The X-Files
The Complete Eighth Season

Starring: Gillian Anderson, Robert Patrick and David Duchovny
20th Century Fox
RRP 34.99
Certificate: 15
Available 14 March 2005

Mulder has been abducted. Special Agent John Doggett is assigned to the X-Files to help track him down. Meanwhile, Scully is pregnant, despite having supposedly been rendered infertile. What is the true nature of this miraculous pregnancy...?

This is the season in which David Duchovny eased his way out of The X-Files, reducing his participation to 12 out of the 21 episodes, before finally resigning from the show altogether. It is a bit annoying that the first six of these appearances are little more than bit parts and/or practically non-speaking roles, which are a waste of not only the actor's talent but also the cost of hiring him.

However, I don't subscribe to the school of thought that says The X-Files isn't The X-Files without Mulder and Scully. Indeed, Duchovny's absence provides opportunities for some interesting new character developments.

Having witnessed so many bizarre incidents over the previous seven years, Scully (Gillian Anderson) actually becomes the believer of the team, while her new partner Doggett (Robert Patrick) is the no-nonsense sceptic. This is not so out of character as it might appear. In the third episode, Patience, Scully explains that she owes it to Mulder to try and fill his shoes, and her theories usually have some scientific basis to them. In any case, the only reason Scully continued to play the doubter for so many years was because Mulder asked her to (in the cinema movie) in order to balance his own undisciplined leaps of logic.

There is none of the trademark X-Files sexual tension between Scully and Doggett, except perhaps a little jealousy on the part of Doggett following Mulder's return. But then, the Mulder/Scully "will they, won't they?" chemistry had proven notoriously difficult to sustain over seven years, because in real life such an attraction would by now have cooled off or been consummated. On that note, the ambiguity of Mulder and Scully's relationship is finally resolved at the end of this season. New character dynamics also include some extreme hostility between Mulder and Doggett.

There's also some invigorating mixing and matching of the cast. Via Negativa, for example, brings Doggett and Assistant Director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) to the fore, while Vienen is a Doggett and Mulder episode. It's quite exciting not knowing who will be the major players in each episode. This factor comes to the fore during the gradual integration into the show of Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), whose theories make even Mulder sceptical (in Empedocles). The pairing of Doggett and Reyes at the very end of the season offered a potential new lease of life for the show - though unfortunately it was to prove short-lived.

As is too often the case, the season does not get off to a good start. Paranormal elements are few and far between in the opening two-parter Within/Without, the plot of which virtually grinds to a standstill in favour of extended depictions of Scully's misery.

The remaining episodes are an improvement on this, though the overall quality of the storytelling isn't as consistent as that of the previous season. Several, including Invocation, Via Negativa and Badlaa, are either not very interesting or interesting but muddled. Via Negativa, despite some weird David Lynch-style dream sequences, is marred by a naff ending. The powers of the legless Indian mystic in Badlaa don't really speak to any of society's, or therefore the audience's, innate fears (though I have to admit the creaking of his trolley wheels sends a shiver down the spine).

By contrast, the claustrophobic Medusa makes effective use of creepy subway tunnels and a biological horror similar to that of Season One's Darkness Falls. Both Per Manum and the concluding two-parter Essence/Existence play upon Scully's fear of bearing an alien child, and thus every parent's fear of birth defects, as well as wider concerns about genetic engineering.

Considering the weakness of the opening two-parter, it is remarkable that the rest of this season's "mythology" episodes, including the two-part This is Not Happening/DeadAlive, its follow-up Three Words and the spectacular Vienen, are as strong as they are. Essence and Existence, despite their rather tacky allusions to the Nativity, represent what is probably the most diligently pre-planned season finale in the show's entire history, the culmination of plot developments from throughout the previous year.

Other highlights include the fairly silly but nevertheless scary and exciting Roadrunners. Redrum is an effective homage to the movie Memento, with a Twilight Zone-style "moral" at the end. The third to last episode, Alone, brings some much-needed comic relief, in the shape of Leila Harrison (Jolie Jenkins). This enthusiastic young agent, all too eager to follow in the footsteps of Agent Scully, who is away on maternity leave, makes a splendid foil for the deadpan Doggett.

With the notable exception of Alone, this season is relatively low on humour, especially compared to the offbeat excesses of recent seasons. However, the production team does have some fun playing upon the familiarity of Robert Patrick's role in Terminator 2. In Roadrunners he paraphrases his "Have you seen this boy?" line, while in both Salvage and Essence Doggett finds himself up against unstoppable cyborg killing machines.

The usual array of special features are all present and correct, including a half-hour Truth About documentary, promotional TV spots, seven special effects clips and seven deleted scenes, which can be "branched" into the relevant episodes or viewed with an optional audio commentary. Most of the deleted scenes are a bit on the brief side, with the exception of a one-minute sequence from Per Manum. There are also three six-minute character profiles, which were originally included on the feature-length releases of the mythology episodes, plus director's commentaries for Alone (by Frank Spotnitz) and Existence (by Kim Manners).

I was a little harsh towards this season when I reviewed its VHS release. True, Season Eight is a mixed bag, but, though it has its low points, its highlights are very strong indeed.

Richard McGinlay

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