“Anything can happen in the next half hour!”
Following the success of the science fiction adventure series Fireball XL5, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s next production was an undersea epic with hints of what was to come. In the near future the world is policed by orld Aquanaut Security Patrol (WASP), a high-tech operation that guards the undersea world from aggressors. The pride of the organization is a sophisticated ultra-modern sub called Stingray. When the crew of the super submarine encounters an undersea race of aquaphibians bent on the destruction of the human race, a prolonged war ensues.
In the realm of Supermarionation, Stingray is an odd one, somewhere between Fireball XL5 and Thunderbirds with its combination of high adventure and action mixed with the backdrop of an organization not unlike International Rescue. The puppets are a bit more detailed than what was on hand for Fireball XL5, and it’s in color as well, the first regular color series of its kind in the U.K. It’s also the first of the Supermarionation programs to really impress viewers with explosions and other special effects that would become a hallmark of such series, thanks to future James Bond effects man Derek Meddings.
The cast (I get a kick out of the way the puppets are introduced by their character names as if they were real people rather than the voice actor) consists of the square-jawed Troy Tempest and his co-pilot ‘Phones.’ The crusty Commander Sam Shore is in charge of the operation including his daughter Atlanta who of course longs to be held in Troy’s arms (but who wouldn’t? Just look at him). When a mute aquaphibian named Marina renounces her people and joins their ranks, an awkward love triangle is formed.
I’m honestly not sure which is weirder, the fact that one of the puppets is mute or that there is such a thing as a puppet love triangle. But Marina is such a mysterious beauty that the end credit sequence is devoted to her. Yes, at the close of each episode, viewers were lulled into a lovelorn state by the strings of “Aqua Marina.”
The plots of these programs are surprisingly mature, including the love triangle previously mentioned, yet it is also wistfully juvenile and fun. The villains are constantly coming up with new plots to destroy the people of Marineville and get Marina back, but it’s all just so very silly. One sequence showing the elaborate surveillance systems of aquaphibians goes on for ages and is basically just a phone call to see what’s going on. The attention to detail and ingenuity in set and prop design is maddening. It’s basically a Bond film done in miniature.
A stepping stone toward Thunderbirds, Stingray is often overlooked in the annals of Supermarionation programs, but it is well worth a visit. A roaring success, Stingray also spawned a couple of audio adventures and original novels. Much like Fireball XL5, it expanded into a weekly comic strip in Countdown that established its own mythology.
A mad mix of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Thunderbirds, Stingray is one of the good ones.