Chris Boucher famously wrote this episode after hearing that Michael Keating’s daughter thought his character was a bit silly, so he gave him a story in which Vila gets to be the hero.
The plot runs as follows: Tarrant forces Vila to go down to the planet Kezaarn to unlock a door in exchange for some crystals to repair the Liberator’s weapons array. On arrival, Vila discovers that he’s working for Bayban, a criminal who wants the door opened to access what he believes are unlimited riches. Vila opens the door and, accompanied by Kerril, the only female member of Bayban’s band, discovers that the door is a gateway to a new world…
Despite being a little overegged on the ham and cheese side of things, this is a cracking story. In so many episodes the attention is focused on just a couple of characters and the rest are left in the background. In the majority of Chris Boucher’s episodes everybody gets a moment to shine. Of course the focus is on Vila but the rest of the action is fairly evenly spread between the remaining regulars and they are uniformly excellent. Carol Hawkins is terrific as Kerril and you can believe that she and Vila are falling for each other over the course of the episode. Colin Baker is absolutely fabulous as the villainous Bayban and Valentine Dyall brings some much-needed gravitas to the part of Norl.
But the real standout performance is Michael Keating as Vila who finally gets a script that allows him to be more than half of a double act or a coward with a smart mouth. The scene where Bayban threatens him but he stands his ground and demands information about the job he’s been given shows that Vila really does have courage and principles. And while he does ham up a few lines you do get the impression that it is Vila doing the overacting rather than Keating. Finally, it is interesting to go back and rewatch the series with this knowledge of Vila’s depths in mind as it adds many dimensions to what was becoming a bit of a one-note character.
The negative aspects of this episode are mostly to do with production values, an issue that the show dealt with for its entire lifespan so it seems churlish to mention it here. However, there are some telling problems that spring to mind, such as the question, “Would it have hurt to have given Dayna a backpack or something to carry her bombs in?” The titular city looks a little too spruce to be three thousand years old and Norl’s tribe all look a little too generic to be convincing. Speaking of wardrobe, Avon clearly liberated Bayban’s gloves for future use while they were waiting for Vila to return!
Apart from that, this is a solid, fun episode that shows the crew working like a real team to save one of their own (a theme revisited in two of Boucher’s future episodes in Series C) as well as developing established characters and introducing some terrific guest characters and actors.