The writers and producers of The X-Files had a daunting task going into Season 8: how would they continue to make the show appealing without David Duchovny being part of the mix?
Enter Robert Patrick and the new character of Special Agent John Doggett. Unlike the character of Mulder, Doggett was a by-the-book company-loyal skeptic, and as Season 8 progressed, it was Gillian Anderson's character of Scully who became more like the absent Mulder in terms of belief in the paranormal.
The writers actually came up with a pretty good idea to explain Mulder's absence. Taking an idea they originally used in Season Two, when Gillian had to leave the show for a few episodes due to her pregnancy, the character of Mulder was abducted and the theme of Season 8 became Scully's search for her missing partner. After years of investigating The X-Files, Mulder had become one himself.
Unfortunately, the only really solid episodes of Season 8 are the ones that Duchovny appears in, making it a quite uneven season in terms of quality. One of the most notable differences between this and previous seasons of the show is that the writers seem to have focus much more on "dark themes" and attempts to "gross out" the audience, than on some of the lighter, more humorous shows that were always a trademark of previous seasons. There is a little occasional lightness in Season 8, but those moments and episodes are far and few between.
The DVD comes packaged in the same style as the prior season releases of the show, with 21 episodes spread out over six discs, four episodes per disc – with the season finale and bonus material on the sixth disc. As always, there's a nice booklet included in the set, and one of the more offensive rebate offers…let me take time to explain:
Included is a rebate certificate that gives purchasers of previous sets a rebate of up to $60, if they have purchased four of the other season sets. The problem with this rebate is that you have to purchase the previous seasons after November 4, 2003 – which means that FOX is basically thumbing their nose at the hardcore fan base who have loyally purchased each and every box set upon its release (like me!).
The episodes are presented in anamorphic widescreen in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The video here is good, if not spectacular, and about the same in quality as in previous anamorphic season releases of the show (which began with Season Five).
Once again, all episodes are presented in 2.0 Dolby sound. I guess fans can give up on any chance of any of The X-Files seasons ever being remastered in 5.1 Dolby. However, the shows still sound pretty good, so I can't complain too much.
Like the design of the box set itself, the extras pretty much follow the format of previous season releases. There's a The Truth About Season Eight featurette, which covers the concept behind and most of the important episodes in the 8th season, and runs just under 30-minutes (it isn't time-encoded, so I couldn't determine an exact running time).
There are also three X-Files Profiles for the characters of Gibson Praise, John Doggett and Alex Krycek. These are promotional materials for three different international video releases that were "mini-movies" – each one of them editing three episodes together into a feature-length film.
Then, we get all the Promo Spots for the episodes of Season 8. It's always bothered me that FOX didn't stick these with the episodes themselves instead of on the bonus disc – but since this has been the format since the release of Season One, I guess some people would complain at this point if they moved them elsewhere on the DVDs.
Also on the sixth disc are some Special Effects featurettes for selected episodes, as well as a number of Deleted Scenes, with the selection of listing to an optional commentary track for these. There's a DVD-ROM Game entitled "Existence", which is also the title of the final episode of Season 8.
Finally, a number of the episodes come with a Commentary Track and/or International Clips. The episodes with Commentary Tracks are "Alone" (with commentary by writer/director Frank Spotnitz) and "Existence" (with commentary by director Kim Manners). Episodes that feature International Clips are "Within", "Via Negativa", "The Gift", "Three Words", "Essence" and "Existence". The deleted scenes that appear on the sixth disc also appear (including the optional commentary) with the actual episodes, and can be viewed by turning on an optional icon which will appear on the screen during the playing of the show and which, by clicking "Enter" on your menu, will show you the deleted scenes exactly where they were intended to be seen within the episode.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Season 8 is the penultimate season of The X-Files and the final season to really use the Fox Mulder character (he returns for the final episode of Season 9, but is absent from the rest). The ending to this season is actually a more satisfying one that what we are left with in Season 9, but I suppose hope springs eternal that another feature film will one day be made. Even if it doesn't, there were far more good X-Files shows than bad, and there are even enough good ones in Season 8 to warrant adding this set to your collection.