It is Christmas time once again (Yes I Know It Was Last Week), and it is the year for terrible TV. It is no mystery that TV at Christmas is bad. There may be a Doctor Who Special for Christmas, but given what those specials have been like since that Cybermen one (or that boring one with the fish), I might not bother. There are of course some Films to be watched, but given this time of year it is usually a good idea to avoid any films related to Christmas (so avoid Movies 24 (or Christmas 24 as it is known this time of year) in that case).
While most of TV is bound to be bad, let us not forget that there is one show that says ‘NO’ to bad TV at Christmas; Top Gear. For the last few years they have produced a wide and enjoyable selection of specials where the trio travel to a different country and look around and get up to some funny japes in a bunch of cars. So in celebration to these great men, here are my Top 5 Top Gear Specials.
5. Botswana Special – The Botswana special set up the core format for how all the future specials would turn out. While there had been previous specials, this one did the opposite of going somewhere other than America. It starts off nice and simple with the trio showing off the cars they bought (which were not allowed to off-road vehicles) and start the journey off with James May accidently driving into Zimbabwe. Over the course of the episode Richard Hammond grows rather fond of his Opel Cadet (even naming it Oliver) and becomes a bit too overly attached with it. One of the shows main points saw them driving through the Makgadikgadi Pan with some heavy modifications to Jeremy’s Lancia Beta Coupe and James’s Mercedes-Benz 230E. Another point of the show was that of the trio driving through the Okavango Delta, after modifying their cars again. Throughout the whole program all three cars had major (but also very funny) problems and were also followed round what would be a standard for all future specials, the backup car, in this case The VW Beetle.
4. Vietnam Special – A very interesting episode as well as entertaining. The show began with them getting a lot of money to buy wheels, but discovered that despite having 15 Million Dong (The Vietnam Currency), it was not enough to buy wheels with, until they realized they could, but the form they did get, did not please Jeremy all that much, they bought bikes. This is an episode that I think about every now and again. I am not fond of Bikes also, and I try to think about what I would do in that position. The early stages of the episode sees Jeremy struggle greatly with Richard and James drive off and not see him again until lunch and supper of the first day. As the episode progresses, they buy suits, buy ridiculous presents over and over again, fail a driving test, paint Richard’s bike pink, catch a train and turn their bikes into jet skis. They are also followed by a backup bike, but on this occasion it is not a great idea because it has an American Flag and American Flag decor and plays the Bruce Springsteen classic ‘Born in the U.S.A.’, not a great idea to do while in Vietnam. One of the more enjoyable bits though is when they go in search of their cars and discover how hard it was going to be and what they would go through in the hope of buying a car. But despite all the comedy and silliness involved, the whole episode is overshadowed by the Amazing country that it is set in. The shots of the cities, countryside as well as the weather is incredible to watch.
3. Bolivia Special – Simple plan initially, buy 3 off-road vehicles and travel to the Pacific Ocean, the start point however is in the middle of a jungle. The Bolivia Special has one if not the best opening for a top gear special. It initially starts out with the trio waiting for their vehicles, point out everything that is wrong with the vehicles and then try to get them off a raft. Jeremy goes for a Range Rover which is consistently referenced as the most unreliable car in the world, which throughout the episode turns out to be the most reliable car of the three. James buys a Suzuki SJ413 which was apparently blue in the catalogue he ordered it from, but turned out to be red. Richard meanwhile lands for a Toyota Land Cruiser which in the end does not make it. Much like the Vietnam special, part of this episode features an interesting country as well as journey which starts in the jungle and ends up in a desert where there is no life at all. The jungle section is really good and even as that part goes, the episode does not let up, even when driving on the most dangerous road in the world on one of the highest roads in the world to the eventual end of driving the two remaining cars down some dunes. The trios experience through these points is brilliant also such as how much they suffered at high altitudes, and Hammond’s experience at taking caramelized drugs. Very enjoyable and memorable episode, definitely a highlight for the show.
2. Africa Special – The first Two Part special, the trio go in search of the true source of the River Nile. Travelling in Estate cars, the trio are trying to be explorers to look for the real source of the river Nile, something that has been queried and argued for a long time (apparently). The episodes start off as normal but as the first episode goes on, they discover more and more of the country and for a time it turns in similar fashion to the Vietnam Special. As it progresses they boys modify their cars to sleep inside them instead of Richard’s Favourite past time and drive through a town named Jezza. As it becomes clear they have been going in the wrong direction, and become rather despondent, they go in a different direction which leads to them sailing across Lake Victoria in a short, but rather interesting few moments which leads to Hammond losing a lot of food from his car, even though he can only cook baked beans. In the second episode they get closer to their destination, after stealing bits and bobs off each other’s cars they build a car ferry to get across a river. They then arrive on a very perilous road which causes them nothing but problems before a mad dash finish to find the source which James does. While these Episodes are great, I do feel like the second episode lets the first one down, especially with the whole car ferry moment, if that was shorter, and had more stuff on where they were as well as what they got up to, it would be number 1. But I do wait with much anticipation towards any future double episodes, it works, it really does.
1. India Special – The India Special had it all, Good Cars, Great Challenges, Silly Incidents and an Amazing Country. Thinking it would be a great idea to get some trade going for the UK by visiting India, the trio go there on a trade mission in a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, Jaguar XJS and Mini Cooper. They try to use their cars in a way that might be able to get India to trade with England such as delivering hot food instead of the train, hosting Motorsport and decorating them in an Indian way including a painted flag that is not Indian. The trio do other things also such as putting banners on the side of trains which in the end leave rude messages, host a trade reception which ends with an accident with a homemade firework as well as a runaway Lawn Mower. The trio also improve a couple of British Made products also by making a far better version of the pointless Paul McCartney Song ‘Hey Jude’ and greatly improve the most boring sport in the world; Cricket. The episode is also filled with funny incidents including James taking revenge on Jeremy and Richard for messing with his car, and repeated fun at Richard’s expense by playing a Genesis song over and over again. Much like the Vietnam episode also, it is a great representation of an amazing country and culture revealed as the show goes on. Even after the great African Special, this remains my Favourite Top Gear Special.