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".
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)
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K9 was not originally intended to be a companion, but producer Graham Williams liked the concept so much that the decision was made to retain him as a regular character, in order to appeal to the younger members of the audience. The original name for the character was "FIDO" — apparently from "Phenomenal [sic] Indication Data Observation" unit — but it was eventually named K9.
K9 returned when Ship used the black hole as fuel. Though Sarah Jane, Luke, Rani and Clyde were happy to have K9 back, Mr Smith was not. (TV: The Mad Woman in the Attic) K9 spent a lot of his time in Sarah Jane's attic at 13 Bannerman Road, Ealing, but left to defeat Travast Polong. He attended Sarah Jane's abortive wedding to Peter Dalton, where he helped the Tenth Doctor, Luke, Rani and Clyde defeat the Trickster. (TV: The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith) After helping defeat the Slitheen family, Clyde brought K9 to Park Vale Comprehensive School to help him with his test. He helped defeat the Rakweed before returning home. (TV: The Gift) K9 went to the University of Oxford with Luke, but restored Mr White's original programming through a mobile phone.(TV: Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith)
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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)
After K9 Mark I regenerated into K9 Mark 2, his design was radically altered. His ear probes were replaced with larger silver aerials. A set of blue lights on his head flashed when he spoke. Most of his body was dark silver and a silver dog bone was located under his neck. He seemed to have the same capabilities as Mark I but was presumably more advanced. (TV: Regeneration)
The Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Interference: Book Two by Lawrence Miles indicates that the Doctor built a Mark IV model sometime prior to the events of that book, but what happened to this unit is not stated. In the novel The Gallifrey Chronicles by Lance Parkin, K9 Mark II makes another appearance, having been trapped within the TARDIS since the events of The Ancestor Cell. At the end of The Gallifrey Chronicles the Doctor sends K9 on a secret mission to Espero, presumably to seek out his former companion, the living TARDIS known as Compassion.