No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"Probably the last man who knew how it worked had been tortured to death years before. Or as soon as it was installed. Killing the creator was a traditional method of patent protection."

A specialized version of the Reset Button: Any dangerous device or technology owned by a villain (particularly a supervillain of the James Bond mode) which is not off-the-shelf exists in a metaphorical vacuum. There is only one of it, there are no plans or schematics for it, no earlier generations of development exist (in the case of expensive and rushed projects, the final project might have been made with the cannibalized parts of the prototype, or might actually be the prototype after a whole lot of upgrades and patches), and (for dangerous computer programs) no backup copies anywhere. Thus the hero may safely blow it up, blast it with EMP or otherwise render it useless, confident that no one can recreate the technology—or worse, just take version 0.9 out of storage and use that the moment he leaves.

Note that in the real world, scientists and engineers make and keep very detailed notes—this is often what differentiates Science from Mad Science. Mad Science is magic-like in how it can somehow summon up something that its own creator isn't sure how it works.

This trope usually does not apply when the scientist who designed the technology is treated as a sympathetic character. In this case, the remorseful researcher does keep notes, which he will either attempt to burn or erase himself, or will ask the heroes to destroy for him. Nor does it apply when the experiment results in a Psycho Prototype; in these cases, the researcher will make changes to the plans and build a second, "good" version, to fight the first, "bad" one.

Occasionally subverted after the customary celebration of the superweapon being destroyed, with one hero ominously pointing out, "yes... but there's nothing to stop them building another." Otherwise it is a common excuse for Forgotten Phlebotinum.

Compare Reed Richards Is Useless, where the formula exists, but is only applied to fantastic problems. It may appear as a justification for Never Recycle Your Schemes.

Examples of No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup include:

Anime and Manga

  • One Piece averts this trope through the characters of Robin and Franky, and at least one story arc. Robin is the last survivor of an archaeological society that knew how to decode ancient glyphs that tell the location of a powerful superweapon; Franky is the most recent in a line of shipbuilders to inherit the superweapon's plans. The World Government is both trying to erase memory of the superweapon from the general populace and either find or recreate it.
    • It also becomes a plot point, as Franky's mentor Tom and later his fellow apprentice Iceberg want to destroy the plans to Pluton, since it's dangerous having the possibility of someone building the superweapon, but they need it in case Robin revives the weapon. When Franky realizes that Robin wants to live and stay with the Straw Hats rather than revive the weapon he burns the Pluton blueprints, betting everything on the Straw Hats saving her so that if they succeed, the World Government will lose the ability to acquire Pluton.
  • Used in Shaman King in reference to Mosuke's most powerful sword, Harasume, which was ironically made of melted up junk metal and an old hunting knife. After creating it, the emperor ordered Amidamaru to kill Mosuke so as to make Harasume follow this trope. Even though the Emperor's plan somewhat fails, Harusame remains a sword of unparalleled power.
  • Ram-Dass in Soukou no Strain was an illegal experimental prototype, and The Gloire was a modified "regular" Gloire whose modifiers did quite well for people that didn't have the plans for the original.
  • Braver in Transformers Victory invents a device that can detect Decepticons within ; Jean, Holi, and Star Saber all seize on the idea of placing a bunch of them at strategic points around the world. Braver handwaves this away by saying the device requires specialised components, but they still put the device to good use. At the end of the episode, however, Leozack steals it, and Braver vows to start his research from scratch. Couldn't he just have remembered how to make it?
  • Shin Mazinger Shougeki! Z-hen averts this. The reason Dr. Hell always has unique robots instead of rebuilding the good ones is because he didn't build them to begin with, and he's a biologist, so it's not like he could fix them up if he wanted to. And in the case of Mazinger Z not only was there a prototype, but Juuzou Kabuto also made numerous objects out of Super Alloy Z, and was known for having loads of patents that most likely came out of testing parts for the titular robot.
  • Subverted (and yes, it really is a subversion) in Darker than Black. A Mad Scientist had constructed a particle accelerator that could be used to destroy Hell's Gate, which would wipe out every single contractor instantly. Amber's group, naturally wishing to prevent this, sent in a strike team to destroy it. After they managed it, the scientist was ranting about what a waste it was... at which point his bosses informed him that they'd made a backup without telling him.
  • Gundam Seed has ZAFT failing miserably in terms Gundam prototypes, making several powerful suits which become the source of agony for them as they get a Gundamjack and the Federation of all groups managing to mass produce at least one feature into their new mobile suits (The Jet Striker pack for the Dagger-L and the Windam look like a smaller version of Justice's backpack, while the Wild Dagger is an Alliance Dagger-L with the ZAFT Gaia Gundam's transforming ability.). The Earth Alliance second set of Gundams gotten a mass production upgrade for their non Brainwashed and Crazy soldiers.
    • Averted in Gundam Seed Destiny with ZAFT's new generation of Gundams: Of the five, Chaos and Saviour have prototypes, and ZAFT made multiple Impulses with Mecha Expansion Packs that reproduce the abilities of Gaia, Chaos and Abyss—and then MSV introduced a Destiny pack for the Impulse, as well as a prototype for The Lancer's Legend Gundam.
      • Also subverted in the Federation mobile armors. The first one usually served as an occasional Monster of the Week, but afterward multiples would appear in their forces.
      • The biggest aversion comes at the climax of the series. Not only did they apparently get their hands on Patrick Zala's designs for the Genesis Superweapon, they even duplicated it and improved it, going so far as to make it so that it doesn't melt the reflector mirrors AND mounted it on a moving asteroid fortress.
  • The Gundam series set in the Universal Century averts this to all hell and back, especially once Anaheim Electronics comes into the picture.
    • In the original series, this is played straight... from Zeon's point of view. They did make plans and backups and even prototypes of their Zakus. The only error is that Amuro has all the files on his personal computer... Luckily for the Zeon, Amuro has learned absolutely nothing about the Zaku II, its combat capabilities and future Mobile Suits, despite the fact that we saw him studying the schematics in the beginning of the first episode.
    • It still happened once, with the F99 Recordbreaker Gundams in Crossbone Gundam: The Steel Seven. These Gundams were equipped with the super-powerful "Wings of Light" system a full twenty years before it showed up in Victory Gundam. The Jovian Empire managed to destroy all three prototypes, along with all the plans and research for it in their attack on the lunar base, forcing the system to pretty much have to be re-invented from scratch.
  • One could infer that Mobile Suit Gundam 00 Aeolia Schenberg played this straight deliberately when it came to the original GN technology, since the Tau replications that Ribbons leaked to the three factions, as well as used himself, were nowhere near their capabilities. This one's All in The Manual—the "real" GN drives have a specific component (the "solar blanket") that can only be manufactured in the Jovian gravity well. An "incident" at the facility where they were made has guaranteed that no more will be forthcoming any time soon.
    • Pointedly averted with the Memento Mori. The heroes destroy it in a badass manner before it can do too much damage, and are badly damaged in the battle, but happy in the knowledge that they've denied the enemy a superweapon. Turns out the enemy built two of 'em, just in case.
  • The Big O: Justified: Megadei can be repaired but never engineered, the same goes with all the other Lost Technology from 40 years ago.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's: After spending two days and nights straight creating a new D-Wheel program, Yusei and Bruno are so exhausted, they go to bed without bothering to install or backup said program... which gets stolen that night.
    • The dub adds a few additional handwaves: the thief not only copied their files but deleted them off the hard drive, and the two can't expect to recreate the program from scratch because there was a lot of on-the-spot ad-libbing involved.
  • Lampshaded aversion on Demashita! Powerpuff Girls Z: Him steals the metal drum full of Chemical Z from the lab and is surprised when The Professor shows up later with a loaded Chemical Z beam. The professor explains he stored the supply of Chemical Z in multiple places for just such an occasion.
  • Averted in Steamboy when a mad scientist is told to destroy his invention he replies it can never be destroyed, now that the world has seen in.
  • In Full Metal Panic!!, Mithril's Arbalest is one of these. It is a Super Prototype Real Robot made using Black Box technology that only certain Whispered can create, even if they do not fully understand the underlying principles. Its creator went suicidally insane after building it, killed himself and destroyed his own notes, and Mithril doesn't have any other Whispered who understand the Lambda Driver technology that drives it. Their counterpart Amalgam does have one, however, and can mass produce mechs that use the same technology.
  • Averted in the Soul Eater anime: Sid and Naigus are able to successfully raid Arachnophobia's research facility and destroy their prototype Morality Manipulation Machine, but it ends up being just a setback for them.

Comic Books

  • Comics love this trope, as it allows for unique items that only the hero or villain has. It's also used as a MacGuffin generator.
  • The reason Captain America is one of a kind in the Marvel Universe is because the only person who knew the formula for the Super Soldier Serum got shot right after administering it to Cap. Furthermore, for security reasons, that scientist kept no notes of the full treatment, relying on his memory. Attempts at reproducing it haven't gone so well.
    • So, of course, Arnim Zola was able to create a clone of Cap complete with Super Solder Serum—and never attempted to experiment to figure out how to extract the stuff. Especially since the Serum has been completely extracted at least once and it's been shown that a blood transfusion from Cap also comes with that particular bonus. (Making it more Holding Back the Phlebotinum than anything else, now.) Of course, see below re: 'you still can't be sure that a duplicate serum won't drive you insane'. It's quite likely that the only reason the Cap clone didn't go nuts is because the mind of the Red Skull was in it, and that guy is already nuts.
      • Diamondback, the recipient of the aforementioned blood transfusion of Cap's frozen blood, is still entirely mentally stable. You'd think that the US government or SHIELD would be politely asking Steve if he didn't mind bleeding in a tube. Even granted that you seemed to need quarts of the stuff, draining him a few pints at a time (using transfusion to make up the lost volume with normal blood) should get you a new supersoldier by next year, and then you can start duping that guy...
    • In Captain America I #153, a man who found the formula, heretofore overlooked in Axis files (due to Allied bombings similar to Dresden, not even the Axis knew that they had it), noted that he found it untraceable in animals he had experimented upon and then dissected. He used this as leverage to force the US government to allow him to serve as a new Captain America for the Korean War—which ended before he could serve. This man later went mad due to the effects of the serum, suggesting its unpredictability on subjects. Incidentally, MLJ's the Shield seems to have inspired Captain America (the shape of Captain America's shield turned round when MLJ pointed out how closely it represented the front of the Shield's costume). The Shield's father had perfected a similar formula, but enemy agents slew him. The Shield, however, recreated his father's formula. Why he did not use it other than on himself I do not recall.
      • The problem with the Super Soldier Serum in the 616-verse is that it was actually a two component effort—first the serum, and then bombardment by "vita-rays". Every single effort to duplicate the project has focused only on the serum and apparently thinks that the vita-rays were only an afterthought, instead of realizing that they have an essential role in the process (as it's the vita-rays that stabilize the serum's assimilation into the body and keep the recipient from going insane). Apparently the reason that the blood transfusion worked is because being taken directly from Cap's own body, the serum in his blood cells was of course already vita-ray infused.
    • However, the Ultimate Marvel universe is practically built around subverting this particular trope. The original Cap was one-of-a-kind—which is why every government and corporation on the planet has spent the last fifty years trying to duplicate the process, or at least come up with something similar, leading to a superhuman arms race. The Ultimate Hulk was the result of a failed attempt, the OZ formula that gave Ultimate Spider-Man his powers was another—pretty much every superhuman in this universe, except for the mutants, owe their powers to some attempt at recreating the super-soldier project. Eventually, even the mutants are revealed to be a result of a super-soldier-related project, making the subversion even more wide-ranging.
    • More, Captain America's shield is one of a kind, never duplicated; the guy who made it had no idea what he was doing and thus, wasn't keeping records and, according to some stories, fell asleep while working on it, and when he woke-up, the shield was made.
      • A recent tweak to Ultimate Cap's origin established that the head scientist was simply a cruddy record-keeper and did not write everything down before rudely getting shot.
      • Captain America: The First Avenger puts a different spin on his shield: Howard Stark presents Steve with multiple options for a shield, but Cap spots a disc shaped one that Howard explains is a vibranium prototype. Why can't more be made? That was all of the vibranium they had.
  • Possibly why there's only one Super-Adaptoid, an android built by the terrorist organization A.I.M., which has given The Avengers a lot of trouble over the years. Even The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe states that A.I.M. would likely have built more if they were able, so likely, something prevented them from doing so.
  • Double Subverted in Ultimate Spider-Man. During the Venom storyline, Pete is infected with the symbiote. He manages to get rid of it, then convinces Eddie Brock to let him destroy the rest of the sample. Peter leaves with the container, then Eddie walks over to a locker and opens it to reveal another container with a backup. He even lampshades this, saying "Guess they haven't taught you about backups in high school." However, after this backup sample turns Eddie Brock into Venom, none of the work is left, and he never attempts to recreate the formula, even though he'd be able to sell it to the military for billions.
    • Except, you know, Eddie's still pissed that Trask Industries wanted to use the suit as a weapon despite it being developed to cure cancer. I doubt he'd be so eager to sell it to the military.
  • The Golden Age "Good girl" Phantom Lady had a "blacklight projector" whose inventor literally died just as he delivered the only copy straight into her hands.
  • The Creeper's creator had a Healing Factor in a bottle that he used up healing one guy, then lost forever.
  • The minor Marvel character Jack Of Hearts got his power from a Freak Lab Accident involving his father's Zero Fluid, an apparently limitless energy source that would have solved the world's energy crisis... had the creator not been shot dead and the only sample in existence absorbed into Jack.
  • The Silver Age Flash got his powers because a lightning bolt struck a cabinet full of random chemicals, which then spilled onto him. Subsequent attempts to find out which combination of chemicals would, when lightning-struck, yield similar results have all been failures.
    • However, by sheer coincidence, the Flash just happened to set up the right combination of chemicals when demonstrating this to his young protege—without taking any notes, of course—and lo, another freak lightning bolt created Kid Flash.
    • Actually, this eventually turned out to be the origin of the original Professor Zoom who started out as a Fan Boy who successfully duplicated the accident after years of painful treatments in order to use Barry's old treadmill to go back and hang out with him.
  • Aversion, or at least subversion: Iron Man. He not only has multiple versions of his armor stretching back to his first one (and has used previous versions to solve a current problem), but one of the key storylines in the comic series was how his foe Obidiah Stane got a hold of all his armor research and technology when he took over Stark's company.
    • Not to mention that, almost uniquely, there is actually another superhero running around with his toys—War Machine uses one of Tony's suits modified with More Dakka.
  • V in V for Vendetta. He blew up the research plant, killed the doctor and was the only survivor anyhow.
  • Atomic Robo, the sentient, intelligent, super-strong robot built by Tesla in the 1920s is one of a kind, and Tesla made certain no records or information on the countless innovations in Robo exist outside his own mind. In a letter from Tesla in the back of Volume 2, he states that this was because he would not allow living beings to be created as weapons.
  • Ultmate Marvel again. 'Ultimate Galactus Trilogy'. Faced with another alien invasion, the Genre Savvy government pulls out all the stops to build a space shuttle capable of reaching the Capital Ship and giving them a hard time. The aliens step up and blow it away. They think they won. This was a trap designed to garner intelligence on the bad guys. The aliens didn't think to check the neighboring tower at the launch facility.
  • The Justice League of America villain the Red King is a sideways look at this trope. He had the ability to access multiple universes, try various things in them, and keep the ones he liked. He used this to (among other things) win horse races, become a billionaire/media darling, and get a hot girlfriend. When he decides to get super-powers, he has research teams in billions of universes try various approaches and keeps the best ones. As far as his employees knew, the boss just showed up one day and gave them a disc with files showing perfect, foolproof, side-effect-free procedures for giving virtually any super-power imaginable. After his defeat by the Justice League, one assumes the disc is still in his corporate files somewhere...
  • In Adrenalynn: Weapon of War, the only scientist capable of creating the revolutionary cyborgs such as Adrenalynn (who was the last cyborg he created), hung himself out of shame for doing that to a little girl.
  • This turns out to be the case in the Tintin book Destination Moon for the moon rocket and the entire Sylvadian moon landing mission. Which is why when Professor Calculus got amnesia, the entire project was put into jeopardy.
  • Averted with the Super-Skrull from Fantastic Four. He was created from a process the Skrulls used to mimic super powers, placing the combined powers of the FF into one warrior. They used the process again over the year, eventually creating an entire army of them in Secret Invasion.


  • Subverted in Limitless where the main character gets his supply of the drug from a person who gets killed off pretty quickly, but he eventually gets labs up and running that not only make it, but work out the kinks in the drug.
  • In Godzilla, Doctor Serizawa is seen burning the notes for the creation of the Oxygen Destroyer, and implicitly destroyed the prototypes as well. Of course, the knowledge still exists in his brain, and there's only one thing to be done about that.
  • Subverted in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, in which another scientist manages to duplicate Serizawa's research.
  • Justified in The Rocketeer. The rocket pack in the film is the prototype, and the creator of the rocket pack is shown burning the plans in the first scene of the film. However, at the end of the story, the Distressed Damsel gives the the hero's mentor a gift -- the complete schematics of the pack to enable him to build a new and better one. And before that, the Mentor is seen reverse engineering said rocket pack.
  • Classic example: In the failed pilot TV movie Exo-Man from 1977, a scientist is attempting to create an ill-defined compound or alloy that will do something equally ill-defined but apparently magical with ultraviolet energy. The research process consists of the scientist and his assistants mixing up batches of stuff and testing them, over and over again. Naturally, the only sample that works is the one that gets whipped up by one of the assistants just goofing around and tossing random junk into the mix -- right before he is killed by mob hitmen in the same attack that paralyzes the scientist. In perfect keeping with this trope, the scientist doesn't think to analyze the working sample to figure out what it is and reproduce it, thus achieving his original research goals. Instead he builds a suit of power armor using the few bits of the stuff he has, and goes out fighting crime in it.
  • Batman invokes this trope in The Dark Knight. He creates a device that turns every cell phone in Gotham into a sonar emitter, allowing him to map the city and its inhabitants in real time. He knows this thing is too powerful to morally use on a regular basis, so he gives it to Lucius Fox with instructions to type in a self-destruct sequence afterward. Fox does so, and the whole thing promptly falls apart as Lucius performs an Unflinching Walk.
  • The Genesis Device featured in Star Treks II and III. One of the main scientists who built it was killed, and before his death, it was revealed that the technology used a semi-unethical shortcut that essentially robbed the results of all long-term utility by turning an instant terraforming device into a Weapon of Mass Destruction that temporarily improves its target. Starfleet didn't see fit to pursue the issue further, which isn't surprising considering how the Klingons reacted to it. Given that the Genesis Device didn't receive a proper test its viability is unknown. It was designed to be used on an existing planet/moon, not create a new planet. The science team deliberately wiped all their notes to try and keep them from being captured, and then most of the science team got killed, leaving the key part of the formula only in David Marcus' memory. Then he got killed.
    • It's clear, however, that not all their research was destroyed. Later on a scientist in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine uses a very similar technique in an attempt to reignite a star, and Word of God is that he was working off of research done by the Genesis scientists.
      • A progress report/request for proposal on the Genesis research was submitted to Star Fleet shortly before the events of Star Trek II begin; it's the tape that Kirk watches to brief himself on Genesis. While this report obviously didn't contain the full Genesis formula (as it hadn't even been finished at that time), it was apparently what the DS9 team was working from re: trying to duplicate the research.
  • In Contact, a terrorist attack destroys the first device. There are plans, but building the device was so expensive for the entire world that the prospect of building a second one (especially since it would invite yet another attack) is summarily dismissed. It is then that a second, backup device is revealed to have been built in secret. It is explained with the Crowning Moment of Awesome line:

"First rule of government spending: why build one, when you can build two, at twice the price? Only, this one can be kept secret.

  • At the end of the 1954 Disney adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, armed forces of the Great Powers, following bottle-messages from Ned Land, track the Nautilus to Captain Nemo's home base on the island of Vulcania. Nemo blows up his laboratory to keep his technological marvels from falling into their hands. Professor Arronax, who moments before had bemoaned the impending destruction of all that wonderful tech, remarks, "Perhaps you did mankind a service, Ned."
  • Flubber: Weebo is mostly an example of this, Brainard remarks on her creation as a "happy accident". There is a back-up, but it was made by Weebo and promptly hidden from the professor.
  • The Adventures of Ford Fairlane: Mr. Rock-N-Roll Detective, Ford Fairlane, spends much of his investigation searching for three computer disks that were stolen from antagonist Julian Grendel. This trope is initially averted, since it doesn't seem to matter whether or not Grendel had the information on the disks—he wanted them back because they were evidence of his criminal scheme. Fairlane later uses the disks to lure Grendel into a final confrontation, at which point Grendel destroys the disks by attempting to eat them. This trope is then subverted when Ford reveals that he made backup copies.
  • In the 1975 Disney live action movie The Strongest Man In The World, a formula for super-strength is created when several random chemicals combine. Unfortunately, the chemists think that a different (and much more well-documented) mixture is responsible for the super strength, and schedule an intramural weightlifting competition with the wrong formula on center stage. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In Thor, the destruction of the Bifrost seems to be regarded as permanent, even though it's a machine which a society as advanced as Asgard should logically be able to reproduce. Given Thor's return in The Avengers, they obviously managed to devise a way back.
    • Ultimately proved to be a subversion. Thor's return in The Avengers is shown to be courtesy of Odin expending large amounts of dark matter, implied to be a fantastically costly and difficult method of transportation (with Thor and Loki returning via the power of the Tessaract). The Bifrost is shown as repaired by the time of the second Thor movie, but it's clearly taken a lot of time and resources, allowing the other Realms to fall into chaos while Asgard was cut off.
  • Justified in Captain America the First Avenger. The super soldier serum that Erskine was too easily exploited, since it also amplifies the person's inner nature: "Good becomes great. Bad becomes worse." To prevent this from happening again as it did with the Red Skull, Erskine kept the notes all in his head to protect the serum's formula. He gets killed and the secret dies with him. The vibranium shield is also stated to be unique because all of the Unobtanium element they ever found was only just enough to make the shield.
  • Escape from New York. The tape with the secret of nuclear fusion. Apparently every shred of data that was involved in creating it was destroyed and everyone involved in making it either given amnesia or killed, because absolutely no attempt was made to obtain a backup copy after it was lost in New York.


  • The Silmarils in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion—though the means by which they were devised is well-known, their maker insists that their production was so demanding, physically and psychologically, that to remake them would be impossible, and would produce only flawed imitations, lacking everything that made them special. (After the Two Trees of Valinor are destroyed, the Silmarils really do become irreplaceable.) The Rings of Power in The Lord of the Rings are similar, but their irreplaceability comes from the fact that destroying the One Ring also effectively destroys its maker. Since Sauron made the One Ring to control the others, their power cannot survive its destruction either, and everything that was made with their power (like Lothlorien) will also fade away.
    • This is something of a theme in The Silmarillion—other examples are the Two Trees and the White Ships of the Teleri.
  • In the Temps superhero-parody books, the famous Mad Scientist Cranston did keep detailed notes of his experiments in robotics, cloning and advanced nuclear power... but because his superpower was the Placebotinum Effect, almost all of them are total nonsense.
  • Happens very blatantly in one of the Prelude to Dune books: genius inventor invents a no-room (invisible place that no-one precognitive can see; very handy against those pesky Bene Gesserit), and Baron Harkonnen kills him so nobody else can find out. It later blows up. A-whoops!
    • Which didn't help on the long scale, because no-rooms were re-invented anyway later.
    • The Harkonnens also created a cloaking device, after which they again killed the inventor. This causes them problems in the long run, as they just killed the only person capable of maintaining or reproducing the device, which eventually breaks down.
    • It was actually the same Richesean scientist who invented the no-chamber and the no-ship. And this version didn't block against prescience because no one thought it would be a big deal. It was simply a cloaking device. Which is why it didn't work against the Bene Gesserit when Rabban tried to blow up the Mother School in it. They saw through the disguise and forced the ship down. The Bene Gesserit studied the no-ship and then destroyed it. The scientist's colleagues discovered another no-chamber in his lab with all his research into the no-field. Unfortunately, they were all killed by the Sardaukar, along with the research, making the later no-chambers and no-ships a separate discovery.
  • In the Wild Cards novels, the creations of several eccentric tinkerers are irreproducible, even by their creators, because they don't actually work: the "devices" are actually just props, extensions of their Ace powers. In one case mentioned, the device contained only a schematic diagram of the circuitry it was supposed to hold, yet worked exactly as designed.
    • In a possible subversion, though, the android Modular Man does appear to be a completely functional robot, whose subsystems can be (and have been) broken; whether the sentience occupying that android is a completely separate individual from its creator is unclear, though.
    • If memory serves, Modular Man's creator ace had a superhuman gift for robotic design or something along those lines. When said creator was infected with another version of the wildcard virus he lost the brilliance. When we see Mod Man again he is in less then perfect order because the creator has lost the ability to maintain his creation.
  • In the book Battlefield Earth, the Psychlo race has teleportation technology and nobody else in four universes (see: Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale) has been able to develop it on their own (except for one species that the Psychlos eradicated a few thousand years ago) or reverse-engineer or figure out the equations that allow teleportation to succeed. As it turns out, the Psychlos make every single teleportation device with about fifteen booby traps that completely fry the console if it is tampered with, and the circuit board inside the console is a fake, and the mathematical books are written in base 11 math and encoded in an obscure dead language that their people do not even use anymore, and every member of their race has a secret chip in their head that makes them become violently psychotic and eventually suicidal if any non-Psychlo asks them about teleportation.
  • In the early years of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, numerous writers, most likely inspired by the Death Star (which is actually an aversion of this trope, see above), had their stories feature stupidly powerful superweapons of which only one existed, the most maligned of which were the Sun Crusher (capable of destroying an entire solar system) and the Galaxy Gun (capable of firing at anything in the entire galaxy from a single vantage point). Later books, specifically the New Jedi Order series, have characters make mention of how useful these various superweapons would be against the Yuuzhan Vong, yet no efforts are made to actually replicate them. More recent media set in the Clone Wars period also features weapons that, while not capable of disintegrating a planet, are still significantly powerful enough to be built more than once, such as the Dark Reaper (a weapons platform that kills anyone who approaches it), the Seismic Tank (a massive floating fortress that crushes any forces beneath it) and the Malevolence (a vessel comparable in size to a Super Star Destroyer capable of destroying entire fleets by itself).
    • Averted with the Firespray-31: Jango Fett destroyed the production facility and the initial run when he stole the example that would become Slave One, but that only delayed the introduction for several years (in a universe where 72-year-old designs can still be going strong) and even that long a delay was largely due to the financial blow more than anything. Indeed, by the time production begins again the manufacturer's marketing plays up the association with the infamous Fetts.
  • In James Blish's Welcome To Mars, the protagonist built an antigravity drive in his garage, so he built a homebrew spacecraft and got himself stranded on Mars (which was a less hostile environment than we later discovered). Eventually he was rescued by a ship with another antigravity drive. Since he'd already done it, the engineers who made the second drive knew it must have been possible.
  • In The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jekyll deliberately destroys all notes of his experiments to prevent another man from suffering the same fate as he, and also comments that the solution as written wouldn't have worked, as it was only an impurity in the original batch that made the stuff effective.
  • In Wells's original The Invisible Man the hero does keep detailed notes, but after his death they are kept by his landlord who has dreams of recreating the formula for himself: but (says the author) he never will, because he is too stupid to realise that it takes learning he doesn't have. (The film of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen implies that their Invisible Man is that landlord who finally worked it out.)
  • In The Last Hero by Leslie Charteris, the Saint engineers the assassination of a weapons designer who had created a sort of death cloud device. However, we do not find out what happened to a prototype death cloud machine seen earlier in the novel, nor what, if anything, the Saint did with the plans for the machine.
  • In Xenocide, biologista Quara keeps her notes on re-engineering the descolada into a more benign form in her head so that the (near-omniscient) AI Jane can't find them—but mostly just to be a bitch.
  • Subverted in His Dark Materials: The Subtle Knife: Mary Malone goes to great lengths to destroy all of the existing equipment necessary to facilitate communication between humans and angels.
  • In Discworld, Leonard of Quirm both subverts this trope and plays it straight. He frequently creates brilliant inventions, such as coffee makers, helicopters, bicycles, guns gonnes, submarines, and nuclear bombs, complete with detailed diagrams and a list of parts. He goes into such detail because they're supposed to be "mental exercises," and omitting the details would be cheating. Fortunately, he is kept under lock and key by Lord Vetinari, who recognizes the dangerous potential of his inventions and keeps them away from the populace.
    • The Gonne deserves special mention—the self-aware prototype invoked this trope because it didn't want to be reproduced.
    • In fact, Leonard designed his prison himself and is shown in Jingo to be more or less free to come and go as he pleases. His hideously destructive designs are intended for constructive purposes (mining, hunting dangerous animals) and he's always immensely disappointed that people want to use them otherwise and is grateful to Vetinari for the opportunity to be sequestered in a light, airy space with plenty of paper and modeling material.
    • The fact that he leaves gratuitous plans around means that this is actually a subversion.
  • In the Repairman Jack novel, a group of pharmacists produce a drug from the monster the Rakoshi. However, due to the mystical aspect of the Rakoshi, the substance turns inert after roughly one month. Moreover, all records of the chemical structure of the substance, whether on computer or hard copy form, would change to match the inert form. Therefore, once Repairman Jack engineers the deaths of the pharamcists, all records of the substance literally disappear. (Somewhat of an unusual example, since this story explicitly involved mystical forces.)
  • Brutally subverted in Isaac Asimov's short story The Dead Past. At the end of the story, the creator of a machine for seeing into the past is convinced by a government agent that it will end society as we know it, and agrees to destroy it... and then his research assistant confesses that he's already published details of how to make the thing in several scientific journals.
    • Doubly subverted because the existing technology is kept under close government control, and the creator mentioned actually tries to recreate it with the little information that is publicly available—and makes it better than the original version. The fact that it doesn't even work for his intended purposes, looking into "The Dead Past" of Carthago, is the reason why the technology is under wraps. It only allows one to take a peek at any place in the recent past, about a generation ago -- or... (if you still don't get it, read the story or the entry in the Other Wiki)
    • Another Asimov story involved a robot designed to operate a mining laser getting lost and being found by an ordinary man. The robot then builds a mining laser out of various junk found in the man's toolshed. The only named part is a flashlight. When the robot turns on the laser, he takes out a nearby mountain. The human orders the robot to destroy the machine and itself. When the owners of the robot find it, they are outraged—the robot had somehow managed to build a laser strong enough to take out a mountain that was powered by a pair of flashlight batteries, and with the robot gone, they couldn't reconstruct it.
  • The Heechee technology in Frederik Pohl's Heechee Saga novels, especially The Gateway. They are alien artefacts and technology, of there is no documentation nor manuals, and of which is only known that they work. Attempting to use them is insanely dangerous gamble, and attempts to reverse engineer them lead only in explosion.
    • Subverted in that this is merely the normal result of trying to use a completely alien technology you're salvaging from ancient ruins after the owners have all departed for parts unknown and failed to leave behind any manuals you could read. When a surviving Heechee colony is finally found, the Heechee there are still fully aware of how all their technology works and readily teach humanity how to use it.
    • Also, most of the items that can be picked up and used are generally safe to pick up and use, the Heechee having a vague sense of OSHA compliance. Most of the hazard comes from trying to use the Heechee's remnant automated starships -- as the explorers are selecting hyperdrive coordinates in the nav computers entirely at random, a lot of explorers are making blind jumps into places that are hazardous for safe navigation, weren't hazardous at the time the computer was programmed but are now, or assume that a fuel station will still be functioning at the other end to give you enough fuel to make the jump back when said fuel station has been out of service for millenia.
  • Divide and Conquer, one of many G.I. Joe novels (yes, they exist), subverts this. Lots of trouble ensues because Cobra was just as happy to have the huge bulky disintegration ray as they were to have the small portable version. Things went blooey just as well with either one. There was almost a mutiny when one of the Cobra lieutenants guarding the device decides he wants to rule everything and will zap those who disagree.
  • Subverted in the Helen McCloy novel The Imposter. The plot involves an attempt to fashion a laser with greater power and capability. At one point, the heroine points out that scientific research normally operates as a cooperative effort. The person speaking to her acknowledges this, but notes that for the purpose of secrecy, only five people worked on the laser project, so their elimination kept it secret. When someone later points out that destroying the prototype laser would do no good, since someone will inevitably follow the chain of research and stumble upon the way to make it anyway ("Because other researchers will discover it again at any moment? Why do you think Darwin and Wallace discovered evolution at the same time?"), the heroine responds that even the delay that destroying the prototype could produce might prove useful ("...a cipher can't hide a military secret forever, but it can delay discovery long enough to change the course of history").
  • Subverted in the Dale Brown novels. After Patrick McLanahan makes off with the Soviet Fisikous-170 stealth plane in Night of the Hawk, we learn in the later book Warrior Class that the Russians held onto the technology and used it to build a second plane, the Fisikous/Metyor-179.
  • Played straight, to a Fridge Logic degree, in H.G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon, making this one Older Than Television. Once Cavor's been lost on the Moon and his planet-hopping sphere's likewise lost in space, the secret to making the gravity-blocking metal Cavorite is lost forever until, as Cavor says, someone else rediscovers it entirely by accident. This is in spite of Cavor working for years on it, in spite of the extensive blueprints and notes that are mentioned, despite his plans to submit his research to a scientific journal, and in spite of the heroes having left for the Moon with Cavor's research lab intact.
  • Subverted in a Star Trek: The Next Generation novel by Peter David called Vendetta. It turns out that the superweapon encountered by the original series crew in the episode "The Doomsday Machine" was actually a prototype that was only sent out because its creators were facing total defeat.
  • Played quite straight in Lois McMaster Bujold's novel Cetaganda, in which the titular planet's rulers keep their genetic records (necessary to continue "improving" the race) in one facility with exactly one key to unlock the genome. No backup records. No backup key. The protagonist, offworlder Miles Vorkosigan, learns this secret and bursts out, "Are you people insane?"
    • Specifically, there is only one physical collection of all the genetic samples, and only one digital copy of the file index that tells you which numbered sample container contains which sample. The novel's endgame results in copies of the digital index key being widely distributed at Miles' suggestion, but they still maintain only one copy of the archive.
  • Robert Heinlein liked to play with this one. In general he averted this trope, because he was pretty damn hard on the Mohs scale of hardness, so his scientists (typically Genius Ditz eggheads) realistically kept detailed notes and communicated with each other, but sometimes...
    • Methuselah's Children: The long-lived Howard families have ended their masquerade and the short-lived rest of humanity is upset. They refuse to believe that the Howards are the result of a selective breeding program and they demand the non-existent secret. The families steal a space ship and flee to the stars. Not finding any suitable habitats, they decide to return to Earth and demand their homes back, only to discover that humanity has spent the intervening decades discovering the secret the Howards did, in fact, have. Unfortunately, the Howard scientists hadn't taken it far enough and discarded it as an unworkable technique.
    • In order to justify some of his later, softer technologies, Heinlein came up with the phlebotinum of Shipstones, basically awesome batteries that recharge themselves using cosmic radiation, invented by a guy named Ship. There are plans, there was a prototype, and there aren't just back-ups, they're produced on an assembly line! However, the process for how they're made is a closely guarded secret so that the inventor can maintain a monopoly, and they are built with a truly insane level of anti-tamper technology so no one has yet been able to reverse-engineer them.
      • Justified in that Shipstones have zero moving parts and are designed to be replaced rather than repaired. If there is no need for maintenance then you never have to open the casing after initial assembly, which means you can just design it so that it instantly melts itself the instant anything breaches the outer shell anywhere. And then make the outer shell out of laminate armor, just to be thorough about it.
    • Completely averted again in Sixth Column: the scientist who created the initial radiation-emitting device of the heroes was killed by it in a test run before the start of the book, but the prototype and the notes remained, and the scientists who survived the test used the notes to make a directed version (essentially a beam gun) before they started developing variants.
  • Subverted in Joe Haldeman's The Accidental Time Machine. The titular time machine doesn't have any blueprints, but the main character who built does remember how it was made and quickly makes up a copy. Unfortunately, it doesn't work (or, at least, it doesn't act as a time machine. It simply works as a photon source which the original machine was supposed to be). Once the character arrives sixteen years in the future, and his professor published all his notes and has received the Nobel Prize in Physics, there are over a thousand copies of the machine in existence... which all also don't work.
  • Averted in Animorphs with the Anti-Morphing Ray. The kids realize, early on, that simply destroying the device won't be enough—the Yeerks will only build another one. They decide, instead, to first convince them that it doesn't work and that the project should be abandoned, and then "accidentally" destroy it for good measure. It doesn't go exactly the way they planned it would.
  • Darwath is your standard Dark Age/Medieval world, and so far as we know from the few glimpses we get, was much the same when it was first attacked by Lovecraftian Monsters From The Deeps. Then the King called together the greatest mages and they created the Keep of Dare—a multi-storey arcology of fused stone with artificial light, piped water, air conditioning and hydroponics gardens, where all the survivors of the first attacks could live in safety till the monsters went back underground. Whereupon everyone emerged... and went back to the same primitive level of technology as before, and left the Keep forgotten for the next three thousand years till the monsters return and they suddenly realise they need it again. Granted, there was a religious pogrom against wizards and all their works, but the idea that in all the subsequent millenia no rebel thinker ever bothered to explore the place and think 'Hey, I could use that trick,' carries Medieval Stasis to absurdity.
  • Averted in the Known Space detective story "ARM". A key plot element is an experimental machine that accelerates time in a localized bubble. The detective realizes that since an essential safety test for the system would be an experiment to determine if there was a possible destructive resonance between two accelerated-time fields (as the police technician observes that one possible outcome of the math would involve the generation of antimatter particles on the Earth's surface, and he has no idea from the equations alone if that would be the actual result or not), the inventor must have built at least one other machine to test this theory under controlled conditions. That no other machine was found means that the murderer must have stolen the second machine and used it for his escape, and its by following this train of logic that they find the murderer.
    • The murderer also had the last remaining copy of all the lab notes, having taken them with him after wiping all the laboratory databanks. So once they raided his place they had everything they needed, even though he himself died resisting arrest.
  • Subverted in He, She and It. An experimental robot decides that its kind shouldn't exist, so it kills its creator and destroys his lab, and then blows up itself. However, another character later realizes that she has backup copies of the plans on her computer, and could probably figure out how to build it again if she wanted to.
  • Averted in When Worlds Collide; the builders of The Ark build several test vehicles to try out their atomic engines, and when they complete the first ship early, they immediately start work on a second, larger one for the rest of the construction team. In addition, other countries are building their own ships.
  • Septimus Heap: The Glasses for time-travelling were built without any backups, and the plans were destroyed to prevent replication. This not only caused the first prototypes to malfunction, it also prevented the repair of the main Glass.
  • In the Hermetic Millenium, Menelaus' Super Serum cannot be duplicated—because, as his original use was illegal, he didn't make any notes to begin with, and when he injected himself, his friend turned off the inboard cameras.

Live-Action TV

  • Subverted in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Sarah finds that an intern from Cyberdyne has built a super intelligent chess computer (presumably using the knowledge that Cyberdyne gained from examining the terminator's chip) that could be a precursor of Skynet. She burns down his house, destroying the computer. Then a few episodes later, it turns out that he spent every day since then programming another one.
    • It's implied that at this point that sentient AI is the logical next step in computer technology—there's no realistic way to prevent it, because even if they kill the person who came up with idea, someone else is bound to make the same advance.
      • Which actually tracks fairly well with the message that the much-maligned third movie had that gave so many fans palpitations: "Judgment Day is inevitable." Over the course of the three movies, we see Skynet change from being invented by the US military, to being built by Cyberdyne, to... being invented by the US military again after Cyberdyne's destruction. The movies all together essentially say that someone, somewhere, is going to build Skynet, no matter how many computers and companies the freedom fighters burn to the ground.
  • Subverted in Stargate SG-1: when the first Ori supergate was destroyed, they just secretly built another one a few episodes later. When one of the good guys' ships is blown up, they build a new one—and keep building more. About the only things that fall victim to this trope are the good guys' attempts at higher technology than they can maintain the plot allows and the bad guys' unique weapons—Apophis's special mother ship, or Anubis's superweapon.
    • Anubis' superweapon is justified: it was powered by six powerful artifacts (attempts to use an alternative power source had failed), and when Anubis' flagship was destroyed with it the artifacts were lost, and Anubis had to build another flagship without the superweapon.
    • One notable incident is in Stargate Atlantis, when McKay discovers an abandoned Ancient research project (not so much abandoned, though, as "came under fire in the middle of their work") to generate limitless energy. McKay's attempts to complete the project fail, and take out a stellar system. Next season, however, his sister writes a theoretical proof (not knowing about the Stargate program) that would solve the problem that went wrong last time. So they try the experiment again, achieving much more success, though they do hit another roadblock and the project is canceled a second time.
      • Note that the project itself was about to be canceled by the Ancients. Only desperation about how it could help them win the war kept them going until it was canceled. Many characters reproach to McKay his ego in thinking he can get it working while the ancients could not, and doubted they ever could have.
      • The roadblock that they ran into with the second attempt is that it was on the verge of destroying an entire universe. An alternate universe version of Samantha Carter tried to avert that problem by shunting the excess energy into an infinite number of other alternate universes, but this effort ended by sheer coincidence when her experiment interacted quite explosively with an unrelated experiment the main reality's Sam Carter was conducting.
      • In a Busman's Holiday episode in season 5, McKay spends some time on Earth and is invited to a presentation by his old nemesis—who has gotten his hands on the secret paper Rodney wrote about the project, recreated it and turns it on against Rodney's advice. While he has fixed part of the problem, a new one comes up, and McKay has to save the day.
  • Happens too many times to count in every series of every incarnation of Star Trek.
    • For example, the Klingon Bird of Prey that can fire while cloaked in the sixth film. The prototype is destroyed, and apparently all the notes and engineers responsible for creating it must have been on board, because decades afterward in the later series they still can't do this.
      • Even worse, the heroes rig a weapon that follows the target's engine exhaust to defeat the Bird of Prey. Yet this technique is never used again in all of Trekdom despite the allegation that all craft under impulse power emit such detectable gases. It's a wonder Federation scientists never thought of this before or after that moment. On the other hand, it is reasonable to expect cloaking technology to advance apace—the ship that it was used on was considered obsolete at the time (being from the Kirk-era), and the klingons had retired them from normal use.
        • In the novelization, a character suggests that firing while cloaked might prevent the vessel from concealing its exhaust gasses the way ordinary cloaked vessels do; this is what leads to the breakthrough torpedo.
        • The "firing while cloaked" thing is also answered by paying attention to the movie. The Bird of Prey doesn't really fire while cloaked, it just blips its cloak off for a second so it will have the power to fire; anyone interested in rigging up a computer program could do the same thing, it's just a really dumb idea because you can't use shields while cloaked and all it would take is someone aiming a phaser blast at the next torpedo launch they see to take you out. It was a really dumb idea that only seemed really clever on the surface, which made it perfectly in character for the Duras Sisters.
    • On the other hand, DS9 completely averts with the Defiant. She started out as a prototype for a pure warship to deal with the Borg threat, but had numerous problems and work on the project was suspended. Then the Dominion turned up, and Starfleet restarted work, made her a functional warship, sent the now-fixed prototype to the front lines, and began building more. There are enough in service by the time that the Dominion War breaks out that one, USS Valiant, is used as a training ship for cadets.
    • Averted in the case of Lieutenant Commander Data, who was preceded by numerous prototypes, which included his "brother" Lore. However, with the passing of his creator Dr. Soong, no one is quite able to construct Soong-type androids, except for possibly Data himself, who nearly succeeds in building a viable "daughter." Judging by the fact that Starfleet at one point attempts to acquire (or, to put it less charitably, enslave) Data for the purpose of backwards engineering him, one assumes that Dr. Soong left behind no plans or blueprints, since otherwise Starfleet could have just undergone construction of androids based on any such plans.
      • Not necessarily Soong's fault, nor any indication that he attempted to destroy his notes. The colony where he did most of his work came under attack from space which effectively obliterated it, leaving the only solid records at the time in the form of Data's memory.
    • Also averted with the Scimitar in Star Trek Expanded Universe, where the Remans are shown using other Scimitar-class warbirds (they're weaker though). It is unknown unlikely that each of them features a thalaron weapon (as the lead ship was essentially built around it), making the original a Super Prototype. It may seem strange why the Romulans would allow the Remans to keep building warships that can be used against them, but in Star Trek Online, a large group of Remans have defected from the Romulan Empire.
  • Justified in Airwolf. Since Dr. Moffett, the original inventor of the thing, was planning to steal the helicopter and sell it to his own choice of buyer after getting the US government to pay for the development cost he had both the access and the motive to destroy every set of plans except for his own copy before attempting his helicopter theft. The prototype Airwolf (with the only remaining set of plans onboard) then then got retrieved from Dr. Moffett by Stringfellow Hawke -- who kept it for his own purposes rather than return it.
    • Later on in the series the government successfully builds two more helicopters based on the Airwolf principle (Airwolf 2, and the HX-1), thus implying that they were eventually able to reverse-engineer the technology from whatever fragments of information Dr. Moffett left behind. However, the project is then apparently cancelled because both helicopters were destroyed (via deliberate hostile action, admittedly) during the testing phase and after multiple costly attempts and no successful prototype field test, the budget just wasn't there anymore.
  • Somewhat averted in Firefly, where the Academy that created River is implied to have other test subjects just like her, but that the reason River is being pursued so intently is both because she was the most powerful psychic they had ever produced and that she is believed to know nearly every important military and diplomatic secret the Alliance possesses. The Movie shows that they're not wrong.
  • Played straight in the 2000 The Invisible Man series from the Sci-Fi Channel: the only one who could remove the Quicksilver gland from Darien's head successfully was Darien's dead brother. (The series Big Bad Arnaud could as well, but he wouldn't because, you know, evil.)
  • Factors in big time in the last season of the new Battlestar Galactica: The Cylons have had forty odd years of using resurrection tech, and are shown as having multiple Resurrection Ships for their Basestars. But apparently, they never thought to even keep plans around for the Resurrection Hub—without which, every Resurrection Ship becomes useless. (And guess what the Leobens, Boomers, and Sixes do after they rebel from the other Cylons? That's right—they blow up the Hub.)
    • Later, it's revealed that Cavil and the others can't reproduce resurrection technology because they never knew how it worked—it was always a Black Box to them, and only the Final Five had the knowledge to recreate it. Their original equipment is still on the Colony, but the Cavils can't figure it out. Each of the Five had exclusive knowledge of one part of the system, which means all five have to be together to recreate it. Which still seems a bit odd, unless the Five kept it that way on purpose.
      • The memory of anyone who has been Downloaded can be accessed by another Cylon (see: the Number Eight that had accessed Athena's memory). The Final Five can also download (see: Ellen Tigh). There is no reason why Cavil wouldn't have figured it out before the Cylon War, and before he re-inserted the Five to teach them a lesson.
  • Power Rangers. While much of the Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue tech does come out of nowhere, we do see a prototype of the Red Ranger's Transarmor cycle before he uses the completed one in battle. Also in Power Rangers SPD, when the Green Ranger's morpher is destroyed, he is given a backup as soon as he gets free. After the Astro Megaship was destroyed in Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, we see Andros has a replacement by the time of Power Rangers Wild Force.
    • There's also the occasional sign that Ranger technology is being copied and reproduced, usually to explain how these new guys with no known connections to the old ones got their hands on morphers. (Lightspeed Rescue and Operation Overdrive each appeared to develop theirs independently after observing previous Rangers, while some think the Jungle Fury mentor's vague explanation implies he got his off the black market.) Time Force also has a running subplot about a company studying Ranger technology in order to reverse-engineer it.
  • Played with and eventually averted in The Outer Limits episode "Final Exam". A high school genius suddenly realizes how to make a cold fusion bomb, builds one and tries to force the government to kill his enemies in exchange for not destroying the city. He eventually admits that he's secretly terrified and suicidal, because if he realized how easy it is to build one, then others will likewise discover the answer and civilization is doomed. Just before he dies, the police negotiator asks him what made him realize it, how can they stop others from finding out and doing the same thing, and the boy only has time to say that it's simply a matter of asking the right question. As the episode ends, the scene cuts away to another classroom where a science exam asks the essay question "demonstrate why cold fusion is impossible" ...and a disgruntled boy who's intently pondering it gets a look of sudden realization, and then an evil smile, on his face.
    • A later episode, mostly a Clip Show, has a time traveler recreating the technology and threatening the US government against lifting the anti-technology ban, as he claims that advanced technology will doom humanity. His opponent is another time traveler who claims that humanity is doomed without advanced technology. When the government decides to lift the ban, they send the first time traveler into the past, but he leaves his bomb behind and blows up Washington.
  • The Cheers episode "Young Dr. Weinstein" ends Woody's subplot this way. He obsessively tries to concoct a new beverage to get into the Bartending Hall Of Fame, only to find out that several of his attempts already exist. He finally comes up with something new, unique, and tasty, but can't remember what he put into it.
  • Subverted in Weird Science in the episode "Fatal Lisa". Lisa, under a spell to love Wyatt, deletes her own files to show that she's in love with him. The teens try to stop her but it's too late. She disappears and her files are gone. Then Wyatt points out he has backups.
    • However, played straight on "Lisa's Virus" a while later. She gets a computer virus and restoring backups is not even mentioned.
  • Ghostbusters had the Ghost Dematerializer mkI. It was the only one they carried or even had. It's implied that Tracy (the gorilla) built it, but made it up as he went along, without plans or notes of any kind. None of the Ghost Busters are quite sure how it works...
  • Kamelion, the Fifth Doctor's "appliance" companion from "The King's Demons" to "Planet of Fire." Long story short, Kamelion really was a robot as opposed to a man in a suit, and only his (real life) designer/programmer knew how to operate him. Unfortunately, that man died without leaving his notes.
  • Chuck: The Intersect, the joint CIA/NSA supercomputer that is able to implant knowledge and training into agents' brains was only built once, and efforts to rebuild it are extraordinarily difficult. Averted in later seasons as apparently they started taking better notes, Intersects start cropping up more often and are more easily built.
  • The Machine from Person of Interest was designed this way deliberately. Finch deliberately left behind no documentation or prototypes when he delivered it, and encrypted the software so that nobody can try to reverse engineer it. With his partner dead, Finch is the only person with the slightest idea how the thing works (The audience is occasionally informed of various places it gets data from, but not how it compiles the information), and since the government may not even know he exists, there's no way they could make another Machine if something happens to the original.
    • The government eventually found out that Finch existed (if not exactly who he was or where he lived), and... very politely asked him if he could help them build another machine, or reverse-engineer the one they already had. Finch refused.
    • Aaaand, subverted in season 3, when the antagonist Samaritan AI is revealed. The government had originally hired two technology firms to try and invent their surveillance AI, and had not told either of them about the other one. Decima Technologies merely took a few years longer to reach the finish line than Finch did, by which point they'd gone rogue and were using Samaritan for themselves.
  • Simultaneously invoked and averted by Malcolm Merlyn in the first season of Arrow—he systematically destroyed all plans and knowledge of the "Markov Device", to the point of murdering every last person who worked on it; at the same time, he had two devices constructed and deployed at different locations so that if the heroes disabled one, the other would still go off.


  • Jean Michel Jarre's album Music for Supermarkets. Recorded for a one-off art exhibition in 1983, the sole copy was auctioned off for charity and the master tapes deliberately destroyed. Subverted somewhat with a few of the tracks being reworked in the albums Zoolook and Rendezvous.

Tabletop Games

  • In the GURPS IST superhero setting, the technology for the "power cells" used in most sci-fi style gizmos is a monopoly held by a single company since 1950; the UN likewise maintains a monopoly on fusion power started in the 80s. Neither of these technologies has been duplicated or reverse-engineered even semi-successfully, and it is implied they simply cannot be (despite the existence of several comic-book-style Professors, Techno Wizards, and Mad Scientists.)
    • The Word of God, however, has said that the fusion monopoly was broken in 1996.
  • Likewise, the creations of the "Rube Goldberg Scientist" class of heroes in the Godlike Tabletop Games are nothing more than a collection of convenient parts that serve to focus powers—in fact, they cease functioning when removed from their creators' sphere of awareness.
  • Similarly, the Devices used by the Technocrats in the Old World of Darkness Tabletop Games are often nothing more than focuses for their willpower-based abilities, despite their insistence that they aren't magical.
    • In the Old World of Darkness all technology was magical to one extent or another. The Technocracy's biggest success was putting it in a form that could be used by anybody, not just the Awakened mages, although their more extreme efforts pushed technology to levels that weren't believed to be possible. The Etherites however did exactly that, and made all sorts of weird nonsensical items that somehow worked anyway, through magic.
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, the Machine of Lum the Mad.
  • In Warhammer Fantasy Battle the most awe inspiring weapon that The Empire has is the Steam Tank, the brain child of Leonardo of Miragliano. He built twelve and then apparently threw away all his plans. The engineers of The Empire can repair them but they can't build new ones and they have lost four forever.
    • This varies by source, sometimes the above is true, sometimes they are Super Prototype versions of the more common form, and sometimes they are known technology but just really expensive to build.
  • Warhammer 40,000 actually inverts this as plans, prototypes and backups -- the Holy Grail!—are all that's left of technology from the Imperium's Golden Age. Individual examples of devices or STCs may play the trope straight before the Techpriests get their hands on them, however.
  • In the BattleTech tabletop game, the open warfare of the Succession Wars was so destructive, with so many factories, shipyards, and research facilities targeted that many of the most advanced technologies were lost for centuries before a Star League Memory Core (basically a supercomputer database) was accidentally discovered.
  • In the Paragons setting for Mutants and Masterminds, ACME Tech is this—superscience devices that only work because the Paranormal using them believes it does. How much this comes into play is determined by the sort of game the Game Master wants to run, which allows for a justification for this trope.

Video Games

  • Subverted in Metal Gear Solid. At the end of the game, Solid Snake destroys the prototype nuclear-armed Humongous Mecha Metal Gear REX. Just a few minutes into the sequel, it is revealed that the plans for REX were sold on the black market, and consequently, numerous countries are working on or have already completed their own sui generis versions, leading to the creation of the anti-Metal Gear weapon Metal Gear RAY.
    • It also helps that REX was in itself already a knock-off of Metal Gear Mk. 1 and Metal Gear D from the first two MSX Metal Gear games.
      • And in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the first time we see Sokolov, he actually is burning the production notes to the Shagohod, explaining why nobody tried building another.
    • As modern-day iterations of the franchise continue, it becomes obvious that keeping the plans for their secret weapons secret is the biggest problem anyone in possession of a Metal Gear has. Metal Gear Rising shows that the RAY type, built to track down and destroy rogue copies of other Metal Gears... is now itself one of the most popular Metal Gears on the black market.
  • Interesting one; Another Code's "Another I" unit was actually the prototype of Another II—of course this was only revealed in the second game. Whilst it technically isn't considered a weapon (because it wasn't intended as one) there are some very bad people out there who would like to use this as one. Of course, despite them being untested and in development, the first time they're used, they work perfectly.
  • Subverted in Jak II:
  • In the first Metal Slug, we have the Tani-Oh, a gargatuan land master and boss of mission 3. According the additional info provided by SNK, the Tani-Oh was actually a prototype that was being tested in the mountain range. The tank was subsequently destroyed by the peregrine FALCONS before it could be mass produced. Note this does not apply to other creations of the Rebel Army: The Iron Nokana, a rusty armored carrier and boss of Mission 6, has appeared a few other times in the series.
  • The Metroid series always involves lead character Samus collecting items for her Power Suit. She is able to equip a wide variety of Chozo artifacts, including the Power Ball, the Screw Attack, and various armor upgrades (including the Varia and Gravity suits). Despite the fact that she has collected these items multiple time over in the course of the game series, and has interacted with Federation scientists and soldiers (see Metroid Prime 3 and Metroid Fusion), no one has been able to replicate her upgrades for use successfully with their soldiers. The Space Pirate race has (according to logs found in Prime) tried to back-engineer the Morph Ball, but those experiments killed many of the subjects on which the prototypes were tested. As of now, the Chozo artifacts are still only compatible with Samus' suit.
    • Still, the Space Pirates did, in fact, manage to reverse-engineer Samus's various beam weapons, and her Thermal Visor seems to be a Pirate creation. It seems that the Pirates probably had the wrong idea of how Samus goes into her Morph Ball.
    • On the other hand, there is at least one "backup" to the technology, albeit one that borders on the mystical. When her original was destroyed during a crash landing near the end of Zero Mission, she was able to find a new and improved one at the Chozo ruins of her childhood.
    • Later entries in the series tried to explain this away by stating that Samus' Power Suit is a specially modified version of a Chozo Battlesuit, linked to her unique biology (part Human, part Chozo) and made of refined Unobtanium, since the creators (the Chozo) were a technologically super-advanced race who up and disappeared less than twenty years ago (when they were still super-advanced compared to everyone else). Also, the Galactic Federation has been able to design weapons based on Samus' suit, including upgrades for her suit, most notably the Diffusion Missile technology from Metroid Fusion.
    • The Metroid series in general is very good about this. The Chozo seem to have backups everywhere, but in a way that only they can use them. Despite this, the Pirates and Federation have at least attempted to recreate them. The Pirates ended up with weaker beams immediately, and the Federation got some really good missile systems after a few years. Everyone has a Chozo door system, however. On their own, the Pirates have been able to recreate everything they've stolen, and the Federation keeps backups of Metroid DNA and whatever else was on BSL (they probably have more).
      • During the Prime series of games, you frequently attack Space Pirate bases conducting research into Phazon-enhanced supersoldiers. The bases are filled with failed or developing experiments and computer records. Destroying not only the successful experiments, but the entire bases and research team merely sets back the research, and other stations find new applications for Phazon to try and kill you with.
    • In Metroid Prime Hunters, Sylux had a power suit that was stolen from the galactic federation that allowed him to transform into its second from, Lockjaw, which used a compression technology similar to the morph ball. The same could be said for the other hunters, but the secondary forms of the rest are all part of their biology, save for Weavel who splits himself in two. Sylux's prototype suit would indicate that the Galactic Federation has been doing some research into morph ball technology as well.
    • Also in Super Metroid there is a "blue Samus," he was a GF marine but died, so apparently the Chozo suit was recreated but was a inferior copy.
  • Averted in All Things Devours. You have to destroy a prototype for a device you created, before the people who took over the lab end up running an experiment that will end disastrously. This would be quite straightforward—except that you soon discover your notes are no longer in the same room as the device, and if you don't deal with them as well, they can just build another one.
  • Completely averted in Crysis. The Nano-suits are not unique and pirate/knockoff copies exist.
    • And the North Koreans decided to make it a fashion statement with it as they brag about their new toy.
  • In TimeShift the time-altering beta-suit the player is wearing is the second, improved version, with the old alpha-suit being in the baddie's hands. (He didn't grab the Beta version because that version had Anti-Paradox protection. The Alpha version does NOT. So, the Alpha version could be used to change the past!) Additionally, it turns out the technology has been used in cyborg soldiers who can activate the same time extension power you have, and super-advanced soldiers who can use time freeze to teleport around (but not shoot you, strangely enough).
  • Justified in Final Fantasy X 2. The technologically-advanced Bevelle was able to construct a prototype superweapon supposedly capable of taking down Zanarkand's Sin... but the weapon, Vegnagun, went sentient and became unable to recognize friend from foe. Instead of risking annihilating themselves by activating it, the leaders of Bevelle sealed it away deep within the city, and the Church of Yevon became its keeper. Naturally, no other attempts were made, especially as the Church of Yevon needs Sin, and wouldn't want to create something capable of destroying it. He was an Anticlimax Boss though, and it's questionable whether it was a good enough prototype to defeat Sin.
  • In the game MDK2 Kurt Hectic is brought back from captivity without his Coil Suit. As he returns, he says to Doctor Hawkins "They've got the suit. We're all doomed. Can I go now?". The Doctor laughs and shows Kurt that he made many more Coil Suits and that losing it wouldn't be a problem at all. Kurt then loses his hope of not having to fight aliens yet again.
  • Subverted in Skies of Arcadia, with the Moonstone Cannon. Not only is a prototype version seen and actually used against the heroes, but when they steal the ship bearing the completed version, it is explained that it is the first unit of a line of ships, fresh off the shipyards—the rest don't show up because they weren't constructed in time, given the timescale involved. Finally, the Hydra sky fortress is one of a kind due to the fact that the sheer expense involved in constructing it made it utterly economically unfeasible—but the Big Bad had one made all the same, out of his own pocket.
    • The Moonstone cannon also put a good size dent in the Empire's budget, so much so that they could not afford to build any more.
  • Front Mission 3 plays this trope worryingly straight, as the MIDAS weapon (think "nuclear bomb without the nuclear") is stolen tech. Just the weapon, no notes. The main characters are witnesses to a failed reproduction of it (which works), and are on the run from the military as a result.
  • Appropriately played straight and then subverted in Fallout 1 and 2. Being After the End, high-tech gear like powered armor is rare and largely irreplaceable, and must be maintained vigilantly. Then the Enclave show up, having survived the apocalypse with all their technological data and manufacturing facilities intact, and are actually wielding weapons and armor more advanced than the pre-war models. Lots of them.
    • And then Fallout 3 comes around (which is set in the east coast, rather than the west coast) and you'll find power armor and rare plasma and laser weapons wherever you look. Though oddly, the Enclave's previously superior armor is suddenly inferior to the pre-War models, despite the most common Fallout 3 power armor being a step back from what could be found on the West Coast.
      • Fallout NV fixes the power armor issue. The old-gen (Mk1) Enclave power armor (the stock variety from 2) has the best DT of any armor that made it into the final game. The Mk2 armor (from 2 & 3) has one less DT than the Mk1, by which I mean, the Mk2 armor itself has nearly the same DT as the set of Mk1 armor. The Mk2 didn't into the final game, but was still included in the game's data files.
      • New Vegas also makes a major point about how the need to manufacture goods is problematic more than ever as it's pointed out that most pre-war locations have been picked bone dry.
  • Subverted in Second Sight. After the prototype psychic super-soldiers are killed in a battle with the protagonist, John Vattic, Director Hanson coldly informs him that the unit was one of several hundred being prepared all over America. Even worse, everything that John has done in that part of the game has all been part of the testing procedure.
    • Additionally, a big deal is made over how Grienko (the researcher in charge of the psychic experiments) actually managed to achieve replicable results. In the flashback or rather, present day scenes, Grienko himself actually hands a huge ream of files to Vattic and talks of how they contain detailed and comprehensive notes on his methods at every stage of the process. Hanson had planned to kill Grienko AND the original test subjects, before heading back to the States and refining the processes.
  • In Cammy's ending in Street Fighter IV, she found the secret research for the BLECE project and promptly deletes it. Apparently S.I.N. doesn't keep back-up copies or journal entries of all their secret experimental terrorist weapons.
  • The super-suit of Earthworm Jim was designed by Professor Monkey-For-A-Head, originally for the villain of the series. The manual states that he could have made another one... if the damn monkey hadn't eaten the blueprints.
    • Subverted in the cartoon. Turns out the professor can build another suit, but since the power source literally came from the Gods, and they ain't eager to give him another one, any suit he builds would be pretty weak.
  • Subverted with Prototype, where this appears to be in full force with the titular prototype, Alex Mercer, and the Blacklight virus. In fact, the real Alex Mercer created the Blacklight virus and stole a sample, which eventually absorbed Mercer after his death. Blackwatch is fully able to replicate those conditions, but they sure as shit don't want another Mercer running around.
    • It's uncertain. Your blacklight virus spread a plague through the city. Your copies are vastly inferior things you can run circles around and slay by the hundreds. You are a Super Prototype . You may be unique and impossible to backup for genetic reasons
  • The ASE in The Conduit falls under this trope. It's a unique super-gadget that does everything from hacking computers to revealing invisible symbols, but much of the game involves the Big Bad John Adams trying to retrieve it from the player—even though his organization developed it.
    • The reason why they were after it was because it's Prometheus's only way of talking to the outside world, and by the end, he uploads himself into the ASE.
  • Subverted in Ratchet and Clank 3—near the end of the game, you use a handy Giant-Ass Plasma cannon to blow up the doomsday device that threatens to "Destroy" every lifeform in the universe( by which we mean turn them into robots) ... only to find out there's a second one ready to go in case of such an attack. And it's more powerful then the first.
  • Modified in the Civilization series: once you have the needed technology, you can start building World Wonders, but only one civilization can actually finish and benefit from it. Some, like the Manhattan Project found in all versions, subvert this in a way: if the Manhattan Project is finished, every civ (with the other requirements like Rocketry) can then build nukes.
  • Nod in Command & Conquer: Tiberium Dawn works under this assumption. One of two possible objectives you get for a level in the Nod campaign, Kane either sends you out to kill the head scientist of GDI's ion cannon project, or go and blow up their prototype Mammoth Tanks to keep them from being mass produced. In either case, your actions don't prevent both weapons from appearing later in the campaign.
    • In Tiberian Sun, you (as Anton Slavik) are against tasked with destroying the prototype Mammoth Mk.II tank. Once again, the GDI still have plans for it, although it never really reaches full production due to costs and technical issues (i.e. you can't build more than one at a time). Then, by the time of the next war, they retire the design as costly and Awesome but Impractical, going to back to good ol' treaded tanks.
  • Viciously subverted in BloodRayne 2, with much of the game devoted to disabling a gigantic tower that'll unleash "the Shroud" into the atmosphere, blotting out the Sun and allowing vampires and demons to overrun the world. She finally succeeds in shutting down the tower at the last second... and discovers too late that there are hundreds more all over the world, and stopping just one of them had no effect.
  • Three-quarters of Singularity is spent, at the behest of one of its inventors, traveling back in time to destroy the Singularity Generator before its technology alters the world. Except this is an aversion; when you go back to the present, the villain just laughs about how nothing stopped him from rebuilding the machine.
    • The TMD however was made to be like this so nobody could make another one.
  • In Dragon Age Origins this is played straight for much of the Dwarves' Lost Technology. When the Darkspawn attacked the lost thaigs, the Dwarves were too busy fighting, dying, and running for their lives to bring plans and backups with them. The Anvil of the Void, the key to making Golems, was the brainchild of the Paragon Smith Caridin and only he knew its secrets. This is unfortunately averted with the Harvester in Golems of Amgarrak. There are still dozens of them left.
    • In Caridin's case he purposely covered the secret up when he fully realized how horrible it was.
  • Partly Justified in the case of your Cool Ship in Jade Empire. Kang the Mad actually the minor inventors' deity Lord Lao hates to duplicate any invention of his because that would take away its uniqueness. One Marvelous Dragonfly is a wonder and an awe, but thousands of them would not be. He's also so scatterbrained that his notes and schematics are cryptic at best.
  • Thoroughly averted in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. When Leonardo tasks Ezio with destroying the war machines the Borgia forced him to build, you not only have to destroy the prototype, you need to burn the blueprints too, and often there will be a backup copy of the war machine that also needs to be wrecked.
    • When destroying the tank (a wooden, circular steam-powered vehicle bristling with cannons), Ezio has to pilot one of the prototypes to destroy the others.
    • In the novelization, Leonardo tells Ezio that he deliberately introduced flaws into the designs of all these weapons, so the Borgia wouldn't be able to use them to their fullest extent. However, even his new wheel-lock guns (which are still inferior to Ezio's gun) prove to be quite effective in the hands of the Borgia.
  • Persistently averted throughout the Geneforge series; the plans for it always leak through the Shapers' best efforts to eliminate them. More prototypes and upgraded versions are created each chapter.
  • Averted and deconstructed in The Journeyman Project series. As far as the government is aware, they possess the only functional time machine in existence. They then immediatelly create a police force solely dedicated to using that time machine to prevent anyone from tampering with the past just in case anyone else ever manages to figure out how to make a time machine. In the sequel the "any technology once created can always be recreated" is used as an argument in favour of not shutting down the Time Police agency.
  • Completely averted in Shin Megami Tensei I. Aware of the impending demon invasion, STEVEN deliberately emails copies of the Demon Summoning Program to as many people as possible, so they would save mankind. It's just unfortunate that only one of those people survived the Great Destruction... (at least until Shin Megami Tensei Imagine, that is.)
    • Similarly, it's standard operating procedure in Strange Journey to copy out their own Demon Summoning Program to other teammates and crewment from other ships so that everyone has a fighting chance within the Schwarzwelt. And in the Neutral Ending, the crew of the Red Sprite actually want to make a backup of the artificial intelligence Arthur so that his Heroic Sacrifice doesn't destroy him. But Arthur himself opposes the idea, stating that his vast insight on the Schwarzwelt and the future of humanity would make him an object of worship back on Earth.
  • The Harald Folders are the core of TheWorld but darned if anyone knows what they actually did or how they worked. With Harald mysteriously dead in the real world, there are no notes and everything the current developers do to The World was most likely based on how subroutines are implemented in the prototype game Fragment. Attempts at analyzing the code just leave confusion and trying to surgically remove any part of the program to see what breaks brings the whole thing to a standstill.
    • The developers of The World:R2 knew they could never recreate Harald's genius so most of what they did was just vaguely based on the Harald Files, at least until they recovered all eight of the Phases and attempted to recreate Morganna Gone Mode.

Web Comics


Madblood: I do make backups, you know!
Mell: Isn't that, like, against the mad-science rules?

    • Madness is a self-admitted problem for Madblood and many of the comic's characters.
  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob, the formula which accidentally produced Molly is a prime example of this. Lampshaded here.
  • The Sparks of Girl Genius produce notes, prototypes, and sometimes backups, and appear to do their best work when supported by academic institutions and ordinary mechanics. However, Sparks' genius is such that their inventions are rarely possible to understand or reproduce for anyone not a Spark with talent in a related field, leading to a similar effect in practice.

Web Original

  • In the Whateley Universe, this is a common problem with devisers. The device Spark made while she was furious at her boyfriend worked the one time, but doesn't seem to be reproducible. The one-shot forcefield blaster Mega-Death made and sold to Phase worked once, the second one exploded when Phase used it against a PK brick, and Mega-Death hasn't been able to get any new ones to work.
    • Also, Devises are shown as unpredictable, with one devise having different results each time it's used. And the third shows WHY screwing with Devises is a bad idea!
  • TQ-02 from Space Voyage does this with the Power Armor he made. Upon trying to reverse engineer it, He makes two ovens that make muffins.

Western Animation

  • While blueprints for several machines play important parts in Avatar: The Last Airbender—mostly as Chekhovs Guns—the trope is still played straight with the Fire Nation's mobile drill. The drill, designed to break through the outer wall of the city-state of Ba Sing Se, is apparently one of a kind; only one ever makes it to the battlefield, with no readily accessible back-up. This is rather inconvenient, given that the only reason it was disabled was because there happened to be two enemy waterbenders in the area.
    • It's abandoned because it's very large and expensive to make, and by the time they could have finished making a new one the task for which it had been built—conquering Ba Sing Se—had already been accomplished by other means.
  • In an episode of Justice League, Toyman makes an energy cannon that apparently disintegrates Superman before being smashed by the rest of the League (it actually sends him on a one-way journey through time). Superman does (thanks to some extraordinary, never-to-be repeated luck) reappear after a few days, but it's still odd that the Toyman didn't build another one and try again. It's commented in the show that Toyman "didn't know what he made"—but isn't knowing that it's a thing that makes Superman disappear for a few days enough? Of course, the implication is that the time machine was an accidental invention, and he can't remember how he created it (because he didn't keep notes; see above).
    • There's also the fact that even if Toyman could remember what he did to make it go from "Superman disintegration ray" to "Superman vanishes a few days ray", Wonder Woman very nearly crushed his head in her bare hands. So there's significant motivation (avoiding horrific death at the hands of a grieving Amazon) to not try to replicate the device.
  • In Xiaolin Showdown, self-proclaimed evil boy genius Jack Spicer creates a time machine that can send people into the past with no way back.
    • And he had to use one of the Shen Gong Wu just to have enough power to run the thing effectively.
    • The fact that he needed a Shen Gong Wu that he didn't posses at the time was the main reason he never built a device to forward in time. Without a supply of infinite energy he could only go back a few seconds in time and had no need of a machine to go forward.
  • All of Professor Nimnul's inventions on Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers fall under this category. Only once in 65 episodes was one of his inventions re-used, and even then it was not being used by Nimnul.
  • The Shredder's spaceship in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003 series) (presumably) has plans, but no prototype nor back-up. This is justified, however, by the fact that several of its parts were salvaged from the remains of an alien invasion, and could not be replicated.
    • Subverted with the retro-mutagen in the 2012 series; Donatello does indeed write the formula down, and probably memorizes it. The reason he can only make two doses is lack of materials. It takes 10 cannisters of regular mutagen to make one dose of retro-mutagen, and he likely used up a lot of that in the long trial-an-error process he and April underwent to perfect it.
  • In Big Guy and Rusty The Boy Robot, there is exactly one BGY-11, and exactly one person who can pilot the mech without accidentally destroying it. It is explained that the military lost the original blueprints, but since they can still perform maintenance on it, it does seem odd that they wouldn't build another one. And there really isn't any logical reason not to train a backup pilot.
    • To be fair one episode of the series reveals one of the other repair crew members is the backup pilot for the BGY-11. Due to the circumstances of the episode, he wasn't able to arrive in time to pilot it and over radio had to give a crash course to the shows Hot Scientist.
    • Further explained that the the US Army promised a working robot and didn't want to admit all they could build was a oversized suit of Powered Armor. Thus the reason they don't produce more.
  • Invader Zim justifies this by having the eponymous Villain Protagonist be completely insane as well as an utter moron, making it entirely plausible that he simply forgot how to make his sometimes amazing inventions, if he remembers that he built them at all.
  • Mojo Jojo, archenemy of The Powerpuff Girls, rarely seems to use the same device twice. Also, despite not being a villain, Professor Utonium seems to suffer from the same work ethic, even lampshading it in the episode "Bubble Boy":

Blossom: "Gee, Professor, you sure outdid yourself this time with that containment ray!"
Professor Utonium: "I'll say! Once again, I have no idea what I did!"

    • But in Mojo's case, why would you repeat a plan that didn't work the first time. The one time he tries that with the Anubis head, it backfires even worse than just doing the exact same thing he did the first time.
    • Mojo does have some recurring tech, and usually whenever his armory is shown, all of the older tech still remains. This is probably used as a convenient background to show just how much heat he's packing, but is also a bit of fridge brilliance: each and every one of those robots, death rays and other tech are probably prototypes. the only reason he hasn't replicated them yet is because he's still improving them.
  • Titan A.E. parodies this a bit when both Cale and the audience meet Gune for the first time.

Gune: [holding up a small device] "Does this look familiar? Do you know what it is? Neither do I. I made it last night in my sleep. Apparently I used Gindrogac. Highly unstable."
Preed: "Gune..."
Gune: "I put a button on it. Yes. I wish to press it, but I'm not sure what will happen if I do."

    • The Titan itself could be considered an example, as apparently the "backwards" humans are the only ones to ever figure out how to make a whole new planet, and none of the humans ever try to recreate it after it's lost. Of course, it's probably justified overall... most of the surviving humans aren't scientists and are a bit more focused on surviving and staying fed and housed than trying to recreate lost technology they'd probably barely even heard of, let alone had any hand in. Plus the Titan requires so much energy to work that it has to assimilate an entire fleet of evil energy beings.
  • Grizzle's inventions in Care Bears: Adventures in Care-a-Lot are generally all of this type.
  • General Lok Durd from Star Wars: The Clone Wars build a tank that could fire a bomb destroying every form of life in a determined radius (or just making a wave with fire!). After the tank gets blown up they never use it again, presumably because it was easily stopped by a shield generator, which isn´t realy an excuse as shield generators aren´t as common on battlefields. Out-universe excuse would be that they probably don´t want to show kids burning Jedi and clone troopers.
    • The Separatists eventually did show up with mass-produced versions of this weapon, but they have less range, less area of effect, and the living beings they were used on simply outran the firefall.
  • Adventures of the Gummi Bears; Grammi tells Sunni that she cannot write the recipe for Gummi Berry Juice down, telling her she has to commit it to memory in order to make it. Given how powerful the stuff can be and how dangerous it is in the wrong hands, this does seem a justified policy.
  • In an episode of Captain Planet and the Planeteers, we see an inventor on a remote island who has invented a solar battery much more efficient than the ones already used by the Planeteers and commercially viable to boot. Unsurprisingly, because of the attempts of the villains to seize it, his lab is destroyed and he loses his memory, but he promises to start over from nothing.
  • A delightful aversion in Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers with the Mindnet device. The finished prototype is broken into two pieces for safety reasons, but the main piece is stolen and brought to the Big Bad. The heroes use the other half of the device and Niko's psionics to track down the stolen piece. During the inevitable escape from the Queen's palace, the Queen makes off with the device...but Buzzwang shows up with another Mindnet. It looks like a mistake on the part of the animators until later episodes demonstrate that, while the heroes were captured, the Queen simply made her own backup copy.
  • At the beginning of Bring Me The Head of Earthworm Jim, Psy-Crow wonders why Prof. Monkey-For-A-Head, creator of Jim's supersuit, couldn't simply build another. The Professor explains that while he could, without the first suit's power source, the Battery of the Gods, another suit would be "Pretty weak."
  • Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog:Apparently, the intelligence-boosting microchip that Dr. Robotnik was researching in "Grounder the Genius" had only a one-in-a-million chance of being successfully created. Once that one was inevitably destroyed, his computer informed him that he'd be once again subject to that probability if he were to try to recreate it. Uh...
  • Averted in Kung Fu Panda 2 where we don't see any prototypes for Shen's firework cannon, but there are a lot of backups. Played with in regards to the heroes who thought there was only one cannon. Po even thought that the figurine was the cannon. Shen subverts it as while the cannon in the room could hit anywhere in the city, it was only a distraction to protect his foundry and he was halfway done arming a whole armada of ships with them.

Real Life

  • When Richard Wagner was composing the Ring Cycle, he at one point intended for the operas to be performed three times in a purpose-built opera house. Afterward, all copies of the score and all the props were to be burned, along with the entire opera house. Obviously this did not happen. But it explains the elaborate finale...
  • Nikola Tesla's memory was phenomenal, so when he died of heart failure in 1943 most of his plans went with him. They still haven't been replicated.
    • Of course, since Tesla's status as an inventor has been slightly inflated in the years since his death, one of the reasons a lot of his supposed working inventions haven't ever been replicated is because they never worked in the first place. (Ex: His "earthquake machine" which supposedly shook shelves off of his lab walls, but which no one else ever reported feeling or seeing work.)
  • This story. A whole petrochemical factory of which nobody knew how it worked, why it was built that way, which processes it ran or how it was constructed.
  • The recipe for Greek fire was a closely guarded state secret of the Byzantine Empire. While some conjecture has been made of some ingredients in its composition, it has never truly been replicated.