Title: Love in the Time of Dragons
Directed by: Alice Troughton
Written by: Jake Michie
Special Guests: Pauline Collins as Alice
Picture credit: BBC Merlin site
Review by Verushka

This episode opens with the arrival of an old woman to Camelot. She sings as she goes through to the town, until she arrives at what seems to be her empty house. Once there, though, she casts a spell over a bag and a creature appears jumping into her lap. It is upset, so she tells it to be calm for they are home now.

Uther is holding an audience with Gaius and Merlin where he tells him of reports from the outlying villages of miracle cures in cases where people should not have survived. Now, though the same has come to Camelot – an innkeeper, Gaius diagnoses as being critical has recovered – and Uther is convinced magic might be the reason for his recovery. Gaius is ordered to visit the innkeeper and ascertain that for himself. Through this scene, we see Arthur at the table at Uther’s side, looking over the reports with his father – I don’t know why, but I always have a double-take when I see Arthur at Uther’s side like that. It’s sometimes hard to remember that beyond everything they may disagree on, they might be more alike in other ways. Merlin, as well, is at Gaius’ side, looking increasingly upset at Uther’s reports.

As Merlin walks through Camelot with Gaius, he points out how much of a hypocrite Uther is for he has no problems with magic if his family is threatened (I’m at a loss as to what he’s referencing here though). Gaius points out he’s talking about the king in public and tells him to basically, be quiet. They enter the tavern to find Evoric, the sick tavern-keeper busy setting up his tables. Gaius compliments him on his recovery, and Evoric tries to thank Gaius for his cure knowing all the while, I think, that anything else will result in people being punished. Gaius wheedles the story from him – that his wife had found a woman in the Lower Town who provided a cure. Gaius asks to see it and Evoric shows him a vial of what looks to be fairy dust. A worried Evoric asks if he is in trouble, but Gaius assures him that he is not. When they leave, we see a crystal hanging in the doorway.

Gaius reports to Uther that the treatment was hogwart and fenucreek, in other words, herbs. He continues to spin a tale that herbs could indeed cure Evoric, and the other critical cases who have mysteriously recovered from fatal illnesses. Merlin stands quietly by looking at Gaius in some surprise at his tale, while Uther is increasingly filled with disbelief at Gaius’ story. It’s an interesting scene into the dynamic between Uther and Gaius – as Uther is concerned that magic is involved; Gaius meets Uther’s concern with calm and sure answers. He lies to the King, and he does it well, but Uther too trusts Gaius’s answers implicitly, even if part of Gaius’ excuse for the recovery of his fatal patients was that he simply does not know everything about being a physician and that there might be others more capable of curing these people. There is so much history between them, so much unsaid from early in Uther’s reign, that I would not mind seeing an episode about them as young men then and how their relationship formed. Would it match Merlin and Arthur’s? Would it be vastly different?

At dinner, Merlin compliments Gaius on protecting Evoric as all Evoric wanted to do was live and magic saved him. Gaius calmly – Richard has the best face, believable face of the cast – corrects Merlin that Evoric didn’t use magic, even as Merlin insists he saw a magic potion (it was dust though) with his own eyes. Gaius, however, has an explanation for what Merlin saw, claiming the potion was something utterly natural. When Merlin points out that there was a totem in the doorway with markings of the old religion, Gaius claims Merlin was tired and that he needs sleep. Merlin is surprised for he knows that Gaius is lying to him.

The manticore’s desire for Uther’s death is never explained, but this is more than anything an episode about Camelot’s history – in the effects of the great Purge on the only other person we know to have gone through it – Gaius. We see how he lost the woman he loved because of Uther’s decision, and missed her every day for twenty years. We also see how Gaius helped people escape Uther’s rage – Balinor and Alice, being the two we know most intimately. How did he manage it, working in Uther’s castle, and helping people escape as he did? Who else owes him his life?

As I mention many times in this review, it makes me wonder on the days of the purge, the rage Uther felt at Igraine’s loss and Gaius and Balinor, for example, who could do nothing but help people escape or go on the run themselves in Balinor’s case.

Above that however, it is a tragic love story – a love that truly cannot be, unlike Gwen and Arthur who are separated by social rules we know Arthur can break (and, Arthur does in the next episode according to the trailer). Does Uther know what he cost those closest to him? I truly wonder – if we have Gaius view on the purge, I hope Uther’s turn is next.