Heroes of Doctor Who: K9

By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues

copyright BBC

We once again comb the massive history of Doctor Who and focus on the characters who created the Timelord  we know and love… this week, K-9.

In an attempt to cash in on the success of the droids in Star Wars, it was decided that the Doctor and Leela would gain a robot companion in the shape of a dog.

We first met K-9 in the Invisible Enemy which saw the universe threatened by a virus that took over the Doctor. It was left to Leela and K-9 to keep the hordes at bay and the bond between them was obvious straight from the start.

As K-9 was a late addition to the show several scripts could not accommodate him and he was absent for a couple of stories being left inside the Tardis or contracting laryngitis but the public fell in love with the little dog. Voiced by John Leeson, who used to rehearse on set alongside Tom Baker and both actors became firm friends and helped the Doctor fall in love with the little tin dog. K-9 had his own personality with a dry humour and was the only one to beat the Doctor at chess – which didn’t go down well with the Time Lord.

Like any companion, K-9 faced death at many turns including death in a furnace and being smothered by Wolf Weeds in Creature from the Pit and being beheaded by Marshmen in Full Circle.

All together there are three versions of K-9. The first stayed behind on Gallifrey with Leela in the climax of Invasion of Time. It was revealed then that the Doctor had secretly built another version of his own with marked improvements on the original.

It has often been wanted by fans for a face-off between the Daleks and K9 but we never got it. For Destiny of the Daleks, he was trapped in the Tardis beneath a pile of rubble. However, in the Dogs of Doom comic strip we got what we wanted and the little dog was more than a match for the Daleks.

It is widely known Tom would have been happy to have John himself crawl about in a dog outfit as the prop dog was hard work and prone to all sorts of mechanical problems. But it all helped to endear the character to the masses. Like all dogs, K9 was a brave little soldier battling the giant stone Ogri to the point where he was badly damaged even though he made them turn tail. He also found a similar foe in the Pirate Planet in the shape of the Captain’s mechanical parrot who had a laser in its beak. In State of Decay it was up to K9 to communicate with the Tardis to find the ancient scrolls about the giant vampires, an old enemy of the Time Lords with whom they waged a war.

But incoming producer John Nathan Turner decided that having a super computer in the form of K9 was an easy get out clause for the Doctor and he had to go. In Warriors Gate, K9 was damaged beyond repair by the time winds in the void between E space and our universe. Only by passing through the Tharil mirrors could he be saved. Unfortunately it was a one way trip but he and Romana stayed behind to help free the Tharils from slavery.

And that was that until the emergence of a spin off show called K9 and company starring Sarah Jane teamed her up with the little dog, sent to her as a present from the Doctor. Again he was voiced by John Leeson but it never went to a series.

But the Juggernaught that is Doctor Who fills many arenas and the novels continued the story of K9.

He was the Doctor’s constant companion in the fourth Doctor comic strips and Big Finish brought version one and Leela to the fore in the Gallifrey audio series. But in David Tennant’s first season we find him reunited with both Sarah Jane and K9 in School Reunion. Here K9 was in a poor state, surprising given Sarah’s connections with UNIT and the Doctor managed to repair him for the battle with the bat like Krillitanes. And in one final selfless act this K9 was destroyed in an explosion when he took out the Krillitanes in one blow. But seeing t how upset Sarah was the Doctor conjured up a new more durable version, ensuring he would never get into that state again. This left Sarah and K9 to go off and have their own adventures in the Sarah Jane Adventures. However, in the first series he was trapped orbiting a black hole in another dimension, staying there to protect the Earth.

However it was K9 that managed to save the day at the end of Journey’s End by transmitting the Tardis base code to the Tardis in order to being Earth home to its original position in space having been stolen by Davros and the Daleks.

But it wasn’t long before K9 could return to Earth and be by his mistress’s side once more and engaging in a bitch fest relationship with Mr Smith, Sarah’s super computer. When her son Luke went to university K9 went with him and that’s where he is to this day but not before helping the Doctor one last time in The Wedding of Sarah Jane when the Trickster trapped them all in different points of time to destroy Sarah once and for all. Clyde has even been known to take him to school to cheat in exams.

There is even an Australian version of K9 where our familiar version is destroyed but regenerates into a futuristic version which can fly. Battling an array of outrageous villains, the series only went for one series but having never seen it can’t really comment on how successful or faithful it was to its parent show.

But that’s K9; even this generation kids fell in love with him all over again and you can buy a remote control version in large and small sizes. Mine’s still in its boxes and in our house that Christmas my son and I both got K9s, something I thought I’d never see.

Something tells me that little tin dog is going nowhere anytime soon.

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