A Girl's Best FriendBookmark and Share

Thursday, 3 November 2005 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

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.