Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Call of Cthulhu

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As with adaptations in general, I'd normally have next to no interest in watching a Lovecraft story filmed today, however highly it was praised. But when reading all his stories this month, I did sometimes wonder what they would have looked like if they'd been filmed back in the day, in an alternate universe where he didn't have to wait until he was dead to be appreciated.

Since that didn't happen, this tender faux-vintage tribute by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society is the next best thing, and it's a pretty remarkable achievement. No idle dreamers, they actually went out and made it, and since they are fans, you can expect it to adhere closer to the source material than interfering Hollywood suits would have done. Closer than is probably wise, if we did have to worry about a pesky fictional casual audience and this wasn't an indulgence for aficionados.

They've made all the stories-within-stories a little less complicated, but in the spirit of the original, it's still a meandering puzzle until that climactic awakening scene – which is pretty damned close to how I imagined it from the page, even if my mental Cthulhu looked a little less wriggly and a lot less cool.

There are a few modern niggles if you're looking for them (like some reverse videophile, I could have done with the picture being a bit more scratched and wobbly), but you could still probably pass this off as an authentic relic. I'd watch more.

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate its contents."

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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Jonathan Creek: Daemons' Roost

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It didn't take a Creek to deduce from the title that we were in for a retro return to form after the poor fifth series. What remained to be seen is whether it would be any good.

Sarah Alexander's character aside, I enjoyed it about as much as 'The Grinning Man,' the first Sheridan Smith-era special it deliberately resembles (I think Warwick Davis' character even name-checked it at one point?), and that's really the best I could hope for. Always got to love these needlessly elaborate machinations.

Did Jonathan's astonishing reveals always rely so much on "clues" that weren't actually revealed to us until later, or am I just getting more cynical now I'm no longer 12? It'd take a rewatch to be sure. Still, I was 100% bamboozled and managed to feel inordinately pleased when I solved the page numbers clue a few seconds before it was revealed.

They're probably going to make more. But if they don't, this is the best potential finale there's been since 2009.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Return of the Jedi

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Unless you're unable to get past Greedo shooting first, this is the film that was most egregious alterations, and it's taken me until my fourth decade to finally see it in its original form. The Ewok song is sillier (but so are the Ewoks, so that's fine); the music in Jabba's Palace is a lot less embarrassing (though the blue elephant thing is still rubbish).

Of course, the granddaddy of all irritating changes is saved right for the end. I once watched the remastered trilogy on DVD with someone who'd never seen Star Wars before, and they wondered who the hell the third ghost was at the end. This time it actually made sense if you hadn't subjected yourself to the prequels, so the experience could end on a positive rather than a confusing note. Imagine that.

"I have a bad feeling about this" - C-3PO

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Monday, December 19, 2016

The Empire Strikes Back

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Star Wars was a bit slower and more uneven than I remembered, but I was confident that Empire would still be the dark/mature middle child that it always was. It's still easily the best of the trilogy, but the first half or so still comes down heavily on the childish side. That's not a bad thing, it's just important not to overlook that you're watching an excellent family film rather than a sci-fi classic.

My wife has somehow gone through her life without having the Darth Vader revelation unspoiled. Presumably because she's not a boy. So it was enjoyable to have that vicarious thrill again. It's another incentive to pump out some kids, isn't it? And not to spoil it by showing them the films in numerical order, which is tantamount to child abuse.

"I have a bad feeling about this" - Princess Leia

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Star Wars

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Is there any film as pointless to comment on as Star Wars? Maybe The Phantom Menace. But it was a lot of fun to watch it again after many years, with the excuse that the wife hadn't seen it. It was also my chance to finally see the original versions, having grown up with the ironically named Special Editions. (I did see this unremastered once as a young child when it was on TV, but since all I remember is the Droids wandering around the desert, I was probably so enthralled that I fell asleep).

It goes without saying that the original editions are definitive. Excising the incompatible Jabba scene strengthens the trilogy as a whole, while Han mercilessly shooting Greedo makes him much more of a wild card – though not irredeemable, as it was obvious to the wife that he was going to return heroically at the end. Though it may have also made her less thrilled about Leia seeming to prefer the scoundrel over the hero, when Luke/Leia is so clearly the OTP.

I wonder if the revelations in the following films will change her mind, or if she'll stick to her guns. You have to be consistent, it's not like the saga was made up as it went along.

"I have a very bad feeling about this" - Luke Skywalker

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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Jurassic Park

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I suppose you could criticise the niggling faults of Jurassic Park if you really wanted to - the inconsistent depth of the T-rex paddock, the scrolling play bar of Dennis Nedry's "live" Quicktime video - but what would be the point?

It's literally Jurassic Park, my generation's Star Wars that taught genetic engineering and chaos theory to pre-adolescent kids who didn't care that it was almost entirely bullshit.

Watching it a couple of decades after repeated viewings as a child, I finally understood what all those "boring" early scenes of espionage and technobabble were actually about before we get to the dinos. And it all stands up.

So what if the CGI dinosaurs don't quite look as if they're really there? The animatronics are exceptional. They even engineered a bona fide Triceratops for this film and no one can convince me otherwise. I hope she got better.

"I'm fairly alarmed here" - Ian Malcolm

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Doc Brown Saves the World

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It's only a Blu-ray extra. Give it a break, right? I'm just not sure the world is a better place with this new footage of Christopher Lloyd adequately reprising his most famous character in a weak fan service script. I preferred to think of Doc settling down and enjoying his steampunk retirement.

Back to the Future's appeal didn't lie entirely in its retro "predictions" of what 2015 would be like, though you'd be forgiven for thinking so with all the clickbait articles around last year. This desperate attempt to fix that non-existent "plot hole" is just embarrassing. Fortunately, it's only a Blu-ray extra.

"Great Scott" etc. - Emmett L. "Doc" Brown

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016


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Did we need a delayed third part to the story? If we did, this isn't it.

The whimpering finale of the Qatsi trilogy is borderline embarrassing. The only original footage seems to consist of dull pans over non-descript concrete buildings, the rest being archive footage stretched to fill the screen and appalling CGI animations that look like Windows Media Player visualisations. I was convinced I must be watching someone's shoddy alternative take on Philip Glass' soundtrack, but alas, this is the genuine article.

If you close your eyes, the music's still nice. So at least that's something.

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Monday, November 28, 2016


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This was the first of the Qatsi trilogy I watched, primarily because I'd finally realised where I'd heard Glass' 'Anthem, Part Two' before and I wanted to force a more pleasant mental image every time the track comes up on my work playlist than Jim Carrey going round and round in a revolving door. Mission accomplished.

A technophobic response to its predecessor, I much prefer this film's celebration (the camera may be objective, but you know what they're implying) of rustic life and traditions in the developing world, even as these too become eroded by irresistible industry. It's inspiring and sad, and if I was a bit older, born into different circumstances and could relate, I'm sure it would be devastating.

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Sunday, November 27, 2016


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Reggio/Fricke/Glass' ode to industrialisation is very different when watched today than it would have been in '82. The technology it's concerned about is now retro rather than cutting-edge, but even as an artifact along the path of "progress," it's no less foreboding and depressing.

I've always quite liked Philip Glass' soundtrack, but this extended music video doesn't fit the music as well as I'd hoped. There's no industrial percussion, for a start, but if you watch the more hyperactive bits on double speed, and Glass' synthesiser loop turns into video game music, it starts to make sense.

If there was ever a documentary seemingly designed for tripping, it would be this one. But considering the bad vibes it puts out even before we get to napalm and mushroom clouds, I wouldn't advise it.

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Mr. Nobody

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For the first hour or so, this philosophical Choose Your Own Adventure film coasts along nicely on directorial zaniness. After that, the concept starts to wear thin and I was just waiting patiently for answers.

When we do get the answer, it's the one that makes the most sense out of everything, but it wouldn't have hurt them to throw in some more head-slapping foreshadowing than "those are just some girls he knows," especially given how absurdly detailed the various scenarios are for a child's imagination. What kind of films has he been watching?

"Every path is the right path. Everything could've been anything else. And it would have just as much meaning" - Nemo Nobody

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Friday, November 25, 2016

Time Lapse

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I never actually saw an episode of '90s TV series Early Edition. But its premise – a magic cat delivers tomorrow's newspaper to our hero's doorstep, so he can set about preventing various small-time local crimes before they happen – has always stayed with me as equally inspired and pathetic. Maybe I should dig it out.

Time Lapse reminded me of it regardless, except this time with a magic camera that takes photos 24 hours in advance (so it's also basically this), and presumably with a dash more conflict and inexplicable insanity from the characters who stumble across it.

There's nothing novel here, and the intriguing chicken/egg philosophical questions of who's actually in control of events – where does the artist's inspiration actually come from if he's just copying his own paintings? – is sidelined in favour of low-key crime, drugs and relationship drama and characters turning into homicidal maniacs at the drop of a hat. Still, got to love these slightly rubbish indie time travel flicks.

"Don't fuck with time" - Jasper

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Dune: The Complete Saga

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David Lynch's Dune is a massively flawed film, but it still has its perks. It's one of those '80s films, like Blade Runner, that's big on atmosphere, and looks and sounds great, but is tedious to actually watch.

If you're trying to improve Dune, adding even more content to make it even more insufferable seems like a weird decision. As my brother was a vocal fan of the Duniverse when we were growing up, I already knew there was an extended TV version out there that reinstated deleted scenes and added other superfluous content, but not being a masochist I'd never got round to watching it. I don't think I'd even sat all the way through the theatrical cut.

This supposedly 'ultimate' fan edit is presumably an improvement on the TV version, but with jarring sound discrepancy every time we cut to a justified (as it turns out) deleted bit, and padding out an already bloated mess with even more of the same, it's not an improvement on the original. Some turds just refuse to be polished.

"Mood's a thing for cattle and loveplay" - Gurney Halleck

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Jodorowsky's Dune

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Jodorowsky! Mœbius! O'Bannon! Giger! Foss! Dali! Welles! Floyd! Jagger? Jodorowsky's son!

Even after absorbing this idealistic documentary about Jodorowsky's non-existent film, I'm not convinced that this supergroup-storyboarded adaptation would have been the cinematic milestone they claim. It would have looked bloody nice, but considering how little thought went into any of the practicalities whatsoever, the finished product inevitably would have been a bit of a let-down. It would have been a hell of a lot more interesting than the later Lynch effort, but that's not saying much.

In any case, the post-mortem denouement is actually quite uplifting as we take a tour of how this ghost of a film has sandwormed its way into other projects to live on, from Jodorowsky/Mœbius's own L'Incal to the undeniable Alien, suspicious Flash Gordon and slightly more tenuous Star Wars and Indiana Jones connections.

Would I give an arm to see it? Maybe the left. Why hasn't it been animated already?

"I was raping Frank Herbert. Raping like this." (Mimes action) - Alejandro Jodorowski

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Chaos on the Bridge

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William Shatner choosing to make a documentary about The Next Generation is a slightly unbelievable idea. We at least see him conducting some interviews and speaking to camera, so there's more input here than in those novels he "co-wrote" with the Reeves-Stevenses.

But this isn't about Shatner, it's about the troubled beginnings of TNG, and the cast and crew are commendably frank about the flaws of those early seasons and of its creator. It's not quite warts and all - there's not a whiff of sexual harassment, and Wil Wheaton's absence is surprising, as you can't have a comprehensive discussion about the failings of early TNG without discussing Wesley.

But it's enjoyable to have some of the myths and optimistic assumptions stripped down. Growing up, I considered Deep Space Nine to be the underappreciated underdog, but the TNG cast didn't even have toilets.

"Holy cats" - William Shatner

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Prelude to Axanar

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You can't rate fan films on their effort and enthusiasm alone, or they'd all be hailed as masterpieces. Convincing struggling Star Trek alumni to take part also isn't a big deal any more, and loyal service to the continuity is a given.

What Alec Peters and Christian Gossett did with their elaborate fundraising promo was to inject some actual quality into the mix. At least, that seems to be the consensus. Me, I'm not especially excited about War Trek any more, so I don't think I would have sat through the feature-length follow-up if they'd even been legally allowed to proceed.

Let them make their movies, you bastards. Maybe the next one won't be so much like watching someone play a video game.

"They called me Queen Bitch Whore of the Federation'" - Captain Sonya Alexander

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Top 10 X-Files seasons

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My latest X-Files rewatch may have been abbreviated (and ongoing as we catch up on all the less excellent non-mythology capers we skipped - it's about half the series), but it was enough to nudge and reinforce my feelings on this series' general momentum across its overlong run. Okay, no guesses which seasons take the bottom rungs then. But which one is the best?

Prepare to have your conception of reality basically unchallenged.

#1. Season 3

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The first two seasons are where my concentrated childhood nostalgia lies. I hit adolescence around the time season three began its inexplicably mangled BBC run, so my feelings about these episodes are significantly less rose-tinted and I'm less prone to be forgiving... which doesn't matter, it turns out, as this is just plain better.

If I was going by the stand-alone episodes, there wouldn't be much between 3 & 4. But 3 is where the mythology really shines and feels like it's building to something (before frustratingly stalling after the summer break).

#2. Season 4

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The X-Files was mainstream now, so this year and the next have a very different vibe in my nostalgia. In the UK, the series switched from school nights to prime time on Saturday. No longer was I naughtily staying up late to watch it with my dad when my mum was at night class; I was reasonably watching it with my grandparents like it was Casualty or something! My critical view of this year has been tainted by behind-the-scenes knowledge. Once you learn what a mess it was, it's hard to un-see that. But outside the troubled mythology, it's still full of corkers.

#3. Season 2

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If I'd never allowed myself to re-watch an episode since the original run, there's no doubt this would be at the top. But even when I excitedly purchased a second-hand video of File 3: Abduction in the late 90s, I realised that my memories of Scully's abduction arc as the crowning moment of television history were a little exaggerated.

Even if you'd evened the odds by giving them season four's budget and cameras, season two would still feel more formative than perfected. But it's still one of the best and home to plenty of classics.

#4. Season 5

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When I go away for a few years, my complex feelings about the series simplify to compartmentalising the five Vancouver years and the four Hollywood years. The first set being classic; the latter disposable, even occasionally insulting to the legacy. This time, season five felt a little like the Beginning of the End, even if it's still firmly on the good side (it's this series' Red Dwarf VI, if that helps? No?)

Its highs and lows feel more pronounced than previous years, propped up by a couple of classic experimental comedies and the most interesting mythology developments for some time. But when they're not trying as hard, or stung by production troubles, it shows.

#5. Season 1

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Bottom of the impenetrable Vancouver bubble? That's probably correct, but since I carelessly skipped nearly all of this year on this re-watch to get to "the good stuff" (!), it badly needs a reappraisal.

The fact that I watched The X-Files right from the start (when I was still in single digits), is a source of pointless pride for me. I could dig out the fan-fic in my Year 4 topic book to prove it. That's also why I'd have no qualms about letting my own future kids watch supposedly scary things at an irresponsible age. They might have nightmares, but who doesn't love those, right?

#6. Season 6

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With retrospective binging, I can criticise the lighter tone, default character settings and piss-poor mythology of season six, all justifiably. But when I watched it once a week in my early teens, I didn't twig that anything was wrong. They were still pumping out classics on a regular basis as far as I was concerned, but now the lows are getting painful.

#7. Season 8

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One of the post-Mulder-&-Scully years is better than one of the Mulder & Scully years.

Wow, what an interesting opinion. You have challenged my preconceptions and I will be less knee-jerk in my reactions going forward.

Yeah, but it's still not as good as any of the years before that. I can't be that interesting.


#8. Season 7

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I don't even want to talk about these any more.

'Amor Fati' was the point at which this fan, who'd grown up with the series through his formative years, couldn't be bothered any more. Having caught up in the decades since, I can confirm there are literally a few good episodes.

#9. Season 10

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One good episode, thanks Darin.

#10. Season 9

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Here are my Top 10 X-Files episodes, as of a few years ago anyway. Where the hell's Darin?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The X-Files: Existence

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Another season finale that would have made a better series finale than what we actually got a year later, not that that's saying much. The uncharacteristically happy ending (ignoring the looming alien apocalypse, obviously) is a first in that regard, and would have made for warmer wilderness years, in contrast to the teasing cliffhanger that 'Requiem' gave us a year previously and the cobbled together mish-mash we got a year later that thankfully isn't the end any more. (Presumably, Scully's shocked UFO-illuminated eyeball isn't going to be the conclusive closing image either).

If season eight had been the final year, I expect the latter extremities of the series would have been slightly better remembered. Though still criticised for going on too long, which has been a fair assessment since even before the old mythology imploded. But would it have been for the best? This time, I think yes. Wiping out the shaky post-Fight the Future seasons entirely would have preserved the consistency of the early years, but there's a lot that's worth preserving in seasons six and eight, even a little bit of seven. As for nine...

Moving on to these actual episodes then, the dilution of the formerly complex mythology to basic body snatching doesn't exactly feel like a step in the right direction, and I've never been fond of Chris Carter's penchant for hokey Christian imagery, so this isn't up there with my favourite two-parters of the series. It's not even in my top two two-parters of the season. But at least it dares to deliver some closure... most of which would be unceremoniously torn away after the summer break.

But I'm not going to bother watching that. Let's leave it here and pretend there's nothing to worry about except the inevitable alien invasion. Maybe I'll catch up on 'My Struggle' before the 2017 series, but only if I feel like self-harming.

"The child she is carrying is very special" - Lizzy Gill

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Friday, November 18, 2016

The X-Files: Deadalive

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It feels like comparison between Mulder's and Scully's abduction stories is conspicuously lacking. Clearly because popular interest (even a lot of nerd interest) in the series had evaporated by this point - deservedly or not - so that even people who were raised on the series, like me, tend to forget that these latter day events even happened.

When you have the basic behind-the-scenes info about actor availability, both cast members' abductions are actually quite comical. Gillian Anderson would come back once she'd given birth and enjoyed the bare minimum maternity leave before she could get to back to work earning a fraction of what the man one was making; David Duchovny would be back for sweeps with the punctuality previously demonstrated by Cancer Man and the conspiracy.

But reigning ourselves back into the fiction and judging these stories on their own merits, there's a lot to like. The fact that they can actually show a convincing UFO at this point in the series, and no longer need to maintain the ambiguity, makes for some powerful scenes. Mulder's inevitable recovery is a bit weirder than Scully's, but it makes for a similarly dramatic final part as his colleagues run around car parks shooting and shouting.

Even now the aliens are doing it for themselves with no need for turncoat human conspirators (who were always going to be more trouble than they were worth), the mythology feels like it's evolving down distinctly retrodden ground, even bringing back familiar faces from way back in the golden age. And nothing the characters do really makes sense when you accidentally think about it for a second. But if all The X-Files can do these days is to riff on itself and require us to suspend our disbelief, at least it's still doing it with style. For now.

"The truth may hurt, but it's all that matters" - Dana Scully
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Thursday, November 17, 2016

The X-Files: Requiem

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In case you hadn't deduced already, this also contains the opening two-parter of season eight.
But Doggett is weird and new and we fear change, so he can stay in the background.

I didn't see the VHS (were DVDs out by now?) compilation edit of this "TV movie," but of all the season-bridging "trilogies" the series produced over the years, this one has to be the least suited to the format. (Even Scully's abduction arc worked fine, and they skipped over an episode in the middle of that).

Sure, a lot of people binge-watching on Netflix won't be able to resist leaping from 'Requiem' into 'Within' right away, but don't pretend they're all one big story. All of it is great - without a doubt the best the mythology's been since the film - but while the season seven finale brings the series full circle and presents us with a viable end to the series, the next two inaugurate a bold new era. One that may have been flogging a dead horse in some ways, but is unfairly maligned in others.

I don't think I appreciated just how great a finale 'Requiem' is until this time around. If this had been the series finale, as semi-intended, it would have worked a hell of a lot better than 'The Truth,' but let's not get ahead of myself.

By drawing our attention to how far the series has come since the pilot, it feels a little more crowded (Skinner, Cancer Man, Krychek  the other one whose name I'm not going to attempt to spell and the ABH), but thanks to the conspiracy culling it still feels surprisingly low-key. I prefer to forget that Smokie still seemed to be involved in some sort of semi-Syndicate in his recent appearances; the dying, deposed despot desperate to start over is a fitting end. And talking of fitting ends, leaving Mulder out there would have made for far more tantalising wilderness years than "he's on the run" and "he's just living in that house, I guess."

But we got another season, and as uninventive as it may be to make your female lead pregnant for a shock cliffhanger, and as much as the looming shadow of Mulder prevents new characters from ever really getting a fair chance, I think the series benefited from it. I'd already bailed out before David Duchovny did, so I didn't watch many episodes from this era the first time around until my run through the series a couple of years back, but I can confidently assert that season eight is an improvement over the preceding year, at least in mytharc terms.

But could it even be better than the bipolar season six? Surely it doesn't hold a candle to the untouchable Vancouver years? I'm looking forward to tearing down some of these preconceived notions in the days ahead... (the answer's almost definitely no, just to dispel any excitement).

"I've seen things that I cannot deny" - Dana Scully

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