Thursday, August 03, 2006

Dredged from YouTube: K9 and Company

You know, it's not so much the time it takes to write blog posts, it's having something to write about. But sometimes the fates throw you something. A news story has confirmed that yet another DOCTOR WHO spinoff, currently titled SARAH JANE INVESTIGATES (Link should be good for a bit longer- I can't find the story on a separate page), is under development for CBBC. (Further along, though still yet unaired, is TORCHWOOD.) This prompted a couple of posters to comment on the first and for a long time only DOCTOR WHO spinoff, K9 AND COMPANY, which also starred Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, and only ever aired once as an hour-long pilot. To illustrate the, shall we say infamous title sequence, someone posts a Youtube link. Fortunately for me, said link contains not only the titles, but the entire episode split up into 6 parts. The link in the picture above takes you to an Amazon page where you can get the show on VHS- I try to encourage being nice and legal when I can- but if you're so inclined, you know the site, you know the title, and search is easy enough.

So, a single not-terribly-good pilot for a vaguely unpromising series starring two characters from a show I like, with a tenuous connection to current events. Sounds like a post to me, let's go!

Ironically, the much-mocked title sequence is possibly the most entertaining part of the entire show. With a chirpy, cheesy theme song and shots of Lis Sladen sipping wine outside a pub and running along a country road in running shorts and legwarmers cut with various closeups of her robot dog, it seems to promise a kind of British KNIGHT RIDER, maybe with less violence and more mystery-solving stuff, with Sarah Jane and K-9 roaming the English countryside fighting crime. Which seems to have been the aim, the classic "she's an X, he's a Y, they fight crime" setup which ruled the 70s and 80s. What went wrong? Well...

The first actual scene features a group of cultists tramping around a cemetery, performing an elaborate ritual to Hecate (this was back when people had trouble telling the difference between witchcraft, Satanism, and community theater.) From there we cut to two old women having a drink in an old house and discussing one's imminent trip to America, and unfortunately it's this scene which sets the tone for the episode. The departing professor is Sarah Jane's aunt Lavinia, and Sarah, formerly a newspaper reporter when she wasn't travelling the cosmos with an eccentric alien genius, soon arrives at the mansion to work on a book. Lavinia, however, has already vanished, and Sarah is alone at the mansion with Lavinia's "young ward" Dick Grayso- er, I mean, Brendan Richards. I think. I'm not going to try too hard to put names to faces, because in truth the supporting cast is so horrifically unmemorable that I couldn't be bothered to follow.

Anyhow, when Sarah arrives, there's a package for her that apparently was dropped off at Croydon several years ago. (Make your own Royal Mail joke, I feel underqualified.) It's from her old friend the Doctor, and inside is the K-9 Mark III, a robotic dog much like that which accompanied the Doctor in his own series for a few years (though after Sarah had left.) Sarah's not clear why Lavinia's left already, so she starts poking around, with the help of her new friend K-9 (voiced by John Leeson) and Robin- *Brendan Richards*, dammit. This attracts the attentions of the Hecate coven, which apparently is an old local tradition helping the plants grow (thrill to a conversation about soil acidity!), which would be fine except they're coming up on the Winter Solstice which apparently means a human sacrifice is in order (which seems odd to me, since you're not going to see results for at least three to four months.)

So, basically, Sarah and K-9 and Adric- DAMMIT- muck around for a bit and run afoul of cultists and have drinks with old people while finding out the dark secret of whatever-the-heck-this-town-is. It's actually less boring than it sounds like, but not by enough. The pacing is fine, but there's just nothing there to see- that this was being aimed at a presumably young audience meant that they couldn't get into any really scary business, so the witches aren't ever a believable threat, and there aren't enough twists in the plot to fill an hour.

To make up for it, Elisabeth Sladen is quite charming, and she has the same enthusiasm here that she brought to her role on WHO (and which no doubt led to her returning to the series this year.) She makes Sarah Jane a believable and endearing character, and it's a testament to her talent that she's able to prevent the proceedings from just being painfully dull. Instead it's simply a colossal missed opportunity, and as a series pilot, a bit of a head-scratcher. What precisely was the intended audience? DOCTOR WHO was established as a kind of family program, with something for everyone, a tradition which has continued into the new series. There's more of a kiddy show vibe to this, but if that's the case, why the budget WICKER MAN storyline? What would a normal episode have been like? Would they have fought more covens (as implied in the last scene) or other homegrown vaguely sci-fi-ish threats? What could they really come up with on a budget that, judging from the pilot, was even lower than WHO's? (To be fair, pilots are sometimes made for cheap compared to a regular series, just to get an episode out the door.) Questions like this, more than the ratings the show received on its one airing, are probably the reason there was never a full series. At this point K9 AND COMPANY was more a half-baked idea for a television series than a solid concept.

In short, it's a curiosity, well-suited for the legal anarchy of YouTube, more evidence that it will be a sad day if and when the forces of perpetual copyright manage to reign it in as they have Napster. Then again, with its ties both to SARAH JANE INVESTIGATES and an upcoming K9 animated series, the BBC might give it a DVD release in the not-too-distant future. It's pretty much for WHO fans and completists only, but we know who we are. And many of us don't mind just looking at Elisabeth Sladen for 49 minutes.

Grade: C-

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