It’s hard to believe that The X-Files originally aired in our living rooms 30 years ago today.
It’s difficult to fathom a world without Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) after 11 seasons, 218 episodes, and two feature films.
Today, the DNA of the X-Files can be seen in programmes like Lost, Supernatural, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and, to a lesser degree, your CSIs and Criminal Minds; we haven’t seen anything like it on our television screens since.
The X-Files’ dizzying combination of long-running extraterrestrial conspiracies, monsters, riddles, gross-out moments, and our favourite leads Mulder and Scully’s opposing personalities has firmly entrenched its position in pop cultural history.
It has produced writers such as Vince Gillian, who went on to develop Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.
Join us as we go through some of the show’s most memorable events (including the only episode to ever include a warning!).
Mulder: ‘There’s a Michael Jackson joke in here somewhere, but I can’t quite find it.’
The X-Files covered a lot of ground during its 10 seasons. For every little green man there were stories of religious cults, deities, vampires, witchcraft, and in this case, a terrifying West African folktale.
The duo investigated a series of bizarre deaths where bodies have been drained of colour and turned white. Mulder’s investigations lead him to believe the Teliko are a lost African clan who steal hormones from the pituitary gland…
Throughout its run, The X-Files would infrequently change the tagline that followed its main titles. This episode replaced ‘The Truth Is Out There’ with ‘Deceive Inveigle Obfuscate’.
This episode also marks the second appearance from Marita Covarrubias – one of Mulder’s confidantes, and later revealed as a member of the shadowy Syndicate who may or may not be in league with visitors from another planet…
10. The Erlenmeyer Flask
Deep Throat: ‘Trust… no… one….’
Boy did The X-Files know how to do season finales… Mulder and Scully got closer to the conspiracy hinted at throughout its debut season with proof that their hunt for extraterrestrial life isn’t just hokum.
A tense stand-off on a bridge leads to the series first shocking death (RIP Deep Throat), and we come face-to-face with an alien fetus! Yes, aliens exist! Mulder was right all along. But this revelation also leads the powers to be to shut down The X-Files and disband Mulder and Scully…
9. War of the Coprophages
Scully: ‘Her name is Bambi?‘
You could always rely on Darin Morgan to lighten the tone… War of the Coprohages was definitely one of the more comic X-Files entries (see also the rather excellent Jose Chung’s From Outer Space). Sure, it was light on pant-wetting scares, but it had more than enough to give you a tickly feeling – at one point a bug runs across the screen, and listen out for the sound of a beetle chirp towards the end of the hour…
Throughout the investigation Mulder is joined by one Dr. Bambi Berenbaum. Bambi being an entomologist who Mulder takes a particular shine too – cue much eye-rolling from Scully… A doe-eyed Mulder believes the roaches are extra-terrestrial in origin.
Despite the silly subject matter, the episode raises a lot of questions and shines a light on Mulder & Scully’s differing belief systems. Did the bugs really burrow into its victims body or was it a drug-induced paranoia? Later, Mulder and Berenbaum visit a house whose whole walls are moving due to the roaches crawling inside. Yuck.
8. Leonard Betts
Mulder: ‘Will the real Leonard Betts please stand up?’
Mulder and Scully are on the trail of a cancer-eating mutant who can seemingly regrow his body parts at will. The first we learn of this unnatural ability is after his decapitation, and discovery of a bathtub filled with iodine…
While Scully’s cancer reveals itself later this season, this episode drops a clanger of a hint in Betts’ advances towards the flame-haired agent. As the hour hurtles towards its conclusion Betts attacks Scully in the back of an ambulance, apologetically telling her she has ‘something he needs’.
This episode is the most watched episode of the entire series – in the United States it aired just after Super Bowl XXXI.
Mulder: ‘Sheriff Taylor implied that the boys in that family were not really the type that could easily get dates.’
Murderous inbreeding, body horror, dead babies, and family members living under the bed… it’s safe to say The Peacocks won’t be getting their own reality TV series anytime soon.
Home represented a true fright-fest, it was as close to schlocky true horror as The X-Files ever treaded. Perhaps (and maybe in spite of that) it has proven divisive among X-Philes – just like The Hills Have Eyes then, it’s certainly one of the show’s more infamous entries.
This is the only episode to air with a warning stating ‘Viewer discretion is advised’, and Stateside it was rated TV-MA. It was also banned from ever being repeated, but this has since lapsed.
Pfaster: ‘There’s no way out, girly girl.’
Nick Chinlund’s Donnie Pfaster proves that psychos and killers make for just as terrifying monsters as those brain-sucking counterparts.
A mortuary worker who prefers collecting hair and fingernails to Panini Sticker Albums, turns his compulsion into murder (and later our very own Scully)!
Pfaster’s death fetishist was not the character’s final form – creator Chris Carter originally viewed the character as a necrophiliac, but this was considered too much for broadcasters.
Robert Patrick Modell: ‘Your turn, Scully. Got to play by the rules. Pull the trigger, Mulder.‘
Our favourite agents hunt a contract killer, believed to be dying, in a thrilling game of cat and mouse. Robert Patrick Modell believed his brain tumour granted him telepathic abilities, which he uses to influence and push people to his will (hence the episode’s title). Modell is a particularly terrifying adversary owing in part to his “warrior codes” (namely a fascination with the Japanese art of Bushido) and unwavering fixation on Mulder.
The episode’s breathless climax ratchets up the tension, and sees Mulder being pushed into playing Russian roulette before turning the gun on Scully…
Pusher is a Vince Gilligan creation, in-fact he’s quoted as saying this was his favourite episode.
Incidentally, Robert Patrick (of Terminator fame) would go on to play Agent Doggett through Seasons 8-9.
Cigarette Smoking Man: ‘Kill Mulder and you risk turning one man’s religion into a crusade.‘
For Mulder, Ascension must feel like Groundhog Day*, not content with just abducting his sister, the little green men take Scully.
After breaking in through her bathroom window, a dangerous and deluded Duane Barry carts Scully off in the back of his boot. What follows is a labyrinthe instalment, as Mulder joins the manhunt, gets assistance from an unlikely source (rat boy himself, Alex Krycek), clambers atop cable cars, finds clues to Cigarette Smoking Man’s involvement, and the unceremonious reopening of the X-Files.
*Groundhog day is actually used as a plot device in the rather ingenious sixth season episode ‘Monday’.
Albert Hosteen: ‘The Earth has a secret it needs to tell.‘
Another season finale – but the set, the scope, and the kinetic energy that flowed through Anasazi would make you think you’re watching a Hollywood blockbuster not an episode of The X-Files.
There are revelations aplenty – the series’ big bad Cigarette Smoking Man has ties to Mulder’s father (who Krycek later kills!), a boxcar full of aliens, devious double-crosses, and before the hour’s over Mulder’s not only shot by Scully, but trapped inside aforementioned boxcar when Cigarette Smoking Man blows it sky high. Did someone say cliffhanger?!
Say what you will about the tangled mess the mythology would eventually become – at this point the alien conspiracy (and its many players) kept us superfans – aka the X Philes – truly enthralled.
Anasazi would culminate in a further two episodes that properly kicked off the third season.
2. The Host
Scully: ‘Mulder, nature didn’t make this thing. We did.’
Straight out of a horror B-movie and into the sewers – the Flukeman might be the most recognisible and iconic monster to slither into The X-Files.
Despite its terrifying, flukeworm-like appearance, the monster is actually revealed to be man-made, and the product of the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl.
This episode also saw the debut of Mulder’s shadowy informer X.
The man in the suit is Darin Morgan – brother of one half of The X-Files superstar writing duo Morgan & Wong. Glen Morgan, and his writing partner James Wong penned many of the series most thrilling episodes. Speaking of which…
Scully: ‘Oh my God, Mulder. It smells like… I think it’s bile.’
An early season one highlight, and arguably never bettered throughout its entire run. Notably, this was also the first Monster of the Week episode written.
Eugene Victor Tooms had a penchant for human livers, and once sated, would go into hibernation for thirty years, before rousing and repeating his murderous cycle. This mutant freak was creepily realised in Doug Hutchinson’s performance, the “Squeeze” in the title referred to Tooms unnerving ability to stretch and elongate his body through impossible spaces.
And despite being incarcerated at the episode’s end, the liver-loving freak returned in a later season one episode, Tooms.
You’ll never look at an air vent in the same way again…
The X-Files is available to stream on Disney Plus in the UK.