Judge Mike Pinsky once dreamed about a snake dressed in a polo shirt eating pudding...but what does it mean?
"Anything can happen in the next half hour!"—Commander Shore (Ray Barrett)
Okay, stay with me on this one. It's about puppets. Puppets. In submarines.
I mean, who needs drugs? Just watch any episode. How about "Treasure Down Below?" A salty pirate (is there any other kind?) sells hick sidekick "Phones" (voice of Robert Easton) a treasure map, while our hero Troy Tempest (voice of Don Mason) takes Marina, the mute mermaid, out on a date. Yes, a mute mermaid, the ultimate male fantasy of 1964. From the first moments, where the drunken oil tanker captain rams his ship into an iceberg, the torture by rack, and the villain with a voice like James Mason and a candelabra attached to his head, this show would give Salvador Dali the giggles.
Yes, a candelabra—I have to resist this urge to emphasize everything associated with Stingray. Even the title begs for an exclamation point:
Stingray! It rushes right at you: "Stand by for action!" Commander Shore (voice of Ray Barrett) promises over the pounding opening theme that "anything can happen in the next half hour!" And he is absolutely correct. For 39 television episodes in 1964, the crew of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol maintained order under the sea with their submarine Stingray. In spite of the Cold War above, the undersea landscape of Gerry Anderson's fantasy world was balkanized by a host of petty tyrants and misunderstood isolationists. Who better to save the "aquaphibians" from themselves than the all-Caucasian WASPs? "This is a tough organization, and we're doing a tough job," huffs Commander Shore from his bumpercar wheelchair, as he orders around his sexy daughter Atlanta (voice of Lois Maxwell). And off our heroes go to once again make the underwater world safe for humans—except for women, who seem to exist in this world to get coffee and speak as little as possible.
Did I mention the puppets?
Stingray, presented in a five-disc set from A&E, is performed in Super-Marionation (exclamation point optional). You can see the strings. You can tell that the "underwater" shots are filmed behind a tank of aquarium fish, plastic plants and all. But none of it really matters. There is something gleefully naïve about Stingray, like a puppet show you might make at home with your own toys. By all rights, it should fall apart. But then you remember that it's puppets in submarines. They sweat. They fight. They even have bizarre sexual fantasies. Take "Raptures of the Deep." It's beatniks a-go-go, as Stingray rescues two way-lost hepcats. But Troy Tempest ends up passing out from lack of oxygen and has a sexual fantasy about Marina and Atlanta.
But it is probably no less weird than Phones's haggis-induced bagpipe dream in "The Loch Ness Monster." Or the army of attack oysters in "Secret of the Giant Oyster." Or Troy's bizarre underwater caveman dream in "The Cool Cave Man" (the dream episodes are clearly the wildest). Or the conga-drum alarm system that goes off every time Marineville sounds a red alert.
I could go on all night. And alongside these 39 episodes, most of which have to be seen to be believed, A&E includes several commentary tracks. Gerry Anderson himself turns up to chat about the pilot episode and "Stand By for Action" (in which a "New Wave Hollywood director" refuses to hire Troy to play himself in a movie about the Stingray crew). Both feature largely random trivia: how the special effects were done, why a British show featured so many American accents, and so on. Special effects assistant Brian Johnson and art director Bob Bell have a good laugh looking back at "Loch Ness Monster" for a commentary track, while Sylvia Anderson, puppet designer Mary Turner, and cameraman John Read offer their old memories during "Rapture from the Deep." Disc Five also offers a twenty-minute documentary look behind the scenes at the making of the series, with lots of photographs and interviews from all the surviving participants except for the Andersons.
But the real meat of this package (invoke Freud if you wish—all the chauvinism of the show already has him rolling in his grave) is the series itself. Thunderbirds may have had more polish; UFO and Space 1999 may have lacked the strings (though the characters and stories were often as wooden). But Stingray may be the quintessential Gerry Anderson show: manly white men with gadgets making the world safe for puppet shows everywhere. And it is self-conscious enough not to take itself seriously.
From the scientist who swears he can "teach dumb people to speak" in "Count Down" (insert your own political joke here) to the eerie beach at the Earth's hollow core in "Subterranean Sea," Stingray is packed with wacky entertainment that many shows worked hard to even get half right. And it does it all so effortlessly.
In one episode, Troy dreams (what else?) that Stingray turns into a plastic submarine in an aquarium. That just about says it all about Stingray. If the image of a puppet in a toy submarine suddenly becoming aware that he is a puppet in a toy submarine strikes you as delightfully sublime, then Stingray may be the show for you. After all, anything can happen in the next half hour…
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