The 10-Year Anniversary of ‘Merlin’: Revisiting the Pilot
Yesterday marked the ten-year anniversary of when the pilot episode of The Adventures of Merlin (shortened to Merlin), “The Dragon’s Call,” first aired on BBC, and fans (including myself) still have not forgotten the impact the magical show has left on them.
Merlin was a show inspired by the Arthurian legends of the warlock Merlin, King Arthur Pendragon, and the Knights of the Round Table. Colin Morgan played the eponymous character Merlin, a warlock who journeys to the kingdom of Camelot to work on honing his magical skills. There is just one problem: under King Uther Pendragon’s (Anthony Head) rule, the use of magic is banned in Camelot, and anyone caught wielding it would automatically become captured and killed.
All the while, Merlin is overwhelmed with the revelation that his destiny foretells his role in bringing magic back to Camelot, and that is by assisting Prince Arthur (Bradley James) in becoming the greatest king there ever was. The only thing is, Arthur is a royal prat who doesn’t like him.
Thus, the five-year adventure of two legendary friends began, and it all started with “The Dragon’s Call” on September 20, 2008, until it ended with Merlin’s unfortunate cancellation in 2012 after five seasons.
There was a lot to be desired in terms of historical and canonical accuracy when it came to Merlin, but the show more than made up for it by being fun and depicting a lovely, family friendly, engaging, and (at risk of sounding cheesy) magical five years with Merlin, Arthur, all the characters that helped shape this story.
REVISITING “THE DRAGON’S CALL”
“The Dragon’s Call” was our first introduction to this brand-new yet familiar world of the warlock Merlin, and it all started with a fade-in scene of Merlin walking straight into Camelot.
Having been born into the small town of Ealdor in a neighboring kingdom, and having been outcast for his magical abilities, Merlin traveled far from home to meet Gaius (Richard Wilson), a physician in Camelot who was entrusted by Merlin’s mother to teach the warlock how to better control his powers.
Yet upon his arrival, Merlin becomes witness to a public execution in the royal courtyard, overseen by the repressive Uther Pendragon. The crime? Possessing and wielding magic.
Immediately, this sets an underlying tone for just how extensive the amount of danger Merlin is in; he ventured to Camelot for a better life, to obtain knowledge about what he is capable of, yet he is exchanging his safety in order to do so.
As this information was likely setting in, the mother of the now-deceased sorcerer interrupts the celebration following the execution, and she wails out a promise for revenge on Uther by threatening to take from him what he has taken from her: a son. Before the guards can descend on her, the sorceress disappears in the echoes of a hissed spell.
Throughout this scene, we catch glimpses of two other important roles: the Lady Morgana (Katie McGrath), the King’s ward, who cannot fathom the necessity of celebrating death; and Guinevere, who starts as a citizen of Camelot in this version of the tale, and serves as Morgana’s maidservant.
It is only a little later that we are introduced to Arthur Pendragon, and Merlin’s first meeting with Arthur had to have been one of the best first encounters ever witnessed.
There was Arthur, a spoiled prince who was abusing a servant during target practice for the amusement of his friends. There was Merlin, a snarky warlock who had yet to discover who this man was, scolding him for his abuse and threatening to take Arthur on himself. The two of them meet, instantly clash, and it ultimately ends with Merlin being pinned by Arthur, and Arthur revealing that he is indeed the Prince of Camelot, highlighting just how much trouble Merlin is in.
Merlin’s mouth gets him into a lot of hilarious trouble during the series that, more often than not, ends with him being in the stocks.
Bad first impressions on Camelot royalty and fear for his life aside, Merlin still yearns for a purpose; he doesn’t understand how he should use his powers in a kingdom that would execute him without question. This all ends one night after a voice from below calls out to Merlin, and he ventures to Camelot’s underground caves where he encounters Kilgharrah (voiced by John Hurt), the Great Dragon.
It is Kilgharrah that jumpstarts Merlin’s knowledge of his prophecy: in order for magic to return to its rightful place in Camelot, Uther’s reign must end and Arthur’s must begin, and it is Merlin alone who must join with Arthur in achieving this feat. Merlin stews this information over for a while, and even comes to the point of rejecting the idea of his and Arthur’s conjoined destinies following his unpleasant encounters with the arrogant prince.
However, nearing the episode’s conclusion, the sorceress from before strikes; she disguises herself as a famous singer from the area who had been invited to the royal feast, and puts a halt to the celebration by singing a spell. This spell sends the every attendee – excluding Merlin, who had caught onto the ploy at the last-minute and covered his ears – into a deep sleep, and this is where the sorceress plans to strike, steadily walking toward a sleeping Arthur with a dagger.
At the last moment, Merlin uses his magic to drop a chandelier onto the sorceress, and everyone comes back to life in confusion. In one final attempt before her death, the sorceress drops her glamour and flings the dagger toward Arthur. With the aid of his magic once more, Merlin slows down time just long enough to run to Arthur and yank him to safety, right before the knife embeds itself into the back of Arthur’s seat. As a result of his heroic act, Uther decides to reward Merlin by giving him the position of Arthur’s royal manservant.
Needless to say, neither party was particularly happy with this arrangement.
Yet, this is where their journey together began, and this marked the commencement of all the stories that we as a fandom all grew to know and love. This is where everything started: the incredibly impactful insults of “dollophead” and “cabbage head” that Merlin gifted to Arthur; the slow-burn nature of their deepening friendship until they were each other’s main confidant; the gathering of the Knights such as Gwaine (Eoin Macken), Percival (Tom Hopper), Elyan (Adetomiwa Edun), and Leon (Rupert Francis Young); the devastation of Merlin always keeping his true identity as a warlock a secret as he fights for Arthur to fulfill his destiny.
Everything and everyone that we came to love in Merlin all started with “The Dragon’s Call.”
It is truly incredible that despite the show being off-screen for six years, its fandom still exists and is still going strong. It may have been cancelled after five seasons, but what a fantastic five seasons those were.
On top of that, it does not seem that the cast has forgotten what the show meant to them either; Bradley James posted this tweet in remembrance of all the good times he shared with the cast members during the show’s run:
10 Years since #Merlin aired for the first time. One of the first things my memory jumps to is great times with our crew. Not all pictured but much missed. Many a laugh shared with a team who became family (and they put up with me for 5 years 🏅)#Mahone #IvanIvan #BigJcameos pic.twitter.com/Yyc9gaLA7p— Bradley James (@BradleyJames) September 20, 2018