Bonus chapter #5. The Companions of Doctor Who: Harry Sullivan’s War (1986)

Synopsis: It’s been ten years since Harry Sullivan left UNIT. Reluctantly awaiting a new posting to a weapons division in the outer Hebrides, Harry decides to use some leave and visit friends. Within days, he survives numerous violent attacks – someone is trying to kill him. But why? A chance meeting with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart leaves Harry wondering if their reunion is just a coincidence or if he’s accidentally stumbled into something very worrying indeed…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. A Brush With Death
  • 2. Happy Birthday!
  • 3. The Castle 
  • 4. Persuasion 
  • 5. An Odd Weekend 
  • 6. Unexplained Mysteries
  • 7. The Amateur Investigator 
  • 8. A Human Guinea Pig 
  • 9. More Clues 
  • 10. The Chase 
  • 11. Trapped 
  • 12. The Prisoner 
  • 13. Double Bluff 
  • 14. Secrets of the Burial Mound
  • 15. Ambush
  • 16. Out On A Limb 
  • Epilogue 

Background: Ian Marter writes an original novel inspired by the character he played in the series in 1975.

Notes: Chapter 2 takes place on Harry’s 41st birthday (which, based on later information, is in May). Since leaving UNIT ten years ago, he’s been employed by the Biological Defence Establishment at Tooth Tor on Dartmoor, developing antidotes to nerve toxins. He’s unhappy that he’s being transferred to work on weapons development so decides to spend his birthday at the National Gallery, where he sees a self portrait by Van Gogh (this becomes a recurring image, for plot reasons). Introducing himself to Samantha, Harry adopts the pseudonym ‘Laury L Varnish’ – an anagram of his real name. Samantha has a ‘husky voice’, pale blue eyes, a ‘strong but pretty oval face’ and ‘curly straw-coloured hair’. She claims that her father is American and a doctor, and that she’s a member of ACHES, the ‘Anti-Chemical Hazard Environment Society’. 

Harry is six feet tall. He has a ‘spacious flat’ on the fifth floor of a 1930s apartment block in St John’s Wood (which we’re told is at the Regent’s Park end). He displays his many rugby and rowing trophies and we’re told later that he was a ‘stroke oar in the Dartmouth College Ace Eight’; this would be from the Britannia Royal Naval College – aka ‘Dartmouth’ – and not the New Hampshire, USA, college of the same name. He receives a birthday card from an old friend, Teddy Bland, who has a sister, Esther, who Harry was once very close to; he nearly proposed, but a secondment to UNIT put paid to that. Esther is ‘buxom’ and ‘red-headed’ and during his trip to Yarra, Harry learns that Esther has only ever loved him. Harry drives a red MG sportscar (mid-life crisis?). Harry’s new position sees him promoted to Surgeon-Commander. Esther notes that he no longer has the sideburns he had while with UNIT. In his early naval career, Harry was stationed on the Ark Royal. 

Brigadier ‘Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart’ is said to have a ‘deep and resonant […]  precise military voice’. The Brigadier is still teaching (Senior Mathematics Master at ‘a private school in Sussex’), but his business card mentions his ‘DSO’ (Distinguished Service Order) and ‘MC’ (Military Cross). The Brigadier shares old stories with Harry of his own experiences in UNIT, not just of Sarah Jane Smith, but of ‘Jo and Sergeant Benton, about Jamie and Zoe and about the Daleks and the Cybermen and all manner of old friends and enemies’. On his flight through Scotland, Harry meets a small child who offers him a jelly baby. The sweet makes him wish the Doctor would appear to put everything right.

Harry is arrested in Trafalgar Square by an Inspector Spode (possibly a reference to the fictional publisher Erwin Spode in the Gervase Fen detective novels by Edmund Crispin). Placed in a cell in Wormwood Scrubs, his window affords him a view of the playing fields and, beyond, the church in Harrow-on-the-Hill where he was christened as a baby (not that this is mentioned at any point, but had his cell faced the opposite direction, he’d have had a lovely view of BBC Television Centre). Harry asks if ‘Sir Algernon’ might take up his case and is told he is holidaying in Bermuda; it’s a short sentence but it might bear unpacking. Sir Algernon Usborne Willis KCB DSO (17 May 1889 – 12 April 1976) was a former Admiral of the Fleet, while Bermuda was where Sir William Stephenson retired to – long believed to have been the real-life inspiration for 007. Except we later discover that this Sir Algernon has the surname ‘Flowers’, so his name is surely a nod to the Daniel Keys science fiction story Flowers for Algernon, about a laboratory mouse.

When Sarah Jane Smith visits Harry in prison, she’s said to be:

… a young woman of about thirty […] wearing a fashionable pink boiler-suit outfit with green boots, and a rainbow-coloured plastic shoulder bag [….] Her hair was brown and wavy, held back by a pair of sunglasses perched on her forehead. Her figure looked petite under her billowy clothes.

Harry and Sarah haven’t seen each other since the Zygon business (though a short story I later wrote for a Big Finish Short Trips anthology proudly contradicts this). He affectionately calls Sarah ‘old thing’; and quickly realises his mistake. Sarah is no longer living with her aunt in Croydon, having moved to Camberwell, South London. Harry confesses that he’s told many stories about Sarah to his elderly neighbour.

When Harry drops the name ‘Davros’, both Major Sawyer and George Fawcett-Smith of the Home office react with surprise that Harry knows the name. Conrad Gold’s money envelope consists of bundles of £100-notes – which means he was paying Harry with notes issues by the Royal Bank of Scotland (the highest denomination issued by the Bank of England is £50, though Fawcett-Smith asks Spode to ‘find out where these were printed’. The story concludes in September, which makes this possibly the story with the longest timespan since Marco Polo! 

Cover: David McAllister goes full Bond with an appropriately dramatic illustration of a car being chased by a helicopter while Harry Sullivan looks every bit the heroic action-movie star. It’s only the second cover to feature blood and the first to depict the author in the illustration!

Final Analysis: Let’s pretend that Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma never happened, eh? This is a stunning novel that wears its influences shamelessly (Terrance Dicks always said that greatness always steals from the best). The opening chapter lifts cheekily from the James Bond film Thunderball (and its more recent remake, Never Say Never Again), though 007 fends off the attack more successfully; a later sequence is reminiscent of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps and the three different movie adaptations (particularly the Hitchcock one); and as Gary Russell noted in his review for Doctor Who Magazine, the final chapter owes a lot to the film version of A View to a Kill – even down to Harry wearing a tuxedo – which was released the year before this was published.. It’s by no means a criticism; Harry Sullivan always wanted to play at James Bond and Marter throws his hero into an espionage story without allowing him any of the innate skills of the most celebrated spies. Right from the start, he suffers a savage attack that leaves him vulnerable and confused – and it barely lets up as he careers from one escapade to another, barely escaping alive on each occasion.

Just while we’re here – Vincent Van Goch’s art is referenced repeatedly here. There are many possible ways to pronounce his name, such as ‘van Goff’, ‘van Gock’ – and most Dutch people would say ‘Vun Goch’ – to rhyme with the Scottish ‘loch’. However, it does not rhyme with ‘Toe’ (‘Van Goe’). Ever.

Ian Marter had originally intended to kill Harry off, but was persuaded to let him survive, so instead he plays a cruel trick on us in the finale. He claimed in interviews prior to the book’s release that he hoped to write a sequel. Harry Sullivan’s War was published on 11 September 1986; Ian Marter died on 28 October the same year, on his 42nd birthday. Your humble blogger was due to interview him at a convention four days later and was stunned to hear his close friend Nicholas Courtney announce his passing at the event. I was sat on the front row of the main hall, dressed (for charity reasons) in a Sea Devil costume at the time; It hid the tears.

There were still a few of Ian’s books yet to be published, so we’ve not quite said a final goodbye to him yet, but I thought it’d be appropriate to pay tribute here. There are plenty of Target novels I’ve not read prior to this project, but this is one I return to regularly. It’s not an official one, so ‘doesn’t count’, but it’s by far and away my favourite novel by one of my absolute favourite Target authors.

One thought on “Bonus chapter #5. The Companions of Doctor Who: Harry Sullivan’s War (1986)

  1. ‘Laurie L Varnish’ – that’s “Laury.” Spellcheck alert! Gads, I love that dumb alias. And how utterly inept Harry is at being James Bond. As I recall, this book doesn’t really make a lick of sense, and it never really sells the plot point that the Brig might be a traitor, but damn, it’s so much fun.

    Liked by 1 person

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