Introduced into the plot in The Invasion of Time, K9 Mark II first actually appear on-screen in The Ribos Operation (1978). More mobile than his predecessor, Mark II exhibited the ability to sense and warn others of danger. He travels as a companion alongside the Doctor and Romana. Around the time of Romana's regeneration (the transition from actress Mary Tamm to Lalla Ward), the K9 character was explained as suffering from "laryngitis" to accommodate Leeson's departure from the series at the start of the 1979–80 season; for this time, he was portrayed by David Brierley, until Leeson's return for the 1980–81 season. When the Doctor and Romana travel to the parallel universe of E-Space, K9 is severely damaged, in Warriors' Gate (1981). The damage was such that K9 could only function in E-Space; when Romana decided to stay and forge her own path, the Doctor gave K9 to her. The character makes subsequent appearances in remakes of the unfinished serial Shada, alongside the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann); the 2003 Shada audio play and webcast depict K9 Mark II as having returned to Gallifrey with Romana, now Lady President of the Time Lords, where the Doctor visits them. It is not clear if either of these audio appearances are considered canonical in relation to the continuity of the TV series.
The Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Interference: Book Two by Lawrence Miles indicates that the Doctor built a Mark IV model sometime prior to the events of that book, but what happened to this unit is not stated. In the novel The Gallifrey Chronicles by Lance Parkin, K9 Mark II makes another appearance, having been trapped within the TARDIS since the events of The Ancestor Cell. At the end of The Gallifrey Chronicles the Doctor sends K9 on a secret mission to Espero, presumably to seek out his former companion, the living TARDIS known as Compassion.
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In 1985, a series of gamebooks featuring the Sixth Doctor were published by Severn House under the title Make your own adventure with Doctor Who in Britain and Find Your Fate — Doctor Who in the United States. These books were actually written by scriptwriters for the television series. Martin wrote Search for the Doctor which takes place in the mid-21st century and features K9 Mark IV being reunited with the Sixth Doctor long after Sarah's death.
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K9 Mark III first appeared in "A Girl's Best Friend", the 1981 pilot for a series, K-9 and Company, which never materialized beyond the first episode. In this, the character is presented to the Doctor's former companion Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen); together, the two embark on what a number of adventures. Only the first of these is depicted on-screen; several are shown in comic book and audio play adaptations, and others are alluded to by the television series. Mark III made a brief appearance alongside Sarah Jane in the Doctor Who 20th anniversary ninety-minute special The Five Doctors (1983), before appearing properly and for the final time in the revived series' episode "School Reunion" in 2006. By the time of that story, Mark III has fallen into disrepair and eventually sacrifices himself to stop a plot by the alien Krillitane and defeat their leader, Lucas Finch (Anthony Head). In the episode's conclusion, the Doctor presents Sarah Jane with a new K9 to encourage her to continue investigating alien activity; the Doctor "rebuilt" him after the Mark III's sacrifice, implying that he had the same mind and memories as his predecessor while still being a "brand new model".