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Pro Caninio (In Defence of K-9)

I'm building up to the Big Tom Baker Post I want to make now that I've seen Logopolis; and indeed, what follows here was originally going to be a part of that. But actually, I think it deserves a post of its own - if only in an attempt to mitigate the tl;dr factor that's inevitably going to plague the TB eulogy. So: a word or two about K-9.

I know he's not everyone's cup of tea, and one person whose cup of tea he definitely isn't is swisstone. Some time ago, ST and and I had a conversation in which he outlined the many perfectly sound reasons why, for him, the introduction of K-9 was a retrograde step for the show. These included things like the childish gimmickry of the device, the way the prop necessitated a lot of crouching down for the human cast, and its unwieldiness both in the studio and on location. Another common criticism which ST didn't mention is the way K-9's laser-gun makes it all too easy for the TARDIS crew to get out of difficult situations; something which in itself leads to another production flaw, viz. the endless tediously predictable resorts to the 'batteries failing' ploy.

I absolutely see the merit in all of those arguments. They are undeniably valid observations, and perfectly good reasons for disliking K-9. I, however, love him. At the time when I was chewing the matter over with swisstone, the only time I'd actually seen K-9 in action within recent memory was in School Reunion, so the only argument I could really put forward in his defence was the emotive one: I just like him. That's a fair reason for enjoying anything, of course. But now that I have seen all of K-9's stories (well, except for the pilot of K-9 and Company, which I'm sure I'll catch up with soon), it so happens that I'm in a position to add a batch of reasoned arguments to that emotive fondness for him.

Yes, he has his flaws, but these are some of the positive ways in which K-9 contributes to the value of Doctor Who stories:
  • The TARDIS can't speak, but K-9 can. This means that when bizarre time-travel phenomena occur in-flight, K-9 can report to the Doctor on what is going on, thus providing useful plot exposition.
  • K-9 can understand and respond to the Doctor's technobabble. This was particularly important while Leela was on the show, as she could not, so K-9 could be used as a way to show the Doctor arriving at a technical solution to a problem, and also to confirm that the Doctor's scientific judgements were sound. (Later, of course, this role passed to Romana and then Adric).
  • Even better, K-9's grasp of hard science and ability to perform rapid calculations is superior to the Doctor's, while his 'personality' appears to include some degree of pride in this fact. Put another way, K-9 can both show the Doctor up intellectually, and snark at him for it. This is an essential tenet of the show (though it's not always K-9 who delivers it), since if the Doctor were allowed to appear perfect all the time, he would quickly become too godlike and alien for the audience to relate to. Seeing him being brought down a peg or two from time to time makes the Doctor a more sympathetic character: and K-9 contributes to that very effectively.
  • With K-9 on the TARDIS team, the Doctor and his companion can separate, allowing twice as many new characters to be introduced and new aspects of the world where they have found themselves to be revealed, while still ensuring that at least one of them has someone to talk to and / or protect them while they explore.
  • The Doctor can show outright affection for K-9 without risking the asexual tone of the relationship with his companion. Again, this helps to make the Doctor more human and accessible: I found it particularly effective at the end of the first episode of The Horns of Nimon when the two of them face Certain Doom together, and the Doctor is safely able to be (understatedly) quite emotive about it, because he is facing it with K-9 rather than Romana.
  • K-9 helps to gloss difficult vocabulary, allowing script-writers to use long words without making the show incomprehensible to children. For example, in State of Decay Adric tells K-9 that he is a stowaway, and K-9's reaction is to search his databanks and give a definition of the word. This may or may not seem irritating and pointless in itself: but it does help the programme to maintain its cross-generational family appeal.
  • Finally, K-9's amazing capacity to break down provides the Doctor with something to fix on a regular basis, without the plot needing to revolve around the TARDIS being incapacitated all the time. This is a neat way of reminding audiences of the Doctor's practicality and resourcefulness. More importantly, however, it is fantastically sexy: especially when Tom Baker puts on his leather workman's apron to do it (as he does in Meglos) - mmmm!


Whether or not you like K-9, of course, is always going to be a matter of personal emotional response more than anything else. And I still fully acknowledge his many flaws. But I can no longer agree that he is merely a gimmicky, if cute and quirky, millstone around the programme's metaphorical neck. He has a positive contribution to make, too.


With apologies to swisstone for casting him in absentia in the role of the prosecutor.

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
swisstone
Jul. 15th, 2008 07:33 pm (UTC)
"You never f---ing know the answer when it's important"
I'm happy to take the role of prosecutor. 'School Reunion' aside, I've never liked him. And I remain unpersuaded that his positive contribution outweighs the negative, despite your well-argued position.

That's a famous Tom Baker adlib, BTW, in case you didn't know.

Edited at 2008-07-15 07:33 pm (UTC)
strange_complex
Jul. 15th, 2008 07:51 pm (UTC)
Re: "You never f---ing know the answer when it's important"
Yep, don't worry - I knew about the ad lib.

And thank you for your congeniality!
swisstone
Jul. 15th, 2008 07:54 pm (UTC)
Re: "You never f---ing know the answer when it's important"
No problem. I have come to understand that there are certain things (K-9, 'The Horns of Nimon', Season 17 in general) on which you are Just Plain Wrong, but that there is nothing I can do to persuade you of this. ;-)
strange_complex
Jul. 15th, 2008 08:00 pm (UTC)
Re: "You never f---ing know the answer when it's important"
In that case, I accept my Wrongness with good grace and indeed pleasure. :-)
weepingcross
Jul. 15th, 2008 07:34 pm (UTC)
My God, you've worked hard on that. Was that blood ACTUALLY wrung from a stone? And I'm nearly convinced ...
strange_complex
Jul. 15th, 2008 07:53 pm (UTC)
Was that blood ACTUALLY wrung from a stone?

Yes, but I cheated and used The Stones of Blood...
huskyteer
Jul. 15th, 2008 07:54 pm (UTC)
K9 is by far my favourite Companion, assuming we don't count the Brig as such.
strange_complex
Jul. 15th, 2008 08:01 pm (UTC)
Hooray! Actually, I just tried to put a poll in this entry, so that people could easily express their K-9-related opinions. But, alas, LJ seems unhappy about inserting a poll successfully into an entry that's already been posted. :-(
rosaguestlist
Jul. 15th, 2008 07:57 pm (UTC)
I don't really mind K9 so I've never really understood why people get all that hept up about him. Now, Jo Grant on the other hand...

- K
strange_complex
Jul. 15th, 2008 08:02 pm (UTC)
I think you're unusually neutral in that case. Most people seem to have strong opinions one way or the other.
nwhyte
Jul. 19th, 2008 10:59 pm (UTC)
Yes, I'm with you on that. I found him amusing, not annoying but not utterly brilliant either. I can't understand, for example, Kim Newman's aversion to him.
nigelmouse
Jul. 15th, 2008 10:29 pm (UTC)
I've always loved K9, and have grown up to have a mild fascination with robots :)
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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