Merlin: Review: Series 4 Ep 1: The Darkest Hour

A year on from her attempt to rule, Morgana is still on the loose – and much has changed at Camelot…

Rather like the Harry Potter books, the BBC’s version of Merlin has got progressively darker as the series has progressed, and there’s no question that it justifies its 7.50 p.m. transmission slot for this episode. It’s dark, it’s deliberately trying to be scary, and beneath it all, there’s no longer the sense that everything is going to work out okay – and from the look of the season throwforward at the end of the episode, things are going to get a hell of a lot worse before they get better.

There’s a new set-up at Camelot: Uther is a broken man (giving Tony Head a chance to show a very different part of his acting palette), while Uncle Agravaine is there to guide Arthur. The producers may have missed a trick by giving as much away about him as we learn in this episode, but given that they originally thought they’d have only 10 episodes, rather than the 13 and the guaranteed fifth year that eventually turned out to be the case, they probably didn’t want to waste time.

Lancelot is around full-time, which doesn’t bode well for the relationship between Arthur and Guinevere, but Gaius is much the same as ever, and Merlin… Well, Merlin seems to have done some growing up finally. The first part of the episode suggests that the relationship with Arthur hasn’t moved on much, but later developments show that the bond between the two is deeper than ever.

As for the villains, there’s a load of choice revealed in the first few minutes, with Morgana, Morgause and a new hideous crone played by the former Duchess of Duke Street, Gemma Jones. The stakes are raised, and there’s a surprising death early on in the episode.

Verdict: Ironically given the launch of a Merlin comic this week, this really is no longer for the younger audience it started off appealing to – but an older one should lap it up.  7/10

Paul Simpson

Check out our review of the season 3 finale here.

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