Monday, 31 October 2016

Series 20: The Christmas Coffeepot

Well this is a surprise! Granted, it's a bit odd that they're releasing Christmas episodes on a non-festive DVD, but at least the UK doesn't have to wait that long for them, with the next three being released next week! But let's focus on the two released now first, and it seems they both involve Glynn the Coffeepot. An interesting idea since I'd written him off as a character whose only purpose was to pass the torch to Thomas. But how does his return in The Christmas Coffeepot fare?

So this was a... fairly weak one, to be honest. It's definitely my least favourite that Helen Farrall has written, but it's not an episode that I dislike. The fact that this is her weakest is more a testament to how good of a writer she is and how well she understands the characters.

And when I say that, I include Marion's portrayal here. If I complained about her character here, I'd have to do the same with her portrayal in Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure where she thought that there was only one Oliver on the island and the small engines were changing their appearance with magic. Her imagination has been known to run away from her at times, and the fact that Glynn was so well concealed behind the trees made her "this tree can talk" mindset a lot more believable.

Also, for anyone wondering how she can be so quick to jump to weird conclusions in two episodes and a special while still managing to control Bill and Ben, the answer is simple: she's used to them. Seeing huge dinosaur statues, miniature engines and a voice coming from behind a small forest of trees is something she doesn't see every day; they can catch you off guard very easily. Meanwhile, she's with Bill and Ben quite often, so it's a lot easier to build up the right attitude around them, especially when they play their tricks.

One funny moment, and one that felt very classic era-esque was that Thomas, Annie, Clarabel and Henrietta teased her for thinking that a tree could talk. It is a ridiculous thing for someone to say, and it makes more sense for characters to mock Marion than appease her. More of that in the future would be lovely.

One other thing I'd love to see more of is these three together in a scene and/or episode or two in the future. I'm not gonna lie: not even I am immune to nostalgia, and this is a prime example of what gets me going. Sure, it had little to do with the story, but it made me happy, and that's what entertainment is made to do: make people happy.

An interesting element that this brought up was the Eail mentioning that he will be adding a railway museum to the castle grounds. I honestly would've had it at either Vicarstown, Knapford or Tidmouth as those three are the biggest towns on the island. But considering the Earl seems interested in history, it makes sense that he'd build it near Ulfstead. I'm looking forward to how this develops over the next few months.

I also like how they explained why Glynn was absent from the siding in Lost Treasure and series 19... kind of. It was relatively fine, but how did no one tell the Fat Controller that the engine that he helped to build had been found rather than move him from siding to siding just... because?

And that brings me onto my biggest problem: why did Thomas and Percy think that Glynn would be scrapped? This trope has gotten really old since Squeak, Rattle and Roll 12 years ago, and here it's even more nonsensical as they should both know (thanks to what happened with Hiro) that the Fat Controller wouldn't scrap him, so that whole part felt really pointless. Maybe if they'd reassured Glynn that everything would be alright, or if they'd taken him to see Sir Topham while Glynn worried about his fate, it would've felt a bit more original and made more sense.

As for the Fat Controller, this is just a weird point that I wanted to pick up on. It's one that was odd in The Adventure Begins but I'll mention it here: do the humans actually age in the show? If not, how do they stay the same age for so long? If so, how did the Sir Topham from the present day help build Glynn? As bad as Happy Birthday Sir! was, at least it gave a good indication that Sir Topham was just a regular person ageing normally, but now it's been forgotten about entirely. I honestly think it would've been better if they'd said his father had built Glynn, and the current Sir Topham had heard stories from him about the coffeepot he'd helped to build.

One weird, and disappointing, scene is the one where Thomas sees Glynn for the first time in years... and acts like it's no big deal. He had more of a reaction to seeing Gator again in Long Lost Friend and they interacted for a similar amount of time in Tale of the Brave as Thomas and Glynn did. Heck, Thomas was more excited around Hiro in series 19, and they interact fairly regularly! Considering the responsibility that Thomas took on, and the fact that Glynn just disappeared after TAB, I think it would've been nicer, and more heart-warming, had Thomas shown more emotion that just saying "oh, you're that coffeepot engine I replaced." 

Another disappointment is Glynn's voice. Sure, he sounded like Skarloey in The Adventure Begins, but I was rather hoping that we'd get a new performer for him to make him sound a bit different, but nope. This voice is here to stay. It's OK, but you can't help seeing Skarloey in your mind whenever he speaks.

Fan Reaction

Final Thoughts
All in all, this episode is heavily flawed, and definitely Helen's weakest episode so far. But there's something about it that makes me like it regardless. Its heart is in the right place, Marion's as entertaining as ever and it's nice that they've actually found a place for Glynn. It's just a shame that the story surrounding his overhaul is rather convoluted and, at this stage, overdone.

Episode Ratings
Sidney Sings: 8/10
Toby's New Friend: 7/10
Henry Gets the Express: 10/10
Diesel & the Ducklings: 8/10
Bradford the Brake Van: 9/10
The Christmas Coffeepot: 7/10

Series Rating (so far)

Friday, 28 October 2016

Series 19: Goodbye Fat Controller

And so we've finally reached the end of series 19, and with the last three episodes ranging from lacklustre to downright terrible, can Goodbye Fat Controller send the series out on a high?

I like the concept that this episode has. It's nice to see that the engines do feel like like a huge family and they act as though Sir Topham is their father. However, it suffers from one huge problem that ruins the enjoyment of it: everyone believes Percy when he says the Fat Controller is leaving even though, in this very series, they learned not to jump to conclusions when they thought Toby was being scrapped!

Not only that, but considering how much Gordon and James belittle Percy, why do they instantly believe him here? Yes, they believed him in Percy & the Signal, but at least there were legitimate character reasons as to why they'd do so there. Here, pretty much every character is interchangeable with each other, making the episode feel rather bland and their going along with Percy's story felt out of character.

In addition, why does Edward believe Percy? With the kind of character he is (if anyone actually had any here), I'd have thought that he'd be the one to try and calm the situation, but he ends up being as depressed as everyone else. In fact, the only one to provide any sort of resistance is Thomas because... of course it is.

The ending is yet another anti-climax. Redecorating his office is fine, but couldn't they gave given him something bigger elsewhere in the meantime? Or, better yet, why not send him on holiday for a couple of weeks? Sure, it would've been similar to Salty All at Sea, but having an episode (or a second half of the same one) where we see the engines work under temporary management would be a very interesting conflict for them as a group. But going with this is rather disappointing, especially since there's a false finish halfway through.

Speaking of the "temporary management" idea, that would have been a good way to add the strike as well. It makes more sense that they'd react like that due to poor management (after all, that's what Gordon, Henry and James did in Trouble in the Shed) than just coming to a conclusion, not bothering to discover the truth and running with whatever their peers tell them.

That said, the musical interlude was alright. It did a good job of showing how hard the engines were working to keep Sir Topham happy and seeing him shuffle away at the end was pretty funny.

And, although the strike could have been handled better, I still think it worked well here. It showed how far they were willing to go to convince the Fat Controller to stay and it also shows how much better the storytelling can be in CG than it was in the model era (in Trouble in the Shed, we just saw the engines standing there looking grumpy, whereas this felt like a proper strike)

Fan Reaction

Final Thoughts
If you want to see this episode done better, watch either The Truth About Toby or series 8's Percy's Big Mistake. The former adds more credence to the rumours by having Reg actually holding Toby up and Thomas coming to his conclusion that way, while the latter has Percy think Sir Topham will scrap him as he ran late quite often and then ends up causing an accident when trying to "rectify the situation".

This plot falls apart when you realise that someone should've taken the initiative (after previous situations) to just go straight to the Fat Controller and ask him "is it true you're leaving, Sir?". Because of this, the whole thing is filler content, and the fact they have a fake out ending halfway through, dragging the episode on longer than it needed to, is further proof of that.

Episode Ratings

Series Rating

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Series 19: Rocky Rescue

Three down, two to go, and we've now arrived at an episode that I've declared on Twitter as "the worst episode of the show". Time to find out if I still think that in an actual review. It's Rocky Rescue!

Can I just say that I'm getting sick to death of the "teamwork" moral? I hinted at that in the No Help At All review, but at least it made sense for those characters to learn it. But the rescue team? We've seen them work as a team many times before: Toad & the Whale, Wild Water Rescue, Too Many Fire Engines. Heck, Belle and Flynn worked pretty well together in Day of the Diesels!

That, for me, is the biggest problem with this episode: the story is written solely to revolve around the moral it tries to teach, regardless of logic, consistency or any unfortunate implications it may lead to. And you'd better believe that I will get to them.

First off: logic. No, I'm not that bothered about the boulder rolling away like it did. What I will question is how it managed to get stuck in ballast when it didn't look all that stuck to the viewers? Better yet, how did a 40 ton crane with its stabilisers out manage to derail at such a slow speed when a streamlined engine going like the clappers didn't even flinch in the exact same place?

Oh, and Rocky's coupling is officially the worst on Sodor if edging backwards slightly manages to snap it. I wouldn't really mind if it was rusty or something, but it looked perfectly fine!

Second, consistency. Remember Helping Hiro's accident? Hiro ran over some pipes, toppled on his side, was re-railed and couldn't move under his own power. Then how the hell can Henry go through a similar incident yet move as though nothing had happened?! Sure, Hiro's lack of movement served the plot, but Henry's just makes his purpose pointless! You could've told the same story with Rocky simply trying to lift Boulder's child out of the way, accidentally dropping it so it rolls away, hitting him and having that whole runaway sequence. At least that wouldn't have screwed up the consistency that, I thought, the series wanted to pride itself on.

And then there's the characters. I really like the team being confident in themselves and rather boastful of their own abilities (except Butch; I thought he was the most grounded of the group with Rocky); it's something I'd love to see more of. But when they can't put that aside in order to work as a team, that's where my problems lie. They've been working together for years now. Like I said earlier, we've seen them work together quite a lot in that time. So to see them this incompetent trying to rescue Rocky is outright baffling.

Which leads on to the unfortunate implications. Who would ever want to be rescued by a team this incompetent when it comes to working together to rescue someone? People just wouldn't feel safe, and wouldn't be able to trust them. If you carry that on to the real world, what kind of message would this send to kids? Sure, I know what they want the message to be, but I've said it before and I'll say it again: it's a lesson the rescue team (and kids, since it's been taught so often in the last year alone with Legend of the Lost Treasure and No Help At All) don't need to learn!

Going back to what I liked (which was very little), Thomas and Rocky are pretty good throughout. The latter especially; his humble nature is fantastic and it was nice to see him chat with a workman while he waited to be rescued.

Fan Reaction

Final Thoughts
I stand by what I originally said: this is the worst episode of the show. Sure it's well structured, the dialogue is better, the animation is amazing and the other technicals (voice acting and music) are fantastic, but they don't earn points with me any more. Those things are standard by this point, not a freak occurrence. The story just forgets everything the series had built on in order to allow itself to happen. This team have shown they can do better with these characters, so to see this from them is a huge disappointment. At least Fiery Flynn and Race to the Rescue, as bad as they are, were par for the course for that era!

Honestly, I think this episode would've "worked" better in series 17. It still would've been bad, but it would've been a good way to transition from the old character renditions to new ones. It wouldn't have felt out of place too much and it would have led on to episodes like Toad & the Whale and Wild Water Rescue really well.

Episode Ratings

Series Rating (so far)

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Series 19: The Other Side of the Mountain

It's fair to say that the next two could be my most anticipated ever. Ever since they aired in Japan, I've sounded off on them on Twitter quite a bit, but now that they've been released here, I can finally talk about them properly. The pressure's on, I'll admit, but here are my thoughts on The Other Side of the Mountain!

I don't really mind re-treads of older stories, or story types. As long as there's a decent amount of time between the original and the episode based on it (and the new take has its own spin on things), it's all fine in my book.

And then this episode comes along, takes the basis of Thomas' Shortcut and completely dismantles it. I'm serious, this took the series 17 episode and re-hashed every single element of it. The only things it did add just made the whole experience worse.

The first scene just angers me more than it should. Yes, Thomas' branch line hasn't really been relevant since series 3 as he's always gone where the plot needed him. But regardless of that, at least it was still made aware (in series 5 at least) how much he loved - and took pride - in his branch line. Now though? It feels as though it's implied that he works there... just because he likes it. Not because, I don't know, he earned it?! "Like" feels like a word that has little to no passion behind it, and its use here devalues that beautiful ending to The Adventure Begins by quite a bit.

As for the story, like I've said, it re-hashes every single bit of Thomas' Shortcut, only the pacing is all over the place. Bertie's re-routed, Thomas gets jealous (only here, Bertie hammers the point home), chat with Percy, crash, reconciliation.

What this episode adds is a long, drawn out third act that has a cop out climax (although, to be fair, it probably was the best they could do). Why is there a random billboard of a serene place with a rainbow painted on it in a grassy field by a country road? I'd get if they were advertising something on the poster, but it's literally just a picture that could be hung in an art gallery!

It also adds a weird sequence where Thomas dreams he can fly. Sure it was alluded to slightly in the scene at the sheds, and some could say it's a nod to Thomas & Bertie (because everything in newer episodes has to be a nod to a past event in some way). But in the grand scheme of things, it adds nothing to the story, it's just... there. It's not even been used to make a mainstream toy; at least then it would've had a point.

Also, that crash is the worst of the entire show. Sure it's unrealistic as hell and fans can create something better in Trainz these days, but its biggest problem is that, from a story standpoint, it's extremely forced and contrived. It's as ridiculous as it is solely to a) get Thomas to a point where he can see what's on the other side of the mountain himself and b) teach him to pay attention, which is something he shouldn't really need to learn considering he tried passing that lesson on to Paxton in The Lost Puff! Not only that, but it's a lesson that he has learned multiple times!

The big bright spot though is that the characters are great in this one (except Annie and Clarabel, who are either drunk or high here). Thomas and Bertie's dynamic was well handled and Percy's cheeky nature also seemed to re-surface. He's probably the best character of series 19, and I hope his development continues in the future.

Fan Reaction

Final Thoughts
In my reviews, I try and offer up solutions as to how an episode can be made better. But in this case, I don't feel I have to. Instead, I'll just suggest you watch Thomas' Shortcut. The story flows better, the moral is a lot stronger and it has a better, more understated crash that's a lot more effective. This episode is just creatively bankrupt.

Also, can we have Bertie in different conflicts with different characters? Maybe bring in more buses and he has to prove he can keep up with them? Heck, maybe have another episode like Edward, Trevor & the Really Useful Party? That was probably one of the most unique, interesting episodes of that era, with Trevor and Bertie playing off each other brilliantly. With The Pack rumoured to make a return soon, there's a golden opportunity to throw Bertie into the mix on the odd occasion!

Episode Ratings

Series Rating (so far)

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Series 19: No Help at All

I feel rather torn about this one. So let's go through it and see if I come to a definitive verdict by the end of it. Here are my thoughts on No Help at All!

I really like Bill and Ben, but their antics are really starting to overshadow every episode they have a major role in. This has had a huge detriment on Timothy, who doesn't particularly feel like a well defined character. He never really tries to keep the twins under control, he just reacts to their tricks and comments in a sort of "that's just what they are" way. If they can't have him control Bill and Ben on his own, or with Marion, why not bring BoCo back and have him teach Timothy a thing or two?

This episode has a musical interlude... which really doesn't help Timothy (or Porter's) character whatsoever; instead, it's just there to show everyone working hard. It's fine and everything, but if I had to choose between a musical interlude or a scene of character development, I'd choose the latter every single time. I'd be a bit more lenient if the characters in question were actually well defined beforehand, but Porter's been an afterthought since series 17 and Timothy hasn't been all that interesting from the get go (although they did try in Tale of the Brave).

Another missed opportunity is to have Bill and Ben realise how much they needed Timothy. In fairness, they tried to do this with a scene at the docks, but a) it came out of nowhere (their comment before finding him felt more like one of their usual gags than an actual realisation) and b) it would have meant more had Porter not got involved. Sure it gave him a good moment, but it came at the expense of Timothy (he literally pulls in front of Timothy; it felt like he was being physically overshadowed as well as in terms of the story). And considering Timothy is the one who works with them, it would have meant more if he'd been the one to give them a reality check. If that fails, then bring Porter in for support.

The ending, though, was where the episode really disappointed. I was hoping that the twins would be forced to clean the clay pits alone in order to teach them to clean up after themselves. But... nope. It's the typical "work as a team" moral that's been done to death by this point. Granted, it's a lesson that Bill and Ben needed to learn, but it would've come across much stronger if the twins had actually put in some effort to clean the place up before Timothy and the others arrived.

Also, Thomas' comment about having "so many engines" is rather frustrating. Sure, it's true, but it feels less like an important line to advance the plot and more a criticism of the marketing team's insistence of adding so many new engines every year. After The Great Race, I get why the writers would be as frustrated as the rest of us, but surely there are better ways to tell them they aren't satisfied than use Thomas as a mouthpiece? His appearance adds nothing to the story; just have the Fat Controller stress about the current state of things, have Bill and Ben (or maybe Edward, who Timothy can talk to about his concerns beforehand?) suggest Timothy work at the Docks and Thomas' appearance (bar the cameo at the end for consistency's sake) can easily be cut.

That said, the basic story isn't that bad. It's similar to The Switch (which is better), sure, but it works well for Timothy, Bill and Ben. And the China Clay twins are as entertaining as ever, but they really need to do more with characters that have little going for them. Why should we care about them if they don't?

Fan Reaction

Final Thoughts
It's funny to me that an episode that's linked to a huge missed opportunity is, in itself, a pretty big missed opportunity. Sure, the story was better this time around and the continuity nods were great, but no one got any sort of development, plot elements felt rather sloppy, the music interlude felt unnecessary (and took time away from them which could've been used for the lacking development) and the ending was rather half baked.

Episode Ratings

Series Rating (so far)

Monday, 24 October 2016

Series 19: Thomas the Babysitter

Well, the time has come. After constant stop/start airing, series 19 has been splurged into shops today with 13 episodes being released on 2 separate DVDs; 5 of which I've yet to review... until now. Yep, this week, I'll be reviewing all 5 new episodes in the order they appear on Full Steam to the Rescue, starting with Thomas the Babysitter!

It's very easy to hate this one. I know quite a few fans who do for the exact same reason: the baby crying constantly. However, I think this is one of the most heartwarming episodes of the show, and it shows Thomas, Annie and Clarabel at their absolute best.

Another complaint I've seen is that having Thomas go around his branch with the mother and child is a waste of resources. While this is true, the same can be said when parents in the real world take their babies on an aimless car journey. The reason they do it, however, is to calm them down and help them rest easier. And if you've ever had a baby, you'll know how much of a godsend this is if you find it difficult to get them to nod off any other way.

There are a couple of complaints that I have, although they're very minor. First off, Percy's train starts off as an oil train and turns into a milk one (the latter of which I prefer. It'd be great to see that become a permanent thing).

Second, the animators seem to constantly raise Thomas' main body for some reason. I found that a lot more distracting than the baby (although that could be down to experience of going onto public transport with crying babies on quite often).

Fan Reaction

Final Thoughts
There's not really much you can say about an episode that's practically perfect. It feels like something that Christopher Awdry would come up with. The story is really sweet, it's one that parents can identify with and it just captures the spirit of the railway completely.

Episode Ratings

Series Rating (so far)