Celebrating Stingray

Andrew salutes the barnstorming matinee adventure that was Gerry Anderson's Stingray...

“In all the shows I’ve made, I’ve always tried to make the opening titles exciting.” – Gerry Anderson. 

Has there ever been a more barnstorming title sequence than Stingray‘s? 

When I told people I was going to do a retrospective on the show, they practically recited it verbatim, musical cue dialogue, or sang ‘Mariiiiiiiinaaa, aqua Mariiiiiiiinaaa’ at me (I felt so beautiful). The title sequences are fantastic, distinctive and memorable. 

The tribal drums (a deliriously urgent cacophony); the crash-zoom on Commander Shaw’s ambiguous growl; if these weren’t exciting enough they are followed by EXPLOSIONS! Planes! An entire city becoming subterranean! A leaping submarine! A big…fish…thing, also leaping! Everything is being thrown at the screen in an attempt to get the viewer to sit down and watch for half an hour. It succeeds at the latter, and fails at the former, if only because you’ve probably fallen off your seat. 

As a result of its rapid-fire sequences of images, many questions are begged. What is the big fish thing? Why, it’s a submarine that will soon become known as a Terror Fish. Why does Stingray have a number 3 on its fin? Are there another two Stingray class vessels? It depends on whether you believe the comics over the audio adventures. Although if you ask the man on the street he’ll probably say ‘The comics. Obviously.’ 

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Admittedly, you might have to give him some context first. 

And now, some context: 

For those of you who were doing something else with your time, Stingray details the yarns of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol (W.A.S.P) and their attempts to limit the terrorist acts of Titan, Lord of Titanica (Laurence Olivier-resembler and owner of the sea’s biggest ego), and leader of the Aquaphibians. Titan worships the Fish God Teufel, who is both oracle and baleful enigma in one. 

Not to be outdone, Captain Troy Tempest gets a seal called Oink as a mascot, possibly to distract him from Phones’ nifty pyjama-waistcoat ensemble (Legend has it that the character of Wesley Crusher was based on Oink). 

Captain Troy Tempest and Lieutenant George Lee ‘Phones’ Sheridan are the crew of Stingray, a submarine so mint that deep sea oil platform operatives go all Top Gear over it. Troy and Phones come up against many other undersea races, many with nifty metallic faces and big boomy voices that are a gift to fans of the obscure Halloween costume. Some of them are quite nice really, but we don’t find that out til the third episode. 

Marineville, home of the WASP team, can (and will) retreat beneath the earth in the event of an attack. They are packing plenty of heat. Pretty much every crevice within a five mile radius has some sort of missile hidden in it. Led by Commander Shore and his daughter, Lieutenant Atlanta Shore (and Sub-Lieutenant John Fisher, a sort of John Tracy prototype), the WASP team would sign off radio messages with the acronym PWOR (‘Proceeding with orders received’, not the Canadian army’s Princess of Wales Own Regiment as Wikipedia might have you believe). It’s not the catchiest of acronyms, and certainly ranks below SIG and FAB, but it does look a little bit like PHWOAR. Whether this is a redeeming feature is still open to debate. 

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As part of an unusual development for a children’s television programme, Troy Tempest was involved in a love triangle with Atlanta, and a mute slave girl from Titan’s palace, Marina. Something I had forgotten entirely – and, if you think what you’ve read before is outlandish, oh boy are you in for a treat – is that the end credits is meant to be a song that Troy Tempest is singing to Marina

Imagine David Tennant sobbing the Doctor Who theme after the events of Doomsday, Captain Bucky O’Hare singing about how amazing he is, or Obi Wan Kenobi crooning The Winner Takes It All over the credits of Revenge of the Sith. These would be diabolical (probably, Ewan McGregor would probably make a decent fist of things), but for Stingray it somehow fits. Good work, Troy Tempest. The man is annoyingly talented. He clearly has a gift for composition.  

If you’ve never seen Stingray before, you may be thinking that it all sounds like some sort of heady stramash. It’s a testament to the universes that were created by Gerry Anderson and his team that you learn absolutely all of this information simply by watching the first few episodes, and listening to the pleasantly informative commentary on the pilot. 

Said pilot episode of Stingray (entitled Stingray, just in case) raises further issues: 

Is Teufel really a fish god? Possibly. Currently I am agnostic at best about its divinity. I have been conditioned by Doctor Who to hear Jon Pertwee’s voice advocating a rational, scientific explanation for such things. If it’s really is a god, why is it stuck in a tiny fish tank? And how come its Facebook page only has one ‘Like’? 

Secondly, why is Phones so unloved by the women of Marineville? I have no idea. Sure, his rugged Dixie ways lack the suave assurance of wanton balladeer and submariner extraordinaire, Troy Tempest; but his wit is so dry it’s a wonder it doesn’t cancel out the oceans. Plus, when Atlanta and Marina go on a mission together, Phones smirks throughout the entire thing. He’s a lone wolf, and enjoying himself enormously. 

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Thirdly, what happens to the Aquaphibian left on the Terror Fish at the end of the first episode? The show is set in 2065. Let us speculate that torture and recession are no longer a problem, but based on the cross-sections of Terror Fish and Titanica that adorned various Nineties annuals, one can only grimly speculate as to the source of such information. 

Perhaps this is why Terror Fish look so pouty? No, that’s because spitting missiles from your mouth is cool. When I found a Terror Fish toy set in John Menzies in 1994, I held the packet aloft from several angles to see if they had the requisite gape. They did not. I got them anyway. They were great fun until paint flaked and jaws broke off, creating a new species of ‘ALL IS DUST-Fish’. True story. 

First world problems aside, this speaks volumes for Anderson’s approach. People joke about the puppets, but no-one jokes about the vehicles. We remember making our own Tracy Island (ours went mouldy and had to be destroyed), and making our own stories up with the action figures. Others go further still, and combine their love of creation with their love of destruction. It’s one thing to make your own spaceship, it’s quite another to pour all the powder from cap-gun pellets into it, add a light bulb filament, and then film the results. 

Stingray is known as the lesser of the Holy Triumvirate of Supermarionation (Thunderbirds, it, and Captain Scarlet). It’s shorter than the former, and lighter than the latter, giving it a comparatively breezy feel. This is in no way a criticism. It wouldn’t work as an 18-certificate Dredd-style interpretation (it would be good for about three seconds before your brain started protesting), because Stingray is inherently a matinee adventure, an inspiring rush of mild peril and jaunty escapades. Star Wars under the sea. 

And darling, it’s better down where it’s wetter (Take it from me).

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