Review: The X-Files 10×1 (US: Fox; UK: Channel 5)

A new truth is out there

In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, Fox
In the UK: Acquired by Channel 5. Starts early February

Behold! Feast your eyes! Do you know what this is?

The Pharos Project 2 #1

Well, firstly, it’s epic testament to how sh*t I was at Aldus Pagemaker 4.0, 22 years ago when I was still at university. Did you know there’s a difference between black & white and greyscale? I didn’t, apparently.

But secondly, you are looking at what is the very first magazine in the UK to contain an article about The X-Files. Well, the second magazine to be exact, but it was the first article written by someone who’d actually seen it. It was certainly the first magazine to have one Fox Mulder and one Dr Dana Scully on its cover.

See, I’d recently read that TV Zone, which contained an article about The X-Files culled from a press release, saying how good it was. Intrigued and since I had Cambridge Cable (which became NTL which became Virgin Media), which carried that new fangled Sky 1 and therefore The X-Files, I decided to watch it. I was sufficiently impressed by the episode, Squeeze, to decide to dedicate the cover of the university TV society magazine I edited to The X-Files.

Before you knew it, I was publishing the UK’s very first X-Files (and Baylon 5) fanzine. Probably the only one, too. And learning about greyscale and even colour printing at the same time. And thus my career in TV-magazine publishing was born.

We did very well for ourselves, once BBC2 decided to show The X-Files and it became a national phenomenon. In fact, we lasted a good few issues.

The Pharos Project 2 #2The Pharos Project 2 #3

The Pharos Project 2 #5But to fill our pages, we came up with all sorts of exciting wheezes. We reviewed the episodes. In fact, we came up with the hugely novel and mind-blowing idea of importing NTSC videos of the episodes as they aired in the US, converting them to PAL, and then watching them so we could preview the episodes before they aired in the UK and tell people if they were any good. Can you imagine the cunning?

How we thrilled as we watched FBI agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigate the supernatural, particularly aliens who liked to abduct people, especially Mulder’s sister. How we – or rather I – tried desperately to prove that Mulder and Scully were ‘a thing’ in ‘The X-Files romance guide’, while my partner in crime, Jonathan Templar, poo pooed the evidence right in front of his eyes. I wanted to believe… he didn’t. How silly did he feel eventually, hey?

But all good things had to come to an end. In particular, we discovered, as young people often do, that time is not infinite and neither is energy, and if you’re working two jobs to make ends meet, it’s hard to publish a magazine as well. Particularly one that involves having to talk to that beardy bloke in Forbidden Planet who likes to have sex with teenage girls because they ‘have no frame of reference’.


Also, we went off The X-Files, which somewhat ruined the whole magazine. I can’t remember the exact point we fell out of love with the show. Was it the first time or the second time it turned out that the previous definitive explanation for Mulder’s sister’s abduction was an elaborate government hoax? Maybe it was the third time. Perhaps it was when David Duchovny decided to leave. I can’t even remember seeing those Doggett (Robert Patrick) episodes, let alone the ones with Annabeth Gish when she replaced Anderson. I think the last one I saw was with Scully staring at a spaceship underwater off the coast of Africa.

Or perhaps it was just because The X-Files was of its time. It fit the zeitgeist of the early to mid-90s nicely, with government conspiracies, UFOs, a man and a woman working perfectly happily and largely platonically together, mutually respectful of each other’s skills (can you imagine that?). And then the late 90s hit and suddenly all those conspiracies seemed just a little bit passé.

Now, of course, conspiracy theories are back in vogue. Fox News used to have Glenn Beck literally drawing on blackboards to illustrate how the world is run by any number of secret conspiracies.

He may be gone, but Fox News carries on his work and with Edward Snowden revealing that Big Brother really is watching us all, some conspiracies don’t look quite as unlikely as they used to.

And so it is, into this age of the Internet and smartphones and stealth drones above us, Fox has given us back The X-Files in a new series in which The Truth Is Out There, We Want To Believe, and it really all could be a case for Mulder and Scully. If only they were still together. And working for the FBI.

And even if I can’t remember exactly why I stopped watching it the first time round, it did remind me of at least one reason: FFS, Chris Carter. Would you just quit it with “That thing we know definitively was true? That we actually saw happen? That was just an elaborate government plan. This is the real truth.”

Is it any good?
Maybe it’s my age, but I just can’t suspend my disbelief any more, as the veritable bobbins factory that is The X-Files churns out yet more conspiracies that make literally no sense, not even the slightest, at all.

The basic premise of the first episode is that Scully’s gone off to be a doctor, helping kids with no ears. Really. That’s what she does. Disbelief already starting to creep in? I’ve got bad news for you then…

Meanwhile, Mulder’s off doing something outside the FBI. Investigating UFOs, I think, because The X-Files department has been shut for 14 years. I don’t know how he affords it, though.

Then a conservative TV conspiracy theorist (Community‘s Joel McHale) gets hold of them via their former boss, Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), and (re)introduces them to an abductee Mulder interviewed when she was just a girl, and who claims it wasn’t aliens but actually human beings who kidnapped her. And actually, everything that Mulder and Scully thought they knew about aliens was all a lie and that actually it’s governments trying to fake people.

Now, as you can imagine, I watched an awful lot of The X-Files very closely the first time round and I saw a shed-load of aliens. Shed-loads. The show turning round now and saying “Aha! It was the government the whole time!” is just silly. It’s yet another magic reset button. It might just be that it’s all a trick being perpetrated on the two of them, which is clever, but even if it is, the alacrity with which Mulder and Scully go for it is just plain daft.

But at a deeper level, it reminds me very much of Adam Curtis’s theory about Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine.

The X-Files may be messing with our concept of reality so much, we want to believe but we literally have no idea what to believe in any more because everything is equally really and unreal. In a sense, the show is once again perfect for our age. None of its alien conspiracies hold muster any more, whereas all our conspiracies now are about the government trying to get us, so why not make itself relevant again simply by telling us black is white, up is down, and that everything we saw before we didn’t see at all? Now watch the pretty pictures.

Doublethink straight out of Orwell that. How perfect. You won’t wonder why no one talks about Doggett and Reyes – they’ve been airbrushed out of history, comrade, and possibly never existed anywhere but your imagination. If the Lone Gunmen or even Deep Throat turn up, back from the dead, you won’t be slightly surprised, because anything’s possible when nothing is real.

So in terms of plot, it’s egregiously insane. You’ll hear the conspiracy involving the rewriting of reality and governments with anti-gravity, invisibility technology losing wars in Iraq because they don’t dare deploy it in case anyone finds out about it. You’ll hear the retconning. You’ll laugh. And then you’ll go along with it – either because you’re so used to The X-Files doing things like this or because real-world politics has now warped your brain into accepting it all. Or maybe it was Glenn Beck.

In terms of characters, it’s good to see Mulder and Scully again. It’s good, in particular, to see Gillian Anderson actually putting some emotion in a scene again, after years of pretending to be a zen master in the likes of The Fall and Hannibal. Duchovny doesn’t get as many funny lines as he used to and Mulder/he are clearly tired now, but he’s still a very watchable presence. Pileggi’s shown up once and I’m sure there’ll be some more cameos from the old series. The effects have definitely improved, too.

But watching it, even if it’s hard to remember when and why I stopped watching, it’s easy to remember why it was so easy to move on – because if every ‘truth’ ends up getting rewritten with another ‘truth’, there’s no final answer to anything and one ‘truth’ is good as ‘another’. So why keep looking for new ones, whether that’s back in the 90s in season six or in a revival 15 years later for season 10, if the one you remember was the one you like the best?

  • Mark Carroll

    It'll probably be the weekend before we see the new one but, yeah, there definitely used to be aliens, and the occasional impressive spaceship too. If we include the big one from Fight the Future then that was … well, clearly not for the USAF.

    I have a suspicion that we were in Cambridge watching old Doctor Who, X-Files, and Babylon 5 on NTSC videotapes from the US, with different groups of people in different rooms at a fairly similar time. I suppose that doesn't make the world very small though.

  • tassiekev .

    Good piece on misdirection & propaganda you may enjoy:

    Reading about your adventures with Aldous PM reminded me of my good old days in the mid 80's – bought one of the first Apple Macs (Fat Mac 512k) & Laserwriter combos in Australia at the time. For a mere $25k (hate to think how much that would be now) we also got a massive 20MB [not GB] hard drive and a copy of PM 1.2. The Amstrad User and sundry other computer-related mags & books followed – with proper stitching by the way, no side staples :). In retrospect, I would have been better off financially buying a couple of houses but wouldn't have had the fun.

  • tassiekev .

    Just watched the first one, now I don't know what/who to believe. Ol' Smokin' Man doesn't look too healthy, could probably do with a shot of alien DNA.

  • bob

    I liked that the original credit sequence was used… That's pretty much it.

  • GYAD

    Hahaha. Adam Curtis is so full of it. I love him and his work is brilliant but he does talk total rubbish. He's so desperate to understand the world that he imposes imaginary conspiracies on events which are better understood as the result of base human desires, an information saturated world and an exhausted culture.

    I seem to remember that this was why I stopped watching X-Files way back when. At a certain point the conspiracy has to become so convoluted that it simply stops making sense and the skepticism becomes silly after the 9 millionth alien.

  • That's quite a small world. And you never know. If you went to any of Jackie Mellor's telefantasy screenings at Christ's or Graham Dann's Then The Pen Doctor Who showings, we were probably in the same room together!

  • Kudos on the Mac purchase. I didn't have one until the mid-90s. I think it was a Performa or something. If you still have it, you might be able to sell it and buy a house with it!

  • That was a nice touch

  • He looks quite healthy for someone who supposedly got hit by a missile at the end of the final season (I didn't see that, obviously)

  • I love him. Even when he does talk total rubbish, there's always some fascinating new way at looking at things in his everything he does. I'm not convinced that Russian propaganda is performance art (any more than I was convinced by the parallels between the Neocons and al Qaeda), but the paths he takes are fascinating

  • The second episode is a lot better, since it isn't by Chris Carter and it has minimal aspects to do with the Conspiracy. Felt like old school X-Files, which shouldn't be too surprising since it's by James Wong, and I gather that the middle episodes at least are supposed to be almost standalone in that regard

  • JustStark

    I find it entertaining to watch his stuff just to marvel at the breathtaking audacity of the leaps he makes, saying things with absolutely no logical connection in the most calm, of-course-don't-you-see-this-follows voice.

    I assume you've seen The Loving Trap?

    'And as a result, Thabo Mbeki was swept to power at the next general election.'

  • GYAD

    Oh, absolutely. I hugely enjoy his work…it's just that the longer you think about things afterwards, the less sense they make.

    (I'd argue the Russian propaganda follows the historical trend of Russian spycraft, in which spies and money are distributed everywhere until it's impossible to tell if anyone is genuine, a traitor, a double agent or something even more complex; you see it in the 2nd Chechen War for instance, where half of the Chechen resistance was on the Russian payroll and some Chechen terrorists turned out to be Russians in disguise).

  • JustStark

    until it's impossible to tell if anyone is genuine, a traitor, a double agent or something even more complex

    'One asks oneself, with the benefit of hindsight, was Clifftops the ideal
    place to send someone with a tendency to fling themselves from a great
    height to a watery grave? Of course at the time one didn't realise it
    was a tendency…'

  • Mark Carroll

    Yup, plenty of Then The Pen showings! A small world indeed then. I still remember when Terrance Dicks came to talk to us; I missed Caroline John's visit.

  • Mark Carroll

    Yeah, it didn't look very survivable, and he wasn't exactly looking sprightly shortly beforehand anyway!

  • Mark Carroll

    (Talking to my wife, it turns out that she made it to at least a couple of showings too.)

  • A bit after my time then. I left uni in 1994, when they were still all watching a blank TV set while the muffled audio of missing William Hartnell episodes played and Graham added narration to explain what was going on. Seems things improved a bit after that – I'd have loved to have seen Caroline John.

  • Mark Carroll

    Ha ha, yes, I heard tales of these “showings” and wasn't yet enticed. Things indeed improved, apart from how one of the typical rooms had bookings noted in books at opposite ends of the college so double-bookings were common! (I matriculated in 1993.)

  • Ah, room bookings. Our society basically went kaput when the guy at Christ's who was in charge of booking the room in Z basement (IIRC) decided he couldn't be bothered any more, so our ambitious schedule of showings went to zero overnight. Oh well

  • JustStark

    So I watched it, and I think what bothered me most was the fact that it's about 99.9% exposition. Seriously. Nothing happens. Nothing. And I get that they have to fill in on fourteen years gone but argh still.

    (Oh no, just remembered, one thing happens, but it happens in the last thirty seconds and manages the impress feat of both — literally — coming out of the blue, and also being utterly predictable.)

    Nice to see Nina out of the gulag though.

    And anyway the thing that bothered me second-most was that apparently Mulder and Scully have 'a child' together, and I put 'a child' in quotation marks because that's how they refer to the poor thing, seeing as apparently they are the kind of parents who, even when talking to each other with no one else around, don't refer to their child by name.

    Now I am fairly sure they didn't have a child during any of the series that I saw, or the movie, so the kid can be at most, what, twelve? So where is it? Who's taking care of this pre-teen while its father and mother chase off around the country following someone who I'm pretty sure is actually Joel McHale's character from Community because let's face it if Jeff got a lucky break and found himself a lucrative internet TV business that is exactly what he'd be like?

    Only explanation I can think of is that the kid lives with Scully and her new man who is incredibly understanding about facilitating her dashing off with her ex and also never mentioning him, or calling him, or in any other way giving any hint of his existence.
    Either that or it was taken by social services because its parents are both, in their own ways, clearly crackers and utterly unsuitable parents. Hm. On second thoughts, that's obviously it.

  • No. Nothing really happens. People put up lots of explanations for things that have happened instead.

    IIRC (and I may not), Mulder and Scully do have the kid together during the series. But it's during the time when Mulder bogs off somewhere, Scully gets pregnant, everyone wondered who the dad was, then surprise, surprise, up cameos David Duchovny to reveal it was Mulder and he and Scully have their first proper snog. Yes, they do love each other!

    I only read about that, though, so what happens to the kid afterwards I don't know, but I get the impression from this series that he's put up for adoption. Scully spends a lot of time feeling sad about that.

    Mulder and Scully are, of course, the kind of parents who also refer to each other by their surnames. I remember 'take five shots if Scully ever calls Mulder “Fox”' was in our drinking game.

  • Andy Butcher

    William is the name of 'the child'.

    Scully reveals that she is pregnant (despite having been diagnosed as being infertile in the wake of her abduction) at the end of the finale of Season 7. She gives birth at the end of the finale of Season 8. Towards the end of Season 9 she gives him up for adoption anonymously, in order to keep him safe.

    Exactly whether or not Mulder is the biological father is never made entirely clear. There are a series of flashbacks at some point, during which Mulder agrees to donate sperm for Scully's attempt to get pregnant, but that attempt apparently fails. Then out of the blue she's preggers, just as Mulder gets abducted.

    The kid was telekinetic at one point, but then gets injected with something by Krycek, which may have taken away or suppressed his 'powers'.

    There are all kinds of hints and suggestions that William might be an alien hybrid of some kind, or might be the second coming, or something else. As ever in the X-Files, no real answers. 😉

  • Mark Carroll

    Thanks, I'd forgotten about that being injected by something!

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