Heroes of Doctor Who: Harry Sullivan

By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues

copyright BBC

Once again we look back through the long history of TV’s longest running sci-fi show and spotlight one of the characters who helped form the character of the Doctor. This week, Harry Sullivan.

Harry Sullivan saw the first time a Doctor had travelled with the Doctor, the Time Lord being the definitive article as they say.

Played by Ian Marter, Harry would enter television history as part of the dream team in the golden era of the show.

Ian had previously appeared in the show as an officer on a ship terrorised by a sea monster in the third Doctor story Carnival of Monsters. When Pertwee decided to leave the show, the search for the fourth Doctor was a long and arduous one. It looked like the Doctor would be played by an older man so the producers came up with Harry who would be the action hero figure ala Ian Chesterton. However when Tom Baker was cast, it was obvious the character had to change.

Harry was assigned to look after the Doctor and he knew Sarah Jane Smith so when the Doctor decided to go on a trip, he took Harry along with him. He was charming, affable and a genuine nice guy except he had a terrible tendency to cause accidents and almost bring about disaster. As the Doctor claimed, having fallen down a ravine, ‘Harry Sullivan is an idiot!’.

He was very old-school and a gentleman, visibly shocked as Sarah Jane rebuffed his attempt to help her when she stumbled. Harry quickly became a fan and viewer favourite as he helped the Doctor battle Daleks, Sontarans, Wirrn, Zygons and Cybermen. Along with Sarah, he was the first to encounter Davros and his medical skills came into practice when the Doctor needed to dissect the dead body of the insectoid Wirrn which laid its young in human bodies on the space station Nerva. He was a cautious man but not afraid of facing these alien terrors.

But it is the story Terror of the Zygons that sticks in people’s minds when a Zygon disguised as Harry tries to kill Sarah Jane with a pitchfork in a hayloft before plummeting to his death that sticks in the mind. The fact that this scene disturbed so many people shows how endeared Harry had become to everyone and how brilliantly Ian played him.

Having stayed on Earth at the end of this story, Harry would return once more in the Android Invasion by Terry Nation, recently released as part of the UNIT files DVD boxset with Invasion of the Dinosaurs. The fourth Doctor, Harry and Sarah jane were the team to beat with all three turning on Blackpool Illuminations and attending countless promotions for the show.

Harry would never return to the show again as Ian died from a diabetic related heart attack but he was a convention favourite. He and Tom even wrote a Doctor Who movie script called Doctor Who meets Scratchman but nothing ever came of it. His photograph is in Sarah Jane’s attic in the Sarah Jane Adventures and is fondly remembered by her. In Mawdryn Undead the Brigadier told the Doctor Harry is doing undercover work.

Harry is also one of two companions, Turlough being the other, that had their own novel entitled Harry Sullivan’s war, a book series that attempted to show life for companions after the Doctor. The fact that he was chosen to launch this short lived series speaks volumes about him and the place he has in people’s hearts.

But he will forever live in that golden time when kids settled down on a Saturday evening to go with Harry, Sarah and the Doctor to places far beyond time and space. The bumbling gentleman lives on.

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