Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Series 18: Last Train for Christmas

Merry Christmas Eve! To celebrate, we're taking the Last Train for Christmas!

Wow. I haven't been so impressed with an episode since Duck and the Slip Coaches. While it's not as steeped in railway history as that is, this does do many things right.

For me, the main thing it gets is the North Western Railway's purpose. No matter what adventures, scrapes or hardships the engines, or the railway, were in, there was always one constant: that the engines ensured that the railway continued running to serve the public. And this is the first non-Awdry episode that I've felt that vibe with since series 6's It's Only Snow.

I liked the conflict at Knapford, especially Diesel's role. Yes, you read that right. I felt that he was brilliant here. Unlike Diesel's Special Delivery, where he was trying to be a goody two shoes, he's acting like a voice of reason here.which is some great character growth that I admire Andrew Brenner for attempting. It's like he was trying to continue Christopher Awdry's continuity from Thomas and the Evil Diesel which, again, I admire. The situation also shows how gutsy and determined the steam engines are, which is always a positive in my book.

Using the slip coaches as the solution to Connor's problem was another great move. Since the weather seemed unpredictable, using their uncoupling capabilities with Connor's speed was very clever. Although the front coach uncoupling from the brake coach is a bit unrealistic (nitpick).

There were also some really good "show, don't tell" moments which gave the viewers more of a chance to hear Robert Hartshorne's music. The music itself was brilliant. Again, it told the story really well in its own right.

But there's one thing that bothered me: it seemed a bit... cruel of the people on the train to not let a child with crutches go on before them. I know that everyone was desperate to get home, but what about Christmas spirit and generosity? That said, he did get home in the end, and Connor did deliver on his promise to do just that, so it's not too bad, and it feels a lot better than the Emily incident.

Another little nitpick I'd have is that Connor seemingly mastered the first two slip coaches yet goofed on the third. If it was due to overconfidence, I'd understand, but it's never really brought to our attention. Either that, or having him goof with the first then progressively improving with the subsequent coaches would have made a bit more sense. Then again, they might have wanted to build some sort of tension to make the audience think Connor's plan would fail at the final hurdle which I can buy... sort of.

Also, Duck and Oliver's appearance felt... pointless. Yes, Oliver mentioning that he cleared the branch and that he hated the cold (reminiscent to Snow Engine) were really good moments, but their appearance didn't really add to much as far as the story was concerned. Maybe if Duck had been the one to find the slip coaches, his role could have been improved, but as it stands, it just felt a bit like fan service.

I also think this episode was a huge missed opportunity to bring Donald and Douglas back. Considering how used to the snowy conditions they are, they could have easily been the ones to help Connor get through rather than Hiro. But with a schedule to keep, I can also understand why that wasn't possible. It's also why I can understand Crovan's Gate being redressed to be the Mainland station. It felt a bit lazy, but it also seemed like a hark back to the classic series, so I'll let it slide.

The rest of he animation is fantastic. There's only one thing that can beat Sodor covered in snow, and that's Sodor covered in snow at night. Everything just looks so serene, even in the mad dash to get the line cleared in time for Connor. That said, Henry seems to tower over everyone at some points during the Knapford meeting.

Fan Reaction

The Mad Controller's Corner

Final Thoughts
This episode isn't perfect, but the story it tells is really close to it. Any things I picked out were nothing more than nitpicking and none of them hindered my liking of the production as a whole. Like I said, Andrew Brenner truly understands what the North Western Railway's purpose is, and for that, I truly respect him as a writer for the show, especially when he produces such heartfelt stories as this.

Episode Ratings

Series Rating (so far)

1 comment:

  1. Good review! I love this episode due to the fact that it has the REAL "Christmas vibe" to it. The picture with Percy ploughing snow (Pic 2) reminds me of the shot of James trying to pull the goods train out of the siding (to no avail) from Thomas & Percy's Christmas Adventure!

    But what I do like about it was when the Fat Controller, after he announced to the engines that he was cancelling all trains, looked over to the father & child and there was that sympathetic expression and twinkle in his eye that made realise how he'd feel if he was in their shoes. And THAT'S where Andrew Brenner gets a gold star in my book, for incorporating the Fat Controller's "father-figure" that charms everyone.

    I find it surprising that you mentioned about the child with crutches not being allowed on the train first, not because I agree that it was right to not give him priority but because a few weeks ago it was in the News how there was an incident of whether disabled people get priority over people with pushchairs or buggies when it comes to travelling on the Bus. It sparked a heated debate so I find it curious how Sodor haven't taken the moral stand of allowing the disabled on their FIRST...!

    A problem I found was that the points changed far too quickly for my liking e.g. James reversing Paxton into the siding just as Connor whooshed by. I know that they can't help it and that the series can't be 100% accurate but it irked me when I first watched it. so I'll let it pass.

    And the Hiro issue? I know he wasn't ideal and Donald & Douglas could do the job however at least we know that the twins will have snowploughs to have fitted when they return (since Hiro is black and the twins are black as well)

    Overall, I could watch this episode again and this time, the Christmas theme really HAS returned to the show and not some alterations in narration and vocals...