Nicholas Courtney (William Nicholas Stone Courtney), best known to scif-fi fans as DOCTOR WHO’s Brigadier General Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, passed away Febuary 22nd. He was 81.
Nicholas Courtney appeared in many UK televsion programs and stage productions, including THE AVENGERS, THE SAINT, and THE CHAMPIONS.
However, DOCTOR WHO was the series that gave him the most exposure. He appeared in over 100 episodes as guest star and series regular. He appeared with all six original series Doctors, five of them as the same character.
He began as future Earth secret agent Bret Vyon, with first doctor William Hartnell. With second Doctor Patrick Troughton, he took over at the last moment the role of British Col. Lethbridge-Stewart for the 1968 serial The Web of Fear.
When next seen he had been assigned to UNIT (United Nations Intellegence Task Force), and promoted to Brigader General.
When it was decided to “ground” the third Doctor (John Pertwee), Nicholas Courtney’s Brigader was made the head of UNIT’s UK branch, and he offered the Time Lord the position of their ‘Scientific Advisor’. This gave the Doctor access to resources and a semi-offical standing that aided him in his adventures.
Originally seeming rather stiff and “by-the-book”, eventually the writers and Courtney invested “the Brig” with a quiet and dry sense of humor. He and the Doctor were often at loggerheads, Lethridge-Stewart taking an aggressive military approach to situations the Doctor preferred to deal with using science and reason. They traded barbs and sometimes disagreed bitterly, yet there remained a sense that they respected and liked each other, deep down.
It was the unflappable, matter-of-fact way of confronting the bizarre menaces he faced that made the Brig such an audience favorite. Encountering a stone medieval gargoyle come to life in 1971’s The Daemons, Nicholas Courtney made the somewhat ludicrous line “Jenkins; chap with the wings, there. Five rounds rapid” seem utterly reasonable and very much in character.
After Tom Baker became the fourth Doctor, Nicholas Courtney was no longer a regular, but would continue to guest star when the Doctor returned to contemporary Earth (although it was sometimes implied that the UNIT adventures took place around ten years in the future from the time they were made).
With fifth Doctor Peter Davison, Courtney played Lethbridge-Stewart in Mawdryn Undead and The Five Doctors. Though he did not appear with sixth Doctor Colin Baker on the actual series, they did work together as the characters in the charity 3-D special Dimensions In Time. (Not broadcast in the U.S.)
Nicholas Courtney appeared with seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy in 1989’s Battlefield, and would later reprise his role in various audio productions for the BBC and licensed Big Finish DOCTOR WHO audio dramas.
Courtney became a fan favorite, attending a number of conventions and charming audiences once again.
Though he did not appear on the revived DOCTOR WHO, the character was mentioned several times, and Courtney did guest star as Sir Alistair Lethbrige-Stewart with former companion Sarah Jane Smith (Liz Sladen) on the spin-0ff THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES in the 2008 two-parter Enemy of the Bane.
Five Rounds Rapid became the title of his autobiography.
Having visited Nicholas Courtney just days before he died, Tom Baker wrote on his Website:
“Of all the characters in Doctor Who there is no doubt that he was the most loved by the fans for his wonderful portrayal of the rather pompous Brigadier. “Five rounds rapid” was the line we all loved, always addressed to Sergeant Benton.
Nick’s close friends simply adored him. There was a certain innocence in his personality that was utterly endearing. He was very easy to tease, and I did my share, which made him shake his head in disbelief when he realised he had been had.
He was a wonderful companion and his friends would call each other or e-mail to relate the latest little stories of a night out with the Brig. He had a marvellous resonant voice which he used brilliantly when it was his turn to spin a yarn. And his background was fascinating too: born in Alexandria, Egypt, he was brought up speaking French and Arabic. Later he perfected English and after a few drinks he would speak in Latin tags to great comic effect.
We shall miss him terribly.”