"What a fiasco. You could take over the ship, you said, if I did my bit. Well, I did my bit, and what happened? Your troops bumble around looking for someone to surrender to, and when they've succeeded, you follow suit"
Blake is introduced to fellow prisoner computer expert Kerr Avon and starts to hatch a plan to take control of the prison ship London. 4 months into the 8 month journey a space battle is detected near to the ship's route. The ship is struck several times by objects and as Blake puts his plan into action a large object is detected nearby. Avon enters a service shaft and gains access to the ship's computer allowing the prisoners to escape. But their escape is detected. Avon, Blake & Jenna end up barricaded in the computer room and attempt to cripple the ship but are forced to surrender when their fellow prisoners are captured and sadistic prison officer Raiker starts killing them. The crew bring the ship back to operational status just in time to detect a huge spaceship right on top of them. The London tried to make contact but gets no response. They send a boarding party over to salvage it, but after a brief report all they hear are the dying screams of the crew members sent over. After another crew member is sent over and is lost Raiker persuades the ship's captain to use Avon, Blake & Jenna as the next boarding party. They enter the ship and find their way to it's bridge where the dead prison ship crewmen are before the ship's defence mechanism psychically assaults them. Blake resists, overcoming the assault and disabling it, allowing him and the others to take control of the ship. Raiker attempts to join them on the ship but Blake seals the outer hatch trapping Raiker in the boarding tube which tears as the alien ship pulls away from the London killing the Raiker. Blake has Jenna set a course for Cygnus Alpha to rescue the rest of the prisoners when the London arrives there.
Having provided the situation for Blake to rebel against in the first episode, the second gets him out of his confinement and gives him the means to fight his rebellion. The episode would seem to take place over quite a long period of time: at the start of the episode there's a reference to the journey taking 8 months - they've obviously been put on the slow boat to Cygnus Alpha - while there's a hint that the body of the action takes place 4 months in. Is 4 months in halfway through the journey or, as the next episode will seem to indicate, nearly at Cygnus Alpha and the halfway point for the return trip? There's more adult themes in this episode with the brutality of Raiker and his infatuation with Jenna and the rebel being killed by the sealant foam flooding the tunnel. Nasty stuff.
Yes Blake's scheme goes very wrong. But it's not his fault, however much Avon makes it out to be. Blame if anything lies with Vila for his incompetence, and possibly with Avon himself for not getting the job done fast enough. Chastising Blake for surrendering when the others are being killed is hard but hey that's Avon for you!
In terms of the development of the series there's two important developments here. The Alien spaceship that the London finds, yet to acquire it's name, provides the main setting and means of transport for the series. The episode implies that it was abandoned in the wake of a space battle but never tells us who it's original owners were fighting. There's a couple of guesses we can make and will a little later. The arrival of the ship - it's initial reveal on the monitor being a stunning moment: it won't look better than this - and Blake's stealing of it gives a real sense of the series getting a move on.... there's more set-up to come but it looks more like what the finished article does now.
But this episode also introduces Paul Darrow as Kerr Avon and right from the start he jumps out of the screen at you delivering his dialogue in a manner that sets him apart. Blake and Jenna speak very similarly but Avon's sharp waspish delivery sets him apart from the others. You can see at once why he became a favourite character and, in later seasons of the show, the main character. Almost all the quotes at the top of the episode from this point on will end up being lines delivered by Avon. By this point Darrow had made the first of his Doctor Who appearances as Captain Hawkins in the Silurians as well as having a main role as the Sheriff of Nottingham in The Legend of Robin Hood. I must see that! The Darrow as the Sheriff of Nottingham? SOLD!
we also get to meet Olag Gan played by David Jackson for the first time. At the time he was best known for playing Detective Constable Braithwaite in Z-Cars. You don't learn a lot about Gan here apart from seeing his physical strength. And, with one exception, that's the way it stays. Gan is the strong man, Villa's the thief, Jenna's the pilot, Avon's the computer expert and Blake's the leader. Stereotypical labels for the most part. Gan however breaks free from it less than the others do and you almost wonder if his eventual fate had been decided on this early on.
The director for this second episode is Pennant Roberts who'd worked on several episodes of Terry Nation's Survivors. He'd recently completed his first two Doctor Who stories, Face of Evil & The Sunmakers, and would later return for three more: Pirate Planet, Warriors of the Deep & Timelash. Several of the cast of the two earlier tales pop up in this episode including Leslie Schofield as Raiker who was Calib in Face of Evil as well as Leroy in The War Games and had recently appeared in Star Wars, Brett Forrest Krell, a guard in the Face of Evil 2, Tom Kelly as Nova, a Guard in Face of Evil as well as the Sunmakers 4 and a Vardan in Invasion of Time 1, 2 & 4. He's also got Sapphire & Steel to his name where he was Sam Pearce / Soldier in the second story The Railway Station. Finally from the Face of Evil we have our old friend Harry Aitch Fielder (The Assassin in Face of Evil 1) as the Guard that Gan overcomes and uses his palm print to escape the confinement area. Aitch does very out of Blake's 7 appearing in every series right the way through to the final episode!
Aside from Leslie Schofield the main guest artist is Glyn Owen as Leylan. He'll feature in Doctor Who as Rohm-Dutt in The Power of Kroll but is probably best know for his role in Howard's Way. Norman Tipton (Artix) was appearing in Doctor Who as this episode aired as Idas in the Underworld. Michael MacKenzie, Dainer, starred in Ace of Wands as Tarot....
You know I'm looking at this cast list and with the exception of the 3 main crew on the ship I can't work out who any of the other characters are! Are they prisoners, are they ship's guards? Haven't a clue..... to the Interweb! Dainer is the bearded prison guard - yeah that name will get a reuse! Krell's a prisoner in the background while Nova is the prisoner who gets trapped by the sealant foam.
I'll now prove I was actually paying attention while this was on: in the London's control room are several of the curved computer banks from UFO that I kept spotting in Doctor Who.
This episode of Blake's 7 was broadcast 2 days after Doctor Who episode 470 Underworld Part One, which was broadcast on 07/01/1978, and 5 days before episode 471 Underworld Part Two which was broadcast on 14/01/1978.
The Way Back, Space Fall, Cygnus Alpha & Time Squad were adapted into book form by Trevor Hoyle. The Beginning, a compilation of the first four episodes of the series first released in 1985 for £25 and then again at a more affordable price of £10 on the 5th March 1990. While The Way Back was cut to shreds for it's release as part of The Beginning, Space Fall was almost intact at 45 minutes long. Add in the missing title sequences and you're all but there. In fact the compilation contains a short sequence of Avon being strangled and having his head slammed against a wall which is missing from the episodic release which followed on Monday 7th Jan 1991 paired with the previous episode The Way Back as Tape 1 and alongside the following 6 episodes all paired off Tape 2 Cygnus Alpha/Time Squad, Tape 3 The Web/Seek-Locate-Destroy & Tape 4 Mission to Destiny/Duel. A DVD release for the whole of season 1 occurred on 01/03/2004. While the DVD restores the missing sequence the initial release had a problem during this episode on it's first release causing the player to skip scenes :-(