The Ribos Operation


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The Ribos Operation

Serial Code


First Transmitted

2 September 1978

Final Ratings






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Regular Cast

Tom Baker (Doctor Who), Mary Tamm (Romana), John Leeson (K9)

Guest Cast

Cyril Luckham (The Guardian) [1], Iain Cuthberson (Garrosn), Nigel Plaskitt (Unstoffe), Paul Seed (Graff Vynda-K), Robert Keegan (Sholakh), Prentis Hancock (Captain), Oliver Maguire, John Harmill (Shrieves) [1-2], Timothy Bateson (Binro) [3-4], Ann Tirard (The Seeker) [3-4].


Written by Robert Holmes
Directed by George Spenton-Foster
Produced by Graham Williams


The Doctor and K9 Mark 2 are sent on a mission by the immensely powerful White Guardian. The six segments of the Key to Time, currently disguised and scattered throughout the cosmos, need to be brought together. Once assembled, the Key will allow the Guardian to restore balance and good to a universe that is descending into evil and chaos. It will also thwart the plans of the fearsome Black Guardian! As if accepting such a daunting task wasn’t enough, the Guardian appoints a new young assistant for The Doctor, Romadvoratrelundar – or Romana for short.

Fresh out of the Time Lord Academy, the 140-year-old Romana is confident that their mission will be easy and, if The Doctor can curb his irrational behaviour, can be rapidly completed.

Using a special Tracer, the TARDIS locates the first segment on the feudal planet of Ribos, where two inter-galactic criminals are using a lump of Jethryk as bait in a plot to trick a visiting nobleman into buying the planet – which is not theirs to sell. The Doctor finds himself drawn into the con-men’s fiendish plan while Romana has to confront the monstrous Shrievenzale…


  • Working titles for this story include Operation, The Ribos File and The Galactic Conman.
  • The Key to Time prop was created by visual effects designer Dave Havard.
  • New companion Mary Tamm had attended RADA with her predecessor, Louise Jameson.
  • Originally, the shortened form of Romanadvoratrelundar’s name was to be “Romy.”
  • On the night before the last day of recording The Ribos Operation, Tom Baker was bitten on the left side of his upper lip by a dog belonging to Paul Seed (who played the Graff Vynda-K). Publicity photographs from late April show Baker with a plaster cast on that lip, and the wound had to be concealed with makeup, much to the actor’s discomfort. The scar was quite noticeable on screen, and also throughout most of this season and the next.
  • This story includes a rare instance of the Doctoracting directly to kill a human(oid) enemy, when The Doctor does a switch and leaves the murderous Graffholding his own explosive.
  • Elisabeth Sladen, who as Sarah Jane Smith was last seen in The Hand of Fear, was approached to return to the series as a replacement for Leela (who had left in (The Invasion of Time). When Sladen declined the offer, the character of Romana was created instead.
  • In retrospect, the frequent references to characters claiming to be from “the north” — particularly the heavily-accented Garron — echoes the discussion over the Ninth Doctor’s accent in Rose to which he replied “lots of planets have a north!”
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