On 29th December 1981 a pilot episode for a potential spinoff series from Doctor Who was broadcast, K9 and Company. Despite good viewing figures, it was not picked up for a full series, falling between the cracks of a change of management at the BBC. Presumably working on the assumption that something would come of this pilot episode, the first and only K9 Annual was published in 1982, very much based on K9 and Company, featuring K9, Sarah Jane, Brendan and Aunt Lavinia. It was a relatively slim offering, at just 62 pages, with six stories and twelve “features”, but it is actually something of a forgotten gem, with some lovely artwork. My personal favourite is an atmospheric picture of a hotel sign bathed in the light of a car’s headlights, to accompany the story The Monster of Loch Crag.
Most of the features are the usual kind of things that fill out the World annuals, but to start with there are actually two relevant and useful features: Introducing K9 and Meet Sarah Jane Smith. We learn that “K9’s space-travelling days are behind him now, but that doesn’t mean he’s out of action.”
K9 has been assigned to assist investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith in the course of her dramatic exposes and startling stories, and he’s already proving to be just the kind of helpmate every investigative journalist needs.
And what about Sarah Jane Smith? The annual reveals something of her childhood:
Orphaned as a child, she was brought up by her aunt, the distinguished scientist Miss Lavinia Smith, and since her aunt was always busy, and Sarah Jane spent a lot of her time amusing herself, the child grew up to be the kind of young woman who can look after herself very well, thank you, and doesn’t need any help from anybody… with the exception of K9.
… because of course there has to be some explanation such as being an orphan for why on Earth a woman would be able to “look after herself very well”. Some prejudices were slow to fade away. Other than that, the only really interesting feature is The Shape of TV to Come, which is remarkably accurate in its predictions for the future of television in the UK:
TV channels will probably specialise much more in the future. Some may concentrate on showing full-length feature films, others will specialise in minority-interest programmes, while others will be 24-hour news stations.
The first story, Powerstone, finds Sarah trying to entertain a visitor while the noise of some renovations is going on in the background. Alarmingly, Aunt Lavinia and Sarah deemed it appropriate for Brendan to knock down walls in the basement to make more room, and to do that he comes up with the good idea of using K9’s laser beam. Together they find a secret cave behind a wall, with a body in it, which leads to shenanigans with robed figures trying to crash Sarah Jane’s car, and the uncovering of a coven. So pretty derivative of K9 and Company, so far.
Next up is The Shroud of Azaroth, and Sarah is visiting a film set, where George Spielberg is shooting his latest exciting movie. I wonder how the author came up with that name. When shooting has wrapped for the day, a stuntman falls from the balcony above to his death. It turns out that the film is based on fact:
So you see,” he said, “this film is based on fact. The Azaroth cult actually existed, here, in this house, up until twenty years ago. It only broke up when the last of the De’Ath family, the leaders of the coven, was killed in a car accident.”
Hmmm, could there be any connection between that and the death? Incidentally, I went to school with a boy whose surname was De’Ath. I kid you not.
In Hounds of Hell, K9 is gamely trying to make his way though a marsh, looking for a cult. They find it, Sarah gets captured and the cult attempts to sacrifice her, until K9 saves her, and there’s really not much more to the story than that. A lot of the stories are derivitive, but this one is by far the least ambitious in terms of trying to do anything new at all.
The Monster of Loch Crag is an attempt to do something a bit different, with Sarah Jane having a holiday in Gillicuddy and meeting up with an old friend there. Unbelievably, this is the first story in the annual not to be about a coven, but instead it’s some Enid Blyton-esque stuff about smugglers disguising their submarine as a monster.
For Horror Hotel, we’re right back in chanting coven territory, with the added coincidence that Sarah Jane just happens to break down in the vacinity of a closed hotel where shady goings on are… well, going on.
The Curse of Kanbo-Ala has a stab at some borderline 80s racism, with an “Indian gentleman” on a train to London, who has a bone to pick with Sarah Jane:
“The idol will be ours again,” he said. “The defilers will die!”
The blame / inspiration for this can perhaps be laid at the door of a particular film franchise that was big news at the time, because we learn that Aunt Lavinia’s husband has died, “trapped in a tomb”, “in the middle of a jungle”. His name? Africana Smith.
Nothing at all like Indiana Jones, of course.
Ultimately, K9 solves the problem with his laser beam, as per just about every story. Perhaps this gets to the heart of a problem K9 and Company would have had if the pilot had led to a full series. K9 is simply too capable of ending every story with his gun. Maybe this is a taster of the direction the series might have taken. Maybe not. One thing’s for sure: the writers would have had to be a lot cleverer than this. But I can’t help loving this annual, a weird and wonderful window into a world that might have been. RP