The Ribos Operation
Working Titles: The Galactic Conman, Operation, The Ribos File.
Starring: Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor), John Leeson (Voice of K-9), Mary Tamm (The First Romana).
The Doctor is called upon by the White Guardian, the embodiment of goodness and light, to find the six disguised segments of the Key To Time, scattered throughout time and space, so that the Guardian can restore the faltering universal balance. To this end, the White Guardian provides the Doctor with a new assistant in the form of the young Time Lady Romana. Their first destination is Ribos, a medieval-style planet which a con man named Garron is trying to sell to the megalomaniacal Graff Vynda K. When the Graff uncovers Garron's treachery, the crook's assistant, Unstoffe, flees into the monster-infested Catacombs, little realizing that amongst his possessions is the first segment of the Key To Time.
When he became Doctor Who's producer, one of Graham Williams' first initiatives was to try to organise a season in which all the stories were linked by a theme. Williams was leery of the level of coincidence upon which Doctor Who depended, and thought this might help bring some motivation to his lead character. Unfortunately, a shortage of planning time -- not to mention immediate problems with the first serial of Season Fifteen -- forced Williams to abandon the idea for his initial year as producer. Instead, he decided to hold it off until Season Sixteen.
The roots of the Key to Time concept, which would span all six adventures of Doctor Who sixteenth season, came from a document written by Williams dated November 30th, 1976, prior to his officially taking the programme's helm. Because problems with the final serial of Season Fifteen were occupying much of the producer's time and impinging on planning time for the sixteenth season, Williams asked his script editor, Anthony Read, to more fully develop the concept. This was then distributed to prospective writers. Also on the production team's plate was the creation and casting of a new companion to replace Leela. Williams tackled this responsibility, filing a character outline for Romanadvoratrelundar on October 10th, 1977 (originally, the shortened form of her name was to be "Romy"; this would later be changed to "Romana").
Although former script editor Robert Holmes had turned down the chance to write the last story of Season Fifteen, citing the short time since he had left Doctor Who, he agreed to contribute to the sixteenth season. Williams and Read asked Holmes to write the season opener. Because the problems with the previous season meant that preparation time for the new year's stories was severely reduced, Holmes was asked to write his scripts so that they would not require any film work, thereby simplifying preproduction. Holmes was formally commissioned on December 9th for an adventure entitled The Galactic Conman. This became Operation and finally The Ribos Operation (The Ribos File may also have been a working title, or it may just be a corruption of the eventual name). Holmes' scripts neglected the Key to Time plot, and the writer agreed that Read should add this material in himself, as well as Romana's introductory scenes.
Out of about three thousand applicants for the role of Romana, Williams, Read and The Ribos Operation's director, George Spenton-Foster (making his second and last Doctor Who serial, having worked on The Image Of The Fendahl the year before) narrowed the field down to four actresses who auditioned with Tom Baker. Williams had envisioned the character as being the antithesis of Leela -- an intelligent ice goddess who could stand toe-to-toe with the Doctor. He wanted a performer with beauty like film star Grace Kelly's, and of the final four, Mary Tamm was offered the role. Tamm, who had trained at RADA with her predecessor Louise Jameson, had done considerable television work in series like Coronation Street, and had appeared on the silver screen in The Odessa File and The Likely Lads. Despite some misgivings about becoming the latest assistant, her fears were assuaged by the strength of the character and promises than Romana would not be just another screamer. Romana was also the first companion to be a Time Lord like the Doctor (with the possible exception of his granddaughter Susan). Tamm's casting was heralded by a press photocall on February 17th, 1978.
Production on The Ribos Operation was comprised of two studio sessions, each running from Sunday to Tuesday. The first began on April 9th and the second a fortnight later on the 23rd. The Key to Time prop made its debut, with several copies having been made by visual effects designer Dave Havard. The segments of the Key actually fit together and the prop was based on a puzzle given to Havard by Williams. To ensure that the segments were not confused with one another, Williams kept the props locked in his office, divulging only the appropriate segment on recording days.
Much as taping of The Invasion Of Time had been badly interrupted by demarcation disputes at the end of the previous season, the making of The Ribos Operation was also disrupted by similar arguments. First, during the initial studio session, the fire officer and scenery crew squabbled over who should be responsible for lighting the torches, resulting in an hour's delay. A more serious problem arose during the second studio session. Spenton-Foster had planned to enlarge the scale of his sets by erecting coloured screens onto which models could be projected using Colour Separation Overlay (the Shrivenzale costume would also be magnified in size using this technique). However, the floor technicians could not agree on who should handle the screens; consequently, the effect had to be largely abandoned.
Another headache occurred the night before the final day of recording, when Tom Baker was bitten by a dog owned by Paul Seed, who played the Graff Vynda-K. The attack left Baker with a deep cut on the left side of his upper lip. As a result, publicity photos taken on April 25th show the actor with a large plaster cast on his lip. For the actual recording, the wound was concealed using make-up, causing Baker considerable discomfort. The Ribos Operation was completed in a gallery-only session on May 3rd. These post-production days, used only for the addition of special effects and the like, had been used occasionally the previous year and would now become commonplace. The first episode of The Ribos Operation, and of Season Sixteen, was broadcast on September 2nd.