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Character Analysis

The X-Files | How John Doggett's Journey Toyed With Our Expectations

The shadow of the T-1000 followed Robert Patrick into The X-Files, but rather than a flaw, it made Scully’s distrust of Doggett palpable.

By the time The X-Files reached its seventh season in 2002, it had become an enduring international success. Fans across the globe were tuning in weekly to join the escapades of FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). But just when the show was at the height of its popularity, the unthinkable happened, David Duchovny decided he didn’t want to return for the eighth season. 

Heavily publicized reasons for his departure revolved around rumors of a pay dispute between Duchovny and the showrunners. A resolution was eventually made, and Duchovny agreed to stay, albeit in a part-time capacity. With the actor returning for only twelve out of twenty-one episodes, an explanation was needed for the character to be AWOL. To address this, during the season seven finale, ‘Requiem’ (S7, Ep22), Assistant Director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) witnesses the FBI Agent seemingly being abducted by the very aliens he had spent his life searching for. 

With Mulder, and Duchovny, out of the picture for a big chunk of the eighth season. it was necessary to find a new partner for Scully. The show had always been built around a two-agent dynamic, primarily that of Mulder and Scully, but also briefly Mulder and Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea) when Scully herself went missing (in reality Anderson was having her first child). It was important, therefore, that this two-character setup wasn’t lost and a replacement was found in the form of John Doggett. 

The opening credits of The X-Files Season 8 showing a close-up of John Doggett's ID card with the actor's credit.
Robert Patrick’s Special Agent John Doggett in the opening credits of The X-Files episode ‘Within’ (S8, Ep1). The show’s creator Chris Carter cast Patrick on the strength of his appearance in Fire in the Sky, a 1993 film based on the purported 1975 abduction of Travis Walton by aliens. | 20th Century Fox, 2000.

Played by Robert Patrick, John Doggett arrives in the Season 8 premiere double-bill of ‘Within’ (S8, Ep1) and ‘Without’ (S8, Ep2). He is introduced as the head of the task force charged with finding the missing Mulder. By the end of Without, Doggett had been reassigned to the X-Files unit as Scully’s new partner, much to her dismay. By the time The X-Files arrived at Season 8, its audience had become so comfortable with the Mulder and Scully relationship that the arrival of anyone else would be met with reticence. With so much history between the two characters, it was strange for the show to suddenly try and establish a new pivotal character within the landscape. Consequently, fans were initially lukewarm about the addition of Doggett.

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The Shadow of the T-1000 in The X-Files Season 8

Personally, I always struggled with Special Agent Doggett. My issues didn’t entirely stem from Doggett’s behavior in the show, but more from my pre-existing experience with the actor who played him – Robert Patrick. At the time that The X-Files Season 8 began to air, I was a teenager, one who had grown up watching Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) on repeat. Those familiar with the film will know that Patrick plays the T-1000, the liquid-metal villain of James Cameron’s iconic sequel. His portrayal of the Skynet assassin is so compelling and believable that for many, myself included, Patrick and the T-1000 became intrinsically entwined. The duality of Patrick and the T-1000 was pushed further when the actor reprised the role for cameos in both Wayne’s World (1992) and Last Action Hero (1993). He also returned to the role for the Universal Theme Park attraction T2 3D: Battle Across Time, consistently reminding visitors of his villainy until the ride’s demise in 2012. 

Even The X-Files itself didn’t seem to want the audience to forget about Patrick’s past role. Season 8 is littered with references to the film. The most obvious reminder comes in The X-Files episode ‘Redrum’ (S8, Ep6), as it features actor Joe Morton who also starred in Terminator 2, playing Miles Dyson, the man responsible for the rise of the machines. Though the two actors never share a scene together in the film, it’s an easy call back to the movie that made Patrick a name. In ‘Redrum’ they do get to share screen time; Doggett and Morton’s character, Martin Wells, are old friends.

More nods of the subtler variety occur within the season finale, ‘Existence’ (S8, Ep21). Some scenes within this episode play almost as a homage to James Cameron’s work. The first comes fairly early on as Skinner and Krycek are pursued by super-soldier Billy Miles (Zachary Ansley). The pair jump into a lift only for Miles to stab his arm into and through the lift door, injuring Skinner in the process. This is a clever reworking of the hospital escape scene in Terminator 2 during which the T-1000 stabs his own hand, formed into a blade, into a lift and the arm of a fleeing Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). 

After the attack on the lift, Sarah Connor, John Connor (Edward Furlong), and the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) are chased out of the parking lot by a fast-moving T-1000. The terminator catches up with the car, jumps on it, and shatters the rear window, before being unceremoniously thrown off. Later in ‘Existence’, a mirroring of this happens as Doggett and Skinner flee from two men – Special Agent Crane (Kirk B.R. Woller) and Knowle Rohrer (Adam Baldwin) – in the bowels of a parking structure. There is a shot of Crane running in a similar fashion to the T-1000, before he leaps onto the car and smashes in the side passenger window, grabbing at Doggett. It’s a nifty role-reversal, and although very subtle, works on a subconscious level to trigger that never-ending connection between Patrick and the T-1000.

Prior to being cast by James Cameron, Patrick hadn’t worked much. His biggest credit previously was as one of the henchmen that John McClane (Bruce Willis) dispatches in Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990). With such a small catalog of previous work and Terminator 2 being a massive hit at the box office, it makes sense that this was the part that he became synonymous with. Similarly, post-Terminator 2, Patrick found himself inundated with bad guy parts. Whilst he didn’t succumb to purely taking on these roles, when one looks back through his filmography, post-Terminator 2 and pre-The X-Files, all his higher-profile roles (The Faculty, Spy Kids, Double Dragon, Striptease, and even his role in Meatloaf’s ‘Objects in the Rearview Mirror’ music video) were villains. Patrick’s filmography combined to create the connotations of him being a villain and untrustworthy and therefore trusting Doggett was as hard for the viewer as it was for Scully.

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Setting the Scene for Doggett’s Deception

Outside of Patrick’s own body of work, The X-Files had a long history of deception. The slogan at the tail-end of the opening titles for almost every episode was ‘Trust No One’ and The X-Files liked to remind viewers of the importance of this message often. One of the biggest betrayals of the show’s history stemmed from the pairing of Mulder with new partner Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea) who was introduced in ‘Sleepless’ (S2, Ep4), just after the X-Files unit was first disbanded. At that time there was no reason to distrust the young agent and so Mulder, and the audience instantly warmed to him. However, it was quickly revealed that Krycek was in league with the dastardly Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis). Over the course of the show, Krycek evolved, developing into an even greater threat after becoming embroiled with the infamous black alien oil. His popularity with the fans saw him return time and time again to mess with Mulder and Scully. The devastation that his actions wrought echoed on season after season until his ultimate demise in The X-Files episode ‘Existence’.

But Krycek wasn’t alone in his duplicity. Others who passed through the department before turning on the pair included Diana Fowley (Mimi Rogers) and Jeffery Spender (Chris Owens). Fowley was an old flame of Mulder’s who was around for his initial foray into investigating X-File cases. Her character was a source of a lot of tension, her romantic entanglement with Mulder threatening the audience’s desire for Mulder and Scully to get together. As with Krycek before her, Fowley was revealed to be in league with the Cigarette-Smoking Man, as well as the evil Syndicate that he was embroiled with. Spender arrived at the same time as Fowler. His character was outwardly antagonistic toward Mulder and also happened to be the son of the Cigarette-Smoking Man, though his loyalty was less prominent. With such a history of treachery, and his three predecessors all revealing themselves as turncoats, it was no surprise that the sudden arrival of Doggett was met with immediate distrust. 

John Doggett reads some paperwork whilst talking to Dana Scully. Both of them are sat waiting.
John Doggett’s introduction in The X-Files episode ‘Within’ (S8, Ep1) immediately sets him up as an antagonist to Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) – a well-founded expectation given the enemies often facing Mulder and Scully from within the bureau. | 20th Century Fox, 2000.

Doggett’s first appearance doesn’t cast him in the best light either. His initial duplicitous exchange with Scully doesn’t ingratiate himself to her, or the viewers at home. During his on-screen debut, he tries to trick Scully into sharing details about Mulder. Doggett casually strikes up a conversation with her whilst she waits to be questioned. He does not introduce himself and allows Scully to assume that he is also awaiting an interview. Doggett then proceeds to probe for information at which point Scully works out his identity and shuts down their conversation. This decision to try and covertly extract details doesn’t paint him as the most trustworthy. Had he introduced himself formally then his first impression might not be as bad, but instead, the audience and Scully are instantly put on the back foot. 

The only counterargument is that, historically, those that arrived to later betray the team, on the whole, began in a polite and respectful manner. They’ve been nondescript and keen to help. By having Doggett arrive and immediately show his talent at manipulation and interrogation, it opens up the idea that he might be good. 

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Learning to Love John Doggett

New characters are often instantly brought into the fold, and immediately accepted by the leads. Even if there is initial hostility, it is quickly glossed over and the new addition is soon co-existing alongside the core cast in a comfortable status quo. This is not the fate that awaits Special Agent Doggett. Almost all of season eight is spent settling him into the world of the unexplained phenomena. The decision to take things slowly is one that pays off as it reflects a more natural and accurate portrayal of someone new joining the workplace. It also allows distrust to simmer for a while longer. 

The episode ‘Patience’ (S8, Ep3) marks Doggett’s first X-Files case and teaming with Agent Scully. Once again, his first impression leaves something to be desired as he arrives flanked by colleagues ridiculing him for his new position. Upon entering the office, he is met by a hostile Scully, but just as she (and the audience) are about to write him off, Doggett makes an interesting reveal. Rather than being his first trip to the home of the X-Files as Scully believes, Doggett had actually spent the weekend holed up there, reading up on all the previous cases. His actions are an early pointer to just how seriously Doggett takes his work and demonstrates his potential as an asset. 

John Doggett and Dana Scully stand side-by-side next to their car.
Doggett (Robert Patrick) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigate the man-bat of Burley, Idaho in The X-Files episode ‘Patience’ (S8, Ep3). It was the first episode of show not to feature David Duchovny in the opening credits. | 20th Century Fox, 2000.

Early attempts within the episode to form that vital close-knit relationship hit an immediate speed bump. Presented with a case, which may or may not involve an actual ‘bat man’, the pair disagree on theories of what they are investigating. During their preliminary discussion, Doggett proposes Occam’s razor – the theory that the simplest explanation is usually the right one – but is stonewalled by Scully. Not only does she cut down his idea, but she also throws in a comment about how Mulder called it “Occam’s theory of limited imagination.” This is dismissive and diminishing of Doggett and the start of a key theme for the next few episodes. 

Doggett and Scully’s cold formality with one another is in stark contrast to the first case that Mulder and Scully worked together. Walls between them broke down early as Scully called Mulder into her motel room to check out some worrying marks on her body. The intimacy of that inspection ignited the bubbling romance subplot that kept fans on the edge of their seats for the duration of the series. During the climax of ‘Patience’, Doggett comes to Scully’s aid, helping to keep her safe from the bat-like man-creature. His actions appear to take Scully by surprise and as she thanks him for having her back, he simply replies that he “never saw it as an option” to do anything else. 

Dana Scully turns away from John Doggett.
Doggett (Robert Patrick) chastises Scully (Gillian Anderson) for putting herself in danger at the end of The X-Files episode ‘Roadrunners’ (S8, Ep4). What could be a thaw in their relationship is loss in the culture clash between the medic and the marine. | 20th Century Fox, 2000.

Doggett’s willingness to help Scully should be proof enough that he’s one of the good guys and yet it doesn’t convince her. So much so that in the next episode, ‘Roadrunners’ (S8, Ep4), she takes off alone. This decision proves to have dire consequences as she finds herself the victim of a parasite-worshipping cult. Doggett proves his worth as a detective in this episode as he is seen piecing together clues purely from a short phone call he had with Scully prior to her capture. Having worked out that his new partner is in danger, Doggett manages to save her just in the nick of time. This rescue literally saves the life of Scully and her unborn baby, but he’s still not allowed into her inner sanctum. That being said, Scully does realize that she can’t keep investigating cases alone and apologizes to Doggett for her actions. Here Doggett has the opportunity to build some bridges between them, but his blunt reply to Scully’s admission of her mistake – “you screwed up,” halts any progression.

Their detachment from one another is further exemplified by the manner in which they address one another. They almost exclusively refer to each other by their official titles (Agent Doggett / Agent Scully), which enforces an emotional distance. There’s no warmth and without it, the viewer isn’t able to connect with Doggett on a personal level. Even during The X-Files episode ‘Invocation’ (S8, Ep5), when it is revealed that Doggett’s son was abducted and murdered, there’s a numbness to the news. If anything, Scully seems irritated, reprimanding him for not being transparent about his closeness to the case rather than comforting him. In an attempt to widen the gap, even more, the writers opted to separate them, sporadically pairing Doggett with Skinner. The stop-start in their investigations together stall any momentum in their relationship building. 

John Doggett holds a photograph of a young boy.
The rebuke delivered at the end of ‘Roadrunners’ is mirrored in The X-Files episode ‘Invocation’ (S8, Ep5) when it is revealed that Doggett (Robert Patrick)’s son, Luke, had been kidnapped. | 20th Century Fox, 2000.

During Scully’s journey to accepting Doggett, the new agent has been nothing but committed to his job. Doggett’s clinical behavior is merely a symptom of his background. A former soldier and cop, Doggett is a man driven by logic, routine, and simplicity. He is as far removed from Fox Mulder and his flighty theories as one can be, and is much more aligned with the early skeptical Scully. With Doggett assuming the role of disbeliever, Scully is forced into the part of believer. It’s an interesting shift to see played out on screen, although Scully’s reticence reinforces her wariness of Doggett. To trust someone you have to be comfortable, and during their first few cases together Scully clearly is not. It’s not until The X-Files episode ‘Badlaa’ (S8, Ep10), that she admits that she has been forcing herself to look at the world as Mulder would, and it’s only once this confession has been aired that the ice finally starts to thaw. 

A skeptic he may be, Doggett sees enough to realize that things aren’t always as they seem and, so long as it helps the case, he’s willing to consider the unusual. It’s a similar path to that which Scully herself trod during the first season. Once on the same page, or as close to it as they are likely to get, Scully finally accepts that Doggett’s loyalty is genuine and lets him into her circle of trust, revealing her pregnancy to him in the following episode, ‘Per Manum’ (S8, Ep13). As the duo finally finds common ground, the audience is ultimately won around. 

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However, just when everyone has settled on the idea that maybe Doggett isn’t the new Krycek or similar after all, Mulder returns. With his arrival comes a new wave of accusations and distrust. The newly formed equilibrium is thrown into turmoil as Mulder is immediately suspicious. Scully does her best to stand up for her new partner, but Mulder’s underlying jealousy and protectiveness towards a now very pregnant Scully hinder his judgment. Doggett does little to try and alleviate Mulder’s concerns and the pair begin to butt heads. 

A power play between the two begins to unfold, each man trying to assert, not only his authority and beliefs but also control over Scully. Each man wants her to be safe but fails to see how the other could be an ally. Mulder sees Doggett as an untrustworthy newcomer, and Doggett believes Mulder to be the cause of most of Scully’s woes. The back-biting and one-upmanship gleaned during episodes such as ‘Three Words’ (S8, Ep16) and ‘Empedocles’ (S8, Ep17) is a very stereotypical display of interactions between men vying for alpha position. During their bickering Scully isn’t the only one caught in the middle; the viewer finds themselves in the unenviable position of trying to work out a side. Interestingly though, Mulder isn’t necessarily who viewers side with. By now they have become accustomed to Doggett’s loyal and hardworking manner, and Mulder comes across like a bit of a brat. His behavior is typical Mulder, but having been granted that space from him and experiencing new character energy, suddenly the audience sees his toxicity comes to the fore, and his other side isn’t pleasant. 

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Passing the Torch to John Doggett

Fortunately, Mulder isn’t one to hold a grudge without cause, and so by the end of The X-Files episode ‘Vienen’ (S8, Ep18), the pair are working together. The episode concludes with Mulder revealing that he has taken all the heat for their actions and is no longer a member of the FBI. He explains that this sacrifice is so that the X-Files can live on, and he now knows Doggett will be a fine replacement. Mulder’s acceptance and passing of the torch cement Doggett’s status within The X-Files. It’s perfectly timed as Scully’s baby arrives during the season finale, leaving Doggett now in need of a new partner himself…

Doggett had an impact, not just on The X-Files, but also on Patrick’s career. While Doggett didn’t quite shake the shadow of the T-1000, it felt like a conscious attempt by the production to play on those associations and in doing so make us, the audience, willing participants in the conspiratorial worldview inherited by Scully from Mulder. We braced ourselves, clenched our fists, and set our jaws, awaiting his ‘reveal’ and in the end, the paranoia was exactly that.

Perhaps the most subversive thing the show could have done after eight years was to introduce a character who was everything he said he was, whose agendas were right out there in the open, and who was gruff and abrasive, not because he was the black hand of an extraterrestrial conspiracy, but because that’s just who he was. Although during the preliminary run of The X-Files Season 8, many, myself included, took a long time to accept Doggett – and one suspects, that was the plan – the intervening years have seen a shift. With time for the shock of no longer seeing Mulder every episode to have worn off, it becomes easier to welcome the new addition – and mourn what might have been.

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Kat Hughes is a film writer based just outside of London. Although she loves films and television in all shapes and forms, her heart lies with the horror genre. Her work has been published on The Hollywood News, Critical Popcorn and Film Stories. She can also be found guesting on various podcasts including both Ghoulfriends Podcast and Director’s Uncut

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