Tony Black looks at the ninth story in The X-Files: Secret Agendas anthology, ‘A Scandal in Moreauvia, or The Adventure of the Empty Heart’…
Written by Nancy Holder
Edited by Jonathan Maberry
In the ninth story of The X-Files: Secret Agendas, writer Nancy Holder takes a big big risk by bringing back one of the show’s most reviled characters: Inspector Phoebe Green! ‘A Scandal in Moreauvia, or The Adventure of the Empty Heart’ is without doubt not just a curio but one of the most entertaining stories in this anthology, primarily because it really strives to do something different. Holder not only takes Mulder & Scully out of their comfort zone but even out of their country, placing them in England for the kind of tale it’s a shame, if understandable, the TV series never actually did – connect Mulder back with an even greater tether to his 19th century inspiration, Sherlock Holmes, and touch again on his British Oxford education roots. It doesn’t quite stick the landing, but Holder’s story stands out in several unique ways.
Firstly, she really nails these characters, perhaps more than any other writer has quite done yet in this anthology. Holder gets that blend of dogged determination mixed with dry sarcasm in Mulder down pat, as she does the continued exasperation of Scully, who serves as the perspective for this story. Holder really plays up on the visible dislike Scully had for Phoebe during ‘Fire’, which this can be considered a semi-sequel to; with the comparison being much more on the nose to Sherlock and Irene Adler, down to the cod-Dr Moreau, 19th century literature title, the myriad of Holmes references, and of course a major chunk of the story taking place on Dartmoor. Phoebe is as slippery and annoying as she was when Amanda Pays played her, but that just means she’s written well, and arguably the first half of the story as Phoebe leads Mulder into a particularly paranormal case is the strongest.
Holder perhaps falls down by trying too hard to connect this back to the mytharc, which oddly enough has been a recurring problem in many of the stories in Secret Agendas. She makes a point of setting this early in Season 3, tethering it pointedly to the ‘Anasazi’ trilogy and trying to connect the thematic element of the story to Mulder’s brush with death in the boxcar and his ‘rebirth’, but it feels enormously forced in many places. The whole discovery Mulder & Scully make smacks of Fight the Future too and, oddly, almost doesn’t seem to fit their Sherlockian surroundings. It’s almost as if Holder had a different kind of story in mind and wanted to wrong foot us, when perhaps the original narrative might have been more rewarding. It’s a shame, as the promise of the story doesn’t quite pay off.
Regardless, ‘A Scandal in Moreauvia’ beyond its narrative problems and fan service is among the strongest penned in the Secret Agendas anthology, and just for the fact she gets away with bringing Phoebe Green back, Nancy Holder deserves a round of applause!
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