BBC1 - 19th October 2008 - 5.55pm
Phew. What's that smell?
No. Don't think it's the stables. Or the castle dungeons. Oh, wait. I know. It's pure testosterone. Great waves of it. Especially when Arthur and Lancelot are sharing the screen. It's so powerful that Gwen's reduced to a simpering girlie and Morgana gets about three lines. Blink and you'll miss her. Nope, this is definitely a story for the lads and the consequences are that the female roles all but vanish. And all Gwen does is measure Lancelot's inside leg and knit him some chain mail and she's smitten...Altogether now, "two little boys had two little toys.."
Mind you, Lancelot is rather pleasing on the eye. I note that it must have been written into Santiago Cabrera's contract that he must at all times appear with his shirt open and have a chest hair groomer permanently available on set. Actually, he was rather good as Lancelot and he more or less rescued this from being utterly bland and predictable. It was so bloody obvious that once it was clear that Lancelot wasn't a knob (ahem) that he'd have to eventually redeem himself by 'slaying the dragon' with Merlin providing the episode's required conjuring trick. Predictable, unfortunately.
I had to pinch myself that I wasn't watching a gay porn version of the seriesAfter the opening sequence with the attack of the Griffin, not the Mill's best efforts either, the story then gets bogged down with all that stuff with Merlin forging Lancelot's credentials and lots of man on man ritual humiliation in tedious combat scenes with Arthur. The scene in the library, complete with comedy dusty books and coughing from Merlin, would have had Walt Disney groaning, and the smouldering antagonism between Arthur and Lancelot was all smoke and no fire. However, when Lancelot eventually bests Arthur in the training and wrestles him to the floor I had to pinch myself that I wasn't watching a gay porn version of the series. And the UHT went off the scale when Merlin, at the bash for Lance's knighthood, offered a suggestion to Gwen about choosing between the two men. There isn't a choice. You'd clearly want both.
This is only saved by the stunning attack on Camelot by the Griffin where the combination of live action and effects is brilliantly handled and has a genuinely exciting edge to it. The effects are much, much better here with the Griffin dramatically swooping across the skyline. Like the POV shots too as it dives headlong into the knights. The final confrontation between Lancelot and the beastie is also done well in a very atmospherically lit forest. Quite spectacular too when Merlin's enchantments help Lancelot's spear hit the target.
It's such a coy drama when it does come to the subject of sex and mutual attraction is treated like schoolyard crush.The problem again is that it just doesn't have enough oomph all the way through. Much of the dialogue is flat and dull even though the pretty young things are doing their best, and again Richard Wilson and Anthony Head make the most of their scenes, with only the action sequences bringing the episode sporadically to life. By far the best bit of emotional content was when Gaius told Merlin that he'd give his own life to keep the young man alive. It comes to something when each week all I'm looking for is a good looking man to give us a flash of his body and even then they can't get that right. It's such a coy drama when it does come to the subject of sex and mutual attraction is treated like a schoolyard crush. These are adults, not children, and I would like to see a bit of passion and fire in the relationships, especially the women who are reduced to needlework and pouting from the sidelines. All the swordplay and digital monsters in the world can't make up for the plodding nature of the drama and the dreary, predictable and sexless characterisation. One of its major mistakes is to keep pre-figuring the actual legend of Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot et al whilst we endure this turgid Teen Camelot. It seems to suggest that there's actually a far more exciting story going on somewhere that we're not allowed to get to and I know I'd rather see the actual legend on screen instead of constantly being teased about it.
Catch Lancelot streaming at Surf The Channel
Cathode Ray Tube Merlin Lancelot