About Christmas TV History

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Stingray Christmas (1964)

Continuing our SCI-FI Christmas in July celebration, Christmas TV History would like to welcome guest blogger Dominic with his second post this month.  He also wrote the Bravestarr post earlier in July.  Click HERE to see that again.  This Christmas episode of Stingray is currently available to watch on Youtube.  Check it out.  It is also on DVD.  Merry SCI-FI Christmas in July everyone!

Stingray "A Christmas to Remember" from 1964
by Dominic Caruso

Anything can happen in the next half-hour!

Stingray is one of several shows created by Gerry Anderson that featured miniaturized sets and a process of filming highly stylized puppet characters he called Supermarionation. Anderson’s marionette/puppet hybrids have, for me, always been somewhere between creepy (imagine a show populated solely by puppets that remind you of ventriloquist dummies) and fascinating to watch. But that creepiness is largely inconsequential, because the sci fi worlds Anderson created are utterly charming and great entertainment. This is perhaps even more true in the case of Stingray, because significant portions of the show take place “at sea” and underwater.

Stingray was created when it was important for TV shows to have a great theme song and opening title sequence. Accordingly, Stingray’s is magnificent. It’s filled with explosions, missiles, torpedoes, futuristic vehicles launching themselves through air and sea. Entire buildings descend via elevators into the earth, and then comes the pronouncement that, “Anything can happen in the next half hour!” Not only does Stingray have a fabulous title sequence, it has an incredible credit sequence as well--featuring a song in the vein of “You Only Live Twice” dedicated to the alluring character Marina!

The action takes place in Marineville, where the World Aquanaut Security Patrol (WASP) defends the seas and the futuristic base from all manner of nefarious attackers. The jewel of WASP’s fleet is Stingray, a submarine piloted by the heroic Troy Tempest, with co-pilot George Lee “Phones” Sheridan, and occasional assistance from the aforementioned Marina, a silent, mysterious mermaid-like woman who joins WASP after defecting from the side of Marineville’s chief adversary, Titan. Atlanta Shore is a female aquanaut and daughter of the base leader, Commander Sam Shore, who gets around in a kind of hovercraft version of a rascal scooter.

The Christmas episode, “A Christmas to Remember” is excellent, and a good introduction to the futuristic oceanic world of Marineville. It follows a familiar Christmas TV theme: the desire to create a great Christmas experience for a less-fortunate child. In this instance, the child is Barry Burns, an orphan whose deceased father was an aquanaut at WASP. Atlanta and Troy visit Barry at Christmas and are impressed by his knowledge of WASP and Marineville (he even presents them with a scale model of Marineville that he’s made). After spending time with Barry, Troy decides to spring the boy from the orphanage and bring him to Marineville for Christmas to be amongst the aquanauts he idolizes, even though it’s against base regulations.

Barry visits Marineville, dons aquanaut-appropriate jammies

Troy succeeds in buttering up Commander Shore with a fake letter from Barry, and Shore agrees to bend the rules and have Barry stay with him and Atlanta for Christmas--despite the fact that the base is under alert, having captured a suspiciously deserted alien enemy submarine. Marineville at Christmas looks fantastic: it’s blanketed in snow. Marina and Atlanta build snowmen, and WASP headquarters is decked out with a Christmas tree and gifts. Even the incidental music takes on a Christmas theme, with lightly Moog-y versions of “Jingle Bells” and “Good King Wenceslas” bubbling in the background. Troy, Atlanta, Phones, and Commander Shore even take Barry ice skating! It’s particularly delightful seeing the Supermarionettes skating fluidly and gracefully exhibiting a number of classic skating poses.

Atlanta and Troy enjoying the season with a graceful couples’ skate.

Troy aboard the empty alien vessel. You can tell they’re aliens from the freaky interior Jackson Pollack paint job

However, it becomes a Christmas to remember for junior aquanaut Barry when he gets to co-pilot Stingray (uh, are there any base regulations that they follow??!!) in a dramatic rescue mission in which it’s revealed what really happened to the alien crew of the mysterious captured sub. Spoiler alert: it involves a plan for World--well Marineville anyway--Domination!

Yep, there’s no one else around to help Troy co-pilot Stingray. I know, let’s get a kid to do it!

“A Christmas to Remember” is a wonderful sci fi Christmas episode because it’s rich with Christmas detail in addition to the typically impeccable ultramodern details of the show, from the Christmas cards in the Shore home, to a comical appearance by a would-be Santa Claus, and the gift of a scale model of the Stingray submarine. Stingray is captivating television precisely for that attention to detail. There’s something about the world in miniature that never fails to please--especially the Mid-Century modern world of Marineville, which looks like it was designed by Oscar Niemeyer or Eero Saarinen--all streamlined arches, wings, darts, and symmetry. It’s a great space for the imagination to inhabit and enjoy dreams of Christmas future.

Fans of Gerry Anderson’s brand of sci fi entertainment might also want to check out the Christmas episodes of his other TV series’, including, the 1966 Thunderbirds episode “Give or Take a Million,” the 1968 episode of Joe 90, “The Unorthodox Shepherd,” and the 1983 episode of Terrahawks, “A Christmas Miracle.” You can also read about each one in both of Joanna’s books, The Christmas TV Companion and Tis the Season TV.

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