Stingray – 6. The Big Gun

Directed by David Elliott

Teleplay by Alan Fennell

First UK Broadcast – 24th January 1965

Okay, let’s get this out of the way upfront. You know it. I know it. We all know it. So let’s just accept it, and move on to the important business. Here it is. Here’s the elephant in the room. And I won’t mince my words or beat about any bushes. The fact of the matter is, when all is said and done, that when you think about it truly and honestly… the “Big Gun” in this episode looks a bit like a thingy… And y’know, even if it doesn’t look a bit like a thingy, the urge for me to make thingy-based double entendres throughout this review are going to be far too great for me to not acknowledge it here and now. So I guess that’s your only warning. Time for some Stingray.

Hmmm… the “Big Gun” isn’t actually very big, is it? The missile ejector submarine is actually quite a small, agile little craft. We’ll get a closer look at it later though. Just remember that it’s not always about the size, it’s how you use it…

This is Maritimus, our starring alien of the week who absolutely steals the show. He ticks all the boxes for a classic Stingray villain. He looks like Kryten from Red Dwarf mixed with Herman Munster from The Munsters mixed with your creepy uncle who likes to paint himself green and shout at traffic on the weekends. The black uniform has a touch of the Gestapo about it. Ray Barrett’s voice for the character is a dead ringer for Sir John Gielgud and is just dripping with evil and pomposity. We’ll quickly discover that Maritimus has a great fondness for repeating his own name over and over again on the radio and I love it. He’s clearly got a big ego, probably to make up for his not so big gun.

The gun turret rises up, proudly penetrating the surface. This episode’s premise is so wonderfully simple. The underwater aliens have a mighty weapon that they’re going to whip out and fire at the land, pounding the land again and again with missiles until it’s totally obliterated. That’s it. That’s the setup. And yes, I’m having fun with the innuendos, thank you for asking.

Control panels from the interior of Titan’s Mechanical Fish seen in the pilot episode reappear inside Maritimus’ sub as he prepares to unleash his powerful load.

The missile is ejected and some big booms follow. So big that the island sinks like a pleasure yacht. Even as a little nipper, I struggled with the idea that an island could just sink down into the ocean like that. They don’t float. No matter how hard you blow them up, it doesn’t stop the fact that they are solid rock connected to the seabed. But hey, I guess the point is that this missile is seriously bad news.

Maritimus is very pleased with himself and starts his journey back. The gun plunges into a deep tunnel. Although the missile ejector is a very elegant and nicely detailed model, I stand by the fact that it probably isn’t quite as threatening as it could have been because it doesn’t look all that big or imposing on screen. The length of the shaft is impressive, but otherwise this gun looks average at best.

We learn from Martimus that Solarstar base, in the Solarstar Sea, is two miles beneath the Pacific Ocean. The deepest part of the Pacific is the Mariana Trench at about seven miles down, so with the idea of a sea possibly existing beneath that and we’re talking about some extreme depth. Going in deep isn’t a problem for Maritimus and his “big gun” though.

The approach to Solarstar is lit by approach lights which one would most definitely need at such a depth. Ain’t no sunlight getting down that far. It’s a rather nice touch that all the scenes in the Solarstar Sea have this yellow tint to them. There’s no explanation as to why this is the case. Maybe it’s just something to make the sea seem a bit alien. Maybe it’s simply the effect of those approach lights. Scientifically it probably doesn’t make much sense, but visually it’s very effective.

The Solarstar base itself is revealed to magnificent musical fanfare, and resembles a giant starfish. Once again the creative production team have excelled themselves by borrowing elements of marine biology and turning them into futuristic architecture, similar to the giant skyscraper of Pacifica seen in Plant of Doom. The inventiveness of the design is both charming and impressive.

A hatch opens in the base in a rather unusual, very organic-looking way. Maybe the structure actually is part organic? Anyway, Maritimus sticks his big gun inside the gaping entry, and now we can all relax because I’m done with the crude and blatant double entendres for a bit.

Maritimus announces his arrival as the airlock drains because at this point he just loves the sound of his own voice. Egotistical it may be, but you can also tell from his constant reporting that Maritimus is very, very methodical and utterly devoted to routine like a cold, soulless, super-soldier. You all know this by now, but the effect of the airlock draining is achieved with bubbles swirling around in a water tank in front of the camera, while the puppet set stands behind the tank perfectly dry.

An ornate fruit bowl doubles as a speaker on the wall of an office somewhere in the base. Back projection is used to show an image of the missile ejector in the airlock. Another member of Maritimus’ people, Chorda, sits at a suspiciously ordinary-looking desk. His chair is one of those colourful ones we’ve seen many times, first seen inside the Mechanical Fish in the pilot episode. The rock wall on the right of the set may be taken from the Shore’s apartment, also first seen in the pilot episode.

Over the speaker system, Chorda is summoned to meet with his “mighty leader” who sounds just as full of himself as Maritimus. An entire wall slides back to reveal a beautiful garden with a definite marine flavour. Barry Gray’s score works hard to sell this place as an absolute paradise and I’d say I’m about 90% convinced. The other 10% of me thinks it looks like an upmarket garden centre.

Unusually, we see quite a lot of Chorda walking down the path. There was quite a commitment at this point in Supermarionation’s history to show the puppets walking as little as possible, but bits and pieces like this still creep through and honestly I think it looks absolutely fine. In fact it’s better than fine, the puppet walks actually look really good.

There’s a couple of statues dotted about which look like they could have been knicked from Titan’s throne room but are actually just of a similar design. Titan and the Mighty Leader must shop at the same statue supplier. So let’s talk about this Mighty Leader bloke because he’s certainly a piece of work. He seems to spend his day rocking back and forth in his garish red patio furniute, wearing a shiny gold robe that wouldn’t look out of a place at a Lady Gaga show. His advisor kneels before his blue magnificence and we’re once again treated to some of Don Mason trying not to sound like Troy and ending up sounding like Troy rehearsing Shakespeare. Anyway, if the plot wasn’t obvious already, the Mighty Leader wants to attack the terraneans using the missile ejector craft. Apparently it’s been a long held desire for their people to take over the surface, although it’s unclear whether this actually predates the WASPs’ first meeting with Titan in the pilot episode, which one usually assumes caused the start of the unrest between the land and the sea. It’s pointed out though that one missile could bring down an entire continent thanks to some handy chain reactions. I mean, sure, I’ll buy that.

Maritimus has finally walked the long walk from the airlock and up the path to meet with the Mighty Leader. It’s worth noting that the set dressing can’t always be first class as I’m pretty sure that’s just some clumps of red and beige wool thrown over a twig in the background.

The Mighty Leader decorates Maritimus with a medal. The live action hand is covered with a blue rubber glove in this shot.

The awards ceremony itself is fairly uneventful, but you can tell they’re just loving the pomp and circumstance of it all. Just look at how massive the Mighty Leader’s head is compared to the rest. He obviously bagged the super deluxe edition when they were handing out heads.

There’s no hanging about though. The Mighty Leader wants to blow up the west coast of the United States. Because that makes sense. Blow up a tiny insignicant island, then jump straight to annihalating one of the largest landmasses on the globe. Nothing wrong with thinking big I suppose, especially when you’ve got a head like a bowling ball that’s been through a car crusher.

After quite a lengthy introduction to the episode, we’re finally at Marineville. Commander Shore is being briefed by the familiar WSP Commander who is being voiced by Robert Easton this week, having been voiced in the pilot by both Don Mason and Ray Barrett within a few minutes of each other. The continuity for this guy’s voice is so absolutely attrocious throughout the series I’m suprised Lois Maxwell wasn’t asked to give it a bash.

The blue filing cabinets seen last week in front of the 24 hour clock have gone, but the control panel covering up the sign remains. Keep in mind that this set and all the others were being shared by two puppet units shooting simultaneously, so exactly who made which set alterations when and in what order is a bit tricky to work out without knowing the exact shooting schedule for both units. It becomes apparent that Maritimus has actually taken out three islands in the past week. What an industrious little fellow. Atlanta immediately volunteers Troy Tempest for the job of investigating. I mean, at this point in the series, who else was it going to be?

Stingray is already out on patrol this week. The establishing shot is actually flipped if you look closely at the lettering on the Stingray model. Troy doesn’t need much convincing to change course and springs into action immediately.

The missile ejector craft is out and about once again, and Phones picks it up quickly. The close-up shot of Phones hearing the signal appears to be lifted from Sea of Oil. Oink and Marina sit in the background. Oink doesn’t “oink” at all in this episode, and actually David Graham doesn’t voice any characters at all, which is frankly so unlikely that I wonder whether this one was recorded without him present. Apparently Phones can’t identify the material that the enemy craft is constructed from by listening to it, which is a pretty incredible talent to claim to have anyway.

As Stingray dives down deeper and deeper, the shots of its descent get darker and darker as the sequence goes on. It appears to be the same painted backdrop, the only difference between these three shots is the lighting. What fantastic attention to detail. It’s very subtle and you probably didn’t even notice it, but your brain did.

Maritimus gets his big gun out again, unaware that Stingray is hot on his tail. The weapon is trained on the west coast of North America. That’s it apparently, that little blob of land in the distance.

I love this close look we get at the installation on the shoreline that Maritimus is targeting. I’ve no idea what it is but it looks impressive, and Maritimus obviously thinks its dangerous enough to trigger a chain reaction to blow up the entire west coast. The large tower in the middle of the complex is almost certainly the top of the oil rig seen in Sea of Oil.

Stingray surfaces and it’s only at this point that Troy notices that “there’s a gun mounted on it.” That’s a bit of an understatement I’d say. Sure, the sub itself doesn’t look that big, but there’s no denying that the gun is very much the heart and soul of the structure. You’d have to be pretty far away from it to not notice the gun straight away. Particularly as the gun is actually the only thing visible above the water.

For those of you that needed it, I thought I’d share all of the super intense dutch angle shots of Maritimus giving that countdown his all. I love this moment. David Elliott dared to do something wild with the direction here and by thunder it works. The impending doom, Maritimus’ ruthlessness and unhinged madness, the race against time – it’s all conveyed here.

All that while the camera races in to meet Troy as he gives the command to open fire and you’ve got a really brilliant moment.

Just in time, the sting missle strikes and Maritimus’ craft is sunk. Poor bloke – his day was going so well.

The force of the missile ejector’s final explosion is so great that debris is visibly splattered all over the glass of the water tank in front of the camera.

I feel that Maritimus’ piddly little escape unit. desperately wibbling around, may be more representative of him as a man, if you catch my drift.

Troy and Phones go to investigate the wreckage and look for survivors. Presumably Maritimus’ piddly little escape unit was so piddly and little that Phones didn’t pick it up on his hydrophone aparatus.

Maritimus gets deliriously upset when his radio fails and prevents him from making yet another precious report back to Solarstar. I’ve also just noticed that he’s not actually wearing the medal he was awarded in the earlier scene. My, my, we have had a bit of a fall from grace, haven’t we?

Back at Solarstar, the camera chooses to hone in on a flashing red light because that probably means something important…

The Mighty Leader has learned of Maritimus’ defeat and considers it, “fantastic” which is funny at first but then one realises he probably means “fantastical” rather than “cor, what a stroke of luck.” In fact, the Mighty Leader is immediately out for blood, and wants to locate the base of their new enemies. Chorda seems like the type of guy who can get anything done so I’m sure it won’t take him long. I’m surprised he was invited to join the Mighty Leader on the swinging patio furniture though. Don’t get too big for your boots, Chorda.

Back at Marineville, Troy has been impatiently sipping coffee for the past two hours, waiting for the lab results from the wreckage of the alien craft. It’s actually quite refreshing that this episode follows a different structure to the previous few which basically didn’t see the Stingray crew doing very much back at base. It’s just interesting to see Troy in a different envionment, pestering everyone in the control tower during a crisis. It just continues to add layers to the characters and how they interact with each other.

Told you it wouldn’t take Chorda long. He’s found Stingray’s ocean door, and tracked the location of Marineville, which we learn is actually ten miles inland. Dang that’s a long launch tunnel. Probably is safe though, keeping your base primarily used for attacking intelligent sea people away from the sea. Good planning by the WASPs there.

The Mighty Leader states painfully clearly that there is a “missile ejector number two” which Maritimus will use to blow up Marineville. Sure is fortunate that they had a second one stashed away in the garage, and that the Mighty Leader still has some faith in Maritimus and his big weapon.

Meanwhile, the Marineville scientists have been able to pinpoint the exact geographical origin of the enemy craft by analysing the materials in the wreckage. Now that really is very lucky indeed that the material was unique to that specific area.

The world map highlights the western Pacific Ocean as the key area for investigation which Atlanta points out is one of the deepest parts of the ocean. She happens to be right because that’s the location of the Mariana Trench I mentioned earlier. Someone was paying attention in Geography class.

So after hours of waiting around, which was probably only a couple of minutes of screen time, we’re heading for Action Stations once again! This episodes sure isn’t letting its foot off the accelerator for long!

In a rather bizarre bit of editing for the end of the act, the drumbeat for Action Stations starts to ring out across the Marineville speakers, but then the musical sting to signify its time for a commercial break cuts in over the top of that – thus making it seem like the Stingray soundtrack is just being played out over the speakers for the entire base to enjoy.

Stingray is launched and Maritimus is on the prowl again in the second missile ejector. You can tell its the second one because there’s a crab painted on the side instead of a fish. Except in the very next shot of the craft that’s clearly a fish on the side and not the crab. Yes, footage of the first missile ejector and the second missile ejector are swapped around willy-nilly for the rest of the episode.

But here’s a willy that’s not nilly. Yeah, I’ve given up on the innuendos at this point, sorry.

Some more snazzy dutch angles now as the Marineville tracking station warns of an attack and Shore orders the deployment of “Battle Stations 1, 2, and 3,” whatever the heck that’s supposed to mean.

This time, Maritimus gets to finish his countdown, and his eyes bounce from side to side with glee, just to further suggest he’s completely loopy.

An extra fast drumbeat is triggered at Marineville to indicate that the buildings need to descend for Battle Stations super duper extra quickly today. For the first time we get to see a WASP interceptor rocket being launched. Anybody who owned the 1992 Marineville playset by Matchbox can tell you that the rockets shown on screen here look far better than the ones included with the toy.

Disaster is only narrowly avoided as the missiles strike each other. Debris rains down from the ceiling of the control tower as fire peppers the base above ground. That was really nail biting stuff! The editing is absolutely superb this week.

Unfortunately, Marineville’s external radio communications were knocked out during the detonation, ramping up the tension still further as it becomes clear Stingray is now very much on its own. Thrilling stuff!

Phones announces that he’s getting a signal from a craft identical to the missile ejector they attacked “the other day.” Oh – I didn’t realise it had been a few days, rather than a few hours, since the first attack. Blimey, this show really is moving fast!

Stingray’s pursuit of Maritimus features shots from earlier episodes combined with new footage. Those stock model shots really are recycled very effectively. Meanwhile the fish and the crab swap places on the side of the missile ejector like it’s nobody’s business.

Maritimus makes his plan very clear – lure Stingray into the depths of the Solarstar Sea and destroy it or watch it crumble under the pressure. Nice guy. I bet at weekends he likes to pull the fins off of fish.

While Marina watches on in the background, trying to participate in the episode as little as possible this week, Troy and Phones continue to shadow Maritimus, following him into the tunnel and watching their depth gauge go up and up… or down and down depending on how you look at it.

Troy and Phones begin to discuss the possibility that Stingray may not withstand the pressure of these deep waters. Now I’ve tried researching the effects of deep sea pressure, and how accurately this episode depicts those effects. Let’s just say that what we see on screen is very much the family friendly version, because it would go beyond a few cracks and feeling a bit poorly… but sure, let’s all be confident like Troy and charge on into the danger. Yaaay…

Stingray’s depth gauge gives up…

And there’s a cat on Stingray’s roof puking through the cracks in the hull… I jest, but it does look like an attempt has been made to make the water that trickles in appear yellow like it is outside. Of course, at this depth, any water penetrating Stingray’s hull is seriously bad news. But no, Troy wants to continue on and endanger his crew. Even though they could quite easily turn around, blow up the tunnel on the way out, and bring back an even larger, better equipped attack force to finish off Solarstar if they really wanted to.

Yikes! Troy really is a bit dumb to carry on with this expedition with his submarine in this state.

Phones really puts up with a lot from Troy, which frankly makes him the true hero here.

Stingray finally emerges from the tunnel and follows the approach lights. The yellowness of it all really is effective at making the environment appear quite unbearable and hostile. It’s not a pleasant yellowness. In fact, on my yellowness chart it doesn’t even reach the top 10.

Troy and Phones continue to have a lovely day. The pressure is making them a wee bit tired and immobile. In truth, their lungs are probably starting to collapse. Troy finally admits they might have to turn this tub around.

They finally reach Solarstar but Phones doesn’t get to enjoy the view on account of being kinda sleepy. Nobody’s checked in on Marina and Oink. Marina seems fine because, y’know, mermaid. But Oink’s just a little seal cub, he’s probably not doing so good with this pressure either. Maritimus is delighted of course, and watches Stingray struggle from his sub.

Phones very much not getting any oxygen into his shrivelled up lungs now, Troy attempts to fire a sting missile until his body eventually fails him too. Time for Marina to finally spring into action this week. I guess she’s been kept pretty busy in a lot of the episodes so far this series what with all the torture and trial by fumigation she’s gone through. Nevertheless, it’s time for her to save the day again.

Truly a face only a mother could love. Some lovely eyelashes mind you.

Marina successfully blows the living daylights out of Maritimus and his willy extension. Dirt from the explosion is once again splattered across the glass of the water tank in front of camera.

Troy is awoken and decides to commit genocide. He just decides that the entire Solarstar city must be hostile and flings missiles at them left, right, and centre. Okay, okay, it’s an action adventure series about a band of heroes and some evil underwater aliens doing evil things, so blowing them all up is obviously a logical course of action. In fact it’s par for the course. If you think about the ethics too much though, Troy doesn’t come out of this much better than the villains of the piece. I’m not suggesting all of Stingray should be viewed through such a lens – that would probably get rather tedious – but it’s just something to consider.

Some of that soft focus I mentioned from Plant of Doom just creeps into this one shot before Stingray turns around and heads for home.

A red plume of smoke spews forth from the ruins of Solarstar. Why the heck was it called Solarstar anyway? It was no-where near the sun… Anyway, sort of hope Chorda survived at least. He seemed nice.

Back at Marineville, the control tower has been repaired and Troy and Phones are nodding along to Shore’s debriefing. I could be wrong, but this feels like it’s supposed to be some sort of big turning point in the series. Stingray, and its crew, are about to be made tougher than ever before. Shore is really acknowledging the high level of threat the WASPs are up against in their fight against the hostile undersea races which wage war against them. These developments Shore talks about don’t end up carrying a whole lot of weight in the overall thread of the series, but it’s a grand enough speech that’s for sure.

Now when The Big Gun was used as part of the Invaders From The Deep compilation film these final moments were cut, and it could be because for that reason that I always find this ending really “tacked on” and odd. Back projection is rather unconvincingly used to show Phones and Troy walking down the corridor.

They stop to admire some potraits of themselves against a really stark yellow wall on a set that was thrown together within about five minutes. Troy is standing in front of the ‘AUTOSERV’ machine previously seen aboard Stingray. He points out how jolly brilliant Marina is, just in case anyone at home had forgotten. Honestly, she barely did anything this week but I guess she did save the day. Now I don’t have an original script to hand to prove any of this, but this ending genuinely does feel very hastily slapped on to me and I wonder if there was material cut or added or shuffled around to make this rather packed episode fit the running time.

The Big Gun is a silly episode, but a good kind of silly. The stakes are turned all the way up, the villains have extremely high aspirations of blowing up half of the world, and Troy is determined to pursue them despite his ship crumbling around him. Marineville itself gets attacked and suffers damage. It all ends with the villains getting not just a little bit killed, but completely and utterly annihalated. Despite all of these extremes, the plot is really straightforward, and is basically just playing in the shallow end as far as exploring the rich potential of Stingray‘s format. The Big Gun could be considered a standard issue Stingray episode, but it’s elevated highly by some wonderful and totally bananas choices in the direction and special effects work. Top class stuff.

Next week, we take a trip to Kendrick trench where scientists are producing gold from sea water. Titan isn’t pleased, and plans to use a powerful new weapon to put a stop to it, and in turn conquer Stingray. Tune in next week for The Golden Sea!

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Further reading:

www.filmedinsupermarionation.com by Century 21 Films Ltd.

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

3 thoughts on “Stingray – 6. The Big Gun

  1. I’ve always thought the entrance to Solarstar looks a bitl ike berries, Mauritimus is always ben of my favourite characters as well since he doesn’t look quite so over the top as some of the villains in my view.

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  2. David Elliott must be the finest of the Supermarionation directors – he really seems to have understood the limits of the format and pushed them as far out as possible. His forced perspective work, whether it be here with the Big Gun mounted behind the camera, or his trademark “real hand in foreground”, really enhances the experience. And the Dutch angles here are fantastic!

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