& BOB BAKER
& DALE BRADLEY
K-9 VOLUMES 1 AND 2
DVDs RELEASED FROM
JANUARY - MARCH 2011.
31ST OCTOBER 2009
first, this one stars K-9. Let me reassure you: it’s much better than K-9 and Company was. Made, I understand, as a joint British-Australian production by Jetix, Park Entertainment, and Stewart Wall, this series is filmed in Australia but set in London, so we get a slight mixture of Ozzie and British accents, which is pretty par for the course in the real London. Much like The Sarah Jane Adventures, it’s firmly aimed at kids aged eight upwards, and silly old geeks who enjoy a guilty pleasure.
It’s always a little hard to judge a show by its pilot, and this is no different; it’s hard to say how the series will develop from this point, when it starts broadcast proper next year. Still, on the basis of Regeneration, I have pretty high hopes.
I’m not sure when I started liking K-9; I used to think he was rubbish. It can’t be nostalgia, as
I was born several years after he left the original Doctor Who. I can’t put my finger on it, but for some reason, I love the little metal mutt these days. Setting a series around may sound like a sure-fire winner for a kids’ show, but it could go wrong very easily (yes, I’m talking about K-9 and Company again). Thankfully, the new K-9 series gets one important thing right - the setting.
As I mentioned above, the series is set in London, but the London of the year 2050. This itself sets it apart from previous spin-off series. It’s a grim sort of future; London seems to
be under a totalitarian government, and a mysterious ‘Department’ wields power over citizens. Interestingly, the existence of alien life seems to be common knowledge - people are aware of alien life, even if they don’t expect to ever come into contact with them. It’s a suitably interesting environment to send K-9 into, one that promises plenty of intriguing developments.
There’s a good cast in place. Children’s television often gets saddled with poor actors and those who simply can’t be bothered to provide a good performance; happily, there’s none of that on show here. Central to the show are Jorji and Starkey, two teens who are keen to fight the system. Starkey (Keegan Joyce) is the more streetwise of the two, a fourteen-year-old orphan who is already wanted for online crime. Starkey might not even be his real name; his online alias is Stark Reality, and it might have nothing to do with his real identity. Jorji (Philippa Coulthard) is a rather posh, wanna-be rebel who tags along getting on Starkey’s nerves, before proving her worth by busting him out of ‘virtual prison.’
And on the other side of the equation we have Darius and Professor Gryffen. Darius (Daniel Webber) is a bit of a cockney wide boy, who hovers between endearing and annoying. He’s the Professor’s right hand man, a young assistant who’s characterised as a bit rough around the edges, but with a good heart. Professor Gryffen (Robert Moloney) is a good character; although he’s very much in the clichéd eccentric scientist mold, his backstory is interesting. Terrified of the outside world, he has lost his family in an undisclosed event in the past, and has developed a space-time manipulator in order to find them in the past. This links him to the Department, who fund his research, and is also the way K-9 comes into the fold.
Long story short, Starkey, on the run from the police (some very cheap Robocop knock-offs), enters the Professor’s laboratory and accidentally wrecks his experiment. Through the rift created by the manipulator comes a small robot dog, followed by several alien creatures. K-9 is presented, at first, in his familiar, classic form. Apparently, he is the original K-9 Mark 1, last seen on Gallifrey with his Mistress Leela. Mentions of Doctor Who are forbidden by copyright law, but the implication is that he’s been snatched from Gallifrey by the manipul-ator. During a fight with the aliens, the Jixen - a bunch of mucous-squirting tortoises - he is destroyed. Thankfully, those clever Time Lords have fitted him with a regenerative unit, allowing him to regenerate, just like the Doctor. Thus, we get a brand-new, state of the art K-9, with articulated ears and the ability to fly. The important thing, of course, is that John Leeson returns to provide the voice.
Visually, the show is a mixed bag. K-9 looks brilliant in his new form, be it in physical or CG guises (although I’m not sure about the bone embossed on his front). The Jixen are a bit Power Rangers, but they still work as fun monsters. The aforementioned robot police, on the other hand, look dire; incredibly cheap. The story is slight - after the intriguing set-up and prison break, the shoe descends into a monster-chase run-around. Still, there’s nothing wrong with a pilot keeping things simple, especially at half an hour long. Regeneration was apparently produced as part one of a two-parter, but the second episode is now going to be broadcast with the main series next year. As such, the story does just kind of stop, leaving things dangling.
Still, it’s good, flighty fun, with a great set-up and plenty of potential. If the series develops on this, it could become something very good.
31ST OCTOBER 2009 - 20TH NOVEMBER 2010
(26 30-MINUTE EPISODES)
His new series doesn’t cut it with many of us, now that we’ve been spoilt by a revamped Doctor Who with its own highly-successful spin-offs. True, it’s no Sarah Jane Adventures. It’s never going to go down in history as one of the all-time greats of children’s broadcasting. The acting and writing are variable, the production values are low, and the central character is a tin dog. But give it a chance, and there’s a lot to love here.
Firstly, let’s set the ground rules: this is a kid’s show. It’s aimed at a very young audience, and it does lack the cross-generational appeal of Doctor Who or even the similarly child-oriented SJA. While this can be used as an excuse - the “it’s just for kids, it’ll do” approach - it’s also worth bearing in mind. SJA has attracted considerable praise for its unusually adult and complex storylines (although this has, at times, been overstated). K-9 rarely delves too deeply into the finer points of its universe. Being made predominantly from single episode stories that last a little under half an hour, there’s little time to go into great complexity of storytelling. In this regard, it plays as a more straightforward children’s adventure series, the like of which is never hard to find on morning television. Yet, amongst all the monster run-arounds, there’s room for some refreshingly open-minded ethics. There’s no simple black-and-white “humans good, aliens bad” morality to be found here. While there are villainous extraterrestrials, the main threat to our heroes is the Department, a sinister totalitarian organisation that runs the United Kingdom in the year 2050. One of the main protagonists, Starkey, is a criminal because he protests against the fact that aliens are imprisoned without trial - quite a strong political message for a kids’ show in the 21st century.
Yet, even the Department isn’t an evil cadre of black-hats. Another of the young heroes, Jorjie, the wanna-be-rebel posh girl, is the daughter of the Head of Alien Intrusion. June Turner may work for the Department, but she’s by no means a villain, and is frequently caught in an uncomfortable compromise between her duty to the state, her love for her daughter, and her own sense of right and wrong. She’s as likely to assist with a vulnerable alien’s escape plan as she is to track it down and imprison it. Young Darius completes the trio of young protagonists, and it’s made pretty clear that he himself has been on the wrong side of the law in the past, for less noble reasons than Jorjie and Starkey. He displays unswerving loyalty to Professor Gryffen, an upstanding scientist who nonetheless has a shady history with the Department. He isn’t above using alien technology for his own purposes, and it’s hinted that he was in some way responsible for the Great Cataclysm - an environmental disaster that threatened the Earth some years previously.
It’s an intriguing set-up into which K-9 arrives, and even he isn’t entirely free from suspicion. His memory files having been severely damaged (handily avoiding any chance of his referring to the Doctor, the Time Lords or any other BBC-owned concepts), the various characters are sometimes put in the position where they must question their trust in him. If even K-9 isn’t sure who he is, how can anyone be? It’s this mystery surrounding K-9 that adds a lot of appeal to his new, revised character. Scraps of information show that this robot mutt may have originated in the 51st century, but indicate that he was last active in the 501st. It’s all rather intriguing stuff who the Who fan to ponder.
With that all in mind, there are, it’s true, some severe flaws in the series. As previously said, the acting can be vary from the fairly good to the distinctly awful. The three young leads - Philippa Coulthard (Jorjie) and Keegan Joyce (Starkey) are fine, if a little stilted, and it’s hard to escape the clear fact that these are quite inexperienced child actors. Daniel Webber (Darius) is rather better, and his character is the believable of the three as a result. Of course, he doesn’t seem to be required to attempt an English accent - the London of forty years hence is populated by people who sound like Australians trying very hard to sound like middle-class Englishmen. Robert Moloney is excellent as Gryffen, bringing a real pathos to a character who risked being a mere clichéd scientist / Doctor substitute. Robyn Moore is equally good as June Turner, although her Department rival, the snide Drake, is brought to life by the appalling Connor van Vuuren. It’s a relief when he’s replaced by the far more effective Thorne, played with sinister aplomb by Jared Robinson.
Of course, this is K-9’s series, so hats off to John Leeson, who brings his iconic character to life. Leeson is as good as ever, even if K-9’s character has been diluted. In a clear attempt to update the character and increase his appeal, he’s begun talking in some bizarre mixture of robot, cockney and youth speak. Who ever thought we’d hear K-9 say “He’s giving me grief!” or “You and me both, brother”? Mind you, even Gryffen has to say things like “What the Heisenberg?!” so it’s not as though anyone can escape when a poor writer churns out some god-awful dialogue.
It’s abundantly clear that this is series being produced on a tight budget. With it being filmed in Melbourne (although I wonder whether that will be the case in the future, considering the catastrophic floods there earlier this year), London is created with a handful of landmark shots. All filming is done in nondescript areas that would look at home in a city in the world. The CCPCs, a robot police force, are simply embarrassing in their realisation (although I still love Birdie, the soft-hearted renegade in the episode Mutant Copper.) The aliens, however, are abundant and frequently ingenious. While some series rely on their vast budgets, K-9 must rely on its imagination, and the designers clearly have that in buckets. The many creatures that visit the Earth of 2050 are startling in there variety (and it’s refreshing that everyone in this time is au fait with the existence of alien life - no need for the confusion inherent in the parent series here). Favourites include the Aeolian, a cyclopean species that communicates in song; the Custodian, a green-skinned horned creature (brought to life by an astonishingly emotive actor buried under latex); the Anubians, bronzed jackel-headed humanoids who’ve stepped straight out of ancient Egyptian lore; and the Korven, impressive fin-headed creatures who have returned through time to the 21st century in an attempt to conquer the Earth before humankind can defeat them in the far future. While the series creators are forbidden by copyright to use any creatures from Doctor Who itself, little hints abound that show this is indeed set in the familiar Whoniverse: Gallifreyan-looking script on K-9’s components; what looks very much like an Axon in a Department holding cell; and a depiction of the Anubians’ many subject races, including drawings of a Mandrel, a Sea Devil and an Alpha Centuarian. I think I may even have glimpsed a familiar-looking blue box…
Inevitably, some episodes are more successful than others. While I enjoyed the opening two-parter, and the following episode, The Korven, episode four, The Bounty Hunter was let down by almost unwatchable guest performances. Sirens of Ceres is absolutely dire, while the nightmare-themed episode Fear Itself would have worked if only it hadn’t focused on whinging villain Drake. The Fall of the House of Gryffen is the first cracker of an episode, an effective little spook-fest that brings back Gyrffen’s lost family - or at least, that what it seems. The space-time manipulator that brings K-9 into the 21st century is surprisingly little used; I expected it to be the method of bringing in the alien of the week again and again, but in fact this isn’t the case after the first few episodes. Aeolian is an apocalyptic love story, while The Last Oak Tree brilliantly has the legendary Major Oak of Sherwood Forest, now kept in a museum, stolen by an giant space caterpillar, with surprisingly sweet results. The episodes tick along nicely for the second half of the series, never really breaking the level of fun run-around, until the rate of success crashes dramatically with that most loathed format, the clip show. Avoid Mind Snap like you would avoid a wardrobe full of face-spiders. Angel of the North takes Gryffen out of the house at last and into the wreck of an alien spacecraft; it’s an atmospheric episode that begins the four-part finale to the series and reintroduces the nefarious Korven.
So, K-9 - Sophisticated? Hardly. Adult? Not on your life. Fun? Definitely. Charming? Without a doubt. This is never going to usurp any of the BBC shows in the hearts of the fans, and is fated to forever be the runt of the litter, the unofficial spin-off from Down Under. Yet K-9 has a lot to offer, and while it’s often simplistic and undemanding, it has a charm to it that makes it very hard to dislike. It’s a perfect place to start your youngest on their education in the worlds of Doctor Who, graduating to SJA and then the parent series itself. Look past the dodgy accents and dialogue disasters, avoid the occasional absolute clanger of an episode, and there’s some real fun to be had here. Remember, also, that this is only the first series - while there’s plenty of scope for improvement, that just means that the show has a chance to get a lot better in its now-confirmed second year.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2009, 2011
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