Wednesday, 7 January 2015

31 Years of Thomas on TV

Since it's my first blog post of 2015, Happy New Year! Let's start this one off in the same fashion as I ended last year: with a (potentially) controversial post as to why I think Andrew Brenner, Ian McCue and the rest of the team are the best production team Thomas and Friends has had.

I know that some will say it's a bit unfair to compare one production team to another, as both have their own unique style. But I'm going to say it now: Andrew Brenner and Ian McCue's style is a lot more suited to Thomas and Friends than Britt Allcroft and David Mitton's was.

Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for many of the things that Britt and David did; if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't know what Thomas the Tank Engine was or that a series of books were written over the course of 45 years (I was born in 1990) by an Anglican vicar and, later, his son.

But, for me, series 3 was the point where, looking back, it felt like they didn't respect the source material as much as many fans think. Only half of the episodes featured were Awdry adaptations (which, by the way, weren't as strong as Series 1 and 2's for whatever reason) and there were also stories written by Andrew Brenner, for the magazines, that Britt and David adapted that he didn't get credit for.

Series 4 got back into the swing of things - for the narrow gauge episodes at least - but that was only after the Reverend ranted about "big headed" the producers became. On a slight tangent, I'd have done the same as him. This was his creation they were handling which, after a while, you see more as a child. And to see what Thomas went through during series 3 compared to the books? Yeah, I'd be mad, too! It's actually the main reason why I decided on a series that would faithfully bring his creation to the masses properly using Trainz (when that will start, I don't know. I'm hoping on the same day as The Three Railway Engines was originally released).

Then... Series 5 and Shining Time Station: The Movie came along, which showed that they had a blatant disregard for the Reverend Awdry's creation because not only did the TV producers own the rights completely, but father Awdry had passed away, meaning they didn't need to fear his wrath, no matter what they did. And what did was completely sell out. While series 5 didn't bother following the rules the show and books established, but Shining Time Station: The Movie had the Island of Sodor and its locomotives shoehorned into the Shining Time Station universe solely to try and make the thing marketable to those outside of America. Thankfully, she left after that (well, during the production of series 7 fully), so maybe the film's failure was a blessing in disguise (and don't give me the "you haven't seen the original script" trite because, frankly, I've heard enough about it to deduce that it would have been worse. There would have been more scenes involving Shining Time and Muffle Mountain, meaning that Sodor would have felt even more shoehorned and Lady would have felt more like a plot device. Yes, out of the two scenarios, the better one was the one that was actually put to DVD. Although choosing between them is like choosing your method of death).

Series 6 and 7 seemed more like "filler" series while HiT formatted the show in the background. That's not to say the series were "bad", they were just... there. They were enjoyable episodes, but since nothing major happened in them, everyone seems to forget them.

Series 8 however was where the big changes happened, from the changes to the programming format to the change of production team. In hindsight, keeping Paul Larson and Abi Grant on as script editors (until Sharon Miller took over in series 9) was a good idea as, while the episodes weren't the best, they were still pretty good compared to... what was to come. On the whole, though, Sam Barlow's era was... really bad. There were some good episodes, including some Railway Series references (for better or worse). But the main problem was that everything was dumbed down far too much  And yeah, while they do disregard the source material for the most part, it doesn't really anger me as much as Britt's disregard as they solely adopted what series 6 and 7 had established, rather than a creator going completely against the source's vision. What I'm saying here is that Britt Allcroft caused the downfall of Thomas and Friends because, I believe, she thought she knew better than the the actual creators about their creation which... she didn't Series 5 pandered to young boys and Shining Time Station: The Movie pandered to Americans, to the point that the title is Thomas and the Magic Railroad.

Anyway, we now come to Andrew Brenner and Ian McCue's era which, as I've said, is the best one so far. Because it proves that you don't need to adapt the source material to respect its vision. Also, these bits that do mention Sodor's lore, or its map aren't contractual obligations. The do not need to do these things like Britt Allcroft and David Mitton, they're including them of their own volition! They hired a railway consultant of their own volition (and they're actually using his expertise rather than sticking his name in the credits to look good to the surviving Awdrys like a certain other team..!) and they're creating a 44 minute direct to DVD special called The Adventure Begins which, as the title seems to suggest, could give us an insight into Thomas' journey to Sodor before the Railway Series.

As for the episodes, they are of a much higher quality. They treat kids with a lot more respect by using dialogue that's akin to a Railway Series story, the plots are better thought out while suiting the characters a lot more (except one, and even that was still pretty good for the most part!) and there's a lot more heart and subtle teachings, which is what the Railway Series got right brilliantly as well.

What I love most though is that there's a great balance between old and new, and the new is implemented so naturally. New characters are more fleshed out, new locations are utilised really well and, heck, even the three strikes formula is bearable as it doesn't overpower things.

Final Thoughts
Andrew Brenner and Ian McCue get it more than any previous production team. They go above and beyond to create something special; to create something they, the fans and the Awdrys would be proud of and that, for me, is why they're my favourite team. Sure, not everyone will agree, and if you don't, fair enough. There's a lot of material from the franchise for anyone to enjoy.


  1. As to the original script, I possess a PDF copy.
    It's one of the first drafts, but lord the dialogue is cliched. And the so-called "scary" biker villain....doesn't do anything and just rambles like a whiny little kid. I find the grumpy passenger Duncun dealt with to be a superior antagonist.

    As for the rest, I agree with you, though I'm more of the opinion that Seasons 6 and 7 are more underrated than average.

    1. I agree. They were really good series, but in the grand scheme of things they did feel like they were just there. Apart from characters, they added very little to the show (unless you were an American viewer, of course)