Reidin Vaughan chases BBC magic as she discovers the station’s new original series, Merlin.
Beautiful settings, charismatic characters, a plot line based around a man of legend… it sounds a lot like Robin Hood, but it’s actually the BBC’s newest addition to their schedule, Merlin. Set in the kingdom of Camelot, Merlin takes a slightly different path to the Arthurian legends we have come to know.
This famous wizard is actually a young boy who is sent to Camelot, where the penalty for practicing magic is death, and who must hide his secret powers from the world. Arthur is not yet king, and his father, Uther Pendragon, rules with an iron fist. But all is not lost, for Merlin has many grand adventures that are heavily plied with humour.
Like most adaptations of well-known stories, the BBC has put their own mark on the show, twisting many of the fundamental details to form new alliances and ironic occurrences that keep the audience standing to attention. The most prominent of these is the fact that Merlin must hide his talents from everyone at court; that is, everyone but his guardian, the court physician, Gaius.
Even Arthur knows nothing of the strange destiny that draws himself and his manservant Merlin together. Add to this the lovely Guinevere, the daughter of the local blacksmith, and the evil Morgana, the King’s ward who is destined to marry Arthur, and you have an intriguing hook, which pulls so many viewers to this show.
As usual, the BBC has not let its standards fall, with gorgeous backdrops in Wales and France and attention to historic detail with props dating back to the sixteenth century. Although there are many similarities between this and other series like Robin Hood, Merlin is aimed at an audience just shy of the college years.
While many of the plot lines are captivating, and the special effects magical, they are also farcical to the point where you have to wonder why the BBC schedules this for such a late time slot, filling in where much loved series Doctor Who had previously played on a Saturday night.
Even the use of many renowned British actors, such as Michelle Ryan (Eastenders), Julian Rhind-Tutt (Green Wing), and Anthony Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) has not escaped the audience’s notice. Whether these appearances add to the show’s attributes is yet to be seen, as some of these villains’ acting almost ruins the whole episode. However, this problem has not stopped the USA’s major network, NBC, from buying the series.
Even so, the BBC has taken a chance in casting the lead actors that were relatively unknown. Colin Morgan, who plays Merlin, delivers a quirky interpretation of the wizard, who has a touch of teen angst when he comes to understand that his destiny is to ensure that Arthur becomes the man of legend.
This first installment comes in only thirteen episodes, and one wonders whether this will have the runaway success that other BBC programmes enjoy. Will we see the announcement of a second series hitting our screens this winter? I guess we’ll have to wait and see if Merlin’s spell is working over the public.
Merlin is on at 7.30pm, Saturdays on BBC1