I heard today that Nicholas Courtney recently passed away peacefully. He was 81. My condolences to his family and friends – in the larger community of Doctor Who fandom, he was greatly loved and respected, which is really the best thing any of us can leave behind.
While he had a long and varied acting career, the role he will most be associated with is Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart in Doctor Who. Courtney first stepped into the part in 1968 in The Web of Fear, and most recently in 2008 reprised the character in “Enemy of the Bane,” in an episode of spin off show The Sarah Jane Adventures. That’s forty years!
The Web of Fear and its sequel, The Invasion, both worked as a kind of audition for the UNIT concept, which was to be a central hub of the show in the 1970′s. As first Colonel and later Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Nicholas Courtney was the chap who had to deal with Yeti invading the underground, and then Cybermen taking over London. The Doctor was more of an annoyance than anything to him, though he became an ally pretty quickly, and performed what could have been a fairly uninteresting guest role with great charisma and warmth.
Like most people, I fell in love with the Brig during the Jon Pertwee Years. When Doctor Who was relaunched in 1970, in colour and with a new style and format, Pertwee’s Doctor was matched not only with a girl assistant, but with a family. UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) was based on the idea that, if the Earth gets invaded by aliens quite as often as Doctor Who tends to suggest, surely there should be some kind of military force set up to combat said threats. This organisation, Lethbridge Stewart himself and Sgt Benton had all been introduced during the Troughton Years, but became the centrepiece of the new look version of the show.