“No way. There must be another Arthur, because this one’s an idiot.”

We never reviewed this series’ first season when it played in its native Albion, so we’re going to look at it now that it has crossed the Atlantic. The latest take on the King Arthur myth plays like a cross between Smallville and Ye Local Renaissance Faire. It features young Merlin as its main man– and Anthony Head as Uther Pendragon.

Cast and Crew

Directed by James Hawes
Written by Julian Jones, Jake Michie, Johnny Capps, and Julian Murphy

Colin Morgan as Merlin
Bradley James as Arthur
Anthony Head as Uther Pendragon
John Hurt as a penned dragon
Angel Coulby as Guinevere
Katie McGrath as Morgana
Eve Myles as Lady Helen/Mary Collins

Synopsis

The youthful Merlin arrives at Uther Pendragon’s court (already named Camelot), where magic has been banned. He quickly crosses paths with Arthur, Guinevere, Morgana– and an evil enchantress who plans to take the future king’s life.

High Points

1. The sets may not be terribly historical, but they look pretty.

2. I’m moderately interested in the role of the dragon. The notion that Arthur starts out his career as a jerk also shows potential.

Low Points

1. The Arthurian legends have no pure form, and have been reinterpreted many times; there is much I will accept. So ancient Albion looks like a Ren Faire recreation of France. So it’s inhabited by people with perfect teeth and hair and impeccable hygiene. So Guinevere has African ancestors. So Arthur, a complete prick, is Merlin’s age1. Yeah, fine. But if Arthur is the acknowledged son of Uther Pendragon, much of the accepted mythos (including Merlin’s involvement) makes considerably less sense.

2. Spending time in the stocks is a laugh a minute?

The Scores

Originality: 1/6. It’s not just that Arthur has been (and will be) reinterpreted so very many times. I’m more annoyed that this version’s twists have been taken from readily-identifiable contemporary sources and conventions. One clich√©, in particular, that has worn out its welcome with me: we meet a familiar hero as a youngster, and he already knows/immediately meets everyone who will ever be significant to his future life.

Effects: 4/6. The CGI sets look pretty good. The CGI dragon looks like a CGI dragon.

Story: 5/6. The story works reasonably well if one understands this principally intends to be a children’s show.

Acting: 4/6. The acting varies from hammy to passing fair. Head wasn’t bad, but I expected better. I thought John Hurt gave the dragon heart.

Production: 5/6.

Emotional response: 3/6. I’ll give the next couple episodes a shot, but I doubt I’ll watch beyond that. Did anyone out there feel otherwise?

Overall: 3/6. I yawn in its general direction.

“The Dragon’s Call” receives 25/42.

Notes

1. Merlin takes much of his inspiration from Myrddin Wyllt, born around 540. Tales about Arthur (generally) situate him in the early part of the same century. So, while accounts always make Merlin much older than Arthur, it seems the reverse would have been true, if either actually existed.

Personally, I like to think of Merlin as much older.