After being disappointed by Harvest of Kairos, I was just hoping to find City at the Edge of the World less dull. The title got me thinking about the other cities we have encountered with Blake’s 7 – Space City and Freedom City, but this one turned out quite different.
I deployed some expletives exceptionally quickly for Tarrant in this episode. Everyone knows Vila is a coward but threatening to dump him from the Liberator was cruel. As I am gaining a growing dislike of Tarrant, I was particularly behind Vila when he argued, “I was here first!”
I had even more sympathy when Avon expressed his attitude, which I found cold, as he says that he doesn’t like Vila but he is useful. He might be more tactful but he came across almost as harsh as Tarrant. I think I’d forgotten recently what a nasty sod Avon can be as he so often displays it with sarcasm.
Vila the hero
Vila hasn’t had much limelight in Series C – the only time we’ve seen a substantial amount of him was in Powerplay. This is understandable and I haven’t minded because there has been a lot else going on: we’ve watched Avon’s position within the crew change, got to know Dayna and Tarrant, and seen Cally get more to do. But I love Vila and one of the best things about this episode was watching him have such a leading part.
I think Vila can sometimes just be used like a tool by the crew and it certainly seemed to be Tarrant’s attitude initially here, so I like that Vila didn’t need them in this episode. He’s able to solve the mystery, figure everything out, and has a way to escape Bayban, with his own experiences being enough. Seeing him work out first the mysterious door and then deducing what had gone wrong on the ship was great.
Vila proudly sees himself as a skilled and experienced thief, but I enjoyed watching him as more than that: he’s an expert problem-solver with superb intuition; he’s exceptionally good at thinking on his feet; he’s marvellous at outmanoeuvring people bigger or more powerful than him. While he may have gained practise at all that from his many years of thievery, he is now putting his experience to a wider variety of uses.
Vila the lover
The Liberator crew don’t get a lot of romantic interests – I’m sure the last proper one was when Blake snogged his cousin. I often feel sorry for Vila; he puts up with so much and I thought he deserved his slice of happiness, which is why I was so pleased for him to become the only Liberator resident to manage a shag in the last couple of years (I’ve never ruled out that he may have managed this earlier during his drinking binge in Space City). I thought his brief relationship with Kerril was set up well and it seems perfectly plausible that if you know you’ve only got minutes to live, maybe it’s a fun idea to spend it as happy as possible.
I’d been concerned we were about to lose Vila once he and Kerril were teleported to the ship. Either they were going to die then or be stuck floating through space forever until they did. Once they reached the planet and the fuller story was clear, I knew they would have to return for the others. However, it still looked like Vila might not return to the Liberator. I really wasn’t sure what he would do and became a little anxious.
Vila is so certain when he begins telling Kerril that he has to leave and gives confident reasons. But when she counters with the life they could have, he barely has time to hesitate before Bayban turns up and the Liberator crew have to make a hasty escape. I love that Vila is given his moment of doubt back on the Liberator and that he isn’t certain he’s made the right choice.
It’s interesting that Vila doesn’t think a relationship would be fulfilling enough for him. Despite everything he told Kerril, I think he was scared to give up doing what he’s always done. Prior to this, I had expected any temptation to be free of the Federation’s pursuit of him would be sufficient – I thought that was what Vila really wanted. Now, I’m trying to unravel exactly what motivates him. He’s a coward but he’s also brave and perhaps he’s realised he has enough of that bravery to continue having adventures.
Bayban the Butcher
Focussing on Vila away from the others meant the tone didn’t have to be adjusted so much and there were greater doses of his characteristic humour. But this feels balanced once we meet Bayban, whose appearance emitted a delighted, “Yay!” from me because he’s played by Colin Baker. Due to Doctor Who‘s Timelash DVD commentary – where he’s joined by that story’s guest Paul Darrow – I knew Colin Baker turned up at some point in Blake’s 7, but not when.
I found Bayban enormous fun and would happily have watched him return to the series. He’s utterly bonkers and quite mad so I adored watching him. I love him stomping around shouting angry threats and I love him early on when he’s on the verge of outrage because Vila hasn’t realised who he is. I love that he has nicknames like ‘Bayban the Butcher’. I love that he’s vain and arrogant and that he ultimately dies because he refuses to listen to anyone else’s advice.
City at the Edge of the World is easily vying with Aftermath for my favourite episode of Series C so far. Interestingly for me, both are episodes that mainly focus on just one of our regular characters – accepting that we only meet Dayna in Aftermath. I think one reason this has succeeded is that in both circumstances they have been unable to contact the other crew. Without this, any sense of peril would disappear because they could direct someone to teleport nearby at any moment.
More than in previous series, in Series C I’ve noticed manoeuvring to prevent the bracelets being used either to teleport or to communicate. We’ve had episodes where the crew have been out of range of the Liberator and one another, plus other people they encounter have started to recognise the bracelets for what they are and remove them. I thought the plot technique used in Dawn of the Gods was an innovative approach to this challenge. It feels increasingly necessary to raise the stakes and I’m curious if Blake’s 7 will find new ways to do it.