As we have now breezed through Seasons 12 and 13 of the Classic Series of “Doctor Who”, we can finally begin our Classic Who Character Guide with none other that Surgeon Lieutenant Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter), who is not only near and dear to my heart, but to Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) as well. Just like many other classic companions, Harry’s legacy didn’t end when he stopped travelling with the Doctor, as he went on to do some incredible things, and enjoyed mentions in “The Sarah Jane Adventures”, and an incredibly quick one in Nu Who Series 9’s “The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion”. (I thought that that the choice of mentioning him in a Zygon episode was very, very interesting; and no doubt quite deliberate). For now, let’s step into the TARDIS and go across space and time to watch the “ham-fisted clumsy idiot” and “imbecile” in action.
Ian Marter’s Surgeon Lieutenant Harry Sullivan was first mentioned in Season 11’s “Planet of the Spiders”, but was first seen in Season 12’s “Robot”. He then served as the Fourth Doctor’s (Tom Baker) companion, along with Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) until the Season 13 premiere “Terror of the Zygons”, and made his final true appearance on the show with “The Android Invasion”.
However, he has been referenced in Nu Who Series 9’s “The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion”, and is said to have been the one who created Sullivan’s gas, a gas that affects Zygons. Later in the two parter, the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) also makes a reference to him by calling Sullivan’s Gas, the “imbecile’s gas”.
Apparently, according to Digital Spy, Sullivan was supposed to be referenced in Series 10’s “Knock, Knock”, but unfortunately, that scene was deleted.
Harry’s picture, however, can be seen in Sarah Jane’s attic, and she even mentions him in the episode “The Death of the Doctor”.
A military doctor by trade who worked with UNIT, Harry was the more practical one in the trio, and more often than not, what he said would get ignored. The Doctor and Sarah Jane often teased him, which was just fine with him, as he didn’t seem to mind it. He was also the one who would often carry or help Sarah Jane get to her feet at times so that the Doctor could concentrate on thinking of a plan for whatever situation they’ve got themselves stuck in.
Marter’s portrayal of Harry was pitch perfect, and according to an interview I recently saw, Sladen mentioned that she once found him, after they had rehearsed, pacing about, still rehearsing the lines.
After leaving the program, Marter wrote ten “Doctor Who” novelizations, including one book entitled “Harry Sullivan’s War”, which is set ten years after his adventures in time and space.
Now, before we move on, you know the drill….
Harry is probably one of the most underrated and overlooked companions, and I honestly mostly blame this on the writers. Sometimes, they were able to utilize him well, but more often than not, he would get overshadowed by the personalities of the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane.
In reality, Harry’s character was created to take care of the action scenes if the actor chosen for the Fourth Doctor couldn’t do action scenes. As Baker could handle it, Harry became more of the “straight man” who was more practical and had more common sense than the whimsical Doctor and the adventurous Sarah Jane.
So when he was written off in “Terror of the Zygons”, it really wasn’t as big a deal as Sarah Jane leaving in “The Hand of Fear”, but it was interesting that he just accepted it and just moved on with serving UNIT, which was also very much in character.
Honestly, I would love to see Harry meet up with Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) and Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) at a certain point, so that they could swap stories about their Doctors, their adventures, and the medical work they have done. I think Martha would like hearing stories about UNIT in the old days.
Harry also was the one who would help Sarah Jane up if need be, or carry her if she fainted, so that the Doctor can concentrate.
He had a “can-do” attitude, and didn’t really mind it when the Doctor and Sarah Jane teased him. He also admitted that was pretty clumsy.
However, he held his own during their travels, and sprung into action always once the Doctor had a plan in mind.
He often called Sarah an “old bird”, which she didn’t like; and often said “Now look here” or “I say!” I think my favorite scene of him is when he first met the Fourth Doctor, and tried to get him to rest as the Doctor had just come out of regenerating from the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee). The Doctor told Harry that he was the “genuine article” of a doctor, and proceeded to karate chop a brick, and jump rope with Harry until he tied Harry up with said jump rope and shoved him in a locker.
According to TARDIS Wikia, Harry went on to do amazing things with UNIT, worked with MI-5, NATO, went missing sometime during the events of “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith”, and according to Sarah Jane in “Death of the Doctor”, “helped a lot with vaccines he made. Also, during the period in which he was thought to be missing, during the events of the Big Finish Audio Adventure “Buried Secrets”, Sarah Jane would visit his grave and would talk to him.
Good-natured and old-fashioned, its no wonder that Sarah Jane and the Doctor were very fond of Harry; and the cast and crew were also very fond of Marter as well. In fact, then producer Philip Hinchcliffe said that it was a mistake to let Marter go, as he was so well-loved by everyone.
Harry is definitely of the most underrated companions in “Doctor Who”, but he shouldn’t be, and honestly, one cannot help but think good things about Harry every time you think about him.
How did you like Harry and Marter’s portrayal of him? Would you have liked to have seen more of him? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Next up, I’ll be posting my Season 14 review, which will cover the episodes “The Masque of Mandragora”, “The Hand of Fear”, “The Deadly Assassin”, “The Face of Evil”, “The Robots of Death”, and “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”.