Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Series 20: Three Steam Engines Gruff

Before this episode was released, fans wondered if this would be a small railway episode. When it was revealed to be a Thomas, Percy and Toby episode though, I was excited, if a little disappointed (bearing in mind I'd no idea what they had in store for the Arlesdale Railway at that point). But did Three Steam Engines Gruff live up to my expectations?

If you want a blunt, short answer: absolutely not. In fact, I really don't like this one whatsoever. But where to begin with the problems?

It's only fair to start with the story. It's bad. The main problem with it is that it has series 9-16 syndrome. Not in that it's repetitive (if they were going to take inspiration from Three Billy Goats Gruff, their hands were tied on that front). No, I mean that they wrote the characters to suit the story, which is the worst thing you can possibly do when it comes to storytelling. It completely ignores any development characters are given solely to give them screen time. And with three characters that worked so brilliantly back in series 1-4, and The Railway Series, that's absolutely tragic.

You don't even need to go back to that point though. Remember how well written a Toby was in The Truth About Toby and Den & Dart? You know, the wise yet stubborn old tram engine? Because this story leaves that Toby to the wayside to give us the one we all hated from episodes like Toby and the Whistling Woods and Toby's Triumph.

And then there's Percy, who went through an entire arc (written by Andrew Brenner) throughout Tale of the Brave and series 18, and that was completely forgotten to allow this story to happen. Seriously, if you feel you have to throw out this development to allow a story to happen, maybe you should reconsider the actual story and work on making it fit the characters as they are now. If you can't, scrap the idea or find three other characters!

To be fair, Annie, Clarabel and Henrietta were fine, but that leads onto another problem. The show has been pushing more confident, strong, intelligent female characters in recent years, which I welcome completely. However, they're undermining their own efforts by implying that they're only intelligent when their male colleagues (who have been portrayed much better than this) act like cowardly morons!

Also, on a similar point, did anyone else notice the sound editing? Every time the engines heard the cow when they went over the bridge, there was a noticeable echo. But the one time Annie and Clarabel got suspicious, the moo was unaltered. Granted, the engines should've known it was a cow regardless since, well, they pass fields and farms full of cows fairly often, but it feels like they wanted to do everything possible to make the females look better while making the engines look stupid...

Adding on top of the stupidity is the fact that no one put two and two together. Well, Percy tried and ended up reaching 5. Thomas passed a broken fence, something he told Trevor about. Yet he had no suspicions that the sound could've been coming from a cow that could've escaped from that field. Yes, I understand that "if he'd figured that out, there'd be no story!", but I counter with what I said in the Goodbye Fat Controller review: if the solution to a conflict is that simple, the episode is filler content.

It's here where I'd offer up ways improve the episode, but all I need to do is direct your attention to a story that was adapted 31 years ago. While the plot points don't happen in the same order, this shares a similar basic plot to Ghost Train. Think about it: engine hears a story, second engine rubbishes it, then ends up frightened when the story "becomes real". The big difference is that the older episode did this better. And in half the time.

Final Thoughts
Never has "be careful what you wish for" felt like a more apt saying than it has with this episode... I've wanted these three to star in an episode for a few years, and I wanted it more than ever after seeing Toby and Percy improve. To then get one of my favourite dynamics completely destroyed like this is one of the worst feelings I've ever had as a fan. There are episodes I hate more, but I've never been so disappointed, and frustrated, in one as much as this.

If it's not Thomas being incredibly bland, it's Trevor being thrown in there solely to appease older fans. If it's not that, it's Toby regressing to his scared persona (considering he's a favourite of his, you'd think Andrew would know how to actually write Toby. Instead, Davey Moore has shown him up constantly). If it's not Toby, it's Percy. If it's not him, it's the pointless plot that unravels incredibly quickly. If it's not that, it's the theme of not believing silly stories, a theme that was done twice during series 19!

Bottom line: just watch Ghost Train. The faces and people may be inanimate, but the story, characters and atmosphere are infinitely better, and they manage all of that in half of this episode's run time.

Episode Ratings
Series Rating (so far)


  1. Yep...
    Expected as much.
    Saw it myself and IMMEDIATELY saw problems with Percy and Toby.

  2. Worst episode of the series by a long shot, and I knew this from the very moment I watched it. In fact, it's Brenner's worst episode, which is a pity because he did a brilliant job with Toby in TNF, and it also shocks me about Percy's character knowing this came from the same writer of TOTB. Honestly, I was a bit nervous about this one, but it deceeded my expectations regardless.

    Considering how Brenner still proved his worth with the Arlesdale trilogy, you'd think Bert, Rex and Mike would have been a more suitable cast in Thomas, Percy and Toby's place respectively. Perhaps with Mike and Rex teasing each other about being scared, and Bert being the voice of reason, until he believes in the story himself. I thought this would be an Arlesdale episode at first from viewing the title, but instead we were left with this tripe! There is honestly no redeeming value to this episode. I absolutely despise it. It's one of the worst episodes of the show, probably tied with Steamie Stafford for the worst of the new era, and seeing Trevor with a 5 second speaking role didn't make up for any of it!


  3. This is the first episode in years that I have truly hated.
    Which is a pity, because it is a Thomas, Percy & Toby episode. And Trevor's in it.