Death Comes For The Brigadier

A sad day for Dr. Who fans everywhere.  Nicholas Courtney, who brilliantly portrayed the Brigadier in over 100 Dr. Who episodes, has died at age 81 of cancer:

Nicholas Courtney (born William Nicholas Stone Courtney on 16th December 1929) played first Colonel and then Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, beginning in “The Web of Fear” and finally in “Battlefield”. He reprised the role for the fan video “Downtime” (later adapted into one of the Virgin Missing Adventures), and for several audio dramas for the BBC and Big Finish Productions.

He was born in Cairo, Egypt, the son of a British diplomat and educated in France, Kenya and Egypt. He served his National Service in the British Army, leaving after 18 months as a private, not wanting to pursue a military career. He next joined the Webber Douglas drama school, and after two years began doing repertory theatre in Northampton, and from there moved to London.

His first appearance in Doctor Who was in the 1965 serial The Daleks’ Master Plan, where he played Space Security Agent Bret Vyon opposite William Hartnell as the Doctor. The director Douglas Camfield liked Courtney’s performance, and when Camfield was assigned the 1968 serial The Web of Fear, he cast Courtney as Captain Knight. However, David Langton, who was to play the character of Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, gave up the role to work elsewhere, so Camfield recast Captain Knight and gave the Colonel’s part to Courtney instead.

Lethbridge-Stewart reappeared later that year in The Invasion, promoted to Brigadier and in charge of the British contingent of UNIT, an organization that protected the Earth from alien invasion. It was in that recurring role that he became most famous, appearing semi-regularly from 1970 to 1975. Courtney made return appearances in the series in 1983 and his last Doctor Who television appearance was in 1989 (in the serial Battlefield).

During the seventies I was a faithful viewer of Dr. Who episodes in reruns on PBS.  Courtney managed the feat of making the Brigadier simultaneously an irritating stuffed shirt, and a well beloved heroic figure.  It was a fine performance in what after all was a fairly low budget BBC science fiction show for kids and teenagers.  Courtney rose above the material he was given and made a two dimensional supporting character something more.  No actor can ask for higher praise.  May his soul rest in peace.

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  1. DC,

    When I was a kid I lived in England and we only had three TV channels. Dr. Who was one of the best things on and since I lived there in the late 70s, I thought Tom Baker was the only Doctor. I even had a Dr. Who-like scarf that I wore on cold wet days, which on that little island is quite often.

    I can’t remember the last time I discussed Dr. Who with anyone because I am trying to hide my inner geek.

    Mr. McClarey, thanks for the memories.

    Since the geek is out. When I watch NCIS, I don’t recall Ducky from The Man From UNCLE, I remember him as Steel, from Sapphire and Steel. If any of you know about that series then you must be ultra geeks.

  2. May God rest his soul.
    Tom Baker Doctor Who episodes are an enduring favorite for easygoing after-midnight entertainment. Nostalgic (for seventies kid), and most enjoyable.

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