Posted by: magrimmett | October 27, 2009

The F Word Meets Top Gear

This is an interesting little twenty minute program aired on BBC America. It seems to be taken from two different episodes and put together; all we’re missing is the Hamster somewhere  in the kitchen.

We start with the standard intro to The F Word: Ramsay is in a suit and tie (the tie is apparently made from the same fabric as the shirt, blue and white stripes. Weird.) walking down a corridor to a restaurant, stripping to the waist (that’s a wild lining in that suitcoat) and buttoning on a chef’s jacket. Is it in Ramsay’s contract that he gets to show his chest a certain number of times per series? He can’t seem pass up an opportunity to display his manliness. And it must be said that the opening music here is bouncy and fairly irritating.

In voiceover: Here’s what happened when I tried to get Jeremy Clarkson in the kitchen to cook Sunday lunch.

There’s a pan of a painted stone building with a red flag flying over the top; they are on the Isle of Man. I had to deduce this because neither of the men enunciate clearly.

GR: The Isle of Man is not exactly famed for it’s cuisine.

Jeremy Clarkson: No, the food here is fuel.

GR (determinedly): We’re going to change that today and do something quite vibrant and exciting (Clarkson looks skeptical and/or apprehensive) with lobsters.

 JC: Yeah.

GR: Poached lobster, just done plainly, beautiful watercress salad and potatoes, and we’ll make an aiolli.

JC: That’s the thing around the nipple.

There is an exterior shot of Ramsay and Clarkson in an ATV by the sea with a bunch of nameless, unintroduced, happy children. It appears to be a cold, moist day, although it’s pretty green.

GR: The Isle of Man might not be a culinary hotspot, but one thing there is plenty of is lobster. 

We cut to Clarkson et al as Ramsay pulls lobster pots. There is a closeup of a female child, with an adult holding onto her shoulders as the child looks sad? Apprehensive? Judgemental? I can’t tell, but it doesn’t look good.  A pot is pulled in and the contents investigated. The first lobster is so small it looks like a crawfish, and I am forcibly reminded that lobsters are insects. The lobster is derided by the crowd and returned to the ocean for more time to fatten up.

GR: Everything else in Clarkson’s life might be huge, but his lobsters are disappointingly small. No Sunday lunch on this performance. (Clarkson looks appropriately aware of his failure, and the lobsters are all returned to the sea.)

GR in voiceover: Unlike Clarkson, who couldn’t catch a cold, real Manx fishermen catch around 30 tons of lobster a year, which is worth 300 000 pounds to the island’s fishing industry. Fortunately, Clarkson knows such a man.

They go out on a boat with some poor fisherman.  GR: What’s that smell? It stinks. Clarkson mimes vomiting on Ramsay while his back is turned. Honestly, could you blame him? The smell turns out to be mackerel, used as bait.

JC: Gordon gets seasick going over a speed bump. Ramsay laughs, pained.

Next we have a shot of Ramsay sorting a catch while the fisherman and Clarkson observe.  Ramsay (briskly): That wasn’t bad, was it? JC: No. That’s a good haul. (All I can see are two lobsters.)

Back on land, Ramsay summons the children to observe the augmented lobsters. A child asks if they’re real. Ramsay fastens two of them by the claws to one of the little girl’s pink coat. Fab fashion accessory, Ramsay, and then a snack for later. The lobsters are returned, the children sent to play around a tidal pool (under a woman’s supervision) and the two men set to work.

Ramsay’s fun seafood tip: lobster contains the most meat of any shellfish, so it’s great for Sunday lunch.

A large pot of water is set to boil on the stove. Clarkson checks his watch,  gnaws a cuticle, and asks: How long you going to do it for? GR: about 6,7 minutes per lobster. JC: do you put in vinegar? GR (in short form answer): no. He piths a lobster prior to chucking it into the pot; Clarkson disapproves of the mercy.

Ramsay takes control of the situation and asks Clarkson to separate three eggs in order to make the aiolli. Clarkson: Have you seen our eggs?  The eggs turn out to be different colors, and Clarkson has named them. Er, the chickens, it turns out, have been named, not the eggs; named after some less stupid footballers. Clarkson drops a whole egg into a bowl and asks if Ramsay wanted it separated from the shell as well.

The gents put the egg yolks together in a blender or food processor together with garlic, saffron, mustard, lemon juice, and olive oil and give it a whirl while discussing what to do if the sauce curdles (immediately add cold water.) Clarkson tastes a healthy spoonful. GR: That’s quite a lot.  Ramsay laughs and makes a rude comment about Clarkson’s expression. Clarkson swigs a beer: Um! That’s yummy!

Back to the lobsters. They’re cooked and a bright red. GR: Smells amazing, and so fresh. JC: It is one of the great foods. I think this and crab. Cut to Ramsay preparing the meat and points out the lower digestive apparatus to Clarkson. Clarkson is horrified: I’ve never taken that out! He assists Ramsay by working on his own lobster, being certain to remove the offending anatomy. JC: If you run them under a tap, does that knacker the flavor? GR: Yeah. Worst thing you can do.

Ramsay arranges the lobsters artistically on a platter and mentions the watercress and whole potato salad. The whole potatoes look daunting as a salad ingredient. He complains that other chefs overcomplicate your basic lobster, then there’s a shot of the whole group sitting down to table. The lobster is sent around, followed by the aiolli. Everyone is told to be cautious of the condiment. Ramsay: Cheers, guys. JC: Thanks for alerting me to the fact we’ve been eating lobster poo.  From another nameless diner: Ew!


In voiceover, GR: Incredible, isn’t it! I’ve just gotten Jeremy Clarkson to help me cook Sunday lunch for eleven! Clarkson agrees that it wasn’t stressful and that they (the children) love it.

Moving on. Excellent.

In the actual fun bit of the program, we cut to the F Word restaurant, where James May is seated at a table by the window, with a class of red wine. Ramsay bustles up: James, how are you? And offers a hand to shake. HM: Very good. GR: Nice shirt! (It isn’t that bad; white with a blue and green botanical print.) JM: It is one of my regulars. GR: How was your starter? JM: Very tasty. To be honest, it’s  sort of almost a posh fry-up. You’ve got bacon, a poached egg, and then you’ve got like the bubble and squeak, but without the potato bit. GR (possibly in revenge for the comments about the appetizer): On Top Gear, you’re always portrayed as the wimp, the one who’s always coming in behind Jeremy, behind Hammond…Hammon’s become a hero on the back of the crash. JM (mildly as ever): I’m just a bloke. I’m not married, don’t have any kids; I have a cat.

GR: I can turn it around and show them that you’re the most manly of the three of you. I’ve got an idea. (Run, May!) Simple little test. J.B.! Please.

J.B. puts a flask of an ominous green-brown liquid on the table. GR: It’s the test of a man, the test of a real man. (Or is that a test of a man who seems to need to demonstrate his manliness exhaustively?) It’s snake whiskey. (Catchy name.) It’s from Laos.  He pours. JM: That’s a real snake in there. GR: Several. JM: It’s dangerous, isn’t it. Ramsay chuckles, May looks bemused. Ramsay doesn’t answer the question, but does clink shot glasses and they throw it back. Ew! May absorbs the experience quietly. GR prods him: Any thoughts? JM: It’s quite light, really.

JB brings the next plate of the test. GR: This is bulls’ penis. Yuck. It is brown, but mostly yellow, long but thin. JM: This is for me? GR: This is to prove your manliness! Jm laughs. GR: It’s huge in China. JM: It’s huge on your plate.  GR: It’s vrey good for getting things going, uh, sort of downstairs. Any particular…? JM: I’ll have the stem. Ramsay cuts a portion for May and then one for himself off the tip. JM, bracingly: So this is a bull’s cock. GR: Yes. JM: And this has probably been in…a lady cow. GR: I’d like to think so. They taste. JM: It’s all right, actually. I was going to say it’s a bit stiff, but I didn’t mean that… They crack up. GR drinks some water and signals for the last gross-out/manliness/whatever test treat.

GR: The biggest challenge. Now, this one is extraordinary. This is…

A log-shaped thing, dead white in the center, with a browny-yellow outside and one side that is bumpy. It looks revolting, but not as bad as the bulls’ penis.

…an amazing delicacy from Iceland. JM:  I know. It’s a blue whale’s penis. GR: It’s basically rotten shark. Yummy!

GR: It’s been put in the ground, covered with gravel for up to three months, and on the back of that, it’s hung for four months. And it’s a local delicacy in a way, you have to eat it without being sick and that is sort of the true definition of a proper man. Yes?  May looks like he’s keeping his opinion to himself. It must really stink, judging from the hand-flapping that Ramsay’s engaged in doing. May has his head in his hand. GR: Traditionally, it’s washed  pre=”washed “>wowh with a glass…it’s like a rich firewater. JM sniffs it as Ramsay cuts the shark. It must be said that it’s in pretty good condition for something that’s been hanging around for so long. GR: Ready, buddy? JM: No. GR: Pull that bucket up. One, two, three… They eat. As May drinks his rich firewater, Ramsay grabs May’s bucket and barfs.

May observes placidly. GR: Oh, shit! JM: You disappoint me, Ramsay. Ramsay spits. GR: Damn! May leans back with a slight smile. GR: God almighty! Did you chew it? JM: Yeah. GR: Oh, James! JM, helpfully: Do you want me to do it again? Ramsay is quite chagrined that he’s been out-manned by Captain Slow.

The next and final competition is in the kitchen, where there is to be a battle for the best fish pie as voted on by a blind panel of tasters. No, the tasters aren’t blind; they just don’t know who prepared which pie…Oh, go on.

May and Ramsay are at a counter, where Ramsay explains the competition and digs at May a little: My challenger is James May, yes? Captain Slow.  So we may be here for a long time. You ready? JM: I’m ready. GR: How long to make a fish pie? JM: Normally about four hours. Ramsay makes a big fuss over the time requirement and gives him hell, then they begin.

May moves languidly around his portion of the kitchen while Ramsay hurtles himself around. He expertly lists his ingredients as May placidly peels a potato. May stops to pour himself a glass of white wine and they natter about ingredients and types of fish. Ramsay is cooking his vegetables, adding quite a lot of vermouth, and boiling potatoes. May has peeled and roughly chopped both white potato and sweet potato. Ramsay poaches his fish in clear liquid; May is poaching his in milk, which will also serve as the base of his sauce. May doesn’t know what he’s talking about: Usually, to be honest, by the time I get this far I’m so drunk I can’t remember what I’ve done. Ramsay is poaching fresh prawns in  seasoned water; May: Fuck! The prawns! I forgot the prawns, man! Ramsay: James, are you swearing in my kitchen?

As Ramsay puts his pie together, May asks: My roue’ thing isn’t thickening up, Gordon, is that bad? GR: The roue’ thing. James, you’re the roue’ here; the roux…r-o-u-x! As Ramsay hustles around, May takes a leisurely deep swallow of wine. GR: James, do you always drink like this when you’re cooking? JM: Dulls the horror of the food I’m going to eat later on, you see.

Ramsay gestures with the nutmeg grater: If you win this fucking challenge, I’m going to go mad, you know that. May laughs and fluffs his hair. GR: Cause watching you, seriously, drink, taste, drink, taste, drink, taste, drink taste drinktaste…extraordinary.   He pipes his mashed potato onto the pie. May smacks his mashed potatoes onto the surface and smooths it in with an offset knife. Ramsay is critical of this approach and calls it plastering. There’s a bit of green in May’s hair from an earlier chopping spree of parsley, I think. Ramsay comes over to observe: honestly, if I lose against that, seriously, I’m going to give up cooking. We heard that, Ramsay!

May inscribes the word “cock” onto the surface of his pie, and then it’s into the oven, which May thinks is too hot. May offers Ramsay a glass of wine; Ramsay declines. JM: How can you call yourself a chef, Ramsay, you haven’t had a single drink.

It’s finally time for tasting. They plate. May spelled out his word with green peas; Ramsay thinks it should read “shit” instead. JM pokes Ramsay’s pie and says: Yours is quite runny. GR, testily: Please don’t finger my pie. May serves a healthy portion of his pie, along with a side of vegetables. Nice touch. GR: Is that portion big enough, James May. May wipes a drip off his plate (there are a few remaining, though) and licks his finger. GR: Shit! J.B. takes away the plates to a group of five women, all variously blonde. They taste. They mutter, and point with their forks.

J.B. returns to the kitchen. GR: They happy? J.B: Yeah. Very. It’s 3-2. May looks hopeful; GR: He got 2?!? J.B.: Um, so, the winner is…(Ramsay is ready to shake J.B.’s hand, but…)   James. JM: oh, yes!! GR: Seriously? May gloats and shakes J.B.’s hand. GR: What? He won with that pile of shit? J.B. taunts his boss: They love it. GR: No salt! JM: Are you any good at driving? Ramsay gets a megahump: Don’t fuck around. You are joking. J.B. denies it. GR: Beaten by a fucking shaggy tramp! J.B.: Yep. GR: I spend four hours…do something quickly for me, please… Get the fuck out of here! Oh, my god! May grins and leaves the gracious loser to his kitchen.

Posted by: magrimmett | February 19, 2009

Top Gear: Police Cars

Tonight: Can we solve the fuel crisis? And making a better police car: how hard can it be?

 Our jovial host, Jeremy Clarkson

  The genial Richard Hammond

 The bemused James May

And the silent but deadly tame racing driver, the Stig


Clarkson: Hello, and no. No, this is not a repeat, we really are back, you’re not watching Dave. (, for non-UK viewers)  Unless this is a repeat, in which case let’s remind ourselves what we did in the summer series of 2008.

It does look exciting, what with scenes of Tokyo, a bullet train, heleskiing, an English hunt (?), duelling Minis, Clarkson shredding a tire on a dignified sedan, improbably, a double decker car race, and the big finish, a black and white shot of a car drifting like hell.  Audience applauds.

JC: Yes, there you go!

All three presenters are on stage. JC: so the usual orgy of speed, and three middle-aged men falling over a lot. RH nods. JM: And that actually gives us a bit of a problem. Because we’ve had a letter from the BBC and they said what with petrol being 5 pounds 50 a gallon and all the rest of it, what we should actually be doing is giving some advice on fuel economy and saving money. RH: Yeah. Unfortunately, that letter was opened by him (points to Clarkson).

JC: (unapologetic) Yes. And I decided that the best thing we could to do is to gather together five supercars and have a race.

Sure enough, we get a shot of five supercars on the track. Clarkson, in voiceover: These are the contenders: A Ferrari 599 (in a lovely black), a Lamborghini Murcielago (in white), a Mercedes McLaren (another black entrant), an Aston Martin DBS (in silver, for a change), and the Audi R8 (in a compelling red.) They will now race round our track (split screen, showing the cars and the techs who are preparing them). But to prove we’re in tune with the times, each will start with just one gallon in its tank. There are quick shots of the contenders, then the flag drops and they’re off.

 The Lambo

 The Ferrari

 The McLaren

 The Aston (Bond’s ride in Casino Royale)

 And the R8

JC: (in the Lambo, big surprise) There you go, the sound of the 20th century. God, I love it.

It’s a tight race, with Clarkson blocking the other drivers. JC: This was turning into one of the most exciting races ever on our track. And then it turned into one of the shortest. There’s the Ferrari! It’s gone, it’s down, it’s out! Amazingly, after just 1.7 miles, the Ferrari had sputtered to a halt. The McLaren passes. “Shortly afterward, the Aston was out, too, turning it into a three horse race. And then the McLaren took its last mighty swig. You know that noise coming from behind my left ear? That is the sound of money exploding! My Lamborghini soldiered on bravely, then it ran out,” Clarkson bleats. “No! No! It had done 4.1 miles to the gallon, an incredible performance. (what does this say about me, your humble blogger, that I agreed with him?) But the winner, with an incredible 5 miles to the gallon, is the Audi R8. So here’s a Top Gear Top Tip. If you have been affected by the fuel crisis, this is the supercar to buy.” And he walks off.

Cut to the studio and the audience applauding. JC: I like to think we provide a service. RH: Well done. JC: A useful piece of consumer advice. Hammond: Oh, well done. No, but seriously, that Ferrari, did it really do 1.7 miles per gallon? JC: Well, there might have been a bit of fuel in its pipes, but you’d be amazed how thirsty those things are when you really thrash them. It’s incredible. JM: 1.7 miles means 3 pounds 23 a mile just in petrol. JC: Yes. RH: Yes, but the thing is the BBC saw that film and they said we’d been stupid and had to do something more for the normal person. And well, it was him again. JC: Yes. So the Toyota Prius. (Gestures to one conveniently squatting in the studio.) Now, ah, to make this as economical as possible, they go to the ends of the earth, quite literally. I mean, the nickel, ok, that they use to make the batteries that power the electric motor that comes from a mine in Canada (gestures to a world map). Now, nickel mining is a filthy business, lot of sulphur and acid rain, but no matter: they load it onto an enormous cargo ship sent to Europe where it’s refined and then onto China, where it’s turned into a sort of foam and then to Japan, where it’s put into the batteries and into the car. Ah, it’s so complicated in fact to make a Prius that a recent study found in the long term it does more environmental damage than a Land Rover Discovery. (Sadly, this claim appears to be true: says that the Prius damages the environment more than a Hummer.) But it is at least economical. (Turns from the map) Or is it?

Cut to a shot of a lovely silver car. JC: This is a BMW M3. (There’s some car porn.) It’s not designed to be as economical as possible. (Shots of the car screaming around the track.) It is designed to be fast. So ten laps of the track, let’s see which one uses the least fuel. Here we go. The flag flutters listlessly. A shot from the dandelions shows the Prius starting off first, quite sedately. JC in voiceover: The Prius would be driven as fast as possible. All I had to do in the BMW was keep up. Shot inside the interior. JC: Ok, so there’s a 1.5 L 4 cylinder engine in the Prius. In this, a 414 bhp 4 L V8. You would expect this to use massively more fuel. Shots of the two cars demurely rolling around the track. JC: it was one of the dullest drives of my life, but in the interests of science, I stuck with it. Coming up now, ten laps, and we are finished!

Cut to the studio. RH: Come on. JC: I have the results here. RH: Yes? JC: The Prius did 17.2 miles to the gallon, the M3 did 19.4 miles to the gallon. The audience applauds. RH: Hang on. JC: That was verified. RH: Hang on. JC: No, seriously. RH: 19? To 17? JC nods: At that speed, an M3 is more economical than a Prius. RH: So what you’re saying is if you want an economical car buy a BMW M3 (chortles.) JC: No, I’m not, actually. (Waves his finger in the air) Seriously, what I’m saying is it isn’t what you drive that matters. It’s how you drive it. That is everything. Cause theres a load of people right now, I know this, who have got Mondeos, who go I can’t afford the petrol in it anymore, I’m goign to have to get rid–Don’t.  JM looks bemused, RH serious. JC: Cause everybody’s in the same boat, you’ll get 20p for it, and you’ll end up with a horrid eco box. Much better, don’t change the car, change your driving style. JM, drily: Well, there you are. We will put out Top Gear Top Fuel Saving Tips on the website for you.

RH: I think that’s enough about fuel. JC: Yeah. RH: Moving on. JM: Right. JC: Do you know what’s wrong with Ferrari at the moment? RH: No, but I’m guessing you’re going to tell us. JC: Yes I am. JM: I know what it is, though. It’s they spend too much time making aftershave and carbon-fiber crash helmets that match the dashboard of your car even though you haven’t actually got one. JC: Well, that’s all true, but more than that, they’re nerdy. It’s all about the plumbing and the wiring and the computer systems. That’s the trouble. When I drive a Ferrari, I want it to be all about passion and excitement. Cut to the track, where a red Ferrari is shown thundering down the straight to a primal drum section with a capella vocals. JC: You might think this might fit the bill. That it’s going to be a ton and a bit of Italian engineering for the soul. (Long shots of the car.) It’s a tightened up, stripped, and striped version of the normal 430. (There’s more car porn, with sound!) Sadly, this is called the Scuderia, which is Italian for team. That means it has a silly name. It also has a silly grinning face, and wait til you see what they’ve done to the inside. The Ferrari is stopped, JC standing by the open door.

JC: Porsche and Lamborghini go to great lengths with their lightened supercars to conceal how and where all the weight has been saved. Ferrari were going to do that, but then they decided there was a really good restaurant opposite the factory and they just went there instead and just had some lunch. (Static car porn shots. It does look good on the outside.) Lood at it. There are no carpets, no satellite navigation, no stereo, no frills at all, and it appears to be welded together by apes. (It is quite Spartan on the inside, the ugly welds clearly visible; even the Ferrari name and logo don’t seem to have their usual luster.) You might imagine that because this missing a hundred kilograms of weight and equipment, it would be considerably less expensive than the standard car. But no. That is 172 000 pounds. It is 43 000 pounds more. (See the Best Road in the World for more complaints on the subject.) (There’s more car porn in motion, tires squealing, the works.) JC: There is more bad news too. It’s got an even more complicated computer system than a normal 430. Which means that it can change gear in 60 miliseconds, and that, Ferrari say, is faster than you can blink. Clarkson tests this claim and finds it to be true. JC: In addition to the computerized gearbox, it has silicon brakes (ed: I don’t know about this; I think they’re carbon ceramic brakes. Maybe they use the silicon brake fluid?) and an electronic differential. Then there’s this switch. Ah, when it’s here, the traction control is on. When it’s here, the it’s on a bit less, when it’s here it’s off, but the stability control is still on. Then if I put it here, big beep to tell me everything’s off and now the suspension’s been firmed up but I can make it soft again by pushing that and if I had a side parting and adenoids, (continues in an adenoidal voice) I’d find all this very interesting. I’d come round to your house and tell you all about how it works.

(Static car porn shots at night, with little light sparkles for effect.) JC: Even the shape of the body is computer designed with speed in mind. It has winglets in the front and in the back there’s an undertray which sucks you onto the road as you go along. So the faster you go, the more grip you have. One of the things that really annoys me in most cars is that there are no slats at the back to vent air out of the rear wheel arches, which of course increases pressure and slows you down., but this, it has the slats. Oh, yeah, definitely. All this speed is the result of those–Actually, that is quite a lot of speed. (laughs and brakes) Yeah. That was quite a lot.

Clarkson changes tactics. I’m doing this road test all wrong. Cause I’m mocking all this technology and that’s not really fair. It’s not like Ferrari aftershave or that stupid carbon-fiber crash helmet they’ll sell you to match the trim of your car. That stuff’s for idiots. I want the computers but I don’t want them to be the be all and end all of everything, like they are in the standard 430. I want them to be there, but hidden away, buried under a big thick layer of something else. (pause) And in the Scuderia, they are. This is not only lighter than the standard car, it’s lower too, it has fatter tires and more power. It feels like it was designed by Michael Schumacher, and that’s because in part it was. Now I’ve got my foot buried into where the carpet used to be. That 510 bhp is roaming around the engine bay. 0-60 is dealt with in 3 and a half seconds. Flat out it’ll be nudging 200. Round the Ferrari test track, they claim this is actually quicker than an Enzo. 

That said, it is a tricky car to drive fast. It’s a knife-edge racer. This is what a Ferrari should be like. You make unstable, I kill! It feels like a street brawler. It’s angry! It feels like it wants to goose your mother, vomit in one of your flower beds, down to the pub, get drunk, and kick someone’s head in. And listen. Listen to the noise! (It is loud and lovely.) You only have to flex your big toe. It’s like God having really unusual sex. (pause) Oh no, there we are, he’s finished. I cannot tell you how happy it makes me feel to be driving a proper Ferrari again. (Car fades into the distance, the shot goes to black.)

Back in the studio, Clarkson to May: So much better than a normal one. I tell you what this car is. It is like the bastard love child of Stephen Hawking and Rambo. And now we must find out how fast it goes round our track, which means, of course, handing it over to our tame racing driver.

Some say that after making love, he bites the head off his partner. And that he’s had to give up binge drinking now that it got to 1 pound 18 a liter. All we know is he’s called the Stig.

He’s off! And listen to the fury and mighty vengeance of that 4.3 liter V8 as he powers up to the first corner! He’s there already. Turns there, a little four wheel drift on the way in, feathering the throttle and he’s through. That was very neat. Of course, the Scuderia doesn’t have a stereo, so no Stig audio nonsense, just the sound of Italian mechanical rock and roll. Just look how neat it is. It’s two gallons of fuel gone already and he’s through the hammerhead, this compared to the normal 430, the Scuderia has new inlets, new exhaust, a whole new computer just to control the spark plugs. Yet despite the extra power, Stig doesn’t even need to lift and the second to last corner is through there and through Gambon, and across the line! Clarkson to May in the studio: Gonna be up there. Gonna be up there. It did it in 1.19.7, so it actually goes there (wedges the time strip into the queue on the board, just below the Atom at 1.19.5 and the Enzo at 1.19.0.) Which means that it may be faster than the Enzo around the Ferrari test track, but it’s not faster round ours.

The Top Gear test track, for illustrative purposes.

JC: It’s time now to move on and put some stars in our Reasonably Priced Car. My guests tonight, well, one of them has very long hair and is from Bristol; the other is from the Midlands and is gay. But surprisingly, it isn’t James May and Richard Hammond. (You can practically hear May’s eyes rolling.) It is in fact Justin Lee Collins and Alan Carr!

They walk onto the set. JC asks how it was out there, and Collins reports being terrified. JC: Really? In a Lacetti? Collins: Yeah. JC: You’re hitting 80, sometimes. Carr: I kept doing the mirror signal manuever then I realized there were no other cars! JC shows some clips of Collins, rounding a corner and going off into the field, understeering and the same way off Chicago. I sense a theme. Collins: This isn’t good! I’ m off the road! I’m off the road! I’m back on road! I just killed a rabbit!

JC: Was the Stig nice to you? Collins: Very nice. Yeah. It’s Nigel Havers! 

JC laughs: Now, forgive me for doing this so early on, but I’ve gotta know, what is a gay car? Carr: Well, I don’t know, because I’m really not clued up on cars. I don’t know the makes of cars, so I’m not very good. On his car history, he relates that he used to rent a 500, usually a bright yellow, and a Smart Car (JC nicely doesn’t vomit at this mention, probably because Carr doesn’t have a nice thing to say about it). Collins: I thought you were joking about the Smart Car. Collins has had an Escort, two Ford Orions (JC covers his face with his hand and mutters, ‘Oh, Christ’) and now has a Honda Civic, bought on the strength of the recommendation on this show. JC: You bought a car on the strength of what James May said? Collins defends himself: He has long hair and he’s from Bristol.

JC: You host the Sunday Night Project. (// So you’re paid to host this show and then you get someone else to come and host the show. Collins and Carr: Yeah. Collins: It really works. JC: It’s amazing, that, for me.  We have to pay Richard and James, who just bugger off at this time and smoke outside. Well, not James, because his mother doesn’t know, obviously.

We start the laps with Collins. We see him shrieking around corners, then he bursts into song. His voice isn’t bad at all. He gets around Gambon and across the line in 1.51.8. He’s beat Helen Mirrin, down near the bottom. Collins: That’s probably as close to Helen Mirrin as I’ll ever get. I love Helen Mirrin. Carr pops the clutch straight off, not  the best start ever. It turns out to be quite a tidy lap; and Carr rejoices: The Stig will be so proud of me. He finishes in 1.51.2, right behind Steve Coogan, two drivers up from Collins.

RH: Now, you know those police crash-action-stop-kill-emergency programs? They’re always full of brilliant stuff. JC: Yeah, ok, that’s great, and then the announcer comes on and says we have a clip from England-land (covers his face) and you die of shame because you know what’s coming next. Here we go, yes, it’s a fat bobby in an Astra and he’s driven onto someone’s lawn to get away from a teenager who’s throwing pebbles at him. Now, the problem is that the British police don’t crash their cars because they don’t have enough money to fix them up again. RH: Yep. But that gave us an idea. Why spend 9 000 pounds on a brand new Astra diesel? Buy used cars, then when you crash ’em, just get another. JC: Yeah. So the producers gave each of us 1000 quid and told us to buy something which we thought would work as a police car. Then we were told to go to the Top Gear Technology Center where we’d be given a number of challenges.

JC: I was the first to arrive. He’s pulled up in a little black car. “Fiat coupe. Paid 900 pounds.” He figures the cops could have 10 of these for the price of one Astra. Of course, it’s the turbo version of the car, which can reach 152 mph. JC also holds the opinion that: Of course, if it were ever to appear on one of those police-crash-accident programs, it would make our officers look rakish. Sadly, the same can’t be said of May’s car, which is an inoffensive silver sedan. May: Morning. JC has opened his door for him and he obviously thinks this is a friendly, courteous gesture, but of course Clarkson just wants to abuse him. He calls the Lexus a Mason’s car and they do something billed as a Mason handshake. May has also paid 900  pounds. They argue and insult each other’s car while waiting for Hammond to arrive. JC: Our argument was then brought to a shuddering halt. He begins to laugh madly, almost pants-wettingly. JM: It is! JC: Officer Barbie has arrived! Hammond has pulled up in a rather frivolous white Suzuki Vitara. JM critiques it thusly: How’s this going to look when you pull up in front of someone’s house to tell them their husband’s just been killed in an industrial accident? JC laughs more and presses and imaginary horn while humming the Looney Toons song. Hammond and May then abuse the Fiat. Clarkson retaliates by demonstrating a special feature: when Hammond lifts the trunk lid, you can see Clarkson showing the easy access from the back seat. Now that’s what I call security!

RH: It really was time for a challenge. We don’t yet know what we have to do. JC: Well, if it’s to go to Brighton, pose undercover in gay clubs, you’re right there all ready. Hammond hangs his head and laughs along with May and Clarkson. JC: We’ve got a challenge here, boys. RH: It doesn’t have the word “Brighton” in it? JC: Now that you have your cars, you must each use your skill and ingenuity to turn them into the perfect modern police car for no more than 500 pounds. You must meet up at the track for a series of tests to find out which one is best.

JM: A few days and several pots of paint later, we were ready, and I was the first to arrive. The Lexus is painted white with orange stripes and a blue flashing bubble light on top. It has “Rozzers” painted across the hood. JM: Morning, all. Here’s what I’ve done. Classic British police livery, classic stripes, the inverted plant pot blue light as you’d expect, and a mission statement for the modern age, “Catching crims and locking them up…in your community.”

JC pulls up next. The Fiat is painted a fake minty green with white stripes with a little blue bubble light on top. JM: Oh, good God.  The Carabinieri have arrived. JC has painted “Polizia” on the side. JC: FEAST upon my magnificence. JM: Hang on. Stand aside. What’s that? (patting a weird metal spike that’s been welded to a plate and attached where the hubcap used to be with his foot.) JC: Boudica conquered the entire Roman army using something very similar to this so I should be able to easily conquer four hoodies in a stolen Datsun.  (Looks more like the spikes on the chariot wheels in Ben Hur, if you ask me.)

JM: What happens if you just pull up next to the pavement and there’s some women and children walking about? JC: They’ll have their legs cut off. Incidentally, his motto is, “In jail no one can hear you scream.”

JC goes on about his scary slogan and the scary spikes and how JM has nothing comparable. JM: Wrong. Those four nozzles are paint guns. (one is leaking pink.) So if you drive in front of the crims who are getting away and these fire a great cloud of pink paint all over the windscreen, they have to stop because they can’t see. All you’re going to do with this is generate headlines, “Police Chop More People’s Feet Off.” JC: All you’re going to do with this is respray the front of people’s cars. May then demonstrates his siren, which he got from an ice cream truck. JC cracks up: They’re going to be really impressed with that on an American police video. JM: No, they stop for an ice cream and then they’re nicked. (A diabolical plan indeed!) JC has a number pad on his dash; it emits a cow’s moo when set off (terrifying!) and he and May bleat their sirens at each other.

Hammond whizzes up. His car is still white, underneath all the light bars and side-mounted single lights. There’s still pink paint on the doors, but one’s eye is distracted by a large rubber roll protruberance mounted on the front end. JM: Oh, God in heaven. JC: The pet cop boys are here. RH hops out: Yep. JC: No, wait, THE police are here. RH has painted “The police. Call 999 for details” on the doors. RH: Yes, well, the police are coming, the police are here! You saw me coming, didn’t you, straight away? One of the biggest problems the police face trying to get someone out of the way with blues and twos on. I’ve got a lot of blues and twos and they will see me coming. JC: I’ve gotta ask…JM: Yeah. RH: You noticed that. (How could they not? It’s indescribably weird, but RH probably thinks he’s done something terribly practical.) JC: This is… RH: It’s genius. It’s a stinger. Ok, you get the word over the radio that you might have to stop a baddie. Rather than pulling out and blocking with your car which is frankly dangerous, you just stop very quickly and then…he chucks the roll off its hanger. It unspools a bit from the tire it’s wrapped around and then falls over. J: It was unmistakeably a doormat with some nails in it. So we moved on. (Reading) A police car has to be fast. To see how quick yours are, the Stig will now drive one timed lap in the standard British police issue Vauxhall Astra diesel. All you have to do is beat his time in your cars. Bonus points will be awarded for flamboyant driving style which will look good on a police-kill-action program. RH: Yeah! JC: Yes! Flamboyant and fast. Only one person can win this.

Stig is on the line in the Astra and he’s off, hitting the sirens as he goes. JC frets about the pedestrian Astra until the Stig comes in at 1.48. JC: 1.48 is quicker than most of our celebrities drive round here in the Lacetti.

May is first up and leaves the line with no tire squeal. There is no flamboyant driving at all, despite what he thinks.  JC: I wonder if he has traction control? RH: I don’t think it’s necessary. May throws in a tire squeal around a corner “From the 70’s”, choses the correct direction, and says, “I hope you like prison food, crims” in a jaunty manner and comes across the line in 2.03.

Clarkson is up next: But before I do, I want to make it look good, so I brought this. The boys back away hastily. He smears the camera lens with Vaseline for that soft-focus look. However, he’s put it on too thick and you can barely see color and movement. We have to take his word for it that he’s started with a flamboyant J turn, although it doesn’t sound at all spectacular. Then, JC: Oh, damn and blast! He’s stopped. The lads applaud. We get a clean camera lens and JC is off. There’s a noise, not unlike that of a tire running flat. JC: I fear my Boudica wheel attachments have affected the wheel balance.  Somewhat. JM notes: It wasn’t an option on the original car. Clarkson powerslides for drama. RH critiques: I can hear a lot of noise, but not a lot of movement. It’s very much like Jeremy, that car. Hammond and May back up quite a bit for their safety as JC approaches the line, throws in another J turn for good measure, stops, and flashes his lights. 2.08.

After some bluster, JC: Accept I’ve won. JM: Well, you just didn’t.  The quarrel is cut short by the arrival of Hammond. JC: From the streets of San Francisco…” JM: It’s got four wheel drive, doesn’t it? RH is across the line: I lose the drama of the start, but at least it means I can go–he’s interrupted by a loud thump. Hammond looks dismayed: I’m not in four wheel drive anymore. JM: Painfully slow. In an attempt to go for some flamboyancy points, he tries a sharp turn and the stinger falls off. Fortunately, the constructing ins’t aces and and it all just falls away. JC: Look! He’s broken his tongue! RH: I’ve deployed my stinger. He goes off track and through a wall of boxes. Then there’s some wild understeer and JM and JC back away for safety as RH approaches the finish. But wait–RH groans: It’s packing up. It rolls silently over the finish. He hops out: There’s an electrical problem. 3.14. May and Clarkson gives the Suzuki a good push, but Hammond still can’t get it started. JC looks down: Ambitious but rubbish.

RH: For our next challenge, we were told to hot foot it to the scene of an accident. (A fake accident scene has been set up, complete with bodies, and parts, and crashed vehicles, and a line of impatient motorists honking their horns. Hammond’s vehicle is now working and the stinger has been reattached.) As you can see, the road has been blocked with a crash. This here–gestures. JC:Yep. RH: Normally, it would take the authorities six hours to get the road open again. You will now demonstrate it is possible to be much quicker than that. JC: Well, it is! We don’t have to wrap them all up in tin foil blankets, we don’t have to offer them counselling, we don’t have to fill in health and safety forms until a week on Tuesday, we can just clear this in no time. (As he speaks, the camera pans the carnage.) RH: This is our chance to prove it. If you haven’t got the job done in two minutes, motorists who have been held up will be allowed to pelt you with food. JC: Good idea.

JM: With the clock ticking, Richard and I decided to take care of the cars while Jeremy took care of the wounded. Oh, dear God. (Clarkson has started chucking the bodies and parts into the verge.) We were working well as a team. RH: I’m towing that car! (And he pulls the bumper off.) JM: Sort of. JC: I’ve got a live one here! JM: As a result, we had most of the wreckage (May tows off a car that’s still on its roof) and the bigger body parts cleared in good time. Clarkson nudges a car off the road with the Fiat: The road is clear! May grandly bows the line of cars through.

Cut to a police car and a helicopter. RH: While we’d been busy at the crash site, the real police had turned up. They wanted to demonstrate the official procedure for stopping a stolen car.

A policeman describes the ordeal in detail. It involves many police cars and the helicopter, with the commanding officer telling all the other vehicles what to do. RH: Does seem quite a faff. JC: You know, they have to fulfil 13 seperate health and safety criteria before they can do this. JM: Well, he could be abroad by then.

Apparently, once the 13 criteria have been fulfilled, the police escort can surround the suspect, box it in, and stop. JC has some time-saving ideas: Well, you could just wind the window down, draw alongside, blow his head off. Or, run him off the road. JM: But the point is the police won’t run him off the road because their police cars are valuable. They’re about 30 grand each. JC: Well, this is where our idea comes in. In voiceover, he continues: And for once, the challenge was just what we’d hoped for. You will now demonstrate to the police how your cheap cars can be used to stop a stolen car withough using 125  000 pounds of Volvo, the RAF, and 16 health and safety forms, and just to make your task that little bit more hard, the BMW will be driven by Ronnie Stigs. JM: Oh, God.

Keen to try out his paint gadget, May goes first. RH: So we’re watching Inspector Morose in a pursuit situtation. JC: Yeah. How long do you have before you have to go home tonight? May is still tailing the Stig, but he’s got a plan: he stops and waits for the Stig to come round. When he catches up to May, the gadget is deployed; a spray of paint comes out and covers the windshield. JC: Sadly, there was one invention James hadn’t considered. He’s put his wipers on!

JM: So would Hammond have any success? Hammond urges his car to give chase as May and Clarkson critique his performance. Then he cuts across the green and deploys the stinger as the Stig bears down on him, laughing triumphantly. Stig drives around it. RH: The stinger needs to be longer.

JM: Now, all hope of succeeding in this challenge rested with Commodore Clarksonio. RH: Right, now, in Jeremy’s mind, it’s already a magnificent spectacle. Clarkson cuts the siren and blasts some music “to scare the hell out of them.” It’s the Ride of the Valkeries. He gets his bumper under Stigs and attempts to push him off the road, but this fails as Stig easily gets away. JC: So there’s nothing for it; I’ll have to deploy by Boudicas. JM: I don’t think he’ll take Stigs alive. Clarkson makes contact and the ride becomes much bumpier–for Clarkson. RH: I presume at some point, there’s going to be a simply hideous accident. Clarkson thinks he’s winning; he pulls away and then back into Stig’s car. His wheel falls off. RH: I think it could be time to admit failure. Clarkson drives up: Something’s gone wrong with the handling. Stig drives off, barely scathed. JM: YOU failed to apprehend the miscreant. JC: We are rubbish at this.

Cut to the studio and the white board tally. Hammond has the honors this week. For cost, they get a point for every pound under 1000 that they paid for their cars. Clarkson and May each get +100; Hammond gets +250. For speed, they get a point for every second they were under Stig’s time and a point taken for each second they went over. May: -12, Clarkson, -20, Hammond -72. For flamboyance bonus points, Hammond has the judges’ scores on a piece of paper. May: 0, Clarkson 0, Hammond 1. Arresting the Stig: May: 0, Clarkson:98, and Hammond: 0. Final points are May: 88, Clarkson: 178, and Hammond 179. Clarkson calls for a recount, but Hammond stuffs the paper into his mouth and chews quickly. Since Clarkson isn’t prepared to go after the evidence, (Hammond flashes a white grin) he says that we must conclude that the best car for the British police is the Suzuki Vitara with a doormat on the front. Hammond: Yes, yes it is! JC: On that blatant lie, it’s time to end. Thanks very much for watching. We’ll see you next week. Or, ah, if you’re watching this on Dave, we’ll see you in about a minute. Take care, buh-bye!

Posted by: magrimmett | May 18, 2008

Top Gear: 24 Hour Endurance Race

Tonight we take part in our first ever motor race. James tests the new Fiat 500 near some youths on bicycles, and the Ascari A10: just how fast is this thing?

Hello! Hello and welcome. (Tonight the set is dotted with blue painted 55 gallon drums.) Thanks very much. Last year, you may remember, we borrowed some tractors and we planted 25 acres of oilseed rape. The idea was that we were gonna harvest it and then turn the seeds into a juicy, eco-friendly petrol, full of natural, dew-picked, farm-fresh goodness. Unfortunately, James bought the wrong seeds. We ended up with 500 gallons of–and there is no other way of saying this–diesel. 500 gallons of hemmeroid cream would have been much more useful, honestly.

Hammond, with his hair looking much less silly than in early episodes this season: We hate diesel. So we decided to burn it, even though the three of us have no racing experience, we entered the Britcar 24 hour race at Silverstone with a diesel car. All we needed was a car, so we got one, and while James was moonlighting on his wine program, Jeremy and I went down to the Top Gear Technology Centre.

We hear some cheesy music as we home in on the TG Technology Centre, which is situated in a rather trashy industrial wasteland. Hammond, in voice-over: Here it is. The crucible of all our great inventions. This is the car we bought. (Shot inside the garage of a black car.) It’s a BMW 330D, four years old, done 40 000 miles. We paid 11 grand for it. Now we must turn it into a racing car. By…bolting lots of racing car…bits to it.

The director of the TG Technology Centre, Steve, would do all the trivial jobs, like the brakes, the engine, the suspension, and the electronics, while we did the big stuff. I had to do the race seat; Jeremy, meanwhile, had to install a long-range fuel tank.

Neither of them can get their object into the car and bash them around a bit.

Hammond, wedging himself inside: Yes! The office. (Grins and grasps the wheel.) That feels businesslike.  Clarkson: Hammond. Hammond: What? Clarkson: Do you understand endurance racing? Hammond: Yeah. Clarkson: 24 hour race, three drivers. Do you want to hop out? So let’s just say you do the first stint, here’s the driver change, you get out, and the car’s being refueled, it’s my turn to get in. (He attempts to stuff himeslf into the Hammond-sized space) Clarkson: It won’t be a bit of a squeeze, mate. It will be–(Clarkson demonstrates, clasping his ankle, trying to draw it into the car.) Hammond: There you go. You’re in! Clarkson: vrooms several times. All the other cars–those are the noises–vroom! Meanwhile, back in the Top Gear pit, (Clarkson hasn’t managed to get his leg in yet) you’d have to get a saw. Hammond: Well. Yeah? After a brief, unseen interlude, Hammond: Right. I’ll put the seat on runners so it will be more…boring!

Clarkson: To make it look like a race car, we needed sponsors’ names. But sadly, because of BBC rules, we couldn’t get real ones. So we just sort of…made them up. He applies a transfer to the left-hand door; Hammond has the drivers’ side. Clarkson: Look at that! It looks like a racing car already! He’s unveiled “Peniston Oils”. Hammond has finished with “Larsons’ Biscuits” and is similarly enthused: It needed that, didn’t it.

In a more serious vein, Clarkson in voiceover: With the car almost ready (it has no windshield!) our thoughts turned to the race itself.  He and Hammond are fiddling around by and in the car: You know I said, “How hard can it be?” when we started this? Hammond, cautiously: Yes. Clarkson: I think it’s going to be really hard. Hammond: I’m quite glad you said that, ’cause it’s crossed my mind. I’m getting a bit nervous. I don’t want to win, but I do want people to take us seriously. Clarkson: I just think we’re going to look ridiculous.

We cut to the track itself on that happy note. Clarkson in voiceover: We arrived at Silverstone (closeup of the logo on the BMW: Prepared by: Top Gear Technology Centre) assuming the Britcar 24 would be an amateur event, for beginners like us. We were badly wrong.

Closeup of the car in its pit: additions to the car include the number 78, and the driver’s names listed on the window: Clarkson and Hammond, both with the Union Jack by their names, and May, with a red, orange, yellow, green, blue an purple flag next to his. The left door, which is open, reads “Penis.”

Outside, there are tons of RVs, banners, four-wheelers, carts of tires… and exotic competition.

Clarkson: In fact, our diesel Beemer would be up against 200 mile an hour supercars. (Some drivers are laughing and pointing.) The other drivers were  chisel-jawed and battle hardened. (Their cars also bear the logos: “24 Heures du Mans” and “British GT Championship 2007.) They had blue chip sponsors. Tons of equipment. They turned up with laptops and luxury motorhomes with girls in them! Our motorhome wasn’t quite as professional as that (a Top Gear semi.) Nor was our catering. (Closeup of a table of junk food and Red Bull.) Nor was our car. In fact, nothing was. (Shot of Steve’s plumber’s crack issue) And the there was the question of us three.

Clarkson: You do realize we are the only people in this field–the only people- with one of these (a yellow adhesive square with an X cut out of it on the back bumper) on the back.

Hammond: I did mean to ask: what is it?

Clarkson: That means novice. Everyone else has done at least six races.

Hammond: The sum total of our experience is you’ve done–

Clarkson: I’ve done a challenge race in a Honda Civic.

Hammond: And you’ve done five laps in this. You’ve (to May) done no racing at all. You’ve done some -not in this. I’ve done a race in a 2CB, I’ve never driven this, and I’ve never ever been around Silver–We’re not in good shape.

Walking down the pit lane only deepens the depression. Their car doesn’t have exciting paint or fun add-ons to the body, and all the cars are better than theirs. Next up: qualifying. We see the crew polishing the headlights and May faffing around with the zipper to his racing coveralls. Clarkson: This is, without a shadow of a doubt, the scariest thing I’ve ever done. (It’s worse than the Channel crossing? Just asking.) Hammond: Yes. May: I’ve broken me zip. (pause) Hammond: That’s bad.

Each team member has to do a minimum of three laps, and the quickest time of the lot would determine position on the starting grid.  Clarkson goes first and is unable to resist doing commentary as if he was on the Top Gear test track. He’s not wildly successful; his parting shot: Maybe Captain Slow would have better luck.

May goes rather slowly, as one would–and does–expect. “Oh my god! 911s everywhere! Don’t be intimidated, just keep going…” But strangely, he didn’t, pitting after two laps. Clarkson hustles up to chasitze him: How could you not count?!  Because of track rules, Hammond has to go out in the meantime and has no idea where he’s going.  Following his hapless laps, May completes his qualifying laps. Clarkson is still sore. To Hammond: As cock-ups go, I’ve watched Formula One since I was that high; I’ve never seen anybody ever ever forget to do a flying lap.

In voiceover, he continues: Qualifying was turnig into a shambles and when we tuned into CCTV, that went wrong as well. (All they see is furniture.) We were a laughingstock. (Indeed.  A red Honda has “Top Gear please miss us” on the bumper.) But we still had an ace up our sleeves. Our fourth driver. (Unsurprisingly, the Stig walks toward us down a darkened hallway. ) Yeah, they weren’t ready for that! Stig pulls out of the pit.

Hammond: Can he do 24 hours straight?

Now, because it’s a 24 hour race, each driver has to do three practice laps at night, which gives the tension in certain of the drivers a bit of a boost.  Hammond confesses: My fear’s come back badly. May: I know my fear’s come back hideously (still fiddling with the zip.) It’s looking at you is making me more scared.

Hammond goes first and is disoriented by the night, the lights, and the other cars. “People trying to get round me, there’s lights everywhere! Jesus–what? I don’t remember anything and I’ve got nobody to follow. Oh God!”

Clarkson is next: Holy cow! I can’t see a thing! Hammond notes: “He tried to cure the lack of visibility with speed.” The result of this is as we’d expect: he veers off the track. Oopsie. Clarkson: People behind must be thinking, “Who is this clown?”

Safely back in the pit, Clarkson continues the narration: Amazingly, the Stig went faster at night than he had in the day and put us in an astonishing 42nd  on the grid.

Back in the pit, the Stig sits on a chair. Clarkson and Hammond hop around him in some jubulation: Yeah!  First rate! Clarkson goes to give him a friendly punch on the shoulder. Hammond, hurredly: No, don’t touch him. The Stig remains inert and seemingly unmoved by the tomfoolery.

May is going around…and then…an explosion.

Hammond: James, it’s Richard, what’s happened? Tell us. May: The throttle went mad, gearbox seemed to explode. Everything–Hang on, I’m coming in.

Back in the pit, a cloud of black exhaust is emitted and fills the pit; especially unfortunate are the crew behind the exhaust. Clarkson, observently: That’s made a mess…of them.

He continues in voiceover: Our race chief reckoned we’d blown the turbo, the clutch, and the flywheel. Race chief, wearily: But we never quit.

After a welcome but over-long commercial break from the intensity of the disaster at the track, we’re back to the studio.

Clarkson on the news set: So to summarize, the car was broken, we were all rubbish, James’ zip was stuck, and we’d accidentally written “Arse Biscuits” on the drivers’ door. Kind of par for the course, really, with Top Gear; we just expected the race to be the usual fare, you know, everything would catch fire and then we’d all drown. May: We thought, if we take this seriously, maybe our BMW diesel could finish in the top ten.

Clarkson: But now it’s time for the news. And there isn’t any. Hammond: And even if there were, we haven’t got time for it because we have such a packed program. So we must move on the the 1950s. James.

May: Over the past few years, many car manufacturers have been reinventing their old models from the past. Clarkson: Where you live. May: Thank you. Now, Volkswagen have given us the new Beetle, BMW of course reinvented the Mini, and now, there’s another one.

There’s a shot of a little white car someplace in the absolute sticks, very desolate; the car immediately grabs your attention. May: And here is it. It’s called the Fiat 500 and it’s virtually a carbon copy of their legendary car from the ’50’s. Which was called, uh, the Fiat 500. There’s a pan of the nice white interior followed by nostalgic scenes from the ’50’s.

May: Now the original car was small and ruthlessly simple. You could even buy spares from your local news agents. It was the last word in cheap, utilitarian transport for the masses.

Cut to a lovely, snowy white winter scene with the 500 driving down the road. May: Let me say, straight from the off, that this is not small, cheap, utilitarian transport for the masses. Under this retro body, it’s based on the current Fiat Panda. I mean, no reason to get all “bah, humbug” about it, but the Panda is bigger, it’s more practical, and it’s about a grand cheaper. So with  your beige trousers on, that’s the one you’d buy. But the Panda is just a car, whereas this is a car and a fashion item, and you’d have to say on the style front, Fiat’s done rather a good job. (Shot of white car porn.) I mean, everything here wasn’t on the original 500. It’s got automatic air conditioning and electric windows, and buttons on the steering wheel, but the feel of it, this pseudo-metal dash and those buttons, and the big, single instrument, and so on. It even has (beep) a retro horn. Prices start at 8000 pounds, which means that although it is dearer than a Panda, it’s a good three grand less than the cheapest Mini, and although it’s about six inches shorter than a Mini, it’s actually more spacious inside. But the thing about the Mini is that under its retro skin, it drives brilliantly. So the question now is, has Fiat pulled off the same trick?

Cut to a lovely river shot of Buda and Pest. May: Well, its home turf will be the city, so we brought it to one. Budapest. In Hungary. May stands by the railing in a black coat and white ziptup pullover with jeans. Good contrast. “I’ve come here because, a couple of years ago, I raced some parkour jumpers through Liverpool in a Peugeot 207. And lost. And now some blokes have been in touch and said how do you fancy losing again? The difference this time is that they’re not big, tough parkour jumpers. They’re actually just scallywags on BMX bikes. These wasters just ride around aimlessly, like those kids in the ET film. So to borrow the phrase of the ancient philosopher, Clarksonius, 4th century BC, how hard can it be? The race covers eight miles and starts in the old part of the city, Buda. Then we go down the hill, across the bridge, into Pest, onto the edge of the city into a giant industrial area, where we will finish in the biggest bicycle factory of the Soviet era.

They’re off. The cyclists get the early lead, but May is confident and chuckles as he passes them. He loses sight of them when they cut down a staircase on the railings and across the road in front of him. He toots the retro horn admonishingly. They ignore him. He goes on the hairpin turns of the hill; they cut straight down the grass and through the tunnel: as May exits, they jump the 500. “Bloody hell.” On the traffic jam on the bridge, he loses his lead. He catches up on the other side, only to be defeated by red lights, which the cyclists blow through. “No!” As May winds through the streets, the cyclists cut through some dreary pedestrian arcade and back onto the streets. The cyclists beat May in, but he forces them to jump a truck, thinking that this will take them out long enough, but what he’s done is to give them the lead into the finish. “No! Oh, cock. In Hungarian.” He pulls up and slides down the window. “You lost,” the cyclists politely inform him. May is a dutiful, courteous loser: Congratulations (shakes their hands.)  Well done. Now go and get a proper bike. The cyclists laugh. “You get a proper car.” “Yeah, yeah.”

Back in the studio, Hammond: Now. Bad news. Jeremy was summoned to the producer’s office this week and told no more supercars on our test track for this series. No, he was most insistant that we’d had too many, and it was time Jeremy went out and reviewed a proper family car. So. Here we go.

On the test track is a silver family car, a Daihatsu Materia, “a small, easy to park five door hatchback.” It is boxy and, I’m sorry, pretty ugly. Clarkson plans to test it against another car, something comparable, a rival of some sort, which plan has the blessing of the producer. The rival is revealed to be–wait for it– a black-striped, bright yellow Ascari A10, “a carbon-fiber powerhouse with a V10 from an old BMW M5 in the back. I think it’s better-looking than the Daihatsu, and with 625 horsepower on tap, it’s also much louder.” Well, duh. It does 0-60 in 2.8 seconds, has a top speed of 215 mph, and “you’ll be doing sign language for the rest of your life because you’ll be deaf.”  Cut to some car porn with long, fluttering strips of fabric around the car. We get closeups of the tires, spoiler, and interior. In action, we see it drifting around corners and flat out. It just rips up the track. Clarkson is overcome by the overpowering manliness of it all. But how does it compare to the Daihatsu?

“Well, in a number of critical areas, not well. The Daihatsu has a CD autochanger, an airbag, five seats, and a big boot. The Ascari has none of these things. You can’t even understand the dashboard.” Indeed, the instrument display is quite arcane. “What’s more, the Daihatsu is 339 000 pounds cheaper than the A10, and much more economical. And there’s the steering…no anti-lock brakes, no traction control; the only thing keeping it pointed in the right direction is me.” It ends up sideways. “Now, look at this. Note how the Daihatsu (at a safe, sensible speed) gets around the same corner without crashing once.  And what’s more, in a straight line at 85 mph, it’ll easily overtake the Ascri when it’s doing 70.” Forced to make a choice, even  though the Daihatsu is very good, he’s going to go with the supercar. Surprise!

Back in the studio, May admonishes Clarkson: You were supposed to test a family car. Clarkson: I did! May: Yes, and look at this chart.  The chart shows the Daihatsu beat the A10 in terms of cost, insurance, mpg, doors, and seats. “Look at this. The Ascari, it doesn’t even have inertial reel seatbelts.” Clarkson: Yeah. No, I hear what you say, but the Ascari is much faster.” It is now time to turn the A10 over to their tame racing driver.

“Some say that he once lost a canoe on a beach in the Northeast. And that he once did some time in a prison in Canterbury because his teddy is called the Baby Jesus. All we know is he’s called the Stig.”

He’s off to a nice start, great engine noise.  According to Clarkson, “it’s like Victorian Manchester is trying to escape from the exhaust.” There’s very little drift. No stereo, which means no self-help for the Stig this week. Through Hammerhead very nicely, very controlled through Gambon. Because it has a hydraulic-lifting nose, it is able to get over speedbumps and is thus a road car and eligible for inclusion on the board. It’s time is 1:17:3. It beats the Koenigsegg with Top Gear spoiler time of 1:17:6 and is now the fastest ever road car around the track.

Hammond recaps the events at Silverstone and we go back to the action. Um, back to the wreck of the BMW, at any rate.

On the day of the race, they’re in the drivers’ meeting. The Stig has fallen asleep, but Clarkson nudges him back into alertness. Following the meeting, there is a half-hour shakedown session, which Hammond had hoped to use to get to know the track, but the car is still broken.

Clarkson: We’ve just discovered, having replaced the turbo, the inlet manifold, the clutch, the fly wheel all last night, is that how there’s diesel in the sump. It turned out to be the fuel pump, which was a bit embarassing for us three. What they’re saying is that our farm-fresh, morning-dew diesel has got too much methanol in it, which is eating the fuel seals and fuel’s getting out. (Tip: natural rubber is resistant to methanol.)

In a shop, replacing the fuel pump is a six hour job. This would mean that they miss the start, so this is catastrophic news. The crew chief talks Clarkson down a bit by saying they’ve got special tools on the way. They have to be in position at 3:50 or they forfeit their place on the grid and will have to start from the back, out of the pit lane. Clarkson looks tense. The other teams are polishing their windshields. Upstairs, in the room over the pit, May walks in and tells Clarkson and Hammond: Whatever you do, don’t go downstairs and look at the car. It’s got no front end, no lights, no radiator, no bumper, no splitter, no front of the engine, no bonnet. That fuel pump thing is right in the bowels of the thing. They’ve got the whole front off.

Predictably, Clarkson and Hammond go straight downstairs. Clarkson: James will be exaggerating. James isn’t exaggerating. And it’s leaking…I watch Formula One a lot and I’ve never in the whole time I’ve watched it seen a Formula One car two hours before a race looking like that.

There’s finally some good news. The fuel pump has been replaced. To celebrate, Clarkson puts a coin down the plumber’s crack of Steve. Hammond generously tells Steve he can keep the coin.

Clarkson: We were cheering up. But honestly, our second-hand Repmobile was beginning to look like classic Top Gear–ambitious but rubbish. And so it turned out to be. Steve’s team had done the fastest rebuild in history. But it still wasn’t fast enough.

They have 30 minutes. The lads stand around in drivers’ coveralls, looking tense. The mechanics work furiously. Twenty minutes to go and the car coughs into life. But with black smoke pouring from the back, it becomes known that it’s only running on five cylinders. They have two minutes and no part. The Stig gets in the car. He’s at the pit lane just in time.

Hammond: That’s it, we’re in the race!

Clarkson: It looked a bit smoky, but it had the Stig at the wheel and this is what he does best. The lads are thrilled when his lap time is 2:16. Hammond: Look at all the people he’s faster than already! The Stig is now 13 seconds faster than the nearest diesel. Having started in 59th place, they’ve moved up to 39th place in one hour, 20 minutes.

May: I’m now worried that we’re going too hard on it.

Clarkson: Over the next 20 minutes, the Stig climbed another two places, but then James’ negative waves hit home and hit hard.   We see the BMW being pushed down the pit lane. May: That’s not a good sign.

Clarkson to Stig: Did it fill with smoke? Did it lose power? There’s no response. May: You’re wasting your breath. Clarkson: It would help, of course, if we could talk to the driver and find out what actually happened out there, but…it’s just stopped working. The camera focuses on Stig, not the car.

They needed a little piece for the fuel injection, and of course, they didn’t have it. Clarkson: But mysteriously, ten minutes later, we did!…Somebody in the car park is going home on five cylinders.  The breakdown had cost half an hour and because Stig had gotten out, another driver had to take the wheel. Clarkson: The Christian motorist was now in the hot seat. May: Absolutely everything’s going past…but never mind. The other lads, in dire need of a restroom, struggle until May gets a lap time, and abuse him for it. May: thank you, doing me best. Clarkson: A few minutes later, though, something amazing happened. May: I’ve overtaken someone! Hammond: Don’t need to get all daft and giddy, ok? You just did 2:24. May: I’m *bleep* loving this!

May not being quite as slow as expected, things are looking good. Due to the endurance tank, the diesel doesn’t have to pit every hour like the petrol cars. Night falls, and a car hits the barrier. May is geting tired too, and his lap times fall.

Clarkson: Normally, I’d  be on the phone to him now, being fatuous and stupid and telling him he’s Captain Slow and he’s got to hurry up, but honestly, the last thing you want is anybody clowning around on your headphones, on your radio, because there’s so much to think about…Ninety minutes into his shift, the inevitable happened. May: Bollocks, sorry, I’m off.

The car pits so they can change drivers. Clarkson is up next: Please, God, don’t let me mess this up. As he gets into his stint, “I’m coming up behind those Italians in the 1-series! Look at this–neck and neck and –no, he’s come across my nose! We saved you from the Germans, and that’s what I get! Hammond: Don’t wreck the car!

When Clarkson finishes, they’re up to 37th place, thanks to the other cars breaking down and the BMW not. Clarkson: What a truly fantastic way of spending an evening. Hammond is up next: As my first ever racing lap of Silverstone would be in the dark, I couldn’t say the same. He can’t remember the course: Christ, you’ve got to concentrate! Still, even Clarkson was tolerably encouraging: Hammond, your speed is not only good, but it’s consistant, mate. Excellent. Hammond: I settled down for the night shift.

The race wears on, just under 17 hours to go. Then disaster. A crash. Hammond: Bollocks! Guys, I’ve binned it. He pulls off the track. Someone askes if it can move on its own. Hammond” I’d say it was game over. (silence) Steve, magicians can’t get this fixed. I’m sorry, lads, I’m sorry. Have you found out yet, did I take somebody else off? Can you find out. Man: Yeah, it was a white Mosler. As Hammond is towed: Oh, bloody hell. I couldn’t have hit anything more expensive, could I?

The BMW is pushed into the pit again. Clarkson: The wishbone was broken, the disc brake was ruined, two wheels were smashed, the left headlight was shattered, the door was caved in, and the engine wouldn’t turn over.  Hammond looks as wretched as the car.

A track official bands a verdict to Clarkson and May; If the boys can mend it, and if the scrutineer says the car is safe to go out again, you may use it again. So you’re not out of the race yet.

As the mechanics work on the car, the drivers watch the onboard footage to see what happened to knock out the half-million pound Mosler, which had been fighting for the lead. The Molser had been behind another car; when that car passed Hammond, he hadn’t seen the Mosler in the blind spot and pulled into it. Clarkson reassures Hammond: It wure as hell wasn’t your fault, because I thought I’d hit the 944 doing exactly the same thing on the pit straight.

May: It took nearly three hours to get the car running again, by which time we were stone dead last. Only one man could get us back in contention. At around two am, the Stig takes over. There are 14 hours left to go. The Stig climbs eight places. May: Then when it was my turn, the fog came; I was completely blind.

The fog grows so thick that the race is halted. When it resumes, it is dawn, when the drivers are punchy. Hammond: It would probably be rude to point out to him he’s pulled up in next door’s pit. Hammond to May: It’s the wrong pit garage. May: Oh well, never mind, it’s close enough. Hammond: Next door’s pit was home to the Saxondale team, who were using a diesel BMW like ours. After the calamities, they were now our main rivals. (They edge out around the encroaching Top Gear car.)

Hammond: As Jeremy G-ed up the capacity crowd– Clarkson, yelling to the specatators across the track: Do a Mexican wave! All five spectators do a wave. Hammond: The Stig made mincemeat of them. But then, 20 minutes later, disaster. The front splitter, which helps with the aerodynamics, had come off and there was a monumental fuel leak.

Clarkson: It was down on power, it’s five seconds a lap slower, then the splitter fell off that we put on. Hammond considers this: Yeah. Clarkson: Don’t tell James. Hammond: Yeah, detachable, they do that, that’s a feature. 

Clarkson: The Stig stayed at the wheel, so after the leak was fixed, he could go out again and even though the missing splitter was ruining the handling, nothing was going to stop him. Nothing. Hammond: Right now, at this very moment, computers tell us the Stig is having a wee in the car. And I’m next. Clarkson: This speeded the Stig up even more.

After the Stig came in from his last lap, he had gotten the team into third place in diesel. It’s now all up to Hammond, and then Clarkson. Clarkson to Hammond: Should feel ok, the brakes have just come off. It’s just sheared a bolt. Hammond: Nice.

Hammond’s out on the track. With the power loss and loss of the splitter, the handling’s taken a beating. An Aston spins out in front of him; Hammond’s been up for 30 hours and drives off the track, just for  a little bit. Hammond: To wake myself up, I organized a little present for Jeremy. Having a pee right now. Ah…

Clarkson: At the end of Richard’s stint, we were still third in class but I knew it would be hard to stay there. Clarkson to May: Problem is that Saxondale is thirty laps behind. We’re going to lose five laps in this next pit stop. They’ve got their quick driver in there against me. I’m telling you, in three hours driving, they’re going to be right up my back bottom.

Clarkson: So this was it. The final shift. (There’s 2.5 hours left.) I was tired out,  I was sitting in a puddle of wee, the car was sick, and we had our main rivals bearing down on us.  He begs the car to make it to the end. There’s a problem, though–again. Because the handling’s crap, the tires are wearing out very quickly. Hammond to Clarkson: Jeremy, because there’s no front splitter, there’s no downforce in the front and it’s tearing the tires to bits.

In order to prevent another pit stop, Clarkson has to drive carefully to preserve the tires. Hammond: Unfortunately, though, this was Jeremy. Clarkson: Yeah! Please don’t be cross with me if that last lap was a bit quick. Hammond: I just heard from Steve, we have a tire expert in the pit lane. He’s looked at the other tires and says yours will last about another three minutes.  In voiceover: We had to get him in. Saxondale would rack up five laps while our tires were changed, but on fresh rubber, Jeremy could now get the hammer down.

Clarkson: Happily, we got some luck. The Saxondale  team had hit problems. So now all I had to do was nurse the car home. Clarkson to car: Come on, car, please make it (40 minutes left.)  To the camera: This has been one of the best Top Gear companions of the lot. A Repmobile, transformed in ten days into a racer.

Hammond: Fifteen minutes to go. Clarkson: Starting to get a little sloppy now, we’re getting a few mistakes.

Clarkson: Five minutes to go, and for the first time, I felt this pee-stained David among Goliaths was actually going to finish, and finish well.   It wants to make the finish line, and I’m just willing it on.  The time runs out.  Clarkson crosses the line, third in class and 40th overall. Yes!  (Claps heartily.) You brilliant little car! God, this is just brilliant! (He wipes both eyes.) That’s absolutely epic. Hammond and May grin victoriously. The pit crew grins for the camera.

Posted by: magrimmett | April 20, 2008

Top Gear: African Adventure

Hello! And welcome! Thank you very much. Now as you know, the producers on this show like to give us challenges. Specifically where they give us a very small amount of money and tell us to buy a used car. Then they set unbelievably hard tasks for us to do to see which one of us got the best deal.

Hammond: Yeah. This week, for a Top Gear special, they came up with a real humdinger. They gave each of us 1500 quid and told us to go to Africa (Clarkson snorts) and buy a car.

May (who is wearing the most eye-abusing bright shirt in pink, yellow, and blue, mercifully muted by his jacket): Yeah. And there were just two conditions–it musn’t be four wheel drive, and it mustn’t be built in any way to go off road.

Ah, sunrise over Africa. Dogs are sleeping, and we’re at the border post between Zimbabwe and Boswana.

May: And for once, I was the first to arrive. Now, as you’d expect, I have done things properly. (Can’t help it, I flash back to the best road in the world adventure, when May had also “done it properly.”) He’s shown up in a silver Mercedes Benz 230 E from 1985. “A car that Africa absolutely adores. Because it’s comfortable, it’s rugged, it’s dependable, and frankly, if the other two have bought anything other than this along, they’re idiots.”

The first idiot, Clarkson, arrives in a dark blue sporty thing with a sunroof. He requests assistance. “Can you open the door? Because the handle’s broken.” May: It is a Lancia Beta. Clarkson: Coupe; 1981. The only Lancia of any sort in the whole of Botswana. It’s done 29000 miles. May; Hmm. One owner, is it? Clarkson laughs: A little old lady.

Clarkson: And boy, had she ragged it. They put up the hood and check out matters. May: Yeah, that’s normal, isn’t it? That fizzing? (The fizzing comes from coolant squirting out through the duct tape onto the engine.) Clarkson: That’s…ah…yeah. May: What’s the piece of cardboard for? Is that for mopping up the moisture? Clarkson: No, that’s because the battery– May: Shorts on the bonnet. You’ve done well. So now what? Do you want a lift?

They leave the Lancia to settle down and stop leaking and stand in the road with binoculars.

Clarkson (Genuinely puzzled): What the hell is that?

May: I dunno.

Clarkson: Could it be a Moscovitch? You– Opel! …and on the front it says Kadett.

Hammond pulls up, sets the parking brake, and hops out of a rectangular little yellow car: Yeah! Clarkson: What the hell have you done, man? Hammond: It’s an Opel Kadett from 1963. Clarkson to May: So that’s the same age as you. Hammond: Yes, but it’s much better nick than you are. It was 1200 pounds, I had much change with which to buy many beads. How much more simple can you get? It’s got two moving parts and it’s been here for 44 years. 

They cluster around to examine it. Clarkson: I love the speedo. Hammond: I do like a horizontal speedo. I really do. May and Clarkson laugh. Clarkson: Where’s the engine? Hammond: It’s there. He opens the hood and displays the very small engine. May: It’s tiny! Hammond: Do you want to know about the power? Clarkson: Yes, I do. Hammond: 40…They did a sport version with 48, but I didn’t want anything too lairy.

In voiceover, Clarkson: With the cars at the start line, it was time for our challenge. “The people of Surrey think they need four wheel drive cars because they live up a lane which sometimes has leaves on it. You will now attempt to prove them wrong by driving your two wheel drive cars from here on Botswana’s eastern border with  Zimbabwe 1000 miles to its western border with Namibia. That’s right across the spine of Africa. ”

Hammond looks blank, moves his jaw a couple times, and looks at Clarkson. Everyone is silent, digesting this challenge. May finally sniffs and says, “I’m confident.”

Clarkson: I wasn’t. We hadn’t even started and already the Lancia was playing up. In addition to the fluid leak we saw earlier, now it won’t start. “James chose not to wait.” Clarkson to Hammond: “He may be mechanically confident, but he has just turned right. Which is Zimbabwe. Which is where, I should point out, the BBC is not allowed.” Hammond laughs: Oh, hello!  Oh, sorry, sorry. I’m going now. May has discovered his error, turned around, and is now proceeding in the correct direction.

Clarkson gets the Lancia going and he and Hammond also head out. People on the side of the road wave at the cars. Very friendly. The lads discuss what’s wrong with their cars. Clarkson: The gearbox is broken, the steering is broken, the window’s broken. In fact, we all had problems. May: Everything works, except this knob (holds it up to view) which controls the blower. Hamond: I’ve got to have the windows open because there’s quite a strong smell of petrol. May: And that mirror over there, which is actually slightly stuck. Clarkson: Hazard warning lights, the clock, the fan, the hand brake. All of the dials. Hammond: The brakes are terrible because they only work on that (front passenger-side) wheel. They work very well on that wheel, but only that wheel. May: And that instrument’s a bit wobbly. Apart from that, everthing that’s important to the car works perfectly. Apart from the hand brake. He demonstrates; it exerts no stopping force at all.

Hammond: “This is just the happiest car in the world. I should call it Oliver–not that we’d ever name a car on Top Gear, I wish I hadn’t said that.”  Aww, he’s named the puppy!  He puts his hand to his face in embarassment.

Clarkson: It’s now five past ten in the morning and it’s starting to get quite hot. I’ve got an idea. He puts on his sunglasses, sits tall, and sticks his head out the sunroof. As he goes by the Opel, Hammond does a double take.

Hammond: Do you know that that is? He presses a button, which produces a weak wheezing noise. A horn! He laughs. Oliver, you’ve got a cold! Listen! He pats the dash and coughs.

Hammond: We were having fun, but then we discovered we were travelling with Bill Oddie. Clarkson identifies birds, ticking them off in a book: Hornbill, Southern yellow-billed.  Have a good look at your car, it’s massive! Hammond: Don’t knock Oliver. Uh-don’t knock my car. That’s a fine piece…he’s a fine… May: What did you call it then? Hammond: Oliver’s a friend of mine and I though you were talking about him.  He walks off. May: He’s given it a name. He and Clarkson laugh.

Clarkson: So far, the journey had been a doddle. But then the tarmac just sort of stopped. Oh, this is bad. May: I can see from here just how hard the suspension on Jeremy’s Lancia is having to work. It’s just a blur. Clarkson laughs. Hammond: God! Oh! I’ve broken it. Engine isn’t working. May, mockingly: Oh, dear. They’ve stopped to observe. Clarkson: He’s done, literally, 1 kilometer of this. May: I know what’s wrong with it. Clarkson: The bonnet won’t open. May: It’s the bonnet catch. It’s burst. Hammond: Shut up!

Clarkson: Hammond was tetchy because he knew the price of failure. Anyone whose car broke down would have to complete the Journey in a Beetle.  A white Beetle rolls down the road slowly, to the accompaniment of doom-laden music. Clarkson: It is, collectively, our least favorite car in the world. Hammond pulls a face. May: Oh, yes. Clarkson: It is the punishment. In desperation, Hammond: Please! Oh, hang on, hang on! A wire by the steering has come loose. He connects it, it sparks, and Oliver starts right up. Hammond: Oliver! and puts arms up. Clarkson: What did you say? Hammond: I said…a la.. a la..I love ya!

Clarkson: Oh my God. Hammond: What now? Clarkson: My car’s on fire, but in a very specific place. May: Wow, look at that. Hammond hoots. Clarkson: Where’s your magnifying glass? May: There’s a laser beam coming through it. Nope; the piece of cardboard over the battery had shifted and the hood had taken the brunt of it. Hammond: So it sets itself on fire. Clarkson: If you don’t have a piece of cardboard.

Clarkson: We drove deeper and deeper into the bush. They drive into a village; people stare, and children chase after the cars, shouting. Clarkson: What is that? May: Looks like the sea.

The road petered out and they stop under a lovely large tree. Clarkson: The good news was that we’d successfully reached our campsite for the night. The bad news came in the shape of another challenge. The camera pans an empty, vast expanse. The lads stand on the edge of it, shifting nervously and surveying the terrain. Clarkson reads: “Stretching before you is the Makgadikgadi. These are the biggest salt flats in the world. They’re almost completely lifeless and as wide as Portugal. No car has ever driven across them. If you run out of water, you will die. If your car breaks down and you can’t be rescued, you will die. If you run out of food, you will die. It’s like driving on a creme brulee. There’s a primeval ooze covered with a thin layer of salty crust. If you have thin tires, you will beak through that crust, get stuck, and you will die.” So it advises us to fit fat tires and remove as much weight as possible before setting off. Well, how hard can it be? Hammond cringes: Don’t say that!

The sun sets over a scene of carnage. Clarkson: Ready? He smashes the side glass of the Lancia with a hammer. Hammond looks startled. Clarkson the removes the nonfunctional side mirror from May’s Mercedes. Hammond looks appalled. May: Thanks awfully.

Hammond walks around the Opel, deciding that nothing is optional. May to Clarkson: Can I put something out? Clarkson: What? May: Hammond’s walking round his car, muttering about how he needs all of it. Clarkson: See, I know exactly what he’s doing. May: He’s formed an emotional attachment, hasn’t he?  Clarkson: It’s be like saying to him, “Could you cut bits off your wife?” They quietly laugh.

The next morning, they have a visitor. A group of individuals on ATVs roar toward them, overshadowed by a motor under a parachute. The guy in the air was the Vice-President of Botswana.

Hammond: That is a (expletive deleted) cool ride. It’s better than an official Rover 75 and a couple of policemen on motorbikes.

The VP is amazed to hear what was being planned; he’d never known anybody to do it. Clarkson points out their conveyances. VP: Oh, really. This should be interesting. Hammond: You were smiling. You’ve just stopped.

In voiceover, Hammond continues: Buoyed by the Vice-President’s optimism, we set off. There’s a pan of the endless salt flats. ” As we plowed on, the little Opel was going well.” To the camera, Hammond continues: Oliver is just skipping. Boo! This car was born to do this!” Well, it’s nice that it finally has a chance to fulfil its destiny.

Clarkson: Sadly, though, despite the weight shedding, my Lancia was not doing so well.

The Mercedes also isn’t doing too well, judging by the depth of the tire tracks. Clarkson tries to help May along, predictably by crashing into the rear of the car. May looks nettled: Really helpful.

Clarkson: Well, there’s always the Beetle, James!

Hammond: It’s waiting for you.

The Mercedes gets stuck. Fortunately, May’s friends are on-hand to help. Hammond: What are you going to do? It’s sinking! Clarkson: James, honestly, how far is that? A mile? Clarkson does come up with some concrete assistance: ramming the rear of the Mercedes with the Lancia. Not successful. Hammond: Just a nudge.  (A crash on impact) That’s a crash.  Clarkson: Unfortunately, because it was an automatic, it was useless, so we told Richard to try. But he didn’t want to hurt Oliver.  Hammond rolls up slowly to the nose of the Mercedes and taps it gently.

Hammond: Aaah! Clarkson laughs. Hammond: Aaah!

Clarkson: This was hopeless, so we had to rope in the camera crew. Because the ooze was so bad, we had to get even more drastic with the weight shedding.

He breaks out the rear window with a hammer. The glovebox door is kicked off; body panels are removed. Clarkson: We toiled away for hours. There’s a shot of men sitting on the salt flat, looking rather unimpressed. “Well, two of us did.” Hammond is taking a nap in Oliver, muddy boots hanging out the window. ” Then finally, we were ready. ”  We see an animal skull attached to the hood of the Lancia. The doors have been removed completely, the passenger seat is missing, but the rest of the body is intact. Clarkson: Now, this is light. Lancia Beta Coupe Sugerleggera!

The Mercedes, in contrast, is almost completely stripped. Oddly enough, one windshield wiper remains. The Opel has as many parts as it went into the salt flats with.

Hammond: Not a modification. Ha ha ha ha!

May: This is excellent!

Clarkson: Why don’t all cars have no doors? May claps and chuckles. “When I come to power, I’m gonna make it a rule, cause this is just better.”

Clarkson in voiceover: However, the Makgadikgadi wasn’t going to let us off that lightly, and soon even our super-lightweight cars started to struggle again.  Sitting back in a comfortable chair, the viewer is treated to shots of the Lancia and the Benz being pushed out of the muck, repeatedly. May: This is hopeless. Hammond, causing a hernia and/or throwing his back out as he pushes out a car: Aaah! Clarkson takes a break to declaim: People of Surrey! You need four-wheel drive for this bit!

The Beetle lurks in the distance.

The gunk is extremely thick and sticky and has jammed the Lancia’s tires completely. The lads get to work with shovels in the wheel wells. Instructively, Clarkson points out: You know what it is? Fish. It’s just rotted, prehistoric fish.

After another massive push, they’re off again, and the ground mercifully hardens. They hum along, grateful, I suspect, to be making good forward progress. There’s something on the horizon.

Hammond: Now, this is interesting. Because now we’re coming between what look like islands.  They get out to investigate, and also to camp for the night at Kubu Island. They’re about a third of the way across and it’s quite desolate, but also rather attractive in its starkness. The sunset is glorious. They appreciate it and camp.

Clarkson: Day two on the salt pans. We’d been told that today our problem would not be mud, but dust. It must have been cold that night; even May is in a jacket and all are sipping at hot beverages. They also all look a bit the worse for wear. “That meant James and I had to rethink out wardrobe solutions. I’ve teamed my iqual with a bin liner. V-necked! Last time I wore one of these, I went to see The Clash. Frankly, I thought this was all a bit much. I mean, how bad could this dust be?”

And off they go; immediately, it seems, they’re enveloped in a cloud of dust. Clarkson: Aaah! My eyes! May: Crikey, I can’t see Jezza already. *coughs* Clarkson: Oh, no, no, no, no! *coughs* Hammond, looking like a miracle of cleanliness: Meanwhile, in my unmodified Kadet…I’m just going to adjust my quarter light a bit, just an inch, that’s better. I can feel the hate now. I’ts nice.

May: Ugh. My keffiyeh’s come off.

Clarkson: James and I made it through the dust with our lives considerably shortened.  They get together for a tete-a-tete while sitting in their cars to compare maladies. May: I’ve got consumption  and TB. Clarkson: I’ve got every single 1920’s disease. And then Lord Smug piped up.

Hammond, his un-dusty state even more glaringly apparent by comparison to the other two, adds his own tale of hardship: I had to close this at one point about that much and it pulls the air out and you get fresh air through. It’s nice.

Clarkson has his fingers curled around the Opel’s window and looks quite filthy and uncomfortable. “You know what it’s like when someone punches you really hard in the middle of the face?” Hammond chuckles: I do, actually.

Then the surface gets even worse. Very rocky. Clarkson compares it to the seven circles of hell, but I’m fairly certain Dante didn’t rate dust and rocks and highly stripped cars in his description.

The going smooths out again, but the Lancia is in trouble. Clarkson: I’m gone, I’m gone! Hammond: And you can’t get out? The power has cut out; Clarkson rolls to a halt. May and Hammond continue. Hammond taunts: Do you remember what the man said, Jeremy? Break down, and you…what is it? Have a nice time? No, die. Clarkson watches them drive away, then sets to work. Clarkson: I’m not certain what I favor most: certain death, or that Beetle.  The Beetle lurks at a distance like unrequited love.

As Clarkson struggles with the nonfunctional Lancia, May asks Hammond: Is my car on the crab? Hammond: No, it’s tracking tried and true, mate. To the camera: He’s worried about tracking, and look at it.

Hammond: I can see something in the mirrors. Please let it be a Beetle.

May: I do hope it’s a Beetle.

Hammond: Please, please let it be a Beetle!

May: Please, “let it be” a Beetle?

Nope, it’s the Lancia. Clarkson: I’m baaaaaack! May: Oh, Jeremy, well done’, I’m disap…Sorry, delighted. Hammond is more direct: You’re not in a Beetle! Clarkson: Not a Beetle! A fully functioning Lancia Beta Coupe.

Hammond: I just wanted the Beetle to pounce on you when you were straying behind. I’m gutted.

Hammond: With our convoy back up to strength, we pressed on. Apart from Jeremy being Bill Oddie occasionally.

They’ve stopped to observe something on the ground. Clarkson says that flamingos breed out there. Hammond, skeptically: So that’s breeding, is it?  It’s quite a dead bird. May: It’s a fossil. Clarkson: It’s not a fossil. It only died about two years ago. May: I was talking about you.

They see some ostrich tracks, and Hammond hops along the tracks. It must be said: nice butt.

May: Can I just say? You look like a gay cowboy and you look like a gay terrorist. He’s really got no room to speak, what with his shirt and his beads.  Clarkson: No, you look like a terrorist with a broken windscreen wiper and your face is ridiculous.

Hammond starts to pick on the Lancia. “Why haven’t you turned it off?” Clarkson: It’s gathering electricity. Hammond: So if you turn it off, the battery isn’t going to start it. Turn it off and start it, then. Let’s have some beautiful silence. Goaded, Clarkson shuts it off and then can’t get it started again. Hammond laughs. May: Why did you turn it off, you idiot? Clarkson: Because he said it would…  Hammond: Good luck, mate. Somebody’ll give you a jump start. He runs off to Oliver. Clarkson: No, don’t go away. Hammond: Goodbye.

May: Annoyingly, Clarkson got the Lancia going again and then we came across some birds.

They ‘re ostrich, in the flesh, running, somewhat more gracefully than Hammond. Although they’re taller, with longer legs.

And then they see a cow. They’ve made it across the salt flats. Clarkson rhapsodizes over the trees and life forms. Hammond is genuinely proud of him. May: Personally, I’m absolutely delighted cause I think the Magkadigkadi is one of the most unpleasant places I’ve ever been. It’s just a big bowl of dust. (To a cow) Hello, mate.

Clarkson: Widow Twanky might have been glad to see the back of the salt pans, but despite this, they gave us a startling parting gift.

Dust in the air creates a glorious orange moon. May: I’ve got goosebumps. I know a Philip Larkin poem about the moon. Would you like to hear it? Hammond: No.

 After (presumably) a good night’s sleep, they begin to cross the Kalihari. Clarkson, picking up animal skulls along the way: Everyone who comes to the Kalihari takes away a different memory of it: the savagery, the simplicity, the vast heat. Me, I think the bumpiness.

The convoy reaches a village. To the accompaniment of lovely a  capella harmonies, children run along with the cars through the street. They stop. Clarkson: It was another challenge.

“Your cars have travelled far and suffered much. So we will now discover how much performance they’ve lost in a competition against the clock on a rally special stage.”

Hammond: Mine can’t have lost any performance. It never had any.

May: I’m not going to ruin my Mercedes just for a few points.

Clarkson: You’re right. You’re not. Because you’re not driving it. Some say he’s seen The Lion King 1780 times and that his second-best friend is a Cape Buffalo. All we know is he’s not the Stig, but he is the Stig’s Aftrican cousin.

From a hut comes a fellow in silver and blue athletic shoes, a spotless white loincloth (???) with a tasteful shoulder drape and beaded accents, racing gauntlets, and helmet.

May: Wow.

Clarkson: He’s protected the important bits.

They drive to the rally course on a dried-up riverbed. Oliver is up first. Going around the course, the Opel manages a powerslide, to the amazement of Clarkson. Hammond is chuffed and ridiculed by Clarkson. The time: 1:12 seconds.

May: Next up, the Panzer tank. Assets: heaviest, longest, best tires. Clarkson: Longest? Longest is good for rallying, is it? May: It is on this. Clarkson points to the utter lack of  Mercedes Benz rally cars.  May, to everyone’s surprise, has beat Hammond with 1:06. May: I always do my ancient… Hammond: I hate your gloating dance.

Clarkson’s Lancia is up next. He’s arguing rally cars as May and Hammond burst out laughing. The Lancia is on fire. The boys can’t stop laughing long enough to say anything constructive, but finally, May calms down enough: Stopwatch still running.

Clarkson comes up with a game plan, but the Stig’s African cousin has had enough and walks off, the amusement of Hammond and May and the amazement of Clarkson. As Clarkson stares with dismay, Hammond looks into the engine compartment: Hey, Jeremy…you’re right. Youre engine is canted.

May has the next challenge: You will drive your cars to Nigeria through the Okavango Delta.  Clarkson: That’s the really big wildlife place. He looks cross. May continues: “In the Okavango, you will encounter many deadly animals, including lions, leopards, cheetas, hyenas, wild dogs, hippos, black rhino, and crocodile. Bird snakes, shield-nosed snakes, puff adders, boomslang, cape cobras, bandit cobras.” Hammond looks queasy. ” Black mambos, black widows, and thick-tailed scorpions.”  Hey, cool! I thought JK Rowling just made up the boomslang!

Clarkson: What about the honey badger? Hammond, distracted from the litany of impending disaster: The  what? May critiques: That’s the least-scary sounding animal in the world. Clarkson: The honey badger does not kill you to eat you; it tears off your testicles. Hammond: It does not! May is more analytical: Why is it called a honey badger? Clarkson: Because that’s what’s made it angry. Hammond: Why isn’t it called the badger of death?

May: In order to protect ourselves from the lions and the honey badgers, Jeremy and I would have to rebuild our cars.

Construction ensues using found materials, with the help of local men welding the parts back on. Sitting in his car, Hammond practices his lion drill: Oh, no, there’s a lion coming! Aah, what should I do? He closes the door. “Oliver will protect me.”

Outside the calm protection of Oliver, there is drilling, sawing, and welding going on. Clarkson has a plan. He and Hammond bait the Mercedes with a cowhead in the trunk and several pieces of meat placed strategically in the car’s structure, including one piece by the engine. It’s not just for the annoyance of the flies; Hammond: Effectively, he becomes a burger van driving. They also attach a cowbell to the under carriage. Not to be outdone, May is once again painting slogans on the others’ cars.

They set off for the wildlife refuge. The Lancia has three animal skulls on its hood, a  picket fence covering the driver’s side door area with an attached bull horn, and the other door stopped up with masses of pop cans. The slogan May has painted: Lite Bite Cafe.

Because there were a lot of Mercedes parts available, May’s car is in slightly better shape. May: God, this is like being in an allotment shed. He seems pleased, though.

Oliver bears the slogan: All Adders Are Puffs. The lettering is pretty neatly done and is less likely to get them damaged than the one used on the American road trip.

May: Can anyone else smell burning, or is it my car?

Hammond: Is is like a barbeque smell?

The quality of the road changes once again, becoming soft and sandy. They have to drive fast to avoid being bogged down. Oliver is in the lead. Clarkson and May are slightly alarmed with the going; Hammond is having fun and laughing in a rather crazed manner.

May: Amazingly, even Jeremy had his work cut out for him trying to keep up with the Opel.

Clarkson: His car just looks so composed. I’m developing this irrational hatred of him and it. Hammond chuckles: This is such a good game!

They have to slow to cross a wooden log bridge dressed with monkeys. Clarkson’s throttle has jammed wide open and the brakes are pretty much shot. He warns Hammond to speed up or he’ll hit Oliver. Hammond is poking along so as not to hurt Oliver’s suspension. Hammond: What? (Crunch) Thanks! Help yourself to my brakes, why not?

Clarkson, anxiously: I’ve lost a skull.

May, looking out of the window, points: Monkeys!

Clarkson: I’m sorry, I can’t– (Crash)

Hammond: (Expletive deleted)!

Clarkson comes to a halt against a very sturdy tree. Something falls out of the tree with the impact.

Clarkson somehow addresses his throttle issue, and they proceed at a more sane pace. Clarkson: This is where wildlife cameramen come to make a name for themselves with David Attenborough. But unfortunately, our film crew are best, really, with cars.

May, helpfully: Giraffe on the right. There! The big thing!

But all they get are blurry shots of parts of animals. Clarkson grouses: If we ever do a program called ‘The Back End of An Animal’, these are the boys to hire.  Hammond chips in: This week, on ‘Too Late To Look’…

In a rare moment of compassion for the film crew, they pull over to give them a decent chance with the animals.  Clarkson: We stopped, and discovered we weren’t much good with animals either.

They scope out elephants at a watering hole. Clarkson, in hushed tones: They stopped for a drink. Using their noses to shovel water into their mouths… Hammond: Jeremy, that’s a rubbish commentary. May: That one’s lifting it’s sort of  paw up. A bit like a dog does. Clarkson, derisively: Paw? May, dismissively:  Hoof. Foot. Whatever you call it. Clarkson: There’s a man over there with the best  combover I have ever seen in my life. Attention successfully diverted from the elephant’s appendage! May, in awe: That is…He’s got four partings as a result of that.  Clarkson: You’re bald! Deal with it! Combover guy turns to look at them and they hastily focus their binoculars in  other directions.

Clarkson: Elephants, rally special stage, best combover I’ve ever seen–

Hammond: Everything’s here.

They camp by a river. While May services his car, Hammond pulls Clarkson away from the campfire and reveals a plan to put the cow head in May’s tent. Clarkson: Love your thinking.

Snickering, they enter the tent and are scared by nearby hippos. They’re discussing the dimensions of their dilemna, when suddenly:

Hammond: Hang on. That’s my bag in James’ tent. This is my tent! Clarkson snorts wildly. Hammond: Get it out!

The journey has taken a toll on the cars. The bush mechanic took two cubic feet out of the Lancia’s carburetor the night before, and asked Clarkson to be a little more careful. They come across a wide river to ford. Usually, you’d wade in first to check the depth, but May just goes for it because there are hippo families basking nearby. He gets stuck while Clarkson is looking at birds. However, he diverts his attention long enough to nudge May free with his car. Unfortunately, the river water floods the passenger space and Clarkson is left with a wet bottom.  May and Clarkson fuss about the water when they reach the bank, but a rather well-built guide isn’t worried–a rifle round to the floor pan of each car solves the problem quite neatly.

Hammond: Meanwhile, using patience, I’d found a proper crossing point. He’s lecturing about fording techniques when the ground suddenly drops out from beneath the tires and Oliver begins to sink. “Oh, God! It’s stalled! It’s going down!” Which is not actually an infrequent occurrance on Top Gear, come to think of it. “I can’t open the door! Oh! (hyperventilates) Oh, God!” He gets out and tries to push Oliver free. “Please! Come out! Come up! Float! Float! Float!” His anguished cry “Oliver!” rings out through the empty countryside.

With uncanny timing, Clarkson chipperly radios Hammond: Hammond, how’s it going? Hammond, still in the middle of the river with a becalmed Oliver: Well, he’s got a bit of water in him. Clarkson is unconcerned and tells Hammond about the drain-creating device. Hammond, hopelessly: Good. ..I might need the rifle. The others arrive and laugh heartily at the sight of Oliver being towed out of the river by a tour bus.

May diagnoses the enormity of the task facing Hammond: Battery’s probably pretty knackered, and then the carburetor will be flooded, and then working down, the distributor cap, that’ll be full of water, the engine itself–if a bit of water went into the cylinders, you might have compressed it and broken it, and the oil will be–

Hammond depressed but determined: I know all this. I can fix him.

Clarkson, disbelieving: You are going to try and mend this?

Hammond: If you’d leave me to it, yes.

Clarkskon: So we did. Clarkson hooks his iPod up to his radio and plays sad music. Hammond looks askance at his handset; Clarkson chuckles. May: Oh, that is harsh. That is quite harsh. But go on. REM plays next; Hammond looks like a man in way over his head.  May and Clarkson sing along, and then with that fun pretty well exhausted, go on ahead to set up camp. Hammond gets the bush mechanic to bring down the generator and works through the night, spurred by the thought of the Beetle. He appears quite handy.

The next morning, Clarkson and May await his arrival at camp. Clarkson is going on about being knackered and feeling like an explorer when May hears an engine. Clarkson: Is that Hammond? May Is that a  Beetle, more to the point…It is not! Oliver has emerged, triumphant. Clarkson is in utter disbelief: No way. Hammond chuckles, sleep-deprived but successful: Oh yeah, yeah, who’s back? Aah. (a satisfied pause) And here’s the best thing. Remember the horn, which was rubbish? He bleats the horn cheerily. May: No, it’s excellent. He and Clarkson look like they’ve just gotten a delivery of coal for Christmas. Clarkson: Is that technically possible?

Clarkson: With all the dars defying all the odds, we began our final push to the border. May: My car’s working perfectly, as usual. Hammond has no brakes, but Clarkson is in worse shape: he can’t control the right-handed spearing. It’s become actually dangerous to brake now.

At the edge of the delta, they pull over to remove the skulls from the Lancia, which craps out again–the solenoid has left the building.  Clarkson moans: That last 60 thousand–it had that feel of a car that’s dying. Hammond is sympathetic. May coughs: Beetle!

May tries to gloat, but Clarkson is having none of it. May: This is worrying. I need to be home by Saturday. I’ve been invited to a Beetle (something, sorry, my handwriting is illegible here). He cracks a broad smile.

The efforts of the whole crew get the Lancia going again. Clarkson is having  his best Dr Frankenstein moment, overacting the hell out of it: It lives! It lives! He gets about 100 yards away, then must be pushed out.

Hammond: Soon we hit the tarmac and we started to taste the hope. He begs Oliver for good performance while Clarkson frets about being stuck in second gear. May: Obviously, mine would keep going to the other side of the country, but…

Clarkson breaks down again. This time, only two of the crew stay to help.

May: This is an object lesson to owners of old cars everywhere. You can drive them round the world. Hammond: Yeah, it’s really relaxing.

May celebrates the aproach of the border: 1596 km, that’s near as dammit to 1000 miles, I’ve still got half a car left, and very bad hair.

Hammond pulls over to stop behind May, but predictably, crashes into the rear of the Mercedes. “Sorry! I’ve got no brakes!” To the lovely if somewhat puzzling choice of music–Verdi–May presents the border to Hammond.  Hammond: We’ve done it! All we had to do was wait. Wait to see which car Jeremy arrived in.

They hear an engine in the distance. Hammond, hopefully: Unmistakable clatter of an air-cooled engine. It’s going to be the Beetle. Clarkson: And it was. But I wasn’t driving it. The Lancia is in view. Clarkson is just mad, pumping his fist, yelling, and rocking back and forth in his seat.  Hammond: I’m almost pleased.

 Clarkson: Watch out! Brakes don’t work! And crashes into the Mercedes. May, tepidly: Congratulations. Hammond: That’s astonishing.

They discuss the winner. Clarkson votes for the Lancia as it’s been so surprising.  May shoots this down: You don’t buy a used car to be surprised that it works. He presses for the Mercedes. Clarkson: It’s a showroom model, James. May: I admit it’s not entirely original, but in technical terms–Clarkson: I think, honestly, we have to be magnanimous here. Because only one of the cars has actually made it unmodified. Hammond nods humbly. “So that brings us nto a Top Gear Top Tip: If, people of Surrey, you want to replace your BMW X5 with something that’s brilliant off-road–” Hammond: Simple. Clarkson: Inexpensive– Hammond: Easy to maintain. Surprisingly comfortable. Clarkson: Absolutely. Um..Then you’ve got to get yourself a VW Beetle. Hammond’s face falls flat: What? May: He’s right.

Posted by: magrimmett | March 15, 2008

Top Gear: Peel Visits BBC

Tonight: James drives a Rolls Royce, Richard drives a Bugatti Veyron, and I drive something that is neither of those things.

Clarkson: Good evening and thank you very much! Now, we start tonight with a letter. Dear Top Gear, Why, oh why, don’t you feature more cars aimed at ordinary people like me? Yours Sincerely, Mr R Abramovich of Chelsea. Well, Mr Abramovich, our man of the people, James May, was only too  happy to oblige.

We cut to a pier on a nice sunny day. May: Perhaps this is what he’s on about. No, not the gin palace, this. (We’re shown an aircraft carrier.) The new Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead. (The Rolls lifts onto the deck and drops its top quickly and smoothly.) As I’m sure you know, on Top Gear, if a car spends too long sitting around on the deck of an aircraft carrier, it eventually gets launched off the ramp-thing down at the end and this definitely won’t fly, because it weighs 2.6 tons. So let’s be on our way.

The doors are hinged on the back side, so it’s elegant when they open and easy to assume one’s rightful place in the drivers’ seat. May gets in and drives off. This quite large car costs 307 000 pounds, which is 50 000 more than a Phantom saloon. A passing motorcyclist gives May the thumbs up as he determines what the extra 50 000 pounds goes for. He concludes that you pay the extra for the extra metalwork that keeps the car body rigid–Rolls Royce’s adopted parents at BMW added 460 feet of welding at their Center for Aluminum Competence. ” I’m not making that up. That is what it’s called. They’re German.” The Drophead has the same 6 3/4 L engine, the same top speed and 0-60 rate as the standard Phantom, but the image is different from the saloon. May lets us know that the producers have him driving at night because they thought he’d be too embarassed to be seen during the day because it isn’t discreet. But isn’t that part of what you’re paying for? He isn’t embarrassed, though; he finds it exquisite, not vulgar. “This lot don’t let you have carbon fiber, but they will let you have this teak decking at the back, like you might find on a motor launch. And they’ll also let you have the bonnet finished in brushed stainless steel. Other car manufacturers are spending millions and millions of pounds on research into hydrogen fuel cells and hybrid drive, but Rolls Royce spends the same money in its ashtray design department. Look at that.” It is quite clever; the cylindrical metal ashtray slides out easily from the armrest on the door. He deems the car like a butler; it takes care of everything for you and you don’t even notice.

We get some shots of the interior as May drives through a tunnel. He tells us that Rolls Royce has its own ideas about luxury in a car: no sport packages or floppy paddle gearboxes, but they do have 44 000 shades of paint for a buyer to choose among, and when you put up the soft top, it’s lined in cashmere. Holy crap. Cashmere? Really?

He tells us that it’s “Wonderful to drive, beautifully made. But there’s something else. Here’s an amazing thing. Rolls Royce is the most established mark in the history of motoring. It has the most pompous radiator grill. It has the most ridiculous mascot, and yet, this car is very, very cool. I think this might be the coolest car in the world.”

We leave May with his dubiously cool car and rejoin Clarkson in the studio: So let’s move on to Ferrari. Now, in the olden days, they used to build their race cars with passion and enthusiasm, and then on lap three, often as not, they would explode in a passionate and enthusiastic fireball. But then a few years ago, they started building their racing cars with science and math, and since then, as we know, they’ve been top of the tree. So now Ferrari is putting science and maths into their road cars as well.

We get some up-close and personal car porn of the Ferrari’s badges and emblems. “This is the 599.” It’s a 6L V12 with variable valve timing on each of its four cams and has magneto rheological shock absorbers. It has lights on the steering wheel (cool!) telling you when to change gear. “When I pull this paddle here, the clutch disengages, the cogs are swapped, the clutch reengages; all in 100 milliseconds.” He tries it and checks his watch. “Yeah, 100 milliseconds.” He looks pleased and nods smugly.

In order to get this red beast off the start line, there’s an elaborate set-up which involves buttons and readouts and launch control. Once it revs up, the start is very nearly worth it; there’s a lot of tire smoke and it’s quick off the line. “That was hugely impressive. But I’ll let you in on a secret. Launch control is primarily designed for fat, useless drivers to impress their friends with all the tire smoke. But there’s another, quicker way of getting this car off the line. This procedure is about half of the length of the previous one, so it’s not that much simpler, but it does get Clarkson from 0-60 in 3.5 seconds, which looks like quite a lot of fun.

He checks out the cornering. “Normally what I do in a normal fast car coming round here is brake, turn in, you feel the grip, ok? And then you balance the throttle to hold in on the limit of grip, and then you call the tow truck to pull you out of the field.” Things are different with this Ferrari–you can choose what kind of cornering you’d like to do with a switch. The first couple settings–Sport and Race– provide lots of grip and no understeer. “Hold onto your spleen, everyone!” Then he has a fit of bravery and turns the system off altogether. The effect is dramatic and immediate: fiercesome understeer; he spins out in a big cloud of smoke and throws up his hands: And then it stalls. He’d rather be in a ’64 275 GTI–rubbish, but he adores it. It is heart and soul; it also has a clean, sleek interior due to the utter lack of technological toys.

Cut to a garage filled with shrouded cars. “In the past, this was the natural stomping ground of the Ferrari–under a cover, in a garage, and with good reason…” None of them were everyday drivers; they all had drawbacks of some kind. However, the 599 addresses most of them, providing a parcel shelf for golf clubs, a service interval of 12 500 miles, and because the engine is up front, there is a nice roomy boot. There are, of course, issues, and Clarkson is willing to point them out: the car is so wide he spent most of his time in a drive in either a ditch or a hedge to avoid oncoming traffic; the headlights resemble canned goods, the automatic wipers turned on after the rain stopped, the air conditioning had a mind of its own, and the ambient lighting system lit up the interior like a battlefield. It’s still not a daily driver, and more worryingly, Clarkson wouldn’t buy one at all.

In the studion, Clarkson: It is amazing. As a technical exercise, it’s just astonishing. The science and maths is phenominal, it really is. Hammond: And would you *really* have that old 275? Clarkson: Honest to God, I really would. Anyway, we must now find out jow fast this car goes round our track, and of course, this means handing it over to our tame racing driver. Some say that he gets terrible excema on his helmet and that if he’d been the video ref in the World Cup Rugby final, he’d seen that of course it was a try, you blind Australian half-wit! All we know is he’s called the Stig.

He’s off in a cloud of tire smoke. There’s some roll through the corners, but no understeer. The audio book today is on sixth sense and energy. He’s got a big drift in Hammerhead and fast through the tires, “super-tidy” as Clarkson puts it. He gets neatly through Gambon and finishes in 1.21.2. Wow.

Clarkson: My guest tonight holds an amazing record. He’s been seen in the flesh by more people than anyone else in the history of human kind, and that is because he is a member of a band called the Rolling Stones. Ladies and gentlemen–Ronnie Wood!

He comes out of the crowd looking much less embalmed and considerably brighter-eyed than Keith Richards does these days. Clarkson: I guess you must be unnerved by a crowd as big as this. 500 people here. Wood chuckles: It’s nice to be intimate. He reckons that more people see their tour every year than see the Pope. Clarkson: The Pope is nothing. Don’t see the Pope singing “Satisfaction.” Clarkson gets down to brass tacks immediately: he says that all the Stones have still got good hair and wonders how they could have known this when they formed. Wood replies that none of them wanted to be in Fleetwood Mac.

Fun Facts about Ronnie Wood: he’s the first member of his family to be born on dry land dating back to the 1700’s–he’s checked. He has two caravans, and has rejected Clarkson’s kind offer to destroy them for him. He has an autobiography out. Clarkson has read it: How are you still alive? Wood: Good question.

Through all the drugs, drink, fights, escapes, reescapes… He discusses escapings from rampaging groups of mods and rockers, and we learn that not only is Jeff Beck an outstanding guitarist, he’s an excellent getaway driver as well. Clarkson mentions some of his friends: John Belushi, Hendrix, all the people, they’re not exactly a Methodist bible group.

Another Fun Fact: Wood’s record for staying up is six days and six nights, courtesy of friend Keith Moon and a series of concerts. They’d play, go out, and then no point in going to bed when you’ve got a performance in a couple of hours…afterward they had a nice two day kip. He reminisced about how Keith Richards used to be armed a lot and once shot Mick’s guitar, which turned out to be a joke on him since Mick had borrowed it from Keith. Charlie has no license to drive, but enjoys sitting in in his collection of rare cars listening to them idle. Woods has a classic Mercedes Benz and a Chevrolet. We see tape of his lap, he’s off: Let’s go! Got to think lap times here! Slowest one ever! Ahh! He does very well, no understeer, everything under control, quite fast. Clarkson is frankly staggered, and reveals the time: 1:49:4.

As May speaks, he walks through the audience to where Hammond is sitting in a silver Lexus: Over the years, technology has d one a great deal to help old people. It’s given them the Stannah Stairlift, the electric tin-opener, and of course, the rubberized under-sheet. Hammond: But there’s never been anything to help old people park–until now. Because this Lexus LS 600 can park itself. May points out the sensors in the bumper and the camera. Hammond: Yep, it’s that easy. I just engage reverse gear, I can see the cameras here, I press some buttons and stuff, and then it parks! So here it goes! I’t going to go well.

Clarkson: Hammond, sorry to interrupt, but this is the instruction book that I have here. For the sort of command system. All of that (flips pages) is for the park assist. Do you think you can do it without reading it? Hammond: Well, yeah. Clarkson: Go on, see if I care. Hammond: Just press some buttons… He takes his foot off the brake and hands off the wheel: I’m not doing anything! I’m not doing anything! I’m not doing anything! It’s just the car! It is indeed going backward and turning by itself. “Oh, bugger!” He’s gone straight into the remains of the Cool Wall, which was a victim of the props fire between seasons. May laughs. Clarkson: You hit the Cool Wall! Hammond: Well, it’s new technology.

He tries again. He keeps it slow, foot on brake, to check the speed. May approves of this. And…it’s straight back into the Cool Wall again. Clarkson borrows reading glasses from an audience member and begins to read the manual; it’s full of equations: How can old people understand this?! Hammond admits to putting the green square on the screen on the Cool Wall, which is why the car keeps ramming it. He moves it to where he actually wants to end up and tries for the third time. “Please turn, please, God, turn.” It does! Rear end goes in first and it stops at an angle. May: That’s parked! Clarkson: That’s nearly there! The audience applauds the big car that nearly could park itself and they give up.

We’re now looking at an old blue Mini Cooper in a parking garage. Clarkson: Forty years ago, car manufacturers could sell you something much smaller. The original Mini, for example. Or the Bubble car. But even these aren’t small. Not really. Not compared to this.

We pan over a couple parking spaces. Oh, my God, it is a ridiculously ugly little three wheeled thing. It’s a mid blue with a solo headlight and comes up to about Clarkson’s waist. It is the Peel P50, 54″ long and 41″ wide, and in Guinness as the smallest production car ever. Contrary to possible expectations that he’s there to introduce Hammond, he takes a couple of tries and, incredibly, folds himself in to drive to work.

The Peel was built on the Isle of Man in the early 60’s and said to be almost cheaper than walking; it cost 198 pounds and got 100 mpg thanks to the 49cc engine from a Moped. It does have very limited top speed, is not terribly safe, and is very warm. “But realistically, even the skinniest, shortest chap with the whitest of teeth will struggle to get past 35.” It also emits tremendous amounts of smoke and doesn’t corner well.

At the BBC, he drives up a pedestrian walk to the doors, where he gets out, takes it by the rear bumper, and tows it through the doors. He carts it into the Top Gear offices, where the staffers crowd around it, get in it, shake it back and forth, and have a laugh. Clarkson is bemused by its popularity. As he is on the phone in his office (Can’t you just clean them? Really, 4 000 pounds to whiten them?) John Humphrys drops in and takes it on a little joyride through the halls, clipping the watercooler, chuckling and having a good time. “God, the power under this bonnet, it’s impressive.” He pulls up by the elevator, which is where Clarkson tracks him down: Please don’t just steal our things. Do you mind? Humphrys: Thanks very much indeed. Jolly nice of you.

Clarkson is summoned to an important BBC meeting and is running late, so he takes the car. He drives into the elevator, where Fiona Bruce does her best to ignore him, but gamely pushes him out at the lobby as he has no reverse gear. He remarks favorably about her bottom and makes the short drive to BBC Television Centre, possibly the most complicated building in the world.

Despite 20 years of experience, Clarkson gets lost and wanders through the cubicle farm in the car. Several people don’t even look up as he passes. He lets us know that several shows have been cancelled not due to low ratings, but because their presenters are still lost in the building. He’s really lost now. We see him drive behind the glass wall of a news program in which the readers are presenting current events. Nobody is diverted by the Peel. Eventually he does make it to the seminar, which has this entrancing title: How to Reduce the Carbon Footprint of Our Ethnically Diverse Disability Access Policy For Single Mothers. It’s already in progress when he drives in and parks at the foot of the table. The buzz words go on for hours, so he drives out onto the street. “I really do think that today I have seen the future, and it comes from 1963. The Peel P50 is absolutely brilliant. If it had a reverse gear, I would describe it as the ultimate of personal mobility.” As he’s going on stopped in the street, Dermot Murnagham picks up the rear bumper and turns him around so that he’s pointing in the wrong direction. Car horns begin to honk. The Peel’s only door opens and Clarkson’s foot emerges, pushing him out of the traffic.

In the studio, Clarkson to May: They really have a very big problem at the BBC with news presenters. I mean, just the other day, we were in the canteen. Paxman came through on a Harley-Davidson. It’s just out of control. May: Is this the best car we’ve ever had on Top Gear? Clarkson: Yes..I think it’s genuinely astonishing. The he whips a cloth off to reveal the sports version of the Peel; it’s got a bubble of glass for the roof. Clarkson: It’s just staggering. May: It’s the Jetsons. The twinset on stage would be Clarkson’s perfect two-car garage.

Hammond: Yeah. Now, a year ago, Jeremy raced James and me from Italy to London, James and I in his ridiculous airplane and Jeremy in a Bugatti Veyron. And annoyingly, he won. Then we heard from a bunch of aeroplane enthusiasts called the RAF. They said, “Why don’t you come up to our place and we’ve got a plane that will give your car a run for it’s money.” And well, seeing as how I’m the only hasn’t yet driven the Bugatti Veyron, I took on the challenge.

We cut to the Veyron rolling rather menacingly through the countryside. Hammond: Yes, the 1000 horsepower legend is back. And if I’m honest, I’m a bit nervous. Not because of the car itself, but because of the burden that now rests on my shoulders. Because when Jeremy drove the Veyron, all he had to beat was an incompetent James in a useless little aeroplane. And when James went to Germany and maxed it, the car didn’t even break a sweat. But this time, the Veyron’s honor really is at stake, because never before has it gone up against something like this.

Hammond continues:  The most modern, the most high-tech strike fighter on the planet. The Eurofighter Typhoon. (There’s some lovely airplane porn bathed in the sunset.)  And for once  when it comes to figures, the Bugatti is really well and truly top-trumped. Its twin engines develop 20 000 pounds of thrust–each. Punching the Eurofighter up to 65 000 feet at a top speed of over 1500 mph. This machine is the cutting edge of what a plane can do. It’s actually designed to be aerodynamically unstable to make it as agile as possible in a dogfight. So it needs 70 computers to keep in in the air. (Some lovely plane porn as it cuts through the sky.) And if they fail, it would simply fall out of the sky. It’s kind of a mix of science fiction and brute strength. He stands on a wing, discussing their strength, and notes that each costs 67 million. Each.

“Faced with the clear and present danger of the Eurofighter, the Bugatti Veyron really is the car world’s best shot at clinging to some honor. And nobody knows what the outcome will be.”

The Veyron and the Eurofighter face off in a hangar. The Veyron’s wing moves up, possibly in challenge. “In fact, Bugatti is so concerned, they sent over not one, but two Veyrons. Maybe they’re going to tie them together or something.”  The shootout will take place on the main runway at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire.

The challenge: A horizontal versus vertical drag over two miles. Hammond sits with a toy car racing straight, a matchbox-type toy minivan, and a toy plane.  There’s a start/finish line–the Veyron will go up one mile, swing around, and return. The Eurofighter will go up vertically one mile, turn, and come back. “Or to crash into a million pound supercar that it didn’t expect to see and Youtube has a field day. Otherwise, it’s last one to finish is a vegetarian. Simple as that.”

The Eurofighter rolls out of the hanger. “Now, you might think that the plane is going to walk it. But don’t be so sure.” The Veyron swings into view. “The car should have the edge off the line. It’ll do 0-100 in 5.7 seconds, for god’s sake. And when it gets to these yellow dots, which mark the mile where it has to turn around, the Veyron has another advantage. Down here its awesome brakes should come into play. And then there’s the air brake as well, which on its own generates the same stopping power as you’d get in a normal hatchback. ” There’s a pause. “Straight line is a straight line. So the car does what it does there. But up here, I’ve got to brake as late as possible and lose as little time as possible making the turn before the return mile so I reckon it’ll be won or lost here at this end.”He looks tense. The dragsters line up. Hammond does a preflight checklist, reminding himself to go full beans on the throttle.

“As drag races go, you will agree that this is quite a good one.” A rabbit hurries across the runway. They’re off. The jet engines throw flame back. The Veyron charges across the line and actually beats the jet in initial accelleration. The jet lifts off and Hammond can feel the wash. “So I’m fighting for the Germans in a battle against the RAF.” Casually, he tells he camera, “If you’re watching, thinking this is cool, it is. ” In 18 seconds, he’s reached 188 mph and getting ready to brake. The air brake comes up. Overhead, the jet reaches the height and gracefully rolls over into its dive. Hammond floors it coming out of the turn. “This is the best race in history!” The jet is descending. “If I mess this one up, I might as well get a paper route.” Hammond’s up to 196 mph now–is it enough? he can’t see the jet–until it races past. “No!” The Veyron finishes a decided second. The jet does a victory roll. Resignedly, Hammond slows down, “I suspect I may get some abuse for this.”

Clarkson: You failed. You are a vegetarian and you failed and you are useless. Hammond, in a defensive posture: Yes. Clarkson relents a bit: You have to admit, though, it is quite a car. Hammond: Oh, it is staggering. But what a plane. And here is the guy who flew it–Squadron Leader Jim Walls. Everybody applauds. Clarkson: Must have been terrifying. Hammond: Well, it was, because I was–Clarkson: Not you, him. He had to wake up that morning; what am I going to do? Well, Richard Hammond is coming. He’s driving in a fast car in a straight line on a runway in the North. Hammond: Yeah. Wells smiles and says nothing. Clarkson: He’s not going to go, ‘Can I do nuclear war instead?’ So well done, mate–fantastic.

Next week, we are in Africa for a Top Gear special. Now the three of us are trying to drive across the spine of the continent in three ordinary used 2-wheel drive road cars. It is worth watching, trust me. See you then. Good night!

Posted by: magrimmett | March 3, 2008

Top Gear: Amphibious Cars Part II

Tonight, James May faces trial by water, Richard Hammond faces trial by fire.

Hello and good evening, thanks very much.

Porsche used to be the only supercar you could drive every day. Clarkson: But now there’s a new kid on the block. Hammond: No, there isn’t. Clarkson continues: Audis are mainly built for German cement salesmen. Not this one, though. (We get some lovely car porn shots.) This is the R8. It’s made from a blend of carbon fiber, magnesium, and aluminum. It has two seats, the engine’s in the middle, and it’s about as high off the ground as a badger’s badger. By any measure, it is a full-on supercar, but so far as I can tell, it doesn’t have any of the usual supercar drawbacks. It is a sleek and lovely thing; the interior’s leather and there’s a right-hand drive. The side mirrors are unobtrusive, the headlights are long and elegant. There is a streak of brushed aluminum widening up the edge of the door.  

The improvements include being able to see out, it has the same 4.2 L V8 engine as the Audi RS4, so it’s better on fuel than a regular supercar, which apparently runs on minced lions. It’s very quiet, has ample headroom, comfortable, and costs 77 000 pounds. However most of the good stuff on the car is an optional extra. Also in the negative column, Clarkson doesn’t think it’s particularly good looking (he’s nuts, obviously) and shoots down the little LEDs under the headlights. I’m with him there–they look a bit stupid.

The aesthetics are thrown aside when you start to drive, though: 0-60 in 4.6 seconds, top speeed of 190-ish.  The speed is not the most impressive thing about the car; the cornering’s the real story. It’s very impressive through corners; the grip is fantastic. Clarkson compares it to smearing honey into Keira Knightly. It does have 4 wheel drive, but since no more than a third of the power goes up onto the front, there’s very rarely any understeer. When there is, it’s remarkably easy to bring it back into control. Clarkson is completely sold, finding it almost without fault and absolutely stunning.

Hammond: Rubbish. He drifts onto the track behind Clarkson in his signature car, a Porsche, grimly determined to defend its honor. This is a Carrera 2S, which costs about the same as the Audi, and Hammond “will now run four rings round it.”

They do a chase around the track, trashing each others’ ride. Hammond does not pass the Audi; the flat 6 isn’t up to the challenge on the straights. It ends when he comes out of a corner backwards; one can’t help but feel this deflates his claim a bit. Clarkson pulls off as well and they have an argument. He makes the losers’ L on his forehead; Hammond protests that it’s not just about the results but also the sensation along the way. They deride the placement of the engines in the cars, but nothing is settled, so they decide to settle the matter intelligently and  have a half mile drag. Hammond is confident-ish and gets off to a fast start but Clarkson catches up fairly quickly. The finish is too close to call; neither knows who won.

In the studio, slo-mo reveals that Hammond won by half a car length. It’s not too impressive a win since he got off to a much better start. Hammond is delighted anyway. Clarkson promises a comeuppance: a V10 is in the works. Hammond’s not worried; he shows us a picture of a cloud of smoke, presumably with the prototype car inside. Clarkson insists that it’s just steam. No, it isn’t–the next photo shows a burned-out hulk covered in foam sitting forlornly off the track. Hammond pushes for a general election by the audience to prove which car is best; Clarkson reminds him that the Audi is incredibly popular, so Hammond rethinks his position and backs down, announcing that he’s nicking all Clarkson’s best ideas as well.

“Some say that he’s banned from the town of Chichester and that in a recent late-night deal, he bought a slightly dented white Fiat Uno from the Duke of Edinburgh. All we know is he’s called the Stig.” The Stig sets off on a slightly damp track, listening to a self-help tape. There’s no understeer in the corners; it looks just delicious. By contrast, when the Stig ran the Porsche he spun out on the corner before Gambon. Given another try, he achieved  1:26:2; the Audi whipped around in 1:24:4. Hammond has to admit it is a better car, and Clarkson does a victory dance.

The lads stand in the studio, puffing on pipes and reflecting that their last outing in amphibious cars wasn’t terribly successful, which is par for the course on Top Gear. Things are always breaking in half, on fire, or sunk. May explains that usually at this point, they give up and move on, but the producers felt they hadn’t taken the whole amphicar thing seriously and decided they had to concentrate, refine their designs, and meet up outside London on the M24. Clarkson and Hammond wince. Clarkson: M25. No wonder May’s always lost.

Clarkson, as is his habit, shows up first at the rendezvous in a white pickup and exits through the sunroof. Hammond is second to arrive, in a ghastly blue van-boat. It’s even bigger than his first effort, incredibly. He shows Clarkson the flying bridge with a place for bikini-clad girls. A problem is immediately evident; he can’t really see over the roof to steer. As before, he’s attached a propeller to the VW, and installed a fiberglass hull, well sealed with foam. It’s a mere 5 tons and the cooling is about the same. Clarkson’s entry has thoroughly welded-up doors, two drums attached to the bed that can be lowered to add stability, evidence of a fire on the paint from a welding mishap, and two big fishing poles for leisure moments. At this point, May arrives in a Herald sailboat with the improvements of a collapsible mast, a spinnaker, and a keel to drop down through the floor of the car. Clarkson and Hammond confidently predict sinking, but May is adamant that physics are on his side for once.

Time to unveil the challenge. Clarkson blanches. May: Is it bad? Clarkson: Yes. You will now drive to Dover. May: No. Clarkson: And then you will cross the Channel to France. It’s a distance of 22 miles, which seriously concerns the lads. Clarkson: Mine won’t do that. Hammond: If I’d known it was the sea, I’d have fitted a bigger anchor.

Clarkson has a bit of a fit: We’re all going to be killed. I’m 47 years old and I’m going to be run down by a Korean grain carrier, minced–Hammond interrupts: Yeah, but what a day.

While the other two relax, May goes about collapsing the mast so they can get going. He hits a streetlight with it and gets it tangled up in the security camera. Finally, though, they’re underway for their next great adventure.

The additions he’s made have taken the edge off the Nissank’s performance; Clarkson’s efforts to urge it along by bouncing back and forth have no effect. He’s going to do his last will and testament, leaving everything to the lifeboat crews. Hammond is not markedly more upbeat: I can’t believe they’re asking us to go across the Channel. He has trouble shifting. May has fallen behind the other two as is his wont, but thinks that this is fantastic: I absolutely cannot wait to try out my Triumph Herald with its new rerigging and sail across the Channel. Why shouldn’t it work?

Hammond, sensing disaster, has only one small crumb of comfort: this time it’s working on the road. Not for long, though; the compartment fills with smoke and he pulls off the road to emerge, gasping and choking, from the back. Clarkson drives up and pulls off too with the same problem: Hammond is being killed and it’s hard to tell…is that smoke or–? The foam that they’ve packed the engine bays with has caught fire. Clarkson: How’s your engine? Hammond replies promptly: Ruined. Clarkson laughs: Everything we do–James, where is he? He’s not even here. May has ceased his earlier singing, pulled over, and sits in his car with smoke swirling around him, looking troubled. Hoping that the heat from the exhaust will burn off foam without a consuming fire, they power on. May is clutching a fire extinguisher, just in case.

Clarkson: Oh, God, look at them–they are worse than they were last time on the road, and we have a much bigger challenge on the water. Mind you, after five miles, Hammond was beyond caring. We’re shown the VW’s smoke filled interior, with the biggest, goofiest grin on Hammond’s face. Clarkson: It is like the West Indian Dope-Smoking Team practicing in the car.

The foam does burn off, they do arrive in Dover without significant mishap. Hammond, possibly still in an altered state: People are looking. One day they’re going to want one. Theyr’e launching from the slipway once used by the giant channel-crossing hovercrafts in Dover Harbor. Then it’ll be 22 miles on the busiest shipping lane in the world. By the time they reach the slipway, the Nissank’s brakes are gone, and Clarkson amuses himself by running into the back of May’s Triumph. Once everybody’s managed to stop, they get out and look out across the Channel. It’s late and the tide is coming in. May proposes leaving when the tide goes out, which is the next day at 1 pm. Clarkson: we shall go then, we shall go to the pub now. Hammond: Sound idea. Clarkson: Tomorrow, one o’clock, that’ll be us, slack water! Hammond: Cause the water’s slack. (pause) What’s slack water?

In the studio, Clarkson: Honestly, crossing the Channel has got to be just about the stupidest idea ever. It was just one of those days when you have that sense I’m going to end up today with hypothermia, attached to a stomach pump. (Sure, who hasn’t had one of those days?)  Hammond: We were also paranoid about sinking; that’s why we put all that foam everywhere…round anywhere really hot, basically.

Clarkson: My guest tonight was once suspended from Channel 4 for using the f word on live television before the watershed. He looks at his watch: I mean, for fuck’s sake! Ladies and gentlemen–Jools Holland!

The wonderful Jools Holland emerges from the crowd and gives Clarkson a hug. He’s the about as tall as Hammond, but his attitudes are much more similar to James May–separated at birth? Holland: What a lovely fellow he is. Once Holland met the Ramones at an after-show party in New York at KZ’s, a rather debauched, orgy-style place. He was talking to one of the Ramones, who, he was surprised to see, had a woman “performing an act upon his person. Do you know, he rather lost interest in what I was saying!” He chooses a car based on how it smells, and is a member of several classic car clubs. On his first lap, he drives off the track, no brakes, gets back on. On his lap, he’s off to a good start, but has trouble with the third gear, just like pretty much everybody. He’s good through Hammerhead, the flat, and Gambon, and finishes in 1:49:9.

In the studio, May recaps and takes us back to Dover to rejoin the challenge.

It is a lovely morning; the harbor is calm and inviting, but the open sea less so. “Captain Cocksure” is raring to go, but Clarkson and Hammond are having a last cup of tea before facing anhiliation. Clarkson: Have you ever considered the meaning of life? Hammond: No, but I — I think we should. Clarkson: Now’s the time.  May is shipshape and impatiently awating his copresenters. Clarkson: how many grains of sugar are there? Hammond: That’s exactly what I…we say blithely “I’ll have one sugar” but how many are there? They count. Hammond loses track and must begin again, as he wants to get it right. Finally they arrive at the slipway. May blisters them: You’re two and three-quarters of an hour late.  Hammond: Stuff to do. Clarkson mutters about slack waters: Listen, before we set off…I have a few more things to do. The night previous, while a bit drunk, he’d glued trashcan lids to the tops of the drums to act as hydrofoils and wanted to make sure the glue cured before testing the water.

May writes them off and rolls down the ramp into the water. He climbs into the back seat, identifying the parts of the sailing mechanisms as he tends to do. The tide washes him back to shore; the centerboard is stuck. Clarkson and Hammond, dry and on shore, enjoy his predicament.  May is so focused that he doesn’t realize he’s drifting into a pier. A minute and a half into the thrill ride, a rescue boat darts out and tows him back to open water. His Archimedes calculations aren’t holding water. (hee hee! Couldn’t resist.) Clarkson mildly observes: I would say that car is sinking, as well. May: Mayday! Clarkson and Hammond scramble into action and get their cars out on the water. Hammond is floating and is overjoyed by the success. The crowd of fans on the pier applaud. The sailcar goes down.  Hammond can’t stop the engine on his colossus and so can’t rescue the sole survivor of the Triumph calamity. May: Oh, bloody hell. Clarkson motors over: Do you want to come on this boat? May: Up to a point, yes. Clarkson: Will you admit it’s a brilliant piece of design? May: No. Bugger off. Clarkson does. He and Hammond wait on land as May’s car is raised in order to offer reassurance and sympathy. Clarkson: You designed a rubbish car and know nothing about sailing. Hammond: Amazingly, however, James insisted that his Herald and the snapped mast could be fixed.  And so with help from me and Jeremy (footage shows them napping in the sun) two hours later he was back in business.

The next we see, the three amphicars  roll into the harbor together. Hammond: This is absolutely brilliant! May: I’m actually using my weight to counter the roll of the craft. He’s about three meters into the water. As he’s puttering onboard, he gets hit in the head with the boom. Clarkson to Hammond: Is that your top speed? Hammond: I’m flat out. He laughs. They leave May behind and went onto  open water.  Clarkson, uneasily: That’s choppy out there. Hammond is appalled: I can’t do that. Not in a van. Mate–it’s horrible! Clarkson: Maybe if we sneak up on it… Meanwhile back with Captain Pugwash: Sod it! He’s drifting along shore and has been smacked in the head again.  These are not sound craft.

Clarkson: You can’t see what’s coming and I can! Hammond: I can just see sky, sea, sky, sea… The swells are alarmingly large. Hammond: Quite scared now, quite scared! Quite really scared! Back at shore, May: Why the bloody hell won’t it turn round? The boom smacks him again. Hammond turns tail and heads back to the harbor; Clarkson follows. May is still stuck on the seawall. Fans hold up a sign, “Go Captain Slow.” May: Ow!

Clarkson observes and motors over: Have you ever heard of the milk of human kindness? Well, prepare to suckle on it. He tows May away to the cheers of the crowd. Near the mouth of the harbor, Hammond discovers that the rough sea has damaged his van; the steering is broken and he’s stuck going around in circles. A huge hovercraft enters the harbor, blaring its horn. May is also in trouble again: Clarkson nudges the sailboat backwards. As Hamond tries desperately to escape circling, May’s mast collapses. The three craft avoid being mowed down by the hovercraft, but the water fuzz arrive. May tries to fob them off by saying everything’s fine, but it plainly isn’t. The harbor patrol order them back to land, but getting there isn’t easy. Hammond’s engine is dying and he’s brought back in by Clarkson; May is towed back as well. Hammond: James’ boat was now beyond repair. But luckily, Jeremy was on hand to comfort him. Clarkson: You failed!

The next day, the van and truck ease into the water. The sea is calmer, and Hammond bought an outboard  motor from Clarkson for a million pounds. It’s not too robust, but it does propel him and May forward through the sea; May is on board as a cabin boy. As Hammond sends him forward for some refreshment, Clarkson leaves them behind. Hammond looks inside: Bloody hell! May! There’s quite a lot of water…! May: Oh, not again.

The van goes down; bits and pieces float on the water with Hammond and May. May grouses: This is the third time I’ve been in this ruddy sea. Hammond: Yeah…technically, it wasn’t my fault. May: With typical good grace, Jeremy picked us up and then announced we’d have to go back to Dover.

The reason? Richard Branson set the record from crossing the Channel in an amphibious car in an hour, forty minutes, six seconds. Ambitiously, Clarkson sets out to beat the time. Next stop, Calais.

Hammond: Where’s France? May: We follow a ferry. But not one going to Holland. They’re two miles out, and are attempting to determine how fast they’re going by tying knots into a rope and measuring how many knots go out per unit of time (one knot = one nautical mile per hour = 1.15 survey miles.) May is in charge and calculates a rate of 110 knots, or 125 mph.

A coast guard plane adds to the adventure by buzzing them and asking them their intentions. Hammond yells in fright. Clarkson relays their plan and they are wished good luck. He wants the pilot’s job, saying it’s the coolest. I believe he just wants a job out of the sea in a truck-boat.  But look! France is ahead! Hammond points out that England is still closer.

New peril: they’re in the shipping lanes. Clarkson can’t remember who has the right of way (hint–as a practical matter, the biggest thing gets to go first.) Hammond: Ooh God, no! Clarkson: Maybe I should go behind it? They find that they have not broken the Channel crossing record, but are at least in one piece.

The sea gets choppy. Clarkson: We’re going down, boys!  Hammond and May bail furiously with  cups. May is sent forward to act as ballast. As he’s clinging to the windshield: I’m getting a bit bored with sinking, frankly. The water calms as they get closer to shore. The French on the beach point as they close in. Clarkson: The town of Sangatte was about to get three more immigrants. Never mind that we’d aimed for Calais and missed; France is France.

The breakers are defeating their attempts to drive up onto the beach. Hammond falls out of the truck bed and hops up on shore. The truck is stuck near the beach but unable to get up the slip. May gets a rope tied to the front of the truck and Clarkson goes for broke. Hammond and some curious French tow them onto shore. Success! Clarkson: The pickup had landed: merci bien!

Posted by: magrimmett | February 27, 2008

Torchwood: Adam

We open with Rhys and Gwen tussling in the bedroom. He’s still in bed, she’s trying to put her shoes on to go to work. He tugs her into bed: You’re itching to go back to work. She doesn’t deny it, but salvages it by saying that the best part is that she has him to come home to. They both make retching sounds; he nuzzles her and she giggles hysterically.

At the Hub, Jack has some unlabeled Class D artifacts for Tosh to check. Wait a sec–she’s got on a low cut, tight shirt and one hell of a push up bra. Huh. Owen, adorably geeky in uncharacteristic black-framed dork glasses, is pleased to assist her. It’s audit day (by whom are they being audited? It’s not like there’s a ton of government oversight here.) and Adam is fine with checking stuff to see when it came through the Rift. Adam? WTF? He’s apparently been in Torchwood for three years, but you’d be hard-pressed to find this red-head in any previous episodes. Gwen comes in late–she’s been on vacation in Paris with Rhys. She looks around, and asks who the hell Adam is. Everyone looks askance. He puts his hand on her shoulder and says that’s what he said to her on her first day, remember? She flashes back to memories of them horsing around, playing basketball, and drinking coffee he brewed. The awkwardness over, Gwen tells Tosh that she’s looking good. Adam gets a curdled, ugly look on his face.

We see Adam at his workstation, creating a false identification for one Adam Smith. Tosh sees, and asks him why he’s poking around in his personnel file. He tells her that he was just updating Rift activity (in a personnel file?) and she lets it go. She looks a bit petulant, and asks him if he knows when a lightweight box with glyphs carved all over it came through. He says no, but he’ll keep looking. He puts his hand on her neck and she sees memories of them together, flirting at work, kissing–so they do. Adam: A year ago today. Tosh: Our first kiss. Owen comes in, startled to see them kissing, and bangs around a bit. Tosh: You ok, Owen? Owen: Yes, yes, don’t worry about me…kissing in work, I wasn’t expecting it. (Clue we’re in an altered reality: no kissing at Torchwood?) He snaps off his gloves and leaves. Adam tells Tosh they’ll celebrate tonight and she leaves too. The smile runs off his face.

Jack, for no apparent reason, goes into the vault, past Janet, who hits the plexi and growls. Jack snaps: Save it! And walks past. In the next cell, he sees a kid in a light colored robe. Gwen interrupts; when he looks back the kid is gone. Gwen: Did you miss me? Jack retorts: Were you gone? and playfully chases her out of the vault. One look back–there’s only Janet.

Tosh is doing a quick check on Rift activity, finding an occurrence two days ago, but nothing came through. In a weird voice, Owen brandishes a screen cleaner in the shape of a small stuffed animal: Apart from me. Tosh looks repelled. Gwen, on the couch with Ianto, smiles. Owen asks Tosh if she likes it, Tosh: Just what I need, a small rodent looking at me while I work. I’ll call it Owen. Significant role reversal here; Tosh is oblivious and Owen crushed. Adam smirks. Gwen to Ianto: He’s like a puppy, bringing her sticks. When’s he going to realize he’s got no chance? Ianto: Love’s blind, apparently; he’s idolized her for years. Adam: Oh, leave him alone. I think it’s sweet.

After a hard day’s work, Gwen comes home and is surprised to see some keys on the table. Rhys comes up behind and takes her by the shoulders; she’s seriously freaked and shoots off into the kitchen, where she grabs a knife and warns him to stay back. He tries to talk her down, but no go; she grabs her gun instead and also calls Jack, telling him that there’s a nutter in her place. She tells Rhys that he’s picked the wrong girl to stalk. Jack and Adam ride to the rescue; Jack is rather appalled to see her training a gun on her fiancee (as we are as well.) Jack says it’s all right, but she’s raving about the whacko and denies knowing him. Jack and Rhys tussle a bit; in desperation, Rhys says she’s wearing the ring he gave her. She looks at it blankly. Adam steps up and takes her to the Hub; Jack stays with Rhys. As she’s leaving, Gwen tells Jack that if Rhys comes after her again, she’ll kill him.

Jack has Rhys record their relationship step by step, from meeting in college, the first kiss…She’s watching in the Hub, remembering the events but not th e emotions. Adam tells her that her memory is playing tricks.

Tosh and Owen look at the mystery box. Owen doesn’t know what it is or how to open it, but has brought sandwiches–smoked salmon, her favorite. She leaves hastily for beer. Owen sighs.

Gwen goes back home, and asks Jack not to leave. He says she’ll be ok. Jank and Ianto leave. Ianto tosses Jack the keys to the SUV and informs him of a Weevil alert. Jack sees the kid on the sidewalk and a little wildly asks Ianto if he can see him too. The kid is gone. Jack says he’ll drop off Ianto and check on the sighting; Ianto offers to hunt with him but Jack says he’ll be fine on his own.

Tosh brings Owen a beer too, with the advice to live a little. Tosh: Call it a celebration. Adam and I have been together for one year today. A whole year, and my stomach still flips when he touches me. Owen looks as though he’d like to vomit as she rambles on, but finally they get to work on the box.

Jack is on the hunt and hears a Weevil, but instead he sees a man in a light colored robe (sensing a theme?) who tells him to get out. “Dad?” “Get out, son!” Jack dashes up to the surface. Adam asks him if there’s a Weevil down there; he says no, and asks how Adam got there. Adam: I came with you, remember? and touches his arm. Jack: Yeah, of course. He says he saw his past. Adam touches him: I’m the one you can confide in, remember? Jack says that he buried those memories over 150 years ago; he can’t afford to remember. Adam pleads with Jack to tell him: You can trust me! Jack is doubtful of the wisdom of remembering, but does it anyway.

He sees himself as a kid again, on the Boeshane Peninsula, his home in the 51st century. The invasion came without warning. People scatter down the beach, terrified. He’s hiding from the most horrible creatures you could possibly imagine. His dad tells him to run, to take his little brother Grey, and to keep him safe; he’s going back for their mom and watches them run away. Grey trips, his hand coming loose from Jack’s; Jack doesn’t look back until he’s found a place to hide. It’s too late; he’s lost Grey. He can’t find him among the bodies on the beach, so he goes home, hoping Grey returned there. He finds his dad dead. He searched for Grey for years but never found him. He let go of Grey’s hand. It was the worst day of his life.

Back in the Hub, there’s disagreement over whether Adam of Jack found the box, so Ianto says he’ll check his diary, where he notes the finding of odd stuff, “among other things.” Tosh is worried because Adam hasn’t called; Owen tells her that if it were him, he’d cherish her. She’s pleased but not really paying attention until he says he loves her. He aches for her. Owen: My mum says to seize the day, so I am… He thinks they’d be amazing together (Shades of his encounter with Gwen in Countrycide last season!). She gets really put out: That’s completely inappropriate. I’m with Adam! And even if I wasn’t, you’re not my type, never will be. She leaves in a huff. Owen: Oh.

Gwen and Rhys are at the store; he hadn’t fixed anything for dinner because he planned on taking her out, kind of an extension of their Paris trip. He’s angry and upset, and goes into a rant at something another customer does. This makes Gwen smile, for she remembers “Rhys the Rant” going off when they started dating.

Ianto is alone by the workstations, in the dark. He is really disturbed by his diary. Adam asks what’s wrong. Ianto starts off the couch: My…diary. You’re not in it. Adam picks it up and leafs through the pages, getting up for a face to face with Ianto. He drops the diary and his hand statics as Ianto says he can’t remember a man who doesn’t exist. Ianto: Whwat are you? Adam grabs him and propels him into the wall: Cross me and I’ll fill you with false memories til your head is afire because that’s how I exist. Ianto, afraid but going after the rest of the truth: Gwen? What did you do to her? Adam: Memory is a very delicate thing. Feeding myself in wiped all the memories out. It’s a side effect of what I have to do to survive. Ianto tries to get away: Jack has to know. Adam grabs him again, puts his hand on his head and menacingly says, “Remember this.”

Ianto sees memories of himself as a serial killer; three women. Adam: Ianto, loyal Ianto, roaming the street at night for bait. Adam commands him to remember it.”I forget what a rush it is, feeding in the bad stuff.” He leaves Ianto, trapped in nightmare memory in the rain, by the body of his victim, screaming.

Jack is standing on the top of a building, overlooking Cardiff, remembering. His mom returns, weeping over his dad. She’s glad to see him alive and asks where Grey is. Jack tells her what happens and she cries harder.

It’s time for bed. Gwen and Rhys discuss memories. Gwen encourages him: We found it before, we’ll find it again. Rhys was always worried that she’d just settled for him and kisses her. Their kiss feels like the first time. Gwen: And it was nice. (Nice? Geeze. Damning with faint praise.) Rhys is, however, thrilled to kiss nicely, poor bastard. She invites him to remind her some more.

Adam and Tosh are at her apartment, being intimate; she’s rather aggressive with him, shoving him onto the bed. He stops: How far would you go for me? Would you die for me? Tosh: Yes.

Jack comes back to the dark Hub, where he’s hailed by Ianto, huddled by the stairs: You have to put me in the vaults. Lock me up. I’ve killed three girls. Jack is startled: Stop kidding around. Ianto: I’m serious. I murdered them in cold blood. He’s getting a bit unhinged and says that none of them is safe. Jack: What’s happened to you? and hugs him. Ianto slides his eyes to Jack and whispers: I’m a monster.

Jack hooks Ianto to a lie detector. Very creepily, Ianto tells him that it felt so good, squeezing the life out of them. The detector says he’s telling the truth, but Jack refuses to believe it, believe that Ianto could do that. Jack checks out the CCTV tapes of the Hub, sees Adam touching Ianto, saying “Remember.” He’s got it. He brings Ianto over to the monitor to show him how Adam violated his mind.

Jack can’t find a blood sample for Adam in the medical pit. Ianto finds that Adam’s personnel file was updated 24 hours ago. As they’re making these discoveries, the lights come up and Owen comes in with a beautiful bouquet of flowers for Tosh. Tosh and Adam come in; she finds the flowers and the apology. She’s completely happy with Adam.

Gwen comes in; she tells Tosh that the memories are coming back. Adam draws both women and Owen into a group hug while Jack watches. Adam: Ianto, come here. You all right, mate? I could murder a coffee.

Jack puts a gun to Adam’s head and reveals that he knows the truth. He feels no pride, no warmth for the one who unburied the dead. There’s a standoff with the aghast team as Jack moves Adam toward the vault. Tosh pulls her gun on Jack. Gwen and Owen try to calm her down but to no avail. Ianto comes up behind her and disarms her; she has hysterics. Jack to Adam: This is what you’ve done to us.

Adam pleads with Jack, telling him he had to do it to survive. Jack: You changed us. Adam: For the better! You didn’t remember who you were. I helped you. Look at Owen; all his cynicism gone. He’s different now, selfless, happier. And Tosh too. She’s never been this confident. Jack: How did you come here? Why us? Adam tries to seduce him to his side, tells him that it’s because of their unique memories, especially Jack’s extraordinary ones, his singular mind. Jack: Good job. That’s what we do, wipe out aliens. He leaves.

In the conference room, Jack tells the team: Our memories define us. Adam’s changed those memories, changed who we are. Now I have to help you all go back. Find a memory that defines you. Rediscover who you are. If I’m wrong, he’ll still be here when we’ve done this. The CCTV of Adam in the vault plays. Tosh is defiant and pissed off. Jack changes the CCTV feed to a soothing screensaver. “Let me take you back before we all met.” The lights dim. “Feel around for anything that makes you who you are. Hidden, forgotten. Tell me who you are.”

Gwen remembers college, Rhys telling her stupid jokes. Owen thinks about his tenth birthday; all day long his mom screams that while she loves him because he’s her son, she doesn’t have to like him. Tosh goes back to the reliability of math always to have an answer. Ianto experiences falling in love with Lisa, feeling so totally alive. The memories become darker. As Jack gives her a Retcon pill, she tells him: I love him. But not in the way I love you. Tosh is in tears, wishing with all her heart for someone to see that she’s special. Jack: I saw it. Owen is trapped by knowing that however many lives he saves, it’s never going to be enough. Who will save him? Jack: I will. Ianto: Coming here gave me meaning again. You. Jack kisses his head. The pills will wipe out the last 48 hours of memory. In the cell, unseen, Adam statics. Tosh turns the feed back on. “I’m going to lose so much.” Jack: None of it was real. Tosh: I loved him and he loved me. It’s no different from real memory! Jack: He forced it on you. You have to let it go.

They go to sleep; Jack catches Gwen’s head before it hits the table, smooths her hair before walking out.

Jack shows Adam the Retcon. Adam bargains for his life by saying that he can help Jack remember the last good memory of his dad. He’d been in the Void so long and this world is so beautiful. “Let me do this for you.”

Jack sees his child self playing ball with his dad on the beach. Grey runs up and Jack hugs him, spins him around. Jack goes after the ball, but over a rise finds that a strange boy has it. It’s Adam. Adam has corrupted the memory. The price of the good memory is Adam’s survival. The mystery box contains the last good memory of Jack, Grey, and their dad.

Tormented, Jack takes the pill. Adam falls to the floor and flickers away. Jack goes to sleep, alone in life and in memory.

The team is back to normal but they find they’ve lost 48 hours. There’s no CCTV backup, no nothing to remind them. Owen denies having sent flowers or apologies to Tosh, crushing her yet again. Jack finds Ianto’s diary in his office; Ianto retrieves it quickly. Jack to Ianto: For the record? Measuring tapes never lie. His back to Jack, Ianto rolls his eyes and seems to mouth “Fuck.” After he leaves, Jack finds the key to the box and unlocks it. The box opens; Jack spills sand through his fingers.


I did like this episode by Catherine Treganna much better than the two previous ones, but once again, she isn’t content to let the viewer watch the story unfold and feel the emotions evoked; she mistakes manipulation for revelation. Now why did Gwen’s memory of Rhys, and Rhys alone, evaporate? Is this to do with his significance to her? If it is, it’s a heck of a clue. While it was fun to see Tosh and Owen’s role reversal, it was too predictable to be anything but amusing. At the end of the episode, it’s same old, same old. Tosh is absolutely wearing a red shirt when it comes to romance. Phasers on kill! I hope to god Owen never hooks up with her. Adam’s treatment of Ianto is by far the most disturbing thing in this episode; painful to watch, but Ianto was really stellar when Adam was through with him. The best performance of his ever. He might not be as tough as the others, but he is as brave. I felt sorriest for Tosh–even though she would have done anything to keep her ‘relationship’ with Adam going, I though she was more or less pressured under the tidal wave of emotion to take her Retcon. Now she won’t even be able to remember how glorious it felt to be loved; which I think she wants above all else. Why didn’t they ask Rhys what happened to those 48 hours? He’d be able to tell them a whole lot and more. I think the episode would have been more thought-provoking if Adam hadn’t been so evil. People take the right to survive as a given; most of us think that life is precious and would completely understand someone not wanting to be eradicated. Adam had that right as well, but it was easy to make him forfeit it because of how he went about ensuring his survival. If he hadn’t violated Ianto and reveled in it; if he hadn’t caused such damage to the others; if he hadn’t, in desperation, tainted Jack’s last good memory, would it have been so easy to consign him to oblivion? It’s a grey area.

Posted by: magrimmett | February 25, 2008

Top Gear: The Best Road In The World

Welcome to Season Ten! Regrettably, no Polar Special, but perhaps in the future. Also new is Hammond’s haircut–it’s longer now and a bit floppy; a slightly more couth version of May’s “style”. Also new is the set: between Series 9 and 10, a fire crisped their set (Clarkson blames Channel 5,) which now looks to be furnished with cast-offs from somebody’s grandma.

Clarkson: Hello and welcome to Top Gear. Now–thank  you–now in the current climate, I think it’s very important to reassure you that everything you see on this show is for real. Hammond, standing on an equipment case so that for once he’s taller than Clarkson: Yes. Nothing on this show is faked. In any way. Clarkson takes it up again: Which makes it even more amazing when you see what we’ve got lined up for you over the next ten weeks.

We’re given a sneak peek, which includes the endurance race, the African special, and amphibious cars, part 2.

Hammond: Right! On with tonight. Clarkson: Yes, yes indeed. Every year, the world’s Golf GTI enthusiasts congregate in a field in Austria and they talk about fuel injections, wear jumpers with “GTI” on them, and frankly, I’d rather blowtorch my nipples off, but Volkswagen every year sends them a little present, a concept car of some kind, to say thank you for your loyalty. This year, though, disaster. Volkswagen forgot. Eight weeks to go, and they had to build something, anything to keep the fans happy. (Onscreen, we get flashes of a car going by on a track.) Luckily, Volkswagen owns lots of other car companies: Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Skoda, Audi, and Seat. So they had a big bin to rummage around in for parts. What they did then, with the clock ticking, was to take the rear axle and brakes from a Lamborghini Gallardo, the twin turbo-charged W12 engine from a Bentley Continental, and the rear subframe and sort of floor from an Audi R8 and then they put all these bits and pieces  in the body of a Golf. And here it is. It’s called the GTI W12, and unlike most concept cars, it actually works. Sort of. We’re treated to car porn shots of the dubious white GTI W12.

Clarkson explains a few issues. The paddles on the wheel for the gearbox don’t work, the climate control doesn’t work, some switches also don’t work, and the sat-nav thinks it’s in Germany, so it doesn’t really work either. It does have a 6 L 640 horsepower, 12 cylinder engine that goes 0-60 in 3.5 seconds with a top speed of 202, so that’s excellent. It’s 6 inches wider and 3 inches lower than a normal Golf. The roof is carbon fiber. There are these massive intake vents on the sills to cool down the engine, which has been placed in the rear seat. It looks Golf-ish but it isn’t. Clarkson says that it isn’t a particularly savage car, but it has quite a surge of power. He’s zipping along the track: “It’s an insane car, this. Opening up a Golf to find it has 640 hp is like going up to Gordon Brown’s trousers to find he’s  wearing stockings and suspenders. Mad.” I have to say, it is crazy ugly. The skirts all around, the big fat bottom-heavy look, the tires visually dominated by the spokes on the wheels are all just bad news. I do think it’s ripe for a conversion of some sort; perhaps Clarkson’s entry in stretch limos revisited?

But the real problem is that it can’t corner for anything. Indeed the understeer is terrible and actually vile; Clarkson usually finds himself backward once he’s come out of a corner. Because of the short wheel base and rear wheel drive, Clarkson tells us that it demands some delicacy in the driving. Which, plainly, he doesn’t have. Shots of him understeering wildly careen across the screen. Try as he might, he can’t get the car to come out of a turn forward. He swears but it doesn’t help. The kindest thing he can say about it is that the brakes and suspension aren’t finished yet.

Back in the studio, May wants to be absolutely clear on one point: This isn’t actually going on sale, is it. Clarkson: No, Volkswagen sent it to us because they said if people like it, we’d put it into production. May: Well, they won’t get encouragement from me, to be honest. That is ghastly. Clarkson:…I can’t see the point  saying, “I’ve got a supercar and it the great thing is, it looks like a Golf!” That’s like saying “I’m married to a supermodel and the great thing is, she looks like a traffic warden!”

Clarkson: Some say that his scrotum has its own small gravity field, and that because our producer rigged a phone vote, he now has a new name. All we know is he’s called Cuddles.

The stereo in the GTI doesn’t work either, so there’s no soothing audio for the Stig.  Even the Stig can’t completely tame the ferocious underseer that is the GTI W12, and loses speed. But notice how he never loses control of the car; Clarkson was just too aggressive with it. He’s also got some oversteer now which is bad. He takes Gambon rather gingerly and finishes in 1:29:6, quite unimpressive, but at least we can quit this ungainly monstrosity.  Summing up, Clarkson puts it succinctly: if you want a slow car that looks like a Golf, get a Golf. Words to live by.

May strolls through the crowd: Right. It’s time for a question. The question is, where is the best driving road in the world? Something that has everything. The challenging bends, no traffic, great views, the long fast straights, the lot. Clarkson joins him at a series of maps to critique the planet’s land masses. The perfect driving road isn’t in the New World, cause everybody in America flies, and in South America does drugs, Africa is full of ox, Al Gore says that the Antarctica is gone, Australia’s overrun with spiders, Japan’s signposts are all full of gibberish, the Americans will shoot you in Iraq, and Asia is full of communists. Hammond, who’s been sputtering in protest for awhile, finally breaks in: We discussed this at length and eventually decided that the best driving road in the world was probably somewhere in continental Europe. Specifically, around here. The Alps.  Then we decided that the best thing for us to do was to go there and see if we could find it.

The quest begins in the hills above Monte Carlo, in the south of France. They’re lovely hills, all green and wreathed in mist. Hammond: Obviously, you can’t go looking for the best driving road in the world in a Japanese hatchback or a people carrier. So what we thought we’d do is bring along a selection of the new generation of lightened supercars. Of course they did.

We’re viewing a bright green Porsche 911 GT3 Rs, chosen, obviously, by Hammond. He describes it thusly: a lighter, tauter version of the 911, and the RS is a lighter, tauter version of the GT3. So this is the ultimate version of the ultimate version of the ultimate version of the world’s ultimate supercar.

Unsurprisingly, Clarkson disagrees with this description and stands by his selection: a bright mango-orange Lambo, which is also unsurprising. Clarkson: No, it isn’t. The ultimate F plan supercar is what I’ve brought along: the Lambo Gallardo Super Legera, and it’s like a normal Gallardo, but it’s 100 kg lighter and the V10 engine is  a bit more powerful. That is quite a recipe.

May scorns this: Yes, I suppose it is if you’re a fat, middle-aged bloke who wants to bore everybody about the tracks you’ve been on. As you’d expect, I’ve done it properly. I’ve got a proper, gentleman’s racer: The Aston Martin V8 Vantage N24. It’s a bright yellow, and has a Union Jack on the left rear quarter panel along with “J. May”.

Hammond (supressing hoots of laughter): James, that is just a racing car.

Clarkson: It hasn’t got anything in it at all. It hasn’t even got a passenger seat.

May defends his selection: This isn’t just some road car Porsche with a bit of scaffolding in the back. It’s 250 kg lighter than the standard car. That’s the weight of a big motorcycle.

Hammond: So you’ve got no radio. May: No.

Clarkson: You’ve got no carpet. May: No.

Hammond: No air conditioning. May: No.

Clarkson: You have got a car with no air conditioning in the south of France in the middle of summer. Hammond chortles: It’s better than that. His windows don’t open. May: Yes they do, actually. Hammond cracks up:That’s a cat flap!

Clarkson and Hammond taunt May a little bit more about the air-conditioning situation before getting into their cars and starting off. May is left behind, fussing with buttons and switches. He finally gets the engine going, and it does sound lovely. Strapping himself into the restraints, he must be exhausted by the pre-flight checks because we hear him mutter, “Oh, God.”

We’re treated to some lightweight supercar porn on the motorway. Three minutes in, and Clarkson adores his car. Hammond: So much fun! Ha ha! When May finally catches up, they turn off the motorway and begin their quest. It doesn’t take long; they find themselves on Col de Turin, which is quiet and beautiful until they arrive. The road is quite twisty and the surroundings quite gorgeously green. Clarkson enthuses some more about the Lambo, Hammond twitters in delight, and May feels superior about his stripped-out car. Air conditioning is heavy and saps power from the engine; fuel consumption is higher, it spoils acceleration and  upsets the handling. Lightweight car = more fun driving. This particular road is used as a special stage of the Monte Carlo Rally. Hammond describes it as being busy,  twisty, low walls to go over, and huge drops to kill you with ease. May is crawling up the incline, sweating. Hammond loves the hairpin turns. Clarkson rhapsodizes aout pretty much everything. May keeps hitting his elbows on something hard and there’s an obnoxious squeaking.

Clarkson and Hammond are so far ahead that they pull off the road. Clarkson asks: How’s your Beetle? Hammond: Fine, thank you; how’s your Audi? Cut to May and his litany of discomforts: Hot, uncomfortable, numb buttocks, crushed testicles, sweaty shirt, smelly pits. Back on the side of the road, Hammond is perched on a wall so he is higher up than Clarkson, and they discuss the cost of their cars. The Lambo is 26 grand more and the Porsche 15000 than the standard versions of their cars. Meanwhile, May: I’m beginning to go slightly faint as a result of my dehydration. My eardrums are bleeding and my pelvis has been turned to dust. It’s going to kill me.  He finally catches up and gets out of the Aston quite gingerly, muttering, “Oh, testicles.” His first words to his copresenters: That is unbelievably good. Right. What do we think about that road? Clarkson: You didn’t want to talk about your car, then, James? May: No, car’s excellent. Clarkson persevers: You know you’ve made a mistake, didn’t you.

They discuss where to go now. Clarkson proposes Italy, Hammond Switzerland, and May Austria, for the smooth roads. Italy has bumpy roads. That determines the choice; Hammond accedes to Italy, and they’re off.

Clarkson hears a beep, which signals that he’s low on gas already. May is in acute discomfort and says grimly that he has to do something to get the seat higher; he’s feeling like an 85-year old man. Clarkson runs out of gas before the next service station. The camera crew has extra fuel, but he can’t get it into the Lambo because the fuel door won’t open. Hammond pulls up and observes the situation: Oh, dear. Clarkson: Nice view, here–and points off. Hammond: So you thought you’d stop and admire it. Clarkson: Yeah. I might need your help…there might be a problem. Hammond: What? Clarkson: Fuel filler cap won’t open. Hammond pauses a moment: See you in Italy. Drives off, laughing like a loon. Clarkson is forced to consult the instruction manual, which is in Italian. He doesn’t read Italian. Ultimately, however, he is victorious and they regroup and rejoin the motorway along the Italian Riviera.

Just in time for a long tunnel. The acoustics are incredible, and the sound of the three different engines is fierce and awesome. I must say that I’m gripped with the visceral need to go to Europe, rent a supercar and go blazing through that tunnel.

Clarkson is out of gas again; he gets about 9 miles to the gallon. May is pleased since the Aston has a 110 liter endurance fuel tank. Clarkson seems a bit stung, and offers his slipstream for the use of the others. Hammond bristles like a terrier: In no way have I lacked in power to keep up with this thing.  Oh, the manly posturing. The Porsche has 415 hp vs 552 for the Lambo. Nobody discusses the Aston. Hammond: It’s how it uses it, it’s how it deploys them.  May sides with Hammond, further irritating Clarkson. His top speed is 195, vs 185-ish for the Porsche and 175 for the Aston. May calls the Lambo half-hearted and limp-wristed; Hammond grins and mentions to May that some compromise on his car might be worthwhile, but May lies his head off and stoutly avers that he loves his car. Clarkson goes in for the kill: In fact, he loves it so much he bought it a present. May is forced to reveal a nice, plump cushion. Clarkson nails him on the extreme discomfort his car provides, and Hammond jests that it’s a scatter cushion to improve the interior design. May moans in relief: So much nicer! My poor buttocks!  They line up, three abreast, on the motorway; competitively, Clarkson and Hammond pull away to race. Clarkson cackles; he’s in the lead.  Hammond says that the Lambo and the Porsche are very close and the Aston very slow; he didn’t expect that.  They’re headed for the Italian Lakes and plan to stop for the night in Vercelli. Clarkson has booked the hotel; it’s not very nice and he anticipates shouting.

They stop in an open, extremely graffitied car park. Hammond: Tell me we’ve stopped here to steal some wheels or something.  Clarkson: It could be worse. Hammond: How could it be worse? That’s the motorway! May gets a dig in too: Jeremy, I’ve always wanted to stay in the Italian Lakes. Hammond, cuttingly: So we’re carrying on by bicycle tomorrow. Because these will be stolen, obviously.  There’s more scoffing at May’s lack of lock or ignition key for the Aston.

Back in the studio, May laments the hotel’s lack of a bar, restaurant, and air-conditioning in the rooms. Hammond taunts that it was like being in his car. So they left the camera crew in the sweaty hell of Vercelli and drove on to the lakes. In the north. Clarkson, however, took them north-east. 200 km in the wrong direction. Clarkson rushes to put his spin on: But we found a hotel in the end and all was well. Hammond accuses: You ruined our holiday! Clarkson, marginally contrite: I did ruin your holiday and I’m very  sorry about that. But we must now move on.

Clarkson: The SHRPC once said that she and her husband set their alarm clock an hour early every morning so they’d have a chance to make love before going to work. Much like James May, although of course, he lives alone. (May raises his eyebrows) Ladies and gentlemen, star of everything that matters, Dame Helen Mirren! 

We learn that her husband’s an American; she thought Clarkson would really like LA because people tend to live in their cars there. She says that Clarkson reminds her of Paris Hilton, because he’s uber-male and she’s uber-female–two sides of the same coin. Clarkson: But I don’t put naked pictures of myself on the internet. Maybe I’ll give it a whirl. (God, no! My eyes!)  Mirren: To be fair, neither did she… Clarkson: He’s a tit, Paris, if you’re watching. Have sex without a camera.  On to cars: Mirren has had some bad luck with cars and currently doesn’t own one; she uses public transport. She has to explain this exotic concept to Clarkson.  When asked, she’s very dismissive of supercars and middle-aged owners; she says something that is bleeped out by the censors. Clarkson is taken aback, but recovers: Hammond’s got one. Mirrin: He’s not a pillock; he’s a nice guy, and I’m sorry, Richard. Clarkson, apparently having forgotten that women will give Hammond a pass for just about anything up to and including triple homicide: I thought he was a pillock.  Her lap was many things, including terrifying, adrenaline-pumping, and fabulous. Off to an aggressive start, she repeats the Stig’s instructions around the track and ends at 1:52:8.

Back to Italy. The lakes are gorgeous; the roads are not. They are being worked on, which makes the lads cross. May and Hammond are tearing thin strips out of Clarkson, both for the last night’s adventure and the current state of the road. Much profanity has to be redacted. I am amused by the range of profanity; much broader than what I tend to use. I feel there might be a crossness due to lack-of-sleep issue as well. There are speedbumps, which for Hammond is the final straw: I’m exploring the limits of grip here. They load onto a ferry, which is even slower, but must be cooler, at least for May.  When the ferry docks, May reluctantly gets into his mobile slice of damnation to find that it won’t start. He has to get off first and is holding up the rest of the ferry–horns blare, officials gesture. Eventually they resort to pushing it off. Clarkson also has some trouble getting the Lambo off, but eventually they’re all on terra firma and sally forth. The road is boring, but they head north to Switzerland. The scenery is gorgeous, with lovely waterfalls on the San Bernardino Pass. Hammond puts the hammer down in glee. Clarkson predicts that the Swiss will view these three cars as though the Antichrist, but is too happy to care. May freshens up a bit with a can of deodorant. The road is smooth and elegant.

They end up in Lichtenstein. The only thing Clarkson knows about it is that they make more false teeth here than anywhere else in the world, and speculates that this is why Hammond brought them here.They pull over outside the museum so that May and Hammond can consult the map. Clarkson reads a researcher’s fun facts about Lichtenstein: the last country in Europe to give women the vote in 1984, the entire population would fit into Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium  with 39500 seats to spare; there are more companies than people, and it’s a tax haven. Hammond’s been ignoring him and finds a likely candidate road on the map: That is a killer stretch of road. That is a beauty. May: Shall we try each other’s cars for this bit? Clarkson: What? May: Why don’t we try each other’s cars? Clarkson, undeceived: No, I really like this one, mate.  May is stuck with the Aston. Clarkson: This, theoretically, is the start of the greatest driving road in the world. Whoops, though, there’s a bike race and the road is closed. Hammond: I fear I might have made a slight mistake here. Clarkson: Where do you want to go now? May: Austria. Hammond: Oh, God. Clarkson, rudely: You go to Austria. We can’t smell your pits from there. I’m going to Italy.

Reluctantly, they head south, stopping for the night in Davos, Switzerland. In three countries, there was one stretch of good road; a bad day. To make themselves feel better, Clarkson and Hammond vandalize the Aston, removing the “J. May” and spelling out “K.Nob.” Hammond: Sounds like a racing driver’s name. Clarkson chortles: And he’s bought us a drink.  Laughing, they hustle across the street to the hotel.

The next morning, they continue south and can’t quite believe what they’ve stumbled across. Hammond: Mile after mile of deserted perfection. Even Jeremy had to concede I was right about Switzerland. Clarkson rhapsodizes: This is absolute heaven! Hammond: This is much more like it! Clarkson: That was God thinking of when he gave the Swiss this place? Plainly, it should be ours.  Hammond: This road was a test of brakes, steering, grip, power, and handling. An ideal place then to reflect on the cars we’d brought on our motoring holiday. To the accompaniment of a stacatto drumline, they power through the challenges of the road. Hammond practically has an orgasm over the Porsche: Everything about this car has now come alive. It’s suddenly in its element. God, this thing just tracks so perfectly. May, trapped in the 21st century wheeled version of a torture chamber: I wonder how much more of this I have to endure before I can admit this is a terrible car and that I hate it and that I want to go home. Clarkson: It’s actually a physically pleasurable sensation that runs up your arm when you turn the wheel…Jeremy Clarkson today married a Lamborghini and moved to Switzerland…We’d all pretty much decided that we’d found driving heaven. Well, two of us had. But then we popped over the border and into Italy. We found a cherry for the top of our cake.  Stelvio Pass. Fifteen miles of asphalt spaghetti draped on an Alp. It is just stunning. The three gaze down a valley in silence, absorbing the beauty. Clarkson: Shall we do it? They’re back in the cars; we get closeups of the cars, bug-splattered road warriors. Clarkson: Here we go. There are cameras mounted on the sides of the cars close to the pavement; they show really rough roads and tight turns. Hammond: The drops, impossible! You go over the edge here, you’ve got time to phone the insurers. May: There’s no other way of saying it; this is a magnificent piece of road building. Clarkson: “Not like Playstation, this–you can’t just hit the reset button when you get it wrong. You just go through the Pearly Gates on fire.” May: I hate to admit it, but this Aston is starting to make a certain amount of good sense. Even the brakes have stopped squeaking.  They climb past 8000 feet. Hammond admits: I think at this altitude, the Lambo has got the advantage. I shall solve that though with some bravery. Clarkson: This is hard work. If I had no air conditioning, I’d look ridiculous now. Cut to May, sitting buck naked in the Aston, pouring water over himself. In voiceover, Clarkson: “What an extraordinary road. Thank you, Italy…We finished our run and as the cars ticked themselves cool, we knew their work was done. Our quest was at an end. Davos to Stelvio. The greatest driving road in the world.” We finish with more shots of the cars easing through the countryside.

In the studio, the lads sum things up. Clarkson: So there you are. If you’re thinking of going on holiday next year, forget Center Parks, just go there. Hammond: Yes. Now, the cars. So, James. May (forcefully): No. They laugh. Hammond: I thought the Porsche was fantastic; I loved it. But the thing for me about that car, the main problem is, I still don’t see why it’s 15000 more for the RS version than the ordinary GT3. Clarkson: I have to say the same thing. On the Lambo, I can’t belive I wouldn’t have had as much fun in a normal Gallardo. The other thing as well, if you’re going to do a special edition Lamborghini, don’t take stuff off, put stuff on, like space thrusters and machine guns, becaues that’s what Lamborghinis are all about. May: So hang on, we took three cars on holiday and they were all wrong. Clarkson: Mmm. Hammond, strangely elated: Yes. We’re back in business! Clarkson: Yeah. Top Gear, ambitious but rubbish. (More and more, I want that line on a tshirt.) Hammond: That’s us. Clarkson: And more of that next week. See you then. Good night!

Posted by: magrimmett | February 18, 2008

Torchwood: Meat

Meat: in which Rhys is no longer the only person in Cardiff not to know what Torchwood is.

We begin with the man of the hour driving, singing along to a Harwood’s commercial for which he helped write the jingle. He’s very happy. This good mood is shattered when he gets a call from Ruth, his administrative assistant, who tells him that there’s been an accident on the highway just ahead of him. He pulls up to see a Harwood’s Haulage truck overturned, another car, and an ambulance whose personnel are pulling a sheet over the face of the truck’s driver. Rhys inquires for details from the police, who refuse to give them, and in turn gives some information about the driver, one Leyton Reynolds. He says he’ll arrange to move the truck, but the cop stops him and says not yet because Torchwood wants a look first. The black SUV pulls up on cue, and Rhys sees Jack first, then Gwen. Surprise!

Torchwood go into the back of the truck, which is transporting meat to an abattoire. It’s apparently pretty smelly. Jack finds enormous chunks of boneless meat; Owen’s never seen anything like it. Gwen asks what it is.  Jack: Well, as there haven’t been any giant cow sightings, I suggest we take a sample back to the Hub. Gwen tells the cop that they’re confiscating the contents of the van pending further investigation while Owen saws off a chunk of meat for analysis. We see Rhys watching Gwen and the boys. As they leave, Rhys tries to follow them but is thwarted because he’s on the other side of the wreck.

Back in the medical pit, Owen has put on an eye-catching green plastic apron over his tshirt and says that there’s evidence that the meat came from a vertibrate, but that the genetics aren’t comparable with any known animal. Fast work there, Whiz Kid Owen! He says that whoever is producing the meat knows it’s dodgy since they faked a “Fit For Human Consumption” veterinary seal. Jack tells Tosh to look at the haulage firm, to find out the cargo’s source and destination. Gwen frets about it being Rhys’s new firm, and Jack asks her if she wants to recuse herself from the investigation, but she vehemently declines.  The Harwood’s jingle plays from Tosh’s computer. It’s still corny. Everyone smiles into their tea. Ianto: Catchy.

Gwen gives Tosh Rhys’s direct line and she calls, posing as a cop. Rhys says that the customer is a firm called Harris and Harris; they came to Harwood’s about two months ago for a weekly contract. Ianto scribbles information madly into a notebook.  Tosh: Are they licensed? Rhys: of course. Tosh: Could you give me their address? He can’t find one in the client file and glares at Ruth, who volunteers that there’s a pickup point. He doesn’t have a phone number either, and intensifies the glare. Tosh: Can you tell me where the driver took the meat? Rhys: Yes, he was taking it to Caevern Abattoire, a processing plant. The driver signed out at ten to one. Tosh hangs up on him. Ruth says that Leyton was the regular driver after the initial contact, and they set up the deliveries through him. Rhys thinks it looks like he’s hiding something. I bet there’s a stern conversation about getting all the client’s data in the files from now on.

Ianto finds the truck coming and going on CCTV. Owen calls out and informs Jack that it’s definitely alien meat. Jack: Where the hell would they get it from? It’s been in the food supply now for a couple of months. Owen says that the DNA traces (WTF? He finds whole tranqulizers but only traces of DNA?) are stable, that there’s animal tranquilizers but no disease or residue, so it’s probably good to eat. Ianto hustles up with the news that the usual pizza delivery is there: Meat Feast. Cut to Owen picking off the meat bits.

Ianto has tracked down the origin to a warehouse outside Merthyr.  Jack outlines the game plan: Shut down the operation and neutralize whoever’s running it. Gwen’s cell rings; it’s Rhys. She says she’s going home to check on him. Jack: Good idea. Find out how much he knows. Gwen: That’s not what I meant. Everybody stops eating a moment.

Gwen pops into their apartment. Looks like they’ve moved after last season. She’s  horribly uber-perky. He’s down, what with the accident at work, the police and all. She asks if anybody’s hurt; he tells her that the driver died. She can’t remember meeting him, whic disgusts Rhys. He sets a trap: does she know where they’ve taken the meat? Gwen: How would I know? She doesn’t do traffic. He says the cops questioned him–all he does is hire out the trucks. Gwen: So there’s nothing to worry about. She kisses him and goes back to work. He follows her back to the Hub, where Jack appears out of nowhere, offers her his arm, and they go off. Gwen asks Jack: Have you ever eaten alien meat? Jack: Yeah. Gwen: What was it like? Jack: He seemed to enjoy it. Gwen chuckles: You’re rough.

Rhys follows the SUV to the warehouse. Owen and Ianto are already there, scoping out the place. Rhys sees them. As they go around the building, Owen dodges trash and Tosh  informs them she has blueprints of the building and archly asks if they’re having fun. Ianto: You don’t know what you’re missing. Frustrated, Rhys phones Gwen, who doesn’t answer. Jack tells the team to go in, stun gun whoever’s there, and put a stop to the proceedings. Rhys chooses this time to leave his vehicle at the front gate and try to get Gwen again. Jack sees him. Ianto and Owen gain access to the building when Owen shoots out the lock. Jack and Gwen watch as a Trans Am pulls up to Rhys and the occupants engage him in conversation. Gwen can’t believe it. Jack believes his eyes and/or wants to believe Rhys is a baddie and tells Ianto and Owen to stand down. Gwen says Rhys wouldn’t lie to her and charges after him. Jack catches her arm and presses  her against the building, standing close. Jack: No. Gwen: I just have to get him out. Jack: What, by charging in there? What then? You gonna knock him out? Rhys goes in with the newcomers. Jack: You can’t just go in there! They’ve taken hold of each other’s arms; it’s an intimate moment. Jack, rather lamely: You have to do as I say. Realizing how dumb that sounds, he lets her go and steps back. Jack: We wait until he comes out.

Inside, Rhys is interrogated by the Bad Guys. There are a few of them, and one is marginally cuter than the others. Or perhaps it’s just that his hair is better. Otherwise they’re rather random and nondescript. Rhys has landed ass-deep in alligators. He seems to think his only way out is to lie and tell them his driver told him about the whole operation. They buy it and take him in to see the meat source: an enormous alien in obvious distress. The reason for the distress is clear: they’re harvesting the meat from the live animal because it just keeps growing. Rhys chucks up his lunch. Cute Bad Guy: You get used to it.

Outside, Jack and Gwen see Rhys shaking hands with the baddies before walking off. They leave too. And they didn’t shut down the operation here why?

At the apartment, Rhys is having a drink and spoiling for a fight. Gwen comes in and demands to know what he was doing at the warehouse. Rhys: You lied to me! Ah, if you only knew how much, how often, and about what. The conversation really goes downhill when Rhys asks Gwen if she’s doing Jack. The fight is on. It kind of ends when Gwen tells Rhys that she hunts aliens for a living. Rhys: Prove it!

At the Hub, Ianto: Well, this is unprecedented. Fiance finding  out. Tosh: That’s because we’re all sad and single. Ianto smirks. Owen: Speak for yourself. I am better off without all that kind of hassle. Tosh is quite disappointed but rallies: Maybe the answer is to go out with someone who knows what you do. Owen: Look around you, Tosh. Only we know what we do. He scoots his chair over to a work station. Smackdown! This time his indifference has quashed her; Tosh takes a big gulp of white wine. Ianto and Jack exchange a look. Ianto looks down and drinks.

Gwen and Rhys arrive outside the Hub and take the lift down. Rhys sees the enormous cavern, the sewer-chic decor, and Myfanwy, and laughs. When the lift stops, Jack takes control: Captain Jack Harkness (shakes hands). Thanks for dropping in, Rhys. Gwen introduces the others; Owen and Tosh wave, Ianto smiles. Everybody’s uneasy. As an explanation, Owen blandly smiles and offers: There’s a rift through space and time that runs through Cardiff, Rhys, and stuff slips through from other timelines and planets, and it’s our job to monitor it. Somehow he gets through that without being condescending. He smiles. Rhys to Gwen: Are you sure they’re not a weird cult or something? Best line of the episode.

Rhys recounts what he saw of the warehouse and the alien, saying that the animal  was smaller when it was found because it’s growing a lot. Jack (sharply): It’s not dead? Rhys: No. It’s breathing. Its eye opened. Owen notes grimly that not only is it surviving its mutilation, it’s keeping the baddies in business. Tosh: If we understood how it worked, we could feed the world. Ianto: We could release a single. Jack (testily) : Before we get ahead of ourselves, we’re talking about dodgy pies and Merthwyr, OK?  And the fact  that they’re cutting it up alive, which we could have put a stop to all ready if it wasn’t for you. Rhys protests that he thought Gwen was in danger. Jack: Well, Mr Caveman, she wasn’t. Rhys yells back: Well, if you’d asked me exactly what I saw in there instead of showing off round the place– Jack to Ianto: Do I show off? Ianto: Just a bit. Rhys rants about how he’s now got an in and goes nose to nose with Jack: And if you can’t handle that, big boy, just stuff it! Jack: This is quite homoerotic. Gwen hustles to break up the moment.

Everybody files off for a team meeting. Rhys identifies areas on the blueprints. Gwen protests Rhys’s involvement and the squabble some more. Owen to Tosh: Oh joy, a domestic. Tosh just looks like she’d kill for somebody to have a domestic fight with. Jack finally dictates the course of action: Rhys will drive them in, they will carry stun guns only. Owen: We’ve handled bigger than this. So why don’t we just storm in, guns in the air, arrest them? Jack: These men aren’t organized criminals. If we go in there, guns blazing, they’ll kill the evidence and run. Owen: I wasn’t suggesting blazing, just waving. Gwen protests again, and Jack reminds her she can always stand down. Tosh: It might be better. I think she’s jealous of Gwen. Jack: You love him. Makes you vulnerable. Gwen and Rhys bicker some more but she’s coming along and so is he.  She fires the last shot in the argument: If you mess this up, I will kill you. Tosh tries to get the meeting back on track: So after we’ve stun gunned the workers, we put the creature out of its misery. Jack: No. We’re going to save it. Stabilize it, wait for the Rift to open, and foom! Send it back. Tosh: Tell me how exactly we’re going to use it to arm ourselves against the future?  I cannot believe how insensitive she is. Owen: We could always hide behind it. Jack ignores Owen: Why shouldn’t we save it? Because it’s an alien? It needs our protection! Rhys: You didn’t hear its cry. Hearbreaking. Ianto: Listen to Ahab. Owen protests: Jack, it’s growing. Jack: Well, we’ll find a way to stop its mutation. We are doing this! That’s an order. Ianto gets up and leaves: I’ll stock up on plankton. Tosh and Owen leave. Gwen to Jack: So you do have a heart. Rhys freezes. Jack to Rhys: We see enough death.

Owen, alone at his workstation, has come up with an artist’s rendering of what the alien looks like. Tosh comes up behind him: Looks lovely. Owen: Hm. She goes to touch his back but stops: You’re just a big softy, really, aren’t you? Owen walks away from her and talks about finishing a report. Tosh has made him sandwiches, gross ones, pickle and cheese. He’s kind of underwhelmed but thanks her. She volunteers to keep him company, saying she’s not tired. Owen seizes on this and asks her to do the report because he’s knackered. She’s crushed, as usual, again, as always. Looking at Rhys, Owen: There’s another big lump out of his habitat. Tosh: Makes you realize maybe it is possible to do this job and have a relationship. Yeah, cuz the Gwen/Rhys one is just so healthy. Owen looks at her, scoffs, and shuts a toolbox. Tosh pursues him: Do you fancy a game of pool sometime? We’re always in here, slaving away. It might be nice to, I dunno, kick back and have some fun? Owen: Yeah, why not? Tosh pounces: When? Owen: Well, I’ll check with the others. We could have a Torchwood tournament. It’ll be fun. Tosh’s face falls so far it hits the floor. Owen thanks her for the sandwiches and leaves.

Gwen and Rhys are having a heart to heart. She tries again to dissuade him and fails again. Rhys: And I’m not leaving you here with all these sexy young men. Gwen: There’s only one from where I’m sitting. They kiss. Gwen’s eyes open and she slants a look at Jack, who is watching them.

Rhys and Jack go into the Harwood’s office. Ruth bustles up with a cup of tea and his favorite danish. Jack is impressed: I’m in the wrong job. Ruth announces that they do have vacancies. As Rhys signs out a truck, Ruth tells Jack that the licensing requires four weeks, and then he could go long distance. Jack leans into her and confidentially mentions that wouldn’t be a problem. As he walks past her to Rhys, she mouths, “Ooh!”

Rhys gets The Call and the game’s on. In the truck, Rhys: Boy, of all the women you could have chosen– Jack interrupts: She chose us. She stumbled onto us. Rhys: So did I. Don’t be asking me to join up. Jack, veeery patiently: We needed someone with police skills. Rhys: Could have chosen anyone. Did you ever think about us? Jack impatiently: No, sorry. We needed her. On her first day of work, she told me off for being clinical. They bond a bit over her stubbornness. Rhys: I’m a lucky man, Jack. Jack: Yeah, you said it. Rhys: Just wish you’d been uglier. You’re not gay, by any chance, are you?

The others load in and they’re off. At the warehouse, Rhys shows his ID at the gate and is let in. As Rhys deals with the boss, the others make a covert entrance and find the alien, still in distress.  They stun the worker who is hacking up the animal. Jack is horrified by the damage.

Outside, another stooge pedals up with Ketamine. He’s concerned about the alien; the only one who is. Rhys is getting ready to depart when the head thug notices that he’s two bags of meat short. This attention to detail forces the workers to go back in. Ianto stuns one, but the other sees him and sounds the alarm. The situation goes downhill rapidly at this point. Owen is by himself in a small room, compounding something to help the alien. The baddies lock them all in.

They bring Rhys and Ianto into the main room of the warehouse. Gwen pops out and surrenders. A guard sees Jack and Tosh, so they come out as well and throw down their weapons. Tosh’s looks like a regular gun, not a stun gun, which would be in defiance of Jack’s order. Jack spills the beans about the animal being an alien and that it’s sentient, and gives them an opportunity to stop. The Cute Bad Guy refuses because for once something’s working for him. He tries to shoot Gwen, but shoots Rhys in the shoulder instead when he jumps in front of the bullet. There’s pandemonium and the alien starts to break free. The Ketamine guy says there’s no way a tranquilizer will work now. Ianto gets his hands free and beats on the bad guy, but they get away. Jack Bluetooths Owen to save them since the alien is loose and will squash them. Owen grabs a plastic jug of something and hot-foots it out. Ianto catches up to the Cute Bad Guy, stunning him in the forehead. Yay Ianto!

Owen rushes in with the jug and a harpoon-like injector thingie. He apologizes to the alien and gets in two shots of fluid from the jug. The alien is less agitated; Owen: Looks like it’s working. Jack: What did you do? Owen (sadly): Mercy killing. Jack and Tosh go over to the alien; Jack is stricken. Owen gives Rhys basic first aid before going over to the alien and apologizing. Tosh puts her hand on his shoulder, and he grips it, for once not brushing her off. The enormous eye of the alien dims as  it dies.

Back at the Hub, Owen finishes patching Rhys up. Jack tells Rhys that they Retconned the Baddies, wiping out their memories of the past few months. Rhys asks about the alien, but nobody answers. Finally, Jack: Incinerated. Everybody feels bad; there’s nothing left. Jack calls Gwen away and gives her Retcon for Rhys. They  get some ice cream before going home. He’s all so excited about his day and what he now knows that the bullet hole desn’t hurt a bit. He proposes keeping a secret alien scrapbook of all the ones that Gwen’s caught.

Gwen storms into Torchwood and tells Jack in front of everybody that she won’t do it. Jack: We understand how you feel. Gwen: No, you don’t. You all think it’s cold and lonely out there, but isn’t for me, because I have him. He matters, and I’ve lied to him  for long enough. What he did today was so brave, braver than any of us, because we signed up for this, but he didn’t…and if that means I have to quit or you Retcon me or whatever, then fine. Jack walks up to her close: You really think you could go back to your old life before Torchwood? Gwen: I wouldn’t know anything different. Jack: I would.  After a long look, he bites his lip: Give Rhys my love and I will see you tomorrow. She whirls and runs off. He blinks. Everybody looks at him; he goes into his office, where he flips on the CCTV outside the Hub. He watches Gwen and Rhys kiss and leave. He sighs and looks to be in turmoil.

A few thoughts, mostly about relationships: Eew to Tosh’s suggestion about ending world hunger.  Besides being horrible, it’s also quite naive. Also about Tosh: she’s just pathetic, she’s so desperate to land Owen. If she had any ovaries, she’d ask him out and take no for an answer. She should quit stalking him. Owen has to recognize, however dimly, that she’s got a big ol’ crush on him and he ought to put her out of her misery by telling her that he’s not interested in her romantically. I fear that she’s going to wear him down and he’ll take up with her out of exhaustion. I’d like to see not everybody hooking up with others in the office. Tosh requires a certain amount of sensitivity, which Owen doesn’t have for her. I also wonder what Ianto thinks, seeing the charged interactions between Gwen and Jack. One final note: the whole animal-cruelty thing is completely repulsive. Vile. Even in CGI, the torture of the alien makes me sick.  What the hell is it with this show and torture this season?

Posted by: magrimmett | February 12, 2008

Torchwood: To The Last Man

The opening shot shows a man and woman trotting around a really lovely old staircase with hand-cranked instruments. They encounter a nurse who seems inordinately fearful of them; ah–the explanation: she thinks they’re ghosts. The man and woman, named Gerald and Harriet, ask whether she’s seen any ghosts lately. “Three today,” the nurse announces, almost accusingly. Gerald (patronizingly): Well, you’re a very brave girl. The nurse says ,”Thank you, sir.” Harriet clears her throat and asks where the ghosts showed up. “In the ward.” Their ghost geiger counter ticks away as they stride into a ward in St Teilo’s Military Hospital. The year is 1918, a year before the end of World War I. There are a lot of shell-shocked men here; the nurse says they’ll be shipped back to the front as soon as they’re up for it. Harriet, the soul of sympathy: Field Marshall Haig’s order. Every position must be held to the last man. Each one of us must fight on to the end. Whenever that it. Easy for her to say; she hasn’t seen the trenches. They’re looking at a young man sleeping curled up on his side.  The lights flicker, the kid wakes up, and the geiger counter goes nuts. Harriet calls Gerald’s attention to this in case he missed it. They leave; glass breaks, and the kid sits up. Gerald and Harriet come to a stop “right on top of it” but don’t see anything. There’s a rumbling, and a bright white light fills the room. They look through it and see the kid and Tosh clutching each other, sitting on the floor. The light fades to blue. Gerald: Hello? Tosh to the kid: Tell them. Gerald: Tell us what? Tosh (more urgently): Tell them what to do! You’re the only one who can stop this! The kid looks down. Tosh: If you don’t, it’s the end of everything! Tommy! The kid (named Tommy, apparently) gets to his feet and walks over to Gerald and Harriet: Take me! I’m in there, in the ward in 1918. You have to take me so I can be here now. Harriet and Gerald look puzzled. Tommy: Take me! Gerald and Harriet stride down the ward once more and collect Tommy from his bed. Tommy: Who are you? Gerald (somewhat smugly): We’re Torchwood. They hustle Tommy out, stage right.

Cut to modern-day Cardiff. Apparently Tosh moved after the whole Mary thing because her place is large, spacious, very tidy. She’s brushing her teeth, eating breakfast, drinking coffee, ect. Her hair is up  and she’s in a dress with slacks  underneath. I happen to think it’s a stupid look for anybody, but she seems to like it. She primps into a compact mirror and looks expectant. She smiles and leaves the apartment. As she goes, we see that the date is cicled in her planner in red ink.

Jack gives Gwen background on today’s science experiment. She holds a picture of our shell-shock victim and Jack identifies it as Thomas Reginald Brockless. Ianto contributes: Tommy. Jack: Twenty-four years old. Sort of. There’s disagreement between Jack and Ianto about how old he is. Jack leaves the office and asks Owen if he’s ready. Owen’s almost done and notes Tosh’s dress. It’s rather ugly, something like a floaty purple tent, but it does emphasize her tits nicely. They troop down to the cold storage, where Torchwood has kept Tommy pretty much frozen for ninety years, making him 24 or 114 years old, depending on how  you count it. Owen explains that Tommy has to be defrosted every twelve months or so for one day, then back in the freezer, just to make sure he still works. Jack: One day we’re going to need him. Yep, meat for the grinder that is Torchwood.

Owen injects chemicals into Tommy’s neck; he’s got Tommy wired up to a monitor. The chemicals aren’t working, possibly because they haven’t actually reached the heart due to the, you know, lack of blood flow. Owen manages to jump start him. Tommy is very disoriented and violent, whacking Owen, although that may be just on general principles. Tosh calms him down; he remembers her. Owen mutters that this gets harder every time; Ianto cheerily mentions that he’s got a good left hook, though. Tosh asks Tommy how he’s feeling: I could murder a cuppa tea. Everybody smiles; Tosh looks at Ianto, who drops the smile fast and goes to fetch the tea. Later, up in the conference room, Tommy is dressed and everybody’s having a celebratory meal. Tommy compliments Tosh’s dress and catches up a bit on latest styles.

Tosh and Owen put him through some physical and mental tests. He’s surprisingly chipper for a shell-shocked guy. He knows the routine by heart now. Tosh tries some empathy and predictably misses her mark: We wake you up once a year and stick needles into you. It’s not fair. Tommy: Once a year for you; it’s every day for me.

In his office, Jack tells Gwen that at the hospital in 1918, there was a time shift, a fracture that juxtaposed two slices of time together, 1918 and some other time. They don’t know what the other time is, which makes it tricky to predict when it’s going to happen again. Chunks of Great War Cardiff will start to appear at the hospital when the slice of time coumes around again and this will spread to the rest of the world. It’s unclear as to what damage this might cause or its duration, or, actually, any kind of detail. Tommy is important because somehow he stops it. Jack takes a small rectangular case from a locker and hands it to Gwen; she can’t get it open. This is because it’s sealed with a temporal lock and contains sealed orders from the  1918 Torchwood command. The box will unlock before the shift starts in earnest. Considering the importance of the box, it’s odd that it’s stuck away in a locker, where it could open at any time and not be noticed.

Tosh brings in Tommy, who’s dressed in modern civvies. Gwen: You look like a film star. Tommy: Who? Charlie Chaplin? Ah, for the days when our pop culture was beloved, not derided. Tosh and Tommy are going out for a drink, a movie, and perhaps a pizza. Gwen speculatively (and rather sluttily for an engaged person) asks Jack if they’ve got any more like him in the freezer, and Jack tells her it’s hands off; Tosh got to him first. It’s a rather pointed reminder of just how bleak Tosh’s life is that defrosting a guy for a day is a significant highlight of her social calendar.

This is further illustrated when Tosh and Tommy walk out by the bay. Tommy asks what she’s been up to, and she gives him the standard brush-off answer. Tom learns that she never learned to play the piano or learn Spanish as she said she wanted to in years past. She uses the nature of her work at Torchwood as an excuse why she has no hobbies.

While Tosh and Tom are off on their date, Ianto shows Gwen a picture of Gerald and Harriet. Gwen: He’s a bit of all right. Ianto: He’s the boss. Gwen: Nothing changes. Ianto tells Gwen that Harriet died the year after the photo was taken; she was 26 years old. Gwen: So young. Ianto: They all are. Nothing changes. Buzzkill! Gwen gets up and goes to St Teilo’s.

Tom and Tosh are shooting pool; she shows off her education by telling him that it’s just angles and velocity. He says look what happens when you give women the vote, and then asks whether Tosh has found a boyfriend yet. She says, rather witheringly, that he sounds like her mother. So I guess that’s a no. Tosh is good with the darker emotions; maybe that’s why it seems so false when she tries to be upbeat and happier. She finds out that he had a girlfriend but broke it off the last time he was home because the war had changed him too much. Tom lightens the mood: Right pair we’d make.

At the hospital, Gwen walks through the corridors into what had been the ward, now empty and derelict. She’s surprised by the ghost of a man on crutches, missing part of his leg, who makes a beeline right for her before vanishing. The lights flicker. Jack, who has accompanied her, tells her that hospital is due to be demolished, which  might have triggered time shift. He posits that the psychic trauma and the Rift enery charged up the place like a battery.

Tom gives the barman their drink order, then catches Lewis James narrating the news of the Iraq war. Tom: Seems like there’s always a war somewhere. Tosh plays with the semantics: It’s not exactly a war. Tom: It looks like one…the war to end all wars, they said, then three weeks later you had the second world war. After all that. Do you ever wonder if we’re worth saving, the human race? Tosh: Yes. He’s diverted and tells her that he’d do anything for her. All she’d have to do is call him her brave, handsome hero and tell him that she needs him. He’d do whatever she asked. This tender moment is interrupted by a harsh noise; Tom winces and doesn’t know what hit him.

We see the deconstruction of the hospital; workers ripping away at it. Jack strides through the dead corridors and hears a man singing. A nurse wheels a singing soldier through the hall. Owen asks him over the Bluetooth if he’s seen anything as he’s getting readings; Jack reports his ghosts. In another corridor, Gwen sees a nurse walk to a soldier sitting bent over in the chair and direct him somewhere else. The nurse follows him. Gwen turns her head to look to the side, and in the background the nurse peeks around the corner. They look at each other: they are ghosts to each other. The nurse shouts, “You shouldn’t be here!” and vanishes.

Tom chases Tosh down a pier, catching her and picking her up. Predictably, she’s uneasy with the horseplay. He kisses her; she looks at him like she’s affronted, then says thanks, which wasn’t quite the response Tom was hoping for. She thinks of herself as an older woman. Tom retorts that he was born in 1894 and is old enough to die for his country but too young to kiss her? “You daft, lass? What goes on in that head of yours?” Socially awkward, rather than replying she gives him a peck. He says that while he may look young, he’s seen quite a bit in his time. She asks what he wants to do now. Tom: Well, we could go back to mine, but there’s only room for one, and it’s bloody freezing. Tosh makes her decision and invites him back to her place. Tom: I’ll race you. This tender moment is interrupted by Jack, who tells her to come back to the Hub.

In the conference room, Jack reports that the demolition of the hospital causes the time shift, and that it can’t be stopped. The team go to work, leaving Tom alone. Tosh and Owen are assigned to the hospital to get readings, and Gwen double checks the files.

At the hospital, Owen and Tosh tack up gizmos to the walls. Owen cautions her about falling for a guy from the past. He seems very kind about it, remembering what he went through when Diane left and not wanting her to feel the same anguish, although Tosh is unlikely to want to cage-fight a Weevil as a consequence.

Gwen has Owen go to what had been the radiology department; she’s found a description of the event in the report that gives some details about the site of the encounter. “Through a hole in the exterior wall, we hear the roar or great engines. Outside is a woman in strange armor ripping a Union Jack, perhaps a future heroine of the Empire.” Owen pokes around and finds a hole in the exterior wall; through it he sees an ad for car insurance that features a woman in Xena-like armor and hears traffic and sirens. He believes the shift will take place soon.

Jack is doing paperwork. The box subtly unlocks, releasing a wispy gold light. Jack pulls out a sealed envelope with an old-school Torchwood logo and scans the pages. They’re instructions for Tommy and Tosh.

In the conference room, Jack tells the team that the confluence of time will occur in twelve hours. Tom needs to be in the hospital at that time, ready to step into the time shift to close the fracture. Tom’s dismayed to learn that he’ll have to go back to 1918. He knows what waits for him then. Jack: You’re the only one who can do this. We brought you from 1918 to now; when you go back to 1918,  your life will be like a thread stitching time back together again. He gives Tom a Rift manipulator that will set time right when he steps into the shift and activates it. Jack splits Tosh off for a conference. He tells her that three weeks after he goes back, Tom dies. Execution by firing squad for cowardice. When Tom goes back, he will forget everything from the new time; all his memories will be gone. More than 300 men suffering from shell-shock, not a recognized condition at the time, were executed as cowards. Tosh: I can’t do this! Jack: You can. He trusts you. Tosh: To send him to his death? Jack: To help him save the future. It has to be you! He holds out a portrait of her, one page from the sealed orders. The previous Torchwood saw her giving instruction to Tom.

Ianto gives Tom back the clothes he was wearing when Torchwood took him from the hospital; they’d stored them in a box. Tom: So I’ll be saving the world in some pajamas. How daft is that?

Tom doesn’t know what will happen to him when he returns. But Jack does…Tosh yells at him: If he asks me, what do I say! Jack has no answer.

The team doesn’t know what to do with Tom. Gwen asks him what he’d like to do. Tom: Night before we went over the top, we used to play cards, write letters, have a drink if anyone had some. Owen: We could do that. Tom cuts off any attempt at support: You’re not coming with me. I’m going on my own.

When Tosh appears with Jack, Gwen  updates them on the social conundrum. Jack draws a breath to dictate, but Tosh gets there first: He can come home with me. Everybody looks at her. A little fearful she’ll be overruled: He’s not our prisoner. He doesn’t have to stay here. Does he? Jack: No. If that’s what you both want. Tomorrow morning, 6:30.

Tom observes that Tosh’s flat is very neat. Tosh: Well, it’s only me here. Tom: And me. Just for tonight, then I’ll be gone. He won’t even be able to write to her. They kiss passionately.

At the Hub, Ianto asks Jack whether he’d go back to his own time if he could. Jack: Why, would you miss me? Ianto: Yep. Jack: I left home a long time ago. I don’t know where I really belong. Maybe that doesn’t matter any more. Ianto: I–don’t you get lonely? Jack: Going home wouldn’t fix that. Being here, I’ve seen things I never dreampt I’d see. Loved peopled I never would have known if I’d just stayed where I was. And I wouldn’t change that for the world. Moved, Ianto kisses Jack.

In bed, Tom asks Tosh what happens to him. She says that he’s sent back to France. Tom: Do they find my body? Tosh touches his face, then nods. Tom: Well, that’s something. He kisses her.

Bright and early, Torchwood and Tom are at the hospital. Tom is in his pajamas and uniform jacket. The Rift alarms klaxon. They head down to radiology. They hear singing, and see a nurse walking down the hall. Tom runs after her into the ward and figures out that she was a ghost. He hears Gerald talking to him and freaks out. “I won’t do it. I can’t go back.” Jack: You’ve got to. Tom: No! I know what’ll happen! He pleads with Tosh for help. Tosh: You’ve got to go. Tom (with some justification): Why me? You’re no better than the generals. Sitting safely behind the lines, sending us over the top. Any one of you lot could go, but you’re not, are you! You’re sending me! Jack: We belong here. Tosh: I’m sorry. Tom comes to a devastating realization: I have been shoved from pillar to post all my life, by the army, by Torchwood–all this time I’ve had, it means nothing. He slides down the wall to squat on the floor. Jack tries to get him to stand. Tosh tells him to leave them alone. Jack leaves, putting a hand on her shoulder in passing: You’ve got two minutes.

She kneels by Tom, touching his shoulder; he recoils as if she hit him instead. Tosh: Listen. You’re a hero. Do you know that? Because you can stop the time shift and save everyone. You save us all. Tom: I can’t do it. Tosh: We need you. Tom: I don’t want to be a hero. I want to stay here with you. There’s noise and wind; they clutch each other as a bright white light fills the room.

Gerald: Hello? Tosh: Tell them. Gerald: Tell us what? Tosh: tell them what to do. You’re the only one who can stop this. If you don’t, it’s the end of everything. Tommy! Tom gets up and says, “Take me…” The light flashes again, and Tosh and Tom are alone in the room.

Tom: I’ll be gone soon. Tosh: Remember the Rift key. Use it. She kisses him. “You’ve got to get back in bed. Like you’ve never been away. Then use the key. Tommy? Remember. It’s nearly time.”

Tom shuffles back to the ward. There’s that light again, and he finds himself in a supply closet. A nurse scolds him for being out of bed, then escorts him back. Tom sees Gerald hustling him out of the ward. Gerald looks at Tom and leaves. He gets tucked back into bed and freaks out.

At the Hub, alarms blare. Jack: The time shift hasn’t stopped. The monitor shows Rift activity spreading out from the hospital. Jack: Tommy hasn’t used the key. Ianto: Why not? Tosh: I don’t know, because he’s just gone back 90 years ago and he’s shell-shocked? Nice of her to remember. Owen has a plan to use the Rift activity to their advantage. In medical, he removes a rack of culture tubes from the refrigerator. His plan is to use a substance to induce psychic projection that someone can use to contact Tom. Tosh volunteers because Tom trusts her. Jack: You’ve got one shot, Tosh. That’s all. Owen injects her (with blood? You’re kidding, right?); she gasps, and then is with Tom, sitting on his bed. “It’s  me, Toshiko.” Tom: Who? Tosh: I’m here to help you. Tom offers her the key: Is this yours? Tosh: No…it’s a key. You have to use it. Tom: I’m scared. Tosh: It’s all right. Tom: That’s why I’m here–I’m a coward. Tosh: No, you are not. Tom: What am I fighting for? Tosh: For the future. For me. Because you’re my brave, handsome hero. Tommy, use the key. He does, and a wisp of gold light escapes. He’s done it. Tosh: Thank you. Tom: Goodbye. There’s more white light and a crackling noise.

Tosh wakes up: He did it. Later, she gently folds his new clothes into the same box that held his pajamas and uniform jacket. Owen comes in, sees what she’s doing, and leaves. She puts on her coat–nice lining–and makes to leave. Jack: Hey. Thank you. She nods and leaves. She goes out to the spot on the bay where she and Tom had started their day. Owen hustles up to her through the rain. Tosh: He trusted me. Right to the end. Owen. Because you were strong. All of this (gestures around the bay) is still here because of you. Tosh: Because of Tommy. Let’s hope we’re worth it. She leaves him by the rail and walks off, distraught at first, then smiling.

Some comments: Seems like Torchwood could have spent some time treating Tom’s shell-shock over the years. His mental state required them to browbeat him into doing what they wanted him to do. Secondly, it wasn’t true that Tom was the only one who could have stopped the shift; Jack prepared to go back when Tom hadn’t used the key. Even if he’d been stuck in 1918, Jack would have gone through the rest of the century, revisiting people and events from those times, and would have eventually caught up with the present again. Granted, Tom was the best candidate, but hardly the only  one who could get the job done. I also think that had they explained more fully the situation, it might have been easier for Tom to do what they wanted. They failed to realize that his worldview was different from theirs; he’d be conscripted for his duty; Torchwood members choose it. Tom didn’t want to be a hero; he wanted to live, going about his life and not face the hells of the trenches of the Western front again. In the end, he went back because he wasn’t given a choice. Tosh never made it perhaps easier for him by asking him to do it for her, by referring to her feelings, not even saying geeze, I hate for you to go, but I won’t even exist unless you do. The only time she referred to them was when he didn’t remember her anyway, and even then she just used what he’d given her and didn’t offer anything of herself to him in exchange. I also think it would have made more sense to write on the Rift key: Use me, with a little arrow pointing to the handle. Like Alice in Wonderland.

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