This article is about the unaired pilot. You may be looking for the re-filmed televised episode, the Buzz Book, the German DVD or the Philippine DVD.

“The pilot episode was a very good path finding exercise for us.... No doubt it'll be discovered in a rusting tin at some point in the future.”
Robert Gauld-Galliers

Thomas Down the Mine is the original unaired 1983 test pilot of Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends. It was filmed but never broadcast.

Production

In 1979, Britt Allcroft acquired the rights to produce episodes based on The Railway Series for television. She spent over two years meeting animators and watching test reels deciding on what type of animation would be used for the series - classical, stop motion, clay, or CGI. After meeting David Mitton it was decided that live-action model animation would be used. After getting a commitment from ITV, a low budget, pre-production test pilot episode was produced to pitch the series to several networks on 3 April, 1983. The pilot was based on The Railway Series story "Down the Mine" and differed from the final aired version. After the series was greenlit by ITV, the story was later refilmed as the twenty-fifth episode of the first series.

Differences with Final Version

The pilot version had simpler sets, fewer characters, and flatter lighting. The models of Thomas and Gordon were also different. The models used, including the wheels, were scratch-built by Martin Gill and were more simplistic in appearance. They were made of plastic and not brass, The models of Annie & Clarabel were based on kits from the Tenmillie, with little vac-formed faces. They were never tested before being filmed in front of the camera and proved to be unreliable. For example the pilot model's chassis performed so poorly that the models had to be pulled along with fishing wire. Another example is the models were equipped with a smoke generator based on a 12V car cigarette lighter, with conventional studio smoke-machine oil dripped on the hot element before each shot – but the heat proved to be sufficient to warp the ABS and Perspex of the engine bodies, so they could not be used for any length of time, a swift charging before a shot allowed a rather feeble smoke effect that sometimes emanated from gaps behind the eyes or at the side of the face-plug. The eye mechanisms were improved considerably for the actual series. During the pilot, they snagged repeatedly, smoke came out around them, and they were constantly being modified. Often, the eyes were set and locked in a particular direction. It was not unheard of for the static from the power coupling on the track to affect the servos and make the eyes suddenly veer wildly of.

A final example of its performance can be seen in the remaining footage of the pilot in the final cut, smoke comes out of Thomas' eye sockets. All of the models used later in the series would use the more dependable Märklin chassis. The pilot models also lacked a few features that were added later on to their final models, Thomas was missing his lamp and lamp irons, the splashers were missing their red lining, and the cab's side windows would be missing its yellow lining. Gordon's model didn't have a lamp nor lamp irons either, and didn't include a whistle. It is unknown if his tender had a few differences compared to its final model. After filming the pilot Christopher Noulton refurbished the pilot Gordon model, but was later replaced for the first series with a new model which had better battery power and R.C control.

Characters

Locations

Preservation

The pilot was never publicly released, only appearing in test screenings. After the Down the Mine “pilot” was test screened in April 1983, it was later handed to Rick Siggelkow in the late 1980’s. He showed it to his wife and a preschool, with the results being positive, launching Shining Time Station, with Siggelkow being the show’s co-creator. is believed that Rick Siggelkow is no longer in possession of the pilot, as he says he turned in all his Thomas the Tank Engine and Shining Time Station master tapes to Mattel. This likely means that the Down the Mine “pilot” is with Mattel. No stills are known to exist. However, some recycled footage from the unaired pilot is also seen in the aired version of Down the Mine itself, resulting in Thomas' pilot model being briefly seen.

Trivia

  • Britt Allcroft mortgaged her house to fund this episode's production.
  • The pilot was filmed on C-stage at Clearwater's Battersea studio.
  • The pilot only took 3 weeks (15 business days) to film between March and April 1983.
    • Out of the 15 business days it took to film it, only 10 were used to film the actual pilot.
  • David Mitton originally specified during early pre-production of the pilot that Thomas "is coupled to a number of carriages. Clarabel and Annie are two of them." This was revised to just Annie and Clarabel by the time of filming.
  • Unlike the series which used Märklin tracks, the pilot used Tenmille. The Tenmille rails later rusted just before the first series and were replaced with Märklin.
  • There were plans to have an animated intro with steam puffs, but this never materialised, and no intro for the pilot was made.
  • According to Robert Gauld-Galliers, it is currently unknown as to where the pilot footage is. He also stated that, although he was unsure as to who watched the first screening of the episode, it did get a positive response
  • Acording to a tweet by the Twitter user Tomsprops, Martin Gill wanted to make a Henry model for the pilot.
  • The Gordon model used in the pilot is noted to have a higher running board and completely different face from the final model.
  • Rick Siggelkow states there was no Ringo Starr narration in the pilot, meaning that Britt Allcroft's statement of Ringo narrating the pilot must have been a confusion with the final episode.
  • According to Tim Staffell, the Gordon and Thomas models used in the pilot performed so poor on set they had to be pulled along with fishing wire in some shots.
  • Unlike the series, the pilot was filmed without Clearwater's Periscope Lens System, and instead with a standard rostrum based 35mm Mitchel camera. After the series was funded, the periscope lens with the overhead gantry were commissioned. Consequently, the video quality is rather inconsistent in the aired episode due to some footage being re-used from the pilot.

Gallery

Reused footage from the pilot:

Possible reused footage from the pilot:

Behind the Scenes

Models

Possible Concept Art

External Links

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