Why do we love The X-Files so much? Well, Scully and Mulder, of course — and while the show was famous for its alien conspiracy mythology, we confess to preferring its signature monster-of-the-week episodes. A fascinating new book digs into some of the show’s squishiest cases, and Gizmodo has a sneak peek plus an interview with the author!
Paul Terry’s The X-Files: The Official Archives – Cryptids, Biological Anomalies, and Parapsychic Phenomena is out September 15. It offers an “in-world, specially-compiled archive of Special Agents Mulder and Scully’s actual X-file reports from the show, including: field reports, autopsy results, newspaper clippings, sketch artist drawings of eye-witness testimony, evidence ripped from books on the occult, security camera footage printouts, and more.”
Gizmodo is thrilled to share a few teaser pages from three different cases; the book itself has even more details from each of these cases and many more, delving into 50 total. Series superfans, budding cryptozoologists, and enthusiasts of all things spooky (and Spooky, as in Mulder), step right up — and keep reading for our interview (conducted over email) with author (and X-Files superfan!) Paul Terry.
First up, the season four episode “El Mundo Gira” brought the FBI agents to California’s San Joaquin Valley, where the residents of a migrant camp suspect that a woman’s gruesome death was caused by a legendary creature known as El Chupacabra. Or, as Scully soon discovers, an unusual fungus (possibly extraterrestrial in origin, according to Mulder) may have been to blame. Future Fear the Walking Dead star Rubén Blades pops up as a sarcastic and, unfortunately, doomed INS agent whose photo also appears in the file. Here’s a look at their findings!
Next up, here are materials from season six episode “Tithonus.” Amid a not-so-great moment for the X-Files when she and Mulder have been busted down to doing background checks, Scully gets tapped to help another agent who’s even more sceptical than she is to investigate a New York City crime scene photographer (Geoffrey Lewis) who may or may not be a murderer. He also may or may not be immortal, as this paperwork tracing his incredible life span suggests.
And finally, here’s a glimpse of the case file from season six episode “Agua Mala,” in which Scully and Mulder — summoned by cantankerous, retired FBI agent Arthur Dales (The Night Stalker’s Darren McGavin), a sort of proto-Mulder figure — visit Florida at the height of a hurricane to investigate what sure looks to be some kind of murderous sea monster.
Paul Terry: To set the scene a little, The X-Files is my all-time favourite show. In 2015, shortly after season 10 was announced, I came up with the idea for this in-world book. I pitched it to Fox along the lines of, “You know what book X-Files fans would love to own? The actual X-files.” Two different publishers then flirted with possibly making it for a couple of years, but they ultimately passed. And thank goodness they did. Because Abrams Books, and their executive editor Eric Klopfer, proved to be absolutely the right home for this project.
I take the whole “in-world book” concept very seriously because you have to do right by the show, and the fans. When it came to choosing which cases should be in this volume, that process began with figuring out some crucial fundamentals: Why does this book exist? Who made it? What exactly would each X-file look like? And if a case file was destroyed in the show — in the end-of-season five office fire — how could it be in this book?
This project then required a full rewatch of the entire series. But through a totally different lens. I took copious notes on every single episode, considering further things like: Who would’ve written up this field report? Only Mulder? Just Scully? Or would they both have contributed to it? What did Mulder/Scully actually witness? How do Mulder and Scully write/“speak” in their field reports? For the visual components, I made a note of objects/props shown on screen in the episode that could legitimately be in each report and should be on my “I must find these in the Fox archives” list. Plus — with that trusty frame-by-frame pause button — other items that should be recreated from screen references, and other important details, like the X-file case number, or a minor character’s name tag.
Then I grouped all the episodes into categories. I always wanted this first book to focus on some of the fan-favourite “monster of the week” tales, so that’s why it collates the cryptids, biological anomalies, and parapsychic phenomena cases.
Next, it was about hitting the Fox archives. That team is incredible. Pretty much all of the archived paper props from The X-Files had not seen the light of day in over 20 years. I gave them my wish list, and they pulled boxes from the warehouse. But it was a treasure hunt. I spent weeks going through endless piles of boxes, folders, papers, acetates, photos, and props, and shouting “Yes!” whenever I happened upon something that legitimately could exist inside this in-world book. It really has been an absolute fan’s dream come true — getting to wade through all of that X-Files history.
Then, once I’d seen season 11 (in 2018), there was a perfect piece of kismet. In the episode “This,” when Skinner mentioned Perlu — a Russian-run private company that digitised the X-files so they could be accessed online by anyone at the Bureau — I had a light-bulb moment. The narrative explanation behind this book’s existence was solidified: Skinner feared that any digitised intelligence documents can be manipulated to suit an agenda. But not physical evidence. So, many years prior — when Mulder and Scully were missing (after the end of season 9) — Harrison was tasked to secretly secure the master, physical archives.
Gizmodo: What sort of input did you get from Chris Carter and writers Vince Gilligan and Frank Spotnitz? What was it like working with them?
Terry: First, Fox sent the idea/concept of the book to Chris Carter, who gave it his blessing. Then, during the research and the writing process, I compiled a list of as-yet-unknown X-Files details that would be incredible for Chris to provide. Things like key dates, and full names for characters that had only ever been known by either just a forename or surname. Chris very kindly revealed a lot of such details. I was also given shooting scripts, so I could extrapolate other little Easter eggs for the fans to find.
It was then Chris’s idea to reach out to Vince Gilligan and Frank Spotnitz, to see if they would like to do the same for their episodes. It is such an honour that all three of them took the time to revisit these episodes and supply full character names and intel for this book. Their input was invaluable. It made what was already my dream book project even more special.
Gizmodo: What was the process like when it came to crafting the illustrations and (especially) the photographs?
Terry: For each case, it began with the same question: Can we find these seen-on-screen photographs in the Fox archives? If we could, fantastic. But for the components that would need to be recreated, I would take reference screen captures, and provide a detailed description of the in-world rule. For example, “Make it look like a still-frame taken from a nearby security camera.” It then fell to the extraordinary talents of our designer, Paul Kepple, from Headcase Design. From using the era-specific fonts, through to ageing documents, and making the props and photo recreations look so realistic that you find yourself trying to pick them up off the page, Paul’s dedication to the in-world aesthetics of this book was constantly inspiring. It pushed me harder to think of extra little details to boost the in-world experience for the reader. Which led to me drawing a few of the illustrations too.
Gizmodo: What’s your personal favourite episode, and why?
Terry: I have so many favourites, both from the mythology and the standalone episodes. But if I have to pick one, it’s “Bad Blood.” There is just so much to love. The insanely smart cold open — Mulder literally sticking a wooden stake into the chest of a teenager, who is revealed to have fake fangs — is genius. It takes us into the episode wondering, “How on earth is Mulder not going to be convicted for murder?!” Then, we get to see different sides of Mulder and Scully’s personalities — and how they see each other — in a unique, hilarious way. The “unreliable narrator” technique on display throughout this episode has never been bettered in any other TV show or film. Plus, the way the story unfolds, and ultimately wraps up, is completely unexpected. I knew “Bad Blood” had to be in this book, but I also knew it presented a unique challenge. What exactly would they have included, visually, in the field report? And how did they resolve their two, very different opinions about what went down? That was a really fun conundrum to figure out.
Gizmodo: You said you were a huge X-Files fan before you started this project. Do you have a favourite memory of the show?
Terry: I can still remember the night in September 1994 that The X-Files aired on the BBC. (Although I’ve lived in Los Angeles for the past five years, I’m a Brit.) My mum has always been a big fan of horror and sci-fi. And she would always be doing the ironing while watching things like The X-Files and Twin Peaks with me. So, thinking about my teenage years watching The X-Files brings back this sense memory: Nearly all the lights are off in the lounge. I’m glued to the sofa, riveted by Mulder and Scully’s adventures. To my right, my mum — with a low-light lamp on — is somehow managing to barely take her eyes off the TV, whilst ironing my dad’s work shirts for the week. Without burning them. Now, that is an X-file.
Gizmodo: Why do you think The X-Files has remained so popular (and so fascinating!) after so many years?
Terry: I think its unique alchemy is the key. It’s not just one thing. For example, the writing, directing, overall mood, and atmosphere were always compelling — be they terrifying or comedic cases. And, for me, the standalone cases and the overarching mythology were in perfect balance. I loved how challenging and complex the continuing storyline was. It never dumbed down anything. You really had to pay attention. Also, people often forget that, in a world of oft-changing showrunners, Chris Carter was with the show for its entire run, plus the two movies. I think that was an incredibly important factor in the consistency of the show.
But, above all of the aforementioned ingredients, The X-Files’ magic is led by Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. The X-Files always had incredible casting, across the board. But, without Gillian and David’s characterization choices, timing, and captivating partnership, there is no show. I think that, nearly 30 years on, people are still just as fascinated — if not more so — by Mulder and Scully’s wonderfully complex, real, and fully-formed relationship, than they are the intriguing phenomena that they investigated. They added — pun intended — that unquantifiable “X factor” to the soul of the show. Even today, when it comes to TV dramas that revolve around a duo, I really do think that what Chris, David, Gillian, and the writers crafted with Mulder and Scully remains the standard that most TV shows are striving to reach.