The BBC science fiction series Doctor Who is a powerhouse legend in television. It initially ran almost continuously from 1963 - 1989. That's 26 years! After a lengthy hiatus (filled by a plethora of novels and Big Finish full-cast audio productions), the series recently returned to production with great success. David Tennant is a splendid Doctor. It can be seen on the Sci-Fi Channel here in the States, and, of course, on DVD.
My first experience with Doctor Who came in the 1980s, when WVIZ, channel 25, a PBS station in Cleveland, aired the show each Saturday night. I grew up with the Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Doctors, and the program remains close to me as it was an important component to my childhood imagination.
For the uninitiated, Doctor Who follows the exploits of an alien Time Lord named the Doctor as he travels through time and space in a cavernous vehicle called the TARDIS. Typically, he goes on adventures with companions - often from Earth. His ability to regenerate when facing death allows for a new actor to assume the role, perhaps in part explaining why the series has been able to last for 45 years. Thus, each new actor becomes a numbered Doctor. David Tennant is the tenth actor to assume the role, for example, so he is the Tenth Doctor.
The Ribos Operation is the first storyline of The Key to Time: a season-long epic in the middle of Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor)'s tenure in the role. With his curly hair and lengthy scarf, Baker played the Doctor for seven years and became one of the most popular actors to appear in the role. The basic premise of The Key to Time sees the Doctor called into duty by the White Guardian to assemble the Key to Time, a cube object whose purpose is to maintain the equilibrium of all time and space. This cube has been split into six pieces and hidden across the universe, and the White Guardian needs the Key in order to keep the universe aright. Assisting the Doctor in his quest for these pieces are Romana, an intelligent Time Lord, and his robotic dog, K-9.
The Key to Time series had been released several years ago on DVD. For some reason, despite the number of classic Doctor Who stories still awaiting a DVD treatment, BBC Video has seen fit to double dip on this season with new "special editions."
In any case, The Ribos Operation is an effective beginning to this epic Doctor Who story. The plot is rather simple in nature, though this is out of necessity as these early episodes bear the dual additional missions of establishing the overall concept of the season and introducing the Doctor's new assistant, Romana. Tom Baker is in fine form as the Doctor here, with his dialogue clever and his delivery comic. Mary Tamm, who plays Romana, is okay if a bit nondescript. The character is a well-conceived foil for the Doctor; she's intelligent but fairly by-the-book. Tamm's performance, however, is a bit flat, especially in the first couple episodes. Her character's psychoanalysis of others seems forced and awkward as well. The two characters do begin to show some chemistry by the final episode of this serial.
In The Ribos Operation, the Doctor and Romana have received their charge from the White Guardian and travel to the planet Ribos, where the first piece of the Key to Time is hidden. Ribos is in the middle of its lengthy wintry season, and the Doctor and Romana walk in on a con artist (Iain Cuthbertson) trying to rip off the tyrant Graff (Paul Seed). Several hallmarks of classic Doctor Who are here, including lengthy cavern runarounds and an absurd-looking creature. It's all in good Saturday serial-type fun. Fans of old television science fiction will want to keep their eyes open for Prentis Hancock as the Captain of the guards - he played Paul in Space: 1999.
While I highly recommend this new edition of The Ribos Operation, Doctor Who fans would do well to seek out the concurrently released Key to Time box set that collects the entire season.
By the way, Big Finish Productions recently finished an audio story arc sequel to this season - titled Key 2 Time - starring the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison.
The four episodes of Doctor Who: The Ribos Operation are presented in a full frame 4:3 aspect ratio that reflects their original television broadcast. The image looks as good as I've ever seen it with solid colors and okay detail - don't expect stellar blu-ray visual quality here, however, given the show's late-1970s video production roots.
Each episode of Doctor Who: The Ribos Operation arrives with an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track. Dialogue is always clear, and though the track is obviously limited by the television program's production values, the sound is fine throughout.
Subtitles are available in English for the hard of hearing.
DVD releases of episodes from the classic Doctor Who series have traditionally been generous with extras, and this special edition of Doctor Who: The Ribos Operation is no exception.
Actors Tom Baker and Mary Tamm deliver a casual commentary track on all four episodes. In addition, there is an optional text information track for each episode.
Several in-depth featurettes are also included. The most noteworthy is A Matter of Time (59:59), an hour-long look at Doctor Who during this period. It's well-made and offered in anamorphic widescreen. The Ribos File (19:38) is a bit briefer and focuses on The Ribos Operation alone. It is also in anamorphic widescreen.
Additional extras include Continuities (2:08) and Season 16 Trailer (0:42) sporting vintage ads for the show. A Photo Gallery (6:03) offers a slideshow of stills accompanied by sound effects and music from the program.
Finally, a trailer for the fourth season of the new Doctor Who series precedes the main menu. Also, a PDF file is included of the Radio Times billings.
With its plentiful extras, this newly-released special edition of Doctor Who: The Ribos Operation comes highly recommended. However, fans of the series will likely want to get the concurrently released special edition of Doctor Who: The Key To Time that collects all 6 stories in one multi-disc collection, rather than getting them piecemeal like this.