Monday, 30 December 2013

The Trial of the Valeyard written by Alan Barnes & Mike Maddox and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: There is some evil in all of us – even the Doctor. Transported aboard the Time Lords' orbiting courtroom, the Doctor once again encounters the Valeyard, an amalgamation of the darker sides of his nature. This time, however, the Doctor isn't in the dock. This time, the Valeyard is the defendant, accused of a crime so terrible that the presiding Inquisitor is forbidden to reveal it even to the court, nor even to his counsel for the defence… the Doctor. If the Valeyard is found guilty, he'll be executed. Execute the Valeyard, and the secret of his origins dies with him. A secret that the Doctor is desperate to know… and which the Time Lords will stop at nothing to protect.
Softer Six: He simply will not accept that he has landed on the Trial station again and walks straight back into the TARDIS and refuses to come out. Clearly his Trial is a period of his life that still haunts him. If he can’t escape he will wait for the 17 suns of Kasterborous to go out before he leaves his ship and is subjected to more political chicanery at the hands of his people. He might say that his interest isn’t piqued but he still wants them to put the lights on so he can see precisely where he is. He’s sooner embrace oblivion than yet again suffer the prolonged misery of the Gallifreyan system. Rather than undergo the same indignities as last time he fesses up to all the charges that were laid at his door (stealing a TARDIS, meddling in the affairs of others, etc.). There can’t be many Time Lords that the Doctor is still on speaking terms with after all these aeons. He refers to the Master as ‘old pointy beard.’ He doesn’t hate easily but when it comes to the Valeyard…but does that mean he hates himself? Given Colin Baker’s career in panto, the Doctor’s line defending the genre was quite a nice touch. The only thing that riles him even more than a future version of himself meddling in his affairs is the Time Lords not playing fair and that is what encourages him to speak on the Valeyard’s behalf. Like the Trial during season twenty-three, the facts being revealed suddenly become a noose around the Doctor’s neck. The idea of experimenting on himself to extent his life cycle doesn’t even seem possible, let alone plausible. ‘Gallifrey can go hang!’ he cries, a condemnation that he might live to regret.

The Inquisitor: Lynda Bellingham was sorely missed in the last three seasons of Gallifrey (her Inquisitor was one the best elements of the series, taking the term villainess to new levels of space opera campery). I’m pleased that Big Finish have been able to avail themselves of her services again. She doesn’t have any time for vulgar theatrics. Age is a Time Lady’s prerogative and she isn’t telling. I’m not sure whether the Inquisitor is the Doctor’s ally or enemy in this adventure and I think she rather likes it that way. Ultimately, I don’t think Barnes and Maddox quite got a handle on the character but she is salvaged by Bellingham’s phenomenal performance.

The Valeyard: This is a character that is ripe for further exploration that Big Finish has practically ignored entirely (which is most unlike them) aside from the dire Unbound adventure He Jests at Scars and that dealt with an alternative version of the character. The twist at the end of Trial of a Time Lord that he is a darker version of the Doctor is one of the finest shock twists in the shows history, they sat on that revelation for 11 episodes so it made the maximum impact. And it is a concept that is ripe for great drama, a sinister, corrupt version of the Doctor. When I heard that Big Finish were going to put this story out as a subscriber special I was very excited, finally somebody had grabbed hold of a idea that has barely been touched upon and was going to look into it in more depth. Personally I would be up for a Valeyard series, simply because the idea of an anti-hero travelling in the TARDIS is too delicious to waste. He cannot believe that the Doctor had the chance to be Lord President of Gallifrey and he squandered it. His earlier iteration might think that he has lived but he knows that he has barely even started. The all-seeing, all-knowing Time Lords of Gallifrey don’t know what the Valeyard is. That is what scares them. He wanted the remainder of the Doctor’s lives because having seen what he did with them he considers himself doing the universe a favour. He only stumbled across the Matrix door because he was trying to hack into the system, which has earned him a death sentence. He has devoted himself to the study of eternal life, regeneration after regeneration.

Standout Performance: Jayston should have been exploited far more than he has by Big Finish, a menacing, silky voiced performer who is more than up to the task of heading a box set or range of his own. It was a delight to get reacquainted with the actor during this adventure and I would love to hear more from him.

Sparkling Dialogue: The Doctor claims that the Gallifreyan legal system makes ‘Jaundice vs Jaundice look like summary justice.’
‘Don’t tell me somebody has stitched old Morbius back together again.’
‘I know how it all works out for you, this ‘living a little.’ You have no idea what’s coming next.’
‘It’s not such a long journey from the bench to the docks.’
‘Repeating heresies is a favourite pastime of mine.’
‘You will create me because you will wish not to become me. That is our tragedy, Doctor.’
‘I’ve witness more considerate lynchings!’

Great Ideas: Considering how he has been pining over the Time Lords for much of the New Series and has just spend the 50th anniversary agonising over his choice to destroy them to end the Time War, it is fascinating to return to a time when his opinion of his people was so low that if he had that choice at this stage of his life he might have used the moment in a fit of pique. But then then Time Lords were up to some dodgy business during these times. As a fan of the Trial season I cannot say that I object the opening five minutes playing out like a carbon copy The Mysterious Planet with the Doctor once again being dragged to the graveyard of spaceships and butting heads boisterously with the Time Lords. The most shocking thing that the Doctor could possibly be told is that he has been selected by the Valeyard to act as his council and his reaction is as calm and mild mannered as you can imagine. The Valeyard walks the Doctor through his coming incarnations, offering him titbits of information. The seventh Doctor is described as playing a game that was never his to the win and the eighth a man who can never escape death. The Trial Station s located in a wholly unremarkable area of space save for the fact that it is the location of a Matrix door, a point of access to the Time Lord’s great repository of knowledge. The Time Lords have been re-visiting their own time stream and re-writing the law – there are no depths that they won’t plumb in order to get their own way. How can anybody have a fair trial if the Time Lords can go back in time and jiggle the judicial system to suit their whims? He was discovered on the planet that exists below the Trial ship as a wordless mute, little more than a savage. When the populace realised he was of Time Lord descent he was returned to his people. Upon arriving at Gallifrey it was discovered that his bio data extract was an exact match for the Doctor’s and he was dispatched to a shadow house. That is where all Time Lords who have suffered regeneration failures wind up, Rassilon’s mistakes. Time Lords who have reverted into children, who have half regenerated, whose bodies have regenerated but whose brains have not, who have regenerated inside out. It’s a fascinating idea, and I hope in the future we get to visit a shadow house because it sounds like a regular house of horrors, both physically and mentally. We know for a fact that the mad scientist that the Doctor meets is not his thirteenth life (that was Matt Smith’s Doctor) but that doesn’t make the notion of the Doctor taking a look into his far flung future and being horrified by what he sees any less disturbing. The Valeyard was put on Trial because he wouldn’t share the secrets that he had discovered, the ability to cheat death. I can’t believe that Barnes and Maddox had the nerve to include a fake trial sentence, attempted execution, a surprise future version of the Doctor and a particle disseminator. We could call this The Ultimate Foe Mark II.

Audio Landscape: TARDIS landing, the engines faltering when the transduction barriers raise, the Jury entering the Trial, I did squee when the Time Lords attempting to bleep out the Doctor’s revelation about the Time Lords meddling in the affairs of Ravalox and it was exactly the same sound as the Trial season, the Valeyard being dispersed, walking through squelchy mud, war TARDISes, stasers, bubbling mud.

Musical Cues: Is it my imagination or is Andy Hardwick’s music starting to sound a little samey these days? His score for this story sounds like it has been borrowed from a handful of his other adventures.

Isn’t it Odd: There was a very good reason that the Trial season didn’t consist of fourteen episodes of court case action and that is because it is extremely hard to maintain a decent dramatic narrative through exposition (although recently nobody seems to be reminding Steven Moffat of that fact). Whilst The Trial of the Valeyard is a fun enough story as a subscriber freebie, I think had this tale been a full priced tale it would have played out very differently. Not relayed through a court case but give the proper dramatic opportunities as we follow the Valeyard from his conception to his confrontation of the man he believes made him. There is something quite soulless about telling a story in legal terms. Towards the end of the story the Time Lords seem to be so corrupt that they are willing to toss all legal requirements aside and do anything to dispose of the Valeyard who has become an embarrassing faux pas to them. Apparently the reason that Time Lord’s can only regenerate twelve times is because the symbiotic nuclei can only be split so many times before it becomes unstable. What a boring, biological explanation. The ending is confusing, as though the writers had run out of time to wrap up all of their ideas. The Valeyard pops up after having faked his death and flies off, the status quo resumed but nothing is really resolved.

Standout Scene: The Valeyard is the side effect of somebody’s illegal studies into the extension of the regeneration cycle. Is it possible that in his dying days the Doctor might carry out illegal experiments on himself to try and gain extra lives? That the Valeyard could be a cast off from those experiments, a failed interim regeneration? If I’m honest that’s an idea that has more dramatic potential than what actually happened in Time of the Doctor (pixie dust flying from Amy’s crack inexplicably).

Result: Hugely entertaining, if a little too hysterical. If you had no knowledge of Trial of a Time Lord you will probably be completely baffled by this follow up and if I’m honest it is little more than a huge wave of exposition that hits you like a Cyberman info-stamp. However it is delivered by three superb actors who have the chance reprise their characters from the Trial season, characters it has long been my wish to see given more material. Like the Trial it does get a little lost up it’s own arse, plot wise, but it is ridiculously enjoyable for most the part, offering an explanation of how the Valeyard came into being and tackling the thorny subject of extending a Time Lord’s regeneration cycle. It is a subscribers special packed full of lovely ideas, but it is a shame that it all has to be dramatized as a court case rather than allowing us to experience it as a piece of drama. Show, don’t tell and all that. With the suggestion of the sixth Doctor meeting his thirteenth incarnation, this had to the potential to be ground-breaking but recent events on the TV have already contradicted this. I rather like the idea of the Doctor going nuts, winding up on a mud ball planet and attempting to extend his life cycle. It’s rather ghoulish. That’s what I really took away from Trial of the Valeyard, great ideas and the joy of listening to the Doctor, the Valeyard and the Inquisitor locking horns again. If anything this proves that there is a great deal of mileage in Valeyard still, especially just to have the opportunity to enjoy further performances by Michael Jayston. Troublingly complex and clinical but a delight to Trial aficionados like myself nonetheless: 7/10

Sunday, 29 December 2013

The X-Files Season Eight

Within written by Chris Carter and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Mulder is gone but his disappearance has opened a whole can of worms…

Brains’n’Beauty: Season eight is Anderson’s turn to truly shine on the show, a chance to seize the reins before the new boy has settled in and she isn’t needed as much anymore. She takes hold of that opportunity and absolutely makes the most of it. The gorgeous slow motion sequences where we are asked to follow her daily routine without Mulder are beautifully performed, Anderson silently expressing her pain to the audience. She scoffs when Doggett talks about rumours that Mulder could never really trust her at the beginning of their affiliation because she was so ambitious. It has been so long I can’t even remember the last time we heard from Margaret Scully. That’s how much of a caricature Scully has been of late (especially in season seven where she seemed to giggle her way through every episode), she somehow managed to lose her backstory and her family. It’s interesting to note that without Mulder casting a shadow over her Scully adopts his paranoid attitude, thinking her phone is being tapped and her apartment is under surveillance. Scully smelling Mulder’s shirt and lying in his bed says more about their relationship than any of the mushier stuff that is still to come. I much prefer subtle little moments of affection like this than grand gestures and cod romantic dialogue. She believes it is a badge of honour not to dismiss the improbable just because somebody thinks that it is BS. She’s learnt that from Mulder, you know.

Closed Mind: Introducing the magnetic Robert Patrick to the show. Maybe it might be melodramatic of me to make the comparison (especially since one show continued on for another forty-seven years and the other was cancelled within two) but like Patrick Troughton taking over from William Hartnell in Doctor Who, I cannot imagine anybody else taking over David Duchovny’s role so successfully on The X-Files. The fact that this show was granted a further season after the one where Duchovny had extremely limited involvement is a miracle that should never have occurred and I’m willing to lay the credit for that move on Robert Patrick and his sterling work this season. We’re only meeting Doggett for the first time so it’s hard to draw any conclusions but right from the off it is clear that he is a hard working, determined, honourable man. Just the sort Scully needs at a difficult time like this if she would only let him in (the same goes for the fans of the show). The meeting between Scully and Doggett is about as awkward as it could be with her throwing a drink in his face once she discovers who he is. He is playing mind games with her but that really isn’t who this man is, but at this point in time he has no idea that he is going to be working with Scully full time. Doggett is so cool he barely blinks when Scully throws the water in his face. There’s a real feeling after his meeting with Kersh that this is his chance to shine or his chance to fail, all depending on whether he gets the results that his superior is after. Look at the twinkle in Doggett’s eyes when he tries to unravel the mystery that is Fox Mulder. Clearly he finds the man fascinating.

Trust No-1: Suddenly a show without a purpose for a season and a half (other than to produce solid standalone anthology episodes which it has always been about but not primarily about) finds itself a new motive for a season – the search for Mulder. The loss of Mulder is both the curse and the reward of season eight, a huge aberration in the series that means all focus is on the new guy and seeing how the show copes without one of its leads. People are more ready for the show to fail than ever in it’s eighth year, that’s the curse. The fact that it succeeds and brings in another actor that is even more impressive than David Duchovny as his replacement and that by the end of the year the show belongs to him rather than either of the previous is the reward for your patience. Suddenly all these suits are looking into Mulder’s past activities and reading all sorts of paranoid fantasies into his actions. They paint an uncompromising picture of the man that is hard to reconcile with the one we know and love. I love the way his abduction suddenly makes the character vital again, and interesting. Strange how his removal from the show should be the very thing that salvages the character. The presence of the tombstone is certainly convincing enough proof that Mulder was fully aware of his imminent death. Could there be some truth in this after all? If Mulder knew he was dying it would make sense of him trying push Scully away in Requiem, to want her to have a normal life away from him.

Assistant Director: If Skinner tells the truth about Mulder’s abduction then the FBI will hang him with it. It is Scully that convinces him to be economic with the truth.

Sinister DD: ‘Anything leaves this building about aliens or alien abductions or any other nonsense that might cast the Bureau in a ridiculous light and you can forget about looking for Agent Mulder. You’ll both be looking for new jobs…’ We have a brand new Deputy Director on the show and he’s going to ensure that he dogs Scully and Skinner’s footsteps at every turn during the next two years. Actually that’s not fair, Kersh does ultimately turn out to be much more multi-faceted than the bureaucratic figures on this show in the past because he proves benevolent on the odd occasion, actively aiding The X-Files publicly slamming them. Kersh’s renewed and dominating presence gives the show a new sense of foreboding. There is a real feeling that the Agents cannot put a foot wrong or the department will be slammed. It’s a new layer of tension that suits the new season well. Kersh talking about his previous military history with Doggett means that he is now a fully functioning character rather than a walking plot device as he has been in the past.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘They can hang me with a lie too.’

Ugh: I’m only going to appear in 11 episodes this year now you’ve agreed to give me more money, says Duchovny. Fine, but I’m going to strap you in a chair and torture you horribly for being such a pain in the ass, responds Carter. The sequences in the alien ship are creepy as hell, especially the stomach churning sight of Mulder’s face being pulled outwards by alien probes. I was literally grasping my seat arms tight as the dentist drill approached his forced open mouth and started chipping away at his teeth. When the drill came down and starting slicing through his chest, you know that Carter was really pissed off.

The Good: I was just wondering the previous season when they were going to change the ID photos in the credits to contemporary pictures. It was ridiculous that show should still be promoting almost a decade previous versions of Duchovny and Anderson as the shows leads. Plus they look much more stylish these days. The addition of Patrick makes my heart sing. Who is it that slips the file under Doggett’s door? That we wont discover for a whole new season. It was his chance to use his cover story for Mulder’s disappearance and move his career on but somebody is trying to entice him to find out the truth, to keep him interested. The culprit may just surprise you. How frustrating that Scully and Skinner should drive right past the shimmering alien craft that holds Mulder inside. You might just find yourself screaming at the TV for them to turn around. The very use of a heat haze effect in the desert is a clever touch. The location work as stunning as I have come to expect from The X-Files but there is one particularly formidable shot that stands out, cruising over the rocky desert before settling on Gibson Praise being manhandled by…Mulder! It’s a fantastic twist ending and the last thing that anybody would be expecting considering the show is supposed to be moving on. Great stuff.

Pre Titles Sequence: The intimate look inside Scully’s stomach means that the series is going to give immediate focus on her pregnancy and not tucked her personal life aside like it did with her cancer scare in earlier seasons. How it merges so seamlessly from the baby nestled warmly in her stomach to Mulder trapped in an alien spacecraft is superbly handled by Kim Manners. There’s more going on in Scully’s head than meets the eye here. Subconsciously her brain is making some pretty wild leaps.

Moment to Watch Out For: What a great way to explain why alien abductees and believers are left to look like idiots shouting at the sky without any proof…because the aliens are going around covering their tracks very carefully and removing all the evidence. This could be another knock on effect of the result of season six’s Two Fathers/One Son, the aliens tidying up their presence on the Earth in the aftermath of their failed union with the Syndicate.

Fashion Statement: Gillian Anderson has never looked more resplendent on this show. Fact. There is something magnetic about Robert Patrick, isn’t there? He might not ooze the immediate sex appeal of somebody like Duchovny but there is something instantly attractive about him, something that fascinates me.

Orchestra: Even mark Snow has woken up for this bold new dawn for The X-Files. His use of female vocals for the slow motion scenes featuring Scully dealing with Mulder’s loss really drives him the quiet pain she is experiencing whilst being a moving piece of music in its own right.

Mythology: Why would Mulder be turning up at Scully’s apartment and stealing her laptop? It feels like typical Carter perplexity but it makes very good sense when the audience comes to realise that just like in Requiem, the aliens are mopping up proof of their existence on the Earth and taking all the evidence away with them. Gibson Praise is a name we haven’t heard for a while but his presence is very welcome because that was a thread that was left infuriatingly hanging. 

Result: Defying expectations that the show would bomb without a strong Duchovny presence; Within isn’t just the strongest season opener for many years, it is the strongest opener for the series full stop. It feels like Carter is working that bit harder to make sure that a show that probably should have died a while back has a very good reason to keep going because it is better than ever. Suddenly The X-Files is less about aliens and quirky concepts of the week and the focus is on the people involved and it is a huge swing in it’s favour. Within is a very powerful character drama that puts Scully in the limelight and gives Gillian Anderson a chance to take control of the show and prove what she is really capable of without such a dominating male lead. Carter cleverly knew that whoever he replaced Mulder with was going to be treated with suspicion and so he cast exactly that light on John Doggett before allowing the character to prove himself that he isn’t working against Scully. Robert Patrick is so instantly impressive that Anderson’s performance lifts a notch automatically and together engaging fireworks fly between the two of them. It’s a damn sight more attention grabbing than the lethargic interaction between Mulder and Scully for the past year. It’s not the case that Scully is suddenly a believer and Doggett is a sceptic but she is now embracing everything that she denied for all these years and is approaching the work with an open mind for Mulder’s sake. That means the show is on a whole new footing now, a fascinating one. Twists, turns, great new characters, a fascinating new spin on some old characters, terrific acting, gorgeous location work, the best mark Snow score in years…Within is a spellbinding beginning for one the shows strongest years: 10/10

Without written by Chris Carter and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: The alien Bounty Hunter is trying mop the presence of alien life on Earth in the guise of Mulder…

Brains’n’Beauty: I’ve talked about Scully being a revolutionary character in the past in regards to being the less emotional, more professional half of a male/female team but it is only when you remove Mulder from her life completely that you can see just how incredible a role model she has become for women to aspire to. In Without Scully is emotionally bare and yet a tough as steel, the one with all the answers who nobody wants to listen to and despite her pregnancy is capable of carrying out her own search for the man she loves. Not because she needs him but because he needs her. If that isn’t a statement for how things have changed in television then I don’t know what is. Scully can’t take the chance that she will never see Mulder again and will continue to put her life in danger to achieve that aim, despite the life inside her that she needs to protect now. The moment when you think she is about to be rewarded for her epiphany and finally see an alien spacecraft that turns out to be a helicopter screaming across the desert is expertly handled (the shot from the crafts POV is stunning) and sensitively acted (Anderson is blinking away tears). Scully knows what the series is expecting of her and acts as though Doggett has to prove himself to her (‘How do you know that?’) when the truth is in storytelling terms he is the one with the authority and it should be the other ay around. The look on Scully’s face when Doggett tells her he has been assigned to the X-Files is a picture and he hardly seems too pleased about it either. Looks like the tension is going to continue. For a show that was getting far too complacent, I am really happy about that.

Closed Mind: Is it me or does the name Doggett sound like the sort designed to be spat out in disdain by men like Kersh? Instead he wears his name with pride and overcomes it’s nature by being a fundamentally decent person. Suddenly it sounds like a proud, firm name. Doggett wont have Scully turn her back on him when he is asking her a legitimate question about shapeshifters, a concept he simply cannot get his head around. I’m not sure if she walked away because she was too embarrassed to answer or if she thought he was better off not being exposed to this world but the fact that I am questioning a simple gesture like that goes to show how deep the characterisation runs this year. Doggett listens to her insane theories and doesn’t dismiss her out of hand, that is how much he respects her. He’s not about to be patronised by Skinner but is willing to listen to him when his superior suggests he is being used as a pawn. He’s got a good reputation for not compromising or quitting, a damn good FBI agent. Scully accuses Doggett of being afraid of finding the truth about extraterrestrial but he claims he isn’t afraid of facing up to anything. Well, I guess we’re about to find that out…  When Doggett cradles an injured and upset Scully at the climax you have the beginnings of a beautiful new partnership. The hangdog look on Doggett’s face as he holds her is the look of a man who is starting to question everything he believes in.

Trust No-1: Whilst clearly being played by David Duchovny, the blank faced automaton that squares off with Doggett at the top of this episode is clearly not Mulder. The expressionless way he advances on his foe and steps from the precipice to his (apparent) death is jaw droppingly handled. It makes me wonder if I have been wrong about Duchovny all these years in my criticism of his acting because he is genuinely chilling in this scene.

Assistant Director: ‘I don’t like pointing guns at pregnant women anymore than I like them pointing them at me…’ Skinner has a great role in the series now Mulder has buggered off. He’s a vital presence in Scully’s life, her rock to see her through these troubled times before she transfers those feelings onto Doggett. Skinner can see that Doggett is being used as a pawn by Kersh and his superiors as he has seen happen to Mulder and others before and he is in the perfect position to warn him away from displeasing them.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Who are these beings we dare to imagine but fear to accept?’ – what’s going on? Even Chris Carter’s purple prose is rather beautiful these days.
‘How does the FBI find a man and then lose him in the middle of the desert?’
‘It’s someone in this room…’ – I love moments like that in science fiction.
‘In case something tries to rip your throat out I’ve got you covered.’

Ugh: Whilst not too grisly in itself, Mulder snapping his arm back into place might just make you wince. Mulder’s indignities in the chair continue

The Good: Isn’t it gorgeous that simply by bringing in a new character who hasn’t been through the events of the past seven seasons Carter has the opportunity to show us once again how many wonderful ideas in this series there are. Through Doggett’s eyes (he is our identification figure in Within/Without, especially the latter) the world of The X-Files is fresh and invigorating and as a result the series shares those qualities too. What was tired and passing time in season seven is spruced up and ready for action in series eight. Brian Thompson is such a strong actor it is a shame to waste on a (often) non-verbal role as the Bounty Hunter but saying that the character has so much presence because of Thompson I always enjoy seeing him anyway. Suddenly we are in hunt the Bounty Hunter (who can be anybody) territory and the wide open spaces of the desert start to feel claustrophobic when you can literally trust no one. We’ve seen the doppelganger scenario played out for both dramatic and comic effect in this series before but never as effective as it is here with the dual Scully’s. Manners remembers that they are out in the desert even when they are in the studio and this base under siege effort is made all the more uncomfortable by sweating up the actors and making the atmosphere feel as stifling as possible. Although if you read into this episode a little more you learn that they didn’t need to be sweated up…the heat reached forty degrees plus on location. Astonishingly Carter manages to find a way to play out the scenario of Scully and Skinner pulling guns on each other again but this time gives it a legitimate reason (they each think the other is the shapeshifter). This might be the only time this confrontation genuinely makes sense and to give the idea some credence at one point in the story the hunter really is Skinner. The desert scenery looks even more beautiful lit up at night. What happened to Jeff Gulka? Oh yeah, he grew up and turned into a fine a little actor. When you compare his subtle turn in Without to the squeaky voiced automaton in The End there is a world of difference between the two (and no I don’t just mean his voice has broken). Manners pulls off the same trick in Without that he did in Within, Scully and Doggett mere metres from the invisible alien spacecraft when they leave the desert. All three plots converge at the climax (Scully’s futile search for Mulder, the Bounty Hunter and Doggett’s realisation that things aren’t what they seem) when Scully shoots the alien, almost surrenders to the toxic blood and is rescued at the last minute by her new partner. It’s a terrific moment, ably scored by Mark Snow. The last shot is like something out of The Twilight Zone with multiple versions of the Bounty Hunter converging to watch Mulder’s torture in the chair. Money has been spent to make that sequence work and it tingles at the spine.

Pre Titles Sequence: The quickest pre-title sequence in the history of any show – except perhaps Voyager’s Scorpion. It is the best example yet of what season eight is all about, not stylish set pieces to get your heart racing but real character drama that you can believe in. Carter can’t be bothered to waste running time on a lengthly set piece here and saves the time for the large portion of the episode which he has already set up and is eager to conclude. The big moment is Mulder going over the edge straight after the titles, an awesome stunt that is captured in cinematic style.

Moment to Watch Out For: The image of Scully in the moon kissed desert alone with her flashlight and screaming out Mulder’s name pretty much sums up the first half of season eight.

Fashion Statement: I take it back, you know. Out in desert with his spiky cropped haircut and sleeves rolled up, Robert Patrick is just hotness personified. I don’t know if that makes him a DILF (I hate those terms) because of his age but it rather confirms that it isn’t just younger guys that float my boat and that rather pleases me. Scully looks gorgeous out in the desert too, her red hair contrasting with the dull colour of the scenery and packed, ready for action. What a dynamic pair they make and it only took two episodes.

Orchestra: Snow is still on fire, scoring Scully’s pursuit of the deaf girl across the beautiful expanse of desert as though it is the most exciting set piece the show has ever concocted.

Foreboding: For now we’re leaving Mulder in the hands of the aliens whilst we get to know Agent Doggett a little better. But he’ll be back.

Result: Phenomenal stuff. Without dishes up a serving of The X-Files with some very familiar elements (the alien Bounty Hunter, a spaceship, abductions) but through the eyes of John Doggett and executed with such panache they made to seem invigorating again. It feels like we are back in the shows first couple of seasons before everything was taken for granted. Season eight is the only year of the show which bucks the trend of the standalones outshining the arc material, this year it is the running storyline that yields all the gems. Without manages to be a touching character drama about a woman who has to accept the loss of her childs father, a claustrophobic thriller about an alien bounty hunter who can be anyone at anytime and an edgy coming of age tale about a man who is being used by the FBI as a scapegoat for their failures. It works brilliantly as all three of those things and contains many astonishing sequences. Kim Manners has become the number one director on this show now Rob Bowman has bowed out and he captures the sinister oppressiveness and the open beauty of the desert setting in this tale whilst never forgetting that ultimately it is all about the actors. You’ve got three captivating central performances at the heart of Without from Gillian Anderson, Robert Patrick and Mitch Pileggi and their efforts have not gone unnoticed. Writer and director aside, they make this as good as it is. What a start to the season: 10/10

Patience written and directed by Chris Carter

What’s it about: Dun-nun-nun-nun-nun-nun-nun-nun…Batman!

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully is wandering around the office in a bit of daze, spying Mulder’s name on his desk and thinking back on all those times they had together. Isn’t it strange that the bond between these two characters always seems stronger when they are torn apart? It was the case in season two when Scully was taken from Mulder and the same potent feeling of two characters that are meant to be together lingers when the reverse takes place in season eight. To give him his credit, Doggett asks how they are going to split up the office into their own sections – Mulder arrogantly assumed control of everything right up until Scully had to force him to answer why he never gave her a desk in season four. Scully shuts Doggett off immediately, informing him that he is on borrowed time and they are only renting out this space until Mulder returns. What a cow. This is the first time Scully has been treating so dismissively by a law enforcement officer for many a year because of her gender and it is the perfect opportunity for Doggett to step in and voice his objections to the way she is being treated. When Scully admits ‘I never said what you’re looking for is a man…’ it is an important moment because it is the first real indication that she will be fulfilling Mulder’s role these days and pushing for a paranormal explanation. How amusing to have Scully accused of making the most farfetched leap of explanation possible after all her years of pointing the same criticism at Mulder. She admits she isn’t an expert, she’s just making a leap. The implication seems to be that because Scully isn’t telling Detective Abbott what he wants to hear then she is deliberately misleading the investigation and that she is solely responsible for his death because she didn’t agree with him. These silly men. Scully wonders of she is trying to hard to manufacture a theory, to step into Mulder’s shoes in his absence. That’s a nice realisation for her to come to and a poke in the eye to detractors that didn’t buy into her sudden role as the believer. I rather like it, frankly I think it is brainless that she didn’t reach this point about two or three seasons back given everything she has been exposed to. Rather wonderfully, in a show that has been about sexual politics in the workplace it is Scully that has to help Doggett away from the scene of the crime. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Abbott.

Closed Mind: How strange for somebody to be working on The X-Files to have friends that want to come down to the office in the basement? It really is a different world with John Doggett. He’s no slacker, that’s for sure and has spent his first weekend on the job getting up to speed on their work on the X-Files by reading every single case in the cabinet. I bet he had a good chuckle at some of it given that they lost most of their records in the fire at the end of season five and considering most of the episodes since then have been light hearted. A least he can’t say he isn’t informed about the sort of work he will be doing. He’s not the sort of investigator that makes leaps because he has seen too often in the past that they get people killed. Scully makes his belief in the human bat creature sound like an accusation, one that exposes that he does occasionally make a leap.  By the end of this episode Doggett has done enough to see that Scully gives him a chance and she makes the move to put Mulder’s name plate away and order in a desk for him. For now, she accepts that he is here to stay and that is a gesture we needed to see.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You’re familiar with the principle of Occam’s Razor?’ ‘Yeah you take every possible explanation and choose the simplest one. Agent Mulder used to refer to it as Occam’s Principle of Limited Imagination.
‘You ever carry one of these?’ – Doggett asks Scully about torches.

Ugh: Regurgitated fingers. Oh lummy.

The Good: For a show that should be trying to forget it’s main star it is sure packing these episodes full of reminders of him. Or rather reminders of his absence. Whilst it seems like a mistake for the show to fail to move on when it most needs to this is all part of a much bigger game plan. The nods to Mulder are not only there to show what a hard time Scully is having coping with his loss but also to keep the thread going so that when his return is on the cards in the middle of the season it doesn’t feel so jarring. It is what happens between now and then that surprises, I got used to having Doggett around and preferred his interaction with Anderson to Duchovny’s. Episodes like Patience and Roadrunners are essential in providing a foundation for that transference of loyalty. It might not be the most horrific creation that The X-Files has ever created (but that is facing some pretty gruesome competition) but you still wouldn’t wanted to meet the black eyed, fanged bat creature down a dark alley at night. I’d like to think that men like Detective Abbott are a breed of man from the past but the truth is I have been privy to moments of casual sexism (especially in the workplace) throughout my entire life and whilst women have much more of a voice these days, there are still an alarming amount of men who wish they didn’t. This isn’t a criticism of how the episode handles the idea (because Doggett is there doing his bit for men everywhere) but the state of affairs in sexual politics in certain parts of the world. Abbott is overweight, pompous and demeaning and I can’t say I was sad when the bat creature got his claws on him. The physical effect of the bat creature swooping through the misty graveyard and chewing on the Detective’s neck is exquisitely handled. What about that formidable angle of the bat hanging from the garage roof? The final set piece out in the shack manages to be tense despite the fact that we have been here before. Carter has spent the last 35 minutes showing us what the creature can do so when it comes to attacking Doggett and Scully we know they have to keep their wits about them. It’s nice to see the pair of them working together, bullets blazing, to frighten the creature off.

Pre Titles Sequence: It certainly wont win any points for originality but it is still the most winsome pre-title sequence in a while, a genuinely atmospheric and creepy opening set piece that really reminds of The X-Files of old before it discovered post-modernism. It has a tiny subversion that works (Lance turning out to be the victims husband rather than her killer), features a fingers-up-the-spine score from Mark Snow and feels darker and more edgy than anything we have seen in a while. It feels like the series has found it’s horror roots again and that is no bad thing. The creature might not be original (a bat mutant is straight out of a b movie) but it sure slices people up real good.

Moment to Watch Out For: You can’t accuse Doggett of not doing any legwork in his first proper X-File. He is set upon by a scavenging bat creature in the shallows of a lake at night and has to fight for his life as it tries to savage his flesh. There’s an initiation and a half. I’d probably asked for re-assignment.

Fashion Statement: Is it me or is Scully’s hair looking better than ever? I frames her face these days and we get the best opportunity to see just how beautiful Gillian Anderson is. 

Result: I’m noticing a very strong Chris Carter presence at the beginning of this season. He obviously wanted to be there to guide the series through the tricky transition of losing Mulder and setting up Doggett in his place, which to his credit he seems to have achieved seamlessly. It is the Scully/Doggett scenes that make Patience as good as it is because it is so revitalizing to have these investigations performed by a pair with issues with each other again. This is where Mulder and Scully were on a regular basis in season one and it feels just as winning. The monster have the story is old hat and seems to have only been given have the attention of the characterisation but to his credit Carter directs the hell out of this instalment so for the most it doesn’t really matter, it’s still pretty creepy anyway. I think it was Rob Shearman that said that had this been a Mulder and Scully investigation it would have been real bottom of the barrel stuff but because it continues to develop Scully and Doggett’s relationship it scrapes a pass on the strength of their material. I think that’s a little unfair since Carter is such a dab hand at this sort of simple horror tale these days (he was pulling them out the bag as early as Darkness Falls and The Host) that if you turn all the lights off and let the atmosphere of this piece wash over you then you will get a quite a lot from it. And is it my imagination or is the picture crisper this year and the colour scheme darker and more menacing? Suddenly Los Angeles feels as atmospheric as Vancouver and it really feels like I am watching a different show from the kooky and colourful season seven. Patience is never going to win any awards for originality but it knows precisely what it is doing and provides an hours worth of chills and character development. As a story it might be a little mundane but what this series needs right now is some back to basics stories like this: 7/10

Roadrunners written by Vince Gilligan and directed by Rod Hardy

What’s it about: Scully heads off to investigate without Doggett and nearly pays the price…

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully is taking a brand new tack with Doggett now she needs a favour of him, going all cutesy on the phone when asking him to pull together some research. Her big mistake is in not taking him with her on this assignment but that is what this episode is all about, showing that she needs him as much as he needs her and that they are going to have to work together in order to survive this dangerous work. Anderson is just superb in this episode as she is throughout season eight, giving a rock solid performance that sees Scully at her most powerful even when she is at her most vulnerable. Scully ensures that the villagers know precisely how disdainful she is of their hospitality and recognises that she has been manipulated into staying and helping the wounded man they have in a back room. Listen to her when she screams after she has been implanted with the slug, she doesn’t sound quite human anymore. We have never seen rage quite like this from Scully before. You are left with no illusions that if she gets free that she will tear the heads off every one of them. For once, Scully is as relieved to see Doggett as I am.

Closed Mind: Doggett proves what an intelligent man he is by piecing together the mystery of the cult murders without even stepping foot at any of the crime scenes. Whilst Scully has shut him out he isn’t wasting his time, instead doing everything he can to help her put this one to rest. With Doggett so close and Scully being mistreated so appallingly, I was screaming at him to realise that she was a prisoner of this loony cult. His instincts (and poker face) prove spot on as he walks away pretending that he has believed them and sneaks in the back way to save his partner. I’ve heard people criticise Doggett’s reaction to Scully’s apology during the last scene but that is simply because of their loyalty to the character. The truth is she did screw up, it was nearly a fatal mistake and she cannot afford to do it again. And she had to be told. Despite the home truths, he’s still very gentle with her.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We’re just a few like minded people trying to keep the modern world at bay…’

Ugh: I thought the man having his skull caved in was bad enough. That’s just the opening salvo for Roadrunners. Scully examines a bloody hole that has been cut out of the hosts back which weeps with puss and the slug writhes uncomfortably under his skin causing a seizure. Scully trying to grab the tail with scissors and drag the creature from the bloody hole is bring up your dinner time.

The Good: What is it about season eight and wide open spaces? The first four episodes have features some of the best location work we have seen on this show in years, really capturing the delights that America has to offer. The desert location in Roadrunners feels very different to that of Within/Without and that is because the pace and tone of the two shows is so different. Whilst the opening two parter was all about claustrophobia, Roadrunners is trying to make the desert feel as lonely and spacious as possible. I don’t know where they find these eerie locations but the petrol station and small town are both prime horror movie locations. What would seem like a perfectly innocuous scene (such as Scully getting petrol from an out of town station) in any other episode are given a different emphasis, an unnerving edge which adds to the overall to the effect. Slow but sure you realise that her engine has been impaired to deliberately stop her from leaving and that the information that she has been given doesn’t quite add up. Scully is being isolated, lied to and trapped. You want to scream at her to walk out into the desert and not stop until she reaches the next town.  Lawrence Pressman deserves some kind of award for delivering one of the creepiest turns in an X-File without hardly uttering a word. The scene where he is standing outside his property and watching Scully without making a movement is disturbing because of his stillness and ability to make you feel uneasy with simply a smiling glance. He knows Scully is coming back because she has nowhere else to go. Everything that Pressman says sounds gentle and wistful but it just serves to emphasise the childlike eeriness of the man. That feeling of wrongness about this community is expertly created by director Rod Hardy, none of them behave in the way you would expect a small town to. The villagers converge on the house where Scully is staying all holding lamps, it is like a bunch of fireflies dancing in the night.

The Bad: You have to put aside your need to understand why and how this community came to worship this sentient slug because that really isn’t what this episode is all about. If you start trying to question the integrity of the horror of something like this then you might as well not bother watching. Besides many of the best horror films don’t make any sense when you start pulling them apart but that doesn’t make them any less of a chilling experience. Roadrunners is a glorious exercise in slow paced, atmospheric horror but it still has room for a little bit of b movie as the slug creature turns to the camera once it has been slithered out of Scully’s back and just before it is shot.

Pre Titles Sequence: Sick! I remember first watching Roadrunners back when it had its first airing in the UK and thinking I had seen it all as far as The X-Files was concerned and that the show would never truly scare me again. I was about to pay for my complacency. The teaser is like the episode in a microcosm, a work of cold, terrifying beauty that starts out slowly but explodes with sudden horror when you least suspect it. The opening shot of the desert at dusk is beautiful but that’s about the only thing that is in a sequence that sees a man taken from a bus and have his skull caved in by calm, smiling cult members and for them to turn on a hideously unreasonable passenger who probably needed to be taught some manners. For horror aficionados (like me), this is vintage stuff and the sort of monstrousness that can really get under your skin. Watch out for the crazy cult bus if you are travelling through the desert, folks.

Moment to Watch Out For: The sequence of Scully being pursued by the cult members and watching, screaming, as they smash their latest hosts skull in and come at her with the slithering, bloody worm is quite simply one of the most disturbing X-Files scenes. He screams that she is pregnant fall on deaf ears as they cut her open, screaming hysterically. It gave me nightmares when I first watched it…let’s see what happens tonight when I go to sleep. ‘Amen! Amen!’ Few scenes are as tense as Doggett’s rescue; Scully screaming for him to cut the slug out of her back as it heads for her brain to completely influence her and the cult members smashing their way into the bus to stop him. Deliriously well directed by Rod Hardy, this is one hell of a climax.

Orchestra: Snow wisely keeps the music to an absolute minimum throughout the first half of the episode but when he does get the chance to make an impact he doesn’t waste a note. Scarce, but one of his finest horror scores (especially during the sequence where they approach Scully with the slug). 

Result: Wow, just about the nastiest thing to be put out under The X-Files banner. Roadrunners is one of the few episodes to genuinely scare me on transmission and it really got under my skin on this re-watch too. It’s a slow burn horror movie in miniature which revels in a creepy atmosphere in the first half before exploding into life with spectacular cruelty in the second half. I always thought it was the solo Scully episodes that were the weakest but Gilligan bucks the trend and produces something that is truly memorable and grotesque and so different from the rest of his oeuvre. If I thought that he was only capable of writing quirky comedies and touching character dramas then this proved me wrong. Roadrunners also stands as a good reason why this show needed some fresh blood pumped into its creative as newcomer Australian director Rod Hardy proves a real find, directing this episode with the consummate flair of a man who understands horror and how to get under your skin. My one complaint is that it is early days for Doggett and yet he barely gets to appear in the first half, but that is an understandable aberration considering the whole point of this episode is to prove to Scully that she needs Doggett in order to keep her skin tightly wrapped around her body. I cheered with delight when he turned up to rescue her from the freakiest cult I have ever seen on television and the shot of him carrying her away from the scene cements him as her new partner in a very important way. We’ve seen her rescue him and him rescue her now as Carter cleverly builds their relationship in the first half of the season. However this is less about character drama than we have seen of late and manages to be the scariest X-File in a long, long time. Whether it is skulls being caved in, a town of creepy inbreds trapping Scully, silhouettes against a bus or glistening, bloody slugs being inserted into your back, Roadrunners is thick with atmosphere and terror and proves that this show hasn’t lost it’s touch when it comes to scaring the life out of you. The difference between this and the last time the show tried to scare the life out of you by torturing Scully (Orison) is extraordinary, everything they seemed to forget about atmospheric storytelling is back with a vengeance. Top quality horror and another huge sign that the show is undergoing a creative renaissance. The unhurried pace of building an atmosphere, the expert shock moments, the focus on performance and lighting…if Alfred Hitchcock were to direct an episode of The X-Files this is how good I imagine it would be. Can this show survive without Mulder? Oh yes: 10/10

Invocation written by David Amann and directed by Richard Compton

What’s it about: A boy vanishes and reappears ten years later and hasn’t aged a day…

Brains’n’Beauty: I cannot stress enough how nice it is to see Gillian Anderson acting again. There is such a difference between how emotionally rewarding performances this season and the way she complacently waltzed through season seven pretty much playing herself. Invocation is an episode dealing with the loss of children and it brings very different reactions out in Doggett and Scully; both of whom are hiding something about their own children from the other.

Closed Mind: ‘Agent Scully don’t ask me to believe this is some kind of justice from beyond the grave…’ I have heard some complain that Doggett’s backstory about his missing son is a bit to similar to Mulder’s sister but I don’t buy that argument because they are handled so differently and there is never any sense of alien involvement in the kidnap and murder of Doggett’s son. One was shoved under our noses instantly, ran on for seven series with an increasingly convoluted number of explanations before a tired audience was finally handed an solution that was a complete anti-climax. The other is slowly unearthed as we get to know the character, runs as a haunting character thread through two seasons before climaxing on one of the finest X-Files episodes and a horribly mundane (but brilliant because of it) explanation. I leave you to decide which is which. We don’t even know about Doggett’s son when he watches Scully examine Billy but in hindsight there must be a real mix of emotion playing out in his head – the relief of the parents, the impossibility of his youth and how he would love for this to be his son returned to him safe and sound as he remembered him. You’d think a seasoned cop turned FBI investigator would be terrible with children but Doggett proves surprisingly gentle, even if his methods are questionable. Doggett suggests automatically leaping to a paranormal explanation is lazy, something that Scully used to point out all the time and yet when he says it sounds so reasonable. You should fight for a plausible explanation and then when none are left the paranormal one fits by default. He’s willing to break the law to catch the man who abducted Billy, which Scully cannot handle. Lots of tension equals great drama.  He can’t get his head around having been spending time with Billy and the fact that he has been dead for over ten years. He doesn’t have the imagination to make the leap. Scully rather sweetly informs him that he has succeeded, whether he is willing to see it or not. It is fascinating to learn later in the season that Doggett was called to a scene very much like the one that Billy’s parents are at the climax of Invocation when his son was found dead. No wonder he looks so troubled as we fade to the credits.

The Good: Stop for a second a consider how you would react in this situation. Your son has been missing for ten years and then he turns up on the same swing you last saw him playing on ten years later not having aged a day. Words just cannot bring into effect who that would make you feel. It is such an intriguing idea you have to wonder why a show like The X-Files hasn’t tried it before, especially with its penchant for creepy kids. Kim Griest does a great job as the overjoyed mother, elated and a little bit frightened at the same time and the Pepi twins have been superbly cast as Billy, the eeriest kid this show has ever put out there. He’s pure innocence to look at but beneath that blond hair is a look that will bore right through you and murder you in your bed. Of course creepy Billy is off out of bed as soon he is tucked in…I would never have taken my eyes off him! There were lots of little character touches that struck me as real about Purnell from his general lack of education and manners, his shy but awkward social skills, the way he is mistreated by his mothers bit of rough and how he tried to help ease the pain of Jeppy’s victims by singing a lullaby to them. Everything is about Jeppy is despicable before we find out he has been abducting children…but afterwards he is just about the vilest creation seen on the show. Using ponies to lure children to his trailer…it’s horribly, uncomfortably real. It might be old hat but the lullaby that is heard when the psychic’s screams are played backwards is still effectively creepy. Ponies have such sad eyes that to see one glinting through slats like this really seems to express the awful things that this specimen has witnessed. Like The X-Files of old it seems to enjoy revelling in an ambiguous ending where you can make up your explanation for Billy’s apparition since he has been dead in the woods the whole time. A vengeful spirit out to ensure his kidnapper was caught? One last day with his parents? A chance to scare the hell out of his replacement brother? It doesn’t give a conceptual release but it does give an emotional one because we are afforded a chance to see the parents grieving at Billy’s grave. That is a massive step up from the early seasons which had no explanations or emotional content at the climax.

The Bad: When you are dealing with something as well worn as an evil child some clichés are bound to slip through the net and the irritating older brother who is asking for trouble, the violent reaction of the dog and the stubborn mother who refuses to believe the evidence of her own eyes all play a part in Invocation. Things get a little muddy in the second half when it appears that the episode has bitten off more than it can chew by introducing so many elements but as soon as it is clear that Jeppy is the kidnapper, Purnell’s involvement becomes clear and everything falls into place. Where were the walkers when all this was happening?

Pre Titles Sequence: Not quite as scary as The Calusari which this resembles quite closely, because the season two episode went to the lengths of murdering it’s runaway child but this is still stirring stuff. Every parents nightmare is to lose their child and for it to happen in such a fun and public place chills the blood. I would almost say it is dangerous to put scenes like this on television because some parents are already paranoid enough that every person in a crowd is a potential kidnapper and this buys into that obsession and confirms all their worst suspicions. The lullaby-style music just adds to the effect of something innocent being stolen.

Moment to Watch Out For: What’s lovely about the scene with the psychic and her dramatic reaction to Billy is that Doggett is standing back with arms folded, sceptical, and Scully herself remains unclear whether she believes in it or not…and they both get a shock when the information about Luke’s disappearance is revealed.

Orchestra: As soon as Snow pulls out a creepy, child-like score for an episode you know it is going to be quite an unnerving experience. The opening music is especially good at setting the scene, suggesting something awful is going to happen and capturing the shock of losing your child at a fair. That’s quite a big ask of music but Snow delivers with ease. He’s a dab hand as this show now. 

Result: Another new director on the show, and another very well executed story that feels entirely different in tone to anything seen in season seven. David Amann burst onto the scene with the moderately effective Terms of Endearment in season six but since then his scripts have been fairly unmemorable but improving with each subsequent episode (Agua Mala, Rush, Chimera) and he would go on to write two knockouts in season nine – Hellbound and Release. What he brings to the party that most of the other writers seem to miss is a sense of real world drama, a feeling that the show is always one foot in the door of world of real people. His dialogue is often hard hitting and natural and with Invocation he has struck upon a theme that allows him to indulge in both, child abduction. The aspect of Invocation that really stuck out for me was that despite the stunning imagery and crazy concepts, it always felt like we were stepping on the lives of the sort of people that could live just down the street. There’s some terrific work going on with Scully and Doggett again too, both of whom have an extreme reaction to the returning child case because they are both keeping a child related secret from each other. The audience knows why Scully is touchy around the subject of children and learns why Doggett is too. It’s another sprinkle of that season eight tension that makes all the difference to standalone episodes like this – Mulder and Scully were so exhausted dramatically come season seven that the monster of the week tales didn’t have a chance half the time. I’m trying to pretend that this is the finest X-File ever written or directed but it scores highly in both regards and is another highly watchable installment. Thanks to either the stunning interaction by the new leads or because the storytelling has been top dollar (neither is at their peak in Invocation but both are very good), the show hasn’t delivered a dud yet in season eight. How long can this last?: 7/10

Redrum written by Steven Medea and directed by Peter Markle

What’s it about: Martin Wells is accused of his wife’s murder…

One Hit Wonder: And it definitely is a hit for the actor. Joe Morton has the unenviable task of carrying an entire episode of the X-Files on his back at a time when the show was trying establish itself without one of its original stars. A tough ask but one he is more than up to the task for. Had Redrum been handed a lesser actor then the whole experiment would have bombed but there is a sincerity and likeability in Morton’s performance that turns a clever hour into a riveting one. Martin is clearly innocent but the evidence against him is so compelling that even he starts to doubt himself and consider what would make him kill his wife. I was behind him every step of the way as he tried to unpiece the mystery of what happened, rooting for him to be innocent and for the facts to have been twisted against him. If you can invest in Martin Wells, this works as a riveting character piece in its own right. Redrum rewards repeated viewings because Martin being shown a snapshot of Vicky’s murder really makes an impact the second time you watch it – it’s the first time Martin has been told but as far as Doggett is concerned it is a firm reminder of a crime that he has committed. When he faces Al in court he is looking into the eyes of the man he knows will be his executioner if he doesn’t figure a way out of this. Clearly he loves his kids and is delighted to see them but given the press attention and their mothers murder, they have to be encouraged to hug him. Come the end of the episode Martin doesn’t care that his reputation may be in tatters, that he will be disbarred for withholding evidence, he just wants to save his wife from the hands of a man who wants revenge. He’s flawed, but ultimately a good man who wants to correct his mistakes.

Brains’n’Beauty: It’s so strange how effortlessly Scully has walked into Mulder’s role this year. Perhaps Gillian Anderson is just a better performer but she makes the scenes where she discusses time running backwards seem entirely plausible as an idea and as one her character would believe in.

Closed Mind: Despite the lack of Doggett in the main body of the action (he’s sidelined here almost as much as he was in Roadrunners), Redrum does serve to add another piece to the puzzle to make up an overall picture of my new favourite. Wells and Doggett’s friendship is established cleverly, with each passing step backwards a day his warmth towards the convicted man gets stronger as the case against him is slowly deconstructed. Remember in season six when Mulder met up with a woman he had been talking to online – a character that we had never heard of before who made no impact? In season eight the show can get away with introducing close friends of Doggett’s because we have only just met the guy. It’s nice to see something of his social circle and that he hangs around with fundamentally good men like himself. It’s something that the show will return to time and again in it’s last couple of years (indeed it would poke fun at it brilliantly in season nine’s Scary Monsters) but Doggett simply doesn’t have the imagination to run with the theory that Martin is living his life backwards and thinks he is going for an insanity plea. What is the worst place in the world a defence prosecutor can find himself? Watching him being mistreated by the criminals that he has put away is quite discomforting because of the injustice of it. He doesn’t deserve to be here but they do.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You do realise that you’re not going to be able to prove this, right? If tomorrow is really the day before today then we wont have had this conversation. It means we’ll have to have this conversation again’ ‘Make sure I skip that fricking meeting’ – Scully believes, Doggett doesn’t.

The Bad: Only the final voiceover bugged. I’m not sure it was at all necessary after Doggett’s ‘second chance’ line. Irritatingly it means I can’t give this exceptional installment full marks.

The Good: I would say that this premise is more suited to The Twilight Zone than The X-Files but considering the show took a huge leap in the direction as soon as season six kick started it hardly surprises me that quirky, non-paranormal ideas turn up these says. That doesn’t mean the premise of a man living his life backwards isn’t a great one and Steven Medea has concocted a plot which allows the notion to come with huge mystery (who killed Martin’s wife?) and build up to the event. If Martin’s memory was intact and this story was playing out in a linear fashion then it would be a simple murder and trial drama but in reverse it becomes a race against time to try and figure who has committed the crime after the event so Martin can stop it before he reaches the day it happens. Each step back a day starts with a close up of the spiders web being built backwards in Martin’s cell, a delicate pointer that time has passed in reverse again and we are one more day in the wrong direction.  He gets squished a few times throughout the course of the episode but he’s always there the next day, having completed a little less of his web. The sudden, brief flashbacks to Vicky’s murder are vital because they plant suspicion in the audiences head – how does Wells remember in such vivid and dramatic detail his wife’s death? The nanny cam seems to be Martin’s salvation until it plunges him further into trouble as he is seen in acting suspiciously in his flat before the murder. Whoopsie. Wells hasn’t figured out the game yet and tried to have the nanny cam removed from evidence, not realising that he has gone back a day not even shown it to his defence attorney yet. He hasn’t even met his defence attorney yet. The spider webbed tattoo on a fellow prisoner that features in Martin’s memories of Vicky’s murder allows the audience to make a link and figure out the culprit. Martin’s innocence has already been proven by how his character has been portrayed so it really doesn’t matter that his virtue is confirmed halfway through the episode. But how does he prove he didn’t do it? Because of the formula of the episode, Wells waking up at Doggett’s turns out to be quite a surprise. Vicky’s murder is dramatically filmed for maximum impact but once it is played backwards it becomes something surreal and disturbing. There are still some surprises though, specifically Trina’s hand in events and the commonplace but explicable reason that Ocumpo wanted revenge on Wells. Did Wells go for the easy option and convict his brother out of hand despite the evidence simply because his face fitted the crime? Now he’s suffering for his prejudice.

Pre Titles Sequence: Plenty of shows use the one-off formula of having a pre-titles sequence that comes in at the end of the episode and then heads back a few days after the titles to explain how we reached that point but Redrum is the only case that I can recall where it takes us step-by-step backwards, a day at a time towards the incident that kick started the events that lead to the pre-titles. Am I making sense? It’s dash clever whether I am or not. The climactic result of Martin’s transfer to another prison is his father in law shooting him and it means that this episode is bookended by two dramatic events (the murder of Martin and the murder of his wife, which in normal circumstances would take place in the reverse order). It also means we know what fate is waiting for Martin if he doesn’t prove his innocence. The focus on Scully’s watch informs the audience of exactly what is going on and it would appear that Martin’s gift of reverse time is a direct result of his unjust murder. Divine intervention? A freak occurrence? Who cares, this show is thinking big once again.

Moment to Watch Out For: Few X-Files have a climax with this much build up and so the moment when Martin reaches the night of Vicky’s murder it is clench your bum time. A love a race against time ending and this one that is filmed with a razor sharp sense of drama and suspense. The fact that he almost does kill Vicky is a great touch and a momentary moment of humour before things get much darker. Another shout out for Snow’s music for this sequence, which is exceptional. The audience is literally taken to a knife edge, Martin screaming helplessly as Ocumpo prepares to slit Vicky’s throat.

Fashion Statement: ‘You’ve got a whole lot of trains to be pulling…’ – an explicit reference to anal rape in The X-Files and the fate that awaits Martin if he doesn’t find some way out of prison. 

Result: How like this show to offer up something as unexpected as Redrum when it needs to start asserting it’s identity again and to make it such a compelling example of an FBI-lite episode of the show. He cut his teeth on Brand X, a competent but unspectacular installment of the show but is now ready to deliver something truly memorable. It’s a streak that would continue as we head into the final year with Medea contributing two of my favourites of the last season, 4-D and Audrey Pauley. Everybody needed to bring their A-game to this story in order for an unforgiving audience who were still missing Mulder to give this one a pass and the fact that Redrum escaped with a pretty decent critical reception is a miracle and a testament to everybody’s work (with the only real objections coming from the shippers who cannot imagine this show without a Mulder/Scully connection). What an impossible story to plot and script, what an incredible job Medea does in presenting the mystery, exploring his concept and building up to a dramatic conclusion. As a piece of writing, this is one of the most intelligent X-Files as it manages to do some very clever things with its conceit and yet explain itself explicitly at every turn. Joe Morton takes the reins for a single episode and delivers a terrific performance of a wronged man caught in a terrible situation and trying to dig his way out. The reason this episode goes from a good one to a great one is because Morton allows us to empathise with Martin whilst suspecting him, he is an effortlessly likable character caught in the impossible task of having to prove his innocence whilst living his life backwards. The X-Files has proven it can lose one of it’s stars and still kick ass but with Redrum they go one step further and prove that if necessary it could survive as an anthology series with no regulars whatsoever (in its basic form The Twilight Zone). If it was serving up episodes like Redrum it would be one to watch with interest. This show is doing phenomenally well without Mulder, whether the shippers want to believe that or not: 9/10

Via Negativa written by Frank Spotnitz and directed by Tony Wharmby

What’s it about: The mass murder of cult members leads Agent Doggett to pursue their bewitching leader…

Brains’n’Beauty: The phone call between Scully and Doggett after the titles is much more gentle than we are used to from this pair so perhaps they are getting used to each other. Although she still isn’t letting him in on her pregnancy.

Closed Mind: ‘Just because I’m assigned to The X-Files you want me to think like Scully and Mulder would, you got the wrong guy. I need facts, not wild ideas.’ Mulder was great at examining people and Scully at examining the dead but Doggett’s skill is in walking onto a crime scene and picking up as much detail as possible, something he is seen to be extremely adept at here. Doggett doesn’t understand why when there are murder victims stacked high that Scully is taking personal time and it seems a little churlish at this point that he would be left out of the loop. I would be pissed off too. It would have been so easy to have had Doggett turn out like Agent Harrison later in the season, somebody who is intimately involved in the work and ready to leap to all manner of wild conclusions. Instead the writers choose to push against that and against audience expectation by having him approach the work with no imagination whatsoever and refusing to accept the strangest theory just because there are none other available. It means the show itself has to work hard to convince him and in doing so it seems to have upped its game with some really challenging storytelling. This might be an odd observation to make but the camera just loves Robert Patrick, doesn’t it? He can stand there mutely throwing off a look but still be the most fascinating person on the screen. Scully tells Doggett to trust his instincts but when he isn’t sure what is real and what is imaginary anymore how can you take that advice? The Lone Gunmen are not the sort of advisors that Doggett would think of approaching but as soon as it is clear that they are intelligent men with vital input to offer there is no question of turning them away. He respects what they bring to the party and there is a feeling he will seek them out again. He learns that Scully is at the hospital but not why and you would have to start to wonder if his colleagues were deliberately keeping secrets from him. Patrick aces the scenes in the last ten minutes, walking through his usual routine at work as if something terrible is wrong, as if he was dreaming the whole thing. What we are left with is a man who has opened a door on the possibility of the paranormal and who is plagued by the nightmares he has suffered because of this case.

Assistant Director: Gillian Anderson is sitting this one out so Mitch Pileggi gets to fill the breach and as he has proven time and again he is more than up to the task. His continued involvement in the show and how much screen time he gets is one of the joys of the latter seasons of The X-Files. You would think that putting two dour investigators together (Skinner and Doggett) would make for tough viewing but they spark off each other extremely well even when Spotnitz’s dialogue is more rough and ready than witty repartee. With Scully missing, Skinner is the one who is flaunting the X-Files explanation. My how things have changed. It’s not such a leap since Skinner has read a file on every investigation Mulder and Scully have written and he has been a participant in a reasonable number of them himself. Some of that has got to rub off. Now he has seen Mulder physically abducted by aliens it would seem he is much more open minded, just like Scully.

Sinister DD: Kersh has one of those faces that no matter what news you bring to him he always looks disappointed. He always seems like a man not to trifle with, too, or he will take hold of your career, crush it and toss it in the waste paper bin.

Ugh: You can have great fun with this type of episode where the victims can be twisted into thinking that their worst fears are happening to them. So prepare yourself for some hallucinatory nightmare sequences involving a man drowning in cement, bloody footprints and decapitated heads, hundreds of squeaking rats eating a man alive, But they all end with the victims getting the chop. Oh, and Tepit burrows his forehead into a circular saw. That is grim.

The Good: It was going to take something pretty special to unearth anything new from the idea of a paranormal cult that has been beguiled enough to be convinced to take their lives. Step forward Via Negativa aka something special. Besides the crazy cult isn’t what this episode is about, it is just the invitation into this illusory world for Doggett. Keith Szarabajka is almost entirely responsible for the reason these clichéd ideas work so well because I was started to come under his spell when listening to one of his seductive hypnotic rants. He has one of those voices that you can relax into and trust every word that they say. He’s a man with dangerous beliefs but compelling ones; that hallucinatory drugs can lead you to the path of darkness (Via Negativa), a plane closer to God. I would have suspected that the Lone Gunmen and Doggett would be a unhappy combination so imagine my surprise when these happen to be some of their best scenes in years, bouncing very well off of Doggett’s practical stoicism. Let’s hope we get to indulge in this mix again soon.

Pre Titles Sequence: A spectacularly nasty opening, and an unforgettable one. A police officer falls asleep on surveillance and once woken up by his replacement discover the dead bodies of the entire cult group with bloody holes gouged out of their foreheads. Tony Wharmby’s direction is the vital key, the episode already feels morbidly hallucinatory at this stage. Like we have walked in on somebody’s nightmare. The axe swings right at the camera, the audience the next victim on Tipet’s list.

Moment to Watch Out For: This is televised horror at the top of its game, especially during the eerie nightmare sequences which take place in absolute silence but tell a terrorizing story through hallucinatory imagery.  I’m telling you those FBI corridors have never felt so oppressive. The final set piece of Doggett walking into Scully’s apartment and almost murdering her with an cruel pulsing light only allowing us glimpses of his progress is extraordinarily well directed and lit. That’ll teach her to keep secrets from him.

Result: ‘I’m not sure I’m awake…’ Perhaps if the storytelling had been this good last year David Duchovny wouldn’t have been in such a hurry to leave. Or perhaps the storytelling is so good because he did decide to leave and there are a wealth of possibilities to be explored with a new character like Doggett and a terrific actor like Robert Patrick. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere in this review the camera simply loves his haunted expression and he manages to capture the horror of a man who is pushed to the limit, having all of his boundaries pressed beyond imagination (which he is in fairly short supply of). If you thought your nightmares might come true you would be afraid to fall asleep…it’s the Nightmare on Elm Street apprehension all over again and it’s to Frank Spotnitz’s credit that at no point does this feel like a rip off. By the end of the episode he has pulled off the impressive feat of confusing the viewer so that we (along with Doggett) aren’t certain what is real and what is hallucinatory and Tony Wharmby’s stunning direction takes us on a deliriously uncomfortable journey to the unforgettable climax where he murder Scully. It is hard to pull off that mixture of normality and phantasm that plagues the worst of nightmares, to have everything appear normal and yet stress a sense of wrongness but Wharmby is more than up to the task. The last time The X-Files was this dark and nightmarish it was season three’s Grotesque and if this isn’t quite as strong as that installment it is still one of the most impressive horror episodes to have been filmed for many, many seasons on this show. Like all the worst nightmares, the terror remains unresolved: 9/10

Salvage written by Jeffrey Bell and directed by Rod Hardy

What’s it about: The machines are taking over…

Brains’n’Beauty: This is mid period of season eight where Scully and Doggett have developed a way of communicating and working together and do some good work. It’s the ‘before Mulder returns’ part of the year, after which Scully decides to give up the work the focus on her baby.

Closed Mind: Doggett tells Scully that he hates to ruin her crazy theories with beautiful facts…but I don’t think that is true at all. Doggett briefly mentions some of the terrifying sights that he saw during the war and contrasting his behaviour against Ray’s since returning to the real world goes to show how men react to intense stress in very different ways. He has a very black and white view of people that he may have to try and break if he is going to get by in The X-Files because people do not fit the sort of profiles that they do in regular police cases. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What are you saying? That Ray Pearce has become some kind of metal man? Because that only happens in the movies, Agent Scully.’

The Good: A man shaped hole left in a car, footprints concaved into the tarmac…Robert Patrick must feel as though he is back at work on Terminator II. Nora is a wonderfully flawed character played with relish by Jennifer Parsons, a woman convinced that her husbands experiences in the Gulf War have scarred him beyond recognition and looking to put the blame where it belongs. We have become something a blame culture, what she needs to sit down and consider is that Ray chose to go and fight in that war and accepted everything that was going t be thrown at him before he did. I’m not trying to insult all those men who return from war scarred psychologically (it is often the worst form of disfigurement because you can’t see it) because it must be horrendous to step back into your old life and find yourself a stranger and detached from everybody you love but ultimately you do have to face the responsibility of agreeing to fight in the first place and face the horrors that have made you this way. Nobody has ever pretended that war is anything less than hell and if you choose to stare into the face of hell…well then you have to expect consequences. The salvage yard is light and shot so well it feels like a graveyard of bones rather than spare parts and old cars and cycles. It also feels like another nod to Terminator, the first film of the franchise which opened in a very similar setting. With a mechanical man you can do fun things like blow his arm off and have it twitch back to life independent of the body. Whilst it isn’t the most sophisticated of characterisation, I rather liked the relationship that wasn’t built up between Ray and Larina at the halfway house.  She’s one of those characters that manages to be sympathetic without patronising people because the simple fact is she has been in a violent place herself in the past. Larina is genuinely concerned about Ray despite being a little scared off him but he does nothing but shut her out. It’s sad that she should ultimately die at his hands but it does allow him the recognition that he is too dangerous to be around people. So bizarre seeing Ayre Gross in a dramatic role after his quirky, sitcom turns in Ellen. I enjoyed the conceit of Ray catching up with Dr Puvogel being a trap set up by Doggett and Scully and Ray’s violent method of escaping confinement, it is the first time since the pre-titles that the episode manages to truly surprise. A four inch thick wall punched out of shape as though it were made from putty, even Doggett admits that if Ray gets free he isn’t sure if they are going to be able to stop him. Hardy’s direction really is a cut above, isn’t it? How cool is the shot of Scully and Doggett bleached in red light as the camera pulls away from their horrified faces through a hole that Ray has punched in the wall. The make up for Ray’s metallic condition is incredible, like a terrifying hybrid of flesh and metal eating away at his flesh. It’s great that Ray is such a fundamentally good man despite his experiences in the Gulf and his newfound metallic curse that he cannot murder a man in front of his child. We don’t need to have the moment explained, it stands for itself through the characters reactions.

The Bad: I’m not convinced by Wade Andrew Williams’ remarkably dour performance in Salvage as Ray. He’s pretty much a blank slate throughout which makes him the perfect killing machine for the more exciting moments but leaves the rest of the actors little to react against during the more emotional ones. There is something dissatisfying about this all being a horrible misunderstanding, that the barrel just happened to wind up at the salvage yard where Ray worked and infecting him. The direction falters only in the last scene which feels like it should mean more than it does, with the moment that Ray gets crushed barely perceptible it is so fast. The voiceover isn’t needed at all, it is trying to stress all the themes of the episode when the script has already done that perfectly adequately.

Pre Titles Sequence: Things that leapt out at me from the opening sequence; it’s nice to see show trying to be heartfelt again with its guest characters, Delario has suspicion coming off him in waves despite trying to comfort Nora, the effects sequence of the car caving into Ray in slow motion was well worth the time and money because it looks incredible and the hand suddenly reaching through the windscreen to grab at Delario’s face is a excellent shock moment. Stylish, shocking and rather marvellous.

Moment to Watch Out For: Shooting straight through the bloody windscreen and cutting to Scully standing in the dramatic dent in the car is a delightfully oddball touch. Delario’s face that has been caved in by human fingers is off the chart too (‘You mean someone…? ‘Like a bowling ball…’).

Orchestra: Imagine if Mark Snow had gone for a cod-Terminator inspired score for this episode? It might have given it the kick up the ass that it desperately needs at times. 

Result: Am I the only person who is fond of Salvage? For Rod Hardy’s impressive direction alone it deserves a pass, let alone the other goodies nestled inside. That’s not to say this is a classic episode by any means because there is something tangible that holds this one back from greatness but the overall standard of acting is good, the characterisation of the guest characters is good and the way the story unfolds is enjoyable enough. The only thing that stands out as being exceptional is the effects work and stunts. Even the Scully/Doggett interaction is less abrasive and more gentle than usual although I would suggest that is not entirely a swing in their favour and that things shouldn’t be allowed to get too quiet between them. It’s an X-File that is playing to a formula – Ray has been wrong by the company he works for and he is going to crush each of their throats with his metal hand – but it does allow for some impressive set pieces and quirky visuals with the carnage he leaves behind. All Salvage needs to elevate it is an extra layer of polish, script wise to give it a little more energy. This is one of those season eight episodes that does feel like it needs a more humour injected to make the overall experience more of a lively one but saying that I’m pleased it was made year where the show is taking itself seriously again, had it been a season seven installment it would have been insufferably smug and self-satisfied. On it’s own terms Salvage is well written and made and whilst it will never rock your world, it provides a decent hours entertainment: 7/10

Badlaa written by John Shiban and directed by Tony Wharmby

What’s it about: Going to the toilet and crapping out Deep Roy. I kid you not.

Brains’n’Beauty: Gillian Anderson has been asked to some pretty grim things during her time on this show but I bet even she blanched at the thought of having to poke around up the ass of a morbidly obese corpse. Attempting to account for a 30-odd pound discrepancy in a morbidly obese man, Scully at least has the decency to look apologetic when suggesting that he was accommodated by something much smaller. It’s a theory that requires a level of openness that Doggett isn’t comfortable with…but to be fair to him it is an idea that nobody would feel entirely comfortable with, not even Mulder. No matter how sure she is of her convictions, when the fakir is in the guise of a little boy Scully falters at pulling the trigger. What if she had been wrong? She’s left traumatised by the fact that she managed to fire a gun at a child. She tries to justify it by suggesting Mulder would have been able to see through the deception and that she has to do the work that he isn’t there to do any more. But clearly she doubts herself otherwise she wouldn’t be quite so haunted by her actions. She’s upset because she cannot approach the work with an open mind like he can, she’s trying her hardest to continue his work in his name but she doesn’t know if she capable of it.

Closed Mind: Doggett is being utterly facetious when he suggests this might be the work of sloppy vampires, but it is still very amusing. Even Doggett is squeamish at the (unseen by the audience – thank goodness!) damage to a mans rectal wall. I like the Doggett is not seen to be entirely reasonable when it comes to handling Mulder’s associates like Chuck. Had they characterised him as being completely level-headed about dealing with the same people they may as well have re-cast Mulder. Instead Doggett walks out on their meeting with Chuck because his ideas are so out there. It creates a different tone, a more abrasive and interesting one. She asks if Doggett is questioning her integrity but he counters that and questions the whole damn case. It might not be what the ‘bring Mulder back now!’ crowd would want to hear but Scully and Mulder had far more vicious differences of opinion back in the day (I remember an especially hysterical one in Ice). At the risk of sounding like an apologist, he is perfectly within his rights to question Scully’s methods, her sources of information and the bizarre nature of this particular case. It’s not until he’s given incontrovertible evidence of mystical happenings (a camera that reveals the fakirs mental trickery) that his firm doubts start to crumble.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘So basically you’re saying that nobody knows anything?’ ‘I guess that’s why it’s in your inbox.’
‘In my experience dead man don’t tip, Agent Scully.’
‘I try to keep an open mind but it tends to shut my eyes.’

Ugh: ‘Is that from something going in or coming out?’ The X-Files has promoted some pretty grim imagery and ideas in the past. Everything from a limbless in-bred strapped to a trolley being kept under the bed to a man, who once decapitated, can grow his own head back again. Badlaa might just take the crown for the least tasteful and most revolting concept that the show dared to suggest. An Indian fakir who can literally crawl up inside of a man via his rectum and settle inside his stomach and then slither out once he has made it to his destination. That’s so horrible that only Chris Carter (John Shiban admits as much) would dare to push it. It’s certainly the most extreme method of getting through airport security and immigrating to America that I have ever heard. It’s a warning against morbid obesity everywhere. Even I put down my beanburger at the thought that if I ate too many more Deep Roy might vanish up my bottom.

The Good: You have to admire the ambition of this series and how it is willing to have an international flavour, doubling Carolina for India and just about getting away with it. Deep Roy is the only actor that I can think to connect The X-Files, Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, The Neverending Story and Charlie & the Chocolate Factory (as well as a mass of other credits). He’s one of the ultimate guest performers in television and film because of his diminutive stature and cold, staring eyes and has played an array of nasties and heroes alike. Trust The X-Files to give him the role of mute Indian fakir who can crawl up peoples bottoms but if there is a challenging role for a pocket-sized person I could think of no-one finer for the job. And his eyes really do bore into your soul. The X-Files is something of an ensemble show these days so it means that characters like Skinner, the Lone Gunmen and Chuck can turn up frequently without any need to explain who they are. I love his Indian vacation footage with the insanely hippyish hair. Shiban goes down the obvious route of having one child being bullied by another, which is par for the course for his often clichéd characterisation. So imagine my surprise when the bullies turns out to be reasonable and they are working together by the end of the episode. The squeaky wheels of the fakirs trolley is fine indication that you are being followed and there is something rather spooky about somebody that is relentlessly coming after that is so infirmed and slow. No matter how far you run that squeak will always catch up with you eventually.

The Bad: I’m not sure why we cut away from characters and then back to the fakir who is nestled up inside his victim – it seems like a tame method of suggesting that a character his been stuffed like a Turkey at Christmas. They could have gone the whole hog and had the stomach swelling as if the burst and gas and blood escaping from the rectum, something really discomforting and nasty like that. If you’re going to suggest something as vomit-inducing as this, there is no point in approaching the idea half heartedly. Whilst I love the idea of the fakir travelling on the trolley with squeaky wheels (it is a great, creepy way of suggesting Deep Roy is coming to munch his way up your butt), I’m heartily disappointed that it takes so long to get to the nasty business of showing this method of transport in action. It really isn’t like The X-Files to be so shy. The last scene of the fakir back at work in India begging seems pointless now the story has been wrapped up. With haven’t experienced a ‘the danger is still out there’ moment as futile as this since season two.

Pre Titles Sequence: I’m pleased that we don’t actually see somebody shit out Deep Roy, but the implication is there sure enough. Visually this is quite a subtle teaser but conceptually it takes you to a vomit-inducing place.

Moment to Watch Out For: Few scenes are met with a greater sense of anticipation than of the one where Scully cuts open a mans bloated stomach (she suggests the dramatic inflation might be gas!) and it starts writhing as the occupant uses his sticky, bloody hand to push his way through the incision. It’s horrible, and that’s something the show hasn’t been for a good while so good on John Shiban for reminding us how grotesque The X-Files can be on occasion. Although I have to say the fakir makes his escape exit from the mans digestive system pretty fast given that Scully only has her back turned for a second.

Orchestra: It’s been a while since Mark Snow has been able to create a more exotic, tribal score for the series and, whilst sparse, this is one of his better examples. 

Result: What a shame that Surekill and Badlaa should spoil an otherwise unbroken run of good to great episodes in season eight. Whilst it sports a grotesquely stomach turning premise and some lovely interaction between Scully and Doggett, Badlaa doesn’t quite hold together as well as it should, like so many of John Shiban’s solo episodes. The pace is flaccid and the characterisation of the guest characters fails to raise much interest, especially the central villain who mutely squeaks from one scene to the next without any personality of offer. Badlaa wants to have it’s cake and eat it, throwing an especially nasty idea at the audience but only wanting to expose it in a few scant (if memorably vivid) scenes and the rest of the time goes for a far too subtle approach. If I were writing this episode I would have gone nuts with the idea and turned it into the most morbidly sick and tasteless of installments, at least the show could be said to have the strength of its convictions and it would be remembered for that reason rather than being largely forgotten amongst the wealth of far more worthy season eight episodes. Countering that is the continuing saga of Scully and Doggett which would elevate any episode and whilst he is quite pig-headed in this episode, there is never a point when it is portrayed as being unreasonably so given what he has been presented with by Scully. As an X-Files it is fairly average all told (and how that can be the case given the disgusting subject matter), but Badlaa is elevated by a number of eye watering moments of grotesque horror. It’s the kind of episode that the next time you are bloated you hope that you aren’t going to shit out an Indian fakir: 6/10

The Gift written by Frank Spotnitz and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Doggett continues his search for Mulder…

Closed Mind: Frank Spotnitz manages to get under the skin of this character better than any other writer and throughout season eight manages to plot his development in a very clear cut but fascinating fashion. To cut from Mulder to Doggett investigating the same case makes a connection between the two characters without them ever having to meet during the episode. To bring the focus back onto Mulder means that the show gets back to it’s season long mission and serves to remind us of the reason why Doggett was brought onto The X-Files in the first place. I like the fact that Doggett questions Mulder’s actions and intentions, he doesn’t know the character the way we do and so wouldn’t automatically assume that everything he does is altruistic (even better, Mulder’s actions are seen to be selfishly motivated in The Gift). Skinner suggests that he is only working so hard built a narrative to Mulder’s disappearance because it will be a way out of the X-Files for him. Doggett cuts through his insinuations with a simple admission that he is just trying to find the truth. Something that Agent Mulder was very keen on too, and it rather sums Doggett up in a beautifully simple manner. In The Gift, Doggett has to be the protector of a creature that is the living embodiment of the paranormal that he usually fights against. He is the guardian of a secret that needs to be put to rest. How anybody can continue to object to this character when he takes a bullet for the creature is beyond me? He is effectively killed and buried alive in this episode – what more suffering can this man be made to endure before an unforgiving audience is convinced to accept him? To be fair after The Gift, Doggett’s success (and by the end of the season he is a huge success) is down purely to his strength of character. That is his triumph. Doggett is fundamentally changed because of his experiences in this episode – how could he not be when he was murdered and resurrected? Patrick has that haunted look down pat and he deploys it to great effect in the last scene.

Trust No-1: Once again it is the absence of Mulder and him not being able to answer for himself that is much, much more interesting than he ever managed to be the seventh season. The one element brought to the discussion of the character that didn’t quite ring true in Within/Without was that Mulder had an incurable brain disease that we knew absolutely nothing about…but The Gift manages to retcon that surprise information before the character even returns to the show. This was either the intention all along or the writers panicking after they have realised they have made a mistake and rectifying it quickly. Either way I think this is rather a neat solution and a fascinating way to handle the problem. If this was the result of them going one shock revelation too far, then I think the exercise was worthwhile because this episode gains an intriguing premise because of it. I love how Mulder looks up at the creature not with revulsion but with wonder, the ultimate expression of what his life’s work has been about. And it is going to save his life. Without his belief in the paranormal, without being able to seek this creature out, he would have died.

Assistant Director: What’s interesting about Skinner’s involvement in this episode is that his tagline is ‘Fox Mulder wouldn’t do this…’ but the emphasis of the series has shifted so much against him that it isn’t a case that Doggett has to prove that he did but rather than Skinner has to prove that he didn’t. Skinner gives Doggett some great advice at the climax to not write the report that will open up a whole can of worms but instead to accept that they know what happened and that that is satisfying enough.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We have sick people. Sick people who need what it has.’

Ugh: Vomit is my least favourite substance that can be exploited in a horror tale and Spotnitz ensures there are plenty of moments where the creature is seen wretching spasmodically. It’s quite unpleasant and almost encouraged me to head to the toilet bowl myself.

The Good: Lot’s of mysteries are built in early (Mulder’s homicidal actions, the nature of the creature) that Doggett has to try and unravel a year after the events. It is nice that there is a built in reason that attracts Doggett to this case (his search for Mulder) rather than having to resort to searching The Enquirer or have a newspaper clipping shoved under the basement door. I always enjoy stories that have dual narratives in different time periods where one directly effects the other and Frank Spotnitz has cleverly written a piece where both storylines play off each other and feed separate clues to build an overall picture of what is going on. I’ve heard many comments that it was a nightmare to try and recreate the same atmosphere of darkness in California that was so readily available in Vancouver hence the lightness of tone and direction the show took in its sixth and seventh seasons. However they have seemed to have found their groove in series eight because this might just be the darkest year yet, not just in terms of storytelling (with outstandingly grim horror tales such as Roadrunners and Via Negativa) but also in terms of mood. Watch out for the sequence where the cars pull up outside the house in the woods with the townsfolk calling out the creature, it is shrouded in mist and shadows and drenched in a thick atmosphere of dread. When Doggett heads down into the caves armed with a gun and a torchlight is another phenomenally atmospheric scene. Hungry managed to put a sympathetic spin on a mutant of the week very successfully but that had the bonus of a committed performance and the entire focus being made squarely on Rob and his addiction. The Gift manages exactly the same innovation but does so even more impressively it is achieved purely through the storytelling, the creature being treated so abominably and behaving so unselfishly that your heart bleeds for its suffering. Isn’t it great how gently the sequences with the creature doing it’s business are played, Kim Manners managing to generate an atmosphere of terror (the slavering creature coming out of the mist, opening its mouth obscenely and consuming her) and beauty (a naked woman, the gentle music) at the same time (not an easy combination). Watch out for a very nice turn from Caroline Lagerfelt as ‘Rustic Woman’ (couldn’t they have found a better name for her than this?). The shot of the creature weeping, crippled by the diseases it has been forced to consume, is heartbreaking. Ultimately the people of this town (including law enforcement) want to continue exploiting the soul eater because it can relieve the suffering of their loved ones, not giving a damn about the fact that that suffering will simply be transferred to somebody who is already living a pained existence. It says rather a lot about the human condition and the moral objections we are will to put aside to protect our loved ones. The creature taking away Doggett’s death is the only way this episode could have ended and it provides some welcome relief for a man who was being mistreated appallingly.

The Bad: Don’t get me wrong, I really like the unusual concept of a man that can consume disease and as a result leaves the victim clean but it adds to the tumours and deformities of the creature. It’s an idea so good that I’m surprised it has never been tried before (I have seen it attempted since). However I’m not sure I buy the idea that this creature literally eats the entire person and then vomits them back out clean. We get to see the vomit laid out in the shape of a person that somehow re-forms back into their image in a perfectly detailed model of their former self without their previous affliction. It’s just weird. How does vomit retain such detail and how does it shape back into skin/blood/bone/etc?

Pre Titles Sequence: I remember when I first watched The Gift and being genuinely surprised that Mulder turned up during the pre-titles sequence. The show had just begun to establish itself with Scully and Doggett and it felt a little too soon for Duchovny to return and remind his devoted fans of what they were missing out. What surprised me the most was my disappointment at his appearance, it was clear to me that Robert Patrick was a more than acceptable (I would say preferable) substitute and I was really enjoying the new lease of life the show was having without him. On this re-watch it is far less irritating because I know how the season plays and that Duchovny doesn’t step back into the show and take over from Patrick. As a result this set piece works a lot better and is one that convinces you that this is happening now rather than a flashback to previous events before Mulder was abducted. What could possibly make Mulder walk into somebody’s house and shoot down a mutant creature in cold blood? This would have made a terrific start to an episode before Duchovny left the show and has lashings of atmosphere.

Moment to Watch Out For: The terrific shock moment when Doggett is shot. It’s a scene that stabs at the heart because it is so unexpected and one that will polarise opinion. Those Mulderites that have been clambering for his return will be cheering (rather uselessly since it is Doggett who is looking for Mulder) whilst fans of Doggett will be appalled that he has been snatched away so quickly. Either way, it is a great moment of surprise in a show that had started to forget how to pull them off. Isn’t it wonderful that there is a built in get out clause as well that doesn’t cheat the audience?

Fashion Statement: Robert Patrick, naked and glistening with vomit. Somehow he makes that look hot.

Orchestra: Snow focuses on a shrill and uncompromising instrument in this score that cut rights through you like a knife. It is discordant, which might be making a statement about the horror, but also quite unpleasantly piercing at times. 

Result: My one serious objection concerns the method in which the creature consumes the diseases and manages to re-form them (as well as being gross, I simply don’t understand how the vomit method works) but apart from that this is season eight doing what it does best again, focussing on character, performance and mood. This isn’t quite a small town with a nasty secret tale (because only a few people are in the know and the rest want to abuse the creature horribly) nor a Mulder is guilty of murder tale (because the pre-credits sequence is proven to be a cheat and his actions, whilst self-motivated, are reasonable) nor a monster of the week tale (because the monster is anything but). I love how it refuses to conform to any of the norms and instead goes for the morality tale jugular, forcing the audience to look at how far we would go to cure ourselves of a terrible disease and how badly we treated the infirmed when they repulse our senses. A story that is built out of flashbacks and contemporary scenes, the two parts of the narrative feeding each other and building a comprehensive picture of the overall story. The last ten minutes are excellent, the episode leading to the phenomenal shock where Doggett is shot dead and buried and very neat solution to the creatures continued existence. Ultimately Mulder’s presence in this episode is minimal, this is another installment that deals with Doggett’s clash with the paranormal but it does serve to cleverly retcon an awkward revelation that has plagued the series ever since the opener (Mulder’s brain condition). Such was my interest in the nature of this story and how it played out I didn’t notice Scully’s absence whatsoever until it was pointed out at the climax: 8/10

Medusa written by Frank Spotnitz and directed by Richard Compton

What’s it about: People are dying in a Boston subway system…

Brains’n’Beauty: It is interesting to note that Scully and Doggett are now firmly established as a strong investigative unit in their last proper story together where they need to fulfil that role. They have had their ups and downs throughout season eight and the show has been so much more interesting for it but now is the time where they have to show that the journey has been worth it and hw better to establish that in an episode where communications is key to one of their survival. When she informs Doggett that she needs eyes and ears down in the tunnels there is a softness to her tone that hasn’t been there before. Because of his perseverance and willingness to taken whatever she throws at him, Scully has started to respect him…perhaps even like him. She’s watching his back on the screens as he is down in the dark getting her answers. Scully is described as being an expert in equivocal death, which gets a laugh. There is something rather satisfying about watching Scully butt heads with an authority figure and ripping through the red tape and driving the investigation forwards. When Scully angrily informs Karras that if he sent her partner down there knowing that they would be in danger, it is a real indictment of how she and Doggett have built a firm relationship. She’s never referred to him as her partner before. Scully is genuinely panicked at the climax when he flings himself into danger to save the passengers on board the racing subway train and is visibly relieved to hear that he is alright. Back at the beginning of the season I don’t think she would have cared if he was hurt or not. Love the awkward look between them as Doggett vanishes behind the curtain to get changed. Watch how Gillian Anderson plays the last scene – Scully is still trying to resist getting too cosy with Doggett but he has pretty much worn all her defences down by now.

Closed Mind: The look on his face when he quietly and happily excepts the role of dogsbody in the subway system makes me want to give him a hug. He is still trying so hard to prove himself to Scully that he would happily walk into danger for her. He stays down in those tunnels much longer than I would have under similar circumstances and describes Scully as ‘the boss.’ He describes being sent down instead of Scully the right call, despite his companions attempts to turn him against her he remains loyal. He refuses to leave until they have found the answers and their mystery guest…he recognises that this is about saving peoples lives at all costs. We’ve already seen what the Medusa creature can do to a man so the moment Doggett’s face is lit up with bioluminescence is worth a dramatic cut to an advert break.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Agent Scully needs some data…’ – it’s all in Robert Patrick’s delivery.
‘She said a lot of people might be taking cabs home tonight.’

Ugh: All you need when trapped down in some dark and dank tunnels is to have a man with his face half eaten off coming at out of the shadows. When we finally get a good look at his face it is a genuinely horrific make up job of exposed bone and peeled back lips.

The Good: Although it cannot be said to be the first of it’s kind (Doctor Who’s The Web of Fear shows how the BBC concocted a similarly impressive set with extremely limited resources), the subway set that the designers built for this episode is impressively huge and detailed. Aside from the lack of graffiti and litter, I was perfectly convinced that this was filmed in a genuine subway station and along the claustrophobic and dank tunnels that connect them. I am so used to seeing Ken Jenkins as the slimy and Hitleresque Dr Kelso on Scrubs that it took me a few watches of Medusa to adjust to seeing him in a straight role. It’s a memorable performance but ultimately he is playing one of those character that is there to throw a spanner in the works and to complicate the narrative, which he does with great aplomb. You’ve also got DS9’s Penny Johnson (I say DS9 but she is one of America’s most recognisable television actresses, that just happens to be the show that I have seen her in the most besides the first two seasons of 24 and Castle) as part of the team heading down into the tunnels to investigate the spate of murders. Her part is as underwritten as Jenkins’ but the thrill is in seeing an actress you admire in another role in another show that you love. She does everything that is required of her and more and brightens up an already perky episode. A round of applause for the transit control centre set as well, another beautifully designed and constructed piece of work from a set team at the top of their game. Between them, they have made this action adventure feel like it is taking place in a real environment underground. The use of POV cameras in the tunnels was a smart idea because it gives the episodes a dramatic visual aspect during the tenser moments of the episode. Spotnitz hands out early clues as to the nature of the threat this week when the ventilation system is mentioned – if the subway officials knew it was the nature of the organism to react to sweat then naturally they want their investigative team to perspire as little as possible. There’s also a close up on a puddle glowing menacing less than ten minutes into the episode. Having Karras watching over Scully’s shoulder and reminding her of the deadline before the trains start running again gives the episode an added layer of tension, this is a race against time to save peoples lives. The mystery deepens when Doggett comes across a number of bodies wrapped in plastic sheeting and a diminutive person ducking in and out of the subway system. It would appear that the officials will go to any lengths to cover up the deaths and keep the trains running on time and there is a great deal of authenticity in that. A possible biological weapon that has leaked into the subway system? That’s a terrifying notion putting thousands of people at risk and making them all potential carriers to spread to the world upstairs. By the end of the episode we have been saturated in so much darkness underground that Medusa turns out to be the ultimate example of an X-File cliché, it is practically flashlight porn. The Medusa creature itself is entirely plausible but not exactly riveting answer to what has been happening so you’ll either swing one way or the other in your reaction depending on what you are after in this show. A sea creature that is reacting with sweat and killing people, perhaps it is from the depths of the oceans that have been unexplored which would makes its previously unrecorded existence a realistic one. The pollution of the subway network by a an infection of glowing water reminds me nostalgically of the Doctor Who story The Green Death which sported a similarly luminescent waterfall of pollution. Except that tale had Giant Maggots too.

The Bad: Scully stopping a potential cover up of bodies (F. Emasculata), a group of people confined and at each others throats (Ice), a water based foe (Agua Mala)…Medusa happily reminds me of plenty of old X-File episodes but I rather think that was the point of this installment. It just goes to show that the setting (and the race against time element) is everything because it is the environment that gives this an entirely different tone and pace. Lt. Bianco is a little too argumentative and paranoid perhaps, but given the fact that he has been infected by Medusa it isn’t an unreasonable reaction. Whilst it has been set up by his appearances earlier in the episode, the sudden reveal that a child has been crawling around in the subway system and that he just happens to be the solution to the whole scenario (a childs sweat glands work differently to an adults) is a little too convenient for the story.

Pre Titles Sequence: I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again but I love stories that are set on, in or around trains. I always think it is because of the little boy in me that is screaming to come out but actually over time I have come to understand it is just because I love trains. So this spooky sequence on board a deserted subway train that heads off into the distance and something horrific occurs out of sight is right up my street. The technical achievements are impressive (both the subway set that was purpose built for Medusa and Mark Snow’s bold and dramatic music) and the mystery is kept well built with a nasty eaten away far left behind for Doggett to try and unearth the reason behind. Like the episode at large, there is nothing especially clever going on here but it is stylish and engaging for that.

Moment to Watch Out For: The scene that sums Medusa up best for me is the climactic moment when the trains have been set in motion and Doggett has no time at all to prevent hundreds of people from being infected and killed as the tin box rushes towards him and the Medusa organism. It is breathlessly exciting, dynamically scored and directed with a real sense of pace. It’s not a clever or deep solution but it’s one that drags you helplessly into the action because it is executed so well. 

Fashion Statement: Robert Patrick is quite the beefcake in his black combats and survival gear.

Result: One of the best examples of The X-Files knocking out a mini movie of the week, Medusa is a fast paced and engaging action piece with plenty of atmosphere and excitement. It is exactly what season eight needs at this point. Doctor Who recently had a story returned to its archives that told a similarly claustrophobic and atmosphere driven tale set down in a artificially built underground system and if there is one thing that the two adventures both prove is that it is a wonderful setting to tell a edgy terror-driven story in. This is the sort of story that could happily snuggle into any season and is executed with a great deal of panache from the dramatic direction to the impressive set design right through to Mark Snow’s atmosphere generating score. If you still don’t like Doggett at the end of this episode as he flings himself into danger at every turn to get Scully the answers that she needs then you’re a moron. One thing that really pleases me about Medusa is that it is one of the most plausible X-File stories ever written because a contamination of water polluted with a dangerous organism into the subway system is something that is not out of the realms of possibility. Richard Compton only directed two episodes of The X-Files but did a fine job with both of them and it is crying shame that he wasn’t available to helm more in the remaining season and a half. He understands that half the battle with this show is it’s atmosphere and he cranks it up to eleven in Medusa. 45 minutes of adrenaline fuelled television that drags you into the subway system and leaves you at the mercy of several dangers and a race against time narrative that could see a massive loss of life. I was helpless to resist: 8/10

Per Manum written by Frank Spotnitz & Chris Carter and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Scully’s pregnancy is proceeding apace and Doggett is still in the dark…

Brains’n’Beauty: It is fascinating to watch Duffy tell his story to both Scully and Doggett because they are both coming at it from such different angles. Scully has lived through a lot of what he is talking about (cancer, tests) and would go on to fear what Duffy openly admits (that his baby was an alien) whereas Doggett wasn’t around for the first seven seasons of the show and sits there with one eye arched, respectful but not believing a word. And why would you? Anybody would have the same reaction if they hadn’t experienced all this science fiction themselves. When Doggett reminds her that Duffy is reeling off her story, she turns on him in an accusatory fashion as though he has been prying into her personal affairs. And there was me thinking that some trust had built between them. These moments of tension between Anderson and Patrick are so good that I’m quite sad that we are about to reach a stage where they trust each other implicitly. There was an unseen storyline during season seven (unseen until now that is…) where Scully discusses her fears about not being able to give birth and not giving up on the hope that one day she will have a child. Talk of alien babies, the shock of the disfigured infants in jars; Scully is starting to panic that something might be wrong with her own child. It is her damn evasiveness that is keeping a wedge between her and Doggett and I was screaming for her to tell him the truth about her pregnancy when she informed him she was taking a leave of absence. It is getting beyond a joke now.

Closed Mind: Looking like a wounded puppy for possibly pushing his partner too far, Doggett soon regrets mentioning that he has read her file and taken on board what has happened to her over the past seven years. Scully is behaving suspiciously and yet acting accusatory when Doggett starts asking questions about ultrasounds and her Doctor. If only she would tell him the truth they could cut through all this mistrust and pretence.

Trust No-1: It almost seems unfair on Doggett that the writers should bring back Mulder for Per Manum and make him sweeter and more gentle than he has ever been before. It is enough to make all those people who have missed him scream to the heavens in thanks and all those who have adjusted and enjoyed the new dynamic question whether it is an acceptable substitute. Actually the writers are playing a far more interesting game than that. Per Manum is probably the only episode in season eight which does promote the optimistic return of Mulder to the show and his scenes are entirely told in flashback during season seven. It is a lovely peak at the softness of the interplay between Mulder and Scully at its height before Mulder is returned to the show permanently in the present day only to find that it doesn’t have a place for him anymore. I’m surprised Scully was so understanding about Mulder keeping the information about her removed and defective ova given that she has always had ideas of motherhood. Doggett reads a file and she goes nuts, Mulder explains that he has known all along why she cannot give birth and she barely reacts. I guess that is the nature of the two relationships.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘My wife gave birth to an alien!’ cries Duffy like the front cover of The Enquirer. Why is this in this section and not the one below? Because it is precisely the sort of hullabaloo that John Doggett fears hearing when he comes into work each morning and gives Scully very little room to manoeuvre in suggesting there might be some veracity in it.
‘…and go through the donor procedure’ ‘At that part I’m a pro.’
‘So I’m The X-Files now? Just me?’ says Agent Doggett. I laughed for about a minute. Also ‘I’m in the dark pretty much most of my time on the X-Files, Joe’ felt like it was meant solely for me.
‘Never give up on a miracle.’

Ugh: Carter and Spotnitz have caught something genuinely sinister and unnerving here because there is something pure and natural about bringing life into the world and so to twist that into something horrific gives them a simple springboard in which to write a powerful drama. There’s a great shock ten minutes into this episode where Scully rushes to hide and finds her way into a storage room which contains grotesque parodies of babies pickled in jars, hundreds of them. All deformed and misshapen. It’s quite a sick image. The thought of dissecting any baby to say what makes it tick, even an alien one, is discomforting and I’m pleased we only get to see it in the reflection in the surgeons goggles. Both alien births take place with her person viewing under anaesthetic so it can be a little fuzzy about the details. Perhaps showing the grisly details would be a step too far for this show…and maybe a tad too b movie.

The Good: Thanks in no small part to Kim Manners excellent handling of the transitions so that they are both surprising and perfectly comprehensible, the hopping back and forth between flashbacks and the present day makes for an unusual and effective narrative device in Per Manum. Check out the superb camerawork during the sequence where Doggett meets Scully and Skinner at roadside diner at night. It glides along the ground and straight through the window. The sort of direction that is overlooked but stunningly achieved. Interesting to see Doggett get his own younger, cuter version of Deep Throat within the government. Knowle Rohrer would go on to appear in a wealth of episodes in the last season and a half and Adam Baldwin has the conspiratorial glances down pat. He’s also pretty easy on the eye too. Scully escorting a pregnant woman to safety is a dry run for what she will be going through in Existence at the end of the season. It’s such a brilliant dramatic device that Carter and Spotnitz used it twice, although the second time it is even more dynamic.

Pre Titles Sequence: One of the most unnerving teasers because it features a helpless pregnant woman at the mercy of Doctor’s who clearly have something more to hide than potential malpractice. As soon as her husband is out of the delivery room they lock the door, drug her to the eyeballs and drag something decidedly unearthly from her womb. Close on a bloody and screaming alien child. Freaky as hell.

Moment to Watch Out For: Sometimes this show really manages to surprise me. When it should be taken seriously it can come across as the most cringeworthy soap opera, in part due to Carter’s dreadful handling of personal dialogue. And then there are moments such as the one where Mulder has to give Scully his answer to her request for him to be a sperm donor which on paper is doomed to melodramatic failiure. And yet it works. It really, really works. Anderson and Duchovny bring down their performances to such a delicate level, Kim Manners gives them total exposure and the dialogue manages to be sweet and funny. It’s one of the most touching moments in the shows entire run. And I would have sworn that this sort of thing would have been hideously overdone on The X-Files. It’s like I said, they have re-discovered something in season eight that had been forgotten for at least three years…suddenly the show is about the people in it again and they are being written for better than ever. The way this scene blends into another with Scully alone, afraid and without Mulder to comfort her is profoundly moving. Equally strong is the final scene between Doggett and Scully where the truth about her baby is blown wide open. It’s is so gently played by Patrick and Anderson that it gave me goosebumps. This really has been a relationship to watch.

Fashion Statement: I wondered why Scully’s hair was wilder and less disciplined this week (it is a look that quite suits her), it is because her hair is one of the pointers to which section of the story we are watching, the flashback or the present day. 

Result: An excellent character drama which brings all the elements that have made this year such a joy back into sharp focus after a spate of standalone episodes. Scully’s fractious relationship with Doggett, her dexterously handled pregnancy, Mulder’s disappearance that has somehow made him more interesting than when he was around full time, Skinner’s involvement in the personal lives of his Agents…Per Manum brings it all into a cohesive whole for the audience and pushes the story onwards for all of these characters so we are in the right position for Mulder’s return in the next episode. It’s a joy to see David Duchovny back in the show but more than that it is a joy to see him acting in the role again rather than sleepwalking through the part like he did for much of the last series. With Robert Patrick taking his place, suddenly Duchovny has to prove his worth. As lovely as the Mulder/Scully scenes are my focus was primarily on the Scully/Doggett relationship which continues to yield rewards as they get closer despite one half of this partnership keeping secrets to the point of obstinacy. What appears to be a simple story is revealed to be a lot more complex than it first appeared, the regulars being set up from their very first appearance to ensure that Scully is delivered into a hazardous situation for her and her baby. On it’s own terms Per Manum is a quiet X-Files that isn’t going to blow you away with grand set pieces but if you are the sort of viewer that enjoys the subtleties of character development and chance for actors of the calibre of Anderson, Duchovny and Patrick to get the chance to show off their talents then this might be right up your street. I honestly never knew that this show could be this moving: 9/10

This Is Not Happening written by Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: The return of Mulder?

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully gets a taste of her own medicine at the beginning of this episode; being called into work and kept in the dark by Doggett until Skinner is available to reveal the possible link between the return of Teresa and Mulder. Isn’t Scully wonderfully grumpy this season? I think she has barely cracked a smile. It’s not something I would recommend in every show (and Anderson has such a lovely smile that it would be nice to see it every now and again) but her character was becoming so fatuous and childish in season seven, almost a parody of who she was in the first three seasons, that it is great to get back to basics and give Anderson some challenging material again. When she confronts Agent Reyes about her involvement in the case I wanted her replacement to tell her to get over herself.  Watch Anderson’s restrained anger as Scully questions Absalom, she is a woman right on the edge and any provocation could set her off. 

Closed Mind: Doggett and Scully’s approaches still differ and he wont defer to her touchy feely techniques when he feels that pressing the witness will get results. Doggett succinctly tells Scully that if she is going to reject every possibility that he throws her way and go off on a tangent about alien Bounty Hunters then they will have to part company (and Scully, as if knowing that she is passing the torch onto to Reyes in the future, states ‘enjoy your new company’). There was a tiny moment in Invocation where we realised that something tragic has happened in Doggett’s past with regards to his son and the audience is spoon fed a little more information here. Doggett and Reyes were working together during the case when he was missing and he gently asks her to keep his history out of this case and leave the past in the past. This will be mined for real emotional worth in future episodes. It goes to explain why Doggett is so vehemently against believing in the paranormal as an explanation for disappearances. He knows first hand with personal experience that people vanish all the time in the most horrific and violent of ways. If he had turned to such an outrageous way of thinking during his sons disappearance he might never have found the body. Kudos to Carter/Spotnitz for refusing to let this character back down and stay truthful to himself and for giving him a very good and understandable reason for doing so. It might have come in handy to have included this scene much earlier in the season to have prevented him from looking so stubborn but this rewards the patient viewer tenfold.

New Ager: Introducing Monica Reyes, a character that split opinion between those that found her a ray of sunshine and those that found it a struggle to accept that this show isn’t going to be solely about Mulder and Scully anymore. To be fair to her critics the character does come with a few too many quirks in her first appearance (she’s a new ager, she smokes, she’s eccentric in her approach to investigation) and it does feel as if the writers are going out of their way to make her appealing and a bit different. However all this is rendered pretty soluble when you factor in that she is being played by Annabeth Gish, a delightful performer who stresses these qualities but gets to play them down in future episodes. The truth of the matter is that she lights up the screen for me (after half a season of Anderson and Doggett looking dour – as good as that might have been – it is lovely to meet somebody who enjoys smiling and looking on the lighter side of life) and has great chemistry with Robert Patrick (and going forward, Anderson too). I might be the minority (although I don’t think that is the case anymore) but I really enjoyed how the show ploughed on with Doggett and Reyes at the reins. What a breath of fresh air they turned out to be. Reyes is greeted by suspicion by both Scully and Skinner and even Mark Snow punctuates her first appearance with an ominous sting. She goes on what she knows but tries to stay open to extreme possibilities. Reyes doesn’t not believe in aliens, which is going to come in handy when she is assigned to The X-Files. A black sheep in law enforcement with certain spiritual notions, in basic terms she is Mulder albeit with a much stronger connection to the Earth (both spiritually and socially) than he ever had. She looks longingly at a packet of cigarettes and it is only an encounter with an alien spacecraft that prevents her from lighting up (now there’s a sentence I never thought I would write about an X-File episode).

Trust No-1: Whether it was just a dream or a psychic link between Scully and Mulder, the insinuation seems to be that Mulder has been pinned to that chair in the alien spacecraft since the beginning of the season (about three-four months now); tortured, bruised and wan.

Assistant Director: The gorgeous interaction between Scully and Skinner continues, the two of them holding out hope that they are going to find Mulder alive and well but not kidding themselves that things aren’t looking good in that direction.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Did you ever hear of an alien in Nike’s?’
‘What if he’s dead?’ 

The Good: It is amazing that a show could not only last eight seasons so successfully after the departure of one of it’s two main characters and that it could take in it’s eighth season elements from the pilot episode all those years ago and innovate them to make the show more gripping than ever. The return of Teresa Hosey is portent of doom for Scully who is still hanging out for the return of her partner and lover. Alien abductions aren’t about inflated bellies anymore, since the fallout of the conspiracy arc they have been rough housing their abductees and the Teresa’s messed up body is the result of the sort of torture we saw Mulder undergoing in the first two episodes of the season. A small mention for Judd Tritcher in the very sweet role of Ritchie Szalay, a boy from Oregon who is following the trail of the aliens because his boyfriend was abducted in Requiem. After his godawful, pretentious scenes with the Smoking Man in previous seasons of The X-Files you might have thought that the return of Jeremiah Smith would be a bad thing but Carter and Spotnitz take a look at where the character went wrong before and iron out all his wrinkles in This Is Not Happening. The focus is on his healing powers, rather than his cod-religious portents of the future. I like the fact that Scully believes this is the work of aliens and Doggett and Reyes pump for the more reasonable UFO cult idea and when the dust clears away on the wreckage of this episode it turns out they are all right.

Pre Titles Sequence: Immediately gripping and then extremely unfortunate for the character, the teaser pretty much sums up the episode at large. Can you imagine having absolute proof of an alien spacecraft visiting the Earth and forgetting to wind up your camera so you lack any visual proof? And stumbling across a battered and bruised abductee with no proof of where she came from is going to take some explaining. Pretty much anything directed by Kim Manners these days is worth watching (since the departure of Rob Bowman he is the in-house director) but his work on season eight is particularly special.

Moment to Watch Out For: The last thing any of us was expecting was for Scully to find Mulder again and to be cradling his corpse when she did so. It’s a shocking conclusion that gave me goosebumps all over and her final scream of anxiety at the loss of the only help for Mulder is a powerful end to the episode.

Orchestra: Snow returns to the Scully’s theme that played such an effective part in Within/Without and Per Manum. It has such a sense of longing and tragedy to it and yet is beautiful in it’s right too and stresses Scully’s pain in a very moving way throughout This Is Not Happening. Taken as a whole this is one of Snow’s most accomplished scores (take a step back and consider the music that he has created for this show and consider the enormity of that statement). The achingly sad music yet optimistic music that accompanies Jeremiah’s healing of Teresa broke my heart whilst the astonishing piece at the climax when Scully finally catches up with Mulder might just be my favourite moment of the series musically. It is precisely the sort of epic, moving and exciting composition that I imagine would have accompanied a real life alien invasion on this show. It is unforgettable and delivers the climax with a real punch of emotion.  

Result: Gripping stuff and another mythology episode in season eight that kicks some serious ass, This Is Not Happening serves all of it’s characters extremely well whilst introducing a fresh element into the series and giving one portion of the audience what they have been screaming out for since the beginning of the year. But brilliantly it does none of those things in the way that you might expect. After Per Manum you might expect that Scully and Doggett to be on an even footing now but their antagonism comes to a head in this episode and they almost part company. Monica Reyes is our idiosyncratic new regular but she comes with a handful of neuroses and flaws that make her a little too quirky for her own good, but she mostly salvaged by Annabeth Gish’s sublime performance anyway. And Mulder comes back to Earth with a bang in an episode that is all about building up his return to the show but Carter and Spotnitz save their cruellest trick until last as Scully is finally reunited with her partner only to find that he is dead. What an emotional ride this is and how delicately all the character interactions are handled. The amount of effort that has gone into plotting out the character arcs this seasons and ensuring there is plenty of follow through and rewards to the patient viewer is extraordinary – there really isn’t another season of The X-Files like it in that respect. Nothing is cloudy or indistinct like the mythology of the previous seasons, it is a clearly told story with plenty of emotionally sincere beats. There is almost no need for a plot to This Is Not Happening because the characters and their journeys are creating self-perpetuating storylines and the only standalone elements to this is the sudden diversion to the doomsday cult but the focus soon turns back to Mulder. With the inclusion of Reyes, The X-Files is practically an ensemble show now (Mulder, Scully, Skinner, Doggett, Reyes) and given this is a show that has always found its strength from a core relationship of two it is strange how satisfying the shift to a larger group of characters is. Weirdly enough the only part of this episode that didn’t work for me was the repeated use of the phrase ‘this is not happening’ because it seemed to be shoehorned into a script awkwardly simply to justify the title (three times we hear it in the pre-titles sequence). Apart from that colour me impressed at another arc piece that proves to be a stellar hour of drama in it’s own right. Impressive: 9/10

Deadalive written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz and directed by Tony Wharmby

What’s it about: Mulder’s dead…no wait he’s alive. What’s going on?

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully tells Doggett that he doesn’t owe her anything by supporting the X-Files and trying to keep the department open when she goes on maternity leave but she is clearly still very touched by the gesture. She tells him to get out while she can or he may never get out at all…advice she wishes she had been given all those years ago. In a very symbolic gesture, Doggett stands in her way when she tries to pass him and get to Mulder and she stresses that she needs to see him in whatever condition. If you fail to be moved by Scully weeping into Mulder’s chest as he lies in a comatose and bruised state in a hospital bed then I fear your blood may not be pumping around your body. We have been here before so many times in seasons 1-7 but this time it feels different because it is a moment that has been promised for over half a season and is finely played by Anderson when it comes. No words are even necessary.  Having Scully criticize Doggett for not believing in the paranormal even when it is staring him right in the face is gloriously ironic given it took her seven years and an overwhelming amount of proof to wear down her scientific objections. She expects him to undergo the same transformation in a few months. It is so wonderful to see Scully smiling again during the final scene where Mulder wakes up. I was starting to suspect she had forgotten how.

Closed Mind: ‘Fish while they’re biting, John…’ With Kersh is smiling at you when you walk in the door, run a mile because something is clearly very wrong with the world. In this case Doggett is being recommended for advancement and receiving merits for his part in finding Agent Mulder, praise and reward that he feels he doesn’t deserve. He clearly doesn’t want to be manoeuvred into any position, even if that means sticking to the X-Files a little longer. With no Mulder, the department might be shut down without him. You would think that with Mulder back the focus would be on him again but the show seems to be more about Doggett than ever, which is something that pleases me greatly. The final scene emphasises Doggett as a third wheel in the X-Files team. Scully clings onto Mulder and weeps and catches Doggett’s eye in the doorway just as he walks away and leaves them to it. How this is going to play out is anyone’s guess but it is sure going to be interesting finding out.

Trust No-1: Who would have ever thought that the absence of a character would have made them far more interesting than they ever were when they were part of a series?

Assistant Director: Another massive role for Skinner, another terrific opportunity to see how effortlessly Mitch Pileggi has been absorbed into the ensemble. I wondered if the whole Krychek/pain device plotline had vanished into obscurity but it makes an entirely unexpected return in Deadalive. The veins that bulge out of Skinner’s skin are a great prompt that rat boy is nearby and waiting to take advantage of events. The difference between Skinner here and in earlier seasons is that we understand exactly why he behaves how he does. In previous years when the character being treated as part ally/part enemy we would never have been privy to the scene between him and Krychek, we would have only have seen him turning off Mulder’s life support and get the explanation afterwards. Clearly that was the wrong approach because knowing what makes him tick, understanding that he is killing Mulder to save Scully’s baby makes the moment all the more powerful.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Apart from a certain enviable post mortem tumescence this man is unremarkable…’
‘Agent Doggett, however I felt about you when we first met, you changed my opinion with the quality of your character and of your work. Now I thankful to no you and I am thankful of your concern…’ – hurrah!
‘It’s going to be awful crowded down in that X-Files office…’

Ugh: People should no better than to suggest that corpses come back to life and start blabbing about how they died because that is just tempting fate. As a Doctor does here with the pickled and scarred body of Billy Miles. The make up for Mulder’s ashen, decaying corpse is really very nasty, a far cry from the handsome man David Duchovny is. If the mythology episodes are going to continue (this is the third interlinked episode in a row with a fourth on its way) then Carter & Spotnitz are determined to remind the audience of what this show is about and include a genuinely grisly sequence when Billy Miles wakes from his coma, heads to the nearest shower and sheds his crusty, scarred flesh in as bloody a fashion as possible. It really turned my stomach.

The Good: This episode lives up to it’s title and has great fun resurrecting apparently dead people from the past. Bully Miles is proving to be quite the lynchpin of the show in it’s later years, given focus when Mulder was abducted and when he was returned. His resurrection gives hope that Mulder might still be alive after his funeral and adds a touch of doubt to his homecoming – if Billy has returned as a programmed killing machine does that mean Mulder is too? Was this what the aliens had planned all along? What Mulder needs is vaccine that stops this process from happening…which is a skilful way to bring Krychek into the action and his control device over Skinner. The thought of Mulder, Scully and Doggett all working together on the X-Files makes my heart sing…imagine the fireworks! Although in realistic terms it does signal the end of one of the characters because it is not a situation that would work in the long term. I remember feeling disheartened at the thought that it was probably Doggett that would go because he is the third wheel, the piece of the puzzle that doesn’t fit (but a piece in the series that fits beautifully because of it). How things actually panned out surprised and delighted me.

Pre Titles Sequence: Well that was unexpected. When Mulder was returned dead at the end of This Is Not Happening I was expecting some instant miracle to occur in order to bring him back to the land of the living but instead the writers plunge onwards with the idea that Mulder is no longer with us. Even going to the lengths of pulling together all the assembled regulars that are still with us and putting on a beautiful, snow caressed funeral service for him in a graveyard. Doggett gripping onto Krychek’s face and hanging on outside of his motor as rat boy ploughs through a host of stationary cars in the hospital car park is a fantastically exciting set piece.

Moment to Watch Out For: Tying beautifully into the suggestions that were made in Per Manum, Krychek informs his victim that Scully cannot be allowed to have her baby and that he must be the one to kill it. Now we have an absorbing plotline going forwards – is there something amiss with the baby? What a dreadful dilemma for Skinner to be in, kill Mulder or kill Scully’s baby…or face the consequences at the end of Krychek’s pain device. There is so much going on at this point but I had a handle over all of it because it is tied into the characters and their feelings and explained in a crystal clear fashion. Why couldn’t the show have always have been as comprehensible and as interesting as this?

Fashion Statement: Scully’s pregnancy is really showing now but this takes place three months after This Is Not Happening so that is understandable. This marks the beginning of the end of her time on The X-Files. Billy Miles walking around in the buff – don’t mind if I do. When Doggett looks furiously angry and starts towards Krychek…I just want to bang his brains out. 

Result: Deadalive manages to mix old mythology (Krychek) and new (Billy Miles) with equal aplomb whilst dealing with the fallout of Mulder’s death and resurrection and the situation of where Doggett belongs. It is a remarkably packed episode and it is to the credit of Carter & Spotnitz that it never feels rushed and unwieldy. I’ve changed my mind about season eight, it might be my favourite season of The X-Files now because it is the one where I can see the maximum amount of effort from the creative team being injected into the show for the utmost rewards. The Scully/Doggett interaction reaches its zenith in this episode with the two of them managing to butt heads in some gorgeously scripted exchanges and admit how much they care for each other as well. It has been a fantastic relationship to chart but this is the beginning of the end before Mulder and Reyes step in to distract the pair of them from each other. Mulder’s return isn’t handled at all the way I thought it would be and is all the better for it, I thought he would be greeted with fanfare and instead the writers go down the route that he could be a potential alien assassin. Suspicion and mistrust seems to be the watchwords surrounding his homecoming. Skinner continues to get a larger slice of the pie and Mitch Pileggi’s involvement in season eight cannot be faulted, he is responsible for binding the regulars into an ensemble and the character is such a reliable, beautifully acted presence. Add to all this some grotesque sequences that remind that this show can still repulse, fascinating participation from Kersh and you have a substantial, hugely entertaining installment of an ever improving year. Season eight shows how good the X-Files mythology episodes could have been had they been less obscure and tightly focused on Mulder and Scully. This is how good the show could have been all along: 9/10

Three Words written by Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz and directed by Tony Wharmby

What’s it about: Mulder continues to play the bad boy…but he can’t get away with it anymore.

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully tries to explain how hard it has been for her coping without him, first at the site of his disappearance, then having to work with somebody else and then after finding him dead and having to accept that he will never be a part of her life anymore. No wonder she is more chilled out in Three Words than we have seen her in a long time. It has been a real acting challenge for Anderson to convey such a sense of loss over a prolonged period of time whilst still driving the show and staying firmly in character but she has risen to the challenge magnificently and given some of her most striking performances as a result. Scully is very quick to jump to Doggett’s defence when Mulder starts to criticize and after all the hoops he jumped through to prove his loyalty to her I am pleased that she took this stand. We needed to go through the evolution of their relationship to reach this stage because if Scully wasn’t behind Doggett one hundred percent, despite Mulder’s insistence that he is a bad guy, then the argument for his continued work on the X-Files would fall flat.

Closed Mind: ‘The only thing that is impressive about my work on the X-Files is that I know what’s going on half the time…’ Kersh is very cleverly using Doggett’s success rate since he has been assigned to the department as a reason to deny Mulder access to the X-Files again. Apparently he and Scully have had more arrest on percentage than Mulder and Scully in over years – ouch. It’s also another method of setting them all at each others throats which is only to the benefit of the drama of the show. I certainly wouldn’t want things to return to the lackadaisical mood of season seven now Mulder is back in residence. Kersh manuveres Doggett into the unenviable position of telling Mulder that he is no longer assigned to the unit he created. Double ouch. He’s being manipulated by Kersh and Knowle Rohrer in very different ways and it is only starting to become clear just how badly his actions are being pre-meditated and he doesn’t like the position that it puts him in. Perhaps Mulder is right that Doggett is working against him, but it is entirely against his will. As soon as he realises this he attempts to rectify matters but Mulder’s faith in him has been crushed. He confronts Knowle and informs him he will not be used as his puppet but his informant reveals that the truth that he is trying to point him towards is all laid out in the X-Files. It would appear he still has a lot of work to do down in that basement office, especially now Mulder is no longer welcome in the building.

Trust No-1: The look on Mulder’s face as he remembers the terrible torture he suffered at the hands of the aliens is that of a man who has searched the skies for their existence only to get spat in the face for his efforts. He’s a broken man. Considering he has undergone a miraculous recovery from death, a feat only otherwise achieved by Jesus, he looks about as thrilled by the motion as a man who has just been told that he has to pay up all the rent and bills he has missed since he has been missing. What is unusual is how Mulder walks through the show that used to be all about him like a ghost, like a stranger who doesn’t quite belong there anymore because the show has moved on without him. He doesn’t know where he fits in anymore. Mulder is his own worst nightmare sometimes (that’s why we love him) and he only feels like getting back to work when he is told that he isn’t allowed to. He hangs around his office waiting to meet and wind up Agent Doggett against the advice of Scully and Skinner. He cannot be said to be undeserved of the punishment he receives at the end of this episode.

Sinister AD: Fundamentally Kersh is a good man who is only trying to do the best by the FBI which is why it makes it quite interesting that Carter & Spotnitz always try and paint as something of a villain, just as they did with the Smoking Man. Whilst he is often seen to be working against the X-Files, there are moments when we are privy to him working behind the scenes to aid them so it appears that much of his bluster and anger is all an act for someone’s benefit. It doesn’t stop my buttocks clenching every time he smiles though. He’s so often coming down on Mulder, Scully, Doggett and Skinner’s ass that it feels as if something is very wrong with the world when he looks happy.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Problem? You occupy an office that used to be devoted to finding the truth and now you’re busy burying it’ – oh Mulder you are so wrong.
‘You know it’s not fair. You’ve been dead for six months and you still look better than me’ ‘Oh Melvyn, I’d be a whole lot happier to see if you’d just take your hands off my ass.’
‘Come on guys, I’m on autopilot here…’ is not a line you should give David Duchovny under any circumstances. 

The Good: Judson Scott is a veteran of science fiction performances but gives one of his best (and certainly most intense) in The X-Files as the religious prophet Absalom. Whilst he was a side issue in This Is Not Happening and Deadalive, he comes into his own in Three Words, escaping from prison, seeking out Doggett and putting him in a situation where his life is in terrible danger if he doesn’t do everything that Absalom tells him. Because he talks of alien takeovers and sacred foresight he comes across as the sort of deathly serious nut job that is capable of anything (‘You and I are going to become overnight sensations!’). Another cute appearance by the Lone Gunmen in season eight with the hug between Frohike and Mulder possibly the loveliest moment in an episode packed with mistrust. There is a real warmth to the scenes between the old timers (Mulder, Scully & the Lone Gunmen) from this show that has been practically absent in the cold (but riveting) season eight. Like Per Manum, the writers pull off a massive coup by revealing that this whole plot has been a set up from the start and Doggett has been the unknowing victim that he delivered Mulder into the hands of his enemies. There are several excellently paced action sequences in Three Words that Tony Wharmby handles with great aplomb. Doggett being led like a lamb to slaughter into the census database and almost being shot in the head for his troubles is one such example. Mulder making it into the census database intercut with Doggett trying to make it in to help him and the Gunmen hanging about cutting the security procedures makes for a glorious ten minute thriller sequence that ends with them being pursued by an armed security force. Unfortunately it looks like Doggett has turned up to stop Mulder just as he has happened upon the census information that could blow this thing wide open – Three Words has been well structured enough so both men on different sides of the argument can be seen to be perfectly credible in their opinions.

Pre Titles Sequence: Leaping the fence of the White House with a disc entitled Fight the Future might be a way of getting the President’s attention…but probably not the right sort of attention. It’s a gripping pre-titles sequence all the same for attempting to pull this off on primetime television. I have to admit I couldn’t tell whether they filmed at the real White House or not but certainly appeared to be authentic to me. How could you think this kind of behaviour is anything but a terrorist attack?

Moment to Watch Out For: The long overdue meeting between Mulder and Doggett goes about as badly as can be imagined with the man who has been looking for him for over six months smiling and looking to shake his hand and the man who is angry that he has been superseded shoving him back down into a chair and accusing him of deliberately having Absalom murdered. If you have been paying attention to Three Words then Mulder’s accusations are senseless and it is another point against his characters return and in favour of having him stripped from The X-Files. I think in this situation his judgement is severely flawed and he is punished accordingly. What I like is how Mulder is ultimately proven right about Doggett’s involvement but is so wide of the mark about him being aware of the fact that his reaction is something of a joke.

Mythology: ‘The invasion has begun…they’re already here.’ Are we kick starting a brand new conspiracy/invasion of the Earth arc in Three Words? With a man attempting to warn the President and the escape of Absalom something is bubbling to surface and only Mulder seems to be the only person who can see it. The information that proves that ‘they’ are already among us is in the census information and now Doggett is privy to that knowledge. The information that the hacker was trying to get to the President were the names of people the Federal government is tracking using the US census who have a certain genetic profile. Information about people who have been targeted because of their genetic profile for alien abduction and replacement by facsimiles – tying this up with the previous two episodes rather neatly.

Result: Probably the most important episode of the last two and a half seasons, Three Words is the episode that sees Mulder sacked from the FBI and the beginning of the end of his involvement on the X-Files. If people thought that his return to the show was going to herald a new era of Mulder and Scully and paranormal cases…well let’s just say they were always going to be heartily disappointed. For those of us who thought the show was chugging along rather well without him and didn’t want a shake up in the status quo (which to the writers credit is the less likely scenario) were the happy bunnies. Three Words is the fourth excellent conspiracy episode in a row and each one has worked so well because despite the gripping running storylines they have been diverse, individual episodes in their own right. Per Manum was a sensitive character drama, This Is Not Happening a tragic teaser for Mulder’s return, Deadalive turned out to be a rather grisly race and against time and they top of this nourishing tetrology with Three Words, an adrenaline fuelled conspiracy tale. In tone, pace and content each piece of this mythology anchor in the middle of season eight has felt unique and riveting in its own right. The umbrella theme that ties all these episodes together is Mulder and his return to the show. Whereas the first two thirds have been about the developing relationship between Scully and Doggett, now the shift moves onto the even more antagonistic and resentful relationship between Doggett and Mulder (especially on the latters part) and the sparks that fly are fantastic to watch. Carter and Spotnitz needed to remove Mulder from The X-Files completely and found a way of achieving that seems entirely plausible and in character. He basically behaves like a massive ass (whilst being fundamentally right in his approach), which was precisely how he has always been portrayed but now we have Doggett to contrast him against to show how well the office can be run without all the backchat and breaking of the rules. The ambition of Three Words is to tell the audience that the show has genuinely moved on, even with Mulder’s return, and things will never go back to being how they were. It achieves that with some considerable aplomb. It has been ages since this show was anything other than excellent, surely it has to drop the ball at some point: 9/10

Empedocles written by Greg Walker and directed by Barry K. Thomas

What’s it about: A spread of evil from one person to another a possible link to the death of John Doggett’s son…

Brains’n’Beauty: Gorgeous scenes between Scully and Mulder who are like to cuddly old spare parts hanging around waiting to be shuffled off and the new kids brought in full time. Had these moments been phoned in I might have been a little more critical but they are so warmly played and scripted and in the wake of so much coldness and gravity in the first part of the season it comes as a real relief.  Mulder giving Scully an old family keepsake in the form of a cuddly toy for her baby makes go all wibbly. The scene between Scully and Doggett in the hospital is vital because it explains in no uncertain terms (a miracle for this show but something that has been pleasingly ironed out in season eight) why Scully has allowed herself to explore the possibility of the paranormal. She was too afraid to believe in things outside of her ordered, calm, rational world but there came a point where she couldn’t object any more without looking as though she was perverting the facts to fit her views. Scully likes Reyes because they are nothing at all alike – I am so pleased that they didn’t go down the route of these two biting and scratching at each other. Their interaction in season nine is one of it’s better features. Mulder gave Scully courage to believe, let’s hope that Reyes and can do the same trick for Doggett.

Closed Mind: ‘He’s worth the effort, Mulder…’ Only on this show could you consider dropping the title ‘Agent’ as a term of endearment as Scully does to Doggett. He’s explosively angry at the thought of Reyes and (especially) Mulder looking into the case of his sons murder and finds himself withdrawing to Scully’s bedside for some advice. He has to believe that he did everything possible to find his son and if there was some paranormal angle that he was too closed minded to explore then he wouldn’t be able to live with himself. The writers pretty much acknowledge how Luke’s death is going to be solved in that scene because there was no way they were ever going to put such an honourable character through that kind of torture. The truth is Doggett did see some kind of apparition at the scene of his sons death but it could just have easily have been his mind playing tricks during a inexplicably stressful moment. It is easily dismissible.

Trust No-1: Mulder blows hot (his intense feelings for Scully) and cold (his indifference towards Doggett) but overall Empedocles is one of the few episodes in season eight where Mulder feels like he is back and he has a purpose. Mulder can scoff at Reyes and her less than subtle tactics because he has been there and done that and licked the wounds for his troubles. There is no man who can empathise more with where she is coming from at the start of this odyssey of hers.

New Ager: ‘You just keep shooting until you hit something, don’t you?’ Reyes is trying to be quirky again from the off but fortunately these forced tics are disposed of very quickly and this is a highly engaging second visit for the new age investigator before her assignment to the series full time at the series two part finale. With Mulder stripped of the X-Files, Scully about to take some personal time to have her baby and Doggett hardly reaching out for paranormal assignments, the writers needed to find a new avenues to bring cases to light and Reyes is the perfect outlet. She sniffs out X-Files where nobody else is looking. Mulder always used to have strong intuition and beliefs about cases but with Reyes it seems to be something more personal than that, she has visions and feels an emotional connection to an investigation which draws her in. It makes a little bit more spooky and fascinating and it will be interesting to see how the show explores this gift. Working the case when they found Doggett’s son dead was the hardest she ever had to face and she cannot imagine what it was like for John. Mulder grins at Reyes when she tries to manipulate him into helping her, acknowledging that she would say anything to pique his interest. They are kindred spirits. And that’s why ultimately a Mulder/Reyes show would never work. It’s fun here to have two engaging, like minded individuals working an X-Files (it is the opposite of the first half of the season where you had two sceptics in the office) but long term this show has a sceptic believer formula that works and helps generate a great deal of character drama amongst the suspense. That’s why it has to be about Doggett and Reyes. I like how Reyes for all her understanding of people and karma and all that shit, she can still mess up terribly when trying to force people to confront things that they would rather not.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Correct me if I’m wrong but you just said you were waiting for the pizza man to jump in the shower…’
‘Nice package!’
‘I’m not really a good test for questions like that, I’ll believe almost anything.’
‘The pisser is you may never know’ – The X-Files at least acknowledges it’s ambiguous finales these days…but the Doggett storyline is going be picked up later and given a worthwhile conclusion.

Ugh: Plenty of effort and money went into the sequence where Jeb rips strips of flesh from his face to reveal the glowing, shifting evil beneath and I’m pleased because it is one of those iconic X-Files images that lingers in your mind long after you have finished watching. It also leaves you asking ‘how they hell did they do that?’

The Good: Potter is clearly an old timer who isn’t down with the kidz and their styles in music…which is what amusingly leads him to believe that Jeb is dabbling in the black arts when he is in fact simply a fan of Marilyn Manson.  Boggle at the cinematography and direction that takes Doggett from the hospital where Scully is resting to the scene of sons murder in the blink of an eye. Sometimes I need reminding just how gorgeous this show looks. Director Barry K. Thomas cleverly mirrors the staging of the discovering of Luke Doggett with the discovering of another corpse later in the episode, helping to make a visual connection between the two cases and make the most mundane of scenes (discovering a body is tenapenny on The X-Files) have a much deeper meaning. Involving children in a murder scene is always a dangerous business but Thomas handles the drama of Jeb’s murder in front of his screaming niece with consummate skill. Tasha Yar in The X-Files? I never saw that coming! To cut from the gooey goodness (in all the best ways) of Mulder and Scully sharing pizza and gifts to Doggett still darkly haunted by the ambiguous nature of his sons death sees a show at the height of it’s powers, switching tone with absolute confidence.

The Bad: The ‘spread of evil’ storyline has great potential which is squandered in an episode packed with too many goodies. Surely Reyes would have suffered brain damage from that clout to the head from a fire extinguisher she receives?

Pre Titles Sequence: I have a vivid recollection of this set piece wowing me when I first watched the episode. I was grateful after such a wealth of arc material and character development to get back to something standalone and it looked as though Greg Walker was determined that it was going to happen in explosive style. Everything about this pre-title sequence works a treat, it explains the premise of the episode without having to utter a word, instead using vivid images to get the ideas across. Jeb is fired from his job and witnesses a spectacular explosion as two cars collide on the street and a flaming wraith steps from the carnage, attracted by his anger and consumes him. The worst work scenario imaginable then occurs with Jeb walking back into the office that he has been dismissed from and gunning down the man responsible in front of his heartless secretary (who was sitting in on the interview looking quite smug). Big, bold and shocking, this is The X-Files at it’s very best. I would also like to compliment Mark Snow’s score during the teaser (and the episode) because it really stresses the drama and the excitement of the spread of pure evil from one individual to another.

Moment to Watch Out For: After showing a remarkable amount of restraint throughout the first half of season eight where Scully tested his patience time and again, Doggett finally blows his top at the man he was sent to find when it appears he is looking into the investigation of his sons murder. Robert Patrick is extraordinarily frightening and vicious and despite being a much shorter man looks as though he could kick the shit out of Mulder if he was riled enough. It is nice to see some of that early edge being injected back into the character and even when Reyes tries to calm him down his eyes blaze with an intense anger rarely seen on this show. It’s a great scene and promise more fireworks in future episodes. Patrick has danger in his eyes throughout this episode and I like it

Result: This is such a step up from Surekill earlier in the season that you have to wonder if Chris Carter didn’t sit Greg Walker down and explain that he was going to have to up his game a bit. Congratulations, it was a major success. Doggett has received an awful lot of exposure of late and it is to the credit of Carter & Spotnitz and the fantastic work of Robert Patrick that no matter how compelling his character arc is, I always want more. Invocation and This Is Not Happening suggested a tragedy was waiting to be unearthed in his past and now is the time for those wounds to be opened with great results. Barry K. Thomas has been a First Assistant Director on the show since the middle of season six and helped to give so many episodes since an extra polish and it breaks my heart to think that this is his only time solely in the directors chair because the way he executes Empedocles approaches the avant-garde. My one complaint would be that the a and b and c stories do not blend together well and whilst there is plenty of stirring material surrounding Scully’s impending pregnancy, Jeb’s spread of evil and the mystery of Doggett’s dead son the three storylines never connect in a way that would cohere the whole piece. Storylines a and c are both given appropriate exposure later which leaves the Jeb plot lacking the time to be fully realised. However with performances this strong, more outstanding character development and such riveting execution there is no way I could reasonably call this episode anything other than a success, albeit a minor step down from the previous four installments: 8/10

Vienen written by Steven Maeda and directed by Rod Hardy

What’s it about: The black oil is back…

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully is working around the clock to try and find enough evidence to save Agent Doggett’s life. However her suggestion that Skinner requests an evacuation of the oil rig with unsubstantiated and meagre evidence is pushing it a bit.

Closed Mind: Doggett is right to question Mulder’s criticisms of his character and work ethic because he considers the new incumbent of the X-Files office a rookie and thinks that anything that doesn’t fit in his narrow field of vision might as well not exist. He can’t quite bring himself to defy Mulder despite being pushed to the limit because he knows, deep down, that if he asks him to quarantine the oil rig then it is for a very good reason. Amusingly, Doggett smears some oil on his finger and asks Mulder when it is going to kick in.

Trust No-1: Mulder is playing with fire now he has been stripped of the X-Files by turning up unannounced and trying to force Agent Doggett to investigate cases that he feels need his attention. It would only take a word from Doggett to have him flung from the building and it is only because he respects Mulder that he doesn’t do so. It’s with some amusement that he hands Doggett the phone in the X-Files office, maintaining some level of control. Mulder is willing to take a fall for the X-Files, to be kicked out of the FBI so that the work continues even if that means with Doggett in charge. He recognises that Doggett is all the credibility that the X-Files has left and he has to get out of the way in order to maintain that. It’s a very logical reason for him to step aside and far less showy and dramatic than I was imagining should the day ever come. I’m impressed.

Sinister AD: Kersh is starting to have more of a presence as the season progresses, becoming aware of Skinner’s silence when it comes to the activities of both Mulder and Scully. Somehow James Pickens, Jnr has a way of making every line sound like he wants to cave your skull in with a spade whilst managing to keep his cool. There is something tangibly sinister about this character and at the same time I can’t help but wonder if he is a friend to the X-Files office as well. I find him fascinating.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘When he gets old enough tell the kid I went down swinging.’
‘I’m not sure it’s in all oil’ ‘Well that’s a relief because only 90% of the planet is dependant on the stuff.’

Ugh: It comes a little late into the episode but the first instance of the black oil being vomited out of one man onto the face of another is well worth waiting for. If the idea of this sounds now nasty, the execution is even worse.

The Good: Being able to shoot in and around a real oil rig makes all the difference to the aesthetic to this episode and the gorgeous flyover shots taken by a helicopter are the sort that belong in a big budget feature film. It is a credit to the set designers on this show that it was filmed on an oil refinery, an oil platform and on specially created sets and I couldn’t tell you when the latter are in play. Despite Mulder’s best efforts, the only reason that Kersh sanctions this investigation is because bureaucratically his hands are tied and he has to be seen to be protecting America’s interests when it comes to a rich new oil seam. The shot of the refinery back lit by a blood red sun is stunning. In order to pass the torch between Mulder and Doggett they have to be placed in danger in order to work together. I don’t think there is any way these two would have come to some kind of mutual consensus otherwise.

The Bad: I know the critics appreciated the return of the black oil because it was a nostalgic reminder of mythology episodes gone by but what I think they fail to remember is that it was convoluted plot thread that was never dealt with in a significantly detailed manner. The black oil was Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz coming up with a grisly idea and running with it without adequately explaining what it was all about until the audience was already lost. The idea of a body jumping viscous fluid is great but when you start talking about harvested bees to transmit the infection it becomes even more unnecessarily complicated. However Two Fathers/One Son did a phenomenal job of explaining all of this away and tying up the mythology in a big bow so the show could move on. So why are re-visiting it now? Season seven took the opportunity to kick start a brand new style of mythology episode, one less reliant on set pieces and machismo and more character based conceptual drama. It also tied up some long overdue character threads (explaining Samantha’s disappearance, the Smoking Man’s departure). Season eight has featured the best batch of mythology episodes the show has ever produced within one season because it is a self contained story that has been entirely character led and full of great twists and turns. The individual episodes have been terrific too. After the incredible run of shows from Per Manum to Three Words it feels a little underwhelming to take such a massive back step and start harking back to the black oil again. I’m not sure I buy the idea of being immune to the black oil because of Indian descent. That smacks of a writer trying to get out of the pickle that he has put himself in by pulling a scientific explanation out of his pocket that is based on nothing tangible.

Pre Titles Sequence: I love a good old fashioned base under siege story (a term I coin a lot for Doctor Who but it originated long before then) and so the way this sequence plays out with an isolated setting (an oil rig) with communications cut off in the most dramatic way imaginable pleased me greatly. All we need is for our heroes to arrive, get trapped and realise that something has taken over the base personnel and we are in for a great ride…

Moment to Watch Out For: The final ten minutes are very exciting and build to an unforgettable crescendo when Mulder and Doggett leap from an exploding oil rig into the sea in slow motion. A lot of money has been poured into that shot and it really pays off. I remember when I first watched it and I my overriding thought was that there is no other show on television that has cornered the market so successfully in impressive visuals. 

Result: ‘If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this was a Mulder stunt…’ A bit of an odd one, this episode. It has all the elements of a really great X-File but it fails to come together quite as it should. The second half of the story is excellent, once the atmosphere of being trapped on the rig at the mercy of the black oil kicks in but it takes an awful long time to reach that point. Juxtaposing Mulder and Doggett again makes for some fiery scenes but what really screams from Vienen is that Mulder has had his day and needs to step aside. We have seen this dance of him flouting orders one too many times for it to be interesting anymore. I’m pleased that for once his actions have severe consequences and ones which the writers never go back and undo in the future. Helping things immeasurably is Rod Hardy’s stunning, feature film direction and the location work on a real life oil rig. Vienen looks amazing and once the base under siege drama emerges it is a race against time to reach the conclusion, which features an unforgettable effects shot. Way above average but no classic (especially in the wake of so many great episodes), this feels like a last gasp for both Mulder and the black oil, two elements that have outstayed their welcome. Whilst I fully expected to feel that way about the latter, the redundancy of Mulder really surprises (and thrills me). It means that Doggett can now take centre stage and own the show. It’s a development that has been plotted in a very sophisticated way and feels like a natural development for the show: 7/10

Alone written and directed by Frank Spotnitz

What’s it about: Is this the last mutant in the series?

Brains’n’Beauty: The opening scene where Scully tells Doggett she is taking her maternity leave, smiles at him (a miracle!) and gives him a gift feels very rewarding because we have gone on a journey and a half with these characters to reach this point. It is wonderful to see Scully acknowledging his patience and his loyalty because he has more than earned it. What’s even better is when she breaks away from her hug you realise that there never was going to be a sexual connection between these characters (which was promoted between her and Mulder in the first episode), it is a relationship built entirely of friendship and respect. Even if the rest of season eight had been crap (it wasn’t), the Scully/Doggett relationship would have made it worth watching. She can’t tell him whether she is coming back or not, she just smiles enigmatically and moves on with her life. Walking away she feels like a deserter and is worried that she has left Doggett to his fate, that you need somebody to watch your back when working on the X-Files. She’ll relax when she hears of Monica Reyes’ posting. Ultimately this is quite an important story for Scully because she has to come to terms with the fact that she is too invested in something important to be able to rush to Doggett’s rescue every five minutes. That wont stop her trying though.

Closed Mind: Doggett manages to hold Harrison’s hand throughout this case without ever patronizing her nor questioning her credentials, despite the fact that he knows he has been handed something of a worthless gun to fire if the shit hits the fan. He even has to remind her to take the safety of her gun in a tense moment. Blinded and working for two, Doggett makes it all the way up to the top of a tunnel that leads to the garden before his hand is trodden on and he falls right back into the pit again. How much pain can one man suffer in a year? No wonder my sympathies are always with him. Doggett offering his gift from Mulder and Scully to Harrison is gorgeous and is this character all over, generous to a fault.

Trust No-1: Mulder is such a naughty bloke that you can’t help but admire his gall whilst thinking that he is getting himself in more and more trouble. He just doesn’t know when to quit. Impersonating Kersh is the last single digit he could shove in the guys face and ensure that he never, ever works with the FBI again. He loves playing dangerously and gets Doggett to fire at him whilst the creature is attacking him. If he had been off by a second he would have a bullet lodged in his cranium. It makes for a tense conclusion when the camera takes an age to swing around and make sure he is alright. That’s one way of disposing of the character, I suppose.

Lovely Leyla: What a gorgeous character this is, if entirely useless for the most part. Leyla Harrison reminds me of Jo Grant from the Doctor Who universe, a cute as hell, sassy and almost entirely hopeless character who stumbles into the life of the shows lead when their previous, fully qualified companion has just left. Harrison gets by on her relentless enthusiasm and love for the X-Files and she was such a hit with the viewers that she was asked back in season nine for a return visit, despite the fact that she was only supposed to be a one off character to fill the gap before Agent Reyes joined the show full time. Her ‘I’m your new partner!’ even mirrors Jo’s ‘I’m your new assistant!’ in Terror of the Autons. She is trying so hard to impress with her knowledge of former X-Files that she comes across as an avid groupie of the show who is thrilled at the opportunity to walk on set and take part in an episode at times. It’s really rather endearing when it could have been irritating as hell, almost entirely down to Jolie Jenkins’ warm performance. For a placeholder character, Harrison is a very memorable one. How can you not love this character when she is trying to recall all manner of X-Files continuity to help with their dire emergency and she looks at him with those big eyes and asks ‘you think I’m pretty foolish, don’t you?’

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘This is not a liver eating mutant, Agent Harrison.’

Ugh: I love how the creatures slithering, shivering sounds mimics Hannibal Lecteur in one of his most famous scenes.

The Good: The realisation of the X-Files often makes itself aware for being a cut above the norm in genre television. Direction such as the rushing POV shots of the creature as it crawls walls and approaches its victims exemplifies this. This is textbook example of taking a scene that we have seen ad nauseum on this show (exploring a creepy house for nasties) and realising it in such a way that it feels fresh and visually interesting. The trapdoor comes as a completely surprise because I was too busy waiting for the monster to show up. For an X-Files aficionado like myself there is a wealth of references to previous episodes in Alone that serve as a reminder of the length and breadth of this show, how long it was made for and the diversity of adventures within. Not just direct references such as the coins stuck together or the mention of Tooms or the movie but more subtle moments such as Mulder spitting out sunflower seeds for the last time.

The Bad: Mulder ‘wandering away from his tour’ doesn’t work for me. He needs to be shown the door because the writers are having to think up ridiculous excuses to keep him involved and get him in and out of the Bureau. Like Empedocles and Vienen, the central plot of the episode feels perfunctory compared to everything else that is going on and the explanation of how the monster of the week came to be could almost be excised for all of its importance. There was a time when this sort of thing would bother me greatly but The X-Files has done something extraordinary in it’s eighth season, it has introduced an ensemble to the show that has mean that even during the episodes with lesser plots there are still a wealth of goodies to be unearthed, character wise. If only Carter had realised this years ago we could have been spared an awful lot of dreary standalones. How on Earth does Leyla know that the Stites is the creature? Womens intuition? There is no way she could have figured that out with the evidence given but Frank Spotnitz needs the plot wrapped up (there is only four minutes to go) and so a leap was required.

Pre Titles Sequence: Not bad when it comes to atmosphere and appetite whetting because it is clearly a return of a monster of the week (which we haven’t seen for ages) but there is nothing especially memorable to make this teaser stand out from the pack. Except the microwavable peas and carrots, they are just grim. The creature sliding into view is subtle enough that you might miss it but prepare to leap away from the screen as it pounces right out at you.

Moment to Watch Out For: The final scene really sweetens the overall experience of watching this episode (I might have given it a 7 otherwise). Imagine coming face to face with your heroes? That’s what it is like for Leyla as she gets to pal up to Mulder and Scully and ask them all manner of questions about continuity errors in their adventures together, just as any good fan girl would do. That Mulder/Scully chemistry is back as they argue over what exactly occurred at the end of Fight the Future and Doggett walks away from all three of them, his work done and off to greet the future and a certain Monica Reyes.

Result: Whilst they are all good in their own right, the episodes that sit between Three Words and Essence can’t help but feel a little bit like the after party from the main event. The mythology episodes in season eight are so strong that it leaves the standalones feeling somewhat insignificant and that is a massive reversal from the norm. Since there isn’t a terrific amount of substance to the monster of the week plot beyond ‘Doggett and Harrison discover a monster and are captured by it’ in the script written by Frank Spotnitz, he decides to direct the hell out of it to make the experience worthwhile. There are some very impressive shots in Alone and coupled with Mark Snow’s most playful score of the season it feels an awful lot like the lighter, more easily accessible episodes of old. That’s almost mandatory since this is the last standalone adventure to feature Mulder. Alone isn’t a fantastic X-File in it’s own right, it is the peripheral elements that make it so damned entertaining. Jolie Jenkins makes an instant impression as the ditzy but eager Leyla Harrison and forms a great rapport with Robert Patrick, Scully is given an enjoyable subplot where she has to come to terms with the fact that she isn’t working on the X-Files anymore, Mulder gets to save the day one last time and the creature itself is a pretty nasty piece of design work. It’s a perky piece, enlivened by it’s ensemble cast and confident direction and it concludes with a gorgeous scene that acknowledges the past whilst looking to the future: 8/10

Essence written by Chris Carter and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Scully is close to term and everybody wants a cut of the event…

Brains’n’Beauty: Some lovely domestic scenes between Scully and her mother reminds us that these are normal people with normal lives. Dana wont tell her mom what the baby’s sex is so they are having a mixed gender themed baby shower. You can always count on your mother interfering when there is a baby on the way and Margaret wants Scully to take it easy and let a baby nurse help carry the load…a decision that she may learn to regret. Sheila Larkin is one of the unsung heroes of The X-Files and has been appearing in the show since the first season, a naturalistic, committed performer whose character has offered Scully a little stability in her life. Can you imagine the horror of discovering that the baby nanny that you have inviting into your home might very well be poisoning you? She is trying to have a baby and she cannot live her life as the subject of some unending X-Files. Scully thought this was something that wouldn’t be touched by her work but it would seem that her miracle conception has some very sinister undertones.

Closed Mind: I rather like the notion of Doggett spending his weekend cleaning his gun and watching racing, you know chilling out like a real man. After the tension that has run its course between them, Mulder and Doggett make for an engaging team and it is disappointing that we should be denied any further interaction on the account that Duchovny is about to make his exit. However in order for the show to survive (even for another season only), only one of them can front it and at this stage of the game the only plausible choice is the man who still has much more to give.

Trust No-1: Always use the contacts that you have, and Mulder knows that because of his ties to the X-Files and Scully that Doggett will pretty much do whatever he asks of him (with some perfunctory objections). Scully pushes Mulder away when he starts questioning the work of her Doctor and a potential threat to her baby but he insists it is only because he cares about her and her child so much. They need to make sure that everything goes as smoothly as possible, that there are no nasty surprises.

Assistant Director: I love the almost parental concern that Skinner has for Scully and the awkward ‘who’s the father?’ scene he shares with Mulder.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The child she is carrying is very special.’
‘This isn’t about the X-Files, Scully, it is only about you.’

Ugh: Like Per Manum we are dealing with babies with birth defects pickled in jars. That’s revolting by any standards but especially undignifying for the dead infants. At first I thought Doggett looked suitably appalled because he was coming face to face with these horrors until the camera cut away to a decapitated head in a jar. Lovely. The beheadings are very nicely done (can you describe decapitation as nice?), especially the impressive handling of one murder that sees the prop head fall to the floor in the same shot as the slicing. It’s seamlessly, shockingly handled. You should never say lines like ‘you have to keep a cool head’, you’re just asking for trouble.

The Good: Despite Per Manum and the danger that Scully walked into, the suggestion that Scully’s baby is a sought after commodity only really comes into play here and the first indication is Lizzy Gill tampering with Scully’s medication. In fact I have been pleasantly surprised with how the pregnancy plot has been quietly played until now and handled in a very clever, characterful way. The opening two parter used the pregnancy as a way of driving home how lonely Scully is without Mulder and how desperate she was to find him, Roadrunners was all the more tense and exciting because of her condition and the secret about the baby was used as a constant wedge between Scully and Doggett with her only coming to accept him fully once she has (inadvertently) revealed that she is going to be having a baby. She had to trust him first. Since Mulder’s return it has been used a symbol of their union and the source of great jokes and a reason to remove Scully from the action and to give Mulder something to do since he was torn from his office for good. And now it is the lynchpin of the finale, the event that the season has been building to and one where all the characters that season eight has built into an impressive ensemble can come together to ensure goes without a hitch. It has been a very fruitful plot device but also responsible for some fascinating character work too. All this without highlighting it too much and making the show too domestic. It was a very profitable exercise. Who would have thought that Billy Miles would make such an effective villain? A cute, slight young man who under any other circumstances would look utterly inoffensive but thrown into the right narrative light takes on a whole new level of menace. It’s the Terminator nature of this character that is so thrilling and terrifying, how nothing will stop him from reaching his objective of securing Scully and her baby no matter what her friends throw at him. You can pump bullets into this guy, run him down with a car and shove him in a dump truck and he’ll be back. A killer who walks very calmly after his victim is much more frightening than one who is in a dreadful hurry. Billy Miles knows he will catch up with her eventually. Mulder, Scully and Doggett all hanging out in Scully’s kitchen and discussing the danger to her baby – this is an attractive line up of regulars that I could have seen running further. The twist that Lizzy has been trying improve Scully’s health and the health of her baby rather than kill it comes as an even greater shock and opens a whole new can of worms. Why precisely would these people want to help the birth of her baby along? Is there something special about it? The news is Scully is giving birth to a perfect human child but with no human frailties, the holy grail of biological science. We don’t know if this will be substantiated at this point but it sure gives Carter a further thread to pick up on next season…should the baby be born.

The Bad: It seems a little churlish to criticize the unexplained plot elements of a two part storyline and so I will wait until the conclusion to see how they are dealt with. Needless to say we still don’t know why the experiments were run to create the human babies out of alien DNA, why Lizzy was trying to promote the birth of Scully’s child or why it seems so important to so many.

Pre Titles Sequence: How could David Duchovny vanish from the series without one last voiceover? I rather like the description of birth as ‘essence turned into existence.’ What Carter is talking about here is something that is hotly debated – the miracle of life or a biological phenomenon? Throwing the light on Scully’s pregnancy so boldly is pretty much a necessity at this stage.

Moment to Watch Out For: After thirty minutes worth of suggestions that something might be wrong with Scully’s baby and that she might be in danger the lights snap out in her apartment and it is a race against time to get her to safety. The following sequence is one of the tensest and most exciting action sequences in The X-Files because there is so much at stake. The last person you would ever suspect of running down Billy Miles and protecting Scully is Krychek, which makes the moment such a great surprise. Mulder, Skinner and Doggett have to be desperate to leave Scully in his hands whilst they head off to tackle Billy Miles. The music is superb during this sequence, especially during Skinner’s rooftop stand off.

Fashion Statement: It’s not until you see him in civvies that you realise just how well built John Doggett is. Those suits really do iron out any muscle.

Mythology: ‘We were surprisingly successful with a clone from a human egg and alien DNA. DNA that the government had since 1947. Alien babies, birthed by human mothers desperate to conceive.’

Foreboding: The big event is yet to come…

Result: What I really like about Essence is how it starts of like your usual overly complicated and grisly mythology episode (albeit a good one) and soon becomes something much more powerful (and simple) as the plot coheres on one character – Scully and her baby. The second half of Essence is where all the gold lies as the ensemble that has been brought together so successfully for season eight all comes together (including Kychek and Reyes) to ensure that Scully and her baby are kept safe. It also promotes what I have been banging on about ever since Per Manum and that is season eights exquisite handling of it’s characters and the various arcs that have woven through the episodes. I have seen some deft handling of Mulder and Scully before but their characterisation has often been inconsistent in the hands of so many different writers over the years (and the overall effect of the pair has depended entirely on whether Duchovny and Anderson are engaged with a particular episode or not). With Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz entirely committed to proving that The X-Files deserved an eight year, it feels as though they have very cleverly plotted out the season in advance so that each character goes on a very satisfying journey. Introducing terrific new characters (Doggett and Reyes), highlighting old favourites (Skinner, Kersh, Margaret Scully and the Gunmen) and giving Scully in particular some of her finest and most challenging material to date, season eight has been all about the impressive cast of characters that this show has to offer. Of all of them Robert Patrick’s Doggett deserves the most credit and I have been riveted by his journey from suspected enemy to ultimate ally. Essence contains all the mangled plotting that polluted many a mythology episode in the past but it is rooted in character and that makes all the difference. It really makes me angry when people dismiss the last two seasons of The X-Files, suggesting that show is running out of steam just because Mulder is out of action for the most part. Season eight in particular is phenomenal, it might just be the strongest overall collection of episodes since the series began. Check out the last ten minutes of Essence and tell me again that the show didn’t deserve to keep going. Compelling stuff: 9/10

Existence written by Chris Carter and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Scully is about to pop and everybody wants a piece of the baby…

Brains’n’Beauty: There’s a lovely  chemistry between Scully and Reyes which bodes well for season nine. One thing The X-Files has always shied away from in the past is introducing any kind of female character that can come close to dominating Scully so there has never really been the chance to pair Gillian Anderson up with any female actress. It looks like they have been missing a trick because they work so well together, with none of the rivalry you might expect. The moment where Scully tells Reyes that she reminds her of her sister tells you everything that you need to know with regards to what Carter was aiming for with their relationship. They have thought this through well because under any other circumstances Scully and Reyes might have been rivals but they both have a male partner in waiting and instead of expending their energy fighting for attention of Mulder/Doggett (like Scully and Fowley) they can enjoy each other’s company and do some excellent work together. Please don’t think I am saying that when you put two women together the only way you can get them to interact is to have them fight over a man, but that does seem to be an unlikable convention of television that crops up repeatedly, and on this show too. I have to give Gillian Anderson her dues, she has the weight of thousands of televised pregnancy scenes against her to try and do something different and she succeeds through the intensity of her performance. Scully is determined to fight to give birth and to protect her baby, surrounded by what she thinks is hostile forces that have come to take him from her.

Closed Mind: Doesn’t it just feel so right that Doggett was born in such an unworldly location? Where life is tough and you have to be a real grafter to get by.

Trust No-1: Doggett asks Mulder where his quest for the truth stops, a what point does he walk away from all this danger and just live his life. It is a question that he cannot satisfactorily answer.

Rat Boy: By all accounts, Nick Lea was a bit fed up with playing a character as obscure and who turned up as sporadically as Krychek. Who can blame him? He has hardly been a consistent character or one who has enjoyed natural development. He’s basically wheeled out whenever some mythology backstory needs to be explained or when Carter feels like the fans need a fan boy thrill. I think he was pretty patient to take the character to this point. I maintain that his first episode is definitely his best, one where the potential of the character (a blue eyed boy in the Smoking Man’s pocket) was really exploited and everything in between has been either too violent, too agenda driven (his homo-erotic advances Mulder) or too convoluted. His surprise appearance in the previous episode was probably the best shock to involve the character since the end of Sleepless and to give Carter his credit he gets a terrific final scene in Existence, one that I have never forgotten since I first watched it. But first one last confrontation between Krychek and Mulder, a relationship that was borne out of duplicity and has been maintained due to their mutual hatred and love of giving each other a battering. All the usual tropes are there – Krychek calls him ‘brother’ and is waving a gun in his face, Mulder accuses him of being a coward and a liar but the difference this time is that this really is the end. That manages to salvage a great deal. And when the moment comes it isn’t Mulder who gets the chance to pull the trigger and put both Krychek and Lea out of their misery, it is Skinner. The man who this rat of a traitor has been torturing, mentally and physically for the past couple of years. It feels very satisfying to see him finally being put down like a dog and final effects shot of the bullet coming at the audience in slow motion captures the moment memorably. Probably the most punch the air way Krychek could have been written out. And I especially like the way Mulder watches Skinner commit murder but doesn’t revel in the moment but instead looks quite shocked that the long held rivalry between him and Krychek is finally over. Bravo.

New Ager: Reyes is terrified to deliver Scully’s baby and has to suck down on a fag or two to pluck up the courage to get started. Perhaps Carter felt that Reyes was coming across as a little too spaced out but the ‘I feel energies’ angle was dropped when she became a regular. A shame, because I rather like the idea of somebody a little kooky working in the X-Files office. I don’t really buy the criticism that Reyes is a forced eccentric, a character constructed out of idiosyncratic ticks and quirks…at least until she started to imitate whale song. At that point I thought she might have gone insane. Annabeth Gish’s warm and witty performance still shines through, smoothing over any deficiencies in the writing.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’ve never delivered a baby’ ‘Well I’ve never had one. That makes us both beginners.’
‘You investigate what I tell you…’ ‘And you put me on the X-Files. That’s what I’m investigating.’
‘That doesn’t make him any less of a miracle.’

Ugh: Watch out for the spectacularly nasty moment where Agent Reyes tosses a bucket of scalding water at Rebecca and leaves her face burnt and blistered. Don’t get between this woman and the baby she is trying to deliver.

The Good: Whoever thought the idea of the young and sweet Billy Miles turning out to be the most advanced and unstoppable super soldier deserves a clap on the back because this potentially ropey idea translates extremely well on screen. Whether it is Zachary Ansley’s performance, the pacy and dark direction or simply because Miles is such an inoffensive looking character I couldn’t tell you (a combination of all three is the answer) but he really does come across as a genuine threat, whether he is tossing Agent Reyes about like a rag doll or he is bursting through a lift door and knocking Skinner unconscious. Shelley Mack gives a convincing turn as the officer that turns up at the abandoned town to aid with the protection of Scully’s baby. Rebecca is hard edged, practical and full of surprises. Candlelit, rustic and intimate, the late night scenes between Scully and Reyes in the spruced up shack in Doggett’s home town are rather beautiful. It’s a lovely rural location, contrasting against the usual office sets and underground car parks. How brilliant to have scenes from Terminator playing out but this time with Robert Patrick as the good guy. Agent Crane goes flying over the bonnet as Doggett tries to take him out and seconds later he is clinging onto he side of the vehicle and smashing the window in with his fist. These super soldiers know nothing about loyalty, as soon as it appears that Agent Crane is of no further use, Knowle Rohrer mows him down and then ploughs his car into a wall. Spectacularly violent, these are phenomenal action sequences of the kind only The X-Files can muster. Whilst I do think the religious metaphors are pushed too far on this show at times, the Lone Gunmen showing up as the Three Wise Men is too cute for words.

Pre Titles Sequence: Billy Miles turns up in a morgue as hamburger after falling into a garbage crusher at the end of the last episode and starts to regenerate thanks to the power of his metallic vertebrate. I know, it sounds nuts but it is a an unshowy and quite way to begin what is a very packed and mental episode.

Moment to Watch Out For: No more ridiculous excuses, Mulder and Scully finally share a long, intimate kiss and show the audience what they really think of each other. Warmly played by Duchovny and Anderson, this is the apotheosis of their relationship. Everything feels like it is coming up smelling of roses.

Mythology: ‘There was a rumoured plan out of the Cold War, planned to create a super soldier. What you’re chasing is a prototype and he’s after your partner Scully. You may not be aware that she was part of a programme herself. Six years ago Agent Scully was taken in a military operation staged as an abduction. They put a chip in the back of her neck to monitor her. It was also used to make her pregnant with the first organic version of that super soldier.’ So Scully is giving birth to the perfect human being, one with no human frailties and who will grow up to be the ultimate killing machine. Nothing in her life is ever simple, is it? Actually I’m being a little unfair. This is The X-Files, not Melrose Place and had the pregnancy passed by without any kind of paranormal angle it would have felt very mundane, another soap opera element for its own sake. The idea that Scully has something to fear about the birth of her impending child is rather neat and I pretty much love how they handle the super baby next season (except for the religion angle but we’ll get to that next year). For now let’s bask in the idea that the baby that Scully has been pining for since season four might turn out to be something very dangerous indeed. Very dangerous and much sought after, and that gives the this last episode something worth fighting for.

Foreboding: Sinister happenings in the FBI building at the dead of night involving Kersh. Doggett deservedly breaks the news to is superior that his office is under investigation. What a satisfying moment, I can’t wait to see how it is resolved.

Result: Packed with so many riches I am quite exhilarated after watching it, Existence caps off a riveting eighth season of The X-Files in great style. The first half of the episode sets things beautifully with questions of infidelity at the FBI and Scully an Reyes setting up home out in the sticks before the pace quickens exponentially in the second half and I was left clinging for dear life as I was thrown from one incredible set piece to another. At the heart of all of this is the coming together of the incredible season eight ensemble to ensure that Scully’s baby is born safely, such a lovely, simple idea and yet it is given a forbidding touch with the subtle suggestions that the baby might not be quite as innocent as it appear. In the shows eighth year the creators have managed to successfully reinvent the brand just when it felt as though it had gone to the dogs, to introduce several new central characters, to kick start a new mythology angle and to pull together all the characters into an engaging ensemble. The Scully’s pregnancy/Mulder’s abduction and fall from grace storylines that have played out this year have provided a solid backbone to the season (something that season seven sorely lacked) and the return of focus to the characters and their lives has proven vital to its success. Robert Patrick’s Doggett is the standout star and he gets to triumphantly walk away from season eight unencumbered by Mulder, with a spanking new partner by his side and the satisfaction of having found his place in the show. The future of the X-Files looks bright, at least for the time being. Not forgetting Mulder and Scully as well, this incredible pair of characters that have seen us through the first seven years of the show. Their relationship is seen out in style two, with the pair of them acknowledging their feelings and sharing a kiss whist holding their baby between them. It’s a shame that Mulder would return at all because this would have made the perfect final scene. A phenomenal end to the shows finest year: 10/10