Merlin Re-Watch: Series 1

BBC One’s Merlin was one of my first television loves and will always be important to me. I feel that the more you’re passionate about something, the more you criticise it because you long for it to live up to the perfection that you have envisioned it as being. Therefore, it’s not that I think that Merlin is, by any standard, the best show in the world; it’s no where near. I’ve done my fair share of criticising, (the endless plot holes being my pet peeve) but, on a personal level, it was escapism for me as a teenager, a conversation topic between me and my friends in high school, and it introduced me to Arthurian legend. Before I started watching, I never imagined history, or ancient fictional myths, being anywhere near as interesting as stories in film and TV. I’m still no historian, but I admired the writer’s putting a twist on an old tale to make it appealing for a modern audience which, I think, is always successful in modern media. Look at BBC’s Sherlock. Not to mention the endless features at the box office that go far beyond the notion of ‘prequel’. Warner Bros. released Pan this year and, although an intended prequel, it brought all of us a fresh, new look on the famous Peter Pan children’s book. One of my favourite films in this format is Dracula Untold, telling the “untold” story of Bram Stoker’s famous vampire. I recommend both novel and movie to anyone; the action and tension is breath-taking. Then there’s the popular theme of “fairy tales gone dark”, resulting in subjectively successful blockbusters such as Snow White and the Huntsman, Into the Woods, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Maleficent and Mirror, Mirror, not forgetting the Disney’s habit of re-creating old tales with a twist; Tangled, Enchanted, and The Princess and the Frog. (The incredible A Cinderella Story was actually given to us by Warner Bros.). In fact, many of these films today are spin-offs or reinventions of old classics like King Kong and Planet of the Apes, proving that our own creations can become legends. My point is that Merlin had something special that is obviously popular.

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I never realised how much I loved Merlin Series 1 until I re-watched it. I always thought the series was less exciting than later seasons but I am mistaken. The first series of any show, I feel, is always quite unstable and all-over-the-place as the writers, directors, actors, crew, are still experimenting to see what works well and what doesn’t. I also think, as shows are so easily cancelled, that a lot of first series’ feel quite rushed, like the creators are trying to fit as much in as possible because they can’t be sure that they’re going to receive another series. Series 1 of Merlin was not like that at all. The writer’s appear to have hinted and teased as much as possible from the Arthurian legend in Series 1 which was so perfect. We got hints of Modred, Excalibur, Lancelot, Morgana’s powers, and Gwen and Arthur’s love. If anything Series 1 contained a range more from the legend than later seasons did. I guess the fear of only having one Series, and rushing to include all of the plot points, was in the writer’s favour because it really makes an impact. None of the legendary moments are around for long enough to be developed on, so the viewer has to theorise and imagine what might happen. How will Arthur and Gwen grow close and be able to marry? How does Morgana gain stronger powers? How does Arthur receive Excalibur? And, most importantly, Does Arthur find out about Merlin’s magic?

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There is a lot of close shaves regarding Merlin and his magic in Series 1. I think that if the writer’s had known that the show would last all the way to Series 5 I’m not sure they would have put so much emphasise on Merlin trying to keep his secret, because it does get a bit boring and repetitive in later seasons. Overall, Series 1 made me question: What would have happened if Merlin had told Arthur sooner and how would the following seasons have played out? I hold the belief, like many fans, that the show would have been better had Arthur found out earlier, but I guess the writer’s thought that telling Arthur would bring the show to it’s conclusion.

Additionally, I would never consider Merlin a comedy but watching Series 1 brought back so many memories of me and my family laughing at clumsy, young Merlin and arrogant, senseless Arthur and the banter between them. Series 1 definitely had less seriousness and, although I’ve always found Merlin funny, I have to say I miss the old episodes that were almost all about the laughs. My favourites being 1.07 “The Gates of Avalon” where Uther could not resist having Merlin pelted with fruit and potatoes again and again, and 1.11 “The Labyrinth of Gedref” where a curse upon Camelot leads Arthur and Merlin to have some funny interactions. The whole irony of Merlin being treated like an idiot but secretly being the most powerful character really drives the show, and is almost a giant, season-long joke in itself.

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The thing I miss the most from Series 1 is the 4-person friendship between Merlin, Arthur, Morgana and Guinevere. The ending in 1.10 “The Moment of Truth” where all four characters ride off into the distance, after saving Merlin’s home village from raiders, really pulled at my heart strings, especially since we never really see them all together like that again. It’s so nostalgic to watch where the four of them first started; Morgana’s close friendship with her maid servant, Gwen, who in future will rule the kingdom with Arthur and bring hatred to Morgana’s heart, Arthur flirting with Morgana, yet to find out that they are half-siblings, and being called out for his rudeness by Gwen, his future wife, and Merlin, being romantically hinted with both Gwen and Morgana but, above all, relishes in the friendship of a strong and caring super-hero team consisting of himself, a powerful warlock, Arthur, Prince of Camelot, loyal knight and highly skilled swordsman, Guinevere, courageous, kind, strong-willed and specialises in black smithery, and Lady Morgana, the King’s Ward, also skilled in combat and a secret magical Seer who visions the future in her dreams, a power that even she can’t fully understand. This community was a one-season opportunity as Morgana’s heart begins to blacken in Season 2, leading her to completely reject her friends and attempt to kill all three of them in Season 3. Gwen stops trying to get Merlin’s attention and her and Arthur grow closer, leaving Merlin to turn from a top member of a revolutionary team to being an awkward third-wheel.

Series 1 was definitely the start of something incredible.

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