VIDEO
The X-Files
Season Eight Box Set

Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and Robert Patrick
20th Century Fox
RRP 79.99
22308C
Certificate: 15
Available now


Scully is pregnant, despite having supposedly been rendered barren. Mulder has been abducted. Special Agent John Doggett is assigned to the X-Files to help track Mulder down...

This is the season in which David Duchovny made his escape from The X-Files, reducing his number of appearances to 12 out of the 21 episodes before finally resigning from the show altogether. It is a bit annoying that the first six of these appearances are little more than bit parts or practically non-speaking roles, which is a waste not only of the actor's talent but also of the cost of hiring him.

However, although this season is the weakest since Season Four, the reason for that is not, I feel, the lack of Mulder.

Indeed, his absence provides opportunities for some interesting new character developments. Scully (Gillian Anderson), having witnessed so many bizarre incidents over the last seven years, actually becomes the believer of the team, with her new partner Doggett (Robert Patrick) as the no-nonsense sceptic. This is not so out of character as it might at first appear. In the third episode, Patience, Scully explains that she owes it to Mulder to try and fill his shoes, and her theories usually have some scientific basis to them. In any case, the only reason that Scully continued to play the sceptic for so many years was because Mulder himself asked her to (in the movie), in order to balance his undisciplined leaps of logic.

There is none of the trademark X-Files sexual tension between Scully and Doggett, except perhaps a little jealousy on the part of Doggett following Mulder's return. But then, the Mulder/Scully "will they, won't they?" chemistry had proven notoriously difficult to sustain over seven years, because in real life such an attraction would either have cooled off or been consummated by now. On that note, the ambiguity of Mulder and Scully's relationship is potentially resolved at the end of this season.

New character dynamics also include some extreme hostility between Mulder and Doggett. There's also a lot of mixing and matching of cast members - for instance, Via Negativa brings Doggett and Assistant Director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) to the fore, while Vienen is a Doggett and Mulder episode. It's quite exciting not knowing who will be the major players in each successive episode. This factor comes to the fore during the gradual integration into the show of Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), whose theories make even Mulder sceptical (in Empedocles)! The pairing of Doggett and Reyes at the very end of the season offered a potential new lease of life for the show, although we now know that this was to be short-lived, as Season Eight is now confirmed as the penultimate series of The X-Files.

It must be said that this season does not get off to a good start. Paranormal elements are few and far between in the opening two-parter Within and Without, the plot of which grinds virtually to a standstill in favour of extended depictions of Scully's misery.

None of the subsequent episodes are toe-curlingly bad, though several, including Invocation, Via Negativa, Salvage and Badlaa, are either muddled or just not very interesting. Via Negativa, despite some weird David Lynch style dream sequences, is marred by a naff ending. Salvage, which features a man infected by a metallic "virus", fails to explain how this man manages not to contaminate anybody else. The powers of the Indian mystic in Badlaa don't really speak to any of society's - or therefore the audience's - innate fears.

By contrast, the claustrophobic Medusa makes effective use of creepy subway tunnels and a biological horror similar to that of the Season One episode Darkness Falls. Both Per Manum and the concluding two-parter Essence/Existence play upon Scully's fear of bearing an alien child, and thus every parent's fear of birth defects as well as wider concerns about genetic engineering.

Considering the weakness of the opening two-parter, it is remarkable that the rest of this season's "mythology" episodes, including the two-part This is Not Happening/DeadAlive, its follow-up Three Words and the spectacular Vienen, are as strong as they are. Essence and Existence, despite their rather tacky allusions to the Nativity, represent what is probably the most diligently pre-planned season finale in the show's entire history, the culmination of plot developments from throughout the previous year.

Other highlights include the fairly silly but nevertheless scary and exciting Roadrunners. Later on, Redrum is an effective homage to Memento, with a Twilight Zone-style "moral" at the end. The third to last episode, Alone, brings some much needed light relief, in the shape of Leila Harrison (Jolie Jenkins). This enthusiastic young agent, all too eager to follow in the footsteps of Agent Scully (who is away on maternity leave), makes a splendid foil for the deadpan Doggett.

With the notable exception of Alone, this season is relatively low on humour, especially compared to the offbeat excesses of recent years. However, the production team does have some fun playing upon the familiarity of Robert Patrick's most famous role as the T1000 in Terminator 2. In Roadrunners, he reprises his "Have you seen this boy?" line, only this time he's looking for Scully. In both Salvage and Essence, Agent Doggett finds himself up against unstoppable cyborg killing machines.

Season Eight is a real mixed bag. But, while it has its low points, its highlights are very good indeed. It is a shame, though, that Fox still refuses to release episodes that were produced for widescreen TV in that format on VHS - hopefully this situation will be rectified when the widescreen seasons of The X-Files (the sixth onwards) eventually make it on to DVD.

Richard McGinlay

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