Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

This review is in four parts:

1. Episode viewing order.
2. Negative: The things that I didn't like about K9.
3. Affirmative: The things that I did like about K9.
4. Episode viewing order explained.

1. Episode Viewing Order.

In my opinion, the order in which these episodes are arranged on the above DVD of the series is flawed in several places. I don't want to meddle with this too much, but for a number of reasons I think these episodes make more chronological sense in the below tweaked order. My reasons are at the bottom of this post soas to avoid spoilers here. If you haven't watched the series yet, then you might find this order easier on your brain. Please feel free to disagree with me though - that's all part of the fun of believing in it! :)

Enjoy K9! :) (I did!)

1. Regeneration.
2. Liberation.
3. The Korven.
4. The Bounty Hunter.
5. Sirens Of Ceres.
6. Fear Itself.
7. Oroborus.
8. The Last Oak Tree.
9. The Fall Of The House Of Gryffen.
10. Jaws Of Orthrus.
11. Curse Of Anubis.
12. Alien Avatar.
13. Aeolian.
14. Black Hunger.
15. Robot Gladiators.
16. The Custodians.
17. The Cambridge Spy.
18. Angel Of The North.
19. Mutant Copper.
20. Lost Library Of Ukko.
21. Dream-Eaters.
22. The Last Precinct.
23. Taphony And The Time Loop.
24. Mind Snap.
25. Hound Of The Korven.
26. The Eclipse Of The Korven.

2. Negative: The things that I didn't like about K9.

(This section is miserable, and depressing. Don't read it - skip down to the next section which is nicer. Unless you already hate the show, and are looking for someone to tell you you're right. :) )

At long last we've completed watching the first series of K9.

That's K9, with the emphasis put on the first syllable, unlike in Doctor Who where it's always been on the second, or both. This is important stuff - it tells us whether or not the actors know who he is. :)

The series' production was an audacious undertaking - 26 episodes of a non-BBC (Screen Australia) spin-off show that wasn't allowed to make much reference to its parent show Doctor Who, and which seemed to have already been panned by everybody and their, um, dog.

I have to sadly agree - as a TV series, I found K9 to be a metal dog's dinner, and that's just what they're still calling 'season one'!

The list of this show's shortcomings are impressively legion. If you like shows with shortcomings (and in this post-modern age who doesn't), then you'll find K9 to be man's best friend. Let's take a look at just how extensively K9 itself rolled over and played dead.

a. It's a co-production. This is always a red flag, because a co-production usually means that any risk has to be agreed upon by multiple parties. This is unlikely, resulting in safety and blandness. K9 is a co-production between about TEN organisations - so many that the closing music has to be played through twice on a number of episodes to fit in all their logos at the end. K9's sheen is about as bland and unoriginal as TV gets.

b. There's no definitive statement (that I can find) in any episode regarding which of the three models of K9 from Doctor Who that we're watching, not that it is likely to ever make any difference. As a viewer, I need to know who I'm watching. I now err on the side of supposing this is Mark I though, as the galactic peace conference that K9 arrived from at the start sounds sort of Gallifreyan. (Gallifrey is where we last saw K9 Mark I in Doctor Who)

I don't think they ever mention the year in which the series is set either, which is okay. I don't need that, especially since it would probably cause more problems than it would solve. Statements on these subjects from the show's creators don't carry much weight for me - with all due respect, those people live in a different universe.

c. They redesigned K9's appearance, apparently because the BBC, having declined to make the series themselves, wouldn't let their own 'classic' design be used by another company. This may also be the reason why K9's appearance in the BBC's own final season of The Sarah Jane Adventures was vetoed. Please TV people, how about helping each other to entertain? The losers here were the makers and viewers of both series.

d. They changed K9's robotic characterisation, by giving him feelings, dreams, and a laugh. Next season they'll make him fall in love with a vacuum cleaner, you'll see.

e. They had a regular evil police department, and apparently couldn't be bothered coming up with a name, so they actually just used the label 'the Department'. It even got its own logo - a big imaginative D in a circle. Pretty well every time 'the Department' was mentioned in any context other than a work conversation (eg. on news bulletins, over tannoys, discussed by the public) it just sounded awkward and wrong. Can we simply call them 'the Police'? Can we? When the closing credits lists "Crew Department Heads", ya just gotta chuckle. I guess I should have the same problem with 'the Doctor'…

f. The existence of the android coppers kill any sense of this being the near-future, further worsened by their always-clumsy dialogue and behaviour. I have no inside information, but I'm assuming that this attitude, as opposed to the alternative of playing the cyborgs with some threat, was possibly a Disney preference. They like their robots to be funny.

g. The miscasting of principal villain Drake. There, I said it. The character's replacement by Thorne halfway through the run was problematic in another way though. Drake had a metallic left hand. His replacement character Thorne had a luminescent right hand, which in the final episode became relevant, and in so doing drew attention to the rewrite.



h. After a promising start, there is little continuity from episode to episode, despite continuity being one of the hallmarks of quality writing. But there is some. Unfortunately this gives away that the instalments are being presented in the wrong order.

For example, in #23 Angel Of The North, Gryffen realises K9 and the Space/Time Manipulator (S/TM) have a connection, which he has already assumed in the preceding #22 Mind Snap. I really don't expect this sort of TV scheduling error to be reproduced on a DVD box set, which is supposed to be the best way to collect and view a series. Hence my alternative order suggestion above.

Here in the UK, Channel 5 hit the ground stumbling by stripping the show across five mornings a week, in various timeslots, skipping episodes, and taking it off air mid-way through. And that's just what I know from not watching it! I didn't even bother. I waited for the series DVD box set to come out in the UK. It took years, so we had to get this imported Australian release from The Who Shop in Barking. Thrilled with the signatures though! :)

i. Some of the continuity doesn't appear to work anyway.

For example, here's Lomax as he was revealed to us in the final episode:


Now here's his contradictory silhouetted appearance from earlier episodes right throughout the run, in this case in Hound Of The Korven:


That silhouette is just not the same guy. Now, you can argue that Lomax was using some clever piece of tech to hide his colossal ears and fake the shadow of a human, but:

i. there is no such explanation in the programme,
ii. that's the front seat of a vehicle that his silhouette is in, so his alien identity is going to be seen getting in and out, and
iii. in the context of a series as lacklustre as this one, of course it just comes across as yet more carelessness. Well, maybe that's my fault for being so cynical.

You could argue that he's communicating with June via sort of vidcom image, but his shadow is on a window, not the computer screen in front of it (from June's point of view). Lomax's passenger seat also appears to be facing backwards. Basically, I just don't know what's going on here.

j. Recycled footage.



This may sound like a bit of a whinge, but as well as reusing establishing and CGI shots, with less than one series in the can, they had the unmitigated gall to try to get away with making a clips show. Oh great - we get to watch clips of episodes that we've just seen! Have they not got home video or the internet in Australia yet, which rendered such retrospectives unwatchable in the rest of the world after 1990?

k. The enormous number of other cheapy and bottle episodes that they tried to get away with. Never have a group of studio sets been quite so creatively recycled week to week, not even in Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea. Aside from having different groups of aliens invade Earth each week all via the inside of Gryffen's house, The Cambridge Spy featured Starkey and Jorjie time-travelling back to the same building generations earlier when it had been a police station. Genius!

The three feuding Department Heads - Lomax, Drake/Thorne and June Turner - all had to share a 'work' set, which had to be small enough to squeeze into a van so that it could also serve as a mobile base. A mobile base which impractically drove on the right, straddled two lanes, and which we never once saw the exterior of (it was invisible - see the two pics above), although its size and seating successfully demonstrated it to be a bus.


Ding-ding!


Likewise, they couldn't usually afford / didn't want to shoot street scenes, so in most cases the goodie characters would travel from A to B via the sewers.

Starkey: "It will be safer going via the sewers."

- Aeolian

This sewer corridor set appeared in an incredible half of the episodes, although not necessarily always as a sewer. For example, it became rather good at moonlighting as a jail.


Escapees from Dauntless Prison in Liberation.


Guarding the Medes imprisoned underneath the factory in Alien Avatar.


Robot clowns and K9 waiting to appear on TV in Robot Gladiators.

In addition to this, in many episodes, they wouldn't even bother with a set.




Another knock-on consequence of this over-reliance on the big white room, is that it subtracts from the depth of their other sets, with a number of locations featuring a very bright white light outside the window:


l. Most of the series is dubbed, which always results in disconnection from the characters and locations, unless it's done well. Here it's done badly, with mis-matched inflexion, huge echoes on scenes that are set outdoors, and shots where the line that we can hear simply isn't the same one that we can see being spoken, even in close-up, and that's if their lips are moving at all. Were they trying to be European - you know, where dubbing foreign shows is the norm?

m. The incessant noisy cheap-sounding synth music, drowning out much of the dialogue, and rarely letting up.

n. Even some of the storylines got recycled. K9 might be bad anyone? (3 episodes) Storm anyone? (3 episodes) Monster coming through the S/TM anyone? (5 episodes) Something about to blow our heroes up? (7 episodes)

o.

It's set in London, but shot in another country entirely - Australia - resulting in a world where everything feels somehow wrong, and nowhere seems real. This disorientation is at least consistent with modern Doctor Who repeatedly shooting its London scenes in Wales.

p.

The post-modern tone of much of what I shall loosely refer to as the second-unit material. K9's internal POV graphics, all the non-K9 robot voices, TV news bulletins… there was no attempt at believability in these pieces, which clashed badly with the dramatic tone that the regular actors were aiming for. The Channel 8 news bulletin in Oroborus was straight out of a sketch-show!

Tannoy: "Department restrooms are strictly off limits without an official Departmental permission slip."

- Lost Library Of Ukko

q. I'm so sorry to say this, but nobody on the production team successfully demonstrates any enthusiasm or enjoyment about working on the show, let alone a knowledge of what they're doing. The writing, acting, sound recording, editing and music are lazy throughout. Even most of the commercial breaks on this DVD cut straight into black with silence, without enough care to put in a fade out on either picture or sound. They did enough, but no more. Well, that's how I thought it looked.


According to wikipedia, they shot all 26 episodes in an unthinkable 18 weeks! It's no wonder that so much of the acting appears to be a first take, especially all the robot voices.

For the one thing that was really missing from this series, I thought, was love. A few of the scripts do shine, as does the direction on occasion, but never very brightly.

The one exception is John Leeson as K9's voice, yet as a robot, his character is the one who shouldn't sound so keen! Ya just can't win.

Or can you…

3. Affirmative: The things that I did like about K9.

Yet, for me, K9 became fascinating in an underdog sort of way. Against all the odds, the team seemed to be slowly learning their new jobs, if never developing much zest for them. And who can blame them with that kind of timeframe to work in.

Yes, right from the very first episode, I found that I never stopped rooting for this show. Why? Because it has one quality that outweighs any possible wrong that it can do.

Apparently by accident, it kept on improving.

From episode 12 on the DVD - Alien Avatar - something changed, and kept going. There was never a point at which anyone on the show seemed to begin to care about it, but the scripts did keep on getting better.

Much of the second half of the season, I reckon, is passable. I'd love to jump up and down and enthuse about how brilliant one particular episode is, but there are none that ever make it above okay. But there are quite a few okay episodes after the halfway mark, in fact most of them. The addition of Thorne to the line-up is something of a watershed too. He's only written as a pantomime villain, but blimey he played it for boos!

And they have been quite inventive in their squandering of resources too. The Custodians features a black room, a green room, a blue room that presently becomes white, two characters unconscious for the duration, and 20 million children getting turned into zombies, off-camera of course. It goes without saying that the perpetrators of this worldwide act of terrorism are based nearby Gryffen's house.

Ah yes, Gryffen's house. GREAT set. It's ENORMOUS, with more rooms coming off of it than I can list here. If plenty of episodes were going to be based here, then designing in a heap of smaller interlocking chambers and corridors was definitely a good way of giving the characters somewhere to go. (well, when they weren't walking very slowly down that sewer corridor)

Also, I have to heap praise for the physical realisation of K9 himself. The puppeteer (David Pawsey) and animators have done a stunning job of making the effect fly, and this despite the varying disparity of K9's revolving logo on his side, which I'm trying to avoid repeatedly looking for:



And you have to admit, despite the transformative redesign, he is still instantly recognisable as K9. Those movements of his new ears are a touch of genius! Still want to throw some choke-chenium over that bone though.

Also, all the actors have been flawless throughout in convincing me of the flying metal mutt's presence in every scene. I assume that they couldn't properly hear his lines, let alone see him much of the time, but in this respect I never doubted any of them for a moment.

In addition, the creators clearly have an axe to grind about corruption in the police force, and in particular the authoritarianism of a police state, which has given the show an attitude.

June: "These microchips are designed to make the world a safer place. Sure, they do have security applications, but one day your life may depend on them. This technology means your children will never get lost again."

- Jaws Of Orthrus

If there is a message to this series, then it's that society needs to turn away from this path before it's too late. This angle gives the show a unique voice, although sadly one which gets exploited more for background comedy, than for improving the real world.

Gryffen: "We cannot fight fire with fire. Fight the Department on their own terms and they will win, every time."
Starkey: "So what do we do?"
Gryffen: "We just be ourselves. Being ourselves is the only noble defence against thugs in uniform."
Jorjie: "But will that be enough?"
Gryffen: "Being yourself is always enough."

- Jaws Of Orthrus

I think this kids' show really wants to be cyberpunk...

There is also other stuff under the surface which indicates that significant thought has gone into conceiving this world. Occasionally something mysterious called 'the great cataclysm' gets mentioned as having taken place a few years earlier. In this series, we never find out what this apparently global disaster was, but that Gryffen was involved suggests that there is a story here still waiting to be revealed. I can't help supposing that it has something to do with his agoraphobia, and his missing family. Such questions are the only things that get me keen to see further episodes...

Despite these loose ends, there are other storylines that actually do span the whole of this season, and which are satisfyingly tied-up at the end. Although the Aeolians are introduced in episode 13 (DVD order), one had already appeared in a drawing back in episode 10. There is a real holistic sense to the way in which this series has been conceived and made, and there are several other examples of this excellent foreshadowing.

I have high suspicions that some if not all of episode two was made at the series' close, not to mention episode one, Mind Snap, and the somewhat independent Taphony And The Time Loop.

Yes, it has been fun watching the all powerful Department saving the world from the back of their windowless invisible bus (ding-ding!) that they couldn't afford to exit. Also, every so often the characters in this series do get to stop and talk to each other, which is usually well worth it.

June Turner - is that an homage to Doctor Who's producer through the 1980s - John Turner?

I have genuinely enjoyed this series of K9 (apart from the clips show). It's mostly clean, it doesn't often get bogged down with characters talking about their feelings, and there is much passable-quality banter between the regulars.

But I have never cared about any of these people, or their world, simply because neither of them seems real enough to believe in. Which is an important requirement in a drama. Without it, I just don't have much reason to spend 26 half hours watching this. I did so because I like Doctor Who, not K9.

Next season I think they need a higher budget, less music, much less dubbing, and to focus on the adults, which given how long it's been in preproduction, shouldn't be too much of an ask by now.

And I'll live with them putting the emphasis on K in their pronunciation, rather than on 9. Maybe that's even how K9 himself would now say it - with feeling. :)

4. Episode viewing order explained.

This is not an episode guide, or a production order - these are just the connections that I have found between each of these 26 fairly self-contained episodes. (preceded by their position on the series DVD)

1. Regeneration

In this opening episode, the four 'Missing Persons' posters in the background above are (usually) in a diamond formation.
Starkey gets slimed and hunted by the Jixen.
K9 regenerates, thanks to his regeneration unit.
K9 tries to kill Starkey - whoops.

2. Liberation

Department Technician #1 (played by Piripi Neho-Popata) appears.
Starkey continues to be hunted by the Jixen.
Starkey and Darius meet Thorne.
Starkey and K9 leave Gryffen's house.

3. The Korven
Starkey and K9 return to Gryffen's house, and move in.
First appearance of 3x2 sheet formation on 'Missing Persons' board.

4. The Bounty Hunter
Drake sees K9 for the first time.
Starkey protests that K9 has not done one suspicious thing since his arrival. (I suppose trying to kill him in the first episode doesn't count)
June assigns responsibility for K9 to Gryffen.

5. Sirens Of Ceres
Gryffen refers to June's earlier favour of assigning K9 to him.

6. Fear Itself
Drake threatens Starkey.

11. Oroborus
Both Gryffen and Starkey declare with confidence that the space/time manipulator cannot start by itself.

14. The Last Oak Tree
Department Technician #1 appears for the second and last time.
Starkey finds more slime.

7. The Fall Of The House Of Gryffen
The space/time manipulator starts by itself.
The storm is described as "the biggest electrical event London has seen in decades."
Starkey finds slime on his shoe and exclaims "Slime! Always with the slime!"
Towards the end, the visitors are concluded to be non-physical images.
Gryffen and Starkey's relationship is described as having become like that of a father and son, for which reason this episode needs to come at least a bit later on.

8. Jaws Of Orthrus
K9 has been acting suspiciously.
Starkey refers to when Drake threatened him.
K9's unusual behaviour turns out to have been performed by a duplicate.

10. Curse Of Anubis

Department technician #2 (played by Steven Sourkis) appears.
The gang go up against galactic slavers.
K9 acts suspiciously, prompting Jorjie to observe that he has changed.
Darius theorises that Gryffen, Starkey and Jorjie's unusual behaviour is because they are duplicates.

12. Alien Avatar
The visitors are considered to be non-physical images early on, which is no big surprise this time.

13. Aeolian
This storm is described as "the worst storm the North Sea has seen in a century."

15. Black Hunger
Department technician #2 reappears.

Drake leaves off-camera (never a good sign), and is suddenly replaced by Thorne.

21. Robot Gladiators

Robot clowns appear.
Thorne's identity is concealed for the first half, which can only hold suspense before he has established himself as the regular villain every week.
Jorjie meets Thorne.
Starkey, Darius and Jorjie are very surprised to learn that Thorne has set them up from the start.
Despite being highly knowledgeable about K9 and the kids, Thorne fails to forsee K9's peaceful behaviour.
K9 gives away to Thorne that he has a self-destruct mechanism.
Lomax and Thorne are aware of the existence of K9's regeneration unit, and plot to acquire it.
This episode is a good introduction to Thorne, even ending on his plans for the group's future, which establishes him as a different character to Drake, with a different agenda.

19. The Custodians
3x2 sheet formation on 'Missing Persons' board.
Starkey theorises that they may be up against "galactic slavers again".
Thorne expects K9 - or "Fido" - to be with Starkey.
June shows the Etydion a revised flashback of Sirens Of Ceres.

16. The Cambridge Spy
Darius: "What's with all these storms? Another one."
Starkey and Jorjie time-travel and try to change the past.
Jorjie recognises Thorne's ancestor.

23. Angel Of The North
Gryffen theorises that K9 must have a connection to the S/TM.
K9 and Gryffen agree that they both know that "trying to change the past is highly highly dangerous."
Thorne is very polite to Gryffen, as though he is meeting him for the first time.


Gryffen is supplied with a Virtual Reality Encasement Suit.
Gryffen learns that the S/TM is Korven technology.
Gryffen acquires the S/TM's temporal stabiliser.
The episode begins and ends with five posters on the 'Missing persons' board. (although in the middle it has seven)

18. Mutant Copper
There are five posters on the 'Missing Persons' board.
Starkey protests that K9 shouldn't break into the Department because he doesn't know his way around.
June deduces immediately that the missing CCPC will be at Gryffen's house. It takes Thorne ages to cotton onto this.
Thorne threatens to send the gang to detention centres.

17. Lost Library Of Ukko
Six posters on 'Missing Persons' board, including a TubeCorp map! Nice to see that, in the future, Aldwych is open again. Alright I should probably go to bed now…
When Starkey and Darius break into the Department, K9 guides them around it.
K9 and Gryffen are quick to theorise that Starkey and Darius have been set up by Thorne.
Gryffen expects Thorne to double cross him.
Yssaringintinka threatens to erase Thorne if he ever harms any of the gang. "I've got my eye on you!"

9. Dream-Eaters

Darius dreams of the robot clowns, which he can only really do after having seen them in Robot Gladiators.


On his wall, Gryffen somehow retains the helmet of the Virtual Reality Encasement Suit (although he didn't bring it back with him in Angel Of The North). For me, this is a more compelling indicator of order than the return of the 3x2 sheet formation on 'Missing Persons' board, because it is much harder to come up with an explanation for its presence otherwise.

24. The Last Precinct
Department technician #2 appears.
Harry is arrested.
The four 'Missing Persons' posters are almost in a diamond formation again.

20. Taphony And The Time Loop
The four 'Missing Persons' posters are in a diamond formation.

22. Mind Snap
The four 'Missing Persons' posters are in a diamond formation.
Gryffen and Starkey are already aware that K9 has a connection to the S/TM.
K9 has flashbacks of Regeneration, Liberation, The Korven, The Bounty Hunter, Fear Itself, The Fall of the House of Gryffen, Curse of Anubis, Robot Gladiators, Lost Library of Ukko, Dream-Eaters and Taphony and the Time Loop.

25. Hound Of The Korven
Harry has been in prison for some time.
K9 now calculates the likelihood of a double-cross by Thorne at 99.99%.
K9 gives Thorne his regeneration unit.
Thorne attempts to exploit K9's self destruct mechanism.
Department technician #2 appears.
June disobeys Lomax.

26. The Eclipse Of The Korven
Lomax demotes June for disobeying him.
The four 'Missing Persons' posters are in a diamond formation.
Gryffen uses the S/TM's temporal stabiliser.
K9 gets his regeneration unit back from Thorne.
Thorne dies - I shall miss him.

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