Monday, 9 October 2017

Series 21: The Big Freeze

And we're done. 18 episodes in the space of 22 days. It's been stressful trying to be social and living life while also doing these and sorting myself out medically, but I can honestly say these latest episodes have produced some of my finest work... except the episodes that gave me little to talk about. But will The Big Freeze leave the series on a high note before its months long hiatus?

Not really. But it's not exactly a bad episode either. It's simply... fine.

I love the fact the snow and ice has an actual impact on the engines and the railway. So many episodes in the past have only had snow in them as it's the only way for set designers to differentiate between wintry episodes and others (although this hasn't been as much of an issue in recent years). But with frozen points, icy rails and delayed deliveries, this episode was the one that comprehensibly showed off what can happen in wintry weather.

The characters were also great, but that's no surprise since we're talking about an episode written by Helen Farrall. Diesel was a real highlight for me. It's obvious that he's still trying to help and make friends, but he's still doing it in his own way, which is great.

Also, I thought his interactions with Annie and Clarabel were fantastic. They felt akin to Thomas and the Evil/Naughty (because Americans probably thought "evil" was too strong of a word. Which, considering the series couldn't say "shut up" after the market expanded to the US, wouldn't surprise me) Diesel, and it would be rather interesting if we saw them together again in the future.

The themes were... fine. Thomas' lesson of listening to orders and advice was good and well handled, while Diesel's (heroes can come from unexpected places) was really nice too. They don't do anything new, but they're well done.

The emphasis on diesels, however, was great. With (possibly all) the steam engines going around the world next year, it could be a chance for the diesels to do more on Sodor (if Sodor even gets any focus). And if this was a first step of heading in that direction, then I'm on board.

Although I will say that not bringing BoCo back was a missed opportunity. I'm not one of these fans who spend so much time and effort begging for his return because... well, they've nothing better to do (except "joke" that a character is dead. Then post said "joke" on an official source of franchise information because screw your reputation, the target audience and important context that makes a joke funny). But his ability to scold characters when they've done something wrong would have made Thomas feel even worse. That said, it would have run the risk of hammering the message in further.

What BoCo would have offered though (undeniably) is size. This episode pointed out a problem that's been bubbling since... series 6, actually. There simply is not enough large diesels in the show nowadays. Fans say Bear and BoCo are pointless characters, but the size and muscle they offer would be ideal should this situation happen again. Because let's be honest here: seeing three shunters triple head the Express - the fastest train on Sodor - is a bit ridiculous. Especially if they can be put to work elsewhere.

Also, does anyone else find it odd that the diesels had no problems with the icy conditions? It feels like yet another example of making certain characters look bad to make others look good (Three Steam Engines Gruff being the most egregious example. And I've a bad feeling that, with the main cast becoming more diverse from next series, this problem may end up surfacing again. Only much more prominently and a heck of a lot worse). Maybe if they were shown to be struggling as much as the steam engines were, this could have been handled better.

Also, the Fat Controller's antics are now more groan worthy than funny. It's been the exact same joke with him for just the last two episodes, and it's gotten really old with its overuse. Add more variety in the future! Or add a comic relief and let the Fat Controller do his job. It says a lot when he felt more like a manager in series 8-16 - oft cited as the worst era of the show - than he does now with writers who actually know what they're doing.

Final Thoughts
Well, this was a tough review to get done. I'm not sure whether it's down to the reactions to the new information about where the show's heading sucking the life out of me, writer's block or the pure exhaustion of writing eighteen of these things while still worrying about medical problems and my social life. But this was an incredibly tough one to get through as I had so little motivation and only wanted to get it done so it could be released before I went under the knife. Rest assured that, despite the struggle, I'd feel the same way about this episode regardless. It's just been harder to get those thoughts down in a blog post.

Overall, I don't think this is Helen's strongest episode. But there's not really much to dislike either. It's great that they showcased the diesels a bit more. The other characters were great and the theme was... alright. However, the Fat Controller's humour has really gotten old now. It probably won't be cut at this point, but at least make it interesting and varied.

Episode Ratings

Cumulative Total (So Far)

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Series 21: Confused Coaches

It's been a while since Gordon and Spencer were given some major screen time together. With the writing being as entertaining as it is though, I'm glad to see them get a bit of the action now though. But how will Confused Coaches fare?

In some ways, it's better. In others though? Not so much. The biggest shortfall that this episode has compared to Gordon and Spencer is the story itself. It is incredibly thin. The main point of the episode kicks in halfway through, and there's nothing really before that besides bickering about who the most important was. It had to rely - heavily - on the strength of the characters to pull it through.

Fortunately, the characters were brilliant. Gordon and Spencer were brilliant together, and it's always fun to see two massive egos go head to head. This episode didn't disappoint on that front. And that being tied in to what would eventually happen was great.

Some fans are saying it would have been better if Flying Scotsman had appeared as the voice of reason. I agree. But I also disagree. I agree because he would've been in the perfect role, and seeing all three together would've been incredibly interesting.

The disagreement comes when you consider the DVD has Emily in the Middle on it... which also has two engines arguing with another engine in the middle. Having two similar concepts in the same series, let alone the same DVD, is overkill (something they probably realised with the Henry episodes from series 19).

Anyway, back to this episode. There's not really much to discuss about it since the story is fairly bare. But one think I did like, and would love to see more of, is Spencer pulling the Express. Maybe have Gordon fall ill so Spencer's hired to pull it?

We then see something wonderful at Callan: the Fat Controller being stern and telling both engines off. Yes, they want more of the comedy, but this is the best Fat Controller. The engines need someone to keep them in line, which is what he was until... series 19? I know he had comedic moments before, but now it's becoming more obnoxious and, ironically, old.

Case in point, how much of his comedy has come from him simply tripping up? Especially this series. I counted three times... in this episode alone. Familiarity breeds contempt. Honestly, I'd rather they brought the boss Fat Controller back and made his assistants the comic relief. Best of both worlds.

Surprisingly though, the character I loved the most was Philip. He didn't say much, and his role was only small, but he had so much childlike charm. The scene at the end with the fireworks was fantastic; I wanted to reach through the screen and hug him. The team have absolutely nailed him now, and I'm tempted to update his character analysis post because he's improved so much.

That said, the problem is that the main crux of the episode is incredibly contrived. Not the fact that Spencer just went to platform 1 no problem (things like that have become expected at this point). But the fact that no one noticed that something was a bit off before the coaches were shunted? That's where you have to question the intelligence of some people. If there was announcement saying they needed to hurry to the coaches, it wouldn't have been that bad. But everything seems so casual, and the issue seems much easier to notice.

Final Thoughts
This episode has quite a few problems, but I think it was still really good. The dynamic between these two has never been better, and it managed to pull through the really thin story. The story that was told was fine, and the ending was full of charm. However, can we do something new with the Fat Controller? The humour involving him is starting to get old and unoriginal.

Episode Ratings

Cumulative Total (So Far)

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Series 21: Daisy's Perfect Christmas

We're back on the Little Western extension to Harwick again with Daisy in the starring role! She's been a delight whenever she's showed up, but would Daisy's Perfect Christmas be just that?

Well, it was certainly surprising! Whenever this show tackles "old vs new", they so often teach that old is still useful at the expense of destroying the new. But we actually have an episode where traditions are broken and it's treated as a good thing. And I absolutely love it.

I also like that they gave Daisy the starring role. Not just because she's become one of my favourites due to her portrayal, but because she's one of the few characters it would have worked with. She's been known to like things "just so". So to have her struggle with the changes... well, it actually feels like an allegory for whiny, petty fans complaining about every single change of the show up to this point (the latest being Edward's move to Wellsworth).

The fact that they added children strengthened that allegory further. With every single complaint that the overgrown manchildren moan about, they care only for themselves. The fact is, however, the show is for children.

The funniest thing about this episode though isn’t the Troublesome Trucks (although they were superb). It’s that Jerome and Judy were given more character development here than they were in The Missing Breakdown Train - the episode they starred in! I really liked it, and they’ve suddenly become more charismatic than Rocky’s ever been.

Diesel may only have had a small role, but I love that he’s still conflicted about his feelings. It’s obvious that it will take a while for Diesel to fully reform and develop. He genuinely feels like a more layered character than most at this point.

Final Thoughts
This is yet another lovely episode. It's a fantastic showcase of how great the dynamic is between the four characters at Harwick. The theme is brilliant, the story is great. It's just another episode that I have no complaints about.

The big takeaway from all of this is that change can be good. Yes, some of the toys are terrible. But rather than moaning because you don't like them, just... don't buy them? Or, if you are going to whinge, think about what the kids think? Same goes for the show. If you can't give the changes a chance, don't bother watching it.

Episode Ratings

Cumulative Total (So Far)

Friday, 6 October 2017

Series 21: Emily in the Middle

Is there a hidden rule saying Donald and Douglas can a) only have one episode and b) only star in a wintery episode? I hope not; I feel there's potential for them year round, together or separate. Anyway, they've now thrown Emily into the mix. But how does Emily in the Middle fare?

I don't think it's as good as Love Me Tender. However, I do think that it's about on par with it. And it's definitely one of the best episodes this series.

I believe that this has one of the strongest (not the best) stories so far. Granted, it is like the episode I mentioned, and could probably be compared to Twin Trouble far more than the series 20 episode could. But adding Emily into the mix was a really good idea. She would definitely have been one of the only main characters (besides Edward) that could handle them at their worst. And throughout, she proved why.

Her patience was really tested here. And she knew that, after the accident, she had no other choice but to yell at them and put them firmly in their place. I know I said that it was great that Donald and Douglas learned their lesson without help last series. But when arguments become this bad and disruptive, there's no other alternative than to do what Emily did.

Besides which, they both ended up realising (on their own) that they were both to blame for what had happened. After they'd simmered down and Emily's words had sunk in.

On a side note, completely unrelated to the main story, I loved the little gags that they came up with for Toby. It's a great little development for his character, and it feels like he was in series 2. You know, when he was up for having a laugh from time to time.

Other than that though, there's not much I can say here that I didn't last year. I like that they took a slightly different angle with their bickering; involving the whole island in their squabble and how it would affect other engines. But that's about it really.

Final Thoughts
While I really like this episode, and think it's one of the best of this series so far, can we have the Scottish Twins in more varied episodes from now on? There's only so far they can take these types of episodes before they become familiar. Familiarity breeds contempt. And I'd hate for two classic fan favourites to be hated solely because the writers only had one idea for them (with a few extra characters sprinkled in) every time they showed up.

Episode Ratings

Cumulative Total (So Far)

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Series 21: Terence Breaks the Ice

Channel 5's run may have ended, but a new DVD has been released in the US. Five of the episodes featured are this year's Christmas episodes. And since (at the time of writing) I'm due in for surgery very soon, I thought I'd get these out of the way now while I have the energy to talk about them. So here are my thoughts on Terence Breaks the Ice!

Terence was never the most dynamic character in the early Railway Series books and the TV series in general. Some (myself especially) would say he had no character whatsoever. It was only in Toby, Trucks and Trouble where he actually gained a more cocky personality... and this episode has adopted that beautifully.

Also, I quite like Thomas and Terence's dynamic. Thomas trying to pass on the lesson he'd learned back in the day to help Terence now when the tractor was in trouble was a nice bit of development for him. Speaking of which...

The theme here was fantastic. Granted, "better safe than sorry" has been taught before. And it did feel rather hammered in at points. But it was a lesson that Terence really needed to learn.

I also thought the story that was told was really good. It did have pacing problems, with the flashback taking up nearly a quarter of the episode. It's not a bad flashback, and I'll get to that in a second. But it did take up a lot of time, which says there wasn't enough new story to fill the near 9 minute time frame.

Onto the flashback. I really like it. Is it fan service? Yes. But it's also a good way to introduce kids who don't know Thomas and Terence's past to their dynamic. Like I said though, it does take up a bit of time, disrupting the pacing.

The other is a bit more nitpicky, but it needs to be said. Thomas said he always wore his snowplough after the incident in Thomas, Terence & the Snow, but series 17's No Snow for Thomas (and Thomas, Emily and the Snowplough from series 8) was all about not wearing his snowplough! Trying to follow the continuity of this era is near impossible at times. Do they only care about following the classic era? Are they mentioning every era? It's hard to tell at times.

Final Thoughts
Before this episode was released, I wouldn't have been that bothered if Terence was never seen again. Ever. There was nothing about him to gravitate towards, and I really didn't miss him that much. Now though, I'm glad they did bring him back. And I'm glad that his first episode was really great.

Yes, the pacing is an issue due to the fact they spent so long on the flashback. But it's not like it destroys the episode completely. The characters (Terence especially) are fantastic and the theme is great, even if it's a bit heavy handed.

Episode Ratings

Cumulative Total (So Far)

Series 21: A Shed for Edward

So it turns out that The Fastest Red Engine on Sodor was the build up for this. It did so brilliantly, and was a fantastic episode in its own right. But could the last new episode to air on Channel 5 until Christmas - A Shed for Edward - be as good, if not better?

Well, this has caused some controversy..! I'll get to that at a later date; I don't want to bog this review down with fan criticism. I'd rather talk about the episode, because that's the only thing that matters for now.

And the episode is absolutely wonderful. The main plot actually feels like The Frozen Turntable done right. Mainly because it's not boring. Every time Edward finds a new place to sleep, we're shown how disruptive the world can be to someone's sleep, rather than denied those situations because Gordon was too proud and arrogant to stay there. Although, it turns out he was right..!

I'll be honest, some of the places he "found" to sleep were a bit ridiculous. But I feel that added to the comedy and entertainment value solely because of how absurd it was. It also showed how desperate he was to find a resting place.

However, this episode is really special because of the heart and charm that Edward and Philip's dynamic are. It's, by far, one of my favourite dynamics. And the fact that they'll be together more often now makes me incredibly excited. It'll be this generation's Thomas and Edward, and it feels natural for Edward to have a younger engine to mentor. This is where his character will really shine: by passing on his wisdom to another younger character.

As for why I think it's one of my favourite dynamics? Well, they have fantastic chemistry. Philip as the excitable child and Edward as the old guy who just wants to rest after a busy day. It worked really well...

...but the best part of it was that it developed wonderfully. Philip instantly understands where he screwed up and does his best to look out for Edward when he falls asleep on the job. It got across the messages really well. Philip learned to be more considerate of Edward's feelings, while kids learned (through Edward) how important sleep is.

To be honest, up to that point, the episode was really good. Not really worth top marks, but definitely close. And then the ending scene happened... and that pushed it over the edge to become one of the best episodes of the CG era and the show as a whole. The fact that Thomas was the one to say goodbye was incredibly sweet as we'd been through their journey together two years ago. I'll be honest, I did feel emotional watching it.

Some have complained about the ending, but I genuinely don't care about it. First off, Edward left of his own volition because it was closer to his branch line. Secondly, it could really help kids get through similar situations of a friend moving house. You can either be emotional about it (and that's perfectly fine too), or you can look to the future and be excited about living near a new friend. Thomas fans would barely relate to this since a lot of them have no other friends away from the fanbase. It also showcases how much inner strength the engines have.

Will the engines miss Edward? Absolutely; there'll probably be an episode focusing on that in the future. But as things stand, he's where he wants to be. And I'm really looking forward to his future episodes (which he will get, no matter what certain fans think).

Final Thoughts
I stand by the opinion that this is the best episode of this series. It could possibly be the best of the show, but I think Edward's Exploit still has the best music and editing. But this one has so much heart and charm, the characters were great, the themes were wonderful and they left things on a positive cliffhanger.

As an Edward fan though, I'm delighted that he's going back home. I'm excited for the story opportunities this will bring, and I'm relieved that there's more of a possibility now that he'll never be mischaracterised again. You'll be missed at Tidmouth, old friend. But at least you're where you feel you belong now.

Episode Ratings

Cumulative Total (So Far)