Merlin has always been an underappreciated show. Even during the height of its popularity, it got mixed critical reception and the only major award it ever received in its four year run was a BAFTA for Best Visual Effects. Through no fault of its own, it never quite reached the heights of its other primetime counterparts such as Sherlock or Doctor Who, which both enjoyed massive fan bases and made A-listers of their stars.
Well, I’m here to shower Merlin with worthy praise. We follow the eponymous warlock, played by Colin Morgan, as he arrives in Camelot and becomes King Arthur’s manservant. The catch is that magic has been outlawed by Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father, and so the series revolves around Merlin repeatedly saving the day and getting no credit for it (ironic, given the show’s underdog status).
What Merlin’s small fandom did latch onto was the deep bond depicted between Merlin and Arthur that grew throughout the five seasons. Not only are Colin Morgan and Bradley James pitch perfect in their respective roles, but they also carry the show with their on-screen chemistry. Accompanying their excellent central performances are Katie McGrath as the villainous Morgana Pendragon, Richard Wilson as Merlin’s mentor Gaius, and Angel Coulby as Guinevere. As a black woman, Coulby’s casting as Guinevere was ahead of its time in the late 2000s and has paved the way for similar casting choices since – the most recent being Channel 5’s 2021 historical drama Anne Boleyn fronted by actress Jodie Turner-Smith.
Almost every episode has a different villain for Merlin to conquer, which was no mean feat for the show writers over the 65 episodes, and you’ll recognise a lot of cameos from prominent British actors. The audience also eventually gets to meet each of the Knights of the Round Table which is great fun, while the beautiful Welsh and French filming locations used are ideal for immersing the viewer in the show’s historical and fantastical atmosphere. Admittedly, some of the CGI looks old-fashioned now (they relied heavily on green screens) but once you look past this, the quality of the acting and writing shines through.
If you missed out on Merlin the first time, a highly entertaining and magical adventure awaits you now.
Merlin is available to stream on BBC iPlayer here.