When The X-Files made its debut on BBC Two in 1993, I was a young student, living in digs in a small town in Sussex, and still had cheekbones and all my own hair. My friends and I watched it on our little portable black-and-white TV, and at one point it scared me so much I couldn’t take out the rubbish (one of my allotted domestic tasks) as going out after dark after watching an episode was a no-no.
23 years on, The X-Files is back, with its original cast and production team, and I’m somehow still here. The first of the new episodes, My Struggle, aired on Channel Five here in the UK on Monday night, and like a lot of people I was keen to see if it had aged better than me.
Channel Five prefaced the episode with one of those “documentaries” that look like they’ve been edited by a goldfish, in which everyone goes on about how great it is to work together again – though it was interesting to hear show creator Chris Carter acknowledge how much the world has changed since the show went off air in 2002, and how that might affect the new season.
The answer, on last night’s evidence, was: not much. Even the title sequence was unaltered, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny’s younger selves appearing on their old FBI ID’s (that’ll never pass muster with the authorities if they try applying for a Young Person’s Railcard).
The story, too, was familiar fare: shady characters from the secret government were running a programme to combine human and alien DNA – had been since Roswell! – and conservative talk show host Tad O’Malley brought Agents Mulder and Scully back together again to investigate, introducing them to Sveta, a traumatised young woman who claimed to be the victim of multiple abductions / experiments.
The pace was frenetic, and it felt to me like Carter was trying to cram too much into this season opener: there was a hurried sense of, “Let’s re-establish the setting and characters, then we can get on with the rest of the story”. That said, I was pleased to see The X-Files back in its old Vancouver home (digitally altered to look like Washington DC) – I always thought those misty pine forests of British Columbia were a wonderfully atmospheric backdrop for the early episodes.
Anderson and Duchovny’s performances were perhaps a little uncertain, but that’s only to be expected perhaps after such a long time away (is that a slight paunch Duchovny has there? Bless!), and they were soon back to wielding flashlights like true pro’s, and it was good also to see Mitch Pileggi (as Skinner) and William B. Davis (as the Smoking Man) make their return. The idea of a conservative, Bill O’Reilly-type having some kind of hotline to the Truth was somewhat worrying – but I’ve heard good things about the rest of the season, and personally I always preferred the “Monster of the Week” episodes anyway – the best of them were perfect little horror movies – and sometimes found the endless conspiracy theories about alien invasion tiresome.
But am I glad it’s back? Of course I am – it’s The X-Files! It has survived, and so have I, just about. I still miss the Lone Gunmen, though – but you can’t have everything.