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.
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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.
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In 1996, Sarah used K9 to hack into records and find Sam Jones' home address and later to translate Lost Boy's speech. (PROSE: Interference - Book One) K9 was briefly possessed by a malevolent entity, but was freed when Sarah accidentally electrocuted him. (PROSE: The Sow in Rut) K9 began slowly breaking down and eventually ended up deactivated in a cardboard box in Sarah's attic. (PROSE: Moving On) Hilda Winters had K9 dismantled and analysed. (AUDIO: Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre)
During an encounter with the sentient painting, the Mona Lisa at the International Gallery, a simulation of K9 Mk IV was created when Mona Lisa was tricked into animating a drawing of K9 made by Clyde inside a cloud of mystic drawing-animation energy. He subsequently defeated The Abomination, another evil painting-come-to-life, before disappearing as the Mona Lisa herself reverted to being an immobile painting. (TV: Mona Lisa's Revenge)
Within the series' narrative, K9 is a robot dog acquired by Doctor Who's title character in the 1977 serial The Invisible Enemy. The first two incarnations of the character travelled alongside the Fourth Doctor (portrayed by Tom Baker) until 1981. In these stories, K9 proved useful for the powerful laser weapon concealed in his nose, his encyclopaedic knowledge and his vast computer intelligence. By 1981, each of the two models of K9 which travelled alongside the Doctor had been left with one of the Doctor's female companions. The character subsequently transitioned into spin-off territory. Producers hoped K9's popularity with children would launch the series K9 and Company, led by actress Elisabeth Sladen in the role of companion Sarah Jane Smith alongside a new K9. In 2006, K9 reappeared in the revived series of Doctor Who. Although the character's appearances in the 2007 spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures were hampered by the concurrent development of the K9 spin-off, the character began to appear full-time in both K9 and The Sarah Jane Adventures, depicting adventures of the original K9 Mark I and of Mark IV, respectively.