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First and foremost: A POX on anyone who claims that the Brigadier doesn’t count as a proper companion because he didn’t get to do much traveling in the TARDIS. He might exist outside of the (even then) traditional relationship between the Doctor and his friends, he might have a different role to play, but he battled alongside the Doctor on many occasions, just like Sarah Jane or Rose, he bickering with him just as much as Tegan or Donna did, and always put his faith in his Time Lord comrade to save the day, just like, well, everyone else.
Plus the Brig is the only companion to have seen active service with the First Doctor (once he’d been brought back by the Time Lords) the Second Doctor, the Third Doctor, the Fourth Doctor, the Fifth Doctor, the Seventh Doctor and be mentioned fondly by the Tenth Doctor too. AND he made an appearance in the Sarah Jane Adventures, and would have even met the Tenth Doctor in an episode called Sarah Jane’s Wedding, had Nicholas Courtney not been too poorly to take part. Which is more than you can say for Turlough.
So what is it about the Brigadier which made him so special? Well it all started with the Second Doctor and some yetis in the London Underground. Last week we were looking at Jamie and how complimentary a partner he was, being a no-nonsense highlander and man of action, in contrast to the Second Doctor’s tendency towards levity. The Brigadier, with his brace of Scottish names – Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart indeed – is essentially a more authoritative, less boisterous Jamie. His job is to prevent the Doctor from gadding about, and focus on the job in hand. He is neither charmed nor moved by the Doctor’s eccentricities, and he absolutely insists on getting the job done.
Of course, each Doctor tests the Brigadier’s patience in very different ways. The Third Doctor talks down to him, the Fourth Doctor plays up like a theatrical diva. By the time we get to the Fifth, who possibly has more in common with his military chum than any of his previous incarnations, the pattern has been set. The Brigadier has seen it all, and the Doctor’s annoyingly trying to prove him wrong.
Of course, a lot of the time the Doctor’s way is the right way after all, but every story needs someone to drive the plot along, and having a man of military bearing effectively standing stage left of the hijinks and bellowing “GET ON WITH IT!” is incredibly useful.
The Brigadier also represents all of the authority figures the Doctor enjoys defying, to a maddening degree. And he’s the guy who has to provide the backup, so he’s relatively content to let the Doctor do most of the dirty work, while he’s there with the cavalry, calm and ready, when the time is right.
Here’s an early sighting of the Brigadier, offering Zoe a cuppa while the Second Doctor investigates a sewer:
And here he is in full military flow, barking orders and then quietly smiling to himself.
And here’s his first meeting with the Third Doctor (about seven minutes in to this compilation from Spearhead From Space):
Occasionally the Brigadier has to prove to everyone that conventional weaponry will not work against extra-terrestrial monsters, which of course give the Doctor good reason to invent a doodad that will save the day. This, if it has a name, should be called the “chap with wings there, five rounds rapid” gambit:
He can handle regenerations admirably too:
And multiple Doctors:
Once the Third Doctor had been given back the ability to travel in the TARDIS, and regenerated into the bullish Fourth Doctor, there were fewer reasons for him to stay on Earth. And the Brigadier doesn’t really make sense if you take him away from his job. He represents the rock, the grown-up, the person you report to when things go awry. He’s a safe, capable pair of hands, and to expose him to all of the wonderment and chaos that the universe has to offer would only reduce his efficiency. He’d just be another companion, running down corridors.
Or, as in this case (The Five Doctors), across a lawn:
Keep him on Earth, however, and he remains a formidable ally.
And here’s Sir Alistair’s final appearance in the Whoniverse, before Nicholas Courtney’s sad death earlier this year. That glorious voice and flinty demeanor still very much apparent:
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic