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

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

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

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

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

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

Examples

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • Hypnos of Digimon Tamers was a covert Signals Intelligence program. Their job was to monitor global electronic communications, to track criminals and other mundane tasks. Then Digimon began to appear, and the agency got stuck with dealing with them.

     Comic Books 
  • In Don Rosa story "The Lost Charts of Columbus", Azure Blue regained the Golden Helmet from a previous Carl Barks story, and the only way to prevent him from using it to legally claim ownership of North America was to find proof of an older claim. Donald Duck and his nephews found proof of an abbot who claimed way before Azure's ancestor. When a journalist at the press conference where Azure was claiming ownership—until being interrupted by Donald and his nephews announcing their findings — asked if whoever found proof of that claim would own North America, Donald gave an uncertain answer everyone deemed "close enough".

    Fan Works 
  • In the Firefly/Doctor Who crossover The Man With No Name, the Doctor ends up needing Simon to operate on him when he gets shot. While Simon is a genuine doctor, he'd never treated (or indeed, heard of) a Time Lord before.
  • In the Star Trek Online fic From Bajor to the Black, Lieutenant Kanril Eleya ends up the acting captain of a light cruiser by dint of everybody senior to her being dead or badly wounded. She ends up having to use, among other things, a conn officer who's actually from the Operations department. Apparently he plays a holodeck simulation of Operation Return a lot.
    Eleya: (facepalm) Fine, we don't have time to be picky. Ahead full.

    Film 
  • The two dentists in City Slickers.
    "We're the only ones with any medical training."
    "What exactly are we gonna do, Dad, give him a cleaning?!"
  • The ending of Snakes on a Plane had this.
  • Airplane!:
    Ted Stryker: I flew single-engine fighters, but this plane has four engines. It's an entirely different kind of flying... altogether.note  I haven't touched any kind of plane in six years.
    Dr. Rumack: Mr Stryker, I know nothing about flying. You're the only one on this plane who can possibly fly it. You're the only chance we've got.
  • The opening sequence of Star Trek: Generations features a freshly christened Enterprise being sent out on a rescue mission with no more than a skeleton crew and a handful of reporters. When refugees start pouring in, the medical staff are overwhelmed until Chekov recruits the reporters.
    "You, you and you. You've just become nurses, let's go."
    • Of course, Chekov himself had no medical training either but as often as he ends up in Sickbay, he's bound to have picked up some basics. It was originally supposed to be Doctor McCoy in the movie, but De Forest Kelley declined to participate in the movie. Walter Koenig was willing to come back as Chekov, so he ended up with lines that would've made much more sense for McCoy.
  • In Memphis Belle, bombardier Val has not exactly gone out of his way to deny that he is almost qualified as a doctor, even if he never specifically claims so. When Danny is wounded during the mission and the others look to Val to save him, he finally fesses up, admitting he only took two weeks of medical school before enlisting. The Captain, Dennis, gives him a speech about how he's the closest thing they got, and he goes off to save Danny's life...
  • In both versions of The Flight of the Phoenix, a plane has crashed in the desertnote , and the group needs to get if to fly again. Thankfully one of their members is an aeronautical engineer. The only problem is, he designs model planes, not real ones. Still, aerodynamics are aerodynamics, so the damn thing works. (Sadly, in real life, the plane crashed and killed the pilot during filming.)
  • In Mash, Hawkeye has his finger pressed against a wounded soldier's carotid artery to stop the fountain of blood, and asks the only unoccupied person in the operating room to help him with a more enduring solution to the bleeding. Said unoccupied person turns out to be the 4077th's chaplain, Father Mulcahy, who warns at the outset that this is hardly his area of expertise.
  • In Chicken Run, the chickens eventually build a plane to escape the farm, and thanks to all his talk of being in the RAF, they naturally expect Fowler to be the pilot. When they're ready for takeoff, it turns out that Fowler was a mascot rather than a pilot - since, as he quite rightly points out, the Royal Air Force doesn't let chickens fly planes. Ginger also quite rightly points out that, at this stage in the proceedings, he's the closest thing to a pilot they've got, and inspires him to take the seat and get them to safety.

    Literature 
  • Subverted by Discworld's Doughnut Jimmy, a veterinarian to racehorses and therefore infinitely more reliable than mere doctors as he cannot simply pass off his failures as "the will of the gods" to respectable businessmen such as Mr Chrysophrase.
    • And played straight by the fact that he lacks the capacity to think of any patient as anything other than a horse, and, in Feet of Clay, does indeed attempt to treat Lord Vetinari as if he were a horse, and not the thin, aging, slightly frail, Assassin-educated, keenly-insighted ruler of Ankh-Morpork.
  • In Sandy Mitchell's Death or Glory, Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!!) presses a vet into military duty because he's the only doctor they've got.
  • In Jurassic Park, a veterinarian specializing in avian health is responsible for caring for The Cassandra after the T-rex attack. Subverted when Ian Malcom dies, then played straight when the death is retconned in the sequel.
    • A lot of this was involved in staffing the titular park. Since no one had ever dealt with a live dinosaur, Hammond hired the closest he could find, mostly zookeepers, game wardens, and big game hunters. For veterinarians he initially went with reptile experts until it became clear that most dinosaurs had more in common with birds.
  • A veterinary surgeon is drafted in to provide first aid after a terrorist attack on a ferry in Tom Clancy's novel Patriot Games. Realistically subverted as one of the gunshot victims doesn't survive, even though a Navy rescue helicopter with a medical corpsman onboard arrives within minutes and all the vet did was apply pressure bandages.
  • The War Against the Chtorr. The protagonist is assigned to a front-line special forces unit because they need a scientist. In fact he only has a couple of years of college-level biology, but most of the real scientists have been killed off in the plagues and those that remain are too valuable to risk.
  • A repeated motif in S.M. Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time, where the island of Nantucket is sent back in time to 1250 BC. The local machine-shop hobbyist becomes an industrialist, a greenhouse grocery-farmer expands to plant whole fields of crops, the captain of a Coast Guard vessel becomes commander in chief of the military, the police chief becomes head of state...
    • The same thing happens in Eric Flint's 1632. A small town gets thrown back in time and the residents suddenly have to assume new critically important responsibilities that are far beyond anything they ever did previously. And like in Stirling's book, they succeed beyond all expectations.
  • Waldo Butters from The Dresden Files is called upon to perform battlefield medicine more than once by the hero, in spite of being a medical examiner by trade. This is because Butters can be trusted to be discreet, and Harry can't exactly risk using a hospital.
  • At one point in the Codex Alera series, Tavi finds himself the only surviving officer of his legion, and is forced to take command. He starts by promoting several senior NCOs to replace the officers...and the madam in charge of the company's camp followers is appointed Tribune Logistica (officer in charge of the supplies). Lampshaded when his Number Two immediately complains about appointing a civilian as a Legion officer.
    • Later on, Captain Tavi finds himself in desperate need of engineers. Earthcrafting is a power with many applications, including seduction. Tavi recruits the legion's whores, who have been practicing earthcrafting every day of their professional lives.
  • In the second Harold Shea story, Shea and Chalmers are forced to recite an epic poem or else die. The closest thing that either one of them has memorized is "The Ballad of Eskimo Nell". What's more, his Love Interest is also present. At the end of the story, she asks what "those strange words" mean.
  • Stephen King
    • Under the Dome. after the cut-off town's only real qualified doctor dies of a heart attack, the physician's assistant has to perform all medical procedures and drafts nurses as physician's assistants and civilians as nurses. In a town quickly devolving into chaos and violence, not to mention all the town's children having psychic seizures.
    • The Stand. Stu Redman, whose primary stated work experiences are assembling calculators and pumping gas, is forced to perform an appendectomy. The guy dies in the process. Later on, the Free Zone is forced to rely on a veterinarian until a doctor arrives.
    • Similarly, in The Regulators (written under the Richard Bachman pen name), veterinarian Tom Billingsley attempts to treat a neighbor who's nearly had her arm shot off.
  • During Galaxy of Fear, Tash Arranda once has to fly a small ship into an Asteroid Thicket. She protests that she's not one of the Asteroid Miners, nor a Jedi, who would be expected to have Improbable Piloting Skills. Her uncle assures her that she's an impressive pilot, and furthermore they don't have time to recruit someone better.
  • In Choosers of the Slain, there's a conversation between Mike and one of the girls he rescued from the snuff house in Rozaje, Montenegro in the course of a mission. He points out that he's not an expert in rape counseling, and what little he knows is from a former lover who did it professionally, but the girl replies that Mike is as close as she can get to one at the moment given the Keldara are still on the mission at the time.
  • Flight into Danger:note  Food poisoning takes down the flight crew and half the passengers in a four-engine passenger plane. The only possible pilot left is a passenger who's a retired military pilot—of a two-engine warplane with much different dynamics. The airport calls an expert pilot to help talk him in over the radio.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Battlestar Galactica, the titular ship finds itself separated from the fleet moments after Commander Adama has been twice shot in the chest, with Dr. Cottle, the only doctor in the fleet, on another vessel. As such, the task of performing a risky life-saving operation falls to a nursing assistant who comments that she has no experience at anything more involved than giving enemas. Naturally, it works out, though all she did was manage to keep him alive long enough for the real doctor to sort him out properly, the implication being it would not have worked out if they had taken much longer.
    • Also when Dr. Gaius Baltar is requested to determine where the Cylon-mine's Tylium-storage might be located — he doesn't have a clue about mining or factory work, but he's the Closest Thing They Got to all sorts of experts. It's good thing that he's a genius with a guardian angel.
    • This can also apply to the Galactica itself. The ship was about to be retired and be turned into a floating museum, and was outfitted with obsolete fighters. However, after the destruction of the rest of the Fleet, the aging Galactica is the only military vessel available to protect the refugees.
  • Throughout the run of Star Trek: Voyager, Tom Paris is often drafted into doing nursing duties. Apparently taking an exobiology course in college (to impress a girl he was interested in) is the closest thing they've got to a nurse on board now that the entire medical staff has been killed.
    • The Emergency Medical Hologram itself is an example, being pressed into service as the Voyager's full-time Chief Physician after the aforementioned death of the entire medical staff. The EMH was never intended to be more than a short-term backup to the flesh-and-blood doctors, and certainly wasn't meant to be kept operational for years at a time. This eventually ends up causing problems, forcing the crew to extensively modify him just so that his program won't crash.
    • And they do actually show Tom on several occasions stressed out pulling duty as nurse and pilot while trying to learn enough medicine to be at least competent.
  • In the episode "Mirror, Mirror" of Star Trek: The Original Series, Scotty drafts McCoy into helping him. McCoy does his "I'm a Doctor, not a" routine, but Scotty quietly says that of the people they have (the others being Kirk and Uhura), Bones is the closest thing they've got.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Siege of AR-558":
    Kellin: You an engineer?
    Ezri Dax: No...but Tobin, one of my previous hosts, was.
    Kellin: Close enough.
    Odo: Look, Sisko. I'm a security officer, a good one, but that doesn't make me qualified to help you run station operations.
    Sisko: You're probably right, Constable, but as you can see, you're all I've got.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    Bounty Hunter: Dr. Jackson, if you'd be so kind as to dress my wound.
    Daniel: I'm an archaeologist.
    Bounty Hunter: I know, but you're also a doctor.
    Daniel: Of archeology.
    • He then turns to Major Carter, who has had some medical training.
      • Which is, of course, useless, as the bounty hunter isn't human, and the wound dressing is nothing like an Earth first aid kit.
  • B.J. Hunnicutt of M*A*S*H is put in charge by Hawkeye whenever the problem of the week involves horses, because B.J. once stepped in a pile of manure and his father-in-law owns a farm.
    • Averted in a similar scenario when they go to Col. Potter, who lived on a farm and served as a cavalryman in World War I; his response was to call a veterinarian to help.
    • In an episode where all the women were sent away for some reason, the enlisted men were recruited as nurses.
  • In the LOST pilot, Jack deems Kate acceptable to stitch up his wounds because she once sewed the drapes in her apartment, though it was mostly that he couldn't reach the wound himself and she was the first person to happen upon him when he was checking the damage. He was just trying to reassure her she could manage.
    • And in one of the later seasons Jack has his appendix removed by Juliet, who is a fertility doctor.
    • Averted in the second season, when we see a comparison between how the main survivor group and the tail section group had been living since the crash. Several of the tail section group died because nobody in that group was able to give real medical care like Jack did for the main group.
  • During the "Show Biz Awards" sketch on Monty Python's Flying Circus, Eric Idle, parodying Richard Attenborough, introduces David Niven as the guest star to read the next round of nominations. "Sadly, Mr. Niven could not be with us this evening, but he has sent his fridge ..." A large, white refrigerator with an oversized bow tie wrapped around it is wheeled onto the stage, and reads the nominations in a silly voice.
  • The IT Crowd: "Pick a Card... don't show me! Put it back in the pack... is this your card?" "No— but damn close! You are the man I seek."
  • In Stargate Universe, combat medic Tamara "TJ" Johansen finds herself as the ranking medical officer among the crew of 80 or so stranded on the Destiny. After protesting that she's not qualified to be the ship's doctor, Col. Young gives her the standard "do your best" speech and sets her to work. Five episodes later she gets a second Field Promotion to chief psychologist in light of her undergraduate degree in psychology.
  • Early on the Doctor Who story The Seeds of Doom the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and two scientists are stranded at an Antarctic research station with a colleague who's been infected by a deadly alien parasite, and his only chance is an emergency amputation. The scientist the Doctor tells this to is shocked because he's a zoologist, but he agrees to try after Sarah Jane points out his colleague, a botanist, is even less qualified.
  • Simon Tam in Firefly is a trauma surgeon not a therapist. But then he is also a Big Brother. So presumably that will do. There is not much else.
  • The Walking Dead features Rick finding a doctor after his son Carl has been (accidentally) shot. Cue this exchange:
    Lori: You've performed this before, right?
    Greene: In a sense.
    Lori: But you're a doctor?
    Greene: Of course. I'm a vet.
    Lori: You're a veteran? Like a combat medic?
    Greene: A veterinarian.
  • During the parish Christmas pageant in The Vicar of Dibley, Alice goes into labor with her and Hugo's first child. Geraldine asks if there's a doctor in the house. One guy pipes up with, "I'm a vet!"
    Geraldine: You'll do.
    David: Over my dead body. I'm not having my grandchild brought into the world by James Herriot. (steps up)
  • In "Big Chicken Dinner" of Last Resort, Grace Shepard is assigned as defense lawyer to crew member accused of raping an island girl. She points out to her Captain that she isn't a JAG lawyer, but he comments that she was on the honor committee in military school which is "more than the rest of us". He tells her to just do the best she can. The prosecutor was the local island thug, so it wasn't like she was particularly outclassed.
    • She later again protests her assignment, but is overruled. It's revealed at the end the real reason she didn't want the case is that she was raped at the academy, as retaliation for punishing another cadet for honor infraction. Her case was never investigated, and she concluded over the course of the trial that the crew member did in fact rape the islander.

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

    Tabletop Games 
  • Many RPG systems allow a character to "default" on a skill, using a different but related skill with some kind of penalty. How difficult this is depends on the system and the specific skills involved; e.g. in GURPS if you know how to drive a car well you'll be able to handle anything from a motorcycle to a tank, but trying to perform surgery on basic first-aid training is practically impossible.
  • Dungeons & Dragons version 3.5 had a feat called Jack of All Trades which allowed you to make a skill check in any skill that said "Trained Only" without training, turning you into an all purpose "Closest thing we've got". Generally the results are very bad (you only have your attribute and any magic/tool bonuses, which is generally in the single digits total), though an obscure elf only feat can turn it into Omni Disciplinary Scientist.

    Video Games 
  • Knights of the Old Republic: your character is a soldier with basic Jedi training. You are suddenly the closest thing the Council has to a Jedi Knight to hunt down the source of the massive Sith fleet. It makes more sense after the Reveal.
    • And more so in the sequel: your character has been cut off from the Force and exiled from Republic space. Suddenly, you are the closest thing to a Jedi left to defeat the Sith out to destroy all life in the galaxy.
  • This shows up in the manual of the FMV game Bloodwings: Pumpkinhead's Revenge. The Spoony One was not happy.
    The tormented spirit of Pumpkinhead has been let loose to seek vengeance among the living. Unfortunately, for the poor souls of Ferren Woods, they have nothing better than you to stop them.
  • An in-game book in Arcanum has some big-game hunters kidnapping a technologist to service their guns. His area of expertise is chemistry, rather than gunsmithing, so all he's qualified to do is check the quality of their gunpowder.
  • Not as common in Mass Effect 3 as you might expect; despite blowing out of dock on Earth seconds ahead of the Reapers, the Normandy is carrying a highly experienced engineering staff who can crew most of its duty stations. It helps that most of the ancillary systems can be run by its AI. Comm Specialist Traynor is a drastic example, though, becoming Shepard's adjutant by virtue of her previous job (overseeing the ship's communication systems overhaul) suddenly being obsolete. In a twist, she's dramatically overqualified for the job. However, her original training does come up from time to time, usually as a plot point.
    • Shuttle pilot Steve Cortez is a minor example; he is a trained pilot, originally a fighter jock but fully qualified to fly your drop shuttle. However, he was assigned to the refit crew as a supply officer, which was actually a more valuable talent. When it became clear his chief competition for the pilot role, Marine James Vega, should never be allowed near a shuttle, ever, he switches back.
    • Shepard him/herself is acting as Earth's de facto ambassador to the galaxy at large, being ordered to rally support from the other races to help Earth against the Reapers. While Shepard's training is strictly as a naval officer and Space Marine, s/he is also a Council Spectre of some renown, meaning that most of the galaxy's leaders are willing to at least hear him/her out, even if they're not in a hurry to pledge support.
  • In competitive Pokémon, Hidden Power is used to fill holes in a special attacker's coverage, thanks to being able to be any type. However, it has a base power of 70, which is the lowest acceptable for competitive play.
  • Fallout: New Vegas has "Fantastic", a technician at the HELIOS One power station, who managed to convince the NCR that he was fully qualified. In actuality, he's a moron and a junkie who barely has the faintest idea what the various buttons of the panels do what. If you manage to help him send power over to the NCR, he'll be promoted to the head technician of Hoover Dam.
    Fantastic: "They asked me if I knew anything about power plants. I said as much as anyone I'd ever met. They asked me how well I understood theoretical physics. I said I had a theoretical degree in physics. They said welcome aboard."

    Webcomics 

    Western Animation 
  • In Booster Gold's Day in the Limelight episode of Justice League Unlimited, he is asked to save the world from a guy with a black hole in his chest (no, really). He claims that this is too big and that he's a phony pretending to be a hero, but the Hot Scientist Girl of the Week says that he's the closest thing they've got (well, the only thing, in fact; the rest of the League is too busy fighting Mordru offscreen to give a damn).
    • This is right after he asks her to help a woman in labor, seeing as how she is a doctor, she then angrily retorts that she is a physicist.
    • The Seven Soldiers homage episode "Patriot Act" also uses this; most of the Leauge's heavy hitters are deployed elsewhere, so a bunch of B-Listers are called in to cover for Superman at a parade... and fight off the Hulked-Out General Ripper who has a bone to pick with Supes.
  • Randy Marsh in South Park often gets called to action as the town's only scientist. The thing is, he's not a Omnidisciplinary Scientist: he's a geologist.
    • When the hospital was understaffed, the doctor considered Chef qualified enough for having watched one episode of Quincy.
    • When the US government sends a team through the portal to Imaginationland, they put Kurt Russell in command, because he was "in that one movie that was kinda like this," and that gave him the most experience.
  • It's in the theme song for Dave the Barbarian.
    They ain't the greatest heroes, but they're the only ones we've got!
  • During the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode, "The Return of Harmony, Part 2", with Rainbow Dash tricked into flying off to "Cloudsdale" by Discord, Twilight needs someone to fill her spot. And much to his dismay, Spike turns out to be that someone. The elements fail, but not (entirely) because of him.
  • TaleSpin: Don Carnage sent two pirates of his crew to break into Cape Suzette. One of them tried to be the boss of the other by claiming to have attended school. When the other dismissed the claim as false, the claimant then said he had already seen a school's photograph and the other pirate accepted this as a reason to let him lead.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons where Bart gets injured and needs legal representation, Troy McClure selects Nick Riviera as the medical expert for the upcoming lawsuit as he's "the only one in this room who's even close to a doctor." Riviera treats it as a compliment.
  • The Littlest Pet Shop (2012) episode "Terriers & Tiaras'' has Blythe making a last-minute substitute when Zoe, her entry in the dog pageant (who actually IS a dog) quits in protest. Zoe's replacement is Russell, a hedgehog whom Blythe passes off as an exotic European breed. Russell wins.
  • Futurama
    • It appears that the tribe of sewer-dwelling mutants have taken to worshipping Nibbler as a god, believing a virgin sacrifice will prevent mass-scale slaughter. Leela volunteers as the sacrifice to draw Nibbler out — only to be derisively mocked. ("Nice try, Leela. But we've all seen Zapp Brannigan's webpage.") It transpires that there's no one else available, however, meaning they have to use her anyway: "So when El Chupanibre comes to take the (airquotes) 'virgin'..."
    • In "Hell Is Other Robots", Fry and Leela have to enter a fiddle contest against the Robot Devil to save Bender.
      Leela: Do you know how to play the fiddle?
      Fry: No. Do you?
      Leela: No, but I used to play the drums. They're sorta similar.

    Real Life 
  • There was once a documentary on a small town damaged by a storm, and at the local hospital, things got so bad that, at one point, one surgeon found himself to be the only medical professional in the building, with no one to help him with a surgical procedure he absolutely had to do on a patient. In desperation, he found a random guy in the hallway and drafted him to help. The guy had no medical training whatsoever, and was given a surgeon's gown, mask, gloves, and had to help out in performing surgery.
  • The U.S. Secret Service originally was founded to investigate counterfeiting. However, since the U.S. Marshals lacked the manpower, and the other law enforcement agencies (such as the Parks Police and Post Office Inspectors) didn't fit the bill, the Service got stuck investigating most federal-level crimes. This continued until the FBI and other dedicated agencies were created and took over some of those responsibilities.
    • Also the reason why a former Treasury Department agency is responsible for protecting the most powerful leader on the planet. They were the closest thing Congress had to do the job at the timenote . When it became clear (on account of three assassinations in 36 years) that dedicated bodyguards for the President were a necessity, it was quicker to re-purpose some of the existing Secret Service agents than to create a new agency for the job.
  • Skippy of Skippy's List fame was at one point assigned as unit interpreter during a deployment in Albania by virtue of having been deployed in another country nearby previously and owning an English-to-Serbocroat (not Albanian) dictionary.

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