Merlin- The Tears of Uther Pendragon (Part Ye Firste)

Hark, mortals! I speak to you of things Mystical and Olde Fashioned. So payeth attention, or I’ll zap you with my Ancient and Magical powers of Magic.

Before Saturday, I’d only ever seen one episode of Merlin. The first one, in fact. In it, we were introduced to a confident, slightly jug-eared young man with a dodgy Beatles haircut who had secret powers and who was destined to grow up to be a HERO and things.

My impressions were fourfold: that Merlin was ok, that they must have had a Claire’s Accessories in Iron Age Britain and that the dialogue was a bit clunky. It didn’t matter though – I could hardly hear it over the incidental music – which sounded like a deranged clown hitting a banjo with a lump hammer.

Oh, and my fourth thought? That it was directly aimed at the kid market, unlike Doctor Who which has Something For Everybody (unless you’re Watch With Mothers’ very own Napoleon, who thinks D.W. is a big steaming pile of Dalek poo).

However, as I’ve been starved of decent Saturday night telly for a bit I thought I’d give it another go.

If you haven’t seen it, the premise is that young Merlin- possessed of unhoned, Superman-like magical ability – arrives at Camelot and is apprenticed to a physician named Gaius, played by Richard ‘I don’t BEEEEELIEEEEEVE it’ Wilson in a mop-like wig. But here’s the twist: King Uther (Giles off of Buffy) hates magic and outlawed it years ago, so Merlin has to hide his powers. If he doesn’t, they’ll chop his head off more quickly that you can say ‘Smallville rip off’.

Wait, it gets better. The last remaining dragon: let’s call him CGI-fail for now as I can’t remember his special dragon name – tells Merlin his destiny is to make sure bratty, cocky Arthur becomes king and doesn’t get killed by the literally bajillions of people who seem to want to stab, garrotte, headbutt or otherwise injure the overprivileged twonk. There’s also a foxy chick who looks like her off the Scottish Widows advert. She’s called Morgana and anyone familiar with the Arthur myth will know she’s destined to be a baddie eventually (coughLEXLUTHORcough).

Jump forward to the beginning of Series Three, and Saturday night’s episode. To my great surprise, people still don’t know Merlin has magical powers, meaning he has to hide behind trees deflecting spears with the power of his mind. Pointy spears that is, not Britney Spears. No one can deflect her, she’s invincible.

Morgana (coughLEXLUTHORcough) has been missing for a year due to a complex series of events that I missed entirely but which involved her gradually turning into a bit of a bad egg, forcing Merlin to try and do away with her. They find Morgana (coughLEX..oh never mind) wandering in the forest looking quite disheveled – a bit like Lindsay Lohan first thing on a Sunday morning. They take her back to the castle, she sobs and says she’s sorry and she loves them all and they’re her best friends – a bit like Lindsay Lohan last thing on a Saturday night.

Well, we the audience know better, mainly due to Morgana’s near-constant wicked gurning. Whenever anyone glances away she contorts her face into a leer and rubs her hands together, which was a shame as I was trying hard to be open to Merlin’s charms and it made the whole thing into a pantomime: I kept expecting a Chuckle Brother to appear in the background dressed as Widow Twanky.

I suppose that’s the problem with Merlin. It’s a great set up, but constantly falls short of its full potential due to obvious plots, intrusive incidental music and silly scenes clearly designed to amuse the kiddywinks. Producers, here’s a head’s up: children don’t need to be talked down to. When I was about eight or nine, I absolutely adored a similar swords and sorcery telly show: Robin of Sherwood, which, unlike Merlin, managed to be believable, gritty and realistic whilst still maintaining a mystical, otherworldly feel, mainly due to overuse of smoke machines, spooky prophesies and evocative ‘olde worlde’ music by Clannad.

On the other hand, I also enjoyed the ludicrously silly and entirely historically inaccurate Xena: Warrior Princess and I understand the fun that can be had when any attempt at realism is thrown merrily out of the window, so I tried to enjoy Merlin on that level. And you know what, once I suspended my disbelief it wasn’t half bad. I particularly liked the bit where Morgana made the King go insane by dipping what looked like a bit of ginger in some treacle and tying it under his bed.

She also did a lot of incantations in Old English, which was a nice touch. Of course, back then they just called it ‘English’.

Luckily our titular jug-eared magician discovers the mandrake tar-baby and follows Morgana to some nearby woodland. He finds out that she’s raising an army to overthrow Camelot with the help of her sister, who’s so immaculately coiffed she looks like she’s just popped back in time for a a jug of mead on her way to be a guest judge on the X-Factor. Unsurprisingly, Merlin’s captured and, in true Bond Villain style, the sisters tie him up and leave him to the mercy of some gargantuan scorpions (er…right. I don’t recall seeing them in any museum exhibits about ‘life in the Iron Age’. But never mind).

The fools! Why not just shoot him in the head with an arrow? Or at least stay to check the Scorpions had finished him off (perhaps by repeatedly singing “Rock You Like a Hurricane” until he died in self defence). Don’t worry though, Merlin’s eventually rescued by CGI-fail, aka ‘Dragon Ex Machina’, who scoops him up like a floppy, elongated version of Frodo and whisks him to… I want to say safety, but I’m not sure. Maybe it’ll slowly eviscerate him in graphic, HD detail at the beginning of next Saturday’s episode. That’d be fun.

In conclusion: I’d enjoy it a lot more if they added a bit of Clannad to the soundtrack.

All together now: “Ar chonnlaigh ghlais an Fhoghmhair, A stóirín gur dhearc mé uaim, Ba deas do chos i mbróig…doo doo doo.”

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About Hilary Wardle
Hilary is a freelance journalist and copywriter who writes for a wide range of websites, magazines and newspapers, including Buzzfeed, MSN, The Poke, Chortle, the Guardian and the Independent. She specialises in arts and entertainment, comedy, video games and viral content. Contact her at Hilary3@gmail.com.

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