Entertainment Magazine

Review #3693: Classic Doctor Who: “The Ribos Operation”

Posted on the 21 September 2012 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: John Keegan

Written by Robert Holmes
Directed by George Spenton-Foster

Having taken a bit of a detour into the Fourth Doctor audiodramas produced for BBC Audiobooks/AudioGo, from “Hornet’s Nest” through “Serpent Crest”, it was time for me to step back to the original material and begin Season 16 and the season-long arc of “The Key to Time”. Coming off an inconsistent previous season, and the loss of a familiar face in Leela, I was curious to see what the next era for the Doctor would offer.

Review #3693: Classic Doctor Who: “The Ribos Operation”

The story starts off wonderfully with the whole explanation for the Key to Time and what it represents. It’s basically a McGuffin, a reason for a season-long fetch quest, but does make things a bit more interconnected and interesting. Especially since the pieces of the Key take on other shapes, making each stop a detective story in its own right. I’d love to know how the Guardians factor into the Time Lord lore, especially given how their role as the “protectors of time” was effectively undercut by peeling back the layers on them in “The Deadly Assassin” and “The Invasion of Time”.

I also liked Romana from the start. She reminds me a bit of the Time Lord that was running around in the previous serial; I wonder if they considered bringing her back as the new Companion. I know they really wanted to entice Elizabeth Sladen to return, but given the distinct change in tone between that era and this one, maybe it’s for the best that Sarah Jane remained out of the limelight. (And Mary Tamm is gorgeous, in a somewhat regal-ish way!)

Considering where it started, the rest of the story goes a bit downhill. I’m all for relatively cozy stories, but this felt like a weird cross between a pseudo-historical and a museum heist film. Which is all well and good, since the fragment of the Key has taken the shape of a rare hunk of mineral, but it also means that enjoyment of this story depends greatly on the appeal of the guest characters. And I found them rather tedious in the end.

It doesn’t help that Holmes, at this point, has fallen into a characterization rut. Not only does he have his usual double act in the supremely annoying Garron and Unstoffe, but even the putative villains of the piece, Graff Vynda-K and Sholakh, are essentially another double act to follow. Holmes has the Doctor play off all these characters fairly well, but after the first few exchanges, it’s down to a “been there, done that” mode. Even the Doctor and Romana tend towards the double act routine.

Ultimately, this is that rare “Doctor Who” serial that has practically no action; it’s all about the character interactions and the subtleties of the con. One would think, given the limitations of the budget, that such an approach would work extremely well for Classic Who. Sadly, the end result is not as dynamic as one would hope. Ironically, there are a lot of fans that adore “The Ribos Operation”, so this may be a case where humor and cultural context can be quite subjective.

Writing: 1/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 1/4

Final Rating: 6/10

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