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The Independent Culture

It is reassuring to know that as the new millennium approaches, there is one medium determined to maintain continuity. Nothing radical, steady as she goes, keep doing what it has always done. Thus last night's served us up a drama about doctors and a documentary about stealing other people's cars. Or was it a drama about stealing other people's plots and a documentary about doctoring old ideas?

Call Red (ITV) was created by JC Wilsher, of Between The Lines. As yet it has not a hint of his other creation's sharpness, though there was enough smouldering eye-contact in this first episode to suggest it could, in future, earn itself a Between The Sheets-style nickname for saucy character interplay: Call Bed, perhaps.

A sort of Casualty meets Apocalypse Now, the series is about an air- ambulance squad, a team forever leaping aboard a chopper in search of accident and emergency. Since this is possibly the only branch of the medical profession yet to have a fly- on-the-wall documentary series of its own, Call Red did its best to plug the gap. There were lots of the techniques of the documentary in there: characters were chased aboard the helicopter by hand-held cameras; we were given endless exposition of procedure; and the lens lingered over bags of business involving popping catheters into veins.

This was a drama with a real kit fetish - one character even swooned about his "central automated daylight simulators". Goodness knows how much it costs to hire a helicopter, but the accountants at Meridian can hardly complain that the investment was not put to good use here. Every last rotation of the chopper was examined in salivating detail as it spent most of this first episode single-handedly saving lives, a role conducted with such alacrity that you wondered why the NHS didn't shut down all its medical schools immediately and use the money on a fleet contract with Westland instead. Certainly there were no obvious human stars to get in the way of the great mechanical saviour.

All the characters were ludicrously gung-ho, self-important and convinced they were the only people capable of administering medical assistance; typical doctors then, but not much fun to spend 60 minutes with.

The script certainly didn't help. A characteristic moment found a doctor seeking to comfort the distressed relative of an accident victim: "I know how you feel," said doc. "How can you know?" replied the relative. "Zzzzz," snored viewer. Only once did a spark of wit creep in, when two characters swapped views about a group of visiting dignitaries who were touring the helicopter station. "What is the collective noun for a gang of A&E consultants?" asked one. "A clot," replied his colleague. She'd obviously been watching Cardiac Arrest.

Allowing as much as 15 months since the last documentary about motor crime (BBC1's Inside Story: "Car Squad"), Cutting Edge's straight-forwardly titled Car Thieves (C4), was passing off an old chassis as new. It is, nonetheless, a tale of extended misery: 3,000 cars a month disappear in Manchester alone, many of which are bought by dupes who, once the motor is traced, have to hand them over to insurance companies with no redress.

Meanwhile, premiums head skywards to subsidise the whole sorry business. To be fair, Cutting Edge had a good eye for the absurdity of the game. The programme filmed one owner being reunited with his BMW (which was about to be crated from Liverpool docks to New Zealand), who explained that the car had been stolen by a thief who simply drove it away from a petrol station while he was inside paying the bill. And his insurance company had refused to cough up because the keys were in the car at the time of theft.

The anecdote made me wonder if anyone ever leaves the keys in Call Red's helicopter, and, if so, can we tip anyone off?