The X-Files Lexicon's exclusive interview with Robert Shearman, author of "Wanting To Believe: a critical guide to The X-Files, Millennium & The Lone Gunmen"
Interview conducted by Matt Allair (03/08/2010)
Page editor: XScribe
Nearly a year ago, before its summer release, I heard about a book that was impending, and I was rather intrigued. I had previously heard of Robert Shearman, but I had no idea what kind of book this was going to be. I was left to speculate if this book, "Wanting to Believe," was going to be some dry, academic exercise, analyzing the themes and arcs of the series, or if it was going to be something along the lines of an episode guide. So, it was interesting when I discovered that the latter was the case. I certainly wanted to pursue an interview, but alas, I had no leads. None of my contacts with Frank Spotnitz's Big Light Productions nor the remaining team at 1013 Productions had any affiliation with the book, and my initial attempts to reach anyone at Mad Norwegian Press came up empty. I was just about resigned that the opportunity would never happen, until I came across Idealist Haven member, Libby, who mentioned, on a thread, meeting Mr. Shearman. At first I took this to mean she had met him at a public book signing, which would have been a rather common situation, but after pursuing it, to my pleasant surprise, I found out she knew Mr. Shearman personally.
There was the remaining suspense of not knowing if he would agree to an interview, but he readily agreed. From that point, events unfolded rather quickly. For anyone who needs an introduction to Mr. Shearman, he has enjoyed an illustrious career. He has written for the Doctor Who series, reintroducing the Daleks in an episode nominated for a Hugo award. He began his career in the theatre, and has received several international awards for his theatrical work, including The Sunday Times Playwriting Award, the World Drama Trust Award, as well as the Guinness Award for Ingenuity in association with the Royal National Theatre. His plays have been produced on stage as well as for BBC Radio. His first book, Tiny Deaths, was a World fantasy Award winner, and was nominated for the Edge Hill Story Prize, as well as the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. His most recent collection of short stories, Love Songs For The Shy and Cynical, has recently been released. In fact, the courtship of his wife involved watching X-Files episodes during the mid nineties.
As a contrast to his growing reputation, I found Mr. Shearman to be very pleasant, down to earth, funny, candid, without any pretense or airs, and insightful. He also seemed like a mild mannered, and gentle soul. The interview proceeded as follows...
Inspirations and creative process / About the book
Matt Allair: First off, thank you again for taking the time to do this, I am very aware of your illustrious career; I really appreciate your taking the time to speak with me.
Robert Shearman: That's perfectly all right.
Matt Allair: As a child growing up, which forms of literature or writers had the greatest impact on you?
Robert Shearman: There was a children's writer named Enid Blyton*. I'm not too sure how popular she is in the states, but at the time I was growing up in the 70s, she just recently died, I think she had written about two hundred books, and I used to have quite a lot of those. I think I took to them actually, because I fell in love with the idea of writing, and I admired the shear output (volume of material). I have always been drawn to writers and to filmmakers who basically produce an awful lot (of material); I really like seeing a huge body of work. I started writing based upon that, ultimately. When I was a teenager--early teens--I began to be drawn to Shakespeare, partly because I began to find the idea of acting to be interesting. I was a dreadful actor, but I began to read everything I could, which is pretty much where I am now. I read all the time. To be a writer, you need to be reading. As far as specific influences, I just tr[ied] to read everything I possibly could.
Matt: At what age were you drawn to the Science Fiction and Horror genres, and what was it that appealed to you?
Robert: You see, I don't really like Science Fiction very much. I know that sounds like a weird thing to say, because I write for Doctor Who, and I'm obviously a big fan of The X-Files, but I never saw them as being Sci Fi in a funny way. I was twelve years old when I discovered Doctor Who, and I had been hiding away from it for some years because I thought it was more scary than it was. My younger sister would watch it and I would hide while she did that. I thought it would be just too terrifying. I began watching it and I realized that every single week, the style of stories would be good; you'd have comedy stories, you'd have stories that were back in time, you got stories which were horror stories, or involving spaceships. They would be different every single time and you could never be quite sure what it was, and as a result, I got drawn more to it because of its versatility.
Robert: Doctor Who was canceled by the BBC when I was nineteen years old, and I spent my early twenties very much wishing that there was another show out there, which I was hoping had a similar style. I remember hearing about The X-Files, which was being broadcast on a satellite channel over here, and it didn't quite appeal to me at first, because it sounded like a horror series, and at that stage, I didn't really like the idea of horror--I'm actually quite squeamish. And then, when I actually began to fall in love with it, was when it began to be a show that was obviously different every week. It had that nice anthology feel. Ultimately, what X-Files was go good at doing was that it really could be a comedy one week, a science fiction show the next week, or a horror story, or something like a romance. Even now, I don't really see Sci Fi very much as a genre, I do write it, and I do write horror, but I don't think of them in that way, I just sort of find things to pick up, and put into the canvas as a writer.
Matt: I'm always fascinated by others' creative process. Regarding your fictional work, to what degree do personal experiences influence the kind of work that you produce?
Robert: Constantly, what you draw on as a writer is everything that is around you. I find it very hard to write which isn't in some ways personal. Even doing The X-Files and Millennium book really, half way was about exploring the relationship I have with my wife, because that's how we got together. Although The X-Files book is probably the least personal thing I have ever done, it still feels quite personal.
Matt: Personally, do you find that Science Fiction and Horror are safer genres to work in when dealing with taboo subjects within society?
Robert: Probably not really, because people seem to be more offended, I think when you put within a genre, which is seen as being escapist, something which is an awful lot more confrontational. I think you can do it skillfully of course. I remember the old Star Trek series when they dealt with race, when other shows might not have been able to. But I think nowadays you can actually have a show on air which might not get a very big audience, but which actually is sort of issue-based, whereas X-Files or Millennium and the likes of those, as well, can do big issue things, but they possibly offend more because they're putting themselves in front of a big audience who might feel that they went there under false pretenses. I don't know if it's actually easier. I think that it's often more skillfully done, and more subtly done.
Matt: You've worked in theatre, television, and fictional prose; is there a certain field you have a preference for?
Robert: I'm very fond of prose at the moment. My second book is going down well. I think we might get a few award nominations for it possibly, there's talk about that. My first book did rather well. I'm enjoying prose very much, but I think I'll always be drawn back eventually into writing for theatre because theatre was the first thing. It's sort of like my first love, I haven't done it for a while, but I'm going back to it this year. I'm going to do some more theatre, which I am very excited about.
Matt: Could you tell me a little about Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical?
Robert: That's my second book of short stories, sort of very odd stories, which basically are about some very, very quirky, comical, sometimes horror takes upon romance and love. For example, you get a story about in the garden of Eden, about the way the first love song ever conceived in the world, which is composed by a pig who is in lust with Eve. Or you get a story about possibly what happens when a woman is so unable to leave behind her love for her dead cat that the dead cat is there on her bed. It is all but with her for the rest of her life. It is there when she first gets married. It's about the ways in which we sort of try and deal with emotions and feelings, and things. It’s hopefully quite, quite funny, but some of it is quite horrific. It's an odd genre. It's a bit which some people have seen as being Science Fiction and some people put it in the horror category. I think of it as fiction really. I think it's a bunch of funny stories. There's that desire to put it into a genre sometimes, which is quite odd.
Inspirations and creative process / About the book
Matt: I realize you have a long association with Doctor Who, while the shows that Chris Carter was producing--The X-Files, Millennium, Lone Gunmen--are very different thematically. Have you found parallels between Doctor Who and the shows from 1013 Productions?
Robert: I think Doctor Who's versatility, which that it is a new show every week, is very, very similar particularly to the sort of episodes seen within The X-Files, where you're really can't be sure what sort of thing you'll be getting from week after week, which is what I really admire about the X-Files actually.
Matt: I have read that the release of "I Want To Believe" prompted the desire to write this book; had you ever previously considered writing anything about your interest in The X-Files and Millennium?
Robert: Well, It's a funny thing. I'm quite fond of guide books. (Laughs) I think it's quite, good fun, if you're a fan of the show. It's great to watch the show and read about it at the same time, and I really wish there had been an X-Files book like that. I remember some years ago, when there was a spate of guide books in Britain for everything. There [were] tons of Buffy books coming out and Doctor Who guides--that kind of thing--and I said to somebody, I said to a publisher, "I'd love to have the excuse of watching The X-Files all over again." and he said, "Yes, but it's a dead show." (Nervous laugh) And I said, "I know, but it would be great," and he said, "But that's the whole point; it's a dead show, and no one seems to care much anymore," and I accepted that, sort of. I thought it was a shame. Then, at the time when "I Want to Believe" was being announced, I didn't believe that [the] movie was coming. I really thought it was one of those endless rumors that you hear about: The X-Files revival. And when I heard that it was genuinely happening, I went back to that publisher who had been asking me for something anyway, and said, "Forget all that. How about I do for you a book which genuinely covers the whole of The X-Files, and in good measure, I think it should cover Chris Carter's other X-Files–related [work]." Even though it would be unfair to call Millennium in any way a spin off of The X-Files, it still does share the same fictional universe a couple of times. I did offer that we cover all that, and because of the movie coming out, I think I was actually able to get away with it this time.
Matt: When did you first discover Millennium?
Robert: That was fairly instant. I think by the time that Millennium was given its first broadcast over here in Britain, I was already an X-Files fan. Millennium over here, when it started, was really trumpeted, and I think it was in the States, but over here there were documentaries about serial profilers going on, and it was being treated very much like it was going to be a really big hit show,... Which it then generally wasn't very, very quickly, I think mainly because all of the publicity which had been given to it over here. [I] thought of it as being something which was going to be like a sort of Sci Fi cop show, and there were other Sci Fi cop shows which were sort of being permeated in that time to sort of try and boost up Millennium as well, and they were writing special things about it. Obviously, once you begin watching Millennium it becomes clear it's not really about that at all. So, it didn't really find its audience very much over here, but I was with it from the start.
Matt: How long did it take to write the Critiques?
Robert: A few months--maybe, three or four months. It tended to be a sort of hobby. I'd been writing my own proper fiction as it were--my own proper book--and my own proper drama in the daytime, and in the evening my wife and I would get together and we would [watch] another two or three episodes, and what would happen is that I would watch one, then I would leave for half an hour, go away and write up a first draft critique of it, and then I'd watch another one. It was great fun for us, we got through them very quickly like that, [in] about a few months. I didn't really stop, I didn't really want to stop. I found it too exciting to carry on with it. Occasionally frustrating, you know, but also very exciting.
Matt: What role did your editor, Lars Pearson, play in creating the book?
Robert: He wrote the synopses, because I had no interest in doing that. I said to him from the word go, "I only want to write the critiques, because that's the fun part." I think because I'm a writer of my own stuff, I hate synopses. I find most of them extremely difficult. I find they tend to suffocate the drama of the stuff which I am trying to do, which is why I will usually never do them for my own stuff. The idea of having to go out there and do two-hundred and eighty-two synopses for somebody else's work did not fill me with any pleasure at all, and so Lars suggested that he do that. Which is why he was writing things, so basically when you read the book, all of the factual stuff has been complied by Lars, all the cast lists, and that sort of thing, and what I've done is the stuff which is contentious (laugh). I've done the stuff which will probably annoy people, which is all of the reviews.
Matt: Do you know if Chris Carter or Frank Spotnitz, are aware of your book? Have they offered any comments as of yet?
Robert: I have no idea. They are intelligent men. I suspect that they might be aware of the book's existence. I hope they don't care, because if they read the book, they'd probably be offended because it's just one person's view. I find this myself, you know, because I will read. I will go on-line and I'll do searches of other people who review my Doctor Who episodes, you know. You sit back and you go, "Well what do they know," and I'm sure that if Chris Carter read my book, you know it doesn't matter that I spend some of the book saying how great Duane Barry is; he'll read the bit where I say how awful I think Fight Club is, and that's perfectly all right. You always get drawn to the one bit where people are criticizing you. So, I hope that if Frank Spotnitz or Chris Carter [has] read my book that they threw it on the fire, and stamped on it, in the same way that I probably would have if someone had done that to me.
Matt: Humor seems to be an important element within your writing; did you have an affinity with such writers like Darin Morgan, or Vince Gilligan?
Robert: Oh, absolutely. I think Vince Gilligan is the great unsung genius of The X-Files actually, and I believe in always praising Darin Morgan for years, and rightly so. I think Darin Morgan reinvents The X-Files, but there's also, I think with Vince Gilligan's work, there is in some ways a greater freedom to explore the characters properly and also to try and explore the range of the series properly. I think that Darin Morgan is a brilliant iconoclast. I think that what Darin Morgan liked doing was sort of destroying stuff. He does it very, very well in Millennium actually. There's that great episode, Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense, but that's wonderful because actually, what it really does, it looks at Millennium: The series, and it holds up to the light and Darin Morgan points out everything that he thinks is wrong with it. He does the same thing with The X-Files, which is a rather more robust show, and what X-Files gets out of that is a sense of it sort of widening its parameters. But what I think Vince Gilligan did is that he was able to write many more and better-fitted episodes perhaps within the format. I think the difference is, Darin Morgan is a brilliant breaker of television shows, whereas Vince Gilligan's experiments were usually only there to sort of try and make the show all the richer.
Matt: What other writers from The X-Files and Millennium are your favorites?
Robert: I began to really admire the work of David Amann in the later series; I thought that he began to explore really great emotional sides to his characters. I was very much taken--I think everybody was--by the early X-Files work of Glen Morgan and James Wong, who had a great sense of humor to what they were doing, as well. I think that within Millennium I found that you begin to see certain names that you trust more than others. I know that I found Chip Johannessen's work on Millennium largely to be something I looked forward to more than others.
Matt: Television is generally known as a Producers medium. I was curious to get your take; did it seem like The X-Files and Millennium was more of a medium for writers and directors? Is that what distinguished it from other series?
Robert: I think so. I think mainly because Chris Carter seemed to be very, very generous about it. He was also a writer, he was also a director for the show, and therefore he seemed...I think as time went by, he seemed to not to impose a too much of a house style upon the series, which is what you'd expect from most television shows; they all look exactly the same as each other. I think once that began to lift, and he began the celebrate the idea of the shows format, that it had a sort of bending, versatile format. I think that's actually when you begin to see–"Okay, well you know, maybe this is a show where the director can come in and do something which is utterly different." He himself does it [in] shows like "Triangle," where he says, "Right, I am going to try and do this in a Hitchcockian way, try and do it in unbroken takes." The fact you've got a show which is successful enough where someone is prepared to say, "We are doing well; let's just see how far we can push ourselves," actually lends itself very much to writers and directors coming on and saying, "Okay well, we've got an idea; we can do something like 'X-Cops,' or 'Bad Blood,'" which constantly sort of defy what the audience is expecting from the show, and of course that means that both writers and directors are being given a far, far greater freedom.
Matt: What would you list as your absolute favorite X-Files episodes?
Robert: I think my favorite is probably "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" by Darin Morgan. Beautiful piece of work.
Matt: What would be your absolute favorite Millennium episodes?
Robert: I think that Millennium is something which...it's hard to sort of distinguish one from the others. There are some great episodes. I would find myself being drawn back to those two final episodes of season two, "The Fourth Horseman" [and] "The Time is Now." Whether they would be my favorite would be hard to decipher because they were so horrendously unpleasant, with the whole apocalypse going on, but I do find them extremely memorable. Perhaps it would be them.
Matt: There's a lot of speculation amongst Millennium fans about the nature of Frank Black's abilities, his visions. I was wondering about your take on it. Was he Psychic, or did he have strong intuition about the crimes and cases he explored?
Robert: Well, I think it changes, doesn't it? I think that the original intention of the show is very, very clearly to suggest that when we see those sort of flashes and things, this is a visual representation of his brilliant profiling ability. Later on in the show, and indeed by the end of season one actually, you're getting a sense that there's actually something much more supernatural, which I think is, in some ways, a shame, but also I think probably turned Millennium into a show which was much more than The X-Files' expectations. I think it was rather cleverer when it wasn't something which was psychic, but was something which was intuitive. But I think by the end of the show it becomes increasingly clear that this is a genuine psychic ability, because he makes mention of it so often, and people seem to expect it to be a psychic ability, and of course, you've got this lady, Lara Means, popping up and having her psychic abilities. It becomes something which I think dug into the continuity of the show. It is something, I'd have to say, which is psychic. I don't think it should be, but I think it is.
Matt: I was wondering if you are aware of the on-line campaign to get a Millennium feature film produced? Do you feel there's a compelling story left to tell with Millennium?
Robert: To be honest, not really. I think that the clue is in the title really. I think that Millennium was a show created, rather unfortunately as it turns out, that didn't actually allow it to last its time. It was a show created to rub up, and deal with pre-millennial anxiety and concerns, building up to the idea of turning to the year two thousand. I think you could have carried it on through that had it been continuous. I think that wouldn't have been the problem, I think it has a very interesting way of dealing with the way that we actually explored coming into a new thousand-year cycle. I think to start Millennium now in 2010 seems a bit silly, because it's not the Millennium anymore, we are ten years into the Millennium, and we have our problems, but I don't think that the world is post-apocalyptical now.
Matt: Do you feel that Fox Mulder and Frank Black are kindred spirits? Are they illustrating opposite ends of the same obsessions or commitments?
Robert: I think Frank Black is probably, in essence, a more well rounded character than Mulder. I think because that was the sort of way that Lance Henriksen was also being coached to play it, you get the sense of him being a man who has been given a realistic background, which has then been taken away. Mulder is somebody who right from the word go, in his Pilot, is a man with a mystery to solve about his past, and I think that the difficulty with that, as a character then, is that it does kind of reduce your leading man as something of a cipher. I think that what's brilliant about The X-Files is that you can see Duchovny come out of that cipher by the end of the first season, very much, but of course it does always haunt him. Always. You know there are some quite funny scenes later on in The X-Files where Scully walks up to Mulder and says, "Well, what is left for you to find, Mulder?" and he says, "Well I've still got to resolve this issue with my sister." Because of all of these issues he's got upon his shoulders. Mulder seemed to me to be therefore much more of a support point than Frank Black. I think that what Frank Black is put through, and what Frank Black is made to lose doesn't seem inevitable, it seems like a consequence of the story telling. I think the direction that Morgan and Wong took it is an example. I think that's probably the significant difference is that Mulder is much more of a concept to begin with, whereas Frank Black I think is more of a crafted character.
Matt: I noticed you were very critical of The Lone Gunmen spin-off; did you feel that the show was unnecessary? Or that the opportunity was squandered?
Robert: I think it's a mixture really, I know it sounds really, really harsh, but The Lone Gunmen is meant to be a comedy, and I didn't think it was very funny (laugh). I know I shouldn't speak being that I'm a comedy writer, and I'm sure [there are] people out there who could find my stuff not very funny, but I think that the problem really is that The Lone Gunmen has characters that worked really well when they were minor characters, who were actually a little bit creepy, particularly when they were first introduced in the first season, and of course as the show goes on, you warmed to them, as an audience, because that's what happens with characters. But by the time you actually get a spin off show featuring them, you kind of feel that their characters have been played out anyway, which is why they had to introduce Jimmy Bond, who is a far--and again this is meant to be no disrespect to the people involved--but is a far fresher character than any of the others because he's new, and because actually, I think he's a much funnier actor. So you've got this sort of weird situation, within the Lone Gunmen themselves, The Lone Gunmen series. The Lone Gunmen are not the most interesting characters in their own drama, and because tonally you've got a situation where... I mean, I seem to remember that Langly gets slapped, or faints, or throws up, I mean, you know, in almost every episode. It becomes I think a really poor series, and it's sort of hard to imagine that this is a series which is born out of that sort of darker paranoia of what The X-Files was back in the 90s. I think that's how the Lone Gunmen comes along. Pretty much the whole franchise is not running on empty, but it really needs something a bit fresher to keep it going.
Matt: I was curious to get your take: If The X-Files was a show that dealt with the meaning of spiritual faith, was Millennium dealing with the darker aspects of such faith?
Robert: I don't know. Possibly, I think that The X-Files could deal with it very darkly as well; I think it depends upon the story really. I think that at times there's a far greater sense of hope and optimism in Millennium, because I think that it seems to suggest increasingly a world in which spiritual forces are a part, and they can be actually present. Whereas in The X-Files, ultimately which is a show which is trying to deal with the unexplained, it's interesting that that is the one area that Mulder is a skeptic about, and that Scully is open to. That's what always seemed a little bit cagey about religion in The X-Files; it's often a bit egging. The episode that I am thinking of very much which I can't stand is an episode called "All Souls," which has God killing disabled girls for no very good reason, which is awful, and somehow it doesn't quite fit. It seems to play against what you'd expect [from] all the good mystery in The X-Files. Because the answer is that God did it, It doesn't feel like a very satisfying one. But I think with Millennium, by having it focus on the ideal spiritual battles suggests actually a view that is a little bit less realistic than The X-Files can often be.
Matt: Knowing that you're an established television writer, if in theory, you had ever had an opportunity to write an episode of The X-Files, or Millennium, what kind of story would you have wanted to tell? As a writer, were there areas that you felt were never explored enough with The X-Files and Millennium?
Robert: I would probably try to muck about with structure because that's what I really like doing. I would take a cue out of someone like Vince Gilligan's perspective. I would do another "Bad Blood." I would do another thing about forced perspective, like "Field Trip," because that's the sort of thing that really appeals to me as a writer. My background is in theatre, and theatre is all about structure. I really began to admire that sort of theatrical structure that you [can] get with those things, where you could really muck about with the order, [with] which you could tell a story, and the way you could present characters skewed from other people's perspective.
Matt: It's my understanding you haven't been really involved with the fan community for The X-Files, or Millennium prior to writing this book, so what would be your perception of the fan community be for both shows?
Robert: I don't have one actually. I really don't know. I sort of [tried] to keep away from everything when I was doing the book. The one thing about Doctor Who fans, for example, if I had a Doctor Who episode guide book now, there are some actually quite clever Doctor Who fans whom I meet at conventions all the time, and because of that, I am very aware that if you say, for example, that the episode I still recall, "The Time Monster" is any good, you're laughing in their face because "The Time Monster" is hated by most people. I went into this book, kind of just wanting to explore The X-Files just for myself, and see the whole thing in one go, without really knowing what people thought. I was at a friend's wedding recently, and the mother is a big X-Files / Millennium fan, as you know because you spoke to her. I said to her, "I don't know whether what I have written is heretical or not. I don't know that if saying that, for example, that "The Hand of St. Sebastian" I think is diabolically poor, and [is] actually now annoying [to] everybody," and she said, "No, actually that's quite a common opinion." (Laughs) But occasionally, I was aware that when I wrote [it], I didn't like "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'" very much. I knew that was an opinion that wasn't widely held. But I think what I am hoping is that what people get from the book if they read it, is that they have the absolute right to argue with me completely. I'm quite certain they're going through the book all the time, and they're reading it and their saying, "No you idiot, that episode is great; it's because of this, and you've missed the point," and that's perfectly okay too. In fact, that's part of the point of it, if you're reading the book as you're also watching the episodes, you have an excuse to visit them again and to disagree with me, which I think is part of the point, really. I had the idea of originally of trying to do the book with somebody else, and we would have two people review every episode, which would offer two points of view, but it would've been just too big a book, because there's just too many episodes, also, to be honest, I just don't have the patience to [have them] do it with me, because no one else wanted to spend that much time going through every X-Files episode. So that's why it's the way it is really.
Matt: Playing devil's advocate for a moment, some fans might wonder, what distinguishes this book from a typical official episode guide, or an on-line review?
Robert: Well, no others as far as I know--tell me if I'm wrong--there is nothing else which actually takes in the whole thirteen seasons within the perspective of one critic. What I try to do with everything is a complete overview, I wanted to write on these things obviously because I wish to find these things, as well. I wanted to find people who were giving reviews of the whole thing, and some people cover a lot and tend to give up. I think that no one--and I'm not saying that that's a fault--that no one tried to go into it fairly evenhanded, so that you would get people increasingly...I remember reading the very early reviews of what were called Autumn Tysko's, and I read a few of those sometime ago, and she gets very disenchanted with the series, but she's a great Scully advocate, and you can see increasingly that is what is actually fueling her, is her love for Scully and her love for Gillian Anderson. I don't really have that. I like Scully, I like Mulder. I didn't prefer either one of them particularly, and I think when I was working on the Millennium episodes, I didn't, at that point, prefer The X-Files to Millennium. I preferred Millennium for those episodes, in each case, when I came across The Lone Gunmen, which I just didn't like very much, but I always tried to think as a writer who also writes genre fiction, to try to judge it on its own terms. I don't mind if an episode is a mythology episode as long as it's well written. I don't mind a comedy episode or a horror episode as long as they work on their own terms. What I think you get, understandably from all sorts of on-line reviews is that you get a polarization to their own preference, and I was trying to not do that. I am a comedy writer. I also write science fiction, and so I was trying to respond to the episodes as they were being presented to us.
Matt: Watching all of these episodes at once for the book, did it give you an overall perspective or impression about what Chris Carter and 1013 Production had been able to achieve?
Robert: I think so. I was really impressed by Chris Carter actually. I probably take a few exasperated pot shots at him for some of the episodes he wrote once in a while, because I think that sometimes it is like sort of this political prose syndrome that Chris is writing. I think that sometimes with the Mythology episodes there's a sort of self-importance, but what I think is great about Chris Carter is that he actually allowed the show to evolve. I think what's remarkable about the X-Files is that it's so clearly, year after year, not the show that it thought it was a couple of years beforehand, and all sorts of creative people would have found that very, very difficult, and would have held on very, very firmly to the original ideas that he had. Chris Carter always seems to be very enthused by the changes of direction, and tended to go with them himself. I think what's extraordinary about Chris Carter's work is that it's so comedic, as a writer, he was able to write episodes...like Duane Barry, which is very, very intense, psychological thriller stuff, and he, years later, is writing some of the most extraordinary comedy episodes, eerie episodes like How The Ghost Stole Christmas. I think that what's remarkable actually is just how, watching them all back to back, and relatively quickly too, is just seeing just how all the shows evolved, and how he allowed that to happen.
Matt: Are there any contemporary British or American television shows right now that you feel are on par with The X-Files, or Millennium?
Robert: Yes, I think so. I'm very impressed with the way that Lost has turned itself around. I think that's a very good show. I think that it had something of a similar nature to The X-Files in as much as I think in season three, it was selling itself again for a long time, like the X-Files did, a comment or idea that there was some great mystery to be solved. What I think Lost has done [is] massively re-invented itself now. It knows where it's going--it has for the last few years--and I think that it's a very elegant show, where at one point, lost as well, it was more of an anthology show which had occasional episodes where you felt this is now the mythology being dealt with, and instead has now turned itself, which has actually mixed it extremely cleverly. It's not my favorite American show, but shows like, for example, Mad Men which is maybe the best American show at the moment I think, and the show that is my favorite of all time is The West Wing. In some ways shows like that, and shows like The Sopranos, I think have as much relevance from what The X-Files did, even if they are not genre shows. They're sort of about how to sustain a story, and how to keep the relationships of characters at the forefront, whenever there [are] these ever increasingly convoluted storylines, and I think The X-Files has an awful lot to answer for actually, and to be proud of.
Matt: I wanted to go back to your comments that you had issues with the mythology episodes.
Robert: A couple of them.
Matt: With The X-Files, I was curious to see that you gave most of the mythology episodes lower marks than the stand alones, there are exceptions of course with some of your reviews, but I was wondering why you found the mythology episodes so problematic?
Robert: I don't think it makes sense (laughs). I'm certain it doesn't make any sense, I think in some ways, The X-Files is a victim of [having been] conceived at the wrong time for these sort of multi-season shows. I think that other shows later on probably were labored to find that what you do, is that you tell sort of season lead shows, and then the arc changes a year later. A show like Lost, for example, is very, very clever in that every single season something happens which effectively changes the entire style of that season. You can't have a season five episode of Lost in episode two, it's just impossible. Whereas X-Files could do that, because basically what it was doing was telling an anthology series, without telling a greater story line that could never be resolved because the series couldn't be resolved. Had there actually been a sense of you working away towards something specific, or something genuine, then maybe it would have paid off. But as it was, you could see, and no one's at fault for this, [and] I'm not blaming anyone on The X-Files writing staff, [as] I think actually they do their very best, but because every year the series was being re-commissioned, you can see that they don't actually have any idea in year two, or year three, sequenced for nine years, it's just impossible to think of that. So they start putting into operations things that they think will become very, very important, whether it's because the novel never ends, they have to resolve things and find bigger mysteries behind it, and of course, that isn't really the way that drama works. Increasingly, I think in season two and season three, you get a sense. The mythology sets a very high standard because they do seem urgent, but then you get to things like season nine, where they just deal with it impenetrably bad because they are not saying anything, and all of the really interesting work on The X-Files, at that point, is being done in the standalone episodes. I suppose that the problem is that--again this is no one's real fault-- the series was selling itself upon the idea of there being some greater truth that you'd learn by watching the series, and what you come to realize, I think more and more is that actually, all of the really interesting revelations about Mulder and Scully, about their characters, about the whole format of the show, can be done so much more eloquently outside the sort of constant need to run on the spot, in the mythology episodes.
Matt: After reviewing both shows, which series left you with the greatest impact, The X-Files or Millennium?
Robert: It's difficult because it's a strange thing, I think Millennium, at it's best,... is in some ways the more remarkable show. I think maybe because it's much, much darker, and there s something much more ambitious behind Millennium. That said, I think that when Millennium suffers, it really, really suffers (laugh). I think that it s a show which probably never quite finds what it's about. I think that what you find is that year after year, you get a real sense of a new production team coming in and just wiping out what had just happened, because they don't really agree with the direction it was being taken in. It never quite necessarily had the same confidence that The X-Files had, and as a result, The X-Files at its most confident can produce probably greater pieces of individual work. I think Millenniums a better idea then The X-Files really, but I think The X-Files probably get's it. I think it's interesting to see that The X-Files appeared in 1993, and it kind of outlives all of the other things which cover all, which sort of branch out from it, and I find that in itself a testament to it really.
Matt: Would you be willing to share the next project you have in mind that will be upcoming?
Robert: I'm writing a book at the moment, I'm writing some theatre, I'm writing some T.V. at the moment actually. The book is called: "Everyone's Just So, So Special" and that's another collection of short stories. I'm writing a novel as well, but that won't be out for a year or two--a year-and-a-half I think. That collection of short stories is about the way in which we put ourselves into history in a funny way. If you look at history, every single historical time always believed that [it] was the most difficult [period], because that's what we do. So it's about ways in which we try and historicize ourselves, again, not to come back to it really much, but that's what The X-Files is about, trying to demonstrate--that this moment is always the end of days, that this moment is the turning point, and we always do that to ourselves. We always try to make ourselves look more important than we really are, and it's gone on forever. So, it's really about that. I'm writing a theatre play which is going to be on, I think in the West End, early next year, which is, as of yet, untitled. I think that's my next project, which I should be finished with in the next couple of months.
Matt: Well, it has been a tremendous honor to speak with you.
Robert: That's very kind of you.
Matt: Thank you again for taking as much time as you have. I really appreciate it.
Robert: Oh, thank you Matt. It's certainly been a pleasure.
Once again, a profound thank you must go to Libby for opening up the opportunity for this interview. I found Mr. Shearman to be interesting, and in spite of some admittedly controversial points of views about The X-Files, and Millennium, engaging. I do hope fans will look into "Wanting to Believe," as it is an engrossing and entertaining read. I would also suggest that you visit his official website, as well as his delightful blog. I wish Mr. Shearman the best, and I hope that he will remain involved with The X-Files, and Millennium fan community.
* Enid Blyton – (1897-1968) A British writer of children's adventures, and one of the most prolific and popular storytellers of the twentieth century in Britain. She also went under the name Mary Pollock. Enid Blyton is less known in America; her equivalent would be Edward Straremeyer, author in the 1930s of The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mystery series. Ms. Blyton's most famous publications included such series as the Famous Five, Five Find-Outers and Dog, The Secret Seven, The Noddy books, The Magic Faraway Series, and The Adventure Series. Her books have been translated in various languages, and remain popular is South Africa, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Singapore, and Australia. Since the publication of her work starting in the 1930s, there has been controversy regarding her work. Various British Libraries have "banned" or removed her books from the shelves, starting in the 50s. This criticism ranges from a general dismissal of her work, as well as charges of racism and sexism. It is said that her response to such criticism was that she was not interested in the views of critics over the age of 12. These controversies might have to do with a change in cultural sensibilities. For example, British author Ian Fleming's early 50s James Bond novels have been condemned for bigotry and racism, and Frank L. Baum faced similar issues with his Wizard of Oz novels.
Interview with Sarah Stegall
Interview with Jeff Charbonneau
Interview with William B. Davis
Interview with Alex Gansa
Interview with Glen Morgan
Interview with Mark Snow
Interview with Amy Donaldson
Report from LAX-Files book signing
Interview with Erica Fraga
Interview with Howard Gordon
Report from Vancouver TV Forum
Interview with Gabe Rotter
Interview with Robert Shearman
Report from Believe Again event
Report from X-Con 2009
Interview with Jana Fain
Interview with R.W. Goodwin
In Tribute to Kim Manners
Interview with Matt Hurwitz
Pemberton Set Report
Paley Festival Interviews
Interview with John S. Bartley
Report from Wondercon 2008
Interview with Howard Gordon
Q&A with Chris Carter
Interview with Doug Hutchison
Interview with Frank Spotnitz
Doctor Who reminiscences
As our interview was trailing off by the end, I did bring up my childhood interest in Doctor Who, and that conversation briefly developed as follows...
Matt: And actually, I do have to kind of confess that I grew up as a Doctor Who fan.
Robert: (enthusiastically) Oh, great!
Matt: And I remember the Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, and Sylvester McCoy era. I never really had the chance to get into the earlier 60s era...
Robert: Well, that's part of the trouble I think because I love those 60s stories, but you actually really have to sort them out a lot, usually by, around an episode that you might be watching a story and the next episode three isn't there anymore, which is always a bit difficult. I do love Doctor Who. I happen to love all of it. There isn't a Doctor I don't like.