‘THE RIBOS OPERATION’
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The Quest for the Key to Time Begins
These reviews of ‘The Key to Time’ series are for the lovely Mary Tamm, the noblest Romana of them all!
‘The Key to Time’ series is one of my favourite seasons from the Tom Baker era of ‘Doctor Who’. I love this series, which was Season 16 of ‘Doctor Who’. It was true bliss for me when I saw it for my birthday in 2009. The DVD box set comprises of six stories with a link for the quest of the Key to Time!
This ‘Doctor Who’ season stars Tom Baker as the Doctor and Mary Tamm as Romana. I enjoyed the character relationships between the Fourth Doctor and Romana as it was developed in this season. I also enjoyed the ‘treasure hunt’ quest atmosphere of this season, since it was so engaging to watch!
The six stories are as follows. There’s ‘The Ribos Operation’; ‘The Pirate Planet’; ‘The Stones of Blood’; ‘The Androids of Tara’; ‘The Power of Kroll’ and ‘The Armageddon Factor’. These six stories range from fantasy, comedy; horror and good action adventure since they’re exciting in their own right!
‘The Ribos Operation’ by Robert Holmes is the first story of ‘The Key to Time’ season. It is a four-part adventure on 1 disc. It starts with the Doctor summoned by Cyril Luckham as the White Guardian who chooses him to find the Key to Time.
The Key to Time is a crystal cube, divided into six segments. When combined, the key maintains the balance of time. The Doctor reluctantly agrees to do this mission and is joined by a new companion.
This story features Mary Tamm’s first appearance as Romanadvoratrelundar. The Doctor finds that her name is too long. He calls her Romana instead. She doesn’t like it, but ‘it’s either Romana or Fred’.
I love Mary Tamm’s performance as Romana. Mary delivers a cool, gracious and glamorous presence as the Time Lady companion. She’s also the Doctor’s equal, as they clash and don’t get on well at first.
The Doctor and Romana use a tracer to locate the six segments. They look for the first segment, as it takes them to the planet Ribos. Ribos is an icy, snowy, cold planet and is medieval-like in appearance.
This story is set on an alien planet, but the atmosphere feels like a historical adventure. This story tends to be slow, but it starts off ‘The Key To Time’ season nicely when the Doctor and Romana start.
Tom Baker delivers a stupendous performance as the Doctor. I liked the Doctor’s casual manner in this story. He finds it difficult to get on with Romana and I love the sparkly dialogue between them.
K-9, the Doctor’s pet robotic dog (voiced by John Leeson) is loveable as always. K-9 gets summoned by his ‘master’ when he’s called to help. I like the scenes between K-9 and Romana in the catacombs.
The guest cast includes Iain Cuthbertson as Garron and Nigel Plaskitt as Unstoffe. These two are a pair of conmen who try to sell a large piece of jethrik to an unstable, glory-seeking, warlord on Ribos.
This warlord is Paul Seed as Graff Vynda-K, who is joined by Robert Keegan as Sholakh. I felt that Paul Seed gave an over-the-top performance as Vynda-K. I couldn’t take him seriously in this adventure.
There’s also Timothy Bateson (who I’ve seen in ‘The Good Life’ and ‘Ever Decreasing Circles’) as Binro. The scene between Binro and Unstoffe when they’re talking about other worlds is so touching.
There’s also Anne Tirard as the Seeker and Prentis Hancock as the Shrieve Captain. Prentis Hancock was in some ‘Doctor Who’ stories before this one, including ‘Planet of the Daleks’ with Jon Pertwee.
The first Key to Time segment turns out to be the disguised gemstone jethrik that Garron and Unstoffe tried to sell to Vynda-K. The Doctor and Romana acquire it, now having five segments left.
The DVD special features are as follows. There’s the ‘A Matter of Time’ documentary, which is an enjoyable look into the Graham Williams era of ‘Doctor Who’. There’s also the making-of documentary called ‘The Ribos File’. There are also continuity announcements for the story and a Season 16 trailer. There’s a commentary with Tom Baker and Mary Tamm on the story and an info-text commentary option to enjoy. There’s also a photo gallery of the story and a ‘Radio Times Listings’ PDF of the story. There’s a coming soon trailer for ‘Planet of Evil’ with Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen.
‘The Ribos Operation’ is a nice start to ‘The Key to Time’ season. It’s not the most exciting story in the season, but I enjoyed it. It’s also a nice introduction for Romana as the new companion for the Doctor.
‘The Ribos Operation’ rating – 6/10
‘DOCTOR WHO AND THE RIBOS OPERATION’
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Return to Ribos with the Doctor, Romana and K-9
Why didn’t John Leeson pronounce the ‘a’ in ‘Graff Vynda Ka’ in this novelization/audiobook?
I greatly enjoyed reading and listening to ‘Doctor Who and the Ribos Operation’. This is the novelization/audiobook of the TV story that began ‘The Key To Time’ season (Season 16) with Tom Baker and Mary Tamm. This is a special novelization by one of the former ‘Doctor Who’ companions.
I’d read/listened to the ‘Doctor Who’ Target novelizations/audiobooks on three stories from ‘The Key To Time’ season. These included the James Goss novelization/audiobook of ‘The Pirate Planet’ as well as David Fisher’s novelization/audiobooks of ‘The Stones of Blood’ and ‘The Androids of Tara’.
So it was only fair that I went back to the beginning of ‘The Key To Time’ season by reading/listening to the novelization/audiobook of ‘The Ribos Operation’. This novelization of the TV story is by Ian Marter, who played ‘Doctor Who’ companion Harry Sullivan in the TV show with Tom Baker’s Doctor.
Ian Marter has done a number of Target novelizations of ‘Doctor Who’. These include ‘The Dominators’, ‘The Invasion’ and ‘The Sontaran Experiment’. I’ve read/listened to Ian’s novelization/audiobook on the ‘Doctor Who’ story, ‘Earthshock’, and immensely enjoyed that one.
It’s amazing to think that Ian Marter wrote ‘Doctor Who’ Target novelizations as well as playing Harry Sullivan in the TV series. Ian Marter’s contribution to ‘Doctor Who’ gets overlooked, especially in the novelizations as he was clearly an intelligent guy and writes well for the characters and the story.
For this book, Ian Marter novelized the story from the TV scripts by Robert Holmes, the original author of ‘The Ribos Operation’. Ian clearly remained truthful to the spirit of Robert Holmes’ TV story. He has also maintained more or less to the plot and how the characters develop in their journeys.
I’ve made it clear in my review on the TV story that ‘The Ribos Operation’ is not a great opener for ‘The Key To Time’ season. It’s not bad, but it can be slow in certain places. So I was looking forward to reading/listening to ‘The Ribos Operation‘ novelization and find out whether it can improve the tale.
I read/listened to this novelization/audiobook whilst I was away on a mid-week break with Tony Jacobs: Big Band Sounds Break at Gunton Hall in November 2017. It was a very enjoyable experience. I read two chapters each day that week whilst John Leeson read the story on my tablet.
The book was published in 1979; a year after the story was transmitted on TV in 1978. The story is divided into 10 chapters. The audiobook was released in 2011 and was divided into a 4-disc set. I purchased ‘The Ribos Operation’ audiobook via Audible whilst reading the novelization at the same time.
The audiobook is read by John Leeson, who played K-9 in the TV series of ‘Doctor Who’. I enjoyed listening to John Leeson read the story whilst having the novelization on hand. I’ve met John Leeson at ‘Doctor Who’ conventions and he’s clearly an engaging personality whilst he reads the story itself.
I’ve heard John Leeson narrate an audiobook before, since he read the one for ‘The Androids of Tara’. As well as playing K-9 in the audiobook, John Leeson gets to play a variety of characters including the Doctor, Romana, Garron, Unstoffe and many other characters which I’ll get to later on.
In terms of how Ian Marter novelizes the story and changes things, it’s not very much. He makes alterations to some character names as well as adding some new additions to scenes with elaborate descriptions. He also amends some of the dialogue spoken between the characters during the story.
Chapter 1 mostly focuses on the Doctor summoned by the White Guardian to accept the quest for the Key to Time before he meets Romana. I like how the Doctor’s meeting with the White Guardian, especially as it feels mysterious and unnerving even though the Guardian himself becomes benign.
The meeting with the White Guardian ends by having the Doctor making to his TARDIS just in time before the Guardian’s meeting place dissolves into space. This was not shown in the TV version of the story and makes for dramatic effect. It would have been really great if this had been done for TV.
The Doctor’s first meeting with Romana is interesting in the novelization compared to the TV version. The White Guardian doesn’t tell the Doctor he will be given a new companion during the meeting. This gives the Doctor a massive surprise when he sees Romana already there in the TARDIS.
I like how the Doctor and Romana’s relationship is developed in the novelization. Ian Marter writes well for Romana, who is inexperienced in time-travel like the Doctor. She gets frustrated with the Doctor being distracted at times, since she is determined to carry out the quest for the Key to Time.
A thing to note is that the tracer is called the Locatormutor Core in ‘The Ribos Operation’ novelization. This is an unusual name to call the tracer, but it works well and is superb name invented by Ian Marter. I wish the tracer was called the Locatormutor Core, as it fits the description.
Sadly it didn’t get picked up on in later ‘Key To Time’ novelizations of ‘Doctor Who’, even in the James Goss novelization of ‘The Pirate Planet’. I commend Ian Marter’s inventiveness whilst he novelized this ‘Doctor Who’ story to make it more exciting and interesting, since it gets sadly wasted.
An interesting different in the novelization from the TV story is that Romana graduated from the Academy with a Triple Alpha instead of a Triple First. I suppose it makes Galifreyian exam grading more intriguing, even with the Doctor who graduated with a Double Gamma on the second attempt.
A few names of certain people and places get changed in the novelization compared to the TV story. This includes Cyrrhenis Minima renamed as Cyrrhenis Minimis and Jethrik renamed as Jethryk. Most significantly is the Graff Vynda-K’s name, as he’s now called the Graft Vynda Ka for the novelization.
I’m not sure why Ian Marter renamed the Graff Vynda-K’s name by having an ‘a’ added to the ‘K’ and removing the ‘-‘ between ‘Vynda’ and ‘K’. It certainly works well in the novelization, although I found it strange that John Leeson still says ‘Graff Vynda-K’ in the audiobook and doesn’t pronounce the ‘a’.
Despite that, John Leeson’s interpretation of the Graff Vynda Ka is very good in the audiobook. I like that John doesn’t do an over-the-top voice for the Graff like Paul Seed in the TV version. This is despite the Graff yelling and crying out war cries during the story and when he loses Sholack by the story’s end.
I also like how John Leeson does the voice for the Seeker in the audiobook. Again, it’s not done over the top like Anne Tirard seemed to do in the TV version. John Leeson’s version of the Seeker makes her more mysterious in the audiobook as well as making her subtle during her foreseeing the future.
I enjoyed it when John Leeson does the voices for Garron and Unstoffe in the audiobook. John Leeson’s voice for Garron sounds a lot like Iain Cuthbertson’s performance, especially in his various human accented voices. I also like how John Leeson provides a high-pitched lilt for Unstoffe’s voice.
Ian Marter writes in the novelization differently to how I interpreted it in the TV story. In the novelization, Garron is surprised and annoyed that Unstoffe has dressed himself as a Shrieve guard when he’s escorting the Graff and Sholack in the Relic Room. I found this different in the TV version.
I assumed that Garron and Unstoffe had arranged this to happen with Unstoffe appearing as a Shrieve guard. I’m not sure if that was written in the original TV story by Robert Holmes, but it’s made clearer by Ian Marter in the novelization and it does shed a brand new light on the scene itself.
In the story, the Graff gets unhinged and needs Sholack to control him. This was indicated in the TV version, but it’s good that Ian Marter has it described well in the novelization. It also helps to deepen the comradeship and friendship between the Graff and Sholack as they attempt to get the ‘Jethryk’.
There’s a dramatic moment when Sholack takes the Locatormutor Core from the Doctor in the novelization compared to the TV version. I thought the Doctor didn’t get it back. But I re-read that scene. Thankfully he got the Locatormutor Core back from Sholack during a distraction with Garron.
It got tense when the Doctor thought Romana and Garron were sealed in a crevice by a cave-in during the ‘Part Three’/’Part Four’ cliff-hanger moments of the story. I wondered if the Doctor would find it a struggle with removing the rocks. Thankfully Romana and Garron got out before the cave-in.
I enjoyed it when the Doctor changes sides and becomes one of the Leviathan guards for the Graff Vynda Ka and Sholack. The Doctor gets to be more talkative when he’s a guard behind his helmet compared to the TV version. This is especially when he talks to Sholack and manages to impress him.
The Shrievenzales also get more threatening appearances in the novelization compared to the TV story. This is especially when Unstoffe is trying to find a way out when one of them approaches nearby in the catacombs. This also occurs when the Graff’s men gets attacked by the Shirevenzales.
In Chapter 10 of the story, the Graff stabs the Seeker to death. This is different in the TV story, since the Graff shoots her with a laser spear. It was also interesting and surprising when the Seeker isn’t dead yet and she carries on in a zombie-like form before the Shrieve Captain outside the catacombs.
Apparently the Seeker gets blown apart by the Shrieves’ cannon when they attempt to seal the catacombs. This was a shock when I found out about it as it was derived from earlier versions of the story. I guess it was removed to make it less horrific by producer Graham Williams in the TV version.
The story’s climax works differently in the novelization compared to the TV version. The Graff attempts to clear the blocked entrance when his charger blows up. This would allow the Doctor, Romana, K-9, Garron and Unstoffe to escape from the catacombs, which wasn’t seen in the TV story.
‘Doctor Who and the Ribos Operation’ has been an enjoyable novelization of the TV story from ‘The Key To Time’ season. I’m glad I read this as it was interesting how Ian Marter novelized the story. It was great John Leeson read the story in the background whilst I played the audiobook on my tablet.
‘Doctor Who and the Ribos Operation’ rating – 7/10
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