Thomas the Tank Engine (2011 TV series) (Johnsonverse)

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Thomas the Tank Engine logo.png
Genre: Fantasy
Running Time: 7-10 minutes
Country: United Kingdom
Network(s): ITV (UK)
Created by: Sheldon Johnson, Jr.
Based on the Railway Series by the Rev W. Awdry
and the TV series Thomas & Friends by Britt Allcroft
Distributed by: Johnson Television
Narrated by: Ringo Starr
Music: Mike O'Donnell
Junior Campbell
Seasons: 7
Episodes: 234
Photography: Color
Picture format: 16:9
Release Date: January 4, 2011 - present
Related shows: Thomas & Friends
The Railway Series

Thomas the Tank Engine is a British television series that began airing on ITV in the UK on January 4, 2011, and WBC in the US on September 3 of that year, based on the book series The Railway Series by the Reverend Wilbert Awdry. Styled around the first seven seasons of the television series Thomas & Friends (1984-present), the series is narrated by Ringo Starr, who had narrated its first two seasons. It follows the adventures of a tank engine named Thomas and his friends.

Announced in 2008, the series has received critical acclaim for its approach to the series it is based on, its narration,


Development for the series began in 2005. Then-Johnson CEO Sheldon Johnson, Jr. was highly unsatisfied with the direction the original Thomas & Friends series had taken in 2004, with the introduction of the Steam Team, more overt educational content to satisfy PBS guidelines, and dumbed-down writing that, as Johnson saw, treated the viewer as either blind, stupid, or both. Because Henson International Television (then known as HiT Entertainment) had a higher degree of autonomy than other Johnson companies at the time, there was nothing Johnson could do. The Johnson twins, in particular, were disgusted with what their favorite childhood show had turned into, with his children Tim and Chloe only watching the "New Series" episodes to ridicule them.

While Johnson couldn't do anything about the main series, there was nothing preventing him from creating another Thomas show. The new series, simply titled Thomas the Tank Engine, began development days after Season 9 of the main series premiered on Nick Jr. in the UK. The series wasn't publicly announced until 2008, shortly after the CGI switchover of the main series; the announcement revealed that Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell would be returning to compose the music, while Ringo Starr would return as the narrator, having narrated the first two seasons of the original series in the US and UK, before he was redubbed by George Carlin in the US. The announcement was timed to coincide with the end of Season 12 of the main series, as the new series would use similar models to the original series.

The series is filmed on Soundstage 14 at the Johnson Studios lot (one of the largest soundstages at Johnson headquarters) on a massive to-scale model of Sodor as it appears in the TV Series (the adjacent Soundstage 13, which is just as large, has a model of Sodor as it appears in The Railway Series, and is used for filming of the series of the same name). The models used were exact replicas of those used in the original series, with the original seven engines being the plastic models like those built in 1984 instead of the brass models built between 1999 and 2004; in addition, Johnson bought up a massive amount of Tenmille rolling stock kits due to director Steve Asquith's desire for longer trains and more-populated yards. New models for new characters were also built. The series is filmed digitally, then edited and put through a filter to give the impression of being filmed on 35mm film; episodes thus have a 30 FPS playback rate as opposed to the 50 FPS of Seasons 8-11.

Scripting of new episodes began right when development started. By the time the series was announced, over 200 episode scripts had been written. Johnson's own in-house writing staff did the bulk of the work. When writing the episodes, they were given several simple but strict guidelines:

  • "Must have either a subtle moral, or no moral at all; no shoving morals down the viewer's throat in a holier-than-thou or blatant manner"
  • "Must not have a "three-strikes" formula like HiT's tighter deadlines have forced Sharon Miller to implement in the main series"
  • "Must make sense; no engines driving themselves or taking whatever route they desire, no random "special specials" with loads being carried in ill-suited rolling stock for plot convenience, no unrealistic and unsafe railway operations, and no "every engine does everything" mentality; every engine MUST have a designated role and purpose, unless they're a utility engine (examples include Donald, Douglas, and Derek); for example, Molly should be used for mainline passenger services, not pulling empty trucks to the coaling plant (this goes against the intended use of the Claud Hamilton)"
  • "Everything after Season 7 of the original series is to be ignored; characters from those seasons can be introduced, but must have a different origin and/or characterization that is more coherent and believable; for example, Rosie shouldn't stalk Thomas and copy him; certain characters such as Freddie and Jeremy are not to be used PERIOD (Freddie due to the intention to introduce Ivo Hugh at a later date, and Jeremy for having an ill-defined role beyond merchandising and being incredibly unlikable)"
  • "Give lesser-used characters the spotlight often; characters such as Duck, Oliver, Stepney, BoCo, Derek, Duke, Toad, Old Slow Coach, Butch, Caroline, George, and Nancy should have more roles and not be relegated to the background or completely forgotten"
  • "Certain Railway Series characters such as Bear, Pip & Emma, and Elsie can be used, provided they have different origins than the books (the Culdee Fell and Arlesdale engines are to be used only in the upcoming Railway Series spin-off)"
  • "DO NOT OVERUSE THOMAS!!!!!!!!!"
  • "There is NO Steam Team; every character deserves a day in the limelight, not just a certain few characters who are lumped together based on focus group testing and the complaints of overzealous feminists"

The opening sequence is a shot-for-shot recreation of the intro used in the first five seasons and Season 7, complete with the Classic Series-era theme song.


Series First aired Last aired Episodes
1 January 4, 2011 (UK)

September 3, 2011 (US)

May 3, 2011 (UK)

March 3, 2012 (US)