Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Series 18: Duck and the Slip Coaches

And the ninth episodes has come and gone, and here's my review of it: Duck and the Slip Coaches!

I must be honest, I was really looking forward to this episode. I had no idea what slip coaches were, but I was interested to see what would be done with them. And after seeing them in the Let's Be Brave music video, and seeing how well Duck and James gelled in Duck in the Water, I was even more excited. But the question is: was that excitement misplaced?

No, it wasn't. This episode exceeded my expectations and then some! Quite frankly, this story wouldn't feel out of place in the Railway Series, and it's by far the greatest episode of the television series that I've ever seen. Yes, something has finally knocked Edward's Exploit off its perch.

The set-up to the main conflict is brilliant. It feels like a real problem on a real railway is happening on screen. Something like this hasn't been seen since Thomas and Victoria, the Railway Series book back in 2007. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they took that concept and applied it on a grander scale.

I also love the perfect characterisation. They made a James and Duck episode work again, and it still felt fresh and new. I can believe that James would take the credit for the slip coaches idea, and the "I know all about..." argument here felt a lot more believable than it ever did during the "dark ages", since James is taking some rolling stock he's never used before.

And the flashback. Oh, the flashback! It actually feels like we're watching Duck in the olden days, rather than watching widescreen footage with a few effects plastered on it to make it feel "old". It's a fantastic way to show the audience how things worked back in the day.

I also love this little touch of the movable steps. I've been to heritage railways and the National Railway Museum and they do exist, so a fantastic piece of research done there.

This scene was brilliant as well. When was the last time we heard that passengers thought the NWR was a "Bad Railway"? These classic references make the show feel so much closer to its roots. Oh yeah, and that "walk of shame" was really well handled.

Shots like these (and the one of Duck at the top) are utterly joyous. I kept thinking of the Railway Series illustrations of James and the Express while watching them, and I loved it.

But the one thing I do have to talk about is the stunning designs of the slip coaches. They look perfect, and so much better than the other bogie coaches that have been seen in the CGI era. I hope that this signals to the animators that they can rebuild the express coaches (and similar) from the bottom up to make them look as grand as these. And they got the coupling system right, as well!
My only real nitpick though (and this is extremely nitpicky) is that slips don't uncouple from locomotives. The rest of the animation though is fantastic as always. A bit choppy when people get off the train, but still brilliant

The voice acting was tremendous as well. Keith Wickham was, like the last two episodes, the stand out performer as James, delivering his lines in such a humorous way. I also liked the voices for the slip coaches. I almost couldn't recognise who voiced them considering Jonathan Broadbent's voice for Bill and Ben is completely different to the first coach and Rebecca O'Mara's Irish tones were non-existent for the second. It just shows the wide range the vocal talent this show has, and I personally hope this isn't the last we see, or hear, of the "slippies".

All that said, I have to talk about Emily's treatment here. Yes, they probably did it as a joke against the fans who support the "Emily replaced Duck" theory, but the joke is too mean spirited to work. It just treats Emily as though she's a "bad engine" for no good reason, and it's really unfair on her considering she had a brilliant role in Tale of the Brave and she was shown to be working as hard as everyone else at the start of this episode. After 10 years of being accepted by the other Steam Team members, you can't just make her look like an outcast now, especially because, as I said, she doesn't deserve it.

OK, the first time was probably an accident, but the second time was just too cruel. She could see how much fun everyone else was having with Duck, which made her look unnaturally jealous. They could have had the Fat Controller tell her that Duck needed the berth, but no. This is fan service done in one of the worst ways, and it just gives those "journalists" who scream "sexism" against the show ammo. And this time, it's legitimate ammo, and that's partly why I'm angry with these scenes. The show does not deserve to be hounded by the press, but it doesn't help with scenes such as these.

My other problem though isn't the joke, it's the fact that Emily was in the episode at all. She could have been cut out completely and it would have stayed the same, or it may have been even better. Personally, with my non-critic head on (for this paragraph), I think they did it to make people who thought Emily replaced Duck feel guilty, and if that's the case, they did the job really well - or, at least, I hope they did. But it still feels extremely harsh on her, and I hope to God this is just a one off.

Fan Reaction

The Mad Controller's Corner

Final Thoughts

With Signals Crossed, I was a bit indifferent about Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler as writers due to some poor scripting choices on their part. Toad's Adventure proved that they were good writers, but this one proved that they are great, and their first episode was probably just a hiccup. Duck and the Slip Coaches, minus the (combined) 10 second Emily shots, is what a Thomas and Friends episode should be, and all others in the future should aspire to be.

It doesn't make you feel emotional like Edward's Exploit, and it doesn't have a relatable moral like Gone Fishing. But it does now feel like I'm watching a children's show that knows its stuff about railway operations. And for me (and, I imagine, many other fans), that's all I ever really wanted.

Thank you, team McCue and Brenner for restoring my faith in this show, and thank you Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler for writing this 8 minute 45 second piece of sheer bliss.

Episode Ratings
Old Reliable Edward: 9/10
Not So Slow Coaches: 7/10
Flatbeds of Fear: 6/10
Disappearing Diesels: 9/10
Signals Crossed: 5/10
Toad's Adventure: 8/10
Duck in the Water: 7/10
Duck and the Slip Coaches: 10/10

Series Rating (so far)


  1. Let's hope that those sexists don't watch the show like they never do (God know's they'll spout lots of nonsense without doing their research first!).

    1. They'll find a way to sniff it out, they always do. Even so, it still really irked me as a fan. I hope it leads to something big, if not in next year's movie, in series 19. Leaving it the way they did just feels... wrong

  2. I don't care what anyone thinks, but I personally felt the scenes of Emily being "put in her place" were hilarious.

    She really did deserve it in my opinion as her time in the spotlight has been done to death (but definitely not as much as a certain LB&SCR E2) and many newer fans don't know Duck, so this is helping to get them to know him better.