Saturday, 12 August 2017

Series 20: Skiff and the Mermaid

And so the Extraordinary Engines episodes come to a close. But will Skiff and the Mermaid end things on a high?

Well, it's another episode where Skiff has the starring role written by Helen Farrall; of course it's good. But I honestly think that this is the most entertaining episode of this series, if not the entire show.

The story... is fairly standard. Character hears about something unusual, goes on a quest to find it despite being ridiculed. It's a story that's been told multiple times in media, but with an episode that's built around comedy and entertainment value, the writer can get away with that so long as a) the story is competently written and b) the episode has enough comedy value.

Fortunately, this episode succeeds on both counts. Granted, the humour only really kicks in during the second act, so the first can feel rather slow compared to the other two, but even that isn't awful as it sets up the story well and there are some great character interactions.

Speaking of characters, Skiff and the Fat Controller's dynamic is probably been one of the best of this series. Skiff trying to be the voice of reason while Sir Topham starts having a mental breakdown was brilliant, while the railboat himself is just the most precious character that the team's produced so far. How he's managed to get better with each appearance since Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure (a film where he was already superb) I don't know, but it's a testament to how well some writers understand certain characters.

I also really like what they're doing with Duck. He's genuinely trying to help in his own way, but it can really come across as condescending when it's not meant to be. I've read that some think this doesn't suit him, but... really? We're talking about a character who outright ordered engines about, and his catchphrase is "there are two ways of doing things: the Great Western Way or the Wrong Way", which is about as condescending as you can get, and that was much more upfront than it is now. It feels like another example of fans complaining for the sake of it. Or maybe they just don't understand Duck as much as they think they do. We are talking about fans who complained that Duck only said his catchphrase in recent years (which, in fairness, is true), yet now they're complaining that his condescension is being handled with more subtlety...

Honestly, I'm not too sure what else there is to talk about really. I could talk about all the great humour, but I don't really want to spoil anything. There's not much to talk about with the story (although the ending reveal of what the mermaid turns out to be was rather good, if slightly underwhelming, but what could they have done?), the characters are fantastic, the direction - especially for the scene where Skiff and Sir Topham are stranded before they reveal where they really are - was brilliant. That's pretty much all there is to it.

Final Thoughts
This episode is 9 or so minutes of mindless entertainment. No deep themes, no profound morals, just an unabashed, humorous romp around the Arlesburgh coastline. And I absolutely adore it. Sure, episodes with morals are great, but it's also much easier to make a mess of things (see The Great Race). Meanwhile, the writers have proven they can be rather funny, and I'm delighted that they decided to work to that strength. Fingers crossed they do so again in the future!

Episode Ratings
Series Rating (so far)

1 comment:

  1. Knowing this episode was going to be about Skiff and written by Helen Farall, I could tell she could pull it off; she already proven twice that she understands the character, and a third time for Duck, Oliver and Skiff. For me, she has probably been the best consistent writer by far. TFC's character is also funny here. I don't know if there's much more to say.