As the Doctor Who behemoth continues to roll on, so the spin-offs keep coming. Here we have K9, featuring the Time Lord’s sometime robot pet. However, if you’re watching this on the off-chance of a Doctor cameo or reference – there are none, and will be none. Produced by an Australian company with no links to the BBC, who hold the Who rights, K9 is an entirely separate entity.
The show is set in London, 50 years in the future; a city that is ruled with an iron fist by the nefarious ‘Department’. We follow the adventures of three young friends and their older companion, the affable, agoraphobic, Professor Gryffen (Robert Moloney). Most of the plots revolve around the professor’s ‘Space-Time Manipulator’ – a contraption he created in the hope of bringing back his family, who were lost to him many years ago – which malfunctions with alarming frequency, allowing all manner of aliens to pour through and threaten our heroes. Indeed, it is through this contraption that K9 finds himself in London.
Adopting him as their pet are Starkey (Keegan Joyce), a young orphaned dissident who stirs up trouble for The Department whenever possible; Jorji (Philippa Coulthard), a well-bred young lady who finds an outlet for her rebellious streak in Starkey; and lastly Darius (Daniel Webber), an “artful-dodger” type character who runs errands for the Professor. Of the children, Philippa Coulthard shines brightest as Jorji, giving a well-spoken, yet spirited performance that suggests she’d have made a much better Hermione than Emma Watson ever managed.
K9 is perhaps more ambitious than some children’s TV, with story arcs spread over multiple episodes and, while some of the themes are familiar, they are explored under a more mature lens. The dystopian future London lends itself well to all sorts of lessons about fighting corrupt powers and helping those who can’t help themselves, but the show also explores more unexpected avenues, such as the Professor’s agoraphobia and the heartfelt loss of his family, all of which should ensure that any adults watching don’t get too bored by the talking robot dog and occasional forays into childish humour.
Less successful, are most of the accents. Since it’s filmed in Australia, quite why they chose to set the series in London is a mystery. The cast seems split; some actors try the accent and fail, while others seem to not bother at all. Daniel Webber, as Darius, is particularly bad, but the CCPCs (robot police) and their cockney/Australian ‘bobby-on-the-beat’ shtick is so unintentionally hilarious that they get a pass. Also noticeable is the marked step down in the quality of prosthetics compared to Doctor Who – these monsters look left over from Power Rangers and should really be better.
K9 himself (voiced, as ever, by John Leeson) is still as mildly irritating as he always was on Who, and his powers seem to change or be limited in order to fit the plot of each particular episode, but the likability of Starkey and Jorji help keep the show grounded. The plots in this first volume are mildly repetitive, but there are highlights: Jorji being sent to a boarding school where the pupils are a little too well behaved and an effective ghost story spotlighting Professor Gryffen.
K9 is a competently made show; one that doesn’t talk down to its audience, and introduces a world and themes that are rarely explored in children’s entertainment. It’s a little rough around the edges at times, but the dodgy accents are almost endearing, and if they find ways to vary the plots a little more, this could be a really great children’s show. As it is, it’s merely a good one; and there’s no shame in that.
Extras: Not much to speak of. Some basic character profiles detailing the history and traits of the main characters, and… well, that’s about it. Perhaps they’re saving more extensive extras for Volume 2, due in April.
Released on DVD on Monday 29th January 2011 by Brightspark.