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Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium and The Lone Gun Paperback – 10 Aug 2009
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About the Author
Robert Shearman is probably best known as a writer for Doctor Who, where he reintroduced the Daleks in the show’s BAFTA winning first series, in an episode nominated for a Hugo Award. But he has long worked as a writer for radio, television and the stage. He has received several international awards for his theatre work, including the Sunday Times Playwriting Award, the World Drama Trust Award, and the Guinness Award for Ingenuity in association with the Royal National Theatre. His plays have been regularly produced by Alan Ayckbourn, and on BBC Radio by Martin Jarvis. His first book, Tiny Deaths, was nominated for the Edge Hill Story Prize and the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, and won the World Fantasy Award. His second collection, Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical, was published in 2010.
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I wasn't disappointed. Robert Shearman nails almost definitively the thoughts of many X-Files fans both during the nine seasons it ran and also in retrospect after its demise.
Like others who have posted reviews and also as suggested by Mr Shearman himself, I didn't always agree with his critique of many episodes as he tore to bits some of my very favourites but his reviews were entertaining and, to be fair, allowed me to think of some in a new light.
His summing up of the final, monumentally dreadful final episode coincides I imagine with the thoughts of most X-Files fans. A groundbreaking, influential and brilliant TV series reduced to a court room melodrama; a very bad one. Hopefully it will be remembered for what it was. For me, the best episodic television ever made.
I never took to The Lone Gunmen spin-off. The characters were never interesting enough to command their own series. And Millenium largely passed me by. It seemed to have promise but TV scheduling north of the border meant I was never sure when it was on and it was always after 11pm anyway. No "catch up TV" in those days.
At the end of the day, what this book has done is made me want to dig out my box set of DVD's and watch all of the X-Files again. Not convinced I'll get away with that one though. She was never a fan.
But after all the truth is out there. Only it wasn't. Not really.
Oh, and I must watch the second movie. It sounds really good!
After the recent trend of rather dry books in essay format with a variety of contributors (some of which are inevitably more interesting than others), it's a relief to find that the traditional unauthorised episode reviews haven't completely fallen out of favour, and this book is one of the better examples of a guide where you really do feel like the author is giving honest appraisals of all episodes. Even seasons 7-9, where it's widely acknowledged that standards started slipping, the reviews never fall into the trap of coming across as too much of a bitter fan in the way that made the similar Buffy unofficial companion rather unpleasant to read by the end. But then nor is it completely gushing and uncritical by any means. The author finds the right balance and I would highly recommended this book
Part of the fun in reviewing this series is the wildly inconsistent nature of the show. The under-achieving, or plain dull, episodes stand out so much more when just a week before, or after, was some miniature masterpiece of TV. Shearman really captures the spirit of this, writing both with the insight of a professional sci-fi scriptwriter and the enthusiasm of a genuine fan (but without sinking to sycophancy by any means).
Any X-File fan will tell you that things went downhill in a big way in the last 2 or 3 years, but to be fair Shearman finds hidden gems even in Season's 8 and 9, although is unafraid to utterly tear apart Chris Carter's final installment and lack of control over the mythology arc as a whole.
TV is a writers medium, and it's fun to keep track of his thoughts on the many regulars. He points out wildly inconsistent writing skills of Carter (brilliantly daring as much as prententious drivel), the considerable and consistent talent of Vince Gilligan (now famous for Breaking Bad), the fleeting genius of Darin Morgan, the anarchic boundary pushing of Gordon and Wong and the perpetually second-rate John Shiban.
I read the bulk of this book in one sitting, which is unheard of for this kind of TV episode critique, but it really was that good. I couldn't wait to see what he wrote about some of my personal faves, or pet hates. Guess I'll have to dust off those boxsets now, and open up a new file for my own reviews all over again. Highly recommended.