Wednesday, October 14, 2009

BBC Radio 4's Dr. No: A Review

Let me start by saying this was a very good adaptation. I generally don't listen to audio drama adapted from books, as they often do what this audio drama did sparsely -- that is, use snippets of the prose as narration. This adaptation wisely avoids using it too often, and sometimes when it does it changes it, makes it an internal monologue for James. Some of it works, like during the centipede sequence. Some of it, like when James is drinking the night before he departs, feels a bit forced. But on the whole, this was one of the better audio dramas I've heard, and I've heard a very good share, thanks largely to my working as a ghost writer for an audio drama group for two years and a staff writer for a different audio drama group for a year. Technically I'm still a member of these groups, but I've since ceased writing for them. For now at least. But thanks to that line of work, I was exposed to the world of audio drama, and I love them greatly. Many I love more than TV or film.

And now to discuss the cast.

David Suchet...ah, the brilliant David Suchet. Is there any doubt that this man is Hercule Poirot? He is to Poirot what Jeremy Brett is to Sherlock Holmes. I love his portrayal so very much. I even hear Suchet when I read Agatha Christie's Poirot books now. The man is capable of bringing such genius to roles. He is a very talented actor who has garnered much less attention than he deserves. But here, he falls short. Suchet's voice doesn't sound like a half-German, half-Chinese madman. It sounds a like a very bad attempt at an old B-movie alien. And he hams it up. Playing a role like Dr. No hammy is fine. The role calls for a little ham, a touch of camp. But Suchet really hams it up. It's a shame Suchet played Julius No in this way. The man had the potential to bring something really great to the role, something genius.

Toby Stephens makes a passable James Bond. He does a very good job with the material, carries the role well, but it feels a bit wrong. There's too much steel in his voice. Too much prickle. It almost reminds me of Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor in Blood of the Daleks. Angry, not wanting to open up to anyone, bitter. James Bond should be distant, but not sealed off. Still, the man does a very, very good job. Judging by this, I can't say I would want Toby Stephens as James Bond in film (had he not already played Gustav Graves, thus knocking him out of the running), but I do want him to return, at the very least just once more in the upcoming adaptation of Goldfinger. Now I'm not saying Toby Stephens is a bad James Bond. Far from it. But see, here's the thing a lot of people don't understand: The literary 007 evolved, as all good characters do. From Casino Royale through From Russia With Love, James Bond was a tool of the government. That is the James Bond Toby Stephens, or at least the portrayal Stephens turns in here, is suited for. From Dr. No to The Spy Who Loved Me, we see a James Bond who, while still very much a tool of the government, is burned out by his job, is showing signs of humanity. And in On Her Majesty's Secret Service and You Only Live Twice, we see about as near to human as James Bond ever becomes. Toby Stephens is not suited for those James Bonds, not judging by this audio drama. He would, however, be good in The Man With the Golden Gun, which returned to James Bond the Tool.

Martin Jarvis, the director, also plays the role of Ian Fleming. Though my ears ultimately grew used to him, I have to say I can't stand it. It's radically different from the voice I had always heard in my head (which sounded a bit like Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins) and radically, radically different from the real Ian Fleming. Now look, I don't have a problem with him sounding different from either of those. Would it heighten my enjoyment if he had? Yes. But I can live with a different voice as Fleming. But Jarvis...Jarvis makes my ears bleed, just a little bit.

I won't prattle on about the rest of the cast, partially because it would take too long, and partially because I do not have all of their names handy. Suffice it to say everyone was excellent, though I think the best of the incidentals go to M, Moneypenny, and Major Boothroyd.

Now, on to the drama istelf.

The script follows the book closely. A few sequences are shaved or altered slightly -- for example, James Bond vomits in his room immediately after killing the centipede rather than rushing into the bathroom; this we know because there was neither narration nor sound effect to suggest Bond had moved away from his bed -- but all in all it stays very close to the book. Some of the best segments of this drama are lifted straight from the book. That is to say, the narrations of Martin Jarvis as Ian Fleming. Specifically, these are where Jarvis reads the description of the characters, such as Honeychile Ryder, or the sequence when Doctor No enters Bond and Honey's room to examine them while they are drugged.

Wisely, the Bond of this play is written in line with the book. He is not a super-spy, he is not the suave, womanizing killer of the films. Numerous times Honeychile tries to convince him to sleep with her over the story. Were this a film by any actor aside from Dalton or Craig, Bond would have hopped into the sack with her immediately. But here, as in the book, Bond resists her advances, and tells her to wait until all of this Crab Key business is over. Here, as in the book, Bond is an investigator, an arm of SIS pursuing his mission. Nothing more, nothing less. He's still clever, he's still intelligent, and well, it just works for me. Timothy Dalton is my favorite James Bond with Daniel Craig as a close second. Why? Dalton nailed the Dr. No to You Only Live Twice Bond perfectly, and Daniel Craig nails the Casino Royale to From Russia With Love Bond perfectly. As I noted above, Stephens seems better suited to a Craig-type Bond, but he does a very good job with the script, which turns in this later Bond as he was presented in the books -- an intelligent agent, not some witty super-spy with fancy toys.

The BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Dr. No runs for approximately 87 minutes. It is an engaging 87 minutes, and certainly an 87 minutes well spent, even to a non-Bond fan, though certainly fellow Bond fans will get more pleasure out of it.

I am quite looking forward to the forthcoming adaptation of Goldfinger. Personally, I think Goldfinger is one of the worse novels, but even at his worst, Ian Fleming was good, and if it is adapted in the style of Dr. No, it will be good. I am hopeful Toby Stephens will return as agent 007. That they are producing Goldfinger also makes me very happy. Dr. No was originally announced as a special one-off deal to celebrate Ian Fleming's centenary, but EON Productions and Ian Fleming Publications have clearly given the go-ahead for more. If more is to follow Goldfinger, I suggest Live and Let Die. It's my personal favorite of the James Bond books, and it was never properly adapted on screen. It's also a cracking adventure with excellent pacing that could not only work well on radio, but engage audiences who may ordinarily find audio drama such as this Dr. No adaptation a touch too dragging.

No comments:

Post a Comment