Doctor Who: RIP Nicholas Courtney – Gentleman

It is with great sorrow and sadness that we report that Nicholas Courtney has passed away at 81. Courtney created one of the most iconic figures in Doctor Who history, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart.

Ironically the actor who would be loved and adored for playing a military man only completed 18 months of National Service duty before abandoning a career in the military.

Courtney was born in Egypt in 1929. Since his father was a British diplomat, he was educated in various locales before returning to England, where he enrolled in the esteemed Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art and eventually moved to London to become a working actor.

His big break happened in 1957 when he appeared in the teledrama, Escape. Eventually he landed guest star roles in The Saint, The Champions and two appearances in The Avengers. He also appeared in Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) with Roger Delgado whom he would work with again in Doctor Who.

In 1965 his luck changed forever when he appeared in the epic Doctor Who serial The Dalek Masterplan as Bret Vyon, a dashing and heroic space security agent. Courtney’s next appearance in the show would be the beginning of a wonderful ride. After taking on the same agent as William Hartnell more roles came his way. However Doctor Who was about to make another house call.

He starred as Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart in the Patrick Troughton story, The Web of Fear. The Invasion saw Courtney return as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. His appearances impressed the Doctor Who team so much that he was brought back as a series regular when Jon Pertwee took over as the third Doctor. He would stay as a series semi-regular through the early Tom Baker run as The Doctor. In 1975 he appeared with Baker one last time in Terror Of the Zygons. Courtney would not be seen again in Doctor Who until 1983.

That year saw The Brigadier return in two Fifth Doctor stories, Mawdryn Undead, and again in The Five Doctors where he was reunited with many of his cast mates from the 1960s and 1970s. His scenes with Patrick Troughton were particularly memorable. His last onscreen Doctor Who appearance was in 1989’s Battlefield with Sylvester McCoy as the seventh Doctor.

Nick Courtney recorded 107 episodes of Doctor Who and also appeared alongside Colin Baker, Paul McGann and David Tennant (in a non-Doctor role) in Big Finish audios. In 2008 The Brigadier was at it again for a final time, reunited with Sarah Jane Smith in The Sarah Jane Adventures two-parter, The Enemy of the Bane.

Courtney also appeared in episodes of All Creatures Great And Small, Yes, Prime Minister, Only Fools and Horses, The Two Ronnies, and Casualty. In 2008 he starred in his final film, Incendiary with Ewan MacGregor and Michelle Williams. He also was the author of two autobiographies: Five Rounds Rapid and Still Getting Away With It. Big Finish released his memoirs, A Soldier In Time, in 2002.

Nick Courtney was beloved by Doctor Who fans the world over for over four decades. Fans fell in love with The Brigadier.  His unflappable demeanor and stiff upper-lipped heroism played perfectly in postwar Britain.  His unwavering loyalty to the Doctor also made him relatable to a youth culture looking for something else in their soldiers. Lethbridge-Stewart also had a deadpan humor that really worked, especially when things looked grim. Despite his military bearing, The Brigadier had a vulnerability to him that provided the human ying to the Doctor’s alien yang

I met Mr. Courtney several times through the years. The first was at Paradox, a convention where he was a last minute fill-in for Jon Pertwee. He appeared with Pat Troughton that weekend and they both had a grand time talking about their work together and sharing stories. I was a teenager then but I was struck by how gentle and kind he was. He also had a wicked sense of humor.

I saw him at several more conventions in the 1990s and early 2000s. Each time he spoke about his tenure on Doctor Who with great relish. His personality was electrifying and contagious. He never failed to get laughs, and he often went the extra mile to sign autographs and visit with fans.

I saw him last at one of the Chicago TARDIS conventions with some of the other UNIT guest stars. I loved how they really seemed like a family. His colleagues had nothing but praise for him as a friend, mentor and occasional prankster.

I also was lucky enough to spend some time with him in a bar once. I remember how he loved the camaraderie of drinking, meeting people, and talking with them to really get to know them. He had great stories and was always full of life.

Of all The Brigadier stories, I think The Invasion, Inferno, The Slurians, The Daemons and The Five Doctors are amongst my favorites. Each of these episodes had some great defining moments for the character that really illustrates the range Courtney had as an actor.

I am very sad tonight. Mr. Courtney was not only a terrific part of a show I loved, he was also a character that somehow managed to transcend the walls of television. He was like a cool uncle or an awesome teacher. He was a storyteller, a wise cracker, and most of all, an old school gentleman. He is dearly missed.

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  1. avatarGwyn says

    I fell to bits when I read the news yesterday. Watched “Enemy of the Bane” (the “Sarah Jane Adventures” he was in and the only episode of anything I own with him in it) last night and cried again, watching him drive away after saying goodbye. I didn’t get the chance to meet him, but was really hoping someday I would. The Brig was a wonderful character and Nicholas a great man. I’ll miss him terribly. [salutes]