by Guest Editor Elliot Pickup
Since 2005, the new revival of Doctor Who has dominated Saturday night television and the genre of family-friendly drama. Everyone in Britain knows the Time Lord; he’s a large part of popular culture and part of our national heritage. But the end of the series is a massive gap in the BBC’s Saturday night line-up and only something equally as spectacular would fit the bill. Hence all the hype about Merlin – every inch a suitable replacement.
I took myself off to the swanky launch held in central London. The launch was in two parts; the first segment was a screening of the premiere episode of Merlin in Waterloo’s IMAX cinema. The ever-impressive IMAX was packed with a crowd ranging from hard-nosed hacks to some of the actors appearing in the series. The buzz of excitement was palpable as press, cast, crew and some lucky fans waited. Now obviously we can’t say too much about the episode itself, but I can tell you this: the first thing that immediately stands out is the impressive cast. The show is littered with familiar faces, such as Anthony Head (King Uther Pendragon), Richard Wilson (Gaius, the court physician) and John Hurt, who appears as the voice of the great Dragon.
Other stars lined up include Santiago Cabrera from Heroes (as Lancelot) and former EastEnder/Bionic Woman Michelle Ryan as the evil sorceress Nimueh. Further guest stars will include Eve Myles (Torchwood), Will Mellor (Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps) and Julian Rhind-Tutt (Green Wing). Two not-so-familiar faces occupy the main roles of Merlin and Arthur: Colin Morgan and Bradley James, respectively. Playing opposite them as the leading ladies are Angel Coulby (Guinevere) and Katie McGrath (Morgana).
The show is set in the world of Albion and Camelot, but the series focuses on a young Merlin and Arthur who are finding their way and carving their destinies; Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father, is still King. Aiming for a similar audience as Doctor Who, Merlin has the playful, more obvious and less sinister overtones that will capture the younger crowd. But there is also plenty for adult viewers to enjoy. The story isn’t too complex; everyone can keep up and no-one will be lost in the twists and turns of the plot. Production company Shine has done an amazing job creating this world and the characters. Equal credit must go to The Mill, the British Oscar-winning visual and special effects team behind Gladiator – the CGI is stunning and at times you forget that what you are watching isn’t real. I was very impressed with Merlin and if, as expected, it goes up against The X Factor, it will be a fantastic alternative to endless sob stories and emotional manipulation.
After the screening, there was a reception at the OXO Tower in central London (top-notch canapés and drinks). The majority of the cast were there, which was really great. I spotted Anthony Head talking to Russell T Davies (Doctor Who revivalist) and Richard Wilson. I also saw Michelle Ryan (a real stunner in the flesh), Julian Rhind-Tutt and Will Mellor. I also spotted Bradley James and Colin Morgan having a drink together. All in all it was a great night and if the launch is anything to go by, the series itself will be a massive success.
Merlin starts on Saturday at 7.30pm on BBC1
by Guest Editor Elliot Pickup