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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Boy Merlin
The Complete Series


Starring: Donald Houston, Margaret John, Ian Rowlands and Rachel Thomas
RRP: £12.99
Certificate: PG
Available 02 May 2011

Anyone growing up in seventies London were blessed with Thames Television, a channel no longer with us, but living on in repeats and DVDs of shows such as Rock Follies, The Naked Civil Servant, Rumpole of the Bailey and Magpie out of this staple came The Boy Merlin (1979), which grew out of a one off show for the series ‘Shadows’. The show was devised by Anne Carlton and written by Stewart Farrar.

The six episodes of the show told the story of a young merlin (Ian Rowlands), the bastard child of a princess and grandson of King Conaan (Meredith Edwards). He was no longer welcome at court and was fostered by a local smithy (Donald Houston) and his wife (Margaret John). From the father he learns the worth of honest labour, but it is his foster-grandmother, Myfanwy (Rachel Thomas), who being able to see his future, prepares the young merlin with the magic he will need in King Arthur's service. But neither Merlin’s location or ancestry are as secret as it should be and soon the young magician comes to the attention of the Saxon King, Vortigern (Neil McCarthy).

It’s not a bad show, but it is very much a show of its time. Much of the action takes place on an obvious sound stage with filmed inserts; the acting and direction are noticeable theatrical, that is, it looks very much like a filmed stage play, missing all the dynamism of modern direction. This is not solely a problem of Merlin, rather it reflects the way in which television drama used to be filmed in the seventies. It probably didn’t help that originally the show grew out of a play.

So the DVD holds all six episodes as well as the pilot. Given the age of the show, the 1.33:1 colour picture is pretty good, it’s a little soft, but there is not a great deal of damage to the print.

If you have fond memories of the show, here is the first chance to see the whole thing, though for a modern, young audience, its stagey feel and the type of acting may feel overly stilted. The audio is mono and there is a photo gallery by way of an extra.


Charles Packer

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