THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
AND THE NOVEL "TOMB
THE GALACTIC CONMAN,
OPERATION: RIBOS &
THE RIBOS FILE
'THE KEY TO TIME' DVD
RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER
The DOCTOR IS
SUMMONED BY THE
GUARDIAN, AND SENT ON
A QUEST TO FIND THE SIX
SEGMENTS OF THE KEY TO
TIME, WHICH, ONCE
RESTORE BALANCE TO
THE UNIVERSE. JOINING
THE DOCTOR AND K9 IS
THE SMART AND SASSY
ROMANA, A TIME LORD
FRESH FROM THE
LANDING ON THE WINTRY
PLANET OF RIBOS TO
LOCATE THE FIRST
SEGMENT, THE TARDIS
CREW QUICKLY FIND
IN A LITTLE LOCAL
TROUBLE WITH A PAIR
OF CONMEN AND AN
The Ribos Operation
2nd september 1978 - 23rd september 1978
For some reason known only to BBC Worldwide, “Key To Time” box set was released on DVD in the USA about five years ago but, curiously, not in the UK. On many occasions I
have been tempted to import the Region 1 version but instead I bided my time, and as a result I now have the stunning and special feature-laden Region 2 box set resting on my shelf.
The design of the packaging is absolutely exquisite. Rather than house the six amaray
cases in a dreary cardboard slipcase, a striking box modelled on the Key to Time itself opens out to reveal the six separate (and uniform) cases sat inside. The whole thing is then protected by a plastic sleeve adorned with a numbered sticker (mine is 10,897 of 15,000).
Other than my cynical thoughts on how a run of 15,000 copies can be construed as ‘limited’,
I cannot really pick any fault whatsoever with this fabulous box set. If anything, as the serials themselves may be a little bit too light-hearted for many fans tastes, the Restoration Team and 2 Entertain have possibly more than done justice to Doctor Who’s sixteenth season
with this lavish release.
* * *
When Graham Williams first applied for the job of Doctor Who’s producer, one of the things that had impressed his superiors the most had been his idea about having an ‘umbrella theme’ for a season. With a year in the job under his belt, Williams decided that it was time to make this concept a reality – Doctor Who’s sixteenth season would see the Doctor and his new companion embarking on a quest to collect the six segments that form the Key to Time.
THE DOCTOR And what if I refuse?
WHITE GUARDIAN Nothing would happen to you, Doctor. (Pause). Ever.
As Williams and his script editor Anthony Read refined their plans for the season, it was decided that the Doctor would be employed by the apparently benevolent White Guardian who needed the Key to Time so that he may stop everything and restore balance to the universe, preventing eternal chaos. Deliciously vague and wonderfully woolly, the die was cast.
As Louise Jameson’s Leela had been written out of the series at the end of “The Invasion of Time”, rumour has it that the production team approached Elisabeth Sladen to reprise her role as Sarah Jane Smith, and that it was only when Sladen declined their offer that the character of Romana was conceived. Having now watched this DVD, I am fairly sceptical of this rumour as it is not mentioned in any of the documentaries. The way the story is told on the disc, it was always Williams’ intention to create a new, more sophisticated companion. And Romana is certainly that.
Above: Still looking good... Mary Tamm in the "A Matter of Time" documentary
In the commentary, Tom Baker’s comment “Oh Mary! Oh Mary! Oh God” – swiftly followed by some sort of fit – pretty much sums up my thoughts regarding Mary Tamm and the original Romana. Do not get me wrong, I am as enamoured with Jo and Peri and Rose et
al as the next man, but there is something very special about the original Romana that sets her apart. Tamm was (and still is) an astoundingly beautiful woman, but it is not just that. Clayton Hickman describes her as being ‘cool’ and ‘disinterested’ and he is spot on – Romana is so stylish and classy that, particularly in these first few stories, she seems to turn her nose up at everything and everyone as if she is above it all. I think it must be this ‘posh girl’ thing that does it… finding out that in reality Tamm hails from Bradford kind of spoiled the fantasy a bit, though.
THE DOCTOR I’ll call you Romana.
ROMANA I don’t like Romana.
THE DOCTOR It’s either Romana, or Fred.
ROMANA Okay, call me Fred.
THE DOCTOR Come on Romana.
Romana’s strained relationship with the Doctor on screen is certainly entertaining – never before in the series has the Doctor met his match in this way. Sure, he has faced the Master, an evil genius of his own race, but arguably Romana is more intelligent than the pair of them put together – at least academically. Very early on we learn that the 140 year-old Romana has recently graduated from the Academy on Gallifrey with a Triple First, whilst the Doctor scraped through with a Desmond. Of course, despite what Romana possesses in looks, composure and intellect, she is completely and utterly lacking in practical experience – something that the Doctor has in spates.
THE DOCTOR 756! That’s not old. It’s just mature.
ROMANA You’ve lost count somewhere.
Incidentally, I share Romana’s sentiments about the Doctor’s age – I think that the reason accounts of his age varied so wildly over the course of the series (before levelling out at an immovable 900 in the new series) is that he has either lost count or he is telling porkies!
Fortunately for the naïve Romana, “The Ribos Operation” is populated with characters as colourful as they come who are either out to rob her, eat her or do something equally distasteful to her. In Garron (Iain Cuthbertson) and Unstoffe (Nigel Plaskitt), writer Robert Holmes has created a pairing of the same calibre as double act Jago and Litefoot in “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”. Garron is the most glorious loveable rogue imaginable – a sort of intergalactic Del Boy; he and Baker’s Doctor bounce off one another marvellously. Garron, conversely, is more likeable in a more genuine sort of way; he seems like the sort of character who is always being inadvertently led into trouble by Garron. In fact, there is one really quite touching scene between Garron and Binro the Heretic – a Galileo type character – in which Garron tells Binro that his scientific beliefs are sound.
However, it is Paul Seed’s Graff Vynda-K - what an amazing name for a character! – that steals the show. His character is so callous and so pitiless and, on the page, so completely over the top but Seed plays it in this frighteningly controlled way that just works outstandingly well. A few fans have criticised how the Graff brings out the worst in the Doctor as in the last episode, as the Doctor detonates the Graff’s own explosives killing him outright. I wonder how much input Baker had into that scene – after the whole debacle that saw him get
mauled by Seed’s Jack Russell, I bet Baker would have enjoyed blowing up the Graff!
Turning to the special features on the disc, on balance I think that “The Ribos Operation” has the best selection of bonus material of all the six serials released as part of the “Key To Time” box set. Not only do we have a half-hour documentary (dubbed “The Ribos File”) that charts the making of this particular story, but we are also treated to a top-drawer (albeit five-year old) commentary; a spectacular ‘Coming Soon’ trailer for “Planet of Evil”; plus all the usual pdf fiddly bits and production subtitles etc. Best of all though is the box set’s 60-minute showpiece documentary, “A Matter of Time”, that examines the making of Key to Time season as a whole as well as the rest of the Williams’ tenure as producer.
“Who wrote this horseshit?”
- Tom Baker critiques “The Ribos Operation”
If I am honest, I have never been a big fan of the three years’ that Williams was in charge of the show. Nevertheless, this documentary has made me look on the whole era in a new way; you might even say with a whole new sympathy. Williams was faced with a “flippant and unmanageable” star, superiors who were breathing down his neck over the show’s purportedly violent content, not to mention an ever dwindling budget that simply did not
match the hyper-inflation of the time. I found the sections of the documentary that focused on the troubled serials “Underworld” – without exaggeration, my least favourite Doctor Who serial of all time – and “Shada” particularly interesting. It beggars belief that “Shada” was forsaken because of a strike caused by the bloody clock on Playschool! And worse still, that the remount was abandoned because Morecombe and Wise wanted the studio!
“I actually found that creature quite frightening because I’m short-sighted and it was dark.”
- Mary Tamm on the Shrivenzale
On the whole, I found “The Ribos Operation” to be an unexpectedly impressive story. The
plot about selling planets as real estate is actually quite fascinating, and whilst the story is heavy on dialogue and light on action, to the credit of all involved it is never dull. Furthermore, the Russian influences on the set design work magnificently; so well, in fact, that despite being set entirely in the studio, the four episodes feel like they have tremendous scope. Granted, the Shrivenzale lets the side down a bit, but other than that this four-parter kicks off the quest in true style.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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