One of my favourite companions in Doctor Who is Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart aka The Brigadier or just The Brig, played by Nicolas Courtney. He first appears in the 1968 season 5 serial The Web of Fear next to the second Doctor Patrick Troughton, and whether you class him as a companion or not he has met more Doctors than any other, appearing alongside every subsequent Doctor from the ’classic series’ (except Colin Baker the sixth Doctor).
By his next appearance in The Invasion (Season 6 1968), he had been promoted to Brigadier and is working with UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce retitled UNified Intelligence Taskforce for the ‘new series‘), an international organisation that defends Earth from alien threats. It was Lethbridge-Stewart that gave the Third Doctor the position of UNIT’s scientific advisor when he was exiled to Earth. A position that has been taken up by subsequent Doctors.
I like the Brig because he is one of the most interesting and complex characters in Doctor Who, with some great one liners, often giving as good as he gets. On the face of it the Doctor and the Brigadier seem to be complete opposites, the Doctor is a rebel, a runaway and anti-establishment, the Brig the classic stiff-upper-lipped British Officer, a career soldier and that is what makes the Brigadier’s relationship with the Doctor so interesting. They are two opposites that over time earn the respect of the other.
In one of my favourite stories, there is a fantastic twist. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart becomes Brigade Leader in the fascist world of Inferno. Loyal to the leader who governs this alternate version of Britain, the ruthless Brigade Leader was the antithesis of the Brigadier. And as if trying to prove his anti-Brigadier status the Brigade Leader was shot and killed by his own second in command Section Leader Elizabeth Shaw, while forcing the 3rd Doctor to help him in a cowardly attempt to escape his doomed Earth at gunpoint.
The character was treated so badly in seasons 10 & 11. In the finale to season 11 and the 3rd Doctor, Planet of the Spiders, the astute professional soldier has degenerated into playing Watson to the Doctors Holmes, and not the good Jeremy Brett Watson but the buffoon Rathbone Watson. The no-nonsense Brig waits around to be told what to do by the Doctor, his casual manner, near shoulder-length hair, would be unacceptable in any professional army. He is incapable of understanding even basic scientific concepts and in the scenes where he suggests that a belly-dancer’s movements could be adapted as exercises for his men or the revelation of a ‘dirty weekend’ spent in Brighton, you feel embarrassed for the character he looses all authority. It is unfortunate that the writers decided to play with such a well loved character, luckily in later seasons we see the old Brigadier restored to us.
And lets not forget it’s now Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart
List of appearances
11 seasons, 22 stories of Doctor Who
2 anniversary specials, The Five Doctors & Dimensions in Time (a charity special crossover between Doctor Who and EastEnders soap opera)
16 audio dramas
2 video spin offs
1 episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures
And several comics and short stories
As the Brig would say ‘Five Rounds Rapid!’