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Season 15 - Episode 8 Review: Up, Up and Away!

March 2011 saw the eighth 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...

To mediocrity, and beyond!


Up, Up and Away!

Writer: Sharon Miller

Thomas and Percy are chosen to deliver a giant balloon. The wind on the coast track whips the balloon into the sky. Thomas and Percy wait for the balloon, but Gordon tells them it will not fly back, so the engines have to find another way of replacing it.

Overall Impressions

I don't think I've laughed so hard this season. It was a real "facepalm" moment. One that both sent me into despair, and a fit of giggles at how bad it all was.

So, Thomas and Percy go to the tunnel, and get the second balloon stuck in the tunnel. We then see Thomas and Percy back at the docks, collecting a third balloon.

Have you spotted it yet? No? Think on...

So they take the third balloon along, meet Gordon (who declares "get out of the way" - despite being on an entirely different section of track), and have their incident where the third balloon escapes, and runs out of air.

Have you got it yet? No? Keep thinking...

We then see Thomas and Percy together, going back to the tunnel to pop the second balloon, and free the truck.

"AH!" You will say. "I get it!" Yes indeed.

How, if Percy was ahead of the balloon in the tunnel, did Percy end up back with Thomas at the docks to take the third balloon? The whole point of clearing the balloon of the second tunnel was to make it clear for engines to go through, after all...!

So the imaginary get-of-writer's-jail-clause springs into action again. The imaginary loop line that somehow manages to get Percy around the obstruction and back into the main plot of the script again. Failing that, Percy is in fact a big green teleportation machine. Which makes Thomas a Tardis, obviously.

Did no one at any level see this as a problem? I'm well aware we've moved beyond the realms of reality in this series. Holding down giant balloons on flat beds, tied up with string, was the first clue to today's "hilarious" (read asinine) antics.

Surely it would have negated the entire episode to just have Mr Bubbles delivered to the fair, so he could blow the balloons up there...? Which, given he appears at the very end of the episode, looking after said balloon, is the major point of contention with the plot.

When common sense gets thrown out of the window, at a very basic level, the show suffers.

It's not even a question of railway realism anymore. It's a basic question of how people's brains are wired on Sodor. Balloons on a flat bed? Really?

Did no one read this script prior to animating it? I can imagine the reactions from the poor, beleaguered Nitrogen team on reading this through the first time.

They'll be fed up of the number of reviews coming out on a plethora of platforms - YouTube videos, blogs (such as this one), podcasts, and so on and so forth. All largely negative, all critical of the writing - and yet the animation is beautiful on so many levels. That it is going to waste - and it is - on such utter tripe, is a disgrace.

I can't even be bothered to outline the problems with the episode today. You've heard all of the major talking points in previous reviews. Three repeated problems, repeated catchphrases, rhyming and alliteration driving us all nuts, blah blah blah. I haven't even mentioned how the whole episode is, to some extent, a rehash of the "I know better than you, so let's do this" storyline of Misty Island Rescue, just crammed into a much smaller slot overall.

I'm not even sure what the moral of the story was today - Thomas couldn't be critical to Percy, and he should have been, to prevent incidents? Or that Percy should be less stupid? Or use his magic teleporting device more often?

Today's episode highlighted just how far removed from reality the entire series has become.

It's sort of in its own little bubble at the moment, ignoring any and all criticism of the writing. Which makes it seven out of eight episodes so far this season.

Final Conclusions

What I can't fathom is how these episodes get the green light for production. I'm sure there must be a group of people who get together to discuss future episodes and stories - has there been a case of "this isn't good enough, go back and rewrite it?" at any time? Because the more I look closely at these episodes, and how unsuitable for children they are, the more I have to question the motives for allowing these to be made.

Yes, I called it. None of these episodes actually have any educational value whatsoever. Whatever small attempts at morality in any of the episodes seems strangely out of place, or twisted out of basic understanding.

The repeated dialogue, rhyming and alliteration - the usual complaints - seem to have become stronger in number and significance overall. Why, I can only say.

I do think the moral of Season 15 is that you should hire writers willing to put in the time and effort to research their product, characters, previous storylines, and produce something which is actually suitable for said product. I don't think we'd get episodes about talking trains in Angelina Ballerina, or Fireman Sam, so why we feel we need cutesy animal episodes and a whole series based in and around a search and rescue centre is beyond me.

I have to add - for the record - that Fireman Sam also went through the CGI changeover, and had a makeover that not everyone was pleased with to begin with. I still don't like the overall Americanized look of the show. But I'm now trying to encourage my godson to watch that show instead.

Put simply, the writing on that show is intelligent, moralistic, and realistic. It is everything a good children's show should be. Yes, you get the odd clanger in a season, but not twenty episodes of such poor standard in a row - as we seem to be well on our way to achieving with Thomas & Friends this season.

It must be so gutting for the people who are so passionate about their brand. I know they exist at HiT Entertainment - I was lucky enough to speak to a few of them last October. Voice actors, animators, producer and director. All people who love Thomas, and want to see him truly be, the no.1 engine on television.

However, this ambition is being hampered by two things - poor writing at the very top of the pyramid, and an alarming lack of quality control from the executives above that level.

So many of these episodes should never have made it past the writing stage. Today's was yet another one of those.

How do you fix this sorry state of affairs? I don't rightly know. One suggestion would be to hand HiT our entire SiF ERS Library and the guide we're building up.

(ERS stands for Extended Railway Series, by the way. Lots of terrific fan fictions which span dozens of writers, all writing within certain guidelines to make them educational, realistic and entertaining too. Check them out on the forum, you'll be pleasantly surprised).

The question is, would they understand our position? I mean, we're not the target audience, after all. We're not of that age anymore. We're the people who never quite let go of the little blue engine. So many of us became engrossed with the idea of the steam railway, we then went on to volunteer for one of the many preserved lines up and down this country.

Yet it seems that so many people do understand how to write for Thomas & Friends. That's not a boast, it seems to be fact. I look across the fan fiction section of the Sodor Island Forums, and my heart bursts with pride. This is a fandom that does understand the core product, one which can and does write decent material based on said core product.

It's an untapped resource. A veritable treasure trove of information and storylines. Can you imagine anything more heartening? Fans helping to write stories for the show they love. It's radical thinking, and a pipe dream.

But I ask this - can a group of fans, with little experience of the "business", as they say, do any worse than someone reputedly an old hand in the "business"?

I don't think so, if today's episode is anything to go by.

On that note - I'll leave it there. Tomorrow we go back to the past, and for some reason Henry's special coal makes a return.

Oh for the days of continuity...oh the indignity!!!

Individual Episode Score: 2/10 - Gordon and Ferdinand 4/10 - Toby and Bash 3/10 - Emily and Bash 5/10 - Edward The Hero 1/10 - James to the Rescue 2/10 - Happy Hiro 1/10 - Up, Up and Away!
Total Season Score So Far: 19/80
Average Season Score So Far: 2.3/10

Quick Character Stats

Speaking Roles:

Thomas, Percy, Gordon, The Fat Controller, Lady Hatt, Dowager Hatt


Edward, James, Emily, Cranky, Mr Bubbles


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