Sunday, 21 November 2010

'MERLIN' 3.11 - "The Sorcerer's Shadow"

Sunday, 21 November 2010

If only someone could wave a magic wand and erase my memory every week, episodes like "The Sorcerer's Shadow" would be much improved. But that's not possible, so the fact remains this episode felt like the twelfth story revolving around a tournament, the eighth to feature a magical-doer bearing a grudge, and the twentieth where the Dragon (John Hurt) helped Merlin (Colin Morgan) solve the latest crisis. That last statistic is worryingly accurate, too. "The Sorcerer's Shadow" actually picked up in the last quarter-hour, with some half-decent character moments to its credit, but this was largely another example of Merlin treading water when it ought to be swimming towards the finish...

Camelot's about to hold another of its habitual tournaments. This one is a decadal tradition where there's only one rule: there are no rules. Everyone's invited to participate, no matter what their social status is, to bludgeon each other to death (or, more often, submission -- this being a family show). One contender is shy stranger Gilli (Harry Melling), a teenager who doesn't seem to pose any physical threat, but is in possession of an enchanted ring that heightens his simmering magical abilities, giving Gilli an unfair advantage in close combat.

Elsewhere, Morgana (Katie McGrath) saw an opportunity to have King Uther (Anthony Head) killed, by belittling his chance of winning the contest because of his advancing years, and thus forcing the proud monarch to enter the fray one last time. A development that frustrated his son Arthur (Bradley James), who wasn't sure if he should defeat his father in front of his subjects, or help sustain the king's reputation by throwing their inevitable clash.

It's getting tough to review these episode of Merlin, to be frank. There was very little here we haven't seen before, done better, beyond seeing Merlin take on the role of mentor to young Gilli, which made him look more mature and wise than the show usually allows. I spent most of this episode more engaged by the subplot of Uther's pride setting him up for a fal; uncertain about whether or not Arthur would allow his father to beat him in their bout, or prove that he's Camelot's worthy champion. The fight between Uther and Arthur may have only lasted a few minutes, but it was considerably more arresting than anything else going on, if only by virtue of the fact it was something we haven't seen before.

Harry Melling did a decent job evoking our sympathy as Gilli, another person with reason to hate Uther's anti-magic doctrine (yawn), but it's a character type who seems to arrive in Camelot with too much regularity. And that the key problem with Merlin: it feels like every series has about six worthwhile episodes that firmly progress the overarching storyline and characters, and the remainder are standalone stories that often resemble each other. There's nothing wrong with so-called "filler" episodes, but when they're recycling a handful of ideas it's a different matter entirely.

Overall, "The Sorcerer's Shadow" (another title more tantalizing than the material) was content to lazily go through the motions, resembling a half-dozen previous episodes jumbled together. It's an unfortunate blot on writer Julian Jones' work this year, as he's been responsible for series 3's better installments ("The Tears Of Uther Pendragon - Part 2", "Gwaine", "The Crystal Cave", "The Eye Of The Phoenix"), but I guess he was due a dud. There were a few highpoints along the way (usually the dialogue between Merlin/Gilli and Arthur/Uther), but nothing to get excited about, and certainly something you can skip with a clean conscience.

Next week heralds the beginning of the two-part finale, so hopefully that will brush aside the memory of this late misfire.

  • Actor Harry Melling plays the chubby Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter movies, although he's obviously shed an incredible amount of weight. Melling reprises his role in The Deathly Hallows movies, but now has to wear a fat suit!
WRITER: Julian Jones
DIRECTOR: Ashley Way
TRANSMISSION: 20 November 2010, BBC1/HD, 7.45PM