"You attract trouble Doctor. You always did."
UNIT are usually thought of as a three man operation, the Brig, Benton and sometimes Mike Yates, with some troops to support them, but an overview of the series shows hints of a much larger organisation even within the UK which is constantly changing. Many characters make singular appearances and are never heard from again. Admittedly quite a few are killed, but most soldiers dying onscreen for UNIT are unnamed privates and not officers. Some of these have names, most do not. It does seem that there are a handful of staff that work in an ongoing capacity for UNIT but that the majority probably only do a short tour with them and return to regular duties as with the Queen’s Guard. This is implied in Scales of Injustice according to which Captain Munro returned to the regular army after Spearhead from Space.
Corporal Benton is probably the best known NCO but had a promotion after his first story to Sergeant and later to Regimental Sergeant Major. He’s one of the few long standing members of UNIT. Corporal Forbes was killed by Auton. Corporal Bell is a rarity being pretty much the only female member of UNIT staff throughout the 60s and 70s who was not an assistant of the Doctor’s. Corporal Nutting fought the silurians, Corporal Tracy fought the Cybermen, Corporal Champion was present during the alien possession of the Astronauts on the Mars Space Programme, Corporall Campbell is referred to working in stores in Terror of the Autons but only receives a rank in the novel. Corporal Palmer fought Omeg’s Gel Guards and though I’m sure he was mentioned a few times, I only find mention of him in the Terror of the Zygons novel. Corporal Adams and Faraday were both duplicated by the Kraals during their invasion, but as Benton and Harry Sullivan survived there’s a possibility that these two did not die as a result.
As expected UNIT Sergeants are fewer in number but several many single appearances. Apart from most of Benton’s appearances there was Sergeant Walters who fought the cybermen and Sergeant Hart who died fighting the Silurians. Sergeant Henderson was murdered by Harrison Chase who fed him into a composter to feed the Krynoid. Sergeant Osgood was a technician supporting UNIT and fought Azal. Unlike most of UNIT he actually appears as supporting a scientific approach but is baffled by the Doctor’s science. Regardless it appears that he is an accomplished expert in his field, just dwarfed by the Doctor at the time. Sergeant Zbrigniev appears in Battlefield and reflects the more multi-national aspect of UNIT in later years. Although it is not expanded upon, he appears to have previous experience of the Doctor, or at least is better informed than others.
Few Lieutenants have been seen working for UNIT. Lieutenant Richards escorted the missile in Battlefield and in the same story Flight Lieutenant Lavel, another woman in UNIT in a story that gave us a female Brigadier. She’s a helicopter pilot, but unfortunately killed by Morgaine.
With relatively few Captains, it is possible to see the chain of command developing over time. In the Invasion Captain Jimmy Turner fought the Cybermen and according to Scales of Injustice later married Isobel Watkins. This might explain his departure making way for Captain Jimmy Munro who fought nestene in Spearhead from Space and according to Scales of Injustice returned to the regular army afterwards. The next Captain was the short lived Captain Hawkins who was killed by the the Silurians. After this there is a gap until Terror of the Autons where Captain Mike Yates appears and serves long term with UNIT until being discharged. As mentioned in the first part of this blog, he never really recovered after the Green Death when he was brainwashed. But upon his return was easily manipulated into betraying his friends and later pushed out on sick leave and resignation. Following his leaving, Sargeant Benton is promoted to RSM which as suggested earlier might reflect budgetary cuts to UNIT’s funding.
A few Majors have appeared for UNIT and often take charge of significant operations. Major Husak appeared under the command of Brigadier Bambera, Major Walton fought the Silurians, Major Cosworth was present for the attack on the prison in Mind of Even and the attack to recapture the stolen Thunderbolt missile. Major Beresford was called upon to fight the Krynoid in the absence of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.
Senior Ranks and Leaders of UNIT
Colonel Charles Crichton was Lethbridge-Stewart’s replacement, but interestingly his taking over of British UNIT forces did not coincide with an increase in rank. He appears to no longer be in charge by the mid-90s or whenever Battlefield is set.
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart hardly needs an introduction but we first see him as a Colonel who is promoted to Brigadier with the creation of UNIT. He is also regularly described as the head of UNIT, although this can only describe the British branch of the organisation. As is described further on, he has superiors in Britain and abroad. Lethbridge-Stewart eventually retired (don’t ask when) and was directly replaced by Colonel Crichton. Later the organisation was commanded by Brigadier Winifred Bambera who only appeared in Battlefield but according to the novels likely commanded for some years.
The extent of powers granted to the ‘head of UNIT’ seems unclear as does who has actual control. UNIT cooperate, and can take instructions from, the main forces of a country. The Brigadier is observed to report to the MOD and the Prime Minister themselves as in Terror of the Zygons. But elsewhere is known to go to Geneva to override instructions given by the British Government. It’s also noticeable that the Brigadier spends more and more time in Geneva and is not present for either Android Invasion or Seeds of Doom. In the Invasion the Brigadier has a supervisor at the Ministry of Defence in Major General Rutlidge who was working for Tobias Vaughn and attempting to foil UNITs investigations. He was later killed by Vaughn. At the time, however, the Brigadier made the threat of going to Field-Marshal Thatcher in Geneva who was more superior again and could overrule Rutlidge. In Paradise of Death the Brigadier even goes to the Secretary General of the UN to take action against the wishes of the British Government.
It’s not clear if Field-Marshal Thatcher is actually a member of UNIT, although he is the highest ranking military officer known to give orders to UNIT, orders do come from senior members of the government itself and from the UN. The Brigadier is the highest ranking dedicated UNIT officer in the country, more senior ranks appear to be attached to the regular forces. With Major General Rutlidge overseeing some of UNIT’s activities in the early phases of their setting up and later with a liaison officer in the form of Major General Scobie. The Brigadier commands a handful of dedicated officers, but it seems likely that beyond this are soldiers who do a tour with UNIT and are not working full time for the United Nations. This may explain why UNIT have a large turnover in staff, but that for a specialised organisation they appear very much like regular forces and not Special Forces.
The last thing to note is the portrayal of UNIT by old and modern production teams. UNIT have become are far more sinister organisation under the New Series which is the direction the organisation also heads into the middle of the 21st Century in the novels. I haven’t discussed the New Series as such because of the volume of material in the older series. Generally though, I think that the difference in depictions comes about because of people of different eras writing. For example, those writing, producing and acting in Doctor Who of the 70s would all have either served in the war or done national service; this simply is not the case today. It leads to touches of authenticity in the old series, and some obvious gaffs in the new. When Sergeant Benton is promoted in Robot to Warrant Officer, he is correctly referred to as “Mister Benton” by the Brigadier. In the new series, there is some peculiar behaviour by several UNIT soldiers. In Planet of the Dead Captain Magambo holds a gun to the head of one of her staff to make them cooperate. This is just extraordinary. Lethbridge-Stewart would never have done such a thing, and while I can see they are trying to make UNIT seem morally dubious, it just comes across as ridiculous that a senior British officer would threaten their own staff with a gun for insubordination. Then there are other thing, such as in the Sarah Jane Adventures ‘Enemy of the Bane’ where Major Kilburne salutes a senior officer, albeit a retired Lethbridge-Stewart, without putting on his hat first. Yes, I know he’s a Bane in disguise, but the Brig should have smacked him about the head for that with his cane and should have given him the first clue that he wasn’t a genuine British Officer. It really is something no officer would ever do. Overall I think writers in the new series push the “military force doesn’t work” aspect harder than their predecessors, but at the same time they don’t give the impression they speak from experience of the military.