19 May 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 504: The Ribos Operation, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Looking back over the last couple of days, I think I’ve been a bit too harsh on Tom Baker. I’ve complained a lot recently about him not really taking the programme seriously, and I think that I’ve broadly come to equate any scene where he smiles too broadly with that sense of not doing his job. But, actually, it’s all a part of this Doctor’s character at this point. He can sit, and smile, and laugh with Garron when they’re imprisoned, safe in the knowledge that K9 is on the way to rescue them. It feels somehow right that he can fit in with this kind of person, in much the same way that the Third Doctor doesn’t feel out of place when interacting with high-ranking members of society.

I guess what I’m really waiting for is the Doctor to take a fall. It’s that same thing that I discussed under The Invasion of Time - when he starts getting too sure of himself (and I’m sure that the Fourth Doctor has), then it’s time for him to go. I’m wondering if that means Season Eighteen will come as a real breath of fresh air in a couple of months time? I’m hoping so, because as much as I can enjoy this version of the Doctor, I fear that it’s starting to grate a little.

Still, this story does boast quite an impressive guest cast - and they’re really giving their all to the roles. It’s going to sound like I’m beating the same old drum over and over again, but they really help to imbue Ribos with a sense of being something more than just This Week’s Planet. I think chief among the guest cast has to be Timothy Bateson as Binro. He only joined the cast halfway through the story, and has what is really a minor role in the story, but I genuinely care for the character when he dies. It’s not often that you find that with the guest characters, so I think it points to being something truly special with this one. It’s fair to say that the part is somewhat hammy and over-played at times… but I think that’s all a big part of the charm, and it actually works.

Someone else that I need to draw attention to today is George Spenton-Foster on directing duties. This is his second and final Doctor Who story, and I’ve had relatively little to say about his work on this occasion, in stark contrast to Image of the Fendahl, in which his role in the story was all I could talk about! The direction of this story has felt far more run-of-the-mill than it did during the last one, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In Fendahl, I thought the direction actually distracted me from the story, whereas here it’s just helping to tell the tale. He’s really managed to marshall the troops to make the best out of this one, too, and while I’m sure being the first story into production for the year must have helped (I dread to think what the budget will be like by the end of the season), he’s certainly done a fantastic job.

I think I was most impressed right at the end of the story, as the Doctor and Romana turn the lump of Jethrik back into a segment from the Key to Time. It sits on the table in front of them, as the camera pulls in to remove it from the shot. I assumed that when we pulled back out, a stage-hand would have swapped the prop with one of the crystal segments, but that’s not the case - we actually get to see the transformation a few minutes later. Is it the best effect the programme has ever achieved? Well, no. Is it a passable one? It is. As the Doctor says - that’s one down, and five to go. We’re off to a good start for this long story… 

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