Review of The Ribos Operation (#98)
DVD Release Date: 03 Mar 09
Original Air Date: 02 - 23 Sep 1978
Doctor/Companion: Four, Romana I
Stars: Tom Baker, Mary Tamm
Preceding Story: The Invasion of Time (Four, Leela)
Succeeding Story: The Pirate Planet (Four, Romana I)
Of all of Tom Baker's season openers, I think The Ribos Operation has to be my favorite (though Terror of the Zygons is strong, too). There are any number of details that contribute to my affection for this particular story, and I'll try to outline some of them below, but it probably doesn't hurt that it's the first installment of a series-long arc—the first ever.
Having cut my Whovian teeth on the modern era, a full series story arc seemed natural to me in my early fandom days. I knew when I started watching pre-Hiatus/Classic Who that the traditional style was serialized one-offs, so it's not that I found that format unusual or off-putting. However, when I got to Season 16 (also collectively known as The Key to Time), the familiarity of a longer arc felt comfortable and made it easy for me to settle in for the long haul.
The early minutes of the first episode are thus necessarily spent setting up the whole season. We are introduced to the White Guardian, who takes the Doctor and his TARDIS out of time and charges him with recovering the six segments of the Key to Time in order to restore order to the universe. We also meet the new "assistant" with whom said Guardian has saddled the Doctor: Romanadvoratrelundar. This young (though mature, at "nearly 140") Time Lady is quickly established as the intellectual equal (if not superior) of the Doctor, having graduated with a "triple first" from the Time Lord Academy (and looking down her nose at the Doctor for "scraping through with 51% at the second attempt").
In contrast, the Doctor's vastly more extensive experience proves to give him the advantage over his rather naïve new Companion. While she can analyze a situation based on surface evidence, he knows how to sniff out duplicity and when to trust his gut. Unfortunately, this sets the stage for Romana to be something of a dupe, but her overall charm and poise keep her from falling completely into "bumbling sidekick" territory.