Monday, 12 March 2018

Series 3: Henry's Forest

With a long, long wait for new content from the show, I think it's time to review another old episode. And the episode I've chosen is one of the most divisive of the classic era, possibly one of the most divisive ever. That being Henry's Forest.


I reviewed this episode back in 2011 as part of a series 3 overview and... wow, was it terrible. My early reviews were criticised for being incredibly nitpicky. Looking back, the detractors were absolutely right. The episode that suffered the most nitpicky review was this one. It was a shameful piece of work that only focused on Rule 55 and agreed with everything the Rev. Awdry said. And while I do still agree that ignoring railway regulations was bad (in the context of how grounded and faithful episodes were to regulations back then), that's not what makes the episode bad. At all.

Rule 55 had been broken before (the most egregious example I can think of is Woolly Bear, where Thomas, Percy and Toby all stopped on the open line at Tidmouth). So that excuse for disliking Henry's Forest does not wash. It should never have washed. I genuinely believe the only reason Awdry brought it up here was due to his own prejudices with Henry, and how problematic the engine was for him. Well, that and it was based on a story he hadn't written. Besides which, if your only focus is being "realistic", you get boring, plot-less husks of stories like The Flying Kipper.

Now that that's out of the way, I can focus on why the episode is actually bad. The first of which is that the tone is so consistently sad that it produces one of the most tedious, boring viewing experiences of the entire show.

I get it, they wanted to create a melancholic tone. And it worked; as a child, I was sad and emotional while watching it. But as an adult, those emotional scenes have no impact any more. This, admittedly, could be down to watching it multiple times. But I also think that it's because it tries too hard to be sad... and nothing else.

The story, narration and music all come together to create an incredibly sombre atmosphere that is completely unique and memorable for the series, and that's great. But it's a double edged sword since... well, it comes out of nowhere. The forest comes from nowhere. Henry's care for it comes from nowhere. And I'm left thinking "why should I care?"

If I could compare it to something else, look at Up!. Pixar's wonderful film about fulfilling your dreams is best remembered for two things: Dug the dog and the first ten minutes. That love story is one of the most adorably charming, yet tragic, moments in cinematic history. And the reason it's so well received is that we get to see the characters grow up together. We see them indulge in their hobbies and how much they care for each other. And when Ellie dies, the sadness destroys you. I've seen that multiple times too, and I still get teary watching it. It's a masterclass in storytelling, and it's only ten minutes of a 90 minute film.

The rest of it does a brilliant job to produce an uplifting tone mixed with action, drama and humour. And even when it does get emotional again, those moments never go so far as to overshadow the major gut punch at the beginning. Nor do they overstay their welcome in their own right. Granted, Pixar had 90 minutes to work with. But the thing is you can still manage that balance better in only five.

Case in point? Edward's Exploit. The reason Edward's act of heroism stands out is because everything else before it is so... normal. The music is peppy, the sun's out, everything seems fine. Yet with one sentence, a change in conditions and a musical cue, you know something's wrong. And after Edward sets off, the narration and music become more triumphant. And while you do get musical changes with Henry's Forest... they're not strong enough to distinguish them from the supposed "uplifting" ditties we hear when we first enter the forest and when the episode ends.

The second issue I have is with the theme, and this problem is two fold. First off, if we're applying this to the world the show's set in, the whole thing is counterproductive. Steam engines burn coal, and burning coal emits quite a bit of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide emissions damage the planet, including the trees. Ergo, Henry would be doing as much damage to the forest as the storm did. Yes, it's vital that we look after the planet. But it's also important that the themes of a show fit its design. And environmental themes just don't fit Thomas & Friends whatsoever. Never have, never will.

My second issue with the theme is that there seems to be a subtle allegory of death and rebirth in it... which is a detrimental lesson for children to learn. Yes, death being a finality is harrowing for preschoolers. Or anyone, for that matter. But a) this show had already killed a character and walled Henry up by this point, and b) if you're not willing to go all the way with the allegory, don't bother with it in the first place.

Death is a certainty, and one that kids need to learn as soon as they're able to - if only to deal with it better once a real tragedy strikes. And that, I feel, is where the episode truly slips up. While I agree that the ending is uplifting (or, at least, it's supposed to be), I think learning to accept the death of the forest would've developed Henry's character much better. He'd have come out the other side a stronger engine, which would have led to a beautifully uplifting ending in its own right.

Final Thoughts
There are some episodes that you can watch time and time again and they'll never get old. But this is one that you can only really watch once to feel its effect fully. After that, it becomes a real slog to sit through. It's not completely devoid of good moments: Henry gaining some character that made him stand out from Gordon was great, and Donald doing something away from Douglas is something the show needs to do more often. But the overall tone and theme the episode presents make for a really sad time in all the wrong ways.
Episode Rating: Bad

Monday, 19 February 2018

Confirmation Bias

I was going to use this post to talk about the focus on Nia at the New York Toy Fair, but... there’s honestly very little to talk about. It only concerns me that, because all the PR is directed towards her rather than Rebecca, Nia herself will be a dry character.

Instead, I’m gonna rip the fans a new one - again. Why? Well, Yahoo Hong Kong (of all sites) has released an article about Big World, Big Adventures. And... well, fans ran it through Google Translate and all common sense flew out of the window.

The translation is absolutely awful. I’ll leave a link to the article at the end so you can translate it for yourself. But the English is as broken as my thigh bone was after the surgery a couple of months ago. The only part that can be understood (kind of) is the subject of fan anger and this post, however. Here is the quote in question:
“With the appearance of Nia and Rebecca, Henry and Edward reduced their roles and gradually disappeared from the company.”
Alright. Let’s tear this quote apart, shall we?

First of all, they’ve pretty much explained what’s already happened. While Edward got two big roles during series 21, Henry got very little to work with. He was even written out of Journey Beyond Sodor in the first five minutes, only to reappear right at the end! And then it was announced, and clarified by Mattel, that they’d no longer be in the main cast (hence the translated word “company”). We’ve known this for months! The reports have simply been translated into Chinese, then poorly translated back to English by Google.

Second, how the hell are they going to completely remove two characters that work on important routes in the CG era? Henry works on the main line, so we’ll still see him pulling goods and passengers from time to time. Meanwhile, Edward works on his branch line, AKA the line that ends at Brendam Docks. AKA one of the most important locations in the show at this point!

Simply put, fans would rather ignore the facts and the concept of rational thinking so they can continually push their confirmation bias against Mattel (which has been there since they announced the changes to the Wooden Railway range). This despite the fact that they hired a team that have produced some of the show’s best content since 1995. Possibly some of the best ever at times.

Trust me, I’m not exactly thrilled about the changes either. I’ve written enough blog posts and tweets with regards to my thoughts on this whole thing. But I’m willing to give the new series a shot for the sake of supporting the production team. If you can’t, fuck off and find something else to watch. No one wants to hear your baseless negativity. No one wants to hear your bullshit claims based on poorly translated news articles. If we wanted either of those things, we’d move to America and live under Nazi Trump’s dictatorship.

Fans need to get the idea that the world revolves around them out of their thick fucking skulls. It’s this mindset that drove the biggest Trainz modelling site to shut down. It’s this mindset that almost drove another modeller on Twitter to do the same. And it’s this mindset that makes these people think that Thomas & Friends is more than it truly is, was and always will be: a television programme aimed at preschoolers.

Source:

Saturday, 17 February 2018

The Bachmann 2018 Range Is... Kinda Garbage

Yesterday, Bachmann announced their lineup for 2018. To say it’s disappointing is an understatement. Honestly, I’d go so far as to say it’s legitimately terrible and incredibly lazy. Granted, we still have Rusty and Paxton yet to be released. So if those two are taken into account, it’s not as bad. But they were announced last year...

The first announcement was Grumpy Diesel. Not a new diesel character, just Devious Diesel with a face they should’ve produced when he was made a few years ago. Yes, they’ve literally just changed a face and pretended it’s something new... Why they couldn’t have just released the face as a separate item to keep costs low, I’ve no idea.

Then we have the cream and green (or Gordon’s) express coaches. They’re... literally the same coaches they discontinued. So why the hell they dropped them for a few years, I’ll never know. Heck, I’ve no idea why they were dropped at all considering their importance on the show.

Next up is the Spiteful Brake Van... so they’re just slapping a face on a brake van. To be fair, this one isn’t their fault. But they most likely chose it because it’s something easy to produce.

Then there’s two tankers: Sodor Diesel Co. and Water. Not much to say about these. One will be yellow, the other blue. Oh, and they’ll have words on the sides rather than symbols. So if you’re one of those fans still pissy about that change from the model to CG era, these will make you happy.

Large scale, meanwhile, has it worse. That range only gets three tankers: Water, Chocolate Syrup and, weirdly, Toffee (that one from Sticky Toffee Thomas). Again, nothing to say about these.

While the narrow gauge range didn’t get much either, only red and blue coaches, at least they’re completely new and original moulds.

Overall, this is the worst year for Bachmann so far. Fans have already defended them by saying “they’re a business. They have to satisfy investors. They must only have a limited budget.” Yet those exact same excuses could apply to everything that Mattel has done with the franchise and merchandise over the past year. It hasn’t stopped fans tearing them apart.

To counter that argument, I’ll end by offering up a similar question to the one Jim Sterling asked EA with regards to Star Wars Battlefront 2’s loot boxes: should Bachmann really keep ranges going if they can’t afford to keep them going?

Sources:

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Journey Beyond Sodor: How It Should Have Been

I've talked about this thing three times already. The first time, I was parroting reviews from other detractors which wasn't really fair, in hindsight. The second was via my live tweets while watching it, which was less of a review and more a genuine reaction when watching in real time. The third was the last blog post highlighting the discriminatory behaviour of some manchildren solely because the opinions of disabled gay man didn't affirm their opinions on it. So now I thought why not dive back into this one final time for a proper review?

I'm going to be fair and start with the positives. First off, I do really like that there was a more solid reason as to why Hurricane and Frankie have stuck together throughout the Steelworks' hardships, and I like that they ended up finding somewhere new to work. I don't think it was as the real thing, but it's a different interpretation that I can appreciate.

Second, I like that they linked the experimental engines into the story more than the real thing did. You get a real sense of the animosity during the third act. And it's admirable they'd risk themselves to save the others.

Third, the banter between Henry, Donald and Douglas was fantastic. Seriously, if they ever decide to do another project, make those three the stars. I genuinely think they could create gold with those three.

And finally, there's the visual design which is... fine. There are a lot of issues, which I'll address, but the lighting, general cinematography and modelling work is passable. To those saying it should skirt on by because of that though, Michael Bay movies have great cinematography. Does that make them any better? Anyone with enough artistic talent can make a decent/good looking movie. But it takes someone with writing talent to make a good film.

And that is where the problems lie: the writing is atrocious.

First of all, this is how the film starts:
This is the worst way to start any project, let alone one that wants to seem professional. It makes the whole thing feel like more of a cynical product than anything Mattel has ever produced. The criticisms they brought up were nitpicky at best and petty at worst. They're literally acting like a show for toddlers should pacify them as well.

Not only that, but the last two paragraphs are incredibly narcissistic. I watch WhatCulture Wrestling, which has two series: "How WWE Should've Booked" and "How WWE Should Book", going through major storylines - past and present - and seeing how they'd do it. Here's the difference: the WhatCulture host was hamming up his arrogant personality, whereas the arrogance here feels genuine. Turns out, however, the fans who thought they could do better than Andrew Brenner and co fell victim to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The way to fix this is simple: don't bother putting that stuff into the video itself. Put it in the video description or something. Oh wait, they did:

My second point is that the narrative is terrible. There are constant contradictions throughout (James saying that he didn't think BoCo was that bad mere seconds after insulting him and Flying Scotsman running on BR when it's said that only diesels run there being large examples).

What's worse, though, is that the whole thing falls apart 5 minutes in. James did something similar to what Thomas did in the real thing... and no one bothered to check whether he was being truthful. Not even James' crew. Which, considering the whole pull of this is "wanting to respect Thomas' universe" (I'll focus on that more later), goes against it a bit. If this was the case, the driver would've stopped him and taken him home so he and the fireman could be with their families.

I get it: it's really disappointing that the roles of engine crews have been diminished over the years, But considering all the stories we've been given, it should really be considered a "necessary evil" at this point. Including them in stories like this makes them look really stupid since they didn't take any initiative.

And then there's the pacing. The whole conflict reveals itself in around 7 minutes, which is rather quick when the whole thing is an hour and a half, the rest plods along and adds plot points randomly and there are forced in conflicts to keep things going for that run time. Heck, Hurricane and Frankie inexplicably reach Vicarstown Bridge before everyone else because... reasons!

The characters aren't much better. As much as his dynamic with Donald and Douglas was great, Henry was a real wuss, Gordon was fine until he became a discount James, Donald and Douglas themselves could only be described as "Scottish" at one point - stereotyping that country to the nth degree once they get there. Oliver's only purpose is to constantly remind everyone that Escape! had happened and James... was the worst portrayal of the character I've ever seen.

If there was any example as to why proofreading a script is important, James' characterisation is it. Well, the whole thing is, but James' character suffered the most. The narrative treated him like the most egotistical, racist character to ever exist, which is a preschooler's understanding of who James is and bumped up a billion notches. Sure, Thomas was a bit selfish in the official version, but at least you ended up caring when things went wrong for him, and his turnaround was genuine. Here, James didn't develop whatsoever. Emotionally, he was in the place as when he started, making the story even more pointless.

And then there's the themes. I don't know what they were going for, but the main one I gathered was "you're flawed, we'll accept that", which is an incredibly damaging moral. Let me put it this way, if I didn't surround myself with so many amazing people at my lowest point, eventually overcoming my flaws and problems, I would have become more self destructive and more mentally unstable. That was me as a guy in his 20s. Imagine if that's what a child took from this!

Oh, by the way. If you want to create a project that's a massive "screw you" to a certain company, don't use their tropes for your story. They handwave this by saying "we had to use them to keep the feel of the current era". But... isn't that what this thing is fighting against? It's a huge contradiction. If you're wanting to make a spiteful point, make your own adaptation your own way.

There are other problems like the annoying fan pandering (maybe if less effort had been put into that and more gone onto the story problems..!), but the one that annoys me the most is the "respecting Thomas' universe". Thomas' universe is primarily British, but there are so many American influences here that you don't believe that's the case. American terms are used and the engines constantly wrong road. None of these things I'd care about if the creators themselves didn't make them such a big deal. If this was simply their own interpretation of Thomas' universe (rather than thinking they know all about it), I'd be much more lenient.

And then there's the visual design. While I've pointed out the positives, the negatives are huge. First off, continuity errors. Engines swapping lines, engines travelling on actual roads and tracking shots poorly green screened. The latter can be excused, but the first two can't. Shot consistency is one of the first things you need to learn as an amateur filmmaker. And while, yes, even professionals make mistakes, they aren't this frequent or this obvious. It's honestly really sloppy, and maybe spending more time on filming and editing to ensure it was polished would've ironed these issues out.

Finally, there's the songs, which are just as bad as the rest. The first one just hammers in the point that "Sodor good, BR bad!", giving the film a feeling that it was written to be Sudrian propaganda. The second one tries to make you feel bad that the experimental engines have never been given any opportunities, even though they started out working at the Steelworks! Also, the song ends at a random point right at the end of the scene. It's incredibly jarring. Sure, Who's Thomas? ended a scene in the real thing, but the final verse of the song actually felt like a natural stopping point for the song, and the scene. The third one's rather forgettable.

Final Thoughts
I appreciate that this was a fan project and that a lot of effort went into it. And I really do like a couple of scenes and character moments. But I still maintain that this is the most narcissistic, fan pandering project I've ever seen. The characters are bad (and most are pointless), the theme is awful and the story itself is terrible. Honestly, a lot of the problems narrow down to contradictions and too much telling, not enough showing. Although it doesn't help that the film starts with a 45 second message that makes you want to turn it off. But even if you take that out, it really doesn't add much to Journey Beyond Sodor at all.

Overall, I'd rather watch the original. No, it's not perfect. But at least it tries to tell an engaging story with fun characters and a superb message. Also, it has precious cinnamon roll Theo that has so much character due to the bouncing and his voice acting.

Final Rating: Atrocious

Sunday, 7 January 2018

The Thomas Fanbase Shits Itself Again

Another day, another example of whiny little brats getting pissy over opinions. And this could be their most disgusting little stunt so far.

For context, some fans wrote and produced a shitty little fanfic for YouTube: Journey Beyond Sodor: How It Should Have Been. Now I was going to write this narcissistic piece of garbage off as soon as I’d heard about it. Partly due to the narcissistic title, partly due to the fact that past experiences taught me that most fans can’t write a story to save their lives. But, in order to properly have an opinion on it, I bit the bullet and decided to watch it, tweeting my reactions as I did so.

45 seconds in, the destruction began:
I won’t embed all the tweets as there’s so many of them, so I’ll sum up all the problems here:
  • It panders to fans to the point of obnoxiousness (and even then, half of the references are wrong or pointless),
  • Their idea of an “in character” James is an egotistical racist,
  • Gordon ends up becoming a discount James, only he’s discriminatory to other characters,
  • The story constantly contradicts itself,
  • There are so many plot conveniences,
  • The plot itself falls apart after 5 minutes or so,
  • You don’t really care that James is captured because you can’t root for him,
  • It’s completely hypocritical (it’s made as a “fuck you” to Mattel, yet uses so many Mattel era tropes and words),
  • Oliver’s “character” is reduced to “Remember Escape!?”,
  • The realism the film aims for works against the plot constantly,
  • Other characters are severely underused,
  • The songs (and singing) are shit,
  • The sound editing is really bad,
  • There are basic continuity errors between shots,
  • The lack of respect for British terminology and railways is pathetic for a film that says “we’re respecting the Thomas universe”,
  • The themes are atrocious,
  • The pacing is terrible,
  • The film, overall, feels like Sudrian propaganda.
The only counter arguments I’ve seen so far are “the visuals are really good” which simply isn’t true. They’re passable at best, but the blatantly obvious use of green screen for tracking shots look bad. Especially when they’re used to have the engines travel on roads instead of rails.

The other one is “but they spent so long on it”... as though that matters for any reason. Here’s a little reality check for those fans: quality isn’t defined by the amount of time put in, but by the amount of effort put in in that timeframe! With its script that seemed like a first draft, music and sound design that seemed orchestrated in around half an hour and visuals that were hastily cobbled together, this felt like a rush job.

But that’s the thing: every time any two bit hacks throw together a project and release them to the public, they feel as though they deserve praise solely for making something, regardless of quality. And they, and their sycophants, will come up with any excuse to give them that praise when, more often than not, they don’t deserve it at all. And when they don’t get it, they turn into the whiny, screeching manchildren they truly are. Case in point, this thread (I'll embed the first tweet here, feel free to scroll through it in your own time):
How sad and pathetic must your life be to attack a disabled person solely for being disabled? Solely because they had the sheer gall to say a shit film was shit? Solely because one opinion doesn't march in lockstep with theirs? These scumbags are the lowest of the low, and they do it for two reasons:
  1. They can’t think of a good counter argument as to why it’s good, so they just go on the attack.
  2. Their lives are so empty and meaningless that they’d rather tear someone who’s happy and confident down to try and force them to change their minds.
Here’s a newsflash for those fuckwits: I’m not changing my mind until you give me a good reason as to why it’s good. Insulting me will only make me hate it even more, and will result in further exposes with regards to your shitty behaviour in the future. Because I’m done sitting back and taking it. I’m done ignoring it. Last year proved that, and I will continue to call you out this year. Because your behaviour is unacceptable and you’ve been getting away with it for far too long.

EDIT: Since publishing this post, the fanbase has stooped even further, implying homosexuality is a mental problem akin to autism.

Seriously, fuck this fanbase. Hard. All of this bullshit was because someone actually bothered to treat a piece of art like a piece of art and be critical of it. If you're a content creator that can't handle criticism, stop being a content creator.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

More Cuts to Accommodate Big World, Big Adventures!

You know, the more I hear about Big World, Big Adventures, the less I want to know. It’s becoming clearer to me that Mattel are desperate - and I mean desperate - to get their little pet project off the ground. We already know about the downgrading of merchandise and the cynical reason why they’re changing the show’s core, but SIF has since revealed that series 21 also suffered cutbacks.


It seemed a bit weird that they’d only make 18 episodes for it. I’d put it down to the issues with Arc Productions and the Jam Filled takeover. But it turns out that Mattel intentionally cut eight episodes out of it in order to make BWBA happen. I’ll let the tweets speak for themselves:




I don't know whether Mattel like to shoot themselves in the foot. But this year alone, they have done so constantly. Cutbacks on merchandise, replacing well established characters with completely fresh faces, chasing trends that have already been taken, base breaking engine movements, and now this.

Frankly, the latest development is the one that annoys me the most. There have been scrapped episodes before; Jack and the Pack was apparently cut in half due to budgetary restrictions. But that can be forgiven since their loss didn’t affect too much in the long run.
  • The Missing Coach was cut, but Break Van did a good job establishing Donald and Douglas and the predicament they were in. Besides which, the original story is already out there, so you can just read that.
  • Gordon Goes Foreign was cut, but writing him out of service was fairly easy to do. And, again, the story is out there.
  • The cut episodes for The Pack would’ve been nice, but the characters had already been established fairly well in 13. And because the episodes were all written to be self contained, removing half in the production process meant we wouldn’t be missing too much.
But series 21 is a different beast entirely.

That series gave Rosie a new look and, what was meant to be, a new job. The latter was never established in the episodes we got, nor was her personality. Both of which would seemingly be focused on in one of the cut scripts. As it stands, it's difficult to care about her and her showing up at Vicarstown in Journey Beyond Sodor (which was meant to be the last project of series 21, apparently) is never explained.

And then there’s all the new characters that kids had to digest during the series. Hannah probably wouldn’t have appeared again, but what about Bulgy? Or Carly and Big Mickey? Maybe Terence would have been given more time to shine? What about Trevor, who’s been given nothing since Three Steam Engines Gruff?

Speaking of series 20, do you remember Glynn’s episodes mentioning a railway museum being planned at Ulfstead? Whatever happened to that? Was it going to be given focus in some scripts?

This is why I’m annoyed by the cut episodes in series 21. So many things have been set up, but have been given zero pay off so far. What’s worse is that the writers are the ones that have been taking the heat for blatant meddling from Mattel’s higher ups. And will probably continue to take said heat unless fans follow SIF’s tweets. Or if fans end up reading this post.

All of this, however, reaffirms my opinion that series 21 is frustratingly good. That frustration already came from aspects I’ve already talked about. But on top of that, it comes from what the series could’ve been had Mattel actually allowed those eight scripts through the production process.

Maybe the scripts will be used again. Heck, maybe they’ll be used next series to fulfil the claim that half of it will take place on Sodor. But if they’ve been cut completely, that’s eight scripts that have gone up in smoke. All of which (the finale especially) were made for a series that was designed to establish the changes going into Big World, Big Adventures.

Now I was going to end things there, but I saw a tweet while writing this and it gave me more to talk about:

Just... what do you even say to this?

First off, it's blatant plagiarising on Mattel's part. Second, the fact they felt the need to follow the leader to this extent reaffirms what I said the last time I talked about Mattel's nonsense: this show needs to end.

This proves to me that the show is creatively bankrupt. Some of that (repeated story ideas and themes) is down to the writers, admittedly. But this is corporate mandating at its most nakedly obvious. It's utterly pathetic.

And so I end this post with a question to Mattel (not that they'll read this, but I really don't care either way). By this time in a year or two, you see no uplift in your profits from the franchise. Those precious profits either become stagnant or they plummet. You don't become the market leader and fall further and further behind. What are you going to do then?

No, wait. Actually, I'm ending with this. To all those "fans" who are against Nia solely because she's from Kenya:
Go fuck yourselves, you worthless, racist fucknuggets.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Series 21 Overview

Series 21 has come to a close, as has been confirmed by Micaela Winter's LinkedIn page and a tweet from Mattel (although Mattel said 16 episodes were produced when it's actually 18). With a month of production time lost, focus switching to their new marketing ploy and the release of Journey Beyond Sodor, I'm rather surprised they managed to get 18 episodes produced for this series (I genuinely thought there'd be about 13). But will the shortest ever series be one of the best? Let's take a look back at series 21.


As has become tradition:
  1. The episodes will be covered in order from worst to best, not by air/release date.
  2. This won't go into any major detail like the reviews. If you wish to read my full thoughts, click on the episode header of the review you want to read.

We're starting with a Helen Farrall episode. And as good as she's been since she was hired for series 19, this was easily her worst effort, and her worst series overall. Which is rather sad, especially if the rumours are to be believed that this will be her last series. Then again, it was said that she had three scripts commissioned only for us to discover she'd written five overall. So who knows what to believe?

But yes, this one was bad. Not in terms of character, humour or even charm. But the overall theme and resolutions of the story left a really bad taste. And this is meant to be a show for preschoolers, so it's vital that the writers don't screw things like that up.

Yes, Thomas got told off, but bringing Bulgy back made it feel like Thomas was being given help that he didn't deserve. It glossed over the issue far too quickly and the proverbial slap on the wrist was immediately undermined. "You can't just stop wherever you want. So here's a solution to the problem that shouldn't have been on your mind to begin with".

Like I said in the review, this would've worked better if more action had been taken halfway through. Sending Thomas to the shed and having someone run the branch for a while would've given him time to reflect. Or let Thomas redeem himself by just do a normal run without the additional stops. Then you could have included Bulgy at the end to reward Thomas' good behaviour.

The ending also makes the Fat Controller's funny bits feel...  pointless, really. There was no need for him to go around stalking Thomas for half a day as the ending showed that he already knew what the problem was and how it would be solved solved. Considering so many recent episodes and specials put so much emphasis on him having a railway to run, you'd think he'd actually do so in episodes where it doesn't need pointing out!

That is why I feel it's the worst episode of this series. It has better characters, a stronger story and more charm than the next episode on the list. However, the botched lesson, forced comedy and the ending in general make it worse than one that grabs the bar of mediocrity and barely holds on.


There's so little to talk about here that I struggled to get the review out originally. In fact, this episode and the next one both suffer the same problem: they care more about the destination than they do the journey.

The only thing the episode truly did was leave me with this thought: why didn't they realise there was an issue that needed a more permanent solution when writing Kevin's Cranky Friend? Or, at least, use that episode as a jumping off point to consider getting a new crane so this didn't happen again?

This episode is just incredibly lazy. And I genuinely think that was the intention since they introduced Carly right at the end, meaning all the attention went onto her. The thing is it worked... but in a negative way. The next episode, however, did the exact same thing in a "positive" way...


Same problems, different episode. A lack of originality covered by an ending that was designed to take attention off the fact that the rest of it wasted time. Only this time it was also designed to pander to older fans, confirming the headcanons of those who think this show and TUGS are in the same universe.

As you can probably tell, my excitement for Big Mickey has worn off. Big time. All it does is raise in universe questions as to why no one bothered with him up to this point. The answer from an storytelling perspective, however, is simple: they wanted to take the heat from older fans away from Carly. I've said it before and I'll say it again: older fans do not matter! Stop trying to pander to them by abandoning your target demographic!

Oh, and there was a fantasy scene with a two headed sea serpent. The only reason I've just mentioned it is because it adds nothing to the story. It's solely there to pad out the run time and give a further hint as to what we can expect in the future.

Overall, it's another episode that offers nothing new. That was a constant problem this series, and I had to force the original review out when the episode aired. At least it wasn't riddled with plot holes. And Carly is an OK character. Nothing too special, but she'll provide some nice moments with Cranky should they get more focus in the future.


I still think that this one is held down by a thin plot, overdone humour and many contrivances. But the more I think about it, the more of an issue I have with the ending and theme.

Yes, in this context, "let bygones be bygones" is fine. When there's a competitive element to it, like in this episode, letting things go is fair enough. And, hopefully, this is about as far as they go with said theme. But what would happen if things were to escalate? What if kids were in a similar situation and things got to a point where they were hurt? Or what if they were just being bullied for who they were or what they looked like? You can't exactly tell them to "it's a new year! Let it go!", can you? Human brains don't hit the reset button every January 1st. Letting it go leads to a child being complacent. And that could lead to worse torment piled onto the victim, and worse behaviour from the perpetrator, somewhere down the road. Yes, that's me taking things to an extreme. But they do happen, and writing teams need to be incredibly careful around this theme as the potential for unfortunate implications is very high.

The episode itself was fine, and it was fortunate that Gordon and Spencer's dynamic was strong enough to see it through. It really wouldn't have worked that well had they used two other characters (except maybe Gordon or Spencer and Flying Scotsman. Or any of them with Connor or Caitlin).


This is a personal episode for me. I'm rather shy and reserved, and I struggle to ask for help as I think that I can do more than I really can. And this was a lesson that I needed to learn and keep with me. And I can imagine a lot of kids would feel the same way.

The reason it didn't get a 10, however, is that the solution to the problem would have been incredibly easy had Harvey's crew been involved. This means you have to suspend your disbelief a lot, especially after a series that ended with three episodes that featured engine crews in prominent roles.

There are a couple of smaller issues as well, but the bigger, most obvious flaw was the one that really held it down. Everything else is great, and it's nice that Harvey was given a role that could, hopefully, lead to some development for his character.


Helen Farrall's storytelling has been much sloppier this series. Granted, she did write two excellent episodes, but the majority have had some really stupid, disappointing mistakes in them. Here, the problem is making the diesels look brilliant while weakening the steam engines.

They say that the coal delivery was delayed so none of the steam engines can work. Fair enough. But wouldn't the diesels need another delivery as well? Or are they seriously suggesting that the whole diesel fleet can run for as long as they did on three oil tankers worth of fuel? Heck, how did the oil delivery even get through when the coal delivery didn't? Don't you think they'd be of equal importance?

Not only that, but as I mentioned in the review, the diesels didn't have the same issues that the steam engines faced on their routes. No slippery rails, no frozen points. It felt contrived in the diesels' favour, which is a shame as the series started out with the best diesel focused episode. One that they didn't need to be forced into.

Despite that, and a couple of missed opportunities here and there, it's a great episode. It continued Diesel's development really well and showcased Thomas' flaws brilliantly.


This theme will forever be problematic to me, because it always seems to come from the perspective of "why do we need to change when the system we have is fine?" Sometimes it is, other times you're being stubborn while the world evolves around you.

If you want a case in point, look at The Railway Series. As time moved on and the modernisation plan was put into effect, Awdry didn't just dig in his heels and say "I'm not using diesels". Instead, he introduced Daisy, BoCo, Bear, Mavis, etc. Sure, the core was still the steam engines. But he brought in diesels for the extra muscle and show that locomotive technology was advancing.

Heck, when high speed and electric trains were being rolled out on British railways, Christopher Awdry made the Peel Godred line and introduced Pip and Emma.

This theme had been done by the show already. And The Fogman did it better simply because it showed that the foghorn was irreparably damaged and it made clear why Cyril was a better solution. Here, we just see the PA system spark out with no attempt to repair it and no real idea what was wrong.

Fortunately, the episode is salvaged by a decent enough story, entertaining moments and brilliant characters (Edward especially). But this blatant recycling of ideas really needs to stop at some point. If they're using said ideas and improving on them, fair enough. But simply using them (and doing nothing of note with them) is a sign that a show is creatively stagnant and needs to be put to bed (not given a huge makeover that goes against the whole premise of the thing!).


This was a great way to bring Terence back into the fold. He had a really fun, if unoriginal, character (unlike the model era) and the story did a good job of bringing him down a peg.

Unfortunately, the story's pacing was damaged heavily by the flashback that took up almost a quarter of the entire episode. Yes, the story itself is pretty thin already, but adding so much to the flashback confirmed there wasn't enough of a plot to fill out the run time.

Aside from that, it was a really good episode with a solid theme. Plus, it was good that they didn't just replace the lost tree with another of a similar size. Instead, we saw a bit of creativity from the Earl. It's these character moments that make the series as good as it is. I just hope that what they have planned for the future doesn't damage that.


This episode was the nadir how how bad the fanbase could be with regards to getting information from the writing team. It would've been a nice surprise if a Twitter user (whom I can't remember the name of) hadn't bugged Lee Pressman about it. But there you go.

Regardless,, this was a really fun one. Hannah was a great character (that I hope they use again in the future) and the theme was really good. "Be careful what you wish for" has been used with Toad (twice), which is the only real drawback. But it still played out well.

Plus, it was rather shocking how far they went with the consequences of Hannah going fast. I know that the show has killed characters off before, but that was back in the 80's when shows were given more leeway with what they could and couldn't show their audience. Nowadays, producers are more restrained, so this had more of an impact. I'd go so far as to say that it had more of an impact than anything in series 5 did.

Overall, it was a great episode. Hannah and Toby worked off each other well, there was a reason why she needed to be there (and why she looked a lot like Toby) and it was just a fun ride. It's a shame that James was underused though...


This felt like one of the freshest episodes the show had up to that point. Not just because it featured characters that barely get a look in due to where they're situated, but because the main characters were nowhere in sight. It had to rely on the strength of these three to make it work, and they pulled it off brilliantly.

It was, honestly, the best showcase of real friendship the show's had since the classic era, and it was a pure delight from start to end. The only slight niggle was that they've done misunderstandings before. But this was, by far, the best showcase of this theme the current team has written. It all felt believable, and that's all that matters.


This episode was the final straw for me with regards to my rating system. It's a "set in stone" system that says that I will always feel this way about the episode in question. In reality though, that's not the case. For example, my opinion on this episode has worsened since the initial review, hence it's the lowest of the 10s on this list. It's also the worst episode I've given a 10 (I've talked about what the future of the rating system will be here).

Simply, this episode tells me two things: the first is that the only thing they can do with Donald and Douglas is include them in a wintery episode, reference their past adventures in some way and have them argue. Constantly.

Here's a news flash to every single writer in the business: siblings don't always argue all the time! Their relationships are a lot more nuanced than you like to think they are! Also, siblings (hell, even twins) don't do everything together. This show already has three sets of twins that are tied together, we didn't need a fourth. Especially with a set of twins that can be separated and can work literally anywhere on Sodor! The point I'm getting at is more can be done with these two. And the writers need to let them escape the box they've been put in.

The second thing this episode told me is that Emily's being set up to become the motherly figure of the main cast which... you know what? I'm good with. Just give her a flaw or two and I'll be behind it all the way. Maybe include some of her series 8-12 personality? As much as fans probably don't like that, it at least made her more interesting. Or maybe give her some desires of her own away from parenting the other engines? I don't know.

...what was I talking about again? Oh yeah, this episode isn't as good as I originally thought it was. It's another regurgitated plot line with characters that have more to offer than this. Honestly, if I wasn't putting so much pressure on myself to get the festive episode reviews rushed out before my hospital appointments (I also thought I was having surgery at the time, which didn't happen), I would've been much more critical of them (that said, this was the only one that I screwed up). Given the opportunity to review it again, which I may do in the future, I would given it a 6. At best. The only reason I didn't for this overview was for the sake of consistency.


Have I mentioned that James has been a brilliant character since Pouty James? Because it's true. The only portrayal it's beaten by is his book variation. Not the idealised version that fans and the writers from series 8-16 (and even the current team for a time) like to think of from James the Red Engine but the snarky, arrogant James in every other book. But even then, the gap between the two James' is so small now that it's difficult to choose between them.

This was a perfect showcase of why James was so great. He has an ego. He wants to be the best. And he will do what he can to ensure that he is. It's then left to the characters or circumstance within the story to bring him down a peg or two.

And that's where Rosie comes in. Simply put, she was not interesting at all. It says a lot when the original character was more memorable solely based on the first episode she was in (even if she was bad). There's no excuse for this besides laziness. They needed to do something big to make the audience care, but they did very little. She's all style and no substance. which is why Rosie's overhaul can only be considered a waste at this point.

There were nitpicks I had with this episode too, but it was a really fun one overall. It followed the usual Thomas formula well and the crash was fantastic. Next time though, make sure you research which fluids a locomotive has, because brake fluid isn't one of them. Oh, and give Rosie more of a personality. Even if you just make her quick witted and cheeky, it's better than what we have now!


It's difficult to work out in which order some of these episodes were meant to air in. While a couple of the festive episodes had an imaginary sequence each (Carly was absent and Edward was at Tidmouth in all of them), this was full of them. It gives viewers a solid indication of where the show is headed. And because it all came out of left field, it took a lot of fans, myself included, a while to digest it all.

But after some contemplation before the review went live, I thought it worked brilliantly here. And even now, I stand by that. Actually, I feel it worked at its best here since we are following Philip, a childlike character (that's been perfected since his first appearance).

The only other (non) issue I've seen is that it's never explained why Philip was given that number. And to those people, I say "congratulations! You completely missed the point and theme of the episode". Philip only wanted to know his number because he wanted to have some sort of identity or understanding. He then learned that he didn't need to know because only you can carve a path for yourself. Only you can give your name (or number) a meaning that suits you. He didn't search for it so you could add that extraneous, pointless information to your headcanons.

Overall, I love this episode. I think I may have been a bit hasty to say it was my favourite episode up to that point because the slow pace at the start is an issue. And I'd forgotten the first three episodes of the series. But I still maintain that adding nuance to a theme that had been overdone at that point was excellent.


Honestly, the review speaks for itself here. The theme is excellent (and one fans still ignore because they'd rather focus on keeping Diesel as he was rather than watch him grow and become a more entertaining, complex character) and the characters are wonderful.

And yes, I still maintain that this is one of the best scenes of the show. Even better than Skarloey's rescue in Four Little Engines (or Old Faithful if you prefer the books). In Skarloey's case, it was simply him doing what you'd expect him to do. There was no real growth there, he just wanted to help out and was desperate to do so. Daisy has always been thought of as a self absorbed character, so you'd have expected her to stay where she was and wait for a bus. But she fought through her problem, her doubts and complaints to get the job done. It was an excellent example of character development, and a prime example of actions speaking louder than words. It's one of the best scenes of the series, the show as a whole and of Daisy's life.

There's not much more to say. It's the best start to a series ever, and things would only get better from there. For a short time, at least.


It's fair to say there's been a lot of angst towards minorities for decades. And the fact that the internet has given racist bigots more of a platform to spout their nonsense is even more troubling (and don't give me "it's just free speech". Free speech is not the same as hate speech). So it's rather heartening to see a show for an impressionable audience come along and tell them that being friends with someone who's a bit different is OK. Not that that's stopped fans lambasting said show for including an African based engine for really stupid reasons, but that's another story...

Again, this is another episode where the review can say more than I can here. While the toilet humour is terrible and there are a couple of story problems, the theme being so positive, strong and current makes up for that entirely. In fact, it's kind of sad that it is so current; you'd have thought that segregatory attitudes would've died out by now. But with Brexit being voted for solely because of racists wanting immigrants out (and believing lies) and the crap fest that's been Donald Trump's first year as president, voted for by idiotic, homophobic xenophobes (and possible Russian involvement, but that's beside the point)...


We've seen other engines take over as manager before. But it never really worked as they had to force in a conflict because having someone take over as manager wasn't enough of one for them. This episode shows them all how it's done by having a character who has no idea how railways operate and putting her in charge.

It all culminates into one of the most entertaining episodes of the show, serving as a parody of the era that came before. The only issue with that is they're still reflecting on an era that ended five years ago and should really move on.

What also made it work is that had Emily set Dowager Hatt straight by telling her which engines best suit certain jobs. She was a great asset to the episode, and that's all I can really say.

My only hope is that, with the show becoming more fast paced and comedy driven, they don't overuse Dowager Hatt to meet that comedy quota. They've already proved that using one character for their comedy can be overkill with her son.


I don't do traditions whatsoever. I don't particularly want them all to die, but I do think they're only relevant these days to appease the stubborn conservatives who can't be bothered to broaden their horizons by trying something new because it might make them think about their worldview a bit more. So I was originally dreading this episode and where it could've gone. And thank God I was proven wrong.

Simply put, this was Daisy's best episode to date. It takes the concept of Christmas, turns it on its head and tells the audience that it's perfectly fine to do so. You don't need to go to certain places and do certain things to have a good time. You just need to remember the spirit of it and to enjoy it with those who care about you the most.

Also, any episode that tells the audience that change is OK is always fine in my book. Although... it doesn't take into account that changing too much can be a huge detriment. You then run the risk of becoming something that's unrecognisable. Although that's only within the context of film and TV.

My admiration for this episode has only grown since I first first saw it. But there's one more episode that I like just that little bit more.


I will never not love this episode. Admittedly, it has some weird bits in there, but it followed on from The Fastest Red Engine on Sodor really well and gave Edward his best episode since series 2.

It's genuinely tough to pick the best part of it. Philip is absolutely delightful, he continues to grow wonderfully, Edward plays the sympathetic character really well, it highlights how necessary it is to get enough sleep (which, honestly, any show can do. But I digress).

But it's the ending that really gets me. If they'd ended the show here, I wouldn't have cared. Older fans have followed Edward's journey from the start, struggling to even get out of the shed. And now we see him returning to the place he truly belongs. It fee;s like his journey is at an end, yet a new one is beginning since he's taking care of a new generation. That's what character arcs are meant to do: give them purpose in the world. And this is what fans have forgotten while loudly screeching "Edward's been replaced!".

Also, no. I don't care that the engines instantly change the subject to who'll be joining them at Tidmouth. Because they know what any balanced adult and child would: that their friend isn't far away and they know they can see him whenever they want. Plus, they'd get upset if they dwelled too much on his departure. They know he'll be in their hearts, and that's enough for them. It's an uplifting ending that teaches kids that, no matter what happens, friends are never too far away.

That is why I love this episode. That is why it's Edward's best since series 2. That is why it's my favourite episode this series. And that is why I feel that fans have given it criticism that it doesn't deserve.

Animation
The animation for this series has been absolutely great. It seems cliche to say at this point, but it's true. Sure, it's not Pixar quality, but let's be honest, it's still the best CG animation you'll see for a preschool show. It's also rather nice that Jam Filled Toronto have been responding to fan concerns, especially with regards to the renders of the bogie coaches.

Hopefully this means they'll finally be improved, but that probably won't be known until series 23 (since the next special and series have been finished. Or, at least, they're close to completion)

If you want to see where the animation (and editing) is at its best though, I suggest watching Philip's Number again. The fact that they don't dumb down the concept of a dream/fantasy sequence for its audience is excellent, and something that most movie studios do, even for films aimed at older audiences.

And then there's the movements. These were slowly implemented as the series went on and... I personally didn't mind them. They are being done in a way that gives the characters more expressiveness and more character. So long as they stick to this, we shouldn't have anything to worry about.

Although I've got a bad feeling that Mattel might push Jam Filled to push the boundaries with this. They've already got trucks leaning at 45 degrees in the series 22 footage we've already seen, so it's definitely something that fans should be wary of.

It is a shame that there's a lack of real grass or ballast though. Instead, they're still flat textures. Hopefully that's worked on in the future now that Jam Filled have no financial issues or anything.

Voice Acting
Overall, the voice acting was fantastic as usual. There were a couple of moments that felt a bit forced (the Fat Controller celebrating the fact that spring was on the way in The Big Freeze being the most notable example), but they were few and far between.

There are a couple of notable cast choices though. The first is Colin McFarlane. He was brilliant as Beresford, but just as fantastic as Bulgy. The gruffness really fit his character. It was, simply, the perfect choice.

And then there's Lucy Montgomery. She had already done really well with Lexi, but she nailed Carly and Hannah too. The latter's loud and boisterous voice contrasted with Toby's more quiet, reserved voice brilliant. Meanwhile, Carly was just a charming Liverpudlian delight. It's a shame she wasn't given more dialogue to work with, but with Mark Moraghan leaving the show, it's nice that we'll still have a slice of Liverpool in the show going forward.

Speaking of which, it's an absolute travesty that Mark will no longer be involved with the main show. He was the best narrator we had and nailed every line he was given from the get go. It also helped that the writers knew how to use him effectively. Although the show hasn't really needed a narrator since the change to CG, it still feels like something will be missing next series when the characters talk to the audience. But I'd just like to say thank you to Mark for doing such a wonderful job the past four years. And I hope you'll still be involved with the franchise in the future.

There were only two voices I wasn't keen on. The first was Rosie. I'm sure Nicola Stapleton is a good actress - she wasn't that bad in Journey Beyond Sodor. But in The Fastest Red Engine on Sodor, it felt like her performance was phoned in. The delivery was rather flat, which was emphasised in the scene where she noticed James couldn't stop. Her "scream" of "JAMES!" had less of a feeling of urgency and more of "Oh, he's just gone past. I'd better call out to him".

The second was Terence. You'd think a tractor was have a voice akin to a farmer's. But instead... he sounded like Rex without his accent. It doesn't seem to fit, and it's a real disappointment.
Music
The music was so disappointing this series. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's the worst we've had since series 8-12. While there were a couple of good pieces scattered around, the rest is unmemorable and generic. To be fair, the show hasn't been famous for its music, but there have been a lot of excellent, almost iconic tunes in the past. Heck, Chris Renshaw's work in series 20 was was great.

This series though, it feels like he's going through the motions just to get something out there. Whether that's down to pressure from Mattel or a decision he made himself I can't say. But it's not good at all. It's not even bad. It's just... there.

Final Thoughts
This was a really good series on the whole. It was, however, a step down from the last one solely because I had more issues with it. Even with the episodes I gave perfect scores, I had more complaints than I did the ones from last series.

The one thing I did love though was the use of female characters. It's high time they were given more of a spotlight. They were all integrated into their stories brilliantly and they were really fun to watch overall. The only one that left no real impact was Rosie, which is a shame. But considering how many female characters did leave an impact, having only one fall flat is rather impressive.

However, I did feel a lot of frustration while watching this series. And it's resurfaced a bit while going through this overview. Whether it was stupid complaints from fans, a general sense of fan pandering during some of the episodes or others feeling unoriginal. This series sucked so much life out of me with every frustrating moment that it nearly turned me away completely. That's not entirely on the show since some of my frustration went to fans who need to find something better to do than screech at a show that doesn't suck them off 24/7 and squee every time it does (as much as I love 2015's specials and series 20, they really helped turn older fans into entitled brats).

But couple that with the story problems (and merging two problems by adding fan service to so-so stories) and the frustration turned into exhaustion. And it was that exhaustion that made me not want to bother writing reviews for certain episodes. If this is the series that ends up setting the tone for the future, I can't see myself being a fan of the show in a year or two.

To sum up, this series has been frustratingly good. There's been more to pick apart and criticise throughout, but I can't deny that the overall story quality has been really good. Whether that can be kept up when the show goes globetrotting, I don't know. But as I've already pointed out, there's a lot going against it..!

Series Rating: 8/10