K9 Mark III was a gift from the Doctor to Sarah Jane Smith (TV: A Girl's Best Friend). This K9 was broken for many years, until he was repaired by the Tenth Doctor. This K9 also had a "maximum defence mode", as well as offensive capabilities, such as a nose-mounted laser gun. He sacrificed himself to save Deffry Vale High School from Krillitanes. (TV: School Reunion)
Unlike 25 years earlier where she appeared unconcerned with K9 Mark III being seen, Sarah Jane restricted K9 Mark IV to her Ealing house except in emergencies or when she required his services, lest she have to explain him. Her son Luke covered by explaining to a puzzled Peter Dalton that K9 was a Japanese robot toy with pre-programmed phrases. (TV: The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith) Nevertheless, she sent K9 to serve Luke when he went away to the University of Oxford. (TV: The Nightmare Man)
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K9 Mark I, II, III, and IV addressed whoever was directing them as "Master" or "Mistress" depending upon gender, and used the formal "affirmative" and "negative" rather than "yes" and "no". They were programmed to be both loyal and logical, with a penchant for taking orders literally, almost to a fault. Their striped collars mirrored the Fourth Doctor's trademark scarf.
A short story, "Moving On", in Virgin Publishing's Decalog 3: Consequences anthology and the Big Finish Productions-produced Sarah Jane Smith audio play Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre (both written by Peter Anghelides) indicate that K9 Mark III broke down and Sarah was unable to repair it as the replacement circuits would not be invented for several centuries.
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The initial idea for realising K9 was to use a small actor inside a robotic Dobermann costume, but that was rejected in favour of a radio-controlled prop, designed by Tony Harding and made by the BBC Visual Effects Department. The Radio Control Model Centre in Harlington Middx owned by Derek Wales was commissioned to build the electronics into the first original basic shell and consequently the centre operated the dog on set for the BBC. The robot suffered from numerous technical problems during its time in the series, often malfunctioning because the radio controls interfered with the cameras and vice versa. On location, K9 also proved unable to traverse uneven terrain, and shots had to be conceived with this in mind. Workarounds included using a concealed piece of twine to pull the character along (this string can be clearly seen in a shot of K9 on Brighton Beach), or laying wooden planks on which it could roll.
After Mark I sacrificed himself to destroy the Jixen warriors, Starkey retrieved his regeneration unit, which quickly activated. In a blast of white light, K9 was thus reborn as a much more advanced model, though this K9 Mark Z could not access the memories of his previous self, which had been "scrambled". He stayed at the house of Alistair Gryffen, who ran tests on K9, but did not tell the Department. K9 tried to kill Starkey, as he was sprayed with Jixen genetic matter and so registered as a Jixen. Starkey convinced him that he was not an enemy and K9 gave him his dog whistle to summon him when needed. (TV: Regeneration) K9 and the team tracked down the surviving Jixen to Dauntless Prison and killed it. They also faced a Meron and freed the alien prisoners. (TV: Liberation) K9 travelled with Starkey when he was on the run from the Department and rescued Gryffen (who was kidnapped by a Korven). Gryffen later welcomed him and Starkey into his home. (TV: The Korven)
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.