Sing along with Martin Rayburn, "K-9... K-9... K-9..."
Until the arrival of Torchwood in 2007, K-9 & Company held the honour of being the only Doctor Who spin-off to make it to the small screen. It is, as the title implies, about the Doctor's robotic companion K-9 (created by Bob Baker and Dave Martin) who had been part of the show since 1977's The Invisible Enemy and was written out at the end of Warriors' Gate in 1980. To say K-9 was popular is an understatement, whilst not quite reaching levels of 1960's Dalekmania it's fair to say children up and down the country found a new favourite character to love in their already favourite Saturday tea-time programme.
The incoming producer of Doctor Who, John Nathan-Turner was not a fan of K-9, and set about cleaning shop to bring his vision of Doctor Who to the screen. So when the news broke of K-9's departure it caused a lot of media fuss, with red top papers like the The Sun running campaigns to keep him from being put back in the kennels. Never one to miss a promotional opportunity, Nathan-Turner 'decided' it would be a good idea to give K-9 his own show. Not quite on his own, though, as he would be sharing it with former companion Sarah Jane Smith (played by the late Elisabeth Sladen).
K-9 And Company sees Sarah travel to the sleepy English village of Moreton Harwood to spend Christmas with her Aunt Lavinia (referenced as far back as Sarah's 1974 debut story The Time Warrior), only to find her missing. A mysterious coven devoted to the god Hecate is at work. Luckily for Sarah, she has help, partly from her aunt's nerdy ward Brendan Richards (played by Ian Sears) and K-9 himself, who has been given to her by the Doctor.
This always made me wonder just how many versions of K-9 are there? Leela got one, as did Romana, so this must be Mark 3. Are there others we should know about? Does "every planet have a China" with a K-9 production line chucking them out by the dozen?
But I digress. Suspicion as to who is behind the coven falls on local rich woman Juno Baker (played by the late Linda Polan), I suspect the choice of surname was a unsubtle reference to the great Tom.
From a script by Terence Dudley, 'K-9 & Company - A Girl's Best Friend' was intended as a pilot episode for an ongoing series. Unsurprisingly, it bears a strong resemblance to Doctor Who, most notably the 1971 Jon Pertwee story The Daemons. Among the supporting cast were Bill Fraser and
Colin Jeavons, both of whom had appeared in the parent show.
It's reasonably entertaining, if somewhat slow, but it did go some way towards filling the
interminable gap between the final part of Logopolis and the first
part of Castrovalva, and it would've been nice to have a spin-off series set in the Doctor Who universe which was broadcast during the parent show's off-season. Ratings were actually pretty good, but the BBC did not pick up on the option of a full series.
So why did it fail? Multiple reasons, but the first most in-your-face one is the title sequence - it is just dreadful. Shot
as an imitation of U.S. shows such as Hart To Hart, it makes Sladen
look foolish, and has a theme tune (by Fiacra Trench and Ian Levine)
which consists of "K-9" being repeated ad nauseaum interspersed with
electronic bleeps and bloops.
It's also very clear just how self
limiting the format would've been had it gone to series. Set on present
day Earth with no monsters, and the villains being pagan worshipers....
where do you go from there? Maybe Sarah, K-9 and Brendan would've
traveled the sleepy villages of rural England in Sarah's old Metro, each week thwarting a different
chapter of pagan worshipers? That sounds like fun!
However, it was great to have Elisabeth Sladen back as Sarah Jane, effortlessly moving into the role normally fulfilled by the Doctor. She'd resisted returning to Doctor Who even after an offer came in for Sarah Jane to resume her travels in the TARDIS after Leela's departure. Although this was short lived, Sarah-Jane remained the custodian of K-9, popping up again during 1983's The Five Doctors, and twenty-five years on from K-9 And Company they both returned to Doctor Who in the
excellent School Reunion episode. This in turn led to the Sarah
Jane Adventures, which occasionally featured the metal mutt.
Elisabeth Sladen's involvement in K-9 And Company is the high point of the show, she's the one that makes it worth watching. It's difficult to put your finger on what it was that she 'had', but whatever it was, it was really
By day, an ordinary bloke in a dull 9 to 5. By night, a tired ordinary
bloke. Martin still hasn't worked out what he wants to do when he grows
up. He is currently 46.