Do you miss The X-Files? Audible has the answer The X-Files: Cold Cases, a full-cast audio dramatization starring David Duchovny (Fox Mulder), Gillian Anderson (Dr. Dana Scully) and the entire X-Files cast. The story is based on Joe Harris’s graphic novels and adapted by Dirk Maggs (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Alien: Out of the Shadows). Directed by William Dufris (AudioComics), Cold Cases is set after the events of the second X-Files Movie, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, and begins with a data breach at FBI headquarters, and pulls “Moose and Squirrel” (as the fandom affectionately knows them) out of the blessed, but boring, anonymity of family life as “the Blakes” back into the maelstrom of conspiracies and aliens.
Cold Cases provides a link between I Want to Believe and the 2016 miniseries revival as a shadowy (of course) group gain access to old, unsolved cases of The X-Files bureau of the FBI. Of course Mulder’s signature snarkily deadpan cynical aloofness plays off Scully’s world-weariness as she’s pulled out of clinical practice and back into the fray.
The audio book (really, a radio play) features appearances from series favorites in their original roles: Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi); the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) and his Morelys; and Lone Gunmen (Tom Braidwood, Dean Haglund, and Bruce Harwood).
I caught up with executive producer Dirk Maggs at this year’s Comic-Con (SDCC) to talk about The X-Files: Cold Cases. Maggs has worked in radio and audio as writer, director, and producer for years, collaborating with everyone from Neil Gaiman (Neverwhere and Starburst—and an unnamed upcoming project) to Douglas Adams (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy), and actors from James MacAvoy to Hugh Laurie to Benedict Cumberbatch, who keep returning the medium again and again, despite successful film careers.
Maggs enjoyed series when originally aired in the ’90s. Although he only “caught three or four, maybe five episodes per series up to about series five,” he said “I loved what I saw, and I love the subtlety of Chris Carter. I think Chris was really clever because he introduced a very simple concept in which there are no easy answers. And what’s particularly interesting is, particularly now I’m working with the characters of Mulder and Scully, is that they’re actually very complex. I mean you can say, ‘Oh, yes, Mulder is the credulous believer and Scully is the cynical interloper,’ but actually, what’s great about them is that you feel the development happening.”
As a fan of the original series (and yes, I participated in all those alt.tv.xf message boards, and even wrote fanfiction!), I always saw Mulder on a Campbellian heroic quest (named for Joseph Campbell who wrote The Hero With a Thousand Faces, defining the archetypal mythological heroic journey for a new generation). Maggs agreed.
“Both of them encounter challenges to that belief system,” Maggs noted. “The Campbellian quest Mulder is on is continually thwarted by Murphy’s Law; If anything goes wrong, it will, and so at the end of the episodes, when you think there’s going to be a very clean decision there’s always that fog over it. It’s kind of like some French movies where you think you know what the ending’s going to be and then it just switches on you, but it doesn’t cheat on you. That’s one thing, it never cheats on you but it does keep you intrigued as to how they’re going to deal with it. You keep watching because you don’t know quit what’s going to happen, and they don’t cheat you when they do it. It’s a valid turn. It’s planted, it’s organic, you know it’s going to happen. It’s not a rug-pull.”
Maggs became involved with the project while he was directing the Alien Audible series. “A friend, William Dufris, who would be directing The X-Files: Cold Cases told me he was doing it and I said ‘oh you lucky stiff, I’d really love to be involved.'”
The next thing he knew, Maggs had been asked to executive produce the project. “I said you know what, if that means standing around with a stop watch and a clip board, I’d rather not. If I’m going to do it, I want to be involved.” So Maggs was brought on board to write scripted adaptations as well as produce The X-Files: Cold Cases.
Post-production, was also key to the quality of the project, and Maggs brought in top sound designers work their magic before he “sprinkled the final layer of fairy dust on it, and kind of did the final mix, the bits of tweaking here and there.” He really wanted to nail it to “honor the trust, that Audible had put [in the team] to make it as good as we can get it. Yes, we’ve got the original cast, yes, we’re doing great stories, but this has to be really, really, good, as good as it can get. And what makes me very happy, Barbara, is that, when I was doing the final mix, the very, very final mix and I’ve got my head in my hands; I’m not watching, and this is the experience that the listener will have. You’re not watching Mulder and Scully on a screen as a third party. You’re in the room with them. It’s an immersive experience.”
He really wanted to nail it. As he said, “to honor the trust, that Audible had put [in the team] to make it as good as we can get it. Yes, we’ve got the original cast. Yes, we’re doing great stories, but this has to be really, really, good. As good as it can get. And what makes me very happy, is that, when I was doing the final mix, the very, very final mix and I’ve got my head in my hands; I’m not watching, and this is the experience that the listener will have. You’re not watching Mulder and Scully on a screen as a third party. You’re in the room with them. It’s an immersive experience.”
It’s a different experience than you have watching Mulder and Scully on the screen, Maggs explained. Perhaps a synergy between the words, the sound design, the actors and the listener. “The action or whatever, it will be coming [from the listener] as well as [the actors], in a way that the pictures never go.”
It truly is, especially when done well, an experience quite different than either reading or viewing. You get the audio cues, and the emotion from what you hear, but the way it plays out becomes more involving and immersive. You close your eyes and go along for the ride.
Maggs truly enjoys working in the medium of audio. “The beauty of this medium, is, first of all, you can create or destroy whole worlds. You can go into the mind of an ant and see the creation of the whole galaxy. The brain is such a wonderfully complex, computer-generated image machine. And add to that the scope of the wonderfully imaginative possibility of really high quality layered audio, that plays, for all intents and purposes like the movie.”
But in the mind. Maggs writes what he sees—the movie in his mind. “Except you don’t need a camera,” he noted, “because it’s explained enough in the writing. I never write something for radio, I just write the movie; then I worry about how I’m going to turn it into the sound.”
If Cold Cases becomes an audio series, I wondered, would it focus on the “monster of the week (MOTW)” or on the series mythology? Maggs replied, “Both.” Because The X-Files Cold Cases is based on the IDW comic books by Joe Harris. “Joe has gone back to classic X-Files. With characters who are not supposed to be alive anymore coming back.”
Aha! Like good old Flukeman? “Could be,” Maggs agreed, noting he probably shouldn’t have told me that. There are many of the old touchstones in the Audible project. “Certain characters,” Maggs explained, “the sound of a cigarette lighter lighting a cigarette, for example, is in the thing. There are certain actors who’ve returned. Because the thing about this story is, it very cleverly done, Joe’s done a brilliant job. He’s gone back and he’s picked all those sort of leitmotives, out of the various seasons of X-Files and brought them together in one story.”
The result is “you get a story that’s monster of the week; you get a story that’s the black oil. You get this feeling of the conspiracy. In the comic, Joe has taken all of this stuff, and he’s generated stories for Cold Cases. Each is a different length,” as each story demands.
The story lengths within the four-plus hours of the Audible dramatization are driven by the needs of the story, not, as in television constrained by the need for four acts with commercial breaks. Maggs explained, “It’s real variation, and yet all the way through, there’s a sort of overarching plot that runs through it. As you go along, more bits of the big story come into play, while we’re dealing with the immediate issue.”
For Maggs, this attraction “is that we can create any kind of world at all. We can go anywhere, do anything. I just try to make it visual as possible. I try to use the language and film in the scripting and in the sound design. So that what you’re hearing, sounds like it ought to have a picture somewhere, but then you realize, ‘No, no! I’ve got the picture up in here (in the head)’. And the other thing about it, the actors come in. Gillian or David come in, there’s no makeup there’s no sitting in the trailer, they just sit at the mic, stare at the script and they, fall into the character.
And so they do! The X-Files: Cold Cases is a great trip back into the world of Mulder and Scully. I hope there are others on the horizon.
You can get a copy of Audible’s The X-Files Cold Cases at Audible.