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Episode Guide
The Ribos Operation
Production Code: 5A
Season 16, Story Number 98
Written by Robert Holmes

Each episode is identified with date of transmission, duration, ratings in millions, and (for 1963-1974 only) archive status.

Part One
02 September 1978 | 25'02" | 8.3
Part Two
09 September 1978 | 24'46" | 8.1
Part Three
16 September 1978 | 24'42" | 7.9
Part Four
23 September 1978 | 24'50" | 8.2
Archive Status: All four episodes exist as PAL 2� colour videotape, always held by the BBC�s Film and Videotape Library.
Tom Baker (Doctor Who), Mary Tamm (Romana), John Leeson (K9), Cyril Luckham (The White Guardian), Iain Cuthbertson (Garron), Nigel Plaskitt (Unstoffe), Paul Seed (Graff Vynda-K), Robert Keegan (Sholakh), Prentis Hancock (Captain), Oliver Maguire (Shrieve), John Hamill (Shrieve), Timothy Bateson (Binro), Ann Tirard (The Seeker)
The Doctor is set a quest by the White Guardian, a powerful being who monitors and controls time. He is to collect and assemble the Key to Time, the disguised segments of which are scattered through time and space. Once assembled, the Key will be used by the Guardian to restore the balance of the Cosmos. The Doctor has little choice in the matter and is given a new Time Lord assistant, Romanadvoratrelundar, or Romana for short, and a locator to help him find the segments and convert them into their true form.

The first segment is traced to the city of Shur on the planet Ribos where a con man named Garron and his assistant, Unstoffe, are engaged in a scam to sell the entire planet to the Graff Vynda-K, deposed ruler of Levithia, who wants to use Ribos as a base from which to plan the winning back of his throne.

The Graff is particularly interested in Ribos for it is apparently a rich source of jethryk, a rare and very valuable blue mineral vital for space warp drive. His interest is further piqued when he sees a large lump of the mineral in a display case of jewels. Unstoffe, disguised as a guard, tells the Graff an elaborate tale of hidden maps and caves full of the blue mineral, which he claims the locals call scringe-stone.

The Doctor realises that the lump of jethryk is the first segment, but before he can steal it, Unstoffe spirits it away again. (It was he who placed it in the case in the first place.)

The Graff realises the deception and sets about hunting the con men down, while they, together with the Doctor, Romana and K-9, head for the catacombs under the city.

The Graff captures the travellers and the con men, takes back his gold and confiscates the jethryk. However, before he can kill his captives, the Riban guards blow up the entrance to the catacombs. The death of his officer and friend Sholakh in the ensuing rock fall unhinges the Graff's mind. He storms into the dust to be killed by a thermite bomb with which he intended to destroy the catacombs entirely. The Doctor meanwhile reaches safety with the jethryk.

Unstoffe and Garron leave with the Graff's ship of plundered loot, and the Doctor, Romana and K-9 leave with the first segment of the Key.

Synopsis from Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor Handbook by David J. Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker, reprinted with permission; further reproduction is not permitted.

Production Team
Richard Cox (Assistant Floor Manager), June Hudson (Costumes), Ken Ledsham (Designer), Dudley Simpson (Incidental Music), Christine Walmesley-Cotham (Make-Up), Graham Williams (Producer), Jane Shirley (Production Assistant), John Nathan-Turner (Production Unit Manager), Anthony Read (Script Editor), Dick Mills (Special Sounds), Jim Purdie (Studio Lighting), Richard Chubb (Studio Sound), Delia Derbyshire (Theme Arrangement), Ron Grainer (Title Music), Dave Havard (Visual Effects)
Story Notes
The quest for the Key to Time, an aborted plot concept for the prior fifteenth season, began with the four-part "The Ribos Operation," a contribution by Robert Holmes. The onset introduced the White Guardian, played by Cyril Luckham, while the Doctor's new assistant was introduced as Romanadvoratrelundar, shortened to Romana (or, as she'd prefer, "Fred"), played by Mary Tamm; Romana was a Gallifreyan student ostensibly assigned by the High Council (something she'd discover later to be a ruse). The entire season was to be played as one long quest for the Key -- a prop comprising six clear resin segments which fitted together to form a cube. The working titles for this story were "The Galactic Conman," "Operation" and "The Ribos File." Tom Baker was bitten by a dog while making this story and was in considerable pain from the masking makeup used.
For more in-depth information about the contents of this story, a complete episode-by-episode detailed breakdown can be found at the Doctor Who Reference Guide.
Additional, more detailed information about the production of this story can be found at Shannon Patrick Sullivan's A Brief History of Time (Travel).
DVD release
Released in the US/Canada only [September 2002] (WHV catalog #E1336) as part of the "The Key To Time: The Complete Adventure" DVD Box Set, episodic format; photomontage cover. Includes commentary by Tom Baker and Mary Tamm; photo gallery; production notes; and Who's Who. (Complete DVD set identified as WHV catalog #E1692)
Video release
Released as �The Ribos Operation� in the UK [April 1995] and Australia/New Zealand [June 1995] (BBC catalog #5607), US/Canada [September 1996] (WHV catalog #E1336); episodic format, cover illustration by Colin Howard. In the UK, the spines of all six Key to Time series videos bear an illustration by Andrew Skilleter, not used overseas.
In Print
Novelised as �Doctor Who and the Ribos Operation� by Ian Marter (Target #52), first released in 1979 with cover art by John Geary. Released in hardcover in 1979.
For more details on the various novelizations of this story, with additional background material, artwork and details of both UK and foreign releases, visit On Target.
Screencap Descriptions
Descriptions of each story screen capture above right, top to bottom:
  • The TARDIS arrives in the realm of the White Guardian
  • the Doctor (Tom Baker) and his new assistant, Romana (Mary Tamm)
  • the White Guardian (Cyril Luckham) bids the Doctor onto his quest for the Key to Time
  • Garron (Iain Cuthbertson)
  • Sholakh (Robert Keegan) and the Graff Vynda-K (Paul Seed)
  • the Doctor listens around a corner
  • the Seeker (Ann Tirard)
  • the Shrievenzale in the catacombs