The Grand Tour returns earlier than expected this Christmas, and what a return it is. The previous episode saw Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May boating through Vietnam, and it was met with negative reviews across the board. Thankfully, the team has learnt the error of its ways and has returned with cars, and what was one of their toughest challenges yet.
The story begins on Reunion island with the trio introducing what cars they’ve chosen to drive its beautiful mountainside roads. As we spotted earlier in the year, Clarkson is behind the wheel of a Bentley Continental GT, Hammond a Ford Focus RS, and James May a Caterham.
We’re treated to a brief review from each presenter, before we quickly fall into some humour with them removing the kill switch from James’ Caterham, rendering it useless and in need of May to clamber out of the low slung vehicle to replace the switch. We’re also treated to a traditional drag race on the “most expensive piece of tarmac ever”. Clarkson wins, and May becomes the first to have ever lost a race on that road. Priceless.
It’s at this point the episode properly begins with the premise of a treasure hunt as they’re given a code to track down lost riches from the famous pirate La Buse. Hammond is very excited about this as he loves pirates, May is equally as excited about working on deciphering the code that’s been given to them, but Clarkson doesn’t believe it and is only persuaded when he hears that the treasure equates to a £1million value.
At this point the episode starts to drag slightly with James starting to decipher the code and the other two enjoying their time on the island. But it quickly turns out that Hammond knows more about La Buse than he first let on. He explains that they should go to Madagascar, because that’s where the treasure will be, but James pushes in, explaining that the roads there are terrible, and that they’ll need to modify their cars to cope.
Suddenly while watching, I’m transported back to when I first watched Top Gear’s search for the River Nile and for a moment everything is right with this episode. It feels like the good days of Top Gear with some laugh-out-loud moments and dizzying beautiful landscapes. But while previously they were forced to stick to a budget, this time the budget ceiling is high and they arrive in Madagascar with three rather costly and impressive cars before traversing what they believe are truly the worst roads in the world.
Hammond struggles terribly with his caterpillar-tracked Focus RS, and for the first time in Top Gear history, doesn’t complete the challenge when the car’s clutch gives out. This was the last straw for Hammond, who had dealt with countless issues along the way. May, choosing the Caterham, also had issues with it being an open-top car. He very quickly became swamped in old stale muddy puddles, while Clarkson drove his lifted air-conditioned Bentley across the terrain with ease.
Now, this wasn’t a perfect episode. It felt like a rerun of previous episodes just with a slightly different outcome, and some of the humour was a bit infantile for my personal liking, but overall it is a return to the top for the trio, especially after the previous episode. My one worry, however, isn’t the episode itself, it’s the structure of the series. Specials can get repetitive, and without any standard episodes with an audience, car reviews, and general sodding about by the hosts, is this going to get very dull very quickly as the trio flexes their large budgets around the world.
Maybe, but that’s a worry for another time. Right now, I’m very much enjoying this return to form, and will not-so-patiently wait for the next.