Ah, K-9. For four years he delighted us with his exploits in Doctor Who. Well, me at any rate. It wasn't until much later that I found out that K-9 was never that popular with the hardcore of fans, or the more adult audience. Yet this robot dog delighted my childhood, and I longed for each Saturday before I could see him again. Yet even K-9's staunchest supporters would surely not deny that taken out of the series and given top billing, he's somewhat lacking. He got a pilot for his own series (he didn't get one), had an annual, a CrDapol model and a spin-off video. Were they any good? Let's look back with unfond memories of this bastard spawn of Who...
I'm very much a closet Doctor Who fan. Not for me public declarations of interest in this most uncredible of programmes. Yet even the usual standards of embarrassment I normally feel about queuing with a Who video were intensified when I saw K-9 and Company in a sale for a fiver and went to "treat" myself.
Opening with a title sequence that combines the pace and structure of terminal diarrhoea with the wit and panache of a kick up the arse this really doesn't bode well. Thrill! To Sarah Jane sipping wine. Chill! To her reading The Guardian. Spill! To her jogging down a road (On a cold day, it seems). The amazing thing is, it actually gets worse.
Imagine a Hammer Horror edition of Crossroads directed by Michael Winner and you still can't begin to come close to the unmitigated crappery of this ferrago. Watching the title sequence (I hate to keep coming back to it, but it's a nightmare that I imagine will haunt me for years to come) you can't believe that its makers were serious. What person in their right mind would seriously believe this would work as a series?
It's strange because no episode of Doctor Who has dated as badly as this. Thirteen minutes in (the unlucky number? It is here) K-9 appears. I always found him endearing in the show, but out of context he doesn't work. Mind you, neither does Sarah Jane. Both are adequate support, neither are stars. K-9 claims to have a nuclear battery and a holographic memory, so you're mistaken if you think he's made out of battered old plastic and a remote control car.
8.4 million idiots actually tuned in to this tot. Producer John Nathan-Turner was never really conversant with the word "taste" and so you just KNOW when K-9 mentions the Doctor the incidental music will segue into a skit of the old Who theme. Tacktastic! In fact Peter Howell's incidental music is a bonus in that it gets "scary" whenever a covert villain is on screen. Handy of him that, as by destroying any suspense he ensures those of a nervous disposition won't get any anxiety from watching it.
Nineteen minutes in and I've lost the will to live. I just don't care anymore. If I died in the next minute it would come as blessed salvation. You sense some of the "we don't normally take to foreigners" schtick is supposed to be a satire of old England values, but even the hero describes someone as looking like a gypsy. This is like The Wicker Man with the focus on the wicker. Characters even trade gardening tips in this story, for God's sake!
The sets look exactly like sets, the acting is chronic, the direction horrendous and the script feeble... is there a single element of this show that doesn't conjure up the word "inept"? It's a strange kind of Television Company that thinks pagan sacrifices are an acceptable form of family entertainment. Though as the majority of the audience were probably comatose by that stage it scarcely seems to matter.
All this requires to take it into seventh Heaven is a Scooby Doo unmasking of the villains, karate stunts from Sarah Jane and K-9 performing a Christmas Carol. Oh dear God take me now. I bet no one has ever compared K-9 and Company to Apocalypse Now, but while I was watching it I couldn't help thinking of a quote from that picture: "The horror, the horror..."
This is currently unavailable in the shops. What a shame, eh? The literary world seems so lonely without it...
Released the year after K-9's one-off failed pilot, this 1982 Annual (titled Annual 1983 for clarity's sake) is the usual World Concoction of dodgy filler material about UFOs, ropey stories and lousy art. In fact, no writer/artist credit can be found anywhere in the book - has the author requested anonymity for his own safety?
In fairness, the art in this one is significantly better than in other World Annuals, with drawings that manage to vaguely resemble their intended victims. Of particular note are the three on 28, 52 and 56, which are quite nice. Though there's a sense that the best illustrations are taken from stock photos, as the non K-9/Sarah Jane pieces lack the same quality. This sense of "never seen the programme" extends to K-9 having a sensor probe come from his snout! As for the stories themselves, then again, I have to be honest and say they're above-average for World. Going by such cheesy titles as "Hound of Hell" and "Horror Hotel", they are, like the pilot, an unusual mix of kid-orientation and satanic sacrifices. The only story to break from this formula, The Monster of Loch Crag, also showcases K-9's biggest role. This highlights the problem with the stories, and a potential TV series. K-9 just doesn't have a personality. In Doctor Who his staid reactions would work as a humorous juxtaposition to Tom Baker's increasing hammery. Yet as Sarah Jane was never funny, and even less so in her five-years-on, matured persona, then they go together like chalk and a kick up the arse. It really should have been called Sarah Jane and Company, with K-9 little more than a mobile stungun at times. The weakest, and most dated story is The Curse of Kanbo-Ala, a bizarre "days of the Raj" -type story that has turbanned villains (the word "Indian" being used as a description no less than 33 times) out to kill. Also of note is that it's never revealed who Brendan is. He's described as Sarah's "young friend" at one point, but if you missed the show (and you were blessed if you did) then you're in the dark as their relation to one another.
Of the features, then they're the usual mixed bag: intros for K-9 and Sarah-Jane (which claim he has an IQ of over 300 and will infuriate hard-core saddoes by calling the character "Dr.Who"); the shape of TV to come (fairly accurate predictions, zero relevance); Professor Rubik's Cube (Featuring photos of Andy Gray and Emlyn Hughes - relevance nil); Talking of Technology (dubious); The Standing Stones (Welllllll.... he did see 'em in The Stones of Blood, I guess...); Loch Ness Monster (Does at least tie in with the prior story) and UFOs (Bugger all to do with it). Only decent entries are the Fictional Worlds of Robots, which at least has some connection with the subject matter, and Ghostly Goings On. While by far the most irrelevant entry in the book, this section did, at least, at the age of ten, make me shit my pants. The test quiz on page 13 is also good fun for the young or mentally infirm.
Make no mistake, this annual is a pretty poor excuse for entertainment in anyone's eyes. But by World International's standards, it's actually a cut above.