Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Series 20: Letters to Santa

And the final festive episode of series 20 has arrived. I'll be honest, this has been my favourite bunch of Christmas episodes of the lot. There's only one that I thought was weak, but even that was full of the heart that we've come to expect from the show these days. But will Letters to Santa continue the team's strong performance this series or will we see our first blip?

How long has it been since we've seen Percy and Harold interact with each other? About 14 years? That's what makes the whole episode feel rather special, unlike Thomas and Bertie episodes of which we've had so many, it's reached the point where I'm starting to think that that's the only thing they can think of doing with the bus.

I'll get it out of the way now: the Percy & Harold flashback was wonderfully done. The fact that the animators and director decided to base the race on Railway Series illustrations rather than the TV series episode was surprising, yet fantastic. Despite all the nonsense that fans have had to put up with this year, it's little things like this that show that the team do care about the house that the Awdrys built and want to respect it as much as they can.

The dynamic between Percy and Harold is great, too. It's similar to Thomas and Bertie's, as has always been the case if we're completely honest with ourselves, but there are more opportunities for different stories as Harold can go anywhere. Granted the only thing that's been done since series 2 is "they're competing for the mail run", but adding the snow, like they added the faulty signal in A Bad Day for Harold the Helicopter, made the conflict stronger between them.

However, this episode's biggest strength is the execution of the moral. Looking back, I was far too generous towards The Missing Christmas Decorations; the moral was shoved down the audience's throat and its emphasis on "giving presents" was really annoying. This story, however, flowed much better, had a subtler moral execution and it just felt more heartwarming.

Oh, and it was quite clever that they used Jeremy to get the presents to the North Pole. It would've been better had the animators used a model series image to depict him (like they did with Duck on the Great Western in The Thomas Way) rather than a promotional image for one of his toys, but I suppose they had to work with what they had at the time.

The only disappointment I had was that Percy is still taking mail along the main line. It worked fine for this story, no doubt. But I think that, in future, the mail delivery system should be split up with different engines on their respective lines: Percy on the Ffarquhar branch, James and Hiro (maybe Bear if they decide to introduce him?) on the main, Duck on the Little Western and Edward or BoCo on the Wellsworth branch. It would shake things up when the team create a mail run episode, and create more opportunities than just shoving Percy into every one.

One other thing that looked awkward was Percy's mouth animations when the camera was at an angle where the snowplough was covering the lower part of his face. Either make a smaller snowplough for him or put the camera in a better position that doesn't make it feel like his mouth was moved up in a scene or two. Like Thomas' body being raised inexplicably in Thomas the Babysitter, it's a huge distraction.

Fan Reaction

Final Thoughts
Considering the whole holiday has been destroyed thanks to overexposure and commercialisation, it takes something special to get me into the Christmas spirit these days. This episode, however, did it. The heart in it was clear for all to see, the characters were fantastic and the moral was really well done, even if it's one that's been done before.

It'd be nice to see these two have another episode together, but only once in a while rather than one a year. I've said it before; having longer gaps between writing an episode that stars two characters that work well together makes it special when it happens again.

Episode Ratings

Series Rating (so far)


  1. The Christmas Coffeepot - 8/10
    Over The Hill - 8.5/10
    Love Me Tender - 9/10
    The Railcar And The Coaches - 9/10

    Lol, sorry I haven't caught up with these reviews in too long. Anyway, I loved this episode the moment I first watched it. It kept me interested the whole way through, and was a brilliant opportunity to bring Percy and Harold's rivalry back to the fold. I'm surprised you didn't give it a perfect rating but I guess we all have our own opinions, right? This has got to be my favorite Percy episode yet, one of my favorites of the show, and probably tied with Duck And The Slip Coaches for my favorite from the CGI series. It is a modern classic and the RWS-esque flashback from Percy and Harold surely helped to prove it. Probably Helen Farrall's strongest work yet. 10/10

    1. It's a similar issue I had with Gordon and Spencer; the ending feels too contrived. Someone should've noticed that Harold was out of fuel before the breakdown and alerted someone of what had happened rather than have Percy just stumble across him.

      I didn't mention it as... I'd forgotten, actually! Once the series ends and I start the overview, I'll be sure to bring it up then