Stingray – 28. In Search of the Tajmanon

I wouldn’t call myself a particularly scholarly author. I’m more suited to sniggering when a puppet goes cross-eyed or pointing out when a prop gets reused for the eight-billionth time. But, this week, in addition to my usual nonsense, I am going to put some modest effort into contextualising the decolonisation of Africa and its impacts on popular culture in the 1960s, because I think In Search of the Tajmanon provides some fascinating insights on the subject. I’m not an expert, but it goes without saying that the world was watching when 17 African nations gained their independence from European power in the year 1960, with many others following suit across the decade. The news in the mid-20th Century would have been chock full of Africa’s progress towards liberation from imperialist power. So, it’s not surpsing that western media reacted in a couple of different ways. They might have romanticised or gently glossed over imperialism (1951’s The African Queen, for example), or go the other way and start to celebrate African culture and heritage which was coming to prominence for the first time. It’s also worth noting that the epic British war film, Zulu, premiered in January 1964, depicting the Battle of Rorke’s Drift between the British Army and the Zulus in 1879. Around the same time, in early 1964, In Search of the Tajmanon was set to go before the cameras at the AP Films studio in Slough.

Stingray – 27. Deep Heat

Location, location, location – that’s the golden rule of real estate isn’t it? So who the heck thought it was a good idea to build a city underneath a volcano? Deep Heat is a real back-to-basics kind of Stingray episode. It’s got subterranean aliens. It’s got an unusual location. It’s got Troy, Phones, and Marina facing grave danger while Commander Shore and Atlanta sit at home and worry about them. Everything you might expect from a classic Stingray episode. So without any delay, lets get comfortable, tune in and bring on that lava!

Stingray – 26. Invisible Enemy

For a series often praised for its warmth and humour, Stingray also does spooky and unsettling very well. Stories like The Ghost Ship and The Ghost of the Sea aren’t afraid to ditch the cosy and colourful family atmosphere for a short while and take on a more mysterious and eerie feeling. Invisible Enemy cranks that all up to eleven and isn’t afraid to alienate the audience with an entirely new type of threat. The villain this week isn’t another shiny-faced green bloke from under the sea – but an ordinary man badly in need of a shave and a new watch. Yet he proves to be quite a match for the gang at Marineville…

Stingray – 25. An Echo of Danger

Let’s talk about Phones. He’s been right at the heart of the action with the heroic Captain Troy Tempest on so many occasions. Dependable and good-humoured, Phones could be seen by many as the series’ second lead. But outside of a few amusing moments, and some broad character traits which could apply to most of the regular characters, we actually know very little about Phones. We don’t even know his real name. “It’s George Lee Sheridan,” I hear you cry! But no such name is ever mentioned on screen, only in spin-off material. Over the course of the series, characters in need of richer development have received spotlight episodes – Marina had Plant of Doom to establish her home at Pacifica; The Ghost of the Sea and Marineville Traitor offered an insight into Commander Shore’s career and some more personal moments; Loch Ness Monster gave Atlanta the opportunity to step out of the control room and voyage to her ancestral homeland, plus she’s had ample opportunity in several episodes to wear her heart on her sleeve and show her devotion to friends and family. Phones has yet to receive the same treatment. There are moments in episodes like Treasure Down Below or Loch Ness Monster which offer a glimpse of his personality – he’s shown to be somewhat naive and a bit of a dreamer. For the most part though, his role is to go along with Troy’s latest dangerous plan, and save his friends when they get themselves into trouble. So, does An Echo of Danger finally give Phones the spotlight episode he deserves, and shed any light on Stingray’s trusty hydrophone operator?

Stingray – 24. Star of the East

I can’t skirt around the fact that I’ve been looking forward to writing about this particular episode since the start of this series of reviews. Star of the East is an episode I remember fondly from my childhood, and have continued to enjoy again and again up until the present day. It is a firm favourite of mine, and there is a very simple reason for that. I think El Hudat is one of the greatest guest characters that Supermarionation has ever brought to the screen. He is a force of nature, driving the plot of not just this episode, but an unprecedented follow-up episode in Eastern Eclipse. El Hudat, egotistical maniac that he is, makes this episode all about him. It’s almost difficult to talk about any other aspect of Star of the East because the character just dominates so much, coming into Marineville and turning the lives of our heroes upside down by doing what he does best – looking after number one.

Stingray – 23. The Master Plan

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…

Stingray – 22. Pink Ice

Let’s have a very quick lesson about a panic that was going on in a small section of the scientific (and not so scientific) community in the mid-20th century – its name was global cooling. Yes, instead of climate change causing the planet to heat up, there were those who believed the Earth was dangerously close to heading for its next ice age. Most of the reporting and investigation into global cooling did not emerge until the 1970s, but in the decades prior there were already rumblings that temperatures were dropping year after year, and everything from aerosols in the atmosphere to Cold War concerns of a nuclear winter were going to trigger a big freeze. Of course, most of us acknowledge that global warming is the reality we are now facing. Nevertheless, the concept of global cooling was obviously a theme on Alan Fennell’s mind when he was writing both Pink Ice, and the earlier Fireball XL5 episode, The Day The Earth Froze. Whether he actually believed the global cooling theories is neither here nor there, but the predicted doom of another ice age was probably the perfect influence for a science fiction tale of global catastrophe, with more than a little room for some alien interference to trigger the disaster.

Stingray – 21. Tom Thumb Tempest

Directed by Alan Pattillo Teleplay by Alan Fennell First UK Broadcast – 28th February 1965 My first ever professional writing gig was an article on the Official Gerry Anderson website all about the ways in which the theme of miniaturisation is used in the Andersons’ Supermarionation work. Even back in 2014 I was banging onContinue reading “Stingray – 21. Tom Thumb Tempest”

Stingray – 20. Marineville Traitor

Marineville Traitor is certainly an unusual episode. No Stingray. No underwater aliens. No big, explosive action set pieces. It’s an episode about espionage, betrayal, and duty, and you really have to concentrate to actually grasp what’s going on. This is not the stuff of frivolous Saturday morning cartoons, but of suspenseful drama for an adult audience. This is Stingray at its most grown-up, and you might even believe that there’s nothing to appeal to kids in this episode at all. Of course, I say that’s cobblers because kids are far more intelligent and attentive that folks give them credit for. But can Stingray successfully make that stretch to storytelling which is geared moreso towards an adult audience? Well, as is so often the case, that question can’t really be answered with a simple yes or no…

Stingray – 19. The Man From The Navy

I love a good soap opera. That’s not to say I love soap operas in general. To be honest I think there are too many of them and a lot of the material is subpar. But when a soap opera is good, by thunder is there something magical about it. When you get the right combination of characters into a very messy situation, pour some petrol on the bonfire and light a match (and in the best cases, that’s literally what happens), it all makes for some absolutely outstanding television. Gerry and Sylvia Anderson have a particularly good talent for generating these messy but delicious situations between characters. Many of the best moments in Anderson series come about by matching one character with another, posing them with a tense situation, and letting the sparks fly. So, needless to say, the match up of Troy Tempest and Jacques Jordan with a whopping great missile and a love rivalry is a recipe for some delectable and disastrous interplay you just can’t look away from…