This review contains spoilers.
3.9 Love In The Time Of Dragons
So far, this season of Merlin has relied heavily on the younger members of the cast, with Anthony Stewart Head and Richard Wilson taking a back seat to the malicious machinations of Morgana, and Merlin’s attempts to prevent her from killing Uther and destroying Camelot.
And much as I like to see Katie McGrath and Emilia Fox’s cruel collaborations, I felt the series needed to focus on other characters. I’m sure in the remaining episodes the two vixens will be the order of the day, but this week’s episode had Gaius take centre stage in a tender episode which still had dark undertones.
Alice (played by Shirley Valentine‘s Pauline Collins) arrives in Camelot and Gaius is overjoyed to be reunited with the woman he once loved. It transpires that Alice and Gaius where engaged to be married until Uther declared war on magic. We discover through Gaius that, during The Great Purge, many people who practiced sorcery where hunted down and executed and Alice was one of the people singled out.
However, Alice hasn’t come alone. She has conjured a powerful being known as a Manticore, which looks like a hybrid of a cat and a scorpion, and her motives for returning to the kingdom aren’t entirely wholesome.
When Uther summons Gaius and asks him to investigate miraculous cases of healing in his kingdom, Gaius agrees and goes to the tavern with Merlin to speak with a man who was near death and has made a full recovery overnight. Gaius returns and informs the king that the herbal remedy which was used was entirely harmless and assures the king that nothing untoward has taken place. But Merlin is suspicious and follows Gaius when he goes to visit Alice.
Merlin confronts his mentor about his whereabouts the following day, and Gaius reveals his past to the shocked boy wizard, telling him that Alice is a great healer and a powerful sorceress whose intentions are benevolent. Merlin remains unconvinced at first, but once he meets the genial woman, it puts him at ease. That is, until he sneaks up on Alice and witnesses her taking poison from the deadly Manticore.
When he tries to convince Gaius that Alice is up to no good, the old man quickly dismisses his ranting as paranoia and even goes as far as saying that the boy can’t bear to see him happy. Alice uses an opportunity to use the poison in one of the physician’s medicines and Uther falls into a coma which will kill him unless the Manticore is destroyed.
Merlin betrays Gaius and tells Arthur Alice is responsible for the attempt on Uther’s life. Gaius is understandably furious at first, but they decide to bring the Manticore from out of its own realm and destroy it, something which will reverse the effects of the poison and save the king, once the creature is despatched.
Gaius tries to persuade Uther that Alice was under the creature’s control. Uther won’t be swayed, however, and tells Gaius the woman will be executed the next morning.
This episode could have been great rather than good had the creators decided to take a darker route at the episode’s climax. It was interesting to have a character like Alice, who was sympathetic and whose actions towards Uther where entirely justifiable, considering the man has so much blood on his own hands.
Pauline Collins and Richard Wilson share a heartbreaking scene in the prison jail which demonstrated just how mature the writing and direction can be. Colin Morgan again delivers a fine performance as a boy forced time and again to make difficult decisions to protect a man who would see him dead if he discovered his secret.
Uther is a man who can’t be reasoned with and is so blinded by his own hatred of magic that I suspect it will be his own undoing. The creature itself was merely a plot point to move the story forward, the obligatory villain to defeat. and I felt its presence was superfluous and not really needed. But these are tiny complaints in a solid episode.
Read our review of episode 8, The Eye Of The Phoenix, here.
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