The Problem with Dr. No
I recently reread Dr. No for the first time in several years. Rereading always brings new insights to a work, thereby deepening appreciation and understanding. As some questions are answered, new questions are asked. This leads, of course, to the topic of this post- the problem of Dr. No.
What is the problem of Dr. No? Simple, the shaky foundation upon which Dr. Julius No’s fearsome reputation is built. Despite my love of the character, Dr. No is an idiot.
Until he is buried in guano, No is saved only by the stupidity of others. Seriously, M? Now, I think we can all show the points where Bond mucks things up, but M? Oh my, what is wrong with the Secret Service?
Where does No screw up? Clearly, his failed multiple attempts to assassinate Bond is a starting place. Had No played it cool, like he did with the initial investigation, he would have had no problems. While Bond’s gut tells him Strangways and his secretary would not have run off together, there is no evidence connecting No and Crab Key to the deaths. Instead, No leaves a trail that leads directly to him!
Why? His actions are not ones that lead to people leaving him alone. Especially when there is no evidence.
I think I have an answer. A recurrent problem for many of Bond’s opponents is a need to use Bond as an audience to their greatness. Mr. Big, Drax, and Dr. No expound their excellence, their history, and their philosophy to a captive Bond. It is an ultimately self destructive need for recognition.
And it is a fair point to remember that Dr. No has far larger ambitions beyond just his fiefdom on Crab Key. He is obsessed with the ideas of power and sovereignty. As seen with many real life dictators, there is an obsession with self aggrandizement. Although, I think, No is a little more subdued (perhaps reflecting his weaker circumstances).
In pursuit of power, Dr. No, in a surprise twist, has contracted with the Soviets to derail American missile testing in the area (and to eventually start stealing salvaged missiles that fall near Crab Key). This, of course, leads to his desire to remove the bird sanctuary on the other end of the island. Although he would have likely attacked the sanctuary anyway given that the proposed hotel would have threatened his power regardless.
Speaking of the bird sanctuary, could he have not convinced the Audobon Society to drop their plans if he pointed out the environmental damage that a hotel could potentially inflict upon their precious birds? How long before the tourists scare off the birds?
These flaws in Dr. No’s plans, I think, make him a far more human and interesting character. He is not the mad scientist or the weird god king of Crab Key. Despite my issues with Dr. No and the titular Dr. Julius No, this is still one of my favorite Bond novels.