[SPOILERS] This third episode was in stark contrast to the expensive two-part premiere's darkness, being instead a cheap n' cheerful lark with its eye on 7-year-olds. There's certainly nothing wrong with Merlin targeting different age groups every week (this being a family show with various demographics to please), but it's a shame the shift in tone is often so blunt. It's almost like there are two different creative teams working on Merlin, and they job swap every other week.
While searching for a book in Camelot's vast library, Merlin (Colin Morgan) stumbled upon a secret chamber behind a bookshelf, containing a variety of ancient artifacts. Amongst them was a small wooden box that Merlin couldn't resist opening after hearing it rattle, only to release a mischievous green Goblin (Mark Williams) with an unappeasable desire for gold. Unable to recapture the sprite, the Goblin escaped to possess Gaius (Richard Wilson) and, now in the guise of the court's trusted physician, started extorting gold coins from Camelot's citizens, while also playing pranks on various people -- like causing King Uther (Anthony Head) to go bald, and Prince Arthur (Bradley James) to grow donkey's ears.
It's difficult to review an episode like "Goblin's Gold", because it's clearly not going to be to everyone's taste, but I think we can all agree it was badly scheduled to immediately follow the considerably more adult "Tears Of Uther Pendragon". Rather than demonstrate Merlin's ability to please a wide spectrum of viewers, it instead makes the show look schizophrenic and in need of a firmer grasp. Doctor Who similarly airs episodes skewed more towards the under-10s, but it does a much better job ensuring things are balanced for the adults to enjoy. There are subtleties the kids can't grasp to keep the grownups engaged in the story, but this episode didn't hit that balance. There was fun to be had in "Goblin's Gold", but it was essentially an episode derived from toilet humour (spitting, belching, farting) that I'm sure reduced young kids to hysterics, but everyone over-12 will have been stone-faced.
It was admittedly fun seeing Richard Wilson do something different on the show, even if none of the comedy played to the actor's strengths. Wilson's a good straight comic actor (see: One Foot In The Grave), but he doesn't play the fool very well, and the sight of him twirling his tongue every few minutes was more creepy than funny. His performance just didn't match what you'd expect the Goblin's persona to be in its CGI form, and many of his scenes sank as a result. It was a great idea to have a stiff character like Gaius become a naughty schoolboy, and maybe Wilson could have pulled it off 25 years ago, but it didn't really work here.
Also, considering the fact comedy actor Mark Williams (The Fast Show) voiced the Goblin, I have to wonder why they didn't utilize Williams himself, rather than go with an awful CGI version that was incapable of lip-synching dialogue. A small mercy they found a way to have the digi-Goblin disappear for the majority of the hour, but simply putting Mark Williams in green make-up and shrinking him with special-effects would have been preferable.
On the bright side, a few scenes stood out from the pack: there was a great moment when "Goblin Gaius" confronted Morgana (Katie McGrath) about her evil intentions for Uther, with McGrath's reaction to Gaius's unexpected perception particularly memorable. In that one brief scene the actress did better work than the entirety of the two-part premiere, which was ultimately at the level of a pantomime witch. I also enjoyed seeing Arthur reduced to a braying donkey (leading to a fun gag in the denouement), and Merlin's plan with Gwen (Angel Coulby) to force the Goblin out of Gaius was logical and fun to see unfold.
Overall, I'm sure a portion of Merlin's audience had great fun with this episode's childish streak, and in simply watching Gaius acting out of character, but the majority will be wondering why Merlin suddenly turns into a kid's show having aired an episode with the ghosts of drowned children last week. It's not that it shouldn't do silly episodes that speak more to the primary school crowd, just that it needs to include some subtext or intelligence to keep everyone else happy. As it stands, I can't in all honesty champion this episode (despite it eliciting a few chuckles), because it was insignificant, sometimes embarrassing, and best forgotten.
- Have Merlin's FX team demanded more interesting challenges this year, now the Great Dragon isn't a fixture? Last week we had those Lord Of The Rings-style hordes of soldiers, this week we get an animated humanoid.
- It's a common feature of Merlin that magic is constantly proven to be a disruptive, evil, and life-threatening practice. When you weigh up the evidence, you can't help agreeing with King Uther that the world would be improved without magical beings around. Isn't it about time there were stories where magic is openly seen to be of benefit? How else is Uther ever going to change his mind about witches and warlocks?
- I'm increasingly worried that Howard Overman's having a bad year, with this episode following his flop cop show Vexed in the summer. I'm hoping and praying that Misfits' second series won't also be a let-down.
WRITER: Howard Overman
DIRECTOR: Jeremy Webb
GUEST CAST: Mark Williams (voice), Rupert Young, Michael Cronin, Simon Nehan, Gemma Arrowsmith & Duncan Meadows
TRANSMISSION: 25 September 2010 - BBC1, 7PM