Towards the end of July of 2007, the folks in England got a real treat – the Top Gear Polar Special. That's right, for those who don't know, someone thought it was okay to send Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond to the North Pole. Actually, that's not accurate, no one sent them there; it was worse than that. Someone made the three men get to the Pole on their own (but with a little help). Here in the States we finally got to see this bit of brilliance last night.
It was, in short, the best of times and the worst of times. What the guys were doing was obviously terribly dangerous – as they pointed out several times, there was the real possibility of death. Sure, they were going in the summer, but it's still awfully cold in the Arctic during the summer. However, if something truly terrible had happened to anyone one of them we would have known about it long before. Top Gear episodes filmed well after this one have already aired here, and not only have all three men been in those episodes, but they've been in them with all their appendages intact. On the other hand, watching the men struggle to reach the Pole was absolutely brilliant.
Two thoughts really struck me going into the episode – first, it's something of a miracle that these guys don't kill themselves on a regular basis going around the track in England; sending them to the North Pole where things are even more dangerous was almost asking for trouble. Second, some of the series' best episodes are those in which the guys get travel – anywhere. They just have to go somewhere (the Botswana trip instantly comes to mind as being the best of these).
The episode certainly did not disappoint. It was utterly fantastic. I'm not sure I really buy the excuse they gave for the show doing the trip: a race between dogsled and a car — a car that would be the first to ever make it to the Pole – but what ended up on tape was enough to make any excuse enough. Clarkson and May went by a modified Toyota Hilux and Hammond went by dogsled (with an experienced person along to help). I won't ruin the ending of the race (even if it has aired already in much of the world), but that's not really where the fun was. No, the fun was in watching these men battle the elements and each other.
I'm not at all sure that the episode would wholly work if one wasn't already invested in Clarkson, Hammond, and May or the series in general. For those who are invested though, watching the men give it their all to actually do something wondrous (and going to the Pole is wondrous no matter how you travel) was an exceedingly fun time. The journey, even in a car, wasn't an easy one. There was much chopping away at snow and ice in what had to be insanely cold temperatures. The guys did get some cold weather training in advance, but they didn't take it all too seriously (as one would expect).
And that, their not taking it seriously, does bring up an issue or two I had with the episode – issues that take all the fun and excitement out of the whole thing (for which I'm sorry). I just feel as though there should have been a behind-the-scenes reality to what was happening that we didn't entirely get last night. For instance, although the men goofed around repeatedly during the cold weather training, I have to believe that if they hadn't met certain requirements the producers (or the insurance companies) never would have allowed the guys to go on the actual trip. Then, Clarkson and May commented that they were running on "fumes" as they were approaching the Pole. If they were nearly out of gas upon their arrival at the Pole, how did they get home? Yes, there were two other cars travelling with them, but if those cars had tons of extra gas (as I assume they did), Clarkson and May were never in dire straights. They may have lost some time due to the need to fill up, but there was never really a worry about them getting stranded.
Okay, complaining finished. Those quibbles do hurt the reality behind the show, behind the reality of the show itself was that these guys – even if there was behind the scenes help did do something impressive, and they did it in Top Gear-style.
I just can't wait to see what they do next.