BBC1 - 8th November 2008 - 7.20pm
Lord, it's taken me a week to review this. In the scramble over new trailers for Watchmen and Star Trek, Children In Need Doctor Who previews and dozens of other things poor old Merlin got lost in the fray. I finally sat down and watched it last night. And I was in two minds whether to bother.
...it cops out in actually suggesting anything untoward such as incest has produced the childD'you know? I'm glad I did. This was actually a good episode. Not perfect by any means but certainly not the weakest. And I put that down to the performances. This is essentially an origin story for Mordred. Now, if you know your legend then Mordred was the illegitimate son of Arthur and Morgana who would then eventually betray the King in battle. In the 'Medieval High School Musical' tradition of this series, which has been playing fast and loose with the legend, the whole incest sub-plot has been avoided and they've plonked for making Mordred a Druid child with magical powers. The episode does lay it on thick about establishing a very powerful bond between Morgana and Mordred but it cops out in actually suggesting anything untoward such as incest has produced the child.
Anyway, Mordred and his father, I presume, are out doing a bit of shopping in Camelot when Uther's goons show up and attempt to kill them. Uther's got a thing against the Druids, it seems and they must be eradicated. He's turning into a horrible, right wing old git isn't he? Mordred, injured, is rescued by Merlin after they have a bit of a telepathic natter. Basically, the story then sallies back and forth between Morgana's protection of the boy in blatant betrayal of Uther, her abuse of Arthur, and Merlin's second thoughts about helping Mordred. Knock me down, but betrayal seems to be the main theme here.
...the dragon gets its knickers in a twist is pretty good too and indicates that there is a real threat from MordredKatie McGrath! Finally, after seven episodes, she actually shows us what Morgana is all about. She's pretty darn good in this, has purpose and resourcefulness and her scenes with Anthony Head are quietly impressive. Head is wonderful again, spitting fire and thumping tables with great aplomb. Colin Morgan is improving here, looking very photogenic, and also adding some much needed self-doubt to his character. The relationship between him and Morgana is fleshed out too. Love that highly symbolic bit where the mirror shatters and he sees that distorted image of Morgana and Mordred. The whole sequence where the dragon gets its knickers in a twist is good too and indicates that there is a real threat from Mordred if Merlin interferes and as a result Merlin eventually gets his own, 'Have I the right...' moral dilemma.
The casualties in the story are the characters of Arthur and Gwen. Arthur just ends up looking like a berk and the whole magic business with Merlin making the keys float around his head reduces the character to nothing but a comedy stoodge. With this, and his capacity to get mesmerised by the latest in a line of female sorcerers, he's turning into a muscle bound thicko where he should be brave, honourable and sympathetic. Poor Gwen. She just wanders in from time to time, wrings her hands, and then frowns. And that's it. She's little more than a walk on and is in serious need of an episode which properly explores her character.
So cute it bloody hurts.Whilst this is good at developing the Merlin and Morgana double act, there are some downright cheesy moments that take the edge off what was promising to be a much darker tale. The whole animated boots sequence is straight out of Disney again and it is there simply to show the special effects off, as Arthur is so stupid he wouldn't have actually seen the boots in the first place. Same again for the sequence with the keys. So cute it bloody hurts. The story heavily signposts that Mordred will have something to do with the fates of Arthur and Merlin but if this series doesn't get recommissioned it'll all be for nothing. Fortunately, the writing and acting here makes you care enough to want to see the storyline played out. They just need to speed it up, get shut of Uther and establish the court of Arthur. However, I fear they'll just dawdle along giving us lots of ineffectual teenage romantic interludes, escapades with female sorcerers and Gwen will run away to the next castle to get a better deal.
Cathode Ray Tube Merlin The Beginning Of The End