The Ribos Operation
|098 – The Ribos Operation|
|Doctor Who serial|
The White Guardian gives the Doctor his assignment - to find the six segments of the Key to Time.
|Script editor||Anthony Read|
|Incidental music composer||Dudley Simpson|
|Length||4 episodes, 25 minutes each|
|Originally broadcast||2 September – 23 September 1978|
The Ribos Operation is the first serial of the 16th season in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts from 2 September to 23 September 1978. This serial introduces Mary Tamm as the companion Romana. After finishing his first year as producer of Doctor Who, Graham Williams was determined to try something different. In The Ribos Operation the Doctor embarked on a season-long quest with a single goal: to retrieve the six segments of the Key to Time.
The White Guardian recruits the Doctor to collect the six hidden and disguised segments of the powerful Key to Time. He assigns him an assistant Time Lady named Romanadvoratrelundar, whom the Doctor calls Romana (despite her preference for "Fred" when given a choice by the Doctor). He warns him that the Black Guardian also seeks these segments, but for an evil purpose. The White Guardian provides them with a wand-like device, which can locate the pieces and remove their disguise. When inserted into the TARDIS console, the locator first reveals a segment to be on Cyrrenhis Minima, but then moves to Ribos.
Ribos is an icy planet with late-medieval-type inhabitants who are unaware of alien cultures. A human from Earth named Garron tries to sell Ribos to an exiled tyrant called the Graff Vynda-K. The Graff is impressed by the planet's supposed quantity of jethrik, the rarest and most valued mineral in the galaxy. He believes the opportunity confirmed when he sees a piece of jethrik among the Ribos crown jewels. This is all part of a ruse orchestrated by Garron; the jethrik was planted by Garron's assistant Unstoffe, who also was playing a native with an "honest face" spins a yarn to the Graff about a nearby lost mine. The locator points the Doctor and Romana to the same jethrik, which must be the disguised segment of the Key to Time.
The Graff Vynda-K provides a large sum of money, as a deposit for the planet that is to be kept safely in the room with the crown jewels, watched by Ribos guards by day and a shrivenzale beast by night. Later, Unstoffe distracts the shrivenzale, recovers their piece of jethrik, and takes the money from the safe. The Graff learns of Garron's deception when he discovers a covert listening device in his room. He imprisons Garron with his "accomplices" the Doctor and Romana, and he starts the search for Unstoffe, who still has the money and the jethrik. Unstoffe hides with Binro, a homeless outcast who believes that Ribos is a planet orbiting a star, and that there are other stars in the universe, which Unstoffe confirms to be true (because he was from Earth). The Ribos guards summon a Seeker who locates Unstoffe's hideout. Using the listening device in the Graff's room, Garron warns Unstoffe about the Graff. Binro, thankful for Unstoffe's encouragement, leads him to the labyrinthine Catacombs under the city, where the natives would bury their dead.
The Graff and his men enter the Catacombs without the Ribos guards, who fear the place. K-9 helps the Doctor, Romana, and Garron to escape from the Graff's quarters and go to the Catacombs. The Ribos guards destroy the entrance to the Catacombs causing the ceiling to collapse on the Graff's men. Having recovered the money and the jethrik, the Graff gives his last surviving guard an explosive to kill himself with. The guard, actually the Doctor in disguise, swaps the explosive for the jethrik. The Graff walks off into the maze yelling like a madman before exploding.
After leaving the Catacombs, the Doctor, Romana, and K-9 dematerialise in the TARDIS. Garron and Unstoffe claim the Graff's deserted ship, while the Doctor and Romana transform the jethrik into the first piece of the Key to Time.
This is the first of six linked serials that comprise the whole of Season 16, known collectively as The Key to Time. The Fifth Doctor is also sent to search for the Key to Time in the Big Finish Productions audio drama The Judgement of Isskar. The opening scene introduces the White Guardian, played by Cyril Luckham. His counterpart, the Black Guardian, would appear in The Armageddon Factor, the last story of this season. Both Guardians would return to the series in Season 20, with the Black Guardian reappearing in Mawdryn Undead and Terminus, and both appearing in Enlightenment.
The Doctor and Romana both reference Lord President Borusa. Romana states the Doctor's age is 759, the Doctor counters with 756 and Romana claims he has lost count. Romana states she is nearly 140. From this story until The Horns of Nimon, the Doctor will wear an extra-long scarf, which is the original scarf and the stunt scarf sewn together. This story includes a rare instance of the Doctor acting directly to kill a human(oid) enemy, when the Doctor does a switch and leaves the murderous Graff holding his own explosive. See also The Brain of Morbius, The Two Doctors, and "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship".
On the night before the last day of recording The Ribos Operation, Tom Baker was bitten on the left side of his upper lip by a Jack Russell Terrier belonging to Paul Seed. Publicity photographs from late April show Baker with a plaster on that lip, and the wound had to be concealed with makeup, much to the actor's discomfort. It was partially explained on screen by having the Doctor bump his mouth directly onto the TARDIS console at the beginning of the next story. To disguise the injury, several scenes were filmed from his right profile.
Working titles for this story include Operation and The Ribos File. The opening scene, with the White Guardian, was actually written by Anthony Read and Graham Williams, and not Robert Holmes.
The serial was filmed entirely in studio, in April 1978.
Elisabeth Sladen, who as Sarah Jane Smith was last seen in The Hand of Fear, was approached to return to the series as a replacement for Leela (who had left in The Invasion of Time). When Sladen declined the offer, the character of Romana was created instead.
Broadcast and reception
|Episode||Broadcast date||Run time||Viewers
|"Part One"||2 September 1978||25:02||8.3|
|"Part Two"||9 September 1978||24:46||8.1|
|"Part Three"||16 September 1978||24:42||7.9|
|"Part Four"||23 September 1978||24:50||8.2|
Paul Cornell, Martin Day, and Keith Topping gave the serial a favourable review in The Discontinuity Guide (1995), calling it "a lovely story". In The Television Companion (1998), David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker praised the "cracking set of scripts" and production values. They described Binro as "perhaps the most fascinating and well written of all the characters in the main part of the story set on Ribos" and also praised Mary Tamm's debut as Romana, despite noting that "she goes through the whole of The Ribos Operation giving the impression that she has got an unpleasant smell under her nose". In 2010, Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times gave the story a positive review, in particular towards the acting and production, but stated that he did not like Binro. The A.V. Club reviewer Christopher Bahn called The Ribos Operation one of Robert Holmes' better stories, writing that it was "a fun, tightly constructed caper". DVD Talk's Justin Felix gave the story three and a half out of five stars, writing that it was an "effective beginning" to the season despite being a "simple" story. While he praised Romana's character, he felt that Tamm's performance was "a bit flat".
|Cover artist||John Geary|
|Series||Doctor Who book:
|11 December 1979|
A novelisation of this serial, written by Ian Marter, was published by Target Books in December 1979. Curiously, the novelisation features the Doctor opening the TARDIS doors by means of an old brass knob.
The Ribos Operation was released on CD in March 2011. John Leeson, who provided the voice of K9 in the original 1978 TV serial, reads Ian Marter's complete and unabridged novelisation of this story.
The Ribos Operation was released on VHS on 3 April 1995. This serial, along with the rest of season sixteen, was released in North America as part of the Key to Time box set, as well as being marketed separately. The story was released in a restored limited edition on region 2 DVD on 24 September 2007. The DVD box set was reissued in November 2009. This serial was also released as part of the Doctor Who DVD Files in Issue 107 on 6 February 2013.
- "Doctor Who Scarf". Doctor Who Scarf. Retrieved 2013-10-09.
- "The History of Tom Baker's Scarves". Web.archive.org. 2009-10-28. Archived from the original on 28 October 2009. Retrieved 2013-10-09.
- Mulkern, Patrick (14 December 2010). "Doctor Who: The Ribos Operation". Radio Times. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
- Shaun Lyon; et al. (2007-03-31). "The Ribos Operation". Outpost Gallifrey. Archived from the original on 2008-07-31. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
- "The Ribos Operation". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
- Sullivan, Shannon (2007-08-07). "The Ribos Operation". A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
- Cornell, Paul; Day, Martin; Topping, Keith (1995). "The Ribos Operation". The Discontinuity Guide. London: Virgin Books. ISBN 0-426-20442-5.
- Howe, David J & Walker, Stephen James (1998). Doctor Who: The Television Companion (1st ed.). London: BBC Books. ISBN 978-0-563-40588-7.
- Bahn, Christopher (24 June 2012). "The Ribos Operation". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
- Felix, Justin (21 March 2009). "Doctor Who: The Ribos Operation". DVD Talk. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
- "DVD News". BBC. 18 May 2007. Archived from the original on 6 June 2009.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Fourth Doctor|
- The Ribos Operation at BBC Online
- The Ribos Operation at Doctor Who: A Brief History of Time (Travel)
- The Ribos Operation at the Doctor Who Reference Guide
- The Ribos Operation reviews at Outpost Gallifrey
- The Ribos Operation reviews at The Doctor Who Ratings Guide