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Who would have thought sixty years on that an Anglican clergyman would be remembered for something other than his commitment to his faith? Well, the name Reverend Wilbert Awdry will be remembered forever more because of a group of stories that he first wrote for his son Christopher who at the time was recovering from an illness. The potential for success was evident for all to see and the Reverend was persuaded by his wife to publish the stories, something he did annually right up until 1972. The reverend’s first book, “The Three Railway Engines” was published in 1945, but probably the book he will be most famous for was released one year later and was entitled “Thomas the Tank Engine”.

Thomas & Friends: Classic Collection Series 1
In 1972 the reverend wrote his last book, but that’s not where this story ends! In 1983 his son, Christopher took up the challenge and wrote a follow up collection of Thomas stories. Just a year later in 1984 Britt Allcroft decided to turn the books into a children’s TV programme, he persuaded ex-Beatle Ringo Starr to narrate and as they say, the rest is history!

These days Thomas the Tank Engine has become an institution; every bit of merchandise you can think of has been marketed and the series has gone from strength to strength. As you would expect, there are many toys based on Thomas and many of them have won awards for the number of units they have sold. Due to the advent of television the programme may be most known by children these days, but that doesn’t mean that the books have been forgotten. In 2001 it was estimated that nearly 80 million books had been sold worldwide. When you add to that the various Thomas the Tank Engine fun days, computer games and clothing, it is easy to see why the franchise is such big business.

Well, I guess you’re wondering what all the above has to do with a DVD? Well, the simple answer is that among the extensive amount of merchandise available, there is also a vast array of DVDs. The last few years have seen a lot of the newer episodes available on DVD, but there has been a distinct lack of early episodes making their way onto our favourite format. Last year there was a ‘best of’ DVD, but with a total of over 160 episodes, how can you possibly cater for everyone’s favourite one? Well, it seems that VCI have cottoned onto this, and are now starting to release one by one the full series’ of Thomas the Tank Engine. This is a review of series 1.

This DVD features all 26 episodes from the first series; starting with the first ever episode “Thomas & Gordon” and ending with “Thomas’ Christmas Party”. A full list of the episodes can be seen below:

1. Thomas & Gordon
2. Edward & Gordon
3. The Sad Story of Henry
4. Edward, Gordon & Henry
5. Thomas' Train
6. Thomas & The Trucks
7. Thomas & The Breakdown Train
8. James & The Coaches
9. Troublesome Trucks
10. James & The Express
11. Thomas & The Guard
12. Thomas Goes Fishing
13. Thomas, Terence & The Snow
14. Thomas & Bertie
15. Tenders & Turntables
16. Trouble In The Shed
17. Percy Runs Away
18. Coal
19. The Flying Kipper
20. Whistles & Sneezes
21. Toby & The Stout Gentleman
22. Thomas In Trouble
23. Dirty Objects
24. Off The Rails
25. Down The Mine
26. Thomas' Christmas Party

I remember watching Thomas the Tank Engine when I was younger, and lots of the episodes above are still familiar. However, my opinion of the series is somewhat muddied by the newer episodes which have materialised from America. The newer episodes may look clearer and more spectacular but they also seem to lack the magic of the original series. For example, it has now got to the stage where they have introduced too many characters and the original gang (Thomas, Henry, Percy and James, just to name a few) are not featured as much. Therefore, it is a refreshing change to go back to the roots of the programme and experience Thomas as it was originally made. After having watched the first series again it is clearly evident that the stories are a lot simpler and probably targeted at a lower age range. Some of the newer episodes can be a little scary for youngsters and often seem to focus on darker themes such as ghosts. There is none of this with the original episodes, the fun/adventures that the engines get up to is a lot more innocent and surprisingly more interesting!

Thomas & Friends: Classic Collection Series 1
From the tone of this review you can probably gauge that I am a Thomas fan, and it’s good to see that my daughter has taken an interest as well. It amazing what you can get away with when you have children! I don’t often get to sit down in the middle of the day to watch TV, but the wife can’t argue too much when you are keeping your daughter company while she is watching Thomas the Tank! I’ll definitely have to persuade my son to start liking Star Wars and my viewing line up will be perfect! All joking aside my daughter is more familiar with the new episodes so I was keen to see what her reactions were to the episodes that her daddy used to watch when he was a boy. It’s still early days, but there were certain episodes such as “The Sad Story of Henry” which she really enjoyed and asked to watch again. I think she understood the story better, and got more from them.

Most people will have heard of Thomas the Tank Engine, and if so you will know what to expect from this DVD. There is no doubt that this DVD represents great value for money, and I would recommend it to any parents who are looking for a DVD for their children. If you have never heard of this series then you really shouldn’t waste anymore time and order this DVD straight away. Children’s TV really doesn’t get any better!

The transfer for this release at best can be described as mediocre. Considering that these episodes were made over twenty years ago, the above statement shouldn’t come as any surprise. All episodes are presented in their original 4.3 television aspect ratio. The colours are vibrant, but the detail and clarity is where this transfer really suffers. There is also a lot of grain, and compression artefacts are evident in numerous places. This transfer won’t win any awards, but do the children really care? The main thing is that the episodes are perfectly watchable and this didn’t distract from my viewing pleasure.

VCI have released this DVD with an English Stereo soundtrack, which comes as no surprise. Considering the age of these episodes you wouldn’t really expect anything else. The musical score comes over clearly throughout, but probably the most important aspect is Ringo Starr’s narration, which is audible and precise without exception. There is not really much else to comment on audio-wise. There are English subtitles provided for each episode and the menu system is static with the Thomas theme music playing in the background.

No extras with this release. Once again this doesn’t really come as a surprise; however it would have been nice to have some historical extras which detailed how Thomas made it to the big screen. Maybe future releases will make up for this.

Thomas & Friends: Classic Collection Series 1
Thomas the Tank Engine is world renowned; for anyone who is wondering why, you should take this DVD as the starting point. The latest episodes of Thomas are not a patch on the originals, and what better way is there to experience the show than to see the very first series. It has some stories which are great fun and should keep your children happy for many an hour. With a running time of over two hours this DVD represents great value for money. It’s true that the technical aspects of this DVD are not great, but I am willing to overlook this point in the name of fun and nostalgia. This first series brings back so many memories from my childhood that I’m just glad it has finally made its way onto DVD!