The truth is back...
It's nearly time. The X-Files returns for a new series it's tenth on January 24th in the US (we're still waiting to find out exactly when Channel 5 will be showing it in the UK). We're promised a comfortingly creepy mix of conspiracies, UFOs, monsters and weirdoes of the week.
But what if (gasp!) you've never seen the show before? Here's a selection of 10 stories (we're counting two-parters as one tale) that make a fine starter set to whet your appetite. We've gone for a broad selection that cover the shows main genres. Plus one that's a bit rubbish, but kind of an obligation...
This is where it all started. This low-key first investigation was something of a revelation when it first transmitted back in 1993. Sceptical scientist Dana Scully is partnered with a fallen-from-grace FBI hotshot, Fox Mulder, on the X-Files a much-scorned department dedicated to investigating unexplained phenomena. Their first case involves investigating a string of mysterious deaths in Oregon.
Why watch it? It's the origin story for Mulder and Scully one of TV's greatest ever partnerships. And while the case itself is pretty small fry compared to some of the series later episodes, it nails the tone. Part Kolchak: The Night Stalker, part Twin Peaks, it's a drizzly, spooky and above all believable twist on the UFO story.
Bendy bad boy Eugene Victor Tooms is a human liver-munching maniac who can squeeze through any gap to get you. He's the first of The X-Files many gruesome killers and this was the first episode to show that the series isn't just about UFOs.
Why watch it? Despite some truly frightening early '90s suits, this is still one of the show's most memorable episodes. Tooms is a genuinely creepy villain, ably played by Doug Hutchison, and we get a good sense of our favourite agents underdog status. They may work for the FBI, but it seems like almost all their colleagues hate them. When you're done with this one, you should also watch the almost-as-good sequel, Tooms.
Duane Barry/Ascension (S2.05/S2.06)
It may seem strange now, but there was a real sense of event about this two-parter back in the '90s. It comes from that heady period before all of the conspiracy episodes had merged into a drab, unintelligible mass, and the news that Gillian Anderson was leaving the show sent shockwaves through X-Philes fandom. As it turned out she was back a few weeks later, but that doesn't stop this from being a thrilling, tragic tale with a real sense of impending doom.
Why watch it? The first part is a fantastically tense hostage thriller with a great performance from guest star Steve Railsback. The second episode ups the action, with Mulder discovering Agent Krycek's treachery and a tense chase up a mountain to save Scully.
Mulder and Scully investigate a string of mysterious deaths at a sideshow in Florida, coming face-to-face with a cast of strange, hilarious and disturbing characters.
Why watch it? Because it's Darin Morgan on dazzling form. Though he only penned four episodes of show's original run, he is widely-regarded as the show's finest writer. He's back in the new series, with Mulder And Scully Meet The Were-Monster, and while "Humbug" is perhaps not as emotional as Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose or as out there as the divisive, hilarious Jose Chung's From Outer Space, it strikes the perfect balance of scary and funny that characterises The X-Files at its best.
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan cut his teeth working on The X-Files and is responsible for many fine episodes but perhaps none better than this. Pusher has a truly menacing villain in the form of Robert Patrick Modell (Robert Wisden) a man who can push his will onto others.
Why watch it? It's one of the best thriller episodes the show ever did. Modell leaves a trail of bodies behind him, and there's a real thrill in seeing Mulder and Scully forced to call on the help of so many FBI agents to take him down. Plus, it ends in a one-on-scene game of Russian roulette between Mulder and his nemesis that's tough to watch even though you know our favourite agent is likely going to survive...
Musings Of A Cigarette Smoking Man (S4.07)
Season four saw the show at the height of its powers and more willing to experiment than ever before. Hence this witty episode that delves into the backstory of the Cigarette Smoking Man...
Why watch it? Because it achieves the impossible and makes you feel sympathy for The X-Files ultimate nemesis, while its unreliable narrator makes it impossible to fully trust anything you see on screen. He may be making the whole thing up! While his story would appear to have been fully wrapped up, it will be intriguing to see what role the character plays in the new series.
The Post-Modern Prometheus (S5.05)
A black and white episode about a Cher-obsessed monster? You better believe it. What's perhaps more surprising is that this episode is not only good it's really good and genuinely funny.
Why watch it? Because, Darin Morgan episodes aside, it's probably the high-point of the comedy X-Files episodes. Season six would take this trend to frankly annoying extremes, but here it still feels genuinely fresh and amusing. It helps that there's real heart and emotion too.
Bad Blood (5.12)
Vince Gilligan gets funny. A tale of vampires (or are they?) in Texas, this uses the old Rashomon trick of examining an event from different points of view though Gilligan has stated that he was actually inspired by an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show! Mulder kills a boy who he believes is a vampire. But what if he's wrong?
Why watch it?Because it plays with genre conventions, is properly funny, and the structural twist (that both Mulder and Scully have very different ideas about what actually went on in this case) is refreshing.
Via Negativa (8.7)
People talk a lot of smack about season eight, but here's a thing: it's mostly really good. Sure, Mulder is largely absent, but the introduction of Doggett (Robert Patrick) and Reyes (Annabeth Gish) gives the ailing series a shot in the arm. Take a look at pretty much every episode of season seven and you'll see what we mean
Best of the bunch is the deeply creeply Via Negativa a real throwback to the show's glory days. This tale of a religious cult, psychedelic drugs and axe murders is genuinely unsettling. Agent Doggett faces a mystery that Mulder would have relished and is horrified by it. It's an elegant way of illustrating the differences between the two agents.
Why watch it? For evidence that the new agents were a fine partnership who should be celebrated more often. Let's hope we see them again in season ten.
The Truth (S9.19/9.20)
Mulder is put on trial, forcing Scully, Doggett and Reyes to come to his defence. Meanwhile, an old enemy (take a wild guess who), long thought dead, returns and the aliens' final invasion draws near...
Why watch it? Approach this one with caution. While it is the last episode of the show's original nine season run, and therefore an important milestone, few fans would rate it as a classic. Instead, it's a long, plodding, unsatisfying end to the series full of exposition and dodgy pacing. Happily, we now know that it isn't the end at all merely a pause before (hopefully) a return to the show's glorious best. And it's still a lot better than the woeful follow up film, I Want To Believe.