SODOR ISLAND Essay Annex

The Best Of Thomas Poll (2010) Report

The Best Of Thomas Poll Report

Ryan analyses the results of the 2010 SiF Best of Thomas Poll...

The SiF Best of Thomas Poll was intended to seek out what fans saw as being the cream of the crop from the episodes produced over the last thirty years by Clearwater Features, Britt Allcroft, Gullane, HIT Entertainment and Nitrogen Studios.  The comprehensive poll took into account all eras of the series from the 1980s and 1990s classics to the modern day works produced by HIT Entertainment.  Throughout the course of this report, I’ll be analysing the findings we received throughout the period the poll took place.

The Classics Vs The Modern Series

The Flying Kipper was by far the most popular episode within the poll, outperforming the competition on both the polls it appeared in, and taking the largest margin of any of the episodes featured. 

Combined, Series 1 to 3 were the polls that people voted in most.  This could be attributed to the initial interest generated by the polls, which would gradually die away once the novelty value had worn off, or possibly the fact that these are counted as the Classic Series, which people remember the most fondly and appreciate more.   However, within this period, Series 2, often argued as the best series the show has produced received the least amount of voter response overall with only 257 voters.   With a number of high quality episodes produced by David Mitton and Britt Allcroft throughout this series, it was a closely fought contest between Ghost Train and Edward’s Exploit throughout, which culminated in a final push from voters that returned Edward’s Exploit to first place.  While a clear winner, it did not enjoy the larger majority enjoyed by the Series 1 or Series 3 winners, winning over Ghost Train by only seven votes.

Continuing on an individual basis, Series 4 was the poll which people voted in the most with 289 votes, six more than Series 3.  This could have been down to the polls gathering momentum at the time in their second week, but it would do little to explain the performance of Series 5, which had 270 and Series 6, down again with 264, meaning the votes overall were down.  Reasoning for this could be down to the changes made throughout this period, which saw a shift from Awdry material to original writings, which by Series 6 had been taken out of the hands of Britt Allcroft and David Mitton completely.

The lowest number of votes came the week after, when the polls for Series 7 to 9 were laid out.  Series 7 took 220 votes, whilst Series 8 and 9 only took 200 and 201. Surprisingly, the downward trend of voting was bucked by Week 4.  Instead, the votes increased to an average of around 240 on all the polls. 

For the last week of polls, we conducted four in order to gain insight and save time.  Votes for Series 13 and 14 were relatively low, with Series 13 receiving 217 overall, Jack and the Pack, (which was released on DVD solely and therefore out of the reach of some) took 209, and 14 (which had only recently aired, and had not made a full broadcast in America) only received 198.  The Specials however fared best in this week’s polls, and took 233 votes overall.

Voting Trends

There were ‘Big Winners’ and ‘Small Majorities’ throughout the course of the poll.  As mentioned previously, Edward’s Exploit for Series 2 was one of the ‘Small Majorities’.  However, in the second week, there were a high number of small majorities by comparison with what came after. The Series 4 poll was a closely fought contest throughout between Granpuff and Thomas & The Special Letter, which saw a whopping final push to return Granpuff to No.1 for Series 4, leaving Special Letter trailing behind by only five votes.

Similarly in Series 5 and 6, the two winning episodes (Haunted Henry – S5 / Edward the Really Useful Engine – S6) only won the polls by three votes.  Within Series 5, very little separated the Top 5 overall with third place, Rusty and the Boulder gaining over Cranky Bugs by one vote, and Duncan Gets Spooked missing out on the Top 5 by two votes.  It’s similarly tight with the remainders within Series 7, where there were no episodes which seemed to stand high above the others, with the most popular section of the remainder averaging 7 votes each.

However, among the HIT episodes, there are ‘clear favourites’.  The  Series 8 poll began to see voters getting more passionate and rallying behind clear winners for the Top 5.  The first four took between 20 and 35 votes, with the fifth most popular episode, Thomas Saves The Day taking 11 votes.  This could be an indicator of the standout episodes by comparison with what was and still is deemed to be mediocre from HIT’s first series, by comparison with David Mitton’s final series, which yielded more fan-favourites and seemed to divide opinion.

It was from here on in that the ‘best’ episodes took the higher percentage of the overall vote, with the ‘lesser’ episodes largely receiving an average of less than 10.   Series 10 received around 246 votes overall, and showed two major standout episodes Thomas & Skarloey’s Big Day Out (43 votes / 17%), whilst Series 11 saw one of the biggest majorities for an episode throughout the poll.  Hector the Horrid took 63 votes and 26%.  The nearest competitors, Gordon & The Engineer took just over half of that at 37 votes and 15%, and Emily’s Rubbish took 29 votes and 12%.  This trend continued until the conclusion of the polls.

Toby’s Triumph became the first episode of the poll to receive no votes, with Thomas In Charge and Thomas’s Crazy Day (Both Series 14) in a similar position.

One other trend that was noted throughout the course of the poll was that a lot of the first episodes of each series appeared to do well within the polls we conducted, with no less than seven appearing in at least one of the Top 5 results.

The Episodes Chosen And How They Ranked

There is no doubt that there are some classics throughout the Top 5s.  Flying Kipper, Edward’s Exploit and Escape make up a worthy Top 3, and are a lasting testament to the work that David Mitton and his crew ploughed into the series in the early years.  Hero of the Rails is a shining example of the possibilities that are now available to the series through Greg Tiernan’s inspired direction for the new CGI animation, and deserves its place as the best special overall.  However, there were questions over the position of some episodes, and why some fan-favourites that didn’t make it in the polls.

There was some surprise from SiF members over the poor response to Old Iron, which many thought should have earned a place in the Top 5 – however, some individuals have confessed they believed that particular episode would be returned to the Top 5 for Series 2 with little doubt, and therefore geared their votes to other options.  The episode only received 10 votes and 3% of the overall majority.

Given the poor response and feedback given to Fish (Series 8) when it initially aired and since, it was also surprising to find it sitting in the Top 5 of that series, particularly when the best four chosen polled so well.  And whilst neither could be deemed as poor episodes, it was surprising to see Thomas Percy and the Coal and A Scarf for Percy rank so highly, given that these episodes are rarely talked about compared to the others of the series.

Two winning episodes that had the Staff team scratching their heads were Mighty Mac and Gordon & Spencer.  Given Steve Asquith’s execution of the crash scene, and James Mason’s writing in Respect For Gordon, we anticipated that that would win out overall, however, for whatever reason, Mighty Mac won the day, despite the average and somewhat dull storyline.  Same for Gordon & Spencer, although it’s difficult to say if Series 7 truly held a standout episode.

And to say that Jumping Jobi Wood made it into the Top 2 of Series 14, ahead of Charlie & Eddie, which had a better planned out story using the formulaic storyline stages, would be an understatement on my part.

The Final Tally

I chose to add in the initial votes that the episodes received in order to define where exactly everything stood across the polls collectively.  The final leg was held for two weeks as opposed to one to allow people a chance to vote throughout what would be a hectic time ahead of Christmas.

The Top 3 came as no surprise.  Escape and The Flying Kipper performed exceptionally well throughout their polls individually, and in the final, Edward’s Exploit more than doubled the tally it initially received during the Series 2 poll.  However, the final didn’t have the same consistency for some of the 32 other episodes chosen for the last poll.

In the Specials poll, Thomas & The Magic Railroad outperformed Hero of the Rails by 9 votes, however, when pitted against one another in the Final, Hero of the Rails took 24 votes more.  Similarly with Escape, while it took 82 votes in the Series 3 poll, it only received 57 in the Final, thus was trounced by Edward’s Exploit which only managed 40 votes to win the Series 2 vote.

Other episodes which did exceptionally well in their individual polls also fell by the wayside significantly when entered into the Best Of The Best poll.  Hector the Horrid won the Series 11 poll by a landslide of 63 votes – in the final, it only managed two.

With or without the aggregate, the Top 5 episodes would have remained relatively the same, the only major difference would be that Edward’s Exploit ranked at No.2 as opposed to Escape, and Ghost Train would have stood at No.5 ahead of Thomas & The Magic Railroad, which would have been pushed down one place.  Overall the best five episodes received a consistently high number of votes overall, and therefore deserve their places. 

The remainder that make up the Top 12 within the Best of the Best Poll without aggregate support, Granpuff, Jumping Jobi Wood, Thomas & The Special Letter,  Haunted Henry, Thomas & Gordon and Busy Going Backwards, were the only episodes out of the 32 options not to receive less than 10 votes.

Final Thoughts

Sadly, the poll didn’t produce what I feel would be completely ‘definitive’ answers.  Yes, we got what was deemed to be the best episode of each series, but does this determine what standing every episode in the series has in the grand scheme of things?  How would Jumping Jobi Wood fare if it were up against an army of classics written by the pen of Rev. W. and Christopher Awdry, David Mitton and Britt Allcroft?  How would the Directors stand up against one another?  Would the classic model scenes captured by David Mitton outshine the stunning modern animation created by Greg Tiernan?  Would Steve Asquith’s creative, but faithful, expansion of the model shooting style be recognised in lieu of the lacklustre storylines he was working with?

This would be a poll that I would consider putting together in the future, to further the experiment and see how the results tally up in that context.  However, one of the biggest constraints there would be that we’d be dealing with over 300+ episodes of the series, and it would be a very tall order for people to check through such a long list for their favourite episodes.  However, I do feel that the consciousness of some episodes being fresh in mind to fans may have swayed the vote a tad, while the remainder remain quietly forgotten.

Limitations aside, it’s unsurprising that episodes from the first three series of the show took the highest number of votes, given the work that the crew of Clearwater Features ploughed into the series in its formative years with the creative genius of David Mitton leading the studio team, and Britt Allcroft’s unwavering drive and passion to push Awdry’s amazing writings to millions across the globe.  However, story content aside from the latter seasons, it’s nice to see them represented as a testament to the work that Steve Asquith and Greg Tiernan’s respective teams have put in also, and show that quality visuals remain in a number of respects with this series.

Sodor Island Forums would like to extend a hearty thanks to everyone who voted in the poll and helped to throw up some interesting answers.