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Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart

Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (sometimes spelt Alastair) is a fictional character in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, played by Nicholas Courtney. He works for UNIT, an international organisation that defends the Earth from alien threats. He is one of UNIT's founders and commander of the British contingent, and is generally referred to simply as the Brigadier or "the Brig". Almost 20 years since his last appearance, the character will make his return in the spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures in late 2008.

Fictional character history

Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart first appeared in the Patrick Troughton Season 5 serial The Web of Fear (1968). He is a Scotsman, according to dialogue in Terror of the Zygons. Some accounts state that he was a Colonel in the Scots Guards (although in reality, the highest regimental rank would have been Lieutenant Colonel, and the regimental badge that most closely resembled Lethbridge-Stewart's cap badge in The Web of Fear is that of the Lowland Brigade). By his next appearance in the Season 6 serial The Invasion (1968), he had been promoted to Brigadier and was working with UNIT. When the Third Doctor was exiled to Earth, Lethbridge-Stewart gave him a position as UNIT's scientific advisor. Other military members of UNIT included Captain Mike Yates and Sergeant Benton.

In his initial appearances, Lethbridge-Stewart was portrayed as a stereotypical by-the-book martinet. Very often, the Doctor felt frustrated at working with him because the Brigadier's typical response to any threat was to shoot at it; a well-known phrase of his was, "Five rounds, rapid." The Brigadier's decision to blow up the Silurians' base, despite the Doctor's continuing efforts to reconcile the reptiles with human beings, in particular, drew the pair into conflict. In turn, Lethbridge-Stewart was sceptical of the strange phenomena and super science the Doctor habitually encountered, and just as frustrated with the Doctor's eccentricities. However, over the years the two developed a close working and personal relationship as well as mutual respect for each other's abilities.

The Brigadier always faced the unknown with unflappable British aplomb. He has shown himself to be a true warrior in combat, ruthless when he has to be, and heroic in the face of the often overwhelming odds that he and UNIT faced over the years. He eventually retired from the military to teach mathematics at a British public school in 1976, as seen in Mawdryn Undead (1983).

Most of the stories of the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who were set on Earth and heavily feature UNIT and the Brigadier. While not as ubiquitous in the following years, he appeared alongside every subsequent Doctor in the original television series run except the Sixth Doctor. They finally met in the charity special Dimensions in Time and the Big Finish audio play, The Spectre of Lanyon Moor. (The Sixth Doctor also meets the Brigadier in the novel Business Unusual, also purporting to be the first meeting of the two characters.) The Brigadier has also appeared with the 1996 Doctor Who television movie's Eighth Doctor in the audio plays. He has not made an appearance in the revived series, although the character has been mentioned.

As one of the most popular recurring supporting characters in the television series, the Brigadier is often considered a companion of the Doctor and indeed is listed as one on the BBC website's list. However, he does not fulfil the traditional companion's role of regularly accompanying the Doctor on his travels, although, for example, he was unwillingly transported to Gallifrey with the Second Doctor in The Five Doctors. Furthermore, with the exception of The Five Doctors, at least one other character serves as a recognised companion to the Doctor on each of his encounters with the Brigadier.

Lethbridge-Stewart's last television appearance was in 1989, in the Sylvester McCoy Season 26 serial Battlefield. Called out of retirement to deal with an other-dimensional invasion of armoured knights led by Morgaine, he found himself once again at the Doctor's side. Lethbridge-Stewart served as his world's champion as he faced down and killed the demonic Destroyer of Worlds armed only with his service revolver and a load of silver-tipped bullets. (Battlefield was stated to be a few years into Ace's future but not a specific date. The Virgin New Adventures books place it in 1997.)

Little was shown of Lethbridge-Stewart's life outside UNIT in the television series, although Planet of the Spiders revealed he was in a relationship with a woman called Doris. In Battlefield he was shown to be retired and married to Doris (played by Angela Douglas). It was Courtney's own belief that the Brigadier had been in a previous marriage to a woman named Fiona, and that he and Doris were having an affair; his first marriage ended due to his work .

Lethbridge-Stewart is still alive during the Tenth Doctor's tenure. In the spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures story Revenge of the Slitheen, Sarah Jane Smith says to "give [her] love to the Brig", implying he has lived well into 2009, in which that series is set. In the Tenth Doctor episode "The Poison Sky", the Doctor mentions that he could use "the Brigadier". He is then told that "Sir Alistair" is "stranded in Peru", indicating that the Brigadier is still alive and has been knighted.

Courtney will play Lethbridge-Stewart again in a two-part story in the next series of the Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures, starring Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. The new story will pit him and Sarah Jane against the Sontarans.

Other appearances

The Brigadier and his family have made several appearances in the spin-off media. The spin-off UNIT videos Downtime and Dæmos Rising feature Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, the Brigadier's daughter from his marriage to his first wife, Fiona (first named in the Missing Adventure The Scales of Injustice by Gary Russell). Also appearing was Kate's young son, Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart.

The novels also gave Lethbridge-Stewart another offspring. While on duty in Sierra Leone as a young lieutenant, Lethbridge-Stewart met and was intimate with a local girl named Mariatu, the daughter of a village chief, and unknown to Lethbridge-Stewart, she had a son. This was first hinted at in Ben Aaronovitch's novelisation of his 1988 serial Remembrance of the Daleks, which featured quotes from a fictional history of UNIT (The Zen Military) written by a Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart (Mariatu's granddaughter) in 2006. In the 1992 New Adventures novel Transit (also by Aaronovitch, and set in the 22nd Century), the Seventh Doctor meets the adopted daughter of General Yembe Lethbridge-Stewart, one of Mariatu's descendants. This daughter, also named Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart, went on to become a recurring character in the New Adventures.

The novels have also fleshed out the Brigadier's ancestry, establishing that he comes from a long-standing military family. In the New Adventures novel The Dying Days by Lance Parkin, he talks about three ancestors who reached the rank of General. One, William Lethbridge-Stewart, was in the retinue of James VI of Scotland and I of England. The other two fought at Naseby and Waterloo. The Scales of Injustice names the latter as Major-General Fergus Lethbridge-Stewart. The Brigadier also says in The Dying Days that his father died in World War II, fighting alongside Field-Marshal Montgomery in Africa.

The Past Doctor Adventures novel The Wages of Sin by David A. McIntee established that the Brigadier had an ancestor named Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart who worked for the British Government in 1916. Deadly Reunion by Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts establishes that the Brigadier was a Second Lieutenant serving in Army Intelligence in 1944, although this makes the Brigadier older than other stories would suggest.

In the novels, Lethbridge-Stewart emerged from retirement again during the events of The Dying Days where he dealt with an invasion of Ice Warriors from Mars in 1997. At the end of that novel he was promoted to General. Lethbridge-Stewart was subsequently rejuvenated with alien technology in Happy Endings by Paul Cornell, taking place in 2010. The rejuvenated Lethbridge-Stewart, widowed as a result of an accident at sea but back with the military, next appeared in the BBC Books Eighth Doctor Adventures novel The Shadows of Avalon, also by Cornell, where he still held the rank of General but preferred to be called "the Brigadier". According to The King of Terror by Keith Topping, Lethbridge-Stewart eventually passes away in the early 2050s.

Courtney played the Brigadier in two BBC Radio 4 Doctor Who plays set during the Third Doctor's era, The Paradise of Death (1993) and The Ghosts of N-Space (1996), alongside Pertwee and Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. For Big Finish, he has played the part of Lethbridge-Stewart in several plays, with Minuet in Hell revealing that he played a role in the establishment of the Scottish Parliament and also that he does covert work for the UN as a plausibly deniable agent. He also played an alternate universe version of the Brigadier in the Doctor Who Unbound play Sympathy for the Devil, opposite David Warner as the Doctor and David Tennant (later cast as the Tenth Doctor) as Colonel Brimmecombe-Wood.

Courtney also voiced the Brigadier in the 2001 webcast Death Comes to Time.

In December 2004, Big Finish released the first of a series of UNIT-based audio plays, where General Sir Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart acted as a consultant to a new generation of officers and by series' end became UNIT's new Scientific Advisor. If the events in this series are to be reconciled with the books, these plays would seem to take place between the events of The Dying Days and Happy Endings, as this version of Lethbridge-Stewart does not seem to be rejuvenated. Also, the public does not believe in existence of aliens, which would appear to place it before the events of "The Christmas Invasion".

In the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip story Warkeeper's Crown (DWM #378-380), Lethbridge-Stewart made a reappearance alongside the Tenth Doctor after being kidnapped by Warlords as a tactical commander. He was an old officer stationed at Sandhurst.

The continuities of the novels, audio plays, comics and other tie-in media may not match up, and their canonicity with regard to the television series and each other is debatable.

List of appearances


Season 5


Audio dramas

BBC Radio


The Companions of Doctor Who

Short stories


  • "The Arkwood Experiments" by John Canning (TV Comic 944-949)
  • "The Multi-Mobile!" by John Canning (TV Comic 950-954)
  • "Insect" by John Canning (TV Comic 955-959)
  • "The Metal Eaters" by John Canning (TV Comic 960-964)
  • "The Fishmen of Carpantha" by John Canning (TV Comic 965-969)
  • "Doctor Who and the Rocks from Venus" by John Canning (TV Comic 970-976)
  • "Assassin from Space" by Patrick Williams (TV Comic Holiday Special 1970)
  • "Undercover" by Patrick Williams (TV Comic Holiday Special 1970)
  • "Castaway" by John Canning (TV Comic Annual 1971)
  • "Levitation" by John Canning (TV Comic Annual 1971)
  • "Fogbound" by Frank Langford (Doctor Who Holiday Special 1973)
  • "Secret of the Tower" by Alex Badia (Doctor Who Holiday Special 1973)
  • "Doomcloud" ((Doctor Who Holiday Special 1974)
  • "The Time Thief" by Steve Livesey (Doctor Who Annual 1974)
  • "Menace of the Molags" by Steve Livesey (Doctor Who Annual 1974)
  • "Dead on Arrival" by Edgar Hodges (Doctor Who Annual 1975)
  • "The Man in the Ion Mask" by Dan Abnett and Brian Williamson (Doctor Who Magazine Winter Special 1991)
  • "Change of Mind" by Kate Orman and Barrie Mitchell (Doctor Who Magazine 221–223)
  • "Target Practice" by Gareth Roberts and Adrian Salmon (Doctor Who Magazine 234)
  • "Final Genesis" by Warwick Gray and Colin Andrew (Doctor Who Magazine 203: cameo appearance in parallel universe)
  • "Mark of Mandragora" by Dan Abnett (Doctor Who Magazine 167-172: has a small role as most of the UNIT leader's role is carried out by Muriel Frost)
  • "The Warkeeper's Crown" by Alan Barnes (Doctor Who Magazine 378–380)

References outside of Doctor Who

The character also appears briefly in a cameo role at the end of writer Paul Cornell's novelisation of the 1997 ITV science-fiction serial The Uninvited. Although the character is not named in the book, the description is that of Lethbridge-Stewart and Cornell later admitted that this was indeed his intention.

Marvel Comics' Excalibur featured an organisation called W.H.O. (the Weird Happenings Organisation) run by a Brigadier Alysande Stuart. Her twin brother Alistaire was WHO's "scientific advisor" (the role the Doctor had in UNIT). The Brigadier himself had earlier appeared in two panels of Uncanny X-Men #218, leading a military action against the Juggernaut in Edinburgh (and referencing the presence of Sergeant Benton).

The Sherlock Holmes novel Waters of Death by Kell Richards features a naval commander called Ralph Lethbridge-Stewart, alongside Captain Harry Sullivan and Lieutenant Philip Benton. It is set in the same fictional location as the Doctor Who story Terror of the Zygons.

An unnamed army brigadier, who looks and acts very similar to Lethbridge-Stewart, appears in the comic strip Caballistics, Inc.. He first appeared in the story Going Underground, where he is in charge of the army's response following a demon invasion of the London Underground; a member of his SAS team refers to "bloody robot yetis" having been down there once. He shows up again in the story Ashes, in charge of the military response to a devastating attack on Glasgow. This character is one of several references to both the Doctor Who universe and other sci-fi/horror properties in Caballistics.

Although unnamed, two characters strongly resembling Lethbridge-Stewart and Sergeant Benton (who was specifically named) appear in the John M. Ford Star Trek novel How Much for Just the Planet? at a rather treacherous golf course on the planet Direidi.

Similarly to Alysande Stuart, the comic book Jack Staff includes Commander Liz Stewart of S.M.I.L.E. (Secret Military Intelligence Lethal Executive).

The Brigadier briefly appears in Kim Newman and Eugene Byrne's Back in the USSA, supporting Britain's involvement in an alternate Vietnam War. However, Doctor Who is referenced later in the story, meaning that in the universe of Back in the USSA, both the show and the character from it are 'real'.

The Brigadier was referenced in name in the ABC Family show The Middleman. In the episode "The Clotharian Contamination Protocol," Wendy and The Middleman go to check out a returned Voyager probe. However, a nearby NASA listening station team also arrives. Using their random IDs, and due to the quick thinking of the Middleman, they are intimidated into leaving. As they go, the Middleman calls out the other team's lead, "Mr... Lethbridge-Stewart, if that is your real name!"

See also


External links

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