When we first meet Whit in Album 1 he is introduced not only as an ice cream shop owner and grandfatherly advice-giver but also as an eccentric tinkerer. As an inventor he tries a lot of things but isn’t too successful. He can’t even get a photocopier to work and instead has to turn it into a pizza oven. This episode, however, reveals that all Whit’s experimentation was not in vain. It’s a significant moment for the show. The Imagination Station, the result of several earlier prototypes, including the Environment Enhancer, is now finally open to the public. And who should be the first kid to try it out but Digger Digwillow, a kid who has never been to Whit’s End before, isn’t very happy to be there, and thinks the Bible is boring. Digger is also new to Tom Riley’s Sunday school class, which is a nod to continuity because it references the episode A Matter of Obedience. Apparently Tom’s storytelling ability in the last album as a substitute Sunday school teacher was enough for him to get promoted in this album. But even Tom’s stories aren’t enough to keep Digger interested. Digger’s parents’ only option is to send him to Whit’s End.
Let me just say, Digger Digwillow is a ridiculous name and sounds a little like a comic book character, so maybe that explains Digger’s desire to read comics over Bible stories. The name Digger Digwillow later devolves into Digger Digger Digwillow, highlighting the absurdity of his name. Digger’s introduction makes this episode feel a little like a pilot episode, especially since it is placed at the beginning of this album. Digger’s character is completely new to the show and gets introduced to Whit’s End and this new invention called the Imagination Station, which this time isn’t a flop but a working machine. I don’t doubt this partially inspired another pilot show, the first two episodes of Album 51, The Inspiration Station, Parts 1 & 2. Unlike Whit’s Flop, which is more slice-of-life, The Imagination Station episodes do a great job setting up a tone of adventure and fast-paced excitement for the show. Perhaps this explains why these episodes are included on the Welcome to Odyssey collection and Whit’s Flop is not. They really live up to the show’s name, Adventures in Odyssey. I think the AIO team reaches another level with Album 5 and makes a strong statement by starting off with the greatest story ever told.
Whit tells Digger to let him know if the Imagination Station gets too exciting for him. Whit is clearly able to monitor the adventure and end it at any time, but he’s also really hoping Digger doesn’t leave the adventure early. So when Digger enters the machine and immediately starts calling Mr. Whittaker’s name when he encounters a crowd of people in what he thinks is still the Bible Room, Whit kind of ignores him for a while. If Mr. Whittaker was an amusement park ride operator, he probably would have shut the ride down immediately for fear of getting sued or something. But Mr. Whittaker isn’t like that. He has the wisdom to see right through Digger’s protests and keeps the machine running. Whit’s disembodied voice eventually reassures Digger that everything is running smoothly, but only later on in the episode. Meanwhile, Digger continues to entertain us by making references to Ben-Hur, Hercules, and even Levi Strauss jeans. And the whole “I’ve never heard of this place called Odyssey” routine that is so common in Imagination Station trips appears for the first time in this episode, which is nice to hear. Another interesting thing is that the first door Digger walks through causes him to transition to the next scene. He finds himself inside a closet, three days into the future, which is similar to how the new Imagination Station works in Album 50, and is virtually identical to Kelly’s experience when she goes on the exact same adventure.
I like how these two episodes portray Jesus from Digger’s point of view. Jesus is introduced stealthily into the story. First Digger sees a man riding into the city on a donkey and, not recognizing him, he wonders why the crowds have gathered to see him. Then he hears that a man and his disciples are spending the Passover in the upper room of the very house Digger is staying. Digger takes a few minutes to finally clue in to who this man is, and then he suddenly goes all quiet when he realizes that Jesus Christ is right on the other side of the door in front of him. When Mr. Whittaker mentions Jesus earlier, Digger brushes the name off. But now when he encounters him face to face He is impossible to ignore. Digger finds more than he bargained for. He was told that he would experience a trip that would make the Bible seem less boring, but what he gets is an adventure that makes Jesus, the central character of the Bible, come alive to him in a way Digger never could have anticipated. Digger is changed from that point forward. After looking into Jesus’ eyes and seeing His eyes looking back at him, full of unfailing love and deep compassion, Digger suddenly has an interest in where this story is going, which makes its climax and conclusion that much more meaningful.
Now that Digger actually cares about what’s going to happen next, the episode’s pace picks up as he races to follow the action. He also reveals more of his spunky side and becomes an even more endearing character. He stands up to Pilate’s wife, Claudia, and then calls out Pontius Pilate himself for being a coward. That’s probably something a lot of people in the audience would have liked to do at this point as well. Digger is a great character and his transformation in this episode is believable and touching. Normally I would complain that Digger’s conversion isn’t nearly as powerful as it could have been because he’s a new character who we don’t know, but I don’t think that’s the case. We do know Digger by the end of this episode. It’s a credit to Chad Reisser’s acting ability that it was so easy to connect to this character even though Digger has never appeared on the show before. Overall, this is a fantastic episode to kick off Album 5. It reintroduces listeners to the show by expanding the AIO universe through the creation of the Imagination Station, creating countless possibilities for the future. It gets 5 out of 5 stars.