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DVD Review: Top Gear – The Complete Season 13

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The gauntlet has once again been laid squarely at my feet; it has fallen to me to explain to you just why you should be watching Top Gear and just what you’ll gain from the experience.  BBC America just starting airing the 15th season of the show and alongside that Warner Bros. and the BBC have released The Complete Season 13 to DVD.  In this piece we will be concerning ourselves with the latter much more than the former.

Top Gear, as I have said before, is ostensibly a car show, but not really.  In reality, the show is a comment on our society, a comedy, and an adventure all rolled into one.  The show follows the exploits of James May, Richard Hammond, and Jeremy Clarkson as they put cars through their paces in order to see just what makes for a good car and just what a car can really do.  This basic formula holds true for season 13, although it does hold true for fewer episodes than in season 12 as only seven were made as part of this season and eight as a part of the previous one (although it must be added that a mere six were included in season 11).

One of the things that has made the new version of Top Gear so special is the enigma known as The Stig.  Referred to as Top Gear‘s “tame racing driver,” it is The Stig who is tasked with racing cars around the Top Gear Test Track to see how well they perform.  It also falls to The Stig to train the celebrities who come on the show so that the celebrities can put up their own times in the reasonably priced car they take around the track.  The Stig doesn’t speak, The Stig shows no emotion, The Stig doesn’t even take off his helmet.  This has actually led to much speculation in England as to who the man in the white racing suit might be.  At first, this revamped version of Top Gear (there was another, older, version of the show before this one) featured a Stig in a black racing suit. That particular Stig, announced who he was to the world, was forced to drive off an aircraft carrier, and was subsequently replaced with the white-suited one.

There has been speculation that the black Stig will return, an idea perhaps most notably spurred by the next video, but at this moment that still seems to be pure speculation.  The point of all this foolishness however is that the identity of The Stig is a closely guarded secret, and whether or not it started out as simply being a joke or whether there was a purpose behind it, it has led to an incredible amount of guessing about his identity.

The point of my telling you this is that in the 13th season premiere of Top Gear, a man dressed as The Stig comes out into the studio, removes his helmet, and reveals his identity.  It is a brilliant moment for the series, the man who reveals himself is almost unquestionably not actually The Stig, but it is a moment which highlights the sense of humor the producers and hosts have about the show and its mystique.  It also starts the season on a great note, a note which is continued through the rest of the first episode and the six others which follow the premiere.

For Top Gear fans that might be the best moment in the season.  However, for those who simply prefer entertaining television there are a lot of other great moments.  Also occurring in the season premiere is a race from London to Edinburgh via three different modes of transportation – a train, car, and motorbike all based on 1949 models.  This particular race harkens back to earlier seasons of Top Gear where the guys have raced cars against trains on more than one occasion, and have even gone up against airplanes and various other modes of transportation (and bobsleds).  Another great race this season has May and Hammond in a Porsche Panamera race a letter being taken by the Royal Mail from the Isles of Scilly to Orkney.  Anyone who has ever seen or heard tell of the classic 1936 British documentary Night Mail will instantly draw allusions between that film and this episode.  It is another instance of Top Gear proving that not only can they have a great deal of fun and be hugely entertaining, but manage to be incredibly smart as well.  For those who aren’t petrolheads it is here where Top Gear will most impress – with its intelligence and understanding of the world and history.

If guests is your thing, the new season features racing legends like Michael Schumacher; world famous stars like Stephen Fry and Sienna Miller; and even well-known entertainer and ridiculously big car aficionado, Jay Leno.

In terms of special features, the DVD release sports a Stig POV segment which gives the in-car point of view of The Stig doing some laps on the Top Gear Test Track as well as a POV from the front of a Lamborghini Murcielago LP670-4-SV going 200mph in Abu Dhabi.  There is also an extended interview with Brian Johnson and another extended one with Jenson Button as well as a clip of the boys enjoying some time in a few Spitfires, a slo-mo sequence with Ken Block (who appears in one episode), and more footage of Jeremy Clarkson on the train from the train/car/motorbike race. 

With an ice race, a battle between a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII RS and some of the British military, and even an attempt to make a commercial, Top Gear – The Complete Season 13 has everything in it Top Gear fans and car lovers crave. Anyone else willing to give a car show a shot will also find tons to love.  Top Gear, despite purporting to have a  narrow focus, in fact has an expansive one and season 13 proves once again that Hammond, May, Clarkson, and the producers know how to make some of the smartest television you will ever see.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.