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K9 and Company

Production Code: D300A

First Transmitted

A Girl's Best Friend - 28/12/1981

Plot

The gap between seasons eighteen and nineteen was enlivened for Doctor Who viewers not only by The Five Faces of Doctor Who, a BBC2-transmitted run of repeats that for the first time ever featured stories from Doctors other than the current incumbent, but also by a one-off, fifty-minute special that John Nathan-Turner hoped would launch a whole new spin-off series.

Following the public outcry that had occurred when the news that K9 would be leaving Doctor Who filtered out in early June 1980, Nathan-Turner had put forward to his BBC superiors the suggestion that the robot dog be given its own programme. This idea had been approved and a pilot production set in motion. The initial outline for the story was written by Nathan-Turner himself at the end of April 1981, under the working title One Girl and Her Dog. This sketched out a basic idea for a 'black magic yarn' set in an English country village, involving Sarah Jane Smith, her Aunt Lavinia's ward Brendan and K9 mark III - apparently a gift left for her by the Doctor, but in fact under the control of his arch-enemy the Master. In terms of style, the production was envisaged as being more in the mould of The Avengers than of Doctor Who.

At the beginning of May 1981, Nathan-Turner and new temporary Doctor Who script editor Antony Root produced a format document for the programme, now entitled A Girl's Best Friend, which contained character outlines of Sarah and K9 and a refined synopsis of the story, this time with no mention of K9 being under the Master's control. It was shortly after this, on 12 May, that Nathan-Turner first contacted Elisabeth Sladen to see if she would be willing to appear in the special. Fortunately she readily agreed - something she had previously resisted doing when invited first by Graham Williams and then by Nathan-Turner himself to return as a regular in the parent series. She would be joined by John Leeson, who agreed to reprise his role as K9's voice.

Terence Dudley was approached to script the special. After discussions and the preparation of a detailed scene breakdown he wrote a full draft script that stuck quite closely to the ideas developed by the production team but fleshed them out accordingly. Root's successor, Eric Saward, made a number of amendments to the script during September 1981 - by which time the special had acquired its final title of K9 and Company (Nathan-Turner's superiors having requested that it refer explicitly to K9), with A Girl's Best Friend relegated to a subtitle.

Location shooting - including for the title sequence, which Nathan-Turner decided should be in the same style as those for the US series Hart to Hart and Hawaii Five-0 - was carried out in November 1981 near Cirencester in the Gloucestershire countryside. A two-day studio session subsequently took place at the BBC's Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham.

K9 and Company: A Girl's Best Friend, the first bona fide TV spin off from Doctor Who, was eventually seen by viewers on Monday 28 December 1981 as part of the Christmas season on BBC1. In the story as transmitted, Sarah pays a Christmas visit to her Aunt Lavinia's house in the village of Moreton Harwood. She discovers that Lavinia, a noted scientist, has yet to return from a lecture tour of the USA. She does however meet Brendan - Lavinia's ward - and Commander Bill Pollock - her partner in a small market garden business. Also in the house, in a box sent to her by the Doctor, she finds K9. Brendan is kidnapped by a local coven of witches who want to sacrifice him to the goddess Hecate. Sarah, with K9's assistance, foils their plan and unmasks their leaders - Commander Pollock and local postmistress Lily Gregson.

The special won a quite respectable viewing figure of 8.4 million and would no doubt have done even better had it not been for the fact that the Winter Hill transmitter in the North West region suffered a power blackout at the time. The option of a full series was never pursued, however. The programme had a single repeat screening the following Christmas, on 24 December 1982 on BBC2, where it pulled an audience of 2.1 million.

Roots

Enid Blyton.

Denis Wheatley.

Dialogue Disasters

Lilly Gregson : [On the subject of worshipping Satan:] "They're a bit sensitive about that round here. It's traditional, you see!"

Aunt Lavinia : [A mixed metaphor concerning Sarah:] "She's like a butterfly, never in one place long enough to lick a stamp."

Double Entendre

Mrs Baker : [Inviting Sarah to dinner] "We'll have you tucked up in bed well before midnight."

Sarah Jane Smith : "I think I'd be very poor company."

Continuity

Sarah has learnt martial arts, and has returned from working for Reuters in the USA to write a book. She met Bill Pollock two years ago. Brendan is Lavinia's ward [she corrects the term 'nephew', so he isn't Sarah's cousin]. He goes to school at Wellington, and is well-informed on computers and agriculture, planning to take three extra 'O' levels.

Lavinia moved from Croydon two years ago, taking the crate from the attic that contained K9 with her. This is K9 Mark III, who last heard the Doctor's voice in 1978 [suggesting that he was built while Mark 2 was still with the Doctor, and delivered to Croydon either before 'City Of Death' (from France?), Shada (a year or so late) or The Leisure Hive (the best bet, if Brighton beach is set in 1978)].

K9 has a self-charging nuclear battery, an integrated holographic memory (which is quicker and better than a human brain) and five heuristic interfaces. He answers the question 'Who is the Doctor?' with 'Affirmative' [meaning he doesn't really know either].

Location

Morton Harwood, Gloucestershire, the nearest station being Chipping Norton, December 6-25, 1981.

Links

Technobabble

Like any ZX81-era computer, K9 has a Ri-Sec Bus Driver, and doesn't need updating from a piggyback board.

Goofs

The policeman's gurning death.

The growl dubbed onto Pollock's placid-looking dog.

Tracy's bizarre identification of K9 as Hecate's servant, 'a dog belching fire!'

Fashion Victim

Sarah's Kays Catalogue wardrobe, including an amazing brown skirt/trouser suit thing that wouldn't have looked out of place on one of Spandau Ballet. And as for the jogging outfit seen in the title sequence...

Cast & Crew

Cast

Sarah Jane Smith - Elisabeth Sladen

Voice of K9 - John Leeson

Aunt Lavinia - Mary Wimbush

Brendan - Ian Sears

Colin Jeavons - George Tracey

Commander Bill Pollock - Bill Fraser

Henry Tobias - John Quarmby

Howard Baker - Neville Barber

Juno Baker - Linda Polan

Lilly Gregson - Gillian Martell

P.C. Carter - Stephen Oxley

Peter Tracey - Sean Chapman

Sergeant Vince Wilson - Nigel Gregory

Crew

Director - John Black

Producer - John Nathan-Turner

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Writer - Terence Dudley

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

A really terrible title sequence, an unpolished and puzzling script whose villain is so obvious you wonder if it's going to be the twist that he didn't do it, and a vast lack of actual K9 sequences all add up to a very weak pilot.

It's only saved by Ian Sears' wonderful Brendan (his laugh is awesome) and Elisabeth Sladen's continuing ability to save bad scenes. The series, with devilish cults all over the country and most of Morton Harwood in jail, would have been interesting to say the least...

< The Keeper of Traken DoctorCastrovalva >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.



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