Thursday, 27 November 2014


Chris McKeon returns for the second part of our look at the Brigadier's presence in Nu Who, detailing the events that led to his triumphant return in 2008!

As 2007 began fans knew a few things about the upcoming series three: there would be Daleks, there would be Martha, there would be Jack, and there would be Saxon. But there was still no sign of the returning Brigadier to claim his presence on our screens. But then with a printed battle cry Lethbridge-Stewart made a triumphant return in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine issues 378-380, The Warkeeper’s Crown. This three-part comic reunited the ‘seventy-odd’ Lethbridge-Stewart, clad once more in his military uniform, with the Tenth Doctor (incidentally donning his blue costume for the first time in public) in a wild-paced romp against orcs, dragons, demons, and harpies.

Two old friends reunite - but not on TV!

This comic, for me, and I am convinced for others, was a heaven-sent joy. At last we saw the Brigadier in action with the Doctor of the new series. It was an equal excitement to what I had experienced when Nicholas Courtney had teamed with Paul McGann’s Doctor in the Big Finish audio Minuet in Hell some six years previously, except this time the action was visible, albeit unmoving on the printed page. The story itself was fun and engaging and even managed to touch on the Brigadier’s consideration that his oldest, most peace-keeping friend was now a veteran of war.

Other fans at the time had a two-fold reaction to the Brigadier’s return: excitement and, like me, another equally potent emotion; anticipation. Could the comic return of Lethbridge-Stewart be a harbinger for his television revival, perhaps even as early as series three? Sadly, although the 2007 series was a wonderful collection of stories (perhaps my favourite group since the program returned to television), which featured not only the known quantities of Martha, Jack and the Daleks, but also the welcome return of the Macra and the Master, UNIT was only used as a plot-device in the series finale, and there was not even a single mention of the Brigadier.

The summer of 2007 passed kindly but a little heavily for me as a Doctor Who fan. I think this may have been the nadir of my Brigadier hopes, in part ironically because of his return in the comics; for if Lethbridge-Stewart had returned already off-screen in a media that required only an artist’s hand and a writer’s words then perhaps was there less incentive to recall the then 77-year-old actor to reprise his television role? And then, on 24 September, 2007, something small but significant happened in the then newly-produced Doctor Who spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures.

It was the closing minutes of Revenge of the Slitheen. Sarah Jane Smith, along with her teenage friends from Bannerman Road, had just defeated the Slitheen, and she had received some help from friends in UNIT and was giving them a thank-you call. It was then that she said the words which shook fandom from its summer slumber: ‘Give my love to the Brig.’ Now there was no onscreen appearance of the Brigadier, no voice-over from Nicholas Courtney, but there was his presence, his location, his affirmation: the Brigadier was alive, was active, and was…somewhere close. This affectionate nod recalled several wonderful Brigadier-related moments from that series’ debut episode Invasion of the Bane on 1 January, 2007, including a UNIT-era photo of the Brigadier (alongside an image of the old-fashioned stalwart Harry Sullivan) pinned on the wall in Sarah’s secret attic headquarters, and a moment when Sarah considered naming her newly-adopted son Alistair. I was personally crushed she chose Luke instead and I am confident that I was far from alone in that sentiment.

Colonel Mace and the Doctor miss the Brigadier.

Once more the forums began to buzz with excitement over the potential return of the Brigadier: his character had been mentioned on-screen in the new series era for the first time, so was there any chance this was a sign of his impending return? When it emerged that UNIT, fighting against the Sontarans, would be making a full return to television during series four of Doctor Who in 2008, the pitch of many fans’ excitement exponentially increased. On 3 May, 2008, during the frenzied events of The Poison Sky, the second part of UNIT’s two-part return, David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor muttered a rather marvellous line: ‘At times like this I could do with the Brigadier.’ And then UNIT’s then-commander Colonel Mace eulogized the Brigadier, or rather ‘Sir Alistair’ and revealed a gold mine of information: ‘Unfortunately he’s stranded in Peru.’

I honestly feel this was the watershed moment for Doctor Who fans hoping for the Brigadier’s return. Close on the heels of Sarah’s affectionate shout-out to her old friend, there in the parent series was a direct reference not only to the Brigadier’s past but to his then-current whereabouts! Although the rest of the 2008 series came and went without a further mention of the Brigadier, fans at the time were brimming with hope that all these little mentions and nods to Lethbridge-Stewart were signs of his coming home to television. A Radio Times interview with Nicholas Courtney published on 1 April 2008 gave no hints for the Brigadier’s future in Doctor Who, but it gave a clear window into the then 78-year-old actor’s thoughts on the prospect: ‘If the script were right, I’d love to do one story. It’d be great fun. And they’ve brought back Sarah – of course, Lis Sladen is still very pretty. And the Master.’

And so fandom hoped for a wonderful uncertainty, but not for long. In late June, 2008, set reports and photos from the filming of The Sarah Jane Adventures’ series two finale episodes declared a certainty: Sir Alistair had returned. At long last Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier was recalled to active service to assist Sarah Jane Smith and her friends against a sinister Sontaran/Bane alliance in the two-part adventure Enemy of the Bane. These episodes, filmed in June and July of 2008 and broadcast on 1 and 8 December of that year (just days before Courtney’s 79th birthday) were a joy to behold. Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (a Knighthood he received in the 1997 novel The Dying Days) was on our screens once more. He was older, he was slower, he walked with a cane and left most of the action to Sarah and her teenager friends, but he was still the Brigadier through and through and he could fire a great shot!

Brigadier Sir Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart returns - at last!

It was a dream made true: the Brig was back even if the Doctor could not be there, too. But now fans had hope for their long-awaited onscreen reunion. Fans had onscreen evidence, a precedent, a certainty that the Brigadier had returned and could return again, and this time with the Doctor. As 2008 drew to a close some small rumours began circulating that Sir Alistair would indeed return to The Sarah Jane Adventures series three. Around Christmas time there were further rumours that the old soldier would feature in a story centred on Sarah’s disastrous wedding and that the Doctor would be an unexpected guest.

As 2009 dawned there was a very special sense of hope and gladness in fandom both old and new, a sense that good things had come and better things were yet to come. And the best thing of all was that Sir Alistair had returned and he would return again.

And then, he didn’t. And for reasons far worse than I ever expected.

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