K9 Mark I's mechanisms included rotating ear-probes, telescopic "eye" probe, an extendable nose concealing a powerful laser weapon, flashing lights on the top and the "eye" panel, waggling tail antennae, and ticker-tape tongue. His head could move up and down. His shell was painted in metallic gold/grey. There was a monitor screen on his left flank, though K9 rarely used this during his travels with the Doctor. Around K9's neck was a tartan collar, (being the Family Tartan of the Clan Buchanonn) from which hung a silver disk. (TV: The Invisible Enemy) He was later modified to fly through the vacuum of space. (TV: Curse of Anubis)
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.
A short story, "Moving On", in Virgin Publishing's Decalog 3: Consequences anthology and the Big Finish Productions-produced Sarah Jane Smith audio play Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre (both written by Peter Anghelides) indicate that K9 Mark III broke down and Sarah was unable to repair it as the replacement circuits would not be invented for several centuries.
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).
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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".