Top Gear, series 18, episode 4, review

imageAndrew Marszal reviews episode four of the latest series of BBC Two’s Top Gear

At some point during the endless cycle of offensive jokes, demands for apologies and “boys will be boys” refusals, somebody at the BBC seems to have decided enough is enough, because tonight’s episode of Top Gear (BBC Two) seemed intent on being as congenial and helpful as possible.

That’s not to say the usual national stereotypes weren’t wheeled out: we were fed the standard wisecracks about the Welsh language, German efficiency and, rather bizarrely, Israeli car bonnets made out of bacon. The reliably smutty innuendoes were also wheeled out on cue, with Star in a Reasonably Priced Car Michael Fassbender’s recent film output – full frontal nudity in Shame and spanking Keira Knightley in A Dangerous Method ­– simply lending itself far too nicely to be resisted.

But it all felt a little half-hearted this week, with even a moment of self-admonishment as a new Ferrari that was “perhaps not their finest moment” was affably nicknamed the “India special”, in reference to that much-lambasted special edition of Top Gear that aired in December.

Could Clarkson and his cronies be softening in their old age? After all, we’re on series 18 now, and rather like the arbitrary calculations often employed to express how “in dog years” a pet mutt is due its mid-life crisis, in TV terms that makes this Beeb stalwart Very Old Indeed.

First up was a review of an electric car but, perplexingly, this time the presenters hadn’t rigged it so the battery would run out at an inopportune moment. In fact, nothing seemed to go wrong at all.

We were then treated to a dazzling montage of clips as a Ferrari and a Bentley were put through the motions on a track carved into a frozen lake in remotest Sweden – as the beautiful red beasts swept through the ice, accompanied by a rousing orchestral soundtrack, it felt strongly reminiscent of the style of that even more venerable BBC constant, Sir David Attenborough.

The grand finale, in which the gang competed to design the most steady and cost-effective off-road mobility scooter, was positively touching. “Why shouldn’t people in wheelchairs be able to go rambling?” asked a very concerned James May. “You are right. I was with some disabled children the other day…” began Clarkson.

It even ended on an admirably didactic note, as the team urged car manufacturers to stop messing around with unnecessary hi-tech gizmos, and concentrate instead on making good, useful wheelchairs that actually work.

“It is a good idea, and it’s on Top Gear. And that is a bombshell. So let’s end, quickly,” Clarkson signed off. I wonder if those words might have been more prescient than he knew.

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