Author and Scriptwriter

'Among the most important writers of contemporary British horror.' -Ramsey Campbell

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

RIP Nicholas Courtney

The actor Nicholas Courtney, best known for playing the character of the Brigadier in Doctor Who, died yesterday at the age of 81.

The 'Brig'- or to give him his full name and title, Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart- appeared mostly in the Jon Pertwee era of the show, which was slightly before my time- but I grew up reading the novelisations of the series, and so he was a character I was always very much aware of as an integral part of the show. Tall, lean, dapper and clipped, with his neat moustache and no-nonsense manner, he was a perfect foil to the often eccentric Doctor- who of course hated violence and was loath to pick up a weapon of any kind even when necessary. And while the Doctor was often scathing about the shortcomings of the military mind, the Brigadier was one of the better examples of it- an ultimately honourable, chivalrous and decent man, quite prepared to put his life on the line for the world (but particularly, one suspects, for Britain) and always, first and foremost, a gentleman.

Courtney's first role in the series was alongside the First Doctor, William Hartnell, as Space Security agent Bret Vyon in The Dalek Master Plan, way back in 1965. The character of Colonel (later Brigadier) Lethbridge-Stewart was to first appear in The Web Of Fear, starring the Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton. Subsequently, the Brigadier would appear alongside all the 'classic' Doctors, with the exception of the Sixth, Colin Baker. He was almost killed off in the Sylvester McCoy adventure, Battlefield, but the producer, John Nathan-Turner, decided against it and the Brig got to retire to the country.

Ironically, Morgaine, the villainness in Battlefield- and presumably the most likely candidate for finishing the Brigadier off- was played by Jean Marsh, who had also appeared in The Dalek Master Plan as Bret Vyon's sister, Sara Kingdom. Vyon was executed by Sara, who thought he'd turned traitor. History nearly repeated itself there...

Lethbridge-Stewart was name-checked several times in the revived series, but his character never quite reappeared, although he did make a return appearance in the spin-off The Sarah-Jane Adventures, which starred Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah-Jane Smith, another popular character from the original series.

The Brigadier was a well-loved character, and it's quite touching to note that Courtney's name is trending heavily on the old interweb today, even with the New Zealand earthquake and the upheaval in Libya ongoing. It says a lot about the affection both Courtney and the character he was most famed for were held in. Many fans wrote in to pay tribute to the man, whose reputation seems to have been- like his character- that of a perfect gentleman, and of a truly nice guy.

It's understandable; I, for one, can't help but feel a genuine sense of loss.

One rather nice suggestion I've heard is that the BBC should rebroadcast one of the classic Who adventures featuring the Brigadier- The Daemons, anyone? Inferno?- as a tribute to the actor. If you think that's a good idea, you might want to visit the Beeb's website and inform them.

William Nicholas Stone Courtney, 16.12.1929-22.2.2011

Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart: Stand easy. Parade, fall out.

1 comment:

David A. Riley said...

Nicely put, Simon.

Although I'm not a massive Doctor Who fan - I've watched hardly any of the new Doctor's episodes - I was when Nicholas Courtney was in his heyday in it, back during the Pertwee years.