Friday, 22 January 2016

I was a teenage X-Files addict.




For the first time in 13 years there's a new episode of The X-Files coming up and the only person who could possibly be more excited is 12-year old me.
12 year-old Christopher, who was proud that every inch of his bedroom walls was covered in X-Files posters - some bought from the Virgin Megastore, some begged from the CD & Video Department at Asda or Woolworths.

Books and videos (quite the audio-visual library - some recorded onto blank tapes bought in packs of three from HMV, some double-episode specials saved up for and bought for £15.99 a go) filled shelves and cupboards. Magazines and comics stacked carefully in the cupboard, the most precious and hard-to-find ones protected by plastic sleeves. Double copies purchased where possible so photos could be clipped, blu-tacked up, pritt-sticked on the cover of school books. Trying to persuade school mates this wasn't just about aliens and space and geeky stuff, that it was about people and drama and comedy and everything. We were the original bing watchers, the box set addicts, only we had to make do with 45-minute binges with week-long gaps in between, at the mercy of ruthless schedulers and roaming release dates.

Copies of Radio Times bearing the faces of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, an 'officiel' magazine in unreadable French procured on a school trip, copies of the US TV Guide with fold-out covers and glossy ads for upcoming episodes that came through the post, begged from Internet friends afar, exotic mustard-coloured envelopes with foreign stamps ripped open and their contents pored over.

Oh the Internet. In its infancy still, reachable only through the plinky-plonky modem and rationed by parents to an hour or two a day, at the weekend - except for those other times when I'd need to hurriedly disconnect if someone approached the phone to ring someone. Incomprehensible, really, when the world is a touch-screen away now. So while teenagers seemingly send each other naked selfies and stream high-res porn on multiple devices, 12-year old me was too busy frantically searching for spoilers at The Haven, grabbing at snippets of information for episodes not due to air in the UK for months, or attempting to download grainy scans of the latest American magazine interviews with my favourite dynamic duo.

This was before Youtube, before Reddit, before Twitter - where spoilers would drip on to message boards and newsgroups and patchy Geocities sites from faceless faraway fans with handles like 'XFan1013' and 'Queequeg' and 'DanaShipper'. 

Homemade photoshop collages of pensive promotional poses: Scully's large late 90s hairdo and pastel power suits competing with Mulder's gelled quiff and knowing smile. This was the show that grew up as the world wide web did, with fans swapping ICQ numbers and Yahoo Pager IDs, joining webrings, communicating in the X-Philean language of episode numbers (3x14) and brutally dividing ourselves into teams of shippers and NoRoMos. A language picked up over hours and hours of surfing sites with black backgrounds and neon green Times New Roman titles, the reward of dedication, the sense of community, the fandom.

And then we all grew up, and the VHS box sets grew dusty, and we took down the posters with their curling corners. All those teenage fans found real-life girls and boys and booze and jobs, their forum passwords forgotten, their avatars abandoned. 

It was the magazines I struggled to get rid of - collected and catalogued with pride, there's still a handful of my most prized ones in the drawer of my spare room, their cover dates - 1998, 1999, 2000 - impossibly long ago.

12-year old me - in my overwashed The Truth Is Out There t-shirt bought with Christmas gift vouchers from Our Price -  wouldn't comprehend that people not even born then would one day watch every episode on demand, without ads, pausing and rewinding, discovering this extraordinary story of trust and faith, of aliens and freaks, of love and betrayal, for the first time. 

Hundreds of hours of dialogue and glances and shadows and lights that we pored over, analysed, gasped at, reviewed - admired by millions, in glorious remastered high definition, a million miles from our grainy video tapes peppered with Sky One adverts. Mark Snow's six eerie whistling notes that re-defined a television genre and set the tone for an era of paranoia and shaky spaceship stories.

And none of us could have imagined that we'd be sitting down to watch fresh new episodes, two decades later, waiting to see what Mulder and Scully, Fox and Dana, would be running away from, creeping down shadowy corridors towards, shining their impossibly large torches at, analysing and bickering about in their stupidly garbled but weirdly comforting lexicon that reminds me of days happy and familiar.

The X-Files is back and I can't wait.