The X-Files episode ‘Within’ introduced Special Agent John Doggett, striking a deliberate – and welcome – contrast to both Mulder and Scully
When we first meet Special Agent John Doggett (Robert Patrick), he looks casual. He sits, legs crossed, sipping water, almost lounging on a set of waiting chairs with a case file in hand. His FBI badge is twisted slightly, preventing the audience from identifying him. Though he carries a presence, he could be anyone inside the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
All of these choices in the Season 8 premiere of The X-Files, ‘Within’ (S8, Ep1), are deliberate on the part of actor Robert Patrick, director Kim Manners, and showrunner Chris Carter. Immediately, they are positioning Doggett, a brand-new character devised to replace the now largely absent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), in opposition to the iconic agent played by David Duchovny for the past seven years. He looks more relaxed in the construct of the FBI than Mulder ever did. He is part of that establishment.
Doggett’s existence and his key role in the eighth and ninth seasons of The X-Files, the years that brought the curtain down on the original long-standing run of the series, were down to production realities. Duchovny, who along with Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully, was one of the key factors in the rampant, decade-dominating cultural success of The X-Files. Seven seasons and one feature film down, however, he wanted out. He desired a film career. Plus, at the time, the turn of the millennium, he and Carter were embroiled in contract litigation involving the Fox network which was, in places, turning ugly.
Join writer/producer Frank Spotnitz, and stars Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish for a live X-Files reunion panel and audience Q&A on Saturday 30th July.
Moving Beyond Mulder
For genre shows such as The X-Files, seven seasons had turned into across the 1990s an unwritten rule of thumb for successful longevity. Actors signed up for that many, taking the series safely into syndication, and most shows called it a day on making the seven. Fox, however, wanted the show to outlive Duchovny. Anderson agreed to sign on and continue playing Scully. And Carter, having struck a deal with Duchovny that he wouldn’t entirely leave Mulder behind but across the eighth season play him intermittently for a shorter, scattered number of episodes—thereby allowing him time to develop other projects—encouraged him to continue.
Mulder, however, cast a long shadow. The X-Files Season 7 finale ‘Requiem’ (S7, Ep22), a nostalgic, full circle return to the setting and characters of the ‘Pilot’ episode, tethered the opening story of The X-Files to the ongoing alien mythology. Had it not ended in the manner it did, knowing the series was returning, with the double whammy cliff-hanger of Scully pregnant and Mulder abducted by aliens, ‘Requiem’ would have functioned as a logical series finale and propelled Duchovny and Anderson into a planned future of theatrical X-Files stories. In actuality, the show was coming back and there was a gaping, Mulder-sized hole in the investigative dynamic to fill.
Carter played with certain ideas at first. He toyed with beefing up Mitch Pileggi’s erstwhile boss Walter Skinner from recurring ally/occasional antagonist into Scully’s full-time partner. Ultimately, he decided to create a fresh face with a direct connection to the search for Mulder, a plot that would inject a heretofore unseen level of serialization into The X-Files as Carter used Mulder’s disappearance as a means of reinventing the entire ‘mytharc’ from the ground up. He was initially devised as ‘Agent White’, before Carter chose to ape naming Scully after Vin Scully, the well-known Los Angeles Dodgers announcer, by christening her new partner after Jerry Doggett, Vin Scully’s long-time announcement partner. The fact he was written as a ‘dogged’ investigator turned out to be a happy accident.
Over a hundred actors tested for a premium role in the summer of 2000. The X-Files was still one of the most famous television shows still airing, and while it was past its recognized peak it retained a pedigree that actors flocked to. Several were taken seriously as contenders including Hart Bochner and Lou Diamond Phillips, who reputedly came very close to bagging the plum part. Carter nonetheless had a vision in his head of Doggett, partly inspired by Russell Crowe’s hard-headed rule breaker cop Bud White from James Ellroy’s LA Confidential (hence ‘Agent White’), the film adaptation from Brian Helgeland in 1997 being one he loved. Carter was asked if Doggett was created by a committee or was his own vision:
I think it was something that we all talked about, but I wrote his voice. So, I think he was someone we all came up with together, but his voice came out of my head. But, it was something that was helped in a large degree by casting Robert Patrick.Chris Carter, via Fandom
Robert Patrick was a recognizable actor to cast in the role of Doggett and a performer who immediately added fresh and unique energy to The X-Files. Despite a long career on television and in cinema, his career born of gritty B-movie action pictures in the late 1980s, he remained principally known for his own iconic turn as the deadly, shape-shifting T-1000 in James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day from 1991. Patrick will forever be immortalized in cinematic terms for a role where he memorably dressed, for a large amount of the picture, as an LA motorcycle cop while he mercilessly, and largely silently, chases down Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reprogrammed T-800 as he tries to kill the future savior of mankind, John Connor.
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.
John Doggett: Antagonistic or Agnostic?
The X-Files immediately reminded audiences that Patrick, though an actor in the main defined by hard roles in tough guy action pictures, was a deft performer with range who from his opening scene established Doggett as a character who would alter the dynamic in this long-running series for the rest of its initial shelf-life. His introductory scene, as mentioned earlier, where he sits and converses with an agitated Scully—fresh from discovering the FBI are monopolizing on Mulder’s disappearance with internal skulduggery against the X-Files department—has been named by Patrick himself as his favorite scene across the entire 40-episode run he appeared on the show. He claimed on a commentary track for ‘Within’ that he couldn’t think of a better way to introduce the character.
Doggett is faced with a difficult challenge from the get-go, both within and without the context of the show (one could argue the case that Carter named the first two episodes of Season 8 ‘Within’ and ‘Without’ as a meta-reference for this very reason). He not only is required to establish himself as an agent working with the brittle and defensive Scully, a woman we have seen across seven seasons came to only trust Mulder outside of her immediate family, but he is also in need of gaining the trust and support of the X-Files fanbase, many of whom could only ever imagine The X-Files as Mulder/Scully, Duchovny/Anderson. This remains true for many in the fandom to this day. Patrick and Doggett had an immediate mountain to scale.
It perhaps doesn’t help that Doggett presents himself in a slightly disingenuous manner at the start of ‘Within’. He positions himself ostensibly in casual, offhand terms to Scully, when in truth everything he does—from his cross-legged, seated position reading a file; the angle of his FBI name badge tilted away from Scully’s vision; his proffering of water as a friendly gesture—all of it is considered and calculated. He has been waiting for the shell-shocked Scully, armed only with Doggett’s name as the man that incumbent Deputy Director Kersh has assigned to look for Mulder, and in what might appear an unthreatening manner gently begins to probe. He even lies when he says, “I knew Mulder back a bit,” though it doesn’t take Scully long to see through it.
‘Within’ goes out of its way as an episode to sow doubt in Scully’s mind about her partner, and even in the minds of the audience. Season 8 more broadly works to add a retroactive level of character development for both of our beloved characters, such as Mulder’s actions in The X-Files episode ‘The Gift’ (S8, Ep11) to try and cure the deadly illness he was quietly suffering from or he and Scully’s agreement for him to become a sperm donor in The X-Files episode ‘Per Manum’ (S8, Ep13), all of which happens in the preceding seasons off-screen, but ‘Within’ sees Carter actively making us wonder and Doggett—the outsider—is the perfect avatar for that.
“I doubt we agents ever really truly know each other even our partners. Not at the end of the day. Their real lives, their friends, girlfriends, deeply personal things, issues.”John Doggett, The X-Files, ‘Within’ (S8, Ep1).
Scully is naturally defensive at the insinuation she didn’t know a man she, quite clearly, has fallen in love with by this stage.
Doggett, nonetheless, doubles down on the rumor mill in the FBI which Scully seeks clarification on.
“Well, that, from the beginning he never felt a real trust with you, that you were ambitious.”John Doggett, The X-Files, ‘Within’ (S8, Ep1).
We, the audience, surely know that to be untrue? We have watched Scully since The X-Files ‘Pilot’ (S1, Ep1) grow more and more embroiled—professionally and personally—with Mulder’s quest and away from her own potential ambitions and life choices, but have we seen what we wanted to see? Has Scully? “There are women here at the Bureau that he would confide in. I don’t know if you knew that or not,” Doggett claims. It’s where Scully snaps and once she does realize who she’s talking to, the propitiously placed water goes flying into Doggett’s face. He takes it calmly. But why does he lie? Is he testing her fidelity? Is he doing his best, this early on, to rule out Scully as a suspect?
Underappreciated during The X-Files’ original run, Annabeth Gish’s captivating Monica Reyes is one of the greatest female characters on TV.
John Doggett: A Cop Who Sees Things
It is worth remembering that Doggett enters the world of The X-Files as the truest of blue cops. An ex-Marine dedicated to his country. His only brushes with what could be seen as the paranormal, as he describes in ‘Without’, being the kind of freak events Mulder probably wouldn’t even give the time of day:
“A cop sees things. A man drops five stories, dusts his head off, and goes back to work. An old lady gets shot point-blank in a Chinese restaurant, plucks the slug out of her egg foo yung.”John Doggett, The X-Files, ‘Without’ (S8, Ep2).
This is an agent with no agenda, no ax to grind, no suspect orders to follow. He is no Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea), or even a Marita Covarrubias (Laurie Holden). Doggett is a rising star in the Bureau who, as he says to Scully, has a clear mission focused on Mulder, “I just want to find him.” And to do that, he looks at evidence, at cold hard reality, some of which does suggest Mulder’s actions to be erratic and bizarre.
One of the reasons Season 8, especially the first half of said season, works so well is down to the integration of Doggett after this initial confrontation with Scully through to a man, three-quarters of the season in during The X-Files episode ‘Three Words’ (S8, Ep16) she describes to a returned Mulder as “beyond reproach.” A bond forms between Doggett and Scully in these episodes that most aligns with the first season of the show between Mulder and Scully, with the added aspect of the latter’s haunted guardedness after years of seeing beyond the veil of the X-Files. Scully comes to understand Doggett as a determined, loyal, and ultimately kind man embroiled in a world utterly beyond his past experience, but who remains focused on the task at hand. He comes to respect and care about Scully too without any concerns of romantic entanglement compromising the situation.
As Season 8 moves into 9, and the series introduces who will become his full-time partner in Annabeth Gish’s Monica Reyes, Doggett transforms in a manner nobody would have expected during ‘Within’. He becomes the custodian of the X-Files. The ultimate skeptic becomes a believer in the newest conspiracy involving super-soldiers. And while he never becomes Mulder, as Reyes never becomes Scully, and the audience beyond never quite accepts either of them as the heir apparent to Carter’s magnum opus, Doggett very quickly becomes the unassailable rock at the heart of a transformed series seeking a new era that never quite comes to pass. He is, without question, the reason Season 8 in particular is one of The X-Files finest seasons of drama.
His hero moment comes at the climax of Season 8 finale ‘Existence’ (S8, Ep21), having exposed a plot at the heart of the FBI, and with every intention to bring down Kersh’s role in events. “You investigate what I tell you!” his cornered boss barks. “And you put me on the X-Files. That’s what I’m investigating.” Doggett calmly replies before leaving with Reyes, closing the door on a chapter where he goes from the cop who sees things, to the agent who comes to believe things.
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A. J. Black is a writer and podcaster about cinema, TV and pop culture for his blog Cultural Conversation and podcast network We Made This, plus the author of books about modern mythology and Star Trek. Born and bred in the West Midlands, he now lives in Wiltshire with his wife and their dog.
Find him on Twitter @ajblackwriter