Where Next for The X-Files?
Now that David Duchovny has said he'd be happy to return, what are the options for The X-Files long-mooted return to television?
Warning: contains spoilers for The X-Files and for the comic book continuation Season Ten.
The X-Files, much like several of its villains, is a show that refuses to die. A seminal, ground-breaking series in the 1990s, it became a slightly creaky series in the early 2000s, then a cancelled series, then a movie following on from the original series, and now it may become a series again. But where can the show go now? There are a number of options available…
Season Ten, starring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson
Judging from comments made by Fox representatives Dana Walden and Gary Newman, this is the current plan – they want to bring back David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as Mulder and Scully and continue the series, presumably picking up after the events of the 2008 stand-alone movie, I Want To Believe. Duchovny told USA Today that he would be happy to return for a shorter series, though not a full season, and Walden specified that the show’s return would star the original pair and would be dependent on Anderson and Duchovny’s schedules.
There are certainly plenty of ongoing story threads the show could pick up. We think one of the most fruitful could be to catch up with Scully’s son William (who we presume is also Mulder’s son, though his miraculous conception was weird enough that, if the story were to be continued, that’s not necessarily a certainty). He was apparently some kind of part-alien invasion-messiah-figure miracle baby, and was required by the aliens for their invasion to work, until Mulder’s half-brother Jeffrey Spender made him completely human. However, according to Spender, the aliens will never give up looking for the boy, implying that it could be possible to restore whatever alien powers he had – so far manifesting as telekinesis before Spender came along – and use him in whatever nefarious way they had originally planned.
William was born in spring 2001 and left with adoptive parents in 2002, which would make him 15 or 16 by the time a new series aired – just the right age for him to be asking questions about his origins (and to be played by a slightly older actor, thus avoiding being restricted by child labour laws). Bringing William back would not only open up a world of parental angst for Mulder and Scully, but could also develop the show’s alien conspiracy arc, especially if the aliens were to find William and restore his mysterious powers.
Talking of aliens and their plans to invade Earth, that was supposed to happen in 2012. The most effective way to deal with that particular missed opportunity would probably be to suggest that the invasion is already happening, and that, B-movie style, “They Live Among Us.” Alternatively, the aliens could have postponed their invasion until they could find William, or impregnate another FBI agent with mysterious alien miracle baby spawn.
There are plenty of other hanging threads from the original series that could be explored. The Cigarette Smoking Man has proved as difficult to kill as Rasputin over the years so, given his popularity, it would not be entirely unreasonable to reveal that he miraculously escaped death by missile in the series finale, and has decided to re-merge to drop cryptic hints against his former allies, or continue whatever shadowy evil plans he was working on all those years.
Alternatively, his son and Mulder’s half-brother Jeffrey Spender’s motivations are murky at best, and Spender seemed to know a lot about the planned alien invasion, so that character could drive the plot quite effectively. Additionally, the whereabouts of Gibson Praise, a likeable telepathic teenager who seemed generally fairly well disposed towards Mulder and Scully, were unknown at the end of the series – since Praise would now be an adult (so, again, no restrictions on the actor’s working hours, whether recast or not), and since he possessed alien DNA for unknown reasons and has a nifty superpower to boot, this would seem a profitable plot thread to follow. Have Praise or Spender been involved with the Conspiracy, or the fight against it, in the years since we last saw them? Might either one of them seek out Mulder and Scully in an attempt to recruit them to either side?
Of course, there is a possible outline for Season Ten available in the currently-canonical comic book continuation of the series. We would expect this to become non-canonical in the event of the TV series being revived, and it’s unlikely a new television version would follow it too closely, as they may prefer to surprise fans with new developments (not to mention practical behind the scenes considerations no one can predict yet, like actor availability and budgetary restrictions). However, some elements of the comic book series may be incorporated into the show. We’re particularly fond of the idea that the Lone Gunmen faked their deaths. The Lone Gunmen bring a less po-faced, livelier vibe to be-suited, grey-corridor world of The X-Files, and it would be nice to have them back.
Judging from the very little we know, it seems that Fox are interested in bringing back the version of The X-Files that is best remembered in the public consciousness, a two-person-led show focusing on Mulder and Scully. However, we would hope that later main characters Doggett, Reyes and especially Skinner (a part of the series from season one, but a main character in some later seasons) would return. Skinner played a small but significant role in I Want To Believe, which is encouraging. The show would also be in need of a sceptic, since Scully gave up on trying to argue for scientific or non-alien-based explanations long ago, and Doggett could perhaps fill that role once again – besides, more of Robert Patrick is surely something most series could benefit from.
Season Ten, starring Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish
Walden and Newman’s comments would seem to suggest this first option is what they’re hoping for, but if that falls through, they could still revive the show in other ways. One option would be to continue on from the original show, but bring back Doggett and Reyes to lead it, rather than Mulder and Scully, with their own supporting cast (perhaps including super-fan Agent Leyla Harrison).
Pros: Although viewer numbers were not so high and the show had started to slip from its mainstream domination in the later seasons, there’s plenty of good stuff in seasons eight and nine, and fans who are fond of Doggett and Reyes would surely like to see more of their story.
Cons: Doggett and Reyes don’t have the advantages of Mulder and Scully – they’re not so well known in mainstream pop culture, they don’t have quite the same chemistry, and they don’t have so many personal connections to the alien conspiracy arc – and at the same time, they don’t bring the clean-slate benefits of new characters. Much as some fans would like to see it, we think this option is unlikely – Doggett and Reyes are more likely to turn up as special guest stars or in supporting roles.
Season Ten, new cast
The X-Files have been closed down at least three times, but if they were to be re-opened – perhaps Skinner could bring this about – two new agents could be assigned to them. Maybe even more than two.
Pros: New lead characters means a whole new set of emotional baggage can be inflicted upon them, and they don’t already have masses of knowledge or experience of the paranormal. This would be particularly useful if the writers want a character who can play Scully’s original role of the sceptic, as even Doggett must be starting to question his confidence in rational explanations by now. A fresh character could maintain a healthy scepticism for at least a season or two, even if they don’t manage Scully’s impressive seven years of not believing in half of what’s happening around her.
Cons: See above – the mainstream popularity of The X-Files has always rested in large part on the popularity of Mulder and Scully as characters and Duchovny and Anderson as actors. Perhaps it would be possible to write and cast equally popular new characters, but more people are likely to tune in to at least an episode or two of the show if Mulder and Scully are involved. A guest appearance from the original stars in the first episode and casting actors known from other sci-fi and fantasy franchises might be the most effective way to pull off this option.
Re-boot, Season One
Start again. New actors playing Mulder and Scully and a new mytharc. This could be either a simple re-make with no in-universe relationship to the original, or a JJ Abrams-style alternate universe and/or alternate timeline designed to match up to or spring from the original in some way.
Pros: Younger, cheaper actors in established and beloved roles. Fans will return to see the new adventures of Mulder and Scully, while new fans are less likely to be put off by not knowing nine years’ worth of increasingly convoluted story development.
Cons: Duchovny and Anderson aren’t that old – most fans would probably rather see them return to the roles themselves. Casting new actors and throwing out years of story-telling runs the risk of alienating (see what we did there?) the fans and failing to attract new viewers who have no compelling reason to watch a new version of the show if they haven’t chosen to watch the old version (given that it’s been available on Netflix, anyone really interested is likely to have seen at least some of it).
Given the show’s rich and detailed mythology, there are plenty of threads that could be explored through a prequel series. Season Four episode “Musings Of A Cigarette-Smoking Man” offered one, highly dubious, version of our favourite smoker’s backstory – we’d definitely sit down to watch a lengthier series devoted to that particular villain’s origins.
Pros: As with a re-boot, you get all the benefits of following established characters but with younger, cheaper actors. Unlike a re-boot, a prequel series could also further enrich the main series, and maybe even fill in some plot holes or gaps in our understanding of the mytharc.
Cons: No Mulder and Scully, plus there’s the eternal problem you get with any kind of prequel – we already know where this is going. Not only does that sorely restrict the writers in terms of what they can do, it can lead to audience apathy, as viewers already know, in broad terms, how it all turns out.
There are some things we expect to see from any small screen version of The X-Files. One, it will be filmed either in Vancouver or Los Angeles, so everywhere in America – indeed, in the world – will look like either a big forest with the odd lake and mountain scattered around, or a desert. We’re hoping for Vancouver, as the murky, misty forests in the area provide a spooky atmosphere that can’t really be replicated in the drier environs of LA. And Two, anything longer than a mini-series will be a combination of mytharc episodes and Monster of the Week episodes, a structure that The X-Files made one of the most popular on television for a long time. Hopefully, this means that, whatever they do with the series’ ongoing mythology, we’ll get to see at least one or two more intriguing, atmospheric tales of the paranormal under investigation by the F.B.I.’s most mysterious and under-funded basement-based department. It could be amazing. I Want To Believe.