Stingray – 14. The Invaders

Directed by David Elliott

Teleplay by Dennis Spooner

First UK Broadcast18th April 1965

I’ve always liked The Invaders in the past. I think the sheer ambition of the aliens’ plot and their successful attempt to capture Marineville (briefly) really fired up my imagination as a youngster. But, after the absolute cavalcade of excellence that the last few episodes have brought us, I found myself feeling a little underwhelmed when I watched The Invaders this time around. Maybe my enjoyment of this episode can be recovered, or maybe we can drill down deeper into why it didn’t quite float my boat today. Join me, won’t you?

A stormy, stormy sea. Well, some mist, some flashing lights, and some water bobbling about. It’s a storm but not exactly the storm to end all storms. Maybe a boat going through shot would have helped to sell it a little bit more?

I really like Weather Station 4. Just the idea of a small, isolated outpost in the middle of the ocean appeals to me. Not to mention the model looks great with some nice weathering detail and that shade of yellow paint that’s industrial but still pops on screen.

Here’s Carter, a meteorologist who doesn’t get to have a particularly good time in this episode. He’s just going about his evening inspecting the equipment, including a spinny wobbly thing that doesn’t have a clear purpose. It all looks terribly technical and important, of course. Now, the idea of a permanently situated and manned weather station in the middle of the ocean was likely born from the real life use of a network of weather ships. Such ships had been providing weather reports by radio since the Second World War. By 1965, there were 21 vessels in the global weather ship network, all crewed up and stationed at strategic points primarily in the North Atlantic and North Pacific. By the 1980s, automated and unmanned weather buoys were considered much more cost effective and the program faded out of use, although the final weather ship named Polarfront was operating up until 2010. So while a weather station full of graphs and gizmos crewed by one person might have looked pretty high-tech in the 1960s, it’s not something you’re likely to see nowadays. I think that’s pretty neat though and very Anderson.

Here’s the Weather Station again but from a dutch angle, just to make it at least 40% more dramatic.

Carter reports in to Marineville. It’s possible that Carter’s face is sculpted on the same revamp puppet head which appeared as Consin in The Ghost of the Sea. What’s more certain is that Carter’s jacket is a modified version of the one worn by Commander Shore in the flashback scene also from The Ghost of the Sea. It looks like the walls of this set are the walls of the undersea boring base from Subterranean Sea which have been repainted.

No, Roy Thinnes won’t be making an appearance this week… #niche

Someone’s come to do the washing up. Yes, the gold rubber gloves aren’t convincing anyone but it was a nice try.

The camera dramatically crash zooms in on Carter as he hears the arrival of his visitor. Tense stuff!

“What did you do at the AP Films studio today, dear?” “Well I put on some rubber gloves, yellow tights, and flippers and attempted to climb a ladder without tripping and breaking my neck.” I’d like to think that this is the only on-screen appearance of the actual ladder which puppeteers used to get up to the bridge above the sets. Knowing my luck, it’s probably just a regular ladder brought in from outside. The yellow tights, however, were definitely Gerry’s.

Carter takes a look outside and we get this very brief shot of a man climbing the ladder… or rather, staying perfectly still on the ladder. What’s unusual is that this shot has been taken from the edge of the water tank which is clearly visible on the right of the frame. But what’s even more unusual than that is the fact that the figure climbing the ladder looks nothing like the villain of this episode. My best guess, judging by the red hair alone, is that it might actually be a miniature of Andy McGregor which was made to appear on the castle battlements in Loch Ness Monster but didn’t end up appearing for one reason or another and was replaced by a much less detailed figure… One more unusual thing and then I promise I’ll stop – in the very bottom right corner of the frame, a slither of a crew member dressed in red can be seen trying to get out of shot.

The door blasts open in the wind and Carter is very disturbed by the intruder. The guns in the cabinet on the wall remain untouched and he instead backs away towards the window.

On the exterior model, a tiny little man and a few teeny tiny little shards of glass are seen tumbling from a window. It doesn’t look like any glass actually breaks, but the sound effect tricks your brain into thinking that it does. Clever stuff.

Carter, or quite possibly a puppet stunt double who’s supposed to look like Carter, hits the water hard. This is one of those satisfying shots which could only be achieved by literally dropping a puppet off the bridge and into the water tank. Sheer poetry.

Here’s one of our villains for the week. You might be forgiven for not thinking he’s an alien at all, but an old man with a sun tan who’s shaved his eyebrows. It’s not exactly one of the most memorable designs for an undersea race that we’ve seen.

He’s a nasty piece of work mind you, and sprays his fiery ray gun all over the shop, blowing up all of the equipment in the process. It’s a pretty dramatic opener, I’ll give you that!

The alien climbs back down the ladder to meet Carter, who clings to the platform from the freezing cold ocean. We can tell it’s freezing cold because the puppet is actually shivering. Time for a David Elliott staple now which is combining a live action hand with a puppet in the same shot using forced perspective, and by thunder it works. The live action prop which is used for the ray gun here is based on a Pifco Zetaray Space Gun toy. Carter is forced to submit to the alien who says that there will be engineering alterations made to the Weather Station, and upon completion Stingray must be summoned. What nastiness could he be cooking up I wonder?

Stingray is already out on patrol when Atlanta sends Troy and the others on their way to meet Carter at Weather Station 4. I imagine going to see the lonely guys at the WASP Weather Stations must be like going to visit that one elderly relative who’s a bit grumpy and smells bad – you don’t want to go, but you’ll still feel guilty if you don’t.

Per Troy’s promise, Stingray is there faster than you can say PWOR. The Stingray model itself is looking very grubby and dirtied down now, not nearly as clean and shiny as it looked in the pilot episode. Curiously, the windows appear to have already been covered by the shutters we’re about to see, with light only shining out through the door.

Troy and Phones survey the scene while Marina gets comfortable. Like the walls of the set, the desk is also borrowed from the undersea boring base from Subterranean Sea.

Carter doesn’t waste any time at all and immediately informs his prisoners that they’ve walked into a trap. He really is a spineless weed isn’t he? If only he’d remembered that handy “Proceed With Vigour” code from Hostages of the Deep when he radioed Atlanta, he could have warned the Stingray crew of a trap.

Great sheets of metal start to slide down and seal the windows, and the entire station and its platform starts to descend into the water. I love the absolutely bonkers notion that engineers, alien or otherwise, could make that place watertight and construct an elevator mechanism which reaches all the way down to the bottom of the ocean within what was presumably a matter of hours. Did the plan really have to be that elaborate just to capture the Stingray crew? Wouldn’t standing behind a door with a gun have achieved the same effect? Are they just showing off for the sake of it?

Troy does what Troy does best and immediately pulls out his weapon to start threatening Carter. Textbook stuff.

The Weather Station is fully immersed and journeys down into the water. Troy says they’re heading for the centre of the earth, which they’re not but he’s probably a bit obsessed with the idea after Subterranean Sea.

So here’s something unbelievably subtle that I’ve spotted. In the foreground of the shot are some rocks. Then behind that is the water tank producing air bubbles. Then behind that is the rest of the model set. The only real giveaway for this layering of the different elements is the fact that as the hatch closes you can just about see the reflection of the foreground rocks on the glass of the water tank. I don’t care though because it’s still a brilliantly put together shot.

Nice bit of underground elevator shaft action here.

Troy, still on top form, announces that the elevator is slowing down and then stops, just in case that wasn’t obvious to everyone else experiencing the exact same things that he’s experiencing.

So the hatch opens and the magnificent base of the aliens is unveiled. In answer to my earlier question, yes, they are just showing off. The decoration is very elaborate, borrowing the red and yellow plants from the set of the alien base from Sea of Oil, and two of those sea horse statues from the Solarstar garden centre seen in The Big Gun. Our friend from earlier has been joined by another chap to represent their entire race. Yes, it’s another one of those underwater cities where you only see two people and they’re voiced by David Graham and Ray Barrett.

This establishing shot of Marineville is a bit odd because it ever so slightly shows the last second of the building ascending back up from battle stations.

Atlanta is trying to contact Stingray, probably just to remind Troy about the cheeky pair of undies he left in her apartment last week. Fisher’s here! And he has dialogue! And he sort of has a little bit to do this week!

Cut to Stingray and for some reason the hatch is open even though it wasn’t previously.

The only one aboard is Oink who remains silent as Atlanta continues to call out over the radio. I have some sad news though. This is Oink’s final appearance in the series. True, he was basically written out weeks ago and has barely featured since his starring role in Sea of Oil, but still, let me be sad about it. It’s a sign of the series evolving and changing and settling into a routine. Whacky ideas from the early episodes like Oink the bomb-defusing seal, or Teufel the all-powerful fish god, have been cast aside. Marina has a reduced role, and other characters who are easier to develop have come, or will come, to the forefront like X20, Atlanta, and Fisher. The sad truth about Oink is that he had pretty limited potential to begin with. After the events of Sea of Oil, the only real thing he had to offer was that globe trick from The Golden Sea. Mercifully, the Zoonie route from Fireball XL5 of teaching the irritating pet to talk was firmly off the table because no matter how hard you try, seals can’t talk. They can’t “oink” either but I won’t quibble about that.

The blue filing cabinets which were in front of the safe and 24 hour clock in Loch Ness Monster have been removed again from the control room, and, at least for this shot, so has one of the large control panels which normally juts out from that same wall.

Back in the alien city, in turns out the kidnappers just want to be friends. Troy and Phones aren’t exactly feeling the love though.

Really enjoying the lighting going on in the background of this shot. Make of that what you will.

Bizarrely, Troy’s mouth doesn’t open for the majority of his dialogue during this scene, but his wild arm movements more than make up for it.

This is generic alien number two. We don’t learn his name, his race, or anything about him. He looks and sounds a little older than his colleague so we’ll assume he’s actually the head honcho.

Then, after announcing their plans for a bit of light questioning and nothing more, our new friends decide to swan off leaving Phones and Troy baffled.

In their interrogation room, the aliens have a very special chair… THE BRAIN READING CHAIR. Yes, the ace up their sleeve is that anything Troy Tempest thinks about will be displayed in glorious colour on the screen behind him. Now, of course, Troy can’t know that this is what they’re planning, which is why the chair looks so unremarkable. So, a chair that can read minds, eh? I think this is where the episode starts to lose me. It’s just a little bit too ridiculous, which has never been a problem for Stingray before, but the aliens don’t have interesting enough personalities to match their evil intentions. With characters like Mauritimus and the Mighty Leader in The Big Gun, the enormity of their arrogance and self-importance matched the grandeur of their elaborate plan to start a war with the land. With the two unnamed villains of this episode, they’re just too plain and boring to convincingly be the masterminds behind something like an elevator to the centre of the earth, or a device that can read minds.

So the plan is to bust into Marineville, conquer the Earth, and eliminate all terraneans. The usual sort of thing but without the charm. Sorry folks, but I just don’t believe these guys are evil enough. They’re nasty and sneaky, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think they have what it takes.

Phones stamps out his fourteenth cigarette. Yes, I counted them. Also, if you’re interested, a floor puppeteer’s finger nail can be spotted holding the top of his boot. What’s that? You’re not interested? Well, tough.

So Phones lights up his fifteenth cigarette while letting us all know that Troy has been in the interrogation room for many hours. Maybe Carter and Marina smoked some of those cigarettes too? The thought of Marina, a creature from under the sea, having any interest in smoking is pretty messed up when you think about it. You wouldn’t catch an octopus puffing away on a pipe.

Sure enough, the brain reading machine does its thing. When Troy refuses to speak about the ocean door or Marineville’s defences, they end up appearing on the screen. Apparently Troy isn’t at all put off by the weird noise the machine makes when it’s operating, the long pauses in the questioning that occur each time, the weird looks the two aliens keep giving each other, or the fact that every time Troy speaks they must be looking at the screen behind him and not directly at him. You expect me to believe that at no point during the interrogation, Troy thought to turn around? Oh, and we’ll ignore all the obvious jokes we could make about nothing appearing on the screen at all because Troy’s a bit of a thicky, or that wildly inappropriate things might appear on the screen because he’s actively been trying to date two women at once. The point is, the villains now know about the ocean door, and about battle stations, but Troy doesn’t know that they know. And they know that he doesn’t know that they know so well done to them I guess.

So that’s it. The Stingray crew, along with Carter, are sent packing. They’re underwhelmed by their brief imprisonment and wonder what the point of it all was. Marina’s probably relieved that for once she managed to get out of this un-tortured.

Our villains are feeling rather pleased with themselves. They will invade Marineville from below ground using their “subterranean travel cylinder” which is the worst name I’ve ever heard for anything ever. Apparently they have a whole gang of troops at their disposal… we never actually see them… but they’re there… honest.

Back at Marineville, Commander Shore is equally baffled by the whole thing. I do like the little “that goes without saying” exchange between Troy and Shore here – Troy politely reminds the commander that he’s not a traitor, and Shore suggests that Troy won’t exactly be getting any medals just because he managed to keep his mouth shut.

Crash zoom in on Shore’s cigar-chomping face as he gives the order to sound launch stations. At least he’s taking some action and we’re not spending hours waiting and pondering what the aliens are going to do next.

A great burst of activity as the enjoyable set pieces play out all at once with Stingray launching and Marineville entering battle stations. It never gets old.

But after all that, now the plan is to spend hours waiting and pondering what the aliens are going to do next. Oh. Someone get me a ‘Cool Cola’ from that vending machine next to the commander.

Fortunately four of those long hours of waiting pass during the commercial break. But if only Troy had just been to their base and knew the exact location that the attack might come from… if only he had that knowledge…

Well this is a surprise. It’s a clunkier version of The Mole from Thunderbirds. So I guess the aliens have spent the past four hours tunelling from their base all the way to Marineville underneath the ocean. I agree it’s an original approach but boy are they lucky to have popped up in the right place.

The hatch opens and the invasion army (of just two people) are seriously chuffed with how things are going. Not only are they relieved to breathe some fresh air after smelling each other’s aqua farts for four hours, but they’ve discovered that their brain reading machine showed them accurate information about Marineville’s installations hiding away under the ground. Not that being at battle stations really makes that much difference in this case. The subterranean travel cylinder would have emerged in the underground bunker either way. What amazes me is that not a single person in Marineville heard or felt this whacking great drilling machine coming.

Here’s a very satisfying use of back projection to show the puppets interacting with the model set. The villains are heading for the control tower. I suspect there won’t be a single security guard or locked door to get in their way.

Troy and Phones stare out of the window at absolutely nothing while Marina wonders why her career with the WASPs is on a downward trajectory. Meanwhile, the villains encounter an inmidating ‘keep out’ sign which they agree to ignore entirely. Dang. I really thought that might deter them.

Shore calls for just thirty more minutes at battle stations. Apparently sitting around doing nothing for four hours is just far too gruelling.

After a brief and uneventful cutaway back to Stingray, the arrival of our villains in the control room is about as surprising as the number of times Troy’s been slapped by a woman. Commander Shore can’t even be bothered to turn around.

Atlanta flicks the extremely conviently labeled ‘Talk to Stingray’ switch on the control panel, which is further evidence for the notion that Stingray is the only operational submarine in the entire WASP fleet.

As the alien voice can be heard over Stingray’s radio, Troy brings us up to speed on the plot for those of you who aren’t quite following at home. The leader of the two aliens threatens the control tower gang while the other fellow attempts to study the control panel. They boast that they know exactly how Marineville works, even though they really didn’t see that much of it during the interrogation scene.

So with just a smidge of urgency, the lads turn Stingray around and head back to Marineville to tackle these nasty crooks. Nobody reads Troy’s mind and gets away with it!

The baddie explains their grand scheme like any decent baddie should do. Everyone accepts the notion of a brain reading machine remarkably quickly. I rather like the overhead shot of Troy and Phones with the camera swaying from side to side in order to simulate Stingray’s movement.

Apparently every single WASP vessel is at sea right now and that’s a good thing for the invaders for some reason. The plan is simply to keep the ocean door closed, implying that there is only one ocean door which every WASP submarine uses to access Marineville, not just Stingray.

Atlanta tries to get the invaders to talk a bit more about their plan and all we really learn is that the whole thing hinges on the fact they’ve managed to sneak into the Marineville control tower. I don’t understand why that’s such a huge advantage for them. Now that they’ve sealed the ocean door and captured the command team, nothing else seems to be happening. Apparently their invasion force is on the way though… but, we don’t see them in any way, shape, or form. Not even a voice over the radio or some blips on a radar screen. We’re just told that troops are coming and that’s that. Are they arriving by sea or from underground? Is that why all the WASP craft being away at sea is a good thing?

A militaristic march is played as Stingray continues its journey back to Marineville. It’s almost as if there are shots missing from this episode. Surely that would have been the ideal point to unveil the fleet of enemy invasion submarines? Or at least one of the ruddy things.

The ocean door won’t open by remote control. I love that those big red levers on Stingray’s control panel can be used for anything from opening doors to starting motors to firing missiles. Stock footage of the ocean door from the pilot episode is combined with new footage of a totally different-looking ocean door just to really confuse us all.

So Troy gets to use his favourite problem solving method of firing a missile at the door. Fair enough on this occasion. If you look very carefully at the explosion, you’ll actually see in the top left corner of frame that the fireball emerges from behind the rock work at the top of the set. Nevertheless, it’s a satisfying kaboom and a great bit of initiative from Troy.

Troy’s forced entry has triggered an alarm and it becomes apparent that Stingray is on its way. For some reason, this leads Commander Shore to make the assumption that the invaders’ plan is foiled and they should just pack up and call it a day. We learn that it takes 3 minutes for the Stingray crew to get from the pen to the control tower. Sorry, did I miss something? Why is Troy arriving suddenly such an enormous threat to the invasion force? Other than Troy having a bit of a reputation for taking down bad guys, I’m not entirely sure why he’s such an enormous ace up Shore’s sleeve. Anyway, never mind that because the plan is now about to totally change as the chief alien orders everyone into the Standby Room.

Here’s a rare moment showing the chairs rise back up the injector tubes from Stingray’s cabin. Marina’s tube takes a bit longer to arrive I guess. Speaking of Marina, she sure hasn’t had much to do this week. Hope that changes…

In the Standby Room, the map of Scotland which was installed for Loch Ness Monster last week has been replaced by the original world map, and the blue filing cabinets have been removed. The lights above the Injector Bay have also been spruced up a bit. For some inexplicable reason, Lt. Fisher, the least talkative character of them all, has been gagged while Shore and Atlanta are just told to keep quiet. Fisher must have done something to really annoy them. Apparently Stingray is the invaders’ only means of escape now. Wait, why are they escaping? Why is Stingray their only option? Couldn’t they just go back the way they came in their rubbish subterranean travel cylinder? Is the invasion over now?

Now this is very slick and must have taken some coordination. As Troy and Phones arrive, a live action hand appears in the foreground pointing a gun at them. Right on cue, Troy and Phones drop their own weapons as ordered – presumably yanked away on wires by a floor puppeteer.

Because actually showing Troy and Phones climbing out of the chairs would be far too difficult, we cut away to some of our characters, including Fisher who has not only been gagged but tied up as well. What on Earth did he do wrong? The fact that Marina is still aboard Stingray hasn’t gone unnoticed and Troy says “that’s quite a point” as if he also hadn’t quite realised that yet. The chief invader closes proceedings with a fond farewell and a threatening, “until the next time.” Are you seriously suggesting that you’re going to attempt this invasion all over again? It hasn’t even been made clear that this first invasion attempt is over. Why are they leaving?? What’s going on??!!

Troy is quick to make contact with Marina and asks her to tap on the microphone if she can hear. It’s the first time that the “tapping system” for communicating with Marina has been used in the series and it proves jolly useful in later episodes. Incidentally, the clock on the wall indicates that it’s 5 o’clock. Anyone fancy a gin and tonic?

Yes, Troy’s amazing plan is to lower Stingray into the water so that the injector tubes dispense the invaders into that cold, cold water. That’s it. That’s the plan.

When they hit the wet stuff, the alien in blue immediately breaks his neck and his head turns 180 degrees straight into the water. Meanwhile, the alien in green manages to float around for a few seconds before also capsizing. What splishy-splashy fun for all the family.

Troy remarks that all this spells the end of their invasion. Does it though? The leaders got wet so that means the army of invading troops is going to turn around and leave Marineville alone? I’m starting to think this invasion force was all made up to sound impressive, and it really was just two blokes with delusions of grandeur.

Oh yeah, and it turns out they can’t swim. The aliens from under the sea can’t swim. The one who showed up at the beginning of the episode wearing flippers and breathing equipment can’t swim. And then the episode just ends on that comedy note.

Boy, The Invaders doesn’t stand up well to analysis, but let’s start with the positives. It’s very well-shot. I love all the dynamic camera movements and live action work, and the opening sequence at the weather station is suitably dramatic and threatening. Unfortunately, the plot and the alien characters are so thin on the ground that they barely hold the story together. It could have worked if the aliens were just a bit more quirky or interesting. It could have worked if the invasion force was a bit more credible. It could have worked if Stingray coming back to Marineville was a genuine threat for some reason, and the aliens’ desperation had been more evident. Instead, we just go through the motions of a rather uninspired story with a few neat action set pieces to keep it going. I wanted to like this episode as much as I did as a child, but compared to the classic episodes we’ve seen recently, the script for The Invaders just doesn’t stand up to the same high standard of tight, action-packed, edge-of-your-seat storytelling and characterisation that we’ve seen previously.

Next week, an expedition to track down a legendary pearl turns into a tale of double dealing and treachery. Take a journey with the Stingray crew to uncover the Secret of the Giant Oyster!

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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.

www.weatherships.co.uk by Paul Cope

3 thoughts on “Stingray – 14. The Invaders

  1. Great work Jack, I’ve always like this episode . Especially when they show the subterranean travel cylinder because it does look like they might have taken inspiration for the mole from it. If you are wondering that the names of the two aliens are, apparently they named Epayus and Illium according to this book- https://www.amazon.co.uk/Complete-Gerry-Anderson-Authorised-Episode/dp/1903111978. In my opinion this episode is a real favourite of mine, just a shame that we never find out the fate of the invading force or Oink. Perhaps Oink was captured by Titan or put in a zoo?

    Like

  2. See to me this episode always felt like either it was a two parter and second half got cancelled? or they got 3/4 in and didn’t know how to resolve it? You know all that set up just to then try and escape. And that they missed a trick not cutting to marina operating the red lever to pop stingray back in the water, that would been a nice little touch.
    Bye oink we’ll miss you and finding out what your upwith your week rather then being in the episode!
    Really look forward to these

    Like

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