[SPOILERS] We're already halfway through series 3, and mark the occasion with another of Merlin's trifling comedies, where younger viewers will naturally find more to enjoy than the grownups -- although a charming performance from Georgia King, and morsels regarding the Arthur/Gwen relationship, made "The Changeling" more agreeable than it could have been. But there's still a pervasive feeling we're being served inconsequential stories that are broadly similar to previous ones.
This week, King Uther (Anthony Head) decided to strengthen his kingdom's political position by inviting his friend Lord Godwyn (Simon Williams) to Camelot, together with his daughter Princess Elena (King), with the intention of marrying her to his son Prince Arthur (Bradley James). Unfortunately, Arthur had no romantic interest in the beautiful but maladroit Elena, and it transpired that Elena's nanny Grunhilda (Miriam Margolyes) is a pixie who's been keeping a secret: Elena was possessed by a Sidhe when she was a baby, and the entity inside her will assume total control once she's married and in a position of power. Needless to say, Merlin (Colin Morgan) and Gaius (Richard Wilson) discover Grunhilda's plot, but for contrived reasons don't just tell Uther what's going on, and instead race to find a way to rid Elena of her parasite before the wedding takes place.
As I've complained before, there was nothing about "The Changeling" that offered much in the way of surprises or freshness it was just another of Merlin's formulaic adventures aimed directly at kids. Luckily it wasn't as immature and asinine as "Goblin's Gold", but instead just painfully obvious and happy to recycle ideas (another bewitched interloper in Camelot to expose, another evil sidekick to defeat, the return of the Sidhe). Helping take the edge off were two strong guest-stars in Margolyes and King; the former amusing as a Cornish pixie smitten with Gaius with a frog-like tongue, the latter delightfully dizzy and lovable as klutzy Elena. King was especially good once Elena had been purged of the malevolent spirit inside her, altering her body language to present a more radiant, serene version of the same character.
Michael Jenn) and Merlin, who got to brandish a pretty cool looking staff.
Away from the central story, there were a few moments that were more appealing if you're keen for Merlin to advance its overarching storylines. The Arthur/Gwen romance was returned to finally, although I found it a puzzling how they were both so open about loving each other but being unable to do anything about it because of the class system. Maybe I'm misremembering the status of their relationship from series 2, but it didn't feel the same to me. Still, while I'm sure the 'shippers ("Gwarthurs?") out got a kick from a few moments here, nothing actually changed. The characters, perhaps like the writers, just don't know how to get a prince and a handmaiden together in bed. I'm at a loss. To me it seems obvious that Arthur should start seeing Gwen behind his father's back, keeping their romance a secret from everyone -- well, until Merlin finds out and he's sworn to secrecy. That would do wonders for both Arthur and Gwen as characters and give the show a new layer to play with during episodes. Hopefully we'll get there this year, because seeing Arthur and Gwen shoot each other lovesick expressions has run its course.
On the whole, "The Changeling" was another middle-of-the-road installment of this variable series, but good casting and a few choice moments raised it a notch, although it wasted most of its ideas and I can't imagine anyone wanting to revisit it.
- This series has resulted in a handful of scenes where Merlin gives Arthur sage advice, and those moments work very well. Morgan seems to relish delivering these little heartfelt speeches, too. It makes Merlin look credible as a warlock and trusted aide of Arthur, instead of the lanky servant boy Arthur throws things at. More, please. But I wish those brief scenes would feed into their relationship during other scenes, as episodes always revert back to the usual royal/servant dynamic. Another example of something in Merlin that's becoming boring, so needs to change.
- If you're interested, my BBC screener of "The Changeling" featured incomplete music and effects (don't worry, I also watched the broadcast version), but I found its ragtag form quite amusing. Richard Wilson got "licked" by a green paint brush! The temp track used a lot of Danny Elfman's score from Beetlejuice, too.
- Do you recognize Georgia King? She was "Weird Bloke" in BBC3's university-set comedy Off The Hook. Remember that? No? Oh. Just me, then.
- Who created the above promotional photo? That thing is a heinous Photoshop failure, BBC. Merlin's promo images have never been great, but they're usually better than that eyesore.
WRITER: Lucy Watkins
DIRECTOR: David Moore
GUEST CAST: Miriam Margolyes, Georgia King, Simon Williams, Michael Jenn & Michael Cronin
TRANSMISSION: 16 October 2010 -- 7.45PM