K9, retroactively "K9 Mark I" (Leeson), initially appeared in The Invisible Enemy (1977) as the creation of Professor Marius (Frederick Jaeger) in the year 5000. K9 subsequently travelled with the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and Leela (Louise Jameson) as a companion of the Doctor in his adventures in time and space until The Invasion of Time (1978). In this serial, K9 decides to remain on the Doctor's home planet of Gallifrey with Leela. Immediately afterwards, Doctor Who would introduce a second incarnation of K9, played by the same prop; the last scene of The Invasion of Time shows the Doctor unpacking a box labeled "K9 Mk II".
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.
K9 Mark 2 was the result of the activation of the Mark I's onboard regeneration unit. He had only very limited memories of his past as the Mark I. He had many adventures with Alistair Gryffen, Jorjie Turner, Darius Pike and his new master Starkey. (TV: Regeneration, The Bounty Hunter) Orthrus was an attempt by Drake and the Department to replicate K9, but it was of vastly inferior design. (TV: Jaws of Orthrus)
Having left K9 Mark III to Sarah Jane (TV: A Girl's Best Friend) following their travels with Adric in his fourth incarnation, (PROSE: Just a Small Problem) the Doctor eventually built K9 Mark IV. The Eighth Doctor mentioned Mark IV when he met Sarah Jane in 1996. He indicated that the effort in constructing Mark III was "nothing" in comparison to Mark IV. (PROSE: Interference - Book Two)
After K9 Mark I regenerated into K9 Mark 2, his design was radically altered. His ear probes were replaced with larger silver aerials. A set of blue lights on his head flashed when he spoke. Most of his body was dark silver and a silver dog bone was located under his neck. He seemed to have the same capabilities as Mark I but was presumably more advanced. (TV: Regeneration)
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.