After enjoying so many of the Top Gear team's classic Great Adventures all over the world...I wondered how long they could keep up the momentum before the enjoyment finally fizzled out. With the release of Boxset number 5, it seems now that it finally has. It pains me to say that, but I can't deny it here. This is definitely the weakest release in the Great Adventures series, and the mediocre efforts of Jeremy, Richard and James are painfully clear.
Like the previous two boxsets, the format is one actual special with the other adventure being from the main series itself. After numerous (unforgettable!) trips to the United States, Botswana, Vietnam, Albania, Romania, Bolivia and of course, The North Pole (BEST ONE EVER!), the lads decided to go to India for their Christmas outing back in 2011.
Their mission? To prove that Great Britain is still a great nation of tradesmen, by going over to India to promote their goods on behalf of our country (defying David Cameron's direct orders!). Taking the cars they deem `Best of British', Jezza, Hamster & Captain Slow embark on their latest crusade with a trouser press that cooks naan-bread, an out-of-control lawnmower and a train-based advertising campaign that can only go badly wrong.
So what's the problem? While the India Special does have its moments, too much of it feels staged and forced. There's no real sense of adventure or discovery, no edge-of-your-seat drama or gut-wrenching dangers in the programme. What made previous Great Adventures so special was that aside from outstanding hilarities and antics from Clarkson, Hammond & May, there were genuine trials and tribulations throughout their adventures, enlightening experiences and when all was said and done, you felt like the team had accomplished a major achievement to be forever proud of.
For the India Special, it's mostly just Jeremy, Richard, and James just mucking about with the assignment and their cars. And although (as I said earlier) some of it is good laughs - particularly the banners on the train, playing pranks on each other, delivering lunches via car in a race against the train etc - but TOO MUCH of it feels lacklustre and redundant, particularly the ho-hum party scene in India. And at ninety-minutes, it runs for far too long. Given that this is the original broadcast with no new footage (like previous releases that received director's cut treatment), there's still not a lot to commend this `Great Adventure' after giving it a second chance.
The audio commentary with James May and crew is a great special feature though. It's always engaging to hear Captain Slow's narrative during the events, and the assortment of deleted scenes on hand are always fun to watch, but it's adequate compensation from what is essentially a most disappointing special indeed.
The Superstars Across Italy on the other hand...is the stronger of the two Great Adventures here. It's much shorter at forty-two minutes, and it packs more quality in the reduced time. The lads put to the test three gorgeous supercars in the Lamborghini Aventador, the Noble M600 and the McLaren MP4-12c, through boyish misbehaviour, childish racing, being pulled over by police, suffering breakdowns and lazy mechanics and ultimately facing the haunted Imola Grand Prix circuit (where Ayrton Senna met his fateful end). Oh, and there's the appearance of the Stig's Italian Cousin! (Who is sharply well-dressed and popular with the ladies, I must add!)
As the synopsis says, there's excellent footage of Italy's beautiful scenery, great history and hilarious exchanges between the guys. And it all feels like typical, natural quality. There's a fine selection of special features also, such as an extra portion of the Italian Stig's laps round the Imola Race Track, additional footage of the Top Gear team's speed trials round the Nardiò Ring and many several juicy deleted scenes to sink your teeth into. It's not quite Top Gear at its best, but it's still much better than the India Special.
In fact, if not for the Supercars Across Italy adventure, then this boxset would be nothing. As it stands, it's an adequate release for fans. The disappointment in the India Special is made up for by some great extras and the Supercars adventure, but it still breaks the trend of a series of Box Sets which have been renowned for being essential. For Top Gear fans (and collectors of these Great Adventures), I would label this `For Completists Only'.