- You may be looking for the short story written by Sarah.
A Girl's Best Friend was a single-episode story produced in 1981 as a pilot for a potential Doctor Who spin-off called K9 and Company. It was written by Terence Dudley, directed by John Black and featured Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith and John Leeson as K9.
The BBC chose not to commission a new series but did televise the episode as a holiday season special. It was only the second story of this kind in the Doctor Who franchise, preceded by more than a decade by "The Feast of Steven", a Christmas Day "break" from The Daleks' Master Plan. With a run time of 50 minutes, it was the first single episode in a Doctor Who-related TV production to exceed a half-hour in length.
This was the only attempt at a spin-off series during the original run of Doctor Who to reach production. It would be more than a quarter-century until this was attempted again. Furthermore, its studio filming was unusually completed at Pebble Mill Studios in Birmingham — making it one of only two stories of the "classic" era (the other being Horror of Fang Rock) to have the bulk of its studio recording completed outside Greater London.
Synopsis[edit | edit source]
Sarah Jane Smith is looking forward to a quiet Christmas with her aunt Lavinia in the sleepy village of Moreton Harwood. When she arrives, she finds her aunt missing and a surprise gift from an old friend waiting to be opened.
Plot[edit | edit source]
Sarah Jane Smith visits her Aunt Lavinia. When she arrives at her aunt's house, though, she finds that her learned relative has left early for a lecture tour in America, Christmas notwithstanding. Sarah is thus left disappointed by the prospect of another holiday without family. However, Lavinia's ward, Brendan Richards, breaks her moment of reflection on her aunt's sudden disappearance. After picking him up from the railway station, they return to the house and discover a large crate that has been waiting for Sarah for a number of years. When they open it, they discover a mechanical dog named K9. Upon activation, it tells Sarah that it is a gift from the Doctor.
Brendan's curiosity about K9 is matched only by Sarah's renewed concern over Lavinia's absence. They thus split up and follow their new-found obsessions. Sarah goes into town to question the locals, and Brendan stays behind to test the capabilities of Sarah's new "pet". In town, Sarah discovers that Lavinia has become disliked by some because of her blunt letters to the local newspaper editors about a growing practice of witchcraft in the area. Brendan, meanwhile, is attacked while using K9 to analyse soil samples in Lavinia's garden. His attackers, George Tracey and his son, Peter, are tied into the local coven. Unfortunately, both attackers flee before Brendan can get a good look at them.
Since Tracey is actually Lavinia's gardener, he is naturally called in the next morning to investigate the damage the scuffle with Brendan caused to the garden. After Brendan attempts to brag about the pH balance of the soil, Tracey sharply comments that gardening is more about respect for nature than scientific theory. Otherwise, though, he doesn't betray his more sinister intent towards Brendan. Later that night, he sends his son out to kidnap the sleeping Brendan from the house.
This time, Brendan's attacker is successful, stealing him out from under Sarah, who is elsewhere in the house, reading up on the local practice of witchcraft.
Sarah is now increasingly suspicious of Tracey, believing he would have the opportunity to commit the crime, even if she can't yet put her finger on the motive. She, therefore, finds a way to hide K9 in Tracey's house. K9 quietly monitors the household, until he eventually hears a conversation that implicates Tracey as a member of a coven. He also discovers that Tracey intends to kill Brendan in an act of ritual murder.
When Tracey leaves his cottage, Sarah is able to retrieve K9, who alerts his new mistress to the impending crime. However, she has no way to enlist the aid of the local police, or really anyone else in the town, because she can't substantiate her claim of overhearing the conversation without also then having to explain who and what the anachronistic K9 actually is.
Realising that she and K9 are effectively on their own, she tries to figure out how to stop the sacrifice. Her first order of business is determining the when of it. Using Lavinia's books on witchcraft, she and K9 deduce it must occur at midnight on the winter solstice, now just a few short hours away. The where of it is more elusive, however, causing the duo to drive around the shire looking at all the churches. As the last few minutes before midnight tick away, they finally realise that there's an abandoned chapel on Lavinia's property. Rushing home, K9 and Sarah are briefly upset at missing something that was right under their noses all along.
They arrive just in time for K9 to use his blaster to stop the coven's priest and priestess from plunging a knife into Brendan's chest. Now stunned, the group's ringleaders are easily apprehended by the police.
Finally able to celebrate Christmas, Sarah receives a call from her Aunt Lavinia. She's surprised that Sarah was worried about her since she left instructions for her business partner to send Sarah a cable. As he turned out to be the High Priest of the coven, Sarah merely laughs and tells her aunt that she has a story to tell her about why that message never reached her. Meanwhile, K9 tries to connect with the human holiday in his own way, teaching himself to sing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas".
Cast[edit | edit source]
- Sarah Jane Smith - Elisabeth Sladen
- Voice of K9 - John Leeson
- Commander Pollock - Bill Fraser
- Brendan Richards - Ian Sears
- George Tracey - Colin Jeavons
- Peter Tracey - Sean Chapman
- Aunt Lavinia - Mary Wimbush
- Juno Baker - Linda Polan
- Lily Gregson - Gillian Martell
- Howard Baker - Neville Barber
- Henry Tobias - John Quarmby
- Sergeant Wilson - Nigel Gregory
- P.C. Carter - Stephen Oxley
Crew[edit | edit source]
- Assistant Floor Manager - Sue Hedden
- Theme Arrangement & Incidental Music - Peter Howell
- Costume Designer - Ann Arnold
- Director - John Black
- Designer - Nigel Jones
- Film Cameraman - Michael Williams
- Film Editor - Michael Lomas
- Film Sound - Dave Brinicombe
- Graphic Designer - Bob Cosford
- Make-Up Artist - Susie Bancroft
- Producer - John Nathan-Turner
- Production Assistant - Yvonne Collins
- Production Associate - Angela Smith
- Production Manager - Robert Gabriel
- Property Buyer - Michael Preece
- Script Editors - Eric Saward, Antony Root
- Senior Cameraman - Phil Wilson
- Special Sounds - Dick Mills
- Studio Lighting - Barry Hill
- Studio Sound - David Hughes
- Technical Manager - Barry Chatfield
- Title Music - Fiachra Trench, Ian Levine
- Video Effects - Nick Moore
- Videotape Editor - John Burkill
- Vision Mixer - Mark Kershaw
- Visual Effects Designer - Mat Irvine
- Writer - Terence Dudley
References[edit | edit source]
Individuals[edit | edit source]
- Brendan Richards, Lavinia's ward, attends Wellington College but hopes to convince Lavinia to allow him to attend the local comprehensive school in Moreton Harwood as he did not like boarding. He has a close friend at Wellington named Travis, whose father is in the market gardening business. He is taking three extra O-Levels: Additional Maths, Physics and Biology.
- Brendan has a keen interest in computer technology. Consequently, he is extremely impressed by K9 Mark III's computational abilities. Although the original K9 unit was built by Professor Marius in the year 5000, he is nevertheless familiar with many of the components used in his construction.
The Doctor[edit | edit source]
- The Doctor sent K9 to Sarah in 1978. K9 remained in an unopened box in her Aunt Lavinia's homes in South Croydon and Moreton Harwood for three years.
K9[edit | edit source]
- K9 announces himself as "Mark III", referencing the previous two versions of K9 and in particular differentiating himself from the version last seen with Romana.
Story notes[edit | edit source]
- This was the first official Doctor Who spin-off. K9 is featured in all televised BBC spin-offs but Torchwood and Class. In 2009 K9, a TV series was produced, but unlike Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures and Class, this was not produced or licenced by the BBC.
- The Winter Hill transmitter in the North West region suffered a power blackout at the time this story was screening (most likely resulting in ratings lower than expected).
- The theme music was composed by Ian Levine. Supposedly, it was meant to be an orchestral score but was altered to be electronically performed with John Leeson "singing" in character as K9.
- Running fifty minutes, this was the first time that a Doctor Who-related episode had exceeded thirty minutes in length.
- The original outline by John Nathan-Turner proposed that K9 Mark III was in fact sent by and under the control of the Master, but this element never made it to the screen. A variation of this - an electronic assist to Sarah Jane secretly controlled by an opposing alien force - would be realized with Mr Smith during the first series of The Sarah Jane Adventures.
- There is some significance in the names writer Terence Dudley gave his characters. One couple is named Baker, the name of Fourth Doctor actor Tom Baker.
- Peter is seen polishing his crash helmet with Mr Sheen, a proprietary brand of furniture polish often used by motorcyclists. This is an unusual example of a product's brand name being clearly visible in a BBC drama.
- This story had the working titles of Sarah and K9 and One Girl and Her Dog.
- Although Brendan's age is never stated in dialogue, he is said to be fourteen years old in the subsequent novelisation.
- According to Ian Sears, John Black was not respected on the set and he was given the nickname "John Grey".
- K9 plays on the running gag regarding the Doctor's name and the title of the parent series when Brendan asks, "Who is the Doctor?" and K9 replies, "Affirmative."
Ratings[edit | edit source]
- 8.4 million viewers
- Note: A transmitter breakdown meant that many viewers in the North-West of England missed the original transmission, unless they were able to tune their television sets to another transmitter. The story was repeated on BBC 2 the following year.
Filming locations[edit | edit source]
- Cirencester in the Gloucestershire countryside.
- Pebble Mill Studios in Birmingham
- Sheepscombe, Gloucestershire
- Wishanger Farm, Wischanger, Gloucestershire
- Parish Church, North Woodchester, Gloucestershire
- Barnsley House, Barnsley, Gloucestershire
- Cheltenham Road, Bisley, Gloucestershire
- Miserden Park Estate, Miserden, Gloucestershire
- Miserden Nurseries, Gloucestershire
- Miserden, Gloucestershire
- Bear Inn, Bisley, Gloucestershire (Title sequence; Sarah typing on a typewriter)
Production errors[edit | edit source]
- When Sarah and K9 go out to look for Brendan in Sarah's car, Sarah leaves her aunt's house when it is night and arrives at the church in the dark, but the intervening driving scene is in daylight.
Continuity[edit | edit source]
- At the time of her first meeting with the Doctor, then in his third incarnation, Sarah was impersonating her aunt Lavinia to gain access to a top-secret UNIT scientific research facility. (TV: The Time Warrior)
- Lavinia tells Juno Baker that Sarah is "never in one place long enough to lick a stamp". Sarah Jane would describe her aunt with the same phrase to her son Luke Smith in 2009. (TV: The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith)
- K9 is referred to as "Mark III" in this story because he is actually the third robot dog of the same configuration owned by the Fourth Doctor. The first K9 chose to stay with Leela on Gallifrey, (TV: The Invasion of Time) whereas K9 Mark II was forced to stay with Romana in E-Space due to being damaged by the time winds. (TV: Warriors' Gate)
- K9 joined the Doctor after Sarah had left so she had not met any version of the robot dog prior to this. (TV: The Invisible Enemy)
- Sarah once more has a problem driving due to tractors. (TV: Planet of the Spiders)
- Upon discovering K9, Sarah says "Doctor, you didn't forget." Among the last words that she said to him before leaving the TARDIS were "Don't forget me." (TV: The Hand of Fear)
- In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Brendan studied at the University of Cambridge. (PROSE: Housewarming) His computer skills eventually led to him getting a job in Silicon Valley, near San Francisco. He was unable to attend Lavinia's funeral as a result of his work in California. (AUDIO: Comeback)
- K9 Mark III had previously appeared in Inter-Galactic Cat. He would later make his first appearance in the Doctor Who TV series for The Five Doctors, then reappear in the Sarah Jane Smith audio series as well as several miscellaneous printed works and make his final appearance in School Reunion.
Home video releases[edit | edit source]
- A Girl's Best Friend was released on BBC Video on 7 August 1995.
- It was released along with The Invisible Enemy (the story in which K9 was introduced) on DVD as part of the K9 Tales box set on 16 June 2008.
Footnotes[edit | edit source]
[edit | edit source]
- A Girl's Best Friend at the BBC's official site
- A Girl's Best Friend at BroaDWcast
- A Girl's Best Friend at The Locations Guide
- A Girl's Best Friend at Shannon Sullivan's A Brief History of Time (Travel)