While they're not terribly similar, Doctor Who and The X-Files have, well...similarity in their differences.
It may seem on the surface that The X-Files and Doctor Who are nothing alike. One is an intricately mythological police procedural with a killer twist; the other a freewheeling, loosely bound space adventure series. It might even be more appropriate to list five ways they're alike.
But there’s one thing they have very much in common. For one, they were both kings of the sci-fi landscape before they fell from grace in a cloud of whispers, saying, “Not as good as it used to be.” And now they’re back. In the week that Doctor Who celebrated the tenth anniversary of its triumphant return, the announcement came of the new six part The X-Files mini-series. But, will we be celebrating ten glorious years of a revived The X-Files in 2025?
5 - 13 Year Hiatus!? LUXURY!
When I were a boy, we had fifteen years with nothing but an American Made-for-TV Movie between us. And we spent half of that time trying to decide if the movie even counted or not. Thirteen years with two major motion pictures to tide ye over? You call that a hiatus? By gum, ye don’t know ye’re born, X-Files, ye don’t know ye’re born.
4 - Fresh Ways
Paul Cornell, the writer of Doctor Who episodes, Father’s Day and Human Nature, has spoken out about how he dislikes the term ‘wilderness years’ to describe the period with little Doctor Who on TV. Far from a wilderness, he saw it as a sprouting forest of creativity and verve. With the BBC’s uninterested hand no longer on the rudder, fandom took over the asylum (clearly from this metaphor, it’s a floating asylum) and did great things. Fresh voices like Cornell, Mark Gatiss, Gareth Roberts and even Russell T. Davies contributed to the New Adventures range of novels. Big Finish, particularly with their range starring Paul McGann, became the apparent standard bearer for Doctor Who into the future, even if it was a future on audio alone.
But for The X-Files, it really has been a wilderness. Mulder and Scully still live exclusively in the creator, Chris Carter’s, head. And while Davies benefitted from Doctor Who spending fifteen years examining itself and testing out evolutionary paths, it will be interesting to see what a new The X-Files can offer.
3 - The Flame of Fandom
More than just the pro-fans who wrote the books, comics, and audios, there were the rest of us who kept Doctor Who alive by buying the books, comics and audios. Doctor Who fans even managed the remarkable feat of keeping Doctor Who Magazine, a magazine devoted to reporting on the TV series, going for 196 issues without a TV series on which to report.
The X-Files Magazine lasted five issues after the show was cancelled, which leads to me to question if there’s still enough of a loyal The X-Files fanbase to keep the show running.
By contrast, Doctor Who returned to a fanbase, rabidly eager to get their hands on it.
2 - A New Beginning
Doctor Who had an unfair advantage here. There was an element of change and renewal built into the concept ever since William Hartnell’s body wore a little thin and Patrick Troughton slid into his boots. It gave Doctor Who more freedom to return with a new actor, new style and new rhythm while still being identifiably Doctor Who.
When The X-Files original leads departed, more or less at the end of its seventh season, it appeared to stumble for a bit before eventually expiring. The X-Files formula is wedded entirely to its leads and a return without Mulder and Scully may be unthinkable.
Doctor Who nearly completely reinvented itself for the 21st century. Can such a quintessentially ‘90s show like The X-Files capture the imagination of an audience of Millennials? (I mean today’s teens and twentysomethings, not die hard Millennium fans – I figure they’re in the bag).
1 - The Power of Ambition
When Christopher Eccleston swaggered onto BBC One, staring down anyone who underestimated him with the most killer glare east of Bill Adama, he was a metaphor for the attitude Russell Davies brought to the revival. The show was referred to jokingly by the media for decades, but it was reborn at the centre of a thunderous and unprecedented publicity campaign and a commitment for thirteen 45 minute episodes. Not only was Doctor Who back, it was back for more screen time in 2005 than any year since 1978 and it meant business.
By contrast, back in the day, The X-Files enjoyed up to twenty-four 45 minute episodes per season; but it’s coming back for just six. There’s an argument that this weeds out the need for ‘filler’ or below par episodes. But, really? There were 14-18 filler episodes per season up till now? I don’t think so. I’d like to see the new The X-Files is being billed as an epic, six-hour, must watch piece of event TV. The TV landscape has changed massively since 2002 and the Nordic Noir genre is now king of the dark crime thriller. A reinvigorated The X-Files which applies that level of serialization and moody style to its own rich mythology would be the best of both worlds.
David Duchovny has already stated the new series features, “stand alone episodes” with “monsters of the week.” We even learned that one episode is a remake/sequel to fan favourite episode, “Home,” entitled, “Home Again.” On the surface, it seems like a ‘90s style genre TV program, albeit a really short one. The new season will almost certainly be a brilliant slice of television, with a cast now even better than they were back in the day, and sharp storytelling. But it could be so much more. And to last as long as the original that defined a decade, it needs to be.
In many ways, Sky Atlantic’s recent 12-hour epic, Fortitude swerves unexpectedly into some distinctly X-Files territory and already feels like The X-Files reborn for today.
Can the returning legend match the quality of the kid pretender? Perhaps. As an avid viewer of Mulder and Scully’s investigations, I’m certainly hoping for the best.
Written by Peter Nolan
Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/PeterDNolan