Yes, the mad men of Top Gear are back again- engaging in the insanity that the world of car lovers (and British comedy lovers) have joined in for years. This set contains the full Season 12 of the show (fall/winter 2008)... or does it?
Although the cuts generally aren't as bad as they were in Season 10's DVD release, they are there. As with the Season 11 set, Top Gear Stuntman is totally absent. Fortunately, other cuts are apparently quite minor- with every episode retaining both its News and Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment.
The box advertises numerous extras... but don't be fooled. Half of the extras are confined to the Director's Cut of the Botswana Special (re-released here after its prior Season 10 set printing). The other extras are scattered- I didn't find the extended Boris Johnson interview or uncut Cool Wall on disc 2 until the second viewing, for instance. Take out Botswana (which was Season 10, not 12), and the extras are rather meager... although, it must be admitted, ANY extras are more extras than the BBC has put on the other Top Gear American releases.
The best bit of this set, of course, is the massive Episode 8- the Vietnam special. Unfortunately, one of the minor annoyances of the set as a whole cripples a major portion of the humor in that episode- specifically, the alteration of music from broadcast version to DVD version. The BBC have, apparently, decided to cheap out on getting clearances for the music used in the show, with the result that a LOT of the music you heard on the televised version has been replaced by public-domain and/or BBC Archive music tracks.
This results (I apologize for any spoilers, but if you're looking at this you've almost certainly seen the show anyway) is that the Bruce Springsteen bike (a Stars and Stripes bedecked motorcycle used as a punishment threat, should our heroes break down during the Vietnam trip) no longer has "Born in the USA" blaring from its iPod. It's been dubbed over with the Star Spangled Banner. This required one series of jokes to be cut entirely (so the ep, though a little longer than broadcast on BBC America, is NOT uncut) and other jokes, including the one immediately in response to the first playing of the music, to make absolutely no sense whatever.
This minor maiming of the Vietnam special wipes out any extra bonus points that the Director's Cut of the Botswana Special might have won the set. The same problems that bedeviled the Season 10 release- not uncut, annoying auto-play trailers, and no skip points within each individual film- also infest this release. There are also incidents of misspelled or mistranscribed words in the subtitles- and even at least one misspelling in the scene-selection menus. (The name is TESLA, not TELSA. And no, it's not a town in Oklahoma, that's TULSA.)
Don't get me wrong. You WILL love this. If, like me, your only dose of Top Gear usually comes from the extremely edited BBC America broadcasts, you'll discover all sorts of little extra bits you've never seen before in this set. You'll want to laugh again and again at the crazies driving anything from Vespas to muscle cars to the near-worshipped Bugatti Veyron. You'll see the definitive test of what kind of buses should be used in London... a race on an oval that's just one step above demolition derby. You'll see a Ford Fiesta chased by a sports car through a shopping mall.
And through it all, you'll see three car nuts bickering at each other, mocking the failures of the auto industry, and sharing a deep love of cars and the use thereof.
But it's not a perfect release, and so I can't give it a perfect score. Sorry, BBC- try again, and next time don't pinch the penny so hard.
(Note: Edited when I found some more extras on a second viewing of the set. Makes it a little better, but still not five stars.