The Ribos Operation
Target novelisation
Doctor Who and the Ribos Operation

Author Ian Marter Cover image
Published 1979
ISBN 0 426 20092 6
First Edition Cover John Geary

Back cover blurb: Reluctantly cancelling his well-earned holiday, the Doctor sets off in the TARDIS to trace and re-assemble the six segments of the Key to Time on which the stability of the entire Universe depends. Assisted by the argumentative Romanadvoratrelundar and K9, he lands on the planet Ribos in search of the first segment and finds himself entangled in the machinations of two sinister strangers, Garron and the Graff Vynda Ka. Who are they? Is Garron simply a shady confidence-trickster dealing in interplanetary real estate? Is the Graff Vynda Ka just a power-crazed exile bent on revenge? Or are they both really agents of the Black Guardian, intent upon seizing the precious Key in order to throw the Universe into eternal chaos? Risking his life within the monster-infested catacombs of Ribos, the Doctor has to use all his wit and ingenuity to find out...


Even a Holmes script can become a poor book by Tim Roll-Pickering 4/5/04

On television, The Ribos Operation is an exceptionally dull story with an uninspired setting, ill-defined characters and a weak plot driven all too often by convenient narrative devices such as the Seeker. Sadly this carries over into the novelised form, despite the book being handled by Ian Marter, which would normally lead the reader to hope that a less frequent noveliser might at least bring a degree of freshness rather than the routine almost manufactured novelisations that formed much of Target's output in the late 1970s. Unfortunately this is not the case and it seems that even a Robert Holmes script can be difficult to turn into a good book when the original story simply isn't up to much.

What is fundamentally lacking is any real sense of scale. The opening encounter with the White Guardian is extremely brief, telling us next to nothing about the Guardians or in any real way making the danger posed by the "forces of chaos" seem in any way threatening. Instead much is cut, such as the Guardian threatening the Doctor or imposing an assisstant upon him, and we are left with what comes across as very similar to the opening sequence of a game show where the contestant is given their mission instructions. After the early scenes next to nothing is established further about the reasons behind the quest, or the threat that the Black Guardian poses (ignore what the back cover blurb says, this is never suggested at all in the text).

We then reach Ribos and follow the run around as everyone goes chasing after the Jethryk until the ending when most of the cast has been wiped out and the Doctor and Romana manage to sneak the segment away. Were it not for the Key to Time element, it is very doubtful that this story would ever have been made - the story of the Doctor preventing a confidence trickster selling a planet to a galactic warlord just doesn't offer much real meat and this is even more obvious in printed form than on screen. Marter does try to flesh out some of the characters, offering some background, but this just isn't enough to bring the story together. This is really a historical or even fantasy tale that has been transposed to an alien world but in the final construction it just doesn't come together. There's comparitively little "wit and ingenuity" used to resolve the story, with both the destruction of the Graff Vynda-Ka and the securing of the segment being achieved by the Doctor's sleight of hand. Fans who criticise other eras for violence might raise an eyebrow at the Doctor here attaching a ticking time bomb to a man - easily far more destructive than accidentally knocking one into an acid bath.

Despite Ian Marter's best efforts, this book ultimately just doesn't work for me. It has tried to tell a good story, and even offers 139 narrative pages to do so, but ultimately it is building upon a very poor base and simply doesn't work. One to ignore. 3/10