(Just so you know, I’m not going to review every Top Gear episode, but I had strong enough opinions of this episode to warrant a My Thoughts blog.)
The first episode of this new, eighteenth series of Top Gear was to be, for many once-loyal fans (myself included), a make-or-break episode. Cock it up, and we’d lose interest and leave it to suffer a plunge in ratings.
The producers (to whom the TG brand is worth millions) and presenters knew this very real threat. Though part of a joke, Jeremy Clarkson made no secret of the controversy that’s followed the disastrous Christmas India special, opening the show in simple terms: “Now, even though this programme has taken a terrible battering in the newspapers in recent weeks, we have made every effort we possibly can to make sure this series is unaffected.”
Indeed, the preview tape looked similar to those of the old series, with beautiful photography, great co-presenter chemistry, and a wide range of upcoming films included. But as the first episode progressed, it became obvious that it was not all ‘same old same old’. In addition to the addition of a plinth in the studio for the Hammerhead-i Eagle Thrust from Series 14, there were far greater changes in programme feel.
In recent series (and most noticeably in that Christmas 2011 episode), the style of the main films has felt hideously patronising, where it seemed we were meant to fall for the blatantly-staged, unfunny ‘accidents’ (many of which, like the crude ‘Eat English Muff‘ and ‘Sh IT For Your Company‘ train stunts, were merely repeats of virtually identical stunts from previous series).
Tonight sees the welcome return of Top Gear, now in its sixteenth series. This run has been delayed – it usually broadcasts in the run up to Christmas – due to HarperCollins (the book publishers) fight with the BBC over Ben Collins’ successful attempt to write a book revealing his identity as the Stig.
After much doubt over whether a new Stig would be introduced (and a hilarious spoof clip of a ‘Stig Farm’ on Top Gear’s site), a photo released on the show’s blog a few days ago appears to show the comedian John Bishop out on the TG test track with a masked, Stig-like figure in the passenger seat.
Between a couple of great Christmas specials (specifically the tremendous Middle-East road-trip), we’ve seen a couple of exciting trailers for the new series – I’m looking forward to seeing a helicopter land on a helipad… on top of a 4×4.
Today, James May drives the Arial Atom V8, Jeremy Clarkson discusses the Skoda Yeti, and Richard Hammond sets out to prove that the Porsche 911 is not just an old VW Beetle with a spoiler on it. It should be good!
Episode one of the sixteenth series of Top Gear premiers in the UK tonight, at 8:00pm on BBC2.