The X-Files
The Complete Third Season

Starring: David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson
20th Century Fox
RRP 34.99
Certificate: 15
Available 11 October 2004

As the conspiracy deepens, Agents Mulder and Scully - and their closest relatives - find their lives placed in ever greater danger...

To my mind, the third season of The X-Files is the strongest one of the lot. The more obvious paranormal targets may have all been used up by now (apart from lake monsters, which are dealt with in Quagmire) but that doesn't stop the series from growing ever more adventurous. More obscure supernatural subjects are introduced, such as succubi in Avatar and stigmata in Revelations, while Syzygy manages to inject dramatic potential into astrology.

Following the success of the previous year's Humbug, penned by Darin Morgan, the series also began to explore its comic potential. Morgan wrote three of this season's best episodes: Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose, War of the Coprophages and Jose Chung's "From Outer Space". All three are excellent satires in their own individual ways, although Clyde Bruckman is also extremely poignant, aided by the performance of Peter Boyle as a man cursed with the ability to predict the death of every person he encounters. The character of Bruckman inspired the psychic profiler Frank Black in Chris Carter's later Fox series, Millennium.

War of the Coprophages is better known as "the one with all the cockroaches". This episode is an incisive analysis of mass hysteria, which makes several nods toward Orson Wells' notorious War of the Worlds broadcast. Much fun is also had as Agent Scully (Anderson) continually pours cold water over Mulder's (Duchovny) wild theories, by phone, from the comfort of her home.

Jose Chung is one of the most elaborate scripts ever written for The X-Files. A complex web of lies, misinformation and false memories impedes Mulder and Scully's investigation of an apparent abduction - and also ensures that the viewer can never be entirely sure what the "truth" really is. The presentation of dubious second- and third-hand accounts allows for many outrageous moments, including Mulder's exaggerated whoop of excitement, and a police officer whose expletives have been deleted. This episode stretches the X-Files envelope as far as it will go, without sinking to the frankly silly extremes of certain later episodes, such as Season Six's How the Ghosts Stole Christmas and The Unnatural. However, the effects team's efforts to create a creature that looks like a bad special effect (the Inner Earth dweller Lord Kinbote) work a little too well!

It is not just the Darin Morgan scripts that extol humour. The cosmic alignment that affects the behaviour of the townsfolk in Chris Carter's Syzygy also intensifies the friction that exists between Mulder and Scully - with hilarious results! Both Syzygy and Howard Gordon's D.P.O. feature comical teenage characters. In the case of D.P.O., the two losers in question are based on MTV's Beavis and Butthead.

Other highlights include the Silence of the Lambs-inspired Oubliette and Pusher, which marks the first appearance of Robert Modell (Robert Wisden), a fascinating villain with the ability to influence the perceptions and actions of others.

This season also contains excellent "mythology" episodes, including Paper Clip - the stunning conclusion to the previous season's cliffhanger - and Piper Maru/Apocrypha, which introduces the Black Oil. Paper Clip is particularly notable for the pivotal and exhilarating scene in which Assistant Director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) tells the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) to "pucker up and kiss my ass!" Apart from making you want to punch the air, this confrontation also signals an even greater ongoing role for Skinner.

There are no out-and-out duds in Season Three, although The Blessing Way is a little slow-moving and Teso Dos Bichos is rather silly (killer moggies - ooh, I'm scared). 2Shy is a rather obvious variation on Season One's Squeeze (and not the last one, either) but is still a good, scary episode. These shows remain stronger than the weakest instalments of any other season.

As with the previous DVD boxes, this collection contains the now customary The Truth About... documentary, 12 short Chris Carter interviews about his favourite episodes, Behind the Truth spots (17 this time) from the F/X channel, foreign language clips, special effects clips, deleted scenes, and TV trailers for each episode. Among these features, you will get to hear the "Kim Manners directing cockroaches" anecdote three times, but never mind! This time around, the special effects clips, deleted scenes and TV trailers on the bonus features disc have been made more user-friendly by the addition of a "play all" option.

Contrary to the information on the packaging, Chris Carter's commentary over the deleted scenes is not optional on the features disc. Fortunately, these scenes - three minutes from The Blessing Way, 30 seconds from Clyde Bruckman, two minutes from The List, a few seconds from Revelations, and two and a half minutes from Avatar - can also be accessed, without the commentary, on the relevant episodic discs. As with the Season Two box, the deleted scenes can also be played within the context of the episode itself.

Features new to this series include episode commentaries: director Kim Manners and writer Chris Carter talk about Apocrypha, while director Rob Bowman and writer Darin Morgan discuss Jose Chung's "From Outer Space". Another innovation is the "cast credits" feature that accompanies each episode. This text feature allows you to see exactly who played whom, which is useful with a show that tends to list only the actors' names but not which characters they played.

All in all, there is very little to fault this box set - an excellent collection of episodes, attractively presented.

Richard McGinlay

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