Why I like Harry Sullivan
HARRRRRRY SULLLLLLLLIVAN IS AN IMBECILLLLLLLLLLLLE!!!!!!!
heh heh heh heh…okay, he’s really not that bad. Harry Sullivan is a competent doctor - a UNIT doctor at that - and the one the Brig thinks is qualified to work on his best friend, so high praise indeed. He has somehow managed to not be briefed on the whole “two hearts” thing, which is kind of impressive, but Harry is an impressive kind of guy.
Harry is sweet, genteel, easy going, old fashioned, and completely inept. Ineptitude is his chief defining characteristic. This is not because he is stupid, because he’s not, he just is blessed with the magnificent ability to put his foot in it. It’s utterly adorable. (That’s Harry’s other chief defining characteristic).
Harry was originally intended to be the next Ian Chesterton - the young active Leading Man to do the Doctor’s hitting for him. When it turned out that Tom Baker was perfectly capable of hitting people his own self (they had originally planned to cast a much older actor), Harry rolled with it and managed to turn third wheelism into an art form. And it’s beautiful. The other important role he fulfills is to be a foil for Sarah Jane. Sarah is a Feminist (tm), but how will we know if they don’t keep reminding us? She needs things to assert her feminism against. Having it come up on every alien planet ever gets old after a while, and you don’t want to give that role to the Doctor because he’s supposed to be Better Than All That. And so you’ve got Harry, who means well, but is a total Edwardian throwback. He’s a little bit sexist, mostly (you get the impression) because he doesn’t know any better, and hasn’t ever had the inherent problematicity of chivalry properly explained to him. It’s just another way for him to exercise his well-intentioned ineptitude, and an opportunity for Sarah to be a Strong Female Character (tm) by calling him on it. It changes what could have been anvilicious (and therefore off-putting) into banter. This works extremely well - especially since they genuinely do like each other.
Sarah: [coming out of hypnosis] Harry…?
Harry: Yes, Sarah? I’m here, Old Girl
Sarah: Call me “old girl” again…and I’ll spit in your eye…
The Four-Sarah-Harry team is often cited as people’s favorite Team TARDIS, and that’s precisely because they really do like each other. Despite a somewhat rocky start that involved the Doctor tying up poor Harry with a jump rope, long before he even remotely had it coming. (Post-regenerative brain-crazies and all that). But really, Harry. You’re a trained soldier. How do you (a) get yourself tied up and (b) not manage to get yourself untied again? Aren’t you trained for this? Ah well, Harry is a bumbler, not a fighter. But he’s a really excellent support character, and all his misfortune serves to render him mostly just adorable, since he takes it all with equanimity and edwardian gentility.
Harry’s other major defining characteristic is to put his foot in it. Figuratively, of course (“NO NOT THAT BUTTON”, “Harry, did yo make the rocks fall?”, etc.) but also completely literally. And it never stops being funny. His first step out of the TARDIS and he’s getting lasered in the foot. He finds the ancient london sewer system by falling into it (also, off a cliff). He fails to outrun giant immobile clams. Let’s talk about the clams…
Ooksaidthelibrarian writes: “I like Harry Sullivan because he gets attacked by a giant clam. Who are the most adorable and peaceful of all creatures, but he manages to stumble into one. And you have to be really determined to get stuck in a giant clam, believe me.”
I dispute this. Harry Sullivan is the most adorable and peaceful of all creatures - Giant Mutant Clams are merely a close second. Really, this is all you need to know about Harry. He’s the sort of guy who gets his foot stuck in clams. Giant Clams. They’re giant enough that you really can’t miss them, and they’re clams enough that they can’t chase you down. The only way to be attacked by a giant clam is put your foot in it - in short, to be Harry Sullivan. And how does he react? “I’m always the one to put my foot in.” Yes, Harry, you are. And…do you step in clams often? Is this something that has happened to you more than once? (Incidentally, this scene is the subject of one of my very favorite Arthur, King of Time and Space sketches. That’s Lancelot there. Who is also Spock. There’s something deeply beautiful about him managing to also be Harry Sullivan.) Harry eventually escapes the Giant Clam, but once more manages to lose his shoe.
Let us all observe a moment of silence for Harry’s shoes…
For those of you who have been keeping count, this means that Harry has managed to lose three shoes in two episodes (his shoes somehow made it through “the Sontaran Experiment” unscathed). But… he hasn’t been back to the TARDIS. Where did the second pair of shoes come from? Does Harry have the ability to magically spawn shoes??? I mean, the way he goes at it he definitely needs it. And then the third pair of shoes… I have a deep and abiding love for Harry’s ill-fated shoes. (I suppose this is similar to the question of where Sarah Jane keeps getting new outfits all through season 12, but it’s just funnier in terms of Harry’s poor shoes.)
Harry is the consummate loveable bumbler. That said, Dark!Harry in “Terror of the Zygons” may be one of the most terrifying things ever. Because he’s just so cold and creepy. It’s one of the best and most frightening examples of Bad Guy impersonating a trusted loved one I’ve ever seen. Partly because Ian Marter is a fantastic actor, and partly because Harry is just so…safe that the contrast is particularly striking. It’s not the Loch Ness Monster or creepy nurses or infiltrating aliens or the mystery of the moors that gives the episode its titular terror - it’s Harry Freakin Sullivan. eaughsh. *shudder.*
Harry’s first trip in the TARDIS manages to last an entire season. When she miraculously lands him about where he stared (well, several hundred miles north and a few months late) he wisely decides not to risk a second trip. He doesn’t seem to regret his time as a companion, but he’s just like “okay. that was good. and I’m done now.” It was probably the wear and tear on his shoes that made his mind up. Probably the least emotional or difficult companion departure of all time. But that’s Harry to a tee. “Difficult” is the opposite of Harry. Life is hard on him, but he bumbles good-naturedly through it with a smile, a salute, and an increasing lack of shoes.
He is also the only character in “Genesis of the Daleks” who is not actively considering genocide. Mostly because he’s too busy standing in clams.