Ask any science fiction fan who their favourite Doctor is, and you pretty much narrow down their age. Your Doctor is the actor who played the enigmatic time traveller when you were about seven years old. For me, it’s Tom Baker. For the tenth doctor, David Tennant, it’s Peter Davison. But no matter who your Doctor is, there is only one Brig.
Brigadier Sir Alastair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart, founding member of UNIT, first appeared in the long-running BBC serial in 1968, during the reign of the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton.
At the time, he was still a lowly colonel, commanding a British army detachment sent to check out reported sightings of the Yeti in the London Underground. By his second appearance, he was promoted to Brigadier, and in charge of UNIT.
Lethbridge-Stewart — and Nicholas Courtney, the actor who played him — holds a special place in the hearts of Doctor Who fans. The Doctor had sonic screwdrivers and centuries of knowledge to help him in his fight against the alien menace of the week, but the Brig faced every threat armed with nothing more than a pistol that usually proved ineffective against off-world armour and a dry sense of humour.
His deadpan order in The Daemons, “Benton, chap with wings, five rounds, rapid fire”, is typical of his ability to treat the amazing as mundane military business.
And on meeting a regenerated doctor in The Three Doctors, he summed up the encounter with the words “Wonderful chap, both of him”.
The Three Doctors also marked his inauguration to bona fide companion when he travelled in the Tardis for the first time.
The Brig’s pluckiness is probably best displayed in this exchange, from Battlefield:
Destroyer: Ah… little man. What do you want of me?
Brigadier: Get off my world!
Destroyer: Pitiful. Can this world do no better than you as their champion?
Brigadier: Probably. I just do the best I can.
The Brig held his own alongside the Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Doctors (Patrick Troughton, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, and Colin Baker respectively) and although ill-health meant Courtney never made an appearance in the revived series, he did feature in a spin-off Sarah Jane Adventures story.
The son of a British diplomat, Nicholas Courtney was born in Cairo, Egypt, and grew up in France, Kenya and Egypt. In real life, the Brig was never more than a private, having done 18 months national service. He passed away yesterday, Tuesday 22 February in London. He is survived by his second wife Karen and children Philip and Bella.