1 9 9 3 – 2 0 0 2 (USA)
201 x 45 minute episodes
“The truth is out there . . .”
The X Files made its debut in September 1993 to little fanfare, but the supernatural adventures of FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) quickly built a cult following before the year was out.
The creation of former surfing writer Chris Carter, the show prospered through its freaky-deeky subject matter which purported to be real – “inspired by actual documented accounts”, its air of post-Watergate government conspiracy, and mysterious characters, and a hefty helping of old-fashioned sexual tension.
Mulder and Scully investigated UFO sightings, telepaths, genetically altered beings, aliens, a mutant that surfaced from a cocoon every 30 years to kill people, evil children resulting from cloning, people with telekinetic powers, and a man-sized parasite living in the Newark, New Jersey, sewer system.
The nine-season series peaked somewhere in the middle before its mythology became too complex.
Mulder was haunted by what he believed was an alien abduction of his sister while Scully was more scientific and sceptical. The show suggested that there were secret government agencies engaged in research the general public never found out about and/or that they were hiding the truth about extraterrestrial discoveries. Somewhere in a top-secret government storage area was The Truth.
In the last episode of the 1993-1994 season Deep Throat, their mysterious source of information about the government conspiracy was killed by agents intent on reclaiming the bottled remains of a tiny alien used to generate biological mutation in human guinea pigs.
At the start of the second season, the X-files investigative unit had been mothballed and Mulder and Scully reassigned, he on regular investigations monitoring wiretaps and she teaching forensics at the FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia.
Mulder baulked at the reassignment and was still chasing UFOs when Mr X, a new mystery “friend at the FBI”, surfaced. He apparently had his own agenda, alienated his superiors, and was killed on Mulder’s doorstep in 1996.
In a two-part episode in October, Scully was abducted by aliens and, with indications that a covert government operation was involved, Mulder got his boss, Skinner, to reopen the X-Files unit and allow him to work on them alone.
Scully was returned, after having suffered some physical harm, and went back to work with Mulder after she recovered. Scully, the original sceptic, had become an X-file case herself.
In Spring 1996, Mulder retrieved a weapon hidden in a lamp in his parents’ vacation home that was used to pierce the necks of the evil aliens among us – it was the only means of killing them.
The aliens could assume any human-looking identity and had the ability – if they wanted to use it – to heal the mortally wounded or the terminally ill.
The mysterious Cigarette Smoking Man (CSM), who appeared to be at the centre of the alien conspiracy, knew exactly what had been going on. That November it was shown that, earlier in his career, CSM was involved in the assassinations of John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King – although Deep Throat had done the actual killing.
At the start of the 1997-1998 season Scully almost died from cancer she had been infected with during her abduction (but it went into remission), Mulder obtained proof that there was a conspiracy, and CSM was shot in his office by a sniper.
In the spring, however, he turned up living in a wilderness cabin and was brought back, by Special Agent Krycek, to work again for the people who had tried to assassinate him.
At end of the season the government was again planning to shut down the X-files unit and Mulder’s files were destroyed by agents in a fire, setting up the theatrical feature released five weeks later. The X-Files movie didn’t resolve the mystery and only did moderately well at the box office. Fans of the show loved it but moviegoers unfamiliar with the series found it ponderous and confusing.
A two-part episode in February 1999 clarified most of the conspiracy. It had apparently begun with the famous UFO incident in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. Aliens who had landed there recruited a number of powerful, highly placed government operatives to assist them in preparing Earth for colonisation by their scientifically advanced race and to create a slave race of human-alien hybrids.
What got in the way was the arrival of the Rebels, another group of aliens that wanted to expose the conspiracy and prevent the subjugation of Earth and its inhabitants. The Rebels had infiltrated the Consortium, among other organisations, and were a constant thorn in the side of the original invaders.
At the end of the two-parter, the Rebels lured most members of the Consortium to a hangar and killed them, while CSM, who escaped, killed his own son Jeffrey, whom he thought had betrayed him.
The CSM revealed that he was, in fact, Mulder’s father, Mulder was abducted by aliens, Scully discovered she was pregnant (with a genetically engineered human embryo), John Doggett (Robert Patrick) was assigned as Scully’s new partner, Mulder was returned (dead – but he was eventually disinterred and recovered), the aliens sent indestructible replicants to kill Scully and her baby (but failed), Scully gave her baby (William) to a foster home for safekeeping and Mulder was placed on trial for murder, convicted and sentenced to die by lethal injection, but busted out of prison . . .
Scully and Mulder drove to an ancient Anasazi pueblo in New Mexico where they met the wise man – CSM with long grey hair and a tracheotomy device in his throat. He told them that Indian wisemen hid here because the pueblo contained magnetite, which protected it from the aliens.
Helicopters arrived with rockets that destroyed the pueblo and killed CSM, and in the final scene of the last episode, Scully and Mulder – who had escaped – were in a motel room in Roswell musing over what they had learned.
His last observation was that he believed “the dead are not lost to us, and if we listen to them they can give us the power to save ourselves. Maybe there’s hope.”
If dramatic quality was high, it was not consistently so. The factory-like demands of TV resulted in a tendency to narrative cannibalism and cliché.
A segment entitled ‘Firewalker’ was a reworking of ‘Ice’, itself derived from John Carpenter’s cinematic chiller, The Thing. The episode ‘Dod Kalm’ – in which Mulder and Scully suffered rapid ageing aboard a latter-day Marie Celeste – was commissioned largely because the producers wanted to get their money’s worth from the ship used in ‘Colony’ and ‘End Game’.
Reasons of economy caused the programme to be shot in Vancouver. Meanwhile, the agents’ endless lighting-up of eerie corners with their flashlights verged on the mirthful, as did their habitual stone-facedness.
Still, The X Files hit the Zeitgeist of the anti-rational, UFO-loving 90s more than any other TV show.
It aired in countries as diverse as China (as X-Dang An) and Norway (Salaiset Kansiot). There was also a splash of sad British look-alikes, among them Neverwhere and Bliss.
Asst. Director Walter Skinner
Cigarette Smoking Man (CSM)
William B Davis
Special Agent Alex Krycek
Special Agent John Doggett
Agent Monica Reyes