Stingray – 37. A Christmas To Remember

Directed by Alan Pattillo

Teleplay by Dennis Spooner

First UK Broadcast – 20th December 1964

Compliments of the season to you! Yes, the season is mid-February at the time of writing but c’mon, you need to get better at accepting compliments. Now what could be more festive than a Stingray Christmas special?! I love Christmas telly and more specifically, sci-fi Christmas telly. I get an extraordinary amount of pleasure thinking about the poor writers slaving away to try and find an excuse to whack a Christmas tree in the middle of the super serious futuristic life and death business. Some downright strange things start to happen to our most-respected characters around the festive season. Need I remind you of Jeff Tracy insisting that a young boy call him Santa when the man was clearly intensely hungover from the night before? Festive specials can come off as lazy, tacky, and ill-fitting attempts to rely on the tropes of the season to fill the required time slot in a manner vaguely satisfying to the turkey-gorged viewership. But there are other production teams which see it as an opportunity to really push the boat out by celebrating and producing a spectacle of magic and excitement, successfully combining familiar elements of the show with some Christmassy goodness in an original way which remains faithful to the series’ format. Could A Christmas To Remember be one of those fortunate examples? Probably… otherwise what has this lengthy introduction been building up to?

The episode opens with Stingray doing the usual business of careering around some rocks at high speed to dramatic music. But it doesn’t take long for the sequence to become something out of the ordinary. Troy starts narrating the action to embelish the visuals with the thoughts and feelings he was supposedly experiencing at the time. Meanwhile, Alan Pattillo has gone dutch angle bananas with some extraordinary shots of the Stingray crew and the control tower team at work. These shots not only crank up the excitement to eleven, but also distinguish this as not your ordinary opening to an episode. The aim is clearly to build anticipation and tension. Far from being a fluffy Christmas affair to fill a vacant time slot in the December schedules, the creative team are going big and serious to start us off. That’s probably why the episode’s sickly sweet title, A Christmas To Remember, doesn’t appear on screen – it would be rather jarring in amongst this great sense of drama. It’s also worth noting that an original script for A Christmas To Remember survives and features a few minor but revealing differences to the final version of the episode. One initial difference comes in Troy’s narrated line, “We didn’t know where or who the attack was coming from,” which was originally scripted as, “We didn’t know from where or from whom the attack was coming.” Just a subtle change in grammar, but the original line sounds awfully posh and stuffy for our all-American hero to be saying.

Here’s the enemy that the gang are chasing. Gotta be honest, this isn’t the craft’s best angle. The action slowing down for this technically competent but rather boring shot of the sub against back projection is a bit of a miss. And just look at the thick layer of dust covering the control panel! This part of the set presumably spent more time in storage than the rest of Stingray’s cabin since the cameras were usually positioned facing Troy and Phones, but you’d think someone might go over it with a feather duster before “action!” was called. According to Troy’s narration, this is the strangest underwater craft they’ve ever encountered, which is quite a claim considering Titan has an entire fleet of fish with missiles in their mouths at his disposal.

Troy has thoughts racing through his brain, which must be something of a novelty for him.

A lot of the craft’s vibrant colours get lost in the murkiness of the underwater filming, but all those sticky-out bits still help to make it look a bit weird and threatening.

A missile is fired from Stingray, which would usually be done with Troy or Phones yanking on the nearest control lever. Instead, we get a live action hand insert of a character pressing what is obviously a door bell button, complete with the label underneath for the homeowner to write their name on.

EXTREME WONKY CLOSE UPS for dramatic goodness! Just look at Troy’s gorgeous eyelashes. Alan Pattillo is seriously enjoying himself this week, you can tell.

Kerblammo!

Conveniently enough for the plot, the sting missile did very little damage but has forced the enemy craft to dive down to the sea bed.

Atlanta couldn’t be more thrilled with the result judging by the cheeky grin on her face. I couldn’t tell you what that Aquascanner Unit is actually supposed to be showing them, but throughout the series our favourite characters have chosen to stand in front of it to look like they’re doing something important, so I guess there’s more to it than meets the eye.

A hatch opens in the side of the craft which has a face like a surprised anime character. The Stingray crew watch with interest as Troy contemplates just how he might get across to take prisoners safely. Have you tried parking a bit closer perhaps?

Oh yeah, this is the solution we all had in mind. The set for the missile ejector chamber was first introduced in A Nut For Marineville, and the same missile with the same serial number is shown here.

Bon voyage! Now, obviously this is a work of fiction, in more ways than one, but just supposing one did get fired out of a torpedo tube, what do you reckon might happen? Well the discourse on various internet forums offer many schools of thought. It’s universally agreed that it’s a flipping stupid thing to do. But the exact ways in which you’d meet your untimely end are many and varied. From the truly immense water pressure crushing you to death, to launching in anything other than a perfectly straight line breaking bones and then killing you. If the submarine were moving at the time and you miraculously survived getting converted into a cloud of mincemeat, you would almost certainly be unable to get out of the way of the approaching submarine fast enough to avoid getting hit and chewed up in the propulsion system. So, what can we conclude from this fascinating research? Well, either Stingray launches its missiles extremely gently (which it doesn’t), or Troy is made of steel (which he isn’t).

The dulled down colouring of the ship’s exterior is more than made up for by the explosion-in-a-paint-factory theme of the interior. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a piece of design so clearly aimed at making the peasants at home watching in black and white feel bad. Hopefully some of them are getting a colour television set for Christmas. One of the pieces of equipment seen behind Troy as he stands in the doorway is the golden spinning shuttlecocks of doom unit we’ve seen in many other alien submarines from previous episodes.

Apparently Troy hurt his arm getting through the hatch and “felt pretty bad,” which is quite a lucky affliction really considering all those internet forums suggested he should have been turned inside out by the torpedo tube.

Troy opens the door to the ship’s control room, only to discover that no-one’s home. But also, the room appears to be lacking a ceiling as you can clearly see the top of the set above the windows, with the green backdrop in the distance. Overall though, I love the design of this set which is just subtly festive and jaunty without being a full-on Christmas extravaganza. The set could easily fit into a regular episode, but also feels suitably colourful for this week’s yuletide adventure.

Sure enough, all is not as it appears. What we just witnessed was a flashback as Troy was telling the story to a young boy, Barry Burn. He finshes up by telling Barry that the empty craft was towed back to Marineville for the clever scientists and engineers to gawp at. We’ll talk about Barry in a moment, but first, let’s look around his bedroom. The original script specified that the room be decorated with all sorts of photographs depicting Marineville and its staff. In an attempt to make Barry appear a little less like a stalker, his bedroom has simply been dressed with the Stingray painting which is normally found in the conference room, and other ephemera you might associate with a good, clean, all-American boy of the 1960s. Sports pennants, books, a globe, a spear borrowed from The Cool Cave Man, a rocket toy probably pinched from the special effects workshop, and a blackboard demonstrating Pythagorean theorem and the fact that 54 + 631 + 26 + 8 = 719… which it does… so well done art department.

There are very few children depicted in Supermarionation series. Here’s the list: Little Jake and Makooya from Four Feather Falls; Jimmy Gibson and Zizi from Supercar, Jonathan Zero from Fireball XL5; Barry Burn from Stingray; Chip Morrison, the Williams brothers, and Nicky from Thunderbirds; and Joe 90 himself (plus his almost-doppelganger Prince Kahib). If I’ve forgotten any, they probably weren’t worth caring about. I’d say about 50% of those children listed are little twerps. Heck, Jonathan Zero was even a constant source of irritation to his own parents. Barry isn’t too bad compared to his peers. His pointy face is a bit disturbing, but he’s not stupid or spoilt or too much of an insufferable know-it-all. Barry sounds suspiciously like his predecessors Jimmy and Jonathan in that he was voiced by Sylvia Anderson, who gives her second and final uncredited performance for the series. Sylvia’s voice for little American boys is actually pretty darn credible. A trained ear can tell there’s something not quite right about it, but it’s certainly passable in my opinion. Anyway, Barry is very impressed by Troy’s story.

But Atlanta can smell the excrement of a bovine.

While Barry disappears to find something, Troy and Atlanta can bring us up to speed somewhat. Barry is an orphan, whose father was an aquanaut for the WASPs and tragically died. Presumably Barry’s mother is dead too but she doesn’t get a mention because they rarely do in Anderson shows. So it seems Atlanta and Troy visit Barry at the WASPs orphanage often. Yes, the WASPs have their own orphanage because apparently the work is dangerous enough to warrant that. It turns out Troy’s story may have been based on true events, but Atlanta is quick point out that Troy hurt his arm falling off a chair while putting up Christmas decorations, and not from firing himself out of the missile ejector. Troy is still pretty pleased with his embelishment. A few more items of interest from Barry’s bedroom include a small model of Fireball XL5 and a toy ambulance which were almost certainly borrowed from the effects workshop. We’ll get a closer look at Barry’s snazzy pajamas in a moment. On the book shelves we can see Troy’s Pictorial History book from The Cool Cave Man.

Barry returns with a delightful hand-made model of the Marineville control tower. My only criticism would be the enormous spike sticking out of the top which simply doesn’t exist on the real thing. Otherwise, a solid effort. Of course, had Barry’s bedroom been decorated as scripted with Marineville memorabillia, this probably would have had more of an impact. But at least it gets across that Barry is keen as custard about the WASPs, and holds ambitions to be an aquanaut when he’s older – probably a trait many youngsters at home could identify with.

Impressed by Barry’s commitment to the WASPs, Atlanta comes up with the swell idea of inviting the little cherub to Marineville for Christmas to stay with the gang. Unfortunately, Troy’s suspects that Commander Shore will fall into the stereotype of being an absolute Scrooge about the whole thing, so has to come up with a cunning means of deception to make it happen. Troy is really enjoying lying to people this week. How festive.

So, in order to trick Commander Shore into granting permission for Barry to visit, Troy has dictated a letter for Barry to write and appear to send to Troy. Yes, Troy has written a letter to himself because narcissism is his middle name. Shore has been invited to read the letter aloud so that Troy can wallow in his own falsified magnificence.

Troy has used the letter to shamelessly declare himself Barry’s favourite aquanaut, and hilariously looks away all bashful and embarrassed with less acting talent than Tommy Wiseau.

The letter eventually gets to the point by asking for a visit to Marineville, which Commander Shore denies because of “the rules.” Then, Troy has preyed upon Shore’s soft, gooey centre by making him out to be Barry’s greatest hero. Yes, Troy gives up his crown as the world’s most super guy and allows the commander to be touched by Barry’s entirely made up appreciation of Shore’s leadership and immense responsibility. In a way it’s sweet, because this could serve as an insight into how Troy really feels about his commanding officer. In another way, it’s sick, and Troy should be ashamed of himself. What’s beautiful about this scene though is Alan Pattillo and the puppeteer’s ability to draw so much raw emotion and pathos out of the characters. Ray Barrett’s vocal performance is superb of course, but the moment is captured in such a way that the viewer can get really drawn in by the soul in Commander Shore’s eyes. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the ability of the puppets to emote through their entirely static faces is where the truly magical element of Supermarionation comes in. There’s no easy way of describing how it’s technically done on camera, but it’s the illusion of a character’s mind ticking away inside the fibreglass shell that brings the whole thing to life. In the script, the stage directions state that “Shore lets the letter drop from his grasp” as he becomes overwhelmed by emotion. Instead, the moment on screen is much more subtle with a simple hand being raised and the commander’s eyes revealing his true emotions.

With the commander successfully un-Scrooged, he gives permission for Barry to come and stay with the Shores over the Christmas period, and orders Troy to go and pick him up from the orphanage. What a lovely and warm moment. Yes it’s all very sweet and Christmassy, but it also plays perfectly with the multi-faceted nature of the characters. I mock Troy’s inflated ego but he’s also a selfless hero trying to do right by people. Commander Shore is a grumpy fella but also a nurturing father figure. The characters feel like real people dealing with real dilemmas just like any other person would face in their personal and professional lives. This is the stuff that sets Stingray apart from the other Supermarionation shows for me. Even Thunderbirds’ best characters aren’t as accessible as the Marineville gang. When a character with a totally fixed facial expression can glance to the camera and the viewer at home can actually judge what that character made of fibreglass and solenoids is thinking, that’s an incredible achievement in both scripting and film-making.

Time now for some pure Christmas indulgence. Troy’s back behind the wheel of his yellow and blue car, driving through the snow with Barry. Snow is falling, and the soundtrack has slipped into a bouncy rendition of Jingle Bells. The snow-covered model set complete with bare, wintry trees is just stunning. The effect of the snow falling on the puppet set as they drive along isn’t even ruined by the fact that the snow keeps getting caught on the puppet wires. The original script differs from what ended up on screen in a couple of ways. Firstly, the stage directions specify that Troy is using a hovercar, which has instead been substituted for his usual car with wheels (which admittedly started life as a hovercar for X20 in Stand By For Action as well as Steve Zodiac in Fireball XL5). There’s also this description in the script which states: “ON the backseat are a collection of suitcases. We pan to show TROY, ATLANTA & BARRY cramped in the front. They wear coloured mufflers and overcoats and there is a Christmassy feeling.” Obviously, Troy’s car doesn’t have a backseat so there are no suitcases visible in the final shot. The winter weather garments were largely ignored, likely to save time re-dressing the puppets. And Atlanta hasn’t joined Barry and Troy in the car.

Instead, Atlanta is building a snow-family with Marina by the side of the road. Since this moment is absent from the original script, it’s fair to say it was included because a) Atlanta wouldn’t possibly fit in the car, b) Marina doesn’t have much to do in this episode so anything to include her in the fold is a bonus, and most importantly c) the production team wanted to make Dennis Spooner’s script much more Christmassy. We’ll see later that many of the deviations from the script are there to satisfy this last aim. The episode as written is delightfully festive, no doubt about it, but the final version just kicks it up a notch to make it more of a visual treat which fully indulges in the fun and thrills of the season. It all adds up to make A Christmas To Remember feel just that little bit more special.

Barry waves back to Atlanta and Marina so enthusiastically that he nearly falls out of Troy’s car. Scraping a child’s remains off the icy road would have certainly shifted the tone of the show.

Establishing shots unique to this episode show Marineville absolutely covered in snow. The original script simply states that “a slight shower of snow can be seen (falling between us and the Tower).” The special effects team have gone all out by completely covering the sets in fake snow, and even making subtle changes for the season including swapping out the large tree usually seen covered in green foliage outside the main gate with an almost identical tree which has shed all of its leaves for the winter. In fact, when I compare the two trees, I’m fairly convinced that what they’ve actually done is pruned all the leaves off of the usual tree just for this shot, because I don’t see how else they could have gotten two miniature trees to look so similar. But what an amazing amount of effort to put into such a tiny detail. The fact the tree was altered at all is impressive, but actually trimming the tree that was already on the set rather than quickly swapping it for a different one… that’s something else.

Fisher is admiring the Christmas tree which, I must admit, has been decorated rather haphazardly with tinsel all over the shop. In the original script, Fisher was just looking at a console. Not only does this make the set feel much more festive, it also has quite a clever effect on how the audience at home view Marineville and its characters. Indulge me for a moment in some thoroughly hoity-toity analysis. Ordinarily, we might view the control tower strictly as a place of work, while all the personal business takes place in areas like the Shores’ apartment. It’s absolutely fine to have that distinction, and probably more realistic. It’s no wonder that towards the second half of the series though, many more scenes took place at the Shores’ apartment because we were getting to know the characters off-duty. But more and more work-related meetings started happening in the apartment, and last week, Eastern Eclipse broke down the work-life barrier completely by having the control tower equipment moved into the Shores’ living room. Suddenly the line between business and family life becomes blurry. But let’s look at some of our characters’ relationships with each other. Troy and Phones go from separate apartments to living together and sharing a room, like young siblings might. Atlanta and Marina are responsible for all the cooking and entertaining, an admittedly outdated stereotype for the mother and housewife. Troy rushes to Commander Shore’s bedside when he has a nightmare, more like a concerned family member than a co-worker. I think you see what I’m driving at. Over the course of the series, there has been a significant push towards the main characters being presented like a family unit who live together, socialise together, make themselves at home in each other’s apartments, and of course, work together. What does all this have to do with a Christmas tree in the control room? The image of a tree with gifts underneath is very much a symbol of a family getting together for a Christmas spent at home. It usually takes pride of place in the family’s living room, maybe next to the television set. A family watching this episode at home during the festive season might just make the connection between the Christmas tree standing in their home and the one in the Marineville control room. They might start to see the control room as not just a work environment, but the centre of a family home occupied by this group of people who function very much like a family. Just like that, you have a show which intrinsically links daring and heroic adventures with the idyllic values of family life, something the children at home can easily identify with. It’s a theme which would be pushed even further in Thunderbirds, which sees an actual family unit, the Tracys, living and working in exactly the same space with a lounge which is used for games of chess and watching television as well as conducting life-threatening rescue operations. When a sofa also becomes a means of accessing a giant red rocket ship preparing for blast off, the kids watching are bound to see the furniture in their home in a similar light with just a little imagination and invest themselves more fully in the action. Basically what I’m saying is, the more homely the show feels, the more families watching can identify with it.

Anyway, essay over. Atlanta has brought Barry into the control room to complete the guided tour of Marineville. It’s a shame in a way that we didn’t get to see more of Marineville alongside Barry. But hey, I bet all the children at home wish they were in Barry’s shoes.

Atlanta is exhausted, suggesting to me that the little darling might have been something of a pest throughout the tour. Fisher, the unfortunate runt of the litter who doesn’t quite have a place in the happy Marineville family, informs Atlanta that Shore and Troy are inspecting the enemy craft. Oh yeah, I forgot this episode had a regular plot going on alongside all this wholesome Christmas orphan stuff.

Maybe they couldn’t be bothered to tow the craft anywhere else when Stingray got home, but once again I have to point out that the WASPs have no other areas to park visiting submarines except for Stingray’s pen.

The lads are baffled by the mystery surrounding where the crew of the enemy craft might have escaped to. It wasn’t remotely operated, and Troy’s convinced he would have seen anyone try to exit during the attack. Since Troy’s judgement is flimsier than a hammer made of glass, Shore decides they need to take the craft out to re-enact the whole encounter with Stingray so that they can be absolutely sure nobody might have managed to escape. Sounds like a lot of bother but yeah, why not, I’ve got nothing better to do.

All I want for Christmas this year is a set of Supercar pyjamas just like Barry has. This puppet-sized outfit featuring the marvel of the age was likely made by the costume department especially, using material originally produced for making pillow cases or curtains as part of Supercar‘s expansive merchandising endeavours. What’s wrong with the AP Films team trying their hand at some self-promotion?

Barry is just as curious as everyone else about where the enemy craft’s occupant might have ended up, but Troy and Atlanta very much taken on the parental roles and order Barry to bed. Atlanta in particular is taking on a maternal tone because it’s the 1960s and that’s just the role female characters were automatically associated with if a child was nearby. The Christmas tree, again symbolising the family atmosphere, is not the same one we saw in the control tower but it is decorated in the same dreadfully messy manner.

A car pulls up outside to pick up Commander Shore, who takes on the grandfatherly role of going down the pub with his old buddies on Christmas Eve to get hammered. At least that’s the kind of grandfather I plan on turning into.

As Shore leaves, we’re allowed this charming and understated moment at the window, where a friend can be heard offering Shore a hand, and the commander stubbornly refusing. It’s a rare and subtle reference to Shore’s disability, and serves as yet another step towards making the character more complex.

Atlanta points out to Troy that the pair of them are now home alone. This is a family show, so Troy has to ignore the implications of that and instead turns our attention back to the mystery of the enemy craft. At this point in the series, the idea of Troy and Atlanta as a couple is really being pushed as far as decency will allow without them actually getting married and conforming wholeheartedly to good old-fashioned family values. Needless to say, there’s a reason why Marina is absent from this wholesome, family scene and it’s not because she’s down in Pacifica for the holidays. As the “other woman” in Troy’s life, it just wouldn’t do for him to be seen spending any time with her outside of work. It’s just such a shame that when the writers realised they were committing to the Troy and Atlanta pairing, they didn’t figure out something else to do with Marina’s character.

Hearing a noise and paranoid that some weirdo might be wandering around Marineville, Troy demands that the lights be shut off. This has the added benefit of bathing our heroes in soft, Christmassy lighting.

Look, I know the glass is frosted but you’d have to be pretty short-sighted not to figure out who that might be standing outside on Christmas Eve. Nevertheless, Troy and Atlanta suspect foul play.

How will our brave hero defend the love of his life from this intruder?

Whamming the door shut on the geezer’s face with a stern boot. Merry Christmas.

That’s the exact face I pull when answering the door to Aunty Muriel, who shows up for Christmas dinner five hours early, already stinking of gin, and only offering up the gift of politically incorrect observations about her local pharmacist.

Fortunately for everyone involved, it’s our jolly friend Phones who hasn’t had much to do in this wholesome family Christmas so far. The bright red nose and the way he’s plonked down in the snow is just adorable. The whole Santa Claus angle for Phones is just so fitting for his character as the loveable, slightly clumsy friend of the group who only ever has the best of intentions. He was supposed to be dropping off gifts from all those generous-spirited but totally unseen guys on the base who want to give Barry a nice Christmas. So I guess that means Marineville does have other aquanauts, they just never do any work.

Troy apologises to his chum, with kind smiles all around. What could be more lovely and Christmassy than a visit from Santa? Fade to…

Quite possibly the finest puppetry work in the entire Anderson canon has got to be the mind-blowing ice skating efforts on display in this sequence. The wires are invisible, the characters glide realistically, the poses are held perfectly without looking too rigid, and all the movements seem to defy what would be possible from a marionette ordinarily. Another level of work has gone into pulling off these shots and it’s an utterly magical illusion. This scene is noteworthy for not featuring in the original script at all. It’s also interesting that additional material for A Christmas To Remember was apparently shot by Alan Pattillo on Tuesday, June 2 1964 according to Andrew Pixley in Stingray: Adventures In Videcolor. Perhaps this day of shooting was dedicated to sequences like this and the snowman-building material we saw earlier which wasn’t in the script originally but devised to pad out the run-time and add to the Christmassy feeling. The question I have to ask of course is why Marina is standing on the sidelines, not joining in the fun. Even Commander Shore and the lesser-seen Lt. Fisher take to the ice. There are two possibilities… one is that they simply don’t make ice skates for people with flippers for feet… the other is once again going back to this view of Marina as the “other woman” who couldn’t possibly be shown barging in on the magical atmosphere for fear she might use her feminine wiles on Troy and attempt to seduce him. It’s sad and ridiculous, but given how hard the Troy and Atlanta romance is pushed during this sequence, I’m afraid that might have been the reasoning behind Marina’s exclusion.

Seriously, how the heck did they get these shots? It’s absolutely incredible that puppets suspended from wires high above the set could pull off these moves. Atlanta’s body has obviously been modified and made rigid to a certain extent, but I still couldn’t tell you how they all glide so gracefully. It’s sheer perfection and whoever did devise this sequence, probably Alan Pattillo in cooperation with Christine Glanville’s team, deserved much greater recognition for their achievements.

Back at home, Barry’s chuffed to find a model of Stingray under the Christmas tree which was likely stolen from the effects workshop again. Marina’s been invited in for Christmas Day because they aren’t monsters.

Meanwhile, Troy is busy tying elements of the plot together by suggesting they take Barry out for a ride in Stingray so that they can re-create the battle with the enemy craft. Very smooth buddy.

Shore gets his heartstrings well and truly yanked as he remembers the great admiration Barry had for the commander in his letter. Again, Troy is the master of emotional blackmail. Nevertheless, keen to make Barry’s Christmas and with nothing else going on, Shore agrees to let Barry go along in Stingray for the mission. Huzzah! After all that good will and cheerful festive activity, I’d say it’s about time we had a commercial break, and then got around to some action!

Up in the snowy control tower, Fisher is now being forced to work on Christmas Day because the gang have decided to undertake this special mission. Poor, poor bloke.

Barry occupies Phones’ usual seat in the Injector Bay as they prepare to board Stingray. Marina, once again, won’t be joining them on the mission so the third chair remains empty.

The young Barry is thrilled to be sitting in a chair while wobbly back projection footage plays behind him. Can’t see the appeal myself.

The standard stock footage is used to show the chairs arriving aboard Stingray but is carefully cut around to avoid showing Phones instead of Barry. However, when the back of the chairs are shown being clamped into position, it’s very apparent that Phones is sitting in the seat on the right, not Barry. Then, because he’s so flipping adorable, the kid repeats all of the routine lines that Troy spits out as Stingray is prepared for launched. It’s basically an advert for the mini album Into Action With Troy Tempest from Century 21 Records.

Meanwhile, Phones has taken command of the enemy craft and is given orders to launch. I’m sure he’s also thrilled to now be working on Christmas Day. Thanks Troy. The submarine dives, and we’re treated to an unusual shot which shows the model from above as it submerges into the very blue water.

A new shot of Stingray being lowered into the water has been filmed, possibly because cutting back to the original footage from the pilot would have been too jarring at this point, what with all the tiny changes that have been made to the pen set over the course of the series. Either that or the effects team just fancied having another go at it.

Commander Shore instructs Troy and Phones to head for the area where the encounter originally took place. Nobody has claimed any of the gifts under that tree yet. If they’re still there on Boxing Day I call bagsy.

It’s nice to see a Stingray Christmas episode remembering to include all the familiar elements we know and love from the series, like standard business of Stingray going out on a mission to investigate something. If it were just the cute festive stuff without any of the usual action and intrigue I might be rather less accepting of it. After all, that would be like a Thunderbirds Christmas episode doing something crazy like forgetting to include the basic ingredient of a rescue operation… yes, for the slow ones at the back, I’m saying A Christmas To Remember absolutely wipes the floor with Give Or Take A Million.

Back at home, Atlanta is cooking Christmas dinner because, let’s face it, she’s Captain Housewife this week, and heaven forbid she should go to work today like everybody else has been forced to. The kitchen set uses the same units that were shown in Marina’s apartment during The Man From The Navy, and prior to that featured in the kitchen of the Black Rock Laboratory for several episodes of Supercar‘s second season.

Marina is happily working away on the chesnut stuffing because she only gets to be a member of the Stingray crew when there isn’t housework to be done. There’s even a broom waiting for her in the background when she’s done with the stuffing.

Atlanta is critical of the lads for swanning off on a joyride while she’s slaving away in the kitchen. But she also really hopes they enjoy the dinner when they get home. So y’know, she’s somewhere in between burning her bra and dutifully ironing Troy’s tighty whities on the underwear scale of women’s liberation. If I were Atlanta I’d be planning to stick that fork somewhere and let the menfolk make their own dinner. Different times, I guess.

Stingray and the enemy craft have reached the area and so the dramatic re-enactment begins, complete with the less than flattering shot of the submarine’s rear end against the back projection screen.

The sequence of events plays out exactly as Troy described via flashback at the beginning of the episode, but this time Phones has to fake the impact of the missile and actually steer the craft into a crash-dive and voluntarily brace for the impact. That’s commitment to the part right there.

Of course, Barry can’t help being a bit of a whiny brat by asking why Troy isn’t going to fire himself out of the missile ejector like he did before. Refusing to confess that he’d made it all up at the risk of ruining Barry’s heroic vision of him, Troy manages to fob the kid off with an excuse. Troy’s compulsive lies are beginning to catch up with him.

Troy and the little ferret-faced youth confirm that anyone escaping the enemy submarine would have been visible from Stingray the entire time. That means the exercise was a waste of time and the engineers get to spend more time trying to solve the problem. I’m sure they’ll be delighted to spend New Year’s repeating the same work over and over again. But Shore is still pondering what might have happened…

Back aboard the sub, Phones is preparing to leave when a particular control panel is brought to our attention… the one with the very obvious door hinges on it. Seriously, how did a group of qualified scientists and engineers fail to spot those?

The door opens with someone inside casually creeping on Phones. So wait a minute, you’re telling me that this person has been standing in a cupboard all this time? It’s been at least a couple of days. Sure hope there’s a flushable loo in there. Of course, one could assume they’ve only been hiding in the cupboard while people were aboard, and was otherwise able to roam free… which is in fact what we find out he was doing a little bit later.

The first move our villain decides to make is cracking Phones over the head with a readily available crowbar. Oh tidings of comfort and joy.

Phones collapses to the floor, totally knocked out by the head injury. Joy to the world.

In typical form, our guest villain for the week has a pointy face. He is not named in the final episode but the script refers to him as Sorron. Alternatively, if you believe spin-off publications from the 90s, his name is Kringus… as in Kris Kringle… I’m gonna stick with Sorron. Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Back in the kitchen, something awful is happening to that… turkey?

Atlanta waves that fork in a threatening manner and says in a vicious tone that the boys better not be late for dinner. Lois Maxwell pitches the line perfectly by making it simultaneously quite serious and also a tad tongue in cheek, just enough so that we know Atlanta hasn’t completely given in to being an obedient kitchen maid instead of an intelligent and capable lieutenant in the WASPs.

Stingray has been hanging around for Phones to get moving, but there’s been no sign of activity for a while. Barry is concerned. Troy isn’t because Troy is a dumb-dumb head.

David Graham goes all out with a very strange voice for the alien, Sorron. The character is dressed in a reasonably festive outfit without it being too over the top. He’s certainly the most Christmassy of the villains we’ve had in the series so far, but he’s not milking it. His pointy face appears to be a new sculpt while his feet might just be borrowed from Marina. Phones has been trussed up like a yuletide goose while our evil friend explains what’s been happening.

It turns out Troy was absolutely right in his suspicions that someone from the craft had been wandering around Marineville. Sorron hid inside the sub with the knowledge that it would be towed back to the WASPs headquarters, and therefore allow him access to everything he needed to know about the base’s defence systems. His underwater race has the usual dream of conquering the land – your standard issue Stingray villain’s ambition. Only Troy Tempest is left in their way so Sorron plans to open the hatch and lure Stingray’s captain across to them, with the intention of shooting him down… like a dog… since when did they have dogs underwater?

The lettering on the side indicates that this shot of Stingray has been flipped to make it face the right direction.

Barry and Troy watch the sub’s hatch open. Some material was scripted but cut from the episode featuring Commander Shore contacting Troy and saying, “I can’t get in touch with Phones either Troy – you’d better get over there and investigate but watch your step. It looks as if someone else might be aboard.” Instead, we just have Barry suggesting that Troy be fired across through the missile ejector… “again.” Troy still can’t quite bring himself to confess the truth, and disregards all that bone-crunching, hideous injury business I mentioned earlier by agreeing to let Barry do it for real. And because Barry’s a cocky little twerp, he’s certain he’ll be able to fire Troy across successfully. I know I said he wasn’t that bad to begin with, but the kid definitely gets more annoying as the episode goes on.

Sorron has his gun targeted precisely at Stingray’s primary hatch, ready to blast Troy out of existence. Phones doesn’t have a great deal of optimism, presumably unaware that Troy has been filling the child’s head with ideas about firing people around like torpedoes.

Troy gets himself loaded up for real this time. I wonder if the WASPs’ life insurance policy covers stuff like this…

Barry opens fire, his hand becoming noticeably older as he presses the button.

Troy’s body doesn’t disintegrate, but instead zips along, straight as a bullet in front of some back projection footage. Sorron attempts to blow the guy up with the powerful gun mounted to the top of the craft, but I guess he hasn’t played much Call of Duty recently, and therefore misses every time.

Sorron still has a chance of shooting Troy when he comes in through the door. Mate, it’s Christmas, just pack it in and we can all go home early.

“Merry Christmas ya filthy animal!”

Ooo look, gun does a spinny thing – spot the cable in the operator’s hand which is presumably connected to a battery.

Oh yeah, “and a Happy New Year.”

Yup, Troy has saved the day once again. Apparently he’s going to offer up Sorron as a Christmas present to the commander… I think he’d prefer a satsuma.

Back at Marineville, it’s still snowing and night has fallen. Atlanta’s Christmas dinner has been extremely well received, reaching the top spot in Phones’ official ranking of all the Christmas dinners he’s ever eaten. The meal’s so good that even Fisher has been invited along. Troy receives some hearty congratulations for his part in saving the day, but because it’s Christmas the real star is apparently…

Barry. Yeah, I know, yuck, but we’ve managed to get this far into the series without a kid inexplicably being the hero so I guess it’s fine. The staging of this scene differs slightly from the original script in that Barry was written as being sat with the others at the table, rather than standing in front of the tree. But this new arrangement sets us up nicely for the final shot of the episode. Are you ready for this? It’s wholesome stuff…

Awww. Such warm, happy feelings. Nicely done.

A Christmas To Remember has the distinct honour of being objectively the best Anderson Christmas episode. It just checks all the boxes of good Christmas telly. The Terrahawks episode, A Christmas Miracle comes in at a close second, but anyone who argues the case for Give Or Take A Million from Thunderbirds deserves a visit from the Grinch. All the elements are perfectly balanced with festive frivolities not getting in the way of an intriguing plot injected with some action. As I’ve mentioned countless times, the family atmosphere between the characters is key to this episode’s success, and that’s something which has been nurtured over the past 37 episodes to bring us to where we are now. A Christmas To Remember wouldn’t have come together nearly as well if it had been made earlier on in the series, when the characters were still finding their feet and there was a certain amount of coldness and even hostility between people. But coming as it does towards the very end of Stingray‘s production schedule, it’s easy to see how all those complex character traits and relationships give almost everyone (sorry Marina and Fisher) a place in a typical family Christmas story. The sequences in the snow on both the puppet and special effects stages are some of the best that AP Films and Century 21 ever produced. That ice skating scene is nothing short of miraculous and it’s a pity in a way that Thunderbirds took us down a more serious path where such spirited larks and fun had to be set aside. I mean seriously, who makes a Christmas episode about two men drilling a hole in a wall for what feels like thirty years? I’ll never forgive Give Or Take A Million for that.

Next week, the WASPs get caught up in a strange affair involving a decomissioned lighthouse which refuses to remain shut down, and causes a serious aircraft crash. Can the Stingray crew and the former lighthouse keeper extinguish the light before the next plane is due? Find out in, The Lighthouse Dwellers

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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.

Stingray: Script To Screen by Ian Fryer. FAB Magazine: Issue 69 published in July 2011 by Fanderson.

Mike Mercury Pilot Suits, Belt and Supercar Cloth from mikemercury.net by David Hobson.

3 thoughts on “Stingray – 37. A Christmas To Remember

  1. The Supermarionation productions always did their Christmas episodes very well and this is no exception, I do enjoy and it is hard to pick a favourite out of this, Give Or Take A Million and The Unorthodox Shepherd.
    I feel that this one comes close to top of my Christmas episode list though. 😉
    I also like how all the ice skating scenes were done and how the Marineville personnel manage to get Barry involved in the action, though maybe Commander Shore should not let it slip to his superiors at World Security Patrol HQ know that Barry was in Stingray! 😁
    I can honestly say that I can find nothing to fault about this one, it was all great, great, GREAT! 😀

    Like

  2. Totally agree that this episode is WAY better than Give or Take a Million (which is my least favourite Thunderbirds episode). I guess they tried to repeat the formula two years later only to a dismal result.

    Like

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