Merlin (Ep 2)

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‘Merlin‘ is a 13-part series produced for BBC One by Shine Limited. It focuses on the teenage years of the wizard Merlin from Arthurian legend. The series was conceived by Julian Murphy and Johnny Caps; the creative minds behind Sky One show Hex.

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  • Colin Morgan as Merlin
  • Bradley James as Prince Arthur
  • Richard Wilson as Gaius
  • Anthony Head as Uther Pendragon
  • Angel Coulby as Guinevere (Gwen)
  • Katie McGrath as Morgana

Basic Plot Summary: Valiant – Camelot holds a tournament, of which Arthur is the current champion. Amongst the contenders is a knight called Valiant, who is using magic, in the form of an enchantment that allows the snakes on his shield to come to life, to cheat. Arthur discovers the truth but no one believes him save Gaius. Using his magic covertly, Merlin causes the snakes to appear during the final fight between Valiant and Arthur. His treachery exposed, Valiant is killed by Arthur, along with his snakes.

Rather than repeat the points regarding continuity with the established Arthurian legend, and the use of overly modern dialogue, let us assume the points are still here and still relevant and instead from here on in I will merely concentrate on the episodes themselves.

So, how does this one fare? Not well, it must be said. Firstly, there is the tournament. Whilst it is well staged, given its obvious budgetary constraints, it seems out of sorts. The main feature of any tournament in medieval times and Arthurian literature was the joust, yet it has been completely ignored. Not merely a case of not shown, but ignored. This may seem trivial, even pedantic, but it is a valid point that goes to a common complaint. A simple line of dialogue, hinting that Arthur was not doing the joust, as he was concentrating on the sword, would have helped so much but as it was such a simple line was nowhere to be found. leaving this reviewer to believe that either arrogant or lazy writing was in play (they either presumed the fact was either not worth bothering about or didn’t think any would care to notice).

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“You there! Are you sure you’re in the right series?”

Then there is Valiant. Undoubtedly, his name is meant to be a nod to the Prince Valiant stories. However, this creates serious problems for me. Firstly, Prince Valiant wasn’t actually a character in Arthurian literature, rather he was a comic book and animated series creation. Secondly, Valiant was a way of looking at the Arthurian legend from the point of view of a knight wishing to be one of the Round Table and aspire to the code of chivalry. Yet here, he is presented as a villainous and treacherous knight. If they wanted to truly nod to Valiant, make the knight a valiant one. If its just a villainous knight they want, surely they could have used another name. Again, it seems like lazy writing.

As for the story, it lacked tension or drama and the ending was so predictable it wasn’t even worth waiting around for.

So, a possibility to make amends for a woeful first episode scuppered by lazy writing.

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Episode 4: The Poisoned Chalice airs on BBC One on the 11th October at 19:05 in Scotland and the 12th October at 15:25 in the rest of the UK.