Every week we look at the characters from Doctor Who’s long history that you may have forgotten and tell you just why they mattered.
Sergeant Benton played by John Levene was very much the everyman of Doctor Who in as much as the companions served as the eyes and ears of the viewer.
John joined the series in the Patrick Troughton era by playing a Cyberman and a Yeti in the Invasion and Web of Fear respectively. The casting director saw him and cast him as Sergeant Benton – part of the newly formed UNIT, a new force created to combat alien incursions threatening Earth.
He was literally the awkward little brother of the UNIT family. He got on very well with Jo Grant and the Doctor and though he would never admit it, the Brigadier counted on Benton to keep their family safe. He was a good soldier, ready to lay his life down for his friends and commanding officer. He wasn’t afraid to tackle anyone and took great delight in arresting and putting the Master in prison. It is obvious in Roger Delgado’s performance as the Master that he viewed Benton and the UNIT people as a serious threat.
Benton loved football, a pint and a bet and yet never asked to see inside the Tardis, respecting the Doctor’s privacy but well aware that the Time Lord wouldn’t hesitate to call on him if necessary. In Mawdryn Undead the retired Brigadier revealed Benton had left the military and became a used car salesman. But if he did, it never really made sense to me.
Unafraid of aliens, Benton stood fast against any and all threats that UNIT fought. And, for me, his finest moments came in the tenth anniversary story the Three Doctors which allowed him a greater share of the action. In this adventure, Benton is teamed up with the second Doctor and the affection between the two is obvious from the start. He effectively becomes his bodyguard as they take refuge in the Tardis along with the second and third Doctors, Jo and the Brigadier as Omega’s forces storm UNIT headquarters. He trusts the Doctor completely and isn’t phased at all when they are all transported to Omega’s anti-matter universe. This story exemplifies the relationships between the leads and really shows us the UNIT family that was often talked about.
One gets the impression that Benton would have made a great companion if he had ever got the chance to travel in time and space. He was also the first companion ever to appear naked, long before Barrowman’s bum graced our screens. In the Time Monster, the Master wants the power of the chronovores and creates a machine that opens the doorway to the time vortex. Caught in one of his experiments, Benton is regressed to a baby and when he is restored at the end of the story, he is his usual simple unassuming self. Even faced with dinosaurs and Zygons, he is unphased. His last appearance was in the Android Invasion along with Harry Sullivan when the deadly Kraals tried to replace everyone with android duplicates. I’d like to think Benton is still In UNIT, high up in the ranks defending the Earth.
John left acting and worked on cruise ships for a while. He is a regular convention attendee and in real life a very humble and open man who speaks fondly of his co-stars and the greatest experience in his life. He still contributes to DVD releases and he recently revealed he almost decapitated the leads in the story the Daemons when he accidentally caused the rotors of a helicopter to drop when Jon Pertwee and co were all nearby. Lest said he never touched any machinery on the show ever again.
He also starred in a video spin-off in the eighties where Benton is haunted by ghosts from the past and his background is finally explored.
As it stands, he has not done a Big Finish release which is unusual as all the other Unit characters have returned. In this day and age of the anniversary, it is a mistake to not even try to fit everyone from the past in somewhere.
For now at least, Benton still exists in novels but we can but hope.