SODOR ISLAND Essay Annex

The Case For The Missing Coach

The Missing Coach

In 1986, 'The Missing Coach', became a Missing Episode... Ryan explains why he thinks the episode should not have been dropped - and the impact Britt's decision had on the series

'Hullo Twins'
A shot reminiscent of a scene from 'Hullo Twins' in RWS Book 15

The Missing Coach was the second story in the Rev. W. Awdry’s The Twin Engines book, documenting the arrival of Donald and Douglas to the Fat Controller’s Railway. 
 
By this point, Awdry had illustrated in his first story that only one engine had been expected, and that the other wasn’t intended to be there.  The Missing Coach reveals that the stowaway was in fact, Douglas, and that he himself fears for his survival on the basis of the Fat Controller’s decision making.

The twins begin conceiving ideas...
The scene where they realise that the tenders can't stop identity swap!

To provide some background on the story itself, the twins have newly arrived and been issued with numbers – but no nameplates.  They realise this is advantageous should the need or desire ever come.  The need does arise toward the end of the story when Douglas, his mind wandering with the realisation that the Fat Controller may send him home if he’s discovered to be the ‘wrong engine’, shunts a special coach designated for passengers travelling on an excursion to Thomas’s Branch Line into a siding.  Angry, the passengers raise a complaint with the Fat Controller, and the engines quickly swap tenders and therefore, identities.  Donald leaves with Douglas’s tender, whilst Douglas stays in the yard with Donald’s.  This ultimately means that Douglas should avoid trouble temporarily, and save Donald trying to ‘explain the situation away’.  However, the Fat Controller is wise to the trick and when the passengers have left, he raps Douglas for masquerading with his twin’s tender.

Duck and Donald at Tidmouth
'Lost shot' of Duck and Donald at Tidmouth

In 1985, pre-production began for the second series of Thomas The Tank Engine & Friends.  David Mitton and Britt Allcroft considered a number of options for the adaptations they were due to translate to television, and ultimately settled for a mixture of the Rev. Awdry’s stories and new ones written by his son, Christopher, which would bulk up their ‘Thomas’ related quota.  The Twin Engines was earmarked as one of the books that Mitton & Allcroft wanted to cover.

Douglas with the Missing Coach!
Douglas with the Missing Coach!

From the evidence that can be gathered, strongly pointing to some of David Mitton’s visuals and Terry Permane’s still images, the majority of shooting would have taken place on the Tidmouth Station set.  David Mitton stated in an interview, prior to his death in May 2008, that The Missing Coach episode was halfway through being shot before Britt Allcroft questioned the content’s suitability, feeling that it lacked action and had a slightly complicated plot, which would be difficult for children to follow and rely heavily upon narrative explanation.  Thus, the episode’s production fell, and was quickly replaced by Thomas, Percy and the Coal.  This allowed Mitton and his crew to continue shooting on the Tidmouth Station set, without having to resort to other measures, which could have proven time consuming.

Donald in Tidmouth yards
Donald in Tidmouth yards

However, we must consider the impact that Britt Allcroft’s decision to drop that particular episode had upon the series.  The storyline would have allowed for a better introduction for Donald and Douglas than what was afforded to them in the final outcome.  The use of The Missing Coach would have gone a long way to establishing the pressure the twins were under to survive, that if one of them was returned home, that one would be scrapped.  Within this particular story in the original book, the two engines establish their place in the yard and among the engines.  We would have gained insight to their vulnerability and dedication to one another, which is not portrayed quite as well throughout the course of Break Van.

Donald leaves with the Spiteful Brake Van
Donald leaves with the Spiteful Brake Van

With Break Van, which became their introductory story, the twins are introduced through a rushed monologue at the beginning of the episode.  Yet, while we have only been exposed to these characters for a few seconds, we find them in a cluster of dilemmas.  I would argue here that it is too much too soon, and the additional lead-in story would have been helpful to filter in the major problem (their residency on Sodor, and impending doom if they couldn’t stay) with the intimidating nature of the Brake Van accentuating the threat through his obstruction to their cause.

Donald threatens the Brake Van to behave
Donald threatens the Brake Van to behave

Another problem that springs from Break Van is the fact that by this point in the book, Donald and Douglas had been established as characters, as had their backstory.  Therefore, the audience understood the situation, they felt sympathy and anxiety for the engines, and hoped for a satisfying conclusion.  In the TV Series version, there is no such establishment or development, the characters are presented to us over the course of a few seconds and launched into a story which necessitates the audience to feel empathy and realise the threat looming over the engines, which simply does not work, as Break Van continued to be treated as a ‘middle story’, when it’s primary being was changed entirely to become the ‘introductory story’.

Not nearly enough contingency measures were taken by Britt Allcroft or David Mitton to redefine the storyline for the introduction of Donald and Douglas.  This could have been down to the nature of the shooting process used for the series – filming a designated number of scenes on one set, whilst another was being built across the room, and then moving swiftly on to meet the budget constraints.

The Fat Controller addresses the engines
The Fat Controller addresses the engines

But the most glaring error and oversight made by David Mitton and Britt Allcroft occurs in the final episode of the arc, The Deputation, where narrative reference is made to the events of The Missing Coach.  There is no motivation for the Fat Controller to deliver the line, “But your names will be painted on you, we’ll have no more mistakes!” – the engines have been given numbers to differentiate one from the other, where would such mistakes have been made?  Although it could be considered somewhat subtle and easily overlooked, it’s still an important piece of evidence.

In 1991 for Series 3, Mitton and Allcroft began developing the scripts with their own original scenes to supplement Awdry’s original work.  It was during one of these in the episode, Escape, that Edward discusses the threat of scrap with Douglas, who is very un-nerved by the subject.  However, it’s not revealed out right that Edward knows that Douglas was the twin that would have been sent for scrap, retaining links with the original books, where it is unknown to anyone bar the twins themselves.   Ironically, the scene was shot at the same set location as the now infamous The Missing Coach picture had been taken five years previously at the Tidmouth Coal Hopper.

Douglas and Edward at the Tidmouth Coal Hopper
Douglas and Edward at the Tidmouth Coal Hopper

Ultimately, it would be unfair to say that Series 2 suffered as a whole as result of not including The Missing Coach.  Overall, the quality of the series content speaks volumes for the writing talents of the Awdrys, the creative vision of David Mitton, Robert D. Cardona and Britt Allcroft as well as the rest of the team.  But while Donald and Douglas went on to become firm fan favourites, used by David Mitton and Britt Allcroft extensively throughout the 3rd Series, and receiving their own storylines in Series 6 and 7 respectively, one cannot help but feel that the exclusion of The Missing Coach and the elements used from Hullo Twins made for a slightly lesser introduction for both characters, which would have been stronger had the characters had the development allowed through that particular storyline, in spite of its complexities and lack of action.

For years, we have believed that the episode that replaced The Missing Coach in the order of the series was Thomas, Percy & The Coal.  There was been some short debate over whether Series 2 was intended as a 27-episode run, with Thomas & The Missing Christmas Tree as a 10-minute Christmas special, but this seems highly unlikely given that the series always ran to a 26-episode release.

The one thing that has proven me dead wrong is that The Missing Coach and Thomas, Percy & The Coal share a similarity – both were filmed using the Tidmouth Station and Tidmouth Sheds sets, which were completely independent of one another.  There’s previously been a shot released of Donald, Douglas, Gordon and Henry at night at Tidmouth Sheds, whilst Thomas, Percy & The Coal has a shot of Thomas standing being cleaned in the same yard opposite the sheds.  Therefore, because the series was filmed out of sequence with every scene required for an episode which featured this particular set done whilst it was constructed for a set time frame, it’s highly unlikely that this episode was dropped in at the last minute.

Instead, now, I would consider that perhaps it was Better Late Than Never which took The Missing Coach’s place.  The episode slots in to the place where The Missing Coach was due to be used, prior to Break Van, in the episode release order – and for a portion of its length, it relies upon stock footage from Series 1 to bulk up the running time, with the shots of Thomas running his passenger train being taken from Thomas & The Guard, and (ironically) Thomas & Bertie. 

The likelihood is that whilst the majority of The Missing Coach was filmed, as David Mitton claimed in 2008, Britt dropped the episode around the time the crew were filming on the Tidmouth Station set.  This would have allowed Mitton and his crew some small time to film a few scenes with Thomas and Bertie arguing, and then later making up – possibly sending them slightly behind schedule, but not derailing the whole production process, and allowing to make concessions elsewhere in the filming of the series.