Monday, 19 May 2014

DW Companions as PCs: Harry Sullivan

Mike Yates leaves the show at the end of the eleventh season. His player, however, who has only been able to attend occasional sessions of late, finds that he will be able to game on a more regular basis from now on. The Doctor's player is pondering a change, too, and briefly considers a physically weaker, more intellectual persona for his next regeneration - something, in fact, not unlike his original character concept.

So Yates' player decides that the party needs another action hero, similar to Ben or Steven way back in the third and fourth seasons. Although the GM has largely given up on "defending the Earth from aliens" adventures by this point, he has a few UNIT stories planned for when the players of the Brigadier and Benton are able to make it. So, since he'll be an action hero, it makes sense for the new PC to come from UNIT, too. Having just played Yates, though, the player is keen for something a little bit different this time.

And so he creates Harry Sullivan. Although he's a military member of UNIT, he's a doctor, not a soldier - the British branch's Medical Officer, in fact. He's also one of only two UNIT military staff members that we see in the classic series who aren't from the British Army (the other is Corporal Bell). Instead, Harry is a Surgeon-Lieutenant in the Royal Navy Medical Service.

This gives him, potentially, a pretty good mix of skills. For a start, he's a doctor (although not entitled to use the "Dr." prefix, which the Royal Navy doesn't employ), and frequently gets to use his medical knowledge. Mainly, it has to be said, so that he can deliver variations on the theme of "he's dead, Doctor!", but there's a tradition of that in science fiction shows. But, in addition, he will have been through military training, and we do see evidence that he's physically fit and reasonably handy in a fight. Presumably, he has some familiarity with guns, too, although we don't see him use any missile weapon more deadly than a cricket ball... with which he claims to be quite good, incidentally.

There are also hints that he's quite technically competent, too. While he needs the Doctor's instructions to remove a vital piece of electronic equipment from a spaceship in The Sontaran Experiment, for example, it can't be all that easy in the time available, and there are similar indications in Revenge of the Cybermen. He also knows Latin, evidently the product of a public school education.

Given all of this, you might think he's quite intelligent, more of an Ian than a Steven. But, actually, while he can't be entirely dim, or he'd never have passed his medical exams, he does seem a bit slow to catch on sometimes, and certainly isn't an intellectual. It's not so much that he's stupid as that he's rather oblivious, and bumbles about without thinking too hard about the consequences of his actions (this is particularly noticeable in The Ark in Space).

Sarah describes him as "old fashioned" immediately after first meeting him, and, given that this is the '70s, by "old fashioned" she's presumably thinking of the 1950s at least. He appears to be around thirty, so he was actually born no earlier than the mid '40s... suggesting, perhaps, quite an insular upbringing. This old-fashioned demeanour surfaces, for instance, in the way that he calls Sarah "old thing" or "old girl" and apparently finds feminism quite mystifying.

Still, somebody playing him should remember that he's never nasty about it, or disparaging, and that it goes hand-in-hand with trying to be chivalrous to the fairer sex. In fact, he seems to fancy Sarah a bit, although it's very obviously not mutual.

He's also clearly quite brave, as we see when he volunteers to deal with a live landmine in Genesis of the Daleks, and takes much of the strangeness around him in his stride once he's got past the "I say!" moment. For other examples, note how well he reacts to being captured by the Vogans in Revenge of the Cybermen, or to being tortured by Davros. For that matter, he's clearly quite outraged at Styre's behaviour in The Sontaran Experiment, and aims to give him a jolly good thrashing with a big stick. Not that he gets the chance, as it happens.

While we can infer a bit about his background - wealthy, probably upper-class, family, expensive boarding school, and so on - we don't have any fine detail, either on the TV series, or in the novels. This is partly because he only travels in the TARDIS once, and doesn't have a large number of on-screen adventures.

In fact, this is a problem with playing Harry, if we're going to stay consistent with the show as portrayed on air. That's because there are no gaps in the twelfth season, with each story following on directly from the end of the one before it - something the show hadn't done so consistently since all the way back in the first season, over ten years before. The implication is that there are no other off-world adventures with Harry that we haven't seen, given that he point blank refuses to get back in the TARDIS once he's returned to present-day Earth. He may be brave and honourable, but he doesn't seem particularly adventurous unless pushed.

On the other hand... at the beginning of Revenge of the Cybermen, Sarah claims to have been travelling with Harry for "weeks", when it's manifestly only been about four or five days at the most. She may be exaggerating for effect... but maybe something went wrong with the Time Ring, and we can squeeze something extra in after they leave Skaro, after all. (Although they're all still wearing exactly the same clothes, so one can but hope there was a washing machine somewhere in that adventure).

After this solitary trip, Harry returns to UNIT, and, once back there, he can clearly be used in adventures set after the Doctor has left the organisation for good. Indeed, the show itself does this, having him re-appear in The Android Invasion. By the time of Mawydryn Undead, set in 1983, he's moved on to work for NATO, which is also the setting for the Doctor-free spin-off novel Harry Sullivan's War. In which, apparently, he's been working on defences against chemical warfare... again, not quite such an idiot, even if he does seem to think he's James Bond.

After that, it's a little hazy. A couple of novels set in the 1990s have him working for MI5, the British Security Service, although this does seem rather odd for a doctor. An audio play set around 2005 has him still with NATO, while Sarah Jane later says he's been developing new vaccines, which doesn't sound like it ought to have anything to do with either organisation.

At any rate, when he is finally mentioned again on TV, in a 2010 episode of the Sarah Jane Adventures, it's in the past tense. Although there are still three decades in which to use him in Earthbound adventures, it seems he didn't quite live to collect his old age pension.

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