Doctor Who #922: Regeneration

"This unit does not appreciate the term 'dog', 'boy', or 'heel'."
TECHNICAL SPECS: All episodes from this one to The Eclipse of the Korven are available on the K9 complete series DVD set. First aired Oct.31 2009. (K9 has different airing dates depending on whether it was broadcast in the UK, Australia, USA, or its "World Premiere" [Scandinavia]; I will always give the earliest possible date, which is usually the World Premiere, except in this case, where the pilot episode was show in the UK first.)

IN THIS ONE... K9 comes through a rift in 2050 London and destroyed fighting turtle-like aliens, regenerates into a new form and meets his new cast - Starkey, Jorjie, Darius and Professor Gryffen.

REVIEW: Bob Baker having retained the rights to K9 all this time gives his canine creation a good push as the star of his own kids show set, unusually enough, in a fascist future London. Perhaps this was to distance the show from the similar Sarah Jane Adventures (also featuring K9), but it makes for an interesting setting. The streets are patrolled by thuggish robocops, giant holo-propaganda floats over the Thames, and the mysterious and sinister "Department" captures and detains aliens fallen to Earth for nefarious reasons  - a fate K9 might one day share if they have their way. I like all this; it sets the show apart from the official spin-offs. I kind of wish it wasn't in London though, since that city's been covered to death. Since K9 was made in Australia, it could have been Sidney or Melbourne, for example. One way the London location doesn't do the show any favors is forcing the actors to use British accents that are not their own. In fact, only John Leeson (the non-native K9) is a Brit. Otherwise, there's a Canadian and a bunch of Aussies whose accents range from pretty good (Philippa Coulthard as Jorjie) to horrendous (Daniel Webber as Darius).

Beyond the dodgy accents, acting ability is also rather average and that's the pilot's greatest flaw. Robert Moloney as Professor Gryffen provides a father figure to the younger cast members, a slightly kooky scientist more Doctor than Sarah Jane. His life is changed when K9 and some aliens come out of a spacetime rift he's created and simultaneously, two 14-year-old hacktivists barge into his lab, running from the coppers. These are Starkey, a street urchin who can take care of himself, and Jorjie, who by all accounts is her mother's little princess and a rebel on the side. They've got a good dynamic going, kids from both sides of the tracks who want to achieve the same goals, but have to learn to trust each other. Unfortunately, there's also Darius, the prof's assistant, who might as well be the same age but is meant to be 20 or so, despite the fact he's shorter and more childish than Starkey. He's the in-house antagonist, being a jerk, calling the cops, etc. We're not meant to like him, I suppose, but he still shouldn't be an irritant. And of course, there's K9 who gets a make-over after self-destructing to save the others from dangerous aliens, turning into a more streamlined and cuter model that should prove controversial. I don't dislike it - but that may be because I'm not a big fan of K9 generally - it's more animated than the old models, can hover and fly, and is rather endearing, I think. Leeson gets to soften the voice, which is a plus. My only complaint is the bone drawn under his collar; that's a little silly, especially coming from (presumably) Time Lord engineers. I like his fun HUD POV and am surprised we never saw that kind of thing before. Despite the new look and tricks, he's the same old K9, a slightly aggressive and too-literal robot pooch. But each character has a motivation and reason to stay with the group, whether it's overthrowing the government, hiding from the authorities or insuring one's financing for spacetime experiments.

Because the BBC isn't make it, the show isn't technically connected to the Whoniverse, but it sure feels of a piece with it. The Prof lives in an old police station with a blue light at the front, and it might as well be the TARDIS the way the space inside clashes with the battered wooden doors in front. When the kids walk in, it's a whole new world. And the featured aliens, the turtle-like Jixen, might as well be Chelonians from the New Adventures line of Doctor Who books. We'll see these again - one of them survived - and they do look a little cooler than they might have without the odd temporally out of synch effect put on them. They're no better or worse than other recent animatronic beasts - well, better than the Shansheeth, at any rate. There are all sorts of little references to Doctor Who otherwise, which may be a good reason for Whovians to at least sample the pilot. The tin dog lost his memory (so he can't talk about the Doctor etc.), but he knows three notes from the theme music (is this some Gallifreyan tune? the Doctor's been known to whistle it) and generally, the episode's score is trying very hard to ape Doctor Who music. There's also the matter of the symbols δ³Σx² written on one of K9's broken parts, which classic fans might recognize as the Doctor's name from Terrence Dicks' Making of Doctor Who book. Even the credits' font is Doctor Who-related (Assiduous, used for many tie-in book and audio titles).

Not so much a theory as it is a confirmation from the creator, this is K9 Mark I, the model left with Leela on Gallifrey. Seeing him here, we might decide he survived the Time War through this particular rift, and had been upgraded with "regeneration" technology. It's not Time Lord regeneration, of course, but it would have allowed a Time War K9 to upgrade like any of their soldiers upon death. We later learn he came from 50 000 A.D., but that doesn't exclude a Time War explanation. It's unlikely Leela was still alive when the War hit (the Doctor was hundreds of years older and Gallifrey seems to move at the same pace), so he would have been affected to another "master" or "mistress". Of course, this K9 is destroyed in the Gallifrey audio series, set well before the Time War, so we have to assume he was eventually rebuilt. Hell, it's a Time War; he might have been pulled out of his own pre-established timeline!

- Almost Medium-High, actually. The pilot shows a lot of promise in certain areas - setting, design, subplots - but doesn't really have a solid acting foundation to support the tin dog all that well.


Tim Knight said...

Acting quality aside, one of the major problems I had with the show from the start was it's faux London setting. It adds nothing to the show, doesn't resemble London in any shape or form and, as you said, forces all the young actors to adopt alien accents. It would have been far better, again as you pointed out, to have set it in an Australian city.

Siskoid said...

And thus expand the Whoniverse that much further, yes!

Tim Knight said...

Exactly, it's as though they felt obliged to set it in England because Who is so British (even though they clearly had no idea what London looks like)! They definitely missed a trick there.

LiamKav said...

It's even weirder after Torchwood was quite happy to have major events happening in Cardiff, for no other reason than "well, it can't all be London and New York, can it" and "hey we're filmming here". It's better than the "New York always looks like Toronto" think that was always happening in 90s films.


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