This whole endeavor started out as a totally different project. Originally, I had anticipated writing a series of articles analyzing Dr. who from an outsiders perspective. I would sample a single series from each doctor and give my thoughts hoping to realize maybe why it’s become as popular as it has. I even went so far as to write an opening salvo of sorts. However, my sensibilities have taken a turn, and a particular fire has been lit under my ass. I now feel that my talents are to be taken in the direction of a comparison article and more to the point, why I feel The X-Files is a much better show overall. I can already see the multitude of torches and pitchforks heading my way, but I will defend my passion for this show to the absolute death, and nothing can sway me as such.
When the X-Files first aired back in 1993, nothing like it had ever before been seen on television. A serialized science fiction/ horror show that deftly dealt with themes of paranoia, mistrust, and forces within our government, plotting secret agendas behind our back. It was a bold step creatively and also very relevant to the time that it was airing.
Sure, there have been plenty of shows that have come on the air through the ages that have all been relevant to the time they were in. Honestly, I don’t think any one piece of pop entertainment has so expertly weaved the fantastical elements of sci-fi with the cultural ideas the country faced at the time. The X-Files made you believe that topics like alien abduction, human hybridization, and genetic mutations could be talked about without it being turned into the butt of a joke. It knew when to have fun with its often out of left field ideas and mix that with a serious mentality of the whatever subject matter it was tackling. It wasn’t a self-parody, or strictly a satire of the goofier tropes in this often teased genre. The main thrust of the show didn’t revel in the slapstick elements of comedy or didn’t rely on its strict/cheaper budget to gain cult status or reach any audience. In his creation, Chris Carter gave us the ability to indulge ourselves in a slice of television fried gold that could entertain first but also take its self very seriously without turning up its nose to the audience.
Dr. Who, in my humble opinion, is not without merit but certainly far away from impacting the genre in any real or meaningful way outside of surface elements. Outside of the fact that it’s one of the longest running television shows in history, I can’t think of a single thing that it has added to the contemporary culture in any impactful way. I mean, one could probably get out on a limb and say that without Dr. Who there would be no X-files, but that’s a long shot and here’s why.
One of the biggest differentiators between the shows is tone and subject matter. Yes, they both play in the realm of science fiction. Yes, both deal with alien life on some level as well. However, that’s where the similarities I feel end. The X-Files takes its approach to the existence of extraterrestrials in a more (in as much as they can) straight forward and sinister manner. Many plot lines and much of the mythology concerning our own government’s ties and cooperation with little green men. Dr. Who, on the other hand, treats the existence of alien life in broader strokes and with more of a kitschy vibe. It exists in a world where aliens and alternate life forms are like a common as anything else. This isn’t necessarily a demerit against its favor, I just feel the scope of the show emits too much of a “cult” vibe with certain episodes that takes away from overall entertainment.
I like that The X-Files attempts to take the high road and deal with this sort of knowledge in as grounded a way as they can. While some of the latter seasons stretch the credibility a bit, it doesn’t go so far out of the realm of possibility. The show can’t be taken seriously, especially when dealing with more cosmic minded concepts. Another point in X-Files favor is the conspiratorial nature of many of its larger myth arc episodes. That it’s able to weave a certain level of mystery and intrigue about the allegiances of our government in congruence to its “working” relationship with any alien force that exists is a fascinating concept. It also nicely parallels the mistrust that many people have today with our current governing body. I have to applaud any form of popular entertainment that not only entertains you but dares you to think about the larger picture and challenges you to not accept everything at surface level. Last time I checked, I don’t see any these high-minded ideals at play or at least at the center of Dr. Who’s mission statement. Again, I’m basing this off of my experience Dr. Who so take that as you will.
Listen, I know and fully recognize that Dr. Who is a worldwide cultural juggernaut the likes of which has rarely been seen. I also recognize that it’s certainly a show that has its share of value amongst other shows of its ilk. However, whether you think I’m being accused of journalistic bias or not, the fact of the matter remains that X-Files is by and large a much more relevant and impactful slice of television. Just because a show has been on the air for 40 years doesn’t mean that all 40 of those years are worth watching or even mentioning in the conversation about all time classic status.
The ever-rotating cast of characters is a novel concept. I even like the serial nature of the earlier seasons of Dr. Who, but for my viewing experience I think they’ve placed too much of their emphasis on the campy aspects of the show. I’m not here to say Dr. Who sucks because I’d be lying to myself. The show, when at its peak, is very highly entertaining.
Probably the biggest argument one could make for one over the other is an emotional investment. From season 1 you are emotionally invested in Agents Mulder and Scully and are invited with them on their perilous journey to find out the truth in the shadows and make sense of the conspiratorial world around them. These episodes aren’t just about flying saucers and monsters living in the sewers; that’s all just window dressing. The core of the story that keeps you coming back is how the characters grow and mature together as friend’s partners and later as lovers. The nature of regeneration at the heart of Dr. Who is more of like cheat in an effort to get a new actor to play the title role. Sure, you can make the argument that it’s the same alien inhabiting a different body, but every actor that has taken up the mantle imbues it enough with their own style that it feels just different enough every time. You’re not investing in the character itself but the idea of an immortal time lord as he hops about the space-time continuum. I don’t care what you say, to me connective tissue between seasons is kind of important and other than some of the companions carrying over, there really isn’t much concrete evidence that each tenure is connected at all.
As the X-files brings on new characters throughout its run, they stay on in the periphery as important and integral keys to the overall narrative that plays out over nine seasons. Once you reach the end of the 2nd season, there’s a clear end game in sight that more or less plays out over the rest of the show. The disjointed nature of Dr. Who and it’s more episodic and separated nature doesn’t really lend itself to this kind of epic single narrative structure.
I could go on all day about this particular topic so I’ll bring it to a close right here. X-Files and Dr. Who are two very different types of science fiction. Dr. Who is a more broadly entertaining show that often weaves in light comedic moments and revels in the cult fandom it has achieved. The X-Files deals in the darker and murkier aspects of science fiction. It’s a more serious minded show that while entertaining to watch, endeavors more to show us the reality that we live in is strange. It leans heavy on the actual science in order to explain things outside of our understanding. Both are good shows worth your time and investment should you decide to watch, but for my money and my belief structures. X-Files just challenges me in ways Dr. Who never could.