‘Merlin’: ‘The Drawing of the Dark’ spoiler-free review

With Camelot on a war footing after Morgana’s declaration of hostilities, the scene is set for a confrontation that has been brewing since the start of this series and even as far back as ‘The Witch’s Quickening’ in Series 2.

With a mere three episodes to go, the stakes are high and the story wastes no time, kicking off with some action in the woods outside the castle.

Mordred, boy druid and latterly Knight of Camelot, sits within Arthur’s retinue in an awkward position. Like Merlin himself, he has magic but actively supports a regime that does not permit its practice and on occasion persecutes those who have it. While Merlin has for the most part managed to keep in the shadows over the years, events here conspire to set the young druid’s past against his Knightly duties.

The centrepiece of this episode is a brilliant performance from Alexander Vlahos that sees Mordred put through the emotional wringer. Though we as viewers all know that he will ultimately play a part in Camelot’s fall, as does Merlin, Mordred himself clearly does not and it is impossible not to feel for his plight. Vlahos communicates both the boy’s naïve confusion and his dangerous immaturity, which make him such a potent threat.

Guest star Alexandra Dowling, recently cast in Season 3 of Game of Thrones, plays the feisty Kara whose presence ignites the situation. She makes a strong impact, holding her own in scenes with both Vlahos and Bradley James’s Arthur, who also impresses with some weighty material.

In terms of the relationship between Merlin and Mordred it does feel as though there has been a slight narrative jump, from the untrusting to the openly antagonistic. Merlin is almost the aggressor here at times as, armed with a dangerous foreknowledge, he fights to prevent a fate which now seems all but inevitable. Colin Morgan displays flashes of Merlin’s ruthless streak and also his compassion as events spiral out of control.

We again enjoyed some good use of Richard Wilson’s Gaius, calling Merlin on his actions and questioning whether Mordred is really committing any worse a crime than the young wizard has done himself on countless occasions. It’s a fair criticism and throws an interesting light on the decision to keep Merlin’s magic secret for so long.

Director Declan O’Dwyer provides another atmospheric episode, fresh from helming last week’s brilliantly Merlin-centric ‘The Kindness of Strangers’. This is a different beast and more of an intimate tale, with only a single guest star and mainly centred around Camelot itself. It is another pivotal moment in the saga though and we are back in the prolific scripting hands of co-creator Julian Jones for his twenty-sixth episode.

With so much going on for the male principals he does seem to leave the Knights and Gwen behind, rendering them little more than bit players at times. Hopefully they will all have their day before the series’ conclusion as this surely serves as a curtain raiser for the two-part finale.

Airs at 8.15pm on Saturday 15 December 2012 on BBC One.

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