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 The X-Files

Mulder Looses it, big time

If Chris Carter wants to learn how comedy and drama can be combined successfully in The X-Files, Dreamland can teach him a thing or two. It's about flying saucers at Area 51 going wonky and causing warps in the fabric of Reality, such as making two objects occupy the same space - nasty if one of the objects happens to be alive. There's another side-effect too, one which affects Mulder and Morris Fletcher, an Area 51 employee: when a UFO passes in close proximity to them, it somehow causes the two to have an entire personality exchange. Cue Quantum Leap-style visuals, as Mulder looks in the mirror to see Morris staring back at him, and vice versa.

Unsurprisingly, this freaks Mulder out in a big way, especially when he has to deal with Morris's wife and children in some hilarious domestic scenes - the wife is particularly upset when he calls her Scully. But Morris is having a whale of a time as Mulder, smoking and schmoozing in a very un-Mulderish manner, all of which confuses the hell out of his partner. In fact, it's almost as though he'd planned the body-swap from the start…

This is classy stuff in every department. Michael McKean (probably best known as David St Hubbins from This is Spinal Tap) and David Duchovny's acting as the two Morris/Mulders is to be particularly savoured, and Gillian Anderson is on form too.

Episode F4
First Aired: 29 November 1998
Reviewed by Gareth Wigmore

Who needs widescreen and gimmicks? Strong story-telling, clever dialogue, and good acting like this are ultimately much more impressive.


Ra-Ra-Rasputin (sorry, couldn't resist)

Doctor Who: The Wages of Sin

There is a bookshop in Edinburgh called Grant & Shaw, which conjures images of Liz Shaw poring over some antique first edition only for Jo Grant to stumble in and spill coffee over it. And if you think that's not funny, it's still more humour than you're likely to encounter in The Wages of Sin, which relates the first joint enterprise of those two characters - and the Doctor, of course - and whose cover informs us that the contents are both 'gritty' and 'well-researched'. One would expect no different from a David McIntee historical novel, driven by the impact of Rasputin's imminent death on Russian history. But when the author's note inform that pre-revolution Russia still used the Julian calendar, I resolved that that particular well-researched factoid had better be relevant. Or else.

A problem with David's work is unattractive prose - as if his diligent research and the necessity of constructing a plot round it leave little time for the actual writing. Continuing the improvement most evident in his shorter Degrees of Truth, with this political thriller he has gone a long way toward addressing this and it transcends what I still see as unimpressive presentation.

Only occasionally does David's worst habit - untimely, unnecessary information dump - intrude. Characters interrupting their own plot discussion to debate the etymology of the Russian word for 'railway station' is the most stunning example, and what remains infuriating about this is that it could so easily be avoided. However, though this does detract from the novel as a whole, there's no denying that the story is intriguing and the climax, in particular, is impressively tight - and David did catch me out several times when I thought I'd picked up on something unconvincing, such as the acceptance of a female scientist in 1916.

Written by David A McIntee
Reviewed by David Darlington
BBC Books • Price: £4.99
Out: 1 February 1999
ISBN 0-5635-5567-X

The calendar issue turned out to be unimportant as I'd suspected - but that seemed less annoying since against expectations, I quite enjoyed this book. Fans of David's work who find my criticism unduly harsh could consider how it might be improved yet further with severe, critical polishing.

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