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.