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Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart was the Doctor’s staunchest ally when the Earth was threatened by alien invaders. He was played by the irreplaceable Nicholas Courtney.
Nicholas Courtney off duty, during location filming for The Dæmons in April 1971.

In the long history of Doctor Who, the Third Doctor’s era is lent a peculiar fascination by its archetypal trio of male leads, all three of whom were played by actors who couldn’t possibly have been better cast.

The dandified dynamism of Jon Pertwee’s Doctor was balanced by a new character, the Master – a veritable Moriarty to the Doctor’s Holmes, and superbly played by the suavely evil Roger Delgado. Where there’s a Moriarty there must also be a faithful Watson, but the third point of the triangle actually went back a bit further than the Master. Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, lynchpin of UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) and the Doctor’s by-the-book new overseer, had first been encountered by Doctor Who fans as a colonel in the Scots Guards embroiled in a horrifying adventure in the London Underground in the 1968 serial The Web of Fear. Just over eight months later – now promoted to brigadier and transferred to UNIT – he was to be seen rejoining the Second Doctor for a momentous clash with Cybermen called The Invasion, which climaxed just before Christmas 1968. The 1970s began with the Third Doctor’s inaugural story, Spearhead from Space, and the Brigadier took his place as a vital component of a newly invigorated show.

Though created by Web of Fear writers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, the upright figure of Lethbridge-Stewart was actually crafted by director Douglas Camfield and the actor he cast in the role, Nicholas Courtney. Between them these two hit upon a real-life model for the future Brigadier – Lieutenant-Colonel Colin Campbell Mitchell, popularly known as ‘Mad Mitch’ and a household name at the time thanks to his crucial role in reoccupying the Crater district of Aden in July 1967. As Courtney put it, “He used to impress upon his men the principle that they should regard themselves as a band of brothers and not a flock of sheep – an idea I wholeheartedly applaud and one that still deserves a wider currency.” Mitchell, he added, was “the sort of officer who would always lead his men from the front. The Brigadier, therefore, would never ask his men to do anything he wouldn’t do himself.”

Camfield and Courtney both had military experience of their own, but at rather different levels. Whereas Camfield had become a lieutenant and even flirted with the idea of joining the SAS, Courtney’s spot of National Service between 1948 and 1950 had seen him rise no higher than the rank of private. Consummate actor that he was, this proved no obstacle to Courtney; tall, trim and handsome, his Brigadier became the embodiment of old-fashioned, firm-but-fair military discipline to a generation. Just as important was the satirical twinkle that was regularly to be found in Lethbridge-Stewart’s eye. This, after all, was the unflappable warrior who, when faced with a dangerously animated church gargoyle in the 1971 story The Dæmons, could say simply, “Never mind, we’ll soon fix him. Jenkins: chap with the wings there. Five rounds rapid!”

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About Doctor Who Magazine

This essential guide celebrates Doctor Who’s most renowned invasion episodes. Interviewees include Anna Barry (Day of the Daleks), Ray Brooks (Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.), Johnny Byrne (Warriors of the Deep), Michael Ferguson (The Seeds of Death), Peter Harness (The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion), Douglas Mackinnon (Flatline), Victor Pemberton (Fury from the Deep), Toby Whithouse (The Vampires of Venice) and Jon Davey (Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel). Plus, there are rare images, a tribute to Nicholas Courtney, Terry Nation’s original storyline for The Dalek Invasion of Earth, details of Jon Pertwee's unmade story The Spare-Part People and much more!