Review of Doctor Who ‘The Ribos Operation’ (Series 16)

Neela Debnath

romana 3 300x212 Review of Doctor Who The Ribos Operation (Series 16)In the run up to the 50th anniversary of ‘Doctor Who’ in November 2013, Neela Debnath with the help of BBC DVD, will be writing a review focusing on one story from each of the previous 31 series of the show. Each review will offer readers a snapshot from every series of ‘Doctor Who’ and celebrate the longest-running science fiction television programme in the world.

As Doctor Who continued to evolve each series of the show brought something new to the viewing experience. Series 16 was no different in this sense and featured a major shift in the plot format.

Unlike several standalone stories that made up the series each year, all six of the adventures in series 16 were linked by an over-arching storyline. Critics of Steven Moffat’s series-long arcs should take note that Doctor Who has used this device before.

The Ribos Operation was the first serial of series 16 and established the story arc that the show would follow. The Doctor was ordered by the White Guardian to go on a quest to recover the pieces of the Key to Time which were hidden throughout the cosmos. Once the pieces had been found the Doctor had to return the key to the White Guardian before the universe was plunged into chaos. To aid him on his travels, the Doctor was given a locator and a new companion, Time Lady Romanadvoratrelundar (or Romana for short), played by Mary Tamm. She made her first appearance in the first part of The Ribos Operation.

Leela (Louise Jameson) had departed at the end of The Invasion of Time after falling in love with Commander Andred (Chris Tranchell), leader of the Chancellory Guard and decided to remain on Gallifrey with him. She did make one further appearance in the charity special Dimensions in Time which also celebrated the 30th anniversary of Doctor Who.

The Invasion of Time also signalled the end of K-9’s journey with the Doctor. The faithful robotic dog decided to stay with Leela on Gallifrey to make that sure she was safe. However, this was not the end for K-9, once aboard the Tardis the Doctor revealed a box labelled ‘K-9 MII’.

For contemporary viewers The Ribos Operation can be best described as a poorly done, half-hearted attempt at a Doctor Who/Game of Thrones crossover. Romana and the Doctor arrive on the planet Ribos where they encounter two conmen trying to scam a deposed prince. The former leader of Levithia, known as the Graff Vynda-K (Paul Seed), plans to take back his throne after it was usurped by his half-brother while he was off fighting a war.

The Graff has been led to believe by the scammers that Ribos is rich in jethrik, a precious and useful mineral. They even present a piece to him to back up their claims. Jethrik can achieve space warp drive and the prince hopes to use the mineral in his plans to take back Levithia. Unbeknownst to everyone but the Doctor, the conmen’s lump of jethrik is in fact a piece of the Key to Time. Thus begins a convoluted story where the Doctor attempts to get hold of the jethrik but is thwarted by the conmen and the Graff.

What should in theory be an exciting start to series 16 is remarkably dull and complicated. Then again it is only the beginning of the quest and there are better adventures to follow. It seems that The Ribos Operations is simply the weaker part of the chain but since all of the serials are connected, there is still a curiosity to see how the Doctor will find the other pieces of the Key to Time.

The only positive to this serial is Tamm’s performance. Romana is cool without the need to be feisty, she is as smart as she is sexy and above all she challenges the Doctor. Through intelligence she asserts her authority and her constant psychoanalysis of the Doctor is funny. Although at times she shows she is green and new to time travelling, she learns quickly and develops. Sadly, Tamm passed away last year but during her time on Doctor Who she brought a real sense of Hollywood glamour to the role of the companion. On top of that she oozed intelligence and held her own onscreen with Tom Baker’s energetic Doctor.

For more information about the classic series of ‘Doctor Who’

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DVD & image credit: BBC

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  • Alex

    I read the review. I read the comments. Thanks for setting Neela straight Whovians. You’ve inspired me to find a copy to watch :)

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