Strange things are going on in TV—land that are likely to abduct the British viewing public’s sense of reality. In the wake of The X Files comes Chris Carter’s follow-up series Millennium, and from Channel 4 comes the spooky Dark Skies. Watch your back, says Eddie Gibb.

n television-land, successful shows

inevitably beget imitators. Last year The X

Files switched from BBC2 to BBCI,

doubling its ratings to become a must-see

for over l0 million viewers. In its wake, a

slew of paranormal infotainment programming was pumped out to cash in on this sudden interest in weird science, with box-brains like Carol Vorderman demonstrating that fact is indeed stranger than fiction.

Drama series take a bit longer to gestate, but you can welcome in the New Year with a couple of new shows which almost certainly owe their existence to the X factor. Vying for your attention during the first quarter of I997 are Millennium and Dark Skies. American imports which remix the classic X Files elements of murder. conspiracy and political paranoia. TV’s cult corner has never been so crowded.

Millennium is the new show from X Files creator Chris Caner, so any similarity is not entirely surprising. But it’s Dark Skies which more obviously follows in the footsteps of FBI Spook-busters Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. In the two-hour pilot. the storyline manages to link 1947’s Roswell Incident, when the US Air Force claimed and then swiftly denied it had recovered a wrecked flying saucer, to the assassination of President John Kennedy. It’ll be a disappointment if Elvis and Marilyn Monroe don’t show up later on.

Government cover-ups and invasion by aliens (or communists) are favourite themes in Hollywood. which has long dined out on Cold War paranoia. Dark Skies starts off in l96l: the year when US diplomatic relations with Cuba really started deteriorating. and New Hampshire couple Betty and Barney Hill just about persuaded the American public they had been abducted by aliens. In the conspiracy-filled world of Dark Skies creator Bryce Zabel. these events are not necessarily unrelated.

‘I believe the evidence indicates a UFO did actually crash outside Roswell.’ says Zabel. ‘If you believe this event happened. then somebody had to keep the secret and that’s probably not all they did with their time.’

Like Mulder and Scully in The X Files. the central character in Dark Skies discovers that the ideals of open government and freedom of information are constitutional niceties which don’t always work that way in practice. John Loengard (Eric Close) is an ambitious but naive congressional aide'who went to Washington to

‘I believe the evidence indicates a UFO did actually crash outside Roswell.

It you believe this event happened, then somebody had to keep the secret and that’s probably not all they did with their time.’

serve democracy. He dreams of becoming president, but his political ambitions veer sharply off track when he becomes embroiled in an unauthorised investigation into UFO sightings.

Dark Skies deftly sets up Loengard as the stooge who wanders blindly into a complex tangle of lies and cover-ups which he and the viewer can only guess the extent of. The simple fact that Kennedy’s assassination has never been adequately explained gives the whole cock-eyed notion of a single. unifying conspiracy theory just enough legs to support the snaking plot twists.

Dark Skies falls down when the rubber aliens arrive. The low-budget special effects give the whole show a rather cheesy. Twilight Zone feel which may be a knowing reference to the sci-fi films of the early 605 an obvious influence on the show but they rather undermine the suspension of disbelief required to become truly absorbed.

Wisely. Chris Carter has ditched the paranormal theme altogether for his X Files follow-up. opting

for a more worldly. if psychotic. setting with Millennium. The premise of the series is that the approaching millennium is making the crazies bay for blood a kind of full moon with knobs on.

To cope with all the serial killers and bomb builders suffering pre-millennial tension. a special kind of investigator is needed who can get inside the head of these nuts. It’s not a comfortable place. but that’s the precinct patrolled by ex-homicide detective Frank Black (Lance Henriksen) whose ability to imagine himself at the crime scene borders on the psychic. (Carter insists Black shouldn’t be regarded as having special powers; he’s just good at his job.)

This psychological profiling expertise makes him a recruitment target of the Millennium Group. a shadowy bunch of freelance law enforcers who find official police channels too restrictive. As with The X Files. it’s easy to spot the sources of storylines. and the pilot of Millennium drew heavily on serial killer movies Seven and The Silence 0/ The Lambs. Carter acknowledges the stories are derivative. but says he is more interested in the characters’ moral response than coming up with new plot twists.

‘I thought those movies lacked a bright centre and hope. the reason to go out and do something heroic which is far too uncommon in America.’ he says. ‘Violencc here is a big concern. so I wanted to create a very bright hero set against a very dark background and the storytelling will be about finding hope.’

Fans of The X Files are likely to enjoy both

series, though neither has that will-they/won’t- they sexual tension between Mulder and Scully which hooked viewers who wouldn’t know the Roswell Incident from a Bakewell tart. That could prove to be a significant difference. Dark Skies starts on Mon I 3 Jan. 9pm, Channel 4; Millennium continues on Sundays. 10pm, Sky I , and will be shown on Scottish Television later this yean

It there's something strange In your neighbourhood, who you gonna call? Dark Skies’ John loengard (opposite page, tar right) or Millennium’s Frank Black (above let!)

The List l0-23 Jan I997 23