In the world of television, The X-Files remains an iconic achievement in episodic storytelling. The drama was created by Chris Carter and first aired on September 10th, 1993 to rapturous critical acclaim – quickly creating a worldwide fandom that helped it continue for an impressive nine seasons. The story of FBI investigations into the unexplained soon evolved into the compelling tale of respectful partnership between true believer Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), and sceptical scientist Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson).
Their explorations of the paranormal played out against the backdrop of an overarching conspiracy, involving world governments, heinous medical testing and an impending alien invasion. Episodes involving this specific storyline became known as ‘mythology episodes,’ and provided the connective tissue between otherwise standalone cases, as well as giving vital insight into the background of the beloved lead characters, and their relationship with each other.
It is the carefully balanced combination of character, ‘mythology’ and standalone cases that has made The X-Files a show that is handed down from generation to generation of television drama fans – ensuring that new audiences are finding the show all the time. While new viewers are watching these episodes for the first time, those that watched the original broadcasts are only too aware of the truth: that The X-Files arrived at a time in history which enabled it to be at the forefront of many areas of progress and advancement in television entertainment.
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In 1993, the internet was just finding its feet, and The X-Files became one of the first television series in history to benefit from online fandom – as avid viewers flocked to internet forums and websites to discuss the minutiae of their obsession. The show pioneered the use of cell-phones within episode narratives – being among the first to use them as ways of propelling the action, and moving the story forward. It also gave us an honest-to-goodness female icon in the form of FBI Special Agent Dana Scully – a character the complexity of which had not been seen onscreen for some time.
In addition, it was the training ground for Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan, Howard Gordon, Glen Morgan, James Wong, Alex Gansa and Darin Morgan – which means that, without The X-Files, there would almost certainly be no Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The Man In The High Castle, Millennium, 24, or Homeland. At least, not in the way we have come to know and love them.
It is for all these reasons that audiences around the world are excitedly awaiting the arrival of a new, limited series of The X-Files – set to arrive on January 24th, 2016 – and that anticipation only increased when it became clear that Chris Carter and his team would be striving for the same character/mythology/standalone balance that made the show work in the first place. So, what should we look at while we wait? The characters are legendary – instantly recognizable and well-known by all. The mythology is also well-trod ground, as are everybody’s ‘favourite’ episodes.
But, stepping back and looking at the standalone episodes, it becomes apparent that, during the series nine year run, The X-Files case load featured some truly incredible investigations. Discounting, for a moment, the best guest stars (although everyone from Ryan Reynolds to Lily Tomlin has appeared), the best comedy moments (Scully drooling over Luke Wilson’s small-town sheriff, anyone?), and the ‘mythology’ arc as a whole, there are some remarkable X-Files to be investigated. Some of them span two episodes, some of them only one, but all of them are, in their own right, extraordinary, fantastic cases, from an investigative point of view.
These are, without doubt, the greatest X-Files.