BBC1 - 1st November 2008 - 7.30pm
A vast improvement. Morgana, god bless her, finally gets a fair chunk of this week's episode. And the sub-plot about her nightmares is finally resurrected too. Ben Vanstone, the writer, seems to have much more of an idea of constructing an interesting, and gripping, tale than any of the series producers, particularly Julian Jones whose scripts have been very weak. Ben was responsible for the highly enjoyable, The Poisoned Chalice a few weeks ago so long may he stay on the payroll.
What is this, a Ray Cooney farce?So, Morgana dreams of Arthur drowning and is highly concerned when Sophia, the girl she sees in her dream hovering over his drowned body, turns up at Camelot with her father Aulfric. Aulfric claims to have left his kingdom, it having been ransacked by raiders. Kenneth Cranham, British character thesp of note, immediaely sets about chewing the scenery whilst Holliday Grainger (yes, honest, that is her name) does the opposite and turns in a very understated performance which was quietly impressive. Whilst Morgana checks herself into Gaius' morning surgery to check if she's not going mad, Arthur, the wet tart, goes all starry eyed over coniving, butter wouldn't melt Sophia and after a man-to-man chat with Merlin, gets her to bunk up in the room next door. What is this, a Ray Cooney farce? No Sex Please, We're Almost Medieval does feature a lot of Arthur havng little trysts with Sophia and it's all Mills And Boon until she gives him the Michael Jackson eyes and completely possesses him. What a push over, he is! Deserves to bloody drown.
Anyway, Sophia and Aulfric turn out to be Sidhe (pronounced 'she'), little blue fairies banished to mortal existence for homicide in Avalon. Their plan is to steal Arthur's soul to grant them access to Avalon once more. There's a stupendously atmospheric sequence where Aulfric goes to consult with the Sidhe by a lake in the middle of the night. It's beautifully done and looks like something out of the old Arthur Machen children's books. Merlin, however, is observing all this and understands what's going on.
Since when did Merlin become the equivalent of Albion's full metal jacket?Meanwhile, Katie McGrath is getting a bit of the limelight as Morgana, as she wrestles with her true nature and whether to let Uther in on the fact that she's actually a seer. Gwen gets sidelined, which is par for the course with female characters in this series and it has occurred to me that when female guest stars turn up in the series they always seem to turn out to be witches, sorcerors or angry blue fairies. Where have all the good women gone? McGrath is very good in this and plays the angst that Morgana goes through with great sensitivity.
Merlin, when he's not a running gag of comedy stocks and rotten fruit, tries to challenge Aulfric and Sophia, warning Arthur that he is bewitched, but gets zapped for his troubles. Arthur is taken to the lake, ready to be sacrificed. Sophia learns that only she will be allowed back to Avalon and must leave her father behind. But as Arthur drowns, Merlin, using the power of the Jedi, manages to get hold of Aulfric's magic staff...and blows them both to smithereens. Er...without one ounce of remorse. Since when did Merlin become the equivalent of Albion's full metal jacket? It's breathtakingly done but was it really necessary to kill them both in cold blood?
Morgana is a sorceress. Well, knock me down.
Meanwhile, the Unresolved Homosexual Tension meter goes through the roof as Merlin rescues Arthur from the lake, craddling him in his arms as he swims back to shore. Olde worlde metrosexuals can have fun in lakes with blue fairies and shit. Arthur, naturally, does not remember a bit of this when he wakes up and Merlin and Gaius come up with some bullshit about eloping with Sophia and he gets all 'girls, ew, yuck!' on us. That's about as adult as this gets when dealing with relationships and the comedy continues with Merlin in the stocks again. Morgana stops off for some Nurofen for her nightmares and Gaius confirms what we've known all along, ever since the series was pitched, that Morgana is a sorceress. Well, knock me down.
Later that night, Morgana wakes with a start from another dream. She's seen next week's script, then.
Jolly good fun, charming and irritating in equal measure in its refusal to treat the leads as anything but overgrown children. Some good visual effects scenes and action towards the end and the usual competent performances from the steadfast Anthony Head and Richard Wilson. Much better than last week's terrible episode which almost put me off watching the rest of the series. However, it's only just about put its nose round the side of the starting gate and seriously lacks action, pace and jeopardy so there are acres of room for improvement.
Cathode Ray Tube Merlin The Gates Of Avalon