he phenomenon of The X Files is another example of PMT - pre- millennial tension.’ says Bob Rikard, editor of paranormal journal Fortean Times, ‘and the fact people are losing faith in institutions like organised religion and the government.’
Chris Carter, creator of The X Files, about to start its third run on the BBC, must be feeling particularly tense as we approach 2000, though it’s less to do with losing his faith in government — he never really had it in the ﬁrst place. ‘l was a product of an adolescence when Watergate was the biggest event of my middle teens and it really had a big effect on me,’ says Carter. ‘80 if there is a subversive quality in the show. it comes out of my mistrust of authority - I think governments behave in their best interests often, and in our best interests less often.’
Religion is a slightly different matter. Carter was brought up a Baptist but after rapidly losing his religious belief in adulthood, has been desperately trying to find something to replace it with ever since. Like Fox Mulder — the intuitive, new age-y FBI agent who partners the ultra- rational Dana Scully in a kind of left-brain. right-brain police double-act — Carter still hasn’t found what he’s looking for. but he’s on the trail. ‘l’m a non-religious person looking for a religious experience,’ he has said.
Carter‘s boyish image — a surf’s-up version of hip film director Jim Jarmusch — was projected onto a large screen from Los Angeles by satellite at a session during last week’s Edinburgh International Television Festival. Currently dividing his time between two TV productions. Carter answered questions about the huge success of The X Files. which was first screened on Sky before translating to BBCl via BBC2, and now regularly attracts l0 million viewers.
What is essentially a sci-ﬁ cop show seems to have struck some kind ofchord with the viewing public, prompting the Mulder character to be dubbed a ‘zeitgeist icon’. Or perhaps the increasingly regular glimpses of David Duchovny in his boxer shorts account for the appeal.
Whatever. Carter’s follow-up series, Millennium, has been eagerly awaited. A sneak preview of the pilot, which has not yet been transmitted in America, reveals Carter to be absolutely tingling with PMT as he switches his attentions from Weird Stuff Out There, to the darker recesses of the human mind. Expect a lot of body bags, with victims being relieved of their limbs in interesting and unusual ways. The perpetrators, meanwhile. are likely to be motivated by some sort of end-of-the-world complex in which soothsayers like Nostradamus figure prominently.
As with The X Files, which regularly borrows plot lines from sci-fl and horror movies, Carter readily admits the opening episode of Millennium owes a very obvious debt to serial killer shockers like The Silence Of The Lambs and in particularly the Old Testament vengeance of Seven. It is real retreat-behind-the-couch stuff, which will almost certainly provoke some controversy when it screens in the UK. due to a tendency for lingering shots of human remains strewn about crime scenes.
The central character is Frank Black (Lance Henriksen, Aliens), a veteran homicide detective from Washington DC, who takes his young family to live in Seattle to escape the everyday horrors of the job. lnevitably, tending
the front lawn seems tame by comparison and he is recruited by the Millennium Group, a shadowy bunch of ex-law enforcement experts who specialise in psychological profiling of murder suspects. Black has the ability to put himself inside the heads of killers.
As in our own Cracker, the psychology of the criminal mind is regarded as far more interesting than the straightforward whodunnit approach, but it won’t be straying into paranormal, X Files territory. ‘I can’t say it enough that Frank isn’t a psychic.’ explains Carter. ‘He’s developed an ability to think like a killer, what the killer might be thinking and feeling, his motives and methods.’
Where Mulder in The X Files is youthful and charming. Black is gnarled and tacitum. His wife, perhaps fifteen years his junior. is a clinical social worker who works with the kind
‘There’s some degree of hope that our fate will be tested and we will see something that shapes and moves us, and lets us believe there’s something beyond this mortal coil.’
of screw—ups society spits out on the streets. Occasionally they turn into the kind of monsters that Black hunts down.
The darkness of Black’s day job contrasts sharply with his home life which is sunny and cloyingly all—American. While The X Files achieves its dramatic tension by pairing two basically incompatible characters who explore the unknown together. Millennium will ﬂip between the two wildly different worlds Black lives in.
"This series is all about chaos and randomness,‘ says Carter. ‘l think these are all ideas we live with every day, though we live somewhat in denial of them. The idea is not so much that these men in the Millennium Group believe the world will come to an end in 2000, but they believe there may be some truth or at least some connection to prophecies, be it biblical or other, which motivates criminals to behave the way they do.
‘l don’t have any plans to base this on real events but I’m putting up a mirror to American society so I think you will see something that is inspired by cases like the Unabomber or TWA incident or Oklahoma City. These are all events ua'
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THE X FILES FEATURE
that helped to give us a real sense of insecurity here and i want to show that there are people out there who are feeling these things and taking them personally.’
With The X Files, now in production for its fourth sen’es. Carter has been more playful in the way he blends sci-ﬁ and horror genres with a standard police procedural format. The slow- burn development of the relationship between Mulder and Scully, which Carter assures fans will remain resolutely platonic. is ultimately more compelling than the individual episodes’ plots.
The familiarity of some storylines seems to indicate Carter is more interested in themes than straightforward narratives. As a kid, he was a big fan of The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone and — a particular favourite, this — a long- forgotten series called The Nightstalker about a newspaper reporter who specialised in tales of the unexpected and unexplained. Carter has watched enough TV to know that a lot of the best Big Brother paranoia and alien invasion stories have already been used. What’s important is how you use them - and what’s important for Carter is this idea of belief in a bigger picture we humans can’t quite see yet.
‘I think they [Mulder and Scully] both have a tremendous need to believe in something,’ says Carter. ‘The truth is in all of us — there’s some degree of hope that our fate will be tested and we will see something that shapes and moves us, and lets us believe there’s something beyond this mortal coil — the mundane fact that we’re going to live and die.’
The series is summed up by a poster on Mulder’s bedroom wall which reads: ‘1 want to believe. you do too, but then we remember the rule — trust no one.’ At a time when America is being squeezed between the absolutist rock of fundamental Christianity and the hard place of capitalism, Mulder’s little aphorism must seem like a pretty complex philosophical dilemma. All that, and an hour’s worth of top notch TV entertainment too, has turned The X Files into a cult programme with a mainstream audience.
Apparently even media emperor Rupert Murdoch, who ultimately owns the show through his Fox TV network, likes it. All the more reason to do as Mulder says — trust no one. The X Files starts on Thurs 12 Sept on BBC 1. Millennium will be screened on Sky front Jan 97 and then later on ITV.
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