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Hughes on Artwork

The Ribos Operation

By Alistair Hughes


After completing the Leela Special cover, I then submitted six thumbnail sketches (very small roughs) to In-Vision, one for each story in the Key to Time season. Each of these 'thumbnails' was designed as a cover illustration (see the Leela Special article) and incorporated the criteria which Jeremy Bentham had explained to me at the Manopticon convention.

These were that each cover illustration was to feature a main character and/or main scene from the story concerned, plus the relevant segment of the Key to Time in its disguised state. The segment in its true, crystalline form was also to appear, superimposed over the whole illustration. This last idea, which appears in my Ribos thumbnail sketch, was later, thankfully, dropped.

A long period of waiting ensued after I had sent these designs, but during this time Jeremy sent me several photographs of the Key to Time segments, taken at the home of its current owner, a private collector. These have since proved to be extremely useful as I've also been commissioned to illustrate a sequence (at the top right of each In-Vision page) which shows the segments gradually fitting together. Given their irregular shapes this has been nothing short of 'mental gymnastics' to design!

Despite the optimism that receiving these prints brought me, a few more weeks dragged by, and I'd just about given up on the possibility of any further In-Vision work when a nice fat envelope finally arrived from Justin Richards, the editor.

It contained an outline of contributions required, and deadlines, for the entire year's issues. Not only had I been commissioned to produce the covers for the next issue The Ribos Operation and later The Androids of Tara, but various other artwork for every issue! With the Ribos cover deadline only two weeks away, I wasted no time in getting to work.


I was pleased to have been given The Ribos Operation cover to do, as it was one of my favourite designs from the set of six that I submitted. In-Vision had chosen it because they liked the emphasis on Romana, rather than the Doctor, and were also confident that I could make a tight deadline (as I had done with the Leela Special cover).

I wanted to use Romana as a main feature of this illustration, simply because The Ribos Operation introduces her character, and the tracer (which she is holding in her hand). Rendering her in a single colour (blue) was a last minute decision, but one which I'm very pleased with. Not only does it add to the cold atmosphere of the image, but it emphasises the 'Ice Goddess' aspect of Romana's character.

Garron (lain Cuthbertson) appears as the main story character, clasping the lump of Jethrik (enlarged with artist's license) which was, of course, the disguised first segment of the Key to Time. My wife contributed her hands for this pose.

The Ribos Operation is a story which had always struck me as having a very Russian flavour, so I included 'minaret-style' architecture on the skyline, based upon St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. I was keen on this idea, as were the In-Vision editors, as it had the effect of adding an extra dimension to what was a studio-based story.

Something which I am resisting in my In-Vision covers is to have Tom Baker's grinning face all over them. I feel that it's too much of a Target book cover cliché, and very limiting.

The technique used for this illustration was watercolour pencil, building up colour with almost countless layers of light, almost transparent, wash.

People have remarked that the illustration has a sort of 'mythical' feel, with Garron looking almost 'Hobbit-like', clutching his 'magic stone' while Romana resembles a snow queen (or maybe 'the Blue Fairy'?), holding her wand and looking on. It isn't an exciting image, but neither is the story. The script depended more on atmosphere and wit, which I've tried to reflect in my illustration.

Incidentally, the initials 'I.F.' appearing in Romana's hood belong to a Scottish fan who allowed me endless access to his magazines and video collection when I needed reference material for this illustration (my own reference material happened to be 12,000 miles away.) I'm expecting Alister Pearson to sue me for copyright any day now.


[Image 1] [Image 2] [Image 3]

1. The original thumbnail sketch (originally in colour). Note the pyramid- shaped 'first segment' superimposed in the centre which was later dropped.
2. A black and white preliminary sketch.
3. The published cover.

This item appeared in TSV 25 (October 1991).

Index nodes: Hughes on Artwork, The Ribos Operation