The X-Files
The Complete Fifth Season

Starring: David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson
20th Century Fox
RRP 34.99
Certificate: 15
Available 27 December 2004

Agent Mulder has had his faith in the existence of extra-terrestrials cruelly shattered, but Agent Scully finds herself increasingly opening her mind to extreme possibilities...

The fifth season of The X-Files is rather like a mostly flavoursome sandwich that is unfortunately surrounded by disappointingly slate bread. The bread comprises the inert opening episode Redux I (Redux II is only slightly better) and the well-produced but rather empty season finale The End.

Layers of limp lettuce are represented by episodes such as Detour, a not terribly original woodland episode that owes much of its inspiration to the movie The Predator and to Season One's Darkness Falls. Featuring the return of mental manipulator Robert Patrick Modell (Robert Wisden), Kitsunegari has great potential, but takes an unlikely twist too far, and fails to live up to Season Three's Pusher. Schizogeny has a lot of atmosphere to it, but is in essence just some nonsense about killer trees.

Occupying the middle ground of delectability are the episodes Chinga and Kill Switch, both of which are penned by famous guest co-writers. Stephen King's effort, Chinga, is not as fresh as one might expect (an evil doll - how original), but it does boast some very scary moments and some particularly amusing Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) scenes. It comes as no surprise that Kill Switch, by William (Neuromancer) Gibson, involves cyberspace. The plot makes a lot of predictable moves, but culminates in a brilliantly funny final act. Mind's Eye is a solid, well-acted piece of drama, despite the fact that the connection between the blind woman Martie Glenn (Lili Taylor) and the villain of the piece is reminiscent of several other episodes (Aubrey, Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose and Oubliette).

The truly tasty highlights of this season include the exceptional Unusual Suspects, an origin story for Mulder's paranoia and an amusing showcase for the Lone Gunmen (Tom Braidwood, Dean Haglund and Bruce Harwood). The Post-Modern Prometheus, a black-and-white homage to James Whale's Frankenstein movie, is almost as funny, its offbeat style underscored by some decidedly Danny Elfman-style music from 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 one of the agents' cases. Bad Blood is a further exploration of the concept of the unreliable narrative, and a brilliant one at that. The "he said/she said" format of the episode reveals how Mulder and Scully view situations in markedly, and hilariously, different ways. Folie Deux, a tale of monsters in the workplace, manages to be both offbeat and scary at the same time.

Rather more serious in tone is the two-part Christmas Carol/Emily, a moving mythology tale (shown in uninterrupted sequence this time, unlike in the VHS box set of this season). The remaining two-parter, Patient X/The Red and the Black is another winner, picking up numerous confusing plot points from over the previous four years, such as the apparently contradictory motives of the alien bounty hunters (Brian Thompson), and makes a great deal of sense out of them. Travelers, a flashback to the creation of the X-Files themselves, starring Darren McGavin (from Kolchak: The Night Stalker, a show that inspired Chris Carter to create the X-Files series) is a refreshingly different episode. So too is the exciting terrorist thriller, The Pine Bluff Variant. Following on from Miracle Man and Revelations, All Souls turns the spotlight on Scully's faith in God, and includes some particularly stirring music.

Comprising just 20 episodes, this is a relatively short season. This is because the cast and crew were busy filming the X-Files movie between Seasons Four and Five. As during Season Four, certain episodes were written to allow the principals some time off from their busy schedules. The two flashback episodes, Unusual Suspects and Travelers, do not feature Gillian Anderson at all, and only involve David Duchovny in a substantially reduced capacity. Christmas Carol focuses on Scully, and includes only a few minutes of Mulder.

To partially compensate for the lack of episodes, the final disc includes the 44-minute documentary, Inside The X-Files. This was previously included in the VHS box set of Season Five, as is given away by the fact that excerpts from certain deleted scenes still purport to be "previously unseen", even though they have subsequently been seen in full on DVD. In addition, we get all the extra features that we have come to rely upon, including another all-new The Truth About... documentary (18 minutes 30 seconds), eleven behind-the-scenes spots, eight special effects clips, six deleted scenes, and two promotional trailers for each episode. In addition, The Post-Modern Prometheus and The Pine Bluff Variant feature optional audio commentaries by Chris Carter and John Shiban respectively.

A slight improvement on the fourth season, Season Five is still not up to the superlative standard of The X-Files' first three years, but this box set is nevertheless well worth adding to your collection. Thankfully, and unlike the VHS box, the episodes are presented in their full widescreen format.

Richard McGinlay

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