March 2011 saw the second episode of Season 15 of Thomas & Friends - but before the review, the usual disclaimer:
The views below are entirely those of the author and not representative of the Sodor Island Forums as a whole.
On that note, it's time to get this review underway - and, well, let's say he's square...!
Toby & Bash
Writer: Sharon Miller
Bash is rewarded by the Fat Controller for being a Really Useful Engine. His prize is to spend the day with Toby. Bash enjoys himself so much that Toby thinks his friend would like to live on Sodor. Together, the pair set out to find Bash the perfect new home.
The music which started the episode was very pleasant, and reminiscent of Toby's much missed theme music from the original series. But straight away, the question must be asked, why shoehorn Thomas into the first few scenes?
He added nothing except a "hallo" in unison with Toby. The episode could have been done without him. It pretty much was anyway!
And yes - in unison. That word more than anything was the word of the day! Could someone please explain to me why it was necessary to have the logging locos state, in unison, everything except "Good to see you..." (Dash) and then a loud "BOTH" from all three?
It sounds extremely unnatural, and it is not good practice for young children learning to speak - which undoubtedly will make up some of the audience (like my godson, for example!)
And for the sixth time this series, Ferdinand - always mis-pronounced "Ferd-in-und" - states his rather wearying catch phrase...!
It was nice to see old locations return in new forms, and seeing Arlesdale End was a joy, as was Bluff's Cove. Most notable cameo of the day - "MC Bunn" - as pointed out by Jim Gratton on the Sodor Island Forums, look up the original The Railway Series volume, Duck & The Diesel Engine, just after Duck's crash into the barber shop - and here's the proof, once again, thanks to Jim!
Greg Tiernan has my utmost thanks for that - its these sort of lovely cameos that keeps Thomas attached to his roots in some small form. However, this comes with some caveats - longer trains please. You don't need two steam engines to pull four trucks - and it should always have a brake van on the end with unfitted stock.
If Toby and Bash had been "double heading" - one coupled directly in front of the other - and a long train of say, ten to twelve trucks plus a brake van behind - then the "Toby and Bash picked up heavy trucks of slate" would have looked less silly, and made more sense.
In addition, the "mist" which seems to stay around the engine's wheels, imitating steam, doesn't work. Steam dissolves to some extent in air - remember, it's super heated water - and steam should always be gently seeping out of a valve or cylinder somewhere while stationary. Steam engines don't just switch the supply of steam on and off!
Lastly - why are the driver and fireman controlling Toby from the rear cab? When going face first, the driver and fireman should be in the front cab. That's pretty much the point of having a steam engine with a cab at either end, you can control it from either end dependent on direction of travel. Is this a bit pedantic? I don't think so, to be honest - you wouldn't have Thomas' driver controlling him from outside the cab, after all!
All that aside, the episode's shots and visuals were beautifully directed, and thankfully there were no reused shots, although similar (but not identical) angles for shots were used. That's more than acceptable, mind, as the characters and storyline were different.
It's sad then, that the writing cannot match the visuals and references for quality. The alliteration reached unbearable levels today - half of which did not make any sense. An idea "bounced into his bell"? "Bash beamed from buffer to buffer?" Bash is not fitted with buffers!
The rhyming couplets and general sing-song nature of the dialogue was tedious for all concerned, and the sooner the series reverts to a decent writing format, with properly structured stories with beginnings, middles, and ends, the better. If yesterday's problem was cutting and pasting dialogue, here it was unimaginative, and continuous alliteration and rhyming that added very little, if anything, to the story's content.
I was rather pleasantly surprised by the use of the cows at Farmer McColl's - there was a very real chance for some more exposition of Bash's character. The animated cows were a delight to watch, for the few meagre seconds they were on screen.
And yet we find Toby and Bash on top of a cliff, overlooking the search and rescue centre. Why? Looking for a new home for Bash? On top of a cliff? Really?
I could understand the bridge to some extent, though being left out in the open to the elements would be cold and miserable! I can understand the farm (though I recall its on a mainline - so you couldn't just stop there in any event!), but on a cliff? Is this really the sort of message we want to throw to kids? Go look for a new home, on a cliff...riiighhhhtttt.
Then of course, we get the happy ending where Bash shows Toby his actual home. Ending on the now seemingly obligatory "That's right" (seven times this series) and a huge amount of canned, forced laughter. You could almost see Toby cringing in the foreground...!
Not as poor as yesterday's showing, but the same problems are repeating themselves, over and over again, series to series. It is extremely telling that the episodes with the lowest scores on the Sodor Island Forums, from last season, and so far this season, are all being penned by the same writer.
The writing is so below sub-standard, its actually hurting the show. Put simply, removing the alliteration, the rhyming, and putting in proper dialogue, giving the characters more purpose, and perhaps a return to the 5 minute format of episodes would help dividends with the overall quality of the show. As it stands, 8 minutes of this is 3 minutes too long, and is going to put the kids they desperately want to attract, off.
Today's episode came across as incredibly boring, incredibly trying, and more same of the old tired and thoroughly tested formula, which as you can probably tell, is wearing thin with this reviewer!
Individual Episode Score: 2/10 - Gordon & Ferdinand 4/10 - Toby & Bash
Total Season Score So Far: 6/20
Average Season Score So Far: 3/10
Quick Character Stats
Toby, Thomas, Bash, Dash, Ferdinand
Rosie, Harold, Captain, Mavis, Rocky, Cranky