Most of the regulars take centre-stage in at least one series three episode. Avon features heavily in Aftermath and Rumours of Death, Cally’s the main character in both Children of Auron and Sarcophagus whilst Tarrant (and his identical twin brother) stars in Death-Watch. Danya is the only one who doesn’t really have an episode of her own, unless you count her introductory tale, Aftermath.
For everybody’s favourite thief, City at the Edge of the World is a chance to see a more proactive and heroic Vila. Even when the script didn’t really feature him, Michael Keating could always be guaranteed to take whatever material he had and make it work to the best of his ability. Unlike some actors he didn’t do this by upstaging others – it was simply down to his natural comic timing. A great example can be found in Powerplay. Vila, wounded and alone in a strange forest, attempts to frighten off any would-be attackers by pretending to be a whole troop of fighting men! It’s an old gag – and only a throwaway moment – but Keating’s a delight to watch.
But there’s no doubt that it’s good to see Vila right in the thick of things for once. Too often he tended to end up as either the butt of other people’s jokes or simply blissed out on adrenaline and soma. In City at the Edge of the World he’s witty, resourceful and gets the girl. What more could you ask for?
We open with Tarrant being irritating (yet again). The Liberator needs crystals for its weaponry systems and he’s struck a deal with the mysterious inhabitants of a nearby planet. It’s simple enough – the crystals in exchange for Vila’s help. When Vila disappears and the box of crystals turns out to be a booby-trapped bomb, Tarrant is forced to eat humble pie (not before time!)
Vila’s been brought to the planet by Bayban the Butcher (Colin Baker). A vision in black, Baker is clearly having a ball (Paul Darrow later repayed the favour by going even further over the top in the Doctor Who story Timelash). It’s a cartoony performance but it works perfectly in this context. Following a couple of stories that were played too straight, City bubbles along with an infectious sense of humour and many quotable lines. This is one of my favourites, courtesy of Bayban who’s peeved to find out that he’s top of the Federation’s Most Wanted list – after Blake. “What do you mean, ‘after Blake’? I was working my way up that list before he crept out of his creche. WORKING my way up. I didn’t take any political shortcuts.”
Bayban has a crack force of mercenaries, led by Kerril (Carol Hawkins) and Sherm (John J. Carney). Carney, who’d previously given an excellent comic performance as Bloodaxe in the Doctor Who story The Time Warrior, is just as good here. He’s got little to do except react to the others – but he does it so well. Hawkins plays the unlikely love interest (or at least it’s unlikely to begin with). Their first meeting is memorable – we see Vila cowering at her feet, whilst she mocks him (“little man”). He then suggests she bathes more regularly (and uses mouthwash too).
The unexpected thaw in their relationship seems to happen after she changes out of her black leathers and into something more feminine. Possibly Chris Boucher was attempting to make a point here. She spends the early part of the story attempting to be one of the boys (and acting aggressively) but once she changes clothes she becomes a more passive and submissive character – effectively acting as Vila’s assistant.
To be honest the story isn’t the strongest – a mysterious race seek entry to a new world, but rather carelessly they’ve lost the key to the door. Only their leader Norl (Valentine Dyall) ever speaks, so they remain rather undeveloped – but then they’re not really the focus here (it’s more of an excuse for Vila to demonstrate his skills and Colin Baker to chew the scenery). Dyall is compelling though. He had the sort of voice that instantly commanded attention, so whenever he speaks it’s hard not to listen.
Vila is given a chance to cross over to this new world with Kerril. It’s a beautiful, unspoiled planet where they could live out their lives in peace. He declines, and his reason gives an insight into what makes him tick. “There’s nothing there worth stealing. You know why I neutralize security systems, open safes, and break into vaults? It’s because I can and most people can’t. It’s just that, it’s what makes me, me. Kerril, a thief isn’t what I am, it’s who I am.”
After a couple of average stories, City at the Edge of the World gets us back on track.