We Recommend: Merlin
When Merlin started back in back in 2008, I watched it and immediately thought it was one of my favourite things that I had ever, ever seen. It was, let’s be honest, a bit rubbish, all obvious jokes and simple plot lines. But it was also completely charming, and I was very sad when the series ended because I thought it wouldn’t get picked up for another one. No-one else I knew liked it, very few people seemed to watch it, and it just didn’t seem like the kind of thing that the BBC would commission for another series.
But they did. And then another. And now we’re on the fourth, and it’s clear that I was completely wrong about people not liking it. Merlin fever has taken over, and it’s now one of the most looked forward to shows on the BBC.
For those who haven’t seen it, it’s sort of the Batman Begins of King Arthur. It started with a teenage Merlin arriving in Camelot as his mother has arranged for him to stay with the court physician, Gaius. King Uther has banned magic from Camelot, believing it to be evil, so Merlin must keep his powers a secret — although he can tell Gaius, who is secretly helping him develop his powers.
Almost immediately he crosses the path of Prince Arthur, who is spoilt and arrogant, but after saving Arthur’s life Merlin is appointed his personal servant by the King. As this esteemed member of the court, Merlin interacts a lot with the King’s ward, Morgana, and her maid Guinevere, or Gwen. Oh, and there’s a snarky dragon voiced by John Hurt. Obviously.
Merlin plays fast and loose with Arthurian legend, borrowing names and events but changing them to suit itself. So there is a character called Guinevere who is a love interest for Arthur, but she’s a servant rather than the daughter of a King. Guinevere does have a love triangle with Lancelot, but it’s before she and Arthur have gotten together, not after they’re married. Merlin, rather than being old enough to help Uther with Arthur’s conception, is young enough to be his contemporary.
Usually I don’t like it when writers play around with the source text like this, but it actually works really well in Merlin. The whole show is incredibly enjoyable. It’s fun TV, something that pretty much always has a happy ending and has enough cheesy jokes and likeable characters to make you smile almost all the way through.
Not that it’s just cheery fluff, though. It’s very exciting indeed — every week there are trolls, pixies, undead armies, dragons and deadly curses to fight again. And these bad guys are usually portrayed by quite astonishingly good guest stars. Sarah Parish (Mistresses, Doctor Who), Michelle Ryan (Eastenders, Doctor Who), Miranda Raison (Spooks and...uh...Doctor Who), Eve Myles (Torchwood and again Doctor Who) and Santiago Cabrera (Isaac from Heroes. He wasn’t in Doctor Who) have all had guest or recurring roles. This series has Gemma Jones (Spooks) and James Callis (Battlestar Galactica).
As the show has progressed things have gotten progressively darker, with a previously kind and almost annoyingly timid character becoming severely badass (to use the technical term) and causing Merlin some serious trouble. At the end of the last series we could see things pulling together properly, with the Knights of the Round Table finally being formed and Morgana and Merlin openly declaring each other as enemies. The trailer for this series shows things are going to get darker and more dangerous as Morgana finally discovers her powerful magic and starts to battle Merlin. It’s generally going to be a very exciting series.
Even if you’ve never watched Merlin before, we think you should. Why? Because it’s brilliant. It’s come a long way since that light-hearted entertainment show it was in the beginning; effort is being poured into Merlin now and it really shows. It’s entertaining as hell, funny, exciting, dramatic and heartfelt. It has love, it has action, it has thought-provoking dilemmas, it has friendship and it has the best CGI the BBC can offer. Try it. You’ll love it.
The fourth series of Merlin premieres on Saturday 1st October with "The Darkest Hour" on BBC One at 7:50pm.