Through the Ages

Through the Ages

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Commanding Officers

After completing my chronicle of the UNIT uniforms (to date), it got me thinking about the officers who have commanded the UK branch, so here is a list of all the Commanding Officers of the UK branch of UNIT that we have yet seen.


Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart
c.1968 – 1976

Lethbridge-Stewart was the first Commanding Officer of the UK Branch of UNIT having being appointed to this position when the organisation was founded.

We do not know what date UNIT was founded due to the UNIT Dating Controversy, but 1968 was the year “The Invasion” first aired, which was UNIT’s first onscreen appearance. Lethbridge-Stewart retired as CO in 1976, as stated in “Mawdryn Undead”. However, he continued to be called back into service by UNIT on a number of subsequent occasions.


Colonel Faraday
1976 – c.1980

Colonel Faraday appears in “The Android Invasion”. Though not explicitly stated in the show, I would argue that it was Faraday who took over command of UNIT when Lethbridge-Stewart retired (for my reasons why I believe Faraday to be UNIT's CO, see my entry on The Sporadic Years).

We do not know when Farady left UNIT, but according to the audio drama “The Oseiden Adventure”, he is still with the organisation in 1979. 


Colonel Charles Crichton
c.1980 – Late 1980s

All we know about Crichton is that he was Commanding Officer of the UK branch of UNIT in 1983.

In the show, Colonel Crichton is listed as being Lethbridge-Stewart’s replacement. However, this is a throwaway line in “The Five Doctors”, and it is not explicitly stated that Crichton is his immediate replacement. If he was indeed the immediate successor of Lethbridge-Stewart, then by the time of “The Five Doctors” he has been UNIT’s CO for seven years. According to the novelisation of Downtime, he was still UNIT’s CO in 1995, having been promoted to Brigadier. This means that he has been UNIT’s CO for almost 20 years, which is a ridiculous assertion. Military postings just don’t last that long (not to mention the fact that his appearance in the Downtime novelisation is contradicted by the UNIT Dominion audio dramas, and I always give precedence to the audios over the novels since they contain the real cast members. In addition to that, the Downtime novelisation has Bambera as a Captain, meaning that within two years she will be promoted to Brigadier to replace Crichton. A promotion from Captain to Brigadier, missing out the intervening ranks of Major, Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel, in less than two years is preposterous! It was clearly written by someone who has no idea how the military really works (which is an accusation that can be levelled more and more at Doctor Who these days!!) and resultantly I don’t hold that novelisation in very high regard. Thankfully, neither Crichton nor Bambera were in the video version of Downtime, which is the version I count as the ‘real’ one).
It is far more reasonable to surmise that Crichton did not immediately replace Lethbridge-Stewart (I would argue that, based on “The Android Invasion”, Colonel Faraday did that). It is also possible that there was at least one more Commanding officer who came between Crichton and Lafayette, but if this is the case, we have, as yet, not seen him or her. Alternatively, Lafayette could have been Crichton’s immediate successor.  


Colonel Lafayette
Late 1980s
Colonel Lafayette appears in the “UNIT Dominion” audio dramas, in which he is stated to have been in charge of the UK contingent of UNIT for “three months”.
"UNIT Dominion" does not give a setting, but we can reasonably assume that it is in the late 1980s (for a start, Dr Klein, UNIT’s Scientific Adviser, records things onto cassette tapes rather than CDs). Additionally, the Doctor meets Dr Klein again in a later adventure (“Persuasion”), which is set in 1990, so we know that Dominion comes before then chronologically.
Note that the artwork in the CD gives Colonel Lafayette the gorget patches of a General. A Colonel’s gorget patches are plain red and do not have the gold oak leaves on them. 



Major Wyland-Jones
Late 1980s
Major Wyland-Jones replaces Colonel Lafayette when the latter is killed in “UNIT Dominion”.
As a Major, Wyland-Jones is the lowest ranked Commanding Officer we’ve yet seen. The story tells us that Geneva had been grooming to him to replace Lafayette for “weeks”, but that doesn’t explain why they would be preparing an officer of that grade, when all the previous Commanding Officers have been substantive Colonels or above. One wonders if he was promoted shortly after this adventure (to Lieutenant Colonel?). Perhaps UNIT cutbacks meant that they were trying to save money on higher salaries.
Note that in the CD artwork, Wyland-Jones is wearing neither a UNIT beret nor UNIT cap badge. Presumably he was given a red beret as that is the colour associated with UNIT thanks to the new series (despite it being inaccurate for the time period this story is set in), but surely they could have Photoshoped the UNIT globe on at the very least.  



Brigadier Winifred Bambera
c.1990s – early 2000s
We see Brigadier Bambera as Commanding Officer of UNIT UK in “Battlefield”, set in 1997. We are given no indication of how long she has been in charge. She is one of only two Brigadiers to command the UK branch, as all other COs hold the rank of Colonel. It is entirely reasonable to suggest that there was at least one other Commanding Officer of UNIT who served between Wyland-Jones and Bambera, whose post would cover the period of the early to mid-1990s.
We later meet Brigadier Bambera again in the audio adventure “Animal”, set in 2001, which means she retained her command into the early years of the 21st Century. Presumably she was succeeded by Colonel Brimmicombe-Wood, though it would be entirely possible for another CO to have been in post between them.

In the audio drama "UNIT Assembled", Lieutenant Sam Bishop mentions "General Bambera" as being in Peru, so she is still presumably a very senior officer with UNIT in the 2010s. 



Colonel Ross Brimmicombe-Wood
Early 2000s – Early 2005
Colonel Brimmicombe-Wood is the CO of UNIT UK in the first series of UNIT audio dramas (though it turns out he was a traitor and working for ICIS all along).
I would surmise that Brimmicombe-Wood became the CO in 2003 (in the winter of 2004/2005, Colonel Chaudhry mentions that Brimmicombe-Wood got to know her at the staff Christmas party, which presumably was the previous year’s). 



Colonel Robert Dalton

Colonel Dalton was brought in as Acting Commanding Officer when Brimmicombe-Wood was kidnapped. He only held the post for a month or so before being killed by a bomb blast in Downing Street. 



Colonel Emily Chaudhry        
2005 – c.2007  
Colonel Chaudhry was originally UNIT UK’s Press and PR Officer, but was promoted to the role of Commanding Officer after Brimmicombe-Wood’s treachery was exposed.
On a side note, I loved the UNIT audio dramas, but found it eminently unbelievable that UNIT has two substantive Colonels in the form of the Commanding Officer and the Press Officer. Chaudhry even mentions that UNIT’s budget has been slashed, so why are they funding two such high-ranking officers. They should have made her a Lieutenant Colonel or Major to make it a little more believable. In reality, regimental press officers in the British Army tend to be much lower ranked officers (like Lieutenants or Captains). However, given the nature of UNIT, one can see why a higher ranked officer might be necessary, though I still assert that a full Colonel is unlikely.  



Colonel Alan Mace
c.2007 – 2009

The first UNIT commander we see in the new series of Doctor Who is Colonel Alan Mace, who we meet in “The Sontaran Stratagem”; a story set in 2009. We are given no indication of how long he has been in charge of the UK contingent prior to this; however, he appears to be in charge of UNIT during the Racnoss incursion of Christmas 2007, as seen in “Turn Left”. It is entirely feasible that he took over from Colonel Chaudhry sometime between 2005 and 2007.

In the audio drama "UNIT Assembled", Lieutenant Sam Bishop says that "Mace" is in Japan. This implies that Mace is still with UNIT in the 2010s, although it doesn't state his rank at that point.  



Colonel Augustus Oduya
2009 – Early 2010s
Colonel Oduya appears in TorchwoodChildren of Earth”. Dialogue suggests that he succeeded Colonel Mace, who is said to have been posted to Vancouver. This story is dated to September 2009. We do not know how long he lasted in the role.
The next time we see UNIT on screen (In “The Power of Three”) we are told that Kate Stewart, the daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, is now in overall charge of the organisation. However, Kate is a scientist, in charge of UNIT’s scientific research; the military side of UNIT would still have a Commanding Officer (it is unlikely that any military organisation would suddenly relinquish their authority to a civilian). 



Colonel Shindi
The new series of UNIT audios, beginning with “UNIT Extinction” introduces us to the character of Colonel Shindi. These stories are set between “The Power of Three” and “The Day of the Doctor”, so we can tentatively date them to 2012 or 2013.
Note that the CD artwork for Colonel Shindi shows him with unkempt hair, a beard and moustache. Military regulations would never allow him to have either the length of hair that he has, or the beard (the moustache, however, is acceptable, making him the first CO with a moustache since Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Colonel Faraday). Obviously, one can’t expect an actor to change their appearance for an audio adventure, but surely Photoshop could have been used to make him look more realistically military.  



Colonel Ahmed

The character of Colonel Ahmed appears as the highest ranking UNIT officer aboard Boat One in “Death in Heaven”. However, he is killed by the Cybermen. 



Colonel Walsh

Colonel Walsh was in command of a contingent of UNIT troops in Turmezistan in “The Zygon Invasion”, however, we can safely assume that she is a British officer (or, at the very last, an officer in a Commonwealth army) because both she and Major Hitchins wear British rank insignia. 


And that brings us up-to-date. I really hope that we will soon see another Commanding Officer for the UK branch of UNIT, maybe even one who can become a recurring character alongside Kate Stewart; possibly even Colonel Walsh since she, as far as we know, survived the Zygon gambit. 



Dishonourable mentions:
Colonel Tia Karim

The Sarah Jane Adventures introduced us to the character of Colonel Karim, but I personally do not count her as one of UNIT’s COs (despite her being referred to as a Colonel), simply because I prefer to think of her more as the Officer Commanding UNIT’s Mount Snowden Base (plus her rank insignia displays the pips of a Lieutenant not a Colonel). Thankfully, it is not stated in the episode that she is UNIT’s Commanding Officer, so my theory doesn’t contradict on screen evidence. 


Personally, I think that these days whenever the Doctor Who writers need a military character in a position of authority they seem to just plump for a Colonel, regardless of how realistic this would actually be. It is perhaps my biggest criticism of NuWho that there doesn’t seem to be anyone who actually understands how a military organisation works (the same criticism can be levelled at Sherlock – there are so many mistakes it brings me right out of the narrative!).



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