His laboratory was equipped with the sophisticated tools of modern science: Jacob's Ladders, Van De Graaf generators, bulky pilot-lit cabinets, poorly-adjusted Bunsen burners, retorts bubbling with sinister chemicals, murky jars holding mutant monstrosities, strung wires with bad insulation.
— Plan 7 of 9 from Outer Space
The place where Science!
happens. Usually pronounced "lah-BOHR-ah-tor-ee" in ominous, stentorian tones.
Every Mad Scientist
has to have a lab. This is typically a refurbished dungeon of some sort, with aging stone walls. It also must contain most of the following lab equipment:
- An operating table. Two if the Mad Scientist does brain transplants. Optional, though, is the winch for raising the table up to the roof.
- A big honking Jacob's Ladder (the thing that looks like a rabbit-ear antenna with an electrical arc between the posts)
- A Tesla coil.
- A roof that opens to the sky, to let the lightning in and/or the Death Ray out.
- A 60s-style mainframe computer with big dials and switches on the front. Add spinning tape reels for extra credit.
- Bits of animals and people preserved in formaldehyde.
- A whole bunch of glassware, especially test tubes, beakers, flasks of colored liquid, distilling columns, condensers, burettes, Bunsen burners, and that thing you get when you hook a bunch of them together.
- Optionally, depending on your flavor of Mad Scientist, you may find a wall generously populated with chains and manacles (just to make sure the experimental subjects stay handy and don't wander away) and a big worn chalkboard filled with equations.
- Dusty piles of incomprehensible failed experiments, which may or may not suddenly become a danger to anyone wandering around unsupervised.
- May be in the dungeon of the Haunted Castle, or on an isolated tropical island.
- Big levers or control panels (that may or may not explode).
- Ginormous knife switches for completing dangerous electric circuits.
Never mind that real science does not generally call for all of these things at the same time — or within the same discipline! — the Mad Scientist doesn't specialize
. All the same, most of what he does will at least look
like chemistry, since nothing shouts "science" to the casual viewer more than a guy in a lab coat fiddling with a beaker of colored liquid
Laboratory glassware frequently shows up in period settings that predate their invention. Erlenmeyer Flasks, glass retorts, Griffin/Berzelius beakers, separatory funnels, Leibig condensers, and even test tubes date back only as far as the late 18th century at best; some of these were clearly developed in the mid to late 19th century. Dedicated laboratory equipment did not truly exist prior to the early 1800s and even then would have been primitive bearing little resemblance to familiar modern glassware. Prior to that, much chemistry was done with whatever bowls and jars were already available. Other equipment (such as alembics) was made of metal.
Also never mind that modern chemistry has very little use for the big impressive glass-sculpture thing with with a lot of burettes, condensers, and funny coils of glass. (These actually were useful constructs at one time, but they're the chemistry equivalent of doing differential equations on an abacus. Also, even when they were used, a typical experimental setup would have consisted of three to six of the pieces put together; never dozens of pieces, all connected, as shown on the screen.) You need this stuff because otherwise, the audience won't realize
goes on here.
The archetypical movie Mad Scientist Laboratory
probably came from the classic silent film Metropolis
, though the Universal remake of Frankenstein
added a fair amount. Both were probably strongly influenced by a real-life example that was a staple in popular media between 1900 and 1940; the various laboratories of Nikola Tesla
, which actually did feature gigantic incomprehensible machinery, scary robotic devices, Tesla coils, and lots of gaudy electric-arc effects.
All of the film, TV, and comic versions of the Mad Scientist's Lab derive originally from Gothic horror stories of the 18th and 19th centuries, the most famous of them being Mary Shelley
's novel Frankenstein
and H. G. Wells
' The Island of Doctor Moreau.
The concept developed from older stories about the lairs of alchemists and sorcerers. The Enlightenment put paid to many kinds of mystical dabbling by dilettantes, tinkerers, and wealthy eccentrics, but these characters were replaced in the public imagination by gentleman scientists — many of them self-taught, many very eccentric — who built laboratories and observatories in their homes and made a number of important discoveries in the new disciplines of chemistry, physics, and biology.
The age of the gentleman scientist was ending by the 1850's, when the most famous of them, Charles Darwin
, published his Theory of Evolution. More and more, experimental research became associated with facilities provided by universities, foundations, museums, governments and industry. However, the romantic image of the mad scientist — isolated from his fellows and angry with a world that would suppress his ideas — has deep archetypal power. It's also dramatically compact
, needing only the scientist, an assistant, and a faithful servant or two as characters. The meme
's emotional energy and enactment efficiency has kept it alive into the 21st Century, and it's even routinely projected into future scenarios via television shows like Star Trek
and The Outer Limits
This is edging toward becoming a Discredited Trope
, at least in the classic beaker/Jacob's Ladder/operating table configuration.
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Anime and Manga
- Jail Scaglietti of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha has the operating table, but lacks most of the other stuff. He makes up for it by having rows and rows and rows of People Jars.
- Mazinger Z: Big Bad Dr. Hell had his own laboratory installed in his Super Villain Lair, but it was barely seen in the series. Dr. Kabuto's lab in the original manga also counts.
- Washuu from Tenchi Muyo! has a giant laboratory that spans five planets, set up in other-dimensional space and accessible through a door that is usually located under the stairs in Tenchi's house, but which can vanish or move as Washuu wills it.
- Professor Franken Stein from Soul Eater has quite an interesting home/lab. Stitched patterns are found randomly throughout the house, both the inside and outside (and also on his clothes and even his person). He has an older looking computer and many chemistry related items such as a Bunsen burner, beakers, Erlenmeyer flasks, etc. Arrows are painted on the floor pointing in different directions, usually away and toward doorways.
- He no doubt has an operating table somewhere in his lab, since he has an affinity for dissecting things. Anything.
- In Wild Fangs, Syon was created and grew up in one of these, of the castle dungeon variety.
- Merlin's cottage in Disney's The Sword in the Stone is one of these. In that film, he's a powerful wizard who uses magic to teach science to young Arthur.
- The James Bond films had their resident good-guy Mad Scientist, Q; almost every film features a peek into his lab, which usually features several assistants participating in such dubious experiments as testing a new bulletproof vest by putting one on and getting shot.
- Dr. Putrid T. Gangrene's lab in Return Of The Killer Tomatoes certainly qualifies, but he isn't mad, just a little angry.
- Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004). The laboratory of Dr Walter Jennings (with mutated fetus and tiny elephant), and the room in Shangri-La (shown in a deleted scene) where Totenkopf conducted experiments on radiation victims from his uranium mine.
- Dr. Totenkopf requires a special mention here as his 'laboratory' is a whole factory complex, complete with a rocket launch silo.
- Iron Man Tony Stark has an updated version in the basement of his house. Robot assistants, machine shop, electronics fabrication, CADCAM system.
- Day of the Dead (1985).
- Dr. Rotwang's laboratory in Metropolis (1927) is perhaps the earliest example of the trope on film, and features all the necessary paraphernalia, along with large pentagrams to tie him to the classical magician/alchemist archetypes.
- Deconstructed a little in Teresa Edgerton's The Castle of the Silver Wheel by Gwenlliant's reaction to Lord Cado's wizard's laboratory. When Gwenlliant - who grew up at court and was taught by the resident alchemist / wizard - first sees Cado's laboratory, she is immediately uneasy, knowing that he must be a bad wizard - "either not very principled, or not very wise". No proper wizard would bother to keep so many showy magical experiments running at once; they would be set up one at a time for research purposes, and would not be shown off to visitors.
- No surprise that Discworld can't have a scene in a magic-user's residence without poking fun at the Mad Wizard's Laboratory variant of this trope. Most common are jokes about how they all order identical decor out of a kit: pre-dribbled candles, dusty skulls (with optional raven on top), mysterious alchemical glass apparati (usually filled with green-dyed water and soap), and the sorcerer's equivalent of the Jacob's ladder, i.e. a stuffed alligator hanging from the ceiling.
- We actually meet a dealer in such accoutrements in the Tiffany Aching series of Discworld stories, as well as a catalog marketing the witch's version: packaged cobwebs (with optional rubber spiders), icky bubbly goo for cauldrons, big ominous mirrors with a selection of frames, enough dopey Wicca-wannabee amulets to strangle a giraffe, etc. Boffo!
- Magrat was a sucker for this stuff in Wyrd Sisters, though Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax thought it was all a waste of time, though maybe good for "headology".
- Comrade Death, a short story by Gerald Kersh, features Sarek's Under World, the underground nightmare where his company's increasingly horrible chemical weapons are developed.
- The title character of The Chronicles of Professor Jack Baling has a rather mundane version of one of these in a shed in his backyard, but in the second episode he encounters some really sophisticated ones in the Prometheus Corporationís HQ, some of which even have Jacobís ladders and bubbling beakers.
- The eponymous Mad Scientist in H.P. Lovecraft's Herbert West - Reanimator has a hidden laboratory, first in a dilapidated farm house and later in his cellar, for his experiments of dead body revival and other, more gruesome, things. Justified in-universe, as he also pursues a quasi-legitimate career in medicine and research at the Arkham University and could procure scientific apparatus -without attracting unwanted attention- by plain old theft.
- The Probability Broach, by L. Neil Smith. Lampshaded by the protagonist when he enters the lab in the Colorado State University that (unknown to him) is actually a gate to an Alternate Universe.
- In Heart Of Steel, Alistair Mechanus has a sprawling labyrinth of a lair inside a dormant volcano on Shark Reef Isle, mainly comprised of laboratory and research space.
Live Action TV
- For seven seasons, the villains on Mystery Science Theater 3000 worked in an Elaborate Underground Base - the audience occasionally glimpsed chemistry equipment, chalkboards, computer consoles and mysterious air ducts. Things became tighter when the villains' replacements had to work out of a space-travel-equipped VW Microbus, but that was for only one season - they returned to a more appropriate environment soon enough.
- Firefly: The Academy.
- Breaking Bad: The meth lab on wheels. It's got the smoking flasks, mysterious coloured goo, and pretty much anything else they can cover with Rule of Cool.
- Supernatural. Played straight in "Monster Movie", where the Monster of the Week is a fan of monster movies like Frankenstein, and so has his own laboratory to electrocute Dean via Big Electric Switch. More updated versions are seen in "Asylum" and "The Man Who Would Be King" — the latter being the most disturbing of all given that it involves Affably Evil Crowley dissecting demons while discussing business with supposed good-guy Castiel.
- Game of Thrones. The maester's laboratory in "The Children" is a Medieval European Fantasy version once disgraced ex-maester Qyburn starts Playing with Syringes on a dying Ser Gregor Clegane.
Queen Cersei: You can save him?
Cersei: Do everything you can. Come to me for anything you need.
Thank you, your Grace. You should know, the process may, change him.
Cersei: Will it weaken him?
- Star Trek: the interior of a Borg ship can come across like this. Notably at the start of "Dark Frontier part 1", the ship is lit by blue flashes and the sound of electrical arcs, with the occasional burst of steam, even before they enter combat with Voyager.
- The entire playfield for Strange Science is decorated like a classic laboratory. Operators can also install a backbox topper resembling a Jacob's Ladder with an electric arc between the poles.
- The "Tower" table in 3-D Ultra Pinball: Creep Night takes place in one of these.
- In Dino Attack RPG, XERRD - an entire organization of Mad Scientists - has three notable Mad Scientist Laboratories where they perform experiments on dinosaurs: the Dino Island Laboratory, the LEGO Island Laboratory, and the Adventurers' Island XERRD Fortress.
- Spirit Of The Century has an interesting play on this with Der Blitzmann, a German Mad Scientist has a portable lab, in the form of his mechanical exoskeleton. Despite the nontraditional size and style, it does come complete with Tesla Coils. Weaponized Tesla Coils.
- Given some of the other NPCs, it's hard to not to imagine their secret lairs set up this way:
- Dr. Methusala seems to set up a lab wherever he happens to be conducting his latest experiments, and probably has more chalkboard and less stuff lying around.
- Baroness Blackheart probably has a good old fashioned alchemical lab, complete with smoking cauldron and eye of newt.
- Mizrahi probably has something somewhere between the two, filled with chalkboards, but also with various kabbalistic paraphernalia.
- Heck, considering that the Mad Scientist is a possible character build, and having a laboratory is no real problem, the PCs could easily play to this trope.
- A lab is very important to the protagonists of Genius The Transgression. The problem is that lab space is expensive and obsessively making things that break when Muggles touch them is bad for the bank balance.
- The Nazi base Festung Seig from Rocket Age includes laboratories for their scientists.
- LEGO Friends brings us Olivia's Inventor's Workshop, complete with colored beakers of liquid and helpful robot assistant. Might be a bit too pink to completely qualify, though.
- The base editor in City of Villains has all requisite mad science lab items, with classic items ranging from operating tables to jacob's ladders of various sizes to organs in jars (ranging from preserved to rotted), and more modern items like microscopes, X-Ray machines, and LCD monitors.
- This is the whole point of the sandbox game Evil Genius.
- The Forsaken in World of Warcraft apparently discovered this trope in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, as their bases in Northrend tend to be full of traditional Mad Scientist equipment like tesla coils, jacob's ladders and mechanical arms that move vials of glowing chemicals around.
- Mad Science Castle in Monster Lab is, of course, Exactly What It Says on the Tin. You get no less than four laboratories, three that correspond with the three disciplines of mad science (mechanics, biology and alchemy) and a fourth where Lightning Can Do Anything.
- A large number of them exist in Deus Ex. Somewhat justified in that several factions are technocratic cabals who see "technology alone as a source of political power," and some of them are on your side. Still, applies mainly to scientists serving the Big Bad.
- The whole Gouma-Den in the Raidou duology. Hosted by lovable lunatic Dr. Victor. Complete with virtually all of the accoutrements of the standard lab.
- The Big MT (Big Empty) in Fallout: New Vegas: Old World Blues is a non-OSHA compliant research facility run by Mad Scientist Brains in Jars. Both this and the main game have chemistry sets where you can craft drugs.
- Henry Stauf has one in The 7th Guest, rather well hidden in his mansion. It is infamously known for a now-impossible minigame of Infection inside a microscope there. On top of that, a rather squicky cutscene can be watched of a ghost patient who wakes up and finds that half of his head is missing, then reaches down and tries to put his brain back.
- Doctor Pickles has a couple of places in Stay Tooned replete with items of this trope, some of which can be interacted with.
- Dr. Pickles: "Will you help me with mein experiment?"
- Butchery Loves Company, the Frankenstein-inspired starting level of the fourth episode in Blood, complete with all of the listed features.
- Narbonic has these, of course, and lampshades the trope on occasion. (example◊)
- Every Spark worth their salt in Girl Genius possesses one of these.
- One? Why stop at one?
- Castle Heterodyne has quite a lot of them, so every Spark in the family can perform their own experiments without getting in each other's way. And so they don't have to drag the bodies far when the urge strikes.
- In the novel ("Agatha H. and the Airship City", an expanded prose version of the first few comic volumes) Agatha asks Gil why he needs four labs aboard Castle Wulfenbach. He replies that his father has forty-three plus two ground-based facilities, so by comparison he's a model of efficiency. And that's not counting all the other labs on Castle Wulfenbach that the Baron set up for his employees, one of which is labeled "Lab Full of Exploding Things #5".
- The Opians, an alien race in Thog Infinitron, have an interstellar spacecraft with an onboard laboratory where they engineer ways to destroy Thog.
- In Sluggy Freelance Riff rents out some tunnels to act as his secret, underground lab. At least when Minion Master's not using it as his "Domicile of Evil."
- Subverted in El Goonish Shive. Tedd's lab consists of a desk, computer, and a place to test the TF Gun.
- Professor Joseph Corwin in Tales Of Gnosis College houses his Apsinthion Device, a tank with a tentacle monster, and in impressive amount of weird glassware in a mad scientist's laboratory located in a derelict red-brick brewery that rather resembles an old-fashioned castle.
- Evil Plan The Webcomic: Doctor Kinesis has a multi-level lab, complete with minions and a vat of "acid."
- Dottore's lab in Commedia 2X00 is packed with this stuff—literally, in the storage basement, the boxes are labeled with things like "blinkenlights", "boss themes (casettes)", and "mecha-piranhas, x-mas decs". Being Dottore, it's also stocked with warp-pipes, wall-mounted chainsaws, an inexplicable fiery lake of lava (complete with Heli-Kraken...)
- Dexter's Laboratory is a little light on the flatware, but even so he occasionally carries around a beaker. More often, he can be seen endlessly turning a nut with a wrench, against a background of computer banks, et al.
- Jack Spicer from Xiaolin Showdown has a slightly more detailed laboratory than Dexter, but again, much more often computer-y than chemistry-set based.
- In Beast Wars, Tarantulas has several, while Megatron and Scorponok have labs too, to name just a few.
- Averted in Futurama where Professor Farnsworth's lab is usually suprisingly sparse, with only one piece of equipment at a time.
- Although in one episode he's shown to have about a dozen different doomsday devices tucked away.
- In He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983), Man-At-Arms has a big and impressive lab (good for those trademark Filmation long, slow pans), though it's not at all sinister-looking, since he's a nice guy.
- The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Feeling Pinkie Keen" showed one of these in Twilight Sparkle's basement.