Closest Thing We Got

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Spike: What about Rainbow Dash?
Twilight Sparkle: Congratulations, Spike! You're the new Rainbow Dash!
Spike: ME?!?

The news that arrived from France tells us about the extraordinary success of his records and his astonishing concerts [...] And here today we have the joy, and why not admit it? The great honor for his brother-in-law to sing next!

Les Luthiers' "Les Nuits de Paris" routine

The Hero needs somebody with specific skills, a doctor, a hacker, whatever. He calls on the Innocent Bystander for volunteers, or maybe drafts somebody into helping. The person protests. "I'm not a doctor, I'm just a dentist!" Followed by The Hero saying: "You're the Closest Thing We Got," possibly with a pep talk.

Common alternative phrasings include "Close enough" or "It's the best chance we've got".

Can also be used with objects and replacement MacGuffin. In extreme instances this becomes MacGyvering.

Very common in works that take place After the End where a group of people are trying to rebuild civilization.

Compare Million-to-One Chance, You Are in Command Now, Field Promotion, Open-Heart Dentistry and Not That Kind of Doctor. If the volunteer happens to be a doctor of literature and a doctor of medicine, he's an Omnidisciplinary Scientist. If this trope describes the hero, he's the Right Man in the Wrong Place.

Examples of Closest Thing We Got include:

Anime and Manga

  • One Piece; in an episode where Sanji and Pudding are trying to bake a cake that will cure Big Mom's pining, a snag is hit when they find they're short 30 grams of butter. (Given how vital it is that the recipe be complete, even a small shortage would ruin it.) Sanji, being a cook who can think on his feet effortlessly, tells them to finds some prunes and blend them into puree, using it as a substitute, then add baking powder to the recipe and slightly less sugar, explaining this procedure will compensate for the lack of butter. Thankfully, it proves adequate.

Fan Works

  • In the Firefly/Doctor Who crossover The Man with No Name, the Doctor ends up needing Simon to operate on him when he gets shot. While Simon is a genuine doctor, he'd never treated (or indeed, heard of) a Time Lord before.


"We're the only ones with any medical training."
"What exactly are we gonna do, Dad, give him a cleaning?!"

Ted Stryker: I flew single-engine fighters, but this plane has four engines. It's an entirely different kind of flying... altogether.[1] I haven't touched any kind of plane in six years.
Dr. Rumack: Mr Stryker, I know nothing about flying. You're the only one on this plane who can possibly fly it. You're the only chance we've got.

  • The opening sequence of Star Trek: Generations features a freshly-christened Enterprise being sent out on a rescue mission with no more than a skeleton crew and a handful of reporters. When refugees start pouring in, the medical staff are overwhelmed until Chekov recruits the reporters.

"You, you and you. You've just become nurses, let's go."

    • Of course, Chekov himself had no medical training either.
      • It was supposed to be Dr. McCoy, the writers just did a find-and-replace on the script to change "McCoy" to "Chekov".
      • Besides, as often as Chekov has ended up in Sickbay, he's bound to have picked up some basics by now.
  • In Memphis Belle, bombardier Val has not exactly gone out of his way to deny that he is almost qualified as a doctor, even if he never specifically claims so. When Danny is wounded during the mission and the others look to Val to save him, he finally fesses up, admitting he only took two weeks of medical school before enlisting. The Captain, Dennis, gives him a speech about how he's the closest thing they got, and he goes off to save Danny's life...
  • In The Flight of the Phoenix, the plane has crashed in the Mongolian Desert, and the group needs to get if to fly again. Thankfully one of their members is an aeronautical engineer. The only problem is, he designs toy planes, not real ones....


  • Subverted by Discworld's Doughnut Jimmy, a veterinarian to racehorses and therefore infinitely more reliable than mere doctors as he cannot simply pass off his failures as "the will of the gods" to respectable businessmen such as Mr. Chrysophrase.
    • And played straight by the fact that he lacks the capacity to think of any patient as anything other than a horse, and, in Feet of Clay, does indeed attempt to treat Lord Vetinari as if he were a horse, and not the thin, aging, slightly frail, Assassin-educated, keenly-insighted ruler of Ankh-Morpork.
  • In Sandy Mitchell's Death or Glory, Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!!) presses a vet into military duty because he's the only doctor they've got.
  • In Jurassic Park, a veterinarian specializing in avian health is responsible for caring for The Cassandra after the T-rex attack. Subverted when Ian Malcom dies, then played straight when the death is retconned in the sequel.
  • A veterinary surgeon is drafted in to provide first aid after a terrorist attack on a ferry in Tom Clancy's novel Patriot Games. Realistically subverted as one of the gunshot victims doesn't survive, even though a Navy rescue helicopter with a medical corpsman onboard arrives within minutes and all the vet did was apply pressure bandages.
  • The War Against the Chtorr. The protagonist is assigned to a front-line special forces unit because they need a scientist. In fact he only has a couple of years of college-level biology, but most of the real scientists have been killed off in the plagues and those that remain are too valuable to risk.
  • A repeated motif in S.M. Stirling's Island in The Sea of Time, where the island of Nantucket is sent back in time to 1250 BC. The local machine-shop hobbyist becomes an industrialist, a greenhouse grocery-farmer expands to plant whole fields of crops, the captain of a Coast Guard vessel becomes commander in chief of the military, the police chief becomes head of state...
  • Waldo Butters from The Dresden Files is called upon to perform battlefield medicine more than once by the hero, in spite of being a medical examiner by trade. This is because Butters can be trusted to be discreet, and Harry can't exactly risk using a hospital.
  • At one point in the Codex Alera series, Tavi finds himself the only surviving officer of his legion, and is forced to take command. He starts by promoting several senior NCOs to replace the officers...and the madam in charge of the company's camp followers is appointed Tribune Logistica (officer in charge of the supplies). Lampshaded when his Number Two immediately complains about appointing a civilian as a Legion officer.
    • Later on, Captain Tavi finds himself in desperate need of engineers. Earthcrafting is a power with many applications, including seduction. Tavi recruits the legion's whores, who have been practicing earthcrafting every day of their professional lives.
  • In the second Harold Shea story, Shea and Chalmers are forced to recite an epic poem or else die. The closest thing that either one of them has memorized is "The Ballad of Eskimo Nell". What's more, his Love Interest is also present. At the end of the story, she asks what "those strange words" mean.
  • Stephen King
    • Under the Dome. after the cut-off town's only real qualified doctor dies of a heart attack, the physician's assistant has to perform all medical procedures and drafts nurses as physician's assistants and civilians as nurses. In a town quickly devolving into chaos and violence, not to mention all the town's children having psychic seizures.
    • The Stand. Stu Redman is forced to perform an appendectomy. Later on, the Free Zone is forced to rely on a veterinarian until a doctor arrives.
    • Similarly, in The Regulators (written under the Richard Bachman pen name), veterinarian Tom Billingsley attempts to treat a neighbor who's nearly had her arm shot off.

Live Action TV

  • In the 2004 Battlestar Galactica series, the titular ship finds itself separated from the fleet moments after Commander Adama has been twice shot in the chest, with Dr. Cottle, the only doctor in the fleet, on another vessel. As such, the task of performing a risky life-saving operation falls to a nursing assistant who comments that she has no experience at anything more involved than giving enemas. Naturally, it works out, though all she did was manage to keep him alive long enough for the real doctor to sort him out properly, the implication being it would not have worked out if they had taken much longer.
    • Also when Dr. Gaius Baltar is requested to determine where the Cylon-mine's Tylium-storage might be located - he doesn't have a clue about mining or factory work, but he's the Closest Thing They Got to all sorts of experts. It's good thing that he's a genius with a guardian angel.
    • This can also apply to the Galactica itself. The ship was about to be retired and be turned into a floating museum, and was outfitted with obsolete fighters. However, after the destruction of the rest of the Fleet, the aging Galactica is the only military vessel available to protect the refugees.
  • Throughout the run of Star Trek: Voyager, Tom Paris is often drafted into doing nursing duties. Apparently taking an exobiology course in college (to impress a girl he was interested in) is the closest thing they've got to a nurse on board now that the entire medical staff has been killed.
    • The Emergency Medical Hologram itself is an example, being pressed into service as the Voyager's full-time Chief Physician after the aforementioned death of the entire medical staff.
    • And they do actually show Tom on several occasions stressed out pulling duty as nurse and pilot while trying to learn enough medicine to be at least competent.
  • In the episode "Mirror, Mirror" of Star Trek: The Original Series, Scotty drafts McCoy into helping him. McCoy does his "I'm a Doctor, not a" routine, but Scotty quietly says that of the people they have (the others being Kirk and Uhura), Bones is the closest thing they've got.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Siege of AR-558":

Kellin: You an engineer?
Ezri Dax: No...but Tobin, one of my previous hosts, was.
Kellin: Close enough.

Odo: Look, Sisko. I'm a security officer, a good one, but that doesn't make me qualified to help you run station operations.
Sisko: You're probably right, Constable, but as you can see, you're all I've got.

Bounty Hunter: Dr. Jackson, if you'd be so kind as to dress my wound.
Daniel: I'm an archeologist.
Bounty Hunter: I know, but you're also a doctor.
Daniel: Of archeology.

    • He then turns to Major Carter, who has had some medical training.
      • Which is, of course, useless, as the bounty hunter isn't human, and the wound dressing is nothing like an Earth first aid kit.
  • B.J. Hunnicutt of M*A*S*H is put in charge by Hawkeye whenever the problem of the week involves horses, because B.J. once stepped in a pile of manure and his father-in-law owns a farm.
    • Averted in a similar scenario when they go to Col. Potter, who lived on a farm and served as a cavalryman in WW 2, and his response was to call a veterinarian to help.
    • In an episode where all the women were sent away for some reason, the enlisted men were recruited as nurses.
  • In the Lost pilot, Jack deems Kate acceptable to stitch up his wounds because she once sewed the drapes in her apartment, though it was mostly that he couldn't reach the wound himself and she was the first person to happen upon him when he was checking the damage. He was just trying to reassure her she could manage.
    • And in one of the later seasons Jack has his appendix removed by Juliet, who is a fertility doctor.
  • During the "Show Biz Awards" sketch on Monty Python's Flying Circus, Eric Idle, parodying Richard Attenborough, introduces David Niven as the guest star to read the next round of nominations. "Sadly, Mr. Niven could not be with us this evening, but he has sent his fridge ..." A large, white refrigerator with an oversized bow tie wrapped around it is wheeled onto the stage, and reads the nominations in a silly voice.
  • The IT Crowd: "Pick a Card... don't show me! Put it back in the pack... is this your card?" "No-- but damn close! You are the man I seek."
  • In Stargate Universe, combat medic Tamara "TJ" Johansen finds herself as the ranking medical officer among the crew of 80 or so stranded on the Destiny. After protesting that she's not qualified to be the ship's doctor, Col. Young gives her the standard "Just Do Your Best" speech and sets her to work. Five episodes later she gets a second Field Promotion to chief psychologist in light of her undergraduate degree in psychology.
  • Early on the Doctor Who story The Seeds of Doom the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and two scientists are stranded at an Antarctic research station with a colleague who's been infected by a deadly alien parasite, and his only chance is an emergency amputation. The scientist the Doctor tells this to is shocked because he's a zoologist, but he agrees to try after Sarah Jane points out his colleague, a botanist, is even less qualified.
  • Simon Tam in Firefly is a trauma surgeon not a therapist. But then he is also a Big Brother. So presumably that's will do. There is not much else.
  • The Walking Dead features Rick finding a doctor after his son Carl has been (accidentally) shot. Queue this exchange:

Lori: You've performed this before, right?
Greene: In a sense.
Lori: But you're a doctor?
Greene: Of course. I'm a vet.
Lori: You're a veteran? Like a combat medic?
Greene: A veterinarian.

Geraldine: You'll do.
David: Over my dead body. I'm not having my grandchild brought into the world by James Herriot. (steps up)


  • At the beginning of "Les nuits de Paris" (Les Luthiers), after mentioning that anybody who knew the current trends in French music should know the name Jean-Claude Tremend, Marcos Mundstock would eagerly announce said musician's brother-in-law presence in the theatre, inviting him to sing a song.

Tabletop Games

  • Many RPG systems allow a character to "default" on a skill, using a different but related skill with some kind of penalty. How difficult this is depends on the system and the specific skills involved; e.g. in GURPS if you know how to drive a car well you'll have at least an idea how to handle anything from a motorcycle to a tank, but trying to perform surgery on basic first-aid training is practically impossible.
  • Dungeons and Dragons version 3.5 had a feat called Jack of All Trades which allowed you to make a skill check in any skill that said "Trained Only" without training, turning you into an all purpose "Closest thing we've got.". Generally the results are very bad (you only have your attribute and any magic/tool bonuses, which is generally in the single digits total), though an obscure elf only feat can turn it into Omnidisciplinary Scientist.
  • In Magic The Gathering some colors are deliberately weak at some areas, forcing either complex solutions to make up for it, or use of overpriced colorless cards. For example Black has no real good source of artifact removal, so animating an enemy's artifacts to destroy them with black's plentiful creature removal is often used as a substitute.

Video Games

  • Knights of the Old Republic: Your character is a soldier with basic Jedi training. You are suddenly the closest thing the Council has to a Jedi Knight to hunt down the source of the massive Sith fleet. It makes more sense after the Reveal.
    • And more so in the sequel: your character has been cut off from the Force and exiled from Republic space. Suddenly, you are the closest thing to a Jedi left to defeat the Sith out to destroy all life in the galaxy.
  • This shows up in the manual of the FMV game Bloodwings: Pumpkinhead's Revenge. The Spoony One was not happy.

The tormented spirit of Pumpkinhead has been let loose to seek vengeance among the living. Unfortunately, for the poor souls of Ferren Woods, they have nothing better than you to stop them.
The Spoony One: Hey, that's neat. I paid money for this game and it insults me. Kiss my ass.

  • An in-game book in Arcanum has some big-game hunters kidnapping a technologist to service their guns. His area of expertise is chemistry, rather than gunsmithing, so all he's qualified to do is check the quality of their gunpowder.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • In Booster Gold's Day in The Limelight episode of Justice League Unlimited, he is asked to save the world from a guy with a black hole in his chest (no, really). He claims that this is too big and that he's a phony pretending to be a hero, but the Hot Scientist Girl of the Week says that he's the closest thing they've got (well, the only thing, in fact; the rest of the League is too busy fighting Mordru offscreen to give a damn).
    • This is right after he asks her to help a woman in labor, seeing as how she is a doctor, she then angrily retorts that she is a physicist.
  • Randy Marsh in South Park often gets called to action as the town's only scientist. The thing is, he's not a Omnidisciplinary Scientist: he's a geologist.
  • It's in the theme song for Dave the Barbarian.

They ain't the greatest heroes, but they're the only ones we've got!

  • During the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode, "The Return of Harmony, part 2", with Rainbow Dash tricked into flying off to Cloudsdale by Discord, Twilight needs someone to fill her spot. And much to his dismay, Spike turns out to be that someone. The elements fail, but not (entirely) because of him.
  • Kind of the whole point of Megas XLR. Megas was sent back in time to avoid a Bad Future where evil aliens enslaved humanity, in an attempt to Set Right What Once Was Wrong, but some idiot sent it too far into the past, where it was found by a large, jovial gearhead and video game fanatic named Coop. Eventually, one of the idiots who sent it to the past send Kiva to correct the mistake, only to find that Coop's modifications mean only he can pilot it. Well, Coop may not be the best hero material, but now he's the Closest Thing We Got, and eventually, he does prove up to the job.

Real Life

  • There was once a documentary on a small town damaged by a storm, and at the local hospital, things got so bad that, at one point, one surgeon found himself to be the only medical professional in the building, with no one to help him with a surgical procedure he absolutely had to do on a patient. In desperation, he found a random guy in the hallway and drafted him to help. The guy had no medical training whatsoever, and was given a surgeon's gown, mask, gloves, and had to help out in performing surgery.
  1. All, together: "It's an entirely different kind of flying!"