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R.I.P. Nicholas Courtney, Doctor Who's The Brigadier

Illustration for article titled R.I.P. Nicholas Courtney, Doctor Who's The Brigadier

Nicholas Courtney, whose role as the Brigadier served as the trusty companion to—and connective tissue between—many generations of Doctor Who, has died after a long battle with cancer. He was 81.


Courtney first appeared on Doctor Who in 1965 as Space Agent Bret Vyon, but stepped into what would become his most consistent role as Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart in 1968. It was arguably the show’s most consistent role as well: Although Doctor Who has seen many different Time Lords throughout the years, there was only one Brigadier, and Courtney appeared alongside five of them in a history with the show that spanned more than 100 episodes and two decades. Courtney’s most significant run came during the Jon Pertwee era, when the Brigadier was introduced as the commander of U.N.I.T., the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, charged with protecting the Earth from otherworldly threats.

Often paired with the Doctor against forces humanity couldn’t comprehend, the Brigadier nevertheless met them all with a dry wit as unflappable as his impeccably groomed mustache. (Io9 has a lovingly thorough breakdown of the Brigadier’s importance to the Doctor Who storyline.) Though the Brigadier became less of an omnipresent figure after the Third Doctor era, he turned up alongside each successive Doctor (with the exception of the Sixth) over the years, and even met the First Doctor during The Five Doctors reunion special. Courtney also reprised the role many times over in various Doctor Who audio plays, and even met up with David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor on a series of audiobooks, albeit playing a different character. His last appearance as The Brigadier came in 2008 on the Doctor Who spinoff The Sarah Jane Adventures.

In addition to his extensive Doctor Who work, Courtney also had parts on various other British programs like All Creatures Great And Small and Yes Prime Minister, while also playing The Narrator in a 1985 production of The Rocky Horror Show. He continued to serve as honorary president of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society from 1997 until his death.