February 23rd, 2011


Nicholas Courtney, R.I.P.

British actor Nicholas Courtney has passed away at the age of 81.

Courtney had a long and successful acting career, though to me he will always be Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart of UNIT on Doctor Who (pictured above, no doubt remarking that something the Doctor just said is ridiculous, though of course it will turn out to be spot on). He was the only actor to appear with each of the Doctors during the classic series. He played Bret Vyon in "The Daleks' Master Plan" with William Hartnell, and the Brigadier with everyone else, though he only appeared with Colin Baker in an audio drama, not on screen. I had high hopes that he would reprise his role in the new Doctor Who, especially after the Brigadier was mentioned by name in the Tenth Doctor episode "The Sontaran Stratagem," but it never came to pass. I'm told he did appear as the Brigadier in an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, but I don't watch that. Kind of tempted to seek out that episode now, though.

My first introduction to the Brigadier was in the very first Tom Baker serial, "Robot," though I had no idea who he was or what was going on. I was young, maybe 9, and it was my first Doctor Who episode ever. The show had just reached America in syndication, but they were only airing Tom Baker's first four seasons on an endless loop. Anyway, in the first few seconds of the first episode of "Robot," my young self watched Jon Pertwee transform into Tom Baker while this mustached man in army fatigues moaned, "Here we go again." I was completely lost, but soon enough the plot swept me up and I forgot my confusion. Only much later did I learn about regeneration and Jon Pertwee and the Brigadier's relationship with the Doctor, first through the Target novelizations I hoarded from Waldenbooks, and then when local PBS stations finally began showing all the existing serials in order. As recurring characters went, he was always my favorite. A dear friend of the Doctor's, but also his foil, as an army man too often choosing bullets over brains, sometimes to tragic effect, as in "The Silurians," and sometimes to comic effect, as in "The Daemons," with his instantly classic line, "Jenkins. Chap with wings there. Five rounds rapid."

So long, Brigadier. You've earned some rest and relaxation. Though, as the Doctor so snarkily said, "Don't worry, Brigadier. People will be shooting at you soon."