K9 Mark I, II, III, and IV addressed whoever was directing them as "Master" or "Mistress" depending upon gender, and used the formal "affirmative" and "negative" rather than "yes" and "no". They were programmed to be both loyal and logical, with a penchant for taking orders literally, almost to a fault. Their striped collars mirrored the Fourth Doctor's trademark scarf.
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.
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 IV was a recreation and enhancement of the Mark III created by the Tenth Doctor as a second present for Sarah Jane. (TV: School Reunion) This model continued in service to his mistress, Luke Smith, Clyde Langer, and Rani Chandra and was known by Maria Jackson and Kelsey Hooper. He was left fixing a black hole in Sweden for many years, but after returning to Earth, was used sparingly, until he went to university with Luke Smith. (TV: The Nightmare Man)
When Romana eventually returned to her own universe, she brought K9 Mark II with her (presumably having repaired it) and eventually became Lady President of Gallifrey. K9 Mark II is first seen on Gallifrey in the Virgin New Adventures novel Lungbarrow by Marc Platt, alongside K9 Mark I, which had remained with Leela. Both K9 Mark I and Mark II appear, voiced by Leeson, in the Big Finish Productions audio adventure Zagreus and the Gallifrey audio series. Leela's K9 (Mark I) was destroyed at the conclusion of the second Gallifrey series and only Mark II appears in the third series.
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On 24 April 2006, The Independent, the Daily Star and The Times confirmed, following previous rumours, that K9 would be featured in a 26-part children's series, K9, to be written by Bob Baker. The article in The Times also featured a picture of the redesigned K9 for the animated series. The series will be a blend of live-action and a CGI K9.
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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.
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)
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After Mark I sacrificed himself to destroy the Jixen warriors, Starkey retrieved his regeneration unit, which quickly activated. In a blast of white light, K9 was thus reborn as a much more advanced model, though this K9 Mark Z could not access the memories of his previous self, which had been "scrambled". He stayed at the house of Alistair Gryffen, who ran tests on K9, but did not tell the Department. K9 tried to kill Starkey, as he was sprayed with Jixen genetic matter and so registered as a Jixen. Starkey convinced him that he was not an enemy and K9 gave him his dog whistle to summon him when needed. (TV: Regeneration) K9 and the team tracked down the surviving Jixen to Dauntless Prison and killed it. They also faced a Meron and freed the alien prisoners. (TV: Liberation) K9 travelled with Starkey when he was on the run from the Department and rescued Gryffen (who was kidnapped by a Korven). Gryffen later welcomed him and Starkey into his home. (TV: The Korven)
Later he defeated Ahab, who tried to convince him he had murdered Zanthus Pia. He became part of the K9 Unit, being made the responsibility of Gryffen and under the control of Department inspector June Turner. (TV: The Bounty Hunter) He foiled Inspector Drake's plan to control the population using Cerulium (TV: Sirens of Ceres) and experienced fear. (TV: Fear Itself) He aided in the defeat of echoes of Gryffen's family, (TV: The Fall of the House of Gryffen) Orthrus, a duplicate of him created by Drake to frame him (TV: Jaws of Orthrus) and the Bodach. (TV: Dream-Eaters) He met Nehetka and Geb of the Anubians, a race his previous incarnation liberated. He was so obsessed with regaining his lost memories that he didn't notice Gryffen, Starkey and Jorjie's takeover by the Anubians. He soon found out when the Anubians attacked the Department. With Darius' help, he defeated them. (TV: Curse of Anubis)
Although the first incarnation of K9 does not appear again in televised Doctor Who media, he is the star of the 2009 K9 television series, in which he undergoes a sort of "regeneration" process from which a new, more sophisticated and futuristic K9 emerges; in the first series of K9, the character is transported to London c. 2050 by Professor Gryffen (Robert Moloney). Though on regeneration the character loses his memory of his adventures with the Doctor, he assists Gryffen and several teenage companions against a dystopian regime of "The Department". The upgraded K9 has new specifications, sporting a sophisticated head-up display, the ability to fly, and more powerful laser weapons.