'K-9' - the Television Series

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K-9 (2009-10) was a British/Australian television series featuring K-9, a talking robotic dog created for the 1977 series of Doctor Who by writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin. The K-9 series was created by Bob Baker and Paul Tams and revolved around the adventures of a flying K-9 set in London in the near future. 26 × 25-minute episodes were made.

K-9

K-9 was popular with Doctor Who's young audiences and remained in the show until 1981, when he starred in Doctor Who's first spin-off series, K-9 and Company, which only made it to one 50-minute pilot.

K-9, voiced by John Leeson, first appeared in Doctor Who in series 15 story 'The Invisible Enemy' (1977) as Professor Marius's pet. Although originally intended to just appear in 'The Invisible Enemy', set in the year 5000, this story's ending was re-written to allow K-9 to accompany the Doctor as played by Tom Baker on his travels with Leela, yet at the end of series 15 K-9 left the Doctor to stay with Leela on Gallifrey. This K-9 has since been called Mark I.

K-9 Mark II, believed to have been built by the Doctor, appeared in the first story of series 16 (1978-9), accompanying the Doctor and Romana. In series 17 (1979-80) he was voiced by David Brierley although John Leeson returned to the role for series 18 (1980-1). Halfway through series 18, K-9 and Romana leave the TARDIS and the series. In 1981 K-9 Mark III appeared in spin-off K-9 and Company as a present given to the Doctor's former companion Sarah-Jane Smith, appearing again in Doctor Who's 20th anniversary special 'The Five Doctors' (1983) and later in Series 21 episode 'School Reunion' (2006), where he sacrifices himself to defeat an alien invader. The Doctor rebuilds K-9 to create the K-9 Mark IV, who would occasionally appear in The Sarah Jane Adventures (2007-2011). All four BBC K-9s were played by the same model and had an identical appearance.

The K-9 seen in the K-9 television series is K-9 Mark I who has travelled backwards in time from the far future to 2050. After exploding in order to save Starkey, Jorjie, Darius and Professor Gryffen from an aggressive alien race he regenerates a new, curvier body. Although this new body allows him to fly, he has lost his long-term memory and cannot remember his personal past. Despite this, his databanks are unaffected.

Plot

K-9 is set in a dystopian London in 2050. The country is run by an oppressive police state known as the Department and the streets are patrolled by robotic policemen known as CCPCs, short for Cybernetic Civic Pacification (sic). As well as preventing disobedience and dissidents, the Department is involved in containing any aliens found on Earth.

The Department acquired a broken alien space/time portal called the Space-Time Manipulator and set Professor Gryffen the task to fix it. Unfortunately this portal has a habit of opening of its own volition, bringing aliens from across time and space to Gryffen's home. Gryffen, who lost his family under tragic circumstances, is agoraphobic and afraid of leaving his house.

Starkey is a 14-year-old orphan and dissident; calling himself 'Stark Reality' he protests against the Department and is hunted by the CCPCs as a result. He is the first human that K-9 encounters in the 21st Century and becomes K-9's master. His friend Jorjie Turner also abhors the Department, even though her mother June Turner works for the Department as the Head of Alien Activity. June allows the Professor, who is assisted by 15-year-old Darius, to head the 'K-9 Unit', much to the disgust of her rival Inspector Drake, Head of Public Order, who wishes to dissect K-9 as part of his plan to impose order.

Characters


CharacterActor
K-9John Leeson
StarkeyKeegan Joyce
Jorjie TurnerPhilippa Coulthard
Darius PikeDaniel Webber
Professor Alistair GryffenRobert Moloney
Inspector June TurnerRobyn Moore
Inspector DrakeConnor Van Vuuren

Production

As a freelance writer, Bob Baker2 wrote nine serials for Doctor Who in the 1970s, most of them with Dave Martin (1935-2007), including the tenth anniversary special 'The Three Doctors'. They retained the intellectual property rights to characters that they created for Doctor Who, including K-9. Despite the failure of the BBC-produced K-9 and Company in 1981, Baker tried repeatedly from the mid-90s onwards to create a spin-off series based on the dog, as he owned the rights to the character. This went through many different proposals without success.

The series other creator, Paul Tams, had started his career as an artist, illustrating the 1979 Dalek Annual, creating posters for films such as Flash Gordon and after working on record covers, moved into directing music videos. After Doctor Who left production in 1989 he was aware of the various fan fiction spin-offs being made and was interested in making one featuring K-9. After contacting Bob Baker in the mid-1990s the idea was developed into a full television series, although at the time the BBC felt that any science fiction series would be too expensive to make.

A K-9 series involving a young boy and girl travelling the galaxy was successfully pitched to channel Fox Kids. However when Fox Kids was relaunched following a lengthy Disney corporate takeover to become Jetix, this idea was cancelled. In 2005 Doctor Who was successfully re-launched and in 2006 K-9's appearance in episode 'School Reunion' was one of the early highlights. This resulted not only in the BBC commissioning Doctor Who spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures, but also renewed interest in the separate K-9 series. As the BBC had already committed not only to Doctor Who but also new spin-offs Torchwood (2006-11) and The Sarah Jane Adventures, they chose not to be involved.

Jetix3 agreed to fund the show if they could secure support from another broadcaster, which they gained in the form of Australia's Network Ten. Funding came from both companies as well as the Australian Film Finance Corporation and Screen Queensland, on condition that the series be made in Australia despite being set in London.

K-9's Appearance

Although K-9 was created by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, who retained the rights to use the character, K-9's design and actual appearance is owned by the BBC as he was designed by BBC in-house visual effects designer Tony Harding. In order to get around this, K-9's appearance is changed soon after his introduction in the series. Similarly, as K-9 was due to appear in K-9, plans for the robotic dog to be a regular character in The Sarah Jane Adventures had to be abandoned. To satisfy both the BBC and Bob Baker, K-9 was allowed to make a cameo appearance in the first episode 'Invasion of the Bane' where it is explained he is busy tidying-up a black hole and in exchange the original K-9 design appears briefly in K-94.

Paul Tams wanted his design to stay close to the original concept, explaining,

In the outline for 'The Invisible Enemy', K-9 was supposed to be sleek but still dog-like, and he could hover. Stuff the BBC couldn't afford to do in 1977… [When redesigning K-9] I kept the tartan collar and the red band on the eyes. I had fights with Disney over that because they said, 'Red is for danger – red is evil!'

Disney insisted on the new K-9 having a blue and silver colour scheme rather than the original gun-metal grey, as well as insisting that the new K-9 have what they termed 'characterful, floppy ears'. They also wanted to cast a new voice actor to play K-9, with Paul Tams saying,

There was a whole list of people Disney contacted for the role… a couple of well-known pop stars and a very well-known actor who works in fantasy. I just said, 'this isn't going to make the show look or sound any better – all you're going to do is alienate the 'Doctor Who' fans who are the core audience… We have to use John!' We got our way.

When John Leeson was interviewed by Doctor Who Magazine in 2016, he described the K-9 series with the words,

The Australian series was a strange thing. It didn't quite come together very well and I don't quite know why. Again, everything starts with the writing and they wanted a different K-9, the dynamics they wanted were changed to some degree. They asked me to do it… differently. I did as much as I could but it wasn't the same dynamic. I keep saying this to people, 'K-9 is not a lead character. He may be on a lead, but he's not a lead.' He's a filler-in, he gives colouration and a little bit of spark to things as and when he's permitted to do so.

Making the Series

When the series was in production, they had a week to prepare costumes and props and only three days in which to actually film each episode. The series proved incredibly popular in Australia and there were plans to make a second series, until channel Network Ten experienced financial difficulties. Disney then announced that due to the global economic downturn they would not be allocating any money to continue the series.

Although K-9 was not renewed, Bob Baker and Paul Tams have continued trying to get K-9-related projects off the drawing board. In 2015 they announced plans to make a K-9 film, provisionally titled TimeQuake. In this, K-9 – again voice by John Leeson - would face renegade Time Lord  Omega, another character Baker and Martin originally created for Doctor Who.

Review

K-9 was a series made on a small budget and so lacks the class and polish of its BBC counterpart, The Sarah Jane Adventures, despite the similar episode-length. Unlike The Sarah Jane Adventures, which had two-part stories, most K-9 episodes were standalone adventures. The predominantly single-episode stories mean that they only just had enough time to set up the episode's premise before needing to resolve it in time for the end credits to roll, which meant that the stories they told were necessarily simple, but not unenjoyable.

The series' biggest weakness is that it is set in London, but filmed in Brisbane. It is painfully obvious that K-9 is the only character with a British accent while the other actors sound like Dick van Dyke at the dentist. The series' set-up is that Britain is a dystopian police state, yet this is only shown with a few often-repeated stock-footage shots, frequently seen with K-9 flying in front. One shows the Tower of London transformed into an alien detention centre. Another shows the Thames and the London Eye, however when Inspector Drake decides to plant a bomb on the Eye in order to frame dissidents for a fake terrorist attack, it is painfully clear that they are actually filming at a small ferris wheel where no pod can hold more than two people. Similarly, the interior of what is supposed to be Saint Paul's Cathedral was instead filmed somewhere that looks remarkably like a rather small church. It would surely have made more sense to simply set the series in Australia instead.

Daniel Nettheim, the only person to direct both episodes of K-9 and Doctor Who5 described this with the words,

When the producers pitched it to me, they said, 'We're setting it in London, but we're filming it in Brisbane, Queensland' which is quite a tropical city in northern Australia. I said, 'Um, how does that work? There are places in Melbourne that can double for London, and there are places in Sydney that can double for London, but Brisbane doesn't look like London at all. You know it's got palm trees!' They said, 'Ah well, because this is set in the future, it's after global warming and there are now palm trees in London...?'
1Doctor Who ran for 26 series between 1963 and 1989. When it returned in 2005 the series count officially began again at series 1, not continuing to series 27.2K-9 is not the only iconic British dog Bob Baker has worked with. He is also well-known for co-writing Aardman's Wallace and Gromit films The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave, the feature-length Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and A Matter of Loaf and Death with Nick Park. All of these were Oscar-nominated, with two Best Animated Short Film wins and a Best Animated Film win.3By 2009, Jetix, a channel part-owned by Fox and Disney, was fully purchased by Disney and renamed Disney XD.4After the K-9 series ended, K-9 was able to appear more often in The Sarah Jane Adventures, using the original BBC design throughout.5Daniel Nettheim became the 99th person to direct Doctor Who when he directed two-part story 'The Zygon Invasion'/'The Zygon Inversion' (2015).

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