Doctor Who: The Ribos Operation (Story 98, The Key to Time Series Part 1) (Special Edition) (2009) Review
(More customer reviews)THE RIBOS OPERATION is a severely underrated classic that sometimes gets forgotten about in the Key To Time season. The script is quite good and shows Robert Holmes at the height of his dialog-writing powers. It doesn't get all of the credit that it deserves, and this is a pity, because almost every aspect of the production is excellent, from the script to the acting to much of the incidental music to the set design. There is almost nothing here to distract from what is extremely fun and witty adventure.
The atmosphere is superb. The sets and, in particular, the costumes are exceptionally well done, especially when one considers the budget they were working with here. Possibly a lot of it was taken from stock and then given superficial modifications, but this really adds to the script's medieval and Russian flavors. It feels old-fashioned, and the few futuristic elements slide right alongside the historical pieces. The aliens are planet-hopping aristocrats with lasers, wrist-communicators and space-drives, but they trade in gold, and are concerned with half-brothers on thrones. The soldiers in the story more resemble knights in armor than science-fiction stormtroopers. The modern and the tradition merge extremely well and the two parts complement are a great complement to each other.
Science vs. magic/superstition is another theme that rears its head in this serial. Unlike other stories (say, THE DAEMONS), this story puts both of those subjects on the same level. The magic isn't just given a technobabble explanation; it actually appears to work in the confines of the story. The Seeker makes predictions that prove correct, has second sight, and uses magical incantations, while the story gives every indication that she genuinely does possess unearthly powers. This is vitally important for keeping the balance between science and magic.
When we hear the story of Binro the Heretic, we already know that his calculations and deductions about the lights in the night sky are correct, so our sympathies will automatically go towards his point of view. But if the Seeker had been revealed to be merely a slight-of-hand conjurer, then the battle between the two elements would have been drastically undermined. Because the magical side is so powerful, we can see exactly why someone like Binro has been shunned and derided by his peers. It's not just that what he says conflicts with their religious viewpoint, but also they have apparent proof that the superstitions have a concrete basis in reality. Holmes doesn't chicken out of the conflict, but portrays it in a mature and surprisingly balanced manner. It would be easy for Holmes to have us conclude that Binro is right, and that the Seeker is a con artist. But he doesn't do that - we have at least some evidence that both sides of the conflict have a sound case for parts of their belief.
The characters in this serial are larger than life and twice as fun. During his career, Robert Holmes wrote a number of over-the-top, almost operatic individuals and THE RIBOS OPERATION is certainly no exception. The actors, without exception, all latch on to how these characters need to be played and all deliver exactly the type of performance required. The Graff Vynda-K can't be anything other than an obsessed and fanatical tyrant. Garron has to be a great big lovable rouge. In a story such as this, louder is better. These are archetypes on paper, and the actors bringing them to life inject them with enough humanity and pathos to let them live.
I'm not usually a fan of the actors-only commentaries on these Doctor Who DVDs. Of those discs that have been released in the US so far, the audio tracks that contain no members of the production team are boring and useless, with the people concerned not remembering much about the story and not having known much about the behind-the-scenes planning in the first place. But the commentary for this DVD is highly amusing despite only consisting of Tom Baker and Mary Tamm. While it isn't the most informative thing I've ever listened to, I couldn't stop laughing. It's an extremely entertaining track featuring a few interesting tidbits from Tamm, punctuated by occasional orgasmic sound effects courtesy of Mr. Baker.
The pop-up production notes provide us with a lot of detail about the numerous cuts and edits that were made to the original Robert Holmes script. I find this sort of thing fascinating, and it's really interesting to see how the script evolved. Incorporating the Key arc, to tightening up the script for timing reasons are all featured here.
The DVD picture and sound are quite good considering the age of the material. This disc upholds the high standards that the Doctor Who DVDs have achieved in these areas. The rest of the extras (Photo Gallery, Who's Who) are things that I really have no interest in, but some people like them, and it's nice to know that they're there.
It's interesting to note that at the time of writing this review, Robert Holmes has become the most represented author on the Doctor Who DVDs. And if you really have no idea why, then check out this disc for a reevaluation of a forgotten classic. No one wrote dialog quite like Holmes, and it's absolutely amazing to see what can happen when the writer and the actors play off each other's strengths so perfectly.
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Having left Leela on Gallifrey, the Doctor and K9 Mark II dont remain footloose for long. The TARDIS is soon intercepted by the White Guardian. The White Guardian sets the Doctor on an urgent mission to locate the six segments of the Key to Time, which are well disguised and hidden in odd corners of time and space. Once assembled, the Key will allow the White Guardian to restore balance to a universe descending into evil and chaos. To assist the Doctor the White Guardian has appointed Romana, fresh out of the Time Lord Academy and none too well traveled. Despite an initial bout of "negative empathy," the Doctor and Romana trace the first segments signal to Ribos, a remote, backward planet that suffers from 32-year winters. There they are surprised to meet other interplanetary travelers, who include two conmen, Garron and Unstoffe, and the Graff Vynda-K, a warlord in the market for an inexpensive planet.
DVD Features:Audio CommentaryDVD ROM FeaturesDocumentaryPhoto galleryProduction Notes