Stingray – 23. The Master Plan

Directed by John Kelly

Teleplay by Alan Fennell

First UK Broadcast – 30th May 1965

For the past few weeks, we’ve seen episodes of Stingray which have stretched and explored the format of the show in a variety of new ways. From wild dream sequences, to serious character pieces, to world-changing disasters, it’s been an opportunity to look at the show and its heroes in a different light. Staying fresh and experimenting with new types of story to tell can be vital to keeping a television series popular. But, it’s just as important to remember a show’s core values and the foundation upon which all the characters and familiar scenarios have been built – rewarding long-time viewers with a development in the ideas established during the early days of the series. The Master Plan takes us right back to the thing which kicked off the many adventures of Stingray, and the WASPs’ battle with the villainous undersea aliens – it’s about Titan and gaining revenge on the team which dared to challenge his reputation as ruler of the ocean. A classic battle of good versus evil, Troy versus Titan, and Marina’s position in the centre of it all. This episode is Stingray getting back to its roots and raising the stakes surrounding the conflict which has hooked loyal viewers from the beginning…

We’re back at Titanica. We haven’t actually been here properly for a long while, with Titan only making a few short appearances on video screens and such since his last major role in the The Golden Sea. So as the episode title suggests, it’s time for a big comeback… a masterful comeback…

The Aquaphibians stand guard in Titan’s throne room. Funny how we only ever see two of them at a time. X20 has joined us. Having failed multiple times to kill Troy Tempest, capture Stingray, destroy Marineville and such like things, X20’s role is pretty much reduced to bumbling comedy sidekick now. I’m okay with that. He attempts to advise his maniacal boss that maybe the enslaved races under Titan’s control haven’t gotten over Marina’s escape from captivity. It gives us a small insight into how Titan operates and rules over his unwilling kingdom. Interestingly, it looks like the eyes on the X20 puppet have been repositioned in their sockets to look up at Titan. It’s not a technique which I’ve spotted before in any Supermarionation productions. I can imagine it was probably quite fiddly to alter the position of the eye mechanism inside the head for just a couple of shots. It’s very effective though, and gives the character more of a condescending air about him. However, Titan decides that X20 is completely useless and begins to come up with a plan to recapture Marina all by himself. If you want a job doing properly, do it yourself.

Meanwhile, Stingray is launched, and it seems to be a pretty routine patrol. Commander Shore gives orders for Stingray to keep an eye on Titan’s territory. With a knowing glance at Marina, Troy predicts trouble. Marina is happy playing chess against herself. Considering she’s been a part of the Stingray crew for quite a while by this point, surely she should have a more useful function aboard the craft by now. Is there not a piece of equipment she can sit next to and monitor or a really important lever she can keep a hold of?

Titan has gotten his toys out and is playing with them on his trademark evil villain map. X20, whose eyes are now back in their normal position, demands more details of the plan, but Titan is playing his cards close to his chest and relishing every moment of it. If I had a very important plan that I was trying to carry out, I probably wouldn’t mention it to X20 either. It would only increase the probability of a blunder. The monitor on the wall is the same one watched by Titan and Sculpin in The Golden Sea, suggesting we are in the same part of Titan’s base. I point this out purely because, for its size, we don’t see an awful lot of Titanica over the course of the series so it’s important to keep track of everything that we do see.

The gruesome twosome watch on an entirely different monitor as Stingray enters the patrol zone. This is the same screen which X20 is seen on in Count Down but in a different position. As the Mechanical Fish emerges from cover, music and footage from the pilot is re-used. Indeed, a lot of this episode is reminiscent of the pilot with the return appearance of so many familiar elements like Titan and the Mechanical Fish which have otherwise seen relatively little action since that first episode, despite feeling like large staples of the show.

In a classic bit of Stingray action, Phones picks up the Mechanical Fish on the hydrophones and evasive action is taken immediately. The villains open fire and land a direct hit on Stingray’s stern. Just your average Tuesday in the WASPs basically. All of this business feels so familiar, despite most of the episodes up to this point not even featuring the Mechanical Fish, such is the strength of that pilot episode and the opening titles.

Thanks to some textbook quick-thinking, Stingray manages to come to rest on the ocean floor in a suitable position to launch a missile. That’s jolly convenient. Said missile manages to track down the Mechanical Fish, and the regularly seen shot of the thing getting blown to bits from the opening titles is put to use once again. It’s a triumph for Stingray!

X20 declares failure. He knows it when he sees it. But Titan’s plan isn’t over yet. He couldn’t give a hoot whether his craft has been written off. The important thing now is that Troy will have to leave Stingray to repair the damage dealt by the initial attack. Titan’s learning! He is well aware that Stingray would win in a straight dogfight so has come up with a strategy to use this fact to his advantage. It’s very satisfying to watch our characters getting smarter, and learning from each defeat. It suggests growth and change and a raising of the stakes which is so important in a series focused on a continuing feud. Even though this episode is re-treading ideas from the pilot, it’s also taking them a step further and bringing them into more dangerous territory.

Apparently the damage to Stingray isn’t too serious. Yeah holes in the side of a submarine aren’t usually a big deal. Nothing to make a fuss about.

Andy the Aquaphibian is out for his afternoon swim. It’s unclear whether he’s survived the destruction of the Mechanical Fish, or if he just wasn’t a part of that particular suicide mission. Either way, I’m glad to see he’s keeping well. The fish in the water tank are looking particularly well-fed today too.

This handheld, point-of-view shot of the Aquaphibian approaching Troy is great and just sets us up nicely with a looming sense of danger.

Andy launches his cunning attack! It’s a cloud of purple liquid… a cloud of bullets might have done the job quicker but okay. Maybe he’s a Prince fan? Troy certainly doesn’t know what to make of it as he flails around uselessly.

Bye Andy. Another stellar contribution.

Troy doesn’t understand what just happened. He would have preferred a gunshot wound just to avoid the puzzle he now has to solve. His laundry bill is going to be quite steep too. Stingray’s hull has also been sprayed purple, although the peasants watching in black and white at home probably wouldn’t have noticed that.

As Troy returns to Stingray, X20 remains baffled that Titan completely screwed up the perfect opportunity to destroy Troy Tempest and Stingray. After all, who needs a multi-million dollar film project or a bogus lecture tour if you can just swim up to the enemy and shoot them in the face? But Titan is thinking of the bigger picture, plotting to not only kill Troy but also to recapture Marina. Presumably Marina’s enslavement is quite an important status symbol because of her position as a princess of Pacifica. It’s been established in Plant of Doom that Aphony, Marina’s father and ruler of Pacifica, is a respected figure among the other undersea races. What I enjoy is that Stingray‘s alien civilisations aren’t bogged down by too much lore and lengthy exposition about who reports to whom, and where, and for how long. We just get the absolute essentials to hang the plot on. If you want deeper insight into all that business, there are comic books and spin-off merchandise available, and for everyone else we just get a half hour of exciting telly.

Stingray is back in business. Not sure whether Troy actually managed to repair the hole but I’m sure it’s fine.

Troy plonks himself down in his chair and there’s a bit of a jarring cut as he starts to feel faint. He complains about the temperature… again. Seriously, this guy is so sensitive to changes in heat. Sipping a cup of hot cocoa must be a traumatic experience for the young fella.

And he’s out. Once Troy is down, the eyes on the blinker head struggle to remain shut. But it’s a great dramatic moment. Titan’s devious plan appears to be working…

Blimey. This is a pretty grim sight. Troy isn’t just a little bit unwell, he’s in a coma on the brink of actual real death. It’s incredible just how serious the situation is. This is far from being a puppet show for kiddies. This is a character we love and care about receiving intensive care. Once again we’re looking at a great advancement in the storytelling potential of Stingray and Supermarionation. The puppets can offer grave, emotional moments on the same level as an actor in a live action drama.

Our family of heroes have gathered at Troy’s bedside. Troy’s face has been made pale, and the oxygen sack next to him is inflating and deflating to suggest supported breathing. Joining the team for this sad moment is an unnamed doctor, who will make return appearances later in the series. He gets straight to the point and lets us know that Troy is dying. The news is delivered with all the warmth of an undercooked pie, adding to the bleak atmosphere.

Atlanta doesn’t hold back her distress. The emotion of this scene is so raw and believable. In my opinion it isn’t hammed up or exaggerated. The reactions feel human. It’s the same level of performance that the voice actors would have given in a prime time television drama, and the puppeteers successfully match it.

The characters are all at their most vulnerable. Once the conclusion is reached that Troy was sprayed by an unknown, underwater poison and the hopelessness of the situation becomes apparent, everyone hits the pinnacle of their emotional outbursts. Commander Shore, the tough and demanding leader essentially orders the doctor to find an antidote at all costs, with failure not being an option. Atlanta completely breaks down at Troy’s side, her heart overwhelmed by sadness and grief. Marina silently weeps for her lost friend, powerless at this moment to save the one who rescued her from slavery. And Phones, Troy’s fiercely loyal friend and the voice of reason and good humour in most situations, is the one to quietly but furiously swear revenge on Titan. There was never any doubt that Troy was a beloved figure in the lives of all our main characters, and their reactions to this tragedy are absolutely pitch perfect.

Titan enjoys an evil chuckle to celebrate the success of the first part of his plan, a chilling contrast to the sullen tone of the prior scene. Part two of the plan begins now as X20 arranges for Titan to make direct radio contact with Marineville…

Shore arrives in the control room, still weary with grief, just in time to hear Titan’s message. Fisher is back again this week, and I think at this point we can consider him a series regular. Titan relishes making his declarations over the radio like the mad emperor he is.

The bargain is simply to exchange Marina for the antidote to the poison. Shore’s instincts kick in and he doesn’t even consider accepting. In a lovely bit of dialogue, he accuses Titan of having a “waterlocked mind,” which is an excellent ‘on brand’ metaphor.

Shore, Atlanta and Phones all agree that handing Marina over to save Troy is not an option. It’s really quite a heartwarming moment when you consider how much certain characters distrusted Marina in the early episodes. They’ve come so far together since then.

But Shore goes one step further. He actually acknowledges that Marina would willingly sacrifice herself to save Troy, but argues very matter of factly that making a deal with Titan is a bad idea. Compare this moment to the many infuriating moments just a few weeks ago in The Disappearing Ships, when Shore could not wrap his head around Marina making her own choice to remain in a hazardous situation just to help Troy and Phones. I argued in that episode review how incredibly backwards it was of Shore to continue ordering Marina over and over again not to get involved in the situation when she was clearly capable of helping. But now we have an acknowledgement from Shore of Marina’s feelings and her bravery. He shows an admiration for her undoubted willingness to go back to Titan in order to save Troy. But then, he offers the very reasonable counter argument that playing into Titan’s hand would not end well. It’s a real step up in the quality of the dialogue and the discourse between the characters. Shore isn’t barking orders just because he’s the boss. He’s making rational decisions while also taking the feelings of his team into consideration. It doesn’t take up extra screen time or require additional special scenes to do this sort of character development. As long as the dialogue is true to the characters, and works with the plot rather than against it, everything can keep on moving while we enjoy the great depth of our heroes.

The heartbreak continues as Shore contacts the hospital, this time speaking without any anger or bullying, to inform the doctor very plainly that there are no alternatives left to save Troy beyond what the doctor can do. There’s almost a sense of optimism in Ray Barrett’s delivery of the line, with Commander Shore actually putting faith in his scientific boffins for once, when he normally doesn’t have a lot of patience for such people. However, the doctor remains incredibly pessimistic, suggesting Troy only has a few hours left to live. This is all extremely heavy, and graver than any Stingray episode has been before. It’s a shift which needed to happen for this episode to be successful. Troy has been in life threatening danger pretty much every week up to this point and he’s been able to shrug it off and defeat the bad guys. It’s a given at this point that Troy will live to fight another day. This time, we needed something to happen to break the mold. It needed to really feel different if this master plan of Titan’s was going to have any impact on the audience. And I think they’ve nailed it.

Phones is still ready to fight Titan. He’s running on nothing but anger and adrenaline, and with very little thought proposes taking Stingray to Titanica for a showdown. Shore quite rightly refuses the suggestion. Titan’s plan has been carefully thought through and uses our characters’ weaknesses against them, so Phones’ counter plan based purely on a visceral desire to bring Titan down is clearly not the smart move in this particular chess match. Shore remains strong in his leadership by continuing to place his trust in medical science, and not by risking the lives of his team any further.

X20 also demonstrates his intelligence by pointing out that Marina would never be allowed by the WASPs to return to Titanica. I’m really enjoying how smart all the characters are this week. Even though X20 isn’t keeping up with Titan’s plan, he is still asking all the right questions which come from a place of logical reasoning, rather than him just being too dumb to grasp what’s happening. But Titan is smartest of all, and has remained one step of everybody else so far. He reasons that Marina will make up her own mind about whether to hand herself over. This is genius, of course, because it plays on two factors. Number one, it has been proven in episodes such as Hostages of the Deep and The Disappearing Ships that Marina’s bravery knows no limits. She is not afraid to disobey orders and put herself at risk to save others. So the viewers at home can understand that Marina would be self-sacrificing enough to return to Titanica if it lead to Troy’s survival. But number two, Titan has not underestimated Marina’s bravery. As I mentioned earlier, Marina’s heroism in the past as often been mischaracterized by others as defying logic, and acting out of sheer foolishness rather than reasoning. But Titan respects Marina enough to know that her heroism is actually rooted in her intelligence. He has presented her with a clear, logical problem to solve – in order to save Troy she has to hand herself over to him. There is no alternative, therefore she reasons that this is the only option. If Titan had dismissed Marina as an emotional, irrational being who acts without thought, he would not have needed to construct such a meticulous, pre-meditated plan to recapture her. This plan really is masterful not because it’s ridiculously grand and bombastic, but because it’s clever, more clever than any villain has been in the series so far, and that’s a truly frightening prospect.

Sure enough, Marina is at the coast, ready to start her journey to Titanica. But she is hesitant and fearful. She is visibly weighing up the odds and thinking things through, and she is quite rightly afraid of Titan, and what he might do next. This beach scene is filmed against back projection footage which we’ve seen previously in the series. An additional tree has been added in the foreground to create a sense of depth.

By the way, I know I’ve been praising Titan’s genius for a little while now, but let’s be clear about one thing… his fashion sense is still attrocious. That collar with that pointy hat? What a clown.

This shot of Marina swimming is instantly recognisable from the final moments of the end credits for each episode. It’s a great cliffhanger to end the first part of the episode. So much has been packed into one half of the episode. Troy’s poisoning has set us up with the most serious crisis the Stingray crew has ever faced, and Troy, our trusty hero, isn’t able to solve it himself. Then the dilemma has just been escalated further by Marina putting herself in danger to save Troy. All this while we understand that the villain’s plan is playing out exactly as expected with victory easily within his reach. How the heck are they going to get out of this one? Find out, after the break.

News has reached the control tower that Marina has gone, and the conclusion is all too clear. Shore doesn’t respond with surprise, because he knew Marina had it in her to make such a bold act of bravery.

Atlanta is back at the hospital, no doubt desperate for any sign of improvement. The tape machine seen in episodes such as Count Down is once again visible in the background. Atlanta almost lets slip that she loves Troy, but quickly changes an ‘I’ into a ‘we’ so that the sentiment carries a different meaning. While Atlanta has been known for big, emotional outbursts, this is one of many examples where she shows restraint in order to protect her own feelings. I believe she changes that ‘I’ to a ‘we’ so that she doesn’t have to admit to herself that she’s about to lose the man she loves more than anyone else. She shows similar restraint in Marineville Traitor in refusing to accept the gravity of her father’s apparent betrayal, and at the end of the The Man From The Navy when she acts modestly in order to avoid feeling foolish about her attraction to Jordan. Phones still speaks softly and quietly when he enters the room. Our happy, optimistic sidekick is trying to walk in Troy’s shadow and be the hero who takes action without fear or hesitation, but the weight of the situation is too much for him. He is defeated in his attempts to reassure Atlanta, and gives in to her opinion that Titan is unlikely to send the antidote now that Marina has returned to him.

Then, the episode gets shaken up a bit more with the sudden appearance of a missile launching from beneath the ocean. It’s an appropriately jarring nudge back into the type of thing we normally see in a Stingray episode, and serves to highlight just how much Troy’s condition has shifted the tone of the show and the effectiveness of the Marineville team. The missile which blasts out of the water is ever so slightly different to the model seen in flight. The shot of the rocket in the water is new and slightly too silver, while the footage of it in the air is actually lifted from Emergency Marineville. Despite the grief, Marineville is soon placed on high alert.

Shore is quickly brought back to reality and calls for battle stations immediately.

We haven’t seen all the business of Marineville descending below ground for quite a while – not since The Invaders. It’s another one of those set pieces which feels integral to the show without being over-used.

Just before a counterattack can be launched, the Marineville Tracking Station is able to report that the missile is not carrying a warhead. This is obviously some sort of missile detection aparatus they were not in possession of when Troy’s disarmed rocket was fired in Emergency Marineville. So the harmless missile is allowed to crash straight into the ground with a big puff of dirt, with more footage lifted from, you guessed it, Emergency Marineville. Fisher is ordered to go down to the crash site and organise the trusty rocket investigation squad. Maybe they’ll let him push a button on the crane if he’s a good boy.

The familiar security checkpoint and guard are here for another appearance, with a nice new sign in place to let everyone know the rocket squad are hard at work. That group sure do get a lot of work. Of course, the footage of them actually working on the rocket is lifted from… well… you don’t need me to tell you which episode it is at this point.

Atlanta is understandably put out by all this missile business, but Fisher has good news. The rocket was carrying the antidote to the poison! I suppose a missile is faster than shipping with Royal Mail. I also don’t doubt that Titan took immense pleasure in firing a missile at Marineville and making everybody panic. I’m surprised he doesn’t do it more often.

The doc is astounded that the antidote is the real deal, and Troy’s breathing begins to improve. Don’t worry, Doc, I’m sure there’ll be another medical emergency for you to be downbeat about again soon. The message that came with the antidote explains that Titan is a “man of honour” – which is exactly the sort of title a ruthless dictator would put on their memoirs. It also confirms that Marina has indeed returned to Titan, which neatly throws us into the next part of the plot. This episode does not give up for a moment!

Not wasting any time, Troy is sat up in bed and ready to jump into Stingray to save Marina. Of course, because this episode is all about being smart and calculated, he’s ordered to stay in bed and rest while they come up with a better plan. It would appear that Troy has once again moved house. He is not in the bedroom last seen in Subterranean Sea, or his shared room with Phones from Marineville Traitor. Maybe he’s staying in someone’s guest bedroom or another part of the hospital while he recovers. Troy being Troy doesn’t love the idea of waiting around for a couple of days to get better while Marina is in danger. He’d much rather bravely swan into Titan’s throne room, get bravely dizzy from the exhaustion, and cough up a lungful of poison bravely.

The only real danger that Marina’s in is from inhaling too many soap bubbles. I jest, of course, it’s actually quite sad to see her right back to being Titan’s slave, working on her hands and knees. I might argue that this all might have been a bit more effective if she’d contributed more to the WASPs though. To see a capable operative who has risen to a position of great expertise and trust in the organisation reduced to this would be quite moving. But outside of tagging along for the ride and ocassionally having to save everyone else’s skin, her contributions as a member of the Stingray crew have been fairly minimal, particularly in recent episodes. She was literally sat there playing chess earlier. Scrubbing floors could be considered a promotion. Incidentally, the floor is clearly made of paper which moves as she cleans it. Then there’s just the fact that no amount of soap and water will shift all that sand. Who keeps sand in their throne room anyway?

With Troy very much alive, X20 asks another perfectly sensible question – why did Titan send the antidote to his sworn enemy? I’m fairly sure this scene was filmed at the same time as the earlier throne room scene which is why X20 still has eyes which look up slightly. Titan calls out X20 for being a blithering idiot… which is a bit harsh but I get it. He wants Marina as his slave, Troy Tempest as his prisoner, and Stingray as his royal yacht. Not sure what he’d do with Phones yet but I imagine he would fall somewhere on the slave or prisoner spectrum. So the next part of the scheme is simply waiting for Troy and Stingray to turn up at Titanica to rescue Marina. Once again, Titan has 100% accurately predicted how Troy would react to the situation, and had Troy been allowed to get out of bed, Titan’s plan would have been a success. Of course, Troy wasn’t allowed to get out of bed which means the cracks in the master plan are beginning to show…

Marina is ordered to go and make some seaweed tea. I doubt this was the intention of the writer, but seaweed tea just so happens to be an East Asian delicacy. Holding Marina in place as she stands up, you can just about spot a floor puppeteer’s hand grabbing her feet.

Speaking of tea, they’re drinking some in the Marineville control room. With biscuits, of course. I’m sure our all-American hero, Troy Tempest, likes to dunk a hobnob in his builder’s brew. He’s back to feeling fit as a fiddle after just two days. It’s almost irritating how fired up he is. The time has allowed them to come up with a plan, but unlike some previous episodes where everything gets explained before it happens, we aren’t going to be spoon-fed the rest of the plot this week. The audience is going to watch the plan unfold as it happens, and we’ll have no way of knowing whether it’s going as intended or not.

The surprises start immediately when Troy and Phones suddenly make a joint effort to do an impression of an Aquaphibian. We’ll talk about that in a moment. I want to drill down into the specifics of how the effect of Troy blowing air bubbles into the glass of water is achieved. He’s a puppet so it’s very unlikely that he’s using his own lungs. It’s difficult to tell for sure but it does appear that the bubbles are coming straight from the straw Troy is using and not some additional air-line that’s been sneakily introduced. So here’s a mad theory. The air-line is being run through the back of Troy’s smiler head, into the puppet’s mouth, and out between the lips. Maybe because Troy’s smiler head is used less often it was easier to modify? I don’t know, it sounds nuts but I can’t think of how else the effect was done without being incredibly obvious. Anyway, more importantly, how the heck did Phones manage to learn the language of the Aquiphibians?

Shore is astounded by the sudden lack of professionalism. He doesn’t like impressions. The commander could barely contain his rage when Atlanta turned up to work one morning dressed as Margaret Thatcher.

But no, this is all part of the plan to get in to Titanica. It involves pretending to be Aquaphibians. They are going to need a LOT of green make-up. But with that, Troy and Phones are off. What could go wrong? Well, we don’t know, that’s why this episode works so well.

Well goodness me, there’s a Mechanical Fish where Stingray should be! I’m not sure why they have to use Stingray’s pen when Marineville clearly has more than one submarine pen. This is the first new material to be shot on this particular model set since Count Down, and it’s largely unchanged since then, although the wall to the rear of the craft has had a few details switched here and there.

So, this Mechanical Fish has apparently been constructed by the WASPs within just two days. It’s slow and unarmed. Despite this, the interior decorating and most of the controls are a perfect match. Yes, I do find it slightly hard to believe that the WASPs were able to build an entire submarine in two days… and it begs an important question. Do they still have the genuine Mechanical Fish which was captured at the end of the pilot episode? If so, why didn’t they just use that? If not, how else were the engineers able to produce such a faithful replica without referencing an original? Okay, so when one thinks about it too hard, this plan is nonsense, but the core idea is quite clever. Sneaking into Titanica aboard a Mechanical Fish is a much more subtle and smart way of going about things, but still dangerous enough to create some tension.

The Mechanical Fish is launched, but from the reconstructed ocean door set like the one seen in The Invaders, rather than what we usually see in stock footage of Stingray launching that was originally shot for the pilot episode.

So Troy and Phones are on their way to Titanica, hoping that they have the element of surprise on their side. I suppose this plan isn’t a million miles away from the Trojan Horse ploy… the Trojan Fish? No wait… let’s see what species of fish the Mechanical Fish most closely resembles… *three minutes of intense googling later*… the Trojan Hatchetfish?

Okay, now I don’t know where the WASP engineers are getting their design plans from. The gold spinny thing in the background of this shot was a part of the set for the travel tube car in the pilot episode, not the Mechanical Fish. BUT, it did then make an appearance on the Mechanical Fish set in Plant of Doom, but that wouldn’t have been the fish captured by Troy, Phones, and Marina. So what in Teufel’s teeth is going on here?! It’s almost as if I’m a little too fixated on this sort of thing…

The entrance to Titanica is monitored by two Aquaphibians, so I’m sure security is top notch.

Troy and Phones begin their improvisation. I have to just assume Phones is talking nonsense because you can’t convince me the team managed to build a replica submarine AND learn another language in two days. But never mind all that because I have more questions about Troy’s ability to blow bubbles. This time, the face has been more heavily modified with plasticine to make Troy actually look like he’s pursing his lips. It’s also a slightly different straw to the one we saw earlier. Which version was filmed first is anyone’s guess, but I’m continuing to believe that the air-line is being run through Troy’s head to blow the bubbles in the water. What an extraordinary modification to make to a puppet for just a few seconds of screen time. But such is the attention to detail of the AP Films team!

Andy and his mate, er… Greg, decide to let the approaching Mechanical Fish into the base. They do seem confused by the unexpected arrival of the craft, but confusion is also just a natural state of being for an Aquaphibian. Also, if Phones was just making up the language as he went along, it puts the Aquaphibians at a new level of stupid than we’d ever suspected before, in that they don’t actually understand what they’re saying to each other.

Titan’s control room has become a dining room and Marina is unwillingly serving up some culinary delights from under the sea. Of course, we all know X20’s stance on eating fish, so he just appears to have a plate of sausages and some cheese in front of him. Titan is anticipating the arrival of Stingray very soon. I’m not sure what sort of time frame he’s been looking at seeing as it’s been two days since he sent the rocket and Marina arrived, but he’s also sitting down to dinner rather than preparing for a fight. So maybe by “very soon” he means in the next week or so.

The travel tube car leaving the Mechanical Fish is simply reversed footage of the car arriving in the pilot episode. The set of the car and the blue back projection footage is all faithfully reused from the pilot also. The only change is that the chairs are missing their backs and look considerably more worn down, the rounded walls wobble quite a bit, and the entire back wall is missing and has been replaced with another window showing more of the back projection footage of the tunnel.

Titan is just beginning to wonder where his guests have got to. Marina looks so done with this.

Look who’s here! So Titan’s control room connects directly to his throne room. It’s hard to keep track. Also, the guns that Troy and Phones are carrying are completely different to the standard WASP pistols we saw them holding in the previous scene.

A seriously epic gunfight breaks out. Considering there are just two Aquaphibians up against Troy and Phones, it feels like the battle to end all battles. The editing is so fast and the special effects are so dramatic, plus this has all been a huge surprise. The whole plot has been building and building to this big climax but we didn’t know when or how it was coming. All Titan and X20 can do is cower while the attack continues.

Greg the Aquaphibian is dramatically gunned down in a carefully choreographed movement which requires the puppet to drop its gun, spin around, clutch his wound, and fall to the floor – all in one shot. It looks remarkable.

It’s not quite so dramatic, but after a few more gunshots, Andy the Aquaphibian suffers the same fate. He died in the line of duty, several months after he was supposed to have retired.

With the guards taken care of, it’s time for the final showdown. Troy versus Titan, with Marina literally caught in the middle. This is Stingray at its purest and my word it is fantastic.

Troy has one final ace up his sleeve. He announces to Phones that he’s going to fire a gas capsule. So much for the element of surprise. Still, it seems to catch Titan and X20 unawares as they stumble around in the smoke while Marina runs free. Huzzah!

But Titan refuses to give up. He’s angry and desperate as he reaches for the radio, which means the master plan goes out the window and the complete destruction of his enemies is the only option left.

Here’s that shot which is inexplicably used all the flippin’ time as a publicity still, except it’s usually taken from a fuzzy and dirty old film print. At least it’s not quite as offensive as that publicity still of Virgil, Gordon, and Brains in Thunderbird 2’s cockpit during Operation Crash-Dive which always gets flipped back to front – I burst a blood vessel every time I see that one. One side note on all this though, there seem to be remarkably few publicity photographs available for Stingray which aren’t just dodgy freeze frames from the episodes. A few stills were specially posed for the pages of TV21, but by the time Stingray was being promoted, production had already moved on to Thunderbirds, so there weren’t all that many opportunities to take photos of the Stingray characters and models in situ on set.

Troy, Phones, and Marina reach their Mechanical Fish and make a getaway. Just as she does on Stingray, Marina hangs around at the back with nothing to do.

Stock material is combined with some new footage to show a real Mechanical Fish pursuing the fake WASP version. In one shot, the fake craft speeds through shot in the foreground, and then the real one follows along in the background. I assume that there was only one model of the Mechanical Fish available in the right scale, so the one in the background is the really small miniature which I think just might have been the same model seen on Titan’s table map earlier in the episode, though it’s hard to be sure. Troy and Phones appear to be out of ideas. With no way of fighting back, they just have to wait to be blown up. Maybe if the engineers had spent some time loading up torpedoes rather than agonising over the incredibly accurate interior paint job, this wouldn’t have been an issue. Two new Aquaphibians whom I won’t bother giving names are preparing to open fire with a countdown. Yes, they can count.

Is this the end for the Stingray crew?

Nah! But for a moment there you were thinking it weren’t you? Yes, nestled comfortably in the nick of time, Commander Shore arrives in Stingray to attack the enemy Mechanical Fish. It’s an exciting opportunity to see Shore at the controls of the super submarine, and it’s a fantastic twist to end the episode on. All the way through we’ve been kept on the edge of our seats wondering what the next part of the plan is for both sides. When all seems lost, the situation is turned to the other team’s advantage until, in the ebd, good conquers evil. And quite right too. But as Troy points out, Titan got dangerously close to succeeding on this occasion. It’s important that Titan remains a credible threat in the series. He has a reputation as the most evil and powerful of all the WASPs’ underwater enemies, so when he shows up in another episode it has to carry some weight.

After such a grave and serious episode with higher stakes than ever, it feels like we’ve earned a nicely timed comedy moment to confirm that all is well. Just like so many other moments in the episode though, it’s done in a very clever way. X20 quietly mocks his leader by petulantly asking why Titan’s plan failed. He’s acting the innocent fool, which is how Titan treats him, but we all know that X20 is enough of a wretch to delight in Titan’s misfortune because he just likes to watch people suffer, especially those who belittle him. Titan has more important things to worry about, like the rulers of Titanica’s “satellite cities.” Oh for a spin-off political drama about all the domains under Titan’s control.

And there’s the money shot. When everything else around him has failed, Titan is able to exert some power in the form of crude physical violence towards his underling. After all, we can’t have X20 getting too big for his boots. Of course, having a bulging-eyed character like X20 cross his eyes was always going to be hilarious, but it’s a great way to end the episode.

The Master Plan is a fantastic piece of writing. It’s intelligent, heartbreaking, action-packed, surprising, and perfectly paced. The audience is kept guessing right the way through because they don’t know what the next move is going to be or who is going to have the upper hand afterwards. Troy’s imminent death is treated with the upmost seriousness to give it maximum impact, as is Marina’s imprisonment and the epic battle to rescue her. It’s the showdown we’ve all been waiting for. This is the first time the WASPs have made it back to Titanica since the pilot, and the first time Titan has really had a chance of defeating them since then. The reunion doesn’t disappoint when the guns start blasting like they’ve never blasted before. There isn’t another Stingray episode where lives feel so genuinely on the line as they do here. This great story, full of twists and turns, is once again helmed triumphantly by director, John Kelly. The only downside to all this is that there was no proper rematch later in the series between Titan and Troy. Titan and X20 do reappear frequently after this episode, but I don’t think the stakes ever feel quite as high again as they do here. The Master Plan is the perfect follow-up to the feud set up in the pilot episode, and could be seen as a fitting finale to the series if you were so inclined to watch the series in that order.

Next week, El Hudat wants to join the World Security Patrol using the invincible craft he has built as a bargaining chip. But he also has his eye on someone else – Marina. Could Hudat be the new love rival Troy has been dreading? No, there’s no competition there. So if he can’t woo Marina with his good looks, Hudat will have to kidnap her! Stay tuned for Star of the East!

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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.

One thought on “Stingray – 23. The Master Plan

  1. Not a bad episode at all, I love the drama, the comedy, the mixed emotions and definitely seeing Titan do his own planninfg foronce. The one BIG negative I have is that, the mechanical fish used by Troy and Phones was not the one from the pilot episode, but then I guess it adds to the drama so I can tolerate it. However on the BIG plus, seeing Shore piloting Stingray that was brilliant. I wonder how he gets into the craft given how he is restricted to his hoverchair so much?

    Like

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