Although John Leeson has been the primary voice actor for K9 since his introduction, two other actors have voiced the character. David Brierley voiced K9 during Season 17 after Leeson chose not to return to the series (Leeson subsequently signed up again for Season 18), and Roy Skelton, better known for his work voicing Daleks, voiced the character in Destiny of the Daleks when all was required of K9 was a croaking sound due to the character contracting a form of robot laryngitis.
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K9 Mark I was created about the year 5000 by Professor Frederick Marius, who gave the dog to the Fourth Doctor and Leela. He was left behind with Leela on Gallifrey. (TV: The Invasion of Time) Some time later, he was blown up by a bomb on Gallifrey, (AUDIO: Imperiatrix) but survived. This model came to an end when Alistair Gryffen's Space-Time Manipulator randomly pulled him to London in the year 2050. There, he almost immediately self-destructed to protect Gryffen and a group of teenagers from Jixen warriors. (TV: Regeneration)
He usually did not engage in computer-like literal thinking, though on one occasion he followed Romana's instructions to "forget it" to the letter and erased all knowledge of tennis from his memory banks. (TV: The Stones of Blood) In another he took Romana's exclamation "Blast it!" as a command, and fired his blaster. (TV: Shada, WC: Shada, AUDIO: Shada, PROSE: Shada). Despite this, he occasionally showed a sense of humour, jokingly answering the question "What do you eat?" with "Ball bearings" (AUDIO: The Beast of Kravenos).
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)
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 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)
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".