Doctor Who's K-9 sidekick is dragged into 21st century in computer-designed cartoon

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The Independent Online

In its original 1970s role as Doctor Who's state-of-the-art sidekick, K-9 once proved so unreliable that the BBC props department was forced to drag it in front of the camera with a length of string.

Such technical hitches are unlikely to hinder the robotic dog in its latest incarnation. It was announced yesterday that K-9 is the latest retro television character to make a comeback.

The cyber-hound with a nose-mounted laser is to star in a cartoon to capitalise on the popularity of the BBC's revived Doctor Who, now in its second series after a 16-year hiatus.

The original K-9, which first appeared alongside Tom Baker in 1977, will return to screens next weekend in a cameo role when it is discovered rusting in a cupboard by the current Doctor Who, David Tennant, in an episode entitled "School Reunion".

The cartoon series, which has been commissioned for a Dutch-based cable channel owned by Disney, will be co-written by Bob Baker, one of the creators of the original K-9 and a scriptwriter onWallace and Gromit.

From Lassie to Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men, production companies are increasingly using established favourites of a previous generation.

Baker, who is co-writing the 26-programme series of K-9 Adventures for Jetix, formerly known as Fox Kids, said: "It's thrilling to be able to offer younger Doctor Who fans the chance to get to know K-9. I believe they will love the 21st century K-9 as much as past generations."

To satisfy modern viewers, the original K-9, fashioned from plywood, plastic and electric motors, has been redesigned as a sleeker, curvier hero complete with white bodywork and a liquid crystal display. Its red visor-style eyes remain along with the nose laser. The computer-generated K-9 will offer fewer technical challenges than its predecessor, which went through three versions before it was retired in 1981.

The original idea for the portrayal of K-9 was to employ a small actor in a costume. That was rejected. The first radio-controlled model frequently malfunctioned because its controls interfered with equipment. It was also unable to cross uneven terrain, on one occasion forcing producers to pull it across the set with an off-camera string.

Although the new K-9 will not be dogged by such difficulties it will have a limited audience. Jetixrarely attracts more than 100,000 viewers at a time.