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?
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.
But 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?