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Exploring miniaturisation: Supermarionation Gets Cut Down to Size

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Our Supermarionation heroes are no strangers to the concept of miniaturisation! By taking advantage of the puppets’ one-third life size stature, many fantastical situations have been employed over the years to bring our favourite Anderson characters into the land of giants; from strange drugs and bizarre dream sequences to the mysterious powers of the Minimiser and The Investigator. Did these stories make the marionettes like miniature people of flesh and blood? Or did they inadvertently secure the idea that these were just puppets made of nothing but fibre-glass? With Gerry Anderson and his team always striving to make the puppets appear as realistic as possible, let’s explore just how successful placing them next to real-life human beings actually was…

Supercar: Calling Charlie Queen
Story by Gerry & Sylvia Anderson
Directed by Alan Patillo

Calling Charlie Queen

When answering a distress call, Mike Mercury, Dr. Beaker and Mitch get caught up in the most bizarre situation the Supercar team has ever faced when they are miniaturised by the insane Professor Karloff!

By means of a full-size laboratory set, props, and clever back-projection shots, puppets are seen at their true size for the first time in this episode. With Karloff’s live action stand-in only seen from behind in sinister silhouette, the prospect of being tiny seems utterly terrifying. The combination of puppetry and live action makes this a very memorable episode of Supercar, and Professor Karloff’s maniacal laughter is guaranteed to haunt your nightmares…

 

The TriadsFireball XL5: The Triads
Teleplay by Alan Fennell
Directed by Alan Patillo

Steve Zodiac, Dr. Venus and Professor Mattic crash-land on the planet Triad. How will they fare on an alien world that is three times the size of Earth?

This episode uses many of the same techniques pioneered in Calling Charlie Queen with parts of laboratory set re-used from that episode. However, the stand in human hands no longer have rubber gloves on them to appear more puppet-like. Is this one of the first steps taken in Supermarionation to achieve greater realism?

 

Stingray: Tom Thumb Tempest
Teleplay by Alan Fennell
Directed by Alan Patillo

Tom Thumb TempestTroy, Phones and Marina find themselves miniaturised into a room being used by Titan to host a dinner party for his fellow undersea villains. Can the Stingray crew put a stop to his plans in their shrunken form, or are things not entirely as they seem?

Alan Patillo returns to direct his third crossover between puppets and fully sized sets. The somewhat jarring back-projection technique used previously to show the miniaturised characters interacting with normal sized puppet characters is no longer in use. Troy, Phones and Marina are, however, dwarfed by the lavishly dressed dining room set. Exactly how they return to Stingray, which ends up even smaller than the characters themselves, is never explained. Supposedly anything is possible in a dream…

 

The Secret Service
Format by Gerry & Sylvia Anderson
Produced by David Lane

The Secret Service

With the puppets used by Century 21 Productions now correctly proportioned to be exactly one-third human size, Gerry Anderson was confident that he could now blend the Supermarionation puppets with live action footage for The Secret Service. The series stars Father Stanley Unwin, a country vicar who is also an undercover agent. Father Unwin uses his mysterious Minimiser device to shrink his gardener Matthew down to one-third life size to carry out missions. Popular raconteur Stanley Unwin was brought in to do all the walking and driving that his puppet counterpart was unable to do convincingly.

The Secret Service creates an unusual world where puppets and humans work together to tell the story. Whilst the blend of puppetry and live action is rarely seamless, the episodes are still able to progress uninterrupted and retain the charm of the previous Supermarionation series. Sadly, The Secret Service was cancelled after 13 episodes and meagrely screened due to Head of ATV, Lew Grade’s unease with Stanley Unwin’s gobbledegook language, ‘Unwinese’. As a result, The Secret Service stands as one of the most understated of Gerry’s shows.

The Investigator
Devised and Directed by Gerry Anderson
Screenplay by Sylvia Anderson
Story by Shane Rimmer

The Investigator

This unseen pilot film combined Supermarionation and live action in an entirely new way. Whereas The Secret Service used human beings to stand in for the puppet characters when necessary, The Investigator is primarily a live action film, with puppets used to represent the miniaturised human characters of John and Julie. John and Julie work for an alien intelligence known as The Investigator to defeat crooked entrepreneur and art thief Stavros Karanti.

The production was beset with problems and Gerry was so unhappy with the finished product, it was never screened. Taking the puppets on location and trying to suggest they were actually miniature humans was a major complication in the production of The Investigator, with the John and Julie puppets simply not being believable enough to carry the concept.

Perhaps with more time and money, a stronger idea could have been generated to fully integrate the puppets into a live action setting. Ultimately, however, it appears that whilst combining the caricatured Supermarionation puppets with fully sized environments was exciting and intriguing in the earlier series, the later puppets did not mix so well with the real world. Their more realistic appearances were still not enough to make them seem entirely human when stood next to the genuine article. Nevertheless, this writer would still love to have seen a full series of The Investigator, simply to learn more of the mysterious titular character, and why he thought miniaturising teenagers to stop bungling art thieves would make the world a better place…

What do you think? Do puppets and live action work well together, or is it just a bit too surreal? Leave a comment down below with your thoughts.

 

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Jack Knoll

I've been a Gerry Anderson fan from birth, growing up on the repeats of Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet in the early 2000's. I'm also a fan of Doctor Who and other cult TV series including The Prisoner and Danger Man. I enjoy writing on a range of topics from across the Gerry Anderson back-catalogue from behind the scenes insights to fun and entertaining reviews. In my spare time I'm also a writer and film-maker.

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  • 2112

    “simply to learn more of the mysterious titular character, and why he thought miniaturising teenagers to stop bungling art thieves would make the world a better place…”

    Yes, thank you! I never did get why the “Investigator” wanted to help our planet, but instead of doing something about war, famine etc… he chose an art thief!

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