The Dragon's Call is the pilot episode of the first series of Merlin, which was first broadcast on 20 September 2008. The episode features the start of Merlin's adventures in Camelot as well as marking the first appearances of Arthur, Guinevere, Morgana, Gaius, Uther, Hunith and Kilgharrah, The Great Dragon.
Merlin's mother sends him to start a new life in Camelot in order to learn about the mystery of his own powerful magic. Things change when he discovers that the king, Uther Pendragon, has outlawed magic and that anyone caught using it faces death. Later on, Merlin steps in to defend a manservant from the King's heir, Arthur, and encounters Kilgharrah, upon which the young sorcerer begins an adventure in which he will realize his destiny...
Merlin, a boy on the cusp of adulthood, arrives in Camelot hoping to find an use for the strange metaphysical powers he has possessed before he could even talk. Instead, he learns that King Uther Pendragon, ruler of Camelot, despises magic and has instituted a kingdom-wide ban on any practice of sorcery under penalty of death. Merlin witnesses the execution of Thomas Collins, who has been accused of using magic by Uther. His mother Mary swears vengeance on Uther for the murder of her son before vanishing into thin air to avoid arrest. Uther ignores the event and carries on as if nothing happened. He then orders a festival in to celebrate twenty years without magic in Camelot, though his ward Morgana warns that he will only make enemies by continuing to persecute those who use sorcery.
Soon after, Merlin meets Uther's court-physician Gaius, and saves the elderly man's life when Gaius falls from a balcony. Although Merlin denies it, Gaius believes that his young apprentice has magical powers, but swears not to tell the king; Merlin is given a room and Gaius realizes that the boy has been sent by his mother to Camelot to be protected. Meanwhile, Mary intercepts the convoy of Lady Helen of Mora, a famed singer scheduled to perform at Uther's festival, and murders her using a poppet. Mary uses a glamour to assume Helen's appearance, but the enchantment is incomplete as Mary's true form can be seen in mirrors. As Merlin sleeps, he hears an ominous voice repeating his name, and he soon awakes.
At breakfast, Gaius knocks a bucket of water off the table, causing Merlin to inadvertantly use his abilities to prevent it from falling. Gaius, having confirmed Merlin's secret, warns the boy never to use his powers lest he risks being killed. Later, Merlin witnesses a knight bullying his servant and steps in to stop and defend him, only to discover that the knight is actually Arthur Pendragon, son of the King and heir to the throne of Camelot. Merlin is imprisoned, during which he hears the same ominous voice calling his name. The next morning, Gaius arranges the boy's release, and Merlin is sentenced to a day in the stocks where he meets Morgana's handmaiden, Guinevere, who shyly flirts with him.
After being released, Merlin confronts Arthur again, and is baited into a fight using maces. Merlin uses his abilities in order to prevent Arthur from striking him, but winds up losing when he sees Gaius watching. Arthur spares Merlin more time in jail, citing his bravery and some indefinable quality about the boy. Meanwhile, Mary returns to Camelot in the disguise of Helen and dines with King Uther; she comments on the difficulty of Arthur growing up without a mother, and remarks that the bond between mother and son is nearly impossible to replace. That night, Merlin is again awoken by the same voice and sets out to find its source, winding up in a cave beneath the castle where Kilgharrah, The Great Dragon is imprisoned. The dragon insists that Merlin is destined to use his gifts to protect Arthur, despite Merlin's disbelief.
The next morning, Merlin is awoken by Gaius, who instructs him to deliver several concoctions. One is for Morgana, who is suffering from nightmares, and Merlin arrives to find Morgana changing clothes behind a screen; Morgana mistakes Merlin for Gwen, and Merlin helps Morgana around the screen until Gwen arrives, saving Merlin the embarrassment of being discovered. Morgana asks Gwen for her opinion on whether to wear a purple gown or a revealing red dress and "Give them a night they'll really remember." Merlin delivers another elixir to Lady Helen, and discovers Mary's poppet in the singer's private quarters, but convinces Mary that he had not seen anything when she returns as he is leaving. That evening, Mary's true form is discovered by a handmaiden who sees Mary's reflection in a mirror, and Mary kills the girl. At the feast, Morgana appears wearing the revealing red dress which makes every man and especially Arthur get to their plate. Then, Mary appears before Uther's court in the guise of Helen and sings, weaving an enchantment that puts the court to sleep and rapidly ages the Castle.
Merlin, protecting himself from the spell by covering his ears, sees Mary prepare to throw a dagger at Arthur, but intervenes by using magic to drop a chandelier on her. When the song stops, the enchantment is lifted and the court awakens, but Mary, in her true form, makes one last effort to kill Arthur, throwing the dagger at him. Merlin intervenes again, slowing time in order to pull Arthur from the weapon's path, and is rewarded by Uther for saving the heir's life by being made Arthur's manservant. Neither seems thrilled by the prospect.
- Colin Morgan as Merlin
- Bradley James as Prince Arthur
- Richard Wilson as Gaius
- Anthony Head as Uther Pendragon
- Angel Coulby as Gwen
- Katie McGrath as Morgana
- Eve Myles as Mary Collins / Lady Helen
- Gary Oliver as Gregory
- Louise Dylan as Bronwen
- Rick English as Thomas Collins (uncredited)
The Dragon's Call, over 45 minutes, garnered 6.65 million viewers and a 30% viewing share according to overnight ratings despite going up against The X Factor in its first episode on September 20. The viewing audience was the third highest of the day only beaten by The X Factor and a new series of Strictly Come Dancing, which aired directly after Merlin on BBC One. The final figure was 7.15 million.
- According to Bradley James, it was difficult filming Merlin in the stocks because Colin Morgan is allergic to tomatoes.
- In the episode, when Mary Collins alias Lady Helen receives a fruit basket, the first fruit she has is a red apple. This could be a reference to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as the witch gave Snow White a red apple. Instead, she is given more than one. Also, the servant that gave her the basket dies by a spell, where in the fairy tale, Snow White is poisoned.
- Merlin is asked by Gaius to give some medicine to Lady Percival. This name also applies to the knight of the round table Percival.
- When Merlin is in the stocks the spectators throw tomatoes at him. However tomatoes were not introduced to Britain (Albion) until the 16th century.
- Morgana is seen wearing high-heeled shoes, which were not invented until the 15th century.
- Gaius is seen giving a sandwich to Merlin, however, sandwiches were invented by the Earl of Sandwich in the 1700's.
Following story: Valiant
|The Dragon's Call • Valiant • The Mark of Nimueh • The Poisoned Chalice • Lancelot • A Remedy to Cure All Ills • The Gates of Avalon • The Beginning of the End • Excalibur • The Moment of Truth • The Labyrinth of Gedref • To Kill the King • Le Morte d'Arthur
Mini-episode: Merlin in Need