The X-Files wasn't just for geeks and nerds. Its slow-burn romance had a broader audience hanging onevery longing look and loaded exchange. Pip Christmass previews the upcoming movie.
When it comes to sci-fi fandom, Star Trek may have first dibs on the world’s most obsessive devotees, but X-Files fanatics aren’t too far behind.
Conventions, fan-written fiction, internet forums: you name it, the “X-Philes” were into it. But don’t think this cult-status series, which ran for 10 years between 1992 and 2002, was only for spotty sci-fi geeks and bookish nerds.
Cool rock stars loved it too. Self-confessed X-Phile, The Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, penned the theme song for the first X-Files feature film Fight the Future; in 1998, Welsh indie band Catatonia penned their own tribute, the anthemic ditty Mulder and Scully (“Things are getting strange, I’m starting to worry/This could be a case for Mulder and Scully”).
As any hardcore fan will tell you The X-Files was sexy, but not in a Desperate Housewives or Nip/Tuck kind of way. There was no flashing of flesh or cheeky bedroom romping in this genre-defining show devoted to investigating the strange realms of the paranormal.
From the very first episode there was a palpable chemistry between the show’s two main characters, FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). And while there was a lot more to The X-Files than Duchovny and Anderson’s good looks, that certainly didn’t detract from the show’s popularity.
It seems there have always been two types of people attracted to The X-Files. There are the sci-fi aficionados fascinated by the cult series’ obsession with paranormal phenomena and the possibility of alien life. Then there are the “shippers” (or relationshippers), the mostly female fans who relentlessly scrutinized each episode with a metaphorical magnifying glass for signs that Mulder and Scully were falling in love.
The first category, who bemoaned the shipper demand for sci-fi soap-opera, called themselves the “NoRomos” (No Romance). These fervent fans felt too much energy was wasted on developing a personal, rather than professional, relationship between Mulder and Scully. After all, there were aliens to chase after and a Cigarette Smoking Man to bring down, remember?
Still, there’s no denying the enduring power of the show’s central relationship between Mulder, the fiercely passionate paranormal believer, and Scully, the lapsed Catholic whose major faith was the empirical accuracy of science.
As anyone even passingly familiar with the series knows, Scully’s brief was to report back to the top echelons of government on Mulder’s doings in his dank FBI basement in Washington, where he pursued “spooky” cases of a paranormal bent.
What none of Mulder’s many enemies counted on, of course, was Mulder and Scully forming their seemingly unbreakable bond. They rapidly became intellectual sparring partners whose views often differed radically but who managed to maintain respect for one another despite those differences.
But beneath the surface of this platonic, respectful relationship there existed subtle undercurrents of sexual tension which played a larger part in the show’s appeal, whether he NoRomos liked it of not.
When the show’s creator, Chris Carter, finally capitulated and inferred in the final season that the duo had become lovers, a sizeable section of the X-Files’ fanbase let out an enormous, collective whoop of joy.
Now, six years after the last episode and 10 years after the first feature film, The X-Files: I Want to Believe is about to hit our screens. No doubt the shippers will be wondering about the state of Mulder and Scully’s relationship while the NoRomos eagerly await the conclusion of the series’ complex conspiracy mythology.
Aside from those hardcore fans, though, who’ve continued to fly the flag by stocking up on the DVD collection or watching re-runs on cable TV, does anyone really care about The X-Files any more?
There’s only one logical response to this question – Sex and the City: The Movie. The recent hysteria over the film, released four years after the hit show’s demise, proves audiences have long memories and a strong taste of nostalgic.
Presumably to the disappointing of some and the relief of others, The X-Files: I Want to Believe steers away from the TV series “myth-arc” narratives, which gradually became so convoluted that even the show’s writers admitted they sometimes couldn’t keep track of the storyline.
Instead, I Want to Believe works as a stand-alone story which should appeal to hardcore X-Files fans and novices alike. “It’s very dark and frightening,” Duchovny has said of the new film, the exact plot details of which have been kept firmly under wraps. “This movie goes back to the original impetus of The X-Files, which is to scare the pants off people.”
During filming in Vancouver, British Columbia (the same location in which the TV series was filmed), co-writer and co-producer Frank Spotnitz called Duchovny over to look at a fan-made video on YouTube. It was a montage of scenes from the series set to a forlorn Sarah McLachlan song called When She Loved Me.
“It was intensely romantic, and I almost brought tears to my eyes" Duchovny told the Los Angeles Times. “It reminded me that we have at the core of The X-Files this very powerful relationship. We have to honor that and not shy away from the sentimentality of the fans or the relationship itself."
“When we were doing the TV show, Gillian and I had got tired of it, I remember struggling. But now I think, ‘God, what a great love affairs’."
“Working with Gillian again and that rhythm between us, that was probably the easiest thing and very helpful for me,” Duchovny says of slipping back into Mulder mode.
“I really didn’t do an research per se. I have seen the show over the past six years, I do watch it for a few minutes and it’s nice now. It’s like home movies. But with autopsies.”