The science behind James Bond’s most poisonous plot twists | Films | Entertainment

James Bond 007: The World Is Not Enough Trailer

Can it really be six decades since Ursula Andress first emerged from the sea, radiant in her iconic ivory bikini, clutching a knife at her waist and clutching a pair of conch shells to become the first Bond Girl, Honey Ryder ? Dust off your Walther PPK and get your gadgets out because the 007 film franchise celebrates its 60th anniversary next month.

The cinema adaptation of Ian Fleming’s super spy novel Dr. No” was released in the UK on October 5, 1962, and Sean Connery uttered those immortal words: “Bond, James Bond,” forever changing film – and our perception of espionage.

Science and technology have always been a crucial part of the Bond mix, from lasers to amphibious cars to stealth boats, biological warfare and giant floating fortresses. Often far from scientifically accurate, especially in the earlier films, we enjoy them as part of the films’ indulgent, over-the-top entertainment.

As a chemist and science writer, I’m particularly interested in the many toxins that appear in the films in a variety of ways. Not everyone would immediately associate the world of James Bond with poisons, but the films used a surprising number of toxic substances: deadly gases, darts, cigarettes and drinks, and many poisonous animals (scorpions, spiders, monitor lizards, squid, and snakes for the beginning).

SERIOUS SHAKE: 007's martini was spiked with digitalis

SERIOUS SHAKE: 007’s martini was spiked with digitalis (Image: HANDOUT)

My new book, Superspy Science, covers everything from the practicalities of building a volcano-based hideout to whether being covered in gold paint will actually kill you and — if your plan is that Conquer the world – whether it’s better Use bacteria, bombs or poison. Whatever the next 60 years have in store for 007 fans, we’ll have to wait and see.

Obviously I’m hoping for many more installments in the James Bond franchise and a few more poisonous schemes and poisonous twists along the way. Until then, here are my five favorite Bond toxic moments on the big screen.

  • Superspy Science: Science, Death and Tech in the World of James Bond by Kathryn Harkup (Bloomsbury, £17.99) is available now. To order for £16.19 with free UK shipping visit or call 020 3176 3832.
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● Superspy Science: Science, Death and Technology in the James Bond World by Kathryn Harkup

● Superspy Science: Science, Death and Technology in the James Bond World by Kathryn Harkup (Image: HANDOUT)


With this title, it’s only fair that at least one character is killed by an eight-limbed mollusk.

In the blockbuster finale match at Octopussy’s palace, Bond (played by Roger Moore) shoves a henchman headlong into an aquarium – the unfortunate git emerges with an octopus around his face. Asphyxiation seems to be the obvious cause of death, but in fact Octopussy (Maud Adams) doesn’t have just any pet cephalopod, she keeps a blue-ringed octopus.

They use poison to kill their prey (or any bad guys who dare to invade their home). The poison is tetrodotoxin. It blocks the action of the nerves, leaving the victim unable to move at all, even the muscles that control breathing. Victims of tetrodotoxin poisoning do suffocate, but because of the effects on their nerves. In the case of Octopussy, having your airway blocked by an octopus certainly wouldn’t help either.

There is no known antidote for tetrodotoxin, and the only hope of survival is quick medical attention and mechanical respiratory support while the toxin is cleared from his body. In the film, the action doesn’t linger over any cleanup or medical procedures, but that henchman has likely disappeared.

KILLER MOLLUSC: Kraken poison takes the breath away of villains

KILLER MOLLUSC: Kraken poison takes the breath away of villains (Image: HANDOUT)


Ignore the more ridiculous aspects of this film, like the space lasers and most of the plot. Hugo Drax’s insidious plan to wipe out most of humanity and replace it with his chosen group of beautiful people contains a surprising amount of chemistry.

Drax (Michael Lonsdale) has created a nerve gas from a compound found in a rare orchid. The orchid is invented, as is the poison that comes from it. But the idea that compounds found in plants can be extracted, manipulated, and harnessed is solid science.

Many chemicals, from food additives to medicines, come from plants, although the scientists working on them are trying to benefit humanity, not destroy it.

When MI6 Quartermaster Q (Desmond Llewelyn) briefs Roger Moores on 007, he shows the chemical structure of the compound in the film. The film deserves an A+ for effort – but fundamental chemical errors in their drawing of the structure make it a C- for execution.

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The classic piece of chemistry associated with spies is the cyanide pill they’re all supposed to be carrying. Cyanide appears several times in the James Bond films, knocking its victims unconscious in a matter of seconds and killing them shortly thereafter.

At worst, they suffer from twitching or foaming at the mouth. This is the sanitized and accelerated version of the reality of cyanide poisoning – headaches, disorientation, vomiting, convulsions, coma and death – all of which can last anywhere from seconds to minutes in real life.

Things get more graphical in Skyfall, but less accurate. The villain Raoul Silva, played by Javier Bardem, confronts M (Judi Dench) by showing what happened when he bit his standard cyanide capsule. He pulls a prosthesis from his mouth, revealing horrific damage to the bone: a sunken eye socket, decayed teeth, and a misshapen jaw. It looks dramatic, but that’s just not what’s happening.

Cyanide undergoes a chemical reaction in the mouth to produce hydrocyanic acid. Acids can react with the calcium carbonate in bones, but hydrocyanic acid is very weak, weaker even than the acetic acid in vinegar — and you can eat that on your chips.

To be fair, the acetic acid in vinegar is very dilute and the cyanide in Silva’s capsule would have been very concentrated. Damage to the soft tissues in the mouth would not be unexpected. However, extensive damage to skull bones is highly unlikely. However, it makes for a very dramatic moment.

Javier Bardem and Daniel Craig

Javier Bardem and Daniel Craig (Image: GETTY)


In Bond’s poker match with Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), the villain looks like he’s about to lose, so he tries to take out his opponent with a poisoned martini. Bond, Daniel Craig on his first assignment as 007, staggers out of the hotel sweating and breathing heavily to hook up to a heart monitor and some sort of blood tox analyzer (handy, standard equipment in a 00 agent’s car). .

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The results suggest it is digitalis, an incredibly powerful heart drug. The monitor shows his racing pulse and lists drugs that might counteract the effects of the poison before Bond goes into cardiac arrest.

Aside from the fact that digitalis acts far too quickly (this is an action movie, not a slow-paced medical drama), lidocaine treatment is actually an excellent strategy for dealing with the abnormal heartbeat caused by digitalis.

However, the defibrillator shock that Vesper Lynd administers to him isn’t such a good idea – it could set off worse arrhythmias or even stop 007’s heart.


The scene where sadistic Specter agent Rosa Klebb chases 007 through his hotel room and tries to kick him with a blade hidden in her shoe is a classic.

Bond, this time Sean Connery in his second appearance as 007, may be trying to avoid a potentially nasty stab wound, but audiences know that far worse lies ahead for the secret agent when Klebb (Lotte Lenya) hits her target at the tip of The Blade laced with a deadly poison.

Naturally occurring toxins are usually complex mixtures of salts, amines and proteins. The mix and the components themselves vary enormously between different species. The salts, often potassium-based, interact with the nerves.

The amines also affect the nerves by changing the chemical endings. Proteins, in the form of muscles, blood vessels and the earlier scene in the film, another Russian is stabbed, with an identical one collapsing and dying in 12 seconds.

Any substance that kills in less than a minute would be considered fast-acting, but 12 seconds is amazingly fast.

The venom is unnamed, but many, particularly sea snakes, can act quickly because they have to be.

Sea snakes use their venom to kill prey, and if not quickly incapacitated, it may swim away and the snake will lose its dinner.

The prey may not be dead at this point, but the outcome is clear. The same goes for the Russian agent, who collapses on the ground.

He might not be dead after 12 seconds, but since nobody’s trying to help him, he might as well be.

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