Heroes of Who: Nicholas Courtney
Patrick Durston, Adam James Cuthbert and John Hussey pay tribute to legendary man behind the Brig.
By Patrick Durston
Genuine sadness struck the Whoniverse when Nicholas Courtney passed away two years ago. To this day, it’s still rather difficult to comprehend the loss of one of the finest and loveliest members of the Doctor Who family. It’s sad knowing that this year’s 50th anniversary celebrations will feel a tiny bit emptier without him.
One can’t think of the early 70’s era of Doctor Who without thinking of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. He became a familiar face to the audience when the transition from black and white to colour was made. This change introduced not only a new and exciting visual vocabulary to the series but brought us much closer to the Brigadier, and developed upon the military organisation UNIT. His increased involvement as a supporting character boosted the show’s popularity. Viewers could enjoy watching on their television screens a no-nonsense character that would shoot first and ask questions later. During a time when gritty cop shows were the norm, a man of action and fortitude like the Brigadier could appeal to a wider contemporary audience.
The Brigadier epitomised the tough military authority figure with professional astuteness. Stalwart in his approach and fiercely patriotic. He was vehemently devoted to protecting Earth from extra-terrestrial and paranormal threats and proved unflappable in most hostile situations. His stiff upper lip attitude in the face of adversity was a characteristic unique to him, making him not only, to use the term ‘bad-ass,’ but simply awesome. He embodied what it was to be the audacious, TV action hero.
Often though, his approach to dealing with the enemy differed from his colleague’s, the Doctor. The Brigadier possessed a military mind that sometimes conflicted with the scientific rationality of the Doctor’s. Both locking horns over which tactic felt right or wrong. These disagreements though led to a mutual respect, as their friendship formed and matured from the experiences they had working together. The Doctor/Brigadier bromance is one of my personal highlights of the Barry Letts era (the golden age of Who for me) because we see them argue, debate and fall-out but ultimately, shine through those quarrels and become better friends and even people afterwards. The Earthbound period was the catalyst of a solid friendship that would resonate throughout the eras.
Our awareness of the classic series has been moulded by Nicholas Courtney’s unparalleled contribution. He was a true gentleman in both the role and real life. Adored by all for his charm and service to the show for more than two decades; he gave us a pleasurable and welcome performance, one that shall never be forgotten and one that we’ll always look back on when we think of the Brigadier.
Although Courtney may no longer be with us in physical form, his memory and impact shall remain alive forever.
By Adam James Cuthbert
When I think about the pantheon of Doctor Who luminaries, there’s no name that springs to mind quite like the inimitable Nicholas Courtney. Doctor Who without Courtney is unthinkable: his formidable screen presence as Brigadier Lethbridge- Stewart integral towards the show’s popularity in the 1970s, being the first familiar face to a contemporary audience after the shift to colour television, bridging two distinct eras of the show. As Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, he portrayed the no- nonsense leader of the British contingent of UNIT with routine authority and charm: a man of an acerbic wit; dapper, and quintessentially cool. He was a man of action, yet not without sentiment, especially in the character’s later years (Battlefield). Courtney brought professionalism to the role that is estimable to this day.
Perhaps Courtney’s finest outing was portraying the Brigadier’s pernicious doppelganger from a fascist Britain in a parallel universe (Inferno). Whereas the Brigadier embodied nobility and conviviality, albeit of the military mind, the Brigade Leader was a conceited bully and coward, prepared to torture the Third Doctor indefatigably during his interrogation; later selfishly, and pathetically, motivated by his own survival as his world faced its apocalypse. Courtney’s performance is unforgettable.
I don’t think any fan would say his wasn’t a welcome presence. Courtney, I’m sure for many, has shaped their perceptions of Classic Who: testament not only to his impact as an actor, but as a genuinely lovely man.
By John Hussey
Nicholas Courtney was a great man and a legend within the Whoniverse for his role as the Doctor’s best friend Sir Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart.
The Brigadier first appeared alongside the Doctor in the 1968 story The Web of Fear where he aided the Time Lord against the Great Intelligence and its army of Abominable Snowmen in the London Underground. Back then of course, he was merely a colonel but after the events of the Yeti invasion he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier in order to lead the newly formed United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. He was reunited with the Doctor during the Cybermen’s invasion of Earth, and once again they managed to work together and defeat the alien threat. Upon the Doctor’s forced regeneration and exile, the Brigadier became a loyal ally and worked together to protect the Earth from all kinds of alien invasions and threats. These adventures together lasted for many years but upon his lifted exile and third regeneration, the Doctor eventually left his old friend behind to continue his adventures in time and space.
The Brigadier was later reunited with the Doctor in Mawdryn Undead where it was revealed he’d now retired from U.N.I.T. and become a Maths teacher. He was again reunited with the Doctor during the events of The Five Doctors after he was dragged into the Death Zone after the Second Doctor visited him before his U.N.I.T. reunion. The Brigadier had one last onscreen appearance with the Doctor during the events of Battlefield where he was called back into action to prevent Morgaine from claiming the powers of Excalibur. The
Brigadier’s last appearance was in The Sarah Jane Adventures where he helped Sarah Jane Smith and her gang fight against the Bane in Enemy of the Bane. It was then revealed in The Wedding of River Song that the Brigadier had passed away due to old age.
Courtney brought the character to life and created a unique companion/friend for the Doctor. Unlike most companions, he was a military man and so he didn’t always see eye to eye with the Doctor’s methods of saving the Earth. He much preferred the method of action rather than words of persuasion. None the less, the Brigadier was a good friend to the Doctor and although they bickered constantly throughout his exile, they still shared the same goal – save the Earth no matter what. The most famous argument was of course in Inferno were the Doctor called him a ‘pompous self-opinionated idiot’ in which the Brigadier afterwards managed to make the Doctor apologise due to the fact he required his help in retrieving the TARDIS Console after his escape attempt failed miserably.
It’s fair to say the Brigadier was more sceptical in the beginning but soon grew within his understandings of the universe, but there were times in which that sceptical nature would return, most notably when he first witnessed the effects of regeneration and of course when he first stepped inside of the TARDIS. The Brigadier was always very loyal to the Doctor, especially in his later years. He even knocked the Seventh Doctor out in order to take his place to stop the Destroyer, speaking his famous line, “Get off my world.”
It was a truly sad day to hear that the wonderful Nicholas Courtney had passed away, but I knew, I just knew his legacy as the Brigadier would live on in the memories of every single Whovian on the planet. He remains to be my favourite companion within Doctor Who, and has been since I was a kid. His relationship with the Doctor was truly unique and the way they worked together was just inventive. Appearing alongside all the different incarnations as an old military friend remains to be the best Doctor-companion storyline within the show’s history and I don’t think that will change. To prove this, even beyond his grave he encouraged the Doctor to do the right thing: stand and fight against his enemy. I truly believe that that is why the Doctor decided to fight against the Silence and his death, simply because the Brigadier would’ve told him to never give up and continue the fight. The extra joy of course is that his legacy will continue through his daughter Kate Stewart who was introduced in The Power of Three last year.
Nicholas Courtney, you did us all very proud and we will miss and remember you forever and always. Rest in Peace.