I’ve got an idea for the title sequence. Why don’t we do that American TV thing where we cut together a lot of exciting bits of the first episode?
But we’re scheduled to film the title sequence first.
OK, then we just make up the exciting bits.
Well, we could start with Sarah sat on a wall, reading a newspaper and, ooo, she’s spotted us, then we’ll have a shot of K9 on some grass, and then cut to Sarah at the pub, with a typewriter in front of her.
Because that’s what journalists do – take their typewriters to the pub. But she’s not really working. She’s drinking wine, thoughtfully. Then cut to K9 on the grass again, and then… action! Excitement! Sarah’s jogging in some fab jogging gear, but not for long, because she’s overdone the wine, so now she’s sat on a wall after her jog, thoughtfully. Then cut to K9, teetering improbably on the same wall, impassively.
How did he get up on the wall?
Sarah put him there.
Because she’s overdone the wine. Pay attention. Now she’s drink driving, but not for long. She has to get some fresh air because she’s feeling queasy, so she’s leaning on the car, thoughtfully. She’s also chucked K9 out of the car and now he’s sat in the middle of the road, impassively. Cut back to Sarah reading the paper thoughtfully, then back at the pub drinking thoughtfully, then jogging, then drink driving again, oh look, she’s standing by her car, thoughtfully, ooo she’s noticed us again, K9 on some grass, Sarah by the car again, then Sarah gets into her car and drives off.
Sounds good. What about the music?
Well, I’ve got a REALLY good idea for that…
We’re nearing the end of our first phase of the blog, looking at all the television episodes of Doctor Who, so this week we’re going to take a side step and talk about some of the spinoffs. The first Doctor Who spinoff, full stop, was The Daleks, who got their own comic strips, annuals and a stage show (and very nearly a radio show) in the 60s, but the first one on television was this, K9 and Company.
Everyone always gets far too hung up on the title. I did some research in preparation for this, and found endless articles about K9 and Company talking about how a series centred on K9 doesn’t work because he functions only as a supporting character and therefore the focus of the episode is wrong. And yes, it’s completely true that a series centering on K9 doesn’t work. There was that hideous Australian children’s series K9 to prove that point. It’s the only major spinoff series I won’t be writing an article about this week, mainly because it’s one of the few things I have ever tried to watch with any connection to Doctor Who that I would genuinely categorise as unwatchable. I struggled through a few episodes and that was more than enough.
But the only thing that centres on K9 here is the title, and that’s because Sarah and Company is a rubbish title. In fact The Sarah Jane Adventures is a rubbish title as well. Let’s not quibble about an attempt to make this sound exciting and appeal to the supposed core audience who loved K9 (i.e. children). What actually happens in the episode is that K9 becomes Sarah’s companion in just the same way that he was a companion to the Doctor. This is Sarah Jane Smith’s show, with K9 thrown in for the kids, along with a teenager for Sarah to look after as a surrogate mum, and it’s a pretty good formula. In fact, it’s the same formula as The Sarah Jane Adventures. There’s nothing wrong with the concept.
The execution of the concept on the other hand has the kind of teething troubles we would expect from a pilot episode, and doubtless some of this would have been ironed out if it had gone to a full series. The K9 prop is limited in where it can go, which was not much of a problem for Doctor Who because it could be used sparingly along corridors. Setting K9 and Company in a village results in very few places he can go without looking silly. But look, all this needed was one good rewrite to give K9 a bit less of the action and Sarah a bit more. She spends most of the episode chatting to people. It’s basically a crime drama with some thrills and scares thrown in for the kids.
Brendon is included as an identification figure for children watching, and when Doctor Who does that it generally plumps for “nerd”, just to be extra patronising. Brendon is a contemporary Adric, but not quite so annoying, so he’s actually not half as bad as most people say, bearing in mind the endless difficulty finding competent child actors in the UK.
So K9 and Company is a reasonable effort, as far as pilot episodes go. The combination of Sarah and K9, which never happened in Doctor Who, seems completely natural and perfect right from the start, and that’s the status quo for Sarah Jane from now on. Elisabeth Sladen and John Leeson are both as reliably brilliant as always. So why did this fail?
The short answer is that it didn’t. The viewing figures were stronger than any individual episode of the previous Season of Doctor Who (8.4 million, narrowly beating the third episode of Warriors’ Gate) and after Season 19 the classic series of Doctor Who would achieve a higher viewing figure than K9 and Company a grand total of once. At the very least, this has to be termed a qualified success, and that’s being harsh. In the end, it simply fell through the cracks when the Controller of BBC One left and a new one came in with new ideas. Had Bill Cotton stayed another year, I suspect we would have got a full series of K9 and Company.
But it still retains a special significance. It demonstrated that there was a big audience ready and waiting to watch a Doctor Who spinoff series. It left us with a nagging feeling that Sarah Jane Smith and K9 were off having adventures somewhere and we were frustratingly not able to watch them, making Sarah the obvious choice of companion to return one day, and again, and again. It gave us that title sequence, which will haunt the dreams of many a Doctor Who fan. Most importantly, it left us with a serious message: don’t drink and drive. RP
The view from across the pond:
As frequent readers know, I often wonder about parallel worlds; those great “what if…” scenarios where we speculate how things would have been different if only that one thing happened. For instance, what if K-9 and Company took off and became its own series. The problem with it is that it could never be very good. The main issue is that K-9 was unable to actually go anywhere. Fans of Sherlock Holmes may recall The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone, where Holmes never leaves Baker Street to solve the crime. K-9 works in much the same way. Unlike his biological canine counterparts, he can’t go chasing after criminals: he’s too slow. He can’t go on the gravel: his rollers don’t work that way. He can’t run into water or in the rain: his servos will explode and that’ll be that. In effect, he has to be the Sherlock Holmes who never leaves the cottage. And if 56 short stories of Sherlock Holmes can only sustain that approach once, how much life would K-9 have in 1981?
When my sons and I were doing our great Doctor Who marathon, my younger son, opted to sit this one out. My older son and I watched it without him and part of us felt the younger one made the right call. Sure, we were happy to have completed this epic run and not bailed on any of them, but this story was weak. The best bit was the opening music and even that is a bit cringe-worthy. The way it was filmed was a nice touch because it gave the impression that we were in the cottage with Sarah Jane but alas, that also put us there with her “ward”, Brendan the Bonehead. Overall, this was never going to be the Doctor and Sarah Jane! The first episode has a title of its own too: A Girl’s Best Friend, which introduces how K-9 came to be in Sarah Jane’s possession, and while this story isn’t nearly good enough to spawn its own series, it was good enough to allow that bit of continuity in 1983 with The Five Doctors where Sarah Jane is still in possession of this very K-9.
“Good” it may not be, but it is part of the overall Doctor Who lore and it does merit watching. It’s under an hour, so there’s no great sense of regret when it’s over. There are worse ways to spend time, for sure! And it wouldn’t be until 2006 before the next Doctor Who spinoff would be attempted with Torchwood, so it’s worth checking out.
As for me, I prefer to think that there is an alternative universe where a series was launched called D-84 and Company which shows how The Robots of Death D-84 comes into the services of Leela on Gallifrey. D-84, unlike Kameleon was a person dressed up and could actually go out in the rain and do all sorts of fun things. He could move without breaking and probably could even run! How novel! And then the whole imagination thing kicks in…
D-84: I heard a cry!
Leela: That was me throwing a spear through another corrupt Time Lord.
D-84: I heard a cry!
Leela: That was me arguing with President Romana about foreign policy!
D-84: I heard a cry!
Leela: That was me playing Gallifreyan VR games with Rodan.
D-84: I heard a cry!
Leela: That was me and Andred… how many times have I said to go for a walk when we are together!
Part action, part political drama, part scifi and part romcom. What more could we have asked for? ML