Posts Tagged With: thomas the tank engine

Have I Got Whos For You (Valentine’s Day edition)

First things first: Happy Retrospective Valentine’s Day.

I wrote a poem for the occasion, and make no apologies for posting it after the fact; it’s a show about time travel:

Racnoss are red,
Dorium was blue.
And if it’s the last chance to say it,
Rose Tyler.

(Sorry.)

But there’s been more than one marketing stunt doing the social media rounds over the week. National Pizza Day, for example, came and went.

I’m never one to blow my own trumpet here at BoM, but can I just say that I’m really quite pleased with the Photoshopping in this one? I’d spent half an hour trying to get a Dominos box into a photo of Jodie and the others leaning over the glowing thing on the workbench (you know the one I mean), before abandoning it because, for all my rubbing out, her fingers were unavoidably yellow. I probably could have fixed that, but going in a completely different direction seems to have worked. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.

Speaking of Jodie, a leaked promo photo for series 12 has got the fans up in arms.

Disney are seldom out of the news these days. If they’re not dropping teasers for Frozen 2 (yes, I have seen it; yes, I tried a Doctor Who mash; no, it didn’t work) then the fans are getting their knickers in a twist over Will Smith’s lack of blueness following a magazine publicity shot for which he elected not to put on the hours of makeup (is it even makeup? Or is it just CG?). So a few days later they released a teaser, in which the genie appears in his full blue glory – far less rude than it sounds, by the way – and unsuspecting fans who presumably haven’t seen the original were taking to the internet in their dozens to Tweet “WHY THE HELL IS HE BLUE?”. You can’t please all the people all of the time, it seems, and if it’s millennial Disney fans you’re better off just throwing in the towel before you get started.

Anyway, the genie’s not without his contemporaries, as this family reunion picture will attest.

When I published this, all hell broke loose. Eagle-eyed readers will notice I’ve basically recycled the assets from the Elton John image I did last year, but that’s not the cause of consternation: rather, everyone is wondering why their own favourite is missing. “Where’s Yondu?” read the first comment.

“Um,” I said. “Yonder?”
“No, where’s Yondu? You know, the guy from Guardians of the Galaxy?”
“I know who you meant. He’s way over yonder. You know, over there.”
“Ha! Love the Jimi Hendrix reference.”
“Um. Yeah, OK.”

It went on.

“Where’s Dr Manhattan?”
“He’s in exile. Didn’t you read the book?”
“You forgot Jake Sully.”
“So I did.”
“What about the blue dude who shot Bill?”
“Who do you think’s taking the photo?”
“Oof.”
“Well, he’s good at shooting things.”
“Shouldn’t Avatar be here?”
“He’s in the Night Garden with Iggle Piggle.”
“Wait. What about the Blue Man Group?”
“Oh, yeah, well -”
“Where’s Mystique and Beast? The Diva from the Fifth Element? The Andorians from Star Trek?”
“Well, I-”
“Jim the Fish? Moxx of Balhoon? Karen Gillan’s Avengers character? What about-”
“STOP THE MADNESS!”

There’s a particular elephant in the room here, and that’s the question of whether all these blue-skinned aliens are part of the same race, or whether they’re all different. The latter is of course the answer, but the funny thing is I did actually have someone complain about this: a disgruntled New Zealander who is keen to use this as a drawing board on which he can scribble his own invented problems. “Hmmph,” he said. “So when a white man dresses up in blackface then it’s racism. But when a black man dresses up in blue, that’s OK?”

Well, I’ll tell you what Dave (not his real name). If you can find me a race of blue-skinned natives to get offended by this grotesque cultural stereotyping, then we can have a conversation. Seriously, fuck off.

Blue is clearly the colour of discussion here, but can we all calm down a bit? It’s not like they’ve changed the TARDIS or anything.

Yes. Well.

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The Next Step does Thomas The Tank Engine

I once saw a film called Billy Elliot. It was a grim and slightly edgy drama about an impoverished family in 1980s County Durham, in the heart of the miner’s strike. It was a story about the sacrifices we make to help the people we love, and a father and son discovering what was most important to them. Most of all it was about an eleven-year-old boy defying all the stereotypes to become a ballet dancer in a time when this was considered effeminate, sissy; something Boys Didn’t Do.

If the millennials reading this are having a hard time comprehending this state of affairs, here’s a confession: I have an aunt who got her son to do ballet when he was a child and the wider family generally disapproved. We never said so, at least openly, but there were fears that she was suppressing his masculinity by banning the footballs in favour of the pumps. This was not considered a particularly toxic viewpoint; my aunt, instead, was considered the odd one. She’s also a practising naturist, something else the family never quite squared, although Emily and I followed in her footsteps this summer on a beach near Swanage, where all six of us thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Essentially my opinion of her has softened quite a bit with the passing of several decades, which is kind of what happens when you get out from the echo chamber of your closest relatives.

Back in the present day, there’s a programme on CBBC that Daniel loves but pretends he doesn’t. It’s called The Next Step and it tracks the activities of a fictional dance studio in Toronto – one of those fake fly-on-the-wall documentaries, only not done terribly well. Characters fall in and out of love and creepy princes set up intense first dates wearing the sort of tuxedo that should have stayed in 1979 where it belonged. There are rivalries and egos and comical misunderstandings. There are girls crying in darkened rooms because they can’t go to Regionals and it’s, like, THE END OF MY CAREER. Most of all, there is dancing. Oh, so much dancing. It’s a shame they never dance to anything good. There’s no Prodigy. Not a whiff of Irene Cara. They don’t even have Walk The Moon, for the love of sanity. There’s a lot of generic stuff that leaves you utterly cold, which is kind of what –

– but hang on, I’m getting ahead of myself.

If you’ve seen it, you’ll know the tropes only too well. There’s the couple whose relationship Gets In The Way Of Things. There’s the squabbling over who gets to do the solo. Meanwhile, girl X has an injury but really needs to dance in this video, dammit, so continues to push herself and lie to everyone else that she’s fine when we all know she’s going to collapse in the middle of that crucial, placement-determining solo. And then there is the bitter rivalry between Michelle and Emily that escalated into a kind of Civil War scenario (which would effectively make Ozzy Peter Parker, right down to the spectacles). Previously, on The Next Step: Riley is tortured by the kiss that she shared with Alfie, but she can’t actually tell us how she’s feeling, so she’s going to express her emotional state using the medium of interpretive dance. You’re a tree, Riley. A single tree, billowing in the wind. Oh, you beautiful snowflake, you.

Most bizarre of all is their penchant for talking heads monologues conducted in the present tense about things that are actually happening at that moment. “I can’t believe Jacqui’s actually doing this,” says Noah, shaking his head. “There’s me, trying to get this segment together, and I asked her for contemporary, and she’s given me hip hop. This is not what I wanted.” This is during the scene, the monologue interspersed in between awkward pauses and some pretty intense staring. Or there’s Kingston, waxing lyrical about a particular routine, while he’s still in the middle of the routine. “The choreography’s tight and I’m enjoying myself,” he says to camera, between pirouettes. “This whole thing seems to be going pretty well”.

There are two conclusions we’ve drawn. Either this is all taking place later and for some unfathomable reason they’re describing it in the first person, or it’s all happening in their heads. I like that explanation – it’s a crummy studio with an inflated sense of self-importance, imagining its own documentary – and this tech-savvy daydreaming doesn’t detract from the authenticity of the experience (or, as Albus Dumbledore would have said, “Of course it’s happening in your head, Riley, but why on earth should that mean that it isn’t real, girlfriend?”). But perhaps there’s more to it than that, and perhaps there’s a bunch of cutting room floor stuff we’ll never get to see.

West [talking head]: I’m feeling pretty confident about this piece now, and getting into it. I like the way Eldon’s working with this piece, and I know I was sceptical about Emily’s choreo, but I’ve gotta say that –

James [off-camera]: West! For fuck’s sake, GET BACK HERE, IT’S NATIONALS!

Still, the great thing about The Next Step is that it features male and female dancers alike, doing all kinds of styles, and the whole idea of boys doing ballet is seemingly never mentioned. Everyone just gets on with it. The Next Step is thus absolutely geared towards both genders (yes, yes, and everything in between, don’t start on that), even if the bulk of the feedback I hear on TV appears to be from young girls. Daniel is now in the latter stages of fandom, having stopped denying that he enjoys it. And irrespective of the rather cynical tone I’ve taken today, I find it pretty compulsive viewing myself. The actors acquit themselves well and there are some beautifully executed moments, like when Elliot the duplicitous bastard (to give him his full rank and title) was exposed for the nob-end that he really was. No one likes you, Elliot. Go back to Broadway.

Elsewhere on the internet, some bright spark decides to take the theme from Thomas The Tank Engine and stick it underneath the ‘Single Ladies’ video, where it turns out to be the perfect accompaniment. So I thought I’d do the same thing, just for the hell of it. There are multiple episodes therein, and the sync isn’t quite as tight as I’d like it to be (thank you, YouTube upload process) but the whole thing just about hangs together. And god knows it’s better than some of the crap they dance to on the show. I just hope there’s no confusion and delay at TNS East. That’d be a disaster

Incidentally, my cousin’s turned out fine.

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Pyramids of Sodor

—-

Thomas the Tank Engine, or Thomas and Friends as we must now call it, is banned in my house. I should clarify: it is banned in its current form, which is a horrible, sticky mess. If I was going to be puritanical about this I could say that the rot started to set in after the departure of Ringo Starr at the end of the second series, although I profess to a certain admiration for the vocal talents of Michael Angelis. Besides, saying that you only like the first two series simply makes you sound like one of those people who think that Pink Floyd were never as good after Syd Barrett was given his cards. It isn’t wrong, but we just don’t do it.

In truth the first four or five series are quite good. It’s only in the sixth series, which hosts the introduction of a whole new set of characters (a trend that would continue for some years to come, to the extent that on the rare occasions I watch it nowadays I have NO IDEA AT ALL WHO ANY OF THESE ENGINES ARE), that things start to unravel. By the time of the eighth series, which features some drastic character deconstruction for Edward (the equivalent of what they did to Kryten in Red Dwarf VII), I’d stopped watching. Then they made the mouths move. Then they switched to full CGI and ditched the models. Then – oh, horror of horrors – they brought in different voice actors. These days it is an abomination, a holy nightmare, and the apple has fallen very far from the tree, then rolled across the road and down the same embankment that Gordon encountered at the end of ‘Off The Rails’.

But here’s the funny thing – and here’s where I’m going to borrow shamelessly from an old diary entry I wrote years ago – even in those earlier series, it’s abundantly obvious that Sodor’s railway service is appalling. It’s unreliable and full of whiny self-important engines with tremendous egos. They’re constantly breaking down and having accidents. There were always problems with the railway, and the odd accident, but unless I’m remembering it wrong I’m sure that in the original books the line ran fairly smoothly, largely because of Sir Topham Hatt’s authoritarian stance. “Engines on my railway,” he sternly explained to James, Gordon and Henry (who were on strike), “do as they are told”. This was broadcast on ITV in the days when the spirit of the miner’s unions was slowly being crushed, and even though Awdry had written it forty years previously, the Thatcherite overtones – and, indeed, the Conservative nature of the programme in general – were pretty transparent. There’s a reason that only one of the engines is painted red.

These days, however, there’s less industrial action and more calamity on the line. Part of this, I’m sure, is finance-related. The development of new technology, coupled with a budget that gradually crept up as revenue crept in, means that the technical team can do shedloads (engine shedloads?) of new stunts that they didn’t dare attempt in the earlier series. In 1984 the best you’d get was Gordon lifting very slightly off the rails and into an inch-deep pool of water that was supposed to be a ditch. These days you get engines that go flying off cliffs and into pools of lava (all right, coloured treacle), followed by trucks that explode. They have rock falls and grounded helicopters and goodness knows what else.

Consider this:

Harvey to the Rescue
Some trucks drag Percy down a hill and cause a derailment at Bulgy’s Bridge which blocks the road.

No Sleep for Cranky
Cranky the crane gets so annoyed with Bill & Ben’s constant chatter that he accidentally knocks over a shed, blocking the line.

A Bad Day for Harold the Helicopter
Harold has a chance to prove himself when a broken signal means Percy cannot get through with the mail, and whilst the workmen hastily try to repair it, the mail bags are loaded into Harold’s harness. He is feeling so clever that he decides to take them all at once, but the weight is far too much for him to handle. The mailbags get stuck in a tree and Harold finds himself diving nose-first into a haystack.

The Fogman
A landslide crushes the foghorn, so there is no way to warn the engines of the fallen rocks hidden in the fog. Thomas unfortunately hits the rocks and soon Cyril the fogman arrives to help warn engines he has been derailed.

Jack Jumps In
Jack the front loader ignores the warnings of the other quarry engines, and as a result, he tips over on the road and slides down the hill on his side in a pile of sand.

The World’s Strongest Engine
Diesel pulls so hard on a truck that the coupling breaks, sending him through a pair of buffers and landing on a barge.

Gordon Takes a Tumble
An impatient Gordon is pulling trucks when he is accidentally diverted onto an old branch line the next morning, and lands himself in trouble when the rails can’t take his weight.

Percy’s Chocolate Crunch
Percy is pushed under a coal chute (right as the operator starts pouring the coal), and gusts of wind from Harold the Helicopter’s rotor sends piles of ashes flying…right onto Percy! To help cope with the frustration, Percy takes some sugar vans that must be delivered to the Mr. Jolly’s chocolate factory. He approaches the factory on the sloped tracks that go up to the loading and delivery dock, which are coated with oil from a leaky truck. Percy applies his brakes, but the oil makes him skid past the dock and right into the factory wall. There are a series of gloops and splats from the heart of the factory, and Percy pops out the other end, covered in chocolate.

This is from one season, and these are only the accidents: we’ve also got trucks who cause bedlam, lost and broken whistles, damaged buffers and engines who’d rather sightsee, race buses or search for treasure than deliver the mail (or their passengers). The overall impression you get is one of total chaos, with a dictatorial (if occasionally kind-hearted) bureaucrat who is only just managing to hold the network together. Accidents are never investigated; instead random blame is allocated to whoever is by default the naughtiest engine, leaving hurt passengers and damaged goods and no satisfied customers. The parallels with Railtrack are obvious.

Here’s another thing: said crashes / derailments / industrial action are never the fault of the drivers. You can sort of understand the drivers wanting to jump clear when a train is about to crash – it’s the sensible thing to do. But having a sentient engine doesn’t mean that drivers are without blame. We saw the consequences of going off without your driver in ‘Thomas Comes To Breakfast’ (which I found in a charity shop a few years back, and which Josh, in his Thomas-loving days, greatly enjoyed). I’m therefore at a loss as to why, on all the other occasions when engines shunt trucks violently, the drivers are blameless. If I crashed my car, I couldn’t exactly stand there looking at the mangled wreckage by the crushed lamp post and say “Poppy / Suzie / Bertha, you have caused CONFUSION and DELAY!”. They’d think I was mad. On the other hand, if one of the Sodor trains runs on time it’s always the engine that’s praised and never the driver, so it’s swings and roundabouts. The drivers tend to just sit in the cab, unnoticed and unloved – a forgotten statistic, like Corey Feldman.

“You make a very valid point about the railway,” said my brother when I quizzed him about it, “because they have more problems than most lines. If you were stood on the platform at Reading station at 7.30 in the morning and some fat guy came over and said the train was delayed because it have some grief with some troublesome trucks a bit further up the line, quite frankly you wouldn’t buy it. There would be uproar. However, if the line ran smoothly and the engines weren’t self-important, there wouldn’t be much story. If Gordon took the express on time every week I probably wouldn’t bother watching.”

Ah yes, that Fat Controller. He – as you will have guessed by now, even if you haven’t actually watched the video – is the subject of today’s little foray into the world of Thomas. It occurred to me a while back that an authoritarian knight of the realm with a variety of facial expressions and whose mouth didn’t move was a perfect candidate for some sort of re-dubbing. I wracked my brains for weeks before I came up with two candidates on the same day: the other video will follow in a couple of months when I get round to doing it. In the meantime, the ‘abase yourself, insect’ attitude of Sutekh (one of my favourite Who villains) was ideal. You do have to be a bit careful with Sutekh, because he’s already been used for comic relief in this absurd making-of video on the ‘Pyramids of Mars’ DVD, but there was plenty of dialogue from the story I could rip, and all manner of appropriate Thomas clips with which to match it. I had a blast making this: it took a single evening, including all the cleanup and sound effects, and I’m really quite pleased with the end result. And Joshua (who has seen ‘Pyramids of Mars’ quite recently) enjoyed it – and I was really making it for him. At least that’s what I tell myself in the mirror every morning.

Categories: Crossovers, Videos | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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