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Thursday, April 11, 2013

K9: The Complete Series DVD Review

K9 is a somewhat ridiculous but quite enjoyable program about a flying robotic dog from the future. Actually, the whole show takes place in the future, so the dog is from the future’s future. Also, it’s not really a dog. It’s a robot shaped like a dog, and it really hates being called a dog, and says so.

K9 arrives through a time/space machine that Professor Gryffen (Robert Moloney) has been working on. He can’t quite get it to function, but all sorts of creatures emerge from it anyway. Assisting him is a teenager named Darius (Daniel Webber). They are soon joined by two teenage dissidents – Starkey (Keegan Joyce) and Jorjie (Philippa Coulthard). Professor Gryffen’s work on the machine has a personal as well as professional motivation – to bring back his family, who were lost in an accident. After Starkey saves the robot dog in the first episode, it acknowledges him as his young master. (By the way, John Leeson provides the voice for K9 - he provided the voice for K9 back in the 1970s and early 1980s on Doctor Who.)

In this future the government is referred to as The Department, and it seems to have a lot of power, and little regard for the individual’s rights. The Department has different sections, and Jorjie’s mother is the head of alien activities section. The increasingly insane Drake is the head of another section (actually, the only other section we ever see). The Department is eager to protect us from the aliens who seem to land here more and more often. The policy is simply to lock all aliens up, whether they’ve committed a crime or not. Robots have replaced the human police force. However, there is a positive aspect to that, as robot police are very slow, and seem to pose little threat. They seem incapable of quickly changing directions, preferring to march in a straight line.

This show, like most science fiction, deals with many important themes, such as identity, family, how far government powers should extend in order to “protect” its citizenry, what constitutes a life form, people being replaced by machines, the ability to rise above one’s origins or programming, and so on. There are also environmental messages, like in the episode “The Last Oak Tree,” when aliens steal a tree from the museum (in the future the forests are gone). By the way, that episode has K9 say, “I’m detecting abnormal levels of magnetic interference – oh, and Jorjie’s mother.” I love humor like that.

There is humor throughout the series, though some episodes are certainly funnier than others. “The Cambridge Spy” is one of the funnier ones, with lots of great humorous moments. In that episode, Jorjie is doing an assignment of “the impact of music culture on criminal activity in 1960s England.” Gryffen’s mansion used to be a police station, and Jorjie finds old documents in the basement. Then, of course, she is zapped by Gryffen’s machine, and disappears to 1963 (because you can’t have a show with a time machine without someone going to the sixties).

It took a few episodes, but I have to admit, I got completely involved in this show. By the fourth episode (“The Bounty Hunter”) I was totally on board.  In that episode, K9’s memory displays video of Zanthus, the head of intergalactic peace commission, clearly about to be assassinated. Meanwhile a new alien comes through the time portal, having followed K9. Gryffen offers him tea, but he’s a bounty hunter who needs to bring K9 back to stand trial for murder of Zanthus.

Do you guys remember The Clapper? You turn your lights on and off by clapping. Well, according to the episode “Sirens Of Ceres,” in the future the clapper has evolved into the snapper. Snap on, snap off, the snapper. Things are going to be so much easier in the future. That’s actually a really good episode, in which Jorjie is sent to a creepy boarding school, part of the government’s mind control experiments. Jorji puts on the bracelet, and another girl says, “There, now we’re all the same.” They all repeat, “All the same.”  This theme is always effective for me. Another episode about mind control is “The Custodians,” in which twenty million children, including Jorjie and Darius, are being controlled by a virtual reality toy.

This show makes a few interesting pop culture references, though never dwells on them. One episode is titled, “Fall Of The House Of Gryffen,” obviously a reference to the Edgar Allan Poe story, “The Fall Of The House Of Usher.” This must have been the Halloween episode, for there is a storm and Starkey reads a bit of “The Raven” (another of Poe’s works). There is also the ghostly appearance of two creepy children – entities pretending to be Gryffen’s missing children. “Curse Of Anubis” has a reference to Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. “Aeolian,” an episode about music and cyclones, has a Wizard Of Oz reference (look at Jorjie’s shoes when she’s trapped beneath a fallen bit of her roof).

“Dream-Eaters” is a ridiculously enjoyable episode, in which everyone is having nightmares and sleeping quite late. Jorjie’s mom gets to wear a very silly alien costume. Science fiction fans will enjoy this episode's reference: K9 falls asleep and dreams of an electric sheep.

But probably my favorite episode is “Mutant Copper,” in which the gang meets a robot cop who has human DNA implanted in him. So of course they take him in. In return, he makes them all some toast. They name him Birdie. This is a totally delightful episode, mostly because of Birdie’s lines (“Ow, me noggin”), and because of his combination of identities (he still says, “What’s all this then?”).

Sadly, there is a clips episode. In “Mind Snap,” K9 goes a bit mad and calls itself a “dog.” So they go through its memories. Clips episodes are never good. But this one makes the same mistake that the Star Trek: The Next Generation clips episode made – presenting as memories scenes that the character wasn’t present for. That’s awful – and with a total of only twenty-six episodes, was a K9 clips episode really necessary?

There seems to be a continuity problem with the episode “The Last Precinct.” It was established in earlier episodes, such as Episode 4, that Professor Gryffen hasn’t been out of the house in ten years. But in this episode we’re informed that Sgt. Pike was arrested only two years ago for trespassing; that is, for refusing to leave when this mansion ceased being a police station, and robots took over his duties. Plus, Darius says he used to come to this house with his dad, and that couldn’t have been ten years ago, because he would have been like five years old, and probably wouldn’t remember it well. And it makes us wonder just when did Gryffen lose his family.

By the way, this series does wrap up well. It doesn’t leave you hanging.  This four-disc set contains all twenty-six episodes of the series, as well as some bonus material.

Special Features

This DVD set has a couple of bonus features, both of which are on the fourth disc. The first is The Making of K9, which features interviews with all of the regular cast members, as well as some of the crew. Plus, there are shots of the K9 puppet, which the cast and crew call “Fluffy.” Perhaps most interesting to science fiction fans is the interview with Bob Baker, the writer of several episodes of Doctor Who. He talks about “The Invisible Enemy” (The character of K9 was originally created for that Doctor Who episode). I wish there were more with him. The feature is approximately twenty-four minutes.

The second bonus feature is Interview With K9, a short and silly bit in which a woman interviews the robot. The robot’s voice is different, and they talk about that. They also joke about Doctor Who. Weirdly, a bit of this is dubbed. The woman conducting the interview says, “Who’s a good boy” – you see her lips say “boy” but you hear “dog.”

K9: The Complete Series is scheduled to be released on May 7, 2013 through Shout! Factory.

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