Tuesday, 28 October 2008

TV Snark - Merlin: A Remedy To Cure All Ills OR I Pereferred The Brain Slugs In Star Trek II

Hello everyone, I'm back from my jaunt to London village and can now present you with the late, but (hopefully) as entertaining as ever, Merlin recap.

This week's special guest star is Doctor Mac from Green Wing. He is working in a lab and whispering magic words to a box full of bugs. He places one of the insects into an orchid and summons Interflora to deliver the bouquet to Morgana. Maybe she'll do something in this episode? She doesn't do much in this scene as she goes to bed and then the bug crawls into her ear. During this process there is an incredibly bad and unnecessary use of CGI.


Why didn't they use a real bug? Was the actress squeamish or couldn't they find a trained insect to crawl across her face? After all, the bug was trained well enough to crawl across the bed and a pillow in the right direction, why not let it finish the scene? It just seems to be an expensive way of achieving an effect that would have looked better if done for real.

Anyway, cut to main titles where the only thing we haven't seen from there so far is the undead looking monster guy. He doesn't look as crap as the Avanc was so I'm not that excited.

Meanwhile back in Camelot, two days have passed whilst the audience has been gawking at the titles. Morgana has been in a coma for all of that time and Gaius has been trying to cure her. Gaius Meldrew uses terms like 'coma' and 'inflammation of the brain' which makes him some medieval medical marvel (try saying that five times fast).

Edwin Muirden (our guest star of the week) appears at Camelot and requests an audience with Uther. Arthur tells him to do one as he already has a physician. Plus there's no room in Camelot for ugly people.

A day later (time is really flying between scenes this episode) Arthur suddenly champions the suspicious Edwin when Gaius Meldrew announces that he can't think of any other treatments. Edwin appears in court and offers his amazing remedy (or perhaps, Marvellous Medicine?) that cures all ills. Arthur offers Edwin the use of Merlin so that Merlin can conveniently discover Edwin's fascination with alchemy.

Edwin banishes everyone from Morgana's room so that he can cure her. At no point does he explain what he's going to do but everyone takes him at his word and leaves. Well, apart from Gaius who wants to learn from a fellow physician, but he too is banished. As Edwin begins his magic, Gwen enters the room from another door but she is quickly thrown out by Edwin. This is so that Gwen has something to do in this episode as the writers' inability to cater for Morgana spreads to Gwen.

Edwin recalls his brain eating bug and cures Morgana. He also suggests that Gaius mis-diagnosed Morgana's condition and suggests that Gaius' treatment would have eventually killed her. Morgana has instantly awoken from her brain bug coma and is absolutely fine for someone whose brain has been munched on for 3 days. Gaius is suspicious of Edwin and tries to ask whether he has treated Edwin's face previously, Edwin insists that he doesn't know Gaius thus ensuring that Gaius will become even more suspicious.

Gaius visits the librarian from a previous episode. The librarian has graduated to recurring character and therefore he now has a name - Geoffrey. Say hello to Geoff the Librarian everyone! Gaius wants Geoff to get out the special records from before The Purge so he can check into Edwin's past. Geoff doesn't want to lose his job so he turns Gaius down.

Merlin wanders into Edwin's quarters because he's nosy and likes trespassing. Merlin finds the box of bugs and reads the magic inscription on the box that animates the insects. Unfortunately for Merlin, Edwin was home and saw everything. Edwin reveals his magic powers by using telekinesis on some blue dust (yawn) and tries to tempt Merlin to the Dark Side with an offer of knowledge sharing. He doesn't offer cookies though so I don't think it will work. Edwin makes Merlin promise to keep his magic powers secret as they're magic buddies now.

Geoff reappears and gives Gaius the records he wanted. I guess Geoff wanted to appear in another scene so by refusing Gaius the records the first time he could appear again. Cunning.

Edwin tells Uther that Gaius is recommending drugs that may have caused Morgana's illness. Uther approves Edwin's research into Gaius's other treatments as he fears old man Meldrew is losing the plot.

Gaius confronts Edwin with the knowledge that Edwin's parents were sorcerers who were burnt alive by Uther. Edwin confesses and makes clear his plan to kill Uther. Edwin prevents Gaius from going straight to Uther with this knowledge as he threatens to reveal Merlin's magical talents to Uther. Gaius folds in the face of blackmail and stays quiet.

Edwin goes back to Uther and makes Gaius out to be an incompetent old man. Uther offers Edwin the job of physician to replace Gaius Meldrew. Morgana gets to appear again and state the case for Gaius then she disappears again. To be fair, Arthur has done next to nothing in this episode either because it's all been about Gaius and Edwin.

Gaius Meldrew goes to the CGI dungeon to visit the John Hurt dragon. The dragon isn't very sympathetic as Uther is his jailer so his health isn't a priority of his. He then mocks Gaius for turning a blind eye during The Purge. Burn! Guess there was no sagely wisdom available this week.

Gaius is then summoned to Uther's court and fired. What a day. Gaius sadly leaves the court and says his goodbyes to Merlin. Merlin is all sad and stuff but there's nothing he can do as he doesn't know that Gaius is being blackmailed into leaving.

Edwin leaps into action (before Gaius has even left the building) and recommends that Uther use a different painkiller for his old war wound. It's a remedy that cures all ills. So that'd be death then.

Gaius bumps into Gwen on his way out so that she has something to do in this episode. Gwen tries to encourage Gaius to stay and tell Uther about Edwin. Gwen has come to the conclusion that Edwin is evil because:

1. She saw him stood over her mistress when he was officially treating her.
2. He was a bit mean to her and made her fetch some water.
3. He cured her mistress of a fatal condition.

As you can see, it's pretty easy to get on the wrong side of the future Mrs. Pendragon. Using knowledge that only a copy of the script can provide, she tries to get Gaius to stay but he's determined to look sad and traipse off.

A scene change later and Uther takes his new special medicine and is suddenly paralysed. Edwin gloats over his prone form as he fetches the brain eating bugs and places one in Uther's brain.

Before Edwin can escape Gaius appears (he had only just left Camelot I suppose) and tries to use magic but cocks it up because he forgets the words. Edwin summons fire to encircle Gaius and menace him without actually hurting him. Merlin enters the room and sees his mentor in danger. Edwin tries to tempt Merlin to the Dark Side again but Merlin refuses and after a brief telekinetic duel, buries an axe in Edwin's head. He's gone to guest star heaven now.

Merlin then uses magic to save Uther's life and remove the brain bug from his head. This is achieved via glowing eyes and tugging on the king's ears. Uther is saved and in gratitude he gives Gaius his job back and makes him a freeman. Hurrah.

Next week - Arthur is in peril due to EVIL FAIRIES!

This episode was more of the same, a cast member in mortal peril due to illness/poison (again), an evil magic using guest star (again), and a pointless dragon appearance (again). It's all very safe and formulaic but also boring. It's competent entertainment but competent isn't good, it's vanilla, average, dull. Still, evil fairies next week, that should be good for a laugh if nothing else.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Film Review – GamerZ

Plot: A lonely roleplaying geek joins his university gaming group and ruins it with his new home brewed game. There’s also a love triangle between the geek, a goth girl obsessed with elves, and a drug dealing chav.

First of all, the title of the film bothers me. I am a roleplaying geek myself and the title isn’t evocative of the roleplaying hobby. It’s more of a computer/video game term. It’s almost as if the creators found out that there was already a roleplaying film called The Gamers and decided to take away the ‘The’ and change the ‘s’ to a ‘z’ to be down with the kids. It’s a petty criticism but it was a slight concern going into the film that maybe the persons responsible didn’t really grasp the whole roleplaying ethos. As it turns out I needn’t have worried about the representation of the roleplaying hobby in the film as the writers display a solid working knowledge of the hobby. Unfortunately there are several other, more important, problems over the course of its overly long running time.

The main character is Ralph and he’s an ulikable, petty, vindictive, sad sack. Seriously, the guy starts the movie with no friends and it soon becomes apparent why. The film seems to think that if the main character is a sad, lonely, put upon figure then the audience will forgive his other flaws and side with him. The problem is that Ralph doesn’t display any redeeming features over the course of the film, he joins a new group and forces someone out within 5 minutes, he gets angry when the players are winning, and he isn’t even nice to his Gran! In fact, the chav nemesis Lennie goes through more growth and positive changes than the main protagonist. The two main supporting characters are characterized by simple habits; one of them burps a lot, the other one worries a lot.

The tone of the film goes through wild shifts. It can’t decide if it wants to be a romantic comedy with a bit of roleplaying, a drama with a bit of roleplaying, or a roleplaying comedy with a bit of drama. There are some brief attempts at Edgar Wright style scene changes and fade outs that seem to have been lifted from Spaced but it’s a pity the material is nowhere near funny enough. In fact I can’t recall a single joke or funny scene from the movie, just 12 hours after I watched it. Even the roleplaying scenes, which could have been mined for laughs, are very poor because although the game itself is a perfect example of a bad roleplaying game (clichéd plot, killer GM, no character portrayal, home brewed system, etc.) the characters in the movie treat it as if it’s the best game they’ve ever played. If the movie had gone the other way and had Ralph try to desperately control his players as they rebel against his game then maybe some jokes might have appeared in the script. Instead the humour is derived from a character that burps out words and makes innuendos to the only female player during the game. The film suffers because it takes its subject matter too seriously and then undermines it with the equivalent of a burping clown.

The drama slows the film’s pacing to a crawl too. It takes forever for the movie to actually have a roleplaying scene and it’s after several dour scenes of Ralph being lonely, getting threatened by chavs and wandering the grim, rainy streets of Glasgow for what seems like forever. The dramatic subplots come and go over the course of the film, one of the characters was abused as a child, one sustains a mysterious neck injury that is never explained (I think you’re supposed to assume that one of the others did it but there’s no pay off for it anyway), and one is beaten to a pulp by a gang. I know that the film was trying to show that the character’s every day lives were grim and depressing and that roleplaying was their only escape, but the roleplaying scenes were just plain dull. A film that markets itself as a comedy should really concentrate on the jokes first.

Criticism aside, the roleplaying scenes do use a shadow puppet technique which is effective in its simplicity. I thought it was a nice stylistic choice and was a nice step around budgetary restrictions. I also found the performances to be engaging enough despite the film’s uneven tone.

The problem with the Gamerz is that it’s not a terrible film, it’s a movie that can’t decide if it wants to make a social commentary on the hobby or if it wants to be a fond dedication. The film also suffers for its running time; it’s overly long at 108 minutes and would’ve benefited from being a leaner 80 minutes or so. If you want a funny roleplaying movie, then you can either check out the 20 minute short film The Gamers or buy a copy of Knights of the Dinner Table and read it aloud with your friends in silly voices. If you want a drama then there are thousands of other films out there.

If you have no interest in roleplaying and don’t know anything about it, you will probably come away from this movie thinking that roleplaying is the most pathetic hobby you’ve ever seen. In some ways you’d be right but it’s also one of the most engaging and awesome hobbies ever, it’s just a pity this movie bungles that part.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

More Merlin

There is an hilarious post over on Richard Cobbett's blog that features the funniest article on Merlin yet. If you like my rambling posts on the show then you'll love Richard's parody. If anything it should tide you over whilst I'm away over the weekend.

Oh and for all the people who reach this blog by searching google for the title of the song that Eve Myles mimed to in the first episode of Merlin, it's "Whose coat is that jacket?" And I'm pretty sure Clannad didn't write it.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

The Justice Club Have Strict Recruitment Standards

Click to make it legible. Poor old Kyle Rayner, 90s replacement hero one minute, Hal Jordan understudy the next.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

TV Snark - Merlin: Lancelot OR If You're Not Cheating, You're Not Trying

Welcome back to another snarky recap of the BBC's teatime Saturday show, Merlin. It's the fifth in the series and this week we have a guest star from none other than Heroes, Santiago Cabrera. Let's get straight to the action...

The episode starts with Merlin out in the forest picking mushrooms. Whether this is for Gaius, Arthur or his own private party, is sadly never revealed. Unfortunately Merlin seems to have chosen a mushroom patch guarded by a griffin. Luckily for Merlin a passing stranger leaps to his defence and waves his sword unconvincingly at the CGI creation.

Sadly the budget can't extend to a realistic fight against the mythical creature so Lancelot (for it is he) waves his sword a bit and it shatters when it gets slightly near the creature. Merlin and Lancelot run away and hide behind a log, which is enough to shake off the griffin. Lancelot then reveals that he has a wound, it doesn't look like a claw mark, it looks like a gunshot. I guess the griffin is packing heat.

Merlin takes Lancelot back to Camelot to receive medical attention from Gaius Meldrew but it turns out that the wound is superficial even though it was enough to KNOCK LANCELOT OUT. Lancelot's going to have to toughen up if he is going to become a Knight of the Round Table.

Uther and Arthur survey the damage done to a local village by the griffin. Uther wants Arthur and his men to be ready for an attack by the beast.

Now that Lancelot has awoken from his superficial injury, Merlin decides to play the "I know Arthur" card and says that he can get Lancelot an audience with him so that Lancelot can join the Knights of Camelot. We then get a scene of Arthur beating up a potential applicant and then moaning about the lack of quality from the applicants. Maybe he should give them some training first rather than beating the crap out of them and then deciding that they're no good. Merlin puts in a word for Lancelot and Arthur agrees to meet him, just so long as Lancelot brings his papers to prove his nobility.

Merlin explains the situation to Lancelot but there's a problem, Lancelot isn't a noble. Gaius then pops up to give some exposition about Camelot's First Code and Merlin reacts like he's a visitor from the 21st century again. "It's not fair!" he whines, despite the fact that he really should know the basic fundamentals of the feudal system.

Merlin travels to the library to use his magic to photocopy and forge a seal of nobility. He uses words but doesn't have glowing eyes for this one, magic fans. Lancelot isn't keen on using forged papers to gain entry to the Knights of Camelot but Merlin convinces him.

The show establishes another point in the love oblong/pentagon as Lancelot meets Gwen. Then there's what I presume to be a botched line (believe me, I listened to it several times to be sure):

Lancelot: "Thank you Guinevere."
Gwen: "Don't thank me, thank Merlin. Merlin would do anything to anyone."

What?! He'd do anything TO anyone? Animal, vegetable or mineral? That seems rather rude and would suggest that Merlin has paid Gwen some nocturnal visits. The mushrooms must have been for one of Merlin's debauched parties.

Lancelot asks Merlin about Gwen's availability but Merlin says that they're just friends. FORESHADOWING!

Lancelot meets Arthur and Arthur greets him by sucker punching him. Arthur then tells Lancelot to muck out the stables. Ooooh that Arthur, he's such a card.

Gaius learns that Merlin forged nobility papers and lectures him on his irresponsibility and warns him that it'll all end in tears. Later, Arthur visits Lancelot again and commands him to fight him with a broom handle. Lancelot doesn't win the fight but he does get to join basic training.

Refugees come flooding into Camelot to escape the griffin's marauding. They look like they've been beaten up or escaped a war zone rather than been mauled by a large mythical creature. The griffin could still be packing heat from earlier and maybe he assaulted the village in a fly-by.

Arthur is training his men with none speaking roles when Lancelot volunteers to help fight the griffin. Arthur says that Lancelot isn't ready yet so he decides to skip training Lancelot and schedules his final exam for the next day. So far Lancelot has arrived at Camelot, swept a stable, had a fight using a stick and now has a final exam - in the space of about 48 hours. Talk about fast tracking your way into knighthood.

Arthur and Lancelot meet on the training ground the next day and fight. Arthur appears to win but Lancelot cheats and plays possum. He manages to overcome Arthur through trickery and earns a place in the Knights of Camelot. I thought Lancelot was supposed to be the perfect knight? That means no dishonesty and a strict adherence to chivalry at all times, including combat. Maybe he can learn all that stuff later.

There's also a moment where Gwen, whilst watching the fight, grabs Merlin's jacket in excitement. Merlin gives her a Howard Moon look as if to say, "Don't touch me. Don't ever touch me."

Morgana makes her token appearance of the episode (please give her SOMETHING to do script writers) and sizes up Lancelot. That's it. Bye Morgana, thanks for visiting the episode.

Uther is suspicious of Lancelot though and orders the librarian to research Lancelot's ancestry. Seems that Merlin picked a lord that Uther knows personally. Oops.

The love pentagon is furthered as Merlin suggests that Lancelot fancies Gwen. He then suggests, in a moment of comedy obliviousness, that Gwen wouldn't know who she likes if he was standing right next to her. Guess he forgot all about that kiss from last week then.

The next morning Lancelot is arrested for faking his credentials. Lancelot is stripped of his title and thrown into the dungeon. Merlin visits Lancelot and apologises for forcing him to go along with his lies. Lancelot does the noble thing and encourages Merlin to forget about it.

Gaius finally discovers what the monster is long after the audience - it's a griffin! Well, duh.

The griffin attacks Camelot and Arthur and his men (minus Lancelot who is sitting in the dungeon yelling, "What's happening?") attack the griffin. Well, I say Arthur and his men but only Arthur actually hits the griffin. The others stand around hiding behind their shields while Arthur does all the stunts and fight choreography. Arthur's spear is no use against the griffin but a flaming torch scares it off. Uther insists that Arthur track down the griffin and finish it off. Gaius warns Uther that the griffin is magic and can only be killed by magic. Uther flips into 'angry and unreasonable ruler' mode and decides not to listen to his physician (who is always right) and wants his only son to go out and be killed by the unkillable monster. Last week Uther wouldn't let Arthur leave Camelot for fear he would die on a quest, this week he's happy to throw Arthur at a monster like a disposable red shirt.

Gaius tells Merlin that he'll have to deal with the griffin. Merlin moans for a bit about destiny and then decides to get on with it and find a spell to kill the griffin.

Arthur visits Lancelot in his prison cell and decides to let him go free. He offers Lancelot a horse and tells him to leave and never return. Lancelot is sad because he wants to fight the unkillable griffin too. Awwww.

Merlin learns 'Enchant Weapon' but can't seem to cast it. Just like when he tried to enchant a dog statue but came through in the nick of time. I wonder what will happen this time?

Lancelot says goodbye to Gwen and says that he will help to kill the griffin. Gwen tells Merlin this so he meets up with Lancelot and together they ride to battle. Meanwhile Arthur is leading his band of red shirts into a griffin size ass-whooping. They charge but no one yells "Run away!" so they all get beaten up by the gun toting mythical beast.

Merlin and Lancelot find the aftermath of the failed assault on the griffin. Luckily Arthur is still alive but unconscious. Lancelot prepares to charge the griffin with his lance as Merlin casts Enchant Weapon.

The magic lance crashes into the griffin and kills it. Hurrah! Arthur recovers just in time to realise that Lancelot had killed it and gives him credit. A bit later Uther and Arthur argue about Lancelot and his suitability, Uther offers to pardon Lancelot but Arthur is pushing for knighthood.

Lancelot reveals to Merlin that he heard him cast a magic spell (although the huge glowing lance was perhaps a bigger give away?) but tells him that his secret is safe. Lancelot then tells Arthur and Uther that he is leaving Camelot to prevent further arguments between the two. He rides off into guest star land...

This was yet another inoffensive episode, it was lacking in logic in places due to the pacing of the episode; events happened so quickly that it seemed to take place over 24 hours rather than a few days. I thought the performances from the majority of the cast were stiff this week. I think Santiago Cabrera's take on Lancelot was pretty underwhelming and lacking in charisma. The script didn't give him a lot to work with but there was a distinct lack of energy to his performance. It certainly didn't suggest that Lancelot would become the embodiment of the perfect knight.

The series really, really needs to make use of Morgana too, episode three aside she's had very little to do. If they do decide to turn her to the dark side of magic during this first series then they need to establish at least a vague interest in magic or Merlin's activities. All we've had so far is a suggestion that she's a tomboy and wants to get involved in the fighting. I hope she doesn't start wearing armour and a sword because Robin Hood already did that with laughable results.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Dead Set - Charlie Brooker Interview

This is just a quick post to let you all know that there is an interview with Charlie Brooker on Den of Geek. The transmission date for the first episode is the 27th October and the episodes will run each day until the 31st October.

I can't wait.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

TV Snark - Merlin: The Poisoned Chalice OR You Have Accepted The Quest 'Kill Ten Spiders'

The fourth episode of Merlin is a traditional fantasy and gaming trope - the fetch quest. The episode opens with Nimueh (Michelle Ryan) chanting in mock Gaelic as she creates the eponymous poisoned chalice. I wonder where she gets her ruby red lipstick from? Maybe there's an Avon rep who visits Nimueh in her secret cave lair?

We cut to the lord of Mercia arriving in Camelot to sign a peace treaty between the kingdoms. But look! It's Nimueh disguised as a Mercian servant! Cut to titles.

After the titles Merlin moans once again about being a servant, as if he didn't grow up within the feudal system and is instead some ignorant visitor from present day England. I think the servant/master expository dialogue must be in every episode to remind the audience what servants can and can't do. The problem is that it's not exactly a complex concept and it's the fourth episode, if you don't get it by now you never will.

Anyway, Nimueh conveniently 'bumps' into Merlin so she can flirt with him whilst wearing her bizarre servant outfit.

She introduces herself as Kara. Having successfully turned Merlin's head, Nimueh sets off to swap one of the Mercian chalices with her specially poisoned one.

Arthur and Merlin prepare for the feast which is just a set up for a silly costume joke as Merlin is forced to wear the traditional ceremonial robes of a servant of Camelot.

Oh the hilarity. Please note that none of the other servants are wearing this outfit. Arthur, you card.

During the feast Nimueh tells Merlin that the chalices are poisoned. Merlin does what he usually does and yells out an accusation in the middle of court. Uther makes Merlin drink from the chalice to prove that it's poisoned because Uther is a big jerk. Merlin soon keels over either because the chalice is poisoned or because he had the salmon mousse.

Merlin is taken back to Gaius Merldrew's crime lab where he tries to create an antidote. Gaius discovers the poison was made with a rare flower which, ironically, is the same flower he needs to create an antidote. The flower only grows in one spot, in the Forest of Balor which is also home to a cockatrice. Luckily you can play through that zone solo if you're a Prince of the Realm, so Arthur volunteers to go and fetch the flower. Merlin only has four days to live so it's a timed quest.

Uther doesn't want Arthur to go because he's his only son and one day all of this will be his. Uther grounds Arthur to prevent him from going and also because he's kind of a tool. Morgana makes her token appearance of the episode and encourages Arthur to run off and complete the quest anyway. Arthur does just that and rides off into the night through two half-hearted gate guards. Unfortunately for Arthur, Nimueh knows he is coming as she is watching the episode in her magic bird bath.

Meanwhile, Merlin is getting worse as the poison is more potent than it should be. He now only has two days to live. Gaius concludes this must be the work of Nimueh/Kara.

Arthur ventures into the forest where he finds Nimueh sat on a log crying and acting as a damsel in distress. Arthur then has a fight with a bit of CGI pretending to be a cockatrice.

Arthur kills it in a CGI friendly way as he throws his sword off screen and impales the beast through the chest.

Nimueh leads Arthur to the caves as she pretends to be an innocent servant girl. The caves seem to be man made and look very much like the same caves that hosted the water supply last episode...

Nimueh leads Arthur to a small ledge deep underground and points out the Morteus flower on a nearby rockface. She then casts a spell to collapse the rock that Arthur was standing on causing him to be left dangling off the rockface. Nimueh then claims that her face is the last that Arthur will ever see as a giant spider appears. At this point she utters "It seems we have a visitor" as the spider approaches. This is pretty poor villainous dialogue and it's not very intimidating or witty. She could've got away with "Look who's coming to dinner!" Or even better, "Oh look, it's a new friend for you to HANG OUT with. Mwahaha!" On second thoughts, this is probably why I don't get paid to write.

Things get confusing as Arthur easily kills the spider with one good swipe of his sword. Nimueh then says that it's not Arthur's destiny to die by her hand. So why was she trying to kill him then?

Nimueh leaves and Merlin, in his fevered state, summons a glowing orb to light the cave for Arthur so he can grab the flower and escape from the horde of spiders. Well at least Merlin is displaying some other magical talents other than telekinesis.

Arthur escapes the cave and rides back to Camelot. Unfortunately Uther is still pissed at Arthur so he has him arrested and thrown in the dungeon. Arthur tries to reason with Uther but Uther continues to be the most temperamental and erratic king ever as he crushes the flower and tells Arthur that he'll be released in a week and then he can get a new servant. Oooh, that's cold.

Gwen decides to bluff her way into the dungeons to see Arthur. She manages to get in and out with a tray of food as Arthur places the remains of the flower in some bread. Then there's the shortest chase ever as a guard rumbles Gwen's scheme but she escapes by running off camera and changing scene to Gaius's lab. Bonekickers did this and now Merlin carries on the new BBC tradition of not having chase sequences in any programmes.

Gaius decides that he needs to add some magic to the antidote so he sends Gwen away for some water whilst he casts a spell. The antidote is finished and then fed to Merlin. There's a brief tease as Merlin 'dies' but then he miraculously recovers. Hurrah! Gaius informs Uther that Nimueh poisoned Merlin and convinces Uther that the lord of Mercia is innocent. This prevents a war and saves the BBC quite a huge chunk of its budget. Gaius wonders to Uther if Arthur should be told the truth about Nimueh. Oooh, a meta plot mystery.

Uther doesn't tell Arthur about Nimueh but he does tell him that he did the right thing and that he's proud of him. I like Anthony Head but this version of Uther doesn't suit him, Uther is too erratic and grumpy. I think the role would suit someone with a bit more intensity and authority.

Next week, Isaac Mendes from Heroes as Sir Lancelot. Umm, what?

Well, Merlin continues to amble along quite inoffensively. It's never going to be a great or challenging show as it's essentially light entertainment. At the moment I think the scripts could do with more polish and a bit more imagination. Everything is too straight forward and the show is going to become very formulaic if there isn't a twist thrown in every now and again. Heck, even Robin Hood managed to come up with some weird twists to its plots and that show was utter cack.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Game Review - Kudos 2

Kudos 2

Format: PC

: You are a 20 something waiter/waitress, what you do next is up to you.


It looks great. The artwork and UI look fantastic and perfectly suit the subject matter. The artwork by Jamie McKelvie perfectly captures the youthful focus of the game without being obnoxiously ‘yoof’ like.

It’s addictive. You’ll find yourself compulsively clicking away until the break of dawn. Whether you’re trying to train your character up into a genius scientist, hard drinking cop, or slacker musician, the game is always asking you to juggle resources such as time, money and friendships. The game definitely has that curse that all ‘casual’ games bestow upon their victims – “just five more minutes”.

Your character can be trained to perform in a career or several careers of your choice.
Your character can become an actor, a lawyer, or supermarket shelf stacker, it all depends on whether you train that person up to be the best they can be or let them drift along for the rest of their life. Aiming to become proficient in a particular career becomes an addictive process.

It’s challenging but not frustrating.
Once you figure out how to balance your activities or focus in one particular area the challenge becomes a race between achievement and time. Do you spend your money and spare time on your friends or do you focus on learning to drive or becoming a world class brain surgeon? If you neglect your friends, you will lose them. If you neglect your studies you’ll end up in a dead end job but at least you’ll be popular.


There’s no plot. If you want to play through an epic narrative then try Mass Effect, because this is a game where you invent the story in your head. For example, I found that I could make my character look a lot like David Tennant so I decided to train him in science and IT and increase his IQ. I even chose a romantic involvement with a blonde assistant. My character’s now working on a secret scientific theory and I’m hoping it’s time travel. So whilst the lack of story may be a flaw to some, I actually found making my own stories a lot of fun.

It’s essentially a time management/statistics game. If you prefer your characters to wander around a virtual house, asking for permission to use the toilet, then play The Sims. In this game, your managing your character’s statistics and hoping to maintain a balance of positive stats over negative ones. This game is pretty but it’s static, you’re basically looking at stats and pretty icons throughout the game. Although there are nice touches like dirt appearing on your screen when your house is messy, flies buzzing around a dirty character’s head and weather effects such as rain and snow on the screen, all of which helps to liven things up. I have no problem with the statistical nature of this game as I have a passion for management games that borders on the obscene but I understand it may not be to everyone’s taste.


Kudos is a fun game, it appears to be a slight and casual game at first glance but this appearance conceals a more complex beast beneath. The demo is available straight from the developer here. The game is reasonably priced at £13 or so and the money goes straight into the pockets of bedroom programmer Cliff Harris so check the game out and if you like it, throw him a bone.

Arbitrary Score Out of Ten: 7/10

Sunday, 5 October 2008

TV Snark - Merlin: Mark Of Nimueh OR Hey, You've Got Some Pokemon In My Water

Merlin's third episode is here. The show kicks things off by having the Bionic Woman, Michelle Ryan appear and drop a Pokemon ball into some water.

The ball travels through many watery tunnels until it finally stops in a remarkably well lit stone chamber. Who needs the burning torches down there? It's a mystery that will never be resolved. Meanwhile, in Camelot some poor peasant schmoe takes a drink from the local water pump and dies during the title sequence.

Gaius Meldrew and Merlin find the body in the street and decide to take it away for forensic examination. The corpse is pale and white with milky contact lenses, this indicates that something evil is afoot. We see Guinevere, or Gwen as everyone now calls her, make sandwiches for her dad. Instead of asking Gwen what a sandwich is, her dad merely asks what the filling is. He should retire from blacksmithing and sell his daughter's new sandwich invention. Although the future Earl of Sandwich is going to be a little upset.

Gaius is summoned to see Uther as another body has turned up. Gaius panics Uther by voicing the hypothesis that sorcery (I love how Richard Wilson says 'sorcery' and 'sorcerers', it's hilarious) is responsible for the killer plague. Uther goes mental and orders Arthur to conduct door to door searches throughout Camelot.

Of course, one of the first searches is in Gaius and Merlin's quarters. Arthur searches Merlin's room and almost finds Merlin's spell book. Luckily Merlin's magic is now back to the convenient version with glowing eyes and no magic words, rather than last week's magic words and no glowing eyes, so he uses his telekinesis to put a blanket over the book. Make your mind up show, how does his magic work? Does it need words or not? Fortunately Arthur can't be bothered doing a proper search so Merlin's secret is safe.

Gaius finds the body of a courtier and deduces that water is causing the illness. Gwen discovers that her dad has caught the plague. She begs Gaius to help but his SCIENCE can't do anything. Merlin decides that this is a job for magic. Merlin makes a magic poultice and decides to break Uther's curfew to deliver the cure to Gwen. Along the way he decides to use his powers for dickishness by ramming a door in an unfortunate guard's face. The door to face violence is capped off by the sound effect of a ruler being twanged "twwaaaaaaaannnggg". It's the same stock sound effect that TV has been using for years and it really breaks the already limited atmosphere of the show. Was this supposed to be funny? Is the comedy sound effect there to remind us to laugh? Also, Merlin uses magic words AND has glowing eyes for this use of magic. Argh.

Merlin looks quite evil after this abuse of power.

Reminds me of The Omen.

So Merlin sneaks into Gwen's house while she and her dad are sleeping. Creepy. Merlin then places the magic poultice under Dad's pillow and sneaks off. In the morning the magic has removed the evil sickness from Gwen's dad. Hurrah! Gwen tells everyone her dad is fine and winds up being arrested for witchcraft. Oops.

Uther is convinced Gwen is a witch and orders her to be put to death. Morgana and Arthur try to reason with him but only succeed in giving Uther the idea of burning Gwen to death. Arthur might want to brush up on his diplomacy skills before he becomes king then.

Merlin goes emo again as he learns that he can't use magic to solve everything. Gaius imparts some wisdom and Merlin vows to save Gwen from a burning. He visits Gwen in jail and she tells him, "Don't you forget about me." This prompts Merlin to dash off to the king's court and proclaim that he is a sorcerer. Arthur saves Merlin by telling Uther that Merlin is an idiot and that he is in love with Gwen. Merlin IS an idiot though as he isn't grateful to Arthur for saving him and instead has a jealous pout to Gaius about him.

Gaius and Merlin then decide to venture down to the water supply. Why they haven't suggested that the king or Arthur send some men down there already, I don't know. I mean, Gaius has already told the king that the poison is in the water. Logic be damned however. Gaius and Merlin grab a sample of the water supply (which they could've got from a pump) and encounter the cheap monster! Yay!

The monster looms out of the water and promptly does... nothing. Gaius and Merlin go back to their crime lab and decide that the creature is an Avanc. Merlin runs off to see the dragon who gives him cryptic advice which isn't that cryptic. He basically tells Merlin to get Arthur and a flamethrower and kill the Avanc.

For some reason Merlin has to get Morgana to convince Arthur to head down to the water supply with Merlin. Not that Merlin could've just told Arthur that there was a monster poisoning the water anyway. I mean, it's not like it was Arthur's job to find the source of the plague or anything. What this is, is an excuse to have Morgana go along to the final fight so that she has something to do. At the moment it seems that this show doesn't know what to do with her. Much like Robin Hood, it seems that the writers have decided that writing a noble woman is too difficult so they have to make her a bit of a tomboy so she can get involved in some of the action. If Morgana starts wearing a mask and calling herself the Night Watchman, I'm quitting.

The intrepid trio of Merlin, Arthur and Morgana head into the caves and fight the obviously cheap and nasty monster. It's a man in a suit with arms that don't flex or move and some bad monster jaws. The director tries to make the best of it and decides to shoot the monster like Alien and keep it mostly hidden in shadow with fleeting glimpses. It's a pity we already got a full shot of it earlier and it's also apparent that the guy in the costume can't move around in it very well. This is just like classic Doctor Who.

After some bumbling action scenes, Merlin finally remembers to use his magic to turn Arthur's flaming torch into a flamethrower and kill the Avanc. Hurrah.

Gwen is released from imprisonment and cleared of all charges of witchery. Uther begins to freak out when he hears from Gaius that Nimueh is involved (she is the only one powerful enough to summon an Avanc apparently). I guess Nimueh touched Uther inappropriately at some point in the past.

Michelle Ryan (Nimueh) claims VENGEANCE on Merlin and splashes some water.

Finally, there's a tease that Morgana overheard Merlin use his secret magic words when summoning the wind to create the flamethrower. She claims to know Merlin's secret but it turns out that the secret she knows is Merlin 4 Gwen 4eva!

Next week - Arthur goes on a Dungeons and Dragons dungeon crawl and fights giant monsters. Plus Merlin dies! I guess the show will be called Arthur from then on.