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K9 is to Doctor Who what Scrappy Doo is to Scooby and the gang, what Bat-Mite is to Batman, he’s the proof that the production team are having a little too much fun making the show. He’s the comedy foil that has been brought in to add padding to the plots. He’s a sop for the kiddies and a knowing wink to the grown-ups.
K9 is the closest the Doctor has got so far to creating an homely environment in the TARDIS, with all of the attendant responsibilities that come with it. For all that the Seventh Doctor has tricked his time machine out to resemble a Victorian drawing room, it’s very much a solitary gentleman’s retreat. Whereas with K9, as you see in the clip above, it’s like any family taking a dog on holiday. When the ship stops and they want to go exploring, they have to think about what he wants too.
Of course, built the way he is, the poor little fella can’t actually travel that well on rough ground. He really is often best left locked indoors, guarding things.
So, a robot dog, with a gun in his snout, a plunger in between his eyes and radar ears. Why dies he work? Well, apart from the ears, which are very cute, the voice actor John Leeson can take most of the rest of the credit. Rather than re-creating the internal monologue of a real dog, which would essentially be “HELLO! I LOVE YOU! HAVE YOU GOT ANY FOOD? SCRATCH ME! I HAVE A SAD FACE! HELLO! I’M HUNGRY! I LOVE YOU! HELLO!”, the decision was taken to make K9 a robotic Jeeves. So his is often the voice of caution, next to the Doctor’s wayward streak and Leela’s barbarity. He’s the grown-up to their impulsive teens. He’s also a very good guard dog:
Even when Leela leaves and the Doctor has Romana to tell him off, K9 is still the dependable valet of the piece. So faithful that he leaves the TARDIS whenever a companion does. Even Sarah Jane gets a K9, and she didn’t ever meet him while she was travelling with the Doctor.
AND, just like Sarah Jane, his popularity with Whovians was, and still is, so huge that he managed not one, but two spin-off TV shows. He even gets to sing the theme tune on the first one:
HOW is he going to get down from that wall? Sadly we’ll never know, the show didn’t last very long. Here’s the more recent version:
Not quite the same somehow, is it?
Anyway, when Doctor Who started up again, there was a lot of speculation as to which key aspects of the classic series would be revived. And sure enough, a place was found once again for this silly little robot dog. Partly because he’s just below the Daleks and the sonic screwdriver on the list of iconic Doctor Who things, and partly because even a Time Lord sometimes needs a little assistance from Man’s Best Friend.
See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic