‘Doctor Who’ finale: A look at the Brigadier’s last bow in ‘Death in Heaven’

‘Death in Heaven’ is a resolutely modern episode of Doctor Who, mixing Russell T Davies-style widescreen excess with the endlessly imaginative twists of Steven Moffat’s dark vision for the show like a pimped-up juggernaut driven by Edgar Allen Poe.

It’s also one of the most poignant season finales the programme has produced under the auspices of either showrunner – yet despite the deeply affecting scenes between Clara Oswald and Danny Pink, the most heartrending moment comes courtesy of a character from the show’s past.

Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, stalwart of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce during the 1970s and the Doctor’s longest-standing friend ever since, has been mentioned several times since the show was revived in 2005.

Doctor Who Death in Heaven Brigadier

In 2008, ‘The Poison Sky’ revealed that he had been knighted; news of his death was broken – not long after the passing of actor Nicholas Courtney – in 2011’s ‘The Wedding of River Song’; and the character was mentioned on multiple occasions during ‘The Day of the Doctor’ in 2013.

The Brigadier also popped up in two episodes of spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures (Courtney’s final appearance as the Brig) and his daughter Kate continues the family tradition by leading UNIT (now the non-aligned, slightly crappily-named Unified Intelligence Taskforce) as Head of Scientific Research.

However, without Courtney, there’s no way the character could be brought back. A recasting would be unthinkable. A picture pinned to the wall of the UNIT equivalent of Air Force One is the best we could hope for, right?

Doctor Who Death in Heaven Brigadier 2

Wrong. Yes, a portrait of the Brig is hanging in the plane, but the indomitable old soldier has a far greater role to play. With the Doctor agonising over whether or not to kill Missy (someone with whom he’s been acquainted for even longer than Lethbridge-Stewart), the decision is taken out of his hands by a blast of Cyber-laser fire.

Whether Missy is dead or not remains a matter of conjecture (although it’s improbable that we’ve seen the last of the character, given the Master’s previous resistance to being killed off) but the identity of the Cyberman that lingered in the graveyard after all the others had flown off with Danny is only in question until the Doctor and Clara find Kate Stewart lying on the grass. Despite being chucked out of the UNIT aircraft many thousands of feet above the ground, she is alive.

‘The Cyberman must have caught her,’ the Time Lord deduces – but why? ‘She’s talking about her dad,’ Clara says … and it becomes terribly, beautifully clear.

When the Doctor meets the gaze of the metal monster, he looks beyond the blank stare and sees the face of the human being it once was: the military moustache and the wry smile, the eyes that rolled with exasperation and twinkled with kindness. For the first time, he does the one thing the Brigadier always wanted him to do, and salutes his old pal.

Doctor Who Death in Heaven Brigadier 3

When the Cyberman bows its head in response, its face hasn’t changed – and yet, it has. Emotion is written across it like a teenager’s diary, the mouth seemingly on the verge of trembling and the droplets at the corner of the eyes looking more like tears than ever. It’s unbearably poignant, and when the creature blasts upwards to join its comrades saving the world, saying goodbye to the Doctor for the last time, only those with hearts of steel could fail to be moved.

Lethbridge-Stewart used to refer to the Doctor as ‘splendid fellows – all of them’, but there were none more splendid than the Brigadier: still a hero after all these years.

Doctor Who goes on, as it always does, but he will never be forgotten.


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What did you think of the Brigadier’s appearance? Let us know below…

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  • Stephanie

    Dangit, now I’m tearing up again…

  • Friend of the Ood


  • Tears


    • Geoffrey Martin

      It’s those damn ninjas. They strike at the most inconvenient of times.

  • Mary E.

    Never thought I would ever want to hug a cyberman until that moment. And don’t get me started on that salute…

    • Dylan Martin

      but what about handles?

  • Mary E.

    Never thought I would ever want to hug a cyberman. And that salute…

  • kidneys


  • fish8100

    I haven’t watched it yet but just reading this makes it hit me hard. Damn.

    This is the only way they could really bring the Brigadier back to give him a proper send off despite how some fans were upset by it.

    So long Brigadier.

    So long Nicholas Courtney. You will be missed.



  • LostBoyPA

    An evil (wo)man returned in Dark Water.

    It’s only fitting that one of the greatest among men also makes a return in Death in Heaven.

    Balance, and one last chance to say thank you to a truly epic character…

  • Mario Ciampa

    … to tell the truth I did not like that “bow”, because reminded me the “bow caused by sadness” made by Cyber-Danny Pink before Clara. I would have liked if he did the salute too…

  • Chazman

    A fitting end for one of the strongest supporting characters the series has ever had. A toast in your honor on this Veteran’s Day Brigadier.

  • J W

    Were we watching the same episode, because I thought it was absolute and utter drivel. And that whole bit with Cyber-Brigadier was nothing more than groan inducing nonsense that made me roll my eyes in disgust. I couldn’t believe Moffat actually went there.

    • Geoffrey Martin

      Bit jaded, are we?

      • JW

        No. I just know crap when I see it. And the season finale was a big steaming pile of it. “Worst episode ever”, to quote Comic Book Guy .Even worse than the worst episode of Nuwho Love and Monsters….and that’s saying something.

    • Em

      I can see every. SINGLE – new and old – Doctor Who fan arming their millions of weapons and pointing them all at you. That was probably one of the coldest comments on any site I have EVER read in my entire life, trashing the most heart-wrenching moment in all of that series, possibly even NuWho.

    • ES

      Yes I completely agree! This episode – and this season – was horrible. The portrait of Brig on the plane was a nice touch and made me a little emotional but having the Brig has a Cyberman? That was a disgrace to the character. I actually got up and walked out after that scene. I think we learned that Moffat should never touch Classic Who characters and I’ll get wait for my Sarah Jane comment for when he leaves…if he ever leaves.

  • Vivi Schwäger

    aaaaaaaaaaand here come the tears again.

  • thegavel

    Still no mention of Sarah Jane. :'(

  • Andi

    if cult box is going to carry out this thing they have with doctor who they best start getting their act together and do their research. UNIT has always been non aligned, it was a branch of the british government but answered to NATO. and UNIT has ALWAYS stood for Unified Intelligence Task force it has simply always been refereed to as UNIT. the Brigadier only called the doctor Splendid fellows once and that was an anniversary with the 5 doctors. so he did NOT always call them it. I bet this website is american. wouldnt surprise me

    • -Nonexistant-

      Actually, it used to stand for United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, but then the United Nations didn’t want to be associated with it, therefore it was renamed as Unified Intelligence Taskforce.

  • Octavious Taylorsmith

    It just felt like a childs bad fanfiction somehow found its way into the episode. The Brig comes back as a cyberman and kills the Master, seriously?

    • Anthony Appleyard

      Next episode, Missy / the Master is back, I have seen it.

      Perhaps we WILL see the Brig again, as a friendly Cyberman?