Merlin Review: It’s (Almost) A Kind Of Magic

December 12, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

MERLIN, BBC1, Saturday 13th December, 7:10pm Alert Me

Just a warning here. If you happen to be, by any chance, Richard Wilson, stop reading now, because there’s going to be a pretty appalling gag towards the end that’s bound to induce at least a minor stroke.

If you’re one of the other 60 million people in the country, feel free to read on, as I dissect and explore the final episode of the BBC’s latest attempt at filling the Sunday arvo family-friendly slot.

The bastard offspring of Smallville and Harry Potter, Merlin has been fairly well received and certainly succeeds in fulfilling its quota for PG-rating swords and sorcery, but for a spectacular season finale, ‘La Morte d’Arthur’ plays things just a little too safe for long-running fans to get truly excited.

The plot follows Adolescent-Arthur and Mini-Merlin on a completely unexplained wander through the forest. They end up fighting a Questing Beast (think Potter’s giant snake but with half the budget) which gets in a swipe at Arthur before Merlin’s impressive Jedi-mind move creates a done-in-one Shish KeBasilisk.

But, don’t you know, it turns out just one bite from the beasty causes irrevocable death.


Well, irrevocable in Medieval obviously means ‘entirely treatable’ in modern-day speak, because before long Merlin’s heading off to see the evil Bionic Slater to make a deal most Faustian.

Credibility and factual adherence doesn’t really come into it, but for those of you Arthurian experts out there, it’s probably best to point out now that the original, incestuous (and far more interesting) interpretation of the Questing Beast (which appeared to Arthur after he unknowingly diddled his sister) doesn’t play into it and this is pretty much your standard ‘see monster – stab monster’ plotline.

At first that doesn’t really matter, because while the series has had its wonky moments, the characters have really gelled now to the point where the near-death drama, brotherly bonding and unrequited love-ins are actually quite involving. And the special effects are pretty too: you can practically feel the BBC special effects crew nerd-gasming when they saw the series-leftover budget for the episode.

The only problem is, what with its adherence to absolute-PC plot beats, nothing of any real consequence happens. There are times when it looks like it will, but then everything is simply rewound with increasingly annoying Deus Ex Machinas or, even more infuriatingly, completely disregarded as though it never happened.

God knows he’s been trying to escape the shadow of Victor Meldrew for years now, but prior to this episode the most magical thing about Richard Wilson had been his hypnotically captivating L’Oreal wig. Yet (at least at first) it seems that good old Gaius finally gets the chance to play out a couple of scenes that have the opportunity to provide long-lasting, dramatic consequences for little old Merlin.

However, the writers ultimately cop-out with furious back-peddling of such non-sensical wussiness that as the credits roll you can’t help but sit back, look at Wilson and shout ‘I don’t bloody believe it’.


Are you still there?

Oh God, will someone call an ambulance?

Matt Risley