|"A Girl's Best Friend"||12/28/81|
Elisabeth Sladen, John Leeson as the voice of "K9", Bill Fraser, Ian Seers, Colin Jeavons. Written by Terence Dudley. Script-edited by Eric Saward and Anthony Root. Directed by John Black. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 15/9/98
Strangely enough, this was the very show that started off my interest in Doctor Who. This, the first official spin-off from the series, is a curious mix of the good and the bad. A story of Devil worshipping is more in line with Elisabeth Sladen`s character of Sarah Jane Smith (this being perfect investigative journalist material) rather than John Leeson`s K-9, given that Sarah Jane would be more likely to uncover the plot than a robot dog.
His presence would seem to suggest that there are aliens nearby, but alas, no. Characterisation is not exactly spot on either. Sarah seems frumpy, and the sight of K-9 singing Christmas carols is also embarassing. Ian Sears as Brendan is believable, but the character he is playing definitely is not: he's just too dated to be taken seriously.
In the show's favour are the wonderful characters of Juno Baker and Aunt Lavinia, wonderfully brought to life by Linda Polan and Mary Wimbush (Julia Pargetter from The Archers, whose character is very similair to Lavinia's.) It is a great shame that they weren`t used more, Lavinia especially, as she would have made an excellent sidekick to K-9.
With such charismatic characters and charming scenery, it is passable at best, and depending on your mood... the theme music can be quite funny too. It's okay for children really, as it lacks any of the real sparkle that Doctor Who had -- not K-9` s finest hour.
What was the point? by Tim Roll-Pickering 4/6/02
This is the only BBC produced spin-off from Doctor Who that has ever made it to the screens. Given the popularity of K9 it's not surprising that he should be a part of such a series and it's good to see what has happened to Sarah Jane Smith since The Hand of Fear. But instead of a science-fiction based adventure in space or even an Earthbound tale of alien interference similar to The Stones of Blood, we get a tale of an investigative journalist solving a local mystery and exposing a coven. If the series had taken off it would presumably have developed along the line of Sarah and K9 investigating and solving mysteries up and down the country. But this format is not particularly fascinating for many, especially the many Doctor Who viewers whom it must have been hoped would form the foundation for a support base for the series. To confound matters K9 is used appallingly, for the most part only interacting with Sarah and Brendan and otherwise being used as little more than a glorified tape recorder or as a route master in the days before such technology had reached the household. Consequently the story is not far removed from a more conventional contemporary drama and so completely fails due to few of the different directions in which it could be taken being pursued. Worse still Terrance Dudley's script is not exciting at all, showing little imagination and instead regurgitates a set of tired old clichés. It soon becomes all too clear just who is and isn't involved in the coven
The cast is mixed, with Elisabeth Sladen giving a good performance as Sarah but due to the different format she is unable to slip back into the role she played in Doctor Who but is instead the lead character. Ian Sears makes a competent performance as Brendan Richards but it is all too clear that this character has been created for young viewer identification. Mary Wimbush appears briefly as Aunt Lavinia but doesn't make that great an impact at this stage. It doesn't make for the best of regular casts for an ongoing series. K9 is voiced once more by John Leeson and has at least being given a new colour scheme which looks more realistic, but the character simply does not work in a story like this without even some good interaction with one of the guest characters. Of the supporting cast only Bill Fraser (Commander Pollock) and Linda Polan (Juno Baker) make any memorable contribution at all, with virtually all the others failing to conceal their involvement in the coven.
The production is reasonable when compared to other early 1980s BBC contemporary dramas but it isn't particularly spectacular. This is not helped by the drab locations that the script requires. The title sequence is fast moving and indicative of what the series is supposedly about but is not that grabbing. This pilot is at times incredibly boring to watch and ultimately a great failure and it's hard to escape asking the question 'What was the point of it all?' No full series followed and it is hard to feel that this denied viewers of anything spectacular. 1/10
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 27/11/02
There was a short spell of Doctor Who spin offs in the 80s. Harry Sullivan went to war and became James Bond. Turlough struggled (and we all did too) with the Earthlink Dilemma. Slapped with these 2 notables was the TV spin-off - K9 and Company. It was designed to go to a series, you know.
The DW connection was not isolated to his metal dog, along for the ride was Sarah-Jane Smith - the very best of all the companions. Arguably then the show contained 2 of the most popular companions ever seen by Doctor Who viewers. It also didn't go to a series, the BBC didn't accept it due to a change of management apparently. But is it a failure as a result?
There have been many reasons branded about why it didn't make a series. Here is a few thoughts of my own:-
The music - I have rarely heard a more nauseous, crappy theme tune in all my life. What on earth were they trying to achieve with it? It just doesn't match the subject matter of the story.
The story - A supernatural, witchcraft tale is more suited to Tales of the Crypt than a robot dog. It also is a surprisingly adult theme, a lighter approach would have worked better.
No Doctor - A lot of people like spin-offs, including me. The Benny adventures have lots of fans. But for a substantial amount of fans, if there is no Doctor, then no interest. It was never going to be as popular as the original and therefore limited potential for the future.
Sarah-Jane and K9 - Individually they work just fine, and with the Doctor they work just fine. With each other they are nowhere near as effective. Books focusing on Sarah-Jane have been disappointing - Bullet Time springs to mind. I would love to be proved wrong with the Big Finish series coming up though.
The supporting characters - Brendan is one of those precocious teenagers that are very unlikeable. The rest don't have enough time to assert themselves, but 2 of them are gone by the end anyway. Of the survivors I can't think of a single one I would like to see again.
I have emphasized here why I think it didn't go to a series, but I have to confess that I quite liked A Girl's Best Friend. The Witchcraft tale set around the old ruins was spooky. Sarah-Jane's house was great, and would have really come alive with more attention given to it. Sarah-Jane was very good too. She's a little older and wiser - but if any companion of the Doctor deserves a spin-off series it is she. K9 is a little more spritely too, and I liked that. You also kept thinking the Doctor would appear, so it feels quite like a DW story too, and that after all is what we like the best. Lots of pluses, but a mix of good ingredients does not make for an appetizing dish - it wasn't great, was it?
The novel by Terence Dudley is a pretty good read, interestingly enough. It expands on concepts found in the short 45 minute TV show. But Dudley is a master of making these 2 parters booklength. Witness his majestic treatment of Black Orchid and King's Demons.
Overall then K9 and Company was not a major disaster, and is actually a nicely entertaining 50 minutes. We got to see Sarah-Jane more, it had some DW touches that were welcome. But really, truthfully, how they ever thought this was going to go to a series is all a bit of mystery. 7/10
A Review by Finn Clark 27/11/06
It feels like an episode of The Archers, but with added Satanists. Ooo-arrr, Brendon be gone down the garden centre to get some soil samples. We don't like strangers around these parts. Come over for a cup of tea, my dear. Cucumber sandwich? Arrrr, aye, ooh.
Sarah Jane fits in rather well. K9 not quite so much; in fact slightly less so than a live porcupine in one's anal cavity. Strangely the Tom Baker era was reluctant to visit contemporary Earth and even when they did K9 tended to stay in the TARDIS. The only significant exception was The Stones of Blood. Huh? In fairness, that story also had hyperspatial spaceships, walking rocks and a high-tech gizmo about which K9 could be snippy, but even so... 1. Human sacrifice in a stone circle in the name of the mythical goddess Blublublublublub. 2. Chanting cultists in robes with flaming torches and knives. 3. 51st century robotic dogs. Call me crazy, but I don't see the connection. And then for K9 and Company, they did it again! For further "robot dog fights satanism" wackiness, check out the 1983 K9 Annual from World Distributors, which suggests how this might have been extended into a series.
Mind you, at least it's funnier than those little books from 1980 in which K9 had his own spaceship and encountered the Zeta Rescue, the Beasts of Vega and the Missing Planet. Since the series was written by Dave Martin, we even met Omegon (sic) in K9 and the Time Trap.
The actual story is nice and straightforward. Liz Sladen is far better than the whining grouch she became in The Five Doctors. She's likeable, despite the fact that the script keeps calling her prickly and touchy. Well, I say "the script". It's just the villagers and they're all weird. K9's fine, for all three milliseconds that he actually has anything to do. The main problem is that it's all a bit boring, really. K9 shoots some cultists, which is always cool. That's the basic requirement for a K9 story: "must shoot things". However apart from that it's just fifty minutes of predictable wibbling about cosy village satanists being persecuted by a nasty journalist. They do some half-hearted stuff that might have excited an X-Files conspiracy theorist had it involved anything more interesting than PC Plod and the village switchboard. I didn't understand the bit with the spasming policeman, though. The heart attack. What was that about, then? Were we supposed to start wondering if the cultists really had occult powers after all?
The Discontinuity Guide claims that the villain is obvious, but I disagree. It helps to go in with really low expectations (as I did), but I genuinely didn't know whether it was Heavy-Handededly Telegraphed Suspect #1 or Heavy-Handedly Telegraphed Suspect #2. In fact, even now I'm still not sure. The climax isn't exactly clear. The unmasking takes place after K9's zapped the villains and they're lying sprawled on the ground, resulting in an awkward camera shot which left me none the wiser. Bear in mind that in my formative years I'd not only seen this thing on first broadcast but had even read the novelisation. It can't be a good sign that even so I still couldn't nail the bad guys. I think I eventually got it from the dialogue, but until Sarah exonerated them soon afterwards I was still chasing two red herrings. (Maybe Terence Dudley was setting them up as ongoing villains for the subsequent series? Note that apparently that lady had managed to get the phone fixed, despite the fact that someone had SNIPPED THE WIRE. Now I'm imagining her as the Ernst Stavro Blofeld of Moreton Harewood. My brain hurts.)
Curiously, despite all the Pyramids of Mars "I'm from 1980" hoo-hah, we have firm dates for most of Sarah Jane's adventures from K9 and Company onwards. This story begins on 18 December 1981, while School Reunion is set in 2007.
It has odd moments of clumsiness. The beginning is jerkily written and/or edited, as if they'd carelessly snipped too much in the editing suite. They also make the horrendous mistake of giving Brendan the exposition. I'd been thinking he wasn't that bad until then. His enthusiasm over K9 and all that 1981-era computer jargon is agonising. However fortunately it's now so grievously behind the times that it's now just technobabble and today's generation of computer spods wouldn't have a clue that it's the high-tech equivalent of a pet rock.
The title sequence is painfully hilarious, with John Leeson squawking "K9" and Liz perpetrating 1980s Exercise Video Hair. It's a comedy classic, although I couldn't recommend showing it to anyone with taste. Overall K9 and Company is inoffensive but somewhat dull nonsense that needed either to be less silly or a whole lot more so. K9 and Liz Sladen are always fun, but the story they're trapped in is roughly on a par with a weekend trip down the garden centre. Thank goodness it never spawned a series.