The loveable companion K9 has starred (or co-starred) in three Doctor Who spin-offs so far, with a fourth in the pipeline. Could he be the most successful companion in the Whoniverse?
It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. Every Doctor Who companion, monster and villain is jostling for recognition in the Whoniverse. But not everyone is going to get their own spin-off series. Jago and Litefoot almost managed it in the 1970s, and we’re still waiting on The Further Adventures of Duggan. There is one character, however, who keeps coming back despite all the odds, proving that you really can’t keep a good dog down.
The funny thing about K9 is that he was never intended to be a companion. Created by the writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin, he was originally planned to appear in just one story – ‘The Invisible Enemy’ in 1977. In the adventure, he is the robotic companion of Professor Marius, who built K9 to replace the real dog he left on Earth.
However, Doctor Who‘s producer Graham Williams was so taken with the professor’s creation that he decided to make K9 a full-time companion. This was great news for the younger viewers who, like Williams, took an instant liking to the Doctor’s new friend. But K9 proved problematic for the script writers and the production team. He wasn’t the most manoeuvrable of companions, and he was liable to crash into walls and break down – not good when you’re on a tight filming schedule.
So when Doctor Who‘s new producer John Nathan-Turner took over in 1980, he had something of a problem. He didn’t like K9 and wanted him out of the programme as quickly as possible. But at the same time, the character was still immensely popular. Nathan-Turner needed a compromise that would please everyone.
This was the catalyst for the creation of Doctor Who‘s first ever spin-off series – or, at the very least, its pilot episode. Titled K9 and Company, the show told the further adventures of the Doctor’s robot companion; in the pilot, he is sent to Sarah Jane Smith as a Christmas present, and the pair join forces to bring down a witch’s coven in the fictional village of Moreton Harwood.
The pilot was a success, and attracted 8.4 million viewers when it was first screened in 1981 – more than the average episode of Doctor Who, at the time. The new BBC One controller, however, wasn’t too keen on the idea, and decided against a full series.
But this didn’t stop K9. Indeed, when Doctor Who returned in 2005, he was one of the first classic characters to be called upon, returning with Sarah Jane Smith in the 2006 episode ‘School Reunion.’ And by the end of the story – after a repair job and a lick of paint – the duo were back in business. This led to yet another Doctor Who spin-off series titled The Sarah Jane Adventures, where K9 went on to make a number of brief appearances.
This time, though, he is working in deep space, and Sarah Jane can only communicate with him from a distance (in the early episodes, at least.) The exact reasons for this are unclear. It may have been that the producers simply didn’t want K9 to be a regular character in The Sarah Jane Adventures. Or it may have had something to do with Bob Baker’s plans for a spin-off of his own.
This is where things get a bit complicated. Like other Doctor Who characters such as the Daleks, the BBC shares the copyright with their creators, and in K9’s case the copyright is split between the BBC, Bob Baker and Dave Martin. And by 2006, Bob Baker was already formulating plans to give the dog his very own show. So it would make sense if the producers of The Sarah Jane Adventures were trying to keep his appearances fleeting; it may have caused a number of continuity headaches (even though, at this point in the show’s history, there were already multiple versions of K9 in operation!)
Bob Baker did achieve his goal, though, and in 2010 the 26-part K9 TV series began transmitting in Australia. This spin-off had few connections to the wider Doctor Who universe, but did feature John Leeson as the voice of the titular character (Leeson had been the original voice of K9 in ‘The Invisible Enemy.’) Moreover, the character was given something of a re-design, and gained the ability to fly.
In the series, we catch up with K9 in a futuristic London, where he is on the tail of a villainous warrior named Jixen who has come through a space-time portal. K9 is forced to self-destruct in order to save his new friends, but he leaves instructions for his reconstruction. From then on, K9 and his human companions start defending the world of 2050 from a host of alien threats.
The spin-off ran for one series, and although a second was planned, it was eventually replaced with a movie titled K9: TimeQuake. Originally announced in 2015, the film apparently has no connection with the Australian-made TV series, and will instead see K9 square up to the renegade Time Lord Omega – the main villain from 1973’s ‘The Three Doctors,’ whom Bob Baker also created. The film was originally slated for 2017, but has since been pushed back.
Similarly, the official K9 Facebook page announced that a new multi-million dollar series starring K9 was also in development. Set in space, the show was set to materialise before the Time Quake movie, and was also planned to feature Omega in some way. However, it has been three years since this announcement was made, and there have been no further announcements since.
So whilst the future looks uncertain for K9, there is no doubt that he is a prolific character in the Whoniverse. And having appeared in Doctor Who, K9 and Company, The Sarah Jane Adventures, K9 and now (potentially) the TimeQuake movie and connected series, he may have featured in more Doctor Who spin-offs than any other character.
Which of these shows is your favourite? And would you like to see more adventures starring the Doctor’s faithful companion? Let me know in the comments below.
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