‘Merlin’: ‘A Herald of the New Age’ review

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After the emotionally charged events of Lancelot du Lac, which resulted in Gwen’s banishment, we wondered how Merlin would follow it this week? The answer, apparently, was that life in Camelot has carried on pretty much as normal.

Within the first few minutes, we assumed that there would be some mention of Gwen, especially with A Herald of the New Age centring on her brother. It did come, but only at about twelve minutes in where we suffered some lumpy dialogue from Gaius, which seemed rather crudely aimed at viewers who had missed the previous week’s drama.

Beginning with the Knights out in the forest and a druidic shrine, the curious Sir Elyan (Adetomiwa Edun) is the focus as he disturbs something and comes under its controlling influence.

Despite being Gwen’s brother, poor old Elyan has had little to do to distinguish himself from the crowd since his introduction last year. We had high hopes that this might be a chance to get to know him better, but sadly we learn nothing more than that he is a noble and loyal Knight as he spends a good deal of the time either possessed, catatonic or mute. The tale of his possession rips along nicely though, with some terrific scares such as the initial reflection in the water and the frankly disquieting image of the druid boy, terrifically played by the young Nicholas Croucher, dripping with water.

In truth the episode pulled a bit of a con trick, making you think that Arthur is acting out over his relationship issues when the truth is something much greater. Before that reveal though, Merlin once again feels the brunt of his anger with a return to their antagonistic banter of old and, for a while, it seemed as if parts of the script had been accidentally telegraphed in from Series 1.

The source of Arthur’s malaise was his guilt at presiding over the execution of his father’s orders, putting a Druid encampment to the sword. For once, we were not privy to the key that unlocked the riddle and even Merlin stood by agog at Arthur’s revelation.

The young King’s ability to accept responsibility for his actions and his desire to atone for them is the kind of character development that has been long waited for. Coupled with his promise that the Druid people will be protected, and that such atrocities will not occur under his reign, would seem to signify another step towards his much talked of destiny.

Sadly, Merlin just gets to watch on this time, though he did again get to do some solid detective work. His crossing of Arthur regarding his feelings and also challenging him to stop short during the fight sequence was great though. So too was his somewhat naïve bravery when helping the possessed Elyan to escape.

We can’t help but feel that Camelot security is a bit lax though – is there a member of the principal cast who hasn’t snuck out under the cover of darkness this year?

All in all, A Herald of the New Age was another all-male gang show with a few thrills and spills, a fair dose of physical comedy, some lovely crossbow action and a rather clever twist to give it some much needed weight. Still lighter fare than the previous instalment, but that’s probably a good thing.

Aired at 8pm on Saturday 3rd December 2011 on BBC One.

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