The X-Files: A Legacy

The 90’s was an awesome time for television science fiction, whilst the 80’s spawned a lot of pulpy(and not so pulpy) blockbusters like Terminator, Bladerunner and Aliens; science fiction TV was arguably lax, stuck in the 1960’s(just try to watch the first couple of seasons of Star Trek The Next Generation). The X-Files was a groundbreaking piece of science fiction television. First debuting just over 22 years ago in the sci-fi centric winter of 1993, the show’s then unique hybrid of detective drama and monster of the week style science fiction was an immediately endearing prospect and the shows influence on the explosion of television science fiction in the 1990s and beyond is undeniable.

 

Lynch penned televisual masterpiece Twin Peaks arguably set much of the tone for the robust, introspective science fiction in the 90’s, it’s tale of murder mystery interrupted by otherworldly demons (and of course agent Denise) was fundamental to the X-files makeup. the concept of the supernatural mystery meets small town America, with its cold, sinister sound design and plausible but bombastic characterization influenced the X-files to some extent aswell.

In fact agent Denise, Mulders goofy, wisecracking predecessor set the tone for Mulder in the X-files, in a morally grey world of darkness and governmental conspiracy, Mulder still found time for baseball, porn and dry humour. Mulders happy go lucky wisecracks and eccentricities caught on across the sci fi world, before, most characters had been perfect, benevolent, noble, often two dimensional human beings,post-1993, a wealth of wisecracking, gallows humour was injected into science fiction, even at the evacuation of Terok Nor, or all those times the Stargate nearly got done in, there was always room for a healthy injection of dry wit.

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It was the wealth of characterisation inherent to television sci-fi in the late 90’s that the X-files brought to science fiction was the series’ greatest stroke, Mulder and Scully were normal people with normal lives, even most of the paranormal cases they solved had an air of realistic ambiguity to them. It was this humanisation that spread it’s wings throughout the 90’s, Deep Space 9, Babylon 5 and Stargate SG-1(arguably some of the other biggest sci fi tv franchises of the 1990s) all featured relatable characters with families, strong, educated women who weren’t just damsels in distress in lycra, Scullys character wouldn’t have been feasible 10 years before, an educated woman who, whilst retaining sex appeal, was educated, strong and not afraid to speak her mind. She challenged Mulder almost at every step in the first few seasons, whilst their unique bond of workaholic codependence created a charming, will they, will they not? dynamism between the two characters.

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And This Moment Killed It

Politically, 1993 was a funny time for the USA, whilst the fall of soviet Russia was the ultimate victory for the all powerful United states, somehow there was no longer a movement or group of people to stigmatize or blame for society’s ills. There was no big bad enemy left on earth for science fiction writers to analogize and as such writers looked into the flaws within their own societies. A wealth of social issues lurked in the cracks of American society; government corruption, drug related gun crime edpidemics which had been worsening since the 1980’s(and still are), whilst the issue of traumatised, wrongfully experimented upon Vietnam veterans going postal, government censorship and spree killings (to name a few) were all addressed. the X-files took the brutal phantoms of cold war America and ran with them and its influences on the sicence fiction landscape were immemorial be it Deep Space 9’s section 31 or Babylon 5’s psy-corps, even if it somewhat used post soviet big bad Russian villains, the X-files bravely looked inward to its villainy.

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In fact with the reboot of the x-files, TV star Trek and Twin Peaks(possibly) imminent, as well as the arrival of a new Star Wars film pretty much annually  until when the fuck ever the world ends, 2016 looks to be a pivotal year for science fiction, it’ll be a make or break point for big budget TV sci-fi, will the X-Files return (beginning today) flounder and die as it did 15 years ago? Or  will it usher in a new science fiction renaissance as it did 20 years ago?

(Richard Lowe)

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