Shiny Shelf

Merlin #3.1: The Tears of Uther Pendragon

By Mags L Halliday on 17 September 2010

The third series of ‘Merlin’ has started with grim spectacle, aside from the odd scene that’s escaped from a different tone meeting.

In the pre-credit sequence, we’re reintroduced to Uther’s rather dubious obsession with Morgana, Gaius’s role as ancient adviser, and Merlin and Arthur’s friendly bickering. There are gloomy moors scattered with slain knights, a fight that helpfully illustrates Merlin’s magic, and lots of glaring.

After the title sequence, Arthur tips a bucket of dirty water over Merlin. For a laugh.

Yes, there is always something faintly pantomime about ‘Merlin’. Back in season 1, I described Antony Head’s performance as “camp[ing] it up as if he was told it was an audition for the role of King Rat”. And Katie McGrath as Morgana is showing her character’s evil scheming ways by looking slyly to camera at the end of each scene. Yet the business with the bucket is a scene that seems utterly out of place.

Cenred’s (Tom Ellis) fright wig, which makes him look like a cut-price Richard Armitage in ‘Robin Hood‘, is also laughable. I can see how it creates a young male antihero and meets an audience demographic, but does the hair really have to be that awful?

Not explaining rather more why Morgeuse acts as she does is another flaw. All the other character motivations are covered in the opening scenes and elements of the ongoing story not relevant aren’t (so no Arthur/Gwen stuff). But Morgeuse wants revenge on Uther for why? I can’t remember from season 2, and this episode doesn’t explain.

There’s very little point criticising ‘Merlin’ for some things, such as historical accuracy. It’s a myth cycle first set down on paper several centuries after events are supposed to take place, so any suggestion the show is an accurate costume drama is just foolish. Also, it has magic and dragons. And now scorpions of unusual size.

It does what it promises to do, and is darker than you might expect for Saturday teatime and a show that started as Camelot 90210. It just needs to balance the humour and black-hearted villainy a little more.

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