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The old dog's newest trick

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Doctor Who's littlest sidekick, K9, is back to star in his own show, writes Geoff Shearer

IT IS the British rock scene of the 1960s. A man in a white suit, eyes squeezed in concentration as he blasts away on the tenor sax doesn't see the world around him - let alone his fellow white-robed bandmates equally entranced by their own music - as they all change to shades of green.

You may never have heard of the band The Franklin Big Six but you will know those they shared the bill with at university gigs across the UK; legends such as The Who and Cream.

The man on the sax would not go on to become a music icon. Instead he found fame with his typewriter, breathing life into two of the small screen's favourite fictional dogs - one made of plasticine and one made of space-age metal.

Sunk into an over-upholstered lounge suite in a quite corner of a Brisbane television production studio, Bob Baker has a hearty grin as he recalls the swinging '60s.

"We were under this tree, this gigantic tree, playing away and I looked at my saxophone and I thought 'there's something wrong with that - it's turned green!'," the now 70-year-old says with a sparkle in his eye.

"Suddenly I looked at everyone else and everyone had turned green. There's this fine green dust ..."

He flutters his hands in front of his face.

"The vibration of the music had brought all this fine green dust off the tree and we were all covered in green stuff."

It was a moment and a time that crystallised Baker's resolve to become a teller of stories, a writer.

"It was part of my learning," he explains about his varied early years which included jazz music, painting, a spell of amateur filmmaking, and working as an apprentice monumental mason.

Baker went on to write episodes of cult sci-fi series Doctor Who for nine years in the 1970s.

With fellow writer, the late Dave Martin, he turned the robotic dog K9 into a spin-off character.

Baker later co-wrote all Nick Park's claymation comedies featuring the gormless Wallace and his faithful, plasticine-moulded, dog Gromit.

It's K9 which brings him to Brisbane.

The tin dog has been revived for a new 26-part children's series, filmed entirely in Queensland, and set to air on Channel 10 today from 9.30am.

They wrote the dog into the 1976 Doctor Who episode The Invisible Enemy and, under the BBC contracts of the time, kept full rights to the character.

"We did K9 without even thinking it would be picked up as a sort of regular character," Baker says.

When they left Doctor Who, they were allowed to take K9 with them.

"In the early days all the contracts said all authors retained moral rights for what they'd written, which is how it should be. When the Daleks were invented they had their trousers right down because (creator/writer) Terry Nation just took everything, every single penny. They got some, obviously, but he made millions out of the Daleks," Baker says.

After being contacted by another Doctor Who old boy, producer Paul Tams, in 1999, Baker was enticed by the idea of reviving the dog for a new generation.

"I said, 'OK, well we'll meet up and have a chat'. And the more we talked about it, the more excited I got about it," he says.

"Finally I ended up writing two episodes and outlining about another 12."

It took nearly a decade, but what started out as a joint UK and Australian production finally became a fully Australian production under the stewardship of Penny Wall and Richard Stewart of local company Stewart & Wall Entertainment.

Wall says it is "a joy" to be able to have Baker in Brisbane for the shoot.

"He knows everything about what this dog can and cannot do," she says, pointing to the rascally robot which is voiced in this series by John Leeson, the original K9 voice from 1977 onwards and in the later spin-off The Sarah-Jane Adventures.

"Bob's knowledge of Doctor Who, and all that is British, has been wonderful. It has been an enormous assistance to the show. We've been able to retain that British-ness; that heart of K9," Wall says.

Baker is grinning again.

"I'm very, very at home here," he says, sporting a Tangalooma Island Resort polo shirt.

"I don't know why.

"I don't come from haughty London, I come from the West Country and it's much more relaxed and I feel you're much more like the West Country people."

Baker, who has had three wives and nine children ("not all from my loins but lots of stepchildren along the way") also has a niece studying at a Brisbane university.

His mention of uni seems to arrest him, bringing him back to reminiscing about his years with The Franklin Big Six playing on campus greens to a sea of '60s students.

"We had two blasting lead singers and a most incredible drummer - he was really fantastic - and the other sax player was the leader, Frank," he says.

"I suppose we were the thinking person's rock'n'roll in a way, and that's why we used to get so many university gigs.

"I loved doing it and it kept me busy."

He adjust his glasses and that glint sparkles again.

Baker smiles.

"We were big in a small way."

K9, Channel 10, Saturdays, 9.30am.

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to whovian@cuttingsarchive.org

  • APA 6th ed.: Shearer, Geoff (2010-04-03). The old dog's newest trick. The Courier Mail p. ETC, p. 13.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Shearer, Geoff. "The old dog's newest trick." The Courier Mail [add city] 2010-04-03, ETC, p. 13. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Shearer, Geoff. "The old dog's newest trick." The Courier Mail, edition, sec., 2010-04-03
  • Turabian: Shearer, Geoff. "The old dog's newest trick." The Courier Mail, 2010-04-03, section, ETC, p. 13 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=The old dog's newest trick | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/The_old_dog%27s_newest_trick | work=The Courier Mail | pages=ETC, p. 13 | date=2010-04-03 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=20 October 2021 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=The old dog's newest trick | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/The_old_dog%27s_newest_trick | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=20 October 2021}}</ref>