With a final goodbye from an empty aerodrome, the version of Top Gear loved (and hated) by millions across the world ended. The programme that brought us a hovervan, sailed across the English Channel in cars, motorcycled across Vietnam, evaded Japanese face-recognition speed cameras with a Bill Oddie facemask and many other memorable moments, concluded with the leftovers of the aborted series 22. Fortunately, the two films edited post-“Fracasgate” demonstrated Jeremy Clarkson’s version of Top Gear at its best; beautifully edited, funny and entertaining.
Admittedly, the first film was the weaker of the two. It involved the trio emerging themselves in the world of classic car enthusiasts. Clarkson bought a Fiat 124 Spider, Richard Hammond had a MGB GT and James May purchased a Peugeot 304 Cabriolet. It was the usual Top Gear piece of the presenters driving around the countryside, crashing into each other and bickering. However, it’s important to bear in mind that these films were never intended to be their swansong. They were just two ordinary pieces made to fit into the end of an ordinary series. Obviously, events overtook the programme and the challenges became more important than they were intended to be. Therefore, it seems rather fitting that at least one of the films was a conventional piece; it demonstrated why the programme became so successful. Despite it being clearly contrived, the end to this film was pure cartoon-style brilliance. I’d say more, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.
Fortunately, Top Gear’s final film was one of the finest segments the show had recorded in a while; tasked with purchasing cheap SUVs, the group set out to prove it’s possible to purchase “outdoor activities cars” on a budget. Several challenges were set, including a Caravan Challenge, which ended in the predictable (yet still funny) destruction of the caravans. A pleasant diversion on a nearby lake while they awaited instructions from a producer was another gem. Whilst the humour of the show would never appeal to some, Clarkson’s customisation of his car’s hubcaps with a penis wheel trim, suggestions for what to call the ski slope to avoid getting into further trouble and fear of giving a speech to a Sustainability and Carbon Management Trust substantiated how he drove Top Gear’s success. It concluded with a race to a Yorkshire hotel, where the loser would be forced to speak to the Trust, which spiralled into inspired, escapist nonsense; Clarkson cut up his car, May got stuck in a field of sheep and Hammond fell over in the mud.
Some of the touches for the final show were neat; such as a literal elephant in the room. But, the sight of May and Hammond in the empty studio looked too odd and sterile to give a happy ending to their time. The silent credits at the end suggested it is not just the viewers who are sad to see them leave. On that note, it would have been much better if the BBC could have just let the credits roll out, instead of loudly promoting the next programme; I guess some things will never change. A montage of classic moments at the end may have been more suitable, though it would have been rather self-indulgent. Five stars may be one too many for this particular show, but for what this episode signifies -the end of an era- it deserves it.
Top Gear will continue. Yet, without the force of Clarkson, May and Hammond, it will never be the same. Perhaps that’s for the best. A line was crossed. Things had to change. After all, it is just a television show. Nevertheless, at 8pm on a Sunday night I will miss it. I’ll miss settling down to the feature-length Christmas specials with my family, the audible ‘oooh’ in the room when Clarkson said something to annoy The Guardian/Daily Mail and the madcap challenges that came straight from The Beano. Top Gear‘s production team created a programme that was unlike any other, which served millions of viewers, license fee payers and tabloid journalists well for thirteen years. From being shot at by angry Americans to crashing Reliant Robins in Sheffield, it has been one hell of a ride.
And on that bombshell…