Thomas and the Royal Engine (Thomas & Friends)
"Thomas and the Royal Engine" or simply "The Royal Engine" is the final episode of Season 23, the final double length special in the series, as well as the last episode of the original Thomas & Friends series from 1984-2020 in production order. It serves as the franchise's 75th anniversary special. It was released first in the US on May 1st, 2020, then a day later in the UK through television on Channel 5's Milkshake! block on May 2nd, 2020.
Thomas is selected to take Sir Topham Hatt/The Fat Controller to London for a Royal Appointment, but without the knowledge of how to get there, their journey is filled with a great deal of confusion.
Why It's Royality
- The plot is really fascinating and well done. While "Lady Hatt's Birthday Party" from Season 5 has a similar plot, it's not too similar, because this time, Thomas and Sir Topham Hatt are going to London for a Royal Appointment with the Queen of England.
- For the first time ever since Season 12, live-action is used in an episode. But with Prince Harry giving out a special introduction to kick-start the episode.
- There's some funny moments, like Thomas' driver chasing after a squirrel after the squirrel takes Sir Topham Hatt's hat.
- There are many references to continuity from the classic era, Seasons 17-21 and even the Railway Series:
- The events from "Thomas Meets the Queen"/"Paint Pots and Queens" are mentioned.
- Thomas repeats his line: "Little engines can do big things" from Thomas and the Magic Railroad.
- Gordon mentioning his way of getting to London from the Railway Series story, "Gordon Goes Foreign", which was originally planned to be adapted to an episode for Season 2 (which was mistakenly thought to be Season 3) but was cancelled due to budget issues.
- Sir Topham Hatt taking over Thomas' fireman's position being called back from "Lady Hatt's Birthday Party".
- A photograph of Sir Topham Hatt and his wife, Lady Hatt from "Rosie is Red".
- Gordon being built at Doncaster.
- Henry having his rebuild at Crewe in England was mentioned from "The Flying Kipper".
- Thomas looking smart and clean while helping Duchess while he is dirty is similar to James' appearance in the eleventh series episode, Dirty Work.
- Prince Charles mentioning the events from "Big World! Big Adventures!" in the near end of the special.
- The Queen making an iconic mention of the books about the railway being a reference to the TV show's origins.
- Sir Topham Hatt mixing up suspicious with auspicious was clearly made a similar reference to the final story from the Railway Series, "Centenary".
- The Duchess of Loughborough is a really great character who we all want to see more from after this episode. What's better is that Rosamund Pike voices the character, and even she stated she loved working on the show, even for this episode. But sadly, this is no longer the case due to the end of the 1984-2021 series, as well as the start of the already bad to begin with All Engines Go! reboot.
- Sharon Miller joined the voice cast to voice as Queen Elizabeth II, which shows us Sharon Miller is a great voice actor even if her head writing direction during Seasons 8-16 wasn't good. Also, her voice for the Queen is brilliant.
- It's an excellent way to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Thomas and Friends franchise as well as serving the purpose to be the Thomas & Friends finale after all these 75 years.
- The animation, while still flawed in some areas, is a pretty big step up from other episodes from the "Big World! Big Adventures!" era as well as other episodes before the "Big World! Big Adventures!" retooling.
- The voice acting is still great as usual. Especially with John Hasler and Joseph May voicing as Thomas in the UK and US dubs respectively.
- As usual, the soundtrack by Chris Renshaw is still spectacular, the show's latest composer of the 1984-2021 series.
- For the reasons stated above, this episode really stands out from most of the other episodes from the "Big World! Big Adventures!" era. Also, thanks to this episode being the last one made in production order of Season 24 and the original series as a whole, it graciously ends the series on a high note.
- The way Beresford swings Thomas with his hook, as how it was criticized in "Journey Beyond Sodor", is rather dangerous considering he would have dropped Thomas for picking him up with his hook like that.
- Although a hidden depth there, the story can be a bit slow-paced at times.
- While Thomas's driver and fireman are more active compared to other episodes (and definitely more active than in Seasons 13-16), they could have done a bit more, such as help Thomas decide on what route to take, and Thomas's driver should not have let him leave without the fireman, Sir Topham Hatt's demands notwithstanding.
- Being an episode from the "Big World! Big Adventures!" era, the gesturing (aka bouncing) of engines is still present. Though thankfully, it's not jarringly overused as in other episodes from this era.
- As is common with the international episodes from Season 23, some of the mainland locations, particularly the London station, are obviously just redressed Sodor locations.
- But to be fair, the classic era did this before with "Rusty to the Rescue". It could be that way due to budgeting reasons, so this is somewhat forgivable.
- Though it seems to be a fitting end to the series, it actually was not the final episode of the original series, at least in standard official airing order. Instead, "Thomas' Animal Friends" serves as the final episode, which was a bad way to conclude the series.
- Production-wise, this episode, as the standalone special of the twenty-fourth season, is placed after all the regular-length episodes. It serves as the series finale of the twenty-fourth season and the final episode to take place in the original continuity established in the first season, as though some promotional material continues to use the numbering scheme, the Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go! is a total reboot to the series, which makes this the last episode of the 1984-2020 series produced.
- Prince Harry's introduction was recorded on January 2020.
- Similar to how Wilbert Awdry criticized "Henry's Forest" from Season 3, Allcroft was critical of "Thomas and the Royal Engine"'s marketing, particularly where Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex was involved. The next day, however, she changed her mind on the episode and quickly clarified that her "concern was, in no way, about the actual writing of this story", and passed on good wishes to the writer, Michael White.
- The music played as Thomas and the Fat Controller are getting ready to go to London is similar to the Beatles' 1965 song "Day Tripper", former narrator Ringo Starr was the band's drummer for several years.
- Henry was the only former Steam Team member to speak in this episode, while Toby was the only former Steam Team member not to appear.
- Nia was the only current Steam Team member not to appear in this episode.
- Prince Charles can be seen holding a toy version of Thomas without a face - this is possibly a reference to Wilbert Awdry's original models.
- This was the first time ever since the twelfth season episode, "Best Friends", to use live-action. Also the first time since Thomas and the Magic Railroad to involve real life humans.
- According to episode writer Michael White, the episode's script was originally twice as long (clocking in at around 40 minutes of runtime) and would have featured more returnees from Journey Beyond Sodor. According to Michael White, it is likely that Theo, Lexi, Merlin, Hurricane and Frankie were intended to appear in the episode, however were later cut for time.