By Chris Dale
After many years of rumour and speculation, we’re delighted to confirm that Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s classic Supermarionation series Stingray is finally coming to Blu-ray next year!
First airing in 1964, the thirty-nine episodes of Stingray produced by A.P. Films followed the adventures of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol’s flagship craft, the super submarine Stingray. At the controls were Captain Troy Tempest (Don Mason) and hydrophone operator Lieutenant Phones Sheridan (Robert Easton), soon to be joined by the ‘beautiful girl of the sea’ Marina after the pair rescue her from the clutches of the undersea tyrant Titan (Ray Barrett) during the first episode. The voiceless Marina is welcomed by the rest of the team back at Marineville, including Commander Sam Shore (Barrett), his daughter Lieutenant Atlanta Shore (Lois Maxwell), and trainee aquanaut Lieutenant John Fisher (Barrett again), and she joins the Stingray crew. Meanwhile, the scheming Titan plots ever more dangerous schemes to steal her back and have his revenge on Tempest…and he isn’t the only underwater enemy plotting against the “accursed terraneans!”
The premise may have featured echoes of the Fireball XL5 concept of a futuristic military vehicle assigned to both protect humanity from alien aggressors while also exploring the unknown, but Stingray took that concept and refined it further – along with all the individual elements that made up the series. Just as the on-screen action moved from outer space to underwater, so too had A.P. Films now relocated from their Ipswich Road studio to a larger site on Slough’s Stirling Road. This enabled them to film two episodes at once, featuring larger scale sets and even more impressive model effects sequences. The series wasted no time in letting viewers know that they were in for 25 minutes of non-stop action and excitement in one of the most impressive opening titles sequences ever seen on television – one which is still just as enthralling more than half a century later. Barry Gray’s phenomenal musical score also gave the on-screen action a grander sense of scale than ever before, and much of the soundtrack to Stingray would be heard again in other Anderson productions until the mid-1970s.
The model effects department under the command of Derek Meddings continued their rapid evolution and would produce some of the most spectacular sequences ever seen in an Anderson production during the making of Stingray, with notable highlights including Agent X-20’s attack on a crude oil shipment in An Echo of Danger, the storm scenes of Set Sail for Adventure and The Lighthouse Dwellers, and the subterranean world of Solarstar in The Big Gun – plus Stingray’s various encounters with Titan’s mechanical fish and the world of Marineville itself. Surprisingly for a series set largely at sea however, the Stingray model would only come into contact with water during scenes that featured the craft on the ocean surface. For scenes featuring craft underwater, the craft would be ‘flown’ on wires and an aquarium filled with fish, bubble-producing airlines and other floating detritus would be placed in front of the model stage, where a fan would also blow on the plants to suggest the movement of the water. This technique had first been used in Supercar, but Stingray would utilise the illusion to more frequent and far greater effect.
Although the Stingray crew would regularly find themselves facing the machinations of the evil Titan, with his plans often being carried out by his surface agent X-20 (Easton), he was by no means the show’s only adversary. Stingray’s underwater world was inhabited by many other warlike alien races who nearly always showed up in pairs – or sometimes as a trio if they really meant business. Other recurring villains included the deposed human tyrant Ed Hudat and the underwater aliens Grupa and Noctus – but commendably, the series also featured just as many alien antagonists who were ultimately revealed to be peaceful and well-intentioned, whose actions were the result of panic, desperation, or a mistaken belief that humanity was out to destroy them. These aliens were another area in which the puppet sculptors could let their imaginations run riot, and in ways that wouldn’t be possible (or practical) for a live action television series. While still sporting caricatured faces, the puppets portraying the show’s human characters would also continue their development towards a more realistic appearance, most notably with the introduction of additional heads for the regular characters featuring happy and angry expressions in addition to their standard neutral look.
Most notably, Stingray also saw the Anderson universe make the giant leap from black and white into colour, becoming the first British television series to be filmed entirely in colour in the process. Although most contemporary viewers would still be watching it in black and white, being filmed in colour not only increased the show’s chances of selling to America, but would also ensure that Stingray could be included alongside the likes of Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet during the hugely successful repeat runs of Anderson shows that would occur in later decades – securing the show’s popularity with future generations.
Stingray would be the most successful series AP Films had yet produced, both with audiences and merchandisers. It quickly became the backbone of the company’s thriving merchandising and publishing arms, and was the star strip when the classic TV Century 21 comic first launched in 1965. By the time production wrapped on Stingray, A.P. Films was in an exceptionally strong position to look towards the future, as they took the lessons they had learned during the making of Troy Tempest’s adventures and embarked on their next (and perhaps greatest) Supermarionation adventure…
Despite its continuing popularity, Stingray has spent the last two decades represented by standard definition DVD releases that fall a long way short of the picture quality we’ve come to expect from an Anderson series shot on 35mm film. Now, thanks to this new High Definition restoration of all thirty-nine episodes, Stingray will be able to stand proudly alongside Captain Scarlet, Joe 90, and our other Anderson titles on Blu-ray with these fantastic Super-Deluxe and Dexluxe editions, both available to order now!
It’s been a long time coming, but you can now officially stand by for action – we are about to launch Stingray on Blu-ray!