Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Series 18: Duck in the Water

Episode seven has been and gone, so here are my thoughts on Duck in the Water!

Another day, another episode in which James gets tangled up with the Little Western crew. But will he have as much chemistry with Duck as he did Toad?

The short answer is a resounding yes. But that doesn't tell the whole story. The episode's plot is a simple one, but unlike The Frozen Turntable, its simplicity actually makes for a really entertaining watch. And it feels a lot more like a "slice of life" story for the engines, which I'm all for. There are a few flaws though, and I'll get those out of the way first.

The first ones are with some of the model renders. For example, the brake van here seems like it's dissolving into Duck's train.

And here, it looks like Duck's steps are dissolving into the platform. But, to be honest, they feel like nitpicks. Ones that Arc should nip in the bud, but still nitpicks.

But my main one is the amount of water that Duck's trapped in. There doesn't seem to be enough there to make the "firebox has gone out" story seem completely plausible. If the water level was up to his tank, it would have made more sense.

And the final issue is that it does get repetitive slightly as the story progresses. It's not annoying to the point that it feels like the "dark times" (and I'll get to why in a bit), but it is still noticeable, especially when the other episodes this series didn't really feel this way.

But now for the positives. One of the main ones is the dynamic between James and Duck. It's brilliant to see Duck play the foil to James' boastful persona. And while James is boasting about his paintwork, it feels more unique than we've seen in recent years.

I also liked that Rocky got quite a large role; his biggest since his introduction, if I'm not mistaken. Again, his care for safety is a fantastic foil for James' impatience to get back to his passenger duties.

And yes, I really liked the the signal being knocked over. It felt like it was inspired by Crossed Lines from the Railway Series. Also, this is why I didn't mind the repetition: because the signal was knocked over, it would be understandable to see how much disruption that would cause, and if that meant that they needed to be slightly repetitive to get that point across, then so be it.

The best part though was James realising himself that he'd made a mistake and owned up to it. It made the scene feel more natural than having Rocky tell him what he did, meaning that he learnt the lesson "don't be impatient" on his own. Having the Fat Controller punish him appropriately was great, but seeing him be proud that James owned up was really touching. It shows his true personality: firm, but fair, and it really shows how much he really does care for his engines, which journalists would know if they actually did their research! But I digress.

They really nailed the humour in this episode as well, whether it be visual or verbal. It makes episodes like this, which could usually be considered "boring", ,much more enjoyable.

But the major thing I noticed was there was no sign of Thomas anywhere! It's the first time since Rosie's Funfair Special where we actually have his (standard gauge) friends take the spotlight, which is really refreshing. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come, rather than just a one-off thing.

Another thing I loved was the animation. Yeah, there are a few goofs here and there, but everything else looks amazing. They managed to create the right ambience with the weather, and it was really nice that most of the episode took place on an overcast day, rather than a sunny one. And that rain effect on James is stunning. The animating teams may be different between the episodes and films, but you can tell that both teams have a huge amount of talent.

The voice acting, as usual, was fantastic. Rocky sounded a bit more gruff than normal, I think, but it suited him really well, possibly better than before. But for the second straight episode, the star of the show was definitely Keith Wickham. It sounds like he has loads of fun playing James, and I get a lot of pleasure from seeing the character on screen because of it.

Fan Reaction

The Mad Controller's Corner

Final Thoughts

While I prefer Andrew Brenner's first two episodes, this one is still really good. Yes, there are problems, but there some really good character moments, great humour and fantastic animation. The slice of life stories, while boring to some fans, give a more accurate depiction of how the railway operates, in my opinion, and for that, I commend this episode.

Episode Ratings

Series Rating (so far)

1 comment:

  1. This episode comes across to me as a direct response to Wonky Whistle. In that episode you had a main character (Thomas) repeatedly disregarding safety due to his impatience, yet no-one called him out on it and he 'won' in the end. Whereas in this episode you had a main character (James) being similarly impatient with safety, however this time he is repeatedly called out on it stating how dangerous it is and why it's dangerous, ending with him causing an accident and getting reprimanded.

    I'm not sure if that was the intention, but either way it works really well in my opinion.