SODOR ISLAND Essay Annex

Series 8

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Jim522's analysis on the topic of Series 8 and the issue of Thomas fitting into 21st Century society

What do the half of people who do happen to complain really think? One must make up their mind and not keep changing it just because of what one person said. For example, if one says "Thomas & The Circus was rubbish!", it doesn't mean you, as an individual reading a negative comment of sorts, has to show a great dislike towards the story as well. You are entitled to your own opinion, and needn't feel scared of expressing your true opinions by saying something like, "Well, I just happen to love 'Thomas & The Circus'."

There have been many good things to come out of the season.

For a start, unlike the last couple of seasons, the Fat Controller no longer appears all over the place like some sort of magical wizard. In fact, his number of appearances have been toned in some ways and in some episodes of S8 he doesn't hardly appear, if at all. So there's one less thing for folk to complain about. He now mainly only appears at Tidmouth Shed again to give the engines their orders for the day and praise them at appropriate enough moments, just like he used to, which was what his proper character always was in the earlier episodes. And, should he happen to appear at an unexpected place at an unexpected time, it's certainly not as frequent as in Seasons 6 & 7, for example.

There are also now less crashes. Many would consider this a downturn, but in fact because of this decision made by the producers, some good, in fact, rather excellent stories have been written - which do not involve a crash. "James Gets A New Coat", an episode considered great by many, and it didn't have any crash to speak of did it? The other half of fans would say "But a crash would have made the episode more exciting! I reckon the trucks should have pushed James off the rails!"
Not all episodes have to have an accident of some sort to make them successful. Go back to much earlier seasons and you will find that there's only the occasional crash, which, when one did happen, the rarity would make the incident all the more exciting, "Dirty Objects" and "The Flying Kipper" being prime examples. Go forward to Season 8, which seems to have taken the same direction, and you'll find that the odd crash happens only from time to time, such as in "Thomas Saves The Day" when the trucks flip through the air or Percy's tar incident in "Percy's Big Mistake". These were exciting happenings, in one way because they were just plain good as a whole but also because they were rare instances.

Back to the emphasis placed on characters, aside from Emily, almost no emphasis is placed upon newer characters. And if a newbie does happen to appear in Season 8, it's usually only a minor appearance. This seems to have been done to make way for the good ol' engines from the glory days we've come to know and love. Is this not what many wanted? Yes, it is. I remember many saying how they wish more attention was given to the classic engines rather than the new ones, and this is now the case. But because this is now the case, people have turned around, changed their mind all of a sudden and say there's not enough of the newer characters. Which again raises the question of what people really think, and also want in this case.

So as you can see, Season 8’s episodes are not so bad at the end of the day when you think about it. But I leave you with this question: "What is it one really thinks of the show today, primarily Season 8?"

Indeed, this question can make quite a many ponder greatly on the subject, and in all, one has to eventually come to a satisfactory conclusion and express their true thoughts, rather than jumping on the "Negative Towards Season 8 Bandwagon".

PART 2

Unrealistic happenings, be it, boulders or jet engines, the general fanbase's opinion is very mixed. Some absolutely loathe such episodes, indeed, I happen to somewhat myself. The good thing though is stories like these no longer exist. Season 8’s episodes have no rollercoasters and elephant statues, in fact, there was only one episode which had a (rather brief, may I add) incident in which a giant snow ball was formed by rolling logs. Of the whole of Season 8, this was the only, absolutely farfetched incident. While there were little niggles such as James coming up behind Thomas in "Thomas Gets It Right", Emily seemingly being able to have complete control over herself in "As Good As Gordon" and the like, moments like these are nothing compared to what we've seen in previous, recent seasons.

Of course, perhaps one of the only really big blunders made with Season 8 was the somewhat "scrapping" of the Skarloey Railway engines. It was bound to happen eventually though; Duke and Sir Handel had already been killed off after their first season appearances in S4.
In the next season (that being 5), Britt came up with her own creation of Bertrum. He too was killed off after only appearing in one season. But the other thing which many quickly realised was the truth behind this "Bertrum" chap: He was a resprayed Duke model, and later to add to that point I believe I was one of the first (maybe even the first) to point out he also had Smudger's face blatantly slapped on his front. So Duke could have been kept on the show (or at least in Season 5) after all, because the proof of the model's existence was right there in front of us.

And so now we come to 2004, where the decision was made to entirely abolish the littlies. And in so happening, yes, now the Skarloey Railway is completely gone. But you have to remember that after dominating Season 4 with 14 episodes, having 3 episodes in the next 2 seasons and 6 in the 2nd most recent, those numbers accumulate to 26 - precisely an entire season's worth of episodes. So maybe it was also felt they had finally had enough episodes, or at least for now, and it was time to put the main engines entirely back in the spotlight.

Speaking of which, while engines 1-7 have now all been almost completely been given the limelight again, other classic engines have been pushed out of the way. There is namely the two sets of twins, the Great Westerners, and several of the offrail characters such as Harold and Trevor. While most of the road characters and the like do appear from time to time in Season 8, whether it be a minor role or small cameo, it's still not quite enough. While it's true that the show, and the RS for that matter, has always been about life on the rails, I, myself and I'm sure many others would have to agree that the road vehicles and other such characters should perhaps appear a little bit more. Perhaps 1 or 2 episodes for each future season should be dedicated to road (and other offrail characters). It's long been talked over by many about such characters having their profiles boosted, so maybe my suggestion could just be it.

What are all these new engines up to lately though? For a start, many, many people have been angered about Emily being made the 8th member of The Steam Team, in which many argue that place should have been given to Duck. While I can entirely agree with this in some ways, in other ways Emily being turned into a main isn't so bad. For one thing, with a lass about the place, more story plots are possible and for another, there aren't really that many strong female characters on the show. While this has never been considered a problem before, "...times are a changin' I'm afraid.", and is obviously why the production company decided to come in on this. A majority would be angry about Emily being given such a high status, but truly, there is nothing wrong with one of the girls having a bit of fun.
 

While many argue Mavis or Daisy would have been better suited to being given the dominant female role, neither really has a strong persona. This was true in the RS as well, but Wilbert Awdry was simply, as we all know, only giving an honest portrayal of the general public's view of women's status and the attitude displayed towards them at the time, dominantly by men. While such attitudes are unacceptable in today's society, what has been written down by Wilbert's pen should not be muddled with just to meet up to today's world as it is. Unfortunately, this has still inevitably resulted in Daisy being canned from the television programme due to being considered a stereotype gender portrayal of young women being only worried about their looks and twittering about hard work being placed upon them. This was true also with Annie & Clarabel, but only the twittering about hard work part of course. In the newer non-Awdry episodes, Thomas' faithful coaches have been given a complete makeover in that they no longer twitter, complain and the like, and in fact have almost been made nothing more than "Those things Thomas pulls behind him". Indeed, you would hardly even notice they are there and it's surprising they weren't chopped in the same style as Daisy. As a matter of fact, Old Slow Coach and Mrs Kyndley also seemed to be dropped due angry mothers saying things along the lines of "Why are the females so weak and always have to be rescued by the males?" Of course, comments like these are not thought through and constructed properly, or very well for that matter. Such comments are also way too out of context and are pushing things a little. But it seems to be thanks to this small angry mother group that all the females have either been dropped or been made stale, one-sided personality filled, rather flat characters. Mavis would be a prime example. She was originally a young little girl, always wanting to do things her own way and somewhat carrying on like a typical, spoilt kid. But this has made the angry mother board say "Why are the female engines portrayed in such a negative manner?!" So come to Season 6, namely "Buffer Bother", and it's evident that this has taken an unfortunately strong blow to her. She's now been made a "stale, one-sided personality filled, rather flat character". No longer is she fun and daring, but instead seems to have become a big sister figure to Bill & Ben. While this is interesting and one could also say it shows she has matured, it more glaringly says that over protection of the female role has been taken to a much unneeded level.


Character's personalities, I feel, should not be toyed with, and what Wilbert Awdry established slowly seems to be dying out with many thanks to what has been described above.

Other new engines, such as Murdoch and Arthur, have been completely toned down and almost disappeared entirely. While those who are strictly fans of the classic engines would hail this as a blessing, the fact is that characters shouldn't be toned down in such a manner. Murdoch, a shy engine, is a personality not assigned to any engine before, and made him an interesting character with potential, but of which doesn't seem to have been realised.

Arthur has been copping a lot in that "He's plain boring with no personality at all!" He does have a personality, you just have to look a little deeper for it. His persona is that he is polite, respectable, well behaved and strives to maintain a Spotless Record. While not incredibly exciting, many would say, there's nothing wrong with an engine character who tries to be a generally nice chap.

Fergus, perhaps one of the other more interesting new characters, has been dropped completely - and only after appearing in one season and one season only. Why, I really couldn't say, either it was felt he should be dropped to make a little more room for Trevor (who still, may I add, hasn't been given a great deal of attention lately) or otherwise to simply save a bit of money, which, if true, was quite a poor decision to make indeed, especially when Fergus' strong popularity is taken into account.

Spencer, who most thought would never be seen again, made a somewhat surprise appearance in "Edward The Great". While this appearance was somewhat justified by that the Duke & Duchess were taking a little tour around the Isle and also how Edward was to deliver new furniture to their dwelling on Sodor, hopefully Spencer won't become another "Devious Diesel" in which he is brought back for every new season with no justification at all.

Harvey has been made almost nothing more than a more fancy looking Breakdown Train and who only makes minor roles, and the same has also happened to Salty and Elizabeth in which they only appear from time to time, but at least the roles they do happen to play are still quite important and considerably large enough when you think about the number of engine (and other forms of transport) characters now filling up the Island.

One final subject I'll finish up with, which is a little more lighthearted, is I have noticed that, in the more recent seasons, is how as soon as one new location is introduced, one is killed off.


In the event of an old location being brought back, such as Lower Suddery in Season 6, another location seems to be killed off for a while, which in this case one could say Wellsworth station. But when Wellsworth was brought back in the next season, Lower Suddery was dropped again seemingly to make room. It's a somewhat strange system that is used, but seems it's going to remain put.


The viaduct also seems to have been completely dropped to make room for Sodor Bay Bridge, which seems to have become the show's new dominant bridge. A suggestion would be that the two are used in a "share system". The viaduct is one of the main original locations, dating right back to the first episode, "Thomas & Gordon", and keeping it would be the right and respectable thing to do. 
However, many old locations have recently started to be brought back and have stayed put, namely I speak of Wellsworth, Maron, Henry's Tunnel and other such places. This is nothing less than a tremendous step forward.


In conclusion, the "Thomas & Friends" television programme continues to steam along, at a rather fast pace lately what with three seasons (and possibly a fourth in the works) being produced in a row, which may seem a little too quick for one's liking, but as it is, the world is much more demanding these days, and so in turn it appears Thomas will be having many, many more adventures sooner and much faster than expected. This is a bad thing in that it brings up the possibility of the show ending sooner than what it may have if the 'produce a new season once every few years' was stuck to.
The good thing is more fun, more quickly, to suit the general public and target audience's demand for new adventures.


However, the fact that the quality of the stories in the newest season (8) seem to show a step in the right direction in that they are improving somewhat may mean that Season 9 and future seasons produced by Hit might, with any luck, have more colourful scripts and other issues resolved. And it appears that, with this in mind, Thomas the Tank Engine will continue to puff along on a successful, nonstop Express run.

KATE669: As everyone else has said, Jim......well done! I think you pretty much covered everything I could have thought of (not that I would; I hate writing essays).

I naturally get a little tense thinking about watching anything past Season 5 - but when I received a copy of Edward The Great, I couldn't help but watch it over and over! I'm not entirely sure what changed my mind, but after awhile my inner voice started saying, "You'll always prefer the earlier seasons, and they'll always be there for you to watch. For now, stop trying to compare the two and enjoy this for what it is."

And I have, and I'm now at peace! The good points of Season 8 outweigh the bad ones as far as I'm concerned, and I look forward to hearing more on Season 9. Thanks to Jim, and Joe, and Ryan, and everyone else, for helping me see the light and break away from my old-fashioned lamentations - the tunnel isn't quite so dark now!