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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
"Is there no one you can trust these days?"14 Oct. 2002
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THE RIBOS OPERATION is a severely underrated classic that sometimes gets forgotten about in the Key To Time season. The script is quite good and shows Robert Holmes at the height of his dialog-writing powers. It doesn't get all of the credit that it deserves, and this is a pity, because almost every aspect of the production is excellent, from the script to the acting to much of the incidental music to the set design. There is almost nothing here to distract from what is extremely fun and witty adventure. The atmosphere is superb. The sets and, in particular, the costumes are exceptionally well done, especially when one considers the budget they were working with here. Possibly a lot of it was taken from stock and then given superficial modifications, but this really adds to the script's medieval and Russian flavors. It feels old-fashioned, and the few futuristic elements slide right alongside the historical pieces. The aliens are planet-hopping aristocrats with lasers, wrist-communicators and space-drives, but they trade in gold, and are concerned with half-brothers on thrones. The soldiers in the story more resemble knights in armor than science-fiction stormtroopers. The modern and the tradition merge extremely well and the two parts complement are a great complement to each other. Science vs. magic/superstition is another theme that rears its head in this serial. Unlike other stories (say, THE DAEMONS), this story puts both of those subjects on the same level. The magic isn't just given a technobabble explanation; it actually appears to work in the confines of the story. The Seeker makes predictions that prove correct, has second sight, and uses magical incantations, while the story gives every indication that she genuinely does possess unearthly powers. This is vitally important for keeping the balance between science and magic. When we hear the story of Binro the Heretic, we already know that his calculations and deductions about the lights in the night sky are correct, so our sympathies will automatically go towards his point of view. But if the Seeker had been revealed to be merely a slight-of-hand conjurer, then the battle between the two elements would have been drastically undermined. Because the magical side is so powerful, we can see exactly why someone like Binro has been shunned and derided by his peers. It's not just that what he says conflicts with their religious viewpoint, but also they have apparent proof that the superstitions have a concrete basis in reality. Holmes doesn't chicken out of the conflict, but portrays it in a mature and surprisingly balanced manner. It would be easy for Holmes to have us conclude that Binro is right, and that the Seeker is a con artist. But he doesn't do that - we have at least some evidence that both sides of the conflict have a sound case for parts of their belief. The characters in this serial are larger than life and twice as fun. During his career, Robert Holmes wrote a number of over-the-top, almost operatic individuals and THE RIBOS OPERATION is certainly no exception. The actors, without exception, all latch on to how these characters need to be played and all deliver exactly the type of performance required. The Graff Vynda-K can't be anything other than an obsessed and fanatical tyrant. Garron has to be a great big lovable rouge. In a story such as this, louder is better. These are archetypes on paper, and the actors bringing them to life inject them with enough humanity and pathos to let them live. I'm not usually a fan of the actors-only commentaries on these Doctor Who DVDs. Of those discs that have been released in the US so far, the audio tracks that contain no members of the production team are boring and useless, with the people concerned not remembering much about the story and not having known much about the behind-the-scenes planning in the first place. But the commentary for this DVD is highly amusing despite only consisting of Tom Baker and Mary Tamm. While it isn't the most informative thing I've ever listened to, I couldn't stop laughing. It's an extremely entertaining track featuring a few interesting tidbits from Tamm, punctuated by occasional orgasmic sound effects courtesy of Mr. Baker. The pop-up production notes provide us with a lot of detail about the numerous cuts and edits that were made to the original Robert Holmes script. I find this sort of thing fascinating, and it's really interesting to see how the script evolved. Incorporating the Key arc, to tightening up the script for timing reasons are all featured here. The DVD picture and sound are quite good considering the age of the material. This disc upholds the high standards that the Doctor Who DVDs have achieved in these areas. The rest of the extras (Photo Gallery, Who's Who) are things that I really have no interest in, but some people like them, and it's nice to know that they're there. It's interesting to note that at the time of writing this review, Robert Holmes has become the most represented author on the Doctor Who DVDs. And if you really have no idea why, then check out this disc for a reevaluation of a forgotten classic. No one wrote dialog quite like Holmes, and it's absolutely amazing to see what can happen when the writer and the actors play off each other's strengths so perfectly.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
"I can't figure out the plot, and I was in it!"7 Dec. 2002
Jason A. Miller
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"Doctor Who" US DVD releases have been sporadic to date, averaging about two every four months. That's why the recent "Key to Time" season box set, encompassing six full episodes, is such a pleasant surprise. The first disc, "The Ribos Operation", is a story I didn't have much time for when I was younger, so I was quite pleased to learn that, not only is the DVD presentation remarkably good, but the story has improved with age, too. "Ribos" is a light-hearted story, once the introduction to the season-linking Key to Time concept is rapidly explained (and set aside). Boisterous con-man (played to operatic high comedy by Iain Cuthbertson) attempt to swindle deposed Emperor, The Graff Vynda-K, by selling him a primitive ice planet suggestive of Czarist Russia. This went well and truly over my head when I was 12, and you wouldn't think Paul Seed's Shakespearian reading of a forged real estate contract would ever interest anyone, but it's quite captivating now. How many other DVDs do you own which contain the word "suzerainty"? But, more seriously, it's a Robert Holmes script, and Holmes' DW stories always stood out for their attention to detail. Ribos may be populated by just three British character actors, but so much of the planet's culture is explained in 90 minutes that it's surprising DW never went back there again. I like the fact that the story devotes quite a bit of time to "Binro the Heretic", the discredited astronomer who's banished for proving the world is round, but at the same time the local witch is shown to be not a fraud, but rather 100% accurate. The DVD includes, as always, text and audio commentary tracks. The pop-up production notes are written by a new researcher, and are much more enlightening here than many of the previous releases. Lots of attention is paid to cuts made from Holmes' (lengthy) original script, and much fun is had at the expense of the dated 1978 production: most notably Mary (Romana) Tamm's efforts to push a styrofoam rock, and the K-9 prop's inability to roll over a raised doorway. The audio commentary, by Tamm and Tom (The Doctor) Baker, is hilariously irrelevant. Baker hasn't seen the story, well... ever, and Tamm admits defeat trying to follow the plot before episode three has even begun. In the meantime, the two trade lots of double entendres, and Tamm has to explain to Baker twice which actor plays Unstoffe. They have great chemistry together, which is impressive considering that Tamm worked on "Doctor Who" just the one year and shouldn't have to recite as many details about the episode as she does (I expect she read the pop-up notes too). The Who's Who is a useful guide to have (Americans may remember Cuthbertson from his brief role in "Gorillas in the Mist", and Tamm played Jon Voight's wife in "The Odessa File"). The Photo Gallery is a bit unusual in that the first three pictures are not actually from "The Ribos Operation". The remaining pictures are mostly stills from the episode, although there are appealing shots of the gorgeous Tamm posing in her extravagant white gown. The only mystery unexplained on the entire DVD is just why Tamm's eyebrows look so fake...
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Oh arr...that be what we call scringe-stone..27 Oct. 2002
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Along with Stones of Blood, Ribos Operation is the best from the Key to Time Season/series. An all-round enjoyable story with a constantly shouting bad guy, two unorthodox con-men who adopt strange northern accents, and the good Doctor and his new companion Romana. Although the story is not especially original, the script is fairly tight, and everything seems to work. Perhaps by the fourth episode it seems slightly padded, but there's always enough going on to keep you interested. Most valuable player in this story must go jointly to the two conmen, who are of the old-school, honorable type. In other words, they'll switch the precious stone from the doctor for a piece of rock, but when he switches it back and they find out, they are appalled!! It's good fun.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The key to time is a great season opener, like this one!5 Sept. 2001
Daniel J. Hamlow
- Published on Amazon.com
The entire of Season 15 dwelt around the Key Of Time. Of the six stories (26 episodes) comprising this conceptual season, "The Ribos Operation" is the best of the sextet. The White Guardian of Space and Time gives the Doctor a mission to recover the six segments of the Key To Time, a powerful device which in the hands of the user, allows them to let time stand still. The White Guardian wants it to restore the balance in the universe, while his opposite number, the Black Guardian wants it to spread chaos and disorder. To this end, the Doctor is given a tracer which when inserted in the TARDIS, takes it to where a segment is located, and much to his chagrin, a new assistant, one of his own kind, to be exact. Her name is Romanadvoratrelundar. Meanwhile, Garron and Unstoffe, two conmen, have landed on the planet Ribos, where by planting a lump of jethryk, an extremely rare and blue mineral that could power an entire starfleet, they intend to con the Graff Vynda-K, a deposed tyrant, into thinking the planet has the valuable mineral, and sell him a planet they don't own(!!) It's the old lost gold mine or tract of land with oil trick done on a much larger scale. The Doctor and Romana also arrive at Ribos, because the tracer has located the Key's first segment there. Garron and his sidekick Unstoffe have the best scenes and rapport in this story. Unstoffe, disguised as a Shrieve, tells the Graff and his right-hand man Sholakh in a thick North England accent, complete with "Oh arr" ("yes"), "that be what we call scringe-stone... You hangs a bit o' that around your neck and you won't never suffer from the scringes no matter how cold it be." All this time, Garron, worried that he'll blow their cover, is trying to get him to shut up, even stepping on his foot until he does, to no avail. Unstoffe's role as a simple, hayseed fools the Graff and Sholakh, for the moment, and Nigel Plaskitt deserves praise for his role as Unstoffe. There's a funny exchange between the Doctor and Romana concerning the truncation of the latter's name. Romana: "I don't like Romana." Doctor: "It's either Romana or Fred." Romana: "All right. Call me Fred." Doctor: "Good. Come on, Romana." And when they are trying to break into the relic room, the Doctor flippantly tells Romana to keep an eye on the sentry because "sleeping on duty is a serious offense. If anyone comes you can wake him up." A real heartwarming scene is between Unstoffe and Binro, a local and former astrologer who was forced to recant his heresy, had his hands broken, and lives in poverty-ridden hovel in the Concourse. The heresy in question was that Ribos circles the sun, and that was the reason for the two seasons, Sun Time and Ice Time, not the battle between the Sun and Ice Gods. When Unstoffe tells Binro that he is right, the old man is tearfully joyful. He later tells Unstoffe, "For years I was reviled and jeered at, until I even began to doubt myself, But you came and told me I was right. Just to know that for certain is worth a life." Binro and his plight is clearly lifted from Galileo's persecution by the Catholic church. There's something surreal about the Doctor meeting the White Guardian, happening as it does in a rocky desert area. The White Guardian, dressed in a white suit with a carnation pinned on his left pocket, and wearing a straw hat, sips at a green drink while sitting in a large chair, a large umbrella shading him. The black furry Russian/Tatar-style hats worn by the Ribosians are striking, as is their quaint ritual of giving thanks to the dawn of the new day. Iain Cuthbertson really hams it up as Garron, and this is one story where he actually outshines Tom Baker and Mary Tamm. His hearty booming voice is a welcome addition. He got his start trying to con an Arab into buying Sydney Harbor for $50,000,000 but refused to throw in the Opera House. "One must have some scruples." He and the Doctor both laugh on that remembrance, must to the chagrin to Romana. Pity--a repeat meeting between the Doctor and Garron would have been swell. Mary Tamm does a competent job as Romana, and her logical, reserved, and scheduled personality complement the Doctor's expressive, whimsical approach well. She has been called an ice goddess, but she does have a Classical sort of beauty and is somewhat warm-hearted. A pity she didn't choose to go for a few more seasons--she would have worked out. And as for the Key To Time, "only five more [segments] to go."
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
"Who wants everything? I'll settle for 90 percent!"6 Mar. 2000
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This is a wonderful start to one of Doctor Who's most interesting, but some would argue not entirely successful, seasons. The Doctor is commissioned by the White Guardian to recover the six segments of the Key to Time, disguised and hidden across the galaxy. When assembled, they create an object so powerful that time can be stopped and manipulated. The search for the first segment, which takes the Doctor, K9 and new companion Romanadvoratnelundar (Romana for short) to the medieval world of Ribos is an excellent, atmospheric tale. It is the least complicated of the Key to Time stories, but as the first in the series this is to be expected. There are wonderful performances from all. Prentis Hancock, as the guard Captain, finally gets to play a character who isn't a total prat (see "Planet of the Daleks" and "Planet of Evil"); the Graff Vynda-K, his general, Sholakh, and Binro are also well portrayed and realised. But the conman Garron and his assistant Unstoffe steal all their scenes. They are another brilliant Robert Holmes double and share most of the story's best lines. However, there are other worthy pieces of dialogue. What the White Guardian says to the Doctor constitutes the most ingenious verbal threat I have ever heard and there is a very touching exchange between Binro and Unstoffe. The Cossack inspired costumes are wonderful, as is Mary Tamm's white gown and cloak. The story's monster, the Shrievenzale, is perhaps a little poorly realised, but it is by no means laughable. This story is lots of fun and can be enjoyed many times over.