Monday, 6 March 2017

DVD + Episode Reviews: Extraordinary Engines



Written by
Andrew Brenner
Helen Farrall 
Davey Moore
Ian McCue

Directed by
Dianna Basso

Produced by
Ian McCue (HIT)
Robert Anderson 

Engine of The Future
Henry In The Dark
The Missing Breakdown Train
Hugo and The Airship
Three Steam Engines Gruff
Skiff and The Mermaid

Special Features
'Let's Go' - Sing-Along Music Video
'Spring Is Here' - Sing Along Music Video
Railway Fun with Thomas

Distributed by
HIT Entertainment (US/UK/AUS)
Mattel Creations (UK)
Universal (US)
ABC Kids (AUS)

Release Date
31/1/17 - US (iTunes)
3/04/17 - UK
14/02/17 - US (DVD)

Like every other year, we are given another themed DVD with episodes from the 20th season featuring a new character named Hugo. However these episode had aired over in Japan back in December 2016 and some of these episodes were given some praise already. So do these episodes live up against the previous selected ones from the other themed DVDs? Let's find out!

Written by Andrew Brenner

So we are given our new character of the tentpole release and this year it's Hugo, a rail zeppelin. I will talk more about his character later on but his episode was not very good. The episode felt rather cliched with the fear of replacement trope I get that it's trying to tell the moral 'don't jump to conclusions' and that's fine and that the engines are old machines but it's been done before. Plus I felt like there should've been more added to this episodes. The engines all don't like him because they fear, in a cliche manner, they're going to be replaced by him, Hugo is sad and Percy wants to put things right and the engines like him again with no explanation. Also the focus was more on Hugo being more modern and futuristic rather than being a character.

You might say that the same can be applied for Harvey in his debut episode from 2002. That though is entirely different. Harvey proved his worth at the end of the episode, him saving engines with his crane arm and the engines found him useful. Hugo's worth was never even stated since he never had a reason to be on the Island. Sure he took Franz, nice touch of naming after the Rail Zeppelin's designer, to see the Earl, but what for? What could've been better if say, it was Daisy who feared of being replaced by Hugo because he's more modern, fast and futuristic. Then Daisy was very negative about him and Hugo was cross with her for creating such nonsense and stood up to her and her words. Next day, Daisy broke down while taking passengers to Harwick and Hugo came and saved the day and he proved his worth that he can help Daisy along the Harwick line.

There are a few things that I do like about this episode. Sure Franz being named after by the designer was a nice touch but another nice touch is Hugo pointing out his flaws such as him lacking a coupling hook and his propeller can be considered as dangerous in crowded station platforms, which his basis has actually suffered, except they didn't mention hills, I'll get to that later. But there was some good researching there by Andrew Brenner. Plus I like it that Percy was the engine wanting to make Hugo feel better rather than Thomas. But in the end the episode didn't really make me like it and I do wish it was added with more development from the steam team.


Written by Lee Pressman

I wish Mattel had released a glow in the dark Henry instead of a wooden railway rolling stock toy of the glow in the dark paint. You got the Adventures range with the glow-in-the dark Thomas, Percy and Rosie, they could've added Henry in for promoting the DVD. But aside from toys, this episode I feel was fresh when it comes to Henry. Over the years he was seen as the worrier engine and while I do think that trait was done better in 'The Adventure Begins' with his fear of the rain done in a different context and Season 19 with some relatability of fearing Chicken pox, I think Henry had better episodes in the 20th season.

In this episode the tables had turned, instead of Henry being scared it was the other engines that were scared of him and while Cranky showed Henry in the mirror what he looks like, we never see Henry just running away in a coward sort of way. Although I wish that was done to Edward. Maybe it would be better if it were Edward calming down to everyone that it's Henry at the sheds nearing the end of the episode rather then him running away into his shed with the others. I mean he looks out for engines and the episode showed him glaring at Gordon and James with their teasing towards Henry. But other than that, this episode was good, interesting and fresh and there were some funny moments with the Fat Controller at the end.


Written by Davey Moore

It was nice to see that Judy and Jerome have a major role but the episode feels average. Not much happens in the episode except for Daisy's crash. All we see throughout most part of the episode are the two cranes going to Arlesbrugh, the countryside and the Blue Mountain Quarry. There was a funny moment of a seagull, lack of a better word, pooping on top of Jerome and it gave me a nice chuckle even though I'm not a fan of that type of humour but at least it wasn't hammered down to be funny. It's a nice episode and I think it proves that you can have more than one crane in the show. The episode was simple but it's not bad but also not great either.


Written by Andrew Brenner

This episode has an 'All at Sea' feeling towards it. Hugo's ambition to fly is a lot like Duck's ambition to travel by sea. Although the moral about 'Being yourself' was done before plenty of times and I think the moral was handled well in 'Best Engine Ever' with Emily and her insecurities rather than trying to copy someone, which this episode went with instead.

However the way the episode was written around the first few minutes was a bit poor. The scene gave the idea of the airship's presence felt more like a mystery tale. If they want the story to be about Hugo and his insecurities why not make him sad that the engines thought he was flying because he looks so similar rather then him wondering about the airship because how the way they transition from that to his ambition for flying looks like it came out of nowhere and felt more jarring and made no amount of sense. The scene of him trying to fly like the airship felt strange too with the lack of sound effects and all we hear is the music and voices that it makes the episode feel a bit lazy or rushed. Even though I like it that Brenner had pointed out the flaws of his basis, his hill climbing with his propeller is one that they haven't pointed out. If his basis climbs hills with its propeller on, the flow would separate if full power is applied. I know they bend some rules to tell a story, but it was a bit of a missed opportunity for that to showcase a needed crash, yeah a cliche but if its a way for Hugo to learn that he is for who he is that would be better way rather then him trying hard to fly.

Another flaw too is Hugo's purpose working on the Fat Controller's railway. What is his role? Sure it's taking passengers but on what designated track? Since the current team had brought back designated tracks, although not used too much. It's important for him to have a reason and I hope we see more about it in the future.

I get the episode's message but I think if you want an episode about Hugo and his insecurities, make him sad and doubtful rather than making it look like a mystery story. Yeah some fans don't like to see a character being all mopey but I think it is the only way to develop him.

Episode Rating:

Written by Andrew Brenner

I think this is one of Brenner's weakest scripts in the 20th season. One of the problems about this episode was Toby. We had an episode written by the same writer who made Toby almost in his original persona in 'Toby's New Friend' and suddenly he was reverted back into his worrying persona like in S13-16 in this episode. Toby is not a worrier, he can be temperamental, a bit of a joker, savvy about trucks more than Thomas and Percy despite his old age and he can be wise as well. Sure he did get nervous in S5 later on but he wasn't flanderised for it, and this is coming from a person who's not a fan of S5. Heck the three traits he holds could have story potential in fact some of those traits were in previous episodes for a second, Toby teaching Den about trucks in 'Den and Dart'.

Some fans have compare this to 'Cows' because the engines were scared of one. But there is a major difference between them. With 'Cows', Henry and Gordon were 'scared' because they never had any experience dealing with cows despite that earlier they were boastful about how easy it would be dealing with some, it made sense. They weren't scared by one because it was a monster or because it was an obscure sound. Sure Edward said they were afraid of it but he was just teasing. Gordon and Henry didn't carry on like wimps and run away, they just stood their ground and deal with it. Here the three small engines were scared by a sound and assumed it was a monster until Annie & Clarabel pointed it out.

Thomas' role, despite being the bland good guy, does remind me of him in 'Ghost Train' where he doesn't really believe in the stories until he got scared but without the cheekiness and more generic.

Percy's role was quite disappointing too. We saw him being developed in 'Tale of The Brave' about being brave despite being scared and throughout S19 we never saw him in his sacred persona until this episode and 'The Great Race'.

Now this is not the worst episode of all time to me at least. I like the concept of it all and I got a bit nostalgic looking at Thomas, Percy and Toby the Ffarquhar branch line trio and it was nice seeing the comeback of Trevor with dialogue for the first time since 2005, although his US voice wasn't great though in my opinion. The moral was nice about overcoming your obstacles and that we shouldn't jump to conclusions before knowing the truth. But it could've been better if maybe the episode developed Toby's character!

The fairy tale, which this episode had referenced, is about three goats and the oldest one is the one that defeats the troll and threw him into the river, in the original version. You could've had Toby being the third one and him 'confronting' the 'troll' which was the cow and Toby could've at least learn that he shouldn't have a wild imagination and that could begin to readjust his original character...again. Kids might as well look towards him for his bravery or maybe give him the lead role and let him be in Thomas' place but make Toby more interesting. Honestly the personas in the classic series can work here. You can have Thomas being cheeky like he did in 'Ghost Train', Percy being scared like he did in 'Thomas, Percy and The Dragon' and a wise Toby but sassy tram engine like he had in various episodes at that time 'Dirty Objects' is a prime example.

Andrew Brenner is a good writer in the end though, far from the worst. But this is sadly one of my least favourites he wrote and probably one of the weakest episodes. It was a good idea but the classic personas of Thomas, Percy and Toby could've worked much more better here than what they are now.


Written by Helen Farrall 

I found this episode hilarious! The story was nice and simple but when the Skiff and the Fat Controller went out to sea this is where it gets funny. I love the scene of the Fat Controller thinking he was stranded on a deserted island when really it was *spoilers* Bluff's Cove, although I wish they made the Fat Controller realise that he was there the whole time and should've telephoned for help.
I'm not much a fan of Skiff overall to be honest. I felt he was a bit bland and uninteresting in the 2015 special. But I like Skiff's character here he feels more like a sweet and naive child that gets overexcited, such as looking for the mermaid, it was nice. One sad thing I do find in this episode is definitely how little use of Oliver we've seen in this era. He barely had any episodes focusing towards him and he feels underused and more like a device to pull or push Toad around. I think the production team should try and focus more on Oliver in future, regardless of his render. It's not perfect but I don''t mind it and Arc Productions had fixed Duck's render this season. But in the end, it was a funny episode and I do hope we see more episodes focusing on Skiff.



Hugo's persona had come about his insecurities of him being different and while yes that was fine I felt like more should've been done on him. SiF had said on twitter when these episodes were out in Japan back in Feb 2017 that the writers have plans for him. I hope we see more of him being fleshed out in future episodes soon.

I do love the fact that the writers had given him the basis of the Rail Zeppelin with its futuristic and sci-fi look but in reality his basis wouldn't have been futuristic considering that the series takes place possibly around 1967, due to the small railway engines' stories being adapted and Reverend Awdry setting them in that period, according to 'Sodor: Its People, History and Railways' book. But who knows about the reaction if the people of England had seen the real rail zeppelin back in the 60's?


I think HIT Entertainment are treating the intervals now as a special features as they are part of this pack on the DVD known as 'Railway Fun With Thomas', the same is done for the UK's first DVD release for 2017. The first interval is 'Really Useful Engine' and the two characters that are focus are Belle and Harvey and it's the same as all the others. What's their purpose on Sodor and a bit of a recap.

However it's nice to see some new ones instead of recapping old ones. 

Of course we have the Earl's Quiz and in this one we see him asking the target audience questions towards moments such as 'The Afternoon Tea Express', 'Toad and The Whale' and what carriage that Toby pulls. Again, these are nice segments for the young audience to get them to memorise things from a particular moment. 

We are given another ''Landmarks of Sodor' segment and this time we take a look at the Search and Rescue centre and of course it's the same as the others, we are given a insight on what it does and who works there and these are fun to watch with Rob Rackshaw's voice, who thankfully doesn't feel like he's shouting. 

And we are given another 'The Fat Controller's Tales' this time featuring Toad and his events of 'Toad and The Whale'. This segment though made me feel sad that he gets as much focus than Oliver and Oliver didn't even have a single episode given to him yet. But I digress, I'm kind of starting to warm up to be this segment, although I still do feel like they are just rehashing the idea of 'Who's That Engine' and 'Really Useful Engine'. The one thing that is missing is the 'Guess Who?' puzzles and to be honest while they are good for the young audience, they are pretty much easy to guess and are becoming redundant.

And this year we are given not one but two songs from Eggplant LF! The songs are 'Spring Is Here' and 'Let's Go' which were shown on the PBS broadcast in the United States in 2015 and 2016. To be honest the first video 'Spring Is Here' is not bad but not great, it had nice music although the lyrics are bit bland. 'Let's Go' however, looking back at it, felt generic with the lyrics as the song was mostly about Thomas going on an adventure however I do like the music as it sound very railway folklore. So as always Eggplant LF are always a hit and miss but these are better than 'Race With You'.


So is this DVD worth it? I think it was a good release but it doesn't beat the likes of 'Spills and Thrills' or 'Start Your Engines'. The episodes could've been better but there were a couple of good ones. It's good to see that the US had finally got the updated 'Engine Roll Call' song and credits now all they need is the updated intro and better text. The special features are good too especially the songs. If you're a fan of S20 or a fan of Hugo then this release will be for you. 


Episode Ratings:
Sidney Sings - 8/10
All In Vain - 10/10
Tit for Tat - 10/10
Engine of The Future - 4/10
Henry In The Dark - 8/10
The Missing Breakdown Train - 5/10
Hugo and The Airship - 3/10
Three Steam Engines Gruff - 3/10
Skiff and The Mermaid - 9/10

Overall Rating: