If you were flicking past the start of this, then you could easily mistake it for Doctor Who.
There's a mysterious nameless child with no memory trapped in VR, where an English professor is contacting her about his rescue plan. Even the simple childlike music is reminiscent of what Murray Gold goes for on these occasions. So far, it might as well be written by Steven Moffat, especially if said girl next telephones someone and puts on a mask.
Oh wait, she already is on the phone.
As her VR incarceration switches off revealing her actual surroundings to be a cell, we're cutting to the professor wrenching at noisy vworping controls and arguing at volume with K9 in the TARD, um, I mean, in his lab.
It sets the stage for what, yet again, is K9's best episode yet.
The child's name is Taphony (which sounds a lot like 'telephony'), and she's the discarded result of a defence experiment in time-travel from years ago. She can do stuff with time, such as slow it down or speed it up, which would probably be the ironic reason why her evil creators eventually wiped her memory and locked her away to vegetate in VR.
Her social skills aren't great, so it isn't long before she's taking revenge on the professor for being one of those individuals responsible for her predicament, by stealing a few decades of his life-force. Her understanding of basic morality hasn't had much chance to flower in there either.
With Thorne back running the prison again à la episode 2, this is yet another bottle episode unfolding entirely on the series' regular sets. With only the one guest performer (admittedly a lot more extras though), this mostly goes rather well. There's a lot more old-fashioned talking than usual, giving the actors a bit more of a chance to actually do some acting. K9 in particular is uncommonly verbose, playing the voice of reason throughout, and demonstrating the wisdom of his intelligence that has so often been lacking from this series.
Stunningly, K9 is starting to actually trump its competitors in the Doctor Who universe, by succeeding in one area where all the others often fail - with only 25 minutes for the whole story, there just isn't much room for stopping to talk about feelings. Where it does happen, it's out of the way in a shot.
Taphony: "Can you understand what I'm doing? I just want to stay."
K9: "I understand, but I do not agree."
Taphony: "Jorjie understands - she's my friend."
K9: "Then why are you doing this to her? You do not hurt friends. You'd rather hurt yourself."
Taphony: "Like they're doing for Jorjie…"
K9: "Affirmative. That is what makes them friends."
For me, there are three things that subtract from this episode's successes, but they don't get to do too much damage:
1. When Taphony steals so much of the professor's future, he physically ages. Well, arguably he shouldn't. He hasn't had those years in which to grow white hair, for example. Mind you, it does increase the episode's Doctor Who-ish look even further:
Instead of making him older, I think Taphony should have used her powers to rejuvenate herself to one year old. Then at his birthday party the next day, the professor could have offered her some dessert with the words, "Would you like a jelly, baby?"
2. The stupid revelation that the prof will remain old if Taphony hasn't reversed this by midnight when his birthday begins. Oh just turn the hands on the clock back or some such criminality!
3. The rewinding of time at the episode's conclusion, and K9's subsequent recollection of events. There's nothing wrong with this development, but it happens out of nowhere, rather than being a consequence of scenes leading up to it.
I have six episodes left to watch of this series. I really hope this upward trend in quality continues.