Merlin has come of age and is no longer the BBC family drama Sunday evening filler programme while the mighty Doctor Who recharges his TARDIS. Each year the production, the writing, the performances, the ratings have all improved series after series, with the latest series ratings even beating that of the mighty time lord.
Series 4 is the game changer, the bar has been raised and the show takes on a more darker grown up approach toning down the comedy element of previous years, and finding a better balance between drama and humour. Episodes now have a progression instead of feeling like disposable stand alone tales. The principle legend of Arthur and Camelot is embraced and begins to come in to play. Stronger character development and the better execution of each players responsibilities and consequences of their actions make this the most mature and satisfying outing yet.
The main cast are all superb, and adapt to the new style with great gusto, it should be mentioned that it is great to see a strong Irish representation in the primary cast all flying the flag with terrific performances. It is no suprise though that it is the great Richard Wilson who steals the show with his fantastic portrayal of Gaius, but his role does feel rather reduced this series.
The cinematography is beautiful and really shines in HD, 35mm film was used for the first time on this run of episodes and the upgrade from super 16 is strikingly different and visually more appealing, with colours, sets and landscapes looking more cinematic. The music also deserves a mention as it adds great emotion to the episodes.
Series 4 is not all plain sailing though, some of the CG does not work and looks rushed, earlier plot threads cast aside for no apparent closure as the series concludes, and some battle scenes not properly realized. There is also the dubious scene in the the finale where magic is used so Arthur can take the sword Excalibur from the stone, a twist which I feel disrespects the King Arthur and the sword in the stone legend. But there is enough quality in the production and rich storytelling to overlook these flaws and enjoy this take on the Camelot saga.
There is also some impressive guest stars featuring Gemma Jones (Bridget Jones' Diary, Harry Potter), Phil Davis (Doctor Who, Brighton Rock) and Nathaniel Parker (Stardust, The Chronicles of Narnia) as well as the return of Santiago Cabrera (Heroes, Che) as Lancelot.
Extras include Making Of Series 4 Film, Cast & Crew Audio Commentaries, Deleted Scenes, Out-Takes, Storyboards, which should keep fans busy till series 5 airs.
Merlin is no longer a boy and it is this new grown up approach that makes this series so enchanting and satisfying. Magic!
Merlin Series 4 is available on DVD & Bluray now.