Top Gear: India Special

By Matthew Laidlow.

Top Gear has always been a fascinatingly strange show. Essentially, three middle aged men are filmed having a mid-life crisis as they whizz around tracks in cars that the average viewer can’t afford.

£400,000 for a limited edition five wheel car that pumps out music through the exhaust instead of fumes? Of course that’ll fit into a council estate in Norwich.

Somewhere, these stupid ideas for cars are being designed, built and snapped up by people who’ll collect them like football stickers.

But the weirdest aspect of Top Gear has been the way the programme has somehow captured a worldwide audience. Whilst Clarkson constantly faces calls to be sacked, he’s one of the biggest money spinners for the BBC as the show is sold abroad and rakes in money via spin off merchandise.

And somehow, instead of being a visual version of Autotrader magazine, the show’s combination of escapism and ropey humour pulls together into something that’s more than a sum of its parts.

This time, the idiotic trio are packed off to India on a quest to enhance trade links with the country and save Britain’s failing economy.

As you’d expect, it achieved none of those things.

At no point did it ever seem likely that three morons from England were going to solve the nation’s debt problems, but each situation they were placed in seemed to have a predictable and chaotic ending.

The BBC claim they don’t produce scripted reality shows such as Made In Chelsea and TOWIE, but Top Gear is gradually edging closer. Chuck in high production values and a well sourced soundtrack and you’d never know the difference .

One scene saw Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond take an eighteen hour train journey as they travel through India. Thinking of where they were and how they could promote British products, they decided that hanging huge banners on the side of the train carriages would be the ideal solution.

Amazingly, all the tools they needed were available at one train stop and soon an arts and crafts lesson started. After a few “comical” mishaps, banners were created with one saying:

“Eat English Muffins.”

Seems innocent enough doesn’t it? Given that the banner was being made on a train, it had to be short and snappy. And so, when the train stopped at a station, the entire Top Gear production team hoisted the banner into place. And it worked. Brilliant, job done. What’s the worst that could happen now? Well it could snap, fall on to the tracks and derail the train. But mass rail deaths didn’t occur. Instead, the banner ripped so it said:

“Eat English Muff.”

Sigh.

This pattern of being placed in a situation that ultimately fails does form the core of the show, but in a warped way some of the more cultural aspects of India managed to creep it, making the episode seem like an above average travel programme.

One of the first challenges set for the trio was to see if they could beat the traditional Indian lunch system of dabbawala.

Based mainly in Mumbai, this system sees thousands of lunches hand delivered to offices each day with only a pattern of markings to indicate where it’s going. Amazingly, the system has an accuracy rating of 99.4%, entirely the opposite of your local sandwich shop who can’t even accurately hear the phrase “no olives on my sandwich.”

Despite coming in at one and a half hours, this Indian special never felt like it was dragging its feet at any point. For outsiders watching for the first time they’d get a genuine feel for what the regular series was about, but hardcore fans may have felt a bit disappointed.

Whilst there was the usual banter amongst all three presenters, nothing went dramatically wrong and for once, none of British cars that they bought broke down or were badly destroyed. And what’s even more dull, no one got injured or ran themselves over, despite a few very sketchy moments on a badly lit dual carriageway. It never actually felt like a ‘real’ challenge in the traditional sense.

The educational/cultural slant about India made for interesting viewing and portrayed the country in a positive light, those who know the show best might be spitting petrol over the lack of drama and action.

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About Hilary Wardle
Hilary is a freelance journalist and copywriter who writes for a wide range of websites, magazines and newspapers, including Buzzfeed, MSN, The Poke, Chortle, the Guardian and the Independent. She specialises in arts and entertainment, comedy, video games and viral content. Contact her at Hilary3@gmail.com.

3 Responses to Top Gear: India Special

  1. Tag_Ping_Pong says:

    100 percent agree. I was really looking forward to this christmas special, and was almost bored to death. With the number of rubbish repeat jokes (“Oh no, James’ air con works, better break it!) and cringe-worthy embarrassment such as at the ‘party’, this special was boring, insulting and poorly put together. A great disappointment. Hopefully they will get back into their stride with the new series.

  2. ziza1977 says:

    I completely agree with the review. The thing is, as much as previous challenges or specials were scripted (Vietnam, Botswana), they were always amusing, whereas this one was really terrible. For instance, the joke with ‘cutting off words’ had been done earlier (24 hr Le Mans — ‘Arse Biscuits 😉 ) but somehow, there it was actually funny. Here it just felt like they were trying too hard to make us laugh, by playing there stereotypical characters once more, but it didn’t work. Let’s hope they’ve learned their lesson and the next specials are better.

  3. none says:

    i agree with Tag_Ping_Pong and the review. i love when they organize parties etc but keep that for

    the normal epsiodes. i wanne see an adventure like bolivia&co… at least they made the special

    90min long. unfort. on the wrong special.

    they should make one through the outback…or antarctica or or or

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