For years, Saturday-night drama was the preserve of the Time Lord. But since autumn 2008 it has also been home to a young sorcerer. A cheeky, dutiful, intuitive warlock who can deflect arrows in flight, transform into an old man – or woman – and converse with dragons. “His name… Merlin”.
But with battle lines sharply drawn, this rollicking TV treat is poised to end in a two-part finale (The Diamond of the Day), starting on 22 December.
There has been something inexorable about this fifth and final series. Dark and moody, like the final chapters of Harry Potter, but utterly focused on its endgame. Back in October, viewers were shocked to see a vision experienced by Merlin in which his friend and king, Arthur, died in battle at the hands of his once trusted Knight, Mordred.
And now that we know Mordred has taken violently against Arthur (having one’s girlfriend executed will do that to a man), the question remains: will the prophecy come to pass? As Morgana and Mordred prepare to lock horns with Arthur and Merlin, you just know there will be casualties. Where’s Holby City A&E when you need it?
Another question that’s bugged fans from the beginning is: when will Arthur realise that his servant (and best friend) is a magician? After all, the evil Morgana knows that Merlin is, in fact, the all-powerful Emrys, and has a plan to drain him of his magic…
Over 63 episodes (so far), the Merlin massive has thrilled to the fiery interludes of the Great Dragon, swooned over Arthur’s on/off romance with Gwen and laughed at the liberties of Merlin’s crabby alter ego Emrys. And what a loyal bunch the fans have been.
Merlin snared its audience early on, opening with an impressive 6.6 million and with a first season average in the high 5s. It’s been high-fiving ever since. It’s that kind of consistency that schedulers dream about.
And the show’s mix of chivalric heroism and contemporary dialogue is an irresistible one – for actors, too. Check out the roll call of guest actors: James Fox, John Shrapnel, Sarah Parish, Gemma Jones, John Lynch, Charles Dance, Miriam Margolyes, Joseph Mawle, Frank Finlay… I could keep that list going for a very long time.
As the central duo of Merlin and the King, Colin Morgan and Bradley James have really grown into their roles, and given us plenty of laughs and, yes, the odd tear.
And if ticking off all the Arthurian paraphernalia wasn’t enjoyable enough, there were always more fantastical elements: trolls and goblins and pixies and such like.
For those who wanted it, the series had depth, too, with its subtext about intolerance and bigotry. But Merlin has been, first and foremost, an entertainer. Handsomely filmed and earnestly played, but above all, fun. What will we do without it?