Doctor Who: The Brigadier's Top 10 Moments

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On what would've been Nicholas Courtney's 86th Birthday, Dominic Fellows fires five rounds rapid in salute to Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, CMG, CBE, DSO.


"Excuse me, haven’t we met somewhere before? No, don’t tell me; Hannibal? No? Alexander the Great? No? Ahh. Brigadier. Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, How are you!?"
I love the fourth Doctor’s first coherent words to the Brigadier. It’s one of those wonderful little and seemingly insignificant moments that Doctor Who does so well. There is something unquantifiable beautiful about the notion of The Doctor in one of his now trademark post-regenerative states about to shoot off and do his own thing, even the great Sarah Jane Smith seems powerless to stop him and then the sight of the Brigadier is enough to make him stop and think, just for a moment as he tries to remember the soldier in front of him and in the same thought process throws out names like Hannibal and Alexander.

Speaking of his role as James Bond, Daniel Craig said ‘he gets his hands dirty but keeps his soul clean’. This is an apt description of Lethbridge-Stewart, always doing the dirty work, but never being tarnished as a cold-blooded killer. And so in celebration of this character and the late, lamented Nicholas Courtney I have put together what I think are the Brig’s top ten moments. So reach for the nearest ‘Best of Bond’ CD, start playing ‘Nobody Does it Better’ (it’s usually track 3 or 11) and read on…


10. 'Brigadier now, I've gone up in the world' – The Invasion
And boy did he! It must have seemed so meaningless at the time, but is now an iconic moment when a one-shot character from a previous adventure became a major player in a long-running series. It’s symbolic of how the mundane can be extraordinary as what was clearly intended to be simple exposition only a year later would be iconic.


9. 'I want that base sealed permanently' – Doctor Who and the Silurians
The Doctor does not want a friend like the Brigadier but needs him. In the same way that in 'The Runaway Bride' Donna would comment 'You need someone to stop you' The Brigadier is (although it's never stated) someone to do the dirty work. His actions during the closing moments of 'Doctor Who and the Silurians' are reprehensible but it's still very hard to find fault with his reasons for doing it. The Doctor is rightly disgusted but let's consider the alternative; revive the Silurians and risk the same events re-curring? No. It's awful what the Brigadier did but it had to be done and The Doctor keeps his hands clean.


8. 'This is the Brigadier. Now get out of my solar system!' – Death Comes to Time
One of the most exciting things in TV (or webcast in this case) is when a much loved character/actor makes a completely unexpected return (How many of us punched the air when Giles turned up in the season six finale of Buffy?). Sadly ‘Death Comes to Time’ is not fondly remembered, but Nicholas Courtney’s cameo is a good one, the only other character in Doctor Who to have the same affect is The Doctor himself.


7. 'Do you think for once you could manage to arrive before the knick of time!' – The Mind of Evil
A gun going off which at the last minute is revealed not to be the villain’s but someone stepping in to save the heroes from the villain is a somewhat clichéd cliffhanger to be fair but once again it's how Pertwee and Courtney play the scene that gives it heart. The aforementioned cliché would usually be followed by an equally clichéd 'thank goodness you got here in the knick of time!' Pertwee instead opting for an exasperated rather than thankful re-action and Courtney subverting the expectation even further by reacting not with a typical eye-rolling 'I’m glad to see you too Doctor' but with a smile. It was little details like this that truly suggested the relationship between the characters.


6. ‘…the only nation that could be trusted with such a power was Great Britain.’
'Naturally, I mean the rest were all foreigners'
‘Exactly’ - Robot
A moment of comedy gold were the Brig gets to play on his (and our) ignorance. The moment is funny in itself but when Courtney gives a self-aware eye-brow twitch there's a wonderful 'Have I just said?' moment. But it works because the audience are right there with him. Moments like this were perhaps what perpetuated the idea that the Brig became a weaker character as time went on, I personally felt it was what humanised him and prevented him from simply being a 'blustering, gung-ho, military type'. Characters like that are ten a penny, it's only in Doctor Who were these types of character are allowed to be real.

 

5. ‘Pompous. Self-opinionated. Idiot. I believe you said Doctor’ – Inferno
For once, The Brig gets one over on The Doctor. In an age where it was more common than not for The Doctor and his allies to just ‘get along’ there’s a touch of realism here as they butt heads and argue, as real people do. Considering what The Doctor has been through in this story, often at the hands of the alternative, evil, Brigadier (an equally superb performance from Courtney) it seems natural that at the stories conclusion he should explode (metaphorically at least) over something as petty as being told the TARDIS console is problematic and off he goes ‘a few seconds forward in time and few kilometres east’ to a rubbish tip. Pertwee is the focus of this scene as he sheepishly asks for assistance recovering the TARDIS, but once again it’s the dryly pitch-perfect delivery from Courtney that really sells it.


4. ‘One of the best you said’
‘No Charley. The best.’ – Minuet in Hell
It says a lot about a character when one of his finest moments is one he isn’t even in. Dialogue such as this would ordinarily be cloyingly sentimental, however it works here because not only is the Brig not around to hear it and so doesn’t have to react with modest embarrassment but as it’s coming from the eighth Doctor, there’s a sense that he really has earned it. It works dramatically even though it’s a blatant nod to the audience.


3. ‘Wonderful chap. Both of him/all of them’ – The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors
No one knows The Doctor better than Alistair. All companions have their own Doctor. Even those present for a regeneration story and thus crossed over, are still more associated with one than the other. Sarah Jane is regarded as a Tom Baker Companion, Adric is a Peter Davison Companion and in time I daresay Clara will be thought of as Peter Capaldi companion. The Brigadier is the only companion who the association with Doctor goes long after he has departed. Although he never got to meet the modern era Doctors he is a presence to them. UNIT made their first return appearance only four episodes into the new series, The Brigadier himself would be mentioned in ‘The Sontaran Stratagem’ and makes his final on screen appearance in ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’. Beyond that he appeared in the Tenth Doctor Comic strip ‘The War Keeper’s Crown’. He finally departed off screen in ‘A Good Man Goes to War’, his legacy being continued by Kate Stewart. It’s this brief line of dialogue originally from ‘The Three Doctors’ and later re-used and adapted in ‘The Five Doctors’ that really goes to the root of that. He is ordinarily so clipped and proper, never being drawn into the Doctor’s eccentricities so when he is allowed to say something so grammatically incorrect and out of character, his deep affection for The Doctor (all of them) positively shines.


2. ‘Chap with the wings there, five rounds rapid’ – The Deamons
Need I say more?


1.’Can this world do no better than you as its champion?’
‘Probably. I just do the best I can!’ – Battlefield
Never has there been a single line of dialogue that summed up a character’s contribution to a show so succinctly. In this moment he is fierce, determined, single-minded, ruthless, heroic and… self-deprecating.
But that’s Lethbridge-Stewart. That’s who he is. Someone you can enjoy a pint with before popping out to save the world before teatime.

There is a scene from ‘Love Actually’ in which Pop star Billy Mack says to his long suffering manager (albeit in somewhat more colourful language);
‘You turned out to be the [flipping] love of my life’
You can imagine the Doctor and Brigadier sharing a similar sentiment.

Dominic Fellows is an actor and writer from Birmingham in the UK. He is also producer of the group Stripped Down Theatre (find them on Facebook). His shows have had more than one or two ‘geeky gags’ in them.

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