Sue: How many episodes is this one?
Sue: Are you taking the piss?! I haven’t got that kind of attention span!
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 more money? And has Tom Baker been told to start taking his job more seriously? If the answer to any of the above is, “No”, I’ll have to resort to negative scores. I’m serious, Neil.
Inside the TARDIS…
Sue: Has Tom Baker got herpes?
Me: No, he was playing with an actor’s dog and it bit his lip off. They had to put it down, the poor thing.
I admit that I’m only joking (I don’t want this episode to lose any unnecessary marks). And speaking of dogs…
Sue: K9 Mark II is a lot quieter than K9 Mark I, which is a relief. Has he got the same personality as K9 Mark I, because he wouldn’t remember anything that happened to the other dog, would he? Do the two K9s ever meet? That would be good. Good, but noisy.
Unfortunately, the Doctor and K9’s holiday plans are interrupted when the TARDIS is forced to land and the Doctor is blinded by a brilliant light.
Sue: Is it God? Please tell me it isn’t God.
The Doctor enters a barren landscape where a man in a safari suit is calmly sipping crème de menthe.
Sue: Is it God’s turn to read the book on Jackanory this week?
The White Guardian tells the Doctor everything he needs to know about the Key to Time.
Sue: Haven’t we seen this before? Didn’t William Hartnell sort this out?
Me: That was The Keys of Marinus. This is a bit more epic than that.
Sue: And a lot longer. Seriously, though, 26 parts? Really?
The White Guardian warns the Doctor to keep his wits about him because the Black Guardian wants to get his paws on the Key to Time as well.
Sue: It sounds like something out of a fairy tale. Why haven’t we heard of these Guardians before now?
The White Guardian provides the Doctor with 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 says, “Do as you’re ****ing 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 a nice cup of tea.
Sue: The sexist bastard. That’s outrageous!
When the initial sparring is over, I ask Sue for her first impressions of Romana.
Sue: It’s nice to have somebody sensible for a change. But how did she get there? Was she hiding in the bathroom?
Me: I’ve always assumed that the White Guardian transported her into the TARDIS somehow.
Sue: So this White Guardian can do pretty much anything, then?
Me: Pretty much.
Sue: So 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 time, that’s for sure. Just think, this could be 26 minutes instead of 26 episodes.
On the planet Ribos, two conmen, Garron and Unstoffe, are about to break into a castle.
Sue: He’s definitely famous.
Unfortunately, before I can congratulate my wife for recognising Iain Cuthbertson in a big hat, she has to go and ruin it.
Sue: He was in that advert that ran for ages. He always had a cold.
I’m not making this up.
Sue: Lockets. No, wait… Tunes! “I’d like a return ticket to Dottingham, please.”
Me: You’re so close, it’s beginning to scare me. He actually played Malcolm in…
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 that’s filled with important-looking relics.
Sue: It’s Medieval Impossible.
Meanwhile, the Doctor and Romana are still bickering 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’re doing a really good job given that this is filmed entirely in a TV 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. Rule one: do what he says. Rule two: stick close to him. And rule three: let him do all the talking.
Sue: And rule four: shut the ****ing TARDIS door behind you! Argh, that makes me so angry!
Garron meets 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 turned into Game of Thrones again.
Garron tells the Vynda-K that he should pretend to hail from the north in order to avoid suspicion.
Sue: See! That can’t be a coincidence, can it?
The Graff Vynda-K is a very angry man.
Sue: This guy thinks he’s starring in Hamlet. He needs to throttle back a bit. Still, the cast is very good. I have a good feeling about this story.
Me: (Pointing at Prentis Hancock) Do you recognise him?
Sue: 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 climaxes 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!
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 currently tied when it comes to Sue keeping her gob shut (unless you count all those times she fell asleep, of course).
Sue: So this is basically an intergalactic version of The Real Hustle?
She refuses to watch the fake one.
Sue: I like it. I like it a lot.
And then, after an extended period of silence, Sue drops a bombshell.
Sue: I used to have a hairy muff.
Me: I’m not saying anything!
Sue: You know, the furry thing that he’s using to keep his hands warm. I had one of those when I was a kid. What’s so funny about that?
The Doctor and Romana can’t agree on how to complete their mission.
Sue: I’ve just noticed that Romana is running around in kinky boots. Is that practical, especially in this weather?
Me: I’m not complaining.
Sue: The Doctor and Romana have great chemistry, though. Hang on, didn’t Tom Baker marry Romana? I’m sure you told me that, once.
Me: That’s a different Romana.
Sue: So there’s more than one Romana?
Me: Shit. I’ve said 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?
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? Oh, that makes sense, I suppose. So when does that happen?
And that’s about it for Part Two of The Ribos Operation, and the episode concludes with the Graff Vynda-K threatening to execute the Doctor, Romana and Garron.
Sue: He’s breaking the fourth wall! Everybody’s at it in this programme. I blame Tom Baker for not setting a good example.
As the credits roll, Sue makes a suggestion:
Sue: Let’s watch one more.
Me: What about our two episodes a night rule?
Sue: Do you think anyone gives a shit about that stupid rule? No? Exactly. Stick it on.
When the Graff Vynda-K slaps the Doctor across his face with a glove, the Doctor grabs it and slaps him right back again.
Sue: This is the best pantomime I think I’ve ever seen. It’s very funny. You could imagine Matt Smith doing something like that.
Prentice Hancock discovers that the Graff’s gold has been stolen.
Sue: This story is so good, even this guy hasn’t ruined it yet.
Having said that, there is something odd about the Graff’s soldiers.
Sue: Why are they walking around with wastepaper bins on their heads?
The Doctor blows into a whistle and K9 bolts for the TARDIS’ exit.
Sue: Aw bless him, he’s stuck.
A Seeker is employed to find the Graff’s missing gold.
Sue: She looks very familiar. Have you shown me this before? This is ringing some very loud bells, Neil.
Me: You’re probably confusing this with the David Tennant story where the Time Lords came back and he had 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) So what about him?
Sue: No. Sorry.
When Garron admits he sells planets to unwitting fools, the Doctor is almost impressed.
Sue: Tom always brings his A-game if the guest stars are any good. And you can always tell if Tom likes the script because he looks like he actually gives a shit. It’s when he gets a bad script he can’t be bothered to try. He’s really enjoying himself this week. I bet these two had a few drinks together after filming.
When Unstoffe is pursued by some guards, he accepts refuge from a man living rough on the outskirts of the city. His name is Binro.
Sue: It’s Brian’s mum from Life of Brian. “He’s a very naughty boy!”
As Binro begins to tell Unstoffe about his heretical theories, you could have heard a pin drop…
Nicol: Mum, did you put that washing in 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 so Nicol and her mother can engage in a lengthy catch-up. When she finally leaves us to it, I play the scene from the beginning again. It was worth it.
Sue: That was so sweet. I could feel myself welling up at the end. That was lovely. However, I’m not sure the kids would have enjoyed this. Did you enjoy it when you first saw it, Neil?
Me: The only memory I have of this story is that I missed the first 10 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. It was a weird conference league pub team in the middle of nowhere and 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, so 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 allowed into), and I had to wait outside in this draughty corridor in the freezing cold (it was pissing down, by the way), eating pork scratchings and hoping they’d get a bloody move on. I sulked all the way home, knowing we’d never make it. So I didn’t have a clue who Romana was, or what the Key to Time was for ages. I’ve never forgiven my dad for that.
Sue: I’m sorry I asked.
The episode concludes with the Graff’s 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. I think I’ve worked out how this season works. I’m not completely stupid, you know.
Me: Okay, but only if you promise to cut back on your hairy muff references.
Sue: Shut up and put it on before I change my mind.
It’s the moment we’ve all been dreading. Yes, the Shrivenzale takes centre stage.
Sue: It isn’t that bad. My only problem with it is that it doesn’t need to be there. They could have removed it completely and you wouldn’t have missed it. It’s okay, I guess. I’ve seen a lot worse.
We’re on safer ground with Binro, whom Sue adores, especially when he asks Unstoffe to explain the wonders of space travel to him.
Sue: They’d better put him on a spaceship at the end of this story. Or else.
It turns out that Garron really hails from Hackney Wick.
Sue: They should have given these two their own spin-off series. It could have been like 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. He’s a great actor. I loved Budgie.
Binro volunteers to search for Garron.
Sue: They’d better not kill Binro. There’ll be hell on if they do.
Meanwhile, Romana and K9 are wandering through a maze.
Sue: Romana is a lot 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 tragically killed by the Graff’s men when he’s caught carrying a communicator given to him by Unstoffe.
Sue: You ****s!
The catacombs are blown 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 12 (he’s been hovering around 11 since Part Two).
Sue: He thinks he’s on a stage in Stratford. He just about gets away with it because this looks like a Shakespeare play. So it sort of fits, I guess.
After killing the Seeker, the Graff hands one of his guards (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’s the point?
Me: He believes the Seeker’s prophesy that only one person will
Sue: Then he’s even 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 quite deep, this. I bet the kids didn’t get a lot out of it, though.
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 bid the Doctor and Romana farewell.
Sue: I’m pleased the conmen didn’t die. I wouldn’t have forgiven Robert Holmes if he’d killed them. I’m still struggling to forgive him for Binro.
Back on the TARDIS, Romana transforms the jethrik into the first segment of the Key to Time.
Sue: They should have waited until they had all the pieces in one place. It must be dangerous leaving that thing lying around, especially when they never remember to shut the TARDIS doors behind them.
Sue: What a great script (probably one of the best scripts we’ve ever had), great actors, great sets, great carpentry, a quieter K9, and a good start for the new companion. Even Tom Baker was back on form. There was something missing, though, but I can’t put my finger on it. So yeah, it wasn’t perfect but it’s pretty close.
Me: I’ll settle for 90 per cent.