March 2011 saw the third 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, warbling whistles...!
Emily & Dash
Writer: Sharon Miller
Emily is given the job of looking after Dash on a trip to the steam fair. Dash shows Emily how to make special tweeting noises with his whistle, but he does it so often he runs out of fuel and gets stuck. Emily thoughtlessly goes to the fair without him. Will she remember her job and come back?
Why are we seeing so many "specials"? This is the third in three episodes - and the sheer amount of cutting and pasting here, there, and everywhere is wearing thin. The only differences between this episode and yesterday's, and Tuesday's in fact, was the characters and the main focal point of the plot.
Engine X gets given an important job and takes Engine Y to several locations to end up at location Z where everyone becomes happy. And Ferdinand says "that's right" X number of times.
That the three episodes all have similar names, plotlines, and even identical dialogue in most places should set the alarm bells ringing. What was unforgivable in today's episode was the amount of speaking cameos, all - most notably - centering on HiT Entertainment created characters.
Thomas - again shoehorned in at the start - said nothing, contributed nothing, and was nothing more than a convenient plot device to bring Sir Topham Hatt on screen. Why? There are so many ways of bringing this important character on screen. You already have on steam engine going to Misty Island, perhaps bringing him along on Emily would have been logical...?!
Hiro / Charlie / the Misty Island engines all outnumbering and outperforming their Awdry compatriots. There must surely be a point where someone says, firmly, "enough" to the shoehorning of new-ish characters into episodes. We get it - it's all about the merchandise.
But perhaps the most heinous crime was Emily going off and leaving Bash by the water tower.
It has been made a point over the course of the last two episodes, that the locomotive characters could be coupled together. What exactly was stopping Emily from doing the same? Fuel? Which funnily enough, could have been picked up on the way...?
And why exactly did Dash run out of fuel, when Bash yesterday arguably went further and did more work than his twin? All that is required is some consistency to bring the writing into line.
Overall the episode was well directed again, in terms of visuals, so ably done by Greg Tiernan (though Greg, if you're reading - Emily's safety valve bonnet - the brass dome? Is exactly that, a valve. It shouldn't be releasing steam in those quantities when she's moving, otherwise you empty the boiler of steam, essentially. Ta.) is once again not matched by the writing.
I might add - for want of completion - that seeing Trevor and driver Jem Cole today in CGI was one of those rare moments where the potential in the series could be sought. Greg - great work, they both looked amazing in the background. More's the pity, they can't be brought into the foreground quickly enough.
These reviews are starting to depress me - three reviews in a row I have rehashed the same complaints thrice over.
The same problems are repeating themselves, over and over again, series to series, and now, episode to episode. The writing is so below sub-standard, its no longer hurting the show. It is killing it.
Put simply, stop reusing the same basic concept with the characters changed around. Do some research - or find someone who will do it for you! I will happily donate all of my railway magazines (which ALWAYS have some potential story material within the pages) and advise if you approach me!
What are my credentials? Not much, actually. English degree, 2:1 - dissertation on "The effect of the steam railway on English Literature, 1829-1929", a full and comprehensive understanding of The Railway Series' history, and two years of overseeing fan fictions on the Sodor Island Forums.
Fan fictions, which, by the way, do not feel anywhere near as rehashed nor tired as the stories the professionals are churning out at present - and these are all coming from young writers with absolutely no experience of working "in the business" - but undoubtedly, would transfer better to screen than any of the episodes which make up the fifteenth season at present.
It flabbergasts me.
Individual Episode Score: 2/10 - Gordon and Ferdinand 4/10 - Toby and Bash 3/10 - Emily and Bash
Total Season Score So Far: 9/30
Average Season Score So Far: 3/10
Quick Character Stats
Emily, Hiro, Gordon, Thomas, Charlie Bash, Dash, Ferdinand