Another series has come and gone, so it's high time I gave it one last hurrah before moving on to what the 70th anniversary celebrations have in store!
Yes, I agree with the majority that it was nice not to see any of the Steam Team here. It's a breath of fresh air, and I'd love to see more episodes that have no Steam Team members in the future. But I've said it in my Samson At Your Service review and I'll say it here: unless they have a bearing on the plot, the cast of characters does not factor into my reviews. And for me, the cast they chose here, and the story that was told with them, had a negative effect on it.
For me, this was his biggest disappointment, as I thought he'd have ironed out all of the errors in his work over 20 years of writing experience, one of which was spent as a head writer of Fireman Sam, and one of his stories for this show being Too Many Fire Engines. So to see the fire where it was, regardless of Millie's retribution, was inexcusable.
And it's a shame, too, as the character interactions were really good for the most part.
For me though, this review showed that I can accept opinions. Originally, I liked this episode quite a bit. I gave it an 8/10 and everything. But after a discussion on Twitter with Thomasfan from the Thomas Wikia, I realised how flawed the episode was, and how big they were. For me, it's simple. I'm willing to listen to any opinions, as long as they're well thought out and you can back them up. If neither of these criteria are met, how can you expect me to take an opinion seriously?
So yeah, to me it's just average.
Despite what fans say, I truly believe this episode could have worked with Toby. Remove the dialogue mentioning that everyone knew he was scared of the junction, and actually mention that it had been newly laid, and it would have been brilliant. And yes, I do believe Toby would feel intimidated, because he's never experienced gantry signals before.
It also could have worked if a newer character had been in Toby's place. Maybe a really small tank engine like Porter (if they'd given a reason why he was away from the docks). Rosie or Stanley would have sufficed as well.
As for that little cameo? I really don't care, and people who are judging this solely on Ferdinand's appearance are extremely shallow.
By this point, Spencer's VIP had aired on TV. Whether it was produced before or after this I'm not sure. But going in order that the episodes aired on TV (and, in this case, released on DVD) the Fat Controller has an award for services to transport. You'd think he'd know how to run a railway more efficiently than this. Maybe keep some coaches behind in case of emergency, rather than simply "making do". I highly doubt that he would allow one of the most important trains on Sodor to consist of two ancient four wheel coaches who hate life in the fast lane. And I highly doubt that Thomas could run his trains with one coach! In Overloaded from the Railway Series, Toby struggled with just Henrietta and he was only doing his usual job!
It's episodes like this that make me think the writers are either confused as to which writing style to keep or they're just throwing logic out of the window to allow stories like these to happen. Either way, they need to get this problem under control fast because, while I don't think it'll revert to those days, watching episodes like this will become more and more infuriating in the future because we know they're capable of better quality, more coherent episodes than this.
I mentioned that this plot was similar to Thomas and Gordon in the review, but in retrospect, that did this plot much better. There, Thomas was slow to fire up, causing him to be late to the platform with the coaches. Since the porters and other workers were busy getting everyone on the train as fast as they could, it would be understandable that they'd forget to uncouple Thomas. And his ride behind the train was enough of a punishment as he'd learnt his lesson. Here, there was no rush to get Caitlin's train ready, so the workmen came across as stupid (I'd say Charlie did too, but the series has established that he's extremely laid back). It's a shame, too, as the rest of the episode was well put together.
The first time she saw the models, it was dark. They were quite a distance away, the flatbeds were covered by the trees and the ambience would make things feel rather intimidating for anyone. As for her being scared in the day? Sleep deprivation can mess with anyone's thought processes. Despite that though, the dinosaur models do look pretty realistic, so it would feel like more of a surprise if she wasn't taken aback by what she was seeing.
It's a bit of a shame they didn't do any more with this section of track, although the pipeline probably would have restricted the story potential.
One thing I didn't notice in my actual review: why was the embankment being repaired? It doesn't really say, and nothing's shown, so it just seems like they're digging at a perfectly stable hill. If the writers have to improve somewhere in future series, it's to make the catalysts of the stories consistently strong for each episode.
Yeah, I can still see the complaints that it's similar to Tale of the Brave, but as far as I'm concerned, this was the perfect follow up to it. Like I said in the review, it's easy to be brave when you know your friends are in the vicinity, but it's a testament to how brave you are if you can be courageous when there's no one else around to help.
Hopefully, this is the end of Percy needing to prove his bravery. If it is, it was a brilliant way for that part of the saddle tank engine's personality to be laid to rest.
I said in my review that that this was better than Busy Going Backwards and I stand by that. Both episodes bend the laws of probability, but while it's completely bent in the series 5 episode (Toad would never have gone that far, even with no guard to apply his brakes), here it's a slight twitch (it takes a while for Toad to get from the top of the hill to Thomas' buffers).
Other than that, there's nothing else to add, really. It's just a really solid episode with a nice ending.
It was also a really good way to teach kids that two wrongs don't make a right, which is a brilliant moral for kids to learn these days. And for me, the whole episode can be described with that one word: brilliant.
I suppose I'd better talk about Gator's arc. It was a lot better than Samson's. There were some inconsistencies here and there, but the stories told within it were relatively strong, and while I think Long Lost Friend is the weakest part, and a really disappointing ending, it did tell a coherent story throughout that never felt contrived. The only main problem it had was Gator's appearing feeling rather convoluted in terms of railway operations.
Overall though, I'm glad they tried to make two arcs this series. Hopefully they try again in the future, and hopefully it will be a lot stronger than Samson's and better than Gator's.
The only thing I thought was off-putting, on reflection was a similar problem I had with Samson At Your Service: no contingency plan. I really don't believe that the Skarloey Railway has only six coaches. But this was a more entertaining watch, so it was more a distraction than anything.
At least here, it was more believable than it was in The Lost Puff where it felt like he was stupid more than naive, but as I say, they're walking a fine line. I won't mind if he keeps his naivety in secondary roles as it can be varied a bit more, but it will get annoying if it becomes overused.
That said, the moral here was brilliant and while, yes, the kids on the level crossing annoyed me, after a talk with a DeviantART user, I realised it wasn't worth taking two points off (it was originally a 7/10). This is probably another example that I can accept genuine feedback to my reviews, so don't feel scared to say what you think. It's only when I don't understand the overreaction kicks in
Timothy is a brilliant foil. He plays off Bill and Ben (and vice versa) brilliantly. But when he's alone for a long time, he just isn't too interesting. The kind hearted oil burning engine - despite the contrary being stated here - has been done by Victor, while his pride in who he is, while admirable, is similar to Porter.. I'm rather hoping he comes into his own in future series.
With this one, the classic references were great, and adding that the brake van couldn't hold them was a nice touch as well. It was something that hadn't been mentioned episodes like Thomas and the Trucks, even the original, so I was glad that it was mentioned here. And while, yes, Diesel and Mavis' sub-plot was repetitive, but it actually worked pretty well as it showed a nice little clash between the two.
We've seen many episodes where Spencer has been rather arrogant in the past, and the only one that really did a good job was Gordon and Spencer. But that was more an episode that tried to bring Gordon down a peg rather than teaching Spencer anything.
Here though, Spencer is the one that's overconfident, he realises that it wasn't the best way to get the job done and we see him going through some inner turmoil, showing that he'd truly learned from his mistake. His predicament was also a nice reference to Wrong Road.
And I can believe that every engine can get overconfident in the same way. Remember, every time an important person came to Sodor, everyone became extremely arrogant, thinking they'd get the job.
Like I said, it's a brilliant episode with a great moral.
Yes, you could say that he should know that Thomas has a branch line to run and yeah, I'd agree with that. But for me, that contrivance doesn't detract from the story that was told. It redeemed a fan favourite character and it taught kids that you should never take your friends for granted, which was lovely.
The Thin Controller was trying to force someone to change their ways, which is something you really should not do. Sure, you can guide them to change, but the more you try and force, the more they'll fight back. Remember, Duncan's change was extremely forced throughout the second act, with a false smile and everything (for the record, his reactions were pretty funny). He was only genuinely happy after he helped Luke after shouting at him. His own actions made him see what consequences they had, and he vowed then to turn things around. It was a genuine moment, and it was the moment that made me think the moral it taught was admirable.
So yes, I stand by my review of this episode, and I stand by the score I gave it.
I'm not going to say what it is since pretty much everyone knows what it is by now. Instead, I'm going to explain how a mean spirited scene works. The set up here was done very well, with Emily feeling bad that there were no spaces left. The best way to end it is to have the (protagonist) character that was hurt come out on top - in this case, giving Emily a space in the shed. But that didn't happen, and to this day, it still leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
That said, the joke had nothing to do with the plot, and the story, character interactions and the Duck's back story were done so well that it more than makes up for it. But my number one pick has much more as far as I'm concerned.
I've also seen people complaining about those who think Duck and Oliver's appearance was pointless. For me, the reason is simple: the exposition is unnecessary to Oliver.
Yes, kids probably won't know how the North Western Railway operates at Christmas, but Oliver has worked there since 1967 (or 1992 if you're going by TV continuity). He should know what the process is! For this to be more effective, they should have included a newer engine, who may not know how things work, like Porter or Gator. Revealing exposition to characters who should already know what it is makes it seem like they're stupid.
One thing I didn't pick up on was the Fat Controller looking at the family that embraced when he was announcing the snow had blocked the main line. It's an extremely sweet moment, and the fact that he could empathise with that family, and the struggles of the other people getting home, made the moment all the stronger, which really touched me.
All in all, this episode was utterly beautiful. It's my favourite episode of the series and my second favourite of the entire show.