Gerry and Sylvia Anderson have gone down in television history as the creators of a whole host of science fiction television shows… many of which were created in Supermarionation, using sophisticated marionettes instead of live actors for their characters. These Supermarionation shows were, understandably, always considered children’s fare; but they were mostly built on premises that were as adult as many live-action sci-fi shows. And many of them have proven to be very popular over time, becoming iconic of sci-fi tropes in popular culture. One series, Thunderbirds, has been rebooted as a computer-animated TV show and as a live-action motion picture; and I think other series have the same potential.
One such Supermarionation series was Stingray, a program about a group of heroes that pilot an advanced submarine through the oceans. It can’t be denied that this was a kids’ show, concerning itself mostly with the battle against cartoon-level supervillains and sea-monsters, and featuring an actual mermaid as a member of the crew. Despite that, Stingray has a tremendous possibility for a reboot to a serious adult science fiction series.
There are some precedents for the idea of a live-action sea-based series, the best-known being Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and Seaquest DSV. Both series featured an advanced submarine that traveled throughout the world’s oceans to study scientific discoveries, help those located at sea-based locations (islands, sea-bases, ships, etc), and occasionally deal with weird phenomena discovered at sea (usually some form of “sea monster”). Stingray could have similarities to both shows, but some significant differences, too. And there are great elements to draw the audience into such a show.
The main element is the ongoing fascination with and mystery of the world’s oceans. Considered today to be “the last frontier on Earth,” with ongoing threats from environmental and human degradation, possibilities for energy generation (and carbon sequestration), fishing, resource recovery, archaeology, potential living space, etc, etc. Mankind is on the cusp of a thrust off-shore and into the oceans to augment living space, energy and resources, at the same time that it’s trying to understand the environmental effects that will impact sea rise, alterations to fishing potential and the general health of those oceans.
This means the encroachment of political, scientific and industrial concerns into the oceans, with many of those concerns often at odds with each other; and the need for a law enforcement arm to prevent conflicts and stop law-breakers. Stingray‘s security organization, World Aquanaut Security Patrol (WASP), would be that law enforcement arm patrolling the oceans like seaborne rangers to prevent the breaking of international maritime laws and aid those in need. (Actually, if I could I’d move heaven and Earth to find a new organization name that broke down to an acronym of a sea creature, not an airborne insect.) This show would have adult issues and relevant storylines related to the environment, politics, law, human rights, animal rights and scientific discovery.
Stingray itself may be the flagship or prototype of a new highly maneuverable multi-purpose assistance/combat craft. One significant difference between Stingray and previous series would the existence of WASP, an organization that can have a fleet of subs, ships and other vehicles; Stingray is one of a fleet of ships under one flag. The fleet dynamic opens up the story possibilities, and can sustain a larger cast, than that of Seaquest or Voyage.
I would have the sub undergo some updating, to account for modern design aesthetics, but try to maintain the overall look of the craft, which appears to be compact and fast (and is very recognizable). The ports along the top blister have to go, as well as the pointless and non-hydrodynamically large torpedo depressions. The titular ship itself could also stand a larger crew: The only crewmen in the original series were the pilot and hydrophone operator; a pretty impressive example of future automation, but at least a few specialists could have been assigned to the ship permanently and as needed. My ideal cast for Stingray would resemble the central cast of Star Trek: A Captain (also the helmsman—it’s a small ship), navigator (and weapons officer), communications officer, science officer, medical officer and ship’s engineer, all trained in emergency internal and external operations. They would occasionally be joined by WASP experts, depending on the mission. This would create the character dynamics demanded by modern audiences.
I mentioned weapons: Everyone knows about the venerable torpedo, but I think we could do better. Maybe Stingray could have a more extensive and intelligent arsenal of weapons, short-range and mostly defensive (the larger ships of WASP would be true warships). Torpedoes would be intelligent, controllable from the sub as needed, and possibly do more than just blow up. Sonar-jamming equipment would be a must, and possibly robotic specialty drones could be used as probes or remote sensors (something like Seaquest’s “whisker” drones).
Now, let’s address the Mermaid in the room: In the original series, Marina was a member of a Mermaid race, who helped save the Stingray crew in a crisis and became a defacto member of the crew. One might remember the character of Piccolo from Seaquest, the man with genetically-engineered gills; though Marina was mute, so not the most effective communicator, she served a similar purpose aboard Stingray, working underwater with greater ease than the rest of the crew and being able to go where Stingray could not. Altering Marina to be a genetically- or surgically-modified human could work. Possibly besides gills, she could be much more extensively modified to withstand higher pressures that humans can’t stand, as well as stronger limbs and maybe a modified spine to enable faster swimming, on par with dolphins. Maybe such extensive modification would alter her appearance from a standard human. Or maybe she’d just be a normal human and the expert operator of a “swim-suit,” functionally a body-fitting mini-sub that allowed her to travel underwater with more maneuverability than the Stingray. (Think an Iron Mermaid suit.)
Another possibility for Marina could be that she is not human at all, but an android designed for efficiency in the water. Perhaps a prototype, one of a few in WASP, on loan from some robotics or military organization for evaluation purposes in sea operations. I think this makes more sense than the modified human idea, as the human body really isn’t built for efficient activity underwater, and certainly not at great depths, but a modified humanoid body might work. Want to add AI, and maybe give it a personality that makes it more like a member of the crew? Sure, why not? It’s science fiction, after all.
Search and rescue will be a regular storyline, courtesy of individuals and groups building facilities in and on the ocean and not taking full account of the dangers and ferocity of the sea environment. We might see labs on the ocean floor or floating near a sea volcano, facilities trying to study rare phenomenon, exploration and mining rigs, and maybe an occasional sea-steader or fishing outpost damaged by storms. Stingray may work with one of its family in the WASP fleet to do searches, assist in security transgressions, or maybe recover something that got a little too close to some interesting undersea find. And they may assist in emergency efforts at islands or shorelines where having a sea route to safety is particularly valuable.
Will there be sea monsters? Well, we can say Yes and No here. First of all, there are some sea creatures that, if properly motivated/frightened/upset by something, could give the Stingray some problems; maybe environmental damage to the oceans poisons some waters, or ruins some marine environments, and kicks up some giant squids, or drives a pod of whales, sharks, or whale-sharks crazy, etc. Assuming the crew of Stingray doesn’t want to just blow them up, they could be challenged by disabling them with minimum harm, while maybe trying to restore their habitat or environment so they can go back to being the peaceful creatures they are (or the dangerous creatures in their proper habitat).
More likely, though, would be man-made devices, perhaps sea vehicles, other subs, deep-sea exploration, drilling or processing rigs and working robots that run amok… those would be your “sea-monsters.” Maybe other organizations have created their own sea-androids like Marina, and use them as warriors or guards around their installations. Countries with their own interpretation of maritime law… corporations and individuals who feel they are above maritime law… and a few anarchists who oppose any law at all (pirates, essentially)… those would be Stingray’s regular enemies. And since this would be set in the future, we can fill its world with the expected short-term results of global warming, like coastal towns and facilities reclaimed by rising ocean levels, extreme weather, resource-borne conflicts and island/coastal refugees.
And just because I know everyone would demand it, I’d have one, I SAY ONE, amphibious dinosaur released from an iceberg and gone on a rampage in the ocean (hey, if you were in the ice that long, you’d have the world’s worst brain-freeze… so you’d probably run amok too). Personally, I’d prefer discovering the dinosaur, naturally long-dead, but so well-preserved that we learn something new and astounding about them that influences our view on science and nature for years to come. What would be even better, though, would be the discovery of a strange mechanism recovered from a recently-calved iceberg that turns out to be an ancient alien probe; and upon releasing it, it zooms off into space, providing proof of aliens and (if the show runs long enough) something to look forward to down the line.
All of this should allow the show to avoid most of the kitsch that Seaquest resorted to, which ended up giving the show a Disneyesque aesthetic. Though I hate to use the word, Stingray could be a more “gritty” series, with character conflicts and issues strongly prescient of current events. And it could still serve as a platform providing viewers with a little bit of marine science and biology.
So there you have it: A viable strategy to reboot Stingray to be a gritty, modern adult SF series. Seaquest DSV, it’s most recent competition, lasted three seasons (and suffered a lot of churn due to its competitive timeslot); but where Seaquest eventually lost, Stingray could last far longer, especially with a few ongoing storylines involving particularly persistent anarchic groups, misbehaving governments, natural crises, and maybe the occasional character conflicts with WASP or its on-board experts on how to solve a problem.
As always, I’m available for consultation.