Doctor Who #485: The Ribos Operation Part 4

"I admit I had a great trouble with me conscience. Fortunately, I won."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.23 1978.

IN THIS ONE... The Graff's party is killed, as is Binro. The Doctor swindles the jethrik from Garron and Unstoffe.

REVIEW: Before they all get a sent to their fates (in life or death), the characters indulge in various bits of characterization and backstory. Unstoffe remembers the patch of mud Garron might call home, the Graff and Sholakh reminisce about various battles they've fought together, and Binro, poor Binro, thanks Unstoffe for the gift of having said he was right. And fate is the correct word here, since the prescient Seeker foretells the death of half the cast. The segment hasn't been on Ribos long, or else I'd have blamed her psychic sense on its presence (the next story also features people with mental powers)... perhaps the segment resonates through time at every point in space it has and will occupy? Regardless, the script and production do a good job of making each death count, giving it a certain pathos, even in the Graff's case, his mind broken by his brother in arms' death, hearing the sounds of long-fought battles. Not that they don't deserve their deaths after clinically killing guards for the smallest slight (for sadism, really).

Binro tragically sacrifices himself for Unstoffe who really IS the most honest con man in the story. It's certainly not the Garron, who keeps his facade up through the entire crisis, matching the Doctor in wit, and trying to steal what he can right up through the last scene. The Doctor is just as dishonest, although for more altruistic purposes, and gets the last laugh on Garron. I also love his line about disliking faint praise, Tom Baker at his most Wildean. I'm not as keen on the use of his dog whistle to summon shrivenzale, though at least K9 showed up too. Might as well have been the sonic screwdriver on an ultrasound setting. Nor do the shrivenzale stand up to longer shots. But these are minor complaints.

A problem that risks coming up again, however, is the rather dull Romana-K9 duo. The metal dog's literal mind is supposed to provide comedy, but then so is Romana's inexperience with the universe outside Gallifrey. When they're together, it's twice the same trick. A grown woman playing cabbage head to a computer that doesn't understand the English idiom. It makes for exasperating conversations that go nowhere. I also hope the program doesn't dwell too much on those Key to Time epilogues, as it kind of steals the punch from the episode's ending. There are only so many ways you can say "X down, Y to go", and they just used that one up.

VERSIONS: The Target novelization changes a number of minor names, or sometimes just their spelling.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Still some great dialog and memorable characters, so worries about the overall arc are just that, worries.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: High - The season is off to a great start, as only a mature Bob Holmes could provide it. Romana's introduction is stellar (even if she essentially disappears as the serial goes on) and the idea of the seasonal arc is a good one that won't interfere too much with the way Doctor Who stories are written and told already.

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