Jan. 8th, 2019

purplecat: The Fourth Doctor (Who:Four)
I was looking forward to The Ribos Operation. I've seen it at least a couple of times and had a positive memory that it looked good, had pretty solid characterisation and a nice sense of humour. It isn't an especially showy Doctor Who episode but, in some ways is the better for it. It doesn't raise over-high expectations, nor does it try to deliver on special effects beyond its ability. I was also expecting Tame Layman to like it, its a decent fourth Doctor episode with, again, a good sense of humour and I thought he'd be all over Binro the Heretic and the trials of a scientist in a superstitious culture.

Tame Layman was mostly rather unmoved by it and his main comment, in episode four, was that it was a bit of a pantomime. Now we had just watched Demons of the Punjab and I think pretty much any Tom Baker episode would look a little pantomimic next to it, but this was the moment in which the Doctor, Romana and Garron all try to hide in an alcove by lying on top of each other so you could see his point. In fact, while fandom has tended to laud Garron and Unstoffe as a classic Holmesian double-act, there is a fair bit of the DNA of pantomime in their interactions, schemes and sleight of hand.

All that said, of all the episodes of Doctor Who to get labelled "pantomime", The Ribos Operation would not be the one that instantly sprang to my mind. Everything I remembered about it still holds true: it does look good (in part because the BBC Costume department, as I've noted before, was much better at costumes with a historical flavour than it was at envisioning futuristic clothing). The characterisation is a little broad brush perhaps but the characters do benefit from being distinct and memorable with (mostly) their own agendas. There is plenty of humour not just from the "Holmesian double act", but also between the Doctor and new companion Romana and the pair of them and Garron. But I can also see why this doesn't make top ten lists, its a little too straightforward, it doesn't quite embrace its atmosphere of a medieval ice planet and the humour is often a little too arch and pleased with itself... and in direct comparison with Demons of the Punjab it does look a bit like a pantomime.

Poor Ribos Operation, I fear that circumstances on this viewing were against you.

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