I can’t really remember my first memory of Doctor Who. I know I was terrified of the show when I was little. No, that’s not right. I wasn’t terrified of the programme, I was terrified of the Doctor! Of Tom Baker to be precise! He completely freaked me out with those eyes and all that hair.
Yes, I was scared of someone’s hair.
Then something changed, and his name was K9.
I’ve always been a sucker for robots. It all probably started with C-3PO and R2D2 and never went away, taking in Transformers, Metal Mickey, V.I.N.CENT and B.O.B, Buck Roger’s Twiki, and even Metal Mickey along the way, but K9 was better than most of those put together. Why? Well, isn’t it obvious?
He looked like a dog.
I think I was first introduced to the Doctor’s new best friend in a newspaper write-up about his arrival in the TARDIS, an arrival that presented me with something of a quandary: How could I watch the new love of my life if I couldn’t bear to watch the show itself?
My coping strategy was to watch Doctor Who with one hand resting on the TV set’s dial.1 I’d endure the episode in question for K9 and K9 alone, happy as Larry whenever the mechanical mutt was on screen. However, the moment he disappeared from the story to be replaced by a terrifying monster or (shudder) the Doctor, I’d hurriedly switch over to whatever was showing on ITV, flicking back every few minutes to see if K9 had returned.
Oh, how this must have annoyed my poor parents!
As time passed, I spent less time on ITV. After all, Doctor Who’s monsters were cool2 and even the Doctor started to grow on me. I mean, he couldn’t be that scary if he loved his robot dog, right?
Soon, I was sticking around for an entire episode and, after a while, even took my hand off the dial. From that point, I was all in.
I think the moment I first realised that I was a card-carrying fan was when my class at school was tasked with making paper-mâché puppets. We had to choose our favourite characters from TV, film, comics or books. I chose the Doctor, complete with scarf. Not even a year before, Tom Baker would send me screaming from the room. Now, I was lovingly recreating the eyes that had so terrified me in strips of gummed paper.
I no longer have the puppet, unfortunately. He survived for years, sitting high on a shelf in my bedroom. And then, one day, when cleaning said room, the papier-mâché Time Lord tumbled from his perch to land in a bowl of soapy water with a plop. At least, I guess it must have been a plop. The fall happened when I was downstairs and when I returned to my bedroom, I saw the puppet doctor had regenerated into a gloopy, pulpy mess. An end I wasn’t prepared for!
But my love of Doctor Who has stayed with me ever since. That silly old show, celebrating 60 years this coming Thursday, has given me hours upon hours upon hours of pleasure, along with friends that have literally lasted a lifetime and, in no small part, a career.
And it’s all thanks to K9, who is still very dear to my heart(s), as is the voice behind the dog, John Leeson.
But one of my happiest K9 moments came at the 50th Anniversary event at Excel in 2013. I was employed as one of the stage hosts, teaching younger audiences how to walk like a monster and hosting Doctor Who-themed game shows. My family came along, my wife Clare bringing our daughters Chloe (then seven) and Connie (five) up on the train to get a behind-the-scenes experience.
While Connie was still pretty little, Chloe wanted to meet as many people as she could in the green room and the first person I could introduce her to was John4. The delightful man immediately slipped into K9 mode, delighting an excited seven-year-old with a jaunty ‘Greetings, Mistress Chloe,’ delivered in the robotic dog’s trademark clipped tones. Chloe positively beamed, and so did I!
Happy birthday, Doctor Who… and thank you, K9! You’re a good dog!
What is your earliest memory of Doctor Who? Share them in the comments!
Yes, this was before TV remote controls. I really am that old! ↩
I’ve always been a monster kid, although Doctor Who put this into hyperdrive. Soon, I was seeking out new monsters, leading me to Hammer, Universal and a life watching horror movies. ↩
How is this that long ago? I mean, how?? ↩
I think the second person Chloe and Connie met was Katy Manning, whom I was working with on Big Finish’s Iris Wildthyme line. She was wearing a large black furry coat, which she pointed to and said, “Look, I’m a gorilla!” To this day, whenever they see Katy on the TV, the girls shout out: “It’s Gorilla Lady!” ↩