X-Files creator Chris Carter: Mulder and Scully are still relevant

The X-Files stars (from far left) Mitch Pileggi, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and William B. Davis.
The X-Files stars (from far left) Mitch Pileggi, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and William B. Davis. PHOTO: FOX

The creator of the hit sci-fi series says that in a period when governments are suspect, it now has new questions to probe

In the middle of a telephone interview with The X-Files creator Chris Carter, a dog starts to bark. A short burst, then two more yelps.

Carter continues speaking and makes no mention of it whatsoever. It is an odd little moment that passes unexplained and it feels appropriate in a conversation with the creator of a show that explores alien abductions, paranormal phenomena and a murky government conspiracy in its nine-year run. The hit sci-fi supernatural series did not exactly spoonfeed fans answers.

It won more than 90 awards, including Emmys for Outstanding Makeup and Outstanding Art Direction as well as best actress for Anderson in 1997. Time magazine critic Richard Corliss called it the "cultural touchstone" of the 1990s.

Since the series ended, stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson have moved on. Among other projects, he played a sex-crazed writer in the comedy drama Californication (2007 to 2014), while she was a cool and capable police superintendent in the crime drama The Fall (2013 to present).

Carter helmed shows such as the spin-off thriller drama The Lone Gunman (2001) and doomsday-themed Millennium (1996 to 1999), though none achieved the same degree of acclaim as The X-Files.

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The world today is very different.

Carter, 58, says: "In 2002 when we went off the air, the world looked to the government to protect them and us. It was not a time when people wanted to discuss government conspiracies. We're now looking at a world that is upside-down from that period, when governments are suspect."

Still, he had no qualms when the opportunity to revive the show came along. The new six-episode miniseries airs on Fox channel on Tuesdays at 9pm.

Speaking to international media on the telephone from Los Angeles, he says: "When I got the call that Fox was interested to bring it back, they told me that the actors were interested. I immediately wanted to do it because it was important that they go into this with positive and enthusiastic attitudes."

He adds that the characters of FBI agents Fox Mulder (Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Anderson) are "as relevant today as they have been because there are now new questions to ask".

The relationship between Mulder the believer and Scully the sceptic was "central" to the success of the show and has influenced shows from conspiracy theory-based Dark Skies (1996 to 1997) to crime procedural Bones (2005 to present).

"I think the characters fed off each other in a way that people around the world have recognised. It's kind of an idealised relationship or push and pull, yin and yang. It's a contrast in opposites, but they are two people drawn together in a quest for the truth from different points of view."

The popularity of the drama led to two big-screen outings - The X-Files (1998) and The X-Files: I Want To Believe (2008). While the first film made US$189 million worldwide, the follow-up earned only US$68 million.

Carter says: "What we were asked to do in the second movie was kind of superhuman and supernatural in its own way. We were asked to do a small movie, a small-budget movie, a PG-13 movie and to come out versus big tent-pole, $100-million, $200-million movies in summer."

As for whether there will be more of The X-Files on TV or in cinemas, he says much would depend on the ratings for the reboot.

He is open to the idea of doing either. "We tried to do a very small intimate story about faith in the second movie and I think that people's appetite for the big screen requires a spectacle approach."

Apart from the chemistry between Duchovny and Anderson, another key strength of the show has been its range.

"The show can be comedic. It can be intense and scary. It can be relevant. It can be educational," says Carter.

The X-Files has changed lives and it is of great satisfaction to him when people tell him that they have gone into science or joined the FBI because of it.

He adds: "People see it as something inspirational to their lives, not just entertainment. But we seek to be entertainment first and foremost. That is our job. That's, I think, the reason people have come back."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2016, with the headline 'A new world for The X-Files'. Print Edition | Subscribe