In 1977, a four-episode Doctor Who story entitled “The Invisible Enemy” aired. While the story primarily involved the fight against an evil intelligent virus, it also introduced a dog-shaped computer named K-9.
K-9 was the personal computer of one of the supporting characters in the story. However, at the end, K-9 stayed with the Doctor and his companion Leela, and went on to become one of the most popular characters on the show.
That K-9 left with Leela at the end of that season, but the Doctor immediately constructed K-9 Mark II, who remained on the show for the next couple season before eventually departing with the Doctor’s companion Romana in the story “Warriors’ Gate”.
However, the popularity of K-9 was strong enough that Doctor Who’s then-producer John Nathan-Turner decided to bring him back alongside a very popular former companion, Sarah Jane Smith, in a spin-off series called K-9 and Company.
In the pilot episode, “A Girl’s Best Friend”, Sarah Jane receives a mysterious package that turns out to be a gift from the Doctor: K-9 Mark III.
K-9 and Company did not survive beyond a single pilot episode. But Sarah Jane and K-9 Mark III later re-appeared on Doctor Who, first in the 1983 20th-anniversary story, “The Five Doctors” and then in the 2005 episode, “School Reunion”. K-9 is destroyed in that episode, but the Doctor gifts Sarah Jane with a new model, which is presumably the Mark IV (although there has never been any on-screen confirmation of this). This latest K-9 also made several appearances as a supporting character on The Sarah Jane Adventures (see our article about that series).
K-9’s original story, “The Invisible Enemy” was written by Bob Baker (also co-creator of the popular Wallace and Gromit) and Dave Martin, long-time writing partners who wrote many episodes of Doctor Who in the 70s. For quite some time, Baker had wanted to produce a spin-off series based solely on K-9. In 1997, he and producer Paul Tams announced they were working on a 4-part series called The Adventures of K-9, but the show never saw the light of day.
Doctor Who Deep Cuts: The History of the K-9 Spin-off
However, in 2006, it was again announced that Baker and Tams were again working on a K-9 series, and this time it happened. The show, titled simply K-9, began airing at the end of 2009. It was recorded in Brisbane, Australia, and aired on Network 10 in Australia and Disney XD in the United Kingdom, as well as other Disney channels across Europe.
K-9’s original voice actor, John Leeson, returned to voice the character for the series. One season of 26 thirty-minute episodes was made. And while there has been frequent talk of further seasons since then, no additional episodes have yet gone into production, and it seems highly unlikely at this point that there will be any more.
K-9 is not an official Doctor Who spin-off as it’s not licensed by the BBC. This means that it does not contain any direct references to its parent series, and can only use Doctor Who characters or aliens that Bob Baker created himself (along with Dave Martin, who passed away in 2007). However, the show does contain many indirect references to Doctor Who, such as references to K-9 “regenerating” and a book containing drawings of aliens, many of which look suspiciously like Doctor Who aliens.
K-9 takes place in a near-future dystopian London. In the opening episode, while trying to escape the police, two teenagers, Starkey and Jorjie, hide out in an old building which turns out to be the home of Professor Gryffen. The professor is experimenting with a Time-Space Manipulator. While they are there, the machine activates and two alien creatures called Jixen appear and attempt to kill everyone in the house. Before they can do so, however, the machine activates again and a robot dog appears.
K-9 takes care of the aliens, but can only do so by blowing himself up. However, he then regenerates into a new form. After his regeneration, however, K-9 has lost most of his memory. Much of the remainder of the series revolves around trying to restore K-9’s memories.
The K-9 Spin-off: The Characters
K-9 (voiced by John Leeson) Although it is never stated on-screen, according to Bob Baker, this is the original Mark I K-9 (though presumably heavily modified by the Time Lords, given his ability to regenerate). In the early moments of the first episode, K-9 appears the same as he always has on Doctor Who and its other spin-offs.
However, after the regeneration, he takes on a very new appearance—one much sleeker and more advanced-looking, and also capable of flight.
Starkey (played by Keegan Joyce)
Starkey is an orphan and a rebel against the system who constantly gets himself into trouble. He quickly becomes attached to K-9, who considers him his new master.
Jorjie (played by Philippa Coulthard) Jorjie is an adventurous girl who shares the same anti-system beliefs as Starkey. Her mother, however, is head of the alien activity section of the Department, a shadowy government organization.
Professor Gryffen (played by Robert Moloney)
Professor Gryffen is employed—somewhat unwillingly—by the Department to study the Space-Time Manipulator and get it working. The professor wants to get it working so that he can use it to bring his lost wife and children back.
Darius (played by Daniel Webber) Darius runs errands for Professor Gryffen and also acts as something of an unofficial bodyguard to him.
K-9 is, unfortunately, the weakest of the various television spin-offs of Doctor Who. However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to recommend. There are lots of fun moments, and John Leeson is in fine form as K-9, expertly portraying a computer that is trying to learn to use and understand emotions, particularly humour.
There are a number of plot inconsistencies (notably, early on Jorjie is unaware that her mother works for the Department and is surprised to find out, yet later episodes have her mother making public announcements on behalf of the Department, making one wonder how Jorjie could have ever been unaware), but its overall story is engaging, and many of the concepts show the breadth of imagination typical of Doctor Who programs.
There are also a lot of subtle references to its parent program, and Doctor Who fans can have a fun time finding them all.
As for the future of the character K-9, Bob Baker has been talking about a possible movie…