Doctober Spotlight – Dr. Julius No
We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for a special Doctober showcase from first-time contributor Nicknack Tabasco.
My relationship with Ian Fleming’s James Bond dates back to the late eighties when I first watched Dr. No one evening with my grandfather. In an age before DVR, my grandpa meticulously edited out every commercial while the movie aired using the pause button on his remote, which meant that sometimes when he fell asleep, whole scenes were missing. I watched the Bond movies so much I wore out the tapes. Dr. No has always been my favorite Bond villain. He’s a grotesque mad scientist, a megalomaniac with a love of epicurean delights and sadistic entertainments.
Years ago I went to a James Bond costume party in Alaska. As I walked through the house congested with Bond girls and evil masterminds, I saw a meditative Dr. No sitting alone at the kitchen table, surrounded by beer cans, who was scratching his face with metallic pincers like the Bond equivalent of Rodin’s thinker. It’s the image that always comes to mind when I think of Dr. No., the diabolical recluse with metal pincers for hands.
In Fleming’s novel, Dr. Julius No is described as half Chinese, half German, a bald man with yellowish skin, black eyes and steel pincers. Fleming tells us that Bond views him as a “giant venomous worm wrapped in grey tin-foil.” Quite different from the film depiction of Dr. No, played by the American stage actor, Joseph Wiseman, who not only has Western features but slick combed hair, a sinister voice, and wears black gloves to hide his metal hands. One wonders how the Fleming version holds a fork, especially in the memorable dinner scene, when facing the real possibility of torture, Bond sits down with the insane doctor to a fancy meal of soups, cutlets, and champagnes. Fleming is a master at describing luxurious food that falls outside of my price range.
As Bond waits to be served dinner, we learn Dr. No’s fascinating back story. He was born in Peking and raised by his aunt. In his early adulthood he got involved with the Tongs, part of the Chinese criminal syndicate in Shanghai. Dr. No tells Bond, “I loved the death and destruction of people and things.” He got in trouble and ended up being smuggled into New York City, where he became a treasurer for the “Hip Sings.” He quickly stole a million dollars in gold and made the mistake of hiding out in Harlem. “I was foolish,” he tells Bond, “I should have left America and gone to the farthest corner of the earth…They found me…They tortured me all through the night. Then, when they could not break me, they cut off my hands to show that the corpse was that of a thief, and they shot me through the heart and went away.” Fortunately for Dr. No, he suffered from a rare condition called, dextrocardia, in which the heart is on the right side of the body, thereby saving his heart and his life.
After he recovered, he used the gold to purchase stamps because that’s what an evil mastermind does with a million dollars of gold. He also changed his appearance. “I had my hair taken out by the roots, my thick nose made thin, my mouth widened, my lips sliced. I could not get smaller, so I made myself taller. I wore built up shoes…I put away my mechanical hands and wore hands of wax inside gloves.” Like many evil doctors in literature and movies, No has serious father issues, so he changed his name to Julius No–”the Julius after my father and the No for my rejection of him and all authority.” We also learn that he bought the island of Crab Key where he converts bird dung into gold. Most of these details are left out of the movie, and I find the novel to be much richer in its depiction of the mad Doctor. Fleming is nothing if not a master at describing people and places.
In the movie, Bond predictably escapes being tortured and disguises himself as one of Dr. No’s henchmen. He enters Dr. No’s control center and prevents No’s evil plan of world domination. The two men fight as everyone flees. Dr. No falls to his death in a nuclear reactor pool after being unable to grip the metal beam, (much better than the novels lame ending where Bond suffocates Dr. No to death in a giant mound of guano.) I’d love to see them try to depict that cinematically.
According to the always reliable Wikipedia, Dr. No has appeared in the James Bond Jr. cartoon series, although he is depicted with green skin and a stereotypical mustache, similar to Ming the Merciless. He’s made an appearance in several James Bond video games, a 2012 Heineken beer commercial, and Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentleman, where he is said to be related to Fu-Manchu. I recently spent a good chunk of change to acquire one of my holy grail books, DC Showcase #43, which is not only James Bond’s first American comic appearance but also DC’s first comic adaptation of a film. The art is pretty terrible but the cover is fantastic, depicting the showdown between Bond and his arch-nemesis in Dr. No’s lab. If you’re a Bond fan, it’s worth tracking down if you can find it for a reasonable price.
All images and characters depicted are copyright of their respective owners. Please click on the “About Us” tab for our takedown policy.