According to Doctor Who lore, 'K9 and Company - A Girl's Best Friend', was intended to be a pilot for an ongoing spin-off series featuring the eponymous robot dog, and accompanied by other former companion Sarah Jane Smith. Watching it again however, I can't help feeling that what actually happened is that John Nathan-Turner said to his superiors something along the lines of "You want a Doctor Who spin-off featuring K9? Well before you commit to a full series, let me show you just how badly it could turn out…"
To be fair, whilst fans have long debated the subject of whether or not Doctor Who is a children's programme, I think I can quite safely describe 'K9 and Company' as a story aimed at the younger members of its parent series' audience. Possibly children who are still reading Enid Blyton's Secret Seven books, in fact. With a black magic coven in a sleepy English countryside village, the plot of 'K9 and Company' manages at the same time to be both ludicrous and dull. The moronic portrayal of witchcraft bears so little resemblance to any real pagan religion of which I am aware that it makes the Master's coven from 'The Dæmons' look convincing. Naturally, the members of this coven are superstitious country bumpkins. As if all this wasn't bad enough, there's actually very little of interest going on within the confines of this already dubious plot. There is an attempt at misdirection by writer Terence Dudley, who tries, with reasonable success, to divert suspicion from the gruff but likeable Commander Pollock, and towards innocent couple Juno and Howard Baker. Amusingly, this means that Howard Baker ends up seeming creepy early on in the story for no actual reason. Aside from this however, everything is painfully obvious and straightforward, with almost every other inhabitant of Morton Harwood seemingly prepared to participate in murder out of fear of Hecate.
This derivative and unconvincing drivel could have been saved by the combination of K9 Mark III and Sarah Jane, and to be fair, Elizabeth Sladen falls back into her old role with ease, perfectly reprising the character of old. The problem is, the character of old here appears to be written as a poor man's Mrs. Emma Peel, thanks to Sarah's newfound martial arts skills and the fact that she is basically dealing with lunatics in a pleasant English village. It isn't that Sarah is written out of character, just that the script feels so half-hearted that it seems to have been weakly inspired by numerous other sources and lacks originality. K9 might perhaps be expected to add a more distinctive feel to the proceedings, but incredibly, he's barely used. Possibly due to the limitations of the prop on location, K9 spends most of his time trundling around Aunt Lavinia's house, either spouting expository dialogue or acting as a mobile gun. The finale, in which he knocks out more or less the entire coven, really emphasizes just how banal the whole thing is; Dudley seems to have been unable to get past the issue of K9 being too powerful, often touted as the reason for John Nathan-Turner deciding that K9 should leave Doctor Who. Consequently, all K9 really does here is wait until the end and then shoot the villains. His other scenes are entirely padding, even his deductions about the plot already nearly reached by Sarah or Brendan. Despite the story's title, this is not a story about K9, it is a story about Sarah Jane, who as Big Finish have demonstrated is a character with enough potential to carry her own series. K9 is there to pitch the story at a young audience, and so in addition to one of the single most embarrassing title sequences of any television series that I have ever seen, we have the dull "comedy" of K9 quizzically approaching a garden gnome and accidentally breaking a greenhouse as a result, and K9 attempting to sing "We Wish you a Merry Christmas" at the end.
Aside from all that, there is very little else to say about 'K9 and Company'. The location filming and the studio sets both look nice, and John Black competently if unimpressively directs the story. Of the guest cast, Bill Fraser is quite good as Commander Pollock and actually seems to be making more of an effort here than he did as General Grugger in 'Meglos'. Also worthy of note is Mary Wimbush as Aunt Lavinia, who brings to mind Beatrix Lehmann's Professor Rumford from 'The Stones of Blood', and Ian Sears as Brendan who acts with an enthusiasm that suggests that this is his first television work. The rest of the cast vary from those who are reasonable enough but seem to be acting on auto-pilot (Linda Polan and Neville Barber as the Bakers), to the plain awful (Sean Chapman as Peter Tracey). Ultimately, 'K9 and Company' is a failed experiment and, perhaps, a wasted opportunity.
Filters: Television Sarah Jane Adventures
Intended (by its producer at least) as a pilot for a potential full series, K-9 and Company brought together two of Doctor Who's most popular companions - Sarah-Jane Smith and the robot dog K-9. Team-ups such as this are always exciting and in this case, on first transmission, it was doubly thrilling as the episode bridged the gap between the Five Faces of Doctor Who repeat season and our first glimpses of Peter Davison in action as the Doctor. Sadly, for fans based in the North-west of England, celebrations were delayed when the Winter Hill transmitter suffered a technical problem just a few hours before K-9 and Company was due to be broadcast. As a result, viewers in Liverpool, Manchester and Lancashire would have to wait until the following year, when the episode was rebroadcast.
The story begins with one of the single most bonkers-mad title sequences ever. The title music is excitable and not at all out of place with such thrilling action series as Magnum, Charlie's Angels and other glossy American shows. That this particular production was clearly filmed up a freezing cold hill in autumn unfortunately undermines the effect somewhat as we see fast-edited shots of K-9 on a wall while Sarah swigs Chardonnay (in a red wine glass, no less) while typing up a story outside her local pub. It's an unintentionally funny sequence that sets us up perfectly for what is to follow.
Though the episode works well in reintroducing the lead characters, 'A Girl's Best Friend' (as the episode was subtitled) had a difficult task in trying not to be too much like a rehash of Doctor Who while simultaneously having to be familiar enough to those people who were only tuning in because of the connection to that particular series. It doesn't have any monsters, aliens or spaceships, but it does have similar views on the occult, dismissing it all as superstitious nonsense. It also shares the unfortunate trait of labelling anyone with a faith as an evil nutter.
The producer, John Nathan-Turner, was always concerned with the tabloids making connections of a sexual nature between the leads in Doctor Who. His oft-quoted phrase 'no hanky-panky in the TARDIS' now comes across as a rather odd thing to be worried about in the light of the successful relationship between the Doctor and his companion in the 2005 series. But that was the edict behind 1980s Doctor Who, which led to the casting of a male juvenile companion for both the Doctor and for Sarah-Jane. There's really no danger of Brendan being mistaken for Sarah-Jane's underage lover as he's quite a sexless being. That goes for the rest of the cast too though: Mr Tracey might have a son, but there's no sign of a Mrs Tracey anywhere; Juno Baker and her hubby possibly sleep in separate rooms, such is the lack of genune connection between them; and both Sarah and her Aunt Lavinia have the independent air of feminism-as-written-by-men where they clearly must not be allowed to indulge in any sexual relationships. Hence Sarah being saddled with her aunt's ward (surely a word that, Batman aside, hasn't been uttered in any other fiction written after 1940?).
'A Girl's Best Friend' turns out to be an entertaining, if slight, piece of drama. One can't help wondering how a whole series might have paned out though, with Juno and Howard Baker continuing to act like a pair of guilty-as-sin swingers just waiting to entrap Sarah while villager after yokel villager is exposed as a devil-worshipping criminal. Just so long as they remembered the rule - 'no hanky panky in Morton Harwood'...
I always got the impression John Nathan-Turner didn't have a particularly well-developed sense of humour, and unfortunately that seems to be borne out by K-9 and Company. All the elements are there to make for a really funny series full of dramatic coincidences and misunderstandings but it all falls a bit flat in the execution. It's perhaps that missed opportunity that led to the episode failing to make it to the hoped-for full series. Still, it gave Doctor Who fans their very own 'Goat Story for Christmas' (groan) to enjoy every December since.
Filters: Television Sarah Jane Adventures