“Anything can happen in the next half hour”.
Stingray was a big departure for Gerry Anderson in many regards. For one thing, it had the honour of being the first British TV show shot entirely in colour, (The Adventures of Sir Lancelot was first show shot in colour, but only for the last 14 episodes.) The decision to go to colour with Stingray was made almost exclusively so they could sell it to the US market, as ITV didn’t start broadcasting in colour till 1969 (two years after the BBC), meaning that in the UK no one saw the colour broadcast till then. Thunderbirds would become the second show broadcast in colour on ITV in ’69, but Stingray paved the way because of Anderson’s forward thinking, which meant that rebroadcasting the show in colour it would be a new experience for the audience.
Supercar and Fireball XL5 were great successes for Anderson, and Fireball XL5 had the rare distinction of being the only Supermarionation series to be sold to an American TV network, NBC. Anderson would spend his entire life trying to make shows to sell to America, which is why generally the protagonists of his shows are American. Stingray was a huge step up in that direction, because Lew Grade had bought AP Films (Anderson’s company) and moved it to a much bigger studio in Slough. This gave them the chance to make a bigger and better show with more possibilities with the special effects, especially with the underwater sequences.
The episodes follow a generally very straightforward format: you have square-jawed hero Captain Troy Tempest (who is clearly modelled on James Garner); some kind of conflict—normally involving the evil King Titan; the love triangle between Troy, mute Brigitte Bardot stand-in underwater princess Marina and Atlanta Shore; and of course the special effects and model work that are still jaw-dropping over a century later. Stingray may be the definitive Supermarionation product, because it’s a tighter show than Thunderbirds (which is double the length), it’s tonally lighter than Captain Scarlet, and it has more of the tongue-in-cheek humour that Anderson preferred.
The special effects are the standout feature of the show, along with the puppetry and the editing. The underwater sequences, explosions, and model work are all very impressive. The production design is great as well, although some of the colours are a little garish since it was still a new format,. The backgrounds were often done with a “rolling sky,” a moving backdrop of a sky for instance. Special effects were shot on high-speed cameras and then slowed down. There are clear limitations to what could be done with the puppets, and editing was used to get around these (for example when a puppet is going through a door). It’s worth watching it just as a master class in editing to work around these kinds of obstacles. The puppets were also a step up from the earlier shows, more realistic with glass eyes and posable hands. The Barry Gray music is perhaps my favourite of his numerous collaborations with Anderson, the closing credits song Aquamarina still pops into my head from time to time.
The show is very much of its time, of course; the underwater villains are all slightly ethnic “others,” sometimes vaguely Asian or Soviet. It’s a product of the cold war, so when watching it today, you have to take that into account. The show like most Anderson shows depicts a one-world government body which was very in vogue in the wake of WW2 and during the cold war. While there have been CGI remakes of Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet, I’m surprised that a Stingray revival hasn’t followed. That said, making these shows animated takes away a lot of the charm of Supermarionation.
The new Stingray box-set from Network is a beautiful package. The contents include a brand-new comic book, a very in-depth book on the series by Andrew Pixley, a mini-adventure CD, a WASP pilot badge and license, and a few other physical extras. The extra content is mainly regulated to the fifth disc, which has a new documentary on the series, a length interview with Sylvia Anderson, and a digitised version of the Walton Home Movies versions of episodes that were commercially available during the ’60s, along with some archival extras, such as a Japanese presentation of a episode, Lincoln Toy Adverts and more. Gerry Anderson supplies commentary tracks on the first episode and “Stand by for Action”— these were recorded in 2001 for the original UK DVD release.