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".
On 3 April 2010, the TV series K9 began broadcasting on the Australian Television Network Ten as part of a Saturday morning line-up of children's shows. John Leeson is the voice of K9. The first episode called "Regeneration" featured the earlier Mark I version of K9. The "older" K9 materializes in London in the future and in the midst of an incident where an alien species is threatening human lives. K9 sacrifices himself in order to save the humans, but one component survives that enables his self-regeneration into the new unit. The main human cast members include Robert Moloney as Professor Gryffen, Keegan Joyce as Starkey (K9's new "master"), and Daniel Webber as Darius. The first 14 episodes of K9 season 1 were broadcast mid-morning on Channel 5 in December 2010 with the remaining episodes scheduled for January 2011. Trailers for the series appeared on Channel 5 from early December voiced by John Leeson. Originally, it had been planned to split the series in two halves between the Christmas 2010 and Easter 2011 school holiday schedules.
Either Inspector Thorne or Lomax found out about K9's regeneration unit and decided to acquire it. Thorne joined forces with Freddie Maxwell, owner of Crashclub involving old robots being made to fight. K9 went undercover as a gladiator and made friends with the robot clowns Chuckles and Boris. He was called to fight the Pain-Maker, who was laced with the explosive solarmite. When he was set to self-destruct, K9 detected this and fled the explosion. (TV: Robot Gladiators) To regain his memory and find out his connection to the STM, K9's archive was scrambled. Directives from the STM almost caused him to self-destruct and lose all his memory. However, with Gryffen and Starkey's help he overrode the directives. (TV: Mind Snap) He helped Gryffen find the STM's temporal stabiliser from the fallen angel crash site in Canada, where it was revealed to be Korven technology. (TV: Angel of the North) He stopped haywire CCPCs when The Last Precinct's plan backfired. (TV: The Last Precinct)
Before this, the Doctor obtained or constructed at least one backup model of K9. Immediately after leaving Mark I behind with Leela, he unpacked K9 Mark II. This version of K9 accompanied the Doctor and his new companion on their quest to locate the segments of the Key to Time, (TV: The Ribos Operation) but the swampy terrain of Delta III made it impossible for him to join them on the planet. At the conclusion of the quest, the Shadow turned K9 to his evil will, giving K9 a sinister personality. (TV: The Armageddon Factor)
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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.
K9 was a popular enough character to warrant an attempt to spin him off into his own series. In addition to K9 dolls, there were also talking K9 toys produced by Palitoy, the speech provided by a miniature record inside the body of the toy. John Leeson provided the voice for K9 in all its appearances, except for Season 17 (which included the unfinished Shada) when it was voiced by David Brierley. When Shada was remade by Big Finish Productions, Leeson provided its voice.
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On 24 October 2015, Bob Baker and Paul Tams announced the film K9: TimeQuake which is destined for cinemas in 2017 and is to feature the robot dog facing off against classic Doctor Who villain Omega in deep space. However, this did not happen leaving it unknown when the movie will be released.. In 2018 it was confirmed TimeQuake was confirmed to still be in pre-production, with plans for a prequel TV show to establish K9 for modern audiences before the movie.