Dr. No: Looking back at the definitive Bond villain
Ivan Radford | On 20, Feb 2020
Director: Terence Young
Cast: Sean Connery, Joseph Wiseman, Ursula Andress
Watch Dr. No online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play / Sky Store
It’s almost weird to think that at one point, James Bond wasn’t a multi-million-pound franchise with a decades-long legacy and tradition to uphold. The formula, today, has become so immediately familiar that it’s notable more for when entries in the long-running series depart from it. Back in 1963, Dr. No established many of the franchise’s most iconic elements, even if it didn’t know it at the time.
Sean Connery emerged as the perfect 007 right out of the box, combining his physicality and cold stare with a suave confidence and debonair quality that he learnt from director Terence Young. His introduction, through the gun barrel sequence and Maurice Binder’s title credits, plus Monty Norman’s signature theme – overused throughout the film itself (John Barry’s soundtrack genius would come later) – were all present and correct, along with Ursula Andress’ archetypal “Bond girl”.
The plot, stripped down and simple, would go to be one of the franchise’s most grounded, yet offered enough globe-trotting to bring an exotic note to the fledgling spy genre, while character behaviour and low-key showdowns produced a more believable, raw dose of action than later entries would eventually offer. With a budget of £1 million, it was proof that less is more.
That, however, is a sentiment the eponymous Dr. No would never agree with, and it’s his villain that ultimately proves the greatest achievement of the movie. Ian Fleming himself wanted Christopher Lee (his distant cousin) to play the part of Dr. Julius No. Noel Coward got asked too. But Joseph Wiseman is a superb example of a versatile character actor, who sports a Nehru jacket as well as he delivers threats to his henchmen in a brisk, school teacher’s manner. (“I do not like failure. You are not going to fail me again, Professor Dent,” he declares with a cold arrogance.)
More than any other part of the film, Dr. No establishes the template for those who follow on his footsteps, from the devious attempts to bump Bond off to the monologue that explains his plan. “Does the toppling of American missiles really compensate for having no hands?” quips 007, emphasising the other tradition Dr. No introduces: the dubious notion of having some kind of scar or physical deformity to indicate how villainous one is.
But best of all is Dr. No’s lair on Crab Key island. Surrounded by guards and even a “dragon” that’s actually a flame-throwing vehicle, it’s peak Bond villain. The key to getting the aesthetic right? Hiring Ken Adams as production designer, who defines the concept of a Bond villain HQ on his first attempt, and with a limited budget and timeframe. Metal doors, high ceilings, circular rooms and a sense of clinical claustrophobia thanks to the grid-covered window overhanging Professor Dent when he’s being told off… the design’s influence can be seen in evil lairs throughout 007’s screen life.
Combined with a dramatic climactic grapple that appears to bump Dr. No off via a bath of radioactive waste – in Ian Fleming’s original book, Dr. No dies buried under a pile of guano – and you have not only a memorable exit for a Bond villain, but one that leaves wishing you could see him on screen again. How many other bad guys can you say that about? No wonder they named the film after him.