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Characters / Doctor Who Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart

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Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, CMG, CBE, DSO
First appearance: "The Web of Fear" (1968)
Played by: Nicholas Courtney (1968, 1970–75, 1983, 1989, 1993, 2008), Jeremiah Kragenote  (2014)

"Just once, I'd like to face an alien menace that wasn't immune to bullets."

A soldier, and a gentleman.

One of the most significant and recognisable companions, although he rarely travelled away from Earth. The head of UNIT in the 70s (or in the 80s, "depending on dating protocol"), the Brig worked alongside the Doctor and many of his companions in that era and beyond — often defending the Earth from various threats. He retired from UNIT in 1976, though still met up with the Doctor on occasion, as well as with Sarah Jane (in The Sarah Jane Adventures, 2008). Trope Namer for The Brigadier, Five Rounds Rapid (from "The Dæmons") and Immune to Bullets (from "Robot").


Tropes associated with the television continuity:

  • Agent Scully: Has a tendency to keep this up even when up to his eyeballs in aliens. First time in the TARDIS, he dismissed the inside view as "some kind of optical illusion". UNIT in general seems to treat extraterrestrial matters kind of lightly, even in the new series, yet UNIT is supposed to be monitoring and defending against intergalactic activity.
  • And I Must Scream: He passes away in a nursing home circa 2011, but his consciousness is intercepted by the Nethersphere. Three years later, his withered earthly remains are cyber-converted and he is uploaded back into them, essentially stuck in the decayed shell of his former self with bits of cybernetics wired into the organic parts to reanimate that body against his will. But he manifests the willpower to overcome the Cyberman conditioning and breaks loose, not blowing himself up with Danny and the rest of the undead Cybermen. Instead, he saves his daughter from certain death. After that, he just flies off into parts unknown, not to be heard from again.
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  • Anti-Hero: Normally he's clearly on the good team but he dives headlong into this in "Doctor Who and the Silurians" where he orders the total genocide of a hibernating race. He also showed no hesitation about gunning down an unarmed prisoner in "Battlefield".
  • Ascended Extra: Appeared as simply Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart in "The Web of Fear". Brought back the next season and given a bonus promotion.
  • Back from the Dead: In "Death in Heaven", he, along with every other corpse on Earth, comes back as a Cyberman. And breaks his conditioning to save his daughter and to defeat the Master one more time.
  • Badass Beard: In old age.
  • Badass Mustache: Ironically, a fake one in almost all of his appearances outside "The Five Doctors". This allowed the actor to turn The Brigadier into the "Brigade Leader" in the Mirror Universe tale "Inferno". There, the character sported an Evil Scar-and-Eyepatch combo. Quite jarring.
  • Badass Normal: He doesn't know the first thing about time travel or Time Lords, but he knows how to lead an army. After all, they don't name you to the Distinguished Service Order for sitting around.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Despite his constant politeness, stiff upper lip and occasional goofy moments, he's probably the most ruthless regular human character onscreen:
    • In "The Five Doctors", he punched the Master in the Death Zone. Without the Master even seeing him beforehand.
    • In "Death in Heaven", he shot the Master, as a Cyberman; then again, Missy threw his daughter out of a plane.
  • Brave Scot: It doesn't come up all that often, but he's very proud of his heritage.
  • The Brigadier: The Trope Namer.
  • The Bus Came Back: In "Death in Heaven" comes back as a Cyberman, but breaks his conditioning.
    • But Now I Must Go: Cyber-Brigadier flies off just as mysteriously as he appeared once he takes aim at Missy, without a word spoken.
  • Came Back Strong: Before his death, he was a human soldier. After his death, he's a metal soldier that can fly and shoot lasers.
  • Colonel Badass: Before his promotion to Brigadier.
  • The Comically Serious: The embodiment of Keep Calm and Carry On. Lethbridge-Stewart is going to remain in charge, and no squid aliens, chaps with wings, giant robots, creatures from the Black Lagoon, or killer mannequins are going to have anything to say about it!
  • Commuting on a Bus: In Seasons 9-13, after UNIT no longer appeared in every story. After the final end of UNIT as a regular part of the show's set-up, he made three more appearances in the 1980s, and a final appearance in The Sarah Jane Adventures. (Poor health repeatedly prevented him from appearing in the main show during the 21st century.)
  • Cool Old Guy: After he retired.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Got into many a mutual snarking match with Three. Two and Four liked to just run circles around him intellectually instead. Five and Seven, on the other hand, were kinder and fairly more respectful of the Brig, and the Expanded Universe shows him having a fairly equal relationship with Six and Eight.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Coming back from the grave, actually. He's able to summon enough willpower to resist Cyber-conversion after being three years dead, and saves his daughter's life before blasting the Master away so the Doctor won't have to do it. Leads to Dying Wish too: finally, he gets the salute he always wanted from the Doctor.
  • Eyepatch of Power: His scary alternate-universe self in "Inferno".
  • Expanded Universe: More than you can shake a stick at. Apart from his extensive work on Big Finish Doctor Who, along with various appearances in the novels, he got his own direct-to-video spinoff together with Sarah Jane and Victoria, called Downtime.
  • Expy: Resembles Colonel Breen from Quatermass and the Pit. So much so that originally Julian Glover from the then-recent movie adaptation would have played him had the original actor not dropped out. It should be noted, though, that Breen in Quatermass and the Pit never develops beyond his obstructive Agent Scully characterisation, and dies at the point when things start to get seriously out of control.
  • Fascinating Eyebrow: His rival those of David Tennant, and he could give Peter Capaldi a run for his money with the eyebrows!
  • Five Rounds Rapid: Also the Trope Namer.
  • Flanderization: He was introduced in Season 5 and made a regular in Season 7, serving as an action-oriented non-scientific foil for the Doctor. Despite being a somewhat stubborn and closed-minded military man who depended upon the Doctor in dire circumstances, he was shown in his first 2 seasons as crafty and capable. Starting in Season 8, his most obvious traits were magnified. It got so bad that by Season 10 he was incapable of getting anything done when the Doctor was away, failed to understand even simple scientific principles, and was incredulous of any unusual phenomenon. This trend was reversed somewhat when his character was reintroduced in Season 20 after an absence of 7 years, and most of his appearances in spin-off media show him as a rare example of a military officer that the Doctor trusts in a crisis.
  • Foil: He was mostly written as a Monty Python army character for the pacifist Doctor to snark at: a rules-abiding bureaucrat who is forced to employ a chaotic person to restore order. The character eventually managed to transcend this.
  • Genre Refugee: He's a pastiche of the Stiff Upper Lip Officer and a Gentleman Stock Character who appeared in every classic British war movie the children watching would have grown up with.
  • Last-Name Basis: With the Third Doctor. Four, in contrast, usually calls him "Alistair".
  • Life Will Kill You: After helping to deflect God knows how many alien invasions, he dies peacefully in bed at a ripe old age.
  • Like Father, Like Son: Like Father Like Daughter: His daughter, Kate, from the expanded universe, who later appears in the TV series as a leader in UNIT.
  • Immune to Bullets: Again, the Trope Namer, though not immune himself by any means.
  • It Runs in the Family:
    • A sea of calm in the face of the manic Third Doctor. It's quite interesting to see the Eleventh Doctor (and now Twelfth) losing his mind in the presence of Kate Stewart's unflappability.
    • Then we meet his grandfather in "Twice Upon a Time", a soldier in World War I who freely offers to trade his life for a civilian he's just met and goes to his preordained end with just a request that the Doctor check in on his family.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: He may be a loyal British subject through and through, but UNIT is a United Nations organization. So although he often cooperates with the British Government, he will occasionally go over their head by contacting his superiors in Geneva if he feels it's necessary.
  • Man in a Kilt: Wears the hunting Stewart tartan during UNIT's adventure in Scotland.
  • Nerves of Steel: He knows no fear.note 
  • Papa Wolf: As an undead Cyberman he saves his daughter from falling to her death, then has a good shot at vaporising her would-be murderer, Missy/the Master. It doesn't work, but he does try.
  • Pornstache: Interestingly, his fascist Mirror Universe counterpart is clean-shaven. (Nicholas Courtney actually was clean-shaven and just removed it for his alternate self. He was always clean-shaven during the series — the famed moustache was a fake!)
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In The Sarah Jane Adventures, he gives modern day UNIT one after a Bane disguised as a UNIT major has the cheek to insinuate that his era had it easier.
    Brigadier: In my day, we took on Daleks, Cybermen, Autons, Zygons, and all manner of space thuggery! And it doesn't come more hostile than that!
  • Retired Badass: In The Sarah Jane Adventures, just because he retired doesn't mean he won't remind you of just why he is the Brig. He walks with a cane by this time. It fires harpoons. Whether he actually needs the cane, or just carries it because it fires harpoons, is up for debate. Knowing the Brigadier, it's probably the latter — he is seen walking without it several times in his appearance in the show after all.
    • Taken further in the expanded universe, where he single-handedly stops an alien who has been trapped on Earth for 12 000 years from destroying the planet just because the alien was annoyed, and assists the Sixth Doctor in two direct confrontations with Adolf Hitler.
  • Revenge: Being brought back from the grave by the Master's female incarnation led the Brigadier to finally have his fill of the villain and actually shoot to kill. It didn't work, though, but still, big points for trying.
  • Running Gag: In both Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures, the Brig has a disturbing tendency to be "stranded in Peru" when all the important, UNIT-related alien stuff is going on.
  • Sarcastic Devotee: He can snark and be irritated by the Doctor and whatever catastrophe he now has to deal with, but it's clear that beneath it all, he's secretly having the time of his life.
  • Shoot the Dog: Very much so in "Doctor Who and the Silurians".
  • The Snark Knight: Especially towards Two.
  • Staff of Authority: His swagger stick.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: No matter whatever weird menace the Universe throws against him, the Brig takes it completely in stride.
  • Too Spicy for Yog-Sothoth: His love for his daughter, as well as his sense of duty for his country, allow him to break from his Cyber-converstion when reanimated as a Cyberman by the Master during "Death in Heaven".
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: His friendship with the Doctor starts out very uneasy, and he and Three spend most of their time insulting each other. His encounter with Five is naturally a lot calmer, and by the time he meets Seven, they've moved securely into this trope's territory.
    • In Big Finish, he later (for him) meets Six and Eight (in that order), and gets along very well with both regenerations; the latter even explicitly refers to the Brig as his closest friend among his companions up to that point.
    • By the time Twelve comes along, the Vitriol part is gone and the Doctor declares the Brigadier more than worthy of receiving a salute — stating that if he had wanted a salute for all those years he "should have just asked".
  • We Come in Peace — Shoot to Kill: The Doctor often criticizes his unimaginative and often violent response to every alien threat. How justified this criticism is varies according to the circumstances. The Brigadier is simply using the tools he's most familiar with against aliens who are frequently hostile or at least acting in a sinister manner. Coming up with other options is the Doctor's job.
  • You Look Familiar: Nicholas Courtney played Bret Vyon in "The Daleks' Master Plan" before he got the role of the Brigadier, making him the only actor to act alongside all seven (eight if you count the audio dramas Minuet in Hell and Zagreus) of the original Doctors at some point in his career.

Tropes associated with Big Finish

Voiced by: Nicholas Courtney (2000-10), Jon Culshaw (2019 onwards)

Now retired and Happily Married to Doris, the Brigadier (or the General, although he prefers being called the former) still works with UNIT at times.

  • Cool Old Guy: The Brigadier might be retired, but he's still willing to pull his weight in a crisis (even in an alternate universe where he spent thirty years defending Earth without the Doctor).
  • Deadpan Snarker
  • Happily Married: He has a good life with Doris... at least until a boating accident claims her life, and the Brigadier spends the remainder of his in a nursing facility before his own time comes.
  • Retired Badass: Altough he is rather old and retired, the UNIT series sees him leading a covert operation to save Britain from total anarchy. The Unbound story "Masters of War" has him putting that experience to good use, despite having been forcibly retired.
  • 10-Minute Retirement: He signs back on with UNIT, as a scientific advisor, when he realises he can never truly bring himself to leave.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Interestingly averted: due to Six's straightforward attitude and Eight's kindness, he gets along noticably better with Six and Eight than he ever did with Two, Three, Four and Seven in the TV series. The Unbound version of him has this relationship with the alternate Third Doctor as well.

Tropes associated with Lethbridge-Stewart

  • Arch-Enemy: The Great Intelligence.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: "Twice Upon A Time" introduced Archibald Hamish Lethbridge-Stewart and strongly implied he was the Brigadier's grandfather. According to Henry Lincoln and the Haisman estate (who own the character and publish the Lethbridge-Stewart series), the Captain was the Brig's great-uncle, and his brother Alastair is the Brigadier's grandfather. A compromise was agreed upon to solve the conflict, in the form of a free story which strongly implies that Archibald is both the Brigadier's great-uncle, and his biological grandfather.


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