Stingray – 9. Count Down

Directed by Alan Pattillo

Teleplay by Dennis Spooner

First UK Broadcast – 9th May 1965

“Count Down” could be the secret service codeword for the Count from Sesame Street’s assassination. What? Oh yeah, Stingray. No, hang on a minute. Why is this episode called Count Down… surely it should be ‘Countdown’, as in the noun, referring to the countdown on the bomb at the end? To “count down” as two separate words suggests an instruction to somone just standing there reading off numbers as they descend. That would be much less exciting. Bloomin’ grammar. Anyway. What day is it? Half past two. Sorry the pills are still kicking in. Time for Stingray.

Marineville by night – just as pretty as it is during the day but on this ocassion things are all feeling a bit sinister. The control room is lit dimly as we spy on Atlanta from the outside. This is all a bit different to the norm. The control tower is normally a beacon of efficiency and hard work, none of this sneaky business. Colour me intrigued.

Now you may be thinking that this is just a freeze frame of a blank wall. And you’re right – it is. But when you watch this shot in motion as the camera moves past the windows of the control tower, you might just notice the shadow of the camera moving in the bottom of the frame. It’s very hard to spot in a freeze frame, so you’ll just have to trust me that it’s there. What’s that? I’m a sad twerp? Oh I know.

Some of those impressive and highly detailed puppet-scale venetian blinds that I was so fascinated by in Hostages of the Deep play a vital role here in the Shores’ secret shenanigans. Very lovely lighting here.

A noise is overheard and Shore nearly loses his damn mind he’s so worked up. He certainly seems to be having trouble with his lazy eye.

Bu what could be at the window? An enemy agent? An invasion force? Lt. Fisher standing on a street corner selling bandanas and counterfeit jewellery? Did I mention those lovely venetian blinds?

It turns out the sound of a car driving by is just that… the sound of a car driving by. Their lane positioning leaves a lot to be desired.

Atlanta has a secret. Now, if I were Titan and I came swanning into Marineville, the first thing I’d nick is the box file marked ‘SECRET’. So maybe the Shores should have a think about that.

A totally anticipated visitor is on their way in. The safe which we spotted at the end of The Ghost Ship last week is obviously where these secret files live. But just look at all the glue and grubby marks on the wall surrounding the retired 24 hour clock. They’ve had some right cowboys in to do that work.

Two shadowy figures appear at the door. They really are playing this cloak and dagger business for all its worth.

Oh, it’s just Troy and Phones. So was that Troy or Phones’ car we saw earlier? If so, it would explain the drunken lane positioning. Anyway, they’re in on the secret too. What’s the secret? Well we don’t know yet. Cos it’s a secret. Look, I get the joke that all this seriousness around something as trivial as Marina’s new apartment is a bit silly and that’s the whole point, but, to be honest, I’ve never really found it that engaging. On repeat viewings, once you know it isn’t some grand battle plan or the like that they’re trying to keep hush hush, all this business just feels like filler. And it’s filler that was cut out when this episode was included as part of The Incredible Voyage of Stingray compilation film.

Meanwhile, Titan’s on the blower with your friend and mine, X20. They’re having a professional disagreement about why the underwater people’s conquest of the land is performing so poorly. I like the ornate little clam flower bed underneath Titan’s screen. Just the cute sort of decor you expect to see in the lair of an underwater ruthless dictator.

The control panels either side of X20’s screen match the configuration they were seen in the last time X20 spoke to Titan in The Golden Sea, having hopped around a bit during that episode. I’m sure you’re all relieved.

We’re a quarter of the way through the series, and Titan has had enough of the WASPs, so it’s time for Marineville to be destroyed. Apparently X20’s the man for the job, which comes as an enormous surprise to X20 who doesn’t seem to have much confidence in his own abilities.

Titan objects to the word “but” and, inevitably, I snigger.

And just like that, the discussion is over. Stock footage from the pilot is played in reverse to show the communications hub turning back into X20’s dining room. Hence why it’s suddenly daytime, and X20 is holding a pair of binoculars.

You’ll also notice that the clock has now changed in an instant from reading about 11:35 to 7:20. Forget about the continuity errors though, X20 has some thinking to do!

It’s now 9:00 and apparently he’s been doing an awful lot of reading. X20 keeps a packed library on the subject of sabotaging top security installations. He’s cracked it though. In just over an hour and a half, he’s come up with his so-called master plan. Do master plans typically take just an hour and a half? That doesn’t seem particularly masterful. At the very least I would sleep on it and re-evaluate the pros and cons of the plan the next morning… maybe run it past my supervisor or manager for their thoughts…

Nope, okay, X20 is going with his gut and cracking straight on with it. I mean what could go wrong? So far he has a perfect track record. It was other people coming along and bungling the whole thing that put his excellent work to waste in the pilot, Plant of Doom and The Golden Sea. Will his luck hold out? Incidentally, Alan Pattillo and this episode’s lighting camerman Paddy Seale really know how to shoot these dark and menacing scenes. Also, it’s cute that X20 has a picture of some fish on the wall to remind him of home.

The whip pan transition between scenes later became a staple of Thunderbirds. Someone with a better memory than me can remind us all of whether it’s been used before in Fireball or earlier shows, but in any case this is its first use in Stingray.

So the letter that X20 was drafting has now made it to Commander Shore at Marineville. It’s from a fictional Professor Sanders who wants to lecture on teaching dumb people to speak. Now, obviously we have to point out that “dumb” is a term of medieval origin for people who are unable to speak and should be understood in the context of the 1960s when society was often far from kind to the disabled. I have several questions about this scene though. Why the heck is Marineville’s highest ranking officer the one approving the lecture schedule of all things? Has Atlanta heard of every professor on the planet? And why do neither of them immediately twig that this is very specifically targeted at the WASPs because of Marina’s inability to speak? Shore approves the lecture because apparently that’s something he doesn’t hire an administrative assistant to do.

Oof, now that’s a cool camera angle to shoot the Stingray cabin set from. Troy and Phones are heading back to Marineville after a very quiet patrol.

Marina has joined them for the patrol too and claps and smiles to indicate her delight at the prospect of going home. Oink is absent once again. He’s taking Italian classes. Troy shuts Phones up before he gives away the game away about Marina’s home. Dammit Phones, can’t you remember how SECRET that whole project is?! He finishes by wishing that Marina could talk because the signposts for the plot need to be nice a big this week.

This envelope makes interesting reading (not a sentence I ever thought I’d be writing). Firstly, X20’s assumed alias is written as “Saunders” even though everyone pronounces it as “Sanders.” The name of X20’s house is apparently something along the lines of “Rose Cottage.” The envelope does indeed bear a Marineville postal mark.

As X20 scans through the letter and mumbles to himself, his lower lip remains wide open for an alarmingly long time – perhaps indicating a limitation of the automatic lip sync technology. But the long and the short of it is that part one of his plan is a success and he’s off to Marineville to give a lecture. Huzzah. Also, I rather like his wallpaper.

For reasons that will become obvious later, a big deal is made out of Stingray’s return to its pen via the tunnel. Troy asks for permission to enter, Atlanta grants it, Atlanta asks the power plant to open the door, the door opens, Stingray enters, a light flashes on the control panel to indicate its position along the tunnel until it reaches the pen. Ya know, I’ve got a fancy garage door that opens with a remote control when I get near it. It’s pretty neat. Maybe I’ll write to Commander Shore and ask for permission to give a lecture at Marineville on garage door openers. Might save them some time.

Oh yeah, back to the subplot. Or is it the main plot? I’m not sure. The trouble with this being more of a slice of life type of episode is that it’s very hard to tell whether the action’s actually started or not. Apparently the big secret is Operation Decorate and it requires Shore to take Marina out to dinner. I’m sure Marina was champing at the bit to accept that invitation.

Night has fallen over the Marineville apartments… or rather, some stock footage has been darkened slightly. There’s some delightful and jaunty music playing so it must be time for the fun to start.

This whole scene plays out so much like an advert for colour television you’re going to struggle to convince me that wasn’t at least part of the reason for its inclusion in the episode. Bright red paint falls on top of some equally colourful designs. The chair next to Atlanta is very, very blue and Phones’ shirt is very, very ugly. Also, I don’t know about you, but I rarely wear my finest woolen knitwear when I’m doing a DIY project – especially when my colleague has a history of drinking on the job.

The hilarity continues as Atlanta looks very serious while scribbling on the wall, and Phones drops some wallpaper on Troy even though there’s no wallpaper being used. Atlanta poses next to her masterpiece in an ironic manner and Troy tells her the colour looks great… which is code for “buy a colour television set now, you scumbags at home” or “shame you have to wait five or so more years for ITV colour transmissions to start, ha ha ha.”

Troy leaves Phones to take a tumble because of course he does. Troy couldn’t care less about anybody’s safety. Why was Phones standing on the table anyway when there’s a perfectly good ladder next to him? And why is he painting the ceiling yellow when he was painting it bright red earlier? What manner of disgusting artwork is he concocting up there?!

Who on earth brings a whole cooked GIANT turkey in a picnic hamper to an interior design party but then DOESN’T EAT IT? And don’t get me started on the footprints on the presumably brand new floors! Sweet merciful Teufel, someone call DIY SOS!

Yes, I will keep going. THERE’S STRAW ALL OVER THE FLIPPING FLOOR. It’s an apartment not a BARNYARD you ANIMALS.

Oh what’s that Troy? You’re LEAVING?! You think this is a job WELL DONE and you’re CALLING IT A NIGHT?!! Actually, just go, get out of my sight.

This here is the main security checkpoint of Marineville. Sorry “check point” according to that sign on the building. Apparently we’re splitting all the portmanteau words up today. Why have Troy and Phones changed back into their uniforms? Are they back on duty? I thought they were going to bed.

Among the rather sparse display on the H.Q. noticeboard is a delightful 3D sculpture of the WASP logo.

We’ll look at the main attraction on the noticeboard in a second. Look at the piece of paper to the left of Professor Sanders’ poster. The ‘KEY TO NUMBERED PARTS’ label and the layout of the block of text below appears to have been taken straight out of a cutaway drawing such as those seen in the Eagle Comics – an indiciation of the literature readily available to the art department at the time. Now, the main poster itself reads:






Thursday evening at 20 00 hrs


This poster was never intended to be read so I must say bravo to the set dressers who put this together. Let’s pull them up on a few points though. Can Professor Sanders be celebrated when, by the nature of him being a made up person, nobody has ever heard of him? Secondly – nobody has said anything about a “series of lectures.” All the dialogue in the episode indicates just one lecture – and I doubt X20 would have ever signed himself up for more than that since he actually knows diddly squat on the subject. Thirdly, that whole “results speak for themselves” pun is a despicable stroke of genius. Then, finally, there’s this “extra mural studies group.” Now, I admit I did have to google what that meant and apparently it’s “(of a course of study) arranged for people who are not full-time members of a university or other educational establishment.” So the people too thick to get into the university, basically. But do the WASPs have a university, then? I guess we do learn later in the series that they have their own training program/academy, so it’s probably an offshoot of that. Anyway, THAT is how you spend an excessive amount of time analysing a throwaway piece of set dressing.

Sure enough, Troy and Phones work out that this could be a path towards their desire to get Marina talking. Thanks guys, the rest of us worked that out several minutes ago. Of course, Marina hasn’t really expressed a desire one way or the other to start talking, but if that’s what Troy and Phones want, they’ll get what’s coming to them!

The time is 7:20 (again) or 5:30 depending on whether we’re looking at the clock in close-up or long shot.

A bookcase slides back to reveal a brand new part of X20’s house that we’ve never seen before. His own little costume and makeup department. Brilliant.

Now there is a LOT of stuff in this room which has no doubt been pulled out of the Supermarionation prop store. Amogn the obvious items, that skull which we spotted on the wall of Idotee’s ship in The Ghost Ship last week. Rather alarmingly, X20 also has a mask which looks suspiciously like Bill Gibson from Supercar. There are so many items to pick out in this room but I’ll have a go at a few. The brown sculpture on the top shelf can be spotted in Dr. Beaker’s laboratory in Supercar (see episodes such as Phantom Piper) while that top hat was probably the same one used by Commander Zero in the Fireball XL5 episode Flying Zodiac. Those bagpipes almost certainly belonged to Jock Campbell in the XL5 episode Space City Special, and I’ll also wager that the double bass was played by Lt. Ninety in the finale of Space City Special too. The hideous dressing gown next to the bass used to belong to Steve Zodiac in the episode Ghosts of Space. The yellow sombrero on X20’s makeup table might have belonged to Fernando from Four Feather Falls and/or a random extra on the Western street of the XL5 episode 1875, but frankly I’m clutching at straws now so I’ll stop before I embarrass myself.

So X20 claims to have made his “green skin” flesh-coloured. Would we say X20’s skin was green? It’s silver isn’t it? Anyway, he does his best Hamlet impression to rehearse his so-called lecture because there’s no holding back on the comedy at this point.

Now look, if I start trying to analyse every bloomin’ frame of a whip pan transition we’ll be here all night, but I’m pretty sure that the red and green smudge seen in the bottom right of this snapshot is part of the Stingray cabin set. This suggests, rather amusingly, these transitions were achieved by just wildly swinging the camera around in front of any old set that happened to be on the stage that day.

Wow, we are all about the recycling today at the AP Films studio. This theatre set is the same one seen in Space City Special and characters including Commander Zero and Professor Mattic are pinched straight from Fireball too in full uniform. Other audience members include Commander Shore (obviously), Chuck from The Golden Sea sat to Mattic’s left, and perhaps Lieutenant Ninety to his right although that one’s questionable. We aren’t treated to the actual content of X20’s lecture because it was always going to be complete nonsense, and anyone with some vague intelligence would have realised he knew nothing about the subject.

Not Troy and Phones though! They lap it up despite not understanding a word of it. The puppeteers do an amazing job getting them to clap convincingly and in a regular rhythm.

Our dynamic duo confront the professor at the main security gate like a pair of muggers coming at him from out of the shadows.

X20 absolutely relishes playing hard to get and eventually gives in to seeing Marina at his practice. Even the card he hands over has “Professor Sanders” scrawled on it. The prop makers really weren’t holding back on the detail this week!

The absolute lad cannot contain his pleasure, chuckling away maniacally as he walks away. Phones is convinced they’re going to make Marina happy with the help of this guy. Heck, why didn’t Marina just come to the lecture with them and decide for herself what she wanted? And now that we’re on the subject, why are they decorating her home without asking her? Does Marina get any influence over any aspect of her life?

1657 Western Avenue – the most American-sounding address Dennis Spooner could come up with. Are we still within the confines of Marineville? I have no idea. How did X20 get this fake practice set up so quickly? Couldn’t tell you. Was this set used in Fireball XL5 at some point too? Probably, but I can’t put my finger on exactly where so answers on a postcard, please.

Now Marina doesn’t look all that enthusiastic at first, but she soon perks up at the possibility of a week away from Troy and Phones. Troy can’t contain his excitement either. I suppose it’s rather sweet really that he wants to hear her speak so badly.

Calling International Rescue…

So the idea is that Troy and Phones record their own voices to help Marina find her a voice for herself, and X20 suggests they very specifically stick to what they typically say in order to gain access to Marineville after a patrol. There’s not a hint of suspicion from the boys who put on a whole play for Marina to listen to later.

Oh don’t mind the prof, he’s just standing there looking evil while all this is going on.

Yup – Troy and Phones get kicked out immediately, Marina is threatened, and X20 has everything he needs to destroy Marineville. Once again, our super surface agent has succeeded. But then again, our heroes are all walking around with their heads full of sawdust this week so it’s less about X20 being extremely competent, and more that the WASPs aren’t paying the slightest bit of attention. Regardless, it’s a great cliffhanger going into the commercial break.

Later, aboard Stingray, Alan Pattillo is going above and beyond with the camera work as the camera takes one fluid movement from the front of Stingray’s cabin to the back. Marina has been replaced with a big green cushion. Troy and Phones do miss having her around though, which is quite lovely.

Of course Marina’s been tied up again. Heck, at this point she probably brings her own rope and would be happy to offer advice on knot technique. X20 is now supremely confident of his success. I must say, it has all gone remarkably smoothly for him up to this point.

Aboard Stingray, Phones is singing and Troy hates it so much he wants to chuck in the patrol and go home. Most of the cabin’s ceiling is on display here except, presumably, for the tiny bit just above Troy and Phones head where you’ll likely find the puppeteer’s bridge.

So while Stingray is seen turning around via some stock footage, X20’s sub makes an appearance. There hasn’t been an awful lot for the special effects team to do in this episode in terms of new model shots.

The tiny cabin of the craft is awfully crowded today with the inclusion of Marina, the tape recorder, and the bomb all squeezed in. So it becomes clear that Marina will be destroyed alongside Marineville. I feel like in some episodes Titan wants her back as a slave, and in others he wants her dead – it just depends on his mood.

The bomb itself… well… looks like a bomb, I suppose. It’s not a prop that stands up well to close inspection.

The plan is to try and enter Marineville ten minutes before Stingray returns from patrol. Apparently Titan has been told not to stir up trouble so that Troy doesn’t have to call base too often. I’m sure that conversation went down well – “Hey boss, X20 here, your man with a master plan. Would you mind not blowing the heck out of the terraneans for the next hour or so? I’m kind of in the middle of something. Cheers. Kisses.”

Meanwhile, Troy and Phones are enjoying some real purdy shells. They’re going to go and collect them instead of going home early. Y’know, for the sake of the plot.

Time for X20 to put the next part of his plan into action, and its by far the most risky. If Marineville control diverts from the standard, scripted procedure one little bit, the whole scheme goes out the window. Atlanta and the Commander aren’t too pleased that Stingray is coming home early but don’t bother to question it over the radio. Marina despairs at her idiotic colleagues.

The ocean door has been specially re-staged just for this shot. It’s actually a brand new piece of rock face compared to what we see in the stock shots of Stingray coming and going from the tunnel. The matte painting in front of the camera is also no longer in use.

Even X20 must be a little bit surprised by how well this plan is working out. There were so many ways that the WASPs could have tripped him up along the way, and they somehow managed to give all of those ways an extremely wide berth. Now, we do have to keep in mind that CCTV wasn’t exactly commonplace when this episode was in production, but obviously a couple of cameras in the launch tunnel would have thwarted this whole scheme.

The set for Stingray’s pen from the pilot and standard stock footage has been re-erected for this scene. It’s surprisingly unchanged. The only major difference is that part of the roof has been removed, as seen in the top right of this frame – one less thing for X20 to blow up.

X20 delights in his victory, and finishes up by being really properly nasty and sinister as he leaves Marina to her fate. Some really nice shots here of the light reflecting off the water to make things even more menacing.

But oh dear, now the real Stingray’s coming home and the Shores are in quite a pickle. They respond to Troy’s radio message in the manner which one might respond to a travelling salesperson knocking at your door – by pretending to be out. Phones is convinced the radio isn’t broken. This is the same person who painted a ceiling bright red and bright yellow earlier, so maybe we take his opinion with a pinch of salt just for this week. Fortunately, Atlanta has a plan… a plan so brilliant it actually gives the whole redecorating subplot some purpose.

The interrogation is short and sweet. Troy is asked what’s in the secret box. He tells the Commander what’s in the secret box. Bish, bash, bosh – they figure out there’s an impostor inside Marineville. It’s a neat enough way to tie the whole plot together I suppose, but you can see it coming a mile off.

Sirens are sounding and stock shots are darkened a little bit to suggest it’s night time.

Uh oh. Is this the end of the line for Professor Sanders?

Well, he’s going for it.

Excuse me, sir? Can you not hear the alarm?

Go on X20, leg it.

Is that Preston from Sea of Oil?

Fortunately, the guard catches X20 just in time. Unfortunately, he’s a complete moron and just lets the villain swan off without so much of a check of his pass. I ask again, can you not hear the alarm?! Call yourself the World Aquanaut SECURITY Patrol? Lock the place down! Don’t let shifty academics that you’ve only just met come and go as they please!

Well X20, you’ve done it again. His plan has actually gone pretty perfectly. He got the bomb into Marineville and left immediately afterwards without anyone suspecting him. Maybe if he’d been a little more flexible with his timing of everything, it would have succeeded completely. But boy oh boy, does Marineville’s security look shoddy as a result of all this.

Marina’s really not having a good day, yet again.

Troy finally works out that maybe the recording they made for Professor Sanders was a bad idea. Shame that penny couldn’t have dropped a little sooner. You’ve been taken for a ride, Tempest.

A tense few moments as Stingray travels up the tunnel. For all the flack I’m giving this episode, I do think this climax is very well done. As proven in Thunderbirds episodes like The Perils of Penelope and Trapped in the Sky, Alan Pattillo really knows how to put together these final exciting moments of a story.

Stingray surfaces and if you compare this shot to earlier shots of Stingray in its pen from the pilot or opening titles, you can start to see the toll that months of production can have on a model which is constantly used in and out of the water.

Troy and Phones rush into action to save Marina. All of the action of untying Marina and climbing aboard X20’s sub is kept off screen for good reason (puppets aren’t great with knots). Instead, Phones reports to the control tower and Shore raises his hands dramatically at the news of a bomb being found.

Troy learns how to steer X20’s submarine remarkably quickly as he risks his life to save Marineville. He claims that he will use an ejector seat to escape in time. Quite how an ejector seat is supposed to work underwater I don’t know, but sure, let’s go with it.

This reaction shot from Atlanta is absolute perfection. It’s another moment that could have been lifted straight from a comic book, right down to Lois Maxwell’s scream of terror. Superb.

Pure, unfiltered drama as Troy races up the launch tunnel and the Shores watch the little blip on the control panel. A real nail biter of a finale. The heart and soul of a good Anderson production is action that also makes you care deeply about the characters involved.

Troy doesn’t say a word over the radio. The clock strikes fifteen. The mighty stock explosion shot, slightly darkened, indicates the destruction of X20’s craft. Did Troy make it? Was X20 insured?

Well we’re celebrating in Marina’s new apartment so I assume all is well. Atlanta really turned this place around didn’t she? Carpets covering up the paint all over the wood floors, and a paint scheme which doesn’t burn your eyes.

The heroes of the hour made it back okay. We’ll never know exactly how Troy got clear of the explosion in time but X20 must have had a mighty good ejector seat. There’s those shells on the tables that the boys were so keen on.

The Commander is less pleased. The use of the word “ducky” is absolutely pitch perfect before launching into his rant.

Then Shore complains about his daughter having an opinion on the situation and wishes that Marina would remain silent forever so he doesn’t have to listen to her. Which is, y’know, quite mean to say the least. Anyway, it’s the end of the episode so it’s all taken in good humour because ending the show with Atlanta pouring a glass of gin over her father’s head just wouldn’t do, would it?

I honestly can’t tell if I love or hate this episode. It’s good fun, and very exciting in places, but the chain of coincidence which allows X20’s plan to very nearly succeed is just a tad far-fetched. The standout comedy painting scene is enjoyable but perhaps a little bit farcical and sickly sweet for me. It’s great to get some more X20 in the spotlight, and I think Count Down paves the way for him becoming a really great character. Let’s just hope Titan doesn’t get too cross with him for failing this time around.

Next week, Commander Shore is having nightmares as a spectre from his past has come back to haunt him! And what does a brand new cobalt mining rig have to do with all this? Find out when we encounter The Ghost Of The Sea

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Further reading: by Century 21 Films Ltd.

Filmed In Supermarionation by Stephen La Rivière. Third edition published in 2022 by Century 21 Films Ltd.

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

Muteness (Dumbness) by Courtney Bohr, Dan George, and Sukshma Vedere. Published by the Medieval Disability Glossary.

Eagle’s cutaway drawings by Will Grenham. Published in 2008 by THE EAGLE SOCIETY

One thought on “Stingray – 9. Count Down

  1. Top marks to X20 for his plan to get into marinveille as well , where did he get another sub identical to the one that exploded though? Did he construct a new one? I doubt Titan would be generous or compassionate enough to build him a new one lol.


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