Tag Archives: metafiction

“My automatic melancholy” – the all-too-short pop career of Lara Croft

Rhona Mitra as Lara Croft

At the height of the Tomb Raider games’ success, and before a film had been made, a succession of actresses, models and promo girls — including a young Katie Price — queued up to be the real life face of Lara Croft. And somehow one of them, Rhona Mitra, ended up making an in-character pop CD with Dave Stewart.

come alive

Come Alive came out on EMI in 1998, between Tomb Raider II (the one with the Venice and sunken ship levels) and Tomb Raider III (the one where Lara keeps getting run over by a tube train). It only went on general release in France, and there’s so little about it on the web you’d think someone had tried to quietly erase it from pop history.

Most of the songs have a post-Madchester, indie dance vibe with flashes of guitar, landing on a sound somewhere between Sneaker Pimps and Chumbawamba. There’s even the occasional ragga toast. So far so 90s. But what about the subject matter?

Brilliantly, Lara sings about her own fictionality, her longings for a physical life and her confusing symbiotic relationship with you the gamer. In this way it very much picks up the metafictional baton from the ending of Tomb Raider II, in which Lara, about to undress for the shower, magnificently breaks the fourth wall by turning to face you and shooting you dead, saying “Don’t you think you’ve seen enough?”

Lead single Getting Naked follows the same template, teasing nudity while admonishing the listener “I know you want to be my lover boy, but I’ve got a lot of things going on.” And the balance between titillation and domination continues in songs like Beautiful Day where every seductive “Tell me all your fantasies and I’ll tell you mine,” is set off by a stern “I’ll do what I want to.”

The prospect of physical love rears its head in Really Real in which a somewhat listless Lara breathes “I’m real! Really real! Just like you!” While in the next song, Feel Myself, she does what any of us would after making the transition from digitised form and proceeds to “Feel myself for the first time,” complete with some little panting noises. Charmingly, she describes her self exploration in terms any gamer will understand, giggling “Moved on to level 2!”

The album’s themes peak on title track Come Alive, in which Lara muses on her life as a pixellated puppet. “I see myself up on a wall,” it opens over some lovely downbeat electro. She goes on to consider her “fated path,” reflecting “all the walls that I was climbing, all the time that I spent falling… and all was fine when I was drowning.”

The whole thing’s a triumph. A very odd triumph, to be sure, but then those are my favourite sorts. It’s a rare album that lets you hear an iconic video game character sing come-hither lyrics about “fish and chips in Streatham” and “a pint of lager & lime” and somehow carry it off, but this is the one. In case you hadn’t noticed, I spend every other post on this blog deliberately muddling fictional things and real ones (with hilarious consequences etc etc), so once in a while it’s nice to find a piece of pop culture that’s managed it all on its own. And is real — really real.

Chicken & Lantern: Series 4

Over the last year I’ve been bringing the forgotten animated 80s series Chicken & Lantern to a wider audience with these episode guides (Series 1, 2 and 3). And now, as they say, the dramatic conclusion.

It was a year of endings. The fall of communism, the final episode of Doctor Who, and the last time that Sonia would ever straddle the top of the UK charts. But for a few, 1989’s most significant loss was the sad demise of Chicken & Lantern. Their antics had been deemed quaint and irrelevant and their fourth season of adventures was to be their last. The production team tried various controversial creative approaches in the final run of episodes, some wilder than others and not all of them successful, but then they had nothing to lose.

Prunella Scales returned as the voice of Chicken, and the role of Lantern was taken up by Geoffrey Palmer, who brought a certain gruff world-weariness to the time-travelling festival decoration.


6 x 10 minute episodes

Transmitted on BBC1, Wednesdays at 4.45pm, 22nd November – 27th December 1989

Episode 1: Bird Down

In a bravura opening sequence worthy of a James Bond film, Chicken and Lantern make their escape from a Nazi-infested zeppelin high above 1930s New York, plunging through the sky onto the Empire State Building where they battle their way down through Cthulhoid monsters oozing from the walls of the carpeted hallways, finally reaching street level only to get caught up in a dramatic shoot-out between rival organised crime gangs. They race into the sewers, where they outsmart a ravenous alligator, and finally slide down a giant shaft to reach the centre of the earth where we see that our heroes have established a safe HQ that they can safely visit in any time zone. There’s not a word of dialogue up until this point, which greatly alarmed Geoffrey Palmer on his first day of recording. Especially when all that he or Prunella Scales were required to do in the final seconds of the episode was to grunt or scream respectively as the large time scanner screen in their HQ fills with the terrifying face of an enormous fox.

Episode 2: Cooped Up

The bizarre and infamous ‘live action’ episode. Having established a base of operations for the intrepid duo, no time was wasted in setting an entire episode there, and during a power cut at that. Still a great deal of money was clearly saved on animation by having Prunella Scales sat in a chicken suit in a semi-darkened room (lit only by the dim red light of the molten core of the earth,  diffusing through the skylight), whispering to Geoffrey Palmer who’s gamely done up in a whalebone corset, red tissue paper and golden tassles as Lantern. Chicken believes that the fox they saw on the screen will be their undoing and their end, and confides in Lantern of the nameless creeping dread that’s haunted her days and her dreams. She fears and welcomes her oncoming death in equal measure, she confesses, finally breaking down into sobs. As a means of introducing existential anxiety to a young audience, it couldn’t be deemed a failure. But then that wasn’t exactly the show’s remit.

Episode 3: Pecking Order

A time travel romp allowing C&L to pay homage to the programme that inspired it, this episode saw Chicken (now back to her flat cartoon self) spliced into chicken-related footage from 70s Doctor Who episodes, as she becomes separated from Lantern, unstuck in time alone, and tries to track down a fellow time traveller to get her home. At first appearing aboard the SS Bernice where she fails to attract Jon Pertwee’s attention from within a crate, she’s then whooshed to Paris in 1979 where she’s hurtled along her own timeline to the point of old age and death, before Tom Baker reverses the polarity to save her. Finally she pops up in a village church where, just as the Master is about to sacrifice her to a Daemon, Lantern (accompanied for no easily justifiable reason by Crow from Saturday Superstore) swoops in over Jo Grant’s shoulder and they all escape to safety.

Episode 4: Home To Roost

In an ill-remembered episode guest-directed by Peter Greenaway, Chicken and Lantern learn a complicated formal dance in an unnamed baroque citadel. These scenes are intercut with abstract, stylised scenes of a future metropolis filled with rotting foxes. The music was alright.

Episode 5: The Four Lanterns

A celebratory episode designed to clear up the confusion around Lantern’s backstory, which saw a return to the Shanghai setting of Season 1’s finale (where all of Lantern’s past and future incarnations live together as a family) and an ambitious attempt to bring all the actors who’d voiced him together. David Yip refused to participate and had to be represented by recycled sound clips from his earlier episodes. Bruce Willis had loved his time on the show so much that he gave his time for free, although as he was now a major star, and busy filming Die Hard 2, this amounted to a quick phone call with no script, during which he said a few phrases he thought his incarnation of Lantern might be likely to utter. So with two of the Lanterns speaking only in non-sequiturs – “No, dear Chicken! You’re doing it all wrong!”; “Suck my fiery wick, mothers!” – and so on, it was left to Burt Kwouk and Geoffrey Palmer to try to carry the complicated plot, which was some sort of absurdly hopeful epiphany in which Lantern reconciled all the contradictory aspects of his psyche.

Episode 6: Outfoxed

The ending was all that mattered. The story that led to it was almost incidental, save that in a metafictional twist that would only become apparent more than twenty years later when I was writing this today, the fox so intent on senselessly killing off our heroes turned out to be called Bertie.

But what sticks in the mind of everyone who sees it is the last few minutes and their terrible imagery. At least we didn’t have to see the worst of it happen onscreen. It was bad enough that Chicken should actually be savaged by the fox, and that Lantern should fall into a threshing machine while trying to save her. They were wise to cut away at the last moment and leave those fates suggested merely by sound effect with the occasional half-chewed wing or mangled shred of red paper flying across the screen. Although even that informed a generation’s trauma. A light-hearted soundtrack was added at producers’ insistence to alleviate the horror, but no-one would now agree that Spitting Image’s The Chicken Song did anything to make things better.

When the children had finished crying – if they ever finished crying – if they looked up at the screen again they would see their heroes, barely recognisable: Chicken just shreds and bits of bone, Lantern smashed and torn, his light sputtering. But that dying light signalled the start of one final juddering flight through time, and our heroes arrive on a sunny hillside by the opening of a cave in Ancient Greece, where a philosopher scoops up their remnants in his arms and carries them to their rest. The camera fixes and slowly zooms in on the firelit shadows on the wall of the cave, where we see that Chicken and Lantern are slowly becoming whole again as silhouettes. Plato (for it is he, voiced by John Gielgud) explains that through their adventures our heroes have become the best of every chicken, and of every lantern, and that they will live on forever, symbolically, as ideal forms. However much comfort THAT was supposed to be. The light in the cave slowly dies and the credits roll while that unforgettable theme tune plays out one last, sad time.

Adverts Explained: Match.com

Dating has never been so twee. What’s the best way of finding a soulmate in 2011 according to the Match.com adverts?

1. Live in an affluent neighbourhood

Just look at that music shop where the couple in the first ad meet. There are no amps piled high in the window, no boxes spilling over with wires and second-hand mixers, no gangs of teenagers trying to bash out something by Enter Shikari in the background — nothing, in short, that’d make it commercially viable. Shops like this, that rely on floppy-haired trustafarians dropping in to impulse-buy a bongo set, just don’t exist in down-to-earth neighbourhoods. So move on up if you’re looking for love.


“I like old movies – like Godfather 3!” Well I’m not the first to criticise that line. Even if we allow that an “old movie” can come from as recently as 1990, “old” isn’t a genre, so liking one doesn’t mean you’ll automatically like another. Is she really thinking “Godfather 3? I love films from twenty years ago too! At last someone who’ll watch Kindergarten Cop and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with me!” No, no she isn’t.


“It’s not considered the best one – but that’s just me!” THAT’S JUST ME. Oh it’s all very well trying to show what an individual you are by liking something that’s not as well liked as other things. Good luck with that. But the thing about Godfather 3 is  that it only really has any resonance, or makes much sense, if you’re already a fan of the earlier, better-loved films. I may as well walk into a bongo shop tomorrow and start singing “I like the Nightmare on Elm Street films! Especially Wes Craven’s New Nightmare! It’s not considered the best one, but I like the play of metafictional ideas and THAT’S JUST ME.”

What he’s basically saying is that he likes self-involved narratives. Which is a good job because he’s living in one.


“Girl on the platform smiled. Best smile he’s seen in a long while!” Quite by accident, the couple in the first advert simultaneously played a chord of D in a music shop. But the fella in the second ad is leaving nothing to chance. He takes his ukulele with him everywhere he goes, the better to sing at anyone he fancies. How many other women have suffered his over-descriptive serenades while going about their daily business? “The girl in front of me buying Canesten at Superdrug’s got such a pretty bob”? “The girl being sick on the nightbus has the sort of thick calves I’d like wrapped around my neck”? The mind boggles.


“She must have been about… 26? 28? 28.” It’s good of Match to be so honest and specific about their target market. I’ve seen the phenomenon myself, as straight friends who are still single as they approach 30 go completely apeshit in their frantic search for a mate. A well chosen segment. And we can see from the ads that it helps to be white and middle class too. Well, OK, you can have a Northern accent, but for God’s sake dress a bit smartly if you do. We don’t want anyone thinking you drive a fork lift truck or something.

6. LIE

“She was a natural blonde! [no] She wasn’t a natural blonde, but that’s what made him fond…” Taking these ads as a dramatisation of the selection process on the dating site, we can infer that you go through ticking preferences for “likes old movies”, “26–28” and so on. So what does it mean that our platform minstrel changes his preference from natural blonde to dyed blonde so quickly? Is it her sheepishness in admitting to it that he likes? A sense of power over her? Or are Match basically saying that really girls, men don’t care what colour your hair is as long as you play with it? I suggest we all sign up and find out.

If popstars… ate themselves

“I love you like a love song, baby!” sings Selena Gomez on her new single. Can she DO that? What happens when pop songs turn their similes and metaphors upon themselves? Recursive occlusion! Pop, as they say, will eat itself. Let’s have a look at some prominent examples.


Or I’m Needy (Need Me) which is the impression you’ll get listening to this. “I got a rhyme that I’ve had for some time – nobody wants to sing me!” whimpers Neil. “Could I make you smile if I came back in style?” And then, in an unusally explicit turn of phrase for the early 70s easy-listening scene: “Sing me! Sing me! Roll me around on your tongue!”

It’s all a not-very-well-disguised plea regarding his own career, which at the time wasn’t doing so well. In fact his planned comeback went so badly that he left New York City altogether and ended up in Stockport. My nan used to live in Stockport. I know it well. I can’t help but feel that Neil was travelling in the wrong direction.

By turning music upon itself does he magically capture the ineffable? No. There’s a very earnest massed choral section at the end “I! GOT! MUSIC! I! WILL! SHARE!” which’ll finish you off if you make it that far.


“I met this girl when I was ten years old,” begins Common. No wait, it’s OK! Because this song has a twist in the very last line. If you’ve been watching the BBC’s reruns of 1976 Top of the Pops episodes you’ll have seen the Brotherhood of Man using this gimmick not just once, but making a habit out of it, with songs divulging in the final moments that they’ve actually been about a dog or a baby or a cowbell or whatever. And a similar anvil crashes down at the end of I Used To Love H.E.R., as it turns out that the fun-loving soulful girl Common fell for, who turned her back on Afrocentricity and got into guns and crack, is hip hop itself. Imagine!

By turning music upon itself does he magically capture the ineffable? It’s not bad. The sincere appeals for hip hop to be more serious are amusing in retrospect, bearing in mind that Common’s most recent album was a frenzy of commercial-sounding dance-sex jams.


Queen of the extended metaphor, Little Boots casts her attraction as a track on endless loop. “My heart’s skipping and I don’t know why – I know every part,” she sighs, perfectly capturing the essence of one way in which love is like music: the immersion, the sense of losing yourself. And the stuck record she’s become has a beefy Moroder bassline bolstered by dramatic choral swoops, sounding so beautiful and exciting that it doesn’t seem like a hardship at all.

By turning music upon itself does she magically capture the ineffable? The success of any song about repetition rests on whether you actually want to repeat it or not. Which makes this one a big yes.


Kelis’s imagery is all over the place, on the other hand. Her melody was acapella, with no beat, yes, yes, but also it apparently had no tune. How does that work? “Before you, my whole life was acapella,” she warbles in the chorus. “Now our symphony’s the only song to sing!” No, Kelis. Symphonies aren’t songs. They’re long and complicated with lots of different sections and competing themes going off everywhere. And there isn’t usually a vocal bit. Unless you’re thinking of specific exceptions, but the lyrics aren’t, say, “Before you, my whole life was acapella. Now the soprano part from the fourth movement of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony‘s the only song’s to sing” are they? Maybe instead of ‘symphony’ she should have gone for ‘cantata’ or ‘oratorio’ or something. Or not confused things by going on about drums, bass and guitar in the middle eight.

By turning music upon itself does she magically capture the ineffable? Yes of course she does. I’m not a fool. I’m only making fun of the lyrics in an attempt to look clever on the internet. Acapella brilliantly gets across how transcendent and symphonic love can be.


And here we are in the present day, with one of the best songs of the year. This season’s unmistakable wob-wob bass hypnotises us on the off beats while we’re sprinkled with a careful seasoning of strings. Owing not a little to Little Boots — the feel and theme of Stuck on Repeat, the middle eight of Remedy — Selena sings of love that’s like every record she owns, of hitting repeat, of symphonies and destiny, of lyrical miracles. Her love’s like a song, so she sings a song to her love about the song of her love, and the love and the songs all multiply and fold in on themselves.

If you’re in any doubt how recursive this all is, check the video. Selena sings along to her own song on a karaoke stage, but she’s also all the girls in the cheesy on-screen backing videos. One of the backing video Selenas looks into a screen to see Selena in the club looking back at her. There’s a whole hall-of-mirrors infinite series of Selenas on screen at one point. It’s the sort of imagery metafictional literature’s been playing with for years, but as it’s a teen pop song by Justin Bieber’s girlfriend I don’t expect anyone’s really paying attention.

By turning music upon itself does she magically capture the ineffable? “There’s no way to describe what you do to me. You just do to me what you do,” Selena points out. And if that’s not ineffable then I don’t know what is.

Fact vs Fiction: William & Kate – The Movie

I love terrible fictionalisations of real-life events. I especially like the grey spaces in between what’s real and what isn’t. And as soon as I saw the trailer for this ridiculous film, quickly made to cash in on the royal wedding, I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed.

The blurb on the DVD box is very promising, offering us “a rare, tantilising [yes] glimpse behind a gilded curtain“. Perhaps slightly misleadingly, it also promises to show us “the ultimate of dream endings – a Royal Wedding watched by the entire world” and describes itself as “this definitive DVD memento of the big day“. Well I’m sure they ran it all by Legal, but I have to break it to you, there’s no wedding here, fictionalised or otherwise.

Having established a proudly tenacious relationship to the truth, let’s plough on, as we pan gracefully around some rooftops in a manner that put me in mind of the Emmerdale opening sequence.


The first thing we see is Kate in a jogging suit popping some Apple earbuds in. Wow – you can’t imagine Lady Jane Grey doing that! It’s a point extensively made elsewhere, but this daughter of multi-millionaires, educated at private school and at one of Britain’s most exclusive universities, is not a ‘woman of the people’. She might be very nice for all I know, but let’s not pretend that she’s ever sat distractedly through Family Fortunes worrying that she’s going to run out of money for bus fare to work in the last week before pay day.

This stupid idea of commonality is rammed home in the scene when Kate takes Wills home to meet her family (which, amazingly, includes Calvin from S Club Juniors). Will comes down to breakfast togged up in a neat jumper and trousers and they’re all sat in their dressing gowns. They leap up, offering to get dressed, practically tugging their forelocks, and Will smiles “No, this is much better!”  Horrific awkwardness. Which brings us to:


I imagine if I ever met Prince Charles I’d find him to be a distant, inarticulate, mumbling weirdo. In the film however, he’s portrayed by Ben Cross with great vitality and a firm but compassionate demeanour. It’s the biggest suspension of disbelief they ask of us. Though he does give us an outstanding example of a character telling another something they already know, when he says “I was married in a completely different time to you William. I had to marry someone whom my mother — the Queen — felt was appropriate.”

William on the other hand is, bravely, written and played as someone with no discernable personality at all, other than being vaguely likeable. “Who’s your fvourite artist?” asks Kate when they first meet. “Monet and  Cézanne!” says Will automatically. “I like the way they play with light.” Hmmm.

He mostly gets to raise a lot of amused eyebrows as the people around him supply comic relief. “I’m applying for the position as your wingman!” says his new best friend at university, seemingly unaware of the homoerotic subtext Top Gun’s given to that term. “If you’ve had too many girls in your room and need help, I’m your man!” On the other hand perhaps he knows exactly what he’s saying.


Well that may be the case. But mostly I’m fascinated by the fake newspapers and magazines seen in the film, including The Daily Press, The Crier, The Orb, The Weekly Telegram, and my favourite The Clarion. The Clarion are incredible: after seeing a headline about her on their front page, Kate runs outside and immediately sees the same story advertised on the side of a bus. If nothing else, this puts us in an exciting fictional world, one in which bus advertising space can be booked, and artwork designed, printed and distributed for it, in a matter of days or hours. (NB: this is practically science fiction.)


All the publicity around the film is keen to stress this. I’m going to presume they mean the idea that anyone, however humble, or especially if you’re humble, can win the heart of a royal.

In fairy tales, the woodcutters and downtrodden village girls of middle Europe generally win the love of their prince or princess through their wit, their tenaciousness, their purity, or their ability to understand the unspoken rules of a magical deal. How does Kate enchant Will in the film? There’s a scene in which he laments that his whole life’s been planned out for him, and Kate coaxes him to imagine how things could be if he did whatever he wanted. But they’re still just mates at that point and that’s not when he falls for her.

No, the exact moment when Will first takes notice of Kate is pinpointed very clearly. The university gang are putting on a fashion show; she’s on the catwalk and he’s in the audience. “Unwrap the gift, Miss Middleton!” leers the compère, and Kate flings off a coat to reveal a wobbly cleavage crammed into not very much fabric. We cut to Wills, eyes popping out of his head. “She’s hot!” he exclaims. And that’s it. That’s when he starts thinking of her as more than a friend. There’s your fairytale, girls. Show him your tits. Sorry if you haven’t got any.


What could be more modern than sex before marriage? When they finally get together, via a series of increasingly ridiculous smouldering looks, they – SPOILER – do it! We don’t see the rutting itself, thankfully, but there’s a post-coital scene of Kate running her fingernails through the hairs on Will’s chest. And a montage of them sneaking in and out of each other’s bedrooms. With hilarious consequences, obviously.

Another ‘modern’ touch is the idea of the woman in a relationship standing up for herself (IMAGINE!), and when the couple briefly break up we see Kate telling Wills she’s fed up of always being the one who drops whatever she’s doing and comes running whenever he‘s free. They finally reconcile in the climactic scene in which Wills turns up at her rowing training; he rips off his jacket and is on the point of swimming across the river to reunite with her. That would have been a nice ending, by any romantic standard. But no. She stops him, and she plunges into the icy water to go and meet him. That’s the last scene before they get wordlessly engaged in front of a fabulously naff Kenyan diorama, folks, so it’s important. And effectively it says that Kate’s accepted Will’s mastery in the relationship, will sacrifice herself to save him embarrassment, and gives up on any claim to independence.

Modern my arse.

EastEnders: A Warning from History

We’re never quite sure whether the characters in EastEnders have access to the same media as us. We know they don’t have Facebook, they have a made-up version called MatesGate instead. Oh how I look forward to the MatesGate-based storylines.

And I’m pretty sure they don’t have Twitter, or the last few weeks would have been all about Heather stalking George Michael once he started tweeting. Instead we had her fooled by a George-like profile on her dating site. But the fictional dating site looks great too, with its ‘Drool’ button to press if you like someone. We heard that Heather had used the ‘Drool’ button over 230 times.

They do have Doctor Who to watch in Albert Square, we’ve seen it with our own eyes. Of course we’ve also seen characters in Doctor Who watching EastEnders. And bearing in mind the many actors who’ve appeared prominently in both shows, the whole issue’s a metafictional black hole.

But do they have Lost? Do they? If so, Charlie has a message:

The Secret Diary of Rose Tyler’s Adventures In The Sex Industry

This week it’s the final episode of Secret Diary Of A Call Girl. At its best it’s been fresh, funny, and happily non-judgmental about the hardest-working profession in the world. The scripts have been uneven but Billie Piper’s carried it all along with her natural charms. And when I say her natural charms, I’m not even talking about her norks. I like Billie a lot, and I think her relaxed charisma’s saved what might otherwise have been a tacky, forgettable series.

But as a nerd that’s not my main concern. Billie came to this show from Doctor Who, and, as things turned out, so did a lot of her co-stars. So if you have a tendency to get your fictional worlds mixed up (hello!) that’s a sort of geek catnip.

When Rose Tyler eventually returned to Who, she’d been crossing parallel worlds in a lovelorn quest to find the Doctor again. So it’s easy* to imagine that Hannah/Belle from Call Girl is Rose, living through alternate lives with the people she had, might and would have met in the Whoniverse.

I give you then, in rough ascending order of the characters’ importance in the worlds of Doctor Who, those crossover shags in full:

8. D.I. McMillan from Planet of the Dead (Adam James) – Episode 2.3

How’s the sex? Guilty. His visits to Belle are responsible for the break-up of his marriage. While noshing on his cock, Belle starts hallucinating that his wife’s in the room – awkward.

How does it fit in with Who? He’s the policeman responsible for chasing down the Doctor’s cat burglar chum Lady Christina, who’s always one step ahead of him. So it’s only natural he’d gravitate to original companion Rose. And be too dim to realise who she is.

7. Captain Reynolds from Tooth and Claw (Jamie Sives) – Episode 1.2

How’s the sex? It’s an exhibitionist hook-up at a sex party, which develops into a threesome.

How does it fit in with Who? The first time he met Rose, he famously asked the Doctor to “explain the nakedness of this girl!” Then, after getting told off by Queen Victoria for trying too hard socially, he got torn to shreds by a werewolf. No surprise that in this version of existence he’s a bit more free and easy.

6. Plantagenet from Frontios/Mr. Harding from The Sarah Jane Adventures: Mona Lisa’s Revenge (Jeff Rawle) – Episode 2.4

How’s the sex? Abortive. Already a bit put off by his 70s pimp gear, Belle runs off when she starts thinking about her new boyfriend instead. “You’re a prostitute for God’s sake!” he shouts, memorably.

How does it fit in with Who? It depends whether you see Belle’s client as the sickly head of a human colony in the distant future, or the distant admirer of a human head in the Louvre. Either way, this encounter doesn’t do anyone any favours so it’s best brushed over.

5.  Captain Jack Harkness from Torchwood: Captain Jack Harkness (Matt Rippy) – Episode 3.1

How’s the sex? She looks like she’s really getting into it. Playful, passionate and intimate. She grabs his bum a lot.

How does it fit in with Who? *FANWANK ALERT* This is the original 1940s Captain Jack whose identity John Barrowman’s Captain Jack stole after his death, and later time-travelled to visit in 1941 for a dancehall snog. (Yes, I know. Pay attention.)

Now when Barrowman’s Captain Jack and Rose travelled together in the TARDIS they were supposedly on the brink of falling in love, but when re-united in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End they barely had two words for one another. It’s odd, considering Rose was responsible for making Jack immortal, and he apparently mooned around the Powell Estate watching her grow up in the 00s after their separation. We just have to assume they’d both got it out of their systems before the reunion: Barrowman with Ianto and Rose with this, the next best thing. NICE BOTTOM.

4. Doctor Moon from Silence In The Library/Forest of the Dead (Colin Salmon) – Episode 1.8

How’s the sex? Powerful. He’s the multi-millionaire who’s so impressed with Belle’s ‘class’ that he tries to take her to ‘the next level’ as a ‘courtesan’.

How does it fit in with Who? Appropriate that the man who’ll become, quite literally, Best Friends Forever with another important woman in the Doctor’s life after her death should have a pop at Rose too. And that it should all turn out to be a bit of a pipe dream.

3. PC Andy from Torchwood (Tom Price) – Episode 3.3

How does it fit in with Who? We’re onto recurring characters now, and cult hero PC Andy has had one of the best character progressions in Torchwood, going from occasional comedy relief to full-on people’s hero.

How’s the sex? On the other hand this is one of the most unwholesome scenes in TV history, in which a dopey Welshman is shown to be incapable of sex unless he and the girl both baa like a sheep throughout. Lamentable.

2. Mr. Chandra from The Sarah Jane Adventures (Ace Bhatti) – Episodes 1.3, 1.5 & 2.8

How’s the sex? We see a fair bit of Haresh Chandra, as he’s Belle’s favourite client. And when I say we see a fair bit, I’m talking about a blowjob, a session up against a full-length window, a threesome, and one of the most vigorous and vivid handjobs I’ve ever seen on TV.

How does it fit in with Who? This is the closest Rose has got to the Doctor yet – he’s Clyde’s headmaster, Rani’s dad, and her friend Sarah Jane’s neighbour. And of all the characters in this list, it’s genuinely easy to believe that he’s the same guy, slipping away from Gita and his responsibilities for regular stress-relief sessions and calling himself Ashok. Sexy.

1. The 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) – Episode 1.6

How’s the sex? Fortunately for the delicate sensibilities of fanboys and fangirls everywhere, it’s off-screen sex. Matt’s character’s not a client, just a nice guy who meets Belle in the shop where he works and never finds out what she does for a living. We just get to see his “morning nuzzle”.

How does it fit in with Who? It’s the Doctor. Job done. I just suggest we hold this thought in the eventuality that the line “I work in a shop now” comes up in the next season of Who.

*OK, this stuff is only easy to imagine if you’re an addled old fool like me. But consider this: in the final series, Billie visits New York, and how does she advertise her services there? ‘Call Now For A Classic English Rose’

But they didn’t answer my question!

With some spoilers for the endings of Lost, Cube and The Prisoner, but also, sort of, no spoilers at all.

I like ambiguous endings. I like getting the chance to think over what I’ve seen and come up with my own interpretation. A lot of people don’t. Sometimes they’ve got a point: when a plot’s supposed to make sense but fails because it’s too messy, complicated or badly thought-out, for instance. But a lot of plots aren’t supposed to make sense, not exactly. Sometimes authors credit us with the intelligence to enjoy what we’ve just seen on a different level: thematic, allegorical or whatever. And man does it make a lot of people angry.

And I am telling you, I'm not going

I felt sorry for people who hadn’t seen Lost in years but tuned in for the final episode in order to see all their questions answered. The most popular questions — what is the island? why are they all there? what’s that smoke monster? will they ever get home? what about that polar bear? — had already been answered, at least a year previously, and the series finale concentrated on tying up the fates of the remaining characters while resolving the mystery of the ‘sideways world’ that had been introduced in the final season.

But a lot of people found the answers to the big questions unsatisfying, because they were woolly. The island was real, but its nature was pure fairytale: a magic glowing light in a cave made everything we’d seen possible, an ancient evil was bound to the island by certain complicated rules of engagement, a saintly figure had been influencing the characters’ lives and observing them from a hidden lighthouse full of scrying mirrors…

For people looking for concrete, scientific explanations, “the island was magic so there” was hard to accept. But I find it satisfying, because it allowed (in retrospect!) for the show’s central big idea — could you be a better person, if you lost all your baggage and started again? — to be played out in an arena that really did work as an allegorical one.

You can see why a show that deliberately spent years setting up and resolving a series of insanely complicated, interlinked plots and questions might be expected to cater to its more literal-minded fans at the end. On the other hand, the classic The Prisoner ran for less than six months in the late 60s and still attracted similar levels of feverish outrage with its baffling last episode.

From my homie, to my only.

Patrick McGoohan was even less concerned than Lost creators Lindelof & Cuse with answering viewers’ questions, and final episode Fall Out is an onslaught of imagery, ideas and insanity that deliberately defies literal explanation. Does Number 6 get home from his allegorical arena? Well he appears to, but just like Jack and Kate in Lost, he’d already been back at least once only to find that his true home was The Village.

But unlike in Lost, the very final moments on the doorstep feature a moment — just a sound cue, really (I AM TRYING NOT TO BE TOO SPOILERY), — which makes it especially clear that Number 6’s freedom or imprisonment is entirely symbolic, and nothing we’ve seen in the last seventeen episodes should be treated as though it ‘really happened’. In the fictional sense of things really having happened, of course. The big questions turn out to be the ones about the role of the individual in an oppressive society, and the prisons we make for ourselves, rather than anything mundane about what the butler was up to or whether Alexis Kanner would have slept with us.

Now if TV and film viewers find allegorical conclusions hard to swallow, especially if, as in The Prisoner, it’s sprung on them as a bit of a surprise at the end, wouldn’t the ideal solution be a show or film in which the whole point throughout is that there isn’t going to be a literal explanation? And I’m not talking about the arthouse, I’m talking about something that might appeal to a popular audience.

The square root of 69 is 8-something?

Which brings us to Cube, a 1997 Canadian horror film which didn’t do too badly commercially even though it’s an unapologetic existential parable. The basic premise is the same as Lost’s and The Prisoner’s: characters awake somewhere strange and new with its own set of devious rules, and divorced from their previous lives they face the best and worst of their own natures.

But as the characters negotiate the deadly traps in the Cube, it becomes very clear that they’re in a fictional space. Someone may know someone who, say, designed the Cube’s door handles, but no-one planned the whole thing and no-one’s in overall control of it: this huge impossible monolith is just a metaphor for the cruelly faceless processes we’re all subjected to in the world. Kafka’s often cited in positive reviews of the film.

So it makes me happy that a film so blatantly abstract and symbolic should have found success, if only modestly. OBVIOUSLY there are sequels which proceed to demystify it and make things literal, to the point where the final film starts with two men in a room pushing buttons to operate the Cube’s traps and ends with an almighty retcon. But the original film stands for me as the best example yet of a piece of mainstream entertainment that tells its audience that sometimes, things don’t have to have a perfectly literal explanation.

Quantum Archaeology

“Life insurance?” “I don’t need any!” says Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, which the BBC thoughtfully put on just after blowing the London Eye to smithereens in a mushroom cloud of fireworks for a New Year’s treat. I like the two Tomb Raider films; there’s no point making a film based on video games unless you’re going to — accurately and/or excitingly — recreate the sorts of scenarios you go through in the games, and they certainly manage that. But in Lara’s smug assurance that she can survive anything, she puts her finger on the one thing that’s missing.

Another night on the tiles

When you play Tomb Raider, your overwhelming experience is of dying, over and over again. That impossible series of jumps that has you plummeting to a spiky death at every new point, those flooded tunnels that gently and continually drown you until you find the exit, that stony monster whose weak point is so hard to find and target.

The closest thing in fiction to the feeling that I’m describing is in 90s SF novel Quarantine by Greg Egan, in which the lead character finds a way to choose from multiple quantum states (OR SOMETHING, IT’S QUITE TECHNICAL) so that he can — for instance — make sure he ends up being the version of himself, out of all possible realities, who finds a million-to-one lock combination or has the good luck for all the guards to be looking the other way.

And that’s the version of Lara we see in the movies, the one who, implausibly, survives every trap and dodges every bullet the first time around. Like a perfect YouTube walkthrough, but without the exhausting months of exploration and practice that go into them. There’s a bit in Quarantine where you get brilliantly wrongfooted, and find yourself following a luckless version of the main character in a universe that doesn’t get chosen as the final reality. It’s dizzying. And that’s the sort of video game film adaptation I’d really like to see. With the main character dying over and over again in cruelly inventive ways, then coming back to life a few seconds earlier for another go. I haven’t seen the film of Prince of Persia, though its game mechanics of rewinding time in the sticky spots would lend itself to this idea perfectly, because frankly it looks shit. So if someone could sort out something decent along these lines this year that would be great, cheers.