The Never Ending Story of K9

I’ve always been a fan of the tin dog in his various incarnations. Heck, I even enjoyed K9 and Company back in 1981! Last year’s Spin-Off Week gave me the perfect opportunity to take a noisy trundle through K9’s appearances outside of the main Doctor Who show.

Obviously, first up we have the pilot for a show that never materialised, K-9 and Company. Episode 1 of a 1-episode series in 1 part aired on 28th December 1981 and featured the lovely and now much missed Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith alongside the eponymous “K-9”. Note the use of the “-” in the K-9 here. For some reason, there doesn’t ever appear to have been a consensus on how it should be written, but I digress…

This episode was called A Girl’s Best Friend and featured Sarah as the heroine this time, rather than a sidekick. This was how John Nathan-Turner pitched it to Sladen in order to entice her back to the role. She had been reluctant otherwise to return to the world of Doctor Who if it was just to be a companion again with nothing new to add. It is interesting to note that JNT had tried to get her to return in the slot that was eventually filled by Janet Fielding as Tegan. Anyway, I digress again. I’m good at that.

A Girl’s Best Friend saw a version of K-9 gifted to her by the Doctor (for some strange reason) by way of a long-unopened crate left with her Aunt Lavinia. The story introduces another of Aunt Lavinia’s “wards” named Brendan who functions as Sarah’s companion for this story, i.e. getting himself into trouble and needing to be rescued. The story is a fairly run-of-the-mill affair coven of witches planning a ritual sacrifice only to be thwarted by K-9’s timely use of his blaster set to stun. Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable romp and it was great to see Sarah and K-9 together after both had been absent for a while.

This show DID get very decent viewing figures, which would have warranted a full series, but a change of channel controllers spelled doom for the proposed show as the new controller, Alan Hart, wasn’t a fan of our favourite metal mutt and decided not to commission it. BOOOOOOOOO!

A brief mention here of K9’s next mainstream appearance as a brief cameo in the 1983 Doctor Who anniversary special, The Five Doctors, wherein he told Sarah that danger levels were rising! Where has K9 been all my life? I need an early warning system like that!

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Nothing more was to be heard from K9 on TV until his reappearance with Sarah in the Tenth Doctor story, School Reunion, in which he helps to save us all from the dastardly Krillitane. Sadly, the “shooty dog thing” is destroyed (or should that be killed? Is K9 truly alive?) but the Doctor replaces him with a new Mk IV model. You gotta wonder, if the Doctor can keep knocking up these replacements to give away, why doesn’t he build another for himself? That would solve the problem of the mortality of his companions and the fact they always leave. You’re never alone with a dog – metal or otherwise!

This leads us into K9’s biggest adventure outside of Doctor Who: The Sarah Jane Adventures. Sadly, his appearances were mere cameos in the first two series, but he became more of a regular from the third series onwards. The reason for his early absence was that there was another K9 TV show in development, simply called “K-9”. See? There’s the spelling inconsistency, again! For a much more detailed and insightful look at the background to the making of The Sarah Jane Adventures, take a look at THIS article from our very own Jonathan Appleton.

Another interesting side track in the televisual adventures of K9 was the ongoing saga of Bob Baker (K9’s co-creator) and Paul Tams trying to get a K9 TV show into production for since 1997, originally touted as a four-part series called The Adventures of K9 with an alleged seven figure budget. However, it failed to get funding despite interest from the BBC in purchasing broadcasting rights. It remained in “development hell” for a number of years, until in 2006 Jetix Europe announced they were working with Baker and Tams in partnership with a London-based distributor named Park Entertainment to bring a 26-part series to our telly box screens. This new treatment of the show would have been called K9 Adventures and be set in space. A year later, the show was simply named K-9 and would have been set on a space ship called Platte, “an old Prairie-class spacecraft” once used for asteroid colonisation. Additional characters would include Slocum, a thirty-something “space gypsy”, and Djinn, “an overactive computer module in the shape of an attractive young woman”. This early premise was abandoned before production began in Australia.

When the show eventually went into production in 2007, backed by the Australian Film Finance Corporation, the premise had morphed into a near future London-based show with two 14 year olds named Starkey and Jorjie as the protagonists, with a Professor Gryffen who is experimenting with a space-time manipulator and his assistant Darius. The show starts with K-9 Mark I following the villainous reptilian warrior Jixen who came through a space-time portal created by the professor’s experiments and saves the Londoners. While protecting them, K-9 is forced to self-destruct, but is able to give Starkey instructions to rebuild and regenerate himself into a more advanced form. K-9 and the humans then form the front line defence against alien menaces from outer space and other times. The main reason for the redesign of K-9 was that the BBC owned the character design, with Bob Baker owning the character rights. Also, rather conveniently so as to avoid references to Doctor Who, the newly “regenerated” K-9 claims that his memory is damaged so can’t remember anything of his former life – which was, according to Baker, with Leela on Gallifrey, as we remember from seeing the original K-9 being left there in The Invasion of Time. There were some subtle nods to the parent show, though, with K-9 humming a few notes of a well known theme tune and not knowing where it came from. There were also some pictures of creatures from the show seen in a book – Alpha Centauri from the Peladon stories, a Sea Devil, and a Mandrel (from Baker’s Nightmare of Eden). Another reference to this show’s origins come in the form of the professor’s home/lab – an old police station, much like our old police telephone box, complete with police lamp outside the front door.

The series ran for one series of 26 30-minute episodes, so has anyone here seen them? Was it worth the effort?

As for future incarnations of K9, Baker is hoping to get a rebooted second series off the ground with another different design for K9, and there is also talk of K9 feature film, announced last year, which will feature Omega as the villain. We are told the film will be released in 2017, but there is no news on when we might see another TV series.

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No spin-off round-up would be complete without a mention of the audio adventures. BBV brought us K9 Mk II with Lalla Ward as “The Mistress” in a series of adventures in a pocket universe – licencing issues again meant the names Romana and E-Space couldn’t be used.

Mary Tamm’s Romana and Louise Jameson’s Leela also appeared, as did Lalla Ward, with K9 at various times in Big Finish’s Fourth Doctor Adventures.

Interestingly, in Big Finish’s Zagreus and the Gallifrey series, we have BOTH K9 Mk I (with Leela) and K9 Mk II (with Romana) appearing, both voiced by John Leeson, of course. I’ve not heard them, but I can imagine that the conversations the two robot dogs would have had would have been great to listen to!

Would you like to see everyone’s favourite metal dog return to Doctor Who? Are you looking forward to K9: Timequake?