Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Nicholas Courtney

"Chap with wings....five rounds, rapid..."

Sad news indeed from the world of 'Dr Who' today with the passing of one of the show's great legends. Actor Nicholas Courtney, an absolute 'Dr Who' icon for his role as the redoubtable Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, died today at the age of 81 after a short illness. If you're a fan of the series you don't need Stuff to remind you of his importance in the show's history; frankly he's right up there with the Doctors themselves (and way in front of one or two of them). For the first half of the 1970s the Brigadier was as important a part of the series as the Doctor when the series, broadcast in colour from 1970, relocated the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) to Earth and allied him with the United Nations Intelligence Task Force (now the Unified Intelligence Task force), its six-man army commanded by Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, a straight-laced military man in the old tradition, his stiff upper lip forever adorned by that false moustache courtesy of the BBC make-up department. The Brig, as he's affectionately known, first appeared in the series in 1968 during Patrick Troughton's time in the role. A swift reappearance in the classic 1968 Cybermen story 'The Invasion' sealed his popularity and when the show return in 1970 the Brig was an essential part of the mix, his starchy down-the-line military precision the perfect foil for Pertwee's twinkling iconoclasm. By 1973 the show was severing its tied to Earth as the Doctor forged out into space again and the Brig's appearances became more infrequent. By 1975 Tom Baker was in the title role and then-producer Philip Hinchcliffe was keen to move the show on from the stykle of the third Doctor and the Brig appeared for the last time as his fans had come to love him in 'Terror of the Zygons.' He reappeared in 1983, retired from the miltary and, for some reason, working as a teacher in a boy's school in 'Mawdryn Undead', returning later that same year in the anniversay story 'The Five Doctors'. His last appearance in the show came in the 1989 story 'Battlefield' with Sylvester McCoy, a story in which the character was originally intended to be killed off.

In reinventing 'Dr Who' for the 21st century Russell T Davies busily resurrected Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, the Master and even UNIT - but he never quite got round to slipping the Brig into one of his scripts. Fortunately the old warhorse, older and much less mobile, turned up in two episodes of 'The Sarah Jane Adventures' in 2008, helping his old friend battle her enemies The Bane. A further reappearance in 'The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith' the following year was thwarted by Courteney's growing ill-health.

Beyond 'Dr Who' Nick Courtney was one of those great British character actors, the sort of actor we just don't seem to breed any more. In a long and illustrious career Courtney appeared in TV shows such as 'No Hiding Place', 'Callan' and guested regularly (usually as extravagant villains) in the glossy ITC adventure series of the time - 'The Saint', 'Department S' and 'The Champions' among them. Even when his ties to 'Dr Who' were severed Nick continued to appear regularly on TV and in the theatre and at one point was the President of actor's union Equity, where he fought ferociously for actor's rights.

A huge supporter of 'Dr Who' Nick was also a regular on the convention circuit and the fan boards are already standing testament to his popularity at these events. Warm, friendly, always enthusiastic about the show, Nick Courtney was s one of the programme's proudest spokesmen, even in those dark days whe 'Dr Who' was off the air and its reputation was rather less than the sum of its parts.

So a light has gone out in the world of 'Dr Who'. But Nick Courtney's contribution to the legend of the show can never be underestimated and, through DVDs, audios and comic strips the indestructible Brig will live on in the minds and memories of the show's fans forever. Splendid chap...

Stuff is off to watch 'The Claws of Axos' now...

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