Monday, 19 March 2018

Echoes of War written by Matt Fitton and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: Colliding with the full force of the Time War, the Doctor crash-lands on a jungle world with a ragtag band of refugees. To stay alive, they must cross a landscape where time itself is corrupted. A forest which cycles through growth and decay, where sounds of battle are never far away, and where strange creatures lurk all around. Luckily, the Doctor has friends: not only plucky scientist Bliss, but another, much more unlikely ally. Its name is ‘Dal’…

Physician, Heal Thyself: The Doctor states that his condition of forgetting where the TARDIS is is a little more complicated than amnesia…and thank God because we had enough of that malarkey in the BBC Books. He’s trapped in a War that has no respect for details, facing an opponent he has been tangling with all his lives, has no way back to the TARDIS and is taking responsibility for a group of desperate refugees in a dangerous environment. For the Doctor, this is called a Wednesday and will surely bring the best out in him. He’s a Time Lord but he’s not part of their fight.

Blissful: First Flip, now Bliss. Would it be possible to have companion named Louise or something? I jest, it’s a memorable name for a pretty unmemorable character at this stage. If Bliss is to be the Doctor’s new companion (and there’s no real indication of it at this point) then her only real qualification seems to be ‘because she’s here.’ She was at the Lunar University, a post grad in applied astro-tech, which makes her sound like the modern-day Nyssa (I wonder if she knows anything about telebiogenesis?) but with combat experience because of the Time War. This is a good academic experience for her because it is about as hands on as quantum tech gets. Like Clara in Nightmare in Silver, she is accidentally put in charge of a group of people when it is complete outside of her skillset. Rather than having any tactical competence, she seems to make it up as she goes along. She was on the Theseus because some brink spark thought it would be interesting to measure quantum fluctuations in a temporal warzone.

Standout Performance: Nick Briggs gives a terrific performance as the damaged Dalek. He always does his best work when he gets to play a Dalek that is completely different to the norm; the eponymous Dalek from Rob Shearman’s gripping re-introduction to the creatures in series one, Dalek Sec after going doolally in the time vortex, the Dalek Time Controller from Briggs’ own Lucie Miller and To the Death. This Dalek has completely lost its memory and is a unique individual rather than just another drone and Briggs works overtime to give it a little personality.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Every step could be your last before you even take it.’

Great Ideas: Proving this will be a series of heavily linked adventures, this picks up precisely where The Starship of Theseus left off with the refugees stranded on a jungle world with a damaged Dalek in tow. Everything around them is in a constant state of flux. It was a fun idea in the first story but we can’t really have an entire set of stories where from scene to scene all the details are different. Eventually things will have to normalise. No technology will work within this environment, not even the Doctor’s screwdriver. Time is fragmented here, causality’s askew. Battles long past resonate around them; other times and versions of reality are pressing into existence.

Audio Landscape:
This is one of those stories that truly relies on its soundscape to tell much of its story and I’m reminded (as I need to be every now and again) that we are dealing with a company at the top of its game when it comes producing vivid and complimentary sounds to construct a story. I think Big Finish’s output is so prolific these days that we simply hear too much audio Who and forget how lucky we are to have it. I particularly liked the sounds of warfare in the distance that faded away to nothing as the environment shifted. This sort of thing must be a sound technicians wet dream. It’s true that the Dalek voices are one of their big selling points (I wonder if Briggs would ever let anybody else voice them for a whole story now?), especially on audio. So, it’s jarring to hear one screaming in pain and behaving like a victim, especially when it is prolonged like this.

Isn’t it Odd:
Whilst the idea of a forest growing and dying all around them is an intriguing one and is well realised by the director, I really could have done without all the clunky dialogue that points out exactly what is happening. Big Finish is usually a lot better than this at getting across what is happening visually without having characters state the obvious for the audience’s benefit. If they are trying to help the Dalek forget about its origins and since the inference is that to mention its species will do just that, wouldn’t it be sensible to call it something other than ‘Dal.’ Besides, it just sounds really goofy. Creatures that have been forced down some twisted evolutionary path thanks to the Time War is an interesting concept, but I don’t think it is explored with much interest here beyond an assault of noise as the creature adapts as its timeline shifts.

Standout Scene: The echoes of war weren’t from its history but its future. In comes Ollistra and her War TARDISes and they are about to doom this world in the name of the Time War. The Doctor is appropriately furious, but it does mean that everything we have experienced on this planet is just a prelude of a conflict that is to come. Which means all the interesting stuff that is going to happen here, will happen off screen and at another time.

Result: Echoes of War plays out like standard war story with some temporal jiggery-pokery going on in the background. It’s less immediately gripping than the first story because it takes pains to explain what is happening as it goes and thus loses a lot of it’s mystery, plus some overly descriptive dialogue can really kill some of the more memorable scenes. However, it’s one of those adventures that offers up a unique Dalek character, brilliantly portrayed by Nick Briggs, who has completely lost his memory but is always on the verge of discovering that he was a ruthless killing machine again. He’s really interesting and I wish we had spent more time getting to know him rather than going on a protracted chase scene with him, this might have been a good chance to delve into the Daleks psychologically, especially with one so exposed like this. Instead the story focuses more on his combat tactics, which felt like a missed opportunity. There’s plenty of dangers and running and screaming, but this is one of those Time War stories that I question if it needed to be told. Yes, we know a lot of innocent people were wiped out in the universe spanning conflict but unless you are going to make those characters extremely vivid or have some lasting effect on the Doctor this is just another action epic that would be summed up in a throwaway line in a Russell T. Davies script. If you’re looking for a gripping Dalek live action adventure I would opt for Enemy of the Daleks or Masters of War over this because they have a greater sense of immediacy and better character drama, but this is a perfectly serviceable piece which thanks to some punchy direction remains dynamic, but it’s never intellectually challenging. It’s ‘Dal’ (I wish they had chosen a better name) that makes this worth listening to. Bliss makes little impact, but Dal would have been a brilliant companion: 6/10

Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Starship of Theseus written by John Dorney and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: The Doctor and his companion, Sheena, land the TARDIS on the glamorous luxury space-liner Theseus just as it’s about to leave the Jupiter space-port. An opportunity for a holiday presents itself – and it’s one they’re very glad to take. But when a disturbance catches their attention, they realise sinister events are taking place on board. Passengers are vanishing on every trip. And unless they’re careful they may be next. Can the Doctor and Emma solve the mystery? Or is there something else they should be worrying about?

Physician, Heal Thyself: Having just listened to the Dark Eyes and then the Doom Coalition sets back to back for the eighth Doctor it is refreshing to have an adventure at the start of another set that is a story featuring the eighth Doctor and his companion simply materialising somewhere, stepping out and having an adventure. This particular Doctor has been embroiled in long, protracted arcs for so long I had forgotten the unassuming thrill of having him just travel. I realise this is another densely arc ridden set but for the moment let’s enjoy this simple pleasure. He’s like giddy little child discovering that he is on a space liner and the news that they are passing Vulcan means he can wax lyrical at Sheena. It’s a glimpse of the puppy dog eighth Doctor of old, it looks as if some of the pre-Neverland eighth Doctor returned after all the trauma of the Lucie, Molly, Liv and Helen years. It feels deliberately cruel to see some of the sunshine back in his smile when we know that is about to be cruelly ripped away in the face of a universe-devastating Time War. But dramatically speaking, it’s an excellent approach. Just act like you own the place, it always works for the Doctor. He’s sure he’ll get a holiday one of these days. As a Time Lord the Doctor can sense the shifting timelines but such is the strength of the fallout of the Time War he can only really sense that something is wrong rather than remember specific details of the alterations. He’s always had an air of self-sacrifice about him and the Doctor offers his many remaining lives so the refugees can escape. That sounds like a very Doctorish way for him to give up his life. He thought he had left the Time War behind, pushing away all the possibilities that he was involved and opting for a much simpler life of travelling…but it’s coming to get him anyway. He already has a reputation as a renegade, one who betrays his people. When its suggested if he keeps flying the way he does he will break every bone in his body he responds ‘been there, done that.’

The Shifting Companion: The first time the Doctor called Sheena ‘Emma’ I thought it was a continuity error for a script that had been through one or two major rewrites and was about to lambast for poor script editing! As much as I appreciate that Big Finish are trying to create their own universe within the Time War with the War Doctor sets, it always felt like conventional science fiction warfare to me rather than the temporal combat and dimensional madness that Russell T Davies alluded to in his tantalising mentions of it during his tenure on the show. What happens to Sheena (if that even is her name) strikes me as one of the first times that I felt Big Finish (or rather John Dorney) had started to explore the ramifications of fighting a Time War on people, how their lives could altered, rewritten or deleted from the timeline altogether. So, she begins this adventure as one character, shifts into another discreetly as the story continues without anybody noticing (why would they, that’s how it’s always been?) and before long vanishes from the time stream altogether. The fact that the Doctor doesn’t even remember her because he never met her in the first place is horrifying, but it does stress how unimportant these details are in the wake of the devastation to come and the consequences of igniting the flame that would cause this sort of thing to happen to entire star systems. It’s also a brilliantly creative device, and dramatically satisfying with the unfairness of it all. The moment the Doctor says ‘I came here alone’ my blood ran cold.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Your sister’s dead. Sorry, I probably should have built up to that.’
‘It’s like I’m feeling ripples. Ripples in time washing against us, reality changing all around me every time they hit. Ripples are becoming waves, crashing on the shore. Something wicked this way comes…’

Great Ideas: Blink and you’ll miss it but the ship transforms from a deluxe space cruiser to a desperate ship full of refugees instantly and the audience simply has to catch up. How naive is one character when she hopes that the Daleks wont attack neutral non-combatants. With all the alterations in the timeline taking place, the Doctor’s TARDIS is snatched away from him and leaving him stranded in this shifting time zone. A regression weapon that forces things back down the evolutionary ladder.

Musical Cues: The dramatic, punchy War Doctor title music is being used for this set and that delights me, it’s easily one of the best pieces of title music that Big Finish has created for any range. There is a steel to the music that is darker and more combat driven, which is very appropriate for a series set during the Time War.

Standout Scene:
The approaching war TARDISes give the story a truly epic feel and for once the use of the Daleks is perfectly justified, and their appearance brings on real feelings of dread.

Result: ‘I don’t think anyone can escape it, not really, not alive…’ A brilliant premise, dramatically presented and with very little concessions for those not paying full attention. I like it when a Big Finish story treats its audience with intelligence like this and expects a high level of awareness of the details of the story in order for it to make sense. The last time something like this was done in Doctor Who (with details changing from scene to scene) was The Last Resort for BBC Books and I really loved it there as well. But that isn’t all there is to love about The Starship of Theseus, which begins the Time War box set on a confident and memorable note. At the beginning of the adventure it’s like the War hasn’t even happened yet but by the end its clear that it has long since started and the effects are reaching out to catch up with the Doctor, whether he wants it to or not. The point where the Doctor realises what is happening proves extremely ominous indeed, I was utterly gripped at that point to realise that the Time War had him in his grasp and he was unable to struggle free. Paul McGann is on fire, clearly psyched up to be taking his part in the Time War and delivering a performance that is energetic and engaging. The tone shifts from enjoyable escapism at the beginning to sheer desperation at the end, and John Dorney makes that journey a seamless one. Whether or not you think the War needed to be further elaborated or not, The Starship of Theseus proves that it can be mined for dramatic and creative purposes. In both cases it is a sense of inevitability but it takes some skill to pull off a story that kicks off a series called ‘Time War’ and manages to package the approach of such a conflict as something unexpected and terrifying: 9/10

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Stop the Clock written by John Dorney and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: The time has arrived. Events are in motion. The end of the universe is at hand and the Doctor and his friends have one hour to save eternity. Starting now.

Physician, Heal Thyself: Given he was the Lord President once he should at least be able to slip into Gallifrey whilst the transduction barriers are up. He’s been in one or two secret cabals himself so he understands the appeal. On my oath, can you imagine the Doctor as a Time Tot gathering his ceremonial robes and wading through the incense to take his place in a secret Time Lord sect. He always was a bit of an anarchist and he’s never had a great love of Gallifrey but planting a bomb at the base of the transduction barriers might be the greatest expression of both of those yet. The Doctor would risk the safety of his world to save the rest of the universe in a heartbeat – an interesting pre-empt of the decision that he would ultimately have to make in his next incarnation. There’s a suggestion that by stopping Padrac that the Doctor has doomed Gallifrey for evermore. Perhaps there is something in that but I don’t think the destruction of the entire future of existence is the acceptable alternative. So, go Doctor. He says that dooming Gallifrey is a price that he is willing to pay.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Are we under attack?’ ‘No! Gallifrey is!’
‘I was given power and I saw our destiny. I had an opportunity and I took the only responsible course.

Great Ideas: I really appreciated the scene between Padrac and Kahlera at the start of this story detailing how they came to work together and how he effectively wooed her. It would have been useful to have been inserted before Songs of Love where that development was just dumped on us without context but it’s better late than never and does address one of my criticisms of that story. The Eleven and Padrac were both, at different times, both members of an Elite Time Lord Cabal, one for the superior intellects of the Capitol. If the Matrix predicted a threat they would eliminate the root cause of that threat, be that a small planet, a small civilisation but always in the service of saving Gallifrey. They achieved this through wholesale manipulation of the timelines. When the threat was bigger, so was the response. Padrac and his lackeys are using the Sonomancer, placed inside a resonance engine. One push from her at a precise spatio-temporal location where all celestial bodies are in alignment and the resonance of spheres will build exponentially and that will lead to the destruction of everything. I literally have no clue what this all means and nor does it matter, it has at least been set up (and in some depth given that this story is 16 hours long) that Padrac has the ability throw all the fires of hell at the future and wipe it out of existence. The Doctor wants to blow up the transduction barriers to put Gallifrey at threat so Kahlera has to choose between that and the optimum point of resonance which will end the future. She’ll choose saving Gallifrey over ending the universe because of her love for Padrac, how clever of the Doctor to exploit the very thing that Padrac used to obtain her power.

Audio Landscape: It’s very sweet that trouble on Gallifrey seems to come down to a few stasers being fired in the background. The Twin Dilemma employed a similar tactic in it’s climax (‘they’ve already started mopping up’) and it was similarly underwhelming.

Isn’t it Odd: I have to confess I have found the Eleven a bit of a pantomime villain all along. After his initial introduction was so strong he has been kept on the sidelines throughout Doom Coalition and when he does show up it is usually in scenes that assault me with lots of screaming and snarling. He’s a vital component in Padrac’s plan for sure but I never really connected with him as a character and nor do I feel that his psychological instability has been mined for it’s full horrific potential. This could have been some akin to James McAvoy’s turn in Split, a character truly chilling and unpredictable. Instead he quickly turned into a bit of a comic character where the conflicting incarnations are constantly berating each other. Saying that this was probably his best appearance since the first instalment of this series, with his character being used to further the plot in several ways with the Doctor taking on his guise to get close to Padrac and mining one of his incarnations for information. He’s so daft, mind, that he fails to realise that Padrac will have away with him one he has the Doctor in his power. It’s almost comical its so inevitable, much like the Daleks turning on Mavic Chen in The Daleks’ Masterplan. Maybe it’s the voices, but I found the scene where he was trying to decide whether to kill Helen or not very funny.

Standout Scene: How very strange that the Sonomancer, a character I have never really cared for, elicited the strongest emotional reaction out of me in the finale. It has something to do with Emma Cunniffe’s performance, which veers from terrifying as the Sonomancer (now that her powers have been spelt out) and unsure as Khalera (now Padrac’s romantic deception has been revealed). Another puzzle piece in his masterplan, she was used for ability rather than any feeling he might have for her and she gets that shoved in her face by the Doctor in a forceful and unflattering way. She’s already been deceived and is entrenched in the equipment and her life will be forfeited to bring the end of the future to bear. Bless Khalera, right up to the point that where she is about to be sacrificed, believes that Padrac’s feeling for her will stop him. Also, the twist that she is the Red Lady from the story of the same name was a well seeded surprise. That’s probably the best twist in the set. Both the first scene and the synopsis seem to suggest this is going to be a real time race against time to stop Padrac, 42 style. After the initial musical sting I never got the sense of that again.

Result: Doom Coalition comes to a conclusion with Stop the Clock and I’m pleased to say that this does a much more masterful job of concluding its story than Dark Eyes did. Whilst Matt Fitton has done some sterling work for Big Finish, I do think John Dorney has a stronger authorial voice when it comes to these sprawling epics that Big Finish keep churning out. Despite being the finale of the entire set, this is a more focused and tighter piece than the previous two which insists on nice character beats for the enormous cast of characters and which satisfactorily pays a great number of promises made in the previous 15 stories. It feels like an individual piece and not a series of events lost in the sea of Doom Coalition’s arc, which is odd given how much baggage it comes with. It feels like all the performances have stepped up a notch too, as though everybody is aware this is the finale and there is a sense of urgency about the cast that kept me rivetted throughout. I’m not quite as in love with Doom Coalition as others are, whilst I do think it is a far more engaging narrative than that of Dark Eyes. I could think of several ways that it could have been condensed down to three (or possibly even two) really excellent sets, with a lot of flab cut away because there is plenty of material that simply diverts from the main storyline or fails to affect it at all. However, some of those stories are amongst the best, so I’m not sure what that says about the central narrative. The truth be told I think you could tell the tale of Padrac and his plan to kill the future in one solidly plotted set and the only reason this takes place over four is that the writers painstakingly took their time planting the elements of the series. If it had gotten to the point a lot sooner then there is about enough plot in the assembling of The Eleven, Padrac, the Sonomancer, River, the Doctor, Helen, Liv and the Doomsday Chronometer to fill about four hours. Saying that the standard of writing across the entire set has been well above average, with some seriously decent standout tales (most of Dorney’s have been superb), we’ve been treated to some truly engaging performances, pleasing character work and the stakes have never felt as high thanks to Ken Bentley’s assured and dynamic direction. It’s certainly never been dull, and if there has been the odd duff instalment they are few and far between. I’d call this a guarded success, a confident ‘season’ with perhaps too many elements delivered at a snail’s pace but coming together quite acceptably at it’s climax, which makes the whole thing worthwhile. Saying that, this finale is perfectly entertaining without ever reaching into the upper echelons of Doctor Who’s climaxes because there wasn’t a huge emotional connection for me. It’s a series of confrontations, double crosses and twists that all come together neatly, like a perfect puzzle but it is missing that emotional wallop that meant I really cared about what was happening. Stop the Clock even leaves several threads dangling to be picked up in the next McGann boxset, which means picking those up to see what happens with those.

Stop the Clock: 8/10

Doom Coalition as a whole: 7/10

Friday, 16 March 2018

The Side of Angels written by Matt Fitton and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: Cardinal Ollistra has plans for New York, plans which involve the Deputy Mayor and her sponsor, one ‘Reverend Mortimer’ – better known to the Doctor as the Meddling Monk. The Eleven arrives to stamp out the resistance, but that isn't the only danger the Doctor finds lurking in the shadows – for New York is a city of Weeping Angels.

Physician, Heal Thyself: Being angry brings the out the best in McGann because I think deep down he's a grumpy sort of fella (it’s certainly the impression I get from the CD extras) and it gives him the chance to rail at the universe in a creative way. How exquisite was his work the last time he met the Monk, a time when I thought the Doctor could toss away any moral virtue he might have and commit murder, such was the extent of his fury towards the man. It was the day the Doctor lost his best friend and his grandson so you can understand why he carries a grudge towards the Monk, especially when he was instrumental in the Dalek’s scheme that brought about such apocalyptic events. Fitton is trapped between a rock and a hard place; since this takes place in the same timeline the Doctor has to acknowledge his loathsome feeling for the Monk but because (for no explicable reason) there is no desire to reveal which incarnation of the Monk this is it remains utterly ambiguous as to whether he remembers those events like the Doctor. It means we have scenes that play out like a one-sided argument, which is emotionally unsatisfying. ‘perhaps I do or perhaps I don’t’ says the Monk, with annoying vagueness.

Liv Chenka & Helen Sinclair: We may as well take them as a whole because they are inseparable now and both suffer the indignity of being shunting off to the side-lines whilst all the big hitting elements of this story take dominance. The trouble was they were practically written out of the last story too so after a strong show in Ship in a Bottle they have become bit players rather than companions. I would really like a number of simple stories where they simply get to serve as the Doctor’s companions rather than getting caught up in a maelstrom of plot elements and being forced to keep up. The few stories that have given them strong focus (The Red Lady, Absent Friends, Ship in a Bottle) have really shown them to be exceptional characters. A shame to lose sight of that for the sake of the arc.

Standout Performance: How like The Meddling to turn up at the end of one of the eighth Doctor’s sprawling epics (just as he did during the end of his time with Lucie Miller) to get involved and make things worse. It’s becoming a recurring theme that he turns up in the Doctor’s life at precisely the wrong time. I was extremely keen on Graeme Garden’s charming and witty turn as the interfering Time Lord, he delivered a comic villain who could really turn off the buffoonery when the situation called for it (and boy was Lucie Miller and To the Death some serious work). Rufus Hound picks up the mantle in The Side of Angels and runs with it, offering an even more jovial and hearty interpretation. This incarnation of the Monk is so rambunctious and attractive that he has managed to wrap the whole of New York around his little finger in the aid of another devious and over complicated scheme. Also, are they still peddling out Beth Chalmers every time there is an extraneous character to play? I’m sure there are actors out there that would love the chance to play even a small part on audio to get a credit to their name but they are never going to get the opportunity to do so when Chalmers is constantly employed in a multitude of guises. If you had to list every story she has ever been in, you’d practically be listing Big Finish’s entire repertoire. The most galling thing is that she played a companion, so that’s an extremely recognisable voice in the mix. You might find yourself wondering as this story plays out ‘what the hell is Raine Creevy doing in this?’

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Did the Doctor go to school with anyone who didn’t turn out to be a Time Lord super criminal?’

Great Ideas:
This story opens with the very dramatic scene of Volstrom being shot over and over again, forcing one regeneration after another. It’s not quite as personal to us as it was in the Unbound adventure Full Fathom Five where it was a take on the Doctor that was being stripped of his lives but it still packs quite a punch. Any story that opens on a terminal scream gets my attention. Plus more male to female regenerations, more pre-empting of the Thirteenth Doctor. The Monk and Ollistra are building dozens of skyscrapers in one of the world’s busiest cities, building a replica of the Citadel on Gallifrey on Earth. It’s a second base away from Gallifrey, which is now in Padrac’s power, where they can build a forward base to stop him. I really enjoyed how there was just no time to bother with the whole ‘the Monk’s in disguise’ malarkey and the story is upfront about his identity. Gallifrey asked him for help and he was only too happy to answer their call.

Isn’t it Odd: How nice to see Big Finish exploring their existing characters in more depth, but would anybody who had not listened to the War Doctor sets know who Ollistra is? The appearance of a certain actress at the end of this story ties this set to the War Doctor arc one in a way that encourages people to head over and grab those three sets but I’m not sure why it had to happen here, where it has no real relevance on the story. This isn’t a case of too many cooks spoil the broth as there are only two writers in this set but more the case of too many elements muddying the broth and pulling the attention in too many directions. River dived into the story and had an impact and ducked out before the finale and so now has Ollistra. Are they just diversions before the endgame hits?

Result: ‘The Angels were already here. We’ve just offered them a chance to join forces…’ Whilst you could say that it is constantly innovating, I’m not sure about introducing so many new elements to the Doom Coalition narrative so close to it’s climax. And can you really claim innovation when those elements are The Monk, Cardinal Ollistra and the Weeping Angels, all three of which could be seen as fan service. The story shows how mired and explanation driven a story becomes when you have too many unwieldy elements in play, so grabbing another handful of toys from the box only serves to complicate things further. And what a complicated piece of the puzzle this is. Whilst there are some solid ideas here, I don’t think Matt Fitton ever got a true handle on them or how to dramaticise them in a clear-cut manner. I don’t think the details matter too much, it boils down to Ollistra, the Monk and the Angels in cahoots to create a safe power base on Earth. Which is an odd diversion from the main action and shows the Time Lords to be a bunch of hideaway scaredy cats who plan to deal with Padrac later. That’s all very well, but I’d like to deal with it now. It takes the skill of an imaginative writer to convince of the Angels threat on audio given they are a threat that very much works in the visual sense and unfortunately Fitton plays on their established menace in the TV series rather than choosing to take an angle that might them frighten the life out of an audio audience. It’s not impossible, Jonathan Morris managed it with some aplomb in his novel featuring them but given they are the titular feature of The Side of Angels all you can hope for here are scenes featuring the nasties being accompanied by a dramatic string quartet going apoplectic when they are on the attack. Hound’s the Monk is great fun but given it’s never confirmed where in his timeline we are, Fitton cannot satisfactorily deal with the events that saw Lucie Miller leave the series in such a dramatic fashion way back when. To have the Doctor make peace with the Monk might have given this story an emotional backbone that made all the elements worthwhile. Instead it’s plot plot plot all the way, and as well as juggling all its own elements it also tackles ideas of TV episodes past (The Angels Take Manhattan) and characters from audio stories to come (Ollistra). Lots of ingredients and the cake tastes stodgy, The Side of Angels is the penultimate episode of the Doom Coalition set but it’s starting a brand-new thread whilst failing to deal with all the existing ones. What a pickle for John Dorney to sort out in the finale: 5/10

Songs of Love written by Matt Fitton and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: Left to fend for herself against a bunch of power-hungry plotters hell-bent on destroying the universe, what choice does a girl have but to throw in her lot with the winning side? Using her past to her advantage, River Song returns to the ancestral seat of the Time Lords to make her last stand.

Physician, Heal Thyself: Thanks to Steven Moffat (and I mean that in a positive way before anybody accuses me of having another dig), the eighth Doctor has to reach a certain point before his regeneration. Before Night of the Doctor it was just an endlessly possible run and his adventures were infinite. It was even possible before the 50th that Big Finish might have had the opportunity to regenerate the eighth Doctor at some point themselves. But Night of the Doctor means that he has a direction now. Eventually he will end up on Karn in the early stages of a terrible Time War and face a regeneration that would change his life forever. It makes the eighth Doctor the definitive Big Finish Doctor, one who started having carefree adventures with Charley Pollard (or Gemma and Samson if you’re feeling pedantic) and would progressively slip into a darker universe before giving up his life for an incarnation more adept at fighting a war. It’s a complete timeline, taking in Charley Pollard, Lucie Miller, Mary Shelley, Molly, Liv and Helen along the way. You can listen to all of his stories sequentially and discover a seriously cool timeline of events, Doctor Who on TV audio and television working together beautifully. When all the dust settles from Big Finish and it is reflected upon in the future, I think the eighth Doctor narrative will be the standout thread of the main range. Funny that I should have so much to say about

Liv Chenka: It’s a very sweet moment that Liv wants to be close to Helen when she dies.

Helen Sinclair: Helen tells Liv she is glad she met her, when they think the moment will come. She thinks Liv that she is brilliant and blasé about everything.

The Only Water In the Forest is the River:
River very quickly positions herself so it appears that she was on Padrac’s side all along, quick thinking on her part so she can avoid getting killed (always a good look) and be the best possible position to try and help the Doctor. Going to Gallifrey is like meeting a family that she never had. Very similar to Gallifreyan physiognomy but with evidence of genetic manipulation with the beginning and end of her time stream being a little unclear. Oh, if only you knew. But head over to You Tube, Time Lords, if you want to see it all spelt out consecutively. She’s an archaeologist by trade and a time travelling archaeologist can make a lot of money. River tries to dig for information about the Time War, to no avail. She can see why the Doctor wanted to leave Gallifrey, all the pomp and ceremony. Isn’t it odd how completely bearable River Song is when she is caught up in machinations that aren’t involved in her personal timeline. When the story isn’t all about her, she’s surprisingly tolerable, ever enjoyable. River acknowledges that she loves the Doctor but he doesn’t love her back, a moment where I felt a twinge of sympathy for her.

Standout Performance: Alex Kingston is given the chance to dominate in a Big Finish Doctor Who story and she proves more than able to hold her own. In case people were missing my obligatory Moffat dig, I seriously think she has had some of her best writing away from her creator. Intelligent, without letting you know it all the time. Irresistible, without it being pointed out. A complex timeline, without it being rammed down your throat.

Sparkling Dialogue:
‘When the future becomes unclear, people want certainties.’
‘I’m a child of a TARDIS!’

Great Ideas: In every possible future, Gallifrey faces total destruction from outside forces, a war across the face of time itself. Gallifrey’s temporal timeline has been subject to distortion, with fractures in their future history, leading to conflict, disaster and cataclysmic feedback. The Matrix predicts Gallifrey’s doom with catastrophic consequences. Kahlera is in the Matrix, a Sonomancer commanding the resonances of the energies within the Vortex (whatever that means). The Eleven allowed Padrac to circumvent the laws of Time without dirtying his own hands and applied the Clocksmith to their cause.

Isn’t it Odd: The opening scenes with the Time Lords bickering over their inevitable part on a Time War are deathly boring. There’s little that thrills me less than listening to a bunch of portentous Time Lords spouting technobabble to justify their portents of doom. It’s very rare that a writer can get scenes on Gallifrey right, usually they wind up being the very epitome of insipidness. At there’s River there to be the voice of opposition and to add a little colour. I can’t buy into the danger of the Sonomancer, and I have never have. It strikes me as a one-dimensional villain, Padrac’s lackey, with some very odd characterisation. Is she in love with Padrac? Was that ever established?

Standout Moment: I really enjoyed River experiencing the Matrix and expressing her wonder, it’s has a pleasing similarity to the dataverse that she would eventually lose her life to. River was always going to have to be written out of the Doom Coalition set at some point and its better to do it now, before the two-part finale kicks in. What surprised me was how touching her farewell to the Doctor was, and how this story suddenly reveals where it is in River’s timeline. Not long to the Singing Towers, not long to the Library. One last chance to see the Doctor young and fresh again.

Result: If you listen carefully you can hear the gears shifting awkwardly in the first half of Songs For Love as poor Matt Fitton has been left to sort out the narrative after it was left in universal calamity at the end of the previous Doom Coalition box set. John Dorney got away with avoiding all that by having his adventure take place away from the main action. So much of the first half an hour of this story is lacklustre scenes of Time Lords discussing their upcoming calamity, River’s past being regurgitated and getting Liv and Helen out of the danger they were left in at the cliff-hanger to the last story. There’s no new information expressed here, so it does feel like delaying the finale of the Doom Coalition set somewhat, which is imminent. Where I find that they mined a very rich seam of political drama and science fiction in the Gallifrey series, scenes on Gallifrey in Doctor Who stories are very tricky to get right because they usually reduce the planet to a bunch of ominous, bickering bureaucrats performing pompous ceremonies. At least River is here, once again well characterised and lacking that smugness that can make her infuriating, to point out how tedious it all is. There had to come a time where all the disparate elements of Doom Coalition were tied up and Fitton is left with the job of offering a tidal wave of exposition in order to do so. The Time War makes its presence feel here, long before it takes place and it’s nice to see this set tying into the eighth Doctor’s larger timeline. Padrac starts to make his move in the second half and the pace picks up considerably, but it takes quite a while to get there. If the idea of River on Gallifrey is enough to make you salivate, then this might be gold for you. After three wham bam thank you man ‘the universe is on the brink of calamity and the future is dead’ stories that suggest a freight train momentum to the climax of this ongoing narrative, this is an expository pause in the action that feels like just that. Above average, because this end with a really poignant moment, Alex Kingston is so strong and because I have the forthcoming catastrophe pounded over my head over and over so I can’t help but think something exciting is about to happen. Let’s get to it: 6/10

Friday, 9 March 2018

Zaltys written by Matthew J. Elliot and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: In the Vortex, the TARDIS comes under a form of psychic attack – resulting in the abductions of first Adric, then Tegan. Following their trail, the Doctor and Nyssa arrive under the lurid skies of the planet Zaltys, whose entire population has vanished in strange circumstances. Soon, they discover that Zaltys is now the target of treasure seekers, come to scavenge this so-called Planet of the Dead… Meanwhile, deep below the planet’s surface, Adric learns the earth-shattering reason why the people of Zaltys disappeared... and why they were wise to do so. And Tegan is, quite literally, in the dark – enduring interrogation by the mysterious Clarimonde. Any friend of the Doctor’s is Clarimonde’s enemy... because theirs is a blood feud!

An English Gentleman:
It’s terrible how Gallifreyan deal with their old pensioners, the Doctor wasn’t going to let the TARDIS get consigned to the scrapheap because there’s plenty of life in the old girl yet. He tries so hard to keep Adric honest but thinks he might be losing a fighting battle. More of a traveller these days but not much of one without his companions. Like a library or a bank balance, the Gallifreyan lifespan is more a question of what you do with it than how much you have.

Alien Orphan: Gifted in any subject bar telebiogenesis, which the Doctor finds quite irritating. Really, is this all these is that is interesting to say about Nyssa these days?

Maths Nerd: He’s read all the maths books in the TARDUS library and so now he’s reading the Doctor’s collection of horror books about vampires instead. After meeting some in the flesh and being told they exist on practically every civilised world, he considers this research. He’s given up on people, they are just too unreliable.

Oh Rabbits: Adric cannot understand why Tegan is so keen to get back to vessels that only go up and down when she is currently travelling in a machine that can travel the length and breadth of the space/time continuum. She sneakily tries to get Adric to try piloting the TARDIS, to see if he can get her home. There will be plenty of questions about her Aunt, but she’s prepared to deal with that.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘I don’t have the ion bonder! You said that you needed it when you wanted to repair the chrono-compensator!’ – exactly the sort of nonsensical dialogue that non-fans of SF expect to bump into if they give it a shot.
‘I guess I should have left the TARDIS with garlic and a crucifix and not just an ion bonder!’
‘I met a talking frog once, I guess there’s no reason I should have a problem with a talking fish.’
‘Let go hairy or I’ll fire!’

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Tegan I need absolute silence!’ ‘Why, to concentrate?’ ‘No, I just always appreciate it when you’re quiet.’

 Great Ideas: If this were Red Dwarf then when Adric vanished from the console room then somebody would state ‘quick, let’s got out of here before they bring him back!’ But instead the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa all react to the situation with grave seriousness. Why did the people of Zaltys go into stasis on such a grand scale? A meteor is approaching and the devastation will be planet wide, so the entire planets population was placed in suspended animation underground in the hope that they will sleep through the entire catastrophe (with a handful of volunteers remaining awake to monitor the equipment). The crew of the Exemplar are vampires and they are heading to Zaltys to feed on the sleeping population. The reported catastrophe was never going to happen, the sleepers were duped so the vampires would have a dozing larder upon their arrival.

Isn’t it Odd: Elliot is like the continuity master, he cannot help but ground the stories he writes in Doctor Who lore. Within minutes there are references to the Zero Room, the Master, Castrovalvla, Vampires, Aunty Vanessa, the ion bonder, rooms being jettisoned…Nyssa even almost squeezes out the line ‘I know so little about tele…’ It feels as though Elliot has been rummaging through one of those guides by Stammers/James/Walker and has assembled their dialogue out of the facts he unearthed within. A deluge of continuity doesn’t replace original character dialogue. What is it about these 80s Who stories that deal with the consequences of third Doctor and Jo stories? I’m starting to wonder if the lisping Time Lord and dizzy UNIT agent caused all kinds of mischief in time and space and that future regenerations will have to mop up their mess. ‘You seem to think you’re his arch enemy! Not called Zodin are you?’ Groan. The big twist that Tegan is being hunted by vampires is somewhat blunted by the conversation between her and Adric in episode one. Around episode three I felt as though there were some big explanations that I had been missing out on to make each other narrative threads work. The Doctor and Nyssa, Adric and Tegan all have their own story threads where they have met other characters but there is an overfamiliarity and an assumption that everything is happening for a reason, but I was completely in the dark as to what that was. I always question whether a Doctor Who story should be told when the inclusion of the Doctor and his friends makes no impact on the story whatsoever. Had they never got caught up in the machinations on Zaltys nothing would really be altered. The wormhole technology would be used for the vampires to reach Zaltys and feed regardless. So why are they there?

Standout Scene: Barnaby Edwards makes the third cliffhanger count for something. Despite the fact that we have been given no reason to care about the fate of the people of Zaltys, the idea of the vampires having access to a bunch of helpless sleepers is presented with appropriate gravity.

Result: I want to start with the positives, because there are some and it would be churlish of me to tear into another weak Matthew J. Elliot script without mentioning the blood and sweat of everybody else involved who is trying to make this work. Like the actors; especially the guest actors, who give polished, memorable performances. Like the director; who makes the first episode extremely palatable and ensures there are moments of uncertainty and suspense. Like the musician, Steve Foxon, who provides a deliciously tense score throughout. It just goes to show that Barry Letts was right that you can make a production as polished as you like but if the story itself is lacking then the foundations of what you are trying to build are uncertain and the whole thing will collapse anyway. I’m not sure if I’ve listened to a Doctor Who story that is quite as aimless and purposeless as this, one that purports to be full of important incident and characters reacting as though significant things are happening but ultimately comes to nothing significant whatsoever. I can see why they released the first episode as a freebie because it is the best of the four but once the four regulars have all reached their destination, the story stalls. You would think that splitting up the regulars in disparate locations would be for the purpose of bringing together what they learn and unifying the story but no, instead they are shunted off into dead end narrative threads and then the story just ends. Whilst the performances are fine, the regulars are written like a collection of facts gleamed from other stories and I never got the sense that Elliot understood who Tegan, Adric and Nyssa were or that they were learning anything from this experience. Tegan’s sub plot, in particular, is pointless and repetitive, wandering around a darkened spaceship and being hunted by a vampire but with no progression of the plot it just feels like we are going round in circles. There’s a narrow-minded society in suspended animation. There’s vampires. There’s a meteor about to hit the planet. And there’s an old enemy of the Doctor’s awaiting revenge. None of these things really amount to anything, especially the last, where the entire story seems to be built around their reunion that never happens. The titular planet is painfully dull, and I wonder if it was a positive thing that they bugger off underground and hide away from the rest of the universe. Or they should just be sacrificed to the vampires and we can get on with something more interesting. Ultimately the story is a lot of waffle but very little substance, with the regulars turning up in the story to react to the events rather than have an impact on them. Much like Elliot’s other scripts. This is a pretty disappointing trilogy overall, two reasonable adventures and one stinker. Fortunately, things have been repaired in the recent 5/Adric/Tegan/Nyssa trilogy. Again, kudos to Barnaby Edwards and the cast for, on occasion, convincing me that something relevant is happening: 4/10

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

The X-Files Season Ten

My Struggle written and directed by Chris Carter 

What’s it about: ‘We have a problem. They’ve re-opened The X-Files…’

Brains’n’Beauty: ‘As a scientist it’s probably some of the most intense and challenging work I’ve ever done. I’ve never felt so alive…’ Aged but seemingly more beautiful than ever, how can we do anything but celebrate the return of Gillian Anderson to The X-Files? To me, the real acting chops of the show and with the ability to handle emotion and action with equal aplomb, it was appalling how she became a side character in the show that she helped become a phenomenon in the previous season of the show (this isn’t a dig at series nine, which has it’s shining moments, just Scully’s role within it) and reduced to simply caring for her child and pining after Mulder. It’s time for her to take a more active role in the series again. She’s done with UFOs these days, practicing autopsy related business at the FBI and having long moved on from the strangle hold of conspiracies that stopped her life from moving. Scully isn’t sure that she is ready to attempt to bring down the government again, but she also doesn’t think she has a choice.

Trust No-One: Scruffy and dejected, Mulder doesn’t exactly race onto our screens as the obvious hero. Instead the story takes it’s time to show how he has been missing the work with Scully, wasting his life for the last decade and unable to move on from the paranoid ideas that fuelled him in his younger days. It was made explicit in the later seasons that Mulder and Scully were lovers (hence William) and The Truth and the last movie made that an integral part of their stories (indeed the bed scene between Mulder and Scully in The Truth was just about the only scene with any emotional honesty in the finale). But it’s clear much time has passed and whilst the reason is not made clear, they have separated but remain close friends who connect infrequently but are aware of the wealth of history and feelings between them when they do. Would I want a new series of the X-Files featuring Mulder and Scully as lovers? Isn’t that what killed off The New Adventures of Superman? I think this is played just right, some subtle touching, the promise that there is more between these two but a restrained distance between them for professional purposes. There’s an element of regret in Mulder’s voice when he says that he and Scully have moved on with their lives, both professionally and personally. Mulder’s depression killed their relationship and he frankly seems to be on the edge throughout this episode, drowning in paranoiac fantasies.

Paranoid Reporter: Ted O’Malley is like every paranoiac that Mulder has ever run into (including elements of Mulder himself) rolled into one. I’m not sure how this man gets through the day given that he thinks every part of life is manipulated, observed and directed. Fortunately, he is played by Joe McHale of Community fame, so it’s a charismatic performance despite his more annoying tendencies. When he says he is prepared to blow open the most evil conspiracy the world has ever known I wanted Mulder to yawn and say ‘been there, done that, failed.’ Is there an implication here that Scully slept with O’Malley? She’s seen in his limousine sipping champagne and he touches her in a very familiar way. Despite the fact that she is a free agent now, I hope that isn’t case. He’s such a slime ball and she’s never really been that sort of character.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘No I only want to believe. Actual proof has been strangely hard to come by.’ 

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘It’s about controlling the past to control the future! It’s about fiction masquerading as fact!’ – this is Mulder’s genuine response when Skinner asks why he has returned to the X-Files office. You just want Skinner to say ‘but what are you really after?’ when faced with such ridiculously portentous dialogue. 
‘You want to believe! You so badly want to believe!’ ‘I do believe!’ – it’s like a stuck record of the shows message that is almost comical in its extremes.
‘Sveta is the key to everything!’ – just like Cassandra was the key to everything in Two Fathers/One Son, just as William was the key to everything in Provenance/Providence… Someone turn the bloody key and expose this thing then!

Ugh: Nothing truly disgusting to report, unfortunately.

The Good: Firstly, may I say how glorious it is to have The X-Files back in whatever form it choices to take. The first new season might be a little shaky to begin with but just to be able to complete an X-Files marathon and not have to conclude with The Truth and I Want to Believe is a godsend. And one that I never thought would happen if I’m honest. Now the show is really up and running it is delivering episodes of real worth again, and The X-Files on form is about as good as television gets and for that we should be grateful (even if we do have to trawl through some dreary Chris Carter penned episodes to get there). It’s become very easy to criticise Chris Carter these days (I did it in the previous sentence) but his direction of this material is often very strong and the early scenes of the saucer being discovered are shot with cinematic production value and have a real sense of menace. The X-Files was always very good at creating suspicion around documented events and O’Malley’s suggestion that 9/11 was conjured up by the government as a distraction technique is so terrifying (admittedly something I have heard mooted before but dismissed as being ridiculous) in its implications I’m surprised that the show didn’t have the balls to run with that idea for its opener. I also like the assertion that there has been a source of ‘free energy’ since the 40s, but it has been more lucrative to sell oil for trillions of dollars instead. The show has always traded on the notion of alien technology being misused in the governments hands but the idea of dismissing the aliens themselves as long dead and that this entire nine-season escapade has been of human design using alien tech from the crashed Roswell spaceship…well that says something rather ugly about ourselves and how willing we are to go to progress. It doesn’t make any sense given everything we have seen in the series so far, especially scenes like those in the first movie where Mulder came face to face with alien life. But at least Carter is trying to see the series through a new angle. 

The Bad: What’s interesting about the pre-titles gush of exposition is that the show hasn’t really tried to re-invent itself for a new generation. It is presenting the information with stylish, channel hopping rapidity that might appeal to the yoof of today but the essentials of the show (government cover-ups, aliens amongst us, a moral crusader) are still unchanged. Maybe a dynamic new approach to the show was needed to really grab people’s attention. Wow, going back to the old old title sequence of seasons 1-7 is a crazy nostalgia fest, but seems illogical given how much Duchovny and Anderson have aged since the show first aired in the 90s. is Skinner really being mooted as a bad guy again? His friend/foe relationship with Mulder and Scully is becoming more complicated and repetitive than the Ross/Rachel thing was on Friends. Series eight and nine firmly established Skinner as a friend to the X-Files and Scully and he was in full on protective mode. How the hell can they be suspicious of him again…unless that is just the factory setting that Carter thinks the show should be returning to. It feels like it is making a mockery of the (pretty wonderful) character work in the shows last two seasons. The last-minute re-introduction of The Smoking Man (yeah, he deserves the capital T) is supposed to be a shock twist…but really it left me groaning as another piece is slotted into place to make this business as usual. How the hell did he survive death this time? He escapes purgatory more times than Doctor Who’s The Master. He needs a ‘I’m indestructible, the whole universe knows that!’ style line to cover his miraculous survival again and again.

Pre-Titles Sequence: How on Earth do you even begin to sum up the entire nine seasons of The X-Files for the post-9/11 audience fifteen years after it went off the air? How do you sum up the entire convoluted, beautifully executed, emotional, thrilling, and occasionally unsatisfying journey? With a few pictures and a voiceover, apparently. Essentially what the pre-titles sequence of My Struggle is trying to do is what The Truth was trying to achieve at the end of season nine, only it does it in about five minutes rather than two long, hideous hours. Whilst people might have flashes back to the interminable days of Redux (the ultimate voice over episode that kick-started season five), Mulder presents a compelling case for the existence of extra-terrestrials in this sequence, backed up by some exhilarating and amusing sequences of flying saucer sightings. At this point I’ll take the clichés because it’s simply so wonderful to have Mulder and Scully back. As for the flying saucer that crashes into the desert, it’s a powerful visual and shows just what the advancements of CGI can do for the show in the modern age.

Orchestra: Who else but Mark Snow could score this show? He’s back on the synthesisers and wallpapering every scene with his trademark suspicion and distrust, occasionally bringing in some beautiful piano work to add some depth. Having reached the mid-point of the eleventh season I have to say he has been experimenting with some really up to date music techniques but at this point it’s still a little touch of the early 2000s, which might not be such a bad thing to bridge the gap between series nine and ten. 

The Truth: ‘The tentacles reach far back into the last century but it wasn’t until victories in Europe and Japan and the onset of the Cold War that political and economic conditions became perfect for actual execution. A conspiracy bigger and more secret than the Manhattan project. No sooner had we defeating Germany that a new threat had started appearing the skies over America, drawn to Earth by the latest threat to extinction: The H-Bomb. Explosions acting as transducers drawing alien lifeforms through wormholes in spaceships using electro-gravitic propulsion. Advanced extra-terrestrial species visiting us, concerned for mankind and the threat of our self-destruction, forestalling our own annihilation through their own self-sacrifice. World leaders signed secret memos directing scientific studies of alien technology and biochemistry. Classified studies were done at military installations, extracting alien tissue. Test were done on unsuspecting human subjects, in elaborately staged abductions, in craft using alien technology recovered from the downed saucers. Including human hybridization through gene editing and forced implantation of alien embryos’ ‘A government, hiding, hoarding alien technology for 70 years, at the expense of human life and the future of the planet. Driven not only by corporate greed but a darker objective’ ‘The takeover of America’ ‘And then the world itself by any means necessary. However violent, or cruel, or efficient. By severe drought brought on by weather wars conducted secretly using Ariel contaminants and high altitude electromagnetic waves. In a state of perpetual wear to create problem-reaction-solution scenarios to distract enrage and enslave American citizens at home with tools like the Patriot Act and the National Défense Authorisation Act, which abridged the constitution in the name of national security. The militarisation of police forces in cities across the U.S. The building of prison camps by the Federal Emergency Management Agency with no stated purpose. The corporate takeover of food and agriculture, pharmaceuticals and health care. Even the military in clandestine agendas, to fatten, dull sicken, and control a populace already consumed by consumerism. A government that taps your phone, collects your data and monitors your whereabouts with impunity. A government preparing to use that data against you when it strikes and the final takeover begins. The takeover of America by a well-oiled, well-armed multinational group of elites that will cull, kill and subjugate. It’ll probably start on a Friday. The banks will announce a security action necessitating their computers to go offline all weekend. Digital money will disappear. Followed by the strategic detonation of electromagnetic pulse bombs to knock out major grids. What will seem like an attack on America by terrorists or Russia or a simulated alien invasion using alien replica vehicles that exist and are already in use.’ 

It is literally as though Carter has been stewing on these paranoid fantasies for 15 years and has to get them all out in one go. It’s quite one of the most preposterous dialogue sequences in the shows entire run, an endless stream of exposition, delivered threateningly, that just keeps coming like a mighty river of paranoia and smacks you in the face with a sheer wall of madness. These people don’t sound like characters but propaganda machines. And the ideas that are being mooted are so extreme that you have to wonder why Scully didn’t just burst into laughter at the end. I think Carter was hoping that if he listed one theory after another in quick succession that we wouldn’t have time to think about them and just be carried along with the tide of suspicion. Here you have the time to read the whole scene and see for yourself how irrational it all sounds. What’s more, the intercutting of so many pieces of history and newly filmed footage is so expertly done that despite the madness of it all you actually start to wonder…what if it is true? Skipping from drama to a documentary style piece about the corruption of society by the government. Whatever you might think about all this, it is pure X-Files. Part ludicrousness, part fact, part intriguing ideas. At least Carter cannot be accused of not dishing out answers this time. And Scully says that it is so bogus and ridiculous it borders on treason. The voice of reason. Unbelievable that the series is going down the route that the scenario quoted above has some merit, as Sveta and Scully’s test results seem to give it some element of credence.

Moment to Watch Out For: The scenes of Mulder in the hangar with the alien spacecraft. There’s no sense of epic wonder in these scenes because we’ve done all this before. Instead Mulder walks up to the beautifully designed ship that is defying gravity and cloaking itself like an old friend he is coming home to. It’s a fantastically executed sequence, more impressive camerawork from Carter.

Result: The X-Files is back after 1.5 decades away from our screens! Put your hands together for the return of Mulder and Scully in the post 9/11 period, where paranoia runs amok more than ever. Surely this is the perfect time to have the dynamic duo back to cut a swathe through all the outlandish theories that are generated as a result of some ghastly real-life events in the intervening 15 years since the show was off the air? And as a chance to update the show for a modern audience it is an irresistible opportunity, taking the Game of Thrones approach of truly cinematic television with visceral shocks, heart-in-mouth twists and turns and dynamic storytelling. Unfortunately, that is an opportunity Chris Carter seems to want to ignore, instead taking us right back to the early 2000s and practically picking up the show where we left off. There are little concessions made here for the fact that the entire landscape of television has changed in 15 years and Carter is still fixated on long voiceovers, extended dialogue scenes and muddled writing that trades discussing ideas over experiencing them. Even Mulder and Scully, who have professed to have moved on from The X-Files in all this time are drawn back together to partner up and tackling paranormal crimes again. It’s like nothing has changed and we’re picking up from the end of series seven. Despite the leads ageing, this episode could come after Je Souhaite. I’m going to sound contradictory here, but this is rather enjoyable for all its fossilisation. Carter has this schtick down pat and it’s been a long time since we’ve enjoyed Mark Snow’s synthy music, Duchovny’s droning voiceovers, Anderson’s ability to emote through some tangled exposition, seductively long shots of crashed flying saucers, clandestine scenes in darkened car parks and quite so many conspiracy theories all packed into one hour. My Struggle is certainly never dull, it’s packed full of arresting visuals and the performances, which you might expect to be rusty, feel as though the leads have never been away. Carter directs much better than he writes (characters are often choking on his expository dialogue and mission statements) and the whole piece, whilst oddly paced, skips along regardless and there is a real sense that something terrible is brewing. I’m really happy to have The X-Files back and I’m looking forward to what was my personal favourites of their original body of work, the monster of the week episodes. What the show needs its pacier storytelling, not just a slide show of ideas and a stronger emotional core to justify Mulder and Scully being brought together again. Fortunately, these things would eventually be delivered: 6/10

Founder’s Mutation written by written and directed by James Wong

What’s it about: Evil Doctor, experiments on babies, alien DNA in the mix, mothers being exploited…

Brains’n’Beauty: You’ve gotta love Scully’s assertion that she’s old school, pre-google. She actually reads books and retains information, an appalling concept in the digital age. The first time Scully and Mulder are poking around a darkened room with flashlights Anderson must have felt right at home again. You’ve got fresh images for the title sequence right there. There’s a personal connection to Scully, linking to the hospital that she has worked in for the past seven years. It’s nice to see that explored a little more, even if it is just seeing how well she is respected at the hospital. Brilliantly this ties in with Scully’s abandonment of William in the episode of the same name in series nine, with Scully weighed down with the regret of a decision that made sense at the time. Speaking as somebody who was invested in the final two seasons of the series, I was appalled that I went on the protracted and incredible journey in series eight to bring William to life and then the part-professional/part-domestic arrangement of series nine with Scully holding the baby and the gun, only to have him given up for adoption so close to the series’ conclusion. It felt as though the writers simply did not know how to resolve the William storyline that suggested he had great powers and might be the new messiah of an alien cult and so they simply chose to remove him from the series. I stick by my assertion that it was a spiteful thing to do with Scully (Anderson agreed) and to the audience that had softened to this domestic take on the show, because nobody knew at the time that there would be a new series 15 years later to deal with the aftermath of that decision. Colour me impressed that they have then, and that her adoption choice has been a conduit to some brutal drama in series 10 and 11. The absence of William has left an unspoken gap between Mulder and Scully and has given Gillian Anderson the chance to do what she does best, to look emotionally pained and devastate the audience with it. Let’s see if these references to William actually lead anywhere or if this is just teasing the audience. For now, it is an emotional hook for the series to pick up and stab at the audience with. A very effective one, because the bond between mother and son is a powerful one and cutting it leaves both parties damaged and those effects are fascinating to examine. The dream sequences are painful because they are so sunnily directed, an idyllic picture of motherhood and the sort of occasions that Scully denied herself.

Trust No-One: Mulder is back to his unorthodox ways of investigating, attempting to remove classified hard drives and taking the mobile phone from the body of the first victim. Scully offers token disapproval but she knows his approach gets results. Even Skinner tows the line with warnings to Mulder that he isn’t allowed access to certain sensitive information, before whispering that he assumes that he made copies. Mulder has his own dream sequences about fathering William, teaching him the things that are important to him. Like Scully, he is scared that ultimately he will come to some ghastly extra-terrestrial fate, and pleasingly this plays out along similar lines to Samantha’s abduction. The regret that they both have that their son is no longer in their lives is palpable.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘This could be dangerous’ ‘When has that ever stopped us before?’
‘Desire is the devils pitchfork’ – the quality of mercy is not Sister Mary who, in a quiet rant of religious intolerance, exposes the dangerous ethics of the left wing who claim morality as their own yardstick. Condemning all men, regardless of the circumstances. There are many men out there who have done terrible things to women, but not all of them. To think that is unnecessarily condemning.
‘Every new species begins with a Founder’s mutation.’

Ugh: Poor Sanjay stabs himself in the ear with a letter opener to try and stop the insistent whining that is driving him mad…and when that doesn’t work he keeps on pushing. I let out a cry of disgust of the sort I used to on a regular occasion with The X-Files. Hooray for James Wong, who remember that this show used to gross us all out more than most. We see the opener extracted from his ear practically in slow motion, covered in blood and gunk. Lovely. The children at Goldman’s facility shouldn’t make me recoil because they are disfigured but some of the makeup is so effectively repellent, I did anyway. Agnes’ murder and her baby being surgically removed is utterly repulsive, just to get rid of the evidence that she was part of Goldman’s experiments.

The Good: Homosexuality was rarely touched upon in the first nine series of the show and so it feels very ‘now’ to be dealing with such a hotly debated subject in the reboot. Sanjay is a tragic character who never truly came to terms with his sexuality and had to live a double life to satisfy his needs. Speaking as somebody who has dabbled a fair amount in the past couple of years you should trust me when I say there is an awful lot of this about. I like how the mention of ‘his kids’ has a completely different meaning to the one I was suspecting, opening out the story in a new direction. I love the sequence of Molly breathing in water for ten minutes. Somehow this show manages to shed any innocence from children and turn them into something truly sinister. The final set piece of Molly and Kyle being reunited and causing mayhem involving glass shattering, eyes bleeding and Mulder and Scully being tossed about by rag dolls see Wong throwing every directorial trick in the book to make this as effective as possible.

The Bad: We’ve gone from a quick mention of the X-Files being re-opened to Mulder and Scully back in full swing investigating a good old-fashioned monster of the week story with no real explanation in between of how or why the department was opened and how they fell about being back at work. At only six episodes, I guess the niceties like explanation have to be skipped over to get to some proper standalone episodes. Relying on flashbacks so much means that we’re not getting the meat of the story within the ‘present’ narrative. In My Struggle it was all speculation and clips, but in Founder’s Mutation we’re being told a lot of the drama again, just things that have happened in the past. It’s the curse of episodic television, if you only have an hour to tell a story you have to use these devices to expand the story you are telling.

Pre-Titles Sequence: It’s a dizzying and disorienting opening set piece featuring a scientist who is plagued by terrible sounds and can hear everybody talking in fast and slow motion. Wong throws every trick in the book (especially aurally) to get the viewer on edge without ever telling us what is actually going on.

The Truth: Women being used as incubators, their children disabled in some way and taken from them and used in eugenics experiments. The Department of Defence is funding their research to imbue these children with alien DNA and observe the results. Orchestra:
Moment to Watch Out For: In a wonderful moment of confusion, Mulder almost receives head in a toilet from a friend of the first victim, rather than just the information that he is after. His reaction is priceless and the idea that Mulder is repressed sexually given his extensive porn collection and long game with Scully is hilarious. He should have just let go and enjoyed it, I wouldn’t have thought anything less of him.

Result: This much more like The X-Files of old; an intelligently written mystery that explores a horrific idea with plenty of cool set pieces to keep the interest high. Everybody is very new to this again after such an absence so it doesn’t feel quite as effortless as the best episodes of the original run but there is plenty of substance and emotional truth in Founder’s Mutation to make this a very worthwhile debut standalone adventure. I complained in My Struggle that Chris Carter went on a whirlwind explanation of a million paranoid fantasies without ever showing us the truth of any of them, simply offering us a tiny titbit of proof in Sveta’s DNA. Wong instead builds an investigation around one idea (the children being infected with alien DNA), explores it inventively and emotionally with some lovely moments of horror and ties it into a character study of Scully that adds a lot of depth to her return to the series. It’s a story that is a little too dense, hence the flashbacks and dream sequences to expand on the themes and give them some context, and what starts as an investigation soon becomes a series of explanations. It pulls a massive coup in the last ten minutes with the two kids set free and running AWOL with their supernatural powers, an extremely vivid climax that more than justifies the concept. There’s nothing in Founder’s Mutation that couldn’t be solved with an extra 15 minutes to let the story breathe a little more but on a scene by scene basis this is a strong episode, with memorably ghastly imagery and dramatic moments. This a series gaining a little confidence but not quite ready to fly and with just a little refinement this could have been a top tier episode. Instead it’s a fascinating exercise in a show trying to remember what it does best and in many ways beginning to perfect that formula again. Founder’s Mutation is far more enjoyable than the season opener: 7/10

Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster written and directed by Darin Morgan

What’s it about: The old, old tale of a monster that is bitten by a human and starts to transform…

I’m guessing Scully’s time running the X-Files has done her the world of good because I remember the days of Bad Blood (however Mulder remembered it) where she had to be dragged kicking and screaming onto cases. Now she is bringing the work to him and encouraging him to do the right thing even if he is going through a midlife crisis of sorts. In a wonderful moment Scully expresses that she loves her Mulder spouting all manner of conspiracy theories before declaring him batcrap crazy. Gillian Anderson lets go of all of her inhabitations (and her dignity) and throws herself wholeheartedly into the fake sex scene. How is she looking hotter than ever? Don’t you just love how Scully had this whole thing figured out long before the climax, and whilst Mulder is standing about pontificating with the creature she is off-screen solving this thing? She proves extremely capable, tackling the killer and wonderfully interrupts his perfectly rehearsed confession speech and motive.

Trust No-One:
The simple joy of Mulder sitting in his office rummaging through X-Files and throwing pencils at his The Truth Is Out There poster whilst Scully pops in with a new job. Going through the archives with fresh eyes has proven humbling, especially when Mulder remembers the case where he thought a rock monster was on the loose and it turned out to be a publicity stunt for a landscaping business. He’s a middle-aged man (no he is…he is…okay Scully don’t rush in there to contradict him) who is wondering whether it is time to start putting away childish things. After everything that he has seen, Mulder still screams like a big girl when confronted by the Were-Monster. Mulder has an entire extended dialogue sequence where he flaunts every possible theory about the Were-Monster AND Scully’s obvious response too. They have been working together so long now. Mulder and Guy are the same, they both want to believe in things that aren’t real and in meeting, Mulder has proof that his quest for the unexplained can yield genuine results and Guy meets a human who is actually nice to him. The look of wonder on his face in the last scene where he finally sees the Were-Monster in its true form really melted me. Unlike most people who would have screamed or attacked or ran, Mulder is in awe and that thrill of the unknown is re-awakened in him.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We’ve been given another case, Mulder. It has a monster in it.’ 
‘Mulder, the internet is not good for you.’
‘I’m assuming Guy Mann is not a real name.’
‘A reminder that no matter how overwhelming our anxieties might be, they will soon be resolved when we are dead and buried for all eternity’ ‘Do you really think that’s sound therapeutic advice?’
‘You see now I possess the one Darwinian advantage that humans have over other animals: the ability to BS my way through anything!’
‘Because life’s hopeless. A few fleeting moments of happiness, surrounded by crushing loss and grief. Why bother?’
‘Man, she hit like a man!’ – The X-files not only promotes transgenderism, it slays it with comedy.

The Good: It’s a great point that nobody should be without evidence of supernatural phenomena these days because everybody has a camera on them. Cue Mulder heading into a dangerous situation and snapping photos like a crazy Instagram sensation. How wonderful that he had the lens pointed the wrong way so the only evidence he has is himself screaming like a great Jessie. One might expect the manager of a run-down motel to be something of a peeping tom but giant eyes cut out of the fox head hanging from the wall that Mulder discovers have to be seen to be believed. Poor Scully. A massive round of applause for Rhys Darby who gives a lovely performance as the monster, a guy who simply wants to get on with his life as a monster but is infected with humanity. It’s a lovely comment on the expectations modern day society when he realises that at a certain age you need to have achieved things in order to call your life a success. The reverse nature of the usual ‘bitten by a werewolf’ theme is beautifully handled and allows for Guy to experience the ‘horror’ of being a human. It’s a terrific moment when he jumps on the bed when he realises his monster nature has returned. I really like the idea that the monster of the week is the one who feels threatened of such mundane things like having to find a job and get a mortgage. The joy of a monster watching a human commit an act of such brutality and standing there, appalled. Wonderfully the mystery of the killings is resolved effectively too, with the killer hiding in plain sight but with the audience completely distracted by the very ‘human’ story of the Were-Monster. 

Pre-Titles Sequence: All my warning systems started activating after the pre-titles sequence, which gives the impression that this was going to be one of those highbrow comedy episodes of The X-Files that is a little too self-referential for its own good. During the shows sixth and seventh seasons we were introduced to The X-Files lite, a glut of lighter, scare-free shows that could aspire to genius (The Unnatural) or plumbs new depths of depravity (First Person Shooter). Given that the revival was only going to be six episodes long did we really want to waste one of those on a comedy? I couldn’t really detect the pen of Darin Morgan in this opening scene, not yet, as I have come to expect something genuinely witty and wonderful from him. 

Moment to Watch Out For: This is the first time that a monster on this show has been smacked in the face with a handbag being wielded by a screaming transgender prostitute. It’s quite one of the most absurd and hilarious things I’ve ever seen. His assertion that the monster was wearing ‘tighty whities’ is wonderful.

‘You’re going to have to put me out of my misery! I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and have to go to work!’ There has never been an X-File quite like this one before, not even from the pen of Darin Morgan. The definition of farce is ‘a comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterisation and ludicrously improbable situations’ and that suits Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster well, except perhaps the crude characterisation part and throw in a massive handful of fantastic one liners to the mix. It’s walking a tightrope of absurdity, but with all the actors giving winning performances and winks at the audience that are more pokes with a stick. Morgan mines a seam of comedy gold by bending the show out of shape and delivering a sequence of thoughtful dialogue scenes, great twists, reversals and observations. He writes unlike no other writer on television and that is entirely to his credit. If anybody was worried that Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny wouldn’t capture that magic that they had in the strongest seasons of the X-Files and were unsure about their tentative performances in the first two episodes then they need to look no further this little gem to see the alchemy of their rapport back in full swing. It helps that Morgan gives warm focus on their relationship and how happy they are to be working together again. With the focus on the monster of the week being a victim, this transpires to be a sweet character tale ultimately, with a terrific turn from Rhys Darby and a novel concept in the form of a monster of the week being bitten by a human and transforming into one. Confident, insane, very funny in parts and almost recognisably the show we’ve come to admire, Mulder and Scully Meets the Were-Monster is a unique one off that sits in the middle of the mini season ten and proudly glows. Prepare yourself for the funniest Scully sex scene of all time: 9/10

Home Again written and directed by Glen Morgan 

What’s it about: Scully faces a personal crisis as the Trash Man is brought into being and attacks the heartless…

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully dealing with her dying mother is the sort of material that Gillian Anderson can take hold of and run with and she’s magnificent in Home Again. She fights back the tears as she tells her mother on her deathbed that her family, including William, which when she realises what she has said makes her choke some more. Brining Scully’s family into the equation really connects this into the series wider mythology and whilst I was happy that at least one member of the regular’s family made it out of the original run alive (because it felt for a time that there was an assassination squad, led by Chris Carter) that was gunning for them), it does feel like the right time to say goodbye to Margaret Scully. She’s both a Doctor and Margaret’s daughter and she has trouble separating the two. Margaret’s last words are about William, which really brings home the loss of her child to Scully. I’m not sure about this ‘we’ gave him up for adoption for his own good when it was clearly a decision on Scully’s part, one which she was terrified that Mulder would never forgive him for. She has a whole reef of questions that about William, about what he must think of her, of how her decision must have affected him. Having seen the majority of series eleven I know this is heading somewhere, and it is making me want to go back and watch series nine in a whole new light. Who ever knew the events of William would yield such dramatically satisfying results?

Trust No-One: Mulder steps in and speaks for the organ donor guys that have come for Scully’s mother, recognising that she isn’t thinking straight as she lays into them after she has died. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Not even in the proper recycling bin.’ 
‘I don’t care about the big questions right now, Mulder. I just want the chance to ask my mom a few more little ones.’
‘Mulder back in the day I used to do stairs and in three-inch heels.’

Ugh: How nice to have a monster that isn’t angst ridden (the previous two episodes featured tortured souls with monstrous powers) but one that is a soulless automaton that is out for retribution and will literally tear the limbs from people and throw them in the trash to get it done. The Trash Man is the most memorable nasty from the abbreviated season ten and his modus operandi, dismembering people with a smile, really sets him apart from the monsters of old.

The Good: Home Again doesn’t push its political agenda too hard (there’s no real time with a scary monster on the loose and Scully’s mum in critical care) but it essentially boils down to nobody is looking out for the homeless, everybody wants to push them off their own turf whilst pretending it is for their own good. Mulder cuts right to the heart of the matter when he tells both two squabbling officials that they are both speaking for their own interests, but who is speaking for the homeless?

The Bad: It’s a little jarring that Scully would just snap out of her breakdown over her mother’s death and just have to get back to work simply because the story that demands that she does so. Without the protagonists to investigate, the Trash Man story cannot conclude. It’s a very awkward transition. I’m not sure I understand half of what Tim Armstrong said, such was his unintelligible delivery. A shame because that’s where the moral of the story hits. 

Pre-Titles Sequence: This is easily the most memorably grisly of the pre-title sequences of season ten. Being homeless is an undignified position enough to be in without being hosed down by the officials and forced to find somewhere else to squat. The man who is overseeing those orders, quite heartlessly I have to say, is then paid a visit by a stinking, cadaverous, hulking man who tears his limbs off and throws those bloody appendages in to the garbage truck he arrived in. And then gets in himself! The dismemberment is edited rapidly to shock and the whole sequence is directed with a forcefulness which the series has been lacking since it returned. This is a no hold barred X-Files set piece of old. The dust truck is a really good symbol of dread once it has been established that that is how the Trash Man turns up, as soon as we see it growling its way up the road in the distance you know that someone’s going to get it. 

The Truth: A graffiti artist filled his art full of energy and thought and created the Trash Man, an avenging monster that can roam the streets and crush those people who treat human beings like trash. Like most X-File premises, don’t think about it too hard.

Moment to Watch Out For: I happen to have a great affinity for Petula Clark’s Downtown, it’s one of my favourite songs so I realise that I might be a little biased when it comes to using it to stage a particularly disgusting murder scene in Home Again. However, the sequence itself is brilliantly directed, packed with suspense, humour (the Trash Man recycles after he has murdered) and gross out horror. This is the sort of set piece The X-Files of old revelled in, and Morgan taps into that cold sweat of a something nasty invading your home vividly. ‘You may find somebody kind to help and understand you…’ indeed.

Result: ‘People treat people like trash…’ How like The X-Files to place a real monster of the week tale directly after one which subverts and pokes fun at the genre. Home Again reminds me of Leonard Betts from the series original run, whilst having an identity all of its own. It’s a grisly standalone with some memorably repellent set pieces, an emotional piece for Scully who is dealing with losing her mother and directed with both brutality (for the murder scenes) and lightness of touch (for the character moments), with some nice touches of humour throughout. It’s really very good indeed, the blueprint of what these episodes should be like. In terms of how visual storytelling has moved on in nearly two decades I have to say that this show feels like a bit of relic, with some long, protracted scenes and not really going for the kill during the horror moments but Morgan redresses this in his episode. He’s not exactly dragging The X-Files up to date but there is a directness and punch to this episode that pretty much all the others (except for My Struggle II strangely, as if Carter was learning how to bring this show back for a brand new generation as he went along) lack. Strangely, Carter would learn from this for series 11 where the show is literally dragged kicking and screaming into 2018, with some truly impressive direction throughout. The only real weakness I can see is how awkwardly Morgan tries to tie together the two stories thematically, because I’m not sure that the birth of a trash creature can really compare to the birth of Scully’s son. However, it brings the emphasis back onto William again, to be followed up later, and that can only be a good thing. ‘I need to believe that we didn’t treat him like trash’ is the punchline to the episode, just throwing her son away. I’m not such that gets down to the complexity of such a decision, but I appreciated the attempt to give her (very strange at the time) decision some context. Home Again packs in a lot but it does so with in very entertaining fashion, and I particularly loved the death scenes: 8/10

Babylon written and directed by Chris Carter

What’s it about: Terrorists, line dancing and doppelgangers…it has to be a Chris Carter script! 

Brains’n’Beauty: Showing how far she has come since the early days of the show, Scully approaches Miller about his theory of being able to reach inside the mind of the terrorist boy because she wishes she had thought of that possibility when her mother was in a coma. Showing that she is open to extreme possibilities reveals growth to her character. Given her an emotional motive is a way of doing that intelligently.

Trust No-One: Mulder’s hyper crazy theory of the week (God I’ve missed those) is that somehow faith systems and thoughts have actual substance and can move men to do terrible things. Well, duh. Mulder and Miller believe that the young terrorist can be reached in ways involving magic mushrooms in order to receive intel on other terrorist acts that are about to be committed. It’s not the craziest premise for an episode, but it’s up there.

Brains’n’Beauty & Trust No-One Two: Enter Lauren Ambrose and Robbie Ammell as the Scully and Mulder for the next generation. Not only do they have a striking similarity to the agents physically (one redhead, one brown haired) but they also follow the same pattern of conflict in their work (Einstein is a sceptic and Miller a believer). The opening dialogue scene between the four characters is insanely fun with some wonderful reaction shots as they realise they practically exact replicas od each other. Anderson is especially funny as she reacts to Ambrose’s lines, the sort of lines she herself should be saying. Mulder thinks he seems like a bright young man, whilst Einstein pities Scully for being stuck down in the basement office. And like Duchovny and Anderson, the acting chops really belongs to the female side of this new arrangement. How Mulder and Scully pair off with their alternate partner made me chuckle and it really does feel, for a moment, like they are passing the torch to the next generation. After the sheer insanity they have experienced in this episode it is nice to see a wrap up scene for Einstein and Miller, showing that they have learnt something about themselves and situation and are ready for adventures new. I wish them every luck. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The earwitnesses.’
‘Nobody down here but the FBI’s most unwanted. I’ve been waiting 25 years to say that’ – whilst there have been one of two too many references to the shows past, this coming from the mouth of Scully is fantastic.
‘Because when I stand on a scale and think of ice cream my ass doesn’t grow!’
‘You talk to Agent Scully like that?’ ‘Only when she’s being a mugwump.’ 

The Good: Just a question really: why have so many of the writers this season directed their own work? Is it that they don’t trust for anybody else to bring justice to their words or simply the fact that this might have been a one hit wonder season and they all wanted to have their chance to get in the director’s chair one last time? Or is it simply because the great Kim Manners is no longer with us and nobody else could be trusted? There’s a very potent sequence involving a man silently building an explosive jacket whilst a news show plays in the background showing precisely the emotional stir that these terrorist acts brew up. Hate causing hate. Nobody wins. The dialogue maybe overwritten but Mulder and Scully pondering on how to reconcile love and hate in society really made my heart smile and is worth pondering on. 

The Bad: I could have done without the scene where the official states his racist agenda and Scully steps in to point out that not all Muslims are terrorists. It’s probably quite contentious for American television but I was just left thinking ‘well obviously.’ The nurse who tries to take the young patients life in a wordless sequence is far more effective, because it asks you to decide whether what she is doing is right or wrong. Since Mulder didn’t actually take magic mushrooms are we to presume he simply has the ability to commune with the nearly dead? And has great line dancing skills? 

Pre-Titles Sequence: Actually, my favourite pre-title sequence of the revival, and a strong contender for one of my favourite pre-titles ever. There’s a great deal to talk about here and whilst I do I am praying that I don’t insult any belief systems or intelligences, because the subject matter is so utterly inflammatory that simply saying that you appreciate the graphic power of a terrorist attack being portrayed on screen is enough to get you marked. Chris Carter was on very thin ice with this sequence because it is something that exists in the cold sweat of every American, but I think he directs it with a lot of honesty and integrity. Should The X-Files be tackling Islamic terrorism? If it wants to remain controversial and current, maybe yes. I’ve heard people say that this is a terribly racist sequence and completely inappropriate but the truth of the matter is that these sorts of things do happen. Capable, intelligent young men are convinced to give their lives in horrifically murderous ways that claim many victims along the way in the name of their religion. To shine a light on that isn’t racist, it is simply acknowledging that it happens. The direction here is phenomenal, showing the young man preying and eating, heading out to see his friends and acting in a very ordinary fashion. It means when the bomb goes off in the store that he enters it really provides a powerful shock. I liked how he is victim to racism on his journey, again acknowledging that this happens and how, for a moment, Carter turns this character into a victim. It’s such a provocative set piece because it stirs up at first feelings of sympathy and then feelings of hatred. It shines a light on our own feelings of racism and then terrorism. The way the camera fixes in one spot without music waiting for the inevitable explosion is brilliant, and the pyrotechnics afterwards filled my gut with horror. Not for the faint hearted and capable of jolting awake an audience that might have been relaxing after the last few weeks of The X-Files doing its usual monster of the week thing. What the young man does is abhorrent, but there is a suggestion here that he has been corrupted and isn’t entirely in control of his actions. Lots to ponder on. 

Moment to Watch Out For: Mulder taking a trip in all senses of the word out of the hospital to attend a line dancing competition that he aces before being assaulted with denim tight booty, whipped seductively on an alien dissection table, whipped on a slave ship by the CSM and gets the intel from the terrorist that is being cradled in Mary’s arms. Religious imagery, funky direction, unconvincing effects, crazy music, impressive dancing, outrageous sexism and the return of some beloved characters all combine in a set piece that left me feeling as though I had crossed through fourteen different dimensions, switch channel several times and experienced auto erotic asphyxiation. Only Carter could produce this. God bless him.

Result: The episode so bad that most people find they spit on the floor when they mention its name. Well buckle up kiddos because I really loved Babylon, despite the fact that it has no serious clue what it wants to be. Is it a commentary in Islamic terrorism? Yes, at times. Is it a character piece where a younger version of Mulder and Scully are compared favourably against their older counterparts? For sure. Is it an expression of bizarro Chris Carter madness with a sequence featuring Mulder taking a drug trip, line dancing, hanging with the Lone Gunmen and being whipped provocatively by The Cigarette Smoking Man? Without a doubt. Logic is out the window and Babylon is all over the place in terms of tone, plotting and content. However, it is beautifully directed and acted, features some really enjoyable dialogue, a terrific score and somehow those elements (for me) blend into something that is truly unique and memorable. I walked away from the episode feeling a lot of appreciation of all of it’s constituent parts and when you bring them together jarringly into one episode it becomes a relentlessly out there journey. Babylon could only come from The X-Files and certainly it could only come from the pen of Chris Carter, a man who thinks he can literally get away with anything. Sometimes that God complex provokes eclectic and unusual results. Remember when the interaction between Mulder and Scully had started to become a little stale in series seven? Their time away has done both actors the world of good and now there is a beautifully relaxed and addictive chemistry between them and Carter highlights this in some gorgeous, although occasionally (it is Carter after all) overwritten dialogue scenes. I don’t care what anybody says, I find Einstein and Miller a delightful addition and things are kept just the right side of parody for them to work as characters in their own right as well as being Scully and Mulder for the next generation. The drug-addled sequence simply has to be seen to be believed, I can’t really fault or praise it because I have never seen anything like on television before. It’s just so bloody weird. In short, Mulder takes a massive dose of magic mushrooms (or not) to commune with a terrorist. Yeah, you read that right. In the end the plot is wrapped up in record time by insultingly easy means (and the meaning of the title is just hilariously simple) but the dialogue touches on so many interesting ideas on the way I’m not sure it even matters. And the final scene filled my heart with sunshine. Babylon, defying description or critique, daring to be provocative and ridiculous. You might think it is insulting or just a little too weird for your tastes and I respect that but I rather love it: 9/10