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Nov 08, 2007

Do the Hustle

The Quest is the Quest is the…oh, you get the idea

The Ribos Operation Part 1

Don’t you just hate it when you’re about to go on holiday and your boss rings to say there’s been a change of plan. Instead of those two weeks in Tenerife you’ve been looking forward to you’re going on a universe-saving search for six segments of something called the Key to Time; a perfect cube that brings balance to the Universe. And looks rather nice on the mantelpiece too.

Welcome, then, to Season Sixteen and the first themed series in Doctor Who’s history.

What a weird opening. One minute the Doctor is test-driving the Mark II K-9’s new dog whistle, the next a burst of intense light is breaking through the TARDIS’ defences. And an all-powerful voice is beckoning him onto an astral plane in which some Graham Greene wannabe is sipping Cinzano and cooling off in his linen suit and fedora. It seems that he is someone called the White Guardian, one of two universal forces that balance out chaos and anarchy whilst rewriting the dictionary term for omnipotent on their way. This good guy guardian - think a kindly old librarian who still has a loyalty card at Man at C&A - has chosen the Doctor to recover the elements of this mythical key so that, once assembled, he can bring order back to the universe. Should the Doctor refuse, nothing will happen to him. Ever. Which, in the case of Season 24, is probably not such a bad thing.

A perfect cube that brings balance to the Universe. And looks rather nice on the mantelpiece too.

Not only does the Guardian give the Doctor something to do for the next twenty-six weeks, but he also gives him a new companion to aid him in his search; the lovely Time-Lady Romanadvoratreulandar (or Fred for short) whose stunning bottom-up entrance no doubt has the Dads at home sitting up and wondering ‘Louise Who?’ Seems like Fred (okay, Romana) is something of a prodigy, flying through her Gallifreyan A-Levels when the Doctor only scraped a CSE Grade 2 pass and reprogramming the TARDIS so that it follows each of the six segments with the aid of a handy tracer device. Thoroughly emasculated, the Doctor descends to mild patronising and disguised bravado; trying to impress his new charge with his years of experience and sonic screwdriver compensation. In other words, you can cut the sexual tension between these two with a carving knife.

Meanwhile, as the TARDIS wends its way to its first destination on the planet Ribos, two confidence tricksters have similarly arrived with the intent of conning the local hierarchy into giving away loads of moolah for a small lump of plasticky-looking stone called Jethrick. These two hustlers - think Robert Vaughan and Marc Warren without the neatly-tailored suits - swap accents and back-stories in the way the rest of us exchange mobile numbers; one minute riffing Fagin from a particularly anti-Semitic production of Oliver Twist, the next stereotyping Mummerset inhabitants to the point of legal action. And as if that’s not enough arch-ness for you in walks the Graff Vynda K, a nobleman heavy on voice and light on subtlety whose diction seems to come straight from the Spanish Inquisition’s text-book of nasal whining.

Think Robert Vaughan and Marc Warren without the neatly-tailored suits

Throw in Prentis Hancock as a short-on-words guard and a rubber monster that provides the obligatory cliff-hanger and that’s your lot. Leaving you just to ponder three things: 1) Are they sure that Douglas Adams wasn’t script-editing this stuff a year early?, 2) Close your eyes and Steven Moffat could almost be on writing duties and 3) Mary Tamm looks absolutely stunning. I mean pure, lick the screen gorgeous. Neil, when are you gonna auction off that signed photo of her’s for real, eh?

Next Time: More witty bantering. And Prentis Hancock actually gets to say more than two words in a sentence.

(The Bumper Book of Made-Up ‘Doctor Who’ Facts has this to say about The Ribos Operation 1:the fake snow in this episode was actually cobbled together from Nigel Plaskitt’s dandruff)

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