Rob in the TARDIS #1: The Ribos Operation


It’s TARDIS Tuesday! So welcome to “Rob in the TARDIS” (NOT robbin’ the TARDIS, that’s something entirely different and more sinister). This is The Nerd Reich’s weekly Doctor Who blog where Rob takes a look at Episodes, Books, Comics, and more from all through out the Time Lord’s lengthy history. So grab the railing and call for K-9, because we’re going on a trip to the planet Ribos!

The Ribos operation is the first story in the Key to Time arc, which took up the entirety of season 16. It is important for several other first as well, such as the debuts of The White Guardian, K9 Mark II, and the gorgeous Mary Tamm as the Time Lady Romana. It also contains my first Doctor Who memory: Romana in a fluffy white coat. But that’s not the only thing I enjoyed as a child. There are some very silly exchanges between The Doctor and his new companion, especially concerning her name. For instance we get this dialogue when Romana enters the TARDIS for the first time:

Doctor: “I’m so sorry K9, the holiday is off.”
Romana: “Doctor?”
D: (whispering to K9) That’s the new assistant”
(slow pan rising reveal of Romana. The Doctor looks at K9, surprised)
R: “My name is Romanadvoratrelundar”
D: “I’m so sorry about that. Is there anything WE can do?”

Followed a little after Romana lets her hair down (Drool…)

D: “ One more thing. Your name.”
R: “What about my name?”
D: “It’s too long. By the time I’ve called out ‘Look out…’ What‘s your name?”
R: “Romanadvoratrelundar”
D: “By the time I’ve called that out you could be dead. I’ll call you Romana”
R: “…I don’t like Romana”
D: “It’s either Romana or FRED!”
R: (happily) “Alright! Call me Fred.”
D: “Good…Come on Romana”

One of the first things I realize upon rewatching (after discovering my Romana crush is still a thing… have I made that abundantly clear enough yet?) is that this whole time, my entire life, I’ve been pronouncing the story wrong. I pronounce it in the very American way as “RY-boh-s” instead of the correct way, which is “RHEE-boh-s”. How dare I call myself a Who fan all this time. There is also a lot more diplomatic politicking than I remembered, since it was probably a little over my head at the time. For those who haven’t seen the episode, here is a very brief synopsis.

The Story starts with The Doctor planning a holiday to Halergan 3, when the TARDIS goes dark (not a common occurrence) and the voice of The White Guardian calls The Doctor outside. The White Guardian, who looks a bit like Colonel Sanders of KFC fame, tells that Doctor that he must collect the pieces for the Key to Time and watch out for the Black Guardian. He forces an assistant on The Doctor and we get one of my favorite companions, Romana, who has a special “core” that acts like a locator that eventually tells them to go to Ribos.
Meanwhile ON Ribos, Hershey-kiss-headed conman Garron and his Hobbit looking accomplice Unstoffe sneak into the castle of Shur that holds the planet’s Crown Jewels. Unstoffe drugs a hideous crocodile-like creature you will be shocked to find out was actually a man in a floppy rubber suit, then cuts a hole in the glass case holding the jewels. Instead of taking anything out, he puts in a piece of jethrik, “the rarest and most valued mineral in the galaxy“.
Garron goes on to meet the Graff Vynda-K, an exiled tyrannical ruler who loses his proverbial shit after seeing the jethrik. Garron is happy, seeing as he is wanting to wheel and deal. Then Unstoffe roofies one of the guards on the tower. Because why not?
Long story short, Garron tricks the Graff into wanting to purchase the planet for its jethrik, which the planet doesn’t actually have. Graff gives a down payment to be stored with the Crown jewels, which Unstoffe and Garron plan to steal back along with the jethrik. Graff gets pissed. Then everyone ends up in the catacombs. There is a lot of stealing and slight of hand switches, and I mean a lot, including the doctor switching the “jethrick” for a bomb that blow up the Graff (yes, the doctor killed him). “Only five more to go.”

Fun Facts:

  • As I’ve previously mentioned, there are a few rare instances that occur in this episode. For instance this story includes the TARDIS going black, and more importantly the Doctor acting directly in a way that will destroy a humanoid! Even if it was with his own explosion it seems very un-Doctorly. I guess we all have those days. I can only find 4 instances in which something like this has ever happened.
  • Romana says her age is 140 and the Doctor’s age is 759, the Doctor argues (or lies?) that it’s actually 756, to which Ramona claims the Doctor is so old he’s lost track somewhere. This basically gives a fun out to any age continuity errors that surely pop up. Funny enough however, in the story “City of Death”, Romana gives her age as 125. Silly Time Lords and Ladies.
  • The Doctors scarf is CRAZY long. It apparently was the two scarves the production company switched between, but sawn together to create one epic scarf! The Doctor would continue wearing this mega-scarf from this, the 98th story, until Horns of Nimon, the 108th story.
  • The night before the last day of recoding for The Ribos Operation, Paul “Graff Vynda-K” Seed’s dog bit Tom Baker on the lip after Baker tried to perform a trick with the Jack Russell Terrier that Seed himself had just performed. This left a scar on Baker’s lip that was visible for much of the rest of the season. This was partially canonically explained on screen when the Doctor bumps his mouth on the TARDIS console at the beginning of the next story, The Pirate Planet.
  • Romana states that she achieved “a triple first” at the Academy, while the Doctor only got “fifty-one percent on the second attempt.” This is probably true, as the Doctor gets in a huff and claims that it was supposed to be confidential.
  • The Graff Vynda-K mentions Mercenaries from “Shalankie” and “Pontonese” battleships. The words sound very strange and piqued my interest, however there appears to be no single other reference to either of these in all of Doctor Who lore.
  • Mary Tamm (Romana) attended RADA with the her immediate predecessor, Louise Jameson (Leela). Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith) was approached to return to the series after the departure of Leela. She declined, so they created the character of Romana instead, with the original nick-name of “Romy.” I’m glad that all worked out for the best.

Silly helmets and rubber monsters aside (this IS Doctor Who we’re talking about) this is a pretty great episode. Sure, you MAY be able to think of better, but this is an important episode in the mythos and a great jumping off point for those interested in the Tom Baker era. I also love Graff Vynda-K as a bad guy, though I’m not entirely certain why. Maybe it’s the mustache? Unstoffe is also pretty cool as he is a conman, but he genuinely cares for people and is a likable, sympathetic character. Not including title sequences and outros, this story clocks in at a feature length film time of about 80 minutes, so it’s definitely worth a watch all in one sitting through Netflix.

Let me know what YOU think of The Ribos Operation here or on our face book page, What should I do next week? New or old Episode? Classic or current comic? Target or BBC book? I even have Big Finish audio dramas! Whatever you decide, I hope to see you all back here next week for another adventure through time and space!


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