The recent seasons of Thomas and
Friends have had their fair share of criticism from traditionalist and casual
fans alike. Amongst the many sticking points for these critics is the lack of
Railway Series stories contained in the later seasons. This is a justified
point, as without Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry's creations, there would be no
Thomas and Friends.
However, when one considers that (at
the time of writing) only 161 Railway
Series stories were written by the good Reverend and son Christopher between
them, and Thomas and Friends is steaming towards its 9th season of 26 episodes,
or its 209th-234th episodes, and the need for new material becomes apparent.
The first season to use completely new material
the 5th, in 1998. Producer Britt Allcroft had claimed that the well of Railway
Series stories was running dry, something traditionalist fans protest
vehemently, even to this day. Nonetheless, Season 5 was released in 1998
completely shy of Awdry-written material. It must be noted that the 3rd season
comprised of 13 stories that were not from an Awdry pen, so new ground had not
been completely broken.
One of the features of the 5th season is that of
the number of episodes featuring crashes or spookiness. Some used both
elements, such as Haunted Henry. The table below shows some elements of
episodes, and how many episodes used those elements.
- Haunted Henry
- Stepney Gets Lost
- Toby's Discovery
- Duncan Gets Spooked
- Lady Hatt's Birthday Party
- Sir Topham Hatt's Holiday
- Lady Hatt's Birthday Party
- Happy Ever After
Topham Hatt's Holiday
- Make Someone Happy
Percy and Old Slowcoach
Surprise for Percy
Now, these evaluations are purely
subjective and based on the author's opinion. Some may say that Horrid Lorry
belongs in the 'Crash' section, whilst Thomas and The Rumours should not be. I
felt that in the case of the former, the lorry's crash was not the focus of the
episode, whilst the crash in the latter was the result of the plot build up and
necessary to create a satisfactory ending.
Looking at the results, one can see
that 13 of the 26 episodes had a crash in it somewhere. This is an attraction
for the destructive element in all of us, but ultimately leaves one empty. Some
of the crashes are rather unrealistic (such as Bye George!), but on the whole
are well done. However, devoting half of one season to crashes leaves little
room for good or different stories.
Despite this, several episodes had a rather
Awdryesque feel to them, notably Something
in the Air and Thomas, Percy and Old
Admittedly, these episodes, like many in the
season, had a happy ending to satisfy the audience, unlike in earlier seasons
where there would be occasional cliffhangers - notably the Duck/Diesel trilogy.
Whilst this is good in that episodes can be viewed separately from each other,
it removes a little tension from the show.
Also, the 5th season expanded on
several characters. The two episodes Lady
Hatt's Birthday Party and Sir Topham
Hatt's Holiday showed that the Fat Controller has another side to him as
well as ordering the engines about.
Make Someone Happy and Happy
Ever After gave Mrs. Kyndley her first appearances since Season 1's Thomas's
Christmas Party. Focus on
non-rail characters had not previously been done to such an extent in the TV
series, so this could be considered to be breaking new ground.
However, of the episodes that did focus
engines, several introduced new characters - some with no dialogue and never
seen again. The following list shows which characters were introduced and how
many episodes they appeared in, or if they are recurring characters.
Cranky Bugs: Cranky (Recurring)
Horrid Lorry: Lorries 1, 2 and 3 (1
episode), Butch (Recurring - cameos only)
Haunted Henry: Old Bailey (1 episode)
Double Teething Troubles: Derek (1
Stepney Gets Lost: 'Arry and Bert
Toby's Discovery: Bertrum (1 episode)
Thomas, Percy and Old Slowcoach: Old
Slowcoach (2 episodes)
Happy Ever After: Mrs. Kyndley's
daughter (1 episode)
Rusty and the Boulder: Thumper (1
A total of 13 new characters, of which
only 4 are recurring - and two of those are only ever seen together! It seems
that several of the new characters were only introduced to create more
merchandise to profit from the Thomas name. It could be argued that without
these new characters, some of these episodes would need to be rewritten. But if
characters are only seen for so few episodes, there hardly seems any point at
all to introducing them!
The problem with some of the characters
is that they could be given room for expansion - such as Derek and Bertrum -
but are left in the cold. In fact, several people believe that Bertrum is
simply a repainted model of Duke, with Smudger's face, showing that some
beloved characters could well be unable to return. This is a great shame,
especially as Bertrum had approximately 5 seconds of 'airtime'.
Another troubling factor in Season 5 for some fans
is the number of unrealistic scenarios. For example, in Rusty and the Boulder,
a perfectly spherical boulder chases the
engines down the line, and in Toby and
the Flood, a railway track is built over a dam - a recipe for disaster.
These flaws could be overlooked if they contribute in some way to a good
storyline, and in some case they do. However, some errors seem unforgivable.
All things considered, Season 5 was not a fantastic
season, but nor was it a travesty. Several of the episodes are quite high in
the author's personal opinion, while some are very low. As a final season for
Britt Allcroft, it is by no means a failure - more a bit of a hit-and-miss
affair. It certainly isn't the worst season of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.
It is, however, a fine effort
that deserves accolades for being the first to be completely free of the