Friday, 29 August 2014

Series 18: Signals Crossed

The first week of series 18 episodes ends with Signals Crossed!

So we started the week with an Edward episode that gave him a brilliant portrayal that proved that, just because you're old, it doesn't mean you should be a walkover, which practically negated his character derailment from series 6-16. To end the week, we have an episode starring Toby, but will his persona be restored as well?

Well... no. Not really. He's still a coward, but it actually makes a bit more sense here, since Toby hasn't been seen since Knapford Junction was implemented. But that is actually my main problem here: since it's stated that "everyone knows that Toby dislikes Knapford Junction" they're implying that it has been a permanent fixture of the railway, when in actual fact it was only just finished for Tale of the Brave. If they said that this was Toby's first time going there, after its restoration, it would've made a bit more sense, and it would've made the episode better.

But my problem with Toby is three fold: they treat him like a coward (which can be excused) and an idiot (which can't). The gantry explanation I can understand, but why does anyone need to tell him what colour signal light means what action? Toby's been on the island for years, and has loads of experience with signals (there are plenty between the quarry and Knapford), so why are they saying otherwise?

And then there's the fact that the Fat Controller (and James) are insinuating that Toby is a liar near the end. Toby is an old engine, and should be trustworthy, but he isn't here! James just can't be bothered to believe him because he'll run late (which I can get), but why would the Fat Controller not believe him? That said, it does give one of his bodyguards something to do.

I also have a real nitpick when it comes to the praise that Toby gets. Don't get me wrong, I love that it's pointed out how dangerous going past red signals is, but did the Fat Controller have to call him a "really useful steam tram"? It's like calling Paxton or Salty a "really useful diesel engine". It just ostracises him from the rest of the group, in my opinion. There's nothing wrong with calling him a "really useful engine".

One final thing I have to bring up is Toby's voice. Yes, I know that Ben Small voices Thomas and Toby, but it never felt obvious... until this episode. Toby's voice feels a lot more "soft spoken" and has less of an "old man" hint to it. It just feels really distracting at points.

It's a real shame, too, as everything else in this episode I really liked. I like the fact that they mention that Toby's main job is to take the workmen to and from the quarry every day, and I absolutely loved Henrietta's performance!

I must admit that I was one of the sceptical fans who didn't think giving her a face would work out. But it does. Brilliantly! There's a lot more life to her now, and she's actually being portrayed extremely well. She's like a calming influence to Toby, which I actually really like. Oh yeah, and her voice actress is amazing as well.

I also really like the conflict here. It feels like Percy and the Signal but on a much grander scale. What makes it better is that Knapford actually feels as busy as it was described, unlike in Kevin's Cranky Friend where it looked more like a normal day at Brendam.

And the end shot of engines being flagged through while the signal was being repaired was brilliant, and another fine example of railway realism in full force.

Now we get to the animation, which is fantastic as usual. There are a few errors (engines coming and going far too quickly), but everything else was superb. I especially love the shot I've featured. It encapsulates Toby's fear far more than words could. And the facial expressions (especially Henrietta's) were fantastic.

The voice acting was... hit and miss. It was great for the most part, but as I say, Toby's needs work. I really don't know why they felt the need to change it when it was perfect as it was.

Fan Reaction

And, since he's really funny, more insight from the Mad Controller:

Final Thoughts

This episode could have been great. The plot was great, the conflict was great and having a piece of railway equipment as a plot point was a breath of fresh air. The problems were the choices of main character and the dialogue. Percy and the Signal worked back in series 2 because he was naive and he'd never seen a signal arm raise to signal "line clear" before - and it was explicitly stated that this was the case. Using Toby could have worked if they went down that route, but as it is, it just feels like more character derailment for him. 

Episode Ratings
Old Reliable Edward: 9/10
Not So Slow Coaches: 7/10
Flatbeds of Fear: 6/10
Disappearing Diesels: 9/10
Signals Crossed: 5/10

Series Rating (so far)


  1. I agree 100%. Definitely could have used some changes here and there.
    Perhaps Toby could have had a new driver who was nervous about the signals. That could have made more sense AND given some driver interaction...

    1. And then Toby, in turn, would have been nervous for his own (and Henrietta's) safety, which would make even more sense. Great idea!

    2. Thanks :)
      Maybe the fans should be writing the show. A lot of them seem to understand it more than some of the current writers (Brenner excluded, of course!).