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Tom Baker
The Ribos Operation
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Synopsis


The Doctor and Romana
The Doctor and Romana
 The Doctor and K-9 Mark II are sent on a mission by the immensely powerful White Guardian. The six segments of the Key to Time, currently disguised and scattered throughout the cosmos, need to be brought together. Once assembled, the Key will allow the Guardian to restore balance and good to a universe that is descending into evil and chaos. It will also thwart the plans of the fearsome Black Guardian! As if accepting such a daunting task wasn't enough, the Guardian appoints a new young assistant for The Doctor, Romadvoratrelundar - or Romana for short.

 Fresh out of the Time Lord Academy, the 140-year old Romana is confident that their mission will be easy and, if The Doctor can curb his irrational behaviour, can be rapidly completed.

 Using a special Tracer, the TARDIS locates the first segment on the feudal planet of Ribos, where two inter-galactic criminals are using a lump of Jethryk as bait in a plot to trick a visiting nobleman into buying the planet - which is not theirs to sell. The Doctor finds himself drawn into the con-men's fiendish plan while Romana has to confront the monstrous Shrievenzale...

Source: BBC VHS Video


General Information

Season: Sixteen
Production Code: 5A
Story Number: 98
Episode Numbers:480 - 483
Number of Episodes: 4
Percentage of Episodes Held:100%
Working Titles:"The Galactic Conman", "Operation" and "The Ribos File"
Production Dates: April 1978
Broadcast Started: 02 September 1978
Broadcast Finished: 23 September 1978
Colour Status: Colour
Studio: BBC Television Centre (TC4)
Location: None
Writer:Robert Holmes
Director:George Spenton-Foster
Producer:Graham Williams
Script Editor:Anthony Read
Production Assistant:Jane Shirley
Production Unit Manager:John Nathan-Turner
Assistant Floor Manager:Richard Cox
Designer:Ken Ledsham
Costume Designer:June Hudson
Make-Up Designer:Christine Walmesley-Cotham
Incidental Music:Dudley Simpson
Special Sounds (SFX Editor):Dick Mills
Studio Sounds:Richard Chubb
Lighting:Jim Purdie
Visual Effects:Dave Havard
Title Sequence:Bernard Lodge
Title Music:Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Arranged by Delia Derbyshire
Number of Doctors: 1
The Doctor: Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor)
Number of Companions: 2The Companions: Mary Tamm (Romana 1) (Joins) and John Leeson (voice only) (K9 Mk II) (Joins) Additional Cast: Cyril Luckham (The White Guardian), Iain Cuthbertson (Garron), Nigel Plaskitt (Unstoffe), Paul Seed (Graff Vynda-K), Robert Keegan (Sholakh), Prentis Hancock (Captain), Oliver Maguire (Shrieve), John Hamill (Shrieve), Timothy Bateson (Binro), Ann Tirard (The Seeker)Setting: Planet Ribos Villain:Graff Vynda-K

The Episodes

No. Episodes Broadcast
(UK)
Duration Viewers
(Millions)
In Archive
480Part 102 September 197825'02"8.3PAL 2" colour videotape
481Part 209 September 197824'46"8.1PAL 2" colour videotape
482Part 316 September 197824'42"7.9PAL 2" colour videotape
483Part 423 September 197824'50"8.2PAL 2" colour videotape

Total Duration 1 Hour 39 Minutes


Audience Appreciation

Average Viewers (Millions) 8.1
Doctor Who Magazine Poll (1998)66.67%  (Position = 90 out of 159)
Doctor Who Magazine Poll (2009)69.65% Higher (Position = 105 out of 200)
Doctor Who Magazine Poll (2014)72.05% Higher (Position = 103 out of 241)


Archives


 All four episodes exist as PAL 2" colour videotapes.



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Notes


This is the first of six linked stories that comprise the whole of Season Sixteen, known collectively as The Key to Time. This was the first time a story arc encompassed an entire season.

The entire season entailed one long quest for The Key to Time. The quest for The Key to Time was originally an aborted plot concept for Season Fifteen. After finishing his first year as producer of Doctor Who, Producer Graham Williams was determined to try something different.

The Key to Time prop was created by Visual Effects Designer Dave Havard, comprising of six clear resin segments which fitted together to form a cube. The prop was based on a puzzle given to Dave Havard by Producer Graham Williams. To ensure that the segments were not confused with one another, Graham Williams kept the different parts of the prop locked in his office, divulging only the appropriate segment on recording days.

Although this is the first time that Doctor Who attempted a season-long theme as such, Season Twelve (the Fourth Doctor’s first season) is in a sense all linked together - as are much of the first six seasons of the show. The next time the show would have a whole season where all the stories are interlinked is Season Twenty Three, also known as The Trial of a Time Lord season. Loose season-long story arcs have also been used when the show was revived in 2005.

This story sees the debut of the Mark II version of K9 and new assistant Romanadvoratrelundar, shortened to Romana (or, as she preferred, ‘Fred’), played by Mary Tamm. Romana was a Gallifreyan student ostensibly assigned by the High Council (something she’d discover later to be a ruse). Originally, the shortened form of Romanadvoratrelundar's name was to be "Romy".

The previous story, "The Invasion of Time", introduced a female Time Lord named Rodan, played by Hilary Ryan. A rumour/myth related to this story is that Romana was originally to have been Rodan, but Hilary Ryan was unavailable so a new character was created instead.

Conversely, there is a related misconception that this story marks the first appearance of a named female Time Lord (Susan notwithstanding), and that female Time Lords have long, complex names. The appearance of Rodan in the previous story contradicts both myths (although it is possible Rodan is a shortened form of that name, just like Romana).

Elisabeth Sladen, who as Sarah Jane Smith was last seen in "The Hand of Fear", was approached to return to the show as a replacement for Leela (who had left in "The Invasion of Time"). When Elisabeth Sladen declined the offer, the character of Romana was created instead.

This story marks the first appearance of The White Guardian, played by Cyril Luckham. His counterpart, The Black Guardian who it is revealed is also seeking The Key to Time, would not appear until "The Armageddon Factor", the last story of this season. Both Guardians would return to the show in Season Twenty, with The Black Guardian reappearing in "Mawdryn Undead" and "Terminus", and both appearing in "Enlightenment".

Prentis Hancock, who played the part of the Captain, had previously appeared in the Third Doctor stories "Spearhead From Space", in 1970, and "Planet of the Daleks", in 1973, as well as the 1975 Fourth Doctor story "Planet of Evil".

Iain Cuthbertson, who played as Garron, is particularly well known for his role as Charlie Endell in LWT's Budgie and its follow up series Charles Endell Esquire.

Nigel Plaskitt, who played Unstoffe, was better known for playing a young man named Malcolm in a series of television commercials for Vic’s Sinex nasal spray.

The opening scene, with The White Guardian persuading The Doctor to take on the quest to reassemble The Key to Time, was actually written by Anthony Read and Graham Williams, and not Robert Holmes.

The White Guardian says he has chosen The Doctor to reassemble The Key to Time, a perfect cube which maintains the equilibrium of time itself, from the six segments which have been scattered and hidden. When assembled they will create a power ‘which is too dangerous for any one being to possess’. The White Guardian also warns The Doctor about The Black Guardian.

The original credits list The White Guardian as simply ‘The Guardian’. This may be a hint at a suspicion The Doctor voices to Romana at the climax of "The Armageddon Factor", that they have been working for The Black Guardian, disguised as his more benevolent counterpart, all along.

The Doctor and Romana both reference events of the previous story "The Invasion of Time" namely Lord President Borusa and the invasion of Gallifrey by the Sontarans. The Doctor is heard to say of Chancellor Borusa who has been promoted to Lord President, ‘I should have thrown him to the Sontarans when I had the chance’. However, at the conclusion of "The Invasion of Time", when The Doctor uses the D-Mat gun, his memories of recent events were wiped, but this story and others latter suggest that his memories returned at some point.

It is revealed that Romana had recently graduated from the Academy with a ‘Triple First’. Romana also states that The Doctor only scraped through with 51 per cent at the second attempt. It is implied she has not finished her education, threatening to use The Doctor as a case study in her thesis.

Romana is heard stating her age as 140 and catches The Doctor lying about his own age when she states The Doctor’s age is 759 and he replies stating he is only 756 prompting Romana to claim he has lost count. Ironically, she would later lie about her age in the 1979 story "City of Death", giving it as only 125.

The Doctor is heard claiming to have been trained in sleight of hand by John Nevil Maskelyne, a well-known stage magician from the late 19th century.

From this story until "The Horns of Nimon" The Doctor is seen wearing an extra long scarf, which is his original scarf and a stunt scarf sewn together.

At one point The Doctor is seen using a dog whistle to summon K9.

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 1976 story "The Brain of Morbius" and the 1985 Sixth Doctor story "The Two Doctors".

On the night before the last day of recording, Tom Baker was bitten on the left side of his upper lip by a dog belonging to Paul Seed (who played the Graff Vynda-K). As a result of this accident the wound had to be concealed with makeup, much to the Tom Baker’s discomfort. The scar was quite noticeable on screen prompting several of his scenes to be filmed from his right profile or with his face partly hidden so as to disguise the injury. This continued throughout most of this season and the next. 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.

It is revealed that Jethryk is a valuable rare element without which space warp ‘would be impossible’.

In retrospect, the frequent references to characters claiming to be from ‘the north’ - particularly the heavily-accented Garron - echoes the discussion over the Ninth Doctor’s accent in the 2005 story "Rose" to which he replied to Rose Tyler 'lots of planets have a north!’.

The Fifth Doctor is also sent to search for The Key to Time in the 2009 Big Finish Productions trilogy of audio dramas "The Judgement of Isskar", "The Destroyer of Delights" and "The Chaos Pool" starring Peter Davison.



First and Last

The Firsts:

 The first story of Season Sixteen.

 The first of six linked stories covering the quest of The Key to Time.

 The introduction of new companion Romana played by Mary Tamm.

 The first story for K9 Mark II.

 The first appearance of the White Guardian.

 June Hudson's first involvement in the show as Costume Designer.


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The Plot

WARNING: May Contain SpoilersHide Text
The Doctor meets the White Guardian
The Doctor meets the White Guardian

While busy planning a holiday the TARDIS goes dark and a mysterious voice summons The Doctor from outside. There he discovers The White Guardian, a powerful being who monitors and controls time. The White Guardian recruits The Doctor and sets him on a quest to collect and assemble The Key to Time, the disguised segments of which are scattered throughout time and space. Once assembled, the Key will be used by The White Guardian to restore the balance of the Cosmos. The White Guardian however, warns The Doctor about The Black Guardian who also seeks these segments, but for an evil purpose.

The Doctor has little choice but to accept The White Guardian’s request and is given a tracer to help him locate the disguised segments and then convert them into their true form. The White Guardian also informs The Doctor that a new recruit from the Time Lord Academy on Gallifrey will assist him on his quest. This is Romanadvoratrelundar, or Romana for short. As The Doctor is soon to find out Romana may be inexperienced but this female Time Lord believes herself to be just as capable as The Doctor, who would rather seek The Key to Time on his own.

When The Doctor returns to the TARDIS he discovers that Romana is already in his time machine waiting for him. After introductions The Doctor places the tracer into the TARDIS console and they discover that the first segment is located on the planet Ribos.

The White Guardian
The White Guardian

On arriving there they discover Ribos is an icy planet with late-medieval-type inhabitants who are unaware of alien cultures. But in the city of Shur a conman named Garron and his assistant, Unstoffe, are engaged in a scam to sell the entire planet to the Graff Vynda-K, deposed ruler of Levithia, who wants to use Ribos as a base from which to plan the winning back of his throne.

The Graff is particularly interested in Ribos for it is apparently a rich source of Jethryk, a rare and very valuable blue mineral vital for space warp drive. His interest is further piqued when he sees a large lump of the mineral in a display case of jewels in a reliquary. Arriving there The Doctor, after using the tracer, realises that the lump of Jethryk is the first segment, but he is unable to steal it. Unstoffe meanwhile, disguised as a guard, tells the Graff about a nearby lost mine with caves full of the blue mineral, which he claims the locals call scringe-stone.

Romana
Romana

Convinced that he is being told the truth the Graff provides a large sum of gold, as a deposit for the planet, under the agreement 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.

The Graff however, is being tricked by the conmen and so later Unstoffe distracts the shrivenzale, recovers the piece of Jethrik (which he had earlier placed in the case), and takes Graff’s gold from a safe.

The Graff, on discovering the trick that has been played on him, and that he has lost all his gold, sets about hunting the conmen down along with their "accomplices" The Doctor and Romana. The Graff’s search leads him to a labyrinthine of catacombs under the city where The Doctor, Romana and K9 have already entered in their own hunt for the lump of Jethryk.

Garron Negotiates with the Shrieve Captain
Garron Negotiates with the Shrieve Captain

The Graff captures the The Doctor, Romana and K9 and the conmen, takes back his gold and confiscates the Jethryk. However, before he can kill his captives, the Ribos guards blow up the entrance to the catacombs causing the ceiling to collapse on the Graff’s men.

With the gold and the piece of 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. Unaware of the swap The Graff storms off into the maze yelling like a madman - the death of his loyal officer and friend Sholakh in the rock fall having unhinged the Graff's mind – and is killed by the thermite bomb.

After leaving the Catacombs, Unstoffe and Garron depart with the Graff’s ship of plundered loot, leaving The Doctor, Romana and K9 to return to the TARDIS with the Jethrik.

Back inside the TARDIS, and at The Doctor’s invitation, Romana touches the tracer to the lump of Jethrik, which is transformed into the first segment of The Key to Time.

 
Garron with the Graff
Garron with the Graff
The Shrieve Captain
The Shrieve Captain
Garron
Garron
Graff Vynda-K
Graff Vynda-K
 
A Shrivenzale
A Shrivenzale
Romana and K9
Romana and K9
The Seeker
The Seeker
The Doctor and Romana
The Doctor and Romana




Quote of the Story


 'Ground rules. Rule one: Always do what I say. Rule two: Stay close to me, and rule three: Let me do all the talking. Do I make that perfectly clear?'

The Doctor



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Release Information

FormatTitleRelease Date (UK)Code NumberCover ArtRemarks
Video
VHS
The Tom Baker YearsSeptember 1992BBCV 4839PhotoClip only Introduced and commented on by Tom Baker Double cassette release
Audio
CD
30 Years at the Radiophonic Workshop1993BBC CD 871Photo-montageSound effects
Video
VHS
The Ribos OperationApril 1995BBCV 5607Colin Howard with spine art by Andrew Skilleter
Video
DVD
The Ribos OperationSeptember 2007BBCDVD 2335 (A)Photo-montagePart of the "Key to Time" limited edition box set (15,000)
Video
DVD
The Ribos OperationNovember 2009BBCDVD 2335 (A)Photo-montagePart of the re-released "Key to Time" box set


In Print

FormatTitleRelease Date (UK)PublisherAuthorCover ArtRemarks
Novel
Novel
Doctor Who and the Ribos OperationDecember 1979Target No. 52Ian MarterJohn GearyISBN: 0-426-20092-6
CD
CD
Doctor Who and the Ribos OperationMarch 2011Target No. 52Ian MarterJohn GearyAudio version of the Target Novel read by John Leeson (voice of K9).
Doctor Who CMS Magazine (In Vision)Issue 32 (Released: July 1991)
Doctor Who Monthly - ArchiveIssue 84 (Released: January 1984)
Doctor Who Magazine - Time TeamIssue 360 (Released: September 2005)
Doctor Who Magazine - The Fact of FictionIssue 435 (Released: June 2011)
Doctor Who Magazine Special - Archive1995 Summer Special (Released: 1995)
Doctor Who DVD FilesVolume 107 (Released: February 2013)

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Photo Gallery


The Doctor and Companions

 
Tom Baker
The Fourth Doctor

   

Mary Tamm
Romana 1
 
John Leeson (voice only)
K9 Mk II
   




On Release

Tom Baker Years VHS Video Cover
Tom Baker Years VHS Video Cover

BBC
VIDEO
Sound Effects CD Cover
Sound Effects CD Cover

BBC
AUDIO
VHS Video Cover
VHS Video Cover

BBC
VIDEO
DVD Cover
DVD Cover

BBC
VIDEO
   
Re-released DVD Box Set
Re-released DVD Box Set

BBC
VIDEO



In Print

Target Book Cover
Target Book Cover

Target
NOVEL
 
Target Audio CD Cover
Target Audio CD Cover

BBC
CD
   


Magazines

Doctor Who CMS Magazine (In Vision): Issue 32
Doctor Who CMS Magazine (In Vision): Issue 32

CMS
Doctor Who Monthly - Archive: Issue 84
Doctor Who Monthly - Archive: Issue 84

Marvel Comics
Doctor Who Magazine - Time Team: Issue 360
Doctor Who Magazine - Time Team: Issue 360

Marvel Comics
   
Doctor Who Magazine - The Fact of Fiction: Issue 435
Doctor Who Magazine - The Fact of Fiction: Issue 435

Marvel Comics
Doctor Who Magazine Special - Archive: 1995 Summer Special
Doctor Who Magazine Special - Archive: 1995 Summer Special

Marvel Comics
Doctor Who DVD Files: Volume 107
Doctor Who DVD Files: Volume 107

GE Fabbri
   

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