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DVD Review

DVD cover

The X-Files Essentials


Starring: David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 15
Available 14 July 2008

Creator Chris Carter and Executive Producer Frank Spotnitz have deemed these eight X-Files episodes as essential viewing for fans who want to fully experience the thrills, mysteries and nuances of the upcoming theatrical movie. The episodes - Pilot, Beyond the Sea, The Host, Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, Memento Mori, The Post-Modern Prometheus, Bad Blood and Milagro - span Seasons 1-6 and cover a variety of paranormal and unexplained cases centring on alien abductions, psychic phenomena and life forms not quite human...

This two-disc set is being released in order to cash in on - ahem, I mean, act as a primer for casual viewers whose interest is piqued by - the release of the second X-Files movie.

The inclusion of the pilot episode (from Season 1) is an obvious choice. Unlike many series’ pilots (such as Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Encounter at Farpoint), which differ substantially from the weekly shows that follow, the characters (believer Mulder, sceptical Scully, sinister smoking man) and situations (aliens, UFOs, conspiracies and cover-ups) in Pilot are instantly recognisable to those who are familiar with the series and will immediately grab the attention of those who aren’t.

Beyond the Sea (also from Season 1) is the first episode to truly turn the spotlight upon Scully. In this story, she must not only come to terms with the death of her father (Stargate: SG-1’s Don S. Davis) but becomes a believer of the paranormal herself for the first time, with Mulder as the doubter for a change. The reliable Brad Dourif guest-stars as convicted murderer Luther Lee Boggs.

Personally, I would have included the much-imitated Squeeze, featuring the unforgettable Eugene Victor Tooms, which set the standard for the “monster of the week” episodes, or Ice or Darkness Falls (all from Season 1). Instead, we have The Host (Season 2), which is also excellent. One of the most gruesome episodes ever (but without sinking to the sickening excesses of Season 4’s Home), this tale of a man-sized mutant liver fluke (played by writer-to-be Darin Morgan) that attacks people when they are at their most vulnerable (i.e. on the toilet) taps into our most primal fears.

Darin Morgan went on to write the comical yet poignant Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (Season 3). Peter Boyle guest-stars as Bruckman, a man who is cursed with the ability to predict the death of every person he encounters. The character inspired the psychic profiler Frank Black in Chris Carter’s subsequent series, Millennium.

When it comes to light-hearted episodes, I would also have chosen Morgan’s War of the Coprophages and Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” (both from Season 3), especially the latter. Jose Chung is one of the most elaborate scripts ever written for The X-Files, a high-water mark that subsequent excursions into the realms of the unreliable narrative could only aspire to, including Season 5’s The Post-Modern Prometheus and Bad Blood, both of which are included here.

The Post-Modern Prometheus isn’t bad, though. A black-and-white homage to James Whale’s Frankenstein, its offbeat style is underscored by some decidedly Danny Elfman-style music by Mark Snow. Some fans have objected to this episode’s odder moments, such as when Mulder calls for the writer, but the show’s comic-book framing sequences imply that this is a “fictionalised” account of the case.

The “he said/she said” format of Bad Blood reveals how Mulder and Scully view situations in markedly, and hilariously, different ways. This is Gillian Anderson’s favourite episode.

I suspect that what really guaranteed The Post-Modern Prometheus and Milagro (Season 6) their places in this compilation is the fact that they are both projects very dear to the hearts of their writers, respectively Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz. Milagro, which concerns a writer’s unhealthy relationship with his characters and is partially inspired by Spotnitz’s own experiences and writing process (but without all the blood and killing, one hopes), is OK, but it is probably the least memorable episode here.

Owing to their very nature (typically sprawling multi-part tales that rely upon knowledge of previous instalments), so-called “mythology” episodes are largely absent from this collection. The exception is the single-part Memento Mori (Season 4), a moving story that stands up reasonably well on its own.

All eight episodes are prefaced by on-camera introductions (a minute or two each) by Carter and Spotnitz, explaining why each one has been chosen. Disc 1 also contains a trailer for the movie, while Disc 2 includes a question-and-answer panel with Carter, Spotnitz, Anderson and David Duchovny, recorded at the February 2008 WonderCon convention (27 minutes - not 38 or 48 minutes as listed elsewhere).

The mark below reflects the high overall quality of the episodes presented here, though my own advice to anyone wishing to dip their toes into the ocean that is The X-Files would simply be: watch Season 1.


Richard McGinlay

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