Wizarding About

Posted Tuesday, October 14, 2008, 9:52 PM


What do you do when the biggest family entertainment production of each year is in downtime? What do you make to fill its slot and keep the same demographic entertained? That uses many of the same production team, especially the visual effects company? I am talking, of course, about during Doctor Who's absence from our screens.

The answer is to create another fantastical episodic adventure tale, and cast it with classic British actors as well as a new slew of young up-and-comers. Sprinkle it with fantasy creatures, epic landscapes, and a dash of magic, and you have quite a feast. And so: Merlin.

The story concerns young Merlin, 18 years old, employed as the apprentice to Uther Pendragon's court Physician, and given the honour of being young Prince Arthur's personal servant.

He arrives at the court of Camelot already fully versed in magical abilities, only to find himself in a society that shuns the practice of magic as witchcraft. He must therefore hide his powers from all, and yet he constantly finds himself in situations where he has to use them to save Arthur's life.

With his constant needling from Arthur to be an obedient servant, a budding romance with a young Guinevere, Uther Pendragon being a stubborn pigheaded arrogant bull of a man, the suspiciously ambiguous nature of Uther's ward Morgana, and a constant stream of enchantresses trying to overthrow the kingdom, it is a busy time at Camelot. However can a poor young sorcerer cope?

The show's off to a shaky start. I suppose I can't expect perfection first time out, so I'll give it a chance to find its feet, however it's a hard one for me to get into. If I was fifteen I am sure I would lap this up with wild abandon and it would fast become my favourite show, it certainly has a lot of the ingredients that I love in fantasy. But I'm nearly 40, and it is most certainly not aimed at those my age at all. My expectations may be unrealistically high.

The problems I have with it are many. For one thing, the dialogue is cheesy and clunky. Instead of being inspired by great modern fantasy adventure stories, it seems to be basing itself on simplistic pulp sword-and-sorcery fiction. And I can overlook anachronisms if the characters are compelling, but instead they are like storybook cardboard cut-out versions, and awfully predictable.

The concept of Merlin having to hide his expert telepathic and telekinetic powers is very disappointing. I would have preferred it if the background to his adventures was of him learning new skills, instead of being blessed with immediate knowledge of how to do anything he is called on to do. I think it misses out on some key plot and character developments.

The characters are really not very appealing. They over act, and are portrayed as quite unpleasant people. There's a distinct lack of warmth, with no moments of real connection between the characters. Something any family drama fundamentally needs is appealing characters, and yet it's a glaring omission. Not through lack of awareness, but instead from clumsy writing. Most disappointing.

I expect it to be a popular show - it's better than the awful Robin Hood that is unfeasibly popular amongst teens at the moment, and it has some carefully constructed content that is sure to appeal to a teen audience - so if it continues onto a second season and beyond I have some hope it will improve.

But if it continues on as it currently stands, like a slightly more lavish Sarah Jane Adventures, it won't keep me around for long.

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