Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Series 18: Long Lost Friend

It's Christmas time! And with that, there are festive episodes airing all around on British television. Thomas and Friends is no exception, and this week, Channel 5 will be airing the newest offerings! Today came the first: Long Lost Friend!

Take of the Brave is my favourite special that the show has produced so far. Yeah, the pacing was a bit wonky in places and some could argue that there were a few plot holes here and there, but it did a brilliant job reviving Percy's character and the heart was there in copious amounts.

But since then, my opinion has grown strongly on it, as the aftermath of it has really intrigued me. Toad's Bright Idea was a great way to fill gaps with Gator's story that the special left, Missing Gator was a great way to show how Percy was coping without his friend. And this episode reunites them in a really sweet, genuine way.

Yeah, I'm not in the mood to surprise anyone; I really like this one, for the exact same reason that I love Tale of the Brave: it has tons of heart and charm.

Other than that though, I love how this whole arc has built up some genuine continuity, rather than just referencing previous episodes and specials. It's another hark back to the The Railway Series, which is all good in my book. We saw how Percy dealt with losing Gator, and here we learn that he's pretty much accepted that his friend won't be returning for the foreseeable future, so he just stops looking out to sea for him.

I also liked the repetitive nature of the episode. Well, not so much "liked", but it made sense that they'd use the formula here since... well, the rock salt could have been used at any of the places Gator went to.

And yes, the ending was really sweet. Although I'm rather hoping that the team stick to their word and only bring Gator back for Christmas, otherwise he'll just be another Hiro (an engine that outstayed their welcome when they should have gone home).

And we FINALLY got some human interaction! The driver talking to Gator and to the workman at the Steamworks! I really hope this isn't a one off; this is what the series really needs if the new team are serious in being respectful to the source material, if you ask me (well that and everything else they've done so far this series).

One problem I do have though is with the rock salt. While it was a nice little device to get Gator to travel all over the place, couldn't the dock manager just telephone the Fat Controller to get some clarification on the situation? It was seen later in the episode that Sir Topham had a delivery notice as well. Although, I'd rather have him take something around Sodor trying to find answers as to where it should go rather than just have him travelling light engine. It also makes narrative sense, somewhat, since it would be less likely they'd bump into each other this way.

Another thing I found odd is Gator knowing Owen, and also saying "it's been a while" since they've seen each other. I know it doesn't really matter in the long run, but it would have been nice if Gator had been seen at the Blue Mountain Quarry beforehand rather than making it feel slightly convoluted.

Speaking of the BMQ, that leads to another problem. Yep, every narrow gauge engine is seen pulling standard gauge trucks. Seriously, how hard is it for the animators to render narrow gauge wagons?! And before anyone says anything about the dual gauge track there, none of the engines were travelling on it - as far as I could see. These goofs are really hindering Arc, and it's something they really need to get under control soon.

That's because the rest of their animation looked fantastic. The constant ambience changes throughout were joyful to watch and... well, do I have to mention how beautiful Sodor looks in the snow? Oh, and the new Steamworks layout looks fantastic, too. I'm glad Victor's little siding was ripped out so the narrow gauge track could stretch to the turntable. And the little boom gates are a nice touch, too.

As for the voice acting, it was the usual fare. The main cast were fantastic, and Gator's driver sounded fine, but the workman sounded... a bit lazy. It's just Keith Wickham's voice. He still voices him well, but when voice actors voice so many characters, theys become more recognisable more easily.

The music was the usual fare. It captured the emotions that were felt throughout really well, and it's great to listen to.

Fan Reaction

The Mad Controller's Corner

Final Thoughts
Despite what I've said about the episode, I still think it's the weakest of Gator's arc, although that's more of a testament to the other stories told within it, rather than this one being "bad". I'd say it's more contrived than the others, which is why I think it's the weakest, but there's still a lot of heart and emotion here that said contrivance is hidden pretty well as the story progresses.

My only real worry from here on out is that they sell out with Gator like the previous team did with Hiro. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see him again, but only if he's really necessary.

Episode Ratings

Series Rating (so far)

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