Tuesday, 28 December 2021

K9 & Company: A Girl's Best Friend

EPISODE: K9 & Company: A Girl's Best Friend
TRANSMITTED: Monday 28 December 1981
WRITER: Terence Dudley
DIRECTOR: John Black
SCRIPT EDITOR: Antony Root & Eric Saward
PRODUCER: John Nathan-Turner
RATINGS: 8.4 million viewers
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who: K9 Tales Box Set (Invisible Enemy/K9 and Company)

"The Doctor last spoke in 1978 Earth years. He said, give Sarah Jane Smith my fondest love. Tell her I shall remember her always"

Sarah Jane Smith goes to stay with her Aunt Lavinia for Christmas but discovers her aunt has vanished, supposedly on a lecture trip to America. Her Aunt's ward Brendan arrives unexpectedly early and together they open a box left for Sarah which contain K-9 Mark III, a gift from the Doctor. Becoming concerned when they are unable to contact Lavinia they investigate, gaining the attention of the local cult who kidnap Brendan. Sarah & K-9 deduce where the cult is meeting and rescue Brendan, preventing him from becoming a human sacrifice. Lavinia contacts Sarah from the States to let her know that she's alright.

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This is a bit of an odd beast: the only real Doctor Who spinoff made during the original series it exists in a bit of a vacuum by itself, bar it's Later references in The Five Doctors and the new series.

The very start of the episode, the setup, isn't that bad. We start with the mystery of the box:

LAVINIA: Oh, no. Leave that one, please. That's not to go. That's it. That's the last. Thank you.

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LAVINIA: That is typical of my niece. This was delivered to her so long ago, I can't remember. I had to bring it with me when I came here.
JUNO: Whatever's in it?
LAVINIA: I have no idea. I told her about it often enough, but she's like a butterfly, never in one place long enough to lick a stamp. If only I knew where she was.

The show's called K-9 & Company, it features ex-companion Sarah Jane Smith and the box is Tardis blue. I wonder who it's from and what's in it?
BRENDAN: What's this?
SARAH JANE: Precisely what I intend to find out. Aunt Lavinia says she's had it for ages, stuck away in the attic at Croydon.
Now this is interesting. Sarah's trying to get back to Croydon in Hand of Fear, did she share her previous house with her Aunt too hence the box being delivered there?
BRENDAN: Well, what is it?
SARAH JANE: I've no idea. Ooo, whatever it is, it's very heavy.
BRENDAN: Well, let's lift this.

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BRENDAN: It looks just like a dog. A metal dog. It's even got a name tag. There's nothing on it. It's got ears, tail. It's a mechanical dog.
SARAH JANE: No legs.
BRENDAN: No. Sort of wheels.
SARAH JANE: What do you think it does?
BRENDAN: Well, we could try asking it.
SARAH JANE: Chump. You'll be taking it for a walk next.
K9: Mistress.
SARAH JANE: Hey, don't muck about.
BRENDAN: It wasn't me.
K9: I spoke, mistress.
K9: I am K9 mark three.
SARAH JANE: K9 mark three.
K9: Affirmative.
BRENDAN: Oh, canine.
SARAH JANE: Brendan, stop honking. Where, where are you from, K9?


K9: From the Doctor.
SARAH JANE: From the Doctor?
K9: Affirmative.
SARAH JANE: You can't mean, the Doctor?
K9: My precise meaning, mistress. A gift to you.
SARAH JANE: Oh, Doctor, you didn't forget.
BRENDAN: Who is the Doctor?
K9: Affirmative.
SARAH JANE: He's a, oh, he's a very, very great friend of mine. How is he, K9? I may call you K9?
K9: It is my designation, mistress.
SARAH JANE: Well, how is he?
K9: No available data. What is the Earth year?
SARAH JANE: 1981. December 18th.
K9: The Doctor last spoke in 1978 Earth years. He said, give Sarah Jane Smith my fondest love. Tell her I shall remember her always.
SARAH JANE: Thank you, K9.


After that it all goes down the khazi a bit, turning into a a stereotypical tale of people involved in Black Magic in the countryside. It's not helped by the characters in the story, Sarah Jane excluded, being uniformly awful, with Brendan being the worst: another Adric fan identification figure who falls flat on his face. Then at the very end all bar the Bakers are unmasked as being in the Coven when it's blatantly obvious the Bakers are as dodgy as anything all along!

When it was announced that K-9 would be leaving Doctor Who there was a huge outcry in the press which led to this pilot project for K-9 being created. For season 18 of Doctor Who's new producer John Nathan-Turner had secured funding for an extra two episodes, raising the total for the season from 26 to 28 and allowing him to make seven four part stories, which was judged to be the ideal length. For season 19, two of those episodes are traded to make K-9 and Company.

It was written by Terence Dudley who had directed Meglos and, by this point, written both Four To Doomsday & Black Orchid for Peter Davison's first season. The director was John Black, who had successfully helmed Keeper of Traken for Tom Baker's last season and then directed Terrence Dudley's Four to Doomsday.

The story was made in November 1981 as part of Doctor Who Season 19 after the vast majority of the season had been filmed:

April 1981
Four to Doomsday Antony Root
May 1981
The Visitation Antony Root
July 1981
Kinda Eric Saward
September 1981
Castrovalva Eric Saward
October 1981
Black Orchid Eric Saward
November 1981
K-9 & Company Eric Saward & Antony Root
November 1981
Earthshock Antony Root*
January 1982
Time Flight Eric Saward

* Actually Eric Saward but credited as Antony Root due to Saward writing the story!

Doctor Who's producer John Nathan-Turner is in overall charge of the production and the script is edited by Antony Root & Eric Saward, the two men who between them script edited season 19 of Doctor Who. In short, given that this was made by the Doctor Who production team and others regularly involved with the series, this is as close to being Doctor Who as it's possible to be without actually being Doctor Who!

Returning as Sarah Jane Smith was Elizabeth Sladen who'd played the role for 3 and a bit years in the mid seventies. Producer John Nathan-Turner had the previous year been in touch with her about a possible return in 1981 to cover the period of Tom Baker's regeneration in Peter Davison. Since she left Doctor Who she'd had a two-year stint as a presenter for the children's programme Stepping Stones, had featured in an episode of the 1978 series Send in the Girls appearing as Beverley alongside her husband Brian Miller, who played Martin, and played the role of Josie Hall in all six episodes of the sitcom Take My Wife.

By the time K9 & Company was recoded had already filmed her role as Lady Flimnap in Gulliver in Lilliput for The Sunday Clasic Serial Barry Letts & Terrance Dicks, which was broadcast the following summer. She would go on to appear in a second classic serial for them when she plays the Doormouse in Alice in Wonderland alongside original Davros actor Michael Wisher as The Cheshire Cat.

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K-9 was once again voiced by John Leeson who had performed the role in Seasons 15-16, from Invisible Enemy to Armageddon Factor, and again in Season 18, from Leisure Hive to the character's departure in Warriors Gate. During his absence in Season 17 K-9 had been voiced by David Brierly.

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Brendan Richards is the Ward of Sarah's Aunt Lavinia: quite how he came into her custody or how they're related isn't explored here. Brendan is played by Ian Sears. I thought I'd not seen him in anything else but a few years later he appears in the Inspector Morse story Last Bus to Woodstock as John Sanders.

Sarah Jane's first episode of Doctor Who, The Time Warrior Part One broadcast 15th December 1974, mentions her Aunt Lavinia Smith, the noted virologist. Finally, just over 7 years later, we get to meet Aunt Lavinia and she's played by actress Mary Wimbush. I know her mainly from Jeeves and Wooster, where she play Bertie's Aunt Agatha in several episodes. Russell T Davies used her on Century Falls where she plays Esme Harkness. In 2005 she collapsed and died of a stroke at the BBC studios in Birmingham after recording of an episode of The Archers, a program for which she had four roles in over the years!

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A couple of the guest cast are known to us: Commander Bill Pollock i played by Bill Fraser who was General Grugger in Meglos, a role he played on the condition he could kick K-9. He doesn't seem to repeat the performance here. He found fame on television playing CSM Claude Snudge in The Army Game, alongside First Doctor William Hartnell, and then reprised the character in the spinoff Bootsie and Snudge. Viewers of my age will remember him as Bert Baxter in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole and it's sequel The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole. I've also seen him in The Professionals as Col. Summerville in Not a Very Civil Civil Servant.

George Tracey is played by Colin Jeavons Who I'm a big fan of from his appearances in the House of Cards series where he plays Tim Stamper, the assistant to the sinister Francis Urquart in House of Cards & To Play The King. Now Ian Richardson, who played the lead role of Francis Urquart in House of Cards, is an actor that would have made a superb older Doctor Who! Jeavons does have another Doctor Who connection: he was Damon in The Underwater Menace. He also appears in Doomwatch, playing Botting in By the Pricking of My Thumbs, the TV version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy playing Max Quordlepleen, the host of the Restaurant at the end of the Universe, in episode 5 and The Sweeney as Leonard Gold in The Bigger They Are.

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His on screen son Peter Tracey is played by Sean Chapman who had already appeared in The Professionals episode The Acorn Syndrome as Coleman.

Juno Baker Linda Polan who had been in Survivors as Bet in Sparks. Like Elizabeth Sladen she too appears in Gulliver in Lilliput, where she plays the Queen. She can be later seen in Luna a Mother and the Blackadder II episode Head as Mrs. Ploppy.

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Her on screen husband Howard Baker is played by Neville Barber who was Dr. Cook in The Time Monster. He also appears in The Tomorrow People as Dr. Stewart in The Slaves of Jedikiah, The Professionals as the Inspector in an Without a Past and in Edge of Darkness as the TV Presenter in Burden of Proof.

Newspaper editor Henry Tobias is played by John Quarmby. In Doomwatch he was the PM's Secretary in Flight Into Yesterday and in Fawlty Towers he plays Mr. Carnegie in Basil the Rat.

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Postmistress Lilly Gregson is played by Gillian Martell. She too has a Sunday Classic Serial on her CV appearing in 1982's The Hound of the Baskervilles as Mrs. Barrymore alongside Sherlock Holmes played by Fourth Doctor Tom Baker.

Police Sergeant Wilson is played by Nigel Gregory who was in UFO twice as a Security Man in The Psychobombs and Ben Culley in The Sound of Silence. He later appears in Blake's 7 as Arrian in Countdown and in Space Precinct as Tamsin in Time to Kill.

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Stephen Oxley is PC Carter and he can be seen in Agatha Christie's Poirotas The Doctor in The Case of the Missing Will.

The whole Cotswolds location of the story, while cheap and nicely filmed, is perhaps not what the audience was expecting and definitely isn't the best for running K-9 over when flat futuristic spaceship corridors may have been more suitable for him. Two of the fourth Doctor's three long standing female companions left with a K-9: Leela on Gallifrey and Romana in E-Space. Instead of using one of these they create a third K-9 and stick him in a setting less than suitable for him!

Which brings me on to a line took me right out of the story:

SARAH JANE: Double seven eight.
SARAH JANE: Who's that?
BRENDAN: Brendan.
SARAH JANE: Brendan. Look, I was just going to phone you. I'm sorry, I got held up. Well, I've only just arrived. Look, it's a bit late now. I'll come for you tomorrow.
BRENDAN: If you do, I'll be frozen solid.
BRENDAN: I'm in a phone box at the station.
SARAH JANE: What station?
BRENDAN: Chipping Norton.
SARAH JANE: Look, what's the idea?
BRENDAN: I got fed up waiting.
SARAH JANE: Oh, you got fed up waiting.
BRENDAN: I'd take a taxi, but I haven't got enough money.
SARAH JANE: No, no. I'm on my way.
BRENDAN: Thanks.
Seemingly no problem. Sets the location of the story, the fictional Moreton Harwood, somewhere in the North West ish of the Cotswolds, if we assume Chipping Norton is the nearest station. Or perhaps a little further away, given Sarah's reaction. Just one small problem: Chipping Norton Station closed on 3 December 1962!

Aunt Lavinia's house is Barnsley House in Barnsley just East of Cirencester. If we assume Aunt Lavinia's house is ROUGHLY close to where it was filmed then Kemble, on the line between Swindon & Gloucester, is probably the closest station, followed by Swindon itself.

Loc a House Loc B Nurseries

The Market Garden Lavinia Smith co-runs with Bill Pollock had it's scenes filmed at Miserden Nurseries, to the West of Cirencester.

Both the pick up from the fictional station and the residence of the Tracey family are filmed in Miserden.

Loc C Station Loc D

Nearby Bislye's Cheltenham Road provides the location for the Police Station.

Loc E Loc F

In a scene reminiscent of Planet of Spiders part 1, Sarah Jane narrowly misses a Tractor on Wishanger Lane.

You can't see much of it in the dark but the ruins of the Parish Church, North Woodchester provide the location for the Coven meets.

Loc G Loc H

The title sequence features some additional locations, notably Sarah sitting outside the Bear Inn in Bisley plus scenes filmed in Sheepscombe, Wishanger Farm and Wishanger Lane.

Loc I Loc J

*THAT TITLE SEQUENCE* ..... Oh Dear. Watch it here if you dare! The music for the titles was composed by Doctor Who's unofficial "continuity advisor" Ian Levine, a man with considerable experience in the music industry, and his song writing partner Fiachra Trench.

K-9 and company was shot effectively as as pilot but, despite reasonable ratings of 8.4 million viewers on BBC2 3 days after Christmas, a change in management at the BBC led to it not being commissioned as a series. It was repeated the following year on Christmas Eve and novelised in 1987 by the script's author. It was released on video on 7th August 1995 and on DVD, as part of Doctor Who: K9 Tales Box Set with the Invisible Enemy.

K-9 & Company is included on The Doctor Who Season 18 Blu Ray, along with The Leisure Hive, Meglos, Full Circle, State of Decay, Warriors' Gate, The Keeper of Traken and Logopolis, which was released on March 18th 2019.

Seven days after this episode was first shown the Fifth Doctor made his television debut in Castrovalva part one.

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