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Crisis Command
Could You Run the Country?

Something something turn a drama into a crisis something something but here the BBC have turned a crisis into a drama something something.

Except what they've done is turn a drama into a Choose Your Own Adventure book.

In each episode, three captains of industry are gathered in the Crisis Command centre. There, they will act as ministers having to make tough decisions over how to sort out a fictional crisis (all the pictures in this review relate to an outbreak of pneumonic plague in a hospital in Liverpool). During the show they'll be given situations and as a team have to come up with the correct response from the two, three or four they have been offered. Incorrect decisions COST LIVES AND SPOIL THE ECONOMY, so let's hope that these people who can run a business can take the decisions neccessary to save our country.

Actually, when they were originally running this show through at the pre-pilot/pilot stage, the idea was that members of the public could write in and become ministers but just as in real life if a crisis situation developed, they'd be on call 24/7 and could be asked to drop everything to go down to the Crisis Command Centre and sort out whatever crisis needed sorting. It sounds like a very neat idea but we suspect it was dropped because the reality of television made it too difficult to implement, it's a bit much to expect someone to just not come in to work just to take part on a dramatic gameshow.

Anyhow, also in the Crisis Command Centre are three advisors to be called upon at any time: military advisor Sir Tim Garden, communications adviser Amanda Platell and emergency services advisor Charles Shoebridge. The journalist Gavin Hewitt (who appears to be the BBC's crisis correspondent of choice) is the "show's" "host" and serves the role of introducing information to the ministers as it comes in, revealing the current strategy options and trying to wrestle a decision from the ministers, all whilst keeping a very straight face and serious tone.

Each disaster scenario has been carefully researched and, according to the website, they "portray the recommended responses as laid down by crisis managers and those in positions of power on a city/regional/national level" - the scenarios might be realistic but it's all speculation really. Over the course of the programme the ministers will have to make many decisions reacting to events that are being played out to them. There are some fabulous production values in the show, and each piece of information comes in the form of a specially made BBC news report, or a pre-recorded video phone message. Meanwhile some pretty informational computer graphics represent maps and statistics on the screens.

Each decision has a number of choices (never more than four, because if you have digital satellite you can play along with your red button) which will each have their own pros and cons. Whilst the ministers debate, the advisors add extra information into the proceedings whilst simultaneously antagonizing them into making certain decisions. To be honest, this mainly involves the army and emergency service advisor to suggest action and the communications advisor to tell the ministers what a PR disaster they would be falling into if they were to follow the correct advice. What this leads to is a fascinating insight into the debating process, the difficulties in reaching a decision that would please everybody and morality. It seems a simple idea on high to sacrifice the few to save the many, but is it always possible to sacrifice them in a humanitarian way and if not does it really matter? Whatsmore, Hewitt will hurry them into making decisions and if they take too long then events will overtake them.

The show gives the impression that each decision affects the rest of the proceedings but we suspect this is just clever writing to appear so. Of all the decisions that needed to be taken many of them were things that were going to happen sometime during the show anyway (developing a vaccine, the breaking of the quarantine, should they be allowed to use firearms?) whilst many of the others all lead to the same or very similar results but with knock-on effects with regards to avaliable choices in later decisions (you should have called the army up earlier, it will take too long for them to arrive to help now). The impression of an anything-can-happen disaster is given even though closer inspection would suggest otherwise. The reason for our suspicions is that fabulously, those with digital television can watch three different people tackle the same scenario on BBC4 immediately after the BBC2 show finishes.

After each decision, Gavin tells us in voiceover as to whether our ministers picked the correct option or not and why. A running count of correct and incorrect decisions is also kept (although we highly suspect these only count the ones that are shown on television, we've spotted options on a video wall for decisions which don't seem to have made it to television, perhaps they weren't very interesting or something). After the final decision, the ministers are shown what happened six weeks later by way of a news report so they can judge how well they handled the situation. We can't help but think that there are only two or three different endings based largely on only the final decision but there you go. The advisors also give their take on the proceedings, telling the ministers what they did right and where they went wrong. Justifiable use of post-game interview over the end credits.

Chilling, intelligent, interesting, nicely produced. If we were to describe Crisis Command in five words, those would be the words we would use. They go to great lengths to point out that it's not a gameshow on the official site, but it sort of is really.