Now here’s one for the really keen-eyed among you. The life preserver ring hanging on the wall underneath the ‘Rig Stores’ sign, was previously seen in the Supercar episode, Pirate Plunder, aboard the MV Cuttlefish – the lettering of which is just about still visible on the scuffed up prop. Also notice that there are only two bunks visible behind Preston in that office. The third guy must sleep on the desk.

The crew make their escape, as one lucky member of the AP Films team gets to chuck a bucket of water at the set as it collapses. The shot of the rig spectacularly tumbling apart and exploding is, of course, seen in the opening titles of every episode. If you look really, really, really carefully you can see that some tiny specks of dirt get flicked up against the sky backdrop.

No wonder the rig fell apart… apparently it was made of wood. Also, how come the plans that Preston collected so diligently before escaping still end up in the water?

Wait, so did Preston recover those charts or not? Because now they’re bone dry and on display at Marineville. Maybe there were multiple copies. Anyway, we’re on a set which was previously seen in the pilot episode as the conference room at the WSP Washington headquarters. It’s now been re-purposed as the Marineville conference room with a lovely painting of Stingray on the wall to prove it.

Shore and Troy are offering their services to investigate the trouble, because the oil is gosh darn important. Preston makes it clear that the world’s oil supply is drying up, a problem which was already a concern in the 60s, and by today’s standards sounds like an absolute no-brainer. Again, it may seem a tad dated to modern viewers that a cutting edge science fiction series is concerning itself with fossil fuels, but upon first broadcast the oil industry was big business, particularly in the United States where the series had set its sights.

So Stingray is off on another mission! Commander Shore is running the control tower solo today because Atlanta is joining the Troy, Phones, and Marina on their voyage. Supposedly it’s so she can run the surface base of operations, but we all know it’s because she wants to keep an eye on Troy and Marina… and also because the plot needs her around so she can get kidnapped later. Marina looks thoroughly revolted by Atlanta’s presence. I don’t blame her. Remember how they all knowingly locked her in a room with toxic fumes last week? I know I wouldn’t forgive and forget that easily.

A short montage indicates that Stingray travels all through the night to reach its destination. We get a look at the rarely seen bedrooms aboard the ship. Considering that the bunks in real-life submarines are notoriously pokey, these beds look rather luxurious by comparison.

The next morning, Commander Shore is so exhausted he needs a helping hand from a floor puppeteer to raise an arm and cover his yawn. Yeah, yeah, I know I shouldn’t spoil the magic by pointing these things out, but just consider how many hundreds and hundreds of shots made it to the screen where the floor puppeteers don’t make an appearance. Also, in this case, the floor puppeteer does a very good job of disappearing off the set before the camera pulls back to a wider shot.

Coffee and doughnuts are on the breakfast menu aboard Stingray this morning. I cannot emphasise enough how much this series is trying harder than ever before to appeal directly to an American audience. It wouldn’t do to have Troy washing down a full english fry up with a cup of tea.

Stingray surfaces and, would you look at that, there’s a brand new rig all set up and ready to go which is identical to the old one. Presumably this is the same model that we saw earlier, and the destruction we saw was filmed after all other shots for the episode were in the can.

Preston greets the Stingray crew. It’s clearly been a while since he’s seen or spoken to a woman. He’s almost knocked off his feet by the sight of Atlanta. When Marina appears and Preston learns she can’t talk, you can almost hear his brain drop out of his head and into his trousers. This is the first of many ocassions in the series where we are reminded how supposedly marvelous it is for the menfolk that Marina can’t answer back. Obviously, these references haven’t aged well. Mercifully, the anti-woman remarks are a lot less frequent than the constant slew of insults thrown at Dr. Venus in Fireball XL5. However, it’s still a recurring nudge in the ribs which, sadly, rather downplays the significance of Marina’s character in the series. She contributes far more bravery, determination and nuance than she’s often given credit for, because of moments like these which boil her down to being a perfect woman because a) she’s beautiful and, b) she can’t speak. Oh, meanwhile, Troy is never completely satisfied with Marina for the exact opposite reason, she’s beautiful but she can’t tell him she loves him. It’s a ruddy rollercoaster of issues which we’ll dig into another time. For now though, let’s just say that Preston has been at sea for far too long.

Anyway, Atlanta sets up shop at Preston’s desk. Despite being a fairly new rig, it’s just as dirty and messy as the old one because, well, they’re the same set. There’s a neat little camera movement as Stingray prepares to dive, providing just a hint at the submarine’s descent.

Absolutely gorgeous shot here of Stingray diving down to meet the drill head on the ocean floor. Take a moment in particular to appreciate the painted backdrop. Realistically, if Stingray were an actual submarine and it were actually being filmed underwater, the footage wouldn’t look anything like this, but the special effects team have created an environment which is still totally convincing on film.

The view of the murky depths is just as impressive from the puppet set with a very elegant lighting effect to suggesting the ripples of the water. I will take a moment right here and now to say one thing though… I’ve never liked the bright green blinds covering up the rest of Stingray’s windows. From a behind the scenes perspective, I understand how incredibly difficult it would have been to show a view of the ocean from every window, but why would you put so many windows on a submarine and never use them? And why do you then choose to put up bright green drapes with thin white stripes that clearly belong in the conference room of a leisure centre?

Speaking of design mis-steps, here is probably the wrongest-looking alien submarine that we see in the entire series. I mean… it’s a plane. The model is based on a Convair F-102A Delta Dagger kit and well, it’s a bit obvious isn’t it? Why didn’t they make it look less like a plane and more like a submarine? It’s also not a particularly detailed or attractive model. It’s almost boring, which an alien submarine in Stingray should never ever be.

There’s not much wow factor to the control panel of this submarine either. Clearly these aliens are on a bit of a tight budget. I will give out some points for the fact that I genuinely can’t tell whether these are puppet hands or gloved human hands that we’re looking at here. So a tick for that I guess. But a “try harder next time” for the design department on this one.

Anyway, back to the plot, sort of – Phones hears the submarine-plane-thingy pass by but Troy just assumes it’s an echo from the drill. Phones just agrees and let’s it go without investigation because it’s too early in the episode for us to encounter the aliens yet. Instead the drilling continues uninterrupted. One assumes that the aliens were scared off by Stingray’s presence this time around, which is why they didn’t immediately retaliate by making the drill go all wibbly-wobbly like they did last time.

Some time passes, and Atlanta reports in to Marineville that nothing’s happened in the past six hours. Blimey, six hours watching a drill… how very boring… (sorry, not sorry).

At least Phones’ chair has a decent amount of padding if the poor fella’s been sat there for six hours.

I’m going to guess that in the top right corner of this shot, you can just about see the brick wall of the AP Films studio. Probably a good time to mention, for those that don’t know, that Stingray was the first Supermarionation series to be produced at AP Films’ facility on Stirling Road on the Slough Trading Estate, following an injection of cash from ATV’s purchase of the company. No doubt the extra space was extremely welcome!

Right, so here’s Oink. My opinion on Oink shifts constantly. He’s a nice bit of comic relief and used sparingly throughout the first half of the series before disappearing entirely. Oink isn’t nearly as annoying as Zoonie from Fireball XL5, but also not as charming, loveable, and resourceful as Mitch from Supercar. The puppet itself is little more than a grey hairy brick. It’s not outright ugly, just not all that appealing. We’ll probably dive into Oink’s future appearances when we come to them, but for now, he’s just a seal that turns up to make everyone giggle. Harmless enough and not too silly or jarring. Also, note that Stingray’s periscope is a bit dented in this shot.

For anyone who wanted a good look at Stingray’s belly, now’s your chance. The model is even being rocked from side to side to suggest it’s floating on the surface and bobbing about.

Night has fallen and it looks great on screen. The moody low lighting is a great antidote to the misconception that Stingray‘s visual tone is all nothing but big bright bold colourful colours – there’s more nuance to it than that. Shame about the naff laminate flooring in the corridor leading up to Stingray’s bunk rooms. Marina sits on the top deck of Stingray admiring the ocean – the line of dialogue from Troy that “she said she was going to sit on the deck awhile” probably raises more questions than it answers, but we’ll assume that Troy just inferred this rather than the suggestion Marina actually said it. I really like this moment with Marina relaxing on the deck though as it just adds another layer to her character. It suggests she’s feeling more comfortable and relaxed onboard Stingray, but also feels a oneness with the ocean. Sometimes people like to just sit and look at things and think. Television doesn’t always make a lot of time for that sort of thing but it just makes it all feel that bit more real.

Oh yeah, the alien’s stuck a bomb to Stingray’s hull and has now snuck aboard without drying his feet off first. He’s got eyes on Atlanta. Now, obviously we have to question Stingray’s security a little bit. But also I’m not entirely sure how he got in. As far as we see in the series, the only hatch to get in or out is on the yellow pointy bit in front of the cabin, which is exactly where Marina was just sitting. Sure, she may have been drifting off and not had her eye on the ball, but I’m fairly sure she would have noticed a big green bloke trying to sneak in. Is there another hatch we don’t know about, maybe under the ship? If there is, someone should probably put an alarm on that thing.

There’s a splash of someone or something entering the water and Marina is finally alerted. In case anyone was wondering, this shot confirms that she definitely has webbed feet which is, well, handy for a keen swimmer, I guess. Marina immediately dives into the water to find out what’s going on. Jolly useful that she can just jump straight in without scuba gear or anything like that. It’s a talent that’s put to great use throughout the series.

Underwater swimming shots in Stingray, particularly of Marina, are frankly some of the best puppet shots in all of Supermarionation. Consider everything involved to make this work. The camera has to follow Marina’s movements from behind an aquarium filled with water and fish which is in front of the set. Marina is suspended over the set on long wires at a horizontal orientation. In front of Marina is a fan blowing in order to make her hair float about like it’s underwater. Then the puppeteer has to gently but quickly move Marina across the set in sync with the camera, while also operating her legs and generally not making the puppet look like a dead weight. Then there’s the usual complications of lighting a large set, lighting the fish tank, and in some cases filming at high speed to slow the action down and make the hair movement appear even more fluid. It’s truly remarkable.

In this shot, you’ve got a hatch opening in the ocean floor. The air escapes which is achieved with an air line inside the fish tank which is, of course, in between the set and the camera but lined up perfectly. Some more scenery is placed between the tank and the camera to obscure the air line. Totally convincing and looks fantastic.

The time for gushing is over though because I have several questions now. Atlanta is completely dry, despite exiting Stingray with her captor by jumping into the water. Then there’s the question of how her captor managed to drag her conscious through the water to their submarine. Next question, why is she gagged with a wafer thin bandage around her head as if that’ll stop her talking? Final question, what is that yellow thing on the wall supposed to be, and why was it in X20’s sub last week?

Marina returns to the surface and the submarine which definitely isn’t an aircraft travels towards its base along a rail. The faithful airfix girder bridge kit makes an apperance as a support for said rail. If you look at this shot of the alien craft really carefully you can actually make out the ‘U.S. AIR FORCE’ lettering on the fuselage. The wonders of high definition. I do rather like the trickles of oil running down the walls of the cave – that’s a nice touch.

It’s very easy while rewatching the series to disregard these stock shots of Marineville, but just look at this glorious little miniature town. The lights and all the little details are so, so good.

A simple little scene for Commander Shore to go through the routine of making a report about the (up until now) fairly uneventful day at the drilling rig. Again, this sort of business just adds a touch of realism and depth to the characters going about their day-to-day lives.

As Marina comes banging at the door, Troy makes a terribly witty remark about being in conference because he can’t be bothered to get out of bed. I think we’ve all been there.

The alien lair, and the aliens themselves are revealed in full for the first time. I suppose the impact of this grand moment is lost on repeat viewings or indeed anyone familiar with the formula of Stingray – by which I mean it was bloomin’ obvious it was going to be generic undersea aliens with a funky looking hideout doing all this. Speaking of the hideout, what an eclectic collection of decorations dotted about all over the set. Also let’s not forget that other than Marina, these are the first undersea aliens that Atlanta has encountered for herself. I’d love to hear her first impressions, but we can’t because of the aforementioned wafer thin bandage barely covering her face.

Very nice cliffhanger moment at the end of the act, as Troy finally catches up with the rest of us. Atlanta is indeed very much absolutely totally and utterly not on Stingray and has in fact been entirely and completely captured by some green, shiny, pointy-headed men under the water. Got it? Good.

Wait, hold on, Troy just needs a little bit more of the plot explaining to him first. Honestly mate, read the script.

Nevir and Garrett are the first of many alien double acts we encounter in the series. They start a trope of entire races of undersea civilisations being represented by just two people. David Graham usually voices one, and Ray Barrett the other, but on this occasion Don Mason is giving it a go. You can tell its Don Mason because he just sounds like Troy if Troy were rehearsing Shakespeare. It sounds amazing, but it does sound like Troy. We learn that they are peace-loving people who were sabotaging the drill to protect their habitat, and would have handed over all the oil willingly upon request. Just come on down with a bucket and help yourself. These so-called peace-lovers also let Atlanta know that they’ve planted a bomb on Stingray which will go off if the craft submerges. Now you may argue that they are just defending themselves with such a move. I would counter by saying that they probably should have mentioned to someone that there was a bomb aboard if it was intended just as a scare tactic rather than a bangy-bangy-deathy-death tactic. It’s also clear that they kidnapped Atlanta to get information. They could have just sat by her bedside and asked a few questions. But no, the peace lovers did a very war-like thing by taking a prisoner and quietly placing a bomb to cause the inevitable destruction and death of their enemies. There’s probably a reason why these are one of the few alien races in the series that they attempted to portray as a couple of good guys – it isn’t terribly convincing.

More lovely night shots as Stingray prepares to dive. All the splooshy splashy water looks great. Fortunately, the Surface Video Scan (or up and down periscope thing to us common folk) has failed and prevents Troy and Phones from continuing to dive.

Troy and Phones go up on deck to investigate. I’ve always rather liked Stingray’s hatch being a just a great big double door slap bang in the front and centre of the ship’s bow. Later in the series it allows for some lovely shots of swimmers coming in and out of the ship while others watch from the cabin.

Anyway, Oink’s got the bomb. That sure escalated quickly. First he’s a cuddly little fella sunbathing and doing no harm, now he’s about to explode. Still cheerfully oinking away though in a way that seals definitely don’t. Troy leaps into action with a plan to just dive as fast as possible and hope for the best.

Atlanta and the aliens watch the explosion from something that looks suspciously like a kitchenette. Footage of said explosion is just a slightly darkened version of the explosion we see in the opening titles and from when Sea Probe was destroyed in the first episode. Nevir regrets his choices as if he hadn’t really thought through the possibility that a bomb might, just might, kill people.

But the Stingray team made it through okay! And Oink survived and is celebrated as a hero for warning everyone about the bomb! Alright, I guess I like the little weasel. If only he looked less like a blob of hair stuck down a plug hole.

Garrett attempts to console a tearful Atlanta with all the warmth of a wet fish. Take a moment to admire the strong facial features on this puppet. I love all the undersea creatures the puppet workshop produced for Stingray. They had plenty of practice producing alien menaces for Fireball XL5 of course, but in colour they really are glorious works of art.

As Stingray approaches and Nevir spots it on their scanner, he once again begins to fret about the safety of their city when Atlanta suggests that maybe, just maybe, Troy might feel like blowing up their hatch to gain entry, what with the bomb and the kidnapping and the destruction of multiple drilling rigs threatening several lives and that sort of thing. This dude really needs to learn that actions have consequences. Nice beard though, can’t take that away from him.

Atlanta, who is beautifully lit by the way, suggests they leg it and try to warn Stingray before they attack. She seems to be the only one prepared to do some constructive thinking here. It redeems her character slightly considering, up to this point in the series, she’s just been a jealous pen pusher with an overwhelming desire to make Marina unhappy.

Well at least we have an answer to one of our earlier questions. The reason the yellow thing from X20’s sub is on the wall of Garrett’s sub is because it is, in fact, the exact same set with a different control panel.

Right, time for a bit of tension. Phones hears the alien craft approaching and Troy, hastily but understandably, wants to fire a sting missile at it for good measure. Normally firing a sting missile takes a couple of seconds of screen time. However, for the benefit of the plot this gets stretched out in full today because Atlanta has the bright idea to try and communicate using the sound of the alien craft’s motors. It’s a pretty wild long shot…

And oh it is nail biting because Phones doesn’t clock what’s happening until the very last moment, forcing Troy to destroy the sting missile by remote control. Phew! Yes, Atlanta successfully spelled out her own name in code using nothing but an engine. It borders on the ridiculous but I’ll allow it because communications are kind of Atlanta’s main thing back at Marineville, and Phones is an expert hydrophone operator. If anyone could make that plan work it would be these two.

You know that cheesy trope in movies when a couple or a family will reunite by running across a field or whatever towards each other and embracing in the middle? Maybe it’s the music, but I definitely get that vibe from the meeting of these two submarines.

So Troy and the gang meet the aliens and all is well. Nevir is terribly sorry for the attempted murder and destruction and all that. Troy isn’t going to take it any further because they’re getting oil out of it. Nevir mistakenly apologises for almost robbing Troy of his wives, which I guess is meant to be a wink for the audienc about Troy fancying Atlanta and Marina at the same time. To be honest though it just sounds like Nevir’s brain stopped working for a split second there.

We end the episode with Preston getting blasted in the face with oil and leaping into the air. He’s like a pig in mud. So that’s nice for him.

Shame about all the oil spilling out into the ocean. This very much isn’t supposed to happen when one strikes an oil well. Anyone got a bucket and a mop?

So that’s Sea of Oil. It’s very much your standard Stingray fare. It was probably a mis-step to have the aliens turn out to be goodies when everything they do clearly isn’t that good, but if you don’t pay too much attention the episode is a nice bit of fun with some tasty action and intrigue. The introduction of Oink gets a pass, and Marina continues to prove her worth as a member of the WASPs. It’s also nice to see Atlanta at the heart of the action. The building blocks to some of Stingray’s strongest episodes are laid for the first time in Sea of Oil, but I think it’s fair to say the best is yet to come.

Next week – a beautiful island in the Pacific. Secret home of Admiral Carson and his wife Millie, so far undetected. But when poor Millie spots an ugly looking critter standing at the window, their peaceful world is turned upside down as they become… Hostages of the Deep!

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Further reading: by Century 21 Films Ltd.

Stingray: Adventures In Videcolor by Andrew Pixley. First published in 2022 by Network Distributing. by Energy Global News.

Stingray – 2. Plant of Doom

Directed by David Elliott

Teleplay by Alan Fennell

First UK Broadcast – 23rd May 1965

Bizarrely, this second episode which follows on directly from the plot of the pilot episode, was broadcast incredibly late in Stingray‘s first run on television. It was common practice back in the day to push early episodes to later in the broadcast order, with the supposed reasoning that initial episodes weren’t as good as later ones. So to keep viewers tuning in during those crucial first few weeks of broadcast, heavy hitters from later in the production order of episodes would be brought forward. In the case of Stingray, it was decided that the episode Emergency Marineville be broadcast second, and Plant of Doom was moved all the way to slot number 34. While fairly nonsensical in terms of the plot and it’s bearing on other episodes of the series, is this indicative of the quality of the finished episode itself? Let’s dive in…

We’re back in Titan’s throne room. He’s got his fountain turned on which was there in the pilot episode but distinctly dry. A new twig has also been dragged in from outside the studio to represent the distinctly dead-looking tree that was present on the set in the previous episode. The position of the sun/flower/sunflower sculpture on the left of frame is also ever so slightly adjusted from its appearance in the pilot. Anyway, the point is, the set hasn’t really changed all that much since its last outing.

Ray Barrett is giving almost all the beans with his Titan performance this week. It’s still not quite as full on as we get later in the series, but it’s certainly turned up a few notches from the pilot, and the puppeteers respond with a few more over the top gestures. Titan is monologuing about the treachery of his former slave, Marina, who ditched him last week for a better life with the WASPs. The implication is that this was a very recent event. For all we know it could have been a few minutes ago. It probably wasn’t, but it could have been.

Titan calls upon Teufel, his big dumb fish, to heal his broken heart. Keen Stingray VHS owners will know that this scene was repurposed with dialogue cut together from other episodes to form the opening of the 1986 compilation movie, Invaders From The Deep. In the pilot episode it isn’t really indicated whether Teufel is actually an intelligent being, or a poor defenceless fish that Titan happens to worship, or pretends to worship in order to mess with Troy. This scene clears that up a bit. Teufel actively responds to Titan’s request for guidance by opening his mouth to reveal a blinding white light. I think this effect is achieved with a mirror placed inside the puppet and a studio light being pointed directly at it. It’s a haunting image. I take it all back. Teufel really is a mighty god with magical powers to be feared and respected. Either that or he swallowed a flashlight…

So here’s a consistent nit-pick I have about this episode. When people or objects are shown in close-up they frequently appear in soft focus. It’s particularly noticeable following the pilot, in which every shot was sharp as a knife. I can’t account for why this is except to flag that smoke was probably a pain in the broadside to capture convincingly at such a small scale, and the shots seen in the finished episode might have just been the best they had. It’s not that big of a problem, but if anyone has a better explanation please let me know. I know there are experts on the struggles of shooting on film out there.

What’s happening here needs just a little bit of interpretation. Teufel has drawn Titan’s attention to the blue coral flower which sits innocently on the table. It begins to visibly smoke while Teufel’s guiding beam of light still shines upon it, and Titan is overcome by the exotic perfume which he has never known before. The implication is, therefore, that blue coral flowers don’t normally hold this property and Teufel is actually using some mysterious power to turn the thing toxic before our eyes.

For the benefit of the audience at home, Titan explains in some detail the effect that the plant is having on the air as it stifles and chokes the life out of him. He sweats, and his eyelids are heavy thanks to some additional plasticine likely applied over the top of his eyes. It’s an opportunity to admire the incredible crafstmanship that went into creating the puppet. Christine Glanville once recalled the heartbreak of hearing the completed Titan head being dropped on the floor and smashing as soon as she had handed it over to the wardrobe department. Work had to start all over again. Echoing that moment, Titan decides to save his skin by knocking the plant off the table…

… thus completely cancelling out its effects. The plant spells doom for the Stingray crew, hence the title Plant of Doom. Sometimes the episodes just name themselves. Titan is determined to make use of the flower again, despite completely wrecking it. Hopefully the aquaphibian gardeners have some more just outside in the potting shed. The scene cuts off rather suddenly, almost as if Titan had something more to say but an editor came in with some scissors…

So on that topic, and while Marina stares out of the window in tears, let’s talk about the script for this episode. Plant of Doom was Alan Fennell’s first writing assignment for the series and thankfully a copy of the original script survives to this day. It is noteable for running to a much greater length than the finished episode, and many scripted scenes are packed with additional dialogue. The script also contains a lot of detail on set pieces and intricate camera work which never made it to the screen. I highly recommend this article by Elliot Pavelin for a quick analysis on the key differences between the script and the final product.

Troy realises how upset Marina is and yells “What are we gonna do?!” as if she’s some sort of nuclear power plant about to go armageddon. Atlanta’s a bit less bothered and doesn’t think there’s anything to be done. I mean, at least pass her a box of Cleanex or something just to pretend you care.

Through vigorous head shaking and nodding from Marina it becomes established that although she likes Marineville, she is also feeling a little homesick. Troy can’t help but be a gallant hero about the whole thing and offers to take Marina for a trip to her home in Stingray. What a nice guy.

Troy sells the idea to Commander Shore as a vital diplomatic mission to explore a new underwater city. For some reason Shore thinks Atlanta is the one who will really need convincing. It’s an odd line of dialogue in this context, but the original script clearly indicates that this scene was trimmed , and Atlanta’s frustration and jealousy over Troy’s sudden interest in Marina was planned to be much more apparent than it is in the finished episode.

One of the largest cuts to the episode is the lengthy launch of Stingray itself which on screen simply thunders forth from the ocean door with Phones at the controls. The original plan was for Stingray to exit the launch tunnel onto the surface with more dialogue hinting at Atlanta’s bitterness.

Phones activates the automatic-bosun and joins Troy and Marina down in the navigation area (there’s probably a technical submarine name for that). The machine Phones stands in front of is labeled as an ‘AUTOSERV’ which one assumes is some kind of food dispenser. The plan is to navigate to Marina’s home via trial and error, with Troy asking simple yes and no questions related to their position. Since she seems to know where they are and where her home is, why doesn’t she just point to it on a map and we can all get on with our lives? Come to that, why doesn’t Marina just write down anything she wants to say? She doesn’t have trouble writing a letter in the audio mini album episode, Marina Speaks. Oh what’s that? Having her write down all of her dialogue would break all the dramatic tension? Well, yeah, I suppose there is that.

Meanwhile, cut down footage from the pilot shows us the transformation of X20’s living room into a communications hub. Via the “interceptor monitor” X20 has ascertained that Stingray is bound for Pacifica with Marina aboard. So, the original script with Stingray travelling along the surface and close to the Island of Lemoy would have made it obvious how X20 came by this information. But we just saw X20 walk away from the window with a pair of binoculars. So either there’s definitely something we’ve missed, or X20 is a weirdo who calls his window an “interceptor monitor,” and has binoculars so powerful they can see several miles underwater… oh and overhear conversations too. Titan orders the peeping tom straight to Titanica for further orders. Gotta be honest, the sheer amount of material cut from this episode is starting to suck the life out of it a bit for me. Apparently we now miss a whole sequence where X20 was supposed to take an elevator down beneath the surface to a cavern where he boards his submarine and journeys to Titanica. It sounds really cool in the script, and rather more interesting than the actual plot.

Anyway, here’s Marina confirming that Troy has found her home on a map, even though she probably could have pointed it out for herself. Note the join between her neck and chin where we can see a crack or some sort of paint application issue. It’s okay, Marina, I have paint application issues under my chin too.

Maybe I’ve seen this episode too many times, but now knowing how much material was cut from the script, it really feels like we’re going through the motions here. Titan orders X20 to take the deadly flower to Pacifica, presenting it as a crafty gift of good fortune. We see all of this happen later so why couldn’t Titan have given this instruction in the prior scene? It just throws the pacing off a little bit to have the plot explained to us before we see exactly what’s being described happen on screen anyway. At least if the extended process of X20’s arrival at Titanica had been present in the final episode we would have had that to enjoy. Also X20 is in soft focus while he’s speaking which is a bit irritating. Can you sense I’m getting irritable? Maybe someone just needs to run me a nice long bath and light some candles so I’ll calm the flip down.

The Mechanical Fish launches via more stock footage, and we’re treated to our first look on screen at X20’s submarine. Also fish-like in appearance, we never really learn much about this craft during the series or get a particularly close look at it. It doesn’t have the same impact at the Mechanical Fish perhaps, but seeing as it’s designed to be more of a spy sub than a warship, that works to its advantage. The model was built on the basis of a Revel Bell X-5 aircraft kit.

The interior of the sub is rather pokey, just as X20 deserves. I rather like the round console though. The seats at the back are the same ones Troy and Phones were tied to in the pilot episode during their transportation to Aquatraz.

The Aquaphibians aboard the escort craft converse with X20 in English, rather than their unique language heard in the pilot episode. This is the first role portrayed by David Graham in the series, having been apparently absent from the recording of the pilot episode. Even though he voices no major characters, it’s reassuring to have him on the cast list for the series, and he brings some excellent guest roles to life later on.

Phones picks up the alien craft on the hydrophones, and X20 gives orders for Stingray to be attacked while he goes swanning off to Pacifica. It sets us up fairly well for an exciting second act. At least I hope it’s more exciting than the first act which really hasn’t gotten us very far in the plot outside of explaining what we’re about to see next.

In pursuit of Stingray, the Mechanical Fish, filmed against a rolling backdrop, opens fire.

Phones wakes us all up by yelling at Troy to dive as fast as possible.

And wallop! A very near miss. Finally the energy is picking up, and don’t the explosions look lovely? The following chase scene is, as you might have expected by now, cut down quite a bit from what’s described in the original script as quite a long, complex sequence. I’ll forgive it though, seeing as what we end up with here is pretty darn thrilling.

Stingray smashes to the ocean floor and we’re treated to a shot through the front window which actually uses the aquarium in front of the camera with lots of bubbles – such a simple but brilliant effect. The Mechanical Fish dives for another attack.

Troy does some sweaty manoeuvering and gets Stingray clear of the blast just in time. It’s too close for Phones who now has his concerned face on, and rightfully so.

Another missile just about dodged. High defintion reveals the wire which yanks the torpedo into the pre-broken-up rockface just before it explodes. It’s still very impressive, of course, with the touch of sunlight rippling through the water adding to it all nicely. The shots for this sequence are choreographed and edited together so well.

Here’s where you really get your money’s worth – the famous “salmon leap” which appears in the opening of every episode. It’s bloomin’ stunning. Legend has it that Derek Meddings and his team got it in one take. Sure, Derek, anything you say.

Back underwater, Stingray drops to the ocean floor again. This time though, Troy’s got a cunning plan as cunning as a fox who’s just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University.

For the first time in the series, a sting missile is fired and blows up another rock because apparently a Mechanical Fish isn’t a big enough target for Troy.

A second missile is fired and this time Troy actually manages to shoot straight, nailing the fish in a ball of flame. The motion of the Mechanical Fish sinking with its mouth flapping about is rather satisfying.

The original script would have seen the Aquaphibians swimming clear of the debris, with Troy and Marina having a one-sided discussion to confirm that they were indeed Aquaphibians who could, in fact, swim. Probably a worthwhile trim to save more pointing out of the obvious.

Now we get our first quick glimpse at Pacifica. It’s a beautiful and brilliant model set. The way the light from the windows of the “building” shines through the water is rather magnificent. Not to mention just the idea of a sea shell doubling as a giant underwater building is a stroke of genius. It’s those touches of creativity that really make Stingray special. It’s a shame the city doesn’t have a few more buildings to look at just to fill out the scene more, but what we have is still spectacular.

We’re back to going through the motions a little bit here as X20, in the guise of a well-wisher with news of Marina, presents the toxic flower to Aphony. He, like his daughter, cannot speak. Curiously, the word ‘aphony’ actually means ‘loss of voice’, which rather implies that he’s been silent for his entire life. Now I find the placement of this scene is a little unfortunate. As with the prior establishing shot of Pacifica, it would have been nice if the Stingray crew’s arrival had been our first introduction to Aphony and his beautiful palace, rather than this short exchange which doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know or find out later. Aphony is a rather handsome puppet with an excellent green beard and age detailing. In spin-off merchandise material, like the Marina – Girl Of The Sea comic strip, we learn much more about Aphony and his people.

X20 leaves Pacifica with his mission completed. Bish bash bosh, job’s a good’un. So far in the series, our beloved surface agent hasn’t messed anything up, and hasn’t even served as the comic foil in any capacity. Right now he’s just a nasty piece of work who does what he’s told. I look forward to watching him develop into the wretch that we know and love!

The special effects team continue to find lots of interesting ways for the Stingray model to enter and exit shot, sparing us from too much “enter from the left, exit on the right” type of stuff. The shots are nice and dynamic, though not nearly to the extent described in the original script.

Troy gushes all over a slightly ropey back projection shot of the city. The spectacle suggested in Don Mason’s delivery of the line doesn’t quite match what we end up seeing. It’s good but… not that good.

Very slowly indeed the main door to the city opens and Stingray enters. I will admit that this does look pretty with all the glitter and gold. It’s also rather touching to see Marina looking so happy. There’s a genuine warmth and appreciation in her smile. Water swishes around outside the window and on the model set as the airlock drains. The water on the model set is, of course, draining out of an aquarium in front of the camera while the model of Stingray has just been dressed with a few flecks of water to make it look wet.

In a piece of textbook Supermarionation editing, we see the door opening with the Stingray crew on the other side, then cut away to a shot of Aphony at the far end of the room, and then when we cut back, Troy, Phones, and Marina have made it over the threshold unseen. All this because puppet wires can’t travel through walls. Stingray is visible in the background of the shot via a large painting over a photographic blow-up, rendered by art assistant Grenville Nott. The corridor is lined with statues. Let’s say that those are famous figures from Pacifica’s history – like Stanley the fish botherer, or Linda the bubble belcher – y’know, all the greats.

Troy and Phones watch in bewilderment as Aphony and Marina wave arms at each other to communicate during this happy reunion. Although Troy suggests that this is some form of thought transference, cuts to the original script also suggest this could be the equivalent of an embrace. Without that particular perspective on it, the happiness of the scene does get lost a little, as Marina and her father stand at a distance waving at each other. Admittedly, puppets can’t really run up and throw their arms around each other convincingly, but I’m not sure the arm waving alternative strikes the same chord with viewers. Although Troy mentions Marina’s “folks” in an earlier scene, it is quickly accepted that Marina’s mother is no-where to be found, or any other citizens of Pacifica come to that.

Aphony has laid on quite a spread of seafood – far more than four people could possibly manage to consume. Phones is attempting to eat a crab leg but doesn’t get much closer than holding it up to his closed mouth. It’s all very grand and civilised and we’re basically supposed to consider from all this that Aphony is definitely one of the good guys. The ethical issues around undersea civilisations eating fish are comically raised in the episode Tom Thumb Tempest, but overall it makes sense. A lobster is essentially the succulent pig of the ocean. In the same way we go fishing for cod or salmon, I wonder if Aquaphibians ever take a boat really close to the shore and try to go fishing for cows…

Marina dares to remove the cover of the plant which everyone seems to agree is very beautiful. However, Barry Gray’s sinister score clearly warns her that it maybe isn’t such a smart idea and she quickly puts the cover back on before it does any damage.

The time has come for the aquanauts to depart, leaving Marina with the choice of staying with her father or joining the WASPs for good. There’s a single tear in her eye which is difficult to make out through the unfortunate soft focus, but the emotional weight of the moment is still clear from the pauses in dialogue and the music.

Phones drags the lovesick puppy away, with Troy looking downright furious that Marina isn’t coming with them. Just a small hint of the selfish, spoilt Troy that we’ll get to see plenty of times throughout the series.

Marina and Aphony silently consult. Sorry to ruin the moment but the books that Troy was so impressed by earlier on only take up a single window sill – a further suggestion that Alan Fennell’s original vision for this episode was rather more impressive than what we got.

There’s something about this shot of Troy and the music that plays as Stingray leaves Pacifica that I really, really like. Somehow, I can feel Troy’s sadness, while the bombastic soundtrack suggests it’s aquanaut business as usual and time to get back to work. It’s like Troy has had to choose his duty over his companionship with Marina. There’s a sense that this is the harsh reality of life in the WASPs, and that a relationship between a man and his fishy underwater maybe girlfriend was never going to work out in reality. Troy is forced to look forward, not back, as he leaves Marina potentially forever.

Which is why he’s so ecstatic to see her swimming along outside the window. Yay! This is what this episode has desperately been trying to get to in a kind of long-winded way. We needed to see Marina make her own choice to stay with the WASPs and battle Titan on her own terms. Her fierce loyalty and sense of good and evil is one of the character’s best qualities. Just a shame she had to bring that ruddy toxic plant with her.

Back at Marineville, Atlanta is far from impressed by Marina abandoning her father, attempting to shove her off of Troy’s pedestal. In a stroke of bad luck, Marina decides to offer the flower to Atlanta as a gift. Seen frequently through windows are background paintings of Marineville like the one visible behind Marina here. They’re rather impressive and offer a chance to look at the full landscape surrounding the base.

Okay, I’ll cut straight to why I find this scene absolutely infuriating. Is Atlanta really concentrating so dang hard on her piano playing that she doesn’t notice the plant directly in front of her is pretty much on fire? How can she not see that? How?! This moment would have worked if Atlanta had placed the flower on the window sill behind her, but it’s right in front of her eyes!

A bit of theatre as Atlanta monologues about how she can barely breathe. What, oh what, could possibly be causing it? Playing it for all the drama it’s worth, she finally collapses on the piano. Now, obviously I’m being a tad flippant. Suffocating to death all of a sudden wouldn’t exactly be pleasant. But in this case I really, really, very, very, extremely strongly believe it could have been prevented.

Troy is at the door ringing the bell. He’s rather out of focus. The original script would have actually had Atlanta unconscious and alone for much longer while Troy and Commander Shore waited in the control tower for a call from HQ. Troy attempts to get a hold of her by phone to apologise for being late to a dinner date but gets no response. Atlanta ends up being unresponsive for a full half hour, which explains his frustration in the final broadcast scene that she doesn’t come to the door after a few rings of the bell.

The penny drops when Troy spots Atlanta through the window. He valiantly smashes the door in which is an action achieved remarkably well by the puppeteers. When Troy arrives inside, keep an eye on the bottom left corner of the frame. You’ll spot a black something-or-other moving around, presumably a floor puppeteer or technician who was never meant to be seen.

In the following scene, Shore, Phones and Atlanta suspect foul play from Marina. Troy jumps up on his high horse and indignantly declares that he “believes in Marina,” with all the petulence of schoolboy losing at conkers. His words may suggest he’s being a top bloke and a decent chap, but unfortunately the delivery of the lines makes you want to slap him. Then in the most bizarre act of pig-headedness ever, Troy decides he’s going to risk Marina’s life to prove her innocence, and to prove that he was right to trust her. By that logic, Troy’s the sort of person who would kick a pig up the backside as hard as possible just to prove that it can fly.

The following scene is rather unpleasant to watch. It begins with Marina seemingly having a charming moment learning how a piano works for the first time (despite her people being so darn cultured). She sits down to play in front of the flower, under the supervision of her judge, jury, and executioners in the other room. The test is simply that if she smashes the plant or tries to leave, she must be guilty of being Titan’s spy because it proves she knew the plant is toxic. And if she weighs the same as a duck, she’s made of wood and must therefore be a witch. Yet again, the dramatic tension falls down because it’s pretty dang obvious the plant is toxic as soon as we see all the fumes pouring out of it. But no, Marina is completely unaware of it apparently, and continues to hammer at the keys of the piano as all the air is sucked from her lungs… or gills… I don’t really know. Shore in particular is absolutely insistant that justice be done and quite happily watches her suffer until she passes out, thus confirming her innocence, apparently.

Atlanta apologises profusely for doubting Marina, despite the fact it was actually Troy’s idea to put her through that ordeal. Marina very clearly isn’t doing okay, struggling to keep her eyes open. Instead of getting her to a hospital urgently, Troy jokes about the quality of her piano playing. Marina, get out of there! These people are sick! From the perspective of satisfying character development, this final section of the episode would have been so much more effective if Marina had been the one to discover Atlanta was unconscious in the apartment. If Marina had bravely risked her life by entering the smoke-filled room to save Atlanta, whom she barely knows, that would have more naturally formed a bond between the two characters and proven Marina’s loyalty to the WASPs – without anyone having to be put on trial.

To end, we get this sickly-sweet scene around the piano which rather pushes the warm, familial atmosphere a bit too far in my opinion. At the end of the pilot, that tone felt genuine and natural. Here, probably because everyone’s just tried to kill Marina, it feels forced and bizarre and makes me want to throw up a bit. Maybe it’s Troy waving his arm to conduct the music as if he’s directly mocking Marina and her father… maybe its Atlanta’s slightly sinister smiling face… maybe it’s the horrendously jaunty and over the top rendition of Chopsticks, but I don’t like this at all.

Now then, let’s sum up the positives of the episode. Visiting Pacifica and teaching us more about Marina and her people without giving too much away about the mystery surrounding their silence gets a big tick from me. Exploring Marina’s character and proving her loyalty to the WASPs is an important point in her development. The big fight between Stingray and the Mechanical Fish also scores highly. There are a few other brief moments of excellence, but the rest is mediocre at best and unlikeable at worst. The concept behind the deadly flower is threatening enough, but the way that gets executed on screen is poor. In my opinion, this should have been a very different episode in which Titan launches an attack on Pacifica, knowing that Marina and the Stingray crew are visiting. Marina could have done something very brave to win the battle for her father and the WASPs, and still had the difficult decision at the end of the episode to choose between staying at home, or continuing the fight by joining the Stingray crew. Or something like that. Beyond the disappointing plot, this episode also lacks some of the exciting, highly polished comic-book style direction seen in the first episode, with a handful of standout shots to praise and the rest being quite average or technically iffy with soft focus or odd lighting. Sorry folks, they can’t all be winners. It’s only episode 2 though, so there’s plenty of room to grow… like a plant… of doom!

Next week, Sea of Oil – an oil drilling project becomes a nightmare plagued by a phantom, as rig after rig spontaneously collapses in the middle of the ocean. The Stingray crew are on the case to investigate. Can anyone else hear an oink?

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Further reading: by Century 21 Films Ltd.

Stingray: Adventures In Videcolor by Andrew Pixley. First published in 2022 by Network Distributing.

Stingray: Script To Screen by Ian Fryer. FAB Magazine: Issue 69 published in July 2011 by Fanderson.

Stingray – 1. Stingray (Pilot)

Directed by Alan Pattillo

Teleplay by Gerry & Sylvia Anderson

First UK Broadcast – 4th October 1964

I’m back, baby.

Oh yeah, I’m standing by for action alright. How’s about some serious high definition action courtesy of the 2022 release of Stingray on Blu-ray? I got the super deluxe version. Anyone else having trouble convincing family members it isn’t just an elegantly decorated shoebox?

The ‘An APF Television Production’ card introduced for the opening of the previous Supermarionation series, Fireball XL5, is re-used once again for Stingray. I always thought the dashes of black paint behind the logo looked a bit fishy so it works well.

In Videcolor? But so far everything has been…

Oh. I see what you did there. Yes, Stingray was famously the first British television series to be produced entirely in colour (as long as you don’t count those first three shots of the title sequence). And boy do they make full use of that colour from here on out, as showcased beautifully on this Blu-ray release. It really is the best that Stingray has ever looked.

Like Tex Tucker, Mike Mercury, and Steve Zodiac before him, the star of the show, Captain Troy Tempest, receives top billing. He’s a mighty handsome chap. In anticipation for the arrival of this boxset, I watched a handful of later Fireball XL5 episodes to take a look at what had come immediately before Stingray. Throughout these reviews I will likely draw many comparisons between the two shows and here is the first. The Stingray puppets look so, so, so much better than the Fireball ones. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some ugly-looking guest characters in Stingray, but when you compare the main cast of Marineville residents to the bunch of hideous trogladytes inhabiting Space City, the difference is like night and day. The Stingray puppets are beautiful creations. Troy was sculpted by Mary Turner to look like the actor, James Garner, and quite frankly she nailed it.

Here’s the other star of the show, the eponymous super submarine, Stingray. Designed by Reg Hill and built by Mastermodels, it is, in my vastly overrated opinion, the most gorgeous Anderson vehicle ever to grace the screen. Yeah Thunderbird 2 is a big, fun, loveable, green giant. Yeah the SPV is the toughest toughball in the west. Yeah the Eagle Transporter is… well to be honest I think the Eagle is a bit meh, so moving on. But Stingray gives me a special fizz inside when I see it. The design is elegant and sleek, yet colourful and full of energy. It looks fast. It looks fierce. It looks fantastic.

Many of the shots from the opening titles appear later in the episode or the series so I won’t spend too much time analysing them at the moment, but I wanted to flag this one now because it’s my review and I’ll do what I like. As Stingray exits the ocean door, it exudes a lovely jet of bubbles. Anyone who knows anything about Stingray will know that for underwater shooting, the models and puppets didn’t actually get wet that often. In a tradition going back to Supercar, an aquarium full of fish was placed in front of the camera with the vehicles and characters remaining dry and whizzing around behind that tank on wires. If bubbles had to appear in a particular position at a particular moment to match the action going on behind the water tank, air lines were rigged inside the aquarium, the camera was lined up, and the fish were directed accordingly. In this shot of Stingray setting sail, the air line inside the tank has been covered up with a painting of the rock-work to match perfectly with the set and render the air line invisible. This painting on the glass is fortunately or unfortunately made very apparent when watching in high definition. Unfortunate because a little of the miniature magic is now lost. Fortunate because we get to marvel at how incredible the artwork actually is. The fact such a good rendering was done for such a brief shot is a testament to the talent of those who made it happen. Also, one final note, it’s a shame about the one little fishy that can be spotted in the bottom right of frame swimming behind the painting…

Okay, sorry, time to spoil some more magic. As Commander Shore brilliantly declares, “anything can happen in the next half hour,” the camera crash zooms in on the Marineville Control Tower. When one slows down the footage the cut from the model to the puppet set becomes very clear, revealing that Shore isn’t initially at the window and indeed that the model building doesn’t have any interior detail. But you should ignore that because at a regular playback speed your eye almost certainly couldn’t detect such nonsense. It’s a bloomin’ magnificent moment.

The title sequence draws to a close, and wow, what a feat of editing and terrific Barry Gray musical genius. I might go ahead and say it’s the best opening to any Anderson series. Yes, I might.

Fade in, and already Barry Gray is fully immersed in water. I know that sounds weird, but what I mean is his music really has the floaty, mysterious, swishy, delicate feel to it that one would associate with water. I’m afraid that’s about as technical as I can get when it comes to music. Basically Barry Gray is on top form, as if that was a surprise to anyone. There’s no dialogue, but the sense of doom and dread is made very apparent as the huge fish is revealed. The high defintion makes a few more wires visible than there used to be on the mucky old DVDs, but it doesn’t matter because look at how lovely that shot of Sea Probe is as it passes through the water and ripples of sunlight penetrate the depths of the ocean. The sets are lavishly decorated with rocks and vegetation. I’m totally sold that we’re underwater right now.

I’ll admit this crash zoom transition from model to puppet isn’t quite so convincing as the one with Commander Shore in the opening titles, but that’s more than made up for in the sheer shock value. This ain’t a real fishy. But there are a couple of real fishy people standing around inside. Only ever referred to on screen as a Mechanical Fish (more popularly referred to in merchandising as a Terror Fish), this craft is something very unique in the Anderson universe. The eyes serving as windows to the cabin, and the mouth stowing the torpedoes, are just strokes of genius. It may not be the most impressive vehicle, but it’s certainly one of the more interesting.

The Aquaphibians are terrific creations. I think it’s fair to say the bodies are based on the menacing Aquaphbian creature previously seen in the Fireball XL5 episode XL5 to H2O, but the heads are new. Their facial expressions say it all really. They look a bit scary, but they also look a bit thick. Like that ten-ton meathead kid at the back of the classroom who looked like they fell off the back of a turnip truck. Aquaphibians never get a starring role in an episode, but are a constant, fairly manageable threat. Such is the charm of Stingray, that even the bad guys feel like a loveable part of the furniture.

In this carefully positioned shot, the Mechanical Fish opens fire. The missile is likely concealed behind the model, rather than coming from within.

Sea Probe goes up in a ball of flame which surges up out of the water. The surface explosion is a full colour version of the monochrome shot seen in the opening titles. The explosions in just this first episode of Stingray look a heck of a lot better than the out of control firework displays going on in Fireball XL5. Seriously, XL5‘s special effects are a blinding health and safety nightmare. In Stingray the pyrotechnic effects appear to be more carefully crafted, and ultimately look much more satisfying on screen.

Like many Anderson pilot episodes, this first installment bears no title caption. Unless you think WASHINGTON D.C. is a viable episode title. Someone out there probably does. Most of us normal people just call the episode Stingray based on what appears in documentation. Anyway, we’re at the World Security Patrol H.Q., which is rather helpfully indicated by a sign that they keep inside the building for anyone wanders in by mistake. Despite being the World Security Patrol, only an American and British flag hang above the door. Maybe the flag of Genovia was being ironed that day. As expected many props and pieces of furniture seen here were previously used all over the place in Fireball XL5.

Script page image courtesy of The Prop Gallery.

The surviving script for this episode indicates some cuts were made prior to the conference room scene which would have shown news of the attack reaching Washington via radio masts and frantic telephone switchboards. Probably fair enough that this cut was made – the surviving dialogue already makes us pretty aware of the gravity of the situation. That said, the WSP Commander does make a bit of a leap to assume that “this was no normal act of war”. Blowing up an enemy submarine sounds like a pretty run-of-the-mill act of war to me. Maybe everyone’s just a bit nicer to each other in the 2060’s.

Time for our first proper look at Marineville, the headquarters of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol. The control tower itself is instantly recognisable by it’s chequered red and blue colour scheme. Otherwise, the rest of the architecture wouldn’t look out of place on a British university campus designed in the 1960s. We’ll get to grips with the geography of the various installations over the course of these reviews but Marineville is essentially a model village (no pun intended) where aquanauts and operatives can live and work without having to leave the confines of the base. Like a prison camp but with a supermarket and its own jazz band.

The WSP Commander voiced by Don Mason in the previous scene is now being voiced by Ray Barrett. Don’t worry, there’s plenty more where that came from. But, to be honest, I’m more distracted by that so-called ‘Locator Compass’ on the wall next to the videophone. What’s it doing? What good is a compass that wildly swings from left to right while a dial of numbers rotates clockwise? Is it meant to be doing that? Whatever this compass is supposed to be locating it must be moving a lot.

The videophone shuts off, an effect achieved simply by cutting from a shot of the back projection screen being on, to a shot with the globe artwork in place. Note that said globe is focused squarely on the continents of North and South America.

I’m similarly distracted by the map on the wall which also positions the Americas towards the centre. Maybe this was done with the American audience in mind? Maybe it’s to draw attention to the Pacific Ocean where most of the action throughout the series will take place. There’s also a smaller map showing the ‘ACTION AREA’ to the right, and a fire extinguisher to the left which is helpfully labeled ‘FIRE’, just in case you didn’t know when to use one of those.

Troy Tempest is relaxing in the standby lounge by studying some fish. Talk about a busman’s holiday. Meanwhile Phones is drunk as a skunk and the empty liquor bottles are there to prove it.

With some final words of encouragement from Washington, Shore takes full command of the situation. Ray Barrett’s performance as the gruff head honcho of Marineville is notable for being more subdued in these early episodes, taking him a little while to find the character we know and love. Atlanta, Shore’s daughter and a WASP lieutenant, pushes one of the many toothpaste caps on the control panel to trigger another thumping drumbeat signifying launch stations. The use of different drum tracks to alert WASP operatives is pretty darn special and yet another memorable element of the series.

Troy and Phones are ready and waiting in the Injector Bay to lower their chairs down through the bowels of Marineville. Unfortunately the wobbly back projection footage showing various bits of junk and airfix kits whizzing past isn’t terribly convincing.

The aquanauts soon arive in Stingray’s pen. It’s Pen 3. That’s why Stingray has a number 3 on it. The series itself really doesn’t provide much more explanation than that for the numbering. Of course, fans can make up their own minds. The pen itself isn’t really explored much during the series. It’s just a big empty space full of water with an elevated platform in the middle. We don’t know if there are more pens exactly like it, more craft like Stingray, or whether they all connect to the same ocean door. Frankly, I wish they hadn’t bothered putting that number 3 on the wall or the tail fins so we could all go home early.

With a satisfying clamp, the aquanauts are locked in position and have successfully boarded the submarine without taking a single step – the true signifier of a Supermarionation launch sequence done right. Troy and Phones chatter through the standard procedures to get Stingray underway. Again, it’s your usual fare for an Anderson launch sequence, but it does so much to get the blood pumping and raise the excitement of the scene. Without it, this could be construed as a shot of a toy boat sinking into a puddle of water with the blub-blub-blub of some bubbles. But viewers take it seriously because Troy and Phones are portrayed as grown-ups doing a grown-up job.

I’ve always loved this shot of Stingray under the water. It’s a simple enough technique. The surface of the water is represented by a pane of frosted glass or plastic with a small amount of water sloshing about on top to create the right lighting.

As Stingray proceeds along the launch tunnel, Atlanta monitors its progress on the beautifully illustrated main panel in the control room. The fact that the ‘Stingray Pen’ is specifically labeled on the diagram does rather suggest that there is only that one pen connected to the tunnel. It also implies that Stingray is the only WASP submarine anyone pays any attention to when it’s launching. It’s rather a large control panel to dedicate to one vehicle. But maybe Stingray’s just that darn special.

With Stingray launched, Shore gives the crew a location to head for and a brief summary of their mission. It’s all so wonderfully straightforward. We hear Stingray’s engines whine as the sub accelerates to a whopping 600 knots (690 mph). For some context, the Soviet submarine K-222 reportedly holds the record for world’s fastest submarine at 44.7 knots. So Stingray’s making some serious waves. Troy and Phones are a couple of mighty handsome puppets, who wear the WASP uniforms well. On the scale of Supermarionation hats, the WASP hats are at the top. Those Air Terrainean hats that nobody even bothered to wear in the Thunderbirds episode Trapped In The Sky are somewhere near the bottom.

The chaps decide to go and take a break, so Atlanta and Commander Shore vote to do the same. I’m somewhat distracted by the ‘Plotting Room’ though. It sounds like the sort of place scheming villains would go to stroke their beardy chins, cackle to themselves, and come up with evil plans. Turns out it’s a common military installation for coordinating coastal artilery gunfire. Anyway, let’s talk about how fabulous it is that Lois Maxwell of Miss Moneypenny fame is playing Atlanta Shore. She really is very good at portraying the many facets to Atlanta’s character throughout the series. The entire voice cast is stellar, but Maxwell really makes the medium-sized part of Atlanta into something special, no doubt contributing to her increased role as the series goes on.

We’re treated now to a short but lovely scene aboard Stingray. The charmingly named automatic-bosun is taking Stingray to its destination while Troy and Phones sit as far away from each other as possible. Troy ponders a map of the area which triggers the sarcastic response from Phones, “I know there are people living under the sea, and I’ve got fairies at the bottom of my garden.” I love that line. Phones is just a regular guy who wants to get on with the job with a laugh and a smile. Troy is ambitious, daring, and adventurous, putting himself out there with wild theories and hunches that often turn out to be correct. It’s that kind of distinction which makes the characters of Stingray so interesting and well-rounded. As the series goes on the audience knows exactly who they can depend upon to react in a certain way. In a way it’s comforting. In another way it’s what sets this series apart from other Anderson shows where certain characters, particularly secondary characters, don’t have a lot going on to make them memorable.

Phones warns us about the Island of Lemoy threatening their navigation. Seems like a creepy little island with one old house on it. Think Tracy Island but if International Rescue were run by vampires.

Still, at least it looks deserted. Nobody here to cause any concern. Could be a nice place for a picnic. Maybe a spot of topless sunbathing. I’ll go get the factor 30. Will you do my back?

GAH! Put your clothes back on. Put the sandwiches away. It’s a peeping tom and he sure is an ugly looking twerp.

It’s the Island of Lemoy’s most charismatic fish-man, X20. Hands down, my favourite Supermarionation character. He’s a creep, he’s got ideas above his station, he’s treated like garbage and acts like it too. Also, I have to love this shot because the piano is the same one seen in the saloon in Four Feather Falls – a prop which survives to this day and I was fortunate enough to hold in my hands and carry into the exhibition hall at the Andercon 2015 event (there, I have a claim to fame now).

This episode really is packing in those memorable moments. For the first time we get to watch X20’s home transform into a wild control centre full of bells and whistles to contact Titan and do his evil bidding. It’s so silly but it’s also so incredibly brilliant. It’s sheer perfection the way the windows are sealed, paintings slide back, and furniture flips and swivels. Yes, it all seems ridiculously elaborate when X20 lives on a deserted island anyway. But who cares about that? It’s all about the spectacle. And actually, it isn’t just about the spectacle because X20 being able to disguise his house is impressively used as a plot point in more than one future episode.

Actor Claude Rains was used as the basis for X20’s face, while Robert Easton deploys his impression of Peter Lorre to provide the voice. The story of how Easton found that voice is well worth a watch here.

Thanks to X20’s warning, Titan has a Mechanical Fish standing by when Stingray reaches the site of Sea Probe’s demise. Back projection is used effectively to show the view from the cabin while we’re treated to more gorgeous shots of the hero and the villain submarines navigating the deep waters. The colours of the lush vegetation on the seabed really pop. There’s also some really clever lighting from John Read in the shot looking into Stingray’s cabin from the outside.

The tension builds as Phones hears something approaching on his signature hydrophone aparatus. Just look at the detail in his face. The realistic glass eyes, the freckles, the eyelashes, the teeth. The Stingray puppets really are works of art.

It isn’t long before the Mechanical Fish strikes and Stingray is thrown out of control. For the first time, a purpose-sculpted alternate head for a Supermarionation puppet is used here to show Troy’s frown. Some of the XL5 puppets had ‘blinker’ heads, and as far back as Four Feather Falls, temporary expressions could be fixed to the puppet’s faces using plasticine, but Stingray marked the introduction of a full range of expression heads. Directors and puppeteers could select whichever head they desired to fit the mood of a scene. Troy is, quite rightly, a bit cheesed off that someone’s shooting at his boat, so the frowner face is used to great effect.