DOCTOR WHO: A Tribute To NICHOLAS COURTNEY

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On what would've been his 85th birthday, Christopher Morley fires five rounds rapid in tribute to Nicholas Courtney


Help yourself to another chocolate as we continue our December rounds! Behind the first door of our Doctor Who advent/December birthdays calendar ( bigger on the inside, of course), we found Waris Hussein. Now then, lets see who's behind door number two- its Nicholas Courtney, the fine chap who played Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart ( as he was when he first met the Doctor, then in his Second incarnation, during The Web Of Fear). Evidently he'd done enough to earn a promotion by the time of his next encounter in The Invasion...



By the time the Doctor's come round from his enforced regeneration into his Third incarnation, the Brig has his feet firmly under the desk as head of the British wing of UNIT........



Courtney was born on December 16, 1929 in Cairo to a diplomat father- & in a case of life imitating art in a sense, went on to do eighteen months of National Service during which he rose to the rank of Private before deciding he didn't fancy a full-time military career. He moved to London in 1961 to pursue acting work after two years of study at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art having already appeared in the 1957 series Escape, with cameos in The Avengers ( 1962 &'67) & Randall & Hopkirk ( Deceased) in 1969 (appearing in an episode which also included Brian Blessed) probably his best known pre/post-Doctor Who work during his heyday.



Director Douglas Camfield originally had Nicholas in mind for the role of Richard the Lionheart in The Crusade, which eventually went to Julian Glover. He kept the man who would be the Brig in mind for future projects though, & eventually handed him the role of Bret Vyon in The Daleks' Master Plan.


Following a first change of face/personality for the Doctor, Camfield cast Courtney again in The Web Of Fear- originally as Captain Knight, before David Langton ( perhaps best known for portraying Richard Bellamy in Upstairs Downstairs), who had originally been given the role of Lethbridge-Stewart, pulled out. And the resulting recast would subsequently go down in Doctor Who lore!

As the Brigadier, Courtney appeared as a near-regular in 101 episodes in a five year stretch from 1970-75 & would return in 1983's Mawdryn Undead alongside Fifth Doctor Peter Davison, the third episode of Season 20.




That same season would close with another cameo by the Brig in the anniversary special The Five Doctors, in which he serves as a companion to the little chap with the recorder he first met in the aforementioned Web Of Fear. They've seen some times together, something of an understatement! His final appearance in Classic Who arrives in 1989's Battlefield, in which he locks horns with the Destroyer summoned by Morgaine, who was played by Jean Marsh - she had earlier been Sara Kingdom, the sister to Courtney's Brent Vyon in The Daleks' Master Plan! Wibbly wobbly timey-wimey & no mistake.



He'd also get the chance to reunite with Elisabeth Sladen, who'd of course been invaluable to the Third & Fourth Doctors as Sarah-Jane Smith when Russell T Davies developed The Sarah-Jane Adventures- the Brig had by then quite rightly been awarded a knighthood & was on hand for Enemy Of The Bane.


He was also to have popped up at The Wedding Of Sarah-Jane Smith alongside the Tenth Doctor, which never came to pass as he was advised to take a rest following a stroke, though Ten would renew acquaintances with Lethbridge-Stewart in the comic story The Warkeeper's Crown.



Sadly Nicholas died at the age of 81 on February 22, 2011 though the Brig's portrait was clearly visible during part of Death In Heaven, with his Cyber-self saving daughter Kate from the schemes of the Mary Poppins-like Mistress, who he'd previously known as a bearded man - the two had reluctantly worked together, sort of, in The Claws Of Axos-
BRIGADIER: What are you doing here? What are you after?
MASTER: That police box.
BRIGADIER: You wanted to steal the TARDIS? Why?
MASTER: Well, my own Tardis is held by Axos and I needed a space vehicle to get away from this planet before it's too late.
BRIGADIER: Why bring it here?
MASTER: Well, I knew the Doctor would soon return to his TARDIS and I very much wanted to meet him just once more. Where is he, by the way?
BRIGADIER: The Doctor and Miss Grant have disappeared.
HARDIMAN: Brigadier, the power build up has spread to the whole complex. The reactors could go critical at any moment. The whole place could go up.
MASTER: I'm afraid that your reactors have been taken over by the Axons.
BRIGADIER: You know these creatures. Is there anything we can do? Anything at all?
MASTER: Nothing, but there may be something that I can do.
BRIGADIER: What?
MASTER: If, and only if you guarantee my freedom, Brigadier.
BRIGADIER: Out of the question.
MASTER: Oh well, in that case...........
Of course, the bargain works & the Master has a plan:
"I'd like you to give me a link from the Tardis to the accelerator so that I can get straight through to the main reactor. Now what I propose to do is this. Stack up as much power as the TARDIS will take, then channel it back through the accelerator and boost it, so that instead of the gradual power build-up that Axos expects, it'll get the whole lot in one devastating surge. ''. Its either that or ''I suppose you can take the normal precautions against nuclear blast, like, er, sticky tape on the windows and that sort of thing."

Perhaps old Nick was still pining for those days when he said of New-Who in a 2008 interview that...
"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."
And he had a theory as to why, too: "I think people’s attention span is more limited than it used to be." But he left quite a legacy..........he was "a childhood hero and the sweetest of gentlemen" to Mark Gatiss, who had paid tribute to his UNIT era alongside the Third Doctor in his novel Last Of The Gaderene ( reprinted as the third entry of eleven in a series of 50th anniversary reprints).

A fitting last post for the old soldier.........

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