Sue: How many episodes is this one?
Sue: Are you taking the piss? I haven’t got that kind of attention span. Do I really have to give a single mark to 26 episodes? How do you expect me to do that?
Me: Don’t worry, we’ll break it up into manageable chunks. You’ll be fine.
I press Play.
Sue: So, another season, then?
Sue: With the same producer?
Sue: Has he been told to pull his socks up? Have the BBC given him some more money? And did somebody tell Tom Baker to start taking his job a bit more seriously? If the answer to any of the above is no, I will have to resort to negative scores. I’m serious.
The story begins in the TARDIS, and Sue is straight out of the traps with this little beauty:
Sue: Has Tom Baker got herpes?
Me: He was bitten by a dog.
Sue: Is that a yes, then?
Me: No, he was playing with an actor’s dog and it bit his lip off. They had to put the dog down.
The Doctor and K9 are busy planning a holiday together.
Sue: K9 Mark II is a lot quieter than K9 Mark I. That’s a relief. Has he got the same personality as K9 Mark I? He wouldn’t remember anything that has happened to the other dog, would he? Do the two K9s ever meet? That would be good. Good but noisy.
The Doctor’s plans are interrupted when the TARDIS is mysteriously forced to land. When the doors swing open, the Doctor is blinded by the light.
Sue: Is it God? Please tell me it isn’t God.
The Doctor steps out onto a barren landscape where a man in a Safari suit is sipping crème de menthe.
Sue: Is it God’s turn to read the book on Jackanory this week?
The White Guardian tells the Doctor all about the Key to Time.
Sue: Haven’t we seen this before? Didn’t William Hartnell have to sort this out?
Me: That was The Keys of Marinus. This is a bit more epic.
Sue: And a lot longer. Seriously, though, 26 parts? Really?
The White Guardian warns the Doctor to keep his wits about him – the Black Guardian wants to get his mitts on the Key to Time as well.
Sue: It sounds like something out of a fairy-tale. Why have we never heard of these Guardians before now?
The Guardian tells the Doctor he will be given a new assistant to aid him in his mission to recover the Key’s six segments, whether he likes it or not.
Sue: The Man from Del Monte, he say, “Do as you’re told!”
The Doctor returns to the TARDIS to find Romanadvoratnelundar already waiting for him.
Sue: Put your tongue back in, love.
The Doctor wants to know if she can make tea.
Sue: The sexist bastard. That’s outrageous.
When the sparring is over, I ask Sue for her first impressions.
Sue: It’s nice to have somebody sensible for a change. But how did she get there? Was she hiding in the bathroom all this time?
Me: I’ve always assumed that the White Guardian transported her there somehow.
Sue: So this White Guardian can do anything, then?
Me: Pretty much.
Sue: Then why doesn’t he get off his backside and find the Key to Time himself? It’ll probably only take him a couple of minutes. It would save us a lot of trouble. This could be 26 minutes instead of 26 episodes.
On the planet Ribos, two con men, Garron and Unstoffe, are preparing to break into a castle.
Sue: He’s definitely famous.
Blimey, I thought, she recognises Iain Cuthbertson, even though he’s wearing an enormous hat. I am seriously impressed.
Sue: He was in a television advert that ran for ages. He always had a cold.
I swear to God, I am not making this up.
Sue: Lockets. no, wait… Tunes! (and then in a voice that suggests serious brain damage) I’d like a return ticket to Dottingham, please.
Me: You are so close, it’s beginning to scare me. He played Malcolm –
Sue: Malcolm! That’s it! “Of course you can, Malcolm!”. It’s all coming back to me now.
Me: What about the guy on the left? Do you recognise him?
Sue: Not a clue.
Unstoffe is lowered into a room stuffed to the gills with important-looking relics. He proceeds to cut a hole in a glass cabinet which contains the crown jewels.
Sue: It’s Medieval Impossible.
Meanwhile, the Doctor and Romana continue to bicker in the TARDIS.
Sue: This is very funny. I like Romana already. It looks like the Doctor has finally met his match.
The TARDIS arrives on Ribos.
Sue: The sets are excellent. They are doing a really good job given that this is filmed in a studio. I actually prefer it when they stick to one thing or the other. It’s much more consistent. The fake snow isn’t that bad, either.
The Doctor lays down some ground rules for Romana to follow:
Doctor: Rule one, do exactly as I say. Rule two, stick close to me, and rule three, let me do all the talking.
Sue: Rule four, shut the TARDIS door behind you! Argh, that makes me so angry!
Garron greets another set of new arrivals on Ribos, namely the Graff Vynda-K and his loyal aide, Sholakh. Garron explains to his guests that Ribos has an elliptic orbit which results in seasons that last for decades.
Sue: It’s Game of Thrones again.
Garron: If anyone asks you where we’re from, just say the North.
Sue: See! It can’t be just a coincidence, can it?
The Graff Vynda-K is a very angry man.
Sue: This guy thinks he’s in Hamlet. He needs to throttle it back a bit. Still, the cast are very good. I have a good feeling about this story.
Me: (Pointing at Prentis Hancock) Do you recognise him?
Sue: No, but I recognise his voice.
Me: He’s been in loads of Doctor Who. He’s my favourite bad actor, remember?
Sue: Oh yeah. Me and my big mouth.
The episode concludes with the Doctor and Romana coming face-to-face with a Shrivenzale.
Sue: That ain’t too bad.
Did you hear that? The Shrivenzale ain’t too bad! Phew.
Sue: Yeah, that was a good start. The script is very good. Does Robert Holmes write all 26 episodes? That would be cool.
Sue: Aside from the guards’ peripheral vision problems – as per bloody usual – I’m really enjoying this.
Huge swathes of this episode pass without comment, which is always a good sign. In fact, this episode and The Seeds of Doom Part Five are tied when it comes to Sue keeping her gob shut (except those times she fell asleep, of course). My untidy scrawl usually results in two or three pages of notes, but here I’m left with less than a page. And she definitely hasn’t fallen asleep, because every few minutes she’ll laugh her head off at a Holmesian quip.
Sue: So this is basically an intergalactic version of The Real Hustle? (She won’t watch the fake one). I like it. I like it a lot.
Another long period of silence follows before Sue decides to drop this particular bombshell:
Sue: I used to have a hairy muff.
Me: I’m not saying anything.
Sue: You know, the furry thing he’s using to keep himself warm. I had one of those when I was a kid. What’s so funny about that?
The Doctor and Romana argue about the best to complete their mission.
Sue: I’ve just noticed that Romana is running around this planet in very kinky boots. Is that really practical, especially in this weather?
Me: I’m not complaining.
Sue: The Doctor and Romana have great chemistry. Hang on, didn’t Tom Baker marry Romana? I’m sure I remember you telling me that, once.
Me: That’s a different Romana.
Sue: There’s more than one Romana?
Me: Spoilers. I’ve said far too much already.
Sue: How can there be two companions with the same name? How does that work?
Me: How do you think it works?
Sue: I don’t know. Is she her daughter?
I face palm.
Me: She’s a Time Lord! Time Lady. Whatever.
Sue: Oh, I thought she was an air traffic controller or something like that. So she can regenerate, then? That makes sense, I guess. So when does that happen?
And that’s about it for The Ribos Operation Part Three, and the episode concludes with the Graff Vynda-K threatening the Doctor, Romana and Garron with summary execution.
Sue: He’s breaking the fourth wall, now! Everybody is at it in this programme. I blame Tom Baker for not setting a good example.
As the credits roll, Sue makes a startling suggestion:
Sue: Let’s watch one more.
Me: What about our two episodes a night rule?
Sue: Does anybody really give a shit about that? Exactly. Stick it on.
The Graff Vynda-K and the Doctor get into a slanging match. The Graff slaps the Doctor across the face with his glove, so the Doctor grabs the glove and slaps him right back.
Sue: This is the best panto I have ever seen. It’s very funny. You could imagine Matt Smith doing something like that.
The Captain of the guards discovers that the Graff’s gold has been stolen.
Sue: This story is so good, even this guy hasn’t managed to ruin it yet.
She’s also noticed something very odd about the Graff’s soldiers:
Sue: Why are they walking around with wastepaper bins on their heads?
The Doctor decides to call in the big guns. He blows into a whistle and, back in the TARDIS, K9 can’t wait to be let off the leash.
Sue: Aw bless him, he’s stuck.
A Seeker is brought in to track down the Graff’s missing gold.
Sue: She is very familiar. Have you shown this to me before? This is ringing some very loud bells.
Me: You must be confusing this with the David Tennant story where the Time Lords came back and he has to regenerate at the end. Remember?
Sue: I cried.
Me: Yes, I know you did. Anyway, the Time Lords were hanging around with a woman who looked – and acted – a lot like her.
Sue: Yeah, that’s probably it. I knew I’d seen her somewhere before.
Me: (Pointing at Iain Cuthbertson) What about him?
Sue: No. Sorry.
Garron tells the Doctor that he sells planets to unwitting fools. The Doctor is almost impressed.
Sue: Tom always brings his A-game when the guest stars are this good. And you can always tell if Tom likes the script because he looks like he gives a shit. It’s when he gets a bad script that he can’t be bothered to try. He’s really enjoying himself this week, you can tell. I bet these two had a few drinks together after filming.
Unstoffe is pursued by some guards and he takes refuge with a man named Binro, who is living rough on the outskirts of the city.
Sue: It’s Brian’s mum from Life of Brian. “He’s a very naughty boy”.
When we reach the scene where Binro tells Unstoffe about his heretical theories, you can hear a pin drop.
Unstoffe: Binro, supposing I were to tell you that –
Nicol: Mum, did you put that washing in that I asked you to?
Me: Nicol! For ****’s sake!
Sue: Leave her alone. She just got back from her weekend away. Sit down, love, and tell us all about it.
I hit the pause button as Nicol and her mother engage in a very lengthy catch-up, and when she finally leaves us to it, I go back and play the whole scene again from the beginning.
It was worth it.
Sue: That was so sweet. I felt myself welling up a bit at the end. That was lovely.
After a while, Sue comes to this conclusion:
Sue: I’m not sure if the kids watching this would have enjoyed it as much as I am now. Did you enjoy it?
Me: The only memory I have of this story is that I missed the first fifteen minutes of Part One because my dad dragged me to a football match. It wasn’t even a good football match. Hell, it wasn’t even a mediocre one, like a trip to see Coventry City at Highfield Road. No, it was a weird conference league pub team in the middle of nowhere. I hated every minute of it. Anyway, the match finished at 4:45pm and the first episode started at 5:45pm, so we had plenty of time to get home. But my dad didn’t drive at the time and we had to wait for his mate to give us a lift back. And this so-called mate wanted to have a drink in the bar first (which I wasn’t even allowed into), and I had to wait outside in this draughty corridor in the freezing cold (it was definitely pissing it down outside) eating pork scratchings and hoping they’d get a bloody move on. I sulked all the way home, knowing we’d left far too late to make it. I didn’t have a clue who Romana was or what the Key to bloody Time was when I turned on the telly. I’ve never really forgiven my dad for that.
Sue: I’m sorry I asked.
The episode concludes with the Graff and his men closing in on Garron, the Doctor and Romana.
Sue: That wasn’t the best cliffhanger in the world. It’s almost exactly the same as the last one.
Me: That’s the trouble when you watch these episodes back-to-back like this.
Sue: Speaking of which, shall we knock them all out tonight?
Me: All 26 episodes?
Sue: Very funny, but I think I’ve worked out how this season works, thanks. I’m not stupid, you know.
Me: Okay, but only if you promise to cut back on your hairy muff references.
Sue: Shut up and put the next one on before I change my mind.
It’s the moment I’ve been dreading, as the Shrivenzale takes centre stage.
Sue: It’s not too bad. My only problem with this thing is that it doesn’t really need to be there. They could have removed it completely and you wouldn’t have missed it. The sound effects are doing a good job of selling it, though. It’s alright, I guess. I’ve seen worse.
We’re on safer ground with Binro, who Sue adores. At one point, Binro asks Unstoffe to explain the wonders of space travel to him.
Sue: They had better take him away on a spaceship at the end of this story.
Unstoffe tells Binro about his friend, Garron, who really hails from Hackney Wick.
Sue: They should have been given their own spin-off series. It could have been Minder in Space. Or Only Fools and Horses in Space.
Me: What about Budgie in Space?
Sue: Budgie! That’s where I know him from! I knew I recognised him from somewhere. Great actor. I loved Budgie.
Me: Of course you did, Verity Lambert produced it.
Binro volunteers to search for Garron.
Sue: They had better not kill Binro. There will be hell on if they do.
Meanwhile, Romana and K9 are wandering through a maze of caves.
Sue: Romana is much nicer to K9 than Leela was. Even when she’s telling him off, she still gives him a little pat on the head.
Binro is killed by the Graff’s men because he is caught carrying a communicator that was given to him by Unstoffe. It’s very tragic.
Sue: ***** **** **** ***** ****** ********!!! *****?!
The Captain of the guards blows the catacombs up and Sholakh is killed by falling rocks. The Graff Vynda-K is devastated. Almost as devastated as Sue was when Binro was killed.
Sue: I almost feel sorry for the bad guy, now. He really loved his best mate, didn’t he?
The Graff is so upset, actor Paul Seed has no option left but to turn his performance up to twelve (he’s been hovering around eleven since Part Two).
Sue: He thinks he’s on a stage at Stratford. He just about gets away with it because this looks like a Shakespeare play on a stage at Stratford. It sorta fits.
After killing the Seeker, the Graff gives a guard (who is actually the Doctor in disguise) a bomb to hold.
Sue: Why don’t they just walk out of there together? Why blow anything up at all? What is the point?
Me: He believes the seeker’s prophesy that only one person will survive.
Sue: Then he’s madder than he looks.
The Graff is consumed by rage and nostalgia as he imagines himself in the midst of some terrible battle.
Sue: It’s very deep, this. I bet the kids didn’t get a lot out of this one.
The Graff Vynda-K rounds a corner and explodes.
Sue: So the Doctor switched the bomb for the jethrik? I’m not sure how I feel about that. Actually, **** him, he killed Binro.
Garron and Unstoffe come to wave the Doctor and Romana off.
Sue: I’m really happy that the con men didn’t die. I would never have forgiven Robert Holmes if he’d killed everyone. I’m still struggling to forgive him for what happened to Binro.
Back on the TARDIS, Romana transforms a lump of jethrik into the first segment of the Key to Time.
Sue: They should have waited until they had all the pieces together in one place. It must be dangerous leaving that thing lying around, especially when you never remember to shut the TARDIS doors behind you.
Sue: Great script – probably one of the best scripts we’ve ever had – great actors, great sets and carpentry, a quieter K9 and a good start for the new companion. Even Tom Baker was back on form. There was something missing, though. I can’t quite put my finger on it but it’s not perfect. But it’s pretty close.
Me: I’ll settle for ninety percent.