Friday, 9 September 2016

Series 20: Bradford the Brake Van

It's safe to say that Toad has been a really good character since he returned in series 18. All three of his episodes have been praised a lot, and Toad & the Whale is my second favourite ever written. But now the team have created a new anthropomorphic brake van, and the episode he's in sounds rather intriguing. But how will Bradford the Brake Van hold up?

It's quite nice that we get an episode with a new character that we knew nothing about. Granted, it would've been better had the episode itself been revealed by official sources, not by an email from an impatient, pestering fan that was sent months before as some people have nothing better to do with a their lives, but whatever.

Let's start with Bradford. I absolutely adore this character, and pairing him with an engine like Samson who constantly makes silly mistakes is a brilliant, yet disappointing, move. Brilliant as they'd work off each other fantastically well, but disappointing as Samson has barely been seen since his debut. I honestly think this episode (as great as it is) would've been better had Samson been the star rather than Thomas again. That's my biggest issue with Lee Pressman's writing: he seems to think that the only characters that exist - in terms of stars - are Thomas and the rest of the "Steam Team", with Sidney Sings being the only exception I can think of.

Bradford's character was brilliant. He's pretty much Toad if he was less polite and more direct, which makes him more interesting and brings something different to the table. His design is great as well. It would've been nice if they'd chosen to make a new render rather than use the LMS 20T design they have, but considering all the brake vans look fantastic anyway (unlike the bogie coaches), I don't mind that much.

That said, why did they give him three tail lamps? He had two like Toad's and the one they put on the engines and other brake vans/coaches. Why not just put the two by his face on the other end?

As for the episode? I honestly think it's Pressman's best since Gordon and Spencer. It's not the most original (it seems similar to Toad's Bright Idea in certain areas), but the execution made it feel fresh enough that it's not that big an issue.

Whiff makes another appearance, and this time, he seems to sound a lot like he did in series 14-17. I much prefer his voice here than Sidney Sings. So either his voice direction was better here or he was just out of the groove in that particular episode.

Oh, and I know it's a little thing, but I love that they're starting to add faces onto box vans now. I hope that tankers and, possibly, other coaches are given the treatment next. It'd bring them to life much more, too.

And now it's time to play defence again! The Fat Controller said "it's better to be safe than late" (or something like that). Now I get the complaints; it seems like a stupid line. But think of it this way: the Fat Controller runs a railway, which is a very expensive venture. Delays may be more common, but the cost of delays are a lot smaller in the long run that breaking safety regulations and potentially causing huge accidents.

The one thing I can't defend though is the whole plot is really contrived. Bradford is just left in the yard and stays on Sodor for the day for... no reason. I think it would've been better if Samson was told to stay for a while for some reason, and Bradford demands to stay in order to keep him and his trains in check. Or, you know, give Bradford a reason to stay without Samson! At least Gator leaving Toad behind made a bit of sense!

Fan Reaction

The Mad Controller's Corner

Final Thoughts
Although the contrivance here sticks out like a sore thumb, I maintain that this was Lee's best episode since his first. Bradford's full of character, the story flows well and it's just a really fun, interesting watch. I honestly think that Samson would've been a better choice as a star than Thomas, and I hope that Lee Pressman uses more of the extended cast in the future, but for what it is, it's great.

Episode Ratings
Sidney Sings: 8/10
Toby's New Friend: 7/10
Henry Gets the Express: 10/10
Diesel & the Ducklings: 8/10
Bradford the Brake Van: 9/10

Series Rating (so far)


  1. I'm going to be honest. I was really looking forward to this one. Right away, I was ready to predict my favorite episode yet of the season. And my expectations were met greatly, though not to a point where I'm giving it the perfect rating I thought I was. Looking at Samson's part, I WAS pleased to see him back and this would have been a great episode for him, but Thomas worked fine as well. I hope his constant appearances are put to an end soon, though. His appearances all fit in this week, but they shouldn't take it too far. Perhaps one more lead role this season will do him good. Bradford's one of my favorite HIT characters yet, and it's hard to think of where to place amongst my favorite rolling stock though. To me, he's like Fergus in a more fleshed out way, and I knew right before watching this episode that he would be an excellent role model. Though not quite as mind-blowing as I thought it would be, it's still a strong episode. 9/10

  2. Coincidentally, brake vans in the days of steam had various lamps depending on the type of train being pulled. A fully-fitted freight would warrant one lamp, while a part-fitted, unfitted or loose-coupled freight would warrant three.