When The X-Files premiered on 10 September 1993, I was at a party at a friend's house. I tucked myself into a corner with the television and, ignoring the sound of glasses and beer bottles clinking behind me, sat rapt the entire hour.
At that time, I was a film school graduate looking for a toehold in Hollywood. I had no idea as I watched that episode, and all the ones that followed that first season, that I would be writing for the show a year later.
The X-Files was my first job in Hollywood, and it would become my second film school. Inexperienced as I was, I learned quickly. Within three seasons, I would graduate from staff writer to executive producer.
Looking back on it, I realise that - despite my inexperience - I'd a secret strength. I came to the show not just as a new writer looking to make a mark, but as a fan. I had already watched the series, loved it and connected with it as a viewer in some deep way. It was exactly the kind of show I would've watched and loved if it had been made when I was a kid.
It made sense to me when I learned that Chris Carter had, like me, grown up loving The Night Stalker (US 1972-3), a terrifying ABC TV movie and series starring Darren McGavin. The X-Files shared The Night Stalker's DNA. Both shows just wanted to scare the pants off of you.
I took great delight in trying to figure out new ways to terrify X-Files viewers. But over time, I came to see that The X-Files was about much more than scary stories. Chris had constructed a beautiful, elegant storytelling vehicle that allowed us not only to terrify and entertain, but to explore some fairly profound ideas.
The opening credits ended each week with the phrase, The Truth Is Out There. What did that mean, exactly? That aliens were real? What exactly was 'the truth' anyway? And just because it was out there, did that mean it could be known?
'I Want to Believe', said the poster on Mulder's office wall. What an odd and unexpected distinction - between the desire to believe and belief itself. Besides, Mulder did seem to believe - not just in aliens, but in werewolves, space worms, evil twins, gender-bending murderers and liver-eating mutants. [End Page iii]
The X-Files never attempted explicitly to answer the questions it raised. But the tensions caused by them rippled through every episode. It was the atmosphere in which the show breathed. And it was heady stuff.
The longer I worked on the series, the more conscious I became of its purpose-built contradictions. Gender stereotypes would dictate that a woman would be the character of faith, and a man the character of science. And yet Mulder was the believer, Scully the sceptic. While she didn't believe in little green men, she did wear a cross around her neck. She was a Catholic who could accept the truth of the Lord, while Mulder was an (unstated) agnostic who could believe in anything but.
Scully played Watson to Mulder's Holmes. In each episode, if as storytellers we could wear down Scully's scepticism, then we undoubtedly were starting to make our viewers a little uneasy as well.
I'm often asked why The X-Files was so successful. I begin by citing David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, and the magical chemistry they had together. I then go on to talk about the beauty of the series' central idea - a believer and sceptic investigating crimes that defy conventional explanation.
But the secret reason - and the reason I think the show has endured and will continue to - is because of those unanswered questions. We all sense that there is a mystery to life - that the universe is ultimately unknowable. The X-Files embraced that unknowability, and confronted it each week through the eyes of two heroic, romantic figures who never gave up hope.
Those unanswered questions are perhaps what inspired so many students and scholars to discuss and dissect the...