The Doctor is on the verge of taking a well earned vacation when the TARDIS is halted in mid-flight. The author of this impressive feat is a being known as the White Guardian. The Universe is on the verge of falling into eternal Chaos, the Guardian claims, and he wants the Doctor to sort things out by completing the Key to Time.
This will be no easy task. The Key has been broken into six pieces. Each piece has been hidden in a different form and scattered through out the cosmos. Worse, the White Guardian’s opposite number, the Black Guardian, also seeks the Key for a different, evil purpose.
Meanwhile on the planet Ribos, Garron, an intergalactic con artist, is setting up yet another sting. He intends to “sell” the world to the Graff Vynda-K, a deposed ruler desperate enough to believe anything. Or, at least, that’s what Garron hopes. For the Graff is a ruthless man who doesn’t take disappointment well at all…
The Ribos Operation is an odd duck Doctor Who among stories, and not simply because it’s the start of The Key to Time sequence. During the course of the story no alien invaders descend to conquer Ribos, no evil entities struggle to assert themselves on the face of the world, and there is no great threat to the Cosmos.* What the Graff Vynda-K has come to Ribos to do is buy the planet. The way both he and Garron handle things, it seems to be an everyday occurrence. One wonders what the people of Ribos think of such a thing, but as they are not asked, there’s no way of knowing.
What the Graff plans to do with Ribos (first to build up an army, later to mine it dry so that he can buy an army) doesn’t matter in the slightest, as Garron doesn’t have the title to the place. This is the latest in a long line of swindles for Garron. Though one wonders how he managed to last this long, the way he messes up this particular job. His mark tumbles to the truth through his carelessness as he makes his move.
In fact, had the Doctor been just a wee bit faster, he wouldn’t have had to deal with the Graff at all. Instead, though, he spends too much time being snarky with his new (and forced upon him) companion Romana and wondering about Garron’s fake accent. Which, all things considered, makes this a nice change of pace.
The story, written by Robert Holmes , is full of witty lines and moves at an excellent pace. The acting from both the regulars and the rest of the cast is excellent. The only real downside are the special effects (duh), and they are kept to a minimum. All in all an entertaining outing.
- As mentioned above, this is the first story in The Key to Time sequence. It’s the first time in the series history that an entire season of stories would be devoted to one “plot”, of a sort. It’s been years since I watched the whole thing, but as I recall it, it starts going down hill with the third story, and never quite develops. A shame, really.
- Special mention must be made of the Shrivenzale, the story’s token monster. It is, without a doubt, one of the worst realized critters in the series’ history, looking nothing more like a man crawling around in a suit. I loved it with a passion even as I was shaking my head over the ridiculousness of the thing. As I suggest above, it’s presence is a fortunate minimum.
- There is one moment, towards the end of the second episode (and start of the third) when the Graff Vynda-K snarls, “No one makes a fool of the Graff Vynda-K.” Each time, I swear to you, I expected him to say “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.” It’s the way the actor (Paul Seed) says the line, the way he sort of grimaces into the camera. It ruins the scene, for me, and is the only real gripe I have with the acting.
- One last remark: When I first watched The Ribos Operation it was on the Chicago PBS, all edited into one whole. Thus I was denied the pleasure of watching the thing in cliffhanger style. Which is just as well, as there are two annoying cheats in the ones at the beginning of Part Three and Four, showing the Doctor doing things he clearly wasn’t doing before. Come on, now. I know it’s supposed to be a kiddie show, but kids aren’t that dumb…
* The Black Guardian is mentioned a few times but has no real bearing on the events