Perhaps better known as the ‘Middle East’ special, the opening episode of the sixteenth season of Top Gear – broadcast on Boxing Day – sees our hosts take a trip to the Middle East to re-enact the trip made by the Three Wise Men to pay homage to the Baby Jesus.

Top Gear Middle East SpecialAll they know is that they must make the journey to Bethlehem using nothing other than a two-seater drop-top car, which Messrs Clarkson, Hammond and May respectively pick as a Madza MX5, a Fiat Barchetta and a BMW Z3.

The initial reading of the scenario meant this could only result in plenty of laughs, and no no means does this episode fail to deliver.

Dropped off by a Russian cargo jet, the hosts find they’ve been deposited in war-ravaged Iraq, and are now faced with a 1,200-mile journey to Bethlehem, Israel, having to travel through Turkey, Syria and Jordan on the way.

The episode is devoid of the typical segments one might usually find in a Top Gear continental journey, and at over 75 minutes in length, it sometimes felt a little laboured.

There is still plenty of action, although it is largely the crew and hosts who suffer: Hammond is struck down on several occasions by the trots and May suffers a scary accident in the middle of the Syrian desert.

More pleasingly, it would have been easy for the hosts to soapbox about the current political situations gripping many of the countries they visit, and it was positive to see their presentation of Iraq (in particular) was balanced and considered in its approach.

Ultimately, the journey ends at Bethlehem, with James of Doncaster, Richard of Solihull and James of Bristol arriving armed with gifts of gold, frankincense shampoo and Nintendo DS to pay their respects at the birthplace of the New Testament Christian Jeremy Clarkson tries to blend infaith.

While perhaps not quite as strong as the Bolivian special they broadcast last year, this is a very enjoyable episode and an excellent way to kickstart the new season in our opinion.

[Original images via Telegraph]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.