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The X-Files – The Gift (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

Sweeps have arrived. And so has David Duchovny.

David Duchovny appeared in three of the four episodes of The X-Files broadcast in February 2001. (The fourth, Medusa, is very much the “blockbuster” episode of this stretch of the season, with a large budget and impressive scale.) This was very much a conscious choice on the part of the production team. Although Duchovny’s shooting schedule meant that the episodes were filmed across the season, the show made a choice to broadcast them all as part the February Sweeps.

He's back...

He’s back…

Indeed, even the order of the episodes in question has been jumbled around. The Gift is the third broadcast episode of the eighth season to feature an appearance by David Duchovny; it was filmed before Badlaa, but broadcast after it so as to open the Sweeps season. However, Per Manum would be the fourth broadcast episode of the eighth season to feature an appearance by David Duchovny; not only was it filmed before The Gift, it was actually filmed between Via Negativa and Surekill.

There is a sense, looking at the differences between the production and broadcast orders of the eighth season, that the production team were well aware of just how big a deal the return of David Duchovny would be. In fact, the decision to broadcast The Gift before Per Manum seems like a very canny attempt to tease those viewers excited about the return of Mulder. The character is much more prominent in Per Manum, so it feels like the decision to air his smaller supporting role in The Gift earlier is an effort in building suspense and excitement.

"The name's Doggett, John Doggett."

“The name’s Doggett, John Doggett.”

The Gift doesn’t offer much in the way of advancement for the season’s on-going story arcs. Although the teaser is smart enough to build to the reveal of David Duchovny, the character only appears in quick flashes throughout the episode. Mulder has less than half-a-dozen lines over the course of the show’s forty-five minutes. He does not directly encounter (or engage with) Doggett or Scully, only appearing for a brief moment as a vision in the basement at the end of the episode. Fans eagerly anticipating Mulder’s return would undoubtedly be frustrated.

However, there is something almost endearing in the show’s playful teasing of its fanbase. It feels almost like the show getting comfortable with itself once again. Indeed, the structure of the episode – paralleling Mulder’s investigation with that of Doggett rather than intersecting them – seems to suggest that perhaps the show might be in good hands without the need to have Mulder literally validate his successor.

Now that's branding...

Now that’s branding…

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Doctor Who: Before the Flood (Review)

“Prentis! He’s alive.”

“No, he’s just not dead yet.”

– Bennett and the Doctor understand how this whole base under siege thing works

There is an argument to be made that Before the Flood is just too damn clever for its own good.

Under the Lake was a very conventional and familiar “base under siege” story, the kind of tense confined thriller that Doctor Who did so well. However, Before the Flood does more than simply extend that premise by another forty-five minutes. Instead, it gets decidedly playful. This is a nice twist on the structure of the season, a season built around multiple interlocking two-part episodes. Taking advantage of the break between Under the Lake and Before the Flood, writer Toby Whithouse shifts the episode’s genre along with its setting.

A Fisher (King) in the face of reality itself...

A Fisher (King) in the face of reality itself…

The teaser sets the tone, with the Doctor addressing the audience directly. In fact, one suspects that google searches on the phrase “bootstrap paradox” jumped dramatically at around 8:27pm BST, 10th October 2015. Although the episode’s closing sequence suggests that the Doctor might plausibly be addressing Clara, the framing makes it quite clear that he is talking through the television to the viewers at home. As if to emphasise this little detail, the Doctor’s wailing electric guitar plays into the opening credits; in case the show needed to be more self-aware.

However, Before the Flood is never entirely sure how much of this self-awareness is genuine cleverness and just how much of it is necessary structuring.

Flood of ideas...

Flood of ideas…

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