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K-9 Keeps Us Company on Christmas

By December 24, 2012

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K-9 and company.

K-9 and company.

© Disney XD

K-9, the Doctor's "tin dog," has been dividing fans (and creative teams) for decades now, ever since the writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin dreamed him up to provide a bit of obligatory expository dialog for the 1977 Fourth Doctor adventure "The Invisible Enemy." His stolid loyalty and brave defense of the Doctor clashed jarringly with his know-it-all smugness and his occasional overt use as a rolling, laser-blast-wielding plot device. The new production team inheriting him as a series fixture in 1980 famously hated him, even to the point of scripting catastrophic injuries for him before firmly writing him out.

And yet, thirty years on, K-9 continues to engender fond nostalgia for Seventies Doctor Who--so much so that many fans, and arguably the Doctor himself, were as charmed by K-9's reappearance in the new series episode "School Reunion" as by that of his mistress, Sarah Jane.

The fact that Baker and Martin retained the rights snarled his presence has complicated the tin dog's entire life. When Sarah Jane got her own spin-off the first time, it was the robot dog that got top billing (the very strange 1981 failed pilot K-9 and Company, itself scorned by many despite stout championing by a determined few). When Sarah Jane got a second chance after "School Reunion," K-9 [Mark IV] should have been there, seeing as he was at Sarah's side when we last saw him in Who (and again in "Journey's End"), but the licensing headache meant that K-9 appeared in only a handful of stories, written out the rest of the time as doing important work elsewhere in the universe.

What Baker wanted the whole time was a spin-off series showcasing K-9 without being overshadowed by rival celebrities from the Whoinverse. And eventually, with the new series a hit and Baker's own success, that persistence resulted in K-9, a series that aired in 2009-2010 on the UK wing of Disney XD and Australia's Network Ten, and which has now been acquired exclusively here by Syfy with a launch consisting of a Christmas Day marathon. (Which means that on Tuesday you'll have a choice between the Doctor, on BBC America, and his dog, on Syfy.) K-9 uses a mix of live action with and CGI to pits the robot dog K9 and his teenage friends against a number of human and alien adversaries.

And as usual, this latest version of K-9 thoroughly divides Doctor Who fans. Your willingness to accept this version of K-9 will depend on whether you have any emotional investment in the original character and, if so, whether you're open to dramatic departures from that concept. Doctor Who fans should, in theory, be open to radical change, considering the constant permutation of the title character, but sadly this is not always the case.

From the outset it both makes concerted efforts to connect with the original conception of K-9 (this is in fact the original version, Mark I, last seen when left behind with Leela on Gallifrey in "The Invasion of Time," and is voiced, crucially, by John Leeson) and immediately departs from it (in the first episode the damaged K-9 "regenerates" into a new-look, flying version of itself, but he can't remember his past life with the Doctor at all--for legal reasons, since Doctor Who is owned by the BBC but K-9 is not). No one can even agree on whether the show's name has a hyphen in it (the prop has one, but Syfy's press release does not).

However you spell it, and whatever you think of it, the K-9 marathon, starring Robert Moloney, Keegan Joyce, Philippa Coulthard and Daniel Webber, airs Christmas Day, Tuesday, December 25, from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Syfy.
Tags: Doctor Who, K-9, Bob Baker
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December 26, 2012 at 12:09 pm
(1) Katanya says:

Cute little show! Miss the Doctor though! Was hoping to see Tom Baker make a cameo and Leela

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