"Man's best friend must know his place."
IN THIS ONE... Sarah Jane Smith and K-9 move to the country where they dismantle a coven of witches.
REVIEW: What a strange pilot this is. On paper, what could be more natural than teaming up Doctor Who's two favorite companions? But in execution, it is mystifying. It begins with a terrible opening theme, electronic music blaring and K-9 singing his name, over imagery that recalls a show like Hart to Hart. It's like they're hinting at a romance between the girl and her dog. The show itself doesn't live up to that level of camp, nor does it do justice to its title. I understand K-9 is the current star, but he's a glorified tool in this program (as he was in the last) and it's really Sarah Jane's story. If the kiddies tune in because of the title, they might just be disappointed. And witches in full Satanic regalia? When you're trying to attract children? AT CHRISTMAS?! (The episode is the first in what later became a Doctor Who tradition, unexpectedly balmy weather for the end of December, and is a real mess of day and night scenes.) Owing more to The Wicker Man than to its parent program, it seems the weekly series would have have the characters uncover a witches' coven every week. And one might ask whose brilliant idea it was to move K-9 to the country when the dog has a reputation for not rolling too well on grass and dirt.
Premise aside, it's got fairly engaging stars. It's great to see Sarah again, obviously, and she's gone on with her life, doing so well in the journalism business she's now writing a book. The same curiosity that made her wander into the TARDIS that one time is serving her well in a village where everyone's either creepy or otherwise deserving of suspicion. The Doctor sent K-9 Mark III to her aunt Levinia's address three years prior, and it's a very nice call-back to her final scenes with the Time Lord when she realizes he didn't forget her. (The other companions never got a care package, so she IS special.) Also joining her is her aunt's ward, Brendan, who has two functions - talking to K-9 in techno-speak (the computer stuff checks out, but there's really no need for to go on about it so long) and getting captured and almost sacrificed (Lis Sladen must have enjoyed the change of pace). Still, Ian Sears does a good, enthusiastic job with it. Good laugh too. It strikes me how even in this early concept, Sarah Jane is attracting a young follower. Again this points to a show that wants to be for younger viewers, but just has the wrong script for it. I don't know if Aunt Lavinia would have been a regular on the show, but at least her house looks nice (must smell like an ashtray, though). K-9 gets to zap people, unload whole databases of information and indulge in (very) light comedy. These are people I'd want to watch week in and week out, so there's that.
There's also a huge guest cast to fill out the village, and wouldn't you know it, the two nicest people, least likely to be witches, turn out to be high priest and priestess, while more suspicious characters turn out to be benign. It's a very manipulative script, filled with red herrings (the biggest being Aunt Lavinia's apparent disappearance), while it hides its villains in innocuous scenes. Calling on Hecate with the first human sacrifice in 90 years will apparently make the crops grow, which I suppose explains why there's some much horticultural talk, but the superstitious villagers don't have much of a motivation to go so far. The theme is science vs. tradition, I suppose, but the frenetic meeting of potential culprits - the phone and doorbell keep ringing and ringing, Sarah would get more peace in a newsroom - all resolves into the Satanic hicks screaming as K-9 lasers them, so whatever. Had it gone to series, I can only imagine they'd have left the village behind. After all, half of it's been arrested.
VERSIONS: The Target novelization has the action occur in the village of Hazelbury Abbas instead of Moreton Harwood, and Sarah has a more antagonistic relationship with Brendan. The 1983 K-9 Annual had the series continue in several short stories, with Aunt Lavinia and Brendan joining our two heroes to uncover witch covens all over Britain.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Nice to see Sarah Jane Smith again, Lis is great and her companions are pretty good, but everything else is ill-judged to say the least.