TV Review: Merlin: The Dragon’s Call

A new fantasy series from the BBC, filling the Doctor Who slot on a Saturday evening.

Principal Cast and Crew

Colin Morgan as Merlin
John Hurt as the Voice of the Dragon
Richard Wilson as Gaius
Anthony Head as Uther Pendragon
Eve Myles as Mary Collins/Lady Helen
Bradley James as Arthur
Angel Coulby as Gwen

Produced by Sue de Beauvoir
Created by Julian Jones, Jake Michie, Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy
Written by Julian Jones
Directed by James Hawes

Synopsis

The young Merlin, on the cusp of adulthood, is sent to Camelot to protect Prince Arthur. Unfortunately, when he arrives he discovers that King Uther Pendragon has made the use of magic a capital crime and Prince Arthur is an arrogant, self-important idiot. Is it even worth trying to protect him when the potential consequences are so severe?

High Points

  • It was a nice touch to have Lady Helen sing in Welsh
  • Richard Wilson enhanced every scene he was in

Low Points

  • There just happened to be an execution for magic going on at the same time that Merlin arrives. Isn’t that a bit convenient?
  • Spare us the tired mistaken identity dressing room scenes
  • They made it look like Merlin enjoyed his time in the pillory as nothing more than having wet sponges thrown at him at the school fete to raise money for charity. So this isn’t supposed to be the most historically accurate drama, but that really jarred

The Scores

Originality: Not much originality going on here. It’s like a cross between Merlin of the Crystal Cave which I remember from childhood, and the BBC’s more recent reinterpretation of Robin Hood. Three out of six.

Effects: Mostly good. It’s a television budget of course, so some things look exceptionally fake. The dragon, for example, falls down severely on integration with live actors and on speaking animation. On the other hand, Merlin’s glowing eye effects are flawless, and there are some well-executed magical effects. Four out of six.

Story: A fairly straightforward finding-your-destiny story, with a rather predictable outcome. The moment Merlin and Arthur dislike each other, you know they’re going to end up having to spend a lot of time in the same room pretending to be polite. Three out of six.

Emotional Response: Entertaining, but not characters you care about very much. Four out of six.

Acting: The quality of the acting varies. I suspect Colin Morgan is being more or less himself when he’s Merlin. If he isn’t, he easily could be, because he behaves just like a modern adolescent. This comes across as bad acting, because he doesn’t fit into the period, even though it’s clearly a decision to appeal to the modern family audience. The character of Morgana suffers from a similar problem, and to a lesser degree in others. On the other hand, as mentioned as the high point, Richard Wilson does an excellent job as a caring mentor character. Anthony Head does what we’d expect, although he doesn’t have the strongest character to work with (or a great deal of screen time). My final mention is for Bradley James, as a superbly obnoxious, arrogant and pigheaded Prince Arthur. Amidst all that, we can find four out of six points.

Production: Too much reliance on scene-setting, mood-influencing music. Some of it’s suitable, heavy on the xylophone and flutes which have always been associated with magical happenings in some musical styles. Unfortunately some of the music breaks out into rather overdone orchestral arrangements which trivialise fairly important scenes. Clearly a decision was taken somewhere to make this all rather excessively lighthearted. Four out of six.

Overall: Overall I enjoyed it, and it’s good family entertainment although lighter than Doctor Who despite sitting in roughly the same slot. Five out of six.

The Dragon’s Call receives a grand total of twenty-seven out of forty-two.

4 replies on “TV Review: Merlin: The Dragon’s Call”

  1. betelgeuse says:

    Poor casting
    I agree that Richard Wilson is excellent and saves every scene he’s in, and that Anthony Head is very good as Uther. Arthur is also spot on as the brash, somewhat spoiled prince. Merlin is OK, and I guess I have to accept the more ‘modern’ behaviour of the latter named characters to appeal to a modern audience whose attention span needs to be measured in seconds rather than minutes.

    CGi dragon was a disappointment of course and only saved by the gravitas of John Hirt’s voicing.

    What killed it for me was the large number of coloured actors. I’m not racist and I couldn’t usually care less about colour balance in drama but I’m bloody certain we hadn’t discovered Africa or the Caribbean in even the latest century that Arthur was rumoured to have lived.

    And I will completely stop watching this if the character of Gwen (according to the BBC website being short for Guinevere) turns out to be Arthur’s chosen. The girl is the wrong race, and quite frankly unattractive. About as plausable a choice for queen as Jade Goody would be.

    • babasyzygy says:

      Re: Poor casting

      I’m bloody certain we hadn’t discovered Africa or the Caribbean in even the latest century that Arthur was rumoured to have lived.

      OK, two things.

      1: At that time, there were no "coloured" (your word) people in the Caribbean. They were all taken there after the 15th century CE as slaves from Africa.

      2: Africa most certainly had been "discovered" by Arthur’s time (call it the 5th or 6th Century CE). It’s kind of mind-boggling that anybody capable of reading wouldn’t have heard of the Roman Empire and its presence in both the British Isles and Africa. Ever hear of Pontius Pilate? Julius Caesar? Cleopatra? Hadrian’s Wall?

      That said, a racially balanced population in England at that time does seem really unlikely – but the reasons you give don’t say good things about you.

      • betelgeuse says:

        Re: Poor casting
        Yes I have read world history. But there are no records of the romans ever having bought coloured slaves to England and the racial mix suggested by this programme is frankly ludicrous and intrusively PC.

        And I don’t give a monkey’s if you perceive this to be prejudice on my part, because it isn’t. It is however an observation that lack of historical accuracy to appeal to a modern generation is the worst sort of dumbing down, and does not further racial harmony anyway.

        So why continue this attempt to force acceptance on society by shoehorning it in to every program being made regardless of the setting? It isn’t necessary, doesn’t fool anyone, and weakens what otherwise is a watchable piece of entertainment because of the incongruity of the casting.

  2. sparcus37 says:

    music usied in merlin
    does anyone know how to find out the name of the piece of music used when lady helen sings everyone to sleep

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