At the time I queued this, the Last War in Albion Kickstarter is less than $500 from ensuring thrice-weekly posts until we get to A Christmas Carol. If you’ve not backed yet, consider throwing in for one of the lower-level rewards like the ebook.
Let’s start with the salient and strange fact: there exist people in the world who have watched this. This is an underlying truth of everything that exists in the world of greater media. Somebody’s seen it. Actually, in many ways the stranger and more salient fact is that something like six thousand people are going to read an essay on K-9, the Australian K-9 spinoff that is why the character vanished from The Sarah Jane Adventures for most of Season Four. And some number of those people are going to eventually pay money for a book containing this essay, or pledge money to a Kickstarter to help fund the writing of similarly arcane essays. To quote a similarly arcane object of media, these things’ existence is possible, but not very likely. So why does K-9 exist? For the same reason The Web of Fear exists: people thought they could make some money.
We are, however, at a sort of cultural end here. This is a deeply remote object. It exists and had some traceable impact on the world, and it did in fact come off of Doctor Who, and that’s the sort of thing we make sure to look at here. But in many ways that is all one can do: look at this thing. It passed through the world, and that is worth understanding. Because this thing is dead and sterile. Its Wikipedia article, in 2014, still proclaims with some measure of confidence that it is coming back.
This does not appear to be true. Back in 2012 there were murmurings of a second season. There doesn’t seem to be any particular movement on that. The series’ official Facebook page – which is seriously about the only place anything about its current life is documented – reveals that its co-creator, Paul Tams, is currently running a Kickstarter for his and Bob Baker’s latest children’s television series Marti, starring a superhero meerkat. This Kickstarter actually launched at about the same time as mine, looking for £20,000 to create a pilot episode of this series. At the time of writing, it has so far raised £139 from five backers. There are still one hundred positions in the closing credits still open for backers. You can get a DVD of an exclusive behind-the-scenes production information for £15 on this Kickstarter, or, at least, you can if it funds. We’ve got til May 31st to make it happen, and for my part, I’m backing because that making-of DVD is going to be one of the most remote and minor objects of Doctor Who history, and frankly, I wanna upload it to a torrent site. So make that £162. (Paul Tams, for his part, has only ever backed one Kickstarter, for 21st Century Tank Girl, which raised £174,130 on April 30th. That’s kind of exciting, and I wish I’d heard about it in time to back it, although why there’s no ebook baffles me. Make a damn PDF, sell it for ten quid. You’re leaving money on the table. You’ll make up way more money than the two sales you’re gonna lose to piracy.)
So what we have is a thing that first aired on Scandinavian television in January of 2010, a few weeks after Tennant’s regeneration into Matt Smith, after a premiere of the first episode on Halloween of 2009 in the UK (so right around Waters of Mars), and finally made it to the UK starting on April 3rd, 2010 – that is, the same day as The Eleventh Hour – on Disney XD. There it ran twice weekly until May 23rd, then returned for a basically weekly run in October, airing episodes that had by then also aired in Australia, where it was produced. It seems to have run on Channel 5 towards the end of 2010/beginning of 2011. That’s during the interregnum before Channel 4 and Channel 5 Big Brother, if it’s a more useful dating system for you. In the US, it ran on a tiny digital cable station devoted to detective shows that replaced Trio in 2006 under the name Sleuth, before relaunching as Cloo in 2011.
It was announced back in 2006, off the back of the character’s return in School Reunion, which is why K-9’s appearances on Doctor Who have been so sporadic – as Bob Baker, who still owns the copyright to the character for writing The Invisible Enemy, which, I remind you in case you have forgotten, is absolutely and horribly unwatchable, though if you for some strange reason do enjoy it you’ll be happy to know Big Finish is releasing a sequel story in August called Revenge of the Swarm, starring Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, and Philip Olivier with John Leeson voicing The Nucleus of the Swarm. Subscribers get more.
Entertainingly, what Baker doesn’t own is the physical design of K-9, which is the BBC’s since they’re the ones who mounted The Invisible Enemy. So after a brief and context-free scene in the first episode K-9 “regenerates” (har-har) into a new chassis, suffers total amnesia as to his past, but remains voiced by John Leeson for the other twenty-five episodes of this. That’s nearly eleven hours of television if you’re inclined to watch it, and it’s still for sale in the US iTunes store for just $18.99. It’s not on Netflix or Hulu, but there is a DVD for sale on Amazon for $21.98. Used from $12.70, and frequently bought with The Visitation. Most people go on to buy The Sarah Jane Adventures, which, despite K-9’s four and a half star rating from eleven customer reviews (“I enjoyed the series for what it was an alternate take on a classic character from Doctor Who, but do not expect classic Doctor Who here,” raves R. Clay, in a five star review 24 of 29 people have found helpful.) is probably the correct call.
The concept had been developed and shopped around by Baker and Tams since 1997, though funding never came through until the character made a return on Doctor Who, at which point a motley crew of international production companies put together funding. These were Disney Europe, Park Entertainment, Stewart & Wall Entertainment, and Screen Australia. Disney Europe is what you’d expect. UK-based Park Entertainment is “a worldwide entertainment consultant” and a “distributor and sales agent for independently produced feature films and television programs,” and also produced Bob the Butler, starring Tom Green, Brooke Shields, and Simon Callow. (Also unavailable on Netflix, but $1.99 to rent on Amazon Instant Video. Four stars, thirty-eight reviews. 43% on Rotten Tomatoes.) Screen Australia is an Australian government agency that provides production funds for the Australian film industry. And Stewart & Wall are an Australian production company who have also made The Shapies and the TV movie Beauty and the Beast, starring Estella Warren, best known as Daena from Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes.
The series is a familiar sort of children’s television – a group of four characters that closely mirror what TV Tropes calls the Five-Man Band, in which “The Big Guy” has been swapped out for K-9. It’s set in futuristic London, in a semi-dystopian world in which they mostly fight The Department, a sort of banal and routinely evil Torchwood-like organization that captures aliens and alien technology. There’s loads of odd plots – the scientist character, Alistair Gryffen – has somehow lost his wife and children and is trying to find them in space and time. The main character, Starkey, is a homeless and on-the-run rebel. The girl one’s mother works for the bad guys. And so on.
For the purposes of Doctor Who, the most interesting episode is “Angel of the North,” which aired on October 30th, 2010 in the UK, between Death of the Doctor and The Empty Planet. This is the only episode to be written solo by Bob Baker (he coauthored another with Tams), with the bulk of episodes by an Australian pair, Shane Krause and Shayne Armstrong, who seem to have done most of the development on the series, which departed massively from the description Baker and Tams originally gave in 2007.
The episode opens in a frozen northern base not unlike The Tenth Planet or The Seeds of Doom, where a man appearing in exactly one scene is attacked by a monster, not unlike countless stories. The scientist character, Gryffen, begins detecting some sort of signal or phenomenon from this northern base, which turns out to be a crashed alien spaceship referred to as the Fallen Angel. Gryffen and K-9 deduce that it is a part of the, and allow me to consult my notes here, which is to say, some Wikipedia articles nobody has gotten around to nominating for deletion yet, STM, which seems to be a space-time machine that transported K-9 from somewhere or other. (In interviews, Bob Baker has said that this is K-9 Mark I, last seen in The Invasion of Time, so presumably from the period where the War Doctor held out against the Deathsmiths of Goth for a decade in the Siege of Planet Fourteen.) Gryffen attempts to convince the Department to give him access to a virtual reality suit to help him overcome his agoraphobia so he can investigate, as K-9 declines to.
Unfortunately Inspector Thorne, who looks oddly like Tony Abbott, hears about his request and proceeds to kidnap him to claim the unit for himself. While collecting the unit, Gryffen discovers a bunch of opened alien pods, which Starkey and K-9 discover to be the Korven, the series in-house villains. Everybody escapes, but it’s revealed that the STM is Korven technology, and thus far too dangerous to use. But beyond that, the component that served as the MacGuffin for all the running through corridors turns out to have some sort of connection to K-9.
It is not well made, although there are moments of vague competence, much like the recently cancelled American remake of The Tomorrow People. Some people watched it, but not very. Presumably Bob Baker got a nice paycheck for writing bewilderingly not-of-its time children’s telly sci-fi on the back of relatively little work and a duff Doctor Who story he wrote thirty-seven years ago. Which is a happy ending, I suppose, though a bit of a blow for The Sarah Jane Adventures, which consequently lost the wonderful humor of K-9 and Mr. Smith snarking at each other. (K-9 makes only two more appearances, the first in the season premiere, the second in the Gareth Roberts/Clayton Hickman-penned season finale, which one assumes they had quite a bit of fun with.) That’s probably it’s biggest impact in the world, although one imagines someday there’ll be a Faction Paradox short story about it.
Also, if the Kickstarter hits $10k I’ll totally write a fanfic about A Wild Endeavour. It’ll probably have Faction Paradox in it. And a tin dog. It’s a present for unnoun. Unnoun is canon now.