James Bond would be in trouble without his gadgets, and his MI6 R&D head Q has been played by many familiar faces throughout the franchise
Super-spy James Bond would be in trouble without his reliable gadgetry, and his research and development head Q has been played by numerous familiar faces throughout the franchise. Throughout his many decades onscreen, James Bond has been through almost as many gadgets as he has Bond girls, and none of them would exist without reliable gadget maker Q. Even Daniel Craig’s more serious, taciturn Bond, soon to end his screen tenure with No Time To Die, has found time to visit Q and get some up-to-date gadgets for his missions.
But the quippy Ben Whishaw visited by Craig’s stone-faced, PTSD-afflicted Bond is a far cry from the sardonic Desmond Llewellyn who rolled his eyes at a campy Roger Moore throughout the 70s or the short-lived John Cleese iteration of the character who clashed with a late-stage Brosnan. Over the years, Q has been through plenty of different iterations, and each has reflected the tone and style of the James Bond franchise at the time.
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The changing face of gadget-making has been played by four different actors over the decades and a rundown of this quartet, as can also be seen with the various versions of Miss Moneypenny, and this serves to illustrate a gradual tonal shift throughout the beloved spy franchise. Starting not with the famous Desmond Llewellyn, but with Peter Burton, who only lasted one brief scene in the first Bond film before being replaced, this look back then heads into Llewellyn’s long tenure in the part before John Cleese’s more overtly comedic, camp take on the gadget maker, and eventually Ben Whishaw’s recent depiction of the character. Where Llewellyn’s many movies balanced camp and grounded espionage over the years, Cleese’s time in the role saw Bond slide into Austin Powers-style self-parody territory, leading to a few uber-serious Q-free outings before the character returned in Skyfall.
Every look back on the James Bond franchise features at least one actor who never had a chance to make an impression in one of the series’ iconic roles through no fault of their own. George Lazenby only lasted one outing as Bond, despite his lone movie being considered a classic, while Caroline Bliss had scarcely begun her tenure as Miss Moneypenny before being replaced (interestingly, the same thing happened to Robert Lee’s M, also during the Timothy Dalton era). But few actors had an iconic bit of Bond history snatched from their grasp as fast as Peter Burton, the original Q.
Referred to as Major Boothroyd in the movie, Burton’s iteration of Q arrives early on in the action of the very first Bond movie, Sean Connery’s influential debut Dr. No, where he replaces the super spy’s Beretta with the character’s signature gun, a .32 Walther PPK handgun. And that’s it. Never seen or referenced again, Burton’s Q was soon replaced due to overlapping shooting schedules and would go on to be all-but-forgotten when his replacement proved himself an iconic figure in the franchise canon. At least Bond got a great gun out of Burton’s brief, lone appearance.
Undoubtedly the definitive screen incarnation of Q, the kindly old Desmond Llewellyn lasted a staggering seventeen films and no less than four different Bond actor’s versions of the character. This is more movie appearances than any lone incarnation of M or Moneypenny managed, with Llewellyn assisting many different versions of 007 through the early Connery outings, the campier Moore era, the comparatively dark Dalton movies, and even into the 90s Brosnan films. Initially established as an irritable and impatient figure with little time for Bond’s smarmy charm, gradually Llewellyn’s Q warmed to Bond over the years despite the super spy’s penchant for destroying his most prized gadgetry through some zany misadventure or another. By the time the character interacted with Goldeneye’s Brosnan Bond, Q was sharing quips with the spy, and 007 seemed genuinely sad to hear of his impending retirement in The World Is Not Enough. Llewellyn’s version of Q was so influential that he even managed to have a moving scene with one-film wonder George Lazenby, assuring the short-lived Bond that he would always have his back just before his ill-fated wedding took place.
Campier and goofier than his predecessor, Monty Python alumnus Cleese appeared first in The World Is Not Enough where Bond jokingly refers to him as R (since he will soon be Q’s replacement). The actor only fulfilled the role of Q alone in one installment, the much-derided Die Another Day, wherein Bond begrudgingly grants him the name Q after being impressed by his array of new gadgets. However, despite Die Another Day granting Bond some of his most ambitious and out-there gadgets in the franchise’s history, Cleese did little to make the role his own and was mostly a placeholder who fans were by and large not heartbroken to see the back of. Although Cleese wasn’t responsible for the later Brosnan era’s slide into comedy, his casting was indicative of the light tone the series was heading in, thus resulting in a few Q-free outings as Bond tried to regain street cred during the early Daniel Craig movies.
When 2006’s gritty, grim Casino Royale gave the Bond franchise a complete tonal makeover, turning the fun, campy spy movies into Nolan’s Batman-style self-serious thrillers, it seemed unlikely that this version of the character would have much use for Q’s exploding pens and invisible cars. Sure enough, there was no sign of the gadget maker in either the poignant origin story Casino Royale or its deathly dull follow-up Quantum of Solace, both of which strived to make the James Bond franchise a more realistic, Jason Bourne-influenced post-9/11 brand of spy thriller. However, 2012’s Skyfall saw the series embrace Bond’s more over-the-top side, beginning with a backstory for Miss Moneypenny and adding in a campy, spooky Javier Bardem villain for good measure. Sure enough, before the movie wrapped up, this Craig outing not only replaced Judi Dench’s M with Ralph Fiennes but also saw Cleese’s one-installment-Q before being replaced by Paddington actor Ben Whishaw.
Only time will tell whether the James Bond series will do a full reboot and replace Whishaw or keep him on for the next Bond, but so far the soft-spoken actor has proven himself capable of making the character his own. A more slyly humourous Q than his predecessors, Whishaw’s impish young gadgeteer is more often a source of practical weaponry than outlandish sci-fi toys for the spy. Whishaw’s realistic reinterpretation of the character owes as much to Burton’s plainspoken one scene wonder as he does to Cleese’s comedic version, and although he lacks the warmth of Llewelyn’s definitive Q, the young actor’s version is memorably sharp quick-witted enough to make an impression of his own in the James Bond canon.
More: Every Actor Who Turned Down James Bond (& Why)
Key Release Dates
- No Time to Die/James Bond 25 (2021)Release date: Apr 02, 2021
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