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.
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".
In the spin-off media, K9 Mark II remained Romana's faithful companion for many years. In the early 2000s, John Leeson and Lalla Ward featured in a series of audio plays produced by BBV as K9 and "The Mistress", detailing these characters' adventures in a parallel universe. As neither Romana nor E-Space could be licensed, the aliases of the Mistress and the "pocket universe" were used instead.
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.
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)
On August 1, 2016, Blue Coat, Inc. (K9’s parent company) was acquired by cybersecurity leader Symantec™. As can be imagined Blue Coat and Symantec had a handful of similar products and unfortunately, it didn’t make sense to maintain two competing products. it was decided to “end-of-life” K9 Web Protection and focus corporate and customer attention on Symantec’s line of Norton™ products.
After debuting in the final scene of "School Reunion" (2006), K9 Mark IV returned in spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures' premiere episode "Invasion of the Bane", where due to licensing issues with creator Bob Baker it is explained that K9 is sealing a black hole and can only communicate briefly and infrequently with Sarah Jane. The character makes an heroic appearance in the first series finale The Lost Boy, to do battle with rogue alien supercomputer Mr Smith (Alexander Armstrong), demonstrating new CGI teleportation and hovering features. K9 Mark IV's interfaces include at least one USB port. Subsequently, the character appears briefly in the Doctor Who series four series finale "Journey's End" (2008), wherein K9 and Mr Smith assist the Doctor in returning Earth to its proper position. K9 next appears in the comedic Red Nose Day 2009 Sarah Jane mini-episode "From Raxacoricofallapatorius with Love". A deal with the creators of K9 having been struck, K9 Mark IV became a regular character in The Sarah Jane Adventures in third series story, The Mad Woman in the Attic (2009), until the series four premiere The Nightmare Man (2010), where he accompanies departing series regular, Sarah Jane's adoptive son Luke Smith (Tommy Knight), to university. He appears again in series four finale, Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith. Though he doesn't appear in the serial, it is mentioned in The Man Who Never Was (2011) that Luke invented a special dog whistle to summon him with.