Merlin "The Wicked Day" TV Review


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The episode where everything changes in Camelot [spoiler warning!]

Four stars Merlin review

4.03 "The Wicked Day"
Writer: Howard Overman
Director: Alice Troughton

THE ONE WHERE Uther is stabbed and Merlin's attempt to save him only hastens his death thanks to Morgana's meddling. Arthur is pronounced king - and now hates magic more than ever.

VERDICT Naturally you expect great things when you see that Howard " Misfits " Overman has penned an episode. And this doesn't disappoint. In the past, Merlin has been accused of hitting the reset button every episode, with no real progression for the characters or the legend - but "The Wicked Day" changes the central relationships completely.

Although it's another episode with death at its heart, this is in some ways the lightest instalment so far this year. It's a tricky business mixing comedy with tragedy, but Overman pulls it off, despite some odd moments of amnesia ("What's wrong?" chides Merlin jokingly as Arthur looks glum. Well, Merlin, how about the death of scores of villagers thanks to the Dorocha, your mate Lancelot sacrificing himself to the spirit world, and the king's mental breakdown?). Uther lies dying and Emrys is sneaking into the palace... so obviously they lark about with a piggyback ride. It's either clumsy, or genius - and I err on the side of the latter. The changes in pace complement each other, and the darker parts of the story stand out against Merlin 's trademark banter and slapstick.

There is a tense sword battle as Uther steps up to defend Arthur against Gleeman's after-party attack. Sword fights in Merlin have always been well choreographed and this is no exception - with neither of the Pendragons at their best, but both fighting heroically for each other, this is an exhilarating, if claustrophobic, confrontation. It's a shame we don't know more about Gleeman before he's struck down; considering his pivotal role in the story, we don't really see that much of him beyond his sinister circus turn at Arthur's birthday. It's later revealed that he's one of King Odin's court, which harks back to the second series episode "The Once And Future Queen", and a feud based on Arthur's alleged murder of Odin's son.

Nonetheless, Uther's demise is definitely moving. The acting talent in Merlin is superb and never more than here - you can't help but be gripped as Arthur weakly calls for the guards as Uther asks him to stay. Note how the music is temporarily silenced as the two talk. The use of music throughout (the atypical addition of choral voices in Uther's crypt, for instance) and the script's use of what isn't said ("They're preparing themselves for the worst..." says Merlin, not needing to add, "And so should you.") are part of this episode's appeal.

The resolution hinges on Arthur's dilemma. Should he use magic to heal Uther, despite Uther's hatred of magic? As Emrys - another fine "old man" comic performance by Colin Morgan, which turns sour when his sorcery fails - Merlin sees an incredible opportunity. So is this, in fact, the "great destiny" prophesied? To commit regicide and plunge magic further into disrepute? It's a neat reversal of Merlin's epic potential.

GUEST STAR The murderous Gleeman is played by Phil Davis, a wonderful character actor with a gloriously sneer-laden expression. He'll be familiar to you from countless films and TV shows - Robin Of Sherwood , Alien 3 , Ashes To Ashes , Doctor Who 's "The Fires Of Pompeii", Whitechapel and most recently last year's Sherlock , to name only a few of SFX 's favourites.

UTHER LITE The old king gets over 50 words for the first time this series - but is then stabbed within 10 minutes. He gets one last sword fight and the chance to say, "I've always loved you," to Arthur though. Completely moving. But damn - I've always enjoyed Anthony Head's performance so I'm sorry to see the end of his character.

Merlin: "I'm just saying, I don't think you should be wandering around the palace."
Arthur: "And why is that?"
Merlin: "You're not wearing any trousers."

THE LEGEND According to the Historia Regum Britanniae written by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Uther is actually supposed to have died when drinking spring water poisoned by the Saxons. In other stories (notably the film Excalibur ) he is killed by the Duke of Cornwall's men after sleeping with Cornwall's wife Igrayne.

Merlin and Gaius

WTF? Why is there a candlelight vigil outside the palace? The people hated Uther's oppression didn't they?

SLASH BAIT Two or three instances this week, including a "drunk" (actually drugged) Arthur dropping his trousers while the two are in his room. Our favourite, though, is Merlin pretending he has to pee in the woods. "Unless you want to come and watch me..." he says. "Why would I want to watch you?" responds Arthur. Why indeed; slash writers, to your keyboards!

AUTHOR, AUTHOR! The writer of this episode, Howard Overman, is one of the most interesting people in genre telly at the moment. He's the creator and writer of BAFTA-winning show Misfits and also wrote the pilot of Dirk Gently , based on Douglas Adams' character. The latter is now set to become a series too .

LAND OF OUR FATHERS Gaius refers to a healer (who was "mad as a coot") called William of Cambria. Cambria is the legendary name for Wales, being a Latinised version of Cymru.

INFLUENCE The title "The Wicked Day" is surely a reference to Mary Stuart's 1983 fantasy novel about Merlin. She wrote five books in her Arthurian series, starting with The Crystal Cave (also the title of a Merlin episode) in 1970.

Arthur: "All I know is that I've lost both my parents to magic. Magic is pure evil and I'll never lose sight of that again."

Dave Bradley

Merlin airs on Saturday nights on BBC One in the UK.

Previous Merlin series four reviews:
Merlin "The Darkest Hour" TV Review
Merlin "The Darkest Hour (Part 2)" TV Review

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