Created By: hbi2k on August 13, 2013 Last Edited By: Arivne on January 21, 2014
Troped

Can't Use Stairs

When a character (usually a robot) that will often be faced with stairs is unable to navigate them.

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Trope
Stairs are one of the oldest human inventions, and one that tends to be suited uniquely to a creature with multipedal locomotion using legs of roughly human length. Creatures with differing forms of locomotion sometimes have... trouble with them. Hence this trope.

For some reason this is often the case with hostile robots, but it's not required to be either hostile or a robot to count as this trope, just a creature or device that logically will often be called upon to deal with stairs, yet has a great deal of trouble navigating them.

Bonus points if the creature attempts to navigate the stairs anyway, resulting in a Staircase Tumble. Extra bonus points if it is actually destroyed in the resulting fall, or disabled so thoroughly that The Hero can dispatch it at his leisure.

A subtrope of Weaksauce Weakness.

Examples:

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    Comics 

     Film 
  • The ED-209 in Robocop. Justified in-story, as it was a poorly-conceived design in several ways, which is why the project was abandoned in favor of the titular character.
  • Averted in-story, but in full force in Real Life, on the set of Star Wars. In The Empire Strikes Back, C3PO technically couldn't use the stairs, and the filmmakers "cheated" by having the human characters walk down, the camera would lose 3PO for a second, and he'd rejoin them from behind once they passed the stairs. Attack of the Clones shows R2D2 getting slowed down by Naboo city steps, but he still manages to keep up with the humans. Also see the LEGO Star Wars example in Video Games below.
  • In The Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort has to descend a flight of stairs while so high on quaaludes that he's crawling on the ground. He rolls himself down the stairs.

     Literature 
  • The anti-heroic Torture Technician Inquisitor Glotka in The First Law, was himself previously the victim of debilitating torture, with the result that while he can use stairs, it causes him agonizing pain, since his torturers smashed bones in his legs and feet and cut off his toes. He jokes to himself that if he could torture any man, it would be the inventor of stairs (and that if he could shake the hands of any man, it would be the inventor of chairs).
  • The Golem King in Terry Pratchett's Feet of Clay. Golems are invulnerable unstoppable robotic killing machines created by an alchemical marriage of magic and pottery. There is just one drawback: they are far too heavy for a normal set of stairs to take without collapsing.

     Live Action TV 
  • A Running Gag about the Daleks in Doctor Who.
    • Subverted, however, in "Remembrance of the Daleks." The first episode cliffhanger was the Doctor fleeing up the stairs and thinking he was safe from the Dalek chasing him, only for him to start levitating up the stairs after him.
    • Enforced subverted in "Dalek", where the Doctor tells folks the pursuing Dalek won't be able to follow them up the stairs. The Dalek announces "EL-E-VATE!" and begins levitating up them. This was put in after one of the writers asked his girlfriend why she thought the Daleks made rather pathetic villains in the original show, and she told him how easy they were to foil.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Paranoia supplement Acute Paranoia. The Playing Robots chapter allowed the creation of robot PCs. One of the movement options was "wheels", and the text noted that robots with wheels couldn't go up stairs.

     Video Games 
  • The robot Claptrap in Borderlands. In the second game, this is pointed out, and the player is forced to use a crane to hoist him.
  • The Star Wars examples under Film above actually get carried over into the LEGO Star Wars games where droid characters like C3PO can't jump or navigate stairs Many levels have sections that require the player to go through an elaborate puzzle solving process in order to move the droids across the area that the human characters can easily jump or climb a staircase to access.
  • In Pokémon X and Y this is why you can't make off with the Skiddo at the place where you can ride them. They jump ledges but can't do the stairs just outside the broken fence area.

     Webcomics 

     Western Animation 
  • On Pelswick, the school bully picks on Pelswick as the favored target, but knows he can't use physical force on a kid in a wheelchair and opts toward psychological abuse. One of his methods was to jump on top of a staircase so Pelswick couldn't follow.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Grift of the Magi", Bart injures himself and is forced to use a wheelchair. He finds it difficult to enter the school due to the stairs, since Principal Skinner can't afford a ramp system. Enter Fat Tony of the Springfield Mafia, who offers to build one with his construction outfit, "Valdezzo Bros. Olive Oil". By the time an inauguration ceremony is held for the needlessly complex ramp system, Bart's suddenly healed enough to have no more use of the wheelchair, rendering the whole effort a waste. Skinner pats a ramp in confidence that at least they're ready for "the new millennium", only for the whole ramp system to collapse. It turns out it was built out of breadsticks, paint, and shellac. The mob has conned the school out of $200,000, resulting in its closure.
  • Played for Laughs in X-Men: Evolution when Professor X (who is, famously, paralyzed from the waist down) talks to Jean about overcoming limitations... and then finds himself at the top of a staircase.

     Real Life 
  • The Roomba. Justified considering how costly it would be to engineer that ability into them. Some of the more advanced models can at least be programmed to avoid them.
  • Wheelchairs. Fortunately, various workarounds exist.
  • Racing greyhounds have to be stair-trained after retirement, because being caged means they don't learn as puppies.
  • It is commonly said that cows can go up stairs, but they can't go down stairs, due to the design of their knees. This is only partially true; cows can go down stairs, but not very long ones or they lose their balance. Many other ungulates such as sheep and horses hate stairs for the same reason, and thus are reluctant to use them.
Community Feedback Replies: 47
  • August 13, 2013
    hbi2k
    Possible alternate name:

    Can't Use Stairs
  • August 13, 2013
    AgProv
    Literature

    The Golem King in Terry Pratchett's Feet Of Clay. golems are invulnerable unstoppable robotic killing machines created by an alchemical marriage of magic and pottery.

    There is just one drawback.

    They are far too heavy for a normal set of stairs to take without collapsing.
  • August 13, 2013
    Larkmarn
  • August 13, 2013
    arbiter099
    ^ while funny, it doesn't illustrate the trope. Prof. X is handicapped and in a wheelchair, he wasn't deliberately designed without taking stairs into consideration.
  • August 13, 2013
    Marz1200
    How about this image?
  • August 13, 2013
    arbiter099
    ^ something like that was exactly what I was thinking of. Good image.
  • August 13, 2013
    MorganWick
    Must... resist... temptation... to add... Sweet Bro And Hella Jeff... reference...
  • August 14, 2013
    dvorak
    The "X Has Only One Weakness..." meme, wherein X is a character in a wheelchair. They're invariably getting pushed down them. In unrelated news, No New Stock Phrases.
  • August 14, 2013
    SeptimusHeap
    Aye, a dialogue trope name is not OK.
  • August 14, 2013
    OlafMerchant
    Actually, the Dalek thing was subverted in the newer Dr.Who seasons, in the episode where one American collector had captured a dalek for his collection of the extraterrestrial.
  • August 14, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    Does it have to be a robot? In Kung Fu Panda 2, even though he's become the legendary Dragon Warrior, Po still calls stairs his "mortal enemy".
  • August 14, 2013
    hbi2k
    Fixed up the description a little.

    Okay, so the current name is no good. How's Cant Use Stairs grab everyone? Any other suggestions?

    Also, I like @Marz1200's image suggestion. Will add it in when I'm at a computer with an image editor so that I can make it fit the site's size requirements.
  • August 14, 2013
    UltramarineAlizarin
    Cant Use Stairs is fine by me. Works well when writing it into examples (e.g. "He/She/It/They Cant Use Stairs.")
  • October 21, 2013
    hbi2k
    Bump. What else needs to be done to get this ready to go? Could use some more examples, and I could swear I've seen it around, but can't think of any more off the top of my head.
  • October 21, 2013
    DennisDunjinman

    There's a couple implied examples in Star Wars. Empire Strikes Back mentioned that 3PO technically couldn't use the stairs, and "cheated" by having the human characters walk down, the camera would lose 3PO for a second, and he'd rejoin them from behind once they passed the stairs. Attack of the Clones shows R2 getting slowed down by Naboo city steps, but he still manages to keep up with the humans.
  • October 21, 2013
    KZN02
    May result in Staircase Tumble.
  • October 21, 2013
    DAN004
    If the Kung Fu Panda example counts then why doesn't the X Men one?
  • October 21, 2013
    foxley
    The Dalek thing was subverted before the new series of Doctor Who. In "Remembrance of the Daleks", the first episode cliffhanger was the Doctor fleeing up the stairs and thinking he was safe from the Dalek chasing him, only for him to start levitating up the stairs after him.
  • October 21, 2013
    Hodor
    I could swear that in one of the adaptations (X Men Evolution?) Professor X also jokes about stairs being a weakness. Guess from the linked image its an Ascended Meme.

    Which kind of reminds me of another example:

    • The anti-heroic Torture Technician Inquisitor Glotka in The First Law, was himself previously the victim of debilitating torture, with the result that while he can use stairs, it causes him agonizing pain, since his torturers smashed bones in his legs and feet and cut off his toes. He jokes to himself that if he could torture any man, it would be the inventor of stairs (and that if he could shake the hands of any man, it would be the inventor of chairs).
  • October 22, 2013
    hbi2k
    I am thinking that wheelchair examples should be limited to cases where it is invoked or lampshaded in some way in-story, lest it become People Sit On Chairs. So the X-Men example would count, although it's probably still not the best page image. Thoughts on this?

    I haven't seen any of the Kung Fu Panda movies so I'll have to defer to others on how appropriate that example is.
  • October 23, 2013
    QuestionMarker
    ^ I don't think the Kung Fu Panda example counts because Po can in fact use stairs. He climbs the long-ass stairs to the temple multiple times without assistance. He just doesn't have the condition to do it very fast. Although the quote from KFP 2 might be useable.
  • October 23, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    ^ I was thinking the same thing... and I was the one who offered that example in the first place. If I recall correctly, this draft used to be more about stairs being a weakness of a character rather than the character being completely uncapable of using stairs.
  • October 23, 2013
    hbi2k
    Thanks for the clarification. Kung Fu Panda example removed.
  • October 23, 2013
    Lumpenprole
    Note that it was never canon in-universe that Daleks couldn't use stairs (or otherwise navigate difficult terrain)- they could hardly have been the feared conquerors they were if they could be defeated so easily. The stair thing was a running joke irl when it hadn't been established just how Daleks dealt with non-flat ground. The closest thing to an in-story reference was in The Chase, when Stephen comments that "Daleks don't like stairs"- but hardly implies that would be an insurmountable barrier.
  • October 24, 2013
    DAN004
    Please, I want this to be a "stairs-are-troublesome gag" rather than "cannot use stairs". The latter is too limiting.
  • October 24, 2013
    hbi2k
    Thoughts on DAN 004's proposal? It would require a different name, something like "Trouble With Stairs" or "Weak Against Stairs." The description would also have to be reworked to provide some guidelines for just how much trouble counts as "enough" to count as this trope.
  • October 24, 2013
    randomsurfer
  • October 24, 2013
    Kernigh
    Webcomics

  • October 24, 2013
    arromdee
    Doctor Who also had the Robot Buddy K9. K9, unlike the Daleks, never got to levitate (until the 21st century spinoff series) and would, for instance, not appear in an episode because the Tardis landed in a swamp and he couldn't move over it.

    (Not sure this counts since I don't recall an occasion when stairs specifically were the problem; closest I can remember is the swamp.)
  • October 25, 2013
    Arivne
    Tabletop Games
    • Paranoia supplement Acute Paranoia. The Playing Robots chapter allowed the creation of robot PCs. One of the movement options was "wheels", and the text noted that robots with wheels couldn't go up stairs.
  • October 29, 2013
    NESBoy
    • In The Simpsons episode "Grift of the Magi", Bart injures himself and is forced to use a wheelchair. He finds it difficult to enter the school due to the stairs, since Principal Skinner can't afford a ramp system. Enter Fat Tony of the Springfield Mafia, who offers to build one with his construction outfit, "Valdezzo Bros. Olive Oil". By the time an inauguration ceremony is held for the needlessly complex ramp system, Bart's suddenly healed enough to have no more use of the wheelchair, rendering the whole effort a waste. Skinner pats a ramp in confidence that at least they're ready for "the new millennium", only for the whole ramp system to collapse. It turns out it was built out of breadsticks, paint, and shellac. The mob has conned the school out of $200,000, resulting in its closure.
  • October 30, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    Weblinks Are Not Examples so you need to elaborate on those Ultimate X Men and New Media examples.

    Also, the Borderlands 2 example needs context. Who or what is this Claptrap and why can't he/she/it use stairs?
  • October 30, 2013
    hbi2k
    Someone else will have to come up with an entry for the New Media example, I'm at work and can't watch videos. Commenting it out in the meantime.
  • October 30, 2013
    darthcaliber
    The Star Wars examples actually get carried over into the Lego Star Wars games where droid characters like C 3 PO can't jump or navigate stairs Many levels have sections that require the player to go through an elaborate puzzle solving process in order to move the droids across the area that the human characters can easily jump or climb a staircase to access.
  • October 30, 2013
    chicagomel
    Real life: racing greyhounds have to be stair-trained after retirement, because being caged means they dont learn as pups

    Video games: in Pokemon X And Y this is why you can't make off with the Skiddo at the place where you can ride them. They jump ledges but can't do the stairs just outside the broken fence area.
  • December 31, 2013
    kjnoren
    The description is in need of improvement. Right now it's written as an Example As A Thesis, and it has numerous sinkholes.

    I don't think this should be made into a gag trope. It can be used as one, but there are more than enough "serious" examples.
  • December 31, 2013
    DAN004
    ^ Maybe like the X Men example?
  • January 2, 2014
    hbi2k
    ^^ Easy enough, just deleted the first couple paragraphs. Think it works fine without them.
  • January 2, 2014
    Tuckerscreator
    Real Life: It is commonly said that cows can go upstairs, but they can't go downstairs, due to the design of their knees. This is only partially true; cows can go down stairs, but not very long ones or they lose their balance. Many other ungulates such as sheep and horses hate stairs for the same reason, and thus are reluctant to use them.
  • January 2, 2014
    StarSword
    Doctor Who again:
    • Enforced subverted in "Dalek", where the Doctor tells folks the pursuing Dalek won't be able to follow them up the stairs. The Dalek announces "EL-E-VATE!" and begins levitating up them. This was put in after one of the writers asked his girlfriend why she thought the Daleks made rather pathetic villains in the original show, and she told him how easy they were to foil.
  • January 3, 2014
    gallium
    Film

    • In The Wolf Of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort has to descend a flight of stairs while so high on quaaludes that he's crawling on the ground. He rolls himself down the stairs.
  • January 8, 2014
    Hero_Gal_2347
    Played For Laughs in X Men Evolution when Professor X talks to Jean about overcoming limitations... And then finds himself at the top of a staircase.
  • January 8, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ Should be mentioned that Prof. X is disabled from the waist down. Explain the joke.
  • January 16, 2014
    hbi2k
    We've been sitting at two hats for a while. Suggestions for what needs to be done to get ready for launch?
  • January 18, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ Get moar hats of course.
  • January 21, 2014
    hbi2k
    ^ Thanks. You're as helpful as the guy who says that the key to winning a soccer match is to score the most points. (-:
  • January 21, 2014
    StarSword
    ^Birthdays are good for you. Studies show those who have the most birthdays live the longest.

    Sorry, couldn't resist.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=oilfg6lk99mad8pqbbxbxltl&trope=CantUseStairs