Thursday, 25 June 2015

First Class Stories: More Deserving Candidates

So in my last blog post, I said that the choices for 1st Class Stories were disappointing not because of the episodes' quality (although that doesn't help) but the lack of variety. So I'm sure you're thinking "which episodes would you choose?" Well, that's why this blog post exists!

The only restriction here is there will be 20 episodes, the exact same the actual DVD has.
  1. Thomas and Gordon. While this isn't the best episode of the first series, it just wouldn't feel right having a huge celebratory DVD like this without the episode that kicked off the show.
  2. The Flying Kipper. This is a classic fan favourite that's won many favourite episode polls, and it's understandable; it's the quintessential Thomas and Friends episode: engine pulls a train as usual, something bad happens and the problem is resolved. And I suppose the crash might have something to do with it..!
  3. The Deputation. This one might be a bit weird since Donald and Douglas aren't in the current series yet, but since they're being introduced in Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure, wouldn't it make sense to show where their journey began?
  4. Edward's Exploit. This is a personal preference, in all honesty. It shows Edward in a brilliant light and remained one of his best until Old Reliable Edward gave it some stiff competition.
  5. Heroes. I know that most fans would go with Escape, and I can understand why. But in my opinion, half of the episode was wasted because Britt and David thought that Douglas lacked empathy. However, with Heroes, nothing was wasted. It was action packed and extremely dramatic. It's also one of the few model series episodes that gave Bill and Ben more of a personality than just being cheeky.
  6. Fish (1995). Again, many would choose Gallant Old Engine, but I personally think that a couple of aspects dropped the intensity of it slightly. Fish, however, is one of the only episodes that is actually better than the original. The mood is set brilliantly, we actually see Thomas telling Duck about his incident with fish rather than it feeling like a hand-wave and the accident was shot brilliantly.
  7. A Better View for Gordon. 1st Class Stories was supposedly including "exciting episodes", yet they didn't include any from series 5? Yeah, I'm not the biggest fan of the series, but one thing I would never call it is boring. And in all honesty, this is my favourite episode of that series. Whether it's because of the well written story or the brilliant crash, this is definitely one of those series 5 episodes that I really recommend. 
  8. Edward, the Very Useful Engine. I know this follows a similar plot structure to Edward and Gordon (push a struggling train up the hill) and Edward's Exploit (Edward proving he's still useful), but the bits they changed made the story feel relatively fresh and it captured every character really well. That said, considering Thomas the Jet Engine is the more exciting episode, I can understand why it was chosen.
  9. Gordon and Spencer. Lee Pressman (this episode's writer) has said that this was the one he liked the least. I don't know why as I thought it was brilliant. Giving Gordon someone to compete against was a fantastic idea and it worked just as well (even if the lack of water stoppages was a bit silly).
  10. Edward the Great. Yeah, by this point, this plot thread was getting kind of old, but I think the addition of Spencer and Edward having to do an important, yet strenuous, job was a nice change of pace.
  11. Thomas Tries His Best. This was probably one of the few episodes from series 9-16 that looked good on Thomas. He actually realised his mistakes before he caused severe damage, and for doing his job safely he was rewarded for it. It's not as exciting as episodes like Mighty Mac or Respect for Gordon but the story was really good.
  12. It's Good to be Gordon. Minus the special coal being brought back, the episode was really good. It showed that Gordon had a heart and it was really interesting that the writers would go for a tender swapping plot point, something that Britt thought would confuse kids (although that could've been due to the engines that were in it).
  13. Gordon and the Engineer. In an era where special specials, light engine wild goose chases and annoying dialogue were king, this episode was a breath of fresh air. It was great that they actually made an issue that could affect any railway a major plot point, something that wasn't seen again until recently. Everything about the episode worked.
  14. Best Friends. This episode was so well written and very relatable for kids. And it actually treats Thomas and Percy like they are best friends rather than gay partners.
  15. Tickled Pink. The closest we got to a Railway Series adaptation in the Nitrogen era, this episode showed what you can do with CGI in the right ways. It's just a shame that the repetitive dialogue and actions really hold it back.
  16. Being Percy. To add to the repetitive dialogue and actions, we get rhyming and alliteration. But despite that, this episode was really sweet. And it's actually relateable for kids too. They always feel like they'd prefer to be someone else, but this episode does a good job teaching kids that you're better being yourself.
  17. Stop That Bus!. Some will argue James to the Rescue is the more exciting one, but I have a real vendetta against it, so I chose this one. It doesn't make much sense, but this actually used Misty Island really well, showing how dangerous the Shake Shake Bridge could be.
  18. Percy and the Calliope. This is probably one of the few episodes from this era that has some really good character interactions. Yeah, it's not perfect, but it's still a good watch, and it does become exciting as it goes on.
  19. Thomas' Shortcut. Gone Fishing is my favourite episode, but this is the most exciting with all the racing around, as well as the search for the (non-existent) shortcut.
  20. Duck and the Slip Coaches. What more can I say about this episode that I, or anyone else, has said? It's simply fantastic (...minus that joke, but I digress)
While I admit this isn't much of a balanced list either (only 6 are CG or have CG elements), it's a lot more encompassing of every series of the show, something the official release is not. If you wish to leave your choices, feel free below, on DeviantART (ThomasandStanley) and Twitter (@ChrisTomson2013)

First Class Stories Episode Choices

I wasn't going to talk about this DVD until it was released as I was going to get it then. But recent developments have changed that drastically, so instead I'll be talking about the episodes chosen for First Class Stories now.

The opinions in this blog post are SOLELY MY OWN. They do not reflect the opinions of the entire Thomas and Friends fanbase.

Before I begin, the burning question would probably be "what episodes will be on the DVD?". Well..!
  1. Thomas and Gordon
  2. The Flying Kipper
  3. Escape!
  4. Gallant Old Engine
  5. Thomas the Jet Engine
  6. Snow Tracks
  7. Henry's Good Deeds
  8. Charlie and Eddie
  9. Jitters and Japes
  10. Happy Hiro
  11. Stop That Bus!
  12. Flash Bang Wallop!
  13. Bust My Buffers!
  14. Percy and the Calliope
  15. Steamie Stafford
  16. The Switch
  17. Bill or Ben?
  18. Not So Slow Coaches
  19. Toad's Adventure
  20. Duck & the Slip Coaches
I'm not going to focus on my personal opinions of each episodes as my blog posts speak for themselves. But they're as mixed as the fan reaction to the choices. Would I say they were poor? On the whole, no. There are bad episodes there, but there are some really good ones too. But there's one thing this DVD severely lacks: variety.

They always say that it's the slice of life, but it seems that didn't reach those who compiled this DVD. Out of all the choices, 15 are animated; 9 were from the last three years alone! How unbalanced is that? If this DVD was really celebrating "exciting" stories from 1984 to the present day, where are series 2 and 5? If you're going to celebrate every generation of the show, where are series 7-12?

If they wanted to make a CG compilation DVD, fine. Make one. But don't make one for a big anniversary such as this claiming to celevrate episodes from "1984 to the present day" only to put so much emphasis on the present day, leaving the classic episodes to feel shoehorned in just so they can add that meaningless tagline at the top!

In all honesty, that's my biggest problem: there's just no balance. In fact, the way it's been compiled, it feels like they're trying to erase an entire era of the slow while slightly glancing over another. If the kids are going to prefer the CG episodes, fine. But don't completely shield them from what came before; it completely negates choice. In the UK at least, the only way to see classic or new series episodes (series 1-12) are on the complete series collections, which are in very few shops, unless you go online. But the CG series is everywhere: in slops, books, magazines, online, etc. Yes, I love that the show's gone CG, especially with more and more being revealed about future series, but if there's only one choice for kids, they'll have no other option than to love the animated show. Older fans had that choice, and that's really sad.

And it's because of the lack of variety or any real choice of episodes on the DVD that I will not be buying or recommending it. This is a complete disappointment, and my least favourite DVD sold this year. I had high hopes for this one; it could've been the perfect way to introduce children to the original era of the show. But instead, they backed down and just made it a CG release with old episodes shoehorned in... 

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Bachmann 2015 Range

OK, so with those two top 10 lists out of the way, I think it's high time I got my thoughts on Bachmann's 2015 range out of the way. Yeah, I know it's rather late, but... eh!

The opinions in this blog post are SOLELY MY OWN. They do not reflect the opinions of the entire Thomas and Friends fanbase.

Bachmann have released quite a few surprises this year, in HO and large scale. They've also released a new scale, which I'll get to in a bit.

HO Scale


OK, who else did we expect? Considering he returned in series 18, and he finishes off the original North Western Railway roster, it only makes sense.

As for how he'll look, since his CG promo is seen on his item page, it'll more than likely be based on that. Hopefully though, the scale is similar to his model more than his render, as that's the only thing that truly irks me about Oliver as he is now.

Overall, I'm looking forward to seeing what his model will be like. Will I get it? I don't know; I have the Hornby one, which is brilliant. I'll probably make a final decision once it's released.

Celebration Thomas
Want to see the epitome of laziness?

There you go.

It says a lot when the current Trackmaster range produces a better 70th anniversary Thomas (the green one to coincide with The Adventure Begins) than Bachmann.

Seriously, the only change they've made to this model has just made it worse; they've replaced the white on the running board with the "metallic" blue from the main body. It seriously feels like a Hornby model shrunk down and without the dip at the cab/bunker end!

No Bachmann model has angered me as much as this one. And considering they want $6 more for a model that has a slightly different paint job and a bit of tacked on bunting? Avoid it, seriously.

Rolling Stock

Green Mail Car
Why call it a green mail car? What's wrong with calling it a CCT van? Or just a... well, van? This model is aimed at 8 year olds upwards, it's not like they won't understand that it's not a mail van!

That said though, it does look really nice that we're getting some generic rolling stock like this for, possibly, the main line engines. I actually wouldn't mind if they considered other colours (brown) in the future.

Red Coaches

I've been longing for generic coaches like these for quite a while! And the fantastic detailing is all there. But are they really suggesting an actual guard compartment, black running board and the change from tan to red makes them $10 more than Annie and Clarabel?

It's weird. But they're still brilliant though.

You can't have Oliver without Toad (on TV at least). My thoughts on him are pretty much the same as Oliver: since his CG promo is on his item listing, he'll probably look like it.

Unlike Oliver though, there's no question that I'd get Toad, as I think he'll be a lot better than Hornby's (here's hoping).


Round Water Tower
There's not too much I can say here; it's a very impressive building.

Square Water Tower
Same opinion I have with the round one. Since I have little room for an actual, permanent layout, I don't really look out for the buildings as such, but they still look nice and I'd probably recommend to hose who can make greats sets.

Resin Buildings

Engine Shed
Another really nice build. I can imaging this being used for an engine like Toby (the Bachmann one, obviously; Hornby's is huge).

Trackside Station
Just a generic little building to coincide with a new range, which I'll get to in a bit. It's disappointing they'd pick the easiest building as a starting point, but with what else they're making this year, I can let it slide.

Storage Shed
Another new building for the new range. Not bad, just... there, really. I'd love to see more intricate builds for the new range in the future.

Corrugated Hut
I'm rather glad that these are being made. They feel like a Sodor staple in yards or other busy places, so it's nice they're making them.

Track Tape
...why? No seriously, why are the makers of electric train sets producing something you'd see from some random, unknown company? Unless it's their attempt at making Hornby's track mats more manageable. But even then it won't work as you can't make proper curves with it!

HOe Scale (Narrow Gauge)
Yep, Bachmann are making narrow gauge Thomas models now! It was rather surprising, but it's great that they're branching out again in the same way they did with Large Scale.

And what better engine to start with than Skarloey? Like Oliver and Toad, there aren't any product images yet, but knowing Bachmann he'll look similar to his CG design and he'll look brilliant. But at $149, it wouldn't surprise me if some people would be put off.

Blue and Red Vans
On first glance, I didn't really think much of these. But looking at them properly, they're actually really good depictions of Skarloey Railway vans. Although it does beg the question: why aren't NG vans used in the show any more?

I also really like the "SR" lettering on the blue one. It's a small touch that makes it feel real, in the same way the large scale brake van has "NW" (North Western) on its sides.

Open Wagon
This feels so much more like a China Clay wagon than something you'd see on the Skarloey Railway. That said, it's well built and nicely detailed. While I don't think I'll get any of the narrow gauge stock (too pricey), it's nice that they're there.

Large Scale

This was another nice surprise. Usually, characters made for large scale started out as HO models, but Winston bucks that trend (on a slight tangent, I really wouldn't mind a HO version).

Unfortunately, there's no product image, but I imagine what you'd see in the CG promotional is what you'd get in model form.

Ice Cream Van
Not much I can say here; just imagine the HO version scaled to Large Scale and you've got the idea.

Final Thoughts
Bachmann always seem to find ways to outdo themselves every year, and this year is no exception. While it's obvious the HO ranges their main focus, it's still nice to see the large scale range get some love and the fact they're tackling narrow gauge is fantastic. Please bring them to the UK, by the way! You managed to bring the large scale range here!

Other than the lazy celebration Thomas and the buildings which I've no real interest in at the moment, Bachmann have produced yet another solid line-up, and here's hoping that some of the new goodies manage to come out by the end of the year!

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Top 10 Characters with the Most Potential

Well... my last list caused more discussion and controversy than I thought it would! So let's flip the switch, join the bandwagon and discover the top 10 characters that, I think, have the most potential!

The rules are pretty much the same as my other list. The only slight difference is that these will also be eligible:
  • Any characters that were never seen but have been confirmed, by primary sources, to have some sort of role.
  • Characters that have been seen in the current series, but haven't really been used by the team (by that, I mean those that have had less than five lines from King of the Railway to now).
Honourable Mentions
- The Mountain Engines
Well, the small railway is being featured in Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure and series 20 (series 19 is focusing on the current crop of characters, so there probably won't be any returnees), so why not give the main engines some screen time?

The reason they're only an honourable mention though is simple: because of the strict safety measures, it'd be difficult to come up with story ideas.

- Nigel
Wait, who?

Unless you properly research, you'll know there was a dropped character for The Pack. So... why not give him a chance? His design is lovely and since he has no personality, from what we can tell, it'll be very interesting to see him

- The Blisters
No, I don't mean the things you get on your feet. I mean two small diesels that were mentioned in The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways. I would never have considered these if the small railway wasn't confirmed to be introduced to the series. That and Glynn is based on the coffee pots from the same book.

I don't think I'd want to see them (or Jock and Frank) just yet though, since they need to establish the small railway properly beforehand. But when they do, it would be nice to consider (all four of) them.

- BoCo
Fans complaining that he's just a carbon copy of Edward? Fine. Bring him back and add a couple of things to his personality to change it.

I personally would like him to return as, since they're bringing the concept of the Wellsworth-Brendam branch line back, he would complete the dynamic, bit I agree that more could probably be given to his personality.

- Trevor
If you want the prime example of a wasted character, Trevor would probably be up there. Why? Because he's been rendered since series 13! The American audiences are still treated to the Island of Sodor intro, which Trevor is a part of. The only episode he's seen in is Emily and Dash, and even then you have to look pretty hard to see him! Unless they're waiting until Arc render the vicarage orchard, or if the render for Trevor wasn't transferred with the others, why have they not given him some sort of role?!

- Alice, Mirabel, Dulcie and Isabel
Ah yes, Duck and Oliver's original coaches. I have to admit, I gave up hope on any Railway Series additions a few years ago, and I also gave up on new coaches being introduced during the Nitrogen era. But all that changed with the current team introducing the slip coaches in series 18 (I don't count Connor and Caitlin's coaches as such as they're just re-designed express coaches) and the small rathway in SLOTLT.

I'd love to see the autocoaches again, but in all honesty, I think I'd rather see Dulcie and Isabel, given the choice. That's not to say Alice and Mirabel aren't great, but with Duck having the slip coaches on TV, it wouldn't make much sense him having five coaches. Besides, Oliver's an autotrain, which is something the show has never explored, and it's an avenue that could open up really interesting stories for them all.

- The Pel Godred Branch Line
This little line was mentioned in Sodor: Reading Between the Lines, which was basically Christopher's follow up book to The Island of Sodor book from his father. And this is here for pretty much the same reason as Jeremy: it would help modernise Sodor a bit.

Not to mention, the fact that it's an electric line could introduce its own series of problems and adventures. And since it wasn't in the main series of books, the team could have a field day introducing a variety of characters for it. Not only that, but its links with the Culdee Fell railway would help the mountain engines as well. Sure, they wouldn't get starring roles, but they'd still be kept around.

10. Thumper
Wait, what?

I imagine many will be surprised that a character that I don't like is on a list of the ones that have the most potential. Yes, his design is weird. Yes, his appearance in series 5 is ridiculous (he's more of a plot device than a character). But... I can still see a place for him.

In recent years, it seems that quarries are being portrayed a bit more realistically, especially with the Blue Mountain Quarry's blasting, so seeing him there or at Ffarquhar's could actually be really interesting. And since he's a blank slate, they can give him any personality they want.

9. Stanley
My second favourite character is on this list? Who'd have thought it?

Yeah, I know he had a speaking role in series 18, hence he's only down here. But I do think he has a lot of potential that's not been explored. Then again, from what we've heard about Ryan, he could be Stanley done better. I'm serious; he could become my new second favourite character. It still wouldn't take away the fact that Stanley is still rather underused, but I digress.

8. Jeremy
I feel like I'm the only one who actually liked the concept of the airport and Jeremy. The reason I think that is simple: it follows what made The Railway Series great; it helped the show move with the times. The first diesels were introduced in the 50's when diesel power was rising to supremacy, the books took a darker turn in the 60's when the Beeching report was made public, a HST was released in 1987 when they were on the rise on Britain's main rail network. So with all that being considered, why not modernise other aspects of Sodor too?

That being said, maybe they could give him a different rivalry than one with the railway? Maybe with another plane? Heck, maybe even Harold? But I do think he's an interesting character that wasn't given much of a chance.

7. Bear
I really like Bear. It takes a lot of guts to stand up for complete strangers against someone you've known for a while, and that's what I admired about him. But since then, he's sadly done... not that much. It got to a point where he was barely mentioned by Christopher in any of his stories, nor was he illustrated by Clive Spong.

So I think that Bear has quite a bit of potential as a character with his strong work ethic and big heart. Also, I really do think the main line needs some big diesels.

6. Old Slow Coach
I really hate wasted potential, and that's why I have  a lot of scorn for series 5's newbies. At least with HiT's characters from series 9-12, there was some effort to give them their own distinct personalities. Series 5's were only there to sell the toys! And out of all of them, I think Old Slow Coach had the biggest waste of potential.

Making her a GWR Clerestory coach was a fantastic idea. Her Great Western livery was beautiful. But rather than tie it to anything, they turned it into a typical "engine saves something from scrap" story. But it wasn't Duck or Oliver, oh no! It was Thomas and Percy... Golden opportunity lost. In all honesty, the introduction of the slip coaches made me realise this. Sure, the back story was slightly convoluted, but it was still believable and the writers delivered on the potential they had amazingly well.

And that brings me back to Slow Coach. Now I don't think she should be given to Oliver (I'll get to him soon), but I do think that they could add a couple of clerestory composites and give them to Donald. Then, he could take them along the Little Western whenever he's wanted there for passenger duties.

5. Pip and Emma
And here's another modern addition.

In all honesty, I really like what Christopher Awdry did with these two; making them the main express from Tidmouth to London. And I'd love for that to be replicated on TV. Granted, they'd probably never be seen in London, but it'd still be nice if it was mentioned that they went there.

Also, it would really shut the naysayers up. Seriously, what better way to say "the show isn't sexist" than to give her the most important job on the island? Plus, since they weren't really given one, a proper personality.

4. Elizabeth
I'll admit it, my favourite character from series 6 was Elizabeth. She has a really unique design and her personality was fantastic. I quite like no nonsense characters, but I love no nonsense female characters, as it gives girls a better role model than some pink thing that's portrayed as a stick figure more often than not.

I've always wanted more focus on the roads of Sodor to show that the island doesn't just have a railway infrastructure, and if that ends up happening, then Elizabeth needs to return. With all the happy, caring vehicles on the island, it'd be awesome to see her shake things up a bit.

3. Rosie
Yep, another character from my least favourite character list makes it here. Like I've said before, I don't hate the concept of Rosie, I just hate what they've done with her. Apart from her (pretty good) role in series 12, she was a stalker in series 10 and most of the time, she's done... nothing. It's was only when I made a series of Trainz screenshots on DeviantART introducing her to my headcanon that I realised there was more that could be done with her. And with Arlesburgh gaining a port, that feeling grew.

Rosie's basis is a dock shunter, so I think she'd be brilliant at a harbour should they decide to bring any of them back (I'm not counting Brendam as they already have Salty and Porter stationed there). If they wanted to keep the dynamic with her and Thomas, they could stick her on the harbour at the end of the Ffarquhar branch. If that doesn't bother them too much, stick her at the Knapford/Tidmouth (wherever it is on TV) harbour. And if they want to continue the tomboy attitude, have her shunt the heavy trains her male counterparts won't bother with.

It's really sad that she's been relegated to cameo status, as there's so much that can be done with her.

2. Ivo Hugh
"Oh, but he has no personality!" "He's only in a few illustrations!" These are some of the complaints that I've seen about Ivo Hugh, and it feels like I'm the only one who can actually see the bigger picture.

Remember James? He started out in similar circumstances: he had no personality and he was the focus of only one story. The difference is that he actually got a book which fleshed out his personality. Chrstopher Awdry never got the chance to do the same with Ivo Hugh due to the publishers being too demanding. There's a reason it was called Thomas and the Fat Controller's Engines. It's also the reason the Railway Series took an 11 year hiatus. It also may have been the reason that the final two books had a rather heavy focus on Thomas.

That is why I don't really give up on Ivo Hugh. Unlike the characters from series 5, T&TMR and series 9-12, which were obvious toy ploys, Ivo Hugh was meant to be a rising character, and I personally believe that the current team would do a brilliant job with him.

And on a slight tangent, I also wouldn't mind seeing his namesake either. Maybe put him in the Steamworks as the narrow gauge specialist or something.

1. Arthur
I'll admit that my fondness for him has waned for him slightly in recent years, due to how great new characters have been. But I do still think there's a place for him.

First off, his design is fantastic. I just love that maroon livery and the LMS influence is lovely too. I also think his introduction was one of the better ones from series 7. He thought that his spotless record was the be all and end all, but then he realised how important friendship was. He also redeemed himself in his second episode by helping Thomas after his accident with the pier and was properly rewarded for it.  But ever since, he's done very little.

What put Arthur on the top though were three main reasons:
  1. The Fishing Village. Since series 15, the fishing village has been seen rather regularly, and the series 19 episode Toad and the Whale may very well take place on the Norramby branch line (even though they work on the Little Western, but I digress). So with, potentially, so much being done there recently, why not bring Arthur back to run it like he used to?
  2. His personality. Unlike the majority of series 7 newbies, Arthur didn't have as much of a personality, with more focus on his accomplishments than anything else. So introducing him to the fold could give the writers a chance to flesh him out a bit. Maybe (and this may sound cliché) give him some LMS pride?
  3. His name. The choice for it just seems so sweet, and one that Awdry himself would have been proud to settle on. Basically, a competition was held to come up with an official name for him and the winner had a late grandfather with the same name. Bring him back would, in my opinion, be a wonderful tribute to the winner, his grandfather and the man whose main character was inspired by one of his loved ones.

 Agree or disagree with this list? Leave your thoughts below or leave a tweet (@ChrisTomson2013)!