I’ve always thought that Harry Sullivan would be one of the best ‘classic’ Who companions to bring back for a cameo in the new series, but of course that’s impossible since Ian Marter died in 1986. These quotes are taken from a longer Richard Marson with Marter that first appeared in ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ back in 1984. The actor talks about his time as Harry, his desire for a more heroic exit from the series, and plans to bring him back for ‘The Five Doctors’, which sadly never came to fruition.
“I think the part of Andrews (in Carnival of Monsters) came about because Barry Letts had seen me a couple of years before when he was casting the part of Captain Yates. I couldn’t do that at the time but Barry had obviously remembered me as the right kind of fine upstanding military type, and luckily for me I got my second chance, so to speak. It was extremely hard work technically – we spent several days on a pensioned-off Fleet auxilliary ship anchored on the River Medway, as I remember. There were a lot of special effects that inevitably always cause problems, but all the same we had a lot of laughs – it was great fun working with Jon Pertwee and Tenniel Evans. This mixture of hard concentrated work along with the lighter side of it I recalled when it came to playing Harry, I rediscovered the feeling altogether!
“They cast me (as Harry) before they knew anything about the new Doctor. I was brought in, in case the Doctor had been made much older and couldn’t handle the physical side of the series. I would have been his strong arm – a sort of rough-and-ready action type. As it was, Tom didn’t really need me there at all.
“I had been dreadfully ill for about two months, laid up in hospital and more or less at death’s door. I was only just getting back on my feet again about five or six months later when Barry asked me to meet both him and his script editor Robert Holmes for lunch. This I did, and they outlined the concept of Harry to me. It took me about three seconds to say I’d do it – I said yes with distinct alacrity!
“Although Tom and I were coming into it and Lis was already there, we never had any problems at all. Both Lis and Tom were tremendous – such generous colleagues and such a lot of fun. I think we all tried to work together as a team – which meant we were able to criticise one another and to go through an entire spectrum of suggestions, changes and compromises. There were never any bad feelings or anything like that – that would have been unprofessional.
“I did and I didn’t like the character. I responded instantly to his well-intentioned accident-proneness and his zeal for good and justice. But I did find his incompetence could become a bit of a drag. Gradually, he seemed to have less and less to contribute to the overall set-up, either for good or ill.
“The most difficult story for me was ‘Terror of the Zygons’ because John Woodnutt as our chief villain was so funny in rehearsals and on location that I had to work incredibly hard just to keep a straight face! It was a problem that was only made worse by the fact that I was supposed to be frightened most of the time. I still howl with laughter whenever I recall John sending himself up in the past, which he modelled on the late Robert Atkins. We had some superb villains – Michael Wisher’s Davros, Kevin Lindsay’s Sontatan. But to us they were more often than not terribly funny – we’d seen them eating their lunch, or in the Robot’s case fallling over, sights the viewers were spared.
“Recently I had the chance to watch ‘The Sontaran Experiment’ with Lis while we were in Chicago, attending one of the conventions. That was great, because it was one I’d never actually seen. I thought it was good! Rodney Bennett directed it so beautifully, it came across with a lot of style.
“All the stories had their own individual virtues and drawbacks so I don’t really have a favourite. I didn’t care for my last story, ‘The Android Invasion’, one little bit. There was no real reason for Harry to be in it at all – I couldn’t see the point of it. My last scene was particularly frustrating as Harry just sort of fizzled out sitting tied up on the floor in the corner of a room. I don’t mean that as any disrespect to Patrick Newell, who made me laugh a lot and was wonderful to be with, or to Martin Friend who is an old mate anyway. They both did their best to cheer me up. My own unfulfilled wish was that Harry could have been blown up while trying to save Sarah Jane, or something on those lines – a genuinely heroic exit instead of what I actually got.
“I hadn’t decided to go. Harry, the character (and that meant me too), was dropped from the series because he had finally outlived his usefulness and was simply getting in the way. It was sad, but there you are. It was lovely to be asked for ‘The Five Doctors’, but perhaps it was better not to appear. You can’t cling on to a programme that you left nearly a decade ago. John Nathan-Turner contacted me and was very keen for me to appear, but by the time I was asked I was under contract to appear in a TV series in New Zealand. Generally speaking, I don’t think I’d ever seriously contemplate a return to the series now.
“I seem to get at least three or four (fan) letters a week, mostly from America these days but also from Australia, Italy, Canada, all over. I always reply personally with a postcard and I try to answer people’s questions if I’m not too busy. The recent letters are mostly to do with the books rather than with Harry Sullivan. The enthusiasm is amazing. (At conventions) we get grilled on all sorts of topics, they never let up. In America it’s current – they’re showing our episodes all the time again and again, so we’re not out of date there. It’s a marvellous opportunity to see Tom and Lis and everyone again too, so I find them very enjoyable as a rule.”