Monday, 4 July 2016

"The Local"

I'll be honest, this post was meant to be a character analysis for Ashima. But every time I tried to think of things to say about her, I couldn't really justify turning them into a separate post. So I'll be analysing her in The Great Race review, which will be online on September 12th (exactly a week after the UK DVD release) and this post will instead look at, what's turned into, a plot device to get Thomas away from his branch line in order to serve a purpose in particular episodes and The Great Race: "The Local".

NOTE: This blog post contains minor spoilers for The Great Race and The Other Side of the Mountain. Reader discretion is advised

I'm going to say it now before I get lynched: I love the idea of certain trains being named, or passenger trains having a specific purpose. Heck, if you follow my headcanon on DeviantART, you'll know that I've taken that idea and driven off with it (I can't run, obviously). When it was introduced in Gordon Runs Dry, I was hoping that more specific trains would be featured or that "The Local" would be designated to an engine other than Thomas.

But... no.

Instead, as time's gone on, I've realised something: adding "The Local" to the fray has been completely pointless. Even at the start, it seemed pretty convoluted and illogical: why would Thomas pull it when he has a branch line (that he supposedly loves) of his own? Why assign just two coaches to the train when the main is the busiest line on Sodor? Heck, why assign it to an engine that would probably need 20 minute (or longer) fuel stops at every major station?

However, I was willing to forgive these illogical points as it's a kids' show and they're obviously trying to explain why he is where he is. But... why feel the need to excuse it, especially when the excuse itself is so flimsy?

There are many times that Thomas appeared on the main, even after the excuse came into effect, pulling goods: chief examples being Duncan the Humbug and Who's Geoffrey? (not to mention his appearance in Toad's Adventure going to the mainland with Sir Topham and Dowager Hatt, pulling bogie coaches), making the excuse feel even more convoluted and pointless than it already was. The only special they used the excuse in was The Great Race, with Tale of the Brave saying a bridge needed repairing and Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure just had him screw up and be punished for it. That's great; the reasons made sense and the plots went on as they should.

What's worse, by using "The Local" the way they do, they completely devalue the Ffarquhar branch line completely (that and the fact that The Other Side of the Mountain implied that he only works there because he likes working there rather than... oh, I don't know, because he earned it and he has pride in that?!). Heck, why even bother having it if all they're going to do is keep him as far away from it as they can most of the time?

Despite that, I wouldn't have excused his random appearances whatsoever. Sure they were stupid, contrived and sometimes pointless during series 3-16, but you kind of expected it after a while because he's the main character. The current team, however, want to use Thomas less, keeping him on his branch completely (or unless they really need him away from it).

And, while that's a great idea in theory, it just won't work these days. I can guarantee that someone higher up will look at a script - or something along the production process - and insist that he's there somewhere. And if that's the case, fine. Put him in a scene at Knapford or Tidmouth sheds (since they're seen so commonly) as a cameo or a small speaking role. It won't need excusing, it'll make perfect sense, it won't necessarily feel forced (unless the script is written in a way that makes it feel that way), fans will be happy as it could mean the team can keep his appearance count under control and it'll keep the higher ups happy. Some fans will complain, but others are so desensitised to him being on screen, they're not that bothered either way.

My main point is "The Local" was never necessary in order to have Thomas on the main line, and it felt convoluted and illogical to do so. Have the name attached to a four, five or six coach train pulled by James, Henry or one of the Scottish Twins, but not to something that, frankly, is only there to appease older fans (by excusing what doesn't need to be at this point) in the same way all those jokes at the Nitrogen era's expense were. Those, thankfully, seem to have fizzled out, as should this excuse. Feel free to excuse his main line appearances in specials; he always has a major role in those and the team has proven they can do so really well. But my only request is this: keep him and "The Local" apart.