A Girl's Best Friend (TV story)

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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. It formally introduced K9 Mark III, the third iteration of K9 robots, first referenced in the short story Inter-Galactic Cat.[disputed statement]

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 with Torchwood. 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.

It is common for this episode to be referred to only by the series title, K9 and Company, including its initial release on home video and in the Target Books novelisation.


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.

Sarah, K9 and her aunt's ward, Brendan Richards, are caught up in the affairs of a mysterious cult who practise the black arts and are preparing for a human sacrifice.


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.

Sarah and K9 rushing through the night.

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".




  • Lavinia Smith's ward, Brendan Richards, attends Wellington College, but hopes to convince Lavinia to allow him to attend the local comprehensive school in Moreton Harwood, as he does 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, Brendan is nevertheless familiar with many of the components used in his construction.
  • The Fourth Doctor sent K9 Mark III to Sarah in 1978. K9 remained in an unopened box in Lavinia's homes in South Croydon and Moreton Harwood for three years.


  • John Nathan-Turner envisaged the title sequence as being in the vein of American action series such as Hart to Hart (1979-1984), featuring a lot of rapid intercutting.
  • Nathan-Turner cited The Avengers as an influence on the series.

Story notes[[edit]]

  • This was the first official Doctor Who spin-off.
  • 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.
  • 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.[1] A variation of this - an electronic assistant to Sarah Jane secretly controlled by an opposing alien force - would be realised 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.[source needed]
  • Although Brendan's age is never stated in dialogue, he is said to be 14-years-old in the novelisation.
  • According to Ian Sears, John Black was not respected on the set and he was given the nickname "John Grey".[2]
  • 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."
  • Gary Russell auditioned for Brendan.[source needed]
  • Production was delayed due to Elisabeth Sladen's commitment to Gulliver in Lilliput.
  • It was meant to be a ninety-minute special, but David Reid, the BBC's Head of Series and Serials, didn't think that it warranted such a timeslot, so it was cut to fifty minutes. This meant that the two weeks of location filming allocated was now one week.
  • Terence Dudley clashed with Eric Saward over the latter's rewrites. Dudley finally went over Saward's head to John Nathan-Turner, a move which antagonised the script editor.
  • Scenes of Sarah Jane driving at a crossroads were cut from the programme.
  • In the final scene, K·9 had been scripted to recite "While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks By Night" but, in the event, the hymn was replaced by the more secular "We Wish You A Merry Christmas".
  • Ironically, despite his prominent role in this pilot, Bill Fraser had an immense dislike for K9, having only accepted his prior role as General Grugger in Meglos on the condition that he would be allowed to kick K9 at some point.


  • 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 retune their television sets to another transmitter. The story was repeated on BBC 2 the following year.[3]

Filming locations[[edit]]

  • 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]]

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • 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.


Home video releases[[edit]]

VHS Releases

  • A Girl's Best Friend was released on BBC Video on 7 August 1995.

DVD and Blu-ray releases

Digital releases

  • In November 2023, K9 & Company: A Girl's Best Friend was added to BBC iPlayer's Whoniverse catalog of Doctor Who content.

Special features:[[edit]]


External links[[edit]]