Doctor Who: Season 16, Episode 1

The Ribos Operation: Part One (2 Sep. 1978)

TV Episode  -   -  Adventure | Drama | Sci-Fi
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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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Title: The Ribos Operation: Part One (02 Sep 1978)

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Episode complete credited cast:
Cyril Luckham ...
Iain Cuthbertson ...
Nigel Plaskitt ...
Paul Seed ...
Graff Vynda-K
Robert Keegan ...
Prentis Hancock ...
Oliver Maguire ...
John Hamill ...
John Leeson ...
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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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


The opening scene, with the White Guardian, was actually written by Anthony Read and Graham Williams, and not Robert Holmes. See more »


Romana: [introducing herself] My name is Romanadveratnalundar.
The Doctor: Well I'm so sorry about that, is there anything we can do?
See more »


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

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User Reviews

Not A Classic Story To Open A Forgettable Season
12 January 2014 | by (Isle Of Bute , Scotland) – See all my reviews

The Doctor is contacted by The White Guardian who asks him to locate the six hidden segments of the key to time . To help the Doctor on his quest he is given a time locater and an new assistant Romana , The White Guardian warns the Doctor that his nemesis The Black Guardian is also searching for the key to time

Producer Graham Williams was under a lot of pressure as DOCTOR WHO producer . Under no circumstances was he to retain the horror elements that led to complaints from an army of concerned parents outraged that a tea time series for children was causing trauma amongst the little ones . Legend has it that Williams defended himself against the BBC executives by replying that's exactly what the audience wanted only to be shouted down . This led to a massive change in the show with an injection of humour often revolving around the larger than life persona of Tom Baker which was very much an acquired taste . Watching the opening episode of The Ribos Operation my sister commentated she found it boring and as someone even to this day considers DOCTOR WHO to be a slightly low brow version of QUATERMASS and Hammer horror did feel at this point the show had taken a definite turn for the worse . Things probably weren't helped either by the BBC producing BLAKES 7 at the same time which probably leeched the resources of DOCTOR WHO . Terry Nation's cynical space opera come political thriller did have better production values and was a much more enjoyable show than DOCTOR WHO from this period

With hindsight it's wrong to lament what could have been and the strength of the show is the flexibility of its format . For the first time in the show's history we have a running theme throughout the season , a quest to find The Key To Time . What Williams has managed to do is produce a season that isn't reliant on a running theme and the stories effectively remain standalone . Compare this to how NuWho is produced under RTD and Moffat . Moffat especially ties himself and the audience in knots in a big pay off at the season finale which always ends on a whimper rather than a bang despite throwing everything including the kitchen sink in to the mix

Robert Holmes wrote this story and we get to see the Holmesian hallmarks of a double act , purple prosaic dialogue in a plot that involves a heist . It's not one of Holmes more memorable scripts for the show but like Williams the writers were hamstrung as to the type of stories they could tell and the production has a bizarre feel almost like one of those Sunday teatime serials the Beeb used to broadcast in the 1970s , though one with a zany sense of humour that sometimes goes overboard but at least Iain Cuthbertson holds his own against Tom Baker and Paul Seed makes an entertaining villain in a mildly diverting tale

It also sees the debut of the stunning Mary Tamm as Time-Lady Romana who despite being sophisticated and on an intellectual par with the Doctor is just there to act as a sounding board to the title character and get rescued when the script demands it

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