A Christmas to Remember is the first seasonal Supermarionated episode, featuring a mystery for the crew to solve and emphasising the family setting of the series and a message of goodwill to all.
The episode plays on the plight of an orphaned boy, Barry Byrne, who is facing Christmas alone and allows the writer Dennis Spooner to highlight the regular characters perfectly. It's also one of those 'wish fulfilment' episodes in the same vein as Drama at Space City (where Jonathan, representing the audience, gets to fly Fireball), Cry Wolf and Security Hazard where some kids (who've also lost a parent - thereby generating sympathy for them) get to meet their International Rescue heroes. How many young viewers dreamed of piloting these craft and getting the chance to explore these bases themselves - every last one, I'll bet. Then on top of all that, he even gets a model of Stingray as a gift (not sure if that counts as an early bit of product placement) - quite a Christmas for him.
Troy proves himself to be a wily young chap as he knows that Barry's letter will tug at Commander Shore's heartstrings and that a bit of flattery will catch the old curmudgeon off his guard. All that bluster hides a soft centre - something we knew already - and Shore permits Barry's request to visit Marineville. Troy's also revealed to be a bit of a blagger, passing off an injury he got hanging Christmas decorations as something infinitely more heroic picked up in the field of conflict.
It's quite amusing when Shore relents and allows Troy to take Barry onboard Stingray during the re-enactment, as he declares "As it's Christmas Day, there won't be much going on". It's unlikely Titan and his scaly cohorts would be joining in the celebrations and taking the day off from hostilities but it's a nice thought nevertheless. However there's an uninvited guest looking to gatecrash the WASPs' festivities in the form of the concealed occupant of the captured submarine; there's no pause in the series' version of the Cold War for him nor for poor old Phones. The former is still looking to invade (for reasons unspecified - maybe he's another ersatz Commie and is anti-Christmas?) and the latter gets an early present in the shape of a crowbar across the back of his skull. Not much goodwill to all men there! Needless to say, while the boys play with their toys, carrying out their battle re-enactment, the girls stay at home and do the cooking - it is the Sixties after all... the 2060s, that is. It's notable that, being produced for worldwide export, the episode skates around the religious aspect of Christmas and goes no further than a broad message of goodwill to all men with, I suspect, a nod to Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" in there.
Barry Gray gets the chance to put a 21st century spin on some traditional tunes, with his electronic version of "Good King Wenceslas" accompanying some very accomplished scenes of the characters ice skating on Christmas morning. Director Alan Pattillo brings his customary invention to the visuals with skewed angles and extreme close-ups to enhance the drama. What's more, the alien's voice always makes me laugh as I'm sure there's a hint of Peter Sellers in there.
Knowing the limitations on time and money at the studio, I can't help thinking young Jonathan Zero from Fireball XL5 has been revamped with some fatter cheeks (and maybe contact lenses) to become Barry Byrne. The enemy submarine is an innovative design only let down by a close-up shot which goes a little too close for a miniature of that size. The scenes of Marineville covered in snow are wonderfully effective and add to the festive mood.
The episode ends with the mystery solved (Troy has to live up to his boasts so as not to disappoint Barry) and everyone enjoys their dinner together, making it a Christmas to remember for their young guest. The seasonal trimmings and humorous interludes make it a more lightweight episode than usual, yet unlike many of the recent Doctor Who Christmas specials, it still retains enough of the essential elements that make the series so enjoyable and durable. It also shows that although we may be zipping around at Rate 6 or flying around on Monocopters in the future, our best traditions will remain intact.