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'Doctor Who': "Old Soldiers" Review

by Matthew Kresal 3 years ago in science fiction

Big Finish offered up a unique tale for Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart with this 2007 "Companion Chronicles" tale.

Between 2007 and 2014 (and the occasional release since), Big Finish Productions released an extraordinary range of Doctor Who stories. Focused on the first four Doctors, the Companion Chronicles focused on the traveling companions to those Doctors either no longer with us or not working with the company at the time. It was a chance for lesser served characters like Steven Taylor or Liz Shaw to shine in their own stories. It was also a chance for better-known characters (and their actors) to show a different side, such as with Nicholas Courtney's Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in the December 2007 release "Old Soldiers."

Written by James Swallow and set in the testy aftermath of "The Silurians," it's a curious outing for one of Who's most iconic characters. With things between the Doctor and the Brigadier at an all-time low after the events at Wenley Moor, UNIT's UK leader receives a message calling for help from his old friend Colonel Konrad in charge of the German division of the organization. Arriving at Kreigskind Castle, it's clear all is not well with second in command Major Schrader running things and a siege mentality among the base's soldiers. It isn't long before Lethbridge-Stewart finds out why and has to reach out to his scientific advisor for aid in fighting the menace haunting the castle.

While it's a story very much in keeping with the Earthbound seventh season of Classic Who, it's also very much a character piece. Nearly a decade before the Lethbridge-Stewart book range would explore the character in depth, Swallow's script used the first person nature of the Companion Chronicles to examine just who the man described as the Doctor's oldest friend was. The themes of honor and duty, right vs. wrong, are all front and center in this tale as the Brigadier faces down this particular threat and faces some tough decisions along the way. It's a story that offers insights into the man, his decision making, and what it's like to have to put the needs of the many ahead of the few.

The story also gets a boost out of its cast, in particular from the man who played the Brigadier. Nicholas Courtney's acting chops are on full display in this story from the moment it starts up. Whether its the framing device that creates the image of sitting down sharing a drink with an old soldier or him dealing with the tough decisions, Courtney is always convincing in the role. It helps as well that does the most solid Pertwee of the Companion Chronicles performers, one that captures the spirit of the Third Doctor actor without being over-the-top. Courtney, meanwhile, is given able support by Toby Longworth in the dual roles of the German officers Colonel Konrad and Major Schrader. Combined with the grim sound design and music, the latter neatly evoking Season 7, it makes Courtney's performance all the more effective.

Of course, time would reveal that "Old Soldiers" would be Courtney's sole contribution to the range. Indeed, it was to be one of the final times he would have the chance to play the role before his 2011 passing. Even so, it would be worth a listen anyway for offering up an engaging tale from one of Who's most iconic characters.

science fiction

Matthew Kresal

Matthew Kresal was born and raised in North Alabama though he never developed a Southern accent. His essays have been featured in numerous books and his first novel Our Man on the Hill was published by Sea Lion Press in 2021.

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