Later tonight, the thrilling conclusion of The Count of Monte Cristo. But first, a brand new series for Sunday tea time: AP Films' follow-up to the hugely successful Fireball XL5. Eagle-eyed viewers may notice that the screenshots below are in colour, while those who know their TV history will be aware that the UK's first colour broadcast wasn't until 1967. The show was made in colour to help with overseas sales (it had premiered in Japan the previous month). And the colour also helps to make it look absolutely beautiful (to those of us with the benefit of a colour apparatus). As with Fireball XL5, the show is thoroughly Americanised, to the point that it's barely recognisable as a British show. But the odd, instantly recognisable glimmer of British silliness shines through, so I've decided to let it through.
Stingray kicks off with a ridiculously exciting crash-bang-wallop titles sequence, with grizzled Commander Shore warning us that "Anything can happen in the next half hour!" The titles bear out the then-novelty of colour TV by starting out in black and white before a caption reveals that the programme is presented to us in "Videcolor".
The episode proper opens with a submarine going about its business underwater (filmed behind a tank full of live fish to increase verisimilitude). It's shortly pursued by a bizarre, fish-shaped craft. The effect by which we zoom into the fish's eye to reveal two extremely ugly beings inside is very impressive.
A missile shoots from the fish's mouth and the submarine explodes with the very effect that began the show's opening titles.
News of the sub's destruction reaches the World Security Patrol in Washington DC, who decide to put their marine division, the World Aquanaut Security Patrol (WASP), on the case - yes, Stingray is quite literally a show about WASPs saving the world). The WASP headquarters are really spiffy, like a shopping precinct from the not-too-distant future.
Commander Shore (who either uses a futuristic wheelchair or has stolen a dodgem) receives his instructions over the World Videophone (which isn't in colour). His second in command at WASP HQ is Atlanta (voiced by Lois Maxwell, who'd been Miss Moneypenny in two Bond films at this stage), but anything progressive about having a woman in a high-up position is negated by the shocking nepotism of her being his daughter.
Atlanta's boyfriend, the square-jawed, heroic Troy Tempest is sent to investigate the destruction of the sub in the ship that gives the show its name. Accompanying him is his co-pilot, nicknamed Phones as he's usually got a clunky pair of headphones on, a country boy whose Southern drawl starts to grate after a few seconds.
I present the next couple of shots to give you an idea of the interior decor of Stingray (lovely bookcase), and to illustrate a conversation between Troy and Phones about the former's theory that there are intelligent beings living under the sea. "There are people living under the sea and I've got theories at the bottom of my garden," scoffs Phones, using what seems a very British idiom. Troy's determined to prove that his underwater people were behind the submarine's destruction.
Meanwhile, in a grand old house on an otherwise deserted island, a mysterious, silver-skinned figure scans the sea with his binoculars.
With a flick of the switch, the antique furnishings are replaced by all manner of hi-tech devices and the strange man, known as Agent X20, communicates (in a voice very obviously imitating Peter Lorre) with his master.
When Troy and Phones go to investigate the wreckage of the sub, Stingray is attacked by a fish craft, and the pair black out. Troy awakens to find himself in curious surroundings watched by a strange, beautiful young woman.
He's jerked fully to his senses by a booming voice informing him there's no use trying to talk to the girl: "None of her race know the luxury of words. She is my slave!" The speaker is the man we saw on X20's screen, and Troy appears to have woken up in his throne room. He introduces himself (being the villain, he's the most English sounding character in the show): "I am Titan, leader of the underwater city of Titanica" (I might start calling my house "Ivanica").
Troy is to be placed on trial for unspeakable crimes against the people of Titanica. "Don't worry, Terranian. you will be given a fair trial," Titan assures him, though the evil chuckle on the end doesn't help.
Worried about Troy and Phones' disappearance, Commander Shore wants to bombard that whole area of with hydronic missiles. Atlanta is too keen, but is rapidly shouted down: "Look honey, this is a tough organisation and we're doing a tough job!"
In Titanica, Troy's trial commences. Guilt or innocence is decided by the great sea god Teufel (it's German for devil, you see), who appears, in reality, to be just a fat fish. If Teufel turns his back on Troy within one marine minute, it means he's guilty.
And in case you were wondering how a marine minute is measured, it's with the use of this ridiculously elaborate device.
The tension's unbearable. What will Teufel do?
Back at Marineville, in a terrible omen, Atlanta drops a framed photo of Troy, which smashes.
Here's a good look at the lovely Marineville wallpaper.
Below the sea, things aren't going well. After teasing everyone over what he was going to do, Teufel finally showed Troy his rear, which means our hero, along with his co-hero, is being carted off for execution. But Troy and Phones are startled when they find Titan's slave girl untying their bonds.
We're not shown Troy and Phones' daring escape, but it happens just in time to avoid Commander Shore nuking everyone. That evening there's a dinner party to celebrate, with everybody dressed in shades of rust for some unknown reason.
It's now that Troy takes the opportunity to introduce the others to he and Troy's saviour, Marina (whether she's somehow communicated that this is her name or Troy's just decided to give it to her isn't clear). Commander Shore's eyes practically pop out of his head at the sight of her. Atlanta's clearly consumed with jealousy. "At least we know what we're up against," says Troy of his experience. "Well, I certainly know what I'm up against," seethes Atlanta, eyeing the beautiful new arrival. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
The show's end titles are accompanied with Marina's very own theme tune (performed by Gary Miller), as she prances about beneath the sea and is romanced by Troy as a jealous Atlanta moons over him. Oh dear again.
Anyway, here is that end sequence, a pinnacle of 1960s kitsch.
And now to more serious matters. There are two treacherous fiends still to be brought low, and only just over 25 minutes to do it in, so Edmond Dantés had better get his skates on.
We begin at the home of Baron Danglars, where the Count of Monte Cristo commiserates with the banker over the scandal that erupted on his daughter's wedding night.
Eugenie has now fled to Italy, and the Baron wonders if his good name will survive the revelation that his daughter was affianced to a murderer. The Count assures him that as long as he has money, he will never suffer disgrace. The Count marvels at the bonds Danglars has been signing, saying he can scarcely credit that each of these can be exchanged for a million livres. He determines to take them to the bank himself to find out, giving the worried Danglars a receipt that can be exchanged for cash at Thomson and French.
Once the Count is on his merry way, Danglars receives a visit from Beauchamp, come to interview him. But the appalling subject of the interview proves to be news to the Baron: the information he received about the king of Spain's escape was a telegraphic mistake (we all know how that came about), there was no revolution, and as a result Danglars is now a ruined man.
Maximilian Morrel's plans to elope with Valentine de Villefort have been scuppered by her father, who is keeping her under lock and key. The Count assures his friend that he will get his happy ending, and tells him to go with Ali and abduct Valentine while de Villefort is in court at the trial of Benedetto. Maximilian's bewildered by the Count's insistence that they are now safe from de Villefort's vengeance.
Benedetto appears before the court, insisting that the grouchy president (Erik Chitty) ask his questions about him in reverse order. The president wearily surmises this is so he can make some shocking announcement about his true identity, but still isn't prepared for quite the degree of shock generated when Benedetto announces that the procurer du roi is his father.
"Proof? You demand proof? Then look at M de Villefort!" And indeed, the public disgrace has proved more than de Villefort's mind can bear.
Meanwhile, Benedetto's mother, Mme Danglars, sits in impassive silence.
The announcement has caused de Villefort to lose his mind, and, as the courtroom descends into chaos, he rises from his seat and wanders off, muttering to himself. It's a shame that Michael Gough plays de Villefort's madness on a single, fish-faced note.
Meanwhile, Danglars, like his daughter before him, has hi-tailed it to Italy to escape disgrace. Calling in at Thomson and French for the five million livres promised him by the Count, he finds himself held at gunpoint when he returns to the carriage. The man with the gun is Edmond Dantés' old friend Jacopo.
Madame de Villefort, who has just suffered one shock in the forced removal of her stepdaughter from her home, must face another in the form of her lunatic husband, who ignores her distress over Valentine and sets to digging up the garden in search of his lost child.
Danglars is imprisoned in a bandits' lair, and told he will need to pay a million livres for a meal. He claims he'd rather die, but his longing look at the food outside his cell suggests it won't take long to break him.
In Marseilles, the scene of their youthful romance, Edmond and Mercedes are reunited. She has given all of her disgraced husband's wealth to charity, and will accept none of Edmond's treasure trove. He insists she take the key of the apartment he lived in when they courted, and a chest containing what he saved for their wedding. She insists that they must part, and simply asks that he do all he can to ensure Albert's happiness.
By now, Danglars has paid five million livres for five meals, and has nothing left. It's now that his true captor makes himself known. He denies being Danglars' friend the Count of Monte Cristo and dramatically reveals his true identity: "I am the man you sold and dishonoured. I am the man whose betrothed you prostituted. I am the man on whom you trampled to raise a fortune. Because of me de Morcerf has blown out his brains. Because of me de Villefort has lost his reason. Because of me you have lost your riches and may never return to your native land. I am Edmond Dantés."
Edmond tells Danglars that he had intended him to die of starvation, but at the last minute has changed his mind: "Because..." But by now, Danglars is such a broken man that his first action on being granted freedom is to slump against the wall of his cell.
And that is the end of Edmond Dantés' revenge. The final scene returns us to the isle of Monte Cristo, where he intends to live out the rest of his days alone. He sends Maximilian and Valentine off on their way to a happy new life, with half his fortune as a dowry, entrusting Haydée to their care. He wants her to take her rightful place in society as the daughter of a king.
But Haydée doesn't want to go, insisting she'll die if she must. She loves Edmond, "Not as a daughter, but as a woman." And he relents. "Love me, then, Haydée. Who knows, you might help me to forget those things I wish not to remember."
And with his vengeance accomplished, it looks like perhaps a whole new life lies in store for the Count of Monte Cristo.
So ends one of the finest pieces of TV drama I've had the pleasure to watch for TV Minus 50. Hopefully its recent release on DVD means a lot more people will get to see it, and it'll get the appreciation it deserves. In particular, Alan Badel's utterly compelling central performance deserves to be considered one of the greats.