For a fandom that’s always looking for more adventures of Mulder and Scully, Joe Harris and Audible delivered with “The X-Files: Cold Cases” on July 18. The audiobook is based on the Season 10 comics from IDW Publishing written by Harris and executive produced by Chris Carter that were released starting in 2013. The stories take place after I Want to Believe but before the television Season 10 that aired in 2016. You don’t need to be familiar with the comics to get enjoyment out of the audiobook, as the stories are more fleshed out than they were on the page. I had read the issues when they first came out so I could picture some of the scenes very easily, and while that was entertaining, I know I would have been fine without it. There are six chapters in total, with a brief introductory chapter, and then five different story arcs. Like the TV series, there is some mythology and some “monster of the week” throughout the chapters but there is a definite through-line idea throughout the whole experience.
So does what does this comic-book-turned-radio-play experience have in store? Does The X-Files work well in audio format? Find out more after the jump.
We’ll begin our recap with Chapter 2, as the story starts there, after an introduction in Chapter 1. Chapter 2 follows the “Believers” arc in issues 1 through 5 of the Season 10 comics. This first story is very much a mytharc story and a nice reintroduction of our heroes. We find Mulder and Scully living together as a married couple with the last name Blake. They’ve been hidden by the witness protection program. Scully is working as a doctor and Mulder appears to be writing his memoirs. Walter Skinner, now deputy director, finally, gets in touch with the pair after a security breach at the FBI shows someone or something is looking for information on agents who had been assigned to the X-Files.
After their meeting, Scully is attacked at her clinic while Mulder saves Skinner from an attack by the same group.
As the story weaves on, some familiar faces return. We get brief flashes of Agents Doggett and Reyes, now separated but still affected by their ties to the X-Files. We dig up the Lone Gunmen, literally, in a bunker under Arlington National Cemetery and find that they’ve been working to help the government in exchange for witness protection. Old Smokey is back too, but unlike in the TV series, this version of the Cigarette Smoking Man appears to be some type of clone that doesn’t always function very well. Some elements of the old mythology like missing time and magnetite make a good jumping off point for the introduction of a new alien force known as the Acolytes. And despite everything Scully did to try and keep him safe, William is still very much of interest to these Acolytes. The action of the story takes us to the wilderness of Wyoming and ends with a showdown between Scully, Mulder, and this new faction.
At the end, Scully meets with the FBI’s OPR to try and explain what happened in Wyoming and asks to be reactivated. We hear from the CSM again and get more of an idea of what he’s really become and how the Syndicate may be using him now. We end with a sweet moment between Mulder and Scully at home.
“Cold Cases” gets off to a very strong start with this chapter, if you’re a fan of the mytharc. I love that we’re “seeing” so many familiar faces and getting back to some of the weirder alien elements. I think having the CSM be some sort of clone makes a lot more sense than the way we saw him onscreen in the TV series’ Season 10. It can get frustrating to have Mulder and Scully separated for so much of the action but hearing how they fight to get back to each other warms the heart. It’s not The X-Files if we don’t get a few good SCULLLAAAYYYYYYYYY’s!
Though we see Scully taken again, she manages to fight for herself just fine. She gets to kick a lot of ass in this and I’ve missed that side of her. I also think Mulder’s weird sense of humor is captured well. The biggest thing I took issue with, however, was the re-working of William’s parentage. The “I forgot she had a baby” and the constant “my son” made me want to put my foot through a wall. I think it’s fine to play with canon but we do know that William is their son, not just Scully's. Overall, I think the thing I liked most about this chapter is that we see how it’s possible to have tension while keeping Mulder and Scully in a committed relationship. They’ve grown as characters and them being together doesn’t overwhelm the story. No breakup or stupid dates with Tad needed.
Chapter 3 takes us back into Monster of the Week territory and follows Issues 6 and 7 titled “Hosts.” The title alone should tell you exactly which monster from the past pops up in this one.
We start in Mulder’s old stomping grounds of Martha’s Vineyard where a young woman is attacked while swimming. Mulder and Scully share a cute moment in the basement office before meeting their new assistant director, Anna Morales. Morales assigns them the case, which looks suspiciously similar to one they dealt with years before, good ol’ flukeman. Morales sends Scully to re-examine Fluky while Mulder heads to the Vineyard to investigate. There he meets a sheriff who happens to be from Ukraine, and who has more insight into this monster than he initially lets on. Mulder gets to do most of the field work in this one, but as usual lands himself in a world of hurt that Scully has to fix. Before he gets hurt Mulder discovers that Fluky wasn’t exactly the only one of his kind.
I think “Hosts” is a fun jump back into the world of monsters. Flukeman is a good choice, in that Scully joked he would be the one thing she would change if given the chance. I also enjoyed the backstory of the creature, though I felt at times it dragged on a little too long. The Mulder and Scully banter is pretty great as well, though I could have done without the “Mulder scoping out the beach babes” bit. Getting back in the autopsy bay with Scully was a blast, and while, again, it was kind of a bummer to have our heroes separated, they kept things moving nicely with all the phone conversations so it wasn’t too bad. The line “we now have flukemen crawling out of every inlet of the sewage chamber” will keep you up at night.
Chapter 4 follows Issue 8 and is titled “Being for the Benefit of Mr. X” so I bet you can guess which ghost shows up in this episode. We start off with more basement banter and a snoozing Mulder who claims he was meditating instead. Their sparring is interrupted by mysterious beeping messages on Mulder’s phone. The last one is a garbled voice that sends him to his old apartment at Hegal Place. This sends Mulder chasing the ghost of his old informant after the things they find at #42 seem to be more than just coincidence. The original Mr. X is still very much dead and his clone has a physiology we’ve seen before. We get some great insight into X’s backstory and how he almost went public with what he knew back in 1987 but Deep Throat had talked him out of it. The look at how far the Syndicate would go to test their work is truly disturbing.
I enjoyed the historical aspect of this episode, especially the part about how X ended up pointed towards Mulder. We know a little bit about what Mulder was up to before he and Scully were partners, so, for me, any additional insight is welcome. The school shooting with the test subjects can be pretty hard to listen to, and I found myself thinking it would have worked just as well to choose some other horror to demonstrate how far the Syndicate would go with their goals. In an episode that’s pretty dark overall, I think that made Frohike’s eavesdropping on Mulder and Scully’s phone call that much funnier. It makes you wonder what else he’s heard over the years….. I will say, I definitely missed Steven Williams as X and Jerry Hardin as Deep Throat.
Chapter 5 is the shortest of the book, and probably also my least favorite. The story is based off Issue 10 and is titled “More Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man.” In an effort to learn more about the man he is supposed to be, the clone of CGB Spender is sorting through an archive. We follow the CSM through the Bay of Pigs in 1961, Homestead Air Force Base in 1962, Fort Bragg in 1970, Rhode Island in 1965, the State Department in 1972, and back to the present day. We learn more about his interactions with Bill Mulder, Teena Mulder, and young Fox. The memory with Cassandra Spender is heartbreaking and shows how broken that relationship was from the start. The ending explains more about what this CSM really is, and how little power he has compared to the original. He’s but a tool of Prime Elder. He may look like the Cancer Man of old but this time he’s a pawn in the game.
I’ll admit I’m not much of a fan of the TV episode “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” so I wasn’t too excited about this one as it started. But for fans of the CSM, I think it’s a must-listen. William B. Davis does an excellent job, Spender’s words are just as slimy and loaded as they are on screen. I did appreciate getting more of the backstory of Spender, and I love that he’s back in a way that seems more plausible than “Nah, we just burned part of him even though you watched his flesh burn away from his skull in 2002.” I also like that despite the fact that this is a CSM heavy episode, Mulder and Scully are still part of the action by introducing us to the story and bouncing ideas around.
Chapter 6 is the longest of the episodes and brings us back into heavy mytharc territory. Titled “Pilgrims,” this follows Issues 11 through 15. We begin, like any good X-Files episode, with Mulder’s underwear. Ok, maybe we shouldn’t start every episode that way but it’s pretty funny. Mulder and Scully have been called to Saudi Arabia to investigate an incident at an oil drill site. At first, the agents seem curious as to why they’ve been called in for such an incident, but as we all know, if there’s oil involved, it’s probably an X-File. Assistant Director Morales is back, and she accompanies the agents to the oil field to investigate. Of course, they don’t turn up much there, but Mulder is up to his old evidence-stealing tricks. He takes a card containing video of the incident he believes to have been edited. The agents go their separate ways, with Mulder headed to make contact with the Gunmen and Scully meeting with a woman who was injured in the incident at the oil field. After they split is when things start to get truly interesting. Another ghost from XF past appears, and who should it be? When I consult the notes I was taking while listening, all it says is ALEX FREAKING KRYCEK!!!! But as with our other returned-from-the-dead nemeses, Krycek isn’t exactly as he seems either. As the story unfolds, it would seem Krycek hasn’t been who we thought he was for a very very long time. Though just when you think he’s back, those pesky aliens come calling again.
With the black oil on the loose, Mulder and Scully head to the desert in search of UFOs. You’d think Mulder would have learned his lesson by now, but no. This time, it’s Scully’s turn to get abducted. Thankfully, the aliens were kind enough to drop both her and Krycek outside the Lone Gunmen’s bunker. We also get a return to Skinner’s apartment, who seems thrilled to have a chance to torment Krycek all over again.
Mulder is still in Saudi Arabia trying to make his way back to Scully but ends up an unlucky host to the black oil. This time the being made of black oil has a name, Sheltem.
Sheltem-as-Mulder makes his way home to Scully, who at first believes this to be Mulder but soon realizes her mistake. Sheltem is familiar in that he’s of the black oil but different in that he’s part of a race called the forsaken ones. After more disappearances and reappearances by both aliens and Syndicate, the story comes to a close in a familiar place, Skyland Mountain.
The tension builds to the very end, with new alien factions warring with those we’ve seen before, the Faceless Rebels. The chapter ends with some answers, but also plenty of questions, and another look at what CSM has become.
As far as mytharc goes, I thought this chapter was really well done. The blending of the old with newer ideas works well to keep things moving. I did question at first Mulder’s possession by Sheltem. If memory serves me correctly, he should be immune to the black oil after his exposure in Russia. But it seems that Sheltem is “different” enough that I could stretch to let that go. I was also glad there was one element they changed slightly from the comics. The comics insinuated that Scully had sex with Sheltem-as-Mulder, thinking he was Mulder, and that he hurt her, which I found really unnecessary. The X-Files has a history of problematic consent scenes, like “Small Potatoes” and “Post-Modern Prometheus” and I think they made the right choice in not including that scene in the audiobook beyond just a kiss.
Having Krycek return was fantastic, but Nick Lea was sorely missed. I loved how they traced Krycek’s abduction all the way back to the 1013 silo from Season 3’s “Apocrypha.” It would seem then that his actions from poisoning Skinner with the nanobots, to selling Mulder out with the UFO in “Requiem,” to his actions in “Existence” were all the work of this clone from the Syndicate, and not Krycek himself.
It also wouldn’t be an X-Files episode without someone making some kind of joke about Mulder’s porn habits. I’m sure David Duchovny was thrilled that that joke made its way from TV to audio. I also got a kick out of Scully’s “I should pull the fire alarm more often.” I liked that she got to take charge of the investigation at points, and how she knew the faceless rebels were coming at the end. A nice throwback to “The Red and the Black.”
A few final thoughts now that we’ve wrapped up the series. I liked the stories, but at times I found them a little hard to follow. Though, I also found myself getting so engrossed in the story I couldn’t listen while driving because I would get too distracted! And while I’m sure voice acting in a booth by yourself without your co-stars isn’t easy, I did find Mulder and Scully to be a little stiff at times. I think the quality of some of the dialogue they were given probably added to that. But they did have some great moments of banter between the two of them and let’s be real, I’d listen to Mulder and Scully read the phone book at this point. Mulder’s sarcasm and deadpan humor comes through really well, and I appreciated that Scully got the chance to be snarky and funny as too. Also, because it’s audio, there’s even more exposition than we’d get on the TV series which sometimes feels silly.
Of all the stars who returned to their characters, I think Mitch Pileggi knocked it out of the park. His Skinner felt spot on to me, just as gruff and no-nonsense as we’ve come to expect. His interactions with Krycek were some of my favorite things. It was a joy to have Tom Braidwood, Dean Haglund, and Bruce Harwood back as the Lone Gunmen, as well as William B. Davis, and they also felt pretty in character as well. I do think it’s a shame that for whatever reason they weren’t able to get Robert Patrick, Annabeth Gish, and Nick Lea to reprise their roles as Doggett, Reyes, and Krycek. Having other actors playing those voices we knew so well was really distracting, to the point I sometimes forgot who was supposed to be talking.
Overall, I really enjoyed the series and I think it’s well worth a listen for any fan of the show. Small criticisms or no, it’s a fun ride and makes a great accompaniment to any road trip or other places you might take an audio book. If “Cold Cases” left you hungry from more, you’re in luck. Audible has announced a second book in the series. “The X-Files: Stolen Lives” will be available on October 3, 2017. You can pre-order it here. So, we’ve got that to look forward to as we wait for Season 11 to air in 2018.