BBC1, Sat 20 Sep, 7.30pm
It would perhaps be unfair to describe this new BBC1 post-teatime ‘is it ok to let the kids watch?’ show as ‘Robin Hood meets Doctor Who’, but you can see what the schedulers were going for when they plopped this fresh take on the Arthurian legend into that particular slot. With a little bit of magic, some heavy armoury, good looking young ‘uns and charming oldies (Anthony Head as the King and Richard Wilson as Merlin’s mentor), this focuses on the early period of Camelot, with Arthur as a boorish prince, while the legendary spell-weaver rises through the ranks in an age when any evidence of sorcery was met with the death penalty.
The opening episodes feature Torchwood’s Eve Myles being possessed by a vengeful crone and Two Pints of Lager’s Will Mellor as a nasty knight handling demonic snakes as Merlin tries to subtly protect Arthur without his mercurial skills being exposed. While it may never match the Timelord’s show as a global sensation, Merlin pleasingly avoids the cartoon capers of Robin Hood, settling down into an existential tract with light wit and only throwing itself into brash swordfights and vivid special effects when the moment truly calls for it. And hats off to John Hurt who lends his gravy-smooth vocal cords to the riddle-setting Great Dragon.