Don’t worry about Duchovny not being around. Worry about him still being around!
Starring: Gillian Anderson, Robert Patrick, David Duchovny occasionally
Reviewer: Dave Golder
After seven years of increasingly complex and convoluted on-going subplots The X-Files was beginning to seriously talk out of it arcs. But, the all-powerful Chris Carter insists, season seven was intended – even as it was being made – to be the final curtain. Okay, so a casual viewer may not have noticed much of a sense of “closure” in the open-ended finale, but the show’s producers went on record to assure us that, if we’d been paying close enough attention over the previous couple of seasons, we’d have seen the conclusion to a number of plot strands.
Then at the eleventh hour Fox decided to apply the defibrillating pads to the show once again, commissioning an eighth season. Dochovny, however, only agreed to appear in a handful of episodes, so a new partner for Scully was required. He comes in the form of Robert Patrick as the more earthy, no-nonsense, “man’s man” Agent John Dogget.
Can the show survive without Duchovny?
Well, if it was just down to the quality of his replacement, the answer would be a resounding YES! Patrick is superb, injecting a sense of pragmatism and good old-fashioned plain-speaking in to the show which we didn’t realise was missing until we got it. He’s even provoking a more realistic performance from Anderson, and Scully seems more alive, more invigorated and more downright human than we’ve ever seen her.
Unfortunately, it’s not just down to Patrick. It’s down to the writing and the new format, and here Carter and Co have come a cropper. While they had the perfect opportunity to give the show a complete makeover, with a new dynamic, a new direction and a new energy, instead they’ve fallen into a number of rather too obvious dramatic traps.
Trap one: Scully is now the believer while Dogget is the sceptic. Okay, so it’s fun having Scully now regarded as the crank, but going back to square one with a character who refuses to believe aliens exist even when they walk up and down in front of him going “bleep, bleep” is a dynamic that’s all too familiar (and all too often lampooned). It takes the series back to square one rather than launching it off into new and unknown territories.
Trap two: the writers seem to have suddenly become eco-friendly and are recycling plots with gusto. After the two-part opener which, by necessity, is bogged down by continuity and setting up the new team, we get a string of episodes which all seem like variations or mix and match versions of X-Files cases we’ve seen before. You can understand the reasoning; there’s a new character on board, so to let the audience get used to him, give ’em some good, old-fashioned X-Files cases, something they’ll be familiar with. Sound in theory. Problem is, when you get an episode like “Roadrunner” with its parasitic worm working its way up Scully’s back, you’re merely reminded of the first season’s “Ice” and how much better that was. Stand-alone, back to basics episodes are to be encouraged after too many years of tedious continuity-clogged seasons; it’d just be nice if they were a little more original.
There are the odd flashes of inspiration, though notably, as in the previous couple of seasons, the series is still at its best when it starts to play around with its format. While the chilling Green Mile meets Groundhog Day hybrid of “Redrum” is no “Post Modern Prometheus” it does at least prove that these mould-breaking stories don’t exclusively have to be light-hearted. But the underlying problem remains; too many by-the-numbers X-Files investigations.
Trap Three: Mulder is still around. Thankfully the whole season hasn’t been turned into a “search for Fox”, but the two-part opener leaves viewers – if not the characters – in no doubt that Mulder is still alive. This, coupled with his ridiculous, spinning-into-the-distance, Vertigo-style cameo in the opening credits (you half expect the caption to read “Mulder Is Out There!”), gives Duchovny too much of a lingering presence on the show, reinforcing prejudices against Patrick as some kind of “imposter”.
All of which is a shame, because Patrick is superb in a very difficult role. He has brought a new dynamism to The X-Files , a touch of old-skool, square-jawed heroics that breathes some life into a franchise which has become too fond of navel gazing. The show’s production values and direction are as slick and evocative as ever, and it can still deliver a better spine-chilling shock than many a modern horror movie. But there’s no denying that the scripts – for the first part of the season at least – suffer severely from UFO overdose – Usual Fortean Offal.