Friday, 21 July 2017

Fuck This Fanbase

OK, I'm done holding back. If you don't like swearing, or you're a child inexplicably reading this, go now. This is the third time I've put this ridiculous fanbase on blast in as many posts, and I'm no longer holding back. Don't worry though, as this will also be the last post of its kind as I'm considering blocking every fan that either bitches about things they know little about or are just causing shit because they think they can.

So, the context: Mattel are tweaking the Wooden Railway range by shrinking the faces a tad. That's it. But some malignant, cancerous fans thought it a great idea, because they can't accept any sort of change whatsoever, to risk breaking the law and damage Mattel's credibility by, let's be honest here, making shit up for their own selfish ends.

TheWorlofSodor1 (who has an ego the size of Jupiter and Saturn combined) released a picture of the "latest release" to the Wooden Railway line:

Now, if other fanbases (you know, ones that are mentally stable and don't throw their toys out of the pram whenever they don't get what they want, despite not being the target audience) saw this toy, and that Journey Beyond Sodor logo, they'd be coming up with thoughts and theories as to how it would tie in to the film and start some really interesting discussions. That or, you know, thinking the thing was a fucking fake...

But this is the Thomas fanbase, and they handle discussions as well as a bull handles a china shop.... So they went around lambasting Mattel in every way they could solely because the toys they were making weren't being made for them when, and I'm going to keep saying this until it actually breaches your fucking skulls, this franchise is aimed at children physically aged between two and five, not those children who are mentally aged between two and five!!

But things don't end there. As it turns out, this whole thing was a pathetic publicity stunt by a guy who "just got bored":
First off, if I ever get bored, I try and do something productive: go out for a bit, play on the PS4 (Stormy Ascent has just been released as DLC for the N Sane Trilogy and it's great), maybe meet up with friends. What I don't do is risk a criminal record to make a spiteful, pathetic point. Are fans really that fucking stupid to think that Mattel would let a toy release without all the major details in? They must be since they believed this shit!

Secondly, fuck off with your "we care" bullshit. If you cunts actually cared, you'd take a more "wait and see" approach. Or, maybe, you'd gauge the reaction of the actual target audience than cause a shit show to make this all about you and your feelings. But no, slander by way of false information is a much better alternative.

Just imagine what every voice actor and creator would think watching you arseholes try and desecrate something you say you "love and care about". They'd be fucking ashamed of being a part of this creation, and you should be ashamed of trying to destroy it... if you actually felt any. Your petty, vindictive attitude towards change is fucking disgusting, and I'm so glad that I no longer associate myself with you... (except the decent ones I speak to regularly. I feel bad that those twats are making you look bad).

I have no real point to end on, so I'll just repeat the title of this post: fuck the Thomas fanbase, I hope it rots.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Series 2: Edward's Exploit

I want to start by saying I'm genuinely quite surprised about the reaction to my previous post. Considering how popular it is in the wider community, I expected to be chewed up, spit out and harassed. But a lot of the responses have been really positive, and I'm glad that I've been able to make fans think about The Flying Kipper in a more critical way.

With that out of the way though, I think it'd be good to balance things out a bit by talking about an episode that I absolutely adore.

It's far to say that Edward had a stellar run in series 2, one that really hasn't been matched since. His starring roles were fantastic, his supporting roles just as good (if not better in cases like The Diseasel and Wrong Road). But the cream of the crop has always been this episode.

Edward's Exploit is the masterpiece that SIF and the fans who voted in their "Best Of" poll wish The Flying Kipper was. Because while the latter did have fantastic atmosphere and music, the former had everything.

The characters, first and foremost, really were at the top of their game. The big engines' looking down on Edward (Henry and James laughing at his expense while Gordon was straight faced in saying Edward should just retire), Duck and BoCo jumping in to defend him (which was really nice considering how he'd helped them in A Close Shave and The Diseasel respectively) and Edward just being a determined badass, it was a story that could only have fit these characters.

Although it was rather weird that BoCo knew Duck by name when they hadn't even met by that point in the books (Buzz, Buzz was the second story with Wrong Road and this following on). It's a minor quibble though.

Then there's the visuals. While not being as atmospheric as Kipper (at least until the second half where it gets close), it's still wonderful to watch. The direction is outstanding, especially having the crack happen off screen. Whether it was done due to budget constraints or to keep the suspense up to keep audiences guessing as to what happened I can't say, but it was still wonderfully done. The lighting was also superb, that's all I can really say about that.

Although, for an afternoon that was supposed to be "rainy", there's no water droplets seen anywhere on the sets (although there was a puddle on one) or on Edward. I'll let it slide though as I imagine it's fairly difficult to get an authentic rain scene looking right with what they had to work with.

The music too was absolutely brilliant. Granted, saying the music was great back then is stating the obvious, but in this episode it's on another level. Each piece suits each scene so perfectly that it could tell the story on its own. This is, I feel, something that a future narrow gauge episode with a similar premise (that I may get to soon) lacked.

The highlights for me are the theme when the weather changes and when Edward starts with the now altered train. The latter especially still gives me goosebumps to this day. Starting slowly and building to the triumphant piece where Edward realises he's got things under control, it's the most perfect blend of audio-visual storytelling the show's ever produced.

Speaking of "storytelling": I've said in the past that Ringo Starr wasn't a great narrator. He told the stories well enough, but I feel that his enthusiasm just wasn't there for the majority of his short tenure. This episode, however, he produced his best performance of his entire run. He captured the emotions perfectly and he made you care about what was happening, which is what the ideal vocal performance should do.

I also want to give a special mention to a person that's largely forgotten about fans: the editor. Sure, the director's job to ensure each shot looks right on screen and they give, I presume, a basic guide on how the episodes should look post production, but it's the editor's job to collate all of the footage and audio and squash it down into the time frame they have to work with, and Rebecca de Burgh Mound is the best editor the show's had.

She was consistently good throughout series 2, but she really produced something magical here. If it hadn't been for her amazing editing, I don't think this would've turned out as perfectly as it did, and I feel fans should be commending her as much as everyone else who had a hand in making series 2 so wonderful, and a series that hasn't yet been matched in terms of quality (although series 20 was agonisingly close)

Overall, this is the best episode of the entire show, and unless each individual element comes together again as well as this, it will never be topped. The characters and story are superb, and everything else around them just enhance the experience so much.

The model series had its limitations, of that there's no doubt. But this episode proved that those limitations mean nothing when there were so many people working on it who cared about making a preschool show look and sound as good as it did.
Rating: 10/10

Friday, 16 June 2017

Series 1: The Flying Kipper

If the old reviews from 2011 have taught me anything, it's that working on blog posts whilst trying to better your personal life isn't a smart idea, especially when that leads to me looking like a nitpicky tool. That's why you haven't seen reviews for any other series 20 episodes and blog posts coming out at really sporadic times recently: I'm sorting my business out and uploading posts when I feel the time is right to write and publish them.

With that said, it's time I tackled a really popular episode from back in 1984 - again.

The Reverend Awdry was known to say that he had no favourite characters as they were "his family". Honestly though, it's fairly obvious who his least favourite was: Henry. Sure, Thomas, Percy and others got into more trouble, but they were great characters who needed bringing down a peg or two. Henry's misfortune came about due to personal grievances, seemingly.

It's common knowledge that Awdry's model for Henry was a constant pain, and the fact that he wanted the character to stay in the tunnel after The Sad Story of Henry was rather metaphorical. It look a lot of convincing, apparently, for Awdry to write him out of the predicament for the next story.

The problems continued in the books. Because he and Gordon looked similar already, the artist confused the two for each other completely, giving Henry square buffers rather than round ones in Thomas & the Guard. That's why I like that they kept him green throughout the first half of series 1. It made sense on a character standpoint for him to be painted (it was something he wanted), but with budgetary restrictions and the headache it would've caused, keeping that out of the TV adaptation made sense.

And then there was his character arc which... actually, come to think of it, was only really mentioned three times before it ended. Seriously, out of all the stories from Henry the Green Engine, Coal was the only one that properly dealt with his issues, unlike The Flying Kipper where everything's fine until sheer convenience gets in the way and knocks Henry back down again.

I'm going to be honest, I don't understand why this gets praised so much. In terms of an overall experience, fair enough. The music is superb, the models and sets are gorgeous and the direction is some of the finest of the entire model era. But there's one problem that the pretty exterior masks. Big time.

The story and characters are completely non-existent. Sure, Henry talks, but it's only six lines and none of them really give us a gauge of his character. He's just really... bland here. He may have acted like Gordon in previous episodes, but at least he had something to work with. Maybe this is because, as I said, Henry's arc pretty much ended in the last episode and now he was just happy to be around? I don't know, but he literally said nothing that other engines (except Gordon) couldn't have.

Then there's the crash. Again, it looked brilliant (even if Henry almost mounting the train was weird. But hey, let's not bother complaining about that lack of realism because engine movements are destroying the show... if, you know, you have the mindset of a nostalgia blind idiot), but there's no real tension there. There could have been, but it was stated (long before impact) that everyone got out in time and it was pretty clear that Henry was going to hit the train, so... you know, no real tension.

And then there's the rebuild. Now I'm not going to go into how slapdash it looks - even to this day - as there's little that could've been done. They only had finite resources and that's the best they could do. No, the problem is how the Fat Controller just comes up with the idea - out of the blue - after the crash rather than, you know, last episode? Seriously, he could think of importing coal from Wales and outright replacing him with a different engine, but a rebuild was out of the question?

Here's what I'd have done. Have the Fat Controller be upfront with two options in Coal: replacement or rebuild (I know he said "you've had new parts", but that could just be bits and bobs rather than major fittings). Have the fireman bring up the coal issue with a response being "it's expensive, but it could be just what we need right now". Then leave the rest as it is with those other two options up in the air.

Then at the shed, have Henry bring up the rebuild to his driver saying something like "has the Fat Controller decided what he'll do with me yet?" to which the response could be "not yet, but we're taking the Flying Kipper early tomorrow, etc., etc.". Then, on the journey, you could have him be confident on the outside but nervous within, meaning he'd have a character justification for not noticing what had happened to the points or signal rather than seeming blissfully ignorant of the situation. It would've carried his arc on, since the coal is made apparent to be a temporary thing, it would've felt more character focused, rather than just following a locomotive that just happened to have a face on a journey, and the decision on a rebuild would've been a more considered decision rather than just something that's sprung on the audience to try and get out of removing a main character.

Do I blame the TV production team for this episode's shortcomings? No, not at all. They did an excellent job bringing the story to life. The problem is that the story itself had very little substance and character, the climax came and went in about 15 seconds and the resolution came out of nowhere and felt more like something Awdry had pulled out of his backside rather than something that was pre-planned.

At least Henry got to pull the express by the end of it though...
Rating: 3/10

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Theo and Lexi

Round two. Ding ding.

In my previous post, I put fans on blast over something petty and insignificant. Now I didn't really want to do it again, but with Journey Beyond Sodor causing controversy for... pretty much anything it does (seriously, the only complaint I agree with is the poor ground texturing that could end up being fixed by the special's release for all we know. Besides which, it would be a rush job since it would've taken a while to rebuild after Arc went bankrupt), I feel like I have to.

The problem this time? The two newest characters, Theo and Lexi. Or, more specifically, what they are.

In an interview with i News, producer Ian McCue stated that Theo was autistic traits and implied that Lexi would be gender fluid. Cue whining and moaning from fans who'd rather jump to the worst case scenarios they came up than actually waiting to see what happens with both characters.

Let's start with Theo. First off, it seems incredibly ironic to me that autistic people are complaining that a show they love is introducing an autistic character. 

Second, if fans actually read the report before saying "he'll just introduce himself as autistic!", you'd see that Ian said that it'd be handled with subtlety. So basically, he wouldn't introduce (or mention) himself as autistic. Heck, a lot of fans don't say they have it unless they act like awful people and use it as a defence mechanism for their behaviour. Or, if they're just honest and open, others will have it in social media bios.

And then we come to Lexi's implied gender fluidity. To be fair, the questioning of this is (as surprising as it is for me to say) easy to understand. In terms of "different people", gender fluidity seems a bit more obscure as someone who's LGBT, autistic, etc.

However, what's the big deal in bringing that to the attention of kids at an early age? Surely teaching them that people/engines are different and should feel happy within themselves to be what they want to be is a good thing, right? With so many terrorist attacks hellbent on tearing the world apart (and world leaders doing very little to stop it), I applaud Thomas & Friends, a show that I will always hold dear, taking some positive steps to be inclusive.

And if older fans don't like that? Then, like the "argument" against the engines' movements, they really are just entitled spoiled brats who think the show should only be centred around them (even though, when you get what you want, you still complain about something). And that's their petty issue to deal with.

If Theo and Lexi bring more eyes on the show, meaning that more kids will be able to enjoy a show we all have for years, then I'm all for it. If they turn out to be bad or uninteresting characters, then it's not because they've been "forced in" (which is a non-argument). It's because they came from the same writers and producers who gave us Hugo, Timothy and the international engines. Grow up.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Engine Movements

This week on Fans Complain About the Pettiest Things..!

Actually, that's not really fair. There is one rebuttal to this that I can completely understand, but let's provide the context first.

The trailer, and behind the scenes peek, for Journey Beyond Sodor was released a couple of weeks ago, and both were great. They actually got me excited for a special that I had no real interest in beforehand. It's action packed, the new characters (besides Beresford) are really interesting and Hugh Bonneville's star power should really help give it more mainstream attention (Theo being autistic and Lexi being gender fluid will also help, but that's another issue for another time).

But the biggest talking point of the whole trailer was the physical movements of the engines. Now this is nothing new; back when Nitrogen animated, they made the whistle budge up and down when they blew, and there's been constant shaking and other movements when engines have braked hard. Heck, even back in the model era, engines shuddered on the odd occasion, while Emily's rocked from side to side slightly whenever she was in motion.

However, these movements are a lot more exaggerated even when they're not in motion. Fans have best described them as "Chuggington-esque" which, to be honest, is tricky to argue against. The only thing they don't do is physically jump (in the trailer at least).

Fans have also said this "goes against the visual storytelling" that the series has been known for which... I agree and disagree with, to be honest. I agree since the show itself has (despite the faces) has been known to have a grounding in reality (you know, despite the boulder, and the whole movie about magic, and the jet engine episode, and all the engine movements I've already mentioned), and this could be the final way of removing that aspect from the show.

I also disagree because... well, look at Daisy and Kevin's Cranky Friend. Both included major character movements, and both displayed (visually) how the character was feeling at the time. Heck, I'd go so far as to say that, without those movements, Kevin wouldn't have been as charming as he turned out to be.

That is, honestly, why I don't care all that much about this whole thing: it adds charm to characters and a show that already had it in spades. Besides which, watch the trailer and behind the scenes stuff again. It's obvious to me that the experimental engines have more exaggerated movements than Thomas, a character that only moves about three times, because they're just that: experiments. Engines who weren't built properly and having them shake around as much as they do is another visual representation of that.

But going back to the "Chuggungton-esque" thing again, the problem with that wasn't the movements, it was... well, everything else. The settings felt like playsets (not in a good way), the characters felt dull (and done better by Thomas) and the stories were generally just "fine" (until around series 3 or 4). The movements just made the show more obnoxious and stupid, which is something I'm sure that everyone involved with Thomas' production want to steer clear of.

Finally, the biggest reason I don't care is simply this: it's a kids' show. Regardless of how many insecure adult fans (who refuse to admit otherwise) whine and moan about all this, to HiT, Mattel and Jam Filled, they are completely irrelevant when it comes to the show's production. Yes, they'll use older fans to sell their merchandise (Thomas Creator Collective), pimp their next big project (those Ryan Hagan-involved interviews) and do most of their focus testing (those SIF polls), but that's because it's easier and cheaper for them to do than try and find random people off the street and possibly pay them to be nice. Our passion for the show helps them to make money, and that's all they care about.

So yes, this is just another example of fans making a big deal over nothing. If you were really that bothered, why not complain after Hero of the Rails when, you know, the movements started? Or, if you're that insecure and petulant about watching a childrens' show that has good storytelling solely because it's aiming at the audience it should be targeting, don't bother watching. So long as the storytelling remains as strong as it has been for the past 4 years, what's the issue?

I'm being serious here when I say older fans are the best and worst thing about the show. Without us, older character like Duck, Oliver, Duncan and Daisy probably wouldn't have returned. They're also the worst because even when they get what they want, they'd still complain. And with the world being as messed up as it is (especially with what happened last night after a concert in Manchester), you just have to wonder: "there's got to be more to life than being whiny crybabies over something that, in the grand scheme of things, doesn't matter?". There's enough negativity in the world as it is without adding to the bollocks with a quibble this monumentally petty.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Complete Series 18

Joy of joys! The Complete Series 18 is coming later this year! It's being released in June - a great month for me already since Tekken 7 and Crash N. Sane Trilogy are released either side of the DVD - and its RRP is £7.49. Sounds great! So why am I writing a blog post about it now? Well...

My issue with this cover isn't with the stock standard Thomas image on the cover (series 1-9 had the exact same image on them until they were re-designed). What baffles, and annoys, me is that tagline at the top of the box art and the ridiculous justification for it.

Yep. For some reason, Mattel have decided to split the televised and direct to DVD episodes up and use a two year old DVD to sell a brand new release! Why? Series 17 had 6 episodes that were direct to DVD, yet when The Complete Series 17 came out, all 26 episodes were split evenly between the two discs. So why not do that with this release?

Well, the "official" justification is:

Sorry, but I call BS on this.

You are selling 26 episodes in a complete series DVD for £7.49! This could be even better value depending on where you get it from! How much more value for money could people possibly want?! Slapping a two year old DVD on the top of the release isn't going to have any positive effect whatsoever. If anything, it could turn people away since they're needlessly segregating the 6 "DVD exclusive" (they've since aired on Channel 5, so that's bollocks) episodes and bundling that 2 year old DVD (that some kids may already own) with the other 20.

...did I mention Dinos & Discoveries is 2 years old?

Don't get me wrong, I like that they're trying to add value to releases. The problem is that they're trying to add it to a DVD that really didn't need the help. If they want to add value to new releases, they should instead be focusing on adding more to the ones that have 6-7 episodes on them. Fact is these complete series compilations put other releases (except the specials) to shame in terms of value and that needs to change.

What can they add to the 6-7 episode releases? I honestly don't know. Maybe increase the episode count to 10? Maybe add bonus features that aren't on other releases (sometimes they do, sometimes they don't)? Heck, with the lack of frequency that Channel 5 has in terms of airing episodes, why not beat them to the punch and release a couple that haven't aired (or have, but incredibly recently)?

To sum up, The Complete Series 18 will be a great DVD tainted by a really stupid business decision. If they keep this up, don't be surprised if The Complete Series 19 becomes a 3 disc release, bundled with both Full Steam to the Rescue! (meaning there'll be series 20 episodes in a series 19 release) and Start Your Engines separately. Because hey, they're "DVD exclusive episodes that will add value", right..?


Sunday, 5 March 2017

NWR Lettering

Yep, this has been a legitimate "talking point" since Rosie was re-designed because fans would rather recycle old talking points rather than try and find something new to discuss. And since I haven't produced a post in a while, and this is a fairly easy topic to get my thoughts out on, here's why I think the complaints are stupid.

Defenders of the new lettering say it's "Railway Series accurate" which, let's be honest, isn't true. Sure, rolling stock may have had NW lettering (the Spiteful Brake Van being the most notable example), but the only engines that did were Pip and Emma, and that was solely due to the fact they pulled the Wild Nor Wester to London.

That's not to say no engines are bare: Mavis has the Ffarquhar Quarry Company on her sideplates while Bill and Ben have SCC on their tanks to represent the China Clay Company. But they're the only ones really, and they're technically not on the NWR's books.

Because of this, and Rosie's re-design, I actually want the engines to gain the NWR lettering at some point. First off, it's three letters that represent the railway they're working on, for crying out loud. Why shouldn't they have it?

Second, do fans realise that the numbering system is actually NWR specific? Some engines keep theirs for the sake of heritage (probably), but the main 7, Donald and Douglas were all given new numbers when they were bought/saved, so the NWR branding would just enforce that idea. They don't even need letters, just a logo to represent the railway.

Third,the North Western has been mentioned a few times by name in recent years (TAB and Bubbling Boilers being the two most prominent examples), and the lettering addition would be a nice way to capitalise on that.

Basically, the whole thing is a complete non-issue. If they want to add lettering to every engine, fine. If it's only for Rosie, fine - if a bit odd. The major thing to take away is that nothing would change regardless. It'd still be a show about fictional engines on a fictional railway on a fictional island having adventure.

The only difference? The show's staff would actually acknowledge that the main standard gauge railway has its own name. That's it. Fans need to learn to pick their battles and grievances. There are a few issues with the show that stop it reaching higher than it could do; this sure as hell ain't one of them.

Oh, and to those saying it's not right for other fans to do this sort of stuff? Leave them be. It's their headcanon for their series. Stop trying to ruin their fun.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Series 19 Overview

Well this was a long time coming..! It seems so long ago that series 19 began airing, and its whole scheduling was an absolute farce, but with the final episodes (finally) being released last November, it's high time to give it one final examination.

A few notes before we kick off:
  1. Rather than order the episodes by air/release date order, I'll be doing what I did with series 18's overview and ordering them from worst to best.
  2. All of the reviews to individual episodes can be accessed by clicking the pictorial header related to said episodes. 
  3. This post will be going over my general, quick thoughts while clarifying certain aspects of the reviews that may need to be.

Yep, I hate this episode more than Big Belle, Fiery Flynn and Race to the Rescue. Why? Because I expected better from this team. Simple as that.

Looking back, it seemed a bit stupid to expect anything more than mediocrity from the episodes I mentioned. Even forgetting the "hindsight" argument, the repetitive dialogue and situations, dull scenarios and (as of series 15) rhyming should have been a huge giveaway (as well as their lackadaisical attitude to safety in Wonky Whistle and Kevin the Steamie).

But the current team have done so much better. The storytelling has vastly improved, the annoying dialogue (except steamie) has gone and the characters, including the Search and Rescue team, actually feel like characters. They didn't gain those characterisations in this series either, but in Too Many Fire Engines. Two years ago.

I said it in the review, but had this taken place in series 17, and had it actually been this team's first attempt with the rescue crew, I'd have been lenient towards it. But with so many great episodes - written by them - featuring these characters, it hurt this one more. It still would've been bad back then, but if it lead to Too Many Fire Engines, Toad & the Whale and Wild Water Rescue, it would've been forgivable as the team would be ironing out of Flynn, Belle, Butch and Harold's teamwork issues and characters so they can become a proper team that the island, and fans, could be proud of.

A bit of behind the scenes insight for you: I originally gave this episode a 2. But as I wrote my final thoughts on it, the major flaw with it came to me, and I settled on this score.

Many are rather surprised that I rated this lower than an episode that I've been more critical of. But even they had a point of them. Heck, Rocky Rescue had some point, and that was atrocious. This had no point whatsoever. There's no character and no initiative taken (yes, I know some will say "but if they did that, there'd be no story", but that's the whole point. If the solution to an issue is this easy to figure out, you should re-consider finishing the story); it's the definition of filler content.

There's a very easy way to make an "engines going on strike" plot work without copying Trouble in the Shed or making the solution very simple. Have the engines cause one accident too many, then get the board of directors to replace the Fat Controller (which makes the title more relevant). But the new manager - who is rather detached from how things work on Sodor - gets things wrong at every turn. The engines decide to strike, leaving the new manager flustered until the Fat Controller is brought back to gain full control of the situation. The engines return to work, the Fat Controller is re-hired and all returns to normal.

The only thing that salvages this is that it does a great job showing how much the engines care for the Fat Controller and the musical interlude was pretty fun. But that's it. The "miscommunication" plot trope has been done before, and done better, and the characters feeling interchangeable was really frustrating.

I said it in the review, but this is creatively bankrupt as well. The only difference between this and Goodbye Fat Controller is that this had good characters (except Annie and Clarabel); Thomas and Bertie have always had good chemistry with each other.

As for the crash, I actually kinda like it in a "so bad it's good" way. In terms of the story, it's the worst by far being ridiculously forced and contrived. But in terms of entertainment? Yeah, it's fun to watch the absurdity of it. It's just a shame that it's all part of a worse "remake" of Thomas' Shortcut.

In series 20, Philip is great (so far). He has the childlike charm that I'm sure the team wanted to go for. This series though? Not really. He just felt far too annoying for my tastes. What doesn't help matters is that he's hardly ever punished for his actions, nor does he own up when he does something wrong.

Honestly though, James felt worse than Philip. I get it; James has a big ego. he'd want to show off to the newcomer. But it's been 32 years by this point. You'd think his character would've developed slightly in that time so that his buttons weren't so easy to push. I'm not saying they should remove his vanity completely, but it honestly feels like it's his only character trait at this point.

The plot was relatively fine though, and that crash was fantastic. The tension was great - you really thought he'd fall from the bridge, and James did learn a lesson (one he shouldn't need to learn, but I digress). But other than that, it was rather frustrating to watch.

Capping off the bottom five is Philip's debut episode. Honestly, I still think this was an episode of two halves. The second one salvaged it, but if that was the first half and the second had Gordon get his revenge, the whole thing would've been better.

What also helped was that Philip was actually handled rather well. He had charm at times, especially in the pointless first half, and he was told off for being unsafe (yep, because Gordon still being in steam when his boiler "exploded" isn't dangerous whatsoever). But as the episode progressed, he did get grating solely because no one really put him in his place, instead going along with him. I get that they don't want to be too hard on a child, but the fact is if you're not (at least) stern with a child, they won't ever learn. Gordon threatened to pay him out, but it was the last line of the episode, and the next moved the boxcab on to a different conflict, meaning there was no pay-off. At least Diesel 10's line in Misty Island Rescue led to his actions in Day of the Diesels.

This is why Thomas' story, whether it be in book, model or CG form, is handled much better. Every time Thomas' cheekiness goes too far, he gets smacked down. And with every humbling, he learns to better himself, develop his character and gets the proper reward for his efforts. The Adventure Begins did a brilliant job with this especially as they had him help Henry overcome his fear of the rain. Sure, had they gone down this route with Philip, the comparisons would be coming in thick and fast, but at least his character wouldn't have suffered.

This episode would be fine. Heck, if watched back to back with Hero of the Rails, it is fine (if incredibly jarring). But that's actually its biggest problem: like Rocky Rescue, it's completely out of place and rather pointless this far into the show.

Remember Henry's Hero? The one where Hiro battles through firebox troubles to get his jobs done? This episode doesn't. It references Hero of the Rails a lot, even going so far as to include footage from it in a flashback, but this episode? Nope. That actually makes this episode especially jarring as Thomas was his regular cheeky self there, but here he was obsessed with Hiro for... no real reason. They interact on a regular basis, why is he fanboying (for want of a better term) over Hiro now?

Not only that, but why was there a concern that Hiro would need new parts when Henry's Hero proved they were well stocked? Especially in a hideout that had no parts left when Hiro was moved from it? Maybe if this was made clear that it was set after, and referenced, the series 17 episode (or just make the episode for series 17), this would've worked better, being mediocre than outright bad.

The only real bright spot is that Thomas does try and make it up to Hiro by finding new parts. It's heartfelt; the kind of thing that Thomas' present day character would do. But that's really it. Had it been written for an earlier series, it would've had more, but it just felt pointless by the time it actually came around.

And now we come to what I like to call "Missed Opportunity City". I love what they tried to do with these two episodes: send one character away for a while and see how the others cope without him. The problem? Salty actually returns at the end of this, meaning they lost out on a more intriguing ending (maybe just seeing Porter alone and giving him some development?)

But the biggest problem for me was a problem that plagued series 19 as a whole: Thomas' overexposure. His role here could've been given to literally anyone and the plot would've remained the same. Heck, it could've been given to Porter and Edward and we'd have had a better understanding of their dynamic (and probably a more heartfelt story). I'm not one to say that Thomas should never star in an episode, but it's called Thomas and Friends, meaning it's as much about them as it is him. And to revolve a series that was produced for the 70th anniversary of the franchise around him is a very narrow minded view of what made it so great in the first place. Sure, he made it recognisable (especially when the TV series began), but what made it great were the varied characters and the adventures they got themselves into.

The story itself is fine. I like that Salty's storytelling caught up to him and giving him a personality flaw was fantastic. But with a better choice of characters, and a better ending, it could've been great; possibly Salty's best episode to date.

This has similar problems to the previous episode on the list. The only thing that makes it marginally better is that Bill and Ben make it more entertaining.

That said, they are also one of the issues with it. I won't go into them again as it was a very recent release (internationally at least; Japan released the UK dub a year ago), but the focus on them and a musical interlude left very little room for character development for the other two stars. The two stars, I must re-iterate, that needed it the most.

Does anyone actually remember this one? If your answer is "no", then you've identified the major issue with it: it's boring and forgettable.

The more I think about it though, the more I realise that this is similar to Marion & the Pipe, but it works a lot better as she can actually move on her own. That and she has more of a personality than just "angry old man". The only time this was entertaining was in No Sleep for Cranky; his reactions to Bill and Ben were brilliant.

Here though, things just plod along at a slow pace, solely being content with being mediocre. There are a couple of slapstick moments which were good, but that's about it.

Out of all the pointless episodes this series, this one got the highest rating as the story, despite being dull, is fairly solid; there are few flaws with it apart from the lack of entertainment value. The ending was anti-climatic, yes, but you're so bored when the episode reaches that point that you don't care how it ends.

In hindsight, this episode did what it set out to do: finally rid Henry of his awful worrisome personality (that shouldn't really have existed after series 17; a series in which it was non-existent). That said, I stand by my review.

As a standalone episode, this is better than Henry Spots Trouble. It's more entertaining, Henry shows genuine growth and Spencer played his role brilliantly. However, having this come hot off the heels of an episode where Henry went through a similar concept was not the best idea.

Sure, the scheduling could be blamed for this, but I honestly think one of the stories (preferably Spots Trouble) should've been scrapped from the get go. It would've meant we got one less episode, sure, but at least Henry's character development would've been dealt with in one episode, not two.

To be honest, an audience's enjoyment of this will come down to how many versions of A Christmas Carol they've seen. On its own merits, the story is so contrived that it's hard to really be invested in it anyway.

The original story works fine because they're ghosts/spirits. They can appear wherever they want and no one need question it. These are actual "living" characters pretending to be ghosts, meaning they had to hang around wherever they were needed until Diesel turned up. Not to mention the fact that he spent an entire night in a snowy field yet managed to work fine when he was re-railed. I'll get to it in my final thoughts, but the lack of consistency really hurt this series.

I honestly think this is the laziest Christmas episode of the lot, and I'd genuinely give it a lower rating if I had the chance to review it again (I would've changed it here, but I wanted to keep this and the actual review scores as consistent as possible). The plot is the most overdone one for a Christmas special, and even then, it's contrived as all hell. At least Diesel got some development, so it wasn't completely pointless.

This is a fun episode to watch, but only if you care about football/soccer. I honestly think more could have been done in terms of the red card (it's nice that engines are given a chance to change their behaviour, but actually punishing them there and then feels much more effective in terms of morals, the narrative and character development), but it was fine.

Thomas and James' dynamic was also pretty fun. I quite like the competitiveness between the two, and although playing Thomas and Percy (if they had even half the character they had back in the day) or James and Gordon off against each other would probably be more fun, this was fine, too.

I still think this is one of the better Toby episodes we've gotten since HiT took over, and it did everything right that Goodbye Fat Controller got wrong.

First off, no one actually believed Salty when he first thought that Toby would be scrapped, and the rumour only spread when Thomas saw "evidence".

Second, there's actually some character. Sure they become slightly interchangeable in the second half, but Thomas, Edward and Toby especially are rather good. It would be rather nice to see some more stubbornness out of him; he could get in to some fun situations with that rather than have him worry constantly...

There are issues, chief of which Salty not being told off for starting the rumour in the first place (although Thomas' reaction when Toby wondered how it started was great) and the pacing isn't the smoothest. But it's still one of the better "don't believe everything you hear" stories produced for the show, especially for this series.

You know how Pouty James is being lauded as one of series 20's best episodes because "it feels Railway Series-esque" when all they mean is "James' character has regressed to how it was in the early Railway Series books"? Well this does feel Railway Series-esque, but more from the mind of Christopher Awdry than his father.

The characters are fine, and there's a nice variety of them, but the story itself feels really contrived. The inclusion of the roads made things feel fresh, but only seeing Bertie (and, eventually, the Thin Controller) made them feel bare.

Add that to the repetition and you get an episode that's just fine. Not particularly memorable or anything, but it's fine.

I really didn't like Henry's worrisome behaviour. But if they could make it fairly relatable for children, and fun enough for the adults to not be annoyed, I can give it a pass. And since this episode was aired first, it's the one that I prefer, despite the fact The Beast of Sodor was the better episode in terms of his fear and the amazing turnaround of his character since that episode.

There's not much more to say really. The review sums up my thoughts on it really well and my opinion now remains the same. Although, as I said before, one of the two episodes should've been scrapped during the writing phase.

It seems like forever that this episode aired..! And although my opinion on Thomas' current "character" has soured by quite a lot (especially when compared to what it once was), this was still a fairly good outing for him.

For the personality they wanted him to portray, the story worked well (and was a great set-up for Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure), there were some entertaining bits and the moral was well handled and a useful one for kids to learn.

I still quite like Percy and the Calliope. There are a few reasons why, but the most relevant is Percy and Diesel's dynamic. They played off each other really well, and I was glad that the current team decided  to give it a shot themselves.

The two worked together brilliantly again, even more so here as Diesel wasn't just laughing at Percy's stupidity. Instead, he came up with a plan to do a job that Percy was given, Percy trusted him and then Diesel felt bad for getting him into trouble.

It also helped that the rescue team were well written (for once, and not for the last time in this countdown), the episode itself was really entertaining and the narration wasn't overpowering; instead allowing the characters to shine more.

Helen Farrall has had an amazing couple of years, to the point where I honestly feel that she should be head writer of the show rather than Andrew. This episode isn't the main reason as to why her work is so special (we'll get to that soon enough), but it was the one that made me realise that she belonged on the team (even though Toad & the Whale aired before this).

We all know how bad Wonky Whistle was. It's been called the worst episode of the show by a lot of fans, and while I think that it's rather over-hated these days, I still think it's pretty bad as well, and I was not wanting a re-write of it.

But to my surprise, this episode fixed every issue that the former had. The only issue this had was that I found it a tad dull, but when the story is this strong and well written, it's a flaw that I can live with.

Was anyone really wanting a Victor and Kevin story before series 19? Sure, Victor was a good character and Kevin was a semi-competent assistant, but it felt like that's as far as it could go. Thankfully, the team proved us wrong.

I honestly think I underrated this one. It's so full of heart and charm that, in hindsight, it deserved a 9 or higher. Sure, Thomas could have, and probably should have, been replaced by another character who could handle the snow better (whilst keeping that personality) and there were a couple of other nitpicks.

Overall, it's Lee's best episode since Gordon and Spencer (although Bradford the Brake Van is also up there). It made Victor and Kevin's dynamic feel more genuine and it was well paced.

Out of all of Helen Farrall's episodes (and I'm including her series 20 efforts in this), this is probably her least memorable effort. It was just a simple, down to earth look into the railway's general operations, and I appreciated that a lot.

And although her future episodes would showcase this better, this one did show that she understood the characters really well and knew how best to use them.

Couple that with a few funny moments and a heartfelt third act and you get one of the best outings from a new writer since Gordon and Spencer way back in 2003 (I still don't get why Lee Pressman doesn't like that one..! Ah well.)

Has there ever been an episode that fans didn't know they wanted until they had it? Well I still believe that's the case with this one, and it's a crying shame that they haven't capitalised on this momentum for these two in series 20.

Den went through some brilliant development with Toby's help, Dart had a few nice moments with Mavis and it had a ton of heart and charm. It was fantastic. I'd love to say more about it, but I pretty much said all I needed to in the actual review.

The Great Race made this look even better than it actually was. Yes, a 60 minute special made a 9 minute episode look better than it was. Then again, that's probably due to the fact that there was a heavy focus on the story here than the marketing.

There was a scene with marketing in it, but unlike The Other Side of the Mountain or The Great Race, the inclusion didn't feel out of place at all.

It was an excellent showcase of the show's female cast members, the moral was really well handled (despite it being nothing new, even at this point), it had some nice tension (not as good as some episodes, but it was still good), good humour (thanks to Marion). There's little to complain about really.

This one, however, had a pretty big complaint. Depending on how much you can tolerate a baby's crying will affect how much you like this one, and since I've a lot of experience with kids on public transport, I have a high tolerance to it.

Like other great episodes in this overview, there's not much I can say that hasn't already been said. It just a heartfelt, simple story where Thomas' caring side made a lot more sense. And it also felt like the major starting point where humans were re-integrated into the show fully.

Sure, there were other episodes, but they felt more like one offs. This was one of the last episodes of series 19 to be released, and series 20 has integrated them more than any other HiT era series.

I'll be honest, it was so difficult to choose which of these two was the best. Not just because they're full of charm, drama and character, but because the basic stories are fairly similar: a character sees/feels something wrong, other characters doubt them, then it's up to the star to save the day.

That said, the stories are different enough to feel fresh, which is fine by me. The rescue team are at their absolute best here, as is Toad, who's become one of the best characters of the show in such a short space of time.

In any other series, this probably would have been the best episode. Heck, it was the best of this series until the final episode was released..!

Stephen has been an absolute delight since King of the Railway, and it was a shame that he was rather under-utilised in series 18. Thankfully, this episode arrived to show that he still had a very important spot in the show, and that only grew during series 20.

It's an episode that also perfectly encapsulates why Helen Farrall has become my favourite writer of the show. She gets the characters completely, and she understands what makes the show so great: the heart, charm, characters, humour and even some brilliant tension and drama.

It also helps that the ending was one of the funniest of the show. Fans are saying it's a callback to Wrong Road and, while that's true, there's much more character on display here, making it far superior in every way.

Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure and The Adventure Begins were the first projects to implement a new, more natural, feel in terms of lighting. That was carried over to series 19, and it makes every scene look superb.

Things now look so much more vibrant and alive, the glossy look of the engines make them look more real and the refreshing variety of camera angles and panning shots made the whole series feel like nothing we'd seen from a CG series before.

That's not to say it was perfect; there were still continuity errors and silly mistakes here and there. But considering all the improvements they've implemented, it's not really enough to say the animation was anything less than stunning.

Voice Acting
There were a few changes to the voice cast this series. Flynn was voiced by Rob Rackstraw as Ben Small departed. He was OK, to be honest. He sounds a bit weird, but he's not awful. That said, I still think Rupert Degas provided the best voice foe the character as he seemed to get Flynn the best.

The biggest change though was for Percy. It's surprising enough that Keith Wickham would be replaced in a role, but Nigel Pilkington was brought in to replace him and did a much better job, I feel. He still felt youthful, but he also sounded more natural; less squeaky. It was a great way to complete the development he'd gone through.

Toby's voice was fantastic as well. It was a shame to see Ben depart the role, but his performances in series 18 weren't that good. He sounded similar to Ben's normal voice than the accented one he'd use. Rob Rackstraw was a great replacement though. He captured the character and, while not as good as Colm Feore in Thomas and the Magic Railroad, he was still fine. It also helped that his character actually felt right, too.

Also, Philip sounded super adorable. Rasmus Hardiker captured his child-like nature really well, and although I found his characterisation rather annoying (during series 19 at least; I've loved him in series 20), his vocal performance never failed to impress.

The rest of the voice cast put in great performances, too. They've managed to produce some great material now that the scripts they're given are of a higher quality. Although Henry's deeper tones just didn't fit the scared personality he's had for years, looking back. I'm really glad that he's been developed, and his voice in series 20 fits the character much better.

It's a shame that this series turned out to be home of Robert Hartshorne's final contributions to the show, but he definitely left on a high. Sure, the major themes he created were adaptations of classic themes, but honestly, I liked all of the music. They helped tell each story really well (even the bad ones) and they're just really catchy and nice to listen to.

Fan Reaction

Final Thoughts
It's fair to say that this series is a step down from the two we've had before. But I've seen a couple of comments elsewhere saying it's the "worst series ever" and I'm like "...really?". If you genuinely think series 19 is the worst series ever, I re-direct your attention to series 13-16. I know I've written a post putting fans on blast for criticising Sharon Miller for that era, but I'm not naive enough to say I've no idea where the backlash comes from.

This one though? I'm not too sure why some are saying it's the worst. Sure, series 17 and 18 are better and this one ended with some really poor episodes, but it's had some of the best ones too. It delved into some dynamics that we didn't know we cared about, the storytelling structure was the best it had been up to that point, it allowed the characters to express themselves more and more and, to add to that, the animation was the constant high point throughout.

That said, the fact that it was dragged over a year and a half (unless you watched the Japanese recordings in late 2015) made the wait for new episodes a real chore, and the episodes that were bad could be considered some of the worst since the previous era. In fairness, that isn't really HiT's fault.

What is their fault is the lack of continuity throughout. Some engines managed to move after an accident, others couldn't. Characters developed in one episode then regressed in another. This is something the team need to work on in the future. They have been in series 20 to be far, but they need to push further after that.

Also, Thomas was far too overexposed. I get this was released during the 70th anniversary (sort of), but the anniversary should have celebrated every character that made the franchise so popular, not the one named character in the title of the TV show who debuted in the franchise in the second book in 1946.

Overall, this is more of a "filler" series than anything else. It had some great stuff in it, sure. But in terms of moving the show on, it didn't do much except needlessly develop Henry's character (which, in fairness, has become one of the best aspects of series 20).

Series Rating: 6/10