Title: Merlin: Complete Series 4
Starring: Colin Morgan, Bradley James, Angel Coulby, Katie McGrath, Richard Wilson
Released: Out Now
Merlin must help the newly crowned King Arthur defend Camelot from the evil machinations of Morgana and his treacherous uncle Agravaine. He does this as himself and as his aged alter-ego Emrys.
You certainly can't accuse the makers of Merlin of resting on their laurels. Each series has built on the last and has not only improved in quality but also advanced their version of the King Arthur legend.
It would have been easy for a show like this to stick with a tried and tested formula but the creative team have instead moved the show into slightly darker territory and aren't afraid to throw in a few surprises to keep the viewer on their toes. Regular and semi-regular characters from previous series are bumped off, but it all feels like natural progression of the overall story rather than cheap shock tactics.
The leads have clearly grown in confidence. Colin Morgan's Merlin is growing more powerful and assertive. Several episodes have him transforming into his old, bearded alter-ego that allows him to practice magic openly. Morgan has great fun in this persona and is helped by some very good age make-up. The scene where he takes down the knights of Camelot while barely lifting a finger is a great moment.
In terms of character growth, Bradley James as Arthur has come on leaps and bounds from the arrogant brat of series one. We see how the weight of the kingdom hangs on his shoulders. At times he is torn between wanting to do what he thinks is right and wanting to live up to his father's reputation. This weighty introspection is well balanced with the moments of comedy he shares with Merlin. Although, with all the dropping trousers and slash innuendo it sometimes threatens to become a bit Carry on Camelot.
Katie McGrath's Morgana finally takes her rightful place as the series' main antagonist and is clearly relishing it. Having spent most of last series smirking at her own evil when she thought no one was looking, it's great to see her cut loose with the villainy. While her series long aim of usurping the throne of Camelot is a case of business as usual, what is far more interesting is her growing obsession with the figure she knows as Emrys. She is ably supported in the villain department by Nathaniel Parker as Agravaine who takes over Morgana's series 3 role of spy within Camelot.
The only character who seems a little ill-served is Angel Coulby's Gwen but by series end she is in a position to have a much larger part to play when the series returns.
The knights of Camelot seemed like a big deal at the end of the last series, so it's a bit disappointing to see that they aren't developed a bit more here. While they fall into broad cliché (Lancelot is noble, Gwaine is impulsive, Percival rejects the concept of sleeves) they are enjoyable to watch when they are given a chance to shine.
There are a few flaws. The standard magic on display mainly consists of throwing people backwards in slow motion, which starts to get a bit wearing after a while. The battles are well staged but you get the feeling that the directors have watched one too many Zack Snyder films. Possibly most frustrating is the fact that Arthur still doesn't know Merlin's secret despite the number of times he almost stumbles upon it.
These are minor quibbles though, as the series overall is going from strength to strength. With the developments in the series finale in place, things look promising for next series as well. Merlin has truly taken its place as a stalwart of Saturday nights and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Doctor Who as an example of good family drama.
Cast and crew commentaries on five episodes. A short making of series four featurette, Out-takes (which show that Nathaniel Parker is endearingly accident prone), deleted scenes and photo gallery.