Monday, 3 February 2014

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Ribos Operation
Romana and The Doctor get on like a house on fire. Eventually.
From The BBC.
Doctor Who - Season 16, Story One - The Ribos Operation
Written 3/8/13

After the disappointment of the previous season, the new production team wanted to make a definite change. To this effect they threw in what was for the time a heap of innovation, hiring a bunch of new writers and organising the season around a single thread which would facilitate the randomness of The Doctor's travels quite neatly. The result is the Key To Time Arc, the first of the Classic Series' deliberate arcs and the only one not to be produced by JNT. The Ribos Operation was tasked with the dual purpose of introducing this premise as well as balancing a new glorious companion and a decent worldbuilding exercise. Despite all that could go wrong, nothing really does, and that is an achievement in itself.
     The Doctor is tasked by God The White Guardian to traverse the Universe and find the six parts of The Key to Time, an ancient artefact with tremendous powers so great that it had to be scattered across the cosmos. Given to him as an assistant is Romanadvoratrelundar, later known simply as Romana, in her first incarnation (we met her second when I reviewed Seasons 17 and 18 a few Winters back.) whom he has a snarky relationship with due to her snobbery and simple lack of awe at The Doctor's life acheivements. They follow the tracer to Ribos, a primitive planet who follow Antiquity-esque superstitions. Conmen Garron and Unstoffe pretend to be selling the planet off to exiled tyrant Graff Vynda-K, who soon turns the tables on them when The Doctor and Romana's attempts to gain the piece go awry.
     The Doctor and Romana's relationship is one that undergoes a surprisingly fast level of development, and yet not in such a way as to feel unrealistic. It's exceptionally well done and mirrors certain sitcoms, where development like this is very important. From the off their relationship, while rusty, has a magnetic quality that is immensely watchable - mostly provided by the clear chemistry between an already-tired-looking Baker and the late Mary Tamm, whose charm and grace in the role earnt her a spot on my list of favourite companions. My favourite scenes are those near the beginning, in which the flirting/quibbling between the two is at its most electric.
The Doctor is given his mission by The White Guardian.
From Wikimedia
     The society of Ribos is less well-explored than I had hoped, but this is more than made up for by a confident set of guest characters, all of whom are played without a dull note. Villain Graff is played with a sublte balance between serious acting and standard Ham, which was enough to make me like him, and the two conmen managed to follow the "heart of gold" trope rather well as they became the sympathisable party somewhere between the second and third episodes. It was quite an odd story, in that the most memorable characters were not those native to the serial's setting, with the sole exception of Binro, a "heretic" whose Galillean story is used to explore Ribos' native superstitions.
    The change from the previous few serials couldn't be more apparant. Here is a story with a great deal of confidence in its own ideas, and the charm to back them up. It wasn't trying to be particularly high concept, and I think some of the writing surrounding Ribos and its people got a little lost in the mix of memorable guest characters. But the overall effect was to push The Doctor and his new companion into the spotlight, where they shined brighter than ever and, through some very well-done characterisation, created one hell of a good Tardis team.


NEXT WEEK: Douglas Adams arrives for pirates and planets in The Pirate Planet.

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