Doctor Who (1963–1989)
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The Ribos Operation: Part One 

The Doctor is chosen for a quest by The White Guardian to go in search for the six segments to the Key to Time, that have been scattered and sent throughout the time/space continuum. With ... See full summary »



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Episode complete credited cast:
Iain Cuthbertson ...
Nigel Plaskitt ...
Paul Seed ...
Robert Keegan ...
Oliver Maguire ...
K9 (voice)


The Doctor is chosen for a quest by The White Guardian to go in search for the six segments to the Key to Time, that have been scattered and sent throughout the time/space continuum. With the Key to Time, The White Guardian will restore balance to the universe. Joined by a young time lady named Romana, The Doctor, Romana and K-9 Mark 2 begin their quest and arrive at their first destination, The medieval Russian like world Ribos, where a conman named Garron bids to sell Ribos to a exiled tyrant known as Graff Vynda K, where Unstoffe, Garron's assistant uncovers Garron's scheme and is unaware he is in possession of the first segment of the Key to Time. Written by Daniel Williamson

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Release Date:

2 September 1978 (UK)  »

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Technical Specs


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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


In this serial (and much of the following one), Tom Baker has a clear disfigurement of his upper lip. A few days before production began, Baker was bitten by a Jack Russell terrier belonging to Paul Seed (Graff Vynda-K). The makeup team did what they could to cover up the injury with a bit of plaster, but it was still plainly obvious. The problem was explained in-story when the TARDIS lurches, and the Doctor's face bangs into the console. See more »


The Doctor: You want me to volunteer, is that it? And if I don't?
White Guardian: Nothing.
The Doctor: You mean nothing'll happen to me?
White Guardian: Nothing. Ever.
See more »


Featured in 'Doctor Who': The Tom Baker Years (1992) See more »

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User Reviews

A Very English God
31 December 2014 | by (Tunbridge Wells, England) – See all my reviews

The 16th season of "Doctor Who", which was first broadcast in 1978 and 1979, is unusual in that the six serials which comprise it are linked by a single theme. (Most seasons were made up of several independent, free- standing adventures). "The Ribos Operation" was the first serial of the season, and opens with the Doctor receiving a summons from God.

For most of the time, "Doctor Who" is just an ordinary science fiction series, but occasionally it seems to take on the character of a religious allegory, with the Doctor as a Christ-figure. This is seen most clearly in the "regeneration scenes" in which the Doctor typically sacrifices his life for the good of others and then rises from the dead in a new body. His designation as a Time Lord recalls the words of the hymn "Crown Him with Many Crowns":-

"Crown him the Lord of Years, The Potentate of Time".

And was the name of his home planet, Gallifrey, deliberately chosen for its closeness to "Galilee"?

"The Ribos Operation" gives the series its God-figure, formally referred to as the White Guardian, the being charged with maintaining order throughout the universe. This being a British series, he is a very English God, an elderly cocktail-sipping gentleman in a white suit and broad-brimmed hat. The White Guardian gives the Doctor the task of retrieving the six hidden segments of the Key to Time, an artefact which would give its possessor immense power. He warns him, however, that the Black Guardian (for which read the Devil) is also seeking the segments.

Each of the six serials deals with the Doctor's quest to recover a segment of the Key. His first adventure takes him to the planet Ribos, an icy world with a culture roughly based on that of mediaeval Russia. The plot is a complicated one, but, apart from the Doctor and his companion Romana, the main characters are the Graff Vynda-K, a ruthless intergalactic warlord who is trying to buy the planet and Garron, a sort of dodgy intergalactic estate agent who is trying to sell it to him. The Graff's main reason for wanting to buy the planet is his (inaccurate) belief that it is a rich source of a precious mineral named jethrik, a belief in which he is encouraged by the unscrupulous Garron. Garron turns out to be an Earthman, originally from the East London district of Hackney. The Graff's title makes it sound as if he should be from Germany- "Graf" is a German aristocratic title equivalent to "Count" or "Earl" in Britain- but in fact he comes from some far-distant part of the galaxy.

The serial introduced Mary Tamm as the Doctor's new companion, Romana. Apart from his granddaughter Susan, who appeared in the earliest episodes, all the Doctor's previous companions (even Leela) had been human, but Romana (like Susan) is one of his own species, a female Time Lord. (Or, if you prefer, a Time Lady, although that phrase is not actually used in this serial). After Louise Jameson, who played the primitive tribeswoman Leela, left the series, the producers wanted to replace her with someone who would provide a complete contrast, giving the Doctor an assistant who was his intellectual equal. Most of Romana's predecessors, even if like Zoe or Liz they were highly intelligent by Earth standards, were not able to cope with Time Lord technology. Romana, indeed, regards herself as the Doctor's intellectual superior, and in the early days of their relationship Tamm played her as rather snooty and supercilious. The Doctor's other companion, the robot dog K- 9, makes a return from the previous season.

Like most "Doctor Who" serials this one has both its strengths and its weaknesses. The main weakness is an over-hectic, often confusing plot with a weak ending. That "shrivenzale"- supposedly a ferocious carnivorous beast- also looked pretty unconvincing. These points, however, are outweighed by its strengths. The acting is generally good and Iain Cuthbertson's Garron is a splendidly lovable rogue. The scriptwriters and designers succeed in making Ribos a believable alien world with its own distinctive culture- something which was by no means always the case on "Doctor Who". And, most important of all, Romana is just as lovely as her predecessor Leela. (I was a teenager when these programmes were first broadcast, so the loveliness of the Doctor's companions was a key factor for me).

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