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Nicholas Courtney (born William Nicholas Stone Courtney on 16 December 1929) is a Britishmarker television actor, most famous for playing Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart in the Britishmarker science fiction television series Doctor Who.


Early life

Courtney was born in Cairomarker, Egyptmarker, the son of a British diplomat and educated in Francemarker, Kenyamarker and Egyptmarker. He served his National Service in the British Army, leaving after 18 months as a private, not wanting to pursue a military career. He next joined the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, and after two years began doing repertory theatre in Northamptonmarker. From there he moved to Londonmarker.

Prior to Doctor Who, Courtney made guest appearances in several cult television series, including The Avengers, The Champions and Randall and Hopkirk as well as a racing driver in Riviera Police.

Doctor Who

Courtney's first appearance in Doctor Who was in the 1965 serial The Daleks' Master Plan, where he played Space Security Agent Bret Vyon opposite William Hartnell as the Doctor. Director Douglas Camfield liked Courtney's performance, and when Camfield was assigned the 1968 serial The Web of Fear, he cast Courtney as Captain Knight. However, when David Langton gave up the role of Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart to work elsewhere, Camfield recast Captain Knight and gave the part to Courtney instead.

Lethbridge-Stewart reappeared later that year in The Invasion, promoted to Brigadier and in charge of the British contingent of UNIT, an organization that protected the Earth from alien invasion. It was in that recurring role that he became most famous, appearing semi-regularly from 1970 to 1975. Courtney made return appearances in the series in 1983, and his last Doctor Who television appearance was in 1989 in the serial Battlefield (although like many other former cast members, he returned to the role for the charity special Dimensions in Time). Coincidentally, he appeared with Jean Marsh in both his first and last Doctor Who television appearances, notwithstanding his role in the aforementioned Dimensions in Time.

Courtney has played Lethbridge-Stewart, either on television or in audio plays, alongside every subsequent Doctor up to and including Paul McGann, as well as substitute First Doctor Richard Hurndall. He has not, to date, appeared with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor nor David Tennant as the Tenth. While he has acted with Tennant in the Big Finish audio dramas Sympathy for the Devil and UNIT: The Wasting, Tennant was playing a different character, Colonel Ross Brimmicombe-Wood, on both occasions.

The character is referenced in the Series 4 episode "The Poison Sky" and is said to be "stuck in Peru". Fifteen years after Dimensions in Time, Courtney returned as Lethbridge-Stewart (now, Sir Alistair), freshly returned from Peru, in "Enemy of the Bane", a two-part story in the Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures aired in December 2008, starring Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. The story pitted Sir Alistair and Sarah Jane against Commander Kaagh and Mrs. Wormwood who try to wake Horath using the Tanguska Scroll.

Since Doctor Who

Courtney continued to act extensively in theatre and television after his main Doctor Who appearances, guest-starring in such popular television programmes as Minder, All Creatures Great and Small, Only Fools and Horses and Yes, Prime Minister. In 1982 he was cast alongside Frankie Howerd in the World War II-set comedy series Then Churchill Said to Me but the series remained untransmitted for over a decade due to the outbreak of the Falklands War. He also had a regular role in the comedy French Fields between 1989 and 1991. He has also appeared in the Big Finish Productions audio drama Earthsearch Mindwarp, based on a James Follett novel, broadcast on the digital radio station BBC 7.

Courtney stars as Inspector Lionheart opposite fellow Doctor Who actor Terry Molloy in the audio series The Scarifyers, from Cosmic Hobo Productions. The first two Scarifyers adventures, The Nazad Conspiracy and The Devil of Denge Marsh, were broadcast on BBC 7 in 2007.

He regularly makes personal appearances at science fiction conventions and is also the honorary president of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society. His theatrical agent is former Doctor Who actress Wendy Padbury.

In 1998, Courtney released his autobiography, titled Five Rounds Rapid! after an infamous line of dialogue the Brigadier had in the 1971 Who serial The Dæmons. He recorded his memoirs, subtitled A Soldier in Time for release on CD in 2002 by Big Finish. An updated autobiography, Still Getting Away With It, was published in 2005, with co-author Michael McManus. He lives in Londonmarker with his second wife, Karen.

More recently he appeared in the 2008 film Incendiary, as the Archbishop of Canterbury, alongside Ewan McGregor.

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