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Saturday, 6 February 2016

The return of The X-Files and The Walking Dead

This article can be found in the blog section of the 5D website at There you can also find a tasty selection of Scifi/fantasy and horror treats!

This February something of a double television whammy is getting this here blogger about as excited as one can legally get without incurring restraining orders or ridiculous accusations of stalking - And while I'm on that subject, apparently it isn't actually a valid defence in a court of law if one tries explaining to the judge that if I was to wake up to 50 emails EACH morning from the same person I would regard that as a compliment rather than a reason to call the police..... but hey-ho. Whoever said that the law was fair?

Anyhoo.........back to the February double whammy excitement. 

Firstly, In the dim and distant days of early 1994 life was akin to living in the dark ages. The Internet and the World Wide Web were still a year or two away from life changing transformation, there were no iPhones, no iPods and the usual way to make a friend request was to strike up a drunken conversation in the local pub. Blimey, just how did we exist?!

Another void in any self respecting geeks life back then was the veritable lack of quality scifi, fantasy & horror on television. Thesedays, with the advent of satellite TV, Netflix, Amazon Prime et al we seem to be experiencing a true golden age of TV with the soon to be discussed The Walking Dead, not to mention the likes of American Horror Story, Hannibal, Z Nation, Dark Matter and more tasty superhero series selections than you could shake Stan Lee at. In all honesty, it's getting to the point that I'm fast losing the time to fit them all into my increasingly hectic schedule...... But it's a dirty job and somebody has to do it. As you all know, I'm just the man for that job.

The smoking man's gonna getcha
In 1994 it all was very different. Yes, yes, yes - I know that the Star Trek franchises were in full swing and that there were no doubt some other delectable geeky crumbs out there, but it was still a comparative desert of good TV. However the early part of that year saw the arrival of perhaps the tastiest morsal of that or any other time, and in turn became a viewing habit that very quickly turned into an obsession. In other words, the greatest ever piece of television science fiction hit our screens.

From the very start of its first season it became apparent that the X-Files was a thing of unqualified beauty. For the benefit of the couple of people and their pet dog in the world who didn't manage to see this example of science fiction genius, here is a quick recap.........

Practical and serious career minded gorgeous FBI agent Dana Scully is told to keep her eye on strange and troubled not-so-career-minded FBI agent Fox Mulder........Scully likes science and  being serious.......Mulder likes paranormal alien conspiracies and cracking funnies........they work together.......Scully doesn't believe........Mulder wants to believe.....common respect ensues........Sexual tension follows big time........Scully starts to believe.......Lone Gunman......Smoking man.......Syndicate.........Mulder abducted.......Alien Invasion.......fugitives on the run. I think that just about sums things up nicely.

The first season for me is my personal favourite, not because the subsequent seasons were of a lesser standard, because they weren't (well, possibly for the exception of season 9 that is). However season 1 is where the huge standards were initially set with cinematic attention to production detail, excellent special effects, clever writing plus an intoxicating mix of character and plot driven storylines.

Oh yes, not forgetting a relationship that was positively dripping with sexual tension (though not literally, however interesting that would've been). What sets the season apart from what followed was the fact that the vast majority of the episodes were all singular stories on their own, paying very little notice to the paranormal conspiracy that forms the arc of the X-File narrative. Now, while I like a good conspiracy narrative as much as the next man, some of these self contained episodes were near perfection in terms of writing and pacing........ And chills, don't forget the chills!

This first season gave us a number of classic episodes frequently cited in top 10 fan favourites;

* Squeeze - A mutant who murders his victims with the intention of removing their livers so it can live longer....oh & it can also squeeze through seemingly impossibly tight spaces. My personal X-Files favourite.

* Beyond the sea - The sceptic/believer roles are reversed when Dana 'delicious' Scully exhibiting the leap of faith in a death row inmate's claim that he has psychic abilities. Mulder thinks the inmate is full of it. Great stuff.

Sadly, it has to be said that the X-Files suffered from the one series too many syndrome as the ideas and freshness seemed to slowly disappear - in fact it could be argued that the last two series were less than satisfactory. So too were the two movies that came after the demise of the series as it seemed the writers were stuck between providing wanting to provide a continuation of the X-Files mythology and trying to provide a stand alone narrative for the two people and their dog who had no knowledge of the TV series. What cannot be denied though is that the series did what only a few have succeeded in doing, namely transporting itself from being merely a TV programme and instead into the wider public consciousness. The X-Files found itself a pop culture phenomenon with even those foolish few who had never seen an episode were fully aware about Messrs Mulder, Scully & the smoking man. Ahhh, good times. 

The truly gorgeous Gillian & some other guy.
So when the rumours that had been around from the moment the series ended in 2002 finally became true, that the army of X-Files fans would actually see a 10th series, I was thrilled beyond belief for two reasons; The first reason is pretty obvious, for the most part this was arguably the finest example of television science fiction ever...... that's a fact which I will challenge anyone who disagrees with me to a wrestling match in a pool of custard.

The second reason is far more shallow and superficial - because while Gillian Anderson may have been on the right side of gorgeous back in the 1990's, well, let's just say that the sands of time have been very, very, very kind to her, God she looks so very good these days! 

The six episode season 10 has already began to air in the States and so far I've been able to avoid any spoilers. What I do know is that the reviews have been a little mixed. Seriously, I don't care. I simply can't wait until I see that first episode in a couple of days. 

The Walking Dead returns on 15th February here in the UK from its mid-season break. Now, many of my circle know of my obsession for the series - in fact some time ago I scribbled a few paragraphs on the subject, some of which I'm including here again.......

I discovered the Graphic novels a couple of years after they first appeared back in the dim and distant days of 2003. Yes, yes I know......once again I was quite ineptly behind the times. It certainly wasn't the first or last time. To be precise it was the summer of 2006 in which I first discovered the stunning artwork and storytelling that depicted a world where an unknown apocalyptic event has transformed the majority of the human population into slobbering, rotting flesh-eating zombies. As luck would have it at that time, I had landed a new & reasonably well paid job which not only meant that bills could finally be paid, plus I could buy good quality red wine, but it also allowed me to buy up every copy to date (and ever since) of that wonderful series. I was in regular zombie heaven.

Just part of my little collection.
A few years later (2010 to be once again precise) I learnt that the story was going to be adapted for TV, much to the suspicion and jealousy of some of my fellow Walking Dead graphic novel aficionados. I must admit that for a time I too shared their disquiet, though maybe not quite for the same reasons. I had read for months before the show aired many comments of fans worried in regard to such things as the authenticity of the story being lost and the potential of a glossy and insipid watering down of the gore for TV. There were indeed a plethora of other Graphic novel fan concerns. 

The thing is, I don't tend myself to get that precious about how the written word will fare under TV or film adaptation. There are some within the Scifi, horror & fantasy community who feel a strong degree of 'ownership' of literary material that to a unknowing third party would seem that it was actually them who had written it in the first place. For me, different mediums are entitled to treat the source material in any way they want. Reading a book is an entirely different experience from watching the same thing on screen, which is as it should be. I could never understand the controversy amongst fans (and I am a big time fan) about the adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and Game of Thrones, to name but three. 

If you love the books then simply don't give a flying fig about an adaptation that deviates from the source material. Honestly, who cares? The original source material will always be there to be cherished. And do you know something else? (I'm saying this quietly now), but sometimes those changes can work.......cough....Haldir's Elves at The Battle of Helms Deep....cough!.......really works in the movie...........cough!

I did try to dislike the TV series, I really did. Even when I heard that the mercurial Frank Darabont was going to be initially at the helm I had decided beforehand that I simply didn't want to be part of of what I saw as the inevitable watering down in the mainstreaming and mass-popularity that would take place. I can remember on that night in 2010 when I sat in front of my television to watch the 1st episode, arms crossed and a fixed facial expression that signified that I wasn't going to enjoy myself, no matter what.

Well a number of seasons later, that has somewhat changed, Actually, if truth be told it changed about 3 or 4 minutes into that first episode. Yes, the show deviated almost immediately from the comic source material, and in probably in far too many ways that irked many fellow comic fans. In fact there are far too many examples of how the show has changed the original concept and storyline to mention them all here - but I'll state a couple.

1) The fabulous characterisation of Daryll by Norman Reedus has become for many the cornerstone of the series, galvanising a whole industry of 'If Daryll dies, we walk" T-shirts whenever proceedings look as if Mr Dixon might finally succumb to the Zombie bite. However, the character simply didnt exist in the original comic series and was invented purely for the TV series. However, it works.

2) The character of Shane stayed around far longer on TV than in the novels, but again this worked. The portrayal by Jon Bernthal of a man slipping ever deeper into dark insanity was a masterstroke.

3) Many of the characters seem to have become polar opposites of their comic book creations; for example Carol never really loses her meakness and self doubt in the books, yet in the TV show she has become the epitome of female power with a character ark of incredible maturity and intensity. In addition, the much maligned Andrea (who it's safe to say, was never much of a fan favourite) who on screen simply went from naivety, on to insessent complaining and finished on just plain stupid was far different from the strong purposeful Andrea who is also the lover and confidante of Rick (and still very much alive) in the comic book.

I know that these and many other examples have been a constant source of controversy amongst Walking Dead fans. However for me they not only mostly work but it means that the two can be enjoyed entirely seperately on their own merits. It would be a brave person who denies that when it comes to pivotal and powerful scenes, nothing does it better than a TV show at its best.  

The Walking Dead series boasts perhaps more than most. I won't try to include all of my favourites as I'm sure I'll certainly be kicking myself over after forgetting to include them. However I'll mention just a small number of my personal TV moments off the top of my head.

* Shane shooting Otis as they try to evade the shuffling hords.....I can still hear the screams.

* Carol's lost daughter emerging from Herschel's barn and Rick stepping forward to deliver the killing shot.

* Darryl & Merle saving  Rick et al when they return to the prison

* Hershel's demise at the hands of the Governor.

* Carol saving the group from being hung on meat racks & the subsequent breakout at Terminus. (Still my favourite ever episode)

* Beth's death - Still shaken over that!

* Carol's genuinely frightening 'Stepford Wife' baking Psychopath in Alexandria

* The whole Glenn 'is he dead or isn't he ?' affair.

The simple fact is that the series has provided some of the more genuinely jaw-dropping televisual experiences that I have ever had. 

Once again Monday nights here in the UK may finally have some meaning when The Walking Dead returns after its mid-season break to feature the introduction of everybody's favourite sociopath from the novels. The casting of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan is truly inspired. I can hardly wait.

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