Who’d have thought that the character of the Brigadier, played by Nicholas Courtney, would become a mainstay in the Doctor’s life when he was introduced way back in Patrick Troughton’s era in battles with the Yeti and the Cybermen?
When the programme was facing cancellation back in 1970, the decision was made that the Doctor would be exiled to Earth and team up with UNIT, the United Nations Taskforce, to protect the planet from alien threats.
In the beginning the Brigadier was UNIT; he was the face that would be the Doctor’s comfort blanket. The typical soldier, the Brigadier would be the butt of the Doctor’s wrath and put downs and in following episodes their relationship was sorely tested as their approaches to dealing with any threat to humanity differed completely. As seen in the Silurians, the Doctor was still fighting for a peaceful solution with the reptilian species, the original inhabitants of Earth, despite the fact they had released a virus that almost wiped out mankind. But the Brigadier responded by blowing up the Silurian caves killing them. It was the right approach but one that jarred with the Doctor. This third incarnation, played by Jon Pertwee, was a man of action but a great politician, always seeking the peaceful solution whether it be the throne rooms of Peladon or the antimatter universe of Omega, total destruction for him was the last resort.
And as much as the Brigadier dealt with the Doctor and his shenanigans, he trusted him completely even though he despaired of the Doctor’s snub of all things political and military.
When the Master appears to repeatedly torture them with a variety of alien cohorts, the Brigadier isn’t fazed at all by this alien nemesis and his plans which in turn inspired his men to follow him regardless. In many ways the Doctor and the Brig were the ultimate odd couple, bickering and arguing, with the Doctor constantly winding him up only to do exactly what the soldier asked him to do.
Neither was the Brig impressed by the Doctor and his Tardis, indeed he never even travelled in it until the Three Doctors where he believed Omega’s antimatter universe was in fact the beach at Cromber.
But as times changed with the Doctor getting his ability to time travel again, UNIT began to be phased out. Many elements were playing into this; the real life death of Roger Delgado who played the Master, Jon Pertwee’s desire to move on as well as Katy Manning’s, who played Jo Grant, recent departure. But right to the end, UNIT gave real action packed scenes and a true sense of realism. In stories such as the Daemons and Terror of the Autons, viewers saw the ensemble shine with the Brigadier at the heart of everything in the battle against evil.
And with the arrival of Tom Baker’s fourth Doctor, the series returned to its travelling roots and the Brigadier’s relationship with this Doctor was as it ever was. He asked him to do something and the Time Lord would moan about it before actually doing it. The Brigadier’s last appearance was in the classic Terror of the Zygons although UNIT would pop up in a couple more episodes. He would not be seen until the twentieth anniversary story Mawdryn Undead where it was revealed the Brigadier had retired and was a maths teacher, having suffered a nervous breakdown. As always this was connected to the Doctor and a spaceship that was travelling between two time zones. Nicholas Courteney gives the performance of his life as two Brigadiers and ends up in another trip in the Tardis. Whether it was because of this adventure where he realized he wasn’t crazy after all, the Brigadier teamed up with the second Doctor in the Five Doctors and seemed to be returning to military life. He was in full action man swing in Battlefield alongside the seventh Doctor and met the sixth Doctor in the Children in Need skit, Dimensions in Time. And although he only met the first Doctor in the two anniversary stories, Nicholas worked with the first Doctor in the Dalek Masterplan as Brett Vyon, brother of future companion Sara Kingdom. And of course the Brigadier entered the world of audio adventures of Big Finish where he also kept his record intact by battling alongside the eighth Doctor.
However, despite the comic strip meeting, the Brigadier was not asked back for the new era, something that Nicholas wasn’t happy about. And I have to agree. The Sontaran Stratagem was an all-out UNIT story which didn’t feel right without the Brig. His absence was explained by having him tied up in Peru. But in the Matt Smith adventure The Wedding of River Song, it is revealed that the Doctor frequently visits the Brigadier for a night out on the tiles but this time as the Doctor’s own death is approaching, he learns the Brigadier has died, mirroring the real life passing of Nicholas. Although it is a touching moment, it doesn’t justify the character’s absence. Although he was resurrected for one last bash against the Sontarans and the Bane in the Sarah Jane Adventures, it only served to reinforce the fact he should have met the ninth, tenth and eleventh Doctors. But since this is now something we can’t change we can only watch old episodes and regale each other with memories of Nicholas’ numerous convention appearances. I met him twice and was shocked to discover he had a bald patch like a Pope’s cap and he smoked cigars but he was so generous with his time and smiled and chatted to everyone; something that can’t be said about some actors. Everyone speaks highly of him, his love of people, his grace, dignity and generosity are as legend as the character he played.
It’s bittersweet that the Brigadier will never appear in new Doctor Who but with technology today, maybe a story like Trials and Tribbleations may come to pass, allowing the current crew to interact in old stories. In this game you never know.