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.
With his great intelligence, he had a tendency to bore people with facts and did not stop immediately when asked, as he did to Leela on Pluto. When being told that he would have to stay behind in the TARDIS, K9 often argued, giving the Doctor reasons why he should go such as "he would be a good dog." K9 always wanted to assist the Doctor. He had great intelligence and skill at chess, claiming to be able to beat the Doctor in six moves (although this may only have been because he was programmed with all chess games since 1886). (TV: The Sun Makers, The Androids of Tara) K9 had an aggression mode. (TV: State of Decay)
The practical challenges of working with the K9 prop have accompanied the robotic pooch in his return to Doctor Who. Producer Russell T Davies told SFX magazine, "Yes, just as we expected, multiple takes [were required] when he bumped into a door or veered off to the left. Lis Sladen did warn us, and she was right!" 2009 saw two different incarnations of K9 appear regularly in two Doctor Who spin-offs: Mark IV in the third series of BBC production The Sarah Jane Adventures, and a re-vamped Mark I in the Park Entertainment production K9.
Almost as soon as he arrived, K9 Mark IV left Sarah Jane to stabilise a dangerous black hole in space which had been created in Switzerland. He could only speak with Sarah Jane occasionally via a cabinet with a space-time link when the orbit of the black hole intersected with Earth's and did not know when he would complete the job. (TV: Invasion of the Bane) However, he returned to Earth very briefly during emergencies. He did so on two later occasions in order to render vital assistance. The first time, he fought Mr Smith in pitched battle to give Sarah Jane time to upload the Armageddon Virus. (TV: The Lost Boy) The second time, he quickly uploaded TARDIS base codes to Mr Smith, assisting the Tenth Doctor in returning Earth to its correct location in space. (TV: Journey's End)
Someday K9 saved the people at the Aurora from being killed by a Federation war cruiser. (PROSE: Peaceniks) When K9 wanted to help a space ship navigating back to New Earth he met Interstitials. These creatures were living in a state relating to the space or time between things. K9 helped them pass into another existence where it was better for them. (PROSE: Interstitials)
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)
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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.