The first two series of Merlin were good. They were OK. They were ample. They were entertaining. Compared to the BBC’s ill thought out, misbegotten Robin Hood, they were brilliant. But compared to other stuff the BBC was churning out (Lark Rise To Candleford, Ashes To Ashes to name but 2) the writing was patchy. A good episode was frequently followed by one which merely made me shrug my shoulders and toss my gauntlets down in exasperated ennui. Only the searing brunetteness of Katie McGrath’s Morgana kept my interest constant.
After only one episode it’s impossible to say whether the writer’s of this third series have finally found their legs but they certainly left the starting blocks with enough acceleration to leave Roadrunner spitting out tarmac.
Finally the story is moving. The pieces are beginning to fall into their allotted places. Morgana has turned to the dark side. No more riding around on a palfrey mare looking like a representative of the Scottish Widows (although actually she did do that in this episode); no more haughty looks above a décolletage that I would love to drop my wand into (though, er, she did do a couple of those as well) and no more simpering smiles to Arthur and Uther as if she were accepting an invitation to cream tea at The Berkeley (though, yes, there were some of those but they were all part of her evil plan to lull them into a false state of security).
The dynamic has changed. Old allegiances are broken. The whole social dynamic of the show has been injected with a newer, darker energy. The interaction between the characters is now far more interesting. It’s gone from Enid Blyton jolly japes to C.S Lewis good vs. evil mysticism. There is betrayal and sneering looks afoot. There is righteousness and corruption. This is all much more in-keeping with the Arthurian legend and gives the actors something to really get their teeth into.
For the girls Bradley James (Arthur) spends much of his screen time either swishing his sword or his nipples around in manly topless abandon and Colin Morgan (Merlin) somehow manages to muffle and mangle his muscular Irish accent out of all existence and into a generic English plum with such skill and verve that you completely overlook the fact his ears totally eclipse the light of the sun. How the lighting riggers manage to backlight him without making his head resemble Shrek’s, I don’t know.
For us guys Angel Coulby plays Guinevere as if Thomas Mallory had re-written Cinderella but is wenchy enough to be modern, sassy and, dare I say it, chav-like but all in a positive way (I’d just love her to say to Arthur “yo bruv, it’s well shameful but like I love you, innit”) but for me, the real star is Katie McGrath. Poised, graceful, long limbed, brunette and able to wield a plunging neckline as expertly as she wields a blade. She can pull my sword from its stone anytime.
The producers have found some money too. I suspect the wagon load of groats that was delivered to their gatehouse with a note from the BBC executive team that read “’ere, give us a third series and make it look like Clash of the Titans” had a lot to do with it but I am not complaining. Last night we had giant scorpions, fighting skeletons (almost as good as the ones Ray Harryhausen produced for Sinbad) and a flying dragon. And for once none of it looked too ropy. Hopefully this is a sign the BBC are in for the long haul and we might actually get to see Arthur crowned king rather than have the Beeb pull the plug just as it all starts to come good.
So, all things considered, I will be flying the flag for Camelot every Saturday evening for the next 13 weeks though secretly supporting the dark side just ‘cos the bad girls are hotter than the good ones. And whilst in that vein, Katie McGrath you have the honour of receiving this blog’s second TV Totty Of The Week award for services rendered to corsetry and witchcraft.
Just bung it on the mantelpiece next to your grimoire, luv; it’ll look magic.