Home : Archive : TSV 41-50 : TSV 48 : Review

K9 and Company - A Girl's Best Friend

Video review by Graham Howard

A spin-off of this kind is always going to be compared to the programme that was its inspiration. The biggest problem a programme that tries to draw directly on the success of Doctor Who faces is that without the lead character - the Doctor - it is going to be very difficult for it to be as interesting or to have the drawing power of the original show, especially for the casual viewer. Perhaps that is because while Doctor Who's format has the scope to emulate many different styles of drama, for that format to work best as television it requires a number of ingredients, one of which is the character of the Doctor. However, K9 and Company gives it perhaps the best shot possible, with the inclusion of arguably the most popular companion of all time, along with that metal companion, beloved by many (and hated by many!).

While in Doctor Who it is inevitable that a companion is always going to play second fiddle to the Doctor, in a spin-off like K9 and Company the ex- companion at last has an opportunity to take centre-stage. With Sarah Jane Smith, writer Terence Dudley had at his disposal one of the most three-dimensional companions to have accompanied the Doctor. Independent, impetuous, a reporter's instinct for a good story - all things that a spin-off based on Sarah Jane Smith is going to need to develop and highlight, if the character is going to be able attract viewers without people wondering, 'where's the Doctor?'.

To an extent the addition of K9 probably hindered such attempts, because it is even more difficult to picture him without the Doctor being nearby. Which is one reason why it is debatable whether it was in the show's best interests to give K9 star billing in the show, while Sarah Jane's name doesn't appear in the title at all, or in the awful theme tune (it is hard to believe a single of the theme music was released!). Yes, K9 was popular, and he was the more recent companion, but as a character it is harder to imagine him carrying a show on his own than it would be for Sarah Jane Smith. Admittedly K9 does add colour to a fairly mundane story on devil worship, and he teams up well with Sarah Jane (although the cynic might say his only real function in the story is to read some maps and shoot a lot of people!). In other words the story is the better off for having K9 in it, but his role is very much secondary to Sarah Jane's - more the novelty assistant than the star.

Aunt Lavinia's nephew, Brendan Richards, is the other major character in Sarah's group, and was presumably included as someone the younger viewer could relate to. Although he is vaguely irritating, to be fair, a character such as Brendan is a logical - probably even necessary - inclusion in the story. It was good to see in minor roles John Quarmby's Henry Tobias, who played the Health Inspector in Fawlty Towers, and Bill Fraser as Commander Pollock, better known to me as Judge Bullingham in Rumpole of the Bailey.

The plot itself is fairly low-key. There are no real science fiction elements aside from K9, further reminding us that this is not Doctor Who - if it was there would undoubtedly have been some far more exciting alien menace behind the cultish beliefs of the villagers! Although it may not have the same excitement factor we would normally associate with Doctor Who, the story does keep the viewer involved, and on reflection it would have been interesting to see what kind of stories would have been attempted had K9 and Company gone to series. Perhaps Sarah's Aunt Lavinia might have fulfilled a surrogate Doctor role in subsequent episodes?

The insular 'small rural English village' has served Doctor Who well in the past, and it is perhaps unsurprising, considering the topic of the story, that K9 and Company has again utilised such a setting. Although, taking stories such as The Daemons, Image of the Fendahl, and K9 and Company, the viewer could be forgiven for thinking that just about all English rural folk are a bit backward and superstitious. The impression was that K9 and Company was trying to emphasise the sinister aspect of an 'outwardly normal village that hides a dark secret', but there wasn't really enough substance to the story to make this effective. It is interesting that in terms of style, K9 and Company seems to more closely resemble stories like the two mentioned above, and the 1970s era in general, than the more glossy, and in this case probably less appropriate, 1980s style. This was noticeable even down to Peter Howell's incidental music. If this was a conscious decision, perhaps based on the setting and subject matter of the story, then, in my view the decision was a good one.

In all, K9 and Company is nothing spectacular, but reasonably enjoyable. Probably not something you would go out of your way to see, but nevertheless certainly worth a look, especially for the die-hard K9 or Sarah Jane fan. In many ways it is a pity a series didn't eventuate. A series of what, in Doctor Who terms, would effectively be 'present day Earth' stories, preferably with a bit more science fiction thrown in, could have produced some memorable tales, and may even have provided an opportunity for the odd guest appearance by some of the old UNIT regulars. I gather that the ratings were good enough to justify a series, but that due to BBC politics this never happened (sounds familiar!). As a spin-off, it is likely a series of K9 and Company would still have found it difficult to overcome the stigma of being thought of as inferior to Doctor Who, or 'Doctor Who without the Doctor'. I don't believe A Girl's Best Friend did overcome such perceptions, - but with good original scripts it is possible that, as a series, it could have developed its own identity and been successful in its own right.

This item appeared in TSV 48 (August 1996).