main index




Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
Doing in the Scientist
"You got your crappy fantasy all over my sci-fi RPG."

This is where a story element (or possibility) that was originally explained by 'science' is retconned into being due to magic or supernatural forces. This tends to be poorly received because it throws the established "rules of The Verse" out of the window.

This is often seen in "updated" superhero origins. Once upon a time being on the range during a Gamma-bomb test, or being bit by and/or spliced with a radioactive spider, sounded semi-plausible. Nobody thought it could work (hopefully...) but it sounded vaguely like something that could happen. However, Science Marches On and now there are some things that no scientific origin can plausibly excuse. Magic, on the other hand, can (by definition) do anything the author wants it to . Sure, it loses a lot of realism but sometimes that's what you're after- maintaining Willing Suspension of Disbelief through a simple handwave that doesn't try to be scientific is often less taxing than trying to swallow nonsense about something that really exists.

A supertrope for Magic-Powered Pseudoscience, when it applies to revealing that seemingly-scientific Phlebotinum was powered by the creator rather than Techno Babble.

This is the Sci-Fi Counterpart of Doing in the Wizard .

Not to be confused with The Magic Goes Away, rather, The Magic Comes Back is more appropriate. If magic is the whole basis for a civilization's technology, see Magitek. Contrast How Unscientific!.


    open/close all folders 

     Anime & Manga 
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, after extended use of duelling using shock-collars, Kaiser develops heart problems. This was initially explained as overuse of the shock collars, but the reason was done away with in favor of the dark power of his deck, which he stole from his mentor.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure has gone into this full-force with Steel Ball Run, where it is revealed that Stands, at least in that continuity, are caused either by coming into possession of the remains of a Saint's body it's most likely Jesus's or travelling through a cursed, ever-changing-location, region in the United States. This is especially strange seeing that stands received the opposite treatment in the previous continuity.
  • Witch Hunter Robin: While the official explanation is that witch powers are caused by genetics that only the medieval period confused for genuine magic this explanation falls flat numerous times:
    • Some witches use symbols that can be recognized by other witches who share no other relation which implies that there is a coherent system in use among witches. One witch contacted her sister's ghost for a revenge plot with a ritual that Robin recognized.
    • On one occasion Robin's fire power was nullified by standing on a water rune.
    • Just five years pre-series the STN used anti-witch bullets with carvings to ward off evil, and someone in the main narrative still does.
  • Outlaw Star: Gene's caster gun looks like futuristic super science but it's revealed to be a really old model that was formerly used by mages. It can counter Tao magic because the two are based on a similar principle. That's why its called a Cast-er.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Kyubey is a Sufficiently Advanced Alien, not a magical creature, and he wants to prevent the universe's heat death by breaking the second law of thermodynamics. However, he does this by performing genuine miracles and drawing out real magical potential in human girls so he can collect energy generated by emotions; none of these are governed by thermodynamics or any kind of science and that's why they suit Kyubey's purpose. A rare case of also counting as Doing in the Wizard .
  • Paranoia Agent: Lil' Slugger is not a human deliquent. He's a supernatural phantom unwittingly created by Tsukiko to escape responsibility for the death of her dog.

     Comic Books 
  • Spider-Man's superpower origin used to be a radioactive spider that bit Peter Parker and mutated him. Then some writer went back and said, "No, it was a magical spider dying from the radiation, and it bit Peter to bestow its mystical power before it went to that great web in the sky." In this case the Scientist is Not Quite Dead - Spidey didn't buy the magical explanation. Ironically, this was later retconned back to the original explanation through magical means.
    • Around the end of the Other arc, Peter discusses this with a South American shaman who says that the answers aren't mutually exclusive. . He says that a scientist would say that the sun rises in the morning because the Earth spins, while a mystic would say the sun rises because it is meant to, and they're both right. Scientist is a different way of looking at the Wizard perhaps?
  • The Flash's powers were originally due to a Freak Lab Accident, but later the origin was retconned into a connection to a mystical dimension called the Speed Force but it didn't Do In The Scientist as much as it forced the Scientist to shake hands with the Wizard. Though the Speed Force is indeed mystical, all of the Flashes as well as many other speedsters in the DCU gained or activate their connection through scientific means, such as Allen and West's lightning/chemical accidents or the Quick family's mathematical speed formula. The Scientist later gained ground on the Wizard with a Retcon that stated the Speed Force was created pseudo-scientically by the original Freak Lab Accident, with Barry Allen generating its energies as he runs.
  • Swamp Thing started off as a man who had turned into a plant-monster after getting splashed with chemicals, but under Alan Moore's stint as writer he was retconned to be a mass of walking plant matter that thought it was a man. Eventually, he discovered his connection to the mental dimension 'the Green', and found that he was only the most recent in a long line of plant elementals.That second part was originally inspired by a series of experiments which has since been discredited.
  • Same thing with the new Animal Man, where Buddy Baker once gained his power from being experimented on by aliens, it is revealed to be a plot made by the Totems of 'the Red', counterpart of 'the Green'.
  • Alpha Flight's Sasquatch originally had the same origin as the Incredible Hulk (with a bit of babble about the aurora borealis to explain why he wasn't green). Then it turned out he actually gained his power from one of the Arctic demons Snowbird was born to fight, and that he wasn't shapeshifting as much as switching bodies. He later gained the ability to change under his own power, but this too was magical and explicitly so.
  • The AU miniseries Marvel 1602, which takes place in an Elizabethan version of the Marvel Universe, does this for practically all of the Marvel superheroes' origins. The Fantastic Four, for example, get their powers after wandering into a magical sea storm that turns them into physical avatars of the four elements; this universe's Bruce Banner becomes the Hulk after being hit by a blast of mystical energy from a tear in the fabric of space; and this universe's Peter Parker gets his spider-based abilities after being bit by a spider that's hit with the same blast of energy.
  • Daredevil's abilities are a rather odd variant of this trope, in that writers tend to vacillate on whether or not he has superpowers at all. His original origin story stated that he got Super Senses that compensated for the loss of his sight after getting radioactive waste in his eyes. Realizing the implausibility of getting superpowers from radioactive waste, though, many later writers have suggested that his enhanced hearing and sense of touch are just the result of years of training under his sensei Stick, which he underwent as a way of coping with his blindness.

    Films — Animated 
  • Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch has a Glitch. After they are too late to save Stitch from his malfunction and he shuts down, Lilo's tear brings him back to life. Pleakley asks Jumba for the scientific explanation. Jumba proudly states (as if he knew any other way to state things) that there is no possible scientific explanation, declares it a miracle, and celebrates.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Prestige has an odd variant of this that falls somewhere between this trope and Doing in the Wizard . From the beginning, the movie is presented as a fairly mundane Period Piece about a pair of Victorian stage magicians battling over trade secrets for their magical acts. Naturally, we assume that all of their magic tricks can be explained away as clever illusions, even when both men come up with magic tricks that apparently let them teleport instantly from one side of a stage to another. Neither trick is magic, per se, but one of them turns out to have been accomplished with a replication/cloning device invented by Nikola Tesla, unexpectedly pushing the movie into science fiction territory.
  • The Avengers: Tony suggests that the Hulk (A.K.A "The Other Guy") is not triggered by Bruce's heart rate per se, but that the Hulk deliberately manifests to protect Bruce in dangerous situations. Thus, it is an ally to be embraced instead of a monster to be caged. The events of the movie support this view. Bruce tells The Team that Hulk interrupted his suicide attempt and later it emerges in the final battle because Bruce told it to.
  • Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice suggested that contaminated corn has been causing hallucinations that appears as demonic activity to anyone near it. Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest ignores this, and in turn ramps up the supernatural powers used by the requisite Dark Messiah child leader.

  • The Dexter novels, after a couple of books which appeared to be non-magical crime stories, suddenly threw in literal Christian demons and tried to claim that Dexter was demonically possessed. This did not go down well with many of the fans.
  • Trapped on Draconica: Early on of Alister's advisors say they 'stopped believing in magic years ago' and insists that the dragokin powers are not magic despite being bestowed on the princesses by a dragon god. Shortly afterward, Gothon uses teleportation magic to launch a sneak attack. Its purpose is to capture Ben and steal his definitely magical powers to travel between worlds.
  • The Exile's Violin: Despite all the talk about how alchemy is nothing more than chemistry+mysticism and general disbelief in magic the Exile's Violin has real magic power and the 'alchemically enchanced' swords that previously defeated it are the only weapons that can stop it.

     Live Action TV 
  • According to the Opening Narration of The Sentinel, the fight for survival in the jungles of Peru heightened his senses, but the episodes attributed it to Magical Native American powers.
    • The French opening narration walked around this by being more "open" to the magical interpretation.
    • It's also stated by Sandburg that each tribe had its own Sentinel, a person genetically-predisposed to hypersensitivity, designated as its protector. In this case, Jim is the protector of his "tribe" - the city of Cascade.
  • Quantum Leap's series finale revealed that God was not controlling Sam's actions but there were other non-technological based Leapers who were guardian angels thought dead or disappeared, and that most of the things previously thought to run on science actually ran on magical miracles. However, all along it was suggested that his constant leaping was not due to the machine he built but some outside force.
  • Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) began as hard science fiction and slowly acquired more and more religious/fantastic elements. Precognition, incorporeal beings, restoration of destroyed objects and resurrection from the dead. Still though, many fans assumed that in the end everything would be explained away by some rational (or at least science-fiction-al) explanation: initially, through the involvement of the Cylons (particularly with regards to resurrection) then later super-evolved extraterrestrials, lost technological civilizations etc. No such revelation was forthcoming and the series ended with the characters, at least, putting the events of the series down to divine intervention, although strictly speaking the viewer is left to make up his own mind.
  • Deep Space Nine'' gets closer to this than any other incarnation. The Prophets of Bajor live in a separate plane of existence and watch over the people of Bajor, who worship them as Gods. As far as everybody else is concerned, they're Sufficiently Advanced Aliens who live in a temporally non-linear plane of existence. The series never comes down hard on what they are.
  • LOST danced with a scientific explanation for everything in seasons 4 and 5. Season 6, meanwhile, reverts back to fantasy, focusing the plot around two people who seem to be immortal demi-gods (one of whom has even been theorized to be a outright genie, since he claims to be able to grant wishes to his followers and who is being kept on the Island like a cork keeps wine in a bottle) while introducing rules about not being able to kill somebody if they speak to you first, a healing spring that turns you evil when it's grimy and so on.
    • The show always played with the idea of science vs. faith, as epitomized by Jack and Locke respectively. There are scientific explanations for many of the things that happened (plane crashed, the time travel, etc.) and though Jacob guided the events of the whole show, it doesn't mean the actual events lack a scientific reason as to how they happened. Put simply, the writers deliberately wrote the show so that most events were a blend of the scientific and the faith-oriented, and very few things were purely one or the other.
  • Babylon 5 toyed with the idea that at least some of the First Ones' powers were magical for a long time, but always also left it open that it was just the tech of Sufficiently Advanced Alien. Then The Lost Tales depicted what appeared to be an actual Christian demon (it was implied that the entity's actual nature was more complex than that, but it was still strongly suggested to be genuinely supernatural).
    • Many fans find the lack of ambiguity in The Lost Tales to be disappointing. However, B5 contains plenty of beings capable of pulling off similar effects (the Technomages, just to start with) so Lochley's "The Reason You Suck" Speech at the end may be entirely wrong.
  • In The Vampire Diaries it turns out that Jonathan Gilbert's inventions don't work, but were enchanted by Emily unbeknownst to him to fulfill their intended function. This didn't cause backlash, seeing as magic is already established and the alternative is a 19th century, clockwork powered vampire detector.
  • There is always Supernatural, basically the exact opposite of Doctor Who where pretty much anything thought to be science actually ends up being magic or because of magical entities. The kicker for any fan of this trope is that science is also pretty much useless in the show itself (i.e. most monsters can only be killed in specific magical ways, if they can even be killed at all).
  • While Buffy the Vampire Slayer is mostly focused on magic and demons, a few antagonists, like Warren, the original Ted and Professor Walsh, used sci-fi tropes. Word of God says they could pull off things like semi-sapient robots and invisibility rays because they're actually magical savants fueled by the Hellmouth (or something).

     Tabletop Games 
  • Mage: The Ascension has perhaps the most unique example of this, as, in the setting, there is no real distinction between "magic" and "science". The setting is based on Consensual Reality ("The world is only as it is because we believe it is"). Basically, only gifted individuals (that the game calls "awakened") can truly work outside the CURRENT laws of physics. An Awakened today would be the only one to be able to summon a dragon, because dragons break the rules of our world but everyone could use a computer. On the other side, an Awakened in the Middle Ages would be the only one to be able to build a mechanical difference engine, but everyone of course knows that dragons exist. Yes, in the Middle Ages, dragons were "science" and computers were "magic". In short, not only the Wizard and the Scientist keep doing in each other, but they are (metaphorically) the same person, who routinely changes his clothes from "cloak and wizard hat" to "glasses and lab coat" and vice versa in order to do in himself. The most accepted ending to the metaplot reveals that humanity Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence since the Wizard and the Scientist really were one and the same, pointlessly fighting.
    • The game is practically this trope with a rules system, since even the Scientists are "breaking the rules", they just try to do so in ways that people think are okay. Thanks to Hollywood Science, they can get away with a lot.
  • Warhammer 40,000 see-saws back and forth on this one with Orks. Depending on the Writer, Orkish technology is either real technology they're able to build and use due to it being built into their genes, or it's pure magic powered solely by their belief it will work. Sometimes humans are able to use it with no trouble other than it being a bit crude, other times even simple things like guns turn out to just be full of metal scraps that couldn't possibly do anything.

     Video Games 
  • Early on in Tales of the Abyss, it's revealed that there's a kind of cloning technology called "fomicry". How it operates isn't explained but it's assumed to be scientific. Turns out that's only half right. The process by which it is done is technological but the thing that allows it is actually magic: that thing being the energy given off by the local Crystal Dragon Jesus. It's a lot less jarring than most examples, however, since in this world the resident wizard and most prominent scientist don't just get along; they're the same person.
  • In Tales of Graces, it's shown that the Nigh Invulnerable Nova monsters can be harmed by a special kind of energy given off by Sophie. Later, it's revealed that Sophie is actually a Robot Girl created by the people of a different planet... except then it turns out that the thing that actually powers her mysterious attacks is actually a the mystical energy of the planet. Similarly, the laws of the world of Fodra were thought to be entirely natural until Lambda was discovered in its core.
  • Brothers in Arms Hell's Highway quite possibly invokes this trope: Throughout the game, the protagonist, Matthew Baker, is plagued by what seems to be a hallucination of a dead squadmate, Leggett, whom Baker is revealed to be partially responsible for the death of, and the hallucinations of other squadmates as well. One would dismiss this as the result of severe PTSD and shell shock, until the last cutscene, where Leggett asks Baker how he feels about snow. This being right after the infamous Operation Market Garden, and before the Battle of the Bulge, which occurred in the bitterly cold winter of 1944-45, a mere hallucination would not be able to predict the future of the squad, suggesting that Leggett is there in more than just Baker's mind.
  • In Pokémon, Gastly and its evolutions, the first generation's only Ghost types, were said not to really be ghosts but just lifeforms made of some kind of gas. Subsequent generations have abandoned this and feature things like the souls of dead children who starved to death in the forest and abandoned dolls animated by The Power of Hate.

     Web Comics 
  • Done in El Goonish Shive. "Take THAT Science Fiction!"
  • In Sluggy Freelance, it was originally implied that Oasis was the creation of Mad Scientist Dr. Steve, being either a robot he built or a human girl he Brainwashed and physically enhanced. Several years later, it's revealed that Dr. Steve didn't create Oasis at all; while exactly what she is remains unclear, researchers have labelled her "proof-positive paranormal" and stated "nobody made Oasis into a weapon but God."
    • Though fantasy elements have been part of Sluggy Freelance since day one, so this revelation isn't as jarring as it might be in other series.
    • Also, her magical ability? Pyrokinesis. People STILL don't know how she survives being dead!
  • Gunnerkrigg Court featured robots for many chapters, before it was revealed that some—if not all of them—are magitek, and capable of operating without motors, actuators, or any visible power source. In retrospect, this helps to explain how Antimony—who by her own admission doesn't know the first thing about how robots work—was able to single-handedly reassemble Robot S13.
  • Suppression takes an interesting twist on this trope AND Doing in the Wizard . Both wizards and scientists are trying to figure out what's up with Ebon Creek. Neither of them have all of the answers in so far.
  • Wooden Rose: Eric originally attributed his wife's pregnacy to infidliety but when he saw that the child was a tree spirit and came to term in a week instead of nine months he had no choice but to accept that the supernatural was involved.
  • Spinnerette: laughed at the idea of anyone using magic (especially the kind inspired by a tabletop game) and thought "Spirit of the Tiger" was an euphemism for steroids. Then Mecha Maid tells her that the latter is not an euphemism of any kind and Alexis performs the Ritual of Lolth for real.

     Web Original 
  • It was revealed near the end of lonelygirl15 that trait positives are actually the descendants of the fertility goddess Hathor, although this was left open to interpretation.
  • In Atop the Fourth Wall, it was revealed that all the advanced fictional technology Linkara has been using (phasers and tricorders, morphers, pokeballs, etc.) are actually just toys that he's been enchanting using a magic book that can turn the image of something into the actual thing. Oddly, there's still genuine sci-fi stuff; its quite explicitly only the borrowed technology that was actually magic.

     Western Animation 
  • Transformers has this in their origin story. In G1, the Autobots and Decepticons were manufactured by the Quintessons as slaves and weapons respectively (though prior to this story, super-computer Vector Sigma gave sentience to the Transformers while their origin was left unanswered). In more recent series it's said that they were created by an actual god, Primus, that is their planet. As in, their planet transforms into a god. (This doesn't entirely count, however, as some continuities follow the Primus origin and some follow the Quintesson origin.)
    • The original Marvel comic from The Eighties takes the cake by beginning with the explanation that Transformers evolved from naturally occurring pulleys, levers and gears and later saying it was the god Primus.
    • Meanwhile, at least one guide book says 'Okay, Primus created them, THEN The Quintessons found them and modified them."
    • In the Japanese G1 continuity, the Quintessons created the Autobots and Decepticons, while the Oracle/Primus/Vector Sigma/Primacron's Assistant gave them sentience.
    • The Wreckers comic used that explanation to add that Vector Sigma was Primus' link with the Transformers, while the Oracle was a shell program created by the Quints to sever that link, manipulate Vector Sigma and send some fake prophecies.
  • Scooby-Doo has pulled this in some of its modern incarnations. Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island popularised this, althrough it was justified: the entire point of the film was that the gang had spent several years debunking hauntings as hoaxes and criminal plots and the film explored how they would react when finally face with the supernatural for real.
  • Kim Possible: Initially, Shego's hand blasts were implied to be devices in her gloves. Later it was firmly established to be a superpower given to her by a magic comet.

Creating Life Is UnforeseenTropes on Science and UnscienceDoing in the Wizard
Do-Anything RobotSpeculative Fiction TropesDoing in the Wizard
Developing Doomed CharactersSturgeon's TropesDoing in the Wizard

TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from
Privacy Policy