K9's innards were redesigned twice more over the course of the series, firstly in collaboration with a company called Slough Radio Control. It allowed one of its employees, Nigel Brackley, to be seconded to the series semi-permanently to supervise the prop. Brackley, who has since gone on to a career in the movie industry, controlled K9 for many of its studio appearances. Eventually, there came a point where the dog's inherent liabilities were outweighing his assets, and the internal mechanisms were completely rebuilt by designer Charlie Lumm. The wheels were enlarged and given independent drives for power and better manoeuvrability, and the radio controls were switched from AM to FM signals to resist interference. However, by the time the improved model made his debut in State of Decay, the first story recorded for Season 18, the decision had already been made to write the character out of the series in the adventure Warriors' Gate.
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".
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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During Romana's Presidency of Gallifrey, Leela became her bodyguard, and the two K9 units were forced to work together, not always amicably. After Matthias had replaced Romana as President, he nominated her to undertake a mission to find a cure for the Free Time virus, to be followed by exile. K9 opted to remain in the employ of Matthias, fighting the infection on Gallifrey. However, Braxiatel and K9 had planned another operation. Realising that the only cure to the virus was to end the regeneration capabilities of the Time Lords, Braxiatel used a Time Scoop to collect the Time Lord bio-data archive (along with K9). Romana was asked to decide whether to administer the cure or let Gallifrey die and rebuild it from scratch with the bio-data archive. (AUDIO: Gallifrey)
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Whereas Sarah Jane lifted K9 Mark III into and out of her car, (TV: A Girl's Best Friend) K9 Mark IV had a "hover mode" allowing him to negotiate the stairs of the Smiths' three-story house and bi-level attic, and to enter and exit cars. (TV: The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, The Gift) The Eleventh Doctor implied that Mark IV was not the first to have the ability to hover. (TV: The Power of Three)
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)
K9 stayed with Leela on Gallifrey for many years. It was only after the disappearance of her Time Lord husband, Andred, that Leela and her K9 met Romana II and her K9. The two K9s did not get on well and competed. (AUDIO: Weapon of Choice) After Leela became Romana's bodyguard and after many important missions on her behalf, Leela's K9 was destroyed by an exploding bomb. Leela was heartbroken, but refused to have a duplicate unit built. (AUDIO: Imperiatrix)
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.