Stingray – 13. Loch Ness Monster

Directed by Alan Pattillo

Teleplay by Dennis Spooner

First UK Broadcast – 1st November 1964

“Find the Loch Ness Monster? What a crazy mission!” Troy pretty much sums up the entire premise of this episode in that one line, and how I wish I’d been a fly on the wall when that idea was originally pitched in the production office. It’s certainly one of the more “out there” concepts for the series so far but, like so many of the Stingray episodes we’ve explored, it was inspired by real-life areas of interest in the 1960s. There is a lot of history to cover when it comes to the legend of “Nessie”, but for the purposes of this review, all you really need to know is that sightings and excitement around the phenomena kicked off in the 1930s and culminated in the formation of the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau in 1962, right around the time Stingray entered production. It’s all just the kind of thing an imaginative writer like Dennis Spooner could weave into a story and play for comedy, while trying to provide some kind of a satisfying explanation for the mystery…

Oh, by the way, this episode is very Scottish and stands out as being the Scotland episode of Stingray. In a similar vein, Phantom Piper was the Scotland episode of Supercar. Jock Campbell was the Scottish character in Fireball XL5. To a lesser extent, 30 Minutes After Noon from Thunderbirds, and The Trap from Captain Scarlet also focus some of their action in Scottish castles. As far as I can see it, there are two contributing factors to this fascination with Scotland across Supermarionation – firstly, Alan Pattillo, who directed this episode, Phantom Piper, and contributed the script for The Trap, was born in Aberdeen. Secondly, and perhaps more crucially, Americans bloomin’ love Scotland and all its glorious history. I am an Englishman, and have lived in America for many years. An enormous number of people I’ve met in the U.S. have expressed a fascination with Scotland. The castles, the lochs, the history – that whole romanticised image of the Scottish highlands really strikes a chord because it’s so far removed from the experience of the average American. That’s all just my opinion, of course, but it wouldn’t surprise me if these very, very stereotypically Scottish settings and characters were devised to appeal to the American market.

The sets constructed by the special effects team do a passable job of re-creating the vastness of Loch Ness.

Meet Admiral Denver. Despite only having speaking roles in this episode, Set Sail For Adventure, and the material which later formed The Reunion Party, Denver is quite a favourite with the fans. The character is given an awful lot of solid gold material to work with in a short space of time. The puppet was previously seen as Rossiter in the Fireball XL5 episode, Space City Special, and then as a waiter in Treasure Down Below. For his appearance here, the puppet was given new glass eyes to replace the painted ones used in Fireball. You can’t see those eyeballs right now, of course, because he’s fast asleep. Incidentally, because Denver didn’t have a blinker head, those eyelids are just plasticine stuck over his eyes. Also take a moment to appreciate the miniature landscape in the background which is made to appear miles away, despite only being at the edge of the water tank a few feet from the puppet-scale boat in the foreground. Said boat and outboard motor were later dirtied down to appear in the Thunderbirds episode, Attack of the Alligators! when McGill goes to rescue Blackmer. Oh I’m just a fountain of useless information this week.

The boat takes a considerable knocking from the unwelcome guest. Just imagine trying to operate a puppet dangling on six foot wires with the added complication of it bobbing around in a water tank, holding a large prop, and having to speak in sync with a line of dialogue.

Surprise! Now, let’s start with the obvious… I don’t think anyone watching at home is going to be convinced that this is a real monster. That’s okay, this is a puppet show. So within the realms of the miniature world of Supermarionation, is this a credible monster? I would argue that it just about works. I certainly can’t imagine how the production team could have created something more convincing for such a brief appearance. And, obviously, given what is revealed later in the episode, the fact the monster looks a bit artificial is totally forgiveable. This head used for close-ups is a simple glove puppet and did, in fact, previously appear in the Fireball XL5 episode Space Monster in the titular role, and in a colour image for the Supercar and the Cave Monster viewmaster reel.

Denver is caught so off-guard by the beast that he falls backwards into the water. The moment is filmed at high speed so that the fall happens in slow motion. Presumably this was intended to make the splash itself appear bigger. To me, it just looks a bit weird because the fall isn’t terribly convincing.

As the monster dives down to attack the boat, the illusion is spoiled slightly by the stripey sleeve of the operator’s arm being visible in the bottom left corner of the frame.

Just to add to the weirdness, the action is then sped up for the POV shot of the monster zooming towards the boat.

Now here’s a puzzle. The miniature version of the creature shown in Space Monster had the same long neck seen here but with a full body and legs attached. It would be reasonable to assume that the same miniature head and neck was therefore re-used for this episode, and a new tail section added to replace the body. However, puppet maker John Blundall retained the original screen-used miniature from Space Monster in his collection which not only has the full body still attached, but also the original design for the eyes. One might therefore conclude that the miniature version of Nessie shown here is a new model built specifically for the episode and doesn’t re-use any parts from the original. Incidentally, the design of Nessie is inspired by the famous “surgeon’s photograph” of the supposed monster taken in 1934.

Yes, we really are going to do a whole episode about this cheeky chap. The colour image from the Supercar and the Cave Monster reel indicates that for the head’s appearance here, the horns have been re-painted and the eyes entirely changed – in Space Monster it looks like the eyes actually light up. The goofy eyelids added here do little to make the monster appear threatening, although I would argue that the whole point is that we’re supposed to find all this a bit funny and tongue in cheek. Oh and just in case you were wondering, yes, Barry Gray’s music is going full Scottish this week too.

At Marineville, there’s lots to unpack in this one shot so deep breath everybody. Alan Pattillo’s penchant for big ambitious camera movements is evident once again as the camera starts on Denver at the back of the control room and pulls all the way out to reveal the full set. Atlanta is sporting the rarely seen WASP hat as part of her uniform today and unbelievably it suits her a heck of a lot better than the International Rescue hats ever suited the Tracy boys. The 24 hour clock is briefly seen operating again, showing the time as 11:11, and this week two of the blue filing cabinets stand either side. Denver’s luggage is borrowed straight from Jock’s holiday in the Fireball XL5 episode A Day In The Life of a Space General, and the fishing rod is the same one seen in Troy’s bedroom in Subterranean Sea last week… sort of… some red marking towards the top have now been swapped for black ones… that’s the sort of investigative journalism I’m sure you, my dear readers, crave.

As Denver re-tells the story of his encounter, Shore takes very little notice and instead studies the Sunday Telegraph. Oddly, the front page is on the inside and the outer pages facing camera appear to be dedicated to “COTTON’S place in the sun” if you, like me, choose to zoom in and study the headlines.

The camera follows Denver across the room as he goes to give Shore a telling-off for the implication that the whole experience was nothing but a dream induced by too much Scotch whiskey. I love that straight off the bat we have this dynamic of two grumpy old gits trapped in a love/hate relationship. Atlanta tries to restore peace by pointing out that nobody can win the argument, but that doesn’t stop them from trying.

Denver uses his authority as President of the Undersea Research Programme and orders an investigation of Loch Ness by a WASP vessel. Now I wouldn’t have thought a research programme would have that kind of authority over a worldwide security organisation, but what the heck do I know? We’ll discover later in the series that Denver has fingers in many pies.

Stingray is volunteered for the job because at this point in the series it would be odd if it wasn’t. Not only do we learn that Denver and Shore were at naval college together, we’re also offered a slither of family background from Atlanta. She explains that some of her mother’s ancestors came from Scotland and that she therefore holds a desire to visit. I guess that explains the red hair. Fisher hasn’t been given a whole lot to do this week, as usual, but it’s nice to know he’s still around. Here’s something I’ve only just noticed though. Atlanta has two stripes on each shoulder, whereas Fisher only has one. Commander Shore has three. Troy has two on a raised epaulette while Phones also only has one. We know Fisher is a lieutenant because he’s referred to as such in the pilot episode. Troy is a captain, and Sam Shore is a commander. Phones and Atlanta have yet to be given ranks in dialogue for the series but the format documentation for the series refers to Atlanta as “Sub-Lieutenant Shore.” From the stripes and her general position in the storyline, one assumes she outranks Fisher, but dialogue and documentation indicates she may be at the same level as him… so what’s the extra stripe for? And is Phones at the same rank as Fisher seeing as they both just have the one stripe? Am I reading too much into this? Should I calm down and have a soothing drink?

Atlanta assumes that because Marina is a part of the Stingray crew, there won’t be any extra room aboard for her to tag along on the trip to Scotland. There hasn’t previously been any issue with Commander Shore joining the crew so I’m not really sure why it would be an issue this time for Atlanta to squeeze in. Maybe she just doesn’t want to spend that much time with Marina and uses it as an excuse…

The large map of the oceans which used to adorn the wall of the Standby Lounge has been replaced with this rather convenient (but fairly basic) map of “Bonnie Scotland.” A few details are lacking – the location of Loch Ness itself for one. Glasgow is also misspelt as “Glascow.”

Troy and Phones are overwhelmed by the absurdity of the mission, but also quite excited for the trip. In a practical sense, it does seem odd that Stingray was selected for the mission. As a World Aquanaut Security Patrol, one assumes that the organisation has other bases closer to Scotland with vessels and crew perfectly well-equipped for exploring an uncomplicated body of water such as Loch Ness. That wouldn’t be very fun for the story though. In order to reach Loch Ness itself, Troy proposes that Stingray will need to be transported across land from the west coast of Scotland. Now, apparently a viewer wrote to Gerry Anderson explaining that Stingray could have travelled from Oban to Loch Ness via the Caledonian Canal. Depending on how large you believe Stingray to be, that might have been possible, but probably would have been much slower and more tedious than driving the craft there since the maximum speed on the canal is about 6 mph in some areas.

Bizarrely, Marina returns to reading about Amanda Jane – a brand of 7 inch toy dolls from the 1950s. Phones reckons that Marina is thoroughly put off by the notion of travelling on land. Driving from Oban to Loch Ness would take you about two and a half hours so considering she lives in an apartment on dry land full time, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. Maybe she just really fancied a trip on the canal. Either way, Marina’s out. Oink, who has been absent from the series since The Golden Sea, also chips in to remind us all he still exists. He won’t be joining the crew for the trip to Scotland either because he’s alphabetising his DVD collection this week.

So I guess there’s an open spot for Atlanta to come to Scotland after all. Now, obviously that whole bit of nonsense about Marina hating dry land was just an excuse to write her out for this week. Yes, this is the beginning of the writers turning their attention away from Marina, and developing Atlanta’s character quite a bit more instead. It’s great that Lois Maxwell is given more material and gets to bring the character to life, but the fact it comes at a cost to Marina is quite a shame. I think the work put into Marina’s character so far has given her a solid foundation, and with more time and specially constructed storylines, the creative team could have done more with Marina to make her the hero of more adventures. In the case of this particular episode though, I do agree that Marina probably wouldn’t have had a whole lot to do, and at least this scene offers us an opportunity to see her standing up for herself.

Stingray is launched. Atlanta is out of uniform, presumably because she’s technically on leave. The crew have acquired a whole heap of material to study during their long journey. I love that we get this little scene to talk about the trouble with cryptozoology and the questionable evidence surrounding the existence of creatures such as Nessie. It just adds a layer of reason and seriousness to the whole affair for a moment. Phones references a 1960s investigation of Loch Ness which used sounding equipment. Presumably this is a reference to the Birmingham University Loch Ness Expedition of 1961.

Using a machine from “Videotape INC,” Troy plays back a piece of museum film. So whether it’s actually a strip of film or a strip of videotape is up for debate there. The head from the miniature monster is very visible in the bottom right corner. It’s supposed to look like questionable footage, but I would argue this clip is just a little bit too clear.

Much more like it. Blurry and completely indistinct – that’s proper Nessie footage. The gang ultimately conclude that since all this evidence is so clearly up for debate, there’s no point doing any further research until they arrive. Time for a nap.

And so, Stingray’s voyage continues. The trip from Marineville on the west coast of the USA presumably takes them down the Pacific coast, through the Panama Canal, across the Atlantic Ocean, and eventually to Scotland. We’re talking about a journey around 9,000 miles in length. Fortunately, with Stingray travelling at the unbelievable top speed of 600 knots, such a journey would probably take somewhere in the region of 13 hours. Not bad I’d say!

The music swells as Atlanta gushes over the glorious Scottish scenery supplied by back projection footage and model sets. The wanderlust is played for all its worth.

Stingray’s journey by road is a simple affair. The submarine has been loaded onto the back of a transporter, which is essentially another Telsada Trans-Continental Express coach toy painted yellow. Maybe this is a purpose-built WASP vehicle, or maybe it’s just something old Donald at the habour keeps in his garage.

A tourism advert for Scotland ensues. As Stingray is driven through the incredible scenery, and the crew watch back projection footage whizz past the window, I can’t help but be distracted by the brief cutaway of a sign indicating “LOCH NESS.” Two points of order regarding this particular shot. Number one is the fact that the edge of the set is very clearly visible. Secondly, and perhaps more alarmingly, the set appears to have been decorated with a large clump of red hair, not too dissimilar to Atlanta’s…

Here is the castle where the gang will be staying. A Travelodge would be less drafty but I get it, we’re pushing stereotypical Scotland here. The castle model was re-used for the Thunderbirds episode 30 Minutes After Noon, and the Captain Scarlet episode The Trap. The only castle situated next to Loch Ness in real life is Urquhart Castle, but that’s very much a ruin.

They’ve been eating haggis, so you can mark that off on your Scottish bingo card. Andy and Jamie McGregor are, as you might expect, every Scottish stereotype thrown together in a red-haired package. Much of the set for this dining room has been recycled from the Supercar episode Phantom Piper – most noteably the large fireplace.

The grandfather clock in the corner has been borrowed from X20’s house. David Graham and Robert Easton commit wholeheartedly to their Scottish accents and you’ve got to admire them for that.

As the Stingray crew head to bed, we’re presented with this glorious and vast set for the landing at the top of the stairs. As the camera peers in on Andy and Jamie’s secret conversation, you can just about see in the top right of frame that the ceiling disappears into blackness, but otherwise it’s a gorgeous piece of construction full of detail. Futuristic and alien underwater cities may have been fun to design, but Bob Bell and his team really went for it with these period sets whenever they got the opportunity.

More excellent set dressing is on display in Atlanta’s bedroom. Troy and Phones’ room is a simpler affair with beds which are extremely low to the ground, a common practice for Supermarionation furniture. I do wonder why Troy and Phones need to share a room in such a massive castle but they’re probably used to each other’s company from sharing bunks aboard Stingray.

Phones is deeply troubled, and for once I’m not talking about his drinking problem or his terrible fashion sense. It’s something that Andy said earlier. Something about him having “the makings of real Scotsman.”

Uh-huh.

Right.

Is Phones wearing tights? (Probably, yes, to cover up the knee joints on the puppet).

It’s all a nightmare. What a relief. I’m not quite sure what we’re supposed to interpret from what just happened there. Obviously it’s all just intended as a harmless comic interlude, but indulge me for a moment. Is Phones terrified by the notion of being too Scottish? Does he consider it a great honour? Is this the path to him discovering he has Scottish ancestry that he wasn’t previously aware of?

In a masterstroke of puppetry, Phones settles back down into bed without a single floor puppeteer’s hand appearing in shot. He shrugs off the possibility of Nessie really existing and is generally unphased by whatever the heck that dream was supposed to mean.

But lurking outside, ready to feast on human flesh, is the dreadful beast of the loch. What a fantastically silly episode this is.

After the commercial break, Phones, Troy, and Atlanta are woken by the disturbing sound of machinery. Yes, it wouldn’t be a spooky old Scottish castle without a quick mid-episode ghost hunt! The puppets expertly carry naked flames around as they walk through the castle to investigate the mysterious sound. Phones suggests that Nessie would never leave the loch. Phones has obviously never seen Terror of the Zygons.

Atlanta gets a terrible fright from this painting. I don’t blame her. It looks like Father Christmas on Boxing Day.

The tension is built as Troy and Atlanta slowly cross the room. The puppet walks are excellent by the way. The door swings opens to reveal an empty room, with brickwork borrowed from the jail cells seen in Treasure Down Below and Emergency Marineville. That little wooden chair in the corner has had a tough life.

More ghostly business now as Phones enters the room to Troy and Atlanta’s terror. They’ve searched the whole place between them and found no phantoms, or spooks, or poltergeists, or spirits of any kind… well Phones may have found one or two spirits of the boozey kind but we won’t ask about those. Also, among the antique paintings, armour and furniture, why do the McGregors also choose to display a Big Mouth Billy Bass singing plastic fish?

Troy is using his big detective ears and has confirmed that there’s definitely a noise coming from the room they just investigated.

Sure enough, Andy McGregor appears from inside as if by magic! Apparently the noise they’ve all been hearing is the ghost of Sandy McGregor, and because the Stingray crew are such tourists, they just believe the utter nonsense this guy is peddling.

Troy genuinely can’t be bothered to ask any further questions because he wants to get back to the Nessie plot. I don’t blame him. It’s much more interesting. Unusually, we transition between scenes with a very elegant wipe and Barry Gray wakes us all up with some more of his rousing Scottish theme for the episode.

The crew are ready for some monster hunting!

Up on the battlements, two tiny little figures are pushed into shot. The detail on the castle model is magnificent. It’s made very clear that the McGregors are up to something fishy. Not to spoil the ending too much, but it’s a shame these two didn’t turn out to be undersea aliens in disguise. That would have been a great plot twist.

Stock shots of Stingray are combined with new footage as the crew dive down and Phones begins to take soundings in the depths of the loch. Loch Ness is somewhere in the region of 750 feet deep which is pretty impressive and would probably make it quite a bit darker and murkier than what we see on screen in this episode. In the close-up of Phones listening to his hydrophones, it looks like a floor puppeteer’s hand is resting on his right shoulder, although that’s frankly such a nit-pick I should be ashamed of myself.

And the award for most dramatic entrance goes to…

As the beast makes its way towards Stingray, the special effects team do their best to animate the rather lifeless long body by adding puffs of dust on the bed of the lake as Nessie rushes past.

The glove puppet head is shown swimming along in front of some back projection footage. They’re trying their best now to make it look menacing but with that head and that body I’m just not convinced.

They try so hard but the model of the full creature really doesn’t have a lot of life to it.

Here’s Johnny!

Atlanta announces the arrival of the Loch Ness Monster in genuine awe and terror. As a viewer you’re very much left to make up your own mind about how to process all this. A fine line is being trodden in terms of tone. The comedy of the situation isn’t pushed too hard but neither is the seriousness, which makes it perfect family viewing really. It’s a bit of tongue in cheek fun for the adults but a younger child might totally take the monster at face value and fear for the lives of our heroes.

The chase begins and Barry Gray is working extra hard to sell it. The music is fun but also doesn’t rule out the possibility that this is a credible threat.

Despite the fast pace of the other shots in this chase sequence, the glove puppet head continues to dawdle along with its dopey eyes, minding its own business.

Troy being Troy, it isn’t long before a sting missile becomes his only option. Did the monster actually pose a threat to them? No. That said though, the beast did very deliberately attack Admiral Denver at the beginning of the episode so I suppose you could tenuously use that to justify Troy’s decision to blow Nessie to kingdom come.

Oh deary me. Yes, the monster was a fake. Now, either a replica head was made for this shot, or the crew were so fed up with the glove puppet that they destroyed it so the daft-looking thing could never be used again.

But there’s just one mystery left to solve… how did Andy get into that room last night?

Turns out it’s not exactly much of a mystery, thanks to the very obvious outline on the wall…

The McGregors have done a remarkably quick job of restoring the robot’s head to its former glory. Maybe they had a spare? Apparently with boilers and pipes and massive levers, this is the room where the duo operate the mechanical beastie from. They don’t dwell for too long on how the thing actually works but we’re talking old-school mechanics, rather than electronics, which is appropriate seeing as it was built by Sandy McGregor, Andy’s great-great grandfather… a cheeky nod to the possibility that it was constructed about 100 years prior in the 1960s…

Troy is left on the horns of dilemma. Jamie is very quick to let everyone know that they’ve never killed anybody which should go without saying and frankly makes him sound all the more suspicious. On the whole, it’s just a trick for the tourists and doesn’t do any harm. But will Troy allow it to continue? And aren’t we all just a little bit disappointed that Nessiedidn’t turn out to be an agent of Titan?

So Stingray heads for home and the team need to decide what to tell Admiral Denver…

Boy does this guy look and sound like he’s got a stick up his bottom.

Troy, Phones, and Atlanta are very diplomatic and vague in their report, although they do confirm that they saw the monster, which should probably be enough to turn a few heads at the next meeting of the big wigs at the Undersea Research Program.

Shore is unconvinced. The argument rages on as these two wonderful characters steal the show. Troy uses that killer “this is where we came in” line to signify order has been restored and the episode can now end.

One final look at the WASP emblem on the wall. Presumably the big ‘C’ stands for Control? Anyone have any other ‘C’ word suggestions for what it might mean? Oh do stop sniggering.

There’s a lot to love about Loch Ness Monster. It’s a fantastic idea for a Stingray episode and its treated with just the right tone. This is a light and fluffy adventure which also tries to give you a reasonably serious investigation of the Loch Ness Monster mystery and its history. The influence of contemporary discourse surrounding Nessie does a lot to elevate this story out of pure fantasy. The production team clearly relish the Scottish setting and have good fun bringing the castle and the McGregor characters to life. It’s an episode full of charm and high spirits and it’s up there as one of the best of the series.

Next week, Weather Station 4 is infiltrated by an alien menace and a plot to take over Marineville is triggered when the Stingray crew arrive to investigate! Stay tuned for The Invaders

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Further reading:

www.filmedinsupermarionation.com 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.

Plan Your Trip On The Caledonian Canal – Published by Scottish Canals.

Loch Ness Timeline by Adrian Shine. Published by The Loch Ness Project.

One thought on “Stingray – 13. Loch Ness Monster

  1. One of my favourite episodes of all time, i really makesgood viewing when you consider the plot and the air of mystery in it. It is nice to see Atlanta in a more pivotal role too.

    Like

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