While there’s much about the 1990s we’d like to forget (Hypercolour T-Shirts, shapeless suits and the inexplicable popularity of US band Live), our love for The X-Files remains pure.
For nine seasons, FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully chased aliens and monsters from one small American town to another, without ever getting closer to The Truth (which, it seems, is still out there).
Ahead of a new run, 20th Century Fox has released the entire series on Blu-Ray. Early episodes have been completely rebuilt from the camera negatives and transformed into cobweb-banishing widescreen, high-definition.
Put simply, it doesn’t look like TV made in 1993. The effect is pretty much like discovering your Ex has been spending their free time down the gym. It’s all too easy to fall in love again.
Here are eight good reasons to look back with affection:
1. Mulder and Scully
Forget Ross and Rachel. Forget Johnny and Winona. The greatest screen love affair of the 1990s was Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. Certainly, the chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson was (in the early years, at least) spookily good.
But the real reason for the couple’s enduring appeal is that they weren’t ever allowed to actually become a couple. An exercise in extraordinary restraint, The X-Files is a reminder that anticipation is 9/10 of the pleasure.
We know Mulder and Scully are gagging for it, but we don’t really want them admitting as much. Ah, the longing. No wonder they were immortalised by forgotten Britpop act Catatonia.
2. Unanswered questions
Just as the simmering romance was never allowed to come to the boil, the series understood better than most that the answers to mysterious questions almost always fall short.
Although the show-runners did eventually start to run out of red herrings when it came to the central conspiracy, the series thrived on its never-quite-show-anything approach. (Check out the Gender Bender episode from series one, with its textbook ambiguous ending.)
Monsters were always kept two-thirds in the shadows and we were usually given the benefit of a more worldly explanation – even if we really knew aliens were to blame. (They always are.)
Geekdom is big business now, but back in the 90s, nobody was going to admit to watching a show about little green men. The X-Files went a long way to rehabilitating TV sci-fi, by basically pretending it wasn’t sci-fi. In fusing comic book horror with a police procedural aesthetic, the show looked like a proper drama — the kind of program nobody would be embarrassed watching.
While the main thrust of the series was all about the aliens, most of the best episodes were self-contained monster tales. Early on, the show had a reputation for being the sort of thing you watched with the lights on.
The first season alone is packed with genuinely terrifying moments. In Ice, Mulder and Scully are trapped in a remote Arctic base with possessed, homicidal strangers (alien worms are the culprit).
Tooms sees an immortal psychopath squeeze in through improbable gaps (air vents, drains, ducted heating) to eat his victim’s livers.
But the most frightening is Darkness Falls, in which swarms of phosphorescent bugs take their unholy revenge on an isolated group of loggers.
5. The season arc
While individual episodes might have shone, the real hook was the ongoing arc about alien cover ups, government conspiracies and Mulder’s abducted sister.
Missing an episode meant you might never find out exactly what the sinister smoking man was up to. Or so we thought. Twenty years on, we’re still wondering.
Maybe the new series will explain everything. (I kind of hope not)
6. Serious face
It’s hard to remember what genre telly was like, pre-Buffy. Joss Whedon’s cult hit about a teenage vampire slayer left us with a legacy of self-aware, irony-infused sci-fi that refused to take itself seriously. The age of the geek had arrived.
But while much contemporary science fiction seems designed for the permanently adolescent, The X-Files looks and feels like it was made for adults.
Its straight-faced legacy can be found in the incredible, if forgotten Ultraviolet, hit-and-miss Torchwood and, yes, True Detective.
7. The music
Leaving aside his perfect, eminently whistleable theme tune, Mark Snow’s score managed to define what true horror sounds like — for the 1990s and beyond.
For a while in the 90s, Gillian Anderson was topping every lads’ mag poll for hotness. But that’s not the reason we love Scully. It’s because, despite appearances, it’s Scully who carries the series.
Long before Duchovny decamps to sleep with every young woman in California (on- and off-screen, it seems), it’s Scully who is doing all the hard work. Ostensibly, she’s the straight man, the serious sidekick that allows Mulder’s kooky genius to shine.
Yet, Anderson makes Scully far more than that. Standing in the background, she’s delivering a masterclass in giving your character an inner life.
On paper, Scully is starchy and emotionally stunted, but Anderson gives glimpses of warmth, compassion and dry-as-dust humour.
You always get the feeling she — both character and actress — are simply too good for the show they’re in.
Of course, it’s not all down to Anderson. From the first episode, it’s clear Scully is the sort of woman we weren’t used to seeing onscreen.
Capable, clever and ever-so-slightly kickarse. Welcome back, Scully.
when it's been 20 years and you're still fed up of listening to men pic.twitter.com/TUCV9mFMCp
— gina (@aIexdrakes) July 11, 2015
- X-Files, The: The Collector’s Set (Complete Seasons 1-9) is available now on Blu-Ray, $329.95, fox.com/the-x-files