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How NOT to make a 1960s British sci-fi puppet show

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If you've heard people raving about fifty-year-old kiddie shows like Thunderbirds and couldn't understand what all the fuss was about...well, watch this clip from Paul Starr, made by a rival production company. It'll make you appreciate Stingray like never before!

To understand what I'm talking about, watch the first 1:45 of the video up top, taken from the pilot of Paul Starr, which ultimately didn't get an order for a full series. OK, now take a look at the Stingray intro:

Even if you're not a fan of Stingray or the other Gerry Anderson shows, you've got to admit the difference between these two is absolutely massive. Stingray doesn't look like a toy in close-up, it's not being obviously pulled along on strings, the ocean actually looks like the ocean instead of somebody's bathtub, the ocean door really appears to be built into the rock face (and it doesn't have "UNDER-SEA BASE" written on it, which has to be considered a plus), you can understand (and get to see) how the characters get in and out of the submarine, and even the hangar itself is full of background details that give the illusion that this is actually a real set and not just a tiny model.


Stingray manages to pull off two submarines jumping out of the water one after the other more convincingly than Paul Starr does with...well, with just about anything. And that's not even getting into the editing, music, or the puppets themselves, all of which I would argue are considerably better on Stingray, though I'll admit that's a bit more subjective.

Now, I don't want to be too harsh on what is, in the end, just an unaired pilot. And it's not like Paul Starr's creators, Roberta Leigh and Arthur Provis (both former business partners of Gerry Anderson back in the 1950s), weren't capable of creating quality television. Their previous attempt at puppet science fiction, the black-and-white Space Patrol, ran 39 episodes and is generally considered a perfectly decent little show.


But still, there's a reason why Paul Starr never went to series, and there's a reason why the model team on Stingray (and all the other Supermarionation shows) ended up working on visual effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Empire Strikes Back, and the Alien movies.

I'll admit that the works of Gerry Anderson are a bit of a sci-fi obsession of mine, perhaps behind only Isaac Asimov and Doctor Who. I'll leave a discussion of the relative merits of Supermarionation (not to mention its absolutely incredible live-action follow-up UFO) for another day, but I will say this: even if you want to argue that shows like Thunderbirds, Stingray, and Captain Scarlet don't stand up today as anything other than model porn, then it's the best damn model porn ever made.

I'll leave you with the intro to Thunderbirds, which still remains one of my favorite things ever.

Paul Starr clip via BoingBoing; thanks to Gregory La Vardera for the tip!