Nicholas Courtney (1929 – 2011)
The very first episode of Doctor Who that I owned on VHS was Spearhead from Space. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve watched it. Sometimes at uni when I couldn’t sleep I’d put it on to help me drift off because it was so familiar. This is the story that introduced me to what was to become one of my favourite characters in Doctor Who, The Brigadier. Or to give him his full title, Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart.
The actor who played The Brigadier, Nicholas Courtney, sadly died last night at the age of 81.
Courtney’s first appearance in Doctor Who was back in the 1965 serial The Daleks’ Master Plan where he played a Space Security Agent alongside the First Doctor.
The character of the Brigadier first appeared alongside the Second Doctor in the serial The Web of Fear (even though he was just a Colonel at the time) where he was seen fighting Yeti in the London Underground for the military. By the next time he met The Doctor, Lethbridge-Stewart had been promoted to Brigadier and was now part of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce aka UNIT (The Invasion).
He went on to fight alien menaces alongside the Third and Fourth Doctor (in numerous episodes), the First and Fifth during the events of The Five Doctors, and was reunited with The Doctor is his Fifth (Mawdryn Undead) and Seventh incarnations (Battlefield) on screen.
He also appeared alongside The Doctor in his Sixth and Eighth incarnations on audio, The Sixth Doctor in the Children in Need special (Dimensions in Time) as well as The Doctor’s companion Sarah Jane in her spin off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures (Enemy of the Bane).
Despite being mentioned in the revived series of Doctor Who he did not appear.
While he is not technically considered a “companion” of The Doctor, for me he is up there with Sarah Jane, Jamie, Harry, Ace, and Donna as one of my favourite non-Doctor characters. He was brash at times and often had to do things that The Doctor simply couldn’t do (the final episode of The Silurians is a great example of this), but his heart was most definitely in the right place. He had a genuine camaraderie with The Doctor, despite the pair of them disagreeing a fair bit of the time.
In his final outing as The Brigadier in Doctor Who itself (Battlefield) his heroism is evident. When asked if humanity could afford a better champion he simply replies “Probably. I just do the best I can”, which I rather think does a great job of summing up The Brigadier’s character.
Courtney was a hit on the convention circuit and was Honorary President of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society.
Unfortunately, I only ever saw Courtney once when he walked past me at the Doctor Who Proms last summer. I’m not ashamed to admit that I let out the girliest squeal I have ever made in my life on seeing him unexpectedly! For me he is such a huge part of Doctor Who, a constant if you like. When The Doctor and Master changed their faces, companions came and went and even The TARDIS had a face lift, The Brigadier was there, the same as ever.
Splendid chap. He will be sorely missed.
My Top 5 lines from The Brigadier:
5. “But Doctor, it’s exactly your cup of tea. The fellow’s bright green, apparently, and dead.” – The Green Death
4. Not a very good quote out of context, but the delivery is superb: “Oh no!” – [on seeing the previous incarnation of The Doctor to which The Second Doctor replies “Oh yes!”] The Three Doctors
3. “Jenkins! Chap with wings there: Five rounds rapid!” – The Daemons
2. “You know just once I’d like to meet an alien menace that wasn’t immune to bullets” – Robot
1. “Wonderful Chap. All of them” – The Five Doctors (We could not agree more, Brig)
Here’s hoping I don’t get teary when I’m in Aldbourne with my 3 day Doctor Who Locations tour group in April (the 40th anniversary of the filming of The Daemons) and I have to say those words “Jenkins! Chap with wings there: Five rounds rapid!”.
Not seen much of The Brigadier? Here are my recommendations to get you started (in order of air-date):
1. The Invasion – Second Doctor serial featuring the Cybermen and, for the first time, UNIT.
2. Inferno – Third Doctor story that features a parallel world and evil Brigade Leader Lethbridge-Stewart (what? Eye patches are cool, ok?)
3. The Three Doctors – First multi-Doctor story featuring the first 3 Doctors and The Brigadier’s first trip in the TARDIS.
4. The Daemons – Third Doctor story set in the spooky village of Devil’s End, featuring that famous line.
5. Mawdryn Undead – Fifth Doctor story where there are two Brigadiers! Yes two!
6. Battlefield – Seventh Doctor story, and the Brigadier’s final Doctor Who appearance.