My Top TV Couples!

I’ve recently been rewatching a few old television favourites and it’s become clear to me that the shows I tend to invest in usually have a strong couple at their heart. Some of these are friendships, some are more than that and others morph over time from one to the other. I’m still considering my list of ultimate TV friendships (watch this space), but in the spirit of it being Valentine’s Day, I’m starting with my favourite television couples.

Of course, everyone’s list will be personal, so I’m sure there will be couples I’ve missed who you would choose, so feel free to let me know your choices in the comments! It also goes without saying that this post will contain spoilers for the shows referenced.

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Fox Mulder & Dana Scully (The X-Files)

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To me, Mulder and Scully will always be the ultimate television couple. It was a relationship that grew from their strong friendship and over the years of the series I loved seeing how much respect and love these two amazing characters had for each other. It bubbled under the surface, but never detracted from the series itself and even 20 years later, the incredible chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson remains as powerful as ever. The magic the two of them share does not come around very often and as yet, has not been beaten. You can read more of my thoughts on these two here.

Harvey Specter & Donna Paulsen (Suits)

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I know some people may argue against the inclusion of Harvey and Donna in a couples list, but their relationship has developed so much recently, that I find it impossible not to see them as meant to be, even if they are not quite there yet! Over the last six seasons we have seen their deeply-rooted friendship grow. Yes, they’ve already been lovers once, but they share so much more than that. Sarah Rafferty and Gabriel Macht have a chemistry that is rare on television and I’m sure their long-standing friendship has added to the fabric of Harvey and Donna’s relationship. These characters wouldn’t be so wonderful on screen were they portrayed by anyone else. As with Mulder and Scully, this is certainly a slow burn, but surely these two have to end up together?!

Josh Lyman & Donna Moss (The West Wing)

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I clearly enjoy the slow burn relationships don’t I, as here is yet another one! From the start of Aaron Sorkin’s political drama I always loved the banter between the Deputy Chief of Staff and his assistant and as the series progressed, their wonderful bond became more apparent. Thanks to Bradley Whitford and Janel Moloney’s on screen connection, any other relationships each character had just never seemed quite as special as the one they shared together. Josh may have been the political player, but it became clear how much he relied on Donna and when she left to pursue her own ambitions, it gave him the push to pursue his new path and when they did finally get together it didn’t overshadow the series, as by then it was the logical and natural next step.

Alicia Florrick & Will Gardner (The Good Wife)

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I still feel incredibly sad when I think about this ill-fated pair, but there was no way they wouldn’t feature on my list, as they are probably the hottest and most moving couple on TV. The attraction between Will and Alicia was clear from the very beginning (in no large part down to the chemistry between Josh Charles and Julianna Margulies) and along with many fans of the series, I had my fingers crossed for their future. They clearly loved one another and Alicia should probably have picked Will before she ever married her dreadful husband. The time they were together treated us to some of the steamiest scenes on television (here’s one for the uninitiated) as well as some of the most emotional, but sadly it wasn’t to be, with Will being tragically killed in series five (something I still wish the internet hadn’t ruined for me in advance). It was an event I never expected, which still makes me reach for the tissues. The fact their love was cut short in such an cruel way makes their whole story all the more powerful and is probably the couple that has moved me the most on television.

Temperance Brennan & Seeley Booth (Bones)

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Bones is a series I’ve missed over the last few years and I’m slowly playing catch up, but what was clear from day one was the chemistry between David Boreanaz’s Booth and Emily Deschanel’s Brennan. I have only reached series eight (the final season 12 is airing now), but what I enjoy most about this series is how the writers were able to transition the characters from friends, to lovers, to marriage and children. It has enabled fans to see their relationship grow in a more mature and realistic way, which is something other shows could learn from.

The Doctor & Rose Tyler (Doctor Who)

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Since it’s return in 2005 Doctor Who has seen some wonderful partnerships on board the TARDIS. However, there is one that touched the hearts of many fans of the series and that was the love between David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor and Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler. Yes, nothing ever happened between them, but their bond was never in doubt and their heartbreaking farewell on Bad Wolf Bay was a classic moment that certainly made me shed some tears.

Kevin Walker & Scotty Wandell (Brothers & Sisters)

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There were many relationships within Brothers & Sisters, but for me the most heartfelt and believable one was that between Kevin and Scotty (played brilliantly by Matthew Rhys and Luke MacFarlane). Through all the Walker family turmoil, they were a breath of fresh air with their loving relationship. They weren’t free from problems (most notably Scotty’s affair), but loved each other enough not to throw their relationship away.

Buffy Summers & Spike (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)

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Some may be surprised that the relationship on my list from Buffy is not the one between Buffy and Angel! Yes, theirs was one of the core elements of the series in the early years, but Buffy and Spike’s short-lived relationship was the one that has always interested me the most. When you think about it (and leave aside the undead aspect!), they were a far better match for each other. Perhaps it was the fact Buffy was older than the teenager who fell for Angel, but her connection with Spike came across as a more mature one. They knew each other’s faults and accepted them anyway and some of the scenes between James Marsters and Sarah Michelle Geller in those later episodes remain some of my favourites.

Doug Ross & Carol Hathaway (E.R)

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E.R remains my favourite medical series (more on that here) and although it had some lovely relationships during its 15 years, one always stood above the rest and that was the love affair between Doug and Carol. The fact it became so iconic in the 90s (and was the first big break for each of George Clooney and Julianna Margulies) is more impressive when you think that Carol wasn’t even meant to survive the pilot episode. They went through ups and downs, split up and got back together more than once, but you couldn’t help but root for them and the icing on the cake was Clooney’s surprise return for the last few moments of the episode which saw Carol leave Chicago behind for the love of her life.

Chuck Bass & Blaire Waldorf (Gossip Girl)

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Chuck and Blaire were the best schemers in Gossip Girl, manipulating situations and characters to their advantage and there were many times when I really couldn’t stand them! However, the writers created something very clever in their relationship. Despite their underhanded behaviour, they seemed to bring out the best in each other, which in turn changed my perception of them and thanks to the acting talents of Ed Westwick and Leighton Meester they became my favourite characters in the show. Had they not ended up together I’d have been thoroughly disappointed.

Carrie Bradshaw & Mr. Big (Sex And The City)

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The Mr.Big debate was a big one during Sex And The City’s run, with fans divided as to whether Carrie should end up with him or not. He may have been an idiot for the majority of the show, but I was always of the view that deep down they were soul mates. Despite all the pain and hurt, they always seemed to come back to one another and he would do anything for her. I also loved the fun they seemed to have and Chris Noth and Sarah Jessica Parker sparkled in their scenes together.

Sydney Bristow & Michael Vaughn (Alias)

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J.J Abrams’s spy drama was a highlight of American television at the time of its original run and the will they won’t they dynamic of Sydney and Vaughn captured the hearts of its fans (including me). Yes, there were some utterly bonkers plot developments along the way, including Vaughn’s faked death, but Jennifer Garner and Michael Vartan always ensured the relationship between Sydney and Vaughn was genuinely lovely to watch right until the end.

Ross Poldark & Demelza (Poldark)

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Yes, Aidan Turner’s torso has generated a great deal of attention since Poldark was brought back to our screens in 2015, but the best character in my view is the fiery Demelza, superbly played by Eleanor Tomlinson and their romance is what keeps me tuning in each week. They may be from different backgrounds, but they are undoubtably stronger together and do truly belong together. I’m looking forward to seeing what lies ahead in series three after the ups and downs of the last series.

Lizzie Bennet & Mr Darcy (BBC, Pride & Prejudice)

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Colin Firth may be a successful Oscar-winning actor, but he’ll always be best known for his iconic portrayal of Mr Darcy in the BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. The British public fell under his spell and that of his counterpart Jennifer Ehle. In my opinion, they created the definitive Lizzie and Darcy and every scene they had together sparkled, making them one of the TV couples of the 90s in Britain.

Ianto Jones and Captain Jack Harkness (Torchwood)

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The relationship between Captain Jack (John Barrowman) and Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) in Torchwood was hugely important for British television and remains one of my favourites of recent years. What was lovely about the pairing was that they may have been very different personalities, but were in fact perfectly suited. They were playful, affectionate and stood by each other through all the crazy happenings in their lives and Ianto’s emotional death in Children Of Earth was heartbreaking for fans of the show. We felt his loss as much as Captain Jack. Heck, does any other fictional character have a shrine like Ianto’s in Cardiff?!

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So, those are my top fifteen television couples. I look forward to hearing about who you would choose!

Television Preview – The Fall series 3, plus Q&A with Allan Cubitt, Gillian Anderson & Jamie Dornan

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As I took my seat in the auditorium at the BFI in London tonight and the lights went down, I felt a little apprehensive and perhaps a bit nervous. I was after all about to sit and watch the first episode of series three of The Fall in public; this being the series which in previous years has had me watching from behind a pillow! However, it was too tempting to miss, particularly as this preview screening was to be followed by a Q&A with the show’s creator, writer and director Allan Cubitt and stars Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan (more on the Q&A at the end of this post for those interested).

Although I don’t plan to give much away about what happens in the first episode (and have not referred to anything we were told was embargoed), I will mention some aspects of episode one here and will also try and set out at the end as much detail of the Q&A as I can so some may class this as containing mild spoilers if you wish to know nothing before tuning in.

Disclaimers out of the way, the third series of the BBC’s superb psychological thriller, picks up exactly where we left events; Rose Stagg has been found, but Paul Spector and DS Anderson have been shot. The stakes are high for Stella Gibson as the man she has pursued over the previous two series is rushed to hospital and a desperate battle to save his life begins. As a result, this episode of The Fall finds us in very different territory to previous episodes, in a sense becoming more of a medical drama. Be warned if you are squeamish of hospital scenes as there’s plenty of blood and guts here!

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The dramatic end of series 2!

As well Spector’s fight for life, this opener does set the scene for other storylines that are likely to play out in this series. There is of course Rose Stagg, the woman to survive Spector, who will no doubt have to come to terms with her terrible ordeal, together with her husband (played wonderfully by Jonjo O’Neill). There are also those others affected most profoundly by Spector, particularly his family (I can’t help but feel so sad for his children, who surely cannot remain shielded from the truth in today’s media world) and Katie (still played brilliantly, to the extent I wanted to shake her in to seeing sense, by Aisling Franciosi).

Then of course there is Stella Gibson, who remains one of the most fascinating, strong and multi-faceted characters on television. Gillian Anderson is (unsurprisingly) on excellent form here, in a role she knows so well by now, as we see her emotional reaction to recent events. It’s particularly interesting when she is asked why she reacted with anguish when Spector was shot and you do wonder perhaps if her answer is the whole truth (although Gillian herself says that it is so I believe her!).

One of my favourite moments of the episode was the simple touch of Stella taking the missing person poster of Rose Stagg from the hospital noticeboard; this woman at least she was able to save. There is also a lovely moment between her and Rose’s husband. As she gives him advice on how he should be there for Rose, I again found myself curious as to Stella’s own history. We know she used to have her own rubber band on her wrist and this scene again brings our questions on Stella to the forefront. Creator Allan Cubitt confirmed we would learn a little more, but he and Gillian Anderson have always felt that one of the strengths of the character was the enigmatic nature of her life, so I cannot imagine we’ll ever really know her, and perhaps that’s how it should be. John Lynch also returns as ACC Burns, who finds himself having to defend Gibson’s decision to take Spector to the woodland, which resulted in the shooting. It will be interesting to see how she stands up to any attempts to blame her for what happened and how that will affect her relationship with Burns.

Overall, this is a great start to the third series, laying the base for events to unfold over the coming weeks and it is credit to Cubitt’s style and the characters he has created, that despite Spector being in no position to harm anyone in this episode, I still found myself tensing when nurses went near him alone! It did feel a bit slow in places, but was still an absorbing hour of drama, containing strong performances from its cast. I’m certainly intrigued to see the path the story will take this series and hope the BBC hurries up and announces an airdate!

 

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(L-R) Alan Cubitt, Gillian Anderson & Jamie Dornan (better photo of him below)

 

Q&A with Allan Cubitt, Gillian Anderson & Jamie Dornan

Below is as detailed a record of the Q&A as I can write. The BFI usually uploads its Q&A segments to its website, so I’d keep an eye out for this in the future.

1. Discussing the medical aspects of the series

As this episode takes place predominantly in the hospital setting, the Q&A began with a discussion of the medical element of the series as a whole. Allan Cubitt explained how The Fall has always had a medical element, in the context of while Spector took life, others were trying to save lives. He referred to Sally Ann Spector’s work at the hospital and the deliberate cutting between scenes in which the baby died in the neonatal unit in series one, with Spector’s terrible crimes, in order to convey the enormity of what Spector does. He also talked about having to direct a medical drama for the first time with this episode, which was a new experience for him.

He also touched on how those in the medical profession in Northern Ireland have understood the dilemma of treating patients such as Specter for a long time, particularly during the Troubles and indeed reference to putting clinical need above morals when it comes to medical care is discussed in the episode.

2. Redemption for its characters?

The panel was asked if they thought there was any redemption for any of the characters this series and they all said yes, although refused to say which characters! On being asked specifically if he thought there was anything redeemable about Spector, Jamie Dornan admitted it was hard, but when playing him, he did think there were aspects of him that were commendable (albeit very few!), those being the traces of him being a good, loving father and that he approached his career with professionalism, providing a good quality of support to families who’d been bereaved.

3. Man, monster & method?

Linked to the discussion of the redemptive qualities (if any!) of Spector, Dornan was asked if he felt Spector was man or monster and his approach to playing him. He made clear that it would have been wrong to play him as a monster and that there had to be relateable aspects to him. When playing the scenes with his children, Dornan played them as a father and nothing else, as why would he? In those moments Spector is just a father and a husband and he was keen to avoid the “monstrous” tag. On being asked whether he used method acting for the part (basically meaning staying in character the whole time), Dornan laughingly said he didn’t stay in character all the time, as he probably wouldn’t still be married if he had! He spoke about all actors having their own method, but explained how after all these years he now has ways of locking in to Spector’s psyche without too much build up.

Cubitt also complimented the emotional depth of his lead actors, speaking about Dornan’s personal reaction when they were filming the scene from series two in which Rose Stagg is screaming at the camera. Apparently Dornan watched Valene Kane’s performance on set, with his head in his hands because it had affected him so much, but yet then he was still able to deliver his scenes as Spector talking to the camera afterwards. Cubitt also spoke about Gillian Anderson having not seen those scenes in advance of filming the moments where Stella watches the tapes for the first time, meaning her response to them was genuine, again highlighting the empathetic and powerful actors he has as his leads.

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(L-R) Alan Cubitt, Gillian Anderson & Jamie Dornan

 

4. The ease of becoming Stella?

Gillian Anderson spoke about it being easy to “put on” the character of Stella now, saying that on going to the wardrobe fittings (at Selfridges apparently!), as soon as the clothes are on, she becomes Stella. Cubitt agreed that the look created for her really worked, as on arriving in Belfast she is presenting a face to the world of a woman doing a professional job.

5. Stella’s relationship with Spector?

As mentioned above, there is a scene in which Stella’s relationship with Spector is questioned, in light of her “anguished” reaction to him being shot. Stella justifies this by saying she didn’t want it to end without him facing justice, as the families needed that closure. On being asked whether she thought Stella’s answer was the truth or whether there was an unhealthy fascination with him, Gillian Anderson agreed that Stella is fascinated by him, but is obsessed with bringing him to justice. It’s hard for Stella to grasp that he may get off without punishment by dying and Anderson thinks Stella made the right choice to go to help him in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Anderson also highlighted that Stella is a character with flaws, such as her decision to sleep with DS Anderson (Colin Morgan) in series 2, but Cubitt commented that he hoped the characters are true to life in the sense that they are flawed.

6. Stella’s character and background

The panel agreed that Stella Gibson is an important character to have on our screens, as a strong woman in the police force, who is comfortable with who she is as a woman. Anderson admitted that she hadn’t met anyone quite like her and that there were aspects of Stella that aren’t her, but would be fun to adopt. She also spoke about how it is more interesting for the audience not to know her background, although agreed we do learn a little more this series. Cubitt agreed that he’d wanted things to unfold gradually and that the enigmatic nature of Stella has always been important. He talked about there being a scene in which we were to see her call her mother, but that they didn’t keep it, as it would have given an idea of her class and background and that it’s more interesting to wonder what her life away from Belfast is like. We assume she has no partner or children, but on the other hand it wouldn’t totally surprise you if that transpired (he stressed that wasn’t a spoiler / hint at all for the series).

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7. Media criticism of The Fall

The criticism the series has faced in the past was also discussed, particularly those press articles which had criticised it for being misogynistic and glamorising violence against women. Cubitt spoke about how much it had upset him on a personal level, as he was the writer and creator so whose fantasies were they saying they were if not his? It was personally insulting, but he didn’t see people who held those views changing them during series 3, as if people have such a “reductive and simplistic” view then a few more episodes of drama wouldn’t change it. To him it is absurd. He spoke about how he’d been contacted by people who had also praised the emotional truth of characters such as Katie and he highlighted how frequently Stella talks about the idea of men, women and violence, raising this topic in a clear and intelligent way. Cubitt also reminded the audience that Spector says he doesn’t hate women, he hates everyone, including himself and that in fact the most violent we see him is when he kills Joe Brawley. It was a fascinating section of the Q&A, which could have become a whole separate conversation on its own.

Audience Questions

It was then time for the audience part of the Q&A, which thankfully was filled with intelligent and interesting questions.

8. As an icon and role model since The X-Files, does Gillian Anderson feel a sense of responsibility when choosing her roles?

Gillian admitted that she did feel a certain sense of responsibility, but that even if that wasn’t the case, she would probably still choose the same roles as she has done, because those are the roles she is attracted to.

9. Is this the final chapter of The Fall?

Although the BFI audience tonight was urging the panel not to answer this question, Anderson pointed out they’d been answering it all day, so we’d read it tomorrow anyway! All Cubitt would say is that series three was not necessarily the end of The Fall. I guess we’ll all have to watch and see!

10. What made Allan Cubitt think Jamie Dornan was Paul Spector from his original audition for another role in the drama?

Allan Cubitt was asked what he saw in Jamie Dornan’s audition tape that made him right for Spector, seeing as Dornan had originally auditioned for the role of James Olson. Cubitt spoke about having met Dornan before and wanting to bring him in to audition, but then realising he wasn’t right for the part of Olson. His extraordinary presence on camera convinced Cubitt straight away that he was right for Spector, but that it was felt by others that Dornan should come back and audition again for the role. He did and Cubitt was quite adamant that this was the right actor (to the extent it was Dornan or no one for him) and that on sending the tape to Gillian Anderson she also agreed. Cubitt also commented that as the actor would need to spend 50% of the time on screen alongside Anderson as Stella Gibson, he needed someone with just as much emotional depth and that Dornan had that. He also enthused about the stunning casting for series three.

11. Does Gillian have any advice for young actors when facing rejection?

Gillian’s advice was perseverance and not to take rejection personally as it can be a gift. As long as you leave an audition knowing you gave it everything, the rest is out of your hands.

12. How has Jamie’s view of playing Spector changed since series one, in light of him becoming a husband and father?

Jamie was reminded that at the launch of series one, he’d said he couldn’t relate to Spector as he hadn’t killed someone, wasn’t a husband and wasn’t a father. Now two of those facts have changed (don’t worry, he still hasn’t killed anyone), has his view of the character changed? Dornan agreed that a lot had changed for him since The Fall had begun and that having children is like a reset button for your life (in that everything changes in an instant), but that actually you see less of Spector being a father this series. He spoke about drawing on his love for his niece when he was filming those scenes for series one.

13. Had Allan Cubitt always intended the role of Katie to develop the way she has?

Cubitt said that he had the notion that Katie’s role would develop that way and that throughout The Fall there is the theme at play of people not being parented completely. Katie, for example, has lost her father, something Spector cruelly reminds her about in series two. Cubitt spoke about being fascinated by what Spector thinks of Katie, as she is not on his radar as a victim because he sees her as a child and that it is this warped view that Stella calls him out on. Cubitt wanted Katie to go on a complex journey where she is ultimately learning that there are dangers in the world.

14. When he knew the end game, how did Cubitt map out the story when he had no idea about the number of series he would have?

Cubitt recalled being asked to write for the second series of Prime Suspect, in which he had four hours to map out. That experience had made him realise that that amount of time uses a lot of story! He explained that although he knew the story beats for The Fall, he had also known that there would be detail along the way that he would have to invent and that as characters are invented, they started to dictate side plots as well.

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Sadly that was all the panel had time for tonight. As is always the case with the BFI’s previews and Q&As, it was a fascinating insight in to the making of this excellent British drama. No air date was confirmed for The Fall tonight, but hopefully we won’t have too long to wait to find out what the next chapter has in store for Stella Gibson and Paul Spector!

If you have yet to watch The Fall, in the UK it’s available on Amazon Prime and via the BBC Store. The teaser trailer for series three can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/Su8qOzmIRL0

Television Review – The X-Files, Founder’s Mutation (season 10, episode 2)

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Despite being ahead thanks to US iTunes, as a loyal X-Files fan based in the UK, I thought I’d save my reviews until the episodes air here. Tonight saw episode two arrive on Channel 5 and in my view it’s an improvement on the season opener, seeing Mulder and Scully back out in the field investigating a brand new strange case.

Founder’s Mutation is a standalone-style paranormal mystery of the week, which always proved so popular in the earlier seasons. The mysterious apparent suicide of a scientist brings Mulder and Scully to the crime scene, freshly suited and booted for a new stint as the FBI’s most unwanted. What unfolds is a case involving a strange piercing noise that seems to affect anyone at any moment and mutations on young children, possibly the result of genetic manipulation by scientists, the latter bringing to the surface our favourite duos’ own feelings about the child they gave away, one who may or may not not have had unique abilities.

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A case involving pregnancies and possible genetic tests on unborn children stirs personal emotions for Mulder & Scully

The episode works well in tackling both a standalone case and the overarching backstory of Mulder and Scully, in this case focusing on William. James Wong (who together with Glen Morgan was behind so many classic X-Files) manages to fit both threads together in a way that doesn’t feel forced and is able to move the overall Mulder and Scully relationship forwards without compromising the mood and tone of the case they are investigating. This is no easy task and in my view works very well here, especially when compared to episode four, which attempts to do something similar (more on that in a fortnight).

For avid long-term fans of the show, Founder’s Mutation has some great Easter egg moments – we have the actress who played Scully’s therapist Karen Kosseff in seasons two and four (Irresistible, The Calusari & Elegy if you were wondering) playing a nun, the return of the glorious torches, a mysterious government suit sitting in the background in Skinner’s office and a witty wink to the show’s most well known catchphrase. We also get an insight in to how each of our lead characters feel abut the loss of their son and what their deepest fears are about what could have happened to him, each clearly influenced by their own experiences. Despite this sad tone however, there are also touching moments of what could have been, as we see the parents they wished they had been if things been different.

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Just like old times – back in A.D. Skinner’s office!

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson have so easily slipped back in to these characters and the partnership between Mulder and Scully is as if they had never left the basement. There is the witty banter, the intellectual back and forth and the deep bond, which always burns off the screen. You really cannot imagine them apart, personally or professionally. Yet they have also grown as people and bring to the screen a credible version of who these characters are 15 years later. One of the things I’m most happy about when watching this revival is that their individual characters, as well as their partnership, feel very true to the Mulder and Scully we knew and loved in the 90’s. Things have changed and yet things have stayed the same too. It was always going to be a tough balance to strike, but it’s one I believe the writers and actors have succeeded in getting right.

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Back in the field for Agent Scully

Adding to the mood of there series as usual is Mark Snow’s eerie and atmospheric score, so distinct to The X-Files that is feels as if it’s an additional character. This story enables him to deliver some creepy pieces, as well as some more emotional beats when touching on the William arc.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. It’s not a classic, but it delivers an interesting case, some creepy moments and pushes Mulder and Scully’s relationship forward during this new phase of their lives. Hopefully it will highlight to newcomers to the show that it was always about more than just aliens and that there are always going to more files in the basement office that need investigating.

I can’t say it any better than Skinner himself says in this episode: “Welcome back you two.” Well said Skinner, well said.

The X-Files series 10 continues next Monday on Channel 5 with Mulder and Scully Meet the Were Monster. Make sure you tune in, as in my view it’s the best of the series so far. Series 1-9 are available to stream on Amazon Prime and all the usual stockists.

 

Television Review – The X-Files – “My Struggle”

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The X-Files is back! I admit as a fan since the age of 12 I never thought I’d get to write that again let alone review a new series! Thanks to an American friend with a US iTunes account, I’ve been able to start watching the series before it airs here in the UK. The fact it is still yet to air here (starts 8th February) or Germany, two of its strongest fanbases originally, still seems crazy to me, but next week UK viewers will finally be able to tune in on Channel 5 and continue the search for the truth.

As I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to start watching already, I thought it was time to review the three episodes aired so far, starting with the series premiere. If you’ve yet to watch, then be warned there will be spoilers.

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Gillian Anderson & David Duchovny are reunited at last as Mulder & Scully

My Struggle is a traditional mythology story to kickstart series 10. Written by Chris Carter, it’s a bit ridiculous and in my view the weakest of the first three episodes. It is however, an enjoyable reintroduction to the finest partnership on television (for more of my thoughts on that click here) and the basis on which the subsequent stronger stories can be built. My message then? Don’t give up if you don’t enjoy episode one!

Where are they in 2016? Still where they were at the end of the last (somewhat disappointing) film – Scully is still a doctor, assisting at a hospital with complex surgeries on young children and Mulder is still holed up in the little house we found him in the last time we saw him. The catalyst for bringing them back on to the investigative track is a call from Skinner, informing them that a internet/tv conspiracy theorist is keen to talk to Mulder, who of course refuses to go without Scully joining in the fun.

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Ted O’Malley (Joel McHale)

The said conspiracy theorist Ted O’Malley has some out there ideas about the government’s involvement in a greater conspiracy and over the course of the story manages to change Mulder’s beliefs yet again and refuel his desire to find out the truth once and for all. The latest mythology strand is back to the government, not aliens, being behind it all and it is them who wish to destroy mankind as we know it, not little green/grey men or super soldiers (although their reason is unclear, or at least it was to me!). I admit over the years it’s taken a lot of concentration to keep track of the mythology and it seems this complex web is clearly set to continue.

The vital puzzle piece in the story is a young woman, Sveta, who was apparently taken and tested on by the government. She, Mulder says, is the key (so the new Gibson Praise then). However, who she is and her part in the search for the truth is perhaps a bigger mystery than Mulder realises.

Overall, I enjoyed many aspects of this episode, but it also frustrated me as well. Acting-wise, David Duchovny effortlessly steps back in to Mulder’s shoes and I realised just how much I’d missed him. He’s still paranoid (taping over the webcam on his laptop), but seems to no longer know what he believes. The episode at least gives him the spark to get back to work. Gillian Anderson is just as brilliant as ever as Scully (although the wig drove me mad). Older and wiser, she clearly misses her work with Mulder and is still the equal to him on the screen. Their characters may have separated in the romantic sense when we meet them again but, crucially their chemistry is just as electric as ever and there was always so much more to their relationship than romance. It was always the show’s finest element and that’s certainly the case in this story. It’s also wonderful to have Mitch Pileggi back as Skinner (still an A.D after all these years, the poor guy) and I hope he continues to pop up over the series.

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David Duchovny & Mitch Pileggi (AD Skinner) back in the basement office

The visual effects are better then ever thanks to the modern technology available. The UFO crash in the teaser looks great and seeing Mulder up close with an ARV (alien replica vehicle) is quite a thrill. There is also the return of Mark Snow’s eerie musical tones, underscoring the scenes just as perfectly as before. Plus I loved that they have reinstated the original title sequence with the 1993 badges for David and Gillian and simply added Mitch in. It gives the series a classic feel, which will no doubt make long-term fans happy.

However, there were weak aspects to this story. Ted O’Malley (played by Joel McHale) is a rather two-dimensional character, who I found an unlikely catalyst for bringing the duo back to work and felt weak against the two of them. Would Skinner really have taken this man seriously enough to contact the agents about meeting him? The scene in which he and Mulder set out the latest conspiracy theory does feel incredibly far fetched too. Yes, I know this is part and parcel of the show, but I preferred earlier arcs where things didn’t seem quite as OTT. Also when Mulder returns to his office the cases are meant to still be there. Really? After 14 years? Then there is Scully’s revelation about her genetic makeup – surely she would have run such tests before, after all she’s been through? I find it surprising to know that she hasn’t.

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The sets and visual effects now available to the series look great

By the end of the episode The X-Files are open again, with Mulder and Scully back on the FBI payroll running them. I’m sceptical the events of this episode would have resulted in the reopening of a division of the FBI. Plus would our duo be able to just walk back in to their old jobs years later? This is where Carter’s writing is a bit lightweight for me, with so many unlikely elements that stand out, but I suppose ultimately we’re not meant to care about the how – the fact is the basement office is back open for business and after watching episodes two and three (reviews to follow), I can safely say it only gets better from here.

Yes, “My Struggle” is a little silly and doesn’t make complete sense, but it’s an enjoyable hour in which the key strands of the show are reintroduced, old characters re-established (who didn’t love seeing the CSM at the end like old times?!) and a new course is set for the remaining stories to be built on. From what I have already seen the show is still more than capable of brining both creepy and comedic classics to the screen. Welcome back Agents – I have truly missed you and can’t wait to see where the journey takes us next!

The X-Files begins in the UK on 8th February on Channel 5 at 9 p.m. Even if you’ve already watched it, tune in to get its ratings as strong as the US to show there is still an audience for the show here! If you’ve yet to see it enjoy (and even if episode one seems silly, stick with it, as so far the rest have been fantastic)! For a flavour here’s a trailer.

 

 

My Top Television Choices for 2016!

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After looking back at my television highlights of 2015, it’s time to look at what television treats we can expect in 2016. There are exciting dramas returning to the screen, as well as some new offerings which I’m curious to try. So, here are my top choices of programmes to tune in to this year. As I’m in the UK, this list refers to dates and channels on which the shows will be aired here (if known).

The X-Files (Channel 5 – early February)

Anyone who knows me will have expected nothing else to be top of my teleevision choices list for 2016! The X-Files was my first addiction and would probably still be my category if I were ever to go on Mastermind. Therefore, it’s fantastic that it is returning to our screens, albeit for only six episodes. With David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson back in such iconic roles, Chris Carter back at the helm and stories also from Glen Morgan, James Wong and Darin Morgan, this is already very promising. I sincrely hope this delivers for all the fans, but also pulls some new viewers in too. Remember, The Truth is Still Out There!

The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses (BBC Two)

untitledIn the hope this would air in 2015, this was also on last year’s list, but we can expect the second series of the BBC’s Hollow Crown some time in the next few months. Entitled The Wars of the Roses, this captures Henry VI and Richard III, with some of Britain’s brightest acting talent involved. Alongside Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard, there’s Dame Judi Dench, Sophie Okenedo, Andrew Scott, Tom Sturridge and Michael Gambon to name but a few. If the quality is as high as the first series (recommended if you missed it), then we are in for a treat.

Happy Valley (BBC One)

timthumbI came late to Happy Valley in 2014, but it impressed me almost immediately, with Sarah Lancashire playing such a strong and complicated character as Catherine Cawood. After the traumatic events of the first series, it will be interesting to see what writer Sally Wainwright has in mind for her next. I’m sure it will prove to be just as exciting and engaging as before and especially when the teaser trailer just released includes James Norton as the awful Tommy Lee Royce!

Line of Duty (BBC One)

Broadchurch__Ripper_Street_and_The_Missing_stars_to_play__pivotal_roles__in_Line_of_Duty_series_3Line of Duty quickly became a success (with help from social media fuelling interest) and with two strong series, both with separate stories, the possibilities are endless of Jed Mercurio’s drama. After focussing on Lennie James’s Tony Gates in series one and Keeley Hawes’s superb multi-faceted performance as Lindsay Denton in series two, the bar has been set very high for the next instalment. With Vicky McClure and Martin Compton being joined by Daniel Mays and Will Mellor, I’m already very excited to see this and will be going to a BAFTA preview screening of episode one on 8th February, so we can expect this some time in the near future.

Game of Thrones (Sky Atlantic, 25th April)

Game_of_Thrones_Season_6Although the last series was a bit of a mixed bag (but made up for with Hardhome!), I’ll always look forward to my return to Westeros. Now that we are in uncharted territory, with the majority of characters past book positions, anything could happen in series six and in a show where no one is safe, that is very exciting indeed. Filming photos suggest there will be some wonderful sequences in the new series and I’m looking forward to finally moving forward with the story (seeing as who knows when we’ll get book six from Mr Martin)!

Grantchester (ITV)

Grantchester-1920X1080James Norton will be back on our screens again for the second series of Grantchester, in which he plays the lovely vicar, turned detective Sydney Chambers, in stories based on the novels by James Runcie (the opposite end of the spectrum to his character in Happy Valley thank goodness). This was a lovely drama when it aired in 2014, with some interesting charcater relationships and a great partnership in James Norton and Robson Green. Anyone mourning the end of Lewis can take comfort in this series as a worthy replacement.

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix, 15th April)

12137941I admit to being a person who prefers dramas to comedies, on both film and television, but after two friends raved about this Netflix series last year, curiosity got the better of me and I’m so pleased that it did. You cannot fail to warm to the ever optimistic, innocently naive Kimmy Schmidt, as she adjust to life in the real world after 15 years spent in an underground bunker. The scripts are witty and sharp, the characters are fun (who doesn’t love Tituss Burgess’s loveable Titus Andromedon!) and the acting is very good indeed. If you haven’t been tempted yet, give it a go – I guarantee you’ll be humming the theme tune all day.

The Crown (Netflix)

“Two houses, two courts, one Crown.” The first trailer for this upcoming, ambitious new Netflix series has just been released (see above) and it looks very promising. The Crown will chart the two key istitutions of Britain – the monarchy and the government, from the 1950s onwards. Written by Stephen Daldry (writer of the acclaimed play The Audience), with a huge £100 million budget and starring some excellent actors, particularly Claire Foy as the young Elizabeth II (last seen playing Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall), Matt Smith as Prince Philip, Alex Jennings as Prince Edward, Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret and John Lithgow as Churchill, this could be a historical drama to rival the BBC if the quality is there.

Queen Victoria (ITV)

victoria_itvStaying on the historical theme, ITV will later this year be casting a light on the young Queen Victoria in their new eight part drama series. Fresh from her time on Doctor Who, Jenna Coleman is the young Victoria, as the series charts her life from accession at 18, through to her marriage to Prince Albert. It has a fantastic cast including Tom Hughes (as Prince Albert), Rufus Sewell, Peter Firth, Eve Myles and Nigel Lindsay. I still really only know about Queen Victoria’s later life and reign and therefore I’m looking forward to seeing a new aspect of her story.

House of Cards (Netflix, 4th March)

House-Of-Cards-Season-4Everyone loves Frank Underwood right? Or is too scared not to?! In the series which undoubtedly helped Netflix become the success it is now, Kevin Spacey has become so iconic in this role and his partnership with Robyn Wright is always glorious to watch. Now occupying the Oval Office, it will be interesting exactly what lies in store for them in the next series.

Death in Paradise (BBC One –  started Thursday 7th January)

Death_in_Paradise_s_sun_soaked_crime_solving_is_the_perfect_cure_for_a_case_of_the_January_bluesAnother heart-warming and fun series that blows away the winter blues is Death In Paradise, which returned this week. I didn’t see the first two series, but as a fan of the lovely Kris Marshall, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching Humphrey settle in to island life. How can anyone not love him?! It’s fun, entertaining and is Sherlock Holmes on a tropical island, as Humphrey seemingly solves murders using clues that no one else can see. Yes, your parents may watch it, but so what? This is a brilliant winter tonic!

The Night Manager (BBC One)

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Coming soon in 2016 is this six-part adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel, in which a former British soldier (Tom Hiddleston) is recruited by intelligence agent Burr (Olivia Colman) to infiltrate the arms trade being run by Richard Onslow Roper (Hugh Laurie).  I haven’t read the book, but I love a good spy thriller and with such a strong British cast I have high hopes for this series.

Undercover (BBC One)

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As a fan of the BBC’s legal drama Silk, it’s wonderful that its creator Peter Moffat has a new series coming this year. Sophie Okenedo leads the show as the first black Director of Public Prosecutions, who discovers her husband (Adrian Lester) has been lying to her for years. I’m intrigued enough to tune in!

In the Pipeline / Awaiting a UK network…..

Prison Break

3d5de4f061d24b32cb8feecb460374a5I always enjoyed Prison Break, although admittedly the first series was certainly the best. News that it is the next show to be revived is a bit of a surprise, but I’ll tune in to see what direction the story takes next. I believe it will be set as though the finale (in which we said farewell to one character for good) didn’t occur. After watching them act together in The Flash it’ll be great to see Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell back in the roles they are most famous for.

Of Kings & Prophets (starts in the US on 8th March on ABC)

I imagine the makers of this new biblical series are hoping it’ll attract the same audience as Game of Thrones. Its success will depend on whether it’s decent and can attract an audience fast enough. The pilot has already been partly recast and reshot, but the trailer looks promising. With established actors including Ray Winstone (as Saul, King of Israel) and Nathaniel Parker, hopefully the acting quality will be strong. For me though the biggest attraction is its young, male lead, playing David (as in David vs. Goliath, future King of Israel) Oliver Rix. He was Aumerle to David Tennant’s Richard II in 2013 for the RSC and proved what a fantatstic actor he is. I hope this does well (but doesn’t keep Oli away from the stage for too long)!

Billions 

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Photo: James Minchin/SHOWTIME

Damian Lewis is back on television is this new US series, playing hedge fund king Bobby “Axe” Axelrod, who is trying to be brought down by US Attorney Chuck Rhoades (played by Paul Giamatti). Having just started in the US on Showtime, I’ll be keeping an eye how this series is received. Given the pull of the two stars, if it is successful hopefully it’ll soon appear here in the UK.

His Dark Materials (BBC One)

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I’m quite excited by the prospect of the BBC adapting Philip Pullman’s popular trilogy of books in to a series, especially after the success of last year’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Admittedly, this may not make it on to our screens until next year, but just in case, I wanted to include it here, as I’m sure it will prove to be a wonderful series for all the family, whether a fan of the books or not.

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So those are the shows I’m most excited about watching in 2016 from the ones we know about this early on in the year. Who knows what else could be coming to our screens over the next 12 months! Feel free to let me know what you will be watching. I’m always looking for recommendations!

 

Television Nostalgia – Music & The X-Files – My favourite Mark Snow music from the series

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I’ve very much been in a nostalgic mood recently and no finer example of this is my revisiting of my favourite television series, returning with six new episodes in January 2016. I’ve already discussed on this blog why I loved the show so much and my favourite episodes, as well as talking about my most memorable moments between, in my opinion, the greatest TV partnership. Something else that has been very obvious during my recent viewings of the series is the power and importance of the musical score of The X-Files.

Written throughout the series and the two films by composer Mark Snow, it has a very distinct sound, which became ingrained in the fabric of the series and also a vital part of its atmosphere, tone and mood. The series was always meant to be a little out there and needed to have music which matched its various tones – whether myth arc conspiracies, creepy monsters of the week or more emotional, personal stories centring on the lives of the characters we had grown to know so well. Mark Snow scores all of this brilliantly.

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Mark Snow

Recently his music has been able to be appreciated all over again by X-Philes with the release of two volumes (4 CDs in each) of his wonderful music from the series by La La Records, each selling out very quickly (although you can still locate copies on the web if you keep looking). A re-release of the score to the first film is however still available (see the link at the end to buy). It’s been fantastic to listen to the music on its own and realise just how much certain moments in the series are linked to the music that accompanied them.

Fans are already chatting about what music they’d like to see in a further third volume (come on La La Records, you know you want to!) and it’s made me consider which musical score moments from 202 episodes and 2 films have stood out for me. So, as we await those new stories and new music from Mark to accompany them, here are my favourite pieces of Mark Snow’s X-Files score. I’d love to hear what other fans have on their lists and what they would love to hear on a third CD volume if we are lucky enough to get one.

1. Ending from Jose Chung’s From Outer Space (series 3)

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This is a fairly surreal episode by fan favourite Darin Morgan (hard to believe he only actually wrote four episodes!), but more than anything I love the music written for the final few minutes. It’s a genuinely beautiful piece of music, which is able to be both melancholy and hopeful at the same time. This is a very distinctive musical piece from the series and it’s no surprise it was included on the first volume of music released.

2. Scully remembers her sister in Piper Maru (series 3)

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This is only a short music cue from Piper Maru, but it’s always been one that I’ve remembered and I was thrilled to see it included on volume 1 (within the track “Back In The Hood”). As Scully returns to the naval base she grew up on, we see her remember happy childhood times playing hopscotch with her sister. With Melissa’s death still very recent, this moment is very touching and this cue from Mark Snow truly adds to the emotional depth of the scene.

3. Dark revelations in Grotesque (series 3)

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Grotesque is one of the series’s most chilling episodes and required a darker, more disturbing musical background to enhance the atmosphere we were seeing on screen. Mark’s loud, intense score, heavy on the piano and its relentless pounding is absolutely perfect to depict the frightening events of the story as the viewers start to worry that Mulder may have truly fallen over the edge of sanity.

4. Home Again (I Want To Believe)

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Although it disappointed me in many ways, the music for the second film I Want To Believe was not one of them and Mark Snow proved that years later he was still perfect at capturing the magic of Mulder and Scully (and indeed David and Gillian) on screen. The stand out piece for me has to be what is effectively their love theme from the film, captured in “Home Again.” It’s a beautiful piece of music, full of love and emotion and marks this deeper connection now shared between them.

5. On a bridge between life and death for Scully in One Breath (series 2)

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One Breath was bound to be in here somewhere as it’s my favourite episode and it’s another which highlights the variety of music needed over the course of the series. Unlike darker, moodier music such as for Grotesque, the music for One Breath needed to be more delicate, in order to reflect Scully’s fragile life and how close she was to death. Mark Snow’s score is very touching and feels, in parts, rather spiritual and I particularly love the music chosen for scenes in which Scully sits in her boat, which at any point could be set adrift. Thankfully volume 1 of the CD collection has captured this score in both “Reanimation” and “Guardian Angel”.

6. Unwavering love and friendship in Momento Mori (series 4)

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Momento Mori is one of those episodes that always manages to bring a tear to my eye and remains, for me, one of the finest hours of the series. It’s certainly some of Gillian Anderson’s best work (in the year she deservedly won an Emmy) and this scene at the end of the episode, in which she deals with Penny’s death by resolving to come back to work as she has things to finish, is truly wonderful and contains one of the series’s most emotional and heartbreaking pieces of music. The fact this has yet to be released on the CDs surely means a 3rd volume is a necessity?!

7. Sweeping conspiracies in Gethsemane and emotional depths in Redux (series 4 & 5)

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The music of the fourth series finale and indeed the start of series 5 has always stayed fresh in my head and for me is one of the most memorable sections of score written for the show. These episodes were quite epic in story, both on a myth-arc level, as Mulder searches to prove the ultimate proof of a governmental deception and on a personal level, as Scully’s cancer seems to finally be too strong for her. Mark’s music is very impressive, with grand, sweeping sections, moving seamlessly through to the more fragile moments. Although most of the music from Gethsemane and Redux has been captured on volume 2, I was sad that the beautiful short cue from Redux II, played as Mulder visits a sleeping Scully was left out. Surely this is another must-add piece for a third volume?!

8. Beware Eugene Victor Tooms! (series 1)

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Tooms remains one of the most memorable and indeed terrifying characters of the series and the music written by Mark in his two episodes was fantastic. With brilliant use of plucked strings and synth, he truly conveys an eeriness that was essential to the effect the episodes were designed to have on the audience. The creepy music from the beginning of Tooms, when we are within the Druid Hill, stands out for me as being some of the most frightening music on film or television (captured on volume 2’s release). It’s a perfect example of how crucial music is to something – no matter how well written and acted, I think Squeeze and Tooms would not have had the same impact without Mark’s score.

9. Maybe there’s Hope in The Truth Part 2 (series 9)

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It was a sad day when The X-Files came to an end and the final scene of the series was a lovely way to end the show. It left Mulder and Scully with hope for the future, one that saw them reunited and stronger together. Mark Snow’s delicate music, with echoes of the main theme within it was a lovely way to say goodbye to our favourite FBI agents and no doubt brought a tear to the eye of many fans when they first watched it.

10. At the crossroads (Fight The Future)

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The release of the first feature film was an exciting event and Mark Snow created a grand score to accompany this big screen outing. I could have picked a number of pieces, but I’ve always loved the piece of score that accompanied the scene in which Mulder and Scully drive across country after the tanker trucks and instead of going left or right, drive straight ahead in to the barren wasteland.

11. The influence of the Navejo (Anasazi trilogy, series 2 and 3)

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In what for me is the strongest mythology multi-part story of the whole series, there is the strong influence of the Indian tribe and their ancient traditions. Mark Snow did a great job of creating a score for the episodes that managed to capture this within the sound, giving the episodes a fresh and distinct sound. It’s such an intrinsic part of this story that you can see the moments in your mind as you listen to it.

12. Little Box of Sand (Emily, series 5)

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The season five two-parter which revealed the existence of little Emily as Scully’s daughter is one of the most poignant stories. You had a sense that this could never have a happy ending. The score is delicate, haunting and filled with a tragic sadness and this piece from the soundtrack, brings this beautiful music together. It’s one of the best examples of Mark Snow creating an emotional depth in his music to enhance the power of the storylines on the show.

13. The End – Closure (The End, series 5)

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As the show’s time in Vancouver drew to a close the creators gave us a finale that brought certain answers, while also setting the course for the show’s new path. It felt like an ending of sorts and the music was epic and with a sweeping grandeur to match the occasion. I especially love the score that accompanies the last few moments as Mulder finds his office and life’s work has literally gone up in smoke.

14. Cloning and the alien bounty hunter (Colony/End Game, series 2)

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Colony and End Game marked a shift in the stakes of the mythology of the show, introducing the concept of clones, a deeper mystery surrounding Mulder’s sister and the frightening Alien Bounty Hunter. The music throughout is suitably atmospheric and eerie, giving the story an added other-worldly element, which was able to ratchet up the tension once Scully realises the person before her is not her partner at the cliffhanger end to the first episode. It was gripping television and Mark’s score certainly added to that.

15. and of course…..the now iconic theme! 

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Although this list is more focussed on music from the episodes themselves, it seemed wrong to not include the brilliant theme of the series. Looking back at the show now, I can’t imagine The X-Files without this haunting, otherworldly music cue, which set the tone for Mark Snow’s music for the entire duration of the series. It’s instantly recognisable and one of the best television themes created.

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So those are my favourite pieces from the series to date. No one else would be able to capture the unique mood and atmosphere of the world of Mulder and Scully and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what musical score Mark Snow will create for the new episodes airing next January (I can’t believe how close we are now!). I’d love to hear which musical tracks you love and which you are hoping to see on any future compilation CD.

The official soundtrack releases for The X-Files were released by La La Records. The collection for the first film Fight The Future is still available here. Keep an eye on their website for news of any future releases (fingers crossed). 

Olivier Awards 2015 – Winners Announced!

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The Olivier Awards is a strange awards ceremony. As a celebration of theatre, rather than film or television, it’s the one for which I am able to form a better view of who I think should win and who I think should have been nominated. Then again, although it’s the most prestigious theatre awards in the UK, it doesn’t cover national theatre, or even all London theatre. To be eligible for the Olivier Awards, a show has to be on for at least 30 performances in London, but at either a SOLT (Society of London Theatre) theatre or an “affiliate theatre”. As it’s always hard to know which theatres are included in the list for consideration, it’s therefore always hard to know what has been snubbed, or what was simply ineligible! I personally still think there needs to be a ceremony for theatre like the BAFTAs for film and television – one that covers all British theatre, but that’s a fantasy I know will almost certainly never happen.

Grumblings aside, anything celebrating theatre on television is guaranteed to get me excited and I was thrilled to be able to see the highlights of this year’s ceremony on ITV, albeit on so late that I already knew all the winners! From the highlights show this evening, it looked to be a wonderful celebration of London’s status as the greatest city for theatre in the world and the musical numbers were lovely to see. As someone who missed out on seeing her as Grizabella in Cats this year, I thought Nicole Scherzinger was fantastic singing Memory and medleys from Beautiful and Sunny Afternoon were fun too. I was very disappointed that the performance by the City of Angels cast was cut from the televised show, but we did at least get to see Kevin Spacey bring the house down with his rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water with Beverly Knight. I certainly hope the stages of London won’t be without him for long after he leaves the Old Vic.

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Kevin Spacey & Beverley Knight close the ceremony with a bang!

As for the awards themselves were there any surprises? Perhaps a couple and of course such awards will always be subjective, with a clear winner for some not the same for others. With that in mind, my thoughts are based on the shows and performances from the last year that I loved and felt deserved to win.

Best New Play = King Charles III – I’m thrilled that Mike Bartlett’s superb new play about the Royal Family post Queen Elizabeth II was awarded Best New Play. Without a doubt it was my favourite production last year, one which had me leaving the theatre, after just its second preview, knowing I’d seen something truly exciting and different (you can read my full thoughts on the play here).

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Best New Play (and my favourite of 2014!) – King Charles III by Mike Bartlett

Best New Comedy = The Play That Went Wrong – Perhaps a surprise winner is that of best new comedy, with The Play That Went Wrong beating two shows that perhaps were given a higher profile, Handbagged and Shakespeare In Love. It’s a play I’ve been meaning to see and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has now been reminded that they must book a ticket while it’s still running!

Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre = Bull – Of the four nominees in this category (one which I’m not hugely clear about whom is eligible!), I’d only seen Bull so I’m pleased Mike Bartlett picked up his second award of the night for this production. I saw its premiere in Sheffield and also its London transfer to the Young Vic (which is on a roll for productions these days). It may only have been 50 minutes long, but it’s a play filled with powerful and uncomfortable performances, highlighting the very worst in office politics and certainly deserved this recognition (you can read my full review here).

Best Actor = Mark Strong (A View From The Bridge) – For me this was the toughest set of nominees, while still missing out the brilliant Ben Miles for Wolf Hall & Bring Up The Bodies, whose performance of Thomas Cromwell should have been nominated. All four performances were outstanding and among some of the finest I’ve seen to date on stage. I was torn between James McAvoy’s incredible turn in The Ruling Class (you can read my full review here) and Mark Strong (with Richard Armitage close behind for The Crucible!) and so I’m happy that one of them was successful. A View From The Bridge was a production of the highest quality and his performance was breathtaking. If there is another chance to see an NT:Live Encore cinema screening of it – go!

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A worthy winner in a tough shortlist – Mark Strong

Best Actress = Penelope Wilton (Taken At Midnight) – I have to admit that this was one of the surprises of the night for me, on top of the surprising fact that Helen McCrory was not nominated for Medea. I did not see Penelope Wilton in this role, but I am genuinely amazed that the award did not recognise Gillian Anderson for A Streetcar Named Desire or Kristin Scott Thomas for Electra, both of which demonstrated just how important strong, powerful roles are for women on stage. Had I been voting, I’d have picked Gillian. Yes, I’m an X-File / long-term Gillian fan, but that’s not the main reason. Personally, hers was the performance which left me at the end feeling emotionally exhausted and buzzing the way only a truly fantastic night at the theatre can make me. She gave everything in to the role of Blanche. Perhaps she’ll have better luck at the Tony Awards after the show appears on Broadway next year.

Actor in a Supporting Role = Nathaniel Parker (Wolf Hall & Bring Up The Bodies) – Nathaniel’s interpretation of King Henry VIII in Wolf Hall / Bring Up The Bodies was very good and a worthy winner. However, I think my vote would have gone to Richard Goulding, whose performance as Prince Harry grew in depth and quality over the course of the run of King Charles III, resulting in a believable and multi-layered character, with whom you felt true sympathy by the end of the play.

Actress in a Supporting Role = Angela Lansbury (Blithe Spirit) – It seemed a foregone conclusion to me that Angela Lansbury would win in her category. She is 89 years old, performing 8 shows a week in a London run and has never won an Olivier before. They couldn’t not give it to her! She was wonderful in Blithe Spirit, entertaining and full of fun and with a clear love of her job, but she wasn’t the best of the nominees in my opinion. All four nominees were excellent, whether the chillingly disturbing girls in The Nether or Phoebe Fox in A View From The Bridge. However, I would have loved to have seen Lydia Wilson win for her role as Kate in King Charles III, a performance which was full of confidence and charisma and stood out in a production filled with cracking performances. Her Kate Lady Macbeth-style power behind the man performance was wonderful to watch and I’ll certainly expect to see her nominated more at these awards in the future.

Best Director = Ivo Van Hove (A View From The Bridge) – The director shortlist was another incredibly tough choice, with all four helping bring to the stage some of the best theatre of the year. I was lucky enough to see all four productions and I’m not sure I’d have been able to choose a clear winner, or would have changed my mind as soon as I’d voted! I’m not surprised that Ivo Van Hove took the award though, as his claustrophobic, stark vision of Arthur Miller’s classic received glowing reviews from audiences and critics alike and through it he was able to generate some truly breathtakingly powerful performances.

Best Lighting Design = City of Angels – A thoroughly deserved win for Josie Rourke’s Donmar revival. All four productions were worthy nominees, as the lightning of each certainly added to the drama and quality of each one, creating such unique atmospheres, whether the candlelit Almeida, the Tudor halls of Wolf Hall or the stark atmospheric mood of A View From The Bridge. However, City of Angels would not have been the show it was without Howard Harrison’s lighting, creating the glitz and colour of one world, compared to the black and white of the other.

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Fantastic use of lighting in the Donmar’s City of Angels, also winner of Best Musical Revival

Best Costume Design = Wolf Hall & Bring Up The Bodies – As a regular visitor to the Royal Shakespeare Company, I’m so pleased that its brilliant and dedicated costume team won for their contribution to the adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s award-winning books. The costumes certainly helped bring Tudor history to life in sumptuous, beautiful detail and I can’t think of a better choice from this shortlist.

Best Set Design = The Nether – Until a few weeks ago my choice for this category would have likely been City of Angels. However, that was before I saw the Royal Court’s production of The Nether, currently playing in the West End. It is without a doubt one of the most unique and impressive sets I have ever seen and one which had an incredibly difficult task, bringing the virtual world and the real world together so convincingly. Each time we, as an audience, enter The Nether you genuinely believed you were entering another realm. The combination of set and video graphics were perfect and it would have been a crime had it not won.

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The incredible set from The Nether

I didn’t see most of the nominated musicals so it would be unfair for me to comment on the winners and losers in most of these categories, with the exception of the revival and audience award. I must try and see the Hampstead Theatre’s Sunny Afternoon (currently in the West End), which took best new musical, best actor and supporting actor in a musical. The night has also fuelled my intention to finally buy a ticket for Beautiful – The Carole King Musical (winner of best actress and supporting actress in a musical) and I’m thrilled for Katie Brayben, who was fantastic in both American Psycho and her smaller roles in King Charles III.

Best Musical Revival = City of Angels – First of all, I still think it’s criminal that none of the actors in this Donmar production were nominated in either main or supporting musical categories! This is already one of the highlights of this year’s theatregoing calendar for me – wonderful songs, incredible sets and lighting, an engaging story and some truly excellent acting and vocal performances, from some of the finest talents in musical theatre. Due to these omissions, I’m thrilled the show won Best Musical Revival. Now, if only it could have a West End transfer too!

This Morning Audience Award = Wicked – Akin to the Radio Times Audience Award at the TV BAFTAs, this award is an opportunity for the public to vote for its favourite musical (why it can’t also include plays I do not know). Musicals of course attract loyal fans, who go to see them again and again and these awards are a chance for them to show their support for such long-running shows. Of the shortlisted four, my vote went to Matilda, a musical I hoped would go on to greater success after I first saw it one snowy Saturday afternoon in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 2010, but I’m not surprised Wicked won, as it probably has the strongest fan base of the four nominees.

With already some strong performances and productions hitting the stage in 2015, I’m sure the Olivier Awards will continue to generate discussion and debate when next year’s nominations are announced. One thing that isn’t in debate however is that we should all be very proud of the level of quality found in the theatres of London, but also around the rest of the country. Maybe one day my wish for an all-encompassing set of national theatre awards will become a reality.