Tuesday 20 March 2018

The TV guide: The truth is out there

As The X Files returns, 14 years after the last series, Emily Hourican examines the appeal of a show that crosses crime drama with The Twilight Zone

Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully and David Duchovny as Fox Mulder.
Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully and David Duchovny as Fox Mulder.

Now that Hillary Clinton has promised to "get to the bottom" of Area 51 if she becomes President, and says that aliens may have visited earth already, could there be any more apt moment for a return of The X Files? After nine series, the sci-fi horror ended in May 2002, and wistful rumours of its return have been doing the rounds ever since.

This time around, The X Files is more of a mini-series, with just six episodes, as opposed to the more gruelling pace of the original incarnation, and it is this let-up that finally persuaded Gillian Anderson - aka Agent Dana Scully - to return. "I was ambivalent about the idea at first," she said recently. "In its old incarnation, we used to do 24 shows a year. But I can't do that any more, so it only became a reality once the networks started to be a bit more lenient about the number of episodes they were willing to air." For Gillian, who has subsequently been pretty dazzling in a whole raft of film and TV projects, including The Fall and Andrew Davies' Bleak House, the return was a chance, not just to reprise the role that made her internationally famous, but also to once again act opposite David Duchovny, Agent Mulder, also back - with whom she had a fairly sparky relationship at the time of the original series. "What was weird once we started was that it was both strange and familiar," she said of that experience, adding "We're both a lot older now. I used to be able to run forever, but now I'm, like: my legs aren't working. The physical side was ... challenging."

As for Duchovny, his take was "We've been good for quite a while work-wise ... Whatever difficulties we may have had over the years [stemmed from] what I said earlier about wanting to get off the show ... the fatigue and a hot-house feeling of being in the same room with the same people for nine years ... We're good now. We have a shorthand and I really enjoy working with her a lot. That was probably the easiest part of transitioning back into the show, our work together."

Judging by the three-minute trailer released by Fox recently, although the romantic relationship is clearly over, there is still plenty of chemistry between the two characters - his world-weary reckless idealism tempered by her precise professionalism.

The winning formula of The X Files was the way in which it managed an overarching story - that of a covert, government-condoned alien invasion - with individual, self-contained episodes full of astounding events, including shape-shifters, serial killers and people with psychic powers. And the trailer suggests that the formula is being maintained. There is a plotline originating with the UFO crash at Roswell in 1947 (this must be where Hillary Clinton came in), along with plenty of re-establishment of the old camaraderie between Mulder and Scully, a young woman who has been repeatedly abducted by aliens, and, more fundamentally, the whereabouts of Mulder and Scully's child, the boy they gave up for adoption, who would now be 15, and who still haunts Scully. "You will find the answers to the biggest mysteries, and I will be there when you do," Scully says to Mulder, "but my mysteries, I'll never have the answer."

After years of increasingly realistic thrillers - the last series of Homeland seemed to be almost mirroring the extreme events of international terrorism - the return of The X Files is a chance for something more playful and escapist, but still grounded in the comforting routines of police procedural and careful character development. The timing seems perfect. In fact, the legions of loyal fans are already speculating excitedly about further series - presumably because, as we all know, the truth is still out there.

The X Files starts January 24 on Fox, followed by broadcast on Channel 5

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