Stingray – 15. Secret of the Giant Oyster

Directed by John Kelly

Teleplay by Alan Fennell

First UK Broadcast – 11th April 1965

Over the course of these reviews, I have often been able to conduct research into the real life industrial, scientific, and cultural phenomena which influenced a great number of Stingray episodes. It’s been a lot of fun and incredibly interesting to research the history of things like weather ships and oil platforms and even our friend the Loch Ness Monster. So this week I did my homework on the topic of choice: oysters and pearls. I was rubbish at Biology at school so was hoping to redeem myself by seving up some hard hitting facts which demonstrated the science behind these fascinating specimens. I hope you will therefore appreciate how disappointed I was when I discovered that this episode is full of absolute nonsense on the subject. Now I’m not saying that makes the episode less enjoyable. In fact, it’s rather entertaining. But I’m just going to put it out there right now that it’s rather entertaining nonsense. So suspend your disbelief for a while as we uncover the secrets of Secret of the Giant Oyster.

So, fair warning, there’s a lot of swimming in this one. Which is great because the whole production team really are phenomenally good at swimming shots. The cave sets are a visual treat full of bright colours, intricate rock work and fantastic plants. You’ll even spot a couple of giant clams from The Ghost of the Sea if you look hard enough. Our guest characters for this week are Mike Bromley and Chick Kingsland. Sound like a couple of cool dudes if you ask me who I’m sure will turn out to be perfectly rational, well adjusted, good people throughout. Right now all we know is that they’re heading into a cave and Bromley reminds Kingsland that this will be no picnic… of course not, the sandwiches would get wet.

Oi, peasant, are you watching on a colour TV set or are you some kind of sucker? The rockwork and the ground has just been sporadically painted purple and draped in wispy neon coloured material to make the cave look exotic, and to remind Lew Grade that the investment in colour film was worth it. The sets are vast and presumably different bits and pieces are re-arranged to form new sections of cave each time. One of the benefits of all these swimming shots for the production crew is the fact that the characters’ faces are constantly covered by masks, so mastering the lip sync was completely unnecessary during these scenes. If you look very carefully at the close-ups, you’ll notice that characters speak without opening their mouths at all. So, on the one hand that must have made this episode a bit easier to work on, but on the other there are so, so many swimming shots which must have been awfully fiddly to do.

An element of danger is introduced when the unsettling noise of rocks moving can be heard in the distance. Yes, apparently the roof might fall down at any moment. Again, I’m sure that won’t prove to be a massive problem later.

So, this is what we’re all here for. An enormous 20 foot oyster. For reference, the current world record for the largest oyster went to a Danish specimen in 2013 that measured 13.97 inches long and 4.21 inches wide. I can’t really fathom what might have inspired Alan Fennell to write a story about such a huge oyster but I guess it’s just another example of the unexplored wonders of the deep ocean. The giant oyster is surrounded by lots of regular sized oysters which are all neatly spaced out rather than being gathered in a cluster as one might expect. It’s also odd that they’re just lying in the sand rather than being latched to the rocks. It’s safe to say that biological facts and accuracy weren’t an enormous priority when this episode was being formulated.

It doesn’t take long for us to get to the real reason Bromley and Kingsland are down here. There’s a legend which says this giant oyster contains a pearl, which they estimate could be worth somewhere between a lot of money and a heck of a lot of money. I actually had no idea how pearls were formed so allow me to share a dumbed down version of the process. Essentially, if an irritant like a grain of sand or a parasite gets inside the shell of an oyster, it will coat the intruder with thousands of layer of nacre which will build up over a few years to form the shiny little pearl balls we know and love. So if the legend is true, then this oyster is absolutely ancient. Unfortunately, our duo rule out opening the oyster themselves to get at the pearl, and they don’t have enough oxygen left to sit and wait for it to open. Maybe dangle a steak in front of it and see if it bites?

Oh who gave that twerp a megaphone? Yes, Bromley and Kingsland’s little expedition has been rumbled by Troy Tempest because they’re not actually allowed to be there. It’s an oyster farm under WASP protection, which would technically make the pair of them poachers if they did decide to crack the oyster open. Troy being Troy, he can’t hide the fact that he wants Bromley and Kingsland to suffer the maximum penalty for their transgression, and escorts them back to Marineville for a thorough dust-up.

Bromley and Kingsland are stood up in front of a particularly grumpy Commander Shore. Bromley is wearing the sort of suit Mr Blobby might wear to court, while Kingsland is wearing the exact same outfit as Admiral Carson from Hostages of the Deep. Shore doesn’t care for the details, which conveniently saves the writer having to provide any sort of back story for how this duo found out about the oyster, or any sort of history or scientific explanation surrounding such an unlikely freak of nature.

Shore doesn’t have any time for treasure hunters, but Troy thinks the WASPs could benefit from getting in on the action. Atlanta reminds her father that they use crushed pearls for insulating their radioactive isotopes… yeah that doesn’t make a huge amount of sense. Pearls are only of interest to humans because they look pretty and maybe have some health benefits. They certainly don’t have the ability to block out dangerous levels of radiation. But okay, fine, let’s give everyone the benefit of the doubt and just say that this is a new species of oyster not yet discovered in real life, and the WASPs have some incredible manufacturing process which makes pearls an excellent and, somehow, cost-effective insulator for radioactive isotopes.

Right, I think we have just about enough plot to justify the WASPs’ involvement in this scheme, so I guess it’s time to launch Stingray and bring that pearl home.

Marina is thoroughly unhappy about all this. Phones quickly deduces that the pearl and the giant oyster are part of some undersea superstition. Alas, Troy treats Marina like a child and tells her to get over it. Obviously hindsight is 20/20, but surely the whole point of having Marina on the team is to utilize her greater knowledge about the mysterious culture of the underwater people. So maybe Mr Tempest, at the very least, you should ask your colleague to elaborate on her concerns, rather than dismissing them as nonsense – particularly when they relate to a pretty fantastical and legendary giant oyster about which little is known. Still, at least Phones is vaguely in tune with Marina, so that’s nice.

Stingray arrives, parking as close to the cave entrance as possible. Presumably the submarine must have some kind of anchor or incredibly advanced and sensitive buoyancy system to keep itself perfectly stationary underwater for extended periods of time.

As Troy and Bromley set off, Marina makes one last effort to warn them. Troy dismisses her again. She’s in tears for goodness sake. Marina can’t talk, so surely Troy must know by now that it’s worth paying attention to her when she’s trying extra hard to communicate. The fool.

Troy and Bromley make their way into the cave armed with a net and a big spoon.

Because the WASP breathing equipment is so brilliant, they can pause for a quick chat. Bromley takes this opportunity to be a bit weird and entertains the idea of abandoning Troy in the caves, just hypothetically, of course. Troy must really be having a problem with his communication skills today because that really should have been an obvious red flag right there, but Troy shrugs it off and gets on with the job. It’s worth noting that Bromley is one of the few guest characters in any Supermarionation series to use a blinker head, presumably chosen because of how much time he spends in a scuba mask and therefore unable to emote on camera in any other way.

And then the roof collapses. We knew it was going to happen from the moment the possibility of it happening was introduced earlier. That’s not necessarily a critcism. Stories need foreshadowing to build up dramatic tension. We needed to know that this was a dangerous situation Troy was heading into so that we cared about him. Let’s just say though that this episode is following a very straightforward, linear formula this week where things which are obviously signposted for the viewer earlier on are most definitely going to crop up again later.

Troy manages to pull Bromley clear of the rockfall before one great big giant boulder hits the ground. The giant spoon gets completely buried and definitely won’t appear again in a minute completely unscathed…

Their path is blocked. But rather than calling it a day, or at the very least going back to Stingray to regroup and bring help, and equipment, to clear the rocks, Troy decides they’re going to clear the way all by themselves, regardless of the time ticking on their air supply. Again, I’m sure that added delay won’t cause them any trouble whatsoever later on…

After the commercial break, and with one hour of oxygen apparently used up, Troy and Bromley have managed to shift enough rock at the top of the pile to get through to the next part of the cave. More glorious and elaborately decorated tunnel sets for your eyes to enjoy. There’s a lot of that in this episode. The lovely visuals and Barry Gray’s delightful score make it an enjoyable experience, even if the story itself is nothing special. Somehow, Bromley has gotten his spoon back despite it being stuck under a mountain of rock. I guess he just really, really needed it.

They find the oyster again, with footage from earlier almost certainly being re-used for the grand reveal. It’s a really nicely detailed prop, that’s for sure.

There are certain shots, such as this long shot of Troy and Bromley admiring the oyster from afar, where it’s fairly obvious the water tank in front of the camera has been done away with. The water tank re-appears though when they swim down for a closer look. Troy comments on how strange it is for the small oysters to be lined up like soldiers. At least he’s paying attention to something this week.

So now they just wait for the oyster to open by itself. That isn’t typically how pearls are harvested but I appreciate this one is rather large and probably a bit difficult to crack into, so I guess waiting around is all they have. With the puppets appearing in the same shot as the oyster I have to say that Kingsland’s earlier measurement of 20 feet across may have been a tad inaccurate. It’s maybe 12 feet. Still big though, can’t take that way from it.

And just as Bromley gets scared and decides to swan off…

That’s a heck of a pearl. It’s the size of Troy’s big stupid head. What I do struggle with is the fact it’s just sitting there inside the oyster like a ring in a box. They don’t normally look quite so elegant, and the lads would likely have to cut away some of the oyster’s tissue to get at it. Maybe that’s what Bromley’s giant spoon is for. Speaking of the oyster’s tissue though, this monster doesn’t actually appear to have any of that meaty oyster goodness that one would typically slide down one’s gullet. Again, there was probably a desire by the production team to make the whole affair rather more appealing on camera, and less icky.

Back aboard Stingray, Phones lets Marina know that he plans to go out and rescue Troy and Bromley because they’re so late getting back. Marina still looks as distraught as she did earlier but I’m sure she’s secretly just wishing she could say, “told you so.”

The empty oyster shell closes up with some ominous music to suggest that all is not well. Once again Barry Gray’s music really is having to work very hard to sell the emotion of the situation, because a giant oyster can’t exactly express it’s feelings very easily for us to see…

Phones leaves Stingray. What a hero.

Sure enough, Troy and Bromley are running into difficulties and both fall to the ground struggling for air. Some swimming shots, such as these, are filmed at high speed in order to slow down the various plants floating around in the breeze of the wind machine, and to make the bubbles in the water tank appear larger. It also gives the added effect of making Troy and Bromley’s movements much slower and more labored because of their lack of oxygen. Troy admits that Marina was right and the pearl apparently has some kind of curse on it… okay, yes Troy, Marina was right, but just to be clear, the lack of oxygen is entirely your fault due to poor planning.

Phones comes to the rescue with spare oxygen tanks. Huzzah! According to the internet, you can apparently change an air tank underwater but it’s extremely fiddly and risky and ideally not something you should do with only a few minutes left to live. Troy is probably highly trained on how to do it though, and hopefully Phones is feeling nice and will help Bromley out.

Phones is astonished by the size of the pearl. I have to say that the prop makers have done an excellent job of making it actually look like a real pearl with just the right amount of reflectiveness… (that’s a technical term for shininess. I probably should have just said shininess.)

Back on Stingray, it looks like the mission has been a big success. Even Marina has perked up a bit and is just admiring the pearl. What could possibly go wrong now?

Oh yeah, these guys were obviously crooks from the beginning. Who allowed Kingsland to bring that gun aboard in the first place? The WASP Security Team seriously need to get their act together.

Troy is utterly baffled by this turn of events. I don’t blame him. Kingsland really is going out on a limb here considering how chummy everyone’s been up until now. Troy reminds them that 10% of the pearl’s value will still go back to them, although now Kingsland has threatened a WASP officer with violence I doubt they would see that money until after the prison sentence. Bromley, who was apparently the mastermind behind all this, decides to go soft on Troy and the others and instead of killing them suggests flushing them out into the ocean.

Troy isn’t best pleased. Not only does this mean they get the pearl, they’ll also get Stingray. Troy loves his Stingray, so I’m pretty sure he would have preferred getting shot.

Troy is eventually persuaded to go for a swim. But apparently he’s, “not licked yet.” Ew. Nobody said anything about any tongue action, Troy.

Then, things get really weird. In turns out all those little oysters can swim around of their own accord, and in small packs rise up from the ground and zoom out of the cave. The fact they’re all obviously being dangled from bits of wire makes the effect a little disappointing, but boy does Barry Gray try hard to save the moment with his famous March of the Oysters composition, one of the finest pieces of incidental music he ever produced and would prove itself time and again in future productions.

Meanwhile, Troy, Marina, and Phones have been forced out of Stingray and are heading for the surface to save the air in their tanks, something Troy is now actually concerned about. The wind machine trying to make Marina’s hair and dress float around in the “water” is working overtime.

As Bromley and Kingsland try to figure out how the heck Stingray works, they are unaware that the oysters are heading towards them. Stealing Stingray really is a bold move. Surely the WASPs can just track it down again? Hmmm… actually, they’ve completely lost Stingray a couple of times now, so perhaps not.

Up on the surface, Troy and Phones really do look like tiny specks in a vast ocean because the water tank’s infinite horizon and the forced perspective offered by the size of the rocks in the background cleverly make the body of water in the studio look much larger than it actually is.

Meanwhile, Marina is actually doing something useful and swims back down to Stingray. What with her knowledge of the sea and its legends, she seems have this all-knowing air about her, like she’s aware of exactly what’s about to happen. The small oysters begin to gather and cling on to Stingray. They look suspiciously like dry roasted peanuts painted grey.

Bromley has finally worked out how to start Stingray, but it’s too late. The oysters have jammed up Stingray’s motors and now the sub won’t get going. Note that the oysters are already very much covering the windows of the cabin. Marina, satisifed that the crooks won’t be going anywhere, returns to the surface to fetch the two doughnuts.

Even though we already saw them on the window from outside, oysters start to appear on the windows from the inside. Size-wise, these oysters are much, much smaller than the ones on the model’s exterior, but that’s just splitting hairs. At least they look a bit like oysters.

Marina comes to summon the thicky twins back down to Stingray. The puppet is properly soaked. I have no idea what effect water had on the puppet’s internal mechanisms, but seeing as they’re made of fibre glass and get submerged reasonably often, I assume it doesn’t completely write them off. Plus, Marina probably doesn’t actually have a mouth mechanism in her head, just one for the eyes, I guess… to be honest the workings of Supermarionation puppets are still basically witchcraft to me after all these years and I’m happy to let that magic just be magic sometimes.

More incredible puppetry as Marina is shown to kick her feet and actually manages to dive down into the water. That must have been very fiddly to achieve.

That’s a lot of oysters. It’s an impressive visual to see Stingray totally overwhelmed like this. The idea that the baby oysters are somehow attracted to the mumma oyster’s pearl is such utter garbage nonsense it isn’t worthy of discussion, but somehow the script gets away with it because the finished product just looks so good on screen. Who cares if it makes sense as long as it looks cool? The whole thing can be written off as some fantastic legend of the sea anyway.

Troy and Phones finish off making sense of the plot for us by pointing out that they are indeed oysters and they are indeed stuck to Stingray because of the pearl. Well done boys. Well done.

Kingsland and Bromley are rather nervous about how trapped they are, so after trying and failing to open the hatches, they call up Troy for help. Notice that there’s a distinctive right angle in the hair on the back of Bromley’s head. The pattern of hair on the back of Kingsland’s head is slightly off too. In both cases, this is clearly where the removable panel lies on the back of the puppets’ heads to access the internal workings. I’ve never noticed it quite so visibly in one shot before on a pair of wigged characters. On bald characters like Supercar’s Masterspy it was famously difficult to disguise the join on the back of the head where the panel opened.

Troy suggests that the pearl, and the crooks’ guns, be fired out of the missile ejector to get them away from Stingray and therefore distract the oysters. Finally, Troy decides to use Marina’s expertise and asks Phones to consult with her up on the surface. Apparently Marina can’t hear Troy and Phones underwater, which makes sense as the pair likely communicate by radio and Marina doesn’t wear any diving gear. Surely a WASP boffin could fix her up with a waterproof earpiece at least?

Marina once again emerges on the surfaces absolutely drenched, while Phones is bone dry. I guess because of the length of Marina’s hair the crew really couldn’t avoid getting it wet for these shots, so they just decided to work with it. Phones, however, remains completely dry despite also just having come up from the depths of the ocean.

The pearl and the guns are fired with great force onto the sea bed. Now Marina and the gang just have to wait and watch. Anyone brought along a crossword book to pass the time?

It doesn’t take too long for the oysters to start shifting. Y’know, I was only joking earlier about them looking like peanuts, but actually, the more I look, I think they might well be nuts of some kind or other. Some of them haven’t even been painted…

Soon the oysters are clear of Stingray and have gathered around the pearl. Just don’t think about it too hard because it really is a load of tosh. Marina must be feeling pretty smug right now. It’s good to see her status as an expert on underwater life restored after a bit of an absence lately.

Kingsland reckons Troy doesn’t have the guts to shoot them. Kingsland obviously doesn’t know Troy very well. But our hero decides to do them a good turn and instead invites them for an extended stay in the Marineville jail. But nevermind that, take look at Troy and Phones’ feet. On Phones in particular, you can clearly see the join at the ankle between the puppet’s feet and the legs. That’s unusual. Anyway, Troy orders Marina to tie up the criminals because he can’t be bothered to do it himself. Fortunately, she has a mind of her own and has gone to clear up the mess left by the dumb terraneans.

Yes, for reasons that admittedly make no sense in the real world, Marina is returning the pearl to the giant oyster. I’m just going to have to assume that the legend among Marina’s people, and I guess the truth of the matter, is that the oyster can never be separated from its pearl, or its “children” will get mad and pursue the pearl at all costs. Maybe Alan Fennell had some really intriguing source material to work from, or maybe he was applying some of the homing instincts found in other animals to oysters because he found the idea interesting. Or maybe it was all just a nice, fluffy way to write a story for Marina.

Marina’s happy, the oysters are happy, and the episode ends with a very heavy emphasis on Marina as this mother of the sea type, who is perfectly in harmony with the undersea ecosystem. Lovely stuff.

Secret of the Giant Oyster really isn’t an episode with a lot of depth to it. What you see is what you get. There’s no sub-plot or particularly complex character work going on. The premise is set up and the story runs from there pretty much as you would expect. Everyone performs their roles and Marina is probably the only character who gets the spotlight because of her relationship with the legendary oyster. It’s a straightforward half hour of television and that’s okay. It’s a sign that the writers are getting comfortable with the format of the series and don’t necessarily need to work too hard to create an episode which still ticks a lot of the boxes towards being a good episode. I enjoyed Secret of the Giant Oyster on the whole, and there are some wonderful set pieces like the gathering of the oysters around Stingray. Perhaps the episode lacks some of the excitement and action one might expect from really top level episode of the series, but it’ll do.

Next week, an encounter with two beatnik ocean lovers leads to a rescue operation and Troy taking a non-stop trip to Dreamsville, man. Stay tuned for Raptures of the Deep

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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.

How Pearls Are Made Publised by The Pearl Source.

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