The Moment Of Truth
BBC 1 - 22nd November - 7.25pm
Oooo! Look, it's Dr. Julian Bashir with a nasty scar, a grey beard and a big crossbow. And he's getting all Sheriff Of Nottingham on the residents of Peasant Village World. What a nasty man! So off Merlin's mum pops to Camelot because Merlin's got to come home and teach Bashir a lesson or two. A nicely paced pre-titles sequence that sets up the basic plotline.
He's the only writer who has so far worked out how to write for this series.Uther is his usual grumpy self, more worried about peace treaties than sending a crack squad of knights to go and help Merlin's village out of a tight spot. But lo and behold, the gals are getting feisty and are going off with him to help out. And get that leather strapped affair that Morgana's wearing. It must be the equivalent of her Emma Peel catsuit. It fair brings a tear to the eye that Gwen and Morgana are getting in on the action. And no wonder, it's a Ben Vanstone script. He's the only writer who has so far worked out how to write for this series. Catch that witty one liner from Gaius, 'Careful with that wine. You know what you're like. One whiff of a barmaid's apron and you end up singing like a sailor.' He manages to describe the affection between all the characters in a series of quick little scenes - Arthur and Merlin on the castle ramparts, Gwen and Morgana pledging their help and Gaius saying farewell. Genius.
After a sweet fireside chat with his mum, Merlin is woken by what must be the arrival of Julian Bashir. But it's Arthur! Knew he wouldn't let Merlin down. Oh, it's all getting very Seven Samurai isn't it? As Kanen ( I'll stop calling him Julian Bashir now) attacks the village, Arthur and Merlin step in and the fighting gets underway. Good rollicking action with Merlin using his powers to turn an opponent's sword to molten metal. And what's this! Morgana dives in and slashes a baddie to bits. Go girl!
...the interactions and relationships between the characters carried in good diaogue and wry observationMerlin's mate Will isn't convinced that the villagers can see off Kanen and thinks Arthur's in it for the glory of battle whilst the other villagers are roused by his pep talk. Vanstone is using Will as a way of discussing the class system in Camelot and there is an impassioned scene between them that raises some interesting views about Merlin's role as both servant and friend to Arthur. And as Will points out, Merlin is still living a lie because Arthur doesn't know about his powers. This then further develops in the scene that follows where Arthur muses on how difficult Merlin's life must have been compared to his pampered existence back at court. This is really lovely character development. And of course Merlin doesn't tell him the real reason he left the village. The themes of poverty versus privilege, servant versus master keep developing too in the next scene as Merlin prepares Arthur for battle and Morgana takes several pops at him for having to use a servant to get himself dressed followed by a mumsy Gwen making him eat his breakfast. This is precisely the sort of thing that's been missing from the series - the nature of the interactions and relationships between the characters carried in good diaogue and wry observation.
Arthur comes into his own in this story and we get an insight into why he, Gwen and Morgana all care about Merlin. Will doesn't see this and argues that Merlin should use his powers to save the village and that this is more important than keeping the magic secret from Arthur. This reinforces the theme of the series wherein Merlin must see that Arthur fulfills his destiny but not at the cost of being discovered as a sorceror and thrown out of Camelot. Some really strong moral arguments underpin this episode.
The final battle is superbly realised and has plenty of action with Gwen and Morgana in the fray which is precisely where they should be. Lovely use of slow motion as Merlin realises he must use sorcery to win the fight and reveal his powers to Arthur. And a gutsy duel between Arthur and Kanen ultimately sees Will get an arrow for his troubles and lie to Arthur on Merlin's behalf. It's a fantastic episode, possibly one of the best in the series, using the main characters properly as an ensemble away from Gaius and Uther for once. Great script from Vanstone and a smashing bit of direction from David Moore and good support from Joe Dempsie as Will. More like this please.
Cathode Ray Tube Merlin The Moment Of Truth
The Labyrinth Of Gedref
BBC 1 - 29th November - 7.35pm
Not one of the paciest episodes by any stretch of the imagination, suffering as it does from a very slow build up to the meat of the plot; the labours of Prince
...all he's bothered about is the rat that's chewing its way through his boots.Now, I'm afraid I'm going to have to drag it all down by making a Carry-On style joke about 'getting the horn' as Arthur presents the unicorn's trophy to Uther on a lovely velvet cushion. How Richard Wilson can keep a straight face as he intones: 'It is very impressive my Lord', is rather remarkable. Anyhow, Arthur gets the kudos for slaying the poor horsey but Merlin knows it's about to go arse over tit for Camelot and warns him but to no avail. As the water turns into sand and urchins go starving in the streets, all he's bothered about is the rat that's chewing its way through his boots. He's very butch in the way he dismisses the death of the unicorn and Merlin's not too happy with his reaction. Oh, and the water turned into sand bit is the scrap that's thrown from the scriptwriter's table for Gwen to cling onto in this episode. It is so clear that few of the script writers, Ben Vanstone excepted, actually have a clue as to what to do with her.
And as soon as Gaius uses the 's' word (that's sorcery to you and me) then Frank Finlay keeps popping up, as the Jedi like Anhora, and wagging his finger at Arthur about how he's been a naughty boy and must make reparations and lift the curse on Camelot by completing a series of tests. I don't think he's talking about sitting for his GCSEs then. When he makes his first appearance Stuart Orme really excels with his stint of night shooting on location, bathing the castle with atmospheric blue and purple lighting effects. The first test is one of compassion when he catches Evan stealing grain for his starving kids. Which he passes with flying colours by letting the chap take the grain to feed his family. Oh, and Morgana pops up wearing a nice white fur coat whilst Merlin serves Arthur a nice bit of rat. The horrid lads then give the leftovers to her that's symbolic of the disdain the majority of the writers have for her character too.
Bottom of the class, Arthur.So the story basically pans out as an examination of Arthur's true nature. Is he just a beastly man's man and just as quick to temper as his father or is his heart pure and does he really care about the people of Camelot. Well, there's only one way to find out...fiiiiiiggggggghhhhhhhttttt! Which he does when he encounters Evan again in the forest and gets his pride hurt when Evan belittles his ability to be as strong as his father. Oh, dear. Another test. Bottom of the class, Arthur. Director Orme handles the fight sequence well and chucks in some nice visual bits and bobs too. Note that quick montage of gargoyles in the transition from the scene in the grain store to Gaius' room. His only problem is one of pacing. This still moves at a snail's pace and that's a shame as I think Howard Overman's script isn't bad at all, apart from the bits where he forgot to give any lines to Gwen and Morgana.
After a contretemps with Uther, where again Uther questions Arthur's honour and pride, things pick up when Arthur undertakes his final test in the labyrinth of Gedref to try and reverse his father's draconian attitude to the starving people and the curse. Again, it's visually very interesting, especially when. after the journey through the labyrinth, the location switches in a surreal fashion to a rocky beach. Merlin has followed Arthur, of course, because the final test is one of faith and sacrifice over a poisoned chalice. Sniff...Arthur gives his life...sob...to save Merlin and Camelot. So he does love Merlin after all! This whole sequence is well done with terrific location shooting and a Bergman-esque The Seventh Seal feel about it all.
Not a bad episode but it suffers from a very slow build up and is saved by the last, visually arresting, scene on the beach. Poor use again of the female characters in comparison to the Arthur and Merlin developments. And it's quite moving when the unicorn is restored at the conclusion. Next week, it looks like Morgana's getting some more of the action!
Cathode Ray Tube Merlin The Labyrinth Of Gedref