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Explosive Instrumentation
Circuit-breakers are for pansies.

Warning! All control consoles double as Firework Storage Lockers. On detonation of fireworks, please leap dramatically to the floor and feign unconsciousness.

Explosions look cool. As a result, in the future (and sometimes in the present) there are no such things as fuses or circuit breakers, and every control panel, sensor, and shield has C4 built into it. That way, if Readings Are Off the Scale, the user will be sure to notice. Also, no matter how deeply buried inside a ship its bridge is, you are guaranteed a shower of sparks and a deadly explosion when the enemy gets through its shields, or if some other disaster befalls the ship.

Long considered an unrealistic but effective way of showing battle damage when you don't have the budget to mess up a miniature or — in modern works — create damaged versions of CGI models. "Exploding Consoles of Doom" is actually an example of Truth in Television. An electrical engineer posting on the TrekBBS message board explains what happens to cause a so called "Exploding Console of Doom". [1]

A Super Trope to Readings Blew Up the Scale.

Compare No Water Proofing In The Future, Holographic Terminal (which doesn't explode — just get spammed with pop ups). Should require No OSHA Compliance, although that point is rarely touched. Squat all to do with musical instruments going kaboom.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • The infamous scouter devices in Dragon Ball Z exploded each time they measured a rapid increase in a power source, something that happened regularly during the course of a battle. For a device held on the eye by people regularly fighting powerful enemies, the scientists probably should have reduced the amount of explosives apparently used for its capacitors.
    • One particularly ridiculous example was in a filler scene, when several of Freeza's mooks were watching the fight between Goku and Freeza, when the scanner explodes and wipes out everyone in the room. Even though they were on a different planet. And they were most likely super-powered Ki fighters.
    • Portable models ceased use for the most part once Frieza actually got fighting with Vegeta, given the power levels were starting to get flat-out ridiculous. In Dragon Ball Abridged, Frieza's even says "F**K THIS, I'M OUT" before self-destructing.
  • Surprisingly, for the all the Spiral Power gauges in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann overlap, they turn out to be surprisingly durable as they usually just shift to a new color (each full meter apparently requiring exponentially more to fill than the last). One only broke in the final episode when a Beam-O-War with twice the power of the big bang is knocked back, send the meter overlapping so much as to be every color in the rainbow and the meter literally continues to rise off the gauge in mid-air.
  • In AKIRA, control panels blow up when Tetsuo takes out SOL.
  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's, when the Book of Darkness started taking control of Clyde's Hestia, The Bridge had random explosions thrown in just in case the visual of the Book's tendrils spreading all over the rest the ship didn't seem threatening enough.
  • Used, oddly enough, in Pink Innocent. Kokona shakes a laptop, only for it to burst into flames in her hands, eventually burning down an apartment.
  • In the second chapter of the series Rebuild of Evangelion, when Mari Illustrious Makinami activate the "beast mode" of her EVA, the energy countdown in the NERV room has problems like a stream with a wrong codec, although it's only a timer

    Film 
  • The climax of WarGames.
  • In GoldenEye, EMP makes everything explode for no good reason.
  • Given its source material, this obviously happens in Galaxy Quest.
    • Both in the movie and on the movie within the movie.
    • A possible case of Fridge Brilliance here in that the Thermians based their design exclusively on what they saw in the "historical documents", meaning they deliberately avoided standard safety practices in order to let the consoles explode, just like on the show. Same reason they have a room meant as an obstacle course.
  • Happened in the destruction of the Droid Control Ship by Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace. This resulted in the deaths of all ship staff inside, including the Captain of the ship, who along with his fellow crew members were right in front of the computer when it malfunctioned and exploded as a result of the ship's destruction.
  • Taken to its logical extreme in Scanners when Vale starts psychically hacking a room full of computers, and Keller unplugs all the computers, thinking that the shock will erase Vale's brain. It turns out that Vale is way too bad a dude for that to work, and instead, the computers all explode simultaneously, in so spectacular a fashion as to kill Keller. And then Vale's phone melts and the phone booth explodes.
  • In Plan 9 from Outer Space when one of the aliens pulls off a control panel to use as a club (alien technology beyond human imagining!) it unleashes a shower of sparks and sets their ship on fire.
  • The 2009 film of Star Trek only uses this in the teaser (where the entire USS Kelvin is falling apart, thus justifying the trope...we think). Otherwise it completely averts this. This aversion is only notable because, well, it's Star Trek. Star Trek without exploding consoles? This Cannot Be!!
  • In Invasion Of The Bee Girls, when the hero confronts the bee girls just as they're about to transform his girlfriend into one of them, he shoots a panel of instruments. This causes pretty much the whole lab to blow up.
  • Pearl Harbor had Truth In Movies with a fighter having a cockpit fire in flight due to a leaking oil line. See Real Life below for why this could (and DID) happen in the period.
  • Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen gives a meta-example. According to some of the crew, Devastator had so many moving parts and was so complex and detailed to animate that his animation model ended up frying one of the animation computers!

    Literature 
  • Soul Drinker has this happening on board an Imperial ship.
  • Subverted in the Bernice Summerfield novella Jason and the Bandits, in which an Unreliable Narrator bemoans a pirate spaceship's lack of a Pointlessly Exploding Console, which ordinarily provides immediate tactile feedback that a ship operating under infradrive, rather than in normal time and space, has suffered damage. The pirate captain retorts that "The Pointlessly Exploding Consoles kill more people than they ever save."
  • In Cryptonomicon "the Finn" has an old CRT monitor explode in his face, almost killing him because a virus overloaded the vacuum tubes, blasting glass fragments into his face. This can, with a faulty monitor and much (un)luck actually happen, though the chances are insignificantly small because there are safety features to prevent exactly this. There hasn't been any actual cases where this has happened; it's only theoretical.
  • In When the Devil Dances, during the Posleen assault on the Rabun Gap wall one of the consoles in SheVa 14, supporting the wall's defenders, explodes after a plasma gun hit penetrates into the command center. A few paragraphs later it's even lampshaded by the SheVa's commander.
  • After the ISD Freedom takes a full broadside including several ion cannon hits from the super star destroyer Lusankya in The Bacta War, one redshirt on the Freedom's bridge crew is mentioned to have been killed by an exploding console.
  • Lampshaded in Redshirts when the captain calls down to Engineering to get some surge suppressors on the bridge consoles and complains that there is no logical reason the bridge should look like a fireworks display every time the Intrepid gets into a firefight. Turns out it's because there's a Star Trek-like TV show intruding on the Intrepid's reality.
  • A bit of a Running Gag in Ark Royal is the crew noting that the consoles don't explode, usually when one of the idiotic Tagalong Reporters complains about the battles being boring.

    Live Action TV 
  • Star Trek, Star Trek and more Star Trek. Sometimes it seems like more people died on the bridge of the various Starships Enterprise from exploding duty stations than were killed on away missions. Occasionally, the bridge consoles will even explode before the shields get under 30%, which makes you wonder what the shields are for. Went hand in hand with Trek's Impact-TiltCam and Flying Bodies.
    • Word of God from some who worked on the show is that they production staff knew that it was much more dramatic to have things like the ship being hit by weapons fire indicated by the lights briefly dimming and someone reporting on the effect of the incoming fire, but Executive Meddling by the studio/network insisted on more 'visually interesting' explosions and sparks instead.
    • One episode of Star Trek: Voyager in particular had a character who must have possessed some form of Medium Awareness, since she knew that the best way to injure or kill someone was to blow up their console.
    • In "Prey" the Hirogen take out Voyager's port warp nacelle, causing the console to the left of Tom Paris to blow up. They then take out the starboard nacelle, causing the console to his right to explode. Good thing Voyager doesn't have a central nacelle, or he'd have copped it right in the face!
    • Please note how the explosive potential of a console depends on the expendability of the officer manning it.
    • The technical manuals of the Star Trek universe try to handwave this as a result of the inherent danger of using speed-of-light transmission between consoles and systems for faster response time, though the fact that the human response time will void any benefit gained from such a design makes this highly dangerous setup dubious at best. Also, a case of bad science. Real world fiber optic cabling provides speed-of-light data transfer between networked devices, but the amount of actual energy in the fiber is negligible, not even enough to blind a person if they pull out the wire and look directly into the connector. So really the explanation is just Artistic License - Physics meets Rule of Cool.
    • On at least one occasion, a console was demonstrated to still be functional after exploding. That's some kind of durable design.
  • Battlestar Galactica (Classic).
    • Also in Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) during the liberation of New Caprica. And pretty much every other major battle scene in which Galactica participates. Key word being 'major': when the Galactica takes a real pounding we see some of this trope, never more so than New Caprica and the finale, but the CIC is in the most secure part of the ship, and in usual engagements the most that happens is some shaking.
    • Justified in Flight of the Phoenix: The Cylon computer virus bypassed safeties to deliberately overload a console. Also, the resulting explosion isn't really that big.
  • Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
  • Land of the Giants.
  • The few battle scenes, and any turbulence, in Red Dwarf usually involved random components exploding, sometimes knocking out the whole crew. Parodied in one episode where the 'Damage Report Machine' explodes in the Cat's face. Luckily, the crew is well-equipped with tiny fire extinguishers to deal with such events, probably a nod to Alien.
  • Occasionally occurred in Babylon 5, especially in the prequel In the Beginning, where an Earth Alliance ship and a Minbari ship both suffer from things exploding and metal beams falling from the ceiling during the botched First Contact space battle.
  • Stargate SG-1: It started happening to the crews once they got Earth made starships.
    • The gate's dialing computer has done it a few times, as did the gate itself, once zapping a poor Siler who exclaims "Why does this always happen to me?"
      • But then that scene (from the episode "200") didn't actually happen.
      • Though it has canonically zapped Sam, who earned herself some significant electrical burns when she hit the iris control after the gate had gone haywire from a combination of EMP and outside attack.
    • Also lampshaded in that same episode, after the Star Trek "homage" sequence, Teal'c says, "I do not understand why everything in this script must inevitably explode."
    • In a recent episode, Michael throws a laptop in frustration, and it explodes in a shower of sparks when it hits the ground.
      • Note: A laptop battery can explode quite spectacularly if it is damaged.
      • They can, but they are more likely to just get extremely hot and, possibly, start to burn. It's virtually impossible to get one to explode, even if that's what you're deliberately trying to do.
    • Possibly justified in that almost everything the heroes use is cobbled together from at least 2 different species's technology.
      • The Gate/Dialing computer is Human+Ancient.
      • The Space Fighters are Human+Goa'uld.
      • The Space Cruisers are Human+Goa'uld+Asgard.
  • A slight tap to the Megazords in any Super Sentai / Power Rangers series will cause a rain of sparks to fall on the team in the cockpit. In particularly bad cases, it can go through the communications and hurt the command centers too.
  • Andromeda. Every time that ship is hit by anything at all several massive showers of sparks emit from multiple consoles. And yet the ship apparently suffers minimal damage, and is back running perfectly for the next impact (more sparks!).
  • In a season three episode of Eureka, this starts happening to the android dogs townspeople have been building for a contest. Especially egregious since it wasn't even an energy surge, but a case of extreme computer processing potential that caused them to go asplode.
  • Lampshaded on Farscape. When Moya's defense screen is destroyed, the controls for it explode leading Crichton to ask "Have you people never heard of fuses!?"
  • Space: 1999. In combination with ceiling beams and ductwork tending to fall down. And then once when a planet "almost" hit the Moon, the actual desktops all the controls were set in caught fire and burned with the friendly yellow flame of a small campfire.
  • The TARDIS console throws off at least one shower of sparks in almost every Doctor Who new series episode its seen in flight. No one has ever gotten hurt. This is typically a lazy shorthand for "TARDIS travel is exciting;" the only way to tell the difference between that and an attack is by the expressions on the characters' faces.
    • In the episode "School Reunion" a bunch of computers being used by the brainwashed students explode when Mickey pulls the plug on them.
    • Subverted in "The Poison Sky" when the Doctor and a UNIT soldier leap dramatically from a crashed jeep before the Evil GPS unit controlling it explodes, and are rewarded with the sort of spark you might get from a cigarette lighter and a 'pff' noise. "Is that it?" asks the Doctor, visibly disappointed.
  • The Chaser's War On Everything parodied the exploding Dell laptop incident (see Real Life section below).
  • Happens in one episode of SeaQuestDSV when the communications buoy gets struck by lightning.

    Video Games 
  • X-COM: During missions, you frequently end up boarding alien UFOs that are chock full of valuable, salvageable, and explosive equipment. A stray bullet striking the navigation computer could cause a chain reaction of everything in the room exploding in a shower of stun damage and smoke. Conveniently, alien commanders tended to hide out in rooms full of computers and consoles.
    • Possibly a case of Fridge Brilliance on the part of the developers in order to encourage the player to use stun rods or psi-amps to capture them alive instead of shooting everything that moves.
    • Alternatively, you can just clean up the area outside the UFO and then camp out at the entrance until about turn 20. Then the AI logic guiding behavior of alien characters causes them to go on the offensive... right into your firing squad. For best results, throw a smoke grenade to prevent the aliens from shooting your guys.
  • In the Star Control series, the Life Meter for the ships is supposed to literally represent crewmembers, implying their deaths via exploding fuses in lieu of any damage to the ship itself. This is used in Star Control II to put a cap on ship repair early on (the space station you recruit from only has a few thousand crew), and one quest in the game actually involves finding a race of rapidly reproducing allies to replenish your crew.
  • GoldenEye and its Spiritual Successor, Perfect Dark, were lousy with this trope. Practically any kind of computer, console, or keypad you could shoot at blew up in a spectacular fireball.
    • Don't forget the Oil Drums! Every game needs exploding Oil Drums!
    • Actually, pretty much every prop that wasn't part of the map geometry itself blew up when you shot it.
      • That includes anything from swivel chairs to desk lamps. Seriously.
      • In fact, some already exploded objects would explode again if shot a few more times.
  • In Team Fortress 2, the Engineer's buildings don't collapse when they take excessive damage - they explode into surprisingly-harmless bits of shrapnel.
    • Justified, since the Engineer does have a radio detonator in his inventory for demolishing his buildings. They must actually have bombs in them.
  • Team Fortress Classic and its Fan Remake Fortress Forever also feature exploding Engineer constructions - however, being full of ammunition to either dispense or launch these devices tend to detonate a little more violently.
  • In Mass Effect 2, A few nameless crew members, as well as ME1 Mauve Shirt, Pressley, fall victim to this in the opening cutscene as the Normandy gets torn to pieces.
    • An interesting aversion in that they do have names in the game. A DLC mission has you walk around the ship's wreck, collecting dog tags. In Mass Effect 3, there is a wall dedicated to all the fallen with a list of names.
    • Possibly justified in that the ship is being shredded by incredibly advanced weapons, which may cause the ship's systems to behave in unusual manners. It could also be related to other explosive material in the wall near the cockpit, as that is the only time we see an actual exploding instrument panel, every other explosion in that scene is just an explosion.
    • Samantha Traynor's scene in the "Citadel" DLC features a strategy game with painful static as a key component. Apparently, "neural feedback" is an acceptable way to discourage players from being careless. When Traynor beats her arch-enemy T'Suza, the latter goes completely rigid.
  • In HalfLife1, computers, panels, and various other mechanisms throughout Black Mesa have a tendency to explode whenever the player is in close proximity. One computer manages to explode even before the resonance cascade. Another computer's keyboard shorts out violently after being tampered with in Blue Shift.
    • Lampshaded in Freeman's Mind where Gordon both complains about it and blames the explosions on going with Cyrex processors, the lowest bidder.
  • Hacking electronic locks in Batman: Arkham Asylum causes them to pop with a burst of sparks when you get them open for some reason.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, you can hack into computers and cause various part of the ship/base to blow up; pipes, fuel cells, etc. Given the option, you can even blow up the console you're using.
  • Remotely hacking cameras in 007: Blood Stone leaves them smoking.
  • Explosive-rigged computer terminals appear in Fallout 3 as a booby trap.
    • Subverted, in that it's literally just a computer case filled with grenades, in this case.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • Lampshaded and then justified in AH.com: The Series, in which it's mentioned that the ship's consoles are packed with explosives because its original builders wanted to give the captain the ability to detonate the console of a treacherous crewman.
  • The Protectors of the Plot Continuum use Canon Analysis Devices, which have been known to explode on hitting particularly massive breaches of canon. Though they melt sometimes too.
    • Once, a dramatic OOC moment set a device to explode, so the Agents threw it at the nearest Marty Stu.
    • Fortunately (sorta), they usually emit a loud BEEEEEEP beforehand, so Agents have chance to toss them. Heavy-duty CADs can take much larger disruptions.
  • So do irony meters when a particularly inane statement is made. Fortunately the Evil Atheist Conspiracy has developed a new model with an auto-shutdown mechanism.
  • The swishy French tailor from Beastmaster 2 puts out such an enormously gay vibe that it causes Dr. Insano's Gaydar to short-circuit and explode.

    Western Animation 
  • PKE meters in The Real Ghostbusters, when overloaded by psychic energy, explode quite spectacularly. Then again, so do overloading proton packs (which makes sense since they are portable nuclear accelerators).
    • Not to mention Egon's various inventions.
      • He even manages to overload a calculator with an offensive football play that would not only collapse the defense, but possibly all known space as well.
  • In Exo Squad, a console exploding during the Exofleet attack on Enceladus in an early episode puts Admiral Winfield out of action for awhile.
  • Parodied in the Australian Star Trek: The Next Generation spoof Sev Trek: Pus in Boots. Captain Pinchhard (Picard) tells Ensign Cannonfodder to "man that console that's always exploding". Later Lt Gaudy (Geordi LaForge) notices his console is beginning to spark, so he quickly "reroutes" the explosion to the expendable ensign's console.
  • Transformers Generation 1: This happens to nearly any invention that Mad Scientist Wheeljack makes. As long as it doesn't turn out to be sentient, that is.
  • Lampshaded but not actually used in an episode of Generator Rex. Ceasar is admiring one of the bridge consoles on the keep, which he describes favorably except for the "random power surges."
  • In Futurama: Bender's Big Score, there was a space combat between the good guys ships and the Death Stars made of gold of the evil ones... who controlled them from Earth with a videogame. And when the good guys begin to destroy the Death Stars, the videogame exploded.
  • In Superman: The Animated Series, a fight between Superman, Jax-Ur and Mala damage the bridge's controls of a starship. It's so bad, that it cause a chain reaction of explosions that completely destroy the ship.

    Fan Fiction 

    Real Life 
  • In the days before electronics, aircraft fuel gauges were actually connected to a fuel line: breakage of such lines or other mishaps could and did lead to cockpit fuel leaks and fires in some accidents. Same for engine oil pressure meters.
  • In the past several years, a number of computer models have been recalled because their batteries (google "hindenbook" or "dell notebook fire"), motherboards (sometimes due to a fallen-off heatsink) or other components were prone to literal spontaneous combustion. Seriously, there have been injuries.
    • Cell phone batteries have also exploded, sometimes with fatal results.
  • Electrical panels can and do explode. Look up "arc flash".
  • Frequently sensitive military equipment will have an explosive self-destruct device, but the intent is to prevent intact capture and subsequent use and/or disassembling and reverse-engineering, not quite as battle damage feedback.
  • The NASA Apollo 1 mission, where a spark believed to be caused by a faulty connection in one of the control panels caused a flash fire made worse by the pure oxygen atmosphere in the command module. Sadly, this resulted in the deaths of astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.
    • Likewise, a faulty wire was responsible for the oxygen tank explosion on Apollo 13.
  • Large fuses intended to handle high voltages and high currents can blow fairly spectacularly. However, such fuses are usually placed as far from personnel and equipment as is practical, for obvious reasons. Still, authors take note, this could easily be used as a lampshade in some cases. "Didn't the idiots that built this thing ever hear of fuses?" "That was the fuse blowing, now go replace it!"
  • Electrolytic based capacitors need to be installed with the correct polarity. If they aren't, then attempting to put any electricity through them will lead to a catastrophic break down that results in them popping. For this reason, such capacitors clearly mark the polarity of one pin.
    • In a related problem, faulty manufacturing can result in premature failure, called capacitor plague, which affected many electrical devices (most notably several brands of computers, but everything with capacitors could be affected) for years.
    • Also any semiconductor that's overloaded poofs. This is referred to by anyone who routinely works with electronics as "letting out the magic smoke." Once it leaves you won't ever get it back into the case.
  • A practice called 'Battle Shorting", in which overload protections (fuses and circuit breakers) are bypassed to prevent power loss during critical events. This is used when you'd rather set your facility on fire than lose power. The name comes from use of this in naval combat (where it really is better to have a fire than lose power to a critical system). NASA is known to have used it during launch of crewed ships.
  • Old-style cathode ray tube screens carry a very high static charge that can sometimes linger for literally years. When the static is forcibly discharged — usually by poking a live component with an earthed circuit tester — it is rare but quite possible for the screen to shatter violently and spray fragments of glass in all directions.
  • While not explosive in a destructive sense, when lamps in projectors die, they give off a very loud bang. Many people duck when this happens for fear that it actually is exploding. Sometimes, however, the force can damage the lens or other parts.
  • Happens with older lightbulbs, especially halogen ones, where the hot shards of glass can even start a fire in rare cases.

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Evolutionary RetconImageSource/Live-Action TVFreudian Trio

alternative title(s): Exploding Instrumentation
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