Sunday 22 February 2015

Remembering Nicholas Courtney..

Today marks four years since we lost Nicholas Courtney, better known to Doctor Who fans as Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart. Most fans already know that Courtney made his Doctor Who debut in The Dalek Masterplan, alongside William Hartnell, as Bret Vyon. His first appearance as Lethbridge-Stewart came in 1968 in the recently discovered "Web of Fear", although sadly, his debut is in episode three, which remains lost or unreleased, depending on your "omnirumour" stance.

Courtney appeared alongside every "classic era" Doctor, either on screen, or later, courtesy of the Big Finish audio range. Whilst appearing in archive footage in the "New Who" the character was never reprised beyond McGann. He did, however, resprise the role in the Sarah Jane Adventures story "Invasion of the Bane", and a meeting with the Tenth Doctor was planned in the SJA story "The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith", although sadly due a stroke suffered by Courtney, this encounter never took place.

It was, of course, during The Pertwee era that The Brigadier really came to prominence. His partnering with Jon Pertwee was, quite simply, perfection. A perfection enhanced beautifully by characters such as Sgt. Benton, Liz Shaw, Jo Grant and of course The Master. This was the definitive UNIT era and its legacy still resonates throughout Doctor Who to this day. It is well known among my Twitter followers that the Pertwee years are my favourite. Nicholas Courtney and the irrepressible character he created and sculpted play a large part in my love of that era.

In an  interview from 2008, Nick Courtney expressed his displeasure at the pacing of the revived series, claiming: "It’s all a bit rushed sometimes. It’s a heck of a lot to get in in three quarters of an hour, the whole story. In the old days, it used to be half an hour every Saturday for four Saturdays, or six Saturdays, so it does all seem to be a bit of a rush. In fact, it leaves me rather gasping for breath sometimes." Courtney also remarked "I think people’s attention span is more limited than it used to be.". From a personal perspective, this is a view I share. Courtney's vision of Doctor Who was certainly, much like mine, very "old school".


On a personal level, I was fortunate enough to have met Mr Courtney at a 30th Anniversary gathering at Longleat. It is a memory I shall treasure forever. He was the epitome of a British gentleman. Extraordinary charming, erudite and a consummate professional, he took the time to chat and to sign several autographs for me. Perhaps it is, in part, this meeting that has cemented him further into my consciousness and enhanced my love of the UNIT years. He was, quite simply, an exceptionally lovely man. There was no arrogance, no braggadocio or ego to Courtney. Simply a kind, embracing, warm gentleness that is often lacking in some actors of his stature. 

I have mentioned the Big Finish stories many times, and need to do so again. I make no apology for doing so. On screen, The Brigadier never encountered the Sixth Doctor, who, as I am sure you are by now aware, I hold in high regard. I was overjoyed when "The Spectre of Lanyon Moor" rectified this. Once again, I was able to spend time with the Brigadier, and a "gap" in Who history had been closed.

I, along with every Doctor Who fan, mourned his passing four years ago, at the age of 81. He had, of course, an extensive resume beyond Doctor Who, but for me, he will always be Brigadier Sir Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. Friend and honorary companion of the Doctor, a soldier, loyal to his country and to his friends, bombastic and authoritative, but always with a twinkle in his eye. That twinkle, I believe, belonged not only to Lethbridge-Stewart, but to Courtney himself. A true gentleman, a fine actor and an unparalleled part of Who history. 

Mr Courtney, for your contribution we thank you, more than words can possibly say. You brought joy into the hearts of millions. Brigadier, we salute you, we miss you, and we love you. You are forever with us. I'd say that's a pretty damn good legacy to leave behind.

Nicholas Courtney
16th December 1929 - 22nd February 2011


DASP said...

Well said.

Often overlooked is the fact that Nicholas Courtney played the Brigadier in on screen productions featuring the First Doctor (The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors). He also appeared on screen as the Brigadier alongside the Sixth Doctor in Dimensions in Time special He also appeared as the Brigadier with the Eighth Doctor in the Big Finish audio Minuet in Hell. That means he appeared on screen in the role of the Brigadier with the first seven Doctors, and in recorded productions with the first eight Doctors.

MetalOllie said...

Thanks Dasp! It's quite a remarkable legacy when all is said and done and a testament to how well people took to his character. I'd forgotten about Dimensions In Time, which wasn't half as bad as people claim. It's hardly a masterpiece, but it is fun. Again, good old Big Finish come into play, uniting him with the Eighth Doctor in Minuet. He was also in Zagreus, in two roles if memory serves me correctly, though its some considerable time since I've listened to that one.

Also worth noting his audio adventures with Pertwee. I often wonder if Big Finish took some inspiration from Paradise of Death and Ghosts of N Space, two stories I enjoy immensely.

He was certainly one of the most enduring, memorable characters Doctor Who has ever produced. A firm favourite for me, and doubtless many, many people.