Nicholas Courtney, most popular for playing Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, one of the founders of UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce), in the famed Sci-fi show Doctor Who, died Tuesday the twenty-second of February at the age of eighty-one.
Courtney was a long standing favorite of the series and the second longest running character next to the Doctor. His first appearance was in a First Doctor story called The Daleks’ Master Plan in 1965 as Space Security Agent Bret Vyon. He didn’t appear again until 1968 when he played, for the first time, Brigadier Alistair Stewart (although he was only a Colonel at the time) in The Web of Fear along side the Second Doctor. He would meet the Second Doctor one more time in the story The Invasion (also in 1968) before becoming a regular in 1970 in the Third Doctor’s first story Spearhead from Space. This era of Doctor Who saw the Doctor working more closely with UNIT as he had been exiled to Earth (without the use of his TARDIS) in the final Second Doctor story.
The Brig would continue to be a series regular until the first Fourth Doctor story Robot in 1975. After which the Doctor would run into the Brigadier from time to time throughout the years. In the end the Brigadier had adventures with six Doctors (including the First Doctor as played by Richard Hurndal, as original actor William Hartnell had passed away by this point, in The Five Doctors).
Courtney sadly never turned up in Doctor Who after it’s relaunch in 2005 but his character was mentioned from time to time during the show and UNIT continues to make appearances as well. Sir Alistair did, however, appear in a story of the spin-off show The Sarah Jane Adventures called Enemy of the Bane in 2008, almost twenty years after his last appearance, it would be his last time playing the role on television before he died. Although he did appear in audio for the Big Finish audio story The Three Companions in 2009.
Moving away from all these facts about his history with the show, how does this effect me personally? Well, I must admit to not being terribly familiar with the actor and not having seen too much of the Brig himself but I was saddened by the news as I’ve always been interested in the character and had hoped to see him at least one time in New Who. That can never be now and I feel a big loss has just occured, not just because of the fact that he can never appear in the show again but because of other reasons as well.
For me the Brigadier represents the history of the show and it’s long standing throughout these many decades. He’s as big an icon of the show for me as the TARDIS is. Will the show still go on without Courtney? Of course it will. But a part of the show will forever be lost.
How will the show deal with the passing of Courtney? I do not know. They may do something as simple as an “in memory of” dedication at the end of the first episode of the coming series (season) or they may make a bigger acknowledgement to him sometime down the road in the new series (maybe with a bit of dialogue referencing the event) or in a coming series or in the fiftieth anniversary (or a combination of some of those). I myself wouldn’t mind seeing the Doctor attending the Brigadier’s funeral in a future episode, whether it be for the whole episode or just for part of it it would still be really nice to see the Doctor paying tribute to someone who appeared in his life so often.
All I can say is that however the showrunners choose to do it, I hope that the character and actor both get the proper send off they deserve.
Rest in Peace Nicholas Courtney (1929-2011)