K-9 and Company (Oct 7)

October 7: K-9 and Company - "A Girl's Best Friend"

It opens with a truly heinous title sequence, which looks like they drugged Elisabeth Sladen, dressed her up in various "casual" outfits, and propped her up around the English countryside.  And interspersed with that is various shots of K-9, while the whole thing is backed by an awful manufactured-pop-sounding theme (complete with John Leeson chirping "K-9" at various intervals) that's just catchy enough to get immovably stuck in your head, no matter how much you wish it wouldn't.  And there are reused shots in the sequence!  It's only like a minute long, and yet you had to reuse shots from earlier in the titles?

Even on the surface, K-9 and Company116, the only 20th-century Doctor Who spin-off to ever make it to the screen, is an odd proposition: a show about a robot dog and a journalist, stuck out in rural England investigating things, doesn't exactly sound like a dynamic premise, but even beyond this it's a weird show.  This establishing episode is full of things that don't really go together, as it bends over backwards to put Sarah Jane Smith in that rural setting, give her K-9, and then set them both loose on the locals, most of whom are engaged in pagan worship.  No, it doesn't exactly sound like a winner, does it?

But to the credit of most everyone involved, they almost make it work.  It's great to see Lis Sladen back as Sarah Jane Smith, and she is the anchor that this episode needs -- fortunately, the title sequence wasn't a warning of things to come.  She gives the proceedings the necessary grounding, and she seems to have no trouble interacting with K-9 (and remember, this is a new pairing, as K-9 was introduced after Sarah left).  This is K-9 Mark III, by the way -- Mark I having stayed with Leela on Gallifrey, and Mark II having left with Romana in E-Space.  Except, according to the accompanying documentary, all they did to make it Mark III was give the prop a fresh coat of paint.  The other actors also do a fine job: we get to finally meet Sarah's Aunt Lavinia (as played by Mary Wimbush, who to me will always be Bertie's Aunt Agatha in Grenada's Jeeves and Wooster), and the rest of Moreton Harwood are well acted, even when they're being shifty.  And it all looks good, thanks to John Black's capable direction; you can at least believe that you're in a house in the English countryside.

Sarah, Brendan, and K-9. (K-9 and Company - "A Girl's
Best Friend") ©BBC
So the acting is good, the direction is good... it's only the story that's bonkers.  It starts like a mystery (people keep disappearing) and then takes a left turn into Crazytown when it turns out that something like half the village of Moreton Harwood are pagan worshippers of the goddess Hecate, since they think she's the only reason the crops will grow, and that suddenly Hecate demands human sacrifice despite having been perfectly content without it for 90 years.  They plan on sacrificing Sarah's cousin Brendan (as played by Ian Sears, who actually copes quite well with a rather thankless character), and it's only thanks to K-9 that Brendan is saved.  Of course, this means that just about everyone we saw on screen is now in jail for attempted murder.  It's a strange premise for a story, let alone a whole series -- what would the other episodes have been like?  Would Sarah and K-9 have roamed the English countryside stamping out pagan cults, as the ending scene seems to suggest?  Or would they have stayed in Moreton Harwood and helped solve the massive soil acidity problem?  And would a computer as capable as K-9 have mastered the art of reading sheet music, so that the excruciating tag scene would never happen again?

It's a curiosity, to be sure, and it's great fun to see Sarah and K-9 together, but let's be honest: if it weren't for the Doctor Who connection there'd be no reason to watch K-9 and Company.  It's not a show that stands up to repeated viewings -- in fact, it's a rather shallow affair to begin with (it's certainly not subtle in its (vaguely offensive) portrayal of rural English residents, for instance).  But it is part of the history of the show -- the continued partnership of Sarah and K-9 into the 21st century makes that clear -- and it's not as bad as it could have been; as I said, there's enough that's right with this show to keep it from sinking into unwatchability.  That said, let's all be thankful that this never went to series (so that we never had to see the title sequence again, if nothing else) and quietly move on.


116 Well, officially it's only the show that's called K-9 and Company -- the actual episode is called "A Girl's Best Friend".  But as it's the only one they made, no one really calls it anything other than K-9 and Company, unless you're being strictly precise.