Stingray – 10. The Ghost of the Sea

Directed by David Elliott

Teleplay by Alan Fennell

First UK Broadcast – 3rd January 1965

The Ghost of the Sea offers us that rarest of opportunities in a Supermarionation series – the chance to learn just a smidge about a character’s back story and their life before the events of the show began. Now that isn’t to say character development is lacking from the Supermarionation shows, in fact quite the opposite is true. We learn a heck of a lot about our heroes from the ways they interact with each other and respond to crisis after crisis. But the biographical history of characters is a subject rarely touched upon outside of a few throwaway lines of dialogue here and there… until now that is…

Footage from Sea of Oil showing the oil platform is re-used here to represent the cobalt mining platform. The hydro charges are being fired from a set also recycled from Sea of Oil. And, of course, the explosion is the same one we see in the opening titles in colour. So it’s a case of waste not, want not, I suppose.

In control of this operation are two chaps called Consin and Lorado. You may, if you’re a sad act like me, recognise the back of Lorado’s head from the audience of X20’s lecture in the previous episode Count Down.

As we stare at this random piece of control panel, let’s talk cobalt mining because it’s actually a topic of conversation in the real world at the time of writing. As electric vehicles become more commonplace, there’s an increasing demand for minerals like cobalt to produce the all-important batteries and other components. Sourcing that cobalt is a bit of a double-edged sword – either it needs to come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo where treatment of the environment and the people involved is less than ideal, or it needs to come from the deep waters of the Pacific where the environmental impacts are a bit of an unknown. One thing’s for sure though – they wouldn’t do it by blasting the water with massive explosives to loosen cobalt from reefs like we’ve just seen in this episode. However, all of this is just another example of how Stingray manages to point a spotlight at real industrial practices and scientific developments which were relevant in the 1960s and remain so today.

The set for the platform’s interior appears to have been heavily re-dressed and repainted since its appearance in Sea of Oil, but the large dial next to the window is still recognisable. Lorado and Consin aren’t exactly the prettiest new puppets that Stingray has seen, still favouring a few rather over the top features like the earlier Supermarionation characters. Consin has a cigar stuck to his lower lip throughout, but at least he’s considerate enough to stand by the window.

Lorado picks up a sounding on a slightly more primitive-looking version of the hydrophone aparatus used by Phones. It’s probably not good news.

The title caption quietly appears as a small submarine navigates around the ocean floor.

Consin doesn’t want to risk anything because of the value of the ore. Incidentally, I have no idea what “cobalt one-five” is compared to regular “cobalt” – either Alan Fennell made it up to sound cool, or my five minutes of googling the subject wasn’t quite thorough enough. So Lorado calls up the guard sub, under the command of a certain Captain Shore…

Unfortunately, the guard sub looks rather like what would happen if Supercar were built in a garden shed by your next door neighbour. I get that it’s supposed to be small and agile, but couldn’t the model have been a just little bit bigger so that we could at least see it?

Here’s Captain Shore at the controls! Now, maybe this was done deliberately because we’re supposed to being wondering whether this is a flashback or not, but I would have loved to see Shore looking a bit younger – perhaps with a few dabs of black boot polish in the hair or something. I know this only took place five years ago, but it’s a missed opportunity. The cabin of the sub, like the exterior, is small but functional.

The enemy sub is choosing its moment to strike. We’ll get a closer look at it later, but at first glance, I’m guessing it was built by an alien with a bumble bee fascination.

New shots of missiles striking the bottom of the rig are combined with more footage from Sea of Oil to show the mining platform getting totally annihalated. Strictly speaking, the final big boom with the tower collapsing isn’t used in Sea of Oil, but can instead be spotted in the opening titles of every episode.

Shore sets off to pursue the enemy while reporting in to the World Securty Patrol. The insignia seen on his left arm also confirms that Shore is a member of the WSP – presumably the WASP branch of the WSP has yet to be formed, or for some reason the WSP have their own aquanauts that work outside of the WASPs.

The enemy pulls off that sneakiest of manouevres – hiding behind a rock. The guard sub, marked as ‘GPS 5’, soon loses the suspect.

Not finished with blowing stuff up, the enemy opens fire on Shore and really does a number on the craft in a blinding explosion.

Shore’s vessel begins to collapse around him. He has those same hideous green blinds on the windows that I object to from the Stingray cabin.

With the guard sub now very much struggling to keep going, Shore declares that ramming is the only method of attack left open to him. Surrendering just wouldn’t do at all.

In close-up, Shore’s face is suddenly a lot grubbier than before. Perhaps an oil can exploded in his face when we weren’t looking to complete his run of bad luck.

Shore makes his dramatic final move. The escape hatch conveniently swings open as the impact occurs.

The guard sub is sent crashing spectacularly into some rocks. I’m not much of a chemist or explosives expert, but I’ll wager there’s some magnesium in there to make those brilliant white sparks.

The attack appears to have succeeded as the enemy vessel tumbles down to the sea bed, not exploding quite so much as Shore’s craft though.

Now that is a haunting image. I remember as a child watching this episode on a fuzzy, weirdly over-saturated VHS tape, and this moment really unnerved me, what with all the blood and the lifelessness from our beloved Commander Shore. And, of course, we still don’t know for sure that this is actually a flashback. For a moment, to a first-time audience, it really could be the end of Sam Shore.

Sweat across his brow, Shore wakes from his nightmare yelling his daughter’s name. Atlanta rushes into the room wearing a nightie that is to fashion what Henry VIII is to marital stability. The lighting in these scenes is excellent, very much capturing the atmosphere of waking up in your own bed but still feeling thoroughly on edge. On Shore’s bedroom wall is the painting of Stingray previously seen on the wall of the conference room in Sea of Oil. Either he’s been pinching things from HQ, or there are multiple copies of that painting. We learn that this has been a recurring nightmare recently. It’s clear that Shore is suffering from post-traumatic stress, which is quite a heavy topic for a children’s programme. It’s handled sensitively, at least until we get to the meat and potatoes of the plot and then the condition isn’t brought up again. Shore resists help and just wants to drop the matter entirely.

Atlanta knows the trauma could adversely affect her father’s health, so goes above his head and talks to Troy via the videophone in the lounge. Troy is all too happy to chat, despite sleeping peacefully and probably dreaming about Marina surfing atop a giant trifle or something. He keeps his uniform on a chair close by so that he can roll out of bed and report for duty with very, very little effort.

Shore objects most strongly to having his private nightmare interrupted by a man in such a hideous dressing gown and red slippers. There’s coffee available on a trolley as well as some sort of snack. The commander is already smoking. I think we can consider this a party. Rather pointedly, Shore requests that Troy stop acting like a doctor, which is probably who Atlanta should have actually called.

Eventually, Shore agrees to talk and we get some facts straight. It was indeed that encounter with the enemy submarine which lost Shore the use of his legs – something worth pointing out because we didn’t actually see him using his legs during the flashback. There’s also confirmation that the accident happened five years ago, which does raise some questions about his career path. In the space of five years, Shore went from being a captain in the WSP on guard duty, to the commanding officer at Marineville overseeing the entire operations of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol, all while getting over a life changing injury.

Troy theorises that a brand new cobalt mining stage starting work in the present day could be the reason Shore’s nightmare about his accident has returned. So Shore fills us all in on the rest of the story about the night of the accident. I can’t stress enough that this is the kind of character history we rarely get to see in a Supermarionation show. There’s a single line of dialogue in the Thunderbirds episode Cry Wolf which references the Tracy boys’ childhood. Joe 90 being adopted and his adoptive mother having passed away is a throwaway part of an argument in The Most Special Agent. And goodness knows how Captain Magenta ever made it into Spectrum. Of course, writers in other media have since expanded on the tiny fragments of information from the various television series and developed full biographies for the characters. That’s not a negative thing about the shows – I find it refreshing that the Supermarionation series aren’t inherently bogged down in their own lore. The chracters are well drawn without needing all that bumph. Writers can sometimes fall into the trap of replacing their characters’ personalities with a list of facts and history about them. Seeing these parts of Shore’s past in flashbacks doesn’t actually tell us a whole lot about him – the character development comes from the fact he’s resistant to share these memories with his closest family and friends because of the trauma involved. Yes, it’s interesting to see the accident, but it’s far more interesting to see the effect it has had on Shore and on his relationships with others.

By shooting this flashback at high speed, the motion of the water and the paddling of the mysterious stranger is slowed right down to give the scene a dreamy, feverish feeling. The ghost of the sea himself makes his first appearance on screen and he sure is an interesting fella – I’m mostly distracted by the fact his beard is shaped exactly like the Batman logo.

Shore drifts in and out of consciousness as the life raft is paddled towards the coast. The moonlight is excellently realised on screen, I can’t actually figure out how it’s been made to look so good. The high speed photography and spot-on lighting create this incredible ambience which is a little bit magical, a little bit unnerving, and very much like we’re watching a flashback.

The so-called ghost jumps from the boat and leaves Shore to float back to the land alone. It’s all ruddy mysterious and we don’t even know if this really happened or Shore is imagining the whole thing in his struggle with consciousness.

Spurred on by the vitality of the dawn, or some really strong coffee, Commander Shore decides to take Stingray out to the new mining zone in readiness for another appearance from the ghost. Troy’s up for anything so yes, I guess that’s what we’re doing this week!

Atlanta and Fisher are ready for action in the control room while Stingray gets underway. Once again the question of how Shore boards Stingray is raised when the stock footage shows only three injector tubes above the craft, despite four people being aboard. For this episode, a small wheelchair ramp has been installed on the step between the rear lounge area of the cabin and the hydrophone apparatus. Oink is absent again this week. He’s on a management training course.

Troy has the audacity to call Atlanta “honey” while on duty. That’s not professional at the best of times, but when Troy’s commanding officer, who also happens to be Atlanta’s father, is in earshot you have to wonder whether Troy gets a kick out of it. Maybe I’m over-reacting though. I’ll call my boss’ daughter “sweet cheeks” the next time we chat and we’ll see how that goes down.

So Stingray sets off on a so-called ghost hunt as we head into the commercial break. There’s been quite a lot to set up in this first half of the episode so I can understand why we’re only now getting going with the present day action. It’s impressive really just how much gets packed into such a relatively brief running time.

Stingray arrives in the area and it would appear that Troy and Shore are treating each other much more fairly than they did during The Ghost Ship. As they prepare to surface and take a look at the new mining platform (which after five years is identical to the old one), there’s a curious continuity issue where the shot showing Troy and Phones from the rear has clearly been borrowed from later in the episode. Troy is shown briefly wearing his diving suit and no hat, before we cut back to him again in full uniform.

Phones picks up a sounding almost immediately and identifies a small craft just out of range of their missiles. How inconvenient. And the Stingray crew didn’t even get a chance to look at the mining platform. In fact, before you know it, the enemy sub is opening fire once again.

As the missile strikes, Don Mason takes the opportunity to deliver the word “bombarded” will all the gusto you would hope for. Ray Barrett responds in kind by damn near reducing Shore to a panic as he relives his nightmare. Now, on another matter entirely, I’m looking at that control panel behind Commander Shore and I’m thinking it hasn’t actually been painted, no? It just looks a bit too much like plywood for my liking.

Now we get into the real action as the enemy vessel attacks again and Stingray immediately goes in pursuit. Surprisingly little time is spent worrying about the mining stage and the people aboard. The rest of the episode is focussed very much on the enemy sub and its occupant, with not one thought given to how many people might be drowning or on fire up on the surface. Of course, now we get one of those fantastic underwater chase sequences that the special effects team and the editors put together so well. There’s a bit of shooty-shooty-bang-bang good stuff as Stingray blows up the rock that the enemy has hidden behind. Take that!

With a bit of a bump, the camera races backwards from a close-up of Troy, to a two-shot of Phones launching another missile. This time, its a direct hit on the target. It wasn’t good enough though because the craft manages to go and hide in a cave. I like the design of that submarine, although now I’ve mentioned bumblebees I can’t stop seeing it and that’s pretty much all I can say on the matter. Said craft will pop up again in the episode Invisible Enemy, but that’s another story.

Stingray has once again found itself in a situation where its too big to fit inside a cave, and Troy has to leave Stingray in his underwater equipment. Curiously, while Shore is suggesting taking Marina along, a giant polystyrene boulder just floats along outside the rear window. I assume it’s intended to look like a rock that Stingray is travelling past, but unfortunately it looks suspiciously like its being waved around by a floor puppeteer who wasn’t fully invested in the illusion. If it convinced you, then I’m sorry for ruining it.

Shore indicates that this is a dangerous area full of giant, man-eating clams. They do look thoroughly intimidating and a great amount of detail has gone into making the clams look real and threatening. Just in case you thought such things were pure fantasy, I can assure you that giant, metre-wide, 200 kilo, 100 year old clams do exist – however, the stories of them eating or trapping poor unsuspecting people are complete tosh.

Stingray touches down on the ocean floor but for some reason its landing skids are not deployed. Instead its belly just rests straight on the ground. That can’t be good for the paintwork. That shiny fish in the foreground looks thoroughly bewildered by the whole thing.

Time for a glorious underwater swimming sequence where all the tricks of the trade are deployed. The puppets are filmed at high speed, and Marina has a fan blowing directly at her to get her hair to “float” in the “water.” There’s a gorgeous point of view shot as Troy and Marina approach the enemy vessel which is lit in a very alien shade of purple. Very well detailed little figures of Troy and Marina are then shown to enter, or rather disappear behind, a large model of the submarine’s hull.

The interior of the craft is pulled together from all sorts of bits and pieces such as control panels used in Maritimus’ missile ejector from The Big Gun. There also appear to be two small bicycle wheels with dinner plates glued to them. Troy and Marina are no more than a bit damp when they arrive, despite their swim. It soon becomes obvious that nobody is aboard and, well, the place spontaneously bursts into flames, so it’s probably time get a shift on. If there’s one thing Stingray does extremely well, it’s setting fire to the puppet sets in style.

The force of the eventual explosion sure feels powerful. Marina and Troy are knocked about by the shockwave in a manner which genuinely looks like they’re being hit by a giant current, rather than what’s actually happening which is two puppets being swung around a bit in a wind machine. In the hands of lesser talented artists, such a moment would look rubbish, but here we have another example of AP Films getting all the elements just right to achieve a totally convincing effect.

Troy and Marina make it back inside with Shore looming over them from the deck above. They’re soon off to go and find the crewman of the submarine again. All in all, that little venture outside turned out to be a bit of waste of time, but at least it demonstrated to us that this enemy, whoever the heck they are, is a bit of a wild card. That being said, I’ve always interpreted it as deliberate sabotage to attack the WASPs, but I suppose it could have just been a result of the damage from Stingray’s missile strike. What do you fine folks reckon?

Phones is quick to point out that the hydrophone equipment can’t pick up a solitary man in the depths of the ocean, which is Phones’ way of saying he can’t be bothered this week. Anyway, Troy quickly spots someone trapped in an enormous clam, whom Shore recognises as the bonafide “ghost of the sea.” He’s not a ghost, obviously, he’s just some dude in white wearing a very unconvincing toupee. You’d have to have a pretty high opinion of yourself to go out dressed like that.

Troy promises to venture outside and save the trapped stranger without Marina’s help. Of course, how Marina was supposed to help Troy navigate around some gigantic clams anyway is a bit of a mystery – I doubt Marina has some kind of hidden talent for detecting clams. All the same, not really sure why Troy insists on going out alone. Marina probably couldn’t care less either way. Now, another thing – the morals of this episode are a little bit confusing to me. Obviously the “ghost” saved Shore all those years ago and that’s swell, but it’s also heavily implied that he was at the controls of the sub which blew up both mining platforms and therefore killed several people. Sure, it’s honorable that Troy and Shore want to save the man’s life, but they don’t even discuss the fact that he happens to be a dangerous criminal and a murderer until later on. Believe me, we’ll come to that.

Troy exits Stingray alone. The background is exactly the same place that they were parked in a few minutes ago.

All the way along the route, clams large and small-ish slam shut in self defence. Clams don’t actually close that quickly in real life, hence why it’s very unlikely anyone would be stupid enough to get themselves trapped inside one. Nevertheless, Troy arrives to rescue a stupid person.

There’s a little bit of tension as Troy has to aim a dart at the so-called “constrictor muscle” without killing the so-called “ghost” who is so-called “trapped.” If you’re thinking this looks like a pointy stick jabbed into a piece of polystyrene, then you’ve been reading this blog for too long.

Troy is successful and the man goes swanning off with his garment soaked in what one assumes is blood. Quite how he’s able to swim with his legs in that state I don’t know, but if you’re a murderer being let off by a big softie like Troy, you’d probably scarper as fast as possible whatever state your legs were in.

Yes, Shore is absolutely furious that the saboteur has gotten away and that Troy just let it happen. Okay, good to know someone around here remembers what’s been going on and wants some justice.

Another one of those fake rocks wanders past the window and Marina is pretending she hasn’t noticed.

Okay, so let’s get this straight. Officially speaking, Shore believes that Troy should have taken the “ghost” prisoner for all the crimes he’s committed. But when Phones isn’t listening, Shore actually believes that Troy did the right thing by letting him go just because the man saved his life five years ago. Uh-huh.

Then Phones picks up a sounding, and Shore returns to the camp that this guy is going to attack again and shouldn’t have been given another chance. Uh-huh.

Then the guy turns up in another bumblebee sub and puts on a light show which is apparently a message in “international code.” By some miracle, or because the episode is running out of time, Shore decodes the message phenomenally quickly. He is genuinely able to interpret a few light flashes as meaningful sentences with very little effort. Apparently it’s a full and frank apology for attacking the mining stages and a request for peace. Uh-huh.

Troy and Shore are thrilled. Apparently, when you’ve committed acts of terrorism, all you have to do is flash a torch at someone politely and they’ll let you off. In some way the commander tries to take credit for the decision to let the blighter go, and Troy gets a bit sarcastic about it. Honestly, Troy, I’d let Shore have all the credit for that. After all, when the cobalt mining company and the World Security Patrol hear about all this, they’re not going to be happy in the slightest. The episode ends with the bumblebee sub and Stingray setting off together like a reunited pair of smitten lovers. You’ve earned yourself a fourth uh-huh.

As you can probably tell, I’m not entirely satisfied with the ending of what is otherwise a great episode. It’s very rushed, and needed the same level of detail and consideration that the opening sequence received. The whole issue could have been resolved if we had learnt about the “ghost’s” motivations for blowing up the mining platforms in the first place. If, like the aliens in Sea of Oil, we’d have discovered that his people were threatened by the mining operations, his actions might have been easier to understand and forgive. All that aside, I think the overall feel of The Ghost of the Sea is great, with the flashback sequences really standing out for their atmosphere and darkness. Of course, most praise has to be given for the fact we learn so much more about Commander Shore – a character who has really only come into the spotlight in the past couple of episodes. This is definitely his episode, and I’m glad an opportunity was given to tell his story.

Next week, Marineville is being bombarded by hostile rockets and Stingray has to put a stop to it! Troy, Phones, and Marina are on the case but are soon captured and imprisoned by the rotters responsible for the attacks! It’s time for Emergency Marineville to go under the microscope…

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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.

Should The Cobalt For EVs Come From The Congo or The Seafloor? by David Schneider. Published in 2021 by IEEE Spectrum.

Your Next Car May Be Built With Ocean Rocks. Scientists Can’t Agree If That’s Good by Alexandra Gillespie. Publised in 2021 by NPR.

Giant Clams published by the Seattle Aquarium.

One thought on “Stingray – 10. The Ghost of the Sea

  1. I always have wondered whether maybe the ghost of the sea is perhaps one of Pacifica’s people, but maybe one with a view of defending the city rather than being peaceful to everyone. That would maybe explain why he is mute. I do like the way that this episode touches on how Shore became disbaled as well, but when he is out of his chair and sitting in ordinary ones how does he get out of it and into sofas etc? Could there be a remote control we haven’t seen or heard of?


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