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Saturday, April 13, 2013

'K9' Complete Series: 'Doctor Who' Meets 'Scooby Doo"

Shout Factory's upcoming DVD release of "K9" the complete series, which is an Australian spin-off of the British "Doctor Who" series that is wildly popular in the United States, is one of the most rare and special Shout releases ever. This says a great deal given that Shout has given "undeclared" and "The Goldbergs" new life.

"K9" appearing on Shout's awesome pop culture radar is amazing, and the powers-that-be greenlighting a DVD release exceeds any expectations. This provides hope for a U.S. release of the other Australian classic "Skippy the Bush Kangaroo."

This 26-episode 4-disc "K9" set will be available to Whovians on May 7, 2013.

Before going further, I would like to offer hard-core Whovians a blanket apology for any lore errors in this entry; I only really got into "Doctor Who" during its modern era and am less strong on the earlier years than I would like.

K9 first appears 35 years ago, which is 245 in dog years, in the "Doctor Who" episode "The Invisible Enemy" during the wonderful reign of Tom Baker in the titular role. The origin story is that a scientist who only works in outer space built K9 as a substitute for a dog who the scientist had had on earth.

I knew of the "K9" series but could not find it until stumbling on a listing for the complete series Christmas Day 2012 marathon on the SyFy channel. That was a far better gift than even a Red Rider BB gun.

My excitement on discovering this marathon trumped my concern regarding frying my uber-Tivo by having it record for 13 hours straight. The Tivo survived the ordeal, and I spent several stormy days this winter enjoying episodes. However, the picture and quality of the DVD episodes far exceeds that of the SyFy broadcasts, and I believe that the DVD episodes are a few minutes longer as well.

Additionally, the DVD set has an entertaining and informative "making-of" special feature and a shorter interview with K9. My ONLY gripe regarding the interview is that K9 refers to his former "master" as Doctor Who; even rookie Whovians know that The Doctor is not Doctor Who. Bad dog!

"K9" is notable as well in that it successfully combines elements the best of many other great shows. This well-blended combination of terrific ingredients makes "K9" an awesome show that succeeds aside from its nexus with "Doctor Who."

The most immediate similarity is to the other "Doctor Who" productions that are created for Whovians of all ages. The wonderful "Sarah Jane Adventures," which features a few guest spots by K9, has the popular former companion of that name team up with young teens to thwart alien menaces that appear in London. The animated "Doctor Who" specials "Dreamland" and "The Infinite Quest" sends David Tennant's Doctor on equally fabulous adventures.

"K9" additionally has the robotic dog element of "The Scooby-Doo Dynomutt Hour," the teen sleuths and their talking dog  investigating eerie goings-on aspect of most "Scooby-Doo" series, the adolescents having a stoic middle-aged British mentor feature of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and a dash of "Lassie" thrown in for good measure.

A YouTube video of the trailer for "K9" provides an excellent sense of the action, drama, and humor of this show.

"K9" is set in a version of 2059 London in which alien threats prompted forming the Department, which uses cyborg law-enforcement units to maintain peace and squelch rebellion in a quasi-fascist manner. We meet teen anarchist Starkey at a time that he is literally raging against the machines.

A series of events brings Starkey together with Professor Gryffen, who consults with the Department regarding alien technology and has also built a space-time manipulator (STM), and Gryffen's slightly older than Starkey live-in assistant Darius. Jorjie, who is the teen daughter of a high-ranking Department official, rounds out the group of the primary human characters.

The rivalry and moderate animosity, which manifests itself hilariously in the "Oroborus" episode, between Starkey for the romantic affections of Jorjie and the parental love of Gryffen is almost as entertaining as K9's displeasure at being treated as a flesh-and-bone dog. Hearing K9 haughtily declare "I am not a dog" in response to being called a good boy or otherwise treated in a caninecentric manner never gets old.

The pilot episode has the STM sucking K9 into the lives of Starkey et al and ultimately playing Mr. Peabody to Starkey's Sherman. (This is this week's Googleable moment for you millenials.) Another nice touch has K9, who has regenerated ala The Doctor and other Time Lords, into a new incarnation who can fly.Seeing him zip around London is extraordinarily fun.

Many "K9" episodes are like the equally good British sci-fi drama "Primeval" in that the STM sucks in the threat of the week. The appearance of that visitor from another world and/or time prompts K9 et al to spring into action. Substituting a wormhole to a prehistoric era and a creature from that period for an alien provides a sense of a typical "Primeval" episode.

Other "K9" episodes have aliens who already walk among us creating havoc that requires that K9 and friends investigate and counter-act.

"Alien Avatar" is one of the best episodes of the 26 in that it has a nice variation of a boy and his dog going down to the watering hole to fish. It also includes some of the best intentional dog-oriented humor by K9. His line that people always blame the dog for a foul smell is hilarious.

 The award for creepiest episode goes to "Fall of the House of Gryffen." This one has manifestations of the professor's wife and offspring, who are lost in time and space, appearing via the STM. This offering is much more "The Shining" than "Return of the Seavers."

The equally creepy but more amusing "Dream-Eaters" episode has nocturnal musings take a frightening turn complete with an evil clown reminiscent of the other Stephen King classic "It."

Additionally, the alien Korven race makes several appearances and present a particular strong threat in the series' finale.

Fans of K9 and his pet boy are encouraged to email comments and questions.