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No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup

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Probably the last man who knew how it worked had been tortured to death years before. Or as soon as it was installed. Killing the creator was a traditional method of patent protection.

A specialized version of the Reset Button: Any dangerous device or technology owned by a villain, particularly a supervillain of the James Bond mode, that is not off-the-shelf exists in a metaphorical vacuum. There is only one of it, there are no plans or schematics for it, and no earlier generations of development exist. In the case of expensive and rushed projects, the final project might have been made by cannibalizing parts of the prototype, or might actually be the prototype after a whole lot of upgrades and patches. Either way, no backup copies exist at all of either the device's hardware or software. Thus the hero may safely blow it up, blast it with EMP or otherwise render it useless, confident that no one can recreate the technology — or worse, just take version 0.9 out of storage and use that the moment he leaves.

This trope also applies to creations that, through some fluke of their creation, cannot be replicated for a variety of reasons. Maybe the first attempt was tainted during creation, or maybe a talented composer dies before they can record their techniques. Once the original is lost, it's gone forever.

Note that in the real world, scientists and engineers make and keep very detailed notes — this is often what differentiates Science from Mad Science. Mad Science is magic-like in how it can inexplicably summon up something that its own creator doesn't quite understand. (Or, this trope is unnecessary if the creation could be replicated but only the original can be used in time to affect the story... the trope applies once that story stretches to weeks or years and needs some Rule of Drama to prevent replications.)

One variant is when the creator intentionally invokes this. Perhaps a sympathetic researcher becomes remorseful after seeing the danger of the device they've wrought, and burns or sabotages their notes, or asks Our Heroes to blow up the factory that made it.

When this trope is averted, expect someone to ominously point out, after the customary celebration of the destruction of the superweapon, that "yes... but there's nothing to stop them building another." Or the superweapon hadn't actually been destroyed as they thought.

A common cause of this is Shoot the Builder. Compare Reed Richards Is Useless, where the formula exists, but is only applied to fantastic problems. It may appear as a justification for Never Recycle Your Schemes. See Also: Black Box, for situations where the device in question has extraterrestrial or otherwise fantastic origins that would justify not being able to build another; The Spark of Genius, for devices that have the superficial trappings of science but are actually based on powers that don't follow the usual scientific rules of predictable cause and effect; It Only Works Once, for devices that can't effectively be reused even if you know how to make them work again; and Psycho Prototype, when the first attempt is deranged and evil such that you wouldn't even want to recreate that version.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • One Piece:
    • Averted with the superweapon Pluton, a battleship that could annihilate entire islands. The battleship was hidden during the Void Century so its current location can only be found in the poneglyphs. Robin is the last survivor of an archaeological society that could decode the poneglyphs while Franky is the most recent in a line of shipbuilders to inherit blueprints for Pluton. The World Government is both trying to hide Pluton's existence from the public while also attempting to either locate the original or build a new one.
    • It also is a plot point for the Water 7 arc. The original designers of Pluton feared what would happen if it was controlled by rogue elements, so they hid a copy of the blueprints to ensure that a second Pluton could be built to serve as a countermeasure to the first. However, Spandam's capture of both Robin and Franky means he could potentially control both the Pluton and the plans. Franky decides to bet it all on the Straw Hats rescuing Robin and burns the blueprints.
    • The other superweapons remain unknown though one is technically averted with Poseidon, namely that it's actually a person. Specifically a mermaid who can command Sea Kings, the giant sea monsters and is reincarnated every long while, the latest one being the Mermaid Princess Shirahoshi. Nothing is known on the last one, Uranus.
  • Used in Shaman King in reference to Mosuke's most powerful sword, Harusame, which was ironically made of melted up junk metal and an old hunting knife. After creating it, the emperor ordered Amidamaru to kill Mosuke so as to make Harusame follow this trope. Even though the Emperor's plan somewhat fails, Harusame remains a sword of unparalleled power.
  • Ram-Dass in Str.A.In.: Strategic Armored Infantry was an illegal experimental prototype, and The Gloire was a modified "regular" Gloire whose modifiers did quite well for people that didn't have the plans for the original.
  • Braver in Transformers Victory invents a device that can detect Decepticons within ; Jean, Holi, and Star Saber all seize on the idea of placing a bunch of them at strategic points around the world. Braver handwaves this away by saying the device requires specialised components, but they still put the device to good use. At the end of the episode, however, Leozack steals it, and Braver vows to start his research from scratch. Couldn't he just have remembered how to make it?
  • Slayers plays with this. Goru Nova, the Sword of Light, a Forgotten Superweapon / Excalibur in the Rust, a blade which can cut through anything, absorb and fire back enemy magic, amplify the spells cast by the bearer, and actually damage the dark powers and Physical Gods in their true bodies. The last is especially important because their true bodies don't even exist in our reality, but another layer of it altogether.
    • It is also the only known way to kill the monster Zannafar, a creature the aforementioned gods fear because Zannafar does not exist where they can harm it, and its purely physical body has impenetrable armor. No one's ever been able to duplicate it over the millennium since it was last seen, and they'd love to. Likewise, the gods would rather see it forgotten forever than replicated. The thing that makes Goru Nova so special? Outside-Context Problem combined with Magic A Is Magic A. Goru Nova is from a different universe entirely, and the personal weapon of Darkstar Dugranigdu, God of Evil for that universe. Effectively a piece of him itself, this makes Goru Nova a Demon King in its own right.
    • This becomes a major plot point in the third season, where we learn that Darkstar didn't have just one weapon like that. And someone is searching for the other four.
  • Shin Mazinger averts this. The reason Dr. Hell always has unique robots instead of rebuilding the good ones is because he didn't build them to begin with, and he's a biologist, so it's not like he could fix them up if he wanted to. And in the case of Mazinger Z not only was there a prototype, but Juuzou Kabuto also made numerous objects out of Super Alloy Z, and was known for having loads of patents that most likely came out of testing parts for the eponymous robot. Furthermore, several of the Photon Power Labs robots are armed with variations of the Rust Hurricane and Breast Fire weapons that Mazinger Z is armed with, suggesting they were created to test those weapons.
  • Subverted in Darker than Black. A Mad Scientist had constructed a particle accelerator that could be used to destroy Hell's Gate, which would wipe out every single contractor instantly. Amber's group, naturally wishing to prevent this, sent in a strike team to destroy it. After they managed it, the scientist was ranting about what a waste it was... at which point his bosses informed him that they'd made a backup without telling him.
  • Gundam:
    • The Universal Century averts this to all hell and back, especially once Anaheim Electronics comes into the picture.
      • In the original series, this is played straight... from Zeon's point of view. They did make plans and backups and even prototypes of their Zakus. The only error is that Amuro has all the files on his personal computer... Luckily for the Zeon, Amuro has learned absolutely nothing about the Zaku II, its combat capabilities and future Mobile Suits, despite the fact that we saw him studying the schematics in the beginning of the first episode.
      • It still happened once, with the F99 Recordbreaker Gundams in Mobile Suit Crossbone Gundam: The Steel Seven. These Gundams were equipped with the extremely powerful Minovksy Drive (aka the "Wings of Light") a full twenty years before it showed up in Victory Gundam. The Jovian Empire managed to destroy all three prototypes, along with all the plans and research for it in their attack on the lunar base, forcing the system to have to be re-invented from scratch. Although it's also revealed that Anaheim Electronics had a head start in re-inventing it by salvaging the wreckage after the Jovian attack.
      • This also happened concerning the G-Defenser in Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam. At the end of the series, the machine, which allowed the Gundam Mk-II to become the Super Gundam is destroyed in battle. For one reason or another, they never bother building a replacement come Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, leaving the poor Mk-II in the dust.
    • Averted in Mobile Fighter G Gundam as the Rising Gundam was the prototype for the Shining Gundam, a (manga-only) second Shining Gundam called Shading Gundam was built and when the original Nobel Gundam was destroyed as the Walter Gundam, Allenby just got a new one to replace it.
    • Gundam SEED has ZAFT fall into this trope with their Gundam prototypes, making several powerful suits which later become a source of agony for them as they get stolen and The Alliance of all groups managing to mass produce at least one of their features into their new mobile suits (The Jet Striker pack for the Dagger-L and the Windam look like a smaller version of Justice's backpack, while the Wild Dagger is an Alliance Dagger-L with the ZAFT Gaia Gundam's transforming ability.). The Earth Alliance's second set of Gundams also got a mass production upgrade for their non Brainwashed and Crazy soldiers.
      • Averted in Gundam SEED Destiny with ZAFT's new generation of Gundams: Of the five, Chaos and Saviour have prototypes, and ZAFT made multiple Impulses with Mecha Expansion Packs that reproduce the abilities of Gaia, Chaos and Abyss — and then MSV introduced a Destiny pack for the Impulse, as well as a prototype for The Lancer's Legend Gundam.
      • Also subverted in the Alliance mobile armors. The first one usually served as an occasional Monster of the Week, but afterward multiples would appear in their forces.
      • The biggest aversion comes at the climax of the series. Not only did they apparently get their hands on Patrick Zala's designs for the Genesis Superweapon, they even duplicated it and improved it, going so far as to make it so that it doesn't melt the reflector mirrors AND mounted it on a moving asteroid fortress.
      • This actually went back all the way to Gundam SEED Astray when the Junk Guild claims GENESIS Alpha, a second GENESIS as their own home base.
      • The 1/100 Master Grade model for the Strike Freedom Gundam revealed that it was meant to be mass produced, but Terminal, Lacus Clyne's secret organization, found the plans when they'd been shoved away, took them for their own and deleted the original copy from ZAFT's computers.
    • One could infer that in Gundam 00 Aeolia Schenberg played this straight deliberately when it came to the original GN technology, since the Tau replications that Ribbons leaked to the three factions, as well as used himself, were nowhere near their capabilities. This one's All There in the Manual — the "real" GN drives have a specific component (the "solar blanket") that can only be manufactured in the Jovian gravity well. Since trips out to Jupiter are both expensive and very time-consuming, Celestial Being doesn't have a chance to build any new ones until the two-year period of peace between the series and The Movie.
      • Pointedly averted with the Memento Mori. The heroes destroy it before it can do too much damage, and are badly damaged in the battle, but happy in the knowledge that they've denied the enemy a superweapon. Turns out the enemy built two of 'em, just in case.
  • The Big O: Justified: Megadei can be repaired but never engineered, the same goes with all the other Lost Technology from 40 years ago.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds: After spending two days and nights straight creating a new D-Wheel program, Yusei and Bruno are so exhausted, they go to bed without bothering to install or backup said program... which gets stolen that night. The dub adds a few additional handwaves: the thief not only copied their files but deleted them off the hard drive, and the two can't expect to recreate the program from scratch because there was a lot of on-the-spot ad-libbing involved.
  • Lampshaded aversion on Powerpuff Girls Z: Him steals the metal drum full of Chemical Z from the lab and is surprised when The Professor shows up later with a loaded Chemical Z beam. The professor explains he stored the supply of Chemical Z in multiple places for just such an occasion.
  • In Full Metal Panic!, Mithril's Arbalest is one of these. It is a Super Prototype Real Robot made using Black Box technology that only certain Whispered can create, even if they do not fully understand the underlying principles. Its creator went suicidally insane after building it, killed himself and destroyed his own notes, and Mithril doesn't have any other Whispered who understand the Lambda Driver technology that drives it. Their counterpart Amalgam does have one, however, and can mass produce mechs that use the same technology.
    • Just to complicate things, the Arbalest's quirky AI (named Al, with an L) refuses to let anyone except Sousuke access the systems.
  • Averted in Soul Eater: Sid and Naigus are able to successfully raid Arachnophobia's research facility and destroy their prototype Morality Manipulation Machine. They managed to make more anyway.
  • Getter Robo averts this in general. The Getters are a line of mecha that are evolved (ha) from the same breed of 3-piece combiner, and even they are shown in numerous tales to have prototypes.
    • In the OVA Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo, it's revealed that Dr. Saotome had constructed various prototype Getters in its various forms. The Dinosaur Empire used ALL of them to good use, pummeling the weaker Neo Getter Robo and forcing it to deplete its comparatively limited Plasma Power reserves.
  • An episode of Doki Doki! PreCure introduces a man-made Cure Commune that Alice's butler, Sebastian, made after studying his charge's Transformation Trinket. While not magical, it gives a regular person the same abilities as a Precure. It gets destroyed near the end of the episode and never mentioned again.
  • Subverted in Kill la Kill; Ryuko destroys numerous Goku Uniforms, including those of most of the Elite Four, but Satsuki later tells her that this just contributes data they can use to refine the Uniforms for use in actual combat, and is ready to issue new ones to the Four.
  • Pokémon: The Series:
    • Various Team Rocket members (not just the trio) have demonstrated machines that hypnotize Pokémon with radio waves, forced an entire city's Pokémon to obey them, send Pokémon into a powerful rage, and make them either weakened or forced to evolve. None appear more than once after Pikachu blows them up. The worst was a nigh invincible tank that only Charizard could stop. Charizard promptly left Ash's team 1 episode later, and wouldn't return outside of tournament arcs (where Team Rocket typically doesn't antagonize Ash during) for over a decade's worth of episodes. Yet of course Team Rocket never uses the tank again, even though the only thing Ash had that could stop it was gone.
    • Then you have Mewtwo - the "prototype" clones growing with it all died, and it destroyed the island laboratory where it was created, killing everyone inside. Then it built a castle on top of the ruins and replaced that with a grassy field after the movie's climax. By Mewtwo Returns, Giovanni decides it'd be easier to track down and recapture Mewtwo as opposed to recreating a new one from scratch. Not that this later stops a different set of people from creating a new, identical Mewtwo with no indication that they even know one already exists...
  • Inuyasha: Urasue is shown bringing countless people Back from the Dead in clay bodies, but apparently never took into account the possibility that one of the resurrected would not be willing to serve her; when she resurrects Kikyo, the very first thing Kikyo does is burn her to ash.
  • Played for Laughs in Tenchi Universe. One early episode had Washu create a mecha double of herself so she could SCIENCE! two times faster. However, it ended up getting Mihoshi's brain patterns installed and it became quite dangerous until it could be shut down. At the end of the episode, she unveils a second one, but this one has Ryo-Ohki's brain patterns. She promptly gives up after that.
  • Justified in Dragon Ball Super. Bulma is reverse engineering Future Trunks' time machine with the intent on having her own. Her plan is to get Goku, who is gathering the Dragon Balls in an attempt to revive King Kai, to get the material needed so she can get Shenron to wish for more. However, Beerus and Whis catch Goku in the act and when they appear before Bulma, Whis warns her that time travelling is specifically prohibited. Beerus, then, proceeds to use his power to nuke the lab where the time machine and the plans were placed in.

    Comic Books 
  • Comics love this trope, as it allows for unique items that only the hero or villain has. It's also used as a MacGuffin generator.
  • The reason Captain America is one of a kind in the Marvel Universe is because the only person who knew the formula for the Super Soldier Serum got shot right after administering it to Cap. Furthermore, for security reasons, that scientist kept no notes of the full treatment, relying on his memory. Attempts at reproducing it haven't gone so well.
    • So, of course, Arnim Zola was able to create a clone of Cap complete with Super Solder Serum — and never attempted to experiment to figure out how to extract the stuff. Especially since the Serum has been completely extracted at least once and it's been shown that a blood transfusion from Cap also comes with that particular bonus. (Making it more Holding Back the Phlebotinum than anything else, now.)
    • In Captain America I #153, a man who found the formula, heretofore overlooked in Axis files (due to Allied bombings similar to Dresden, not even the Axis knew that they had it), noted that he found it untraceable in animals he had experimented upon and then dissected. He used this as leverage to force the US government to allow him to serve as a new Captain America for the Korean War — which ended before he could serve. This man later went mad due to the effects of the serum, suggesting its unpredictability on subjects. Incidentally, MLJ's the Shield seems to have inspired Captain America (the shape of Captain America's shield turned round when MLJ pointed out how closely it represented the front of the Shield's costume). The Shield's father had perfected a similar formula, but enemy agents slew him. The Shield, however, recreated his father's formula. Why he did not use it other than on himself is not stated.
    • However, the Ultimate Marvel universe is practically built around deconstructing this particular trope. The original Cap was one-of-a-kind — which is why every government and corporation on the planet has spent the last fifty years trying to duplicate the process, or at least come up with something similar, leading to a superhuman arms race. The Ultimate Hulk was the result of a failed attempt, the OZ formula that gave Ultimate Spider-Man his powers was another — every superhuman in this universe, except for the mutants, owe their powers to some attempt at recreating the super-soldier project. Eventually, even the mutants are revealed to be a result of a super-soldier-related project, making the deconstruction even more wide-ranging.
    • Interestingly enough, there was a precursor plan: before making the formula, Dr. Erskine formulated a special diet and exercise regiment that would optimize the human body to its peak. However, because of the wartime issues, the plans were stored away and thus research was made into the formula. Eventually, a grandson of Erskine discovered the plans and proceeded to put it through his newborn, Micheal Van Patrick and sure enough, the young man grew up to possess the same capability and talents as Cap himself though diet and exercise. While MVP would not last long as a character, he has been cloned more than a few times.
    • More, Captain America's shield is one of a kind, never duplicated; the guy who made it had no idea what he was doing and thus, wasn't keeping records and, according to some stories, fell asleep while working on it, and when he woke-up, the shield was made.
      • A tweak to Ultimate Cap's origin established that the head scientist was simply a cruddy record-keeper and did not write everything down before rudely getting shot.
      • Captain America: The First Avenger puts a different spin on his shield: Howard Stark presents Steve with multiple options for a shield, but Cap spots a disc shaped one that Howard explains is a vibranium prototype. Why can't more be made? It took the entire world supply of vibranium to make it. (At least, the known world supply at that time—Avengers: Age of Ultron and then Black Panther (2018) establishes that there is more, but Wakanda has been doing everything in its power to keep it out of the hands of the rest of the world.)
  • Double Subversion in Ultimate Spider-Man. In this continuity, the symbiote was created by Peter Parker and Eddie Brock's fathers rather than being an alien, and was left in Eddie's possession after they died, until Peter accidentally infected himself with a sample of it. He manages to get rid of it when it almost drives him crazy, then convinces Eddie to let him destroy the rest of the sample. Peter leaves with the container, then Eddie walks over to a locker and opens it to reveal another container with a backup. He even lampshades this, saying "Guess they haven't taught you about backups in high school." However, after this backup sample turns Eddie into Venom, none of the work is left, and he never attempts to recreate the formula, even though he'd be able to sell it to the military for billions. It's a moot point anyway since earlier in the comic, Peter found out that the symbiote, as well as all notes and research involving its creation were seized from Richard Parker and Eddie Brock Sr. by Trask Industries, the company that was funding it. Dr. Parker had something of a mini-breakdown after finding out, and Peter couldn't sell the formula if he wanted to. After Venom becomes known, all research about the symbiote is seized from Trask by Nick Fury and the Ultimates to make absolutely sure the suit is never re-created, except by them.
  • Nobody knows why A.I.M. only created one Super-Adaptoid, one of their most powerful creations, but one can assume that either the blueprints were destroyed or its creation was an accident that can't be replicated. Given how powerful it is and much trouble it has given The Avengers over the years, they'd definitely have created more than one if they could. It was eventually revealed that a sliver of the original Cosmic Cube was used to power it, when it was removed by the evolving Cube it was rendered inert (although Dom found a way to revive it). A later arc had A.I.M. creating a number of adaptoids but these copies were less powerful, only able to copy a single individual.
  • Justified with Tweedledope, a member of a team of villains called the Crazy Gang fought by Excalibur. He's an idiot savant who can build miraculous things by simply tinkering with junk, but even he doesn't know how most of them truly work. As a result, nothing he builds can be duplicated. By far, the most advanced invention he's created was Widget, a small, sentient robot capable of opening portals, who became a companion to the heroes.
  • The Golden Age "Good girl" Phantom Lady had a "blacklight projector" whose inventor literally died just as he delivered the only copy straight into her hands.
  • The Creeper's creator had a Healing Factor in a bottle that he used up healing one guy, then lost forever.
  • The minor Marvel character Jack of Hearts got his power from a Freak Lab Accident involving his father's Zero Fluid, an apparently limitless energy source that would have solved the world's energy crisis... had the creator not been shot dead and the only sample in existence absorbed into Jack.
  • During the Silver Age The Flash got his powers because a lightning bolt struck a cabinet full of random chemicals, which then spilled onto him. Subsequent attempts to find out which combination of chemicals would, when lightning-struck, yield similar results have all been failures.
    • However, by sheer coincidence, the Flash just happened to set up the right combination of chemicals when demonstrating this to his young protégé — without taking any notes, of course — and lo, another freak lightning bolt created Kid Flash.
    • Actually, this eventually turned out to be the origin of the original Professor Zoom who started out as a fanboy who successfully duplicated the accident after years of painful treatments in order to use Barry's old treadmill to go back and hang out with him.
  • Averted in Iron Man. He not only has multiple versions of his armor stretching back to his first one (and has used previous versions to solve a current problem), but one of the key storylines in the comic series was how his foe Obidiah Stane got a hold of all his armor research and technology when he took over Stark's company. Not to mention that, almost uniquely, there is actually another superhero running around with his toys — War Machine uses one of Tony's suits modified with More Dakka.
    • The Armor Wars storyline had Tony try to invoke this trope after one too many villains got their mitts on his suit tech, causing him to go a little overboard in his pursuit of unauthorized users of his armor technologies as several other heroes utilizing powered armor got involved.
    • For a few select dangerous projects, Tony deliberately invokes this trope, as he is painfully familiar with the bad guys stealing his secrets and abusing them.
  • V in V for Vendetta. He blew up the research plant, killed the doctor and was the only survivor anyhow. It hardly matters since the formula that created V had totally random effects on everyone it was injected into (One test subject who died from it was mentioned to have had fingers growing inside her calves for example).
  • Atomic Robo, the sentient, intelligent, super-strong robot built by Tesla in the 1920s is one of a kind, and Tesla made certain no records or information on the countless innovations in Robo exist outside his own mind. In a letter from Tesla in the back of Volume 2, he states that this was because he would not allow living beings to be created as weapons.
  • Ultimate Galactus Trilogy: Subverted. The killbot destroyed the ASIS, but there is a back up unit.
  • The Justice League of America villain the Red King is a sideways look at this trope. He had the ability to access multiple universes, try various things in them, and keep the ones he liked. He used this to (among other things) win horse races, become a billionaire/media darling, and get a hot girlfriend. When he decides to get super-powers, he has research teams in billions of universes try various approaches and keeps the best ones. As far as his employees knew, the boss just showed up one day and gave them a disc with files showing perfect, foolproof, side-effect-free procedures for giving virtually any super-power imaginable. After his defeat by the Justice League, one assumes the disc is still in his corporate files somewhere...
  • In Adrenalynn: Weapon of War, the only scientist capable of creating the revolutionary cyborgs such as Adrenalynn (who was the last cyborg he created), hung himself out of shame for doing that to a little girl.
  • This turns out to be the case in the Tintin book Destination Moon for the moon rocket's engine, and by extension the entire Sylvadian moon landing mission. Which is why when Professor Calculus got amnesia, the entire project was put into jeopardy.
  • Averted with the Super-Skrull from Fantastic Four. He was created from a process the Skrulls used to mimic super powers, placing the combined powers of the FF into one warrior. They used the process again over the years, eventually creating an entire army of them in Secret Invasion. It didn't work out too well for them with Deadpool, though.
  • Superman:
    • An aversion was what led to the creation of the super hero Steel: Dr. John Henry Irons had devised a high-powered gun, nicknamed the "Toastmaster", but had hidden away the plans when he realized they'd be too powerful. It's assumed that a fellow scientist found the plans, produced the weapons and sold them to other groups. When these guns got to Metropolis' gangs during The Death of Superman, Irons decided it was time to break those guns once and for all.
    • In Superman's Return to Krypton, Superman goes back in time to Krypton and helps his father put together an evacuation plan: they design a robot capable of building quickly a big space-ship and contact Ken-Dal, a scientist who has designed a rare but extremely powerful fuel. Sadly, the rocket must be built in Kandor, so Ken-Dal, the ark-ship and the builder robot vanish together with the city when Brainiac drops by. And since Ken-Dal never revealed the secret of his fuel to anyone else, Superman and Jor-El's plan falls apart.
    • In How Luthor Met Superboy, a teenager Lex Luthor achieves to create an artificial lifeform after countless experiments... but apparently he never thought of noting the formula down, since he rants about being unable to replicate his experiment when the formula is accidentally destroyed.
    • One Golden Age comic centered around a scientist who invented a nerve gas that standard gas masks couldn't block. Some criminals murder the scientist and steal the formula, with Superman going in pursuit. By the end of story, everyone who could have copied the formula is dead or awaiting execution, including one scene where the employer of the thieves smashes a sample of the gas in an attempt to take Superman with him, only to find that the gas doesn't work on Kryptonians. The final panel is of Clark Kent ripping up the last surviving copy of the formula.
  • At least in one Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles continuity the "ooze" which mutated the turtles and Splinter was described as a chemical compound which was exposed to radiation and thus randomly altered, and therefore it was impossible to replicate it at will. Of course, radiation should alter it only one atom or molecule at a time rather than causing a consistent change throughout a batch of liquid. If radiation did cause such a consistent change, there is no reason the same chemical exposed to the same kind of radiation at another time would not change the same way. The second film makes it more clear by saying the compound was a mixture of unknown chemicals, making it fully impossible to replicate.
  • Initially averted, and ultimately invoked with X-23. As shown in X-23: Innocence Lost, X-23 is the prototype, and once she is successfully created essentially is also the plans since the Facility can (and does, as is discovered near the end) use her genetic material to create additional clones (which would also serve as a backup). The entirety of the last act is Sarah setting X loose with specific orders to destroy her unborn "sisters", and all equipment and research associated with the project to prevent the Facility from recreating her.
  • Averted in Daredevil. It's not particularly hard to give random people Daredevil's powers, and Bullseye does just that in order to create an Evil Counterpart to Daredevil — Ikari, who has Matt's powers, but also retain his sight. The canister that blinded Matt was mass-produced, and wasn't actually anything particularly special. The thing that makes Matt unique is that he trained himself to use his senses, while the experimental Daredevils did not, which resulted in them being overwhelmed by their new senses. As it so happens, Ikari honed his senses, and didn't have this problem.
  • Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris had the titular protagonist use an experimental flying apparatus that allowed flight, created by a Gadgeteer Genius who had a crush on her, specifically for her use alone. After his death, nobody was able to reverse-engineer or replicate it somehow.
  • Averted all the place in Paperinik New Adventures, as everyone with a lick of sense designs their technology with at least one prototype and one set of plans-or, in the case of the Evronians, multiple ones.
    • Epically subverted with the Evronian containment field that could hold even Xadhoom: having been improvised in the field by a group of warriors that were wiped out by Xadhoom as soon as One deactivated it one would expect the technology to not be reproduced, but instead they field an improved version in the final part of the Xadhoom Trilogy, as the warriors had managed to report what had happened before Xadhoom was freed and the actual scientists had years to remake and improve it.
    • Justified with the process that gave Xadhoom her powers: not knowing if it would work and knowing perfectly how dangerous that knowledge was, Xado (the future Xadhoom) kept no note around, instead committing it all to her mind when she performed the experiment. She later did make a note of the process-contained inside a fully sentient copy of her mind, meaning that anyone seeking those powers could well be given an incomplete version and die horribly.
  • Superlópez: Escariano Avieso admits to Al Trapone that he never writes down the formula for any of the chemicals he creates.
  • Averted in The Amazing Spider-Man (Nick Spencer). Following Secret Empire, the US Government sought to make sure that the Planetary Defense Shield would never haunt anyone else again after it was used to keep Earth's most powerful out of Earth. However, it turns out some plans slipped out and found its way into the hands of the mercenary Arcade.
  • Invoked in the Dawn of X mini-series X-Men/Fantastic Four. At the end of the mini-series, Xavier and Magneto visit Reed and reveal they knew he built a device that could hide the X-Gene as a means to protect Franklin. Furious that he would do such a thing, Xavier Mind Rapes Reed so that he could never replicate such a device while Magneto uses his powers to destroy the prototype device and erase the plans.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: The subgroup of the Slave Revolt that stole the Ytirflirks' new WMD the Phlogiston Bomb made sure to leave their former enslavers no means to create another.
  • In Archie Comics, in the story "Billion Dollar Taste" in Archie v1-#263, Jughead prepares a tureen of soup that tastes so good, Mr. Lodge thinks it's worth billions, and pledges to manufacture it while giving the boys who brought it to him a share in the profits. But when they press Jughead for the recipe, he said he'd just randomly tossed ingredients into the pot and kept no record. Rage ensues.
  • The Simpsons: Spoofed in the Bartman story "Dial 'M' For Milhouse"; a scientist unveils an invention that can cure all known diseases, stop global warming, and feed the world. When a villain knocks over and destroys the device, the scientist wails "Noooo! I didn't write down how I built it, and now I'll never remember!"
    • He tries to console himself with the fact that he still has his "Make Your Own Hot Fudge Sundae" machine, but that gets destroyed too.

    Fan Works 
  • Boldores And Boomsticks: Faba seethes with rage over the fact that after Gladion stole Silvally he no longer has the genetic material to create another. Since Lillie took Nebby, whom he was using to generate Ultra Wormholes, it's ruined his plan to summon Grimm and then defeat them to become famous.
  • Child of the Storm has the precise nature of the Super Soldier formula in Steve's veins remain unknown, with a vast amount of time and money being spent (and a significant number of atrocities being committed) to try and replicate it by various powers - including, but not limited to, the US, the USSR/Russia, and Great Britain. The only perfect replications of the Erskine formula are in the DNA of Steve's descendants. Other concrete results include the Infinity Formula, and Bucky's enhancements by Zola - the latter of which were stabilised by the Soviet version of the Infinity Formula. But no one's quite managed to get it right.
    • No one's managed to replicate Ván, an incredibly powerful magic sword made of an uru-vibranium alloy with all the knowledge and power the Alliance of Realms (the founders of the Nine Realms) could put into its creation. The no prototype and no back-up part is understandable considering that it was their literal last hope (it's even called 'Hope'), so they were kind of in a hurry. As for the lack of plans, they might simply have got lost, since no one's actually needed its unique ability to No-Sell Phoenix fire in the million years since then. At least, until now. Also possibly subverted, as Doctor Strange - who contributed to the enchantments - might have the plans.
  • Reversed into "No Practice Runs" with the Moth Brooch's champions in Iron Kissed. A champion's first transformation sets their powers and form for all subsequent changes, and it's based heavily on their circumstances and emotions at the exact moment of change. So for best effect, a champion should hold their first change until the moment of actual need. Luckily, champion powers are highly intuitive.
  • "Kim Possible: The Next Generation" opens with Kim Possible an ensign on the Enterprise-D (Star Trek: The Next Generation), with a chain of events leading to her determining that someone is after the Pan-Dimensional Vortex Inducer. Kim's research observes that there was only one PDVI ever created as the equations necessary to create one were lost during World War Three, and even when it was created people didn't fully understand its potential as they were limited by the science of the time.
  • Nothing is Impossible: Lipsky was drastically set back when Mr. and Mrs. Possible took both Kim and the research needed to make more like her when they fled the project when he tried to take it underground. Even over a decade later, presumably due to a lack of government funding and a full research team, it'd apparently be easier to find and capture Kim in order to reverse-engineer her than to make another like her in a reasonable time-frame.

    Films — Animation 
  • In The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, apparently, Mr. Krabs made a rule that only one copy of the Krabby Patty formula could exist and that no one was allowed to memorize it. The cause of the plot comes when that one copy disappears right when more patties need to be made.
  • Averted in The Incredibles; it is explicitly shown that Syndrome put his Omnidroid through many prototypes so each new version could kill whichever superhero beat the old version. Also, his plan hinged on being able to replicate his machines so he could sell them to the public.
  • Titan A.E.:
    • Parodies this a bit when both Cale and the audience meet Gune for the first time.
      Gune: [holding up a small device] Does this look familiar? Do you know what it is? Neither do I. I made it last night in my sleep. Apparently I used Gindrogac. Highly unstable.
      Preed: Gune...
      Gune: "I put a button on it. Yes. I wish to press it, but I'm not sure what will happen if I do."
    • Played straight, and justified, with the Titan itself. The Drej attack was so swift that its creator had no time to save anything else. Any data or tech related to the Titan either disappeared with the ship, or was destroyed along with Earth.
  • Averted in Kung Fu Panda 2 where we don't see any prototypes for Shen's firework cannon, but there are a lot of backups. Played with in regards to the heroes who thought there was only one cannon. Po even thought that the figurine was the cannon. Shen subverts it as while the cannon in the room could hit anywhere in the city, it was only a distraction to protect his foundry and he was halfway done arming a whole armada of ships with them.
  • Averted in Steamboy when a mad scientist is told to destroy his invention he replies it can never be destroyed, now that the world has seen it.
  • Averted in Penguins of Madagascar. After the penguins steal the canister containing Dave's Medusa Serum and escape, they and the North Wind are feeling pretty smug about it... until Dave reveals he has a huge vat of the stuff. The fact that he has so much also clues the heroes in that Dave's revenge plan isn't just focused on four penguins.
  • Averted in Big Hero 6, where a montage at one point shows a considerable amount of prototyping had to go into Baymax before he functioned correctly. And after his Heroic Sacrifice, once Hiro finds Baymax's personality chip, he's perfectly able to build a new body from the blueprints his creator kept.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In 1994 Baker Street: Sherlock Holmes Returns, Sherlock Holmes developed a successful means of achieving suspended animation in the 1890s. However, upon being awakened in the 1990s, he learns that it can never be used again because it relied on a biological compound derived from a species of fish which went extinct in the 1970s.
  • At the end of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, armed forces of the Great Powers, following bottle-messages from Ned Land, track the Nautilus to Captain Nemo's home base on the island of Vulcania. Nemo blows up his laboratory to keep his technological marvels from falling into their hands. Professor Arronax, who moments before had bemoaned the impending destruction of all that wonderful tech, remarks, "Perhaps you did mankind a service, Ned."
  • The Adventures of Ford Fairlane: Mr. Rock-N-Roll Detective, Ford Fairlane, spends much of his investigation searching for three computer disks that were stolen from antagonist Julian Grendel. This trope is initially averted, since it doesn't seem to matter whether or not Grendel had the information on the disks — he wanted them back because they were evidence of his criminal scheme. Fairlane later uses the disks to lure Grendel into a final confrontation, at which point Grendel destroys the disks by attempting to eat them. This trope is then subverted when Ford reveals that he made backup copies.
  • In Casper, there's Casper's father's Lazarus Machine, said to bring the dead back to life. However, the machine uses a special elixir in which only one was made. A good portion of the movie is dedicated as to who will use the machine. It turns out to be Kat's father, who got himself depressingly drunk and fell off a cliff.
  • In Contact, a terrorist attack destroys the first device. There are plans, but building the device was so expensive for the entire world that the prospect of building a second one (especially since it would invite yet another attack) is summarily dismissed. It is then discovered that a second, backup device is revealed to have been built in secret and that the enormous budget was for constructing two devices all along.
    Hadden: First rule of government spending: why build one, when you can build two, at twice the price? Only, this one can be kept secret.
  • In the mockumentary The Compleat Al, the master tapes for "Weird Al" Yankovic's experimental album "Me Myself And I" are accidentally erased by an airport metal detector.
  • Done deliberately by Batman in The Dark Knight. He creates a device that turns every cell phone in Gotham into a sonar emitter, allowing him to map the city and its inhabitants in real time. He knows this thing is too powerful to morally use on a regular basis, so he gives it to Lucius Fox with instructions to type in a password when the mission is over. Fox does so, and the whole thing promptly falls apart as Lucius performs an Unflinching Walk.
  • Escape from New York: Apparently, every shred of data that was involved in creating the tape with the secret of nuclear fusion was destroyed and everyone involved in making it either given amnesia or killed, because absolutely no attempt was made to obtain a backup copy after it was lost in New York.
  • Classic example: In the failed pilot TV movie Exo Man from 1977, a scientist is attempting to create an ill-defined compound or alloy that will do something equally ill-defined but apparently magical with ultraviolet energy. The research process consists of the scientist and his assistants mixing up batches of stuff and testing them, over and over again. Naturally, the only sample that works is the one that gets whipped up by one of the assistants just goofing around and tossing random junk into the mix — right before he is killed by mob hitmen in the same attack that paralyzes the scientist. In perfect keeping with this trope, the scientist doesn't think to analyze the working sample to figure out what it is and reproduce it, thus achieving his original research goals. Instead, he builds a suit of power armor using the few bits of the stuff he has and goes out fighting crime in it.
  • Initially averted in Firefox, where the Soviets have two prototypes of the titular hypersonic stealth thought-controlled fighter. In fact, at the end, Gant has to fight the Soviet test pilot in the other prototype. Possibly played straight, for the Soviets at least, since Gant steals one prototype, blows up another, and the scientist who designed it is shot while trying to help Gant. They may still have the original plans, though.
  • Flubber: Weebo is mostly an example, with Brainard remarking on her creation as a "happy accident". There is a back-up, but it was made by Weebo and promptly hidden from the professor.
  • A major plot point in The Fly II. While Bartok Science Industries was able to restore the dearly departed Seth Brundle's telepods even after the damage they took in the climax of the first film, the programming needed for them to teleport organic/living matter intact is said to have "died with him." With the company's scientists unable to figure it out for themselves, the CEO convinces Seth's comparably intelligent Spin-Offspring Martin to finish his father's work. A Deleted Scene specified the programming was actually incomplete because Stathis Borans, who never forgave Seth for what became of both him and Veronica Quaife, deliberately destroyed the relevant material left behind after the first film's events.
  • Godzilla:
    • In Godzilla (1954), Doctor Serizawa is seen burning the notes for the creation of the Oxygen Destroyer, and implicitly destroyed the prototypes as well. Of course, the knowledge still exists in his brain, and there's only one thing to be done about that.
    • Subverted in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, in which another scientist manages to duplicate Serizawa's research.
    • Also subverted in Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla and its direct sequel. The main gun of Mechagodzilla is broken at the end of the first movie, and can't be replaced - but this is purely because the JSDF can't afford to replace a key component. The head scientist flatly states that if they can give him the enormous diamond he needs to replace, he can get the weapon working again within a day.
  • Averted in Kingsman: The Secret Service (which likewise played with many other Spy Fiction tropes): Early on, Merlin summarizes Lancelot's mission by recounting terrorist groups which ended up killing each other, the first of which was done by feeding a chemical into the water supply, and the second involved no chemicals at all. We also see a short-ranged prototype of the Hate Plague tested at a church, and the main machine is encrypted to Valentine's biometrics, ensuring that no one else can operate it
  • Subverted in Knight and Day; the villains are chasing Roy around not just because he has the perpetual energy Zephyr battery, but also because he's protecting its creator Simon. Several times, the villains mention that getting Simon would be an acceptable alternative to the Zephyr itself. Simon himself admits he can just build another one at the end of the movie when Fitzgerald is about to get away with it. To top it off, the Zephyr still has flaws; it degrades and heats up over the course of the movie, eventually exploding and killing Fitzgerald as he flees.
  • Subverted in Limitless. Eddie gets his supply of the Genius Serum NZT from a person who gets killed off pretty quickly, but he eventually gets labs up and running that not only make it but work out the kinks in the drug.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Averted in Iron Man. The first suit and its plans are recovered and used as a basis for Stane's. Stark has two functional suits in his house, and the facilities to build a new one from scratch in five hours... Except one. If not for Pepper's leaving the original mini-Arc Reactor as a gift to Tony, Obadiah would have successfully left Tony for dead.
    • Justified in Captain America: The First Avenger. The Super-Soldier Serum that Erskine created was too easily exploited, since it also amplifies the person's inner nature: "Good becomes great. Bad becomes worse." To prevent this from happening again as it did with the Red Skull, Erskine kept the notes all in his head to protect the serum's formula. He gets killed and the secret dies with him. The shield is also stated to be unique because all of the Vibranium they ever found was only just enough to make the shield (as of the WWII setting; more of it turns up later).
    • The Incredible Hulk (2008) reveals that Bruce Banner/the Hulk is one of the failed attempts to recreate the Super-Soldier Serum. Banner combined an incomplete formula with gamma radiation (Captain America received a combination of Super-Soldier Serum and vita-rays). The man who later becomes the Abomination initially only receives the incomplete formula — he stays human but clearly goes insane.
    • In a deleted scene of Iron Man 3, as Maya is dying, she transfers the Extremis data to the Stark Industries mainframe, asking Tony to delete it as soon as he can, just before the computer she is using explodes.
    • Played with in Ant-Man. There's only one Yellowjacket suit, but Pym makes a point of having the mission to steal it include wiping the servers at the facility that built it and completely demolishing the building itself so that Cross won't be able to reconstruct his research without starting completely from scratch.
  • Averted in Masters of the Universe. Skeletor and Evil-Lyn assume that they have the only Cosmic Key, a portal-creating device, after she stole it from Gwildor, but he had a prototype model that he hid from her, thus allowing the Eternians to have a fighting chance of defeating Skeletor.
    Evil-Lyn: It's the Locksmith... That little worm has another Key!
    Skeletor: What?! No! Kill them!
  • Justified in The Philadelphia Experiment II: the Nazi scientist whose "stealth bomber" nuked DC and created an Alternate Timeline in which the Axis powers won World War II ended up being disgraced due to his inability to recreate the plane when the original was lost in its bombing run, because the plane was actually a relic from the future, sent back in time during a teleportation experiment. The scientist who found it didn't study it enough to replicate the technology before it was sent off.
  • Justified in The Rocketeer. The Jet Pack in the film is the prototype, and its creator is shown burning the plans in the first scene of the film. Peevy is seen reverse-engineering said jetpack, drawing plans for a new and improved version. Notably, the prototype didn't work until Peevy had made some modifications to the design. (In fact, it killed three test pilots, making the inventor doubly determined to abandon it.) Meanwhile, Those Wacky Nazis spend the movie trying to grab and reverse-engineer the pack, maybe not so worried about the cost to keep trying.
  • In Shredder Orpheus, the Gibsonian Lyre-Axe Guitar is itself a prototype; only three were made and the designers all died or vanished. When it starts acting up in the second half of the movie, no one knows how to fix it due to it being so rare.
  • Sky High (2005): Despite the Pacifier being built by Royal Pain, the whole Evil Plan rests on getting it back from the Strongholds. It seems Royal Pain just could not build another. Possibly justified by the original being a group design based on the picture of the Science Club. Also, she seems to have forgotten everything about her past life, while retaining her powers.
  • Star Trek:
    • The Genesis Device featured in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. One of the main scientists who built it was killed, and before his death, it was revealed that the technology used a semi-unethical shortcut that essentially robbed the results of all long-term utility by turning an instant terraforming device into a Weapon of Mass Destruction that temporarily improves its target. Starfleet didn't see fit to pursue the issue further, which isn't surprising considering how the Klingons reacted to it. Given that the Genesis Device didn't receive a proper test its viability is unknown. It was designed to be used on an existing planet/moon, not create a new planet. The science team deliberately wiped all their notes to try and keep them from being captured, and then most of the science team got killed, leaving the key part of the formula only in David Marcus' memory. Then he got killed.
    • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country has the Klingon Bird of Prey that can fire while cloaked in. The prototype is destroyed, and apparently all the notes and engineers responsible for creating it must have been on board, because it isn't until Star Trek: Nemesis that the Remans finally manage to recreate that ability (and further improve on the design). There's a plasma-seeking torpedo which is used to track the cloaked ship, destroying it. This technique is never repeated. It's a wonder Federation scientists never thought of this before or after that moment. Interestingly, like the example of the Scimitar, the MMO Star Trek Online brings them back as features for the more advanced ships (re: ones you gotta pay for)
  • In The Strongest Man in the World, a formula for Super Strength is created when several random chemicals combine. Unfortunately, the chemists think that a different (and much more well-documented) mixture is responsible for the super-strength and schedule an intramural weightlifting competition with the wrong formula on center stage.
  • Terminator:
    • This trope is the objective of the T-800 and the young John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, as they have to destroy the prototypes of what would eventually become Skynet before it goes sentient.
    • Averted in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, as it turns out that Cyberdyne kept copies of all important notes off-site and later sold them to the air force for further development. They also apparently improved on it, as the Cybernet built in T3 is online and can't be blown up.


By Author

  • Isaac Asimov:
    • At the end of "The Dead Past", the creator of a machine for seeing into the past is convinced by a government agent that it will end society as we know it and agrees to destroy it... and then his research assistant confesses that he's already published details of how to make the thing in several scientific journals. Doubly subverted because the existing technology is kept under close government control, and the creator mentioned actually tries to recreate it with the little information that is publicly available — and makes it better than the original version. The fact that it doesn't even work for his intended purposes, looking into "The Dead Past" of Carthago, is the reason why the technology is under wraps. It only allows one to take a peek at any place in the recent past, about a generation ago — or...
    • In "The Dying Night", a man who invented a teleporter dies of a heart attack. The device, being a prototype, has burned out after a single test, and another man destroyed his notes, with the film upon which he copied them ending up sunburned. Ultimately subverted, however, when the investigator points out that the person's brain can be probed for the image of the notes.
    • "Light Verse" involves a roboticist who is trying to find a method to make beautiful light sculptures. He receives an invite to a famous sculpture artist's party. On the way in, he notices and repairs a robot who only seems to function as a coat rack. The artist is furious because that robot created the sculptures, and she murders the roboticist. He is said to have welcomed death when he realizes that he missed his chance by repairing rather than studying the robot.
    • Norby from The Norby Chronicles was (re)assembled by McGillicuddy from a wrecked (alien) spaceship found on an asteroid. Unfortunately, Mac died before he told Norby everything he did, so Norby and Jeff have to discover his antigrav, hyperdrive, and other unusual talents on their own.
    • "Robot AL-76 Goes Astray" involves a robot designed to operate a mining laser getting lost and being found by an ordinary man. The robot then builds a mining laser out of various junk found in the man's toolshed. The only named part is a flashlight. When the robot turns on the laser, he takes out a nearby mountain. The human orders the robot to destroy the machine and then to forget everything. When the owners of the robot find it, they are outraged — the robot had somehow managed to build a laser strong enough to take out a mountain that was powered by a pair of flashlight batteries, and with the robot having followed the order, they couldn't reconstruct it.
  • Subverted in the Dale Brown novels. After Patrick McLanahan makes off with the Soviet Fisikous-170 stealth plane in Night of the Hawk, we learn in the later book Warrior Class that the Russians held onto the technology and used it to build a second plane, the Fisikous/Metyor-179.
  • Robert A. Heinlein liked to play with this one. In general, he averted this trope, because he was pretty damn hard on the Mohs scale of hardness, so his scientists (typically Genius Ditz eggheads) realistically kept detailed notes and communicated with each other, but sometimes...
    • Methuselah's Children: The Long-Lived Howard families have ended their masquerade and the short-lived rest of humanity is upset. They refuse to believe that the Howards are the result of a selective breeding program, and they demand the non-existent secret. The families steal a spaceship and flee to the stars. Not finding any suitable habitats, they decide to return to Earth and demand their homes back, only to discover that humanity has spent the intervening decades discovering the secret the Howards did, in fact, have. Unfortunately, the Howard scientists hadn't taken it far enough and discarded it as an unworkable technique.
    • In order to justify some of his later, softer technologies, Heinlein came up with the phlebotinum of Shipstones, basically awesome batteries that recharge themselves using cosmic radiation, invented by a guy named Shipstone. There are plans, there was a prototype, and there aren't just back-ups, they're produced on an assembly line! However, the process for how they're made is a closely guarded secret (the inventor didn't even patent the technology, as that would require putting schematics on public record) so that he can maintain a monopoly, and somehow no one can reverse engineer them (they tend to explode if anyone tries).
    • Completely averted again in Sixth Column: the scientist who creates the initial radiation-emitting device of the heroes is killed by it in a test run before the start of the book, but the prototype and the notes remain, and the scientists who survive the test use the notes to make a directed version (essentially a beam gun) before they start developing variants.
    • Played straight in Gulf. The "nova effect" is a scientific means of turning a planet into a nova and thus destroying it (it's described as a "plutonium, lithium, and heavy water deal", so it's yet another successful Heinlein prediction — this time, of the hydrogen bomb). After it's developed on the Moon, all of the documents used to create it are destroyed and everyone involved in creating it receives hypnotic instructions to forget about it. Two sets of microfilms are made: one is to be taken to Earth for safekeeping, and a backup version is to be destroyed once the first set is safe. After a secret agent arrives on Earth with the first set, the order is given to destroy the backups. Unfortunately, the agent is pursued by the enemy and has to get rid of the first set before he can deliver them, and they were lost.
    • Mike the sentient computer from The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is such a creation, because even after the damage that killed him has been repaired, he still doesn't re-emerge.
  • H. G. Wells:
    • In The Invisible Man, the protagonist does keep detailed notes, but after his death, they are kept by his landlord, who has dreams of recreating the formula for himself. However, the author says that he never will, because he is too stupid to realize that it takes learning that he doesn't have.
    • Older Than Television: Played straight, to a Fridge Logic degree, in The First Men in the Moon. Once Cavor has been lost on the Moon and his planet-hopping sphere is likewise lost in space, the secret to making the gravity-blocking metal Cavorite is lost forever until, as Cavor says, someone else rediscovers it entirely by accident. This is in spite of Cavor working for years on it, in spite of the extensive blueprints and notes that are mentioned, despite his plans to submit his research to a scientific journal, and in spite of the heroes having left for the Moon with Cavor's research lab intact.

By Work

  • Another non-technical example is brought up in the 1632 series, with all the archives of an appellate court going up in smoke during the Sack of Magdeburg, making it difficult for that court to function properly once it reforms. Then it gets subverted at the end of the novel when it gets revealed that while there is no complete backup, the fact that it was an appellate court meant that copies of every decision referred to the court from outside the city would have been sent to whatever court sent the case to them, along with copies of any previous court decisions that were being used as precedent for the current one. Which meant that if they hired enough legal clerks and law students to copy the court archives of all the other cities in the court circuit, they could get about 90% of their original records back.
  • Subverted in The Accidental Time Machine. The eponymous Time Machine doesn't have any blueprints, but the main character who built does remember how it was made and quickly makes up a copy. Unfortunately, it doesn't work (or, at least, it doesn't act as a time machine. It simply works as a photon source, which the original machine was supposed to be). Once the character arrives sixteen years in the future, and his professor has published all his notes and has received the Nobel Prize in Physics, there are over a thousand copies of the machine in existence... which all also don't work.
  • Subverted in After the Golden Age. The heroine manages to destroy the ominous machine that the villain built and assumes that the day is saved... only for him to simply wheel out a second one.
  • Averted in Animorphs with the Anti-Morphing Ray. The kids realize, early on, that simply destroying the device won't be enough — the Yeerks will only build another one. They decide, instead, to first convince them that it doesn't work and that the project should be abandoned, and then "accidentally" destroy it for good measure. It doesn't go exactly the way they planned it would. Because it's Animorphs.
  • An anvilicious subversion appears in Atlas Shrugged when Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden discover a prototypal Perpetual Motion Machine abandoned and decayed in the gutted ruins of the Twentieth Century Motor Company, along with the plans and theoretical research that led to it. John Galt later points out that he designed it on the clock and the company had a right to it — but also, he knew he didn't have to fear anyone replicating it. No one capable of understanding it would ever again work at the company, because civilization had ceased to value the original "perpetual motion machine": the human mind.
  • In Battlefield Earth, the Psychlo race has teleportation technology and nobody else in four universes (see: Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale) has been able to develop it on their own (except for one species that the Psychlos eradicated a few thousand years ago) or reverse-engineer or figure out the equations that allow teleportation to succeed. As it turns out, the Psychlos make every single teleportation device with about fifteen booby traps that completely fry the console if it is tampered with, and the circuit board inside the console is a fake, and the mathematical books are written in base 11 math and encoded in an obscure dead language that their people do not even use anymore, and every member of their race has a secret chip in their head that makes them become violently psychotic and eventually suicidal if any non-Psychlo asks them about teleportation.
  • Played with in The Cardinal of the Kremlin. The Soviet SDI program code-named BRIGHT STAR had plenty of plans, but they were all at the research facility where the prototype was and were destroyed when Mujaheddin guerillas attacked the base. To top it off, a second prong of the same attack hit the dorms where the research team lived, resulting in some of the researchers getting killed repelling the attack, seriously setting back any efforts to reproduce the work. Five books later, neither the Russians nor the US have been able to produce another laser as powerful as BRIGHT STAR, resulting in their laser-based SDI programs getting shelved. The same book also has the decommissioning of the Red October, the only submarine to be equipped with the super-quiet caterpillar drive. No mention is made of either Russia or America even attempting to build another vessel with a caterpillar, even though the Russians should have had the plans from when they invented it and the Americans spent a year taking the captured prototype apart for study. The fact that it took the US Navy all of a week to figure out how to detect and reliably track the acoustic signature of the new drive once it was in the ocean probably got the concept shelved as Awesome, but Impractical.
  • In the Count to the Eschaton series, Menelaus' Super Serum cannot be duplicated—because, as his original use was illegal, he didn't make any notes to begin with, and when he injected himself, his friend turned off the inboard cameras.
  • In the children's sci-fi book Danny Dunn, Invisible Boy (1974), Professor Bullfinch invents what's essentially a dragonfly-like drone with a 360° camera, connected to a VR helmet, thus making the user "invisible". However, when the government tries to confiscate the invention to spy on the Soviets, the professor decides that The World Is Not Ready and uses the drone to strike a match, burning his notes (which he admits anyone could use to make their own drone/helmet combo) along with the drone itself.
  • Subverted in Danny, the Champion of the World. What made Danny's grandfather the king of pheasant poachers was that he was meticulous in testing his methods (for the purpose of which he kept a very large chicken coop) before using them in the field. He was, among other things, famous for proving that catching pheasants by feeding them gin-soaked raisins is unworkable (a pheasant needs to eat no less than sixteen gin-soaked raisins to be drunk enough to catch). When Danny and his father set out to catch pheasants with raisins laced with sleeping pills, Danny's father laments that he can't test the method on chickens like his dad (they only have fifty pills, and only 36 hours before hunting season starts and all the pheasants will get shot).
  • Darwath is your standard Dark Age/Medieval world, and so far as we know from the few glimpses we get, was much the same when it was first attacked by Lovecraftian Monsters From The Deeps. Then the King called together the greatest mages and they created the Keep of Dare — a multi-storey arcology of fused stone with artificial light, piped water, air conditioning and hydroponics gardens, where all the survivors of the first attacks could live in safety till the monsters went back underground. Whereupon everyone emerged... and went back to the same primitive level of technology as before, and left the Keep forgotten for the next three thousand years till the monsters return and they suddenly realize they need it again. Granted, there was a religious pogrom against wizards and all their works, but the idea that in all the subsequent millenia no rebel thinker ever bothered to explore the place and think 'Hey, I could use that trick,' carries Medieval Stasis to absurdity.
  • Dirk Pitt Adventures: In Treasure of Khan, there are three earthquake machines, but all three are destroyed, and the scientists who built them died mysteriously prior to the novel. Said scientists did leave behind an operator's manual, but The Hero chooses to suppress it.
  • In Discworld, Leonard of Quirm zig-zags this trope. He frequently creates brilliant inventions, such as coffee makers, helicopters, bicycles, gonnes, submarines, and nuclear bombs, complete with detailed diagrams and a list of parts. He goes into such detail because they're supposed to be "mental exercises", so omitting the details would be cheating. Fortunately, he is kept under lock and key by Lord Vetinari, who recognizes the dangerous potential of his inventions and keeps them away from the populace. The gonne deserves special mention — the self-aware prototype invoked this trope because it didn't want to be reproduced. In fact, Leonard designed his prison himself and is shown in Jingo to be more or less free to come and go as he pleases. His hideously destructive designs are intended for constructive purposes (mining, hunting dangerous animals) — he's always immensely disappointed that people want to use them otherwise, and he's grateful to Vetinari for the opportunity to be sequestered in a light, airy space with plenty of paper and modeling material. However, he does leave gratuitous plans around, ultimately making this a subversion.
  • The Famous Five: Averted in Five on Kirrin Island Again by Uncle Quentin, who has made all the notes of his great experiment in a small book. He does not want the book to be found by his enemies, but he also dares not destroy the book, in case anything should happen to him, meaning that his ideas would be completely lost.
  • Justified in The Fold, as the researchers are trying to hold documentation necessary to replicate their space-bending technology hostage to get more funding.
  • The Frontier Magic series has an interesting variation. The creators of the Great Barrier Spell left behind plenty of documentation on their legendary spell, but since Benjamin Franklin was self-educated and Thomas Jefferson had an unfortunate tendency to assume that everyone else was as well read as him, their notes are so idiosyncratic that nobody else can understand them.
  • The titular George's Marvellous Medicine was made by a child wantonly tossing all sorts of cosmetics, bathroom products, animal medicines and other chemicals into a saucepan with little to no thought given on what effect they'd have. Indeed, all efforts to reproduce it fail as George can't remember what ingredients he used and how he put them together. George's father also concludes that it wouldn't help if he did either, since no unopened containers were used, meaning that even if they knew the ingredients and the process, they'd still be clueless about quantities and proportions.
  • Divide and Conquer, one of many G.I. Joe novels (yes, they exist), subverts this. Lots of trouble ensues because Cobra was just as happy to have the huge bulky disintegration ray as they were to have the small portable version. Things went blooey just as well with either one. There was almost a mutiny when one of the Cobra lieutenants guarding the device decides he wants to rule everything and will zap those who disagree.
  • Gladiator: Justified, in that Abednego did keep notes of his process and results but was too afraid to publish them for fear of what would happen. Later, they are destroyed by the lightning strike that kills Hugo.
  • Lampshaded and subverted in The Guns of the South. Robert E. Lee notes that the AK-47s which he received are ridiculously more advanced than anything rifle that has existed up to this point, yet an inferior model, or an even an experimental version, was never put forward. However, the Confederate and later Union governments are eventually able to build their own versions (being easily replicated with relatively primitive tools is actually a Real Life feature of the design, and why it was the gun chosen for the task).
  • The Heechee technology in the Heechee Saga novels, especially Gateway. They are alien artifacts and technology, of there is no documentation nor manuals, and of which is only known that they work. Attempting to use them is insanely dangerous gamble and attempts to reverse engineer them lead only in explosion.
  • Interestingly subverted in the Heralds of Valdemar novel Oathbreakers, in which the mage-protagonist invents a particularly nasty trap-spell and does burn the plans when she doesn't need as to prevent anybody finding them before she can send the information out to everyone. As she points out, someone's going to figure it out eventually, so she might as well make sure that everyone knows what it is and how to deal with it.
  • Subverted in He, She and It. An experimental robot decides that its kind shouldn't exist, so it kills its creator, destroys his lab, and blows up itself. However, another character later realizes that she has backup copies of the plans on her computer and could probably figure out how to build it again if she wanted to.
  • Subverted in His Dark Materials: The Subtle Knife. Mary Malone goes to great lengths to destroy all of the existing equipment necessary to facilitate communication between humans and angels.
  • Averted in The History of the Galaxy. When the Terran Alliance attacks the Lost Colony of Dabog, their entire mechanized invasion force is routed by a single centuries-old Humongous Mecha, the Aquila. It's explained that the original settlers (among whom were some of the brightest minds of the time) had to develop the tech to navigate the treacherous swamps, being inspired by the leg joints of the local large lizards. By the time the planet is invaded, only a single machine is left, and it's being maintained by its owner for demonstrations at the history museum. He doesn't have the plans to build more, but only a few years after the invasion, the Alliance is already working on its own versions using the scans of the Aquila obtained by the ground forces. While the initial models of the smaller Hoplites and the larger Phalanxers were inferior to the Aquila, and the very name still instilled dread in any Alliance soldier, later developments would not only show improvements in the Hoplies, the Phalanxers, and the less commonly used Ravens, but also allow the Free Colonies to study the Aquila and begin mass-producing them to fight this new threat. In fact, after the war finally ended 50 years later, the victorious colonists abandoned the Aquilas and instead began to field the Alliance designs in their own military.
  • Subverted in the Helen McCloy novel The Imposter. The plot involves an attempt to fashion a laser with greater power and capability. At one point, the heroine points out that scientific research normally operates as a cooperative effort. The person speaking to her acknowledges this, but notes that for the purpose of secrecy, only five people worked on the laser project, so their elimination kept it secret. When someone later points out that destroying the prototype laser would do no good, since someone will inevitably follow the chain of research and stumble upon the way to make it anyway ("Because other researchers will discover it again at any moment? Why do you think Darwin and Wallace discovered evolution at the same time?"), the heroine responds that even the delay that destroying the prototype could produce might prove useful ("...a cipher can't hide a military secret forever, but it can delay discovery long enough to change the course of history").
  • Subverted in King of Kings: GaoGaiGar vs. Betterman. Phantom Gao, the Gao Machine that is the main component for GaoFighGar, couldn't be rebuilt as the young genius who built it, Alouette, had lost her memory and intelligence, leading to Mamoru and Kaidou piloting the Neuronoid GaiGo and creating GaoGaiGo. When Alouette regains her memory and joins GGG, she begins work on fixing up the Prototype Phantom Gao, which comes in handy when they rescue Guy.
  • Averted in the Known Space detective story "ARM". A key plot element is an experimental machine that accelerates time in a localized bubble. The detective realizes that since the machine they see is all smoothly built, with a nice plastic casing and no loose wires, there must have been a version 0.9 that worked as well but wasn't so nicely put together (and which was stolen from the lab after the murder).
  • A non-technological version appears in Misery. Author Paul Sheldon has just released Misery's Child — the final novel in the Misery series that takes place in Victorian England — and is ready to move on to a new project centering on a Puerto Rican teenager in contemporary New York City. To celebrate his new beginning, he drives from New York City to Los Angeles, but gets drunk in rural Colorado, and crashes his car which results in serious injuries. He's found by Annie Wilkes, his self-professed biggest fan, and when she finds out that Misery (the main character of the novel series) dies in childbirth, Annie keeps him prisoner in her house and orders him to bring Misery back to life. Before he can get to work on the new Misery book, she asks him to burn his new manuscript. He refuses at first, but when she threatens to withhold food and the (addictive) pain medication she's been giving him, he relents and immediately regrets not having made copies of the new manuscript before leaving on his trip.
  • This is the case with the Whisperer in the The Mysterious Benedict Society books. Mr. Curtain has gone to great pains to protect it and it would take a long time to rebuild it if it were destroyed.
  • In Prelude to Dune, a Richese scientist invents the no-field and builds the Baron his personal no-chamber and a small no-ship. Giddy, Rabban kills the scientist. However, no one bothers to have him teach someone how to build more of these (in fairness to Rabban, he thought they had what they needed to reconstruct the ship with recordings of everything the scientist did while in the Harkonnen's employ. Unfortunately, the scientist had anticipated what would happen to him unless he was still needed and so had taken measures to keep the recordings as useless as possible — and even more unfortunately for him no-one with the scientific or engineering expertise to realize this looked at the recordings until after he was killed). So when Rabban stupidly ends up getting the no-ship destroyed, the Baron berates him for eliminating the scientist. It later turns out that there are plans back on the research space station orbiting Richese, and a number of his colleagues discover them and try to recreate the technology. The station is blown up by the Sardaukar on The Emperor's orders as punishment for the Richese stockpiling spice. Thanks to some Applied Phlebotinum on the station, the nuclear explosion ends up blinding half the population of the planet below. It's not until thousands of years later that the technology is rediscovered (possibly independently, although the Bene Gesserit are known to have studied the crashed no-ship before burning it). The technology is further improved to make it immune to Psychic Powers (this was a big flaw of the original no-ship, as the Bene Gesserit saw right through the cloak).
  • Subverted in the Relativity story "Cricket" when the heroes fail to prevent the theft of a pair of goggles that let the wearer see things the way a spider sees them:
    Torrent: The spider-vision goggles were stolen... I'm afraid your presentation tomorrow will be ruined.
    Novelsky: How many were stolen?
    Overcast: Just one.
    Novelsky: Well, I'm not stupid. I made more than a single pair. I'll just have to move the others to a more secure location.
  • In Repairman Jack, a group of pharmacists produce a drug from the monster called the Rakoshi. However, due to the mystical aspect of the Rakoshi, the substance turns inert after roughly one month. Moreover, all records of the chemical structure of the substance, whether on computer or hard copy form, would change to match the inert form. Therefore, once Repairman Jack engineers the deaths of the pharmacists, all records of the substance literally disappear. (Somewhat of an unusual example, since this story explicitly involves mystical forces.)
  • The Saint: In The Last Hero, the Saint engineers the assassination of a weapons designer who had created a sort of death cloud device. However, although a saboteur has a prototype death cloud machine seen earlier in the novel destroyed, what (if anything) the Saint did with the plans for the machine remains unclear.
  • Septimus Heap: The Glasses for time-travelling were built without any backups, and the plans were destroyed to prevent replication. This not only caused the first prototypes to malfunction, but it also prevented the repair of the main Glass.
  • Smoke: Freddie is accidentally turned invisible by taking two skin cancer formulas that weren't meant to be taken together. After unsuccessfully trying to catch Freddie, the scientists and their boss try to recreate the experiment and find two more volunteers to take the chemical combination. One of them turns luminescent and the other has all of his scar tissue fade away.
    Dr. Heimhocker: Without Freddie Noon, without knowing when he took the second formula, what else he ate or drank that night, what he did the rest of the night, there's no possible way to duplicate the experiment, and therefore no possible way to duplicate the results.
  • Subverted in a Star Trek: The Next Generation novel by Peter David titled Vendetta. It turns out that the superweapon encountered by the original series crew in the episode "The Doomsday Machine" was actually a prototype that was only sent out because its creators were facing total defeat. Fast forward to the novel, where somebody has located the much more powerful finished product and puts it into action.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • In the early years of the Expanded Universe, numerous writers, most likely inspired by the Death Star, had their stories feature stupidly powerful superweapons of which only one existed, the most maligned of which were the Sun Crusher (capable of destroying an entire solar system) and the Galaxy Gun (capable of firing at anything in the entire galaxy from a single vantage point). Later books, specifically the New Jedi Order series, have characters make mention of how useful these various superweapons would be against the Yuuzhan Vong, yet no efforts are made to actually replicate them. The lack of such weaponry under the New Republic is actually given an explanation in Black Fleet Crisis:
      From the beginning, the New Republic had opted to build a larger number of smaller vessels [...] rather than adopt the Imperial design philosophy. [Former Chief of State] Mon Mothma had given orders to scrap rather than repair or make a museum piece of the sole [Super Star Destroyer] captured from the Empire. Consequently, [a newly detected SSD] circling N'zoth had anything in the New Republic Fleet badly outgunned.
    • If you go by Outbound Flight, decades before the prequel movies, Palpatine had a vision of the Yuuzhan Vong and decided that a united Empire with superweapons was the best way to fight them, making the Rebellion a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero moment. However, Han in Destiny's Way points out that superweapons as built by the Empire were little more than colossal wastes of resources with stupid names, and Pellaeon points out to a subordinate in another book that if The Empire couldn't handle the Rebellion, what makes them think they would be that much more effective against the Vong?
    • Later media set in the Clone Wars period also features weapons that, while not capable of disintegrating a planet, are still significantly powerful enough to be built more than once, such as the Seismic Tank (a massive floating fortress that crushes any forces beneath it) and the Malevolence (a vessel comparable in size to a Super Star Destroyer capable of destroying entire fleets by itself).
    • Incidentally, the Death Star itself is actually an aversion, with this class of superweapon being the threat in two movies, and various blueprints and "proto-concepts" floating around various EU works before being featured in Attack of the Clones. Indeed, the same trilogy that introduced the Sun Crusher also had a Death Star prototype (about 1/4th the size and Superlaser only). The Hutts even made an attempt to build something based on Death Star plans. Ultimately, the impracticality of these superweapons is the main reason why everyone doesn't have one.
    • During Galaxy of Fear, it's found that the threats of the first four books — D'vouran, zombies, The Virus, the Nightmare Machine — were, though all useful in themselves, intended as sort of high-level concept testing for the real purpose of Project Starscream, creating an Ultimate Life Form Super Soldier with All Your Powers Combined. Each of those ended up being destroyed or neutralized by the protagonists, and notes get destroyed all along the line. Studying the zombiemaking notes is actually how one of our heroes came up with a countermeasure.
    • The Sun Crusher is actually a justified example — it had only one prototype because it was ludicrously expensive. The prototype eventually gets dumped into a black hole, the most decisive way there is to destroy something. The secret base at which it was designed and built is destroyed, and most likely the plans are lost with it. Most of the design team is killed, and the only survivor has all her memories of it erased via Mind Rape. The Sun Crusher's ludicrously durable armor does get duplicated later, but apparently, it's still so outlandishly expensive that only a handful of small vehicles utilize it.
    • New Jedi Order also has an aversion of sorts; the Jedi do in fact have the plans for as many of the superweapons of the week as they could find, all under lock-and-key. That way, if some idiot decides they want to try it, the Jedi will know, but it's also pointed out having the plans isn't enough. Superweapons take time and resources, even when you're not trying to hide from a bunch of Jedi.
    • A sad example in Star Wars: Kenobi: One particular moisture vaporator had its settings tinkered with once and began producing water so sweet and delicious that it significantly enriches the fortunes of the Dannar's Claim general store. No one can figure out how it's making such incredible water on a desert planet — attempts to replicate the results have yielded only partial success, in part because no one wants to mess with it too much in case the settings are lost. And then the Sand People raid the store and attack the vaporator to get at the loudspeaker at its top. The machine is repairable, but the formula is destroyed forever.
  • In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jekyll deliberately destroys all notes of his experiments to prevent another man from suffering the same fate as he, and also comments that the solution as written wouldn't have worked, as it was only an impurity in the original batch that made the stuff effective.
  • This is how most of Harry Purvis's stories in Tales from the White Hart end. The device self-destructs, the inventor is probably killed, the entire project is shelved as a result, and that's why none of the other scientists at the White Hart have ever heard about it before.
  • In Temps, the famous Mad Scientist Cranston did keep detailed notes of his experiments in robotics, cloning and advanced nuclear power... however, because his superpower was the Placebotinum Effect, almost all of them are total nonsense.
  • This is a core part of the Mythopoeia in Tolkien's Legendarium. A uniquely powerful or supremely beautiful piece of Art cannot be duplicated because the creation of such works seems to use up the "concept" of that item, or to require the artist to put something of their own spiritual nature into their craft that they can't just replace.
    • The Silmarillion:
      • The Two Trees of Valinor, the Trees of Light, were a unique creation of the Vala Yavannah, miraculous even by angelic standards. After Ungoliantë and Big Bad Morgoth killed them, she knew she could never again make anything like them. As the Silmarils were created with their light, they could be used to heal the trees, but doing so would destroy them. See the next entry for why that is a problem.
      • The means by which the Silmarils were devised is unknown, nobody knows what they're physically made of, and their maker, Fëanor, insisted that their production was so demanding, physically, psychologically, and spiritually, that to remake them would be impossible, and would produce only flawed imitations, lacking everything that made them special. After the Two Trees are destroyed, the Silmarils really do become irreplaceable — they were created using the Trees' holy light. Then Fëanor's killed and for his crimes he's sentenced never to be reincarnated, so they're really irreplaceable.
      • This even applies to Fëanor himself — he was imbued with such a lifeforce that his mother could never have another child. Having children is much more physically and spiritually draining for elves than for humans, but even so Fëanor's birth was unique. His mother later died in heaven, which should be impossible for elves. And his own uniqueness is the reason he was capable of making things like Silmarils.
      • The white ships of the Teleri are said to be finest ships ever created. The Teleri refuse to loan them to Fëanor (in part because they know he's doing the wrong thing), explicitly stating they are as valuable to them as gems are to the Noldor, and that they will never be able to recreate vessels such as them. Fëanor then kills them and steals the ships, and after using them burns them. This is one of the many things that he's ultimately damned for.
    • The Rings of Power in The Lord of the Rings are similar to the Silmarils, but their irreplaceability goes a step further. Not only are they unrepeatable works of superlative craft whose maker is dead but destroying the One Ring also effectively destroys their other maker. Since Sauron made the One Ring to control the others, their power cannot survive its destruction, and everything that was made or maintained with their power will also fade away.
  • Played quite straight in the Vorkosigan Saga novel Cetaganda, in which the eponymous planet's rulers keep their genetic records (necessary to continue "improving" the race) in one facility with exactly one key to unlock the genome. No backup records. No backup key. The protagonist, offworlder Miles Vorkosigan, learns this secret and bursts out, "Are you people insane?" This is sort-of justified in that the Cetagandans reasoned that if they only have one facility with one key, then they only have to guard one facility with one key. They actually got away with it until, ironically, an attempt to create backups provided an opening for someone to steal the key.
  • In the universe of Wearing the Cape, devices and processes created by Mad Scientist characters work simply because their creator made them: they can't be reproduced, even by another Mad Scientist. In something of an aversion, it's mentioned that said characters often make money by reproducing and selling some of their own inventions.
  • Averted in When Worlds Collide; the builders of The Ark build several test vehicles to try out their atomic engines, and when they complete the first ship early, they immediately start work on a second, larger one for the rest of the construction team. In addition, other countries are building their own ships.
  • In the Wild Cards novels, the creations of several eccentric tinkerers are irreproducible, even by their creators, because they don't actually work: the "devices" are actually just props, extensions of their Ace powers. In one case mentioned, the device contained only a schematic diagram of the circuitry it was supposed to hold yet worked exactly as designed. When the creator of the android Modular Man had his powers changed by Typhoid Croyd, he lost the ability to maintain his creation — when we see Mod Man again, he is in less-than-perfect order.
  • In Xenocide, biologista Quara keeps her notes on re-engineering the descolada into a more benign form in her head so that the (near-omniscient) AI Jane can't find them — but mostly just to be a bitch.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On Doctor Who, this is very much the case with the Time Lords. Many of their universe-shaking Magic from Technology gadgets are treated as singular artifacts and nobody ever seems to consider reproducing any of these things, or modifying them if necessary.
    • In the 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor, the plot revolves around the Doctor's intention to use a Lost Superweapon, the Moment, to end the Time War by destroying all of the combatants. The Time Lords had not previously dusted it off and used it on the Daleks because its designers gave a sentient, telepathic user interface with the right to pass judgment on anyone that actually used it. They were afraid of what judgment it would render on them. Simply building another one without the artificial intelligence failsafe is not an idea that seems to have occurred to anyone (the discussion mentions it wasn't an intentional design feature, but implies it's inherent in anything that powerful). Even Emperor Scientist Rassilon is more inclined to just destroy the universe and have the Time Lords Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence rather than explore this possibility. He himself is notorious for inventing unbelievable technology and leaving absolutely no schematics behind that would allow anyone else to duplicate his inventions.
  • Hogan's Heroes: The episode "Drums Along the Dusseldorf" centers around destroying a truck of experimental jet fuel. When his men ask why the Nazis can't make more, Hogan says the inventor is riding along with the fuel. In other episodes with Nazi inventions, the heroes usually either sabotage the weapon or convince the scientist to defect.
  • Subverted in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Sarah finds that an intern from Cyberdyne has built a super intelligent chess computer (presumably using the knowledge that Cyberdyne gained from examining the terminator's chip) that could be a precursor of Skynet. She burns down his house, destroying the computer. Then a few episodes later, it turns out that he spent every day since then programming another one. He even thinks it was a good thing the original was destroyed, as when building a new one from ground up he could make it better. It's implied that at this point that sentient AI is the logical next step in computer technology — there's no realistic way to prevent it, because even if they kill the person who came up with idea, someone else is bound to make the same advance.
  • Subverted in Stargate SG-1: when the first Ori supergate was destroyed, they just secretly built another one a few episodes later. When the good guys' prototype starship is blown up, they roll out the finished production model — and several duplicates not long after. About the only things that fall victim to this trope are the good guys' attempts at higher technology than the plot allows and the bad guys' unique weapons — Apophis' special mother ship, or Anubis' superweapon.
  • Stargate Atlantis:
    • One notable incident is the Ancients' attempt to extract zero-point energy from their own universe, in comparison to ZPM power which extracts said energy from a much smaller pocket universe. The problem was that doing so created exotic particles which inevitably caused the energy extraction to spiral out of control, creating deadly radiation and ultimately resulting in explosive failure. This one project and its offshoots become a recurring plot device.
    • The process is duplicated on Atlantis in the next season, this time using a matter bridge to extract power from an alternate universe instead of their own to get around the instability. It technically worked, but that universe complained about their near-annihilation and it was shelved.
    • An alternate universe Sam Carter further refined the technique to grab power from multiple universes, minimizing the damage to any one, but that too failed when the main universe Sam Carter's phasing experiment interacted with it, zapping her over to that universe and killing the alternate Carter in the process.
    • In a Busman's Holiday episode in season 5, McKay spends some time on Earth and is invited to a presentation by his old nemesis — who has gotten his hands on the secret paper Rodney wrote about the matter bridge project. He figured out that using it as a massive heat sink would avoid the exotic particle problem. While he did avoid that problem, the instability of the matter bridge, coupled with the fact that they couldn't turn it off, threatened to drain all the heat from the planet, and McKay has to save the day.
    • One gets the sense that ZPMs themselves must be this. A large percentage of the series' tension comes from the expedition's inability to properly power the city. Meanwhile they have access to The Ancient's entire database, as well as every bit of technology in the city. One would assume the blueprints for The Ancient's primary power source should be in their database, and that the facility to manufacture them would be in their capital and only ship they originally used to travel from the Milky Way to Pegasus to begin with. Instead they're treated like mystical irreplaceable artifacts, and not even the best scientific minds and engineers so much as bring up the possibility of simply manufacturing new ones. To say nothing of building more Chair Drones, Puddle Jumpers, or even Aurora Class ships.
      • Justified in that the Ancient database is very large, to the point that even the almost-equally-advanced Asgard haven't fully translated their copy of it yet; likely the instructions to create a ZPM are available but nobody's found them yet.
      • Also, it's pointed out that Atlantis is roughly the size of Manhattan and it will take the expedition decades to fully explore and document everything. Which is not made easier by the measures the Ancients took to prevent the Wraith from being able to occupy the city, erasing records and such. So the ZPM factory is probably in the city somewhere but it may take years to locate and determine the function.
      • ZPMs are basically glorified batteries. To charge a battery you need an energy source. At the height of their civilization Ancients could power their ZPM factories with energy available from elsewhere, most likely inefficient but plentiful source (like charging your hi-tech Li-ion accumulator from the solar panel). Now that their facilities are mostly destroyed and the city is strapped for energy in the first place...
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • Averted with the Defiant. She started out as a prototype for a pure warship to deal with the Borg threat, but had numerous problems and work on the project was suspended. Then the Dominion turned up, and Starfleet restarted work, made her a functional warship, sent the now-fixed prototype to the front lines, and began building more. There are enough in service by the time that the Dominion War breaks out that one, USS Valiant, is used as a training ship for cadets (though said ship was no better than an off-the-shelf Defiant in terms of performance, possessing numerous flaws which O'Brien had long since corrected).
    • The Cardassian Obsidian Order develops a device that is designed to prevent a changeling from changing its molecular structure, trapping it in its current form until it crumbles apart. It is small enough to be placed anywhere, and works. It is never seen again after its debut, "The Die Is Cast." Justified, as the design shown is a prototype that was likely destroyed when the ship it was on was, and one of the Romulans involved around the time of its first test was a Founder, who probably tampered with it soon after.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Averted in the case of Lieutenant Commander Data, who was preceded by numerous prototypes, which included his "brother" Lore. However, with the passing of his creator Dr. Soong, no one is quite able to construct Soong-type androids. Even Data himself can't quite get it right, though he came remarkably close by building a viable "daughter". She eventually broke down, but the fact that she ran as long as she did is a far sight better than Starfleet ever managed. Judging by the fact that Starfleet at one point attempts to acquire (or, to put it less charitably, enslave) Data for the purpose of backwards engineering him, one assumes that Dr. Soong left behind no plans or blueprints, since otherwise Starfleet could have just undergone construction of androids based on any such plans. Of course it's slightly more justified since the colony Soong was living in was completely wiped out by the Crystalline Entity and Soong was later shown to be super secretive about his work.
    • Then along comes Star Trek: Picard, which reveals that the work at Daystrom Institute has eventually produced more inferior mass-produced Synthetics that end up being used for manual labor, especially in conditions unsuitable for humans (such as in Mars's thin atmosphere). Then a Synth rebellion results in horrendous casualties and setting the Martian atmosphere ablaze, and all Synths are banned. The plot point of season 1 is that there's a secret colony of Soong-type Synthetics created by Soong's son and the guy who wanted to study Data in TNG using an innovative technique. They also improve on the tech, and their androids can be made to be virtually indistinguishable from humans.
  • Zigzagged in Star Trek: Voyager with the EMH. He is only one copy of many, but since Voyager is stranded in the Delta Quadrant, they neither have access to spare copies or the person who designed the program (at least not until late in the series). Furthermore, they can't simply make a backup of him in case of emergency (save one episode which introduced an until-then unmentioned backup device, which aliens stole), so any threat to his program is serious. Theoretically, any EMH could become as complex as he is, but as the the E stands for "emergency," no other EMHs have been left on long enough for this to happen.
    • Averted when it came to the Delta Flyer. Tom Paris, making the original Delta Flyer, already had plans for it. Thus, when the shuttle was destroyed as bait for the Borg, they just built a second one and made it even better.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise:
    • During the Xindi arc, over 19 XB of information relating to the Spheres and Anomalies in the Delphic Expanse, gets wiped when a group of religious extremists who worship the Spheres seize control the ship. Presumably the writers realised how stupid it was that in the 22nd century, humans still don't remember to backup hard-drives containing apocalypse averting information, as the the subsequent episode has T'Pol and Hoshi mention having to recover the data from a redundant memory core.
    • Furthermore, the Xindi arc itself was kicked off when the Xindi Weapon was launched prematurely by the impatient Xindi-Reptilians and Xindi-Insectoids, despite still being in the prototype stage. As later shown, numerous other test versions exist and are still going through extensive weapon tests, meant to iron the kinks out for the final version of the weapon. By the end of the season, Archer's concerned that destroying the weapon will only encourage the Xindi to build another, which is why he tries to make peace with them.
  • Airwolf has plans — inside the helicopter. The prototype got nicked by The Evil Dr. Moffett and then retrieved by Stringfellow Hawke, who didn't return it. At least one episode features another invocation of this trope with a helicopter claimed to be even more dangerous than the Airwolf. Naturally, after Hawke destroys each one, no further attempts to build them are shown.
  • Somewhat averted in Firefly, where the Academy that created River is implied to have other test subjects just like her, but that the reason River is being pursued so intently is both because she was the most powerful psychic they had ever produced and that she is believed to know nearly every important military and diplomatic secret the Alliance possesses. The Movie shows that they're not wrong.
  • Averted in The Invisible Man 1958: The laboratory for which Dr. Peter Brady works figures out quickly enough how to safely reproduce the Freak Lab Accident that made him (and the clothes he was wearing at the time) invisible; they just don't because they still don't have a way to undo it.
  • Played straight in the newer The Invisible Man show from the Sci-Fi Channel: the only one who could remove the Quicksilver gland from Darien's head successfully was Darien's dead brother. (The series Big Bad Arnaud could as well, but he wouldn't because, you know, evil.) One episode revolves around temporarily "resurrecting" Darien's brother Kevin by using a side effect of the gland that allows it to override Darien's memories with those encoded in RNA injected into it (they happened to have Kevin's RNA sample from years ago). The episode ends with Kevin choosing to "delete" himself from Darien's head, claiming that he knows how to do remove the gland but chooses to take it to his grave... again, as the gland has made his brother a better person. Another episode hints that Kevin reverse-engineered the gland from a bigfoot.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003): Factors in big time in the last season: The Cylons have had forty odd years of using resurrection tech, and are shown as having multiple Resurrection Ships for their Basestars. But apparently, they never thought to even keep plans around for the Resurrection Hub — without which, every Resurrection Ship becomes useless. (And guess what the Leobens, Boomers, and Sixes do after they rebel from the other Cylons? That's right — they blow up the Hub.)
    • Later justified in that the secrets behind resurrection tech were held by the Final Five Cylons. And they each held only part of the secret, so they all had to be together for the secrets to be passed on. And then when the Five are identified and brought together, things go pear-shaped, one of them ends up dead and resurrection tech is truly lost for good.
  • Power Rangers. While much of the Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue tech does come out of nowhere, we do see a prototype of the Red Ranger's Transarmor cycle before he uses the completed one in battle. Also in Power Rangers S.P.D., when the Green Ranger's morpher is destroyed, he is given a backup as soon as he gets free. After the Astro Megaship was destroyed in Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, we see Andros has a replacement by the time of Power Rangers Wild Force.

    There's also the occasional sign that Ranger technology is being copied and reproduced, usually to explain how these new guys with no known connections to the old ones got their hands on morphers. (Lightspeed Rescue and Operation Overdrive each appeared to develop theirs independently after observing previous Rangers, while some think the Jungle Fury mentor's vague explanation implies he got his off the black market.) Time Force also has a running subplot about a company studying Ranger technology in order to reverse-engineer it.
    • Likewise, in Power Rangers RPM, all the morphers are prototypes. Theoretically, they could have made more, but since most of the world's computers are infected by Venjix, including the facility where the morphers were created, it's likely the plans aren't available. There's also the potential resource issue in creating additional Rangers since Earth is a barren wasteland and Corinth is cut off inside a dome.
  • The Outer Limits (1995):
    • Played with and eventually averted in the episode "Final Exam". A high school genius suddenly realizes how to make a cold fusion bomb, builds one and tries to force the government to kill his enemies in exchange for not destroying the city. To prove he's not bluffing, he detonates a smaller bomb he hid in another location. He eventually admits that he's secretly terrified and suicidal, because if he realized how easy it is to build one, then others will likewise discover the answer and civilization is doomed. He is eventually shot by a sniper, and just before he dies, the police negotiator asks him what made him realize it, how can they stop others from finding out and doing the same thing, and the boy only has time to say that it's simply a matter of asking the right question. As the episode ends, the scene cuts away to another classroom where a science exam asks the essay question "demonstrate why cold fusion is impossible" ...and a disgruntled boy who's intently pondering it gets a look of sudden realization, and then an evil smile, on his face.
    • The two-part episode "Final Appeal", mostly a Clip Show, has a time traveler recreating the technology and threatening the US government against lifting the anti-technology ban, as he claims that advanced technology will doom humanity. His opponent is another time traveler who claims that humanity is doomed without advanced technology. When the government decides to lift the ban, they send the first time traveler into the past, but he leaves his bomb behind and blows up Washington.
  • The Cheers episode "Young Dr. Weinstein" ends Woody's subplot this way. He obsessively tries to concoct a new beverage to get into the Bartending Hall Of Fame, only to find out that several of his attempts already exist. He finally comes up with something new, unique, and tasty, but can't remember what he put into it.
  • Weird Science:
    • Subverted in the episode "Fatal Lisa". Lisa, under a spell to love Wyatt, deletes her own files to show that she's in love with him. The teens try to stop her but it's too late. She disappears and her files are gone. Then Wyatt points out he has backups.
    • However, played straight on "Lisa's Virus" a while later. She gets a computer virus and restoring backups is not even mentioned.
  • The Ghost Busters had the Ghost Dematerializer mkI. It was the only one they carried or even had. It's implied that Tracy (the gorilla) built it, but made it up as he went along, without plans or notes of any kind. Neither Spenser nor Kong is quite sure how it works...
  • Chuck: The Intersect, the joint CIA/NSA supercomputer that is able to implant knowledge and training into agents' brains was only built once, and efforts to rebuild it are extraordinarily difficult. Averted in later seasons as apparently they started taking better notes, Intersects start cropping up more often and are more easily built.
  • The Machine from Person of Interest was designed this way deliberately. Finch deliberately left behind no documentation or prototypes when he delivered it, and encrypted the software (Which was written in a programming language that Finch invented himself for the project) so that nobody can try to reverse engineer it. With his partner dead, Finch is the only person with the slightest idea how the thing works (The audience is occasionally informed of various places it gets data from, but not how it compiles the information), and since the government may not even know he exists, there's no way they could make another Machine if something happens to the original. Season 3 reveals that there is a backup - there was a second team independently working on the same project, which was shut down the day after the Machine caught it's first terrorist. The existence of the half-built proto-Machine codenamed Samaritan is revealed one episode before it is stolen. Season 4 reveals that the Machine was actually the forty-third AI that Finch built, and that he deliberately destroyed the forty-two prototypes the moment he saw any sign that they might go out of control. The man who built Samaritan never even got a chance to enact such precautions with his creation, which starts running amok practically the moment it gets turned on.
  • Generally averted in the various Kamen Rider series with a technological basis.
    • Unknown how much this applies in the first episode. The process for creating the series monsters has been in use for some time by the villains, but a good scientist was forced to work on it which resulted in the process which creates Kamen Rider 1. Since this scientist dies in the first episode, it's unknown how much knowledge/plans he may have taken to his grave. Given that Kamen Rider 1 and 2 are substantially stronger than any previously created monster and any subsequently created monster, the scientist may have taken the best process to his grave.
    • Kamen Rider: Averted; after the original Rider goes rogue, Shocker builds a new one...who also rebels, takes on the name Kamen Rider #2, and becomes the original's crime-fighting partner. They also used the technology to make six copies dubbed Shocker Riders, each about as strong as #2 (in Ishinomori's original manga, there are 12 Shocker Riders, and #2 is in fact one of their number).
      • In general, the Showa-era shows avert this by having the Riders be made using the same process that the evil organizations used to make their Monster of the Week; the difference is mainly in appearance. In fact, several have made Evil Doppelgangers in attempts to frame the hero.
    • Kamen Rider Kiva: Subverted; the show's Second Rider, IXA, is a man-made mechanical suit that's shown to be in development throughout the series (Ver.I is seen in 1986, while Ver.X appears in 2008 and is subsequently upgraded to Ver.XI, gaining its Super Mode in the process). In the last few episodes of the series, the Ver.I suit is utterly destroyed, revealing that the Ver.X/XI suit is an entirely different machine. In fact, the intact arm of the Ver.I suit becomes a Chekhov's Gun in the final episode.
    • Kamen Rider OOO: Averted; the Kamen Rider Birth suit is passed from one user to another when the original needs to leave in order to get life-saving surgery. When the bus comes back, he's given the Prototype Birth suit, which doesn't have as many bells and whistles but still lets him kick ass. And then in Movie Wars Megamax, Proto-Birth is destroyed beyond repair by Kamen Rider Poseidon.
    • Kamen Rider Gaim: Averted; at the outset of the show, the Yggdrasill Corporation has six prototype Sengoku Drivers that it slips into civilian hands for "testing", plus a seventh that belongs to Takatora, the project head. The research they gather eventually allows them to mass-produce a slightly improved version of the Driver as well as creating a superior model, the Genesis Driver. Their original plan was to produce at least one billion Sengoku Drivers in order to save people from from The End of the World as We Know It, and in fact Takatora does his best to get even more made, not being satisfied with only saving a billion lives.
      • This also extends to the Energy Lockseeds used in the Genesis Drivers, which have to be specially made by by Yggdrasill. Gaim manages to obtain a couple by outright stealing them from Yggdrasill's minions, but they're given replacements.
      • The final episodes see the large majority of the Sengoku prototypes and Genesis Drivers destroyed, and in the epilogue Takatora states that all of the mass-produced Drivers were rounded up and destroyed so they couldn't be abused; and even if they were rebuilt they've been cut off from the Helheim Forest so they can't make any more Lockseeds to power them. Of course, he kept one Driver and Lockseed, just in case.
    • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: Averted as Kuroto Dan, head of the Genm Corporation can be bribed (or occasionally blackmailed) into handing out new Gamer Drivers. In reality Kuroto is The Chessmaster in disguise, so anyone he gives a Driver is just being used as an Unwitting Pawn for his own research. Of course, to actually use it you have to undergo the compatibility surgery, AKA getting infected by Game Disease and managing to resist it enough to form antibodies, which isn't exactly pleasant. Also averted later on in the series: The Hero Emu's Driver gets destroyed, so he uses the Driver left behind by the murdered Kiriya Kujo; when Kujo is brought back to life by Kuroto's father Masamune Dan, his Driver is stolen from Emu, but by that point Kuroto has repaired Emu's original Driver. Additionally, at one point Masamune pulls a Reset Button to get rid of Emu's Super Mode, but Kuroto manages to re-create it after an intense all-nighter that involves working himself to death. Literally. Multiple times.
    • Kamen Rider Build: Averted, since the protagonist Sento Kiryu is a Gadgeteer Genius who hand-makes all of his own upgrades and weapons, including making a second Build Driver so his ally Ryuga Banjou can become Kamen Rider Cross-Z. However, he can't make more people into Kamen Riders because it would involve horrific human experimentation.
  • Averted in Frasier; when Frasier inadvertently destroys Martin's beloved (and ugly-as-sin) chair, he improvises blueprints from numerous photographs and tracks down the original manufacturer of the fabric (with the only hiccup being getting them to admit they made it), and then has the whole thing assembled by a master craftsman, ironically making it the most expensive item in his apartment.
  • Massively averted in Arrow with the earthquake machine. Not only does it turn out to have a backup — resulting in the bad guy's partial success — but half a season later the prototype turns up.
  • Dr. Ford secures his position as Park Director of West World, despite questionable means and goals, by making sure none of the park's decades of artificial intelligence research is copied to anywhere outside the park. That way his parent company won't fire Ford because he might delete everything on his way out. Eventually the company's spying on itself gets the data out, but Ford's agenda was already advanced too far to stop.
  • In Knight Rider, there was only one model of the Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT), a virtually-indestructible car with a molecular-bonded shell. The car's inventor died in the pilot episode. As the series went on, however, this trope was played with in several ways. In one episode, it turns out the car had an "evil twin", KARR, which had to be destroyed. In another episode, we learn that Devon Miles knew half of the formula for the molecular bonding; some evil relatives drugged him, along with someone who knew the other half, to build an invincible tractor-trailer. Finally, in Season 3, some other bad guys once again manage to extract the half-formula from Devon, but this time the purpose was to neutralize KITT. The full formula was apparently lost for good, since in the 2008 series, invincibility was achieved through nanotechnology.
  • The Expanse:
    • The crew of the Rocinante embark on a quest to destroy every trace of the protomolecule, an extra-solar technology with incredible destructive potential. They are unsuccessful, in part because one of the crew members believes that the solution is the opposite, to ensure that all of the major factions have a sample to maintain the Balance of Power through Mutually Assured Destruction.
    • Averted with the Epstein Drive, a revolutionary Accidental Discovery that made interplanetary travel a matter of weeks rather than years. The inventor, a hobbyist, inadvertently launched the only prototype (along with himself) on a one-way journey through deep space; fortunately, he left the schematics on his home computer.
  • Averted with several of Steve Urkel's inventions on Family Matters.
    • When Steve's "cool elixir" turns him into a narcissistic Jerkass, he reworks the formula so he's a better person the next time he transforms.
    • The first time Steve builds Urkelbot, it goes crazy and tries to kidnap Laura. Steve is forced to wreck Urkelbot to save Laura, but when he rebuilds Urkelbot he fixes Urkelbot's defective microchips. The new Urkelbot becomes a crimefighting robot who later becomes a dancer when he decides police work is too dangerous.
  • Masada: Almost occurs when Rubrius Gallus (the Roman engineer in chief) gets Too Dumb to Live by going too close to the ramparts of the besieged fortress of Masada on the siege tower ramp he conceived and ends up with an arrow in the neck. Fortunately enough for the Romans, he gives sufficient instructions to finish the siege tower's construction before dying (well, almost — Romans didn't account for the fact that the besieged Jewish Zealots would reinforce the fortress wall that's to be destroyed by the tower's Battering Ram).
  • Zigzagged in Timeless. The creator of the time machine is on the side of the heroes (well, sort of). But there are two: the small prototype "Lifeboat" and the large iPod-like "Mothership". In season 2, Mason Industries is blown up, so the plans may be permanently lost, even though Mason himself, as well as two of the engineers who worked on the time machine, are still alive. But, being stuck in a government bunker and having other things on their minds, they don't have the resources to create a new time machine. In the series finale, after finally recovering the "Mothership", they destroy it, but Mason insists on keeping the "Lifeboat" (especially since it has a modification that allows it to fly on autopilot, without the need of a trained human pilot at the helm), arguing that if it was possible for him to build a time machine, someone else can do it too. Indeed, the final shots are of a teenage girl drawing up plans for what looks to be a time machine.
  • The teleporter developed by a human scientist in Earth: Final Conflict. While the Taelons possess the technology to create interdimensional portals for fast travel between two points (which includes static portals and ID drives for their ships), quantum teleportation is an entirely different beast, which requires so little power that the entire device can fit into a remote the size of a power strip. The scientist intentionally kept no plans of his invention in order to prevent it from falling into Taelon hands. At the end, he makes sure to die while destroying the device. Augur points out that he wouldn't be technically starting from scratch, having taken readings of the device, but so have the Taelons. The technology is promptly forgotten and never brought up again.
  • Blackadder: In "Ink and Incapability", Dr. Samuel Johnson has spent ten years working on the first dictionary, and in all that time made no copy, on the grounds he felt this was completely unnecessary, since he wasn't planning on losing it. And as for anyone else... well, ten years working on a dictionary to the exclusion of all else has left Dr. Johnson just a bit peculiar.
    Dr. Johnson: I should not lose it, sir, and if any man did so, I would rip out his entrails, and feed them to the cat!

  • Jean-Michel Jarre's album Music for Supermarkets. Recorded for a one-off art exhibition in 1983, the sole copy was auctioned off for charity and the master tapes deliberately destroyed. Subverted somewhat with a few of the tracks being reworked in the albums Zoolook and Rendezvous.
  • The Opstrukcija song "Odam". The only MP3 copy of the full version was on an old version of Karter's Geocities site. Now only one minute of the music video exists.
  • Ryan Adams has "How Do You Keep Love Alive" (off 2005's Cold Roses). By Adams' own account he wrote and recorded the song while completely insensible on opium, and in his stupor never wrote any of it down. Years later, he was still "trying to understand the chord pattern" for the piano part, because "[he] can't fucking play it."

    Newspaper Comics 

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the BattleTech tabletop game, the open warfare of the Succession Wars was so destructive, with so many factories, shipyards, and research facilities targeted that many of the most advanced technologies were lost for centuries before a Star League Memory Core (basically a supercomputer database) was accidentally discovered.
    • There were two other big reasons for the loss of technology during the Succession Wars: first was that the Terran Hegemony had been the most technologically advanced state and aggressively guarded its superiority to control the other states in the Inner Sphere. Between the massive destruction caused by the war when the Hegemony's ruler was assassinated and the subsequent destruction after the Succession Wars broke out in the wake of the Hegemony's collapse, many research and construction facilities that built the most high tech equipment were destroyed. Second, the quasi-religious organization Comstar had for centuries the practice of carrying out false flag operations to assassinate scientists and destroy research facilities (and provoke more wars) as a means of hastening the Inner Sphere's collapse into barbarism.
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, the Machine of Lum the Mad.
    • Another artifact from the Book of Artifacts, The Apparatus, is frequently destroyed (by enterprising heroes) and recreated. (It can do horrible things like tear apart and combine souls and bodies, and is generally used by people who are completely mad. The expected setting is, of course, Ravenloft.) It's suggested that the actual artifact is not the Apparatus itself, but the notebooks that describe its construction.
    • A sourcebook on the drow explains that they're much more technologically-inclined than surface elves, since their natural magic resistance has taught them not to rely on spells over tools, and their ambition and tendency towards conflict drives them to innovate as much as humans. Over their history, drow inventors have come up with clockwork timepieces, moveable type, blackpowder, even steam-powered pistons. Unfortunately, a society defined by scheming, infighting and paranoia means that few drow innovators risk writing things down or sharing their breakthroughs, meaning the aforementioned technology has been lost and rediscovered over and over again.
  • Likewise, the creations of the "Rube Goldberg Scientist" class of heroes in the Godlike are nothing more than a collection of convenient parts that serve to focus powers — in fact, they cease functioning when removed from their creators' sphere of awareness.
  • In the GURPS IST superhero setting, the technology for the "power cells" used in most sci-fi style gizmos is a monopoly held by a single company since 1950; the UN likewise maintains a monopoly on fusion power started in the 80s. Neither of these technologies has been duplicated or reverse-engineered even semi-successfully, and it is implied they simply cannot be (despite the existence of several comic-book-style Professors, Techno Wizards, and Mad Scientists.) Word of God, however, has said that the fusion monopoly was finally broken in 1996.
  • In In Nomine, Valefor, the Demon Prince of Theft, has stolen some impossible things like a book from Heaven's Library. One of his prizes is Tesla's electrotherapy cure for cancer. To the simple question of why Tesla couldn't just recreate it, fan theories range from Valefor stealing the physical laws that permitted the device to work, to an elaborate social engineering scheme that meant Heaven had to suppress it lest the device's net effect be infernal, leaving Valefor with the only one. Your pick which would be more impressive.
  • In Magic: The Gathering, Sorin Markov unmaking Avacyn is even more painful because, as he explains, he cannot recreate her. This article goes into some detail on the matter.
    "CREATE PLANE-PROTECTING ARCHANGEL" is definitely not a spell they teach you on your first weekend of Apprentice Mages' Sleepaway Camp for Tots. Even a millennia-old planeswalker like Sorin would have had to gather knowledge, mana, and other mystical resources to attempt such a feat, and even then it would be a once-in-a-lifetime magical stunt (even given a vampiric lifespan)... I'd expect Sorin would have had to give up something very dear to him in order to bring together the magics required to create Avacyn, in addition to mana and power, just like Liliana needed big-time demonic help to ensure her lasting power and youth. Even though Sorin probably rated a solid "nutso" on the power-ometer before the Great Mending, he had to bring in the thaumaturgical Big Guns and do something that wasn't in the manual. Maybe he had to tap into knowledge that didn't even exist anywhere on any plane, using overlapping arcano-theologies drawn from his restless travels across many worlds. Perhaps Sorin had to break off a little, unrecoverable piece of himself and give it to his creation in order to give her true, lasting, world-shielding life—and I don't mean an appendix or a little toe either, but something deeper, stranger, and more precious.
  • In the Paragons setting for Mutants & Masterminds, ACME Tech is this—superscience devices that only work because the Paranormal using them believes it does. How much this comes into play is determined by the sort of game the Game Master wants to run, which allows for a justification for this trope.
  • The board game Time Agent ends when time travelers prevent time travel from ever being invented. The players add up the score reflecting the relative strength of the civilizations after the new history that always existed...
  • In Warhammer, the most awe-inspiring weapon that The Empire has is the Steam Tank, the brain child of Leonardo of Miragliano. He built twelve of the things, each with their own weapon loadout, and then apparently threw away all his plans, and four of his originals have since been lost. In some sources these are all the Steam Tanks in existence, while in others, like Total War: Warhammer, these are Super Prototypes and the Empire is capable of building simplified, standardized Steam Tanks.
  • Common in Warhammer 40,000:
    • Humanity's technological peak was over ten thousand years ago, so things like advanced Dreadnought chassis and Imperator-class Titans are lovingly-maintained by the Adeptus Mechanicus because there's no hope of reproducing them (or, sometimes, their factories- they can make the thing but have no idea how to make the thing that makes the thing), and the Ultramarines refuse to let the AdMech fully study the Gauntlets of Ultramar out of fear that they'll break the things beyond repair. Thus, the holy grail for techno-archeologists are the Standard Template Construct systems, relics from the Dark Age of Technology that were meant to catalogue all of humanity's technological knowledge in a way that they could be reproduced anywhere, using whatever local resources were available. Finding a complete STC is unheard of, but just fragments of hard copies of STC data are immensely valuable, and are the source of some of the Imperium's mainstay war machines like the Leman Russ battle tank and the Land Raider transport. Or to put it another way, two Imperial scouts who discovered an STC design for a superior combat knife were given their own planet. Each.
    • Even if the Imperium wanted to create new Primarchs, they cannot. Much of the knowledge of how the Primarchs were created was never recorded by the Emperor, and the Emperor himself was the source of the genetic material. In his current state on the Golden Throne, he's in no condition to donate said genetic material. There have also been hints that the Emperor used the power of the Warp itself to create the Primarchs, meaning they are more than simply products of genetic engineering. Finally, the blueprints for the Immortis Gland that is in the Primarchs were partially lost. What was left of the knowledge was used to create The Magnificat that supercharges the Primaris Marines.

    Video Games 
  • Averted in All Things Devours. You have to destroy a prototype for a device you created, before the people who took over the lab end up running an experiment that will end disastrously. This would be quite straightforward — except that you soon discover your notes are no longer in the same room as the device, and if you don't deal with them as well, they can just build another one.
  • Interesting one; Another Code's "Another I" unit was actually the prototype of Another II — of course this was only revealed in the second game. Whilst it technically isn't considered a weapon (because it wasn't intended as one) there are some very bad people out there who would like to use this as one. Despite them being untested and in development, the first time they're used, they work perfectly.
  • Thoroughly averted in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. When Leonardo tasks Ezio with destroying the war machines the Borgia forced him to build, you not only have to destroy the prototype, you need to burn the blueprints too, and often there will be a backup copy of the war machine that also needs to be wrecked.
    • When destroying the tank (a wooden, circular steam-powered vehicle bristling with cannons), Ezio has to pilot one of the prototypes to destroy the others.
    • In the novelization, Leonardo tells Ezio that he deliberately introduced flaws into the designs of all these weapons, so the Borgia wouldn't be able to use them to their fullest extent. However, even his new wheel-lock guns (which are still inferior to Ezio's gun) prove to be quite effective in the hands of the Borgia.
  • The Batman: Arkham Series is really good at averting this trope.
    • Batman: Arkham Asylum features Titan and by the end of the story it seems it is all but gone. Batman destroyed the original formula the original creator is dead (but not before The Joker tortured the formula out of her) and the manufacturing facility was destroyed by Batman (Again). However The Stinger shows a Titan Crate floating in Gotham Bay and it still shows in Arkham City where Batman ends finally destroying it all in a sidequest (except not) and a Titan Thug shows up again in the Harley Quinn's Revenge DLC.
    • Averted, played straight and brutally deconstructed in Batman: Arkham City. To cure the TITAN formula poisoning, Batman teams up with Mr. Freeze and ends up getting a sample of Ra's Al Ghul's blood. It's averted as Freeze makes two copies of the antidote, then played straight because, immediately after, he selfishly destroys a copy to force Batman to find Nora Fries, then brutally deconstructed as Batman ends up losing the last copy when the Joker pulls off a Back Stab, causing him to drop it on the ground, leading to the clown dying painfully.
    • Batman: Arkham Origins features a predecessor of Titian called TN-1 once again Batman presumably destroys the notes when he blew up Bane's lair and Bane himself suffers severe brain damage after using it on himself at the end of the game.. This leaves Batman and Alfred the only who still know how to make (They copied the notes) but of course they have no reason to and every reason not to do it. The Bag of Spilling for the Cold, Cold Heart DLC is justified this way. It is Handwaved that the Glue Grenade formula was unstable and all the grenades from the main game set just a few days earlier are nothing but dust.
    • Batman: Arkham Knight also averts this with the Batmobile. Lucius says it is the only prototype but after the original Batmobile is destroyed in the Excavator boss fight, Batman summons the backup model and uses it for the remainder of the game. One of the skins available is also the very first prototype.
  • The Magna Carta from Battleborn was the single most important part of the LLC's entire heavily technology based society that kept everything running smoothly. It's creators barely understood what exactly they created and as far as lore goes, made no contingency plans or backups in the event should something happen to it. As such, when this cornerstone that the entire LLC heavily depended on just suddenly went dark, everything went wrong.
  • Viciously subverted in Bloodrayne 2, with much of the game devoted to disabling a gigantic tower that'll unleash "the Shroud" into the atmosphere, blotting out the Sun and allowing vampires and demons to overrun the world. She finally succeeds in shutting down the tower at the last second... and discovers too late that there are hundreds more all over the world, and stopping just one of them had no effect.
  • Averted in Call of Duty: Black Ops where there is an entire level about Reznov attempting to destroy Nova Six years before the events of the game. He does destroy it, but the villain already had the creator of Nova Six working for him willingly so it didn't matter. Said creator even says later in the game his death will not stop it either when Alex Mason is about to kill him.
  • Nod in Command & Conquer: Tiberian Dawn works under this assumption. One of two possible objectives you get for a level in the Nod campaign, Kane either sends you out to kill the head scientist of GDI's ion cannon project, or go and blow up their prototype Mammoth Tanks to keep them from being mass produced. In either case, your actions don't prevent both weapons from appearing later in the campaign.
    • In Tiberian Sun, you (as Anton Slavik) are against tasked with destroying the prototype Mammoth Mk.II tank. This time, it's explicitly stated it won't stop the project entirely (since the GDI still have plans for it), but it will delay it enough to be worth the effort. Although it never really reaches full production due to costs and technical issues (i.e. you can't build more than one at a time). Then, by the time of the next war, they retire the design as costly and Awesome, but Impractical, going to back to good ol' treaded tanks.
    • Command & Conquer: Red Alert (more specifically the Allied campaign) double-subverted it with the Iron Curtain project for itself and zigzagged it with the sequel included. Mission 6 is destroying the Iron Curtain research facility, including the Iron Curtain prototype. Mission 13 is about destroying the new Iron Curtain research facility, including the Iron Curtain prototype — after which the Soviets are unable to get it operational again before they lose the war. Then, in the sequel, the Iron Curtain is in use. With the nuclear weapons, it was explicitly a case of "more can always be made, but those were all they had on hand and we just crippled their primary production facility, so we've bought time to win the war."
  • The ASE in The Conduit falls under this trope. It's a unique super-gadget that does everything from hacking computers to revealing invisible symbols, but much of the game involves the Big Bad John Adams trying to retrieve it from the player — even though his organization developed it. The reason why they were after it was because it's Prometheus' only way of talking to the outside world, and by the end, he uploads himself into the ASE.
  • Completely averted in Crysis. The Nano-suits are not unique and pirate/knockoff copies exist. And the North Koreans decided to make it a fashion statement with it as they brag about their new toy.
  • .hack: The Harald Folders are the core of The World but darned if anyone knows what they actually did or how they worked. With Harald mysteriously dead in the real world, there are no notes and everything the current developers do to The World was most likely based on how subroutines are implemented in the prototype game Fragment. Attempts at analyzing the code just leave confusion and trying to surgically remove any part of the program to see what breaks brings the whole thing to a standstill.
    • The developers of The World:R2 knew they could never recreate Harald's genius so most of what they did was just vaguely based on the Harald Files, at least until they recovered all eight of the Phases and attempted to recreate Morganna Gone Mode.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins this is played straight for much of the Dwarves' Lost Technology. When the Darkspawn attacked the lost thaigs, the Dwarves were too busy fighting, dying, and running for their lives to bring plans and backups with them. The Anvil of the Void, the key to making Golems, was the brainchild of the Paragon Smith Caridin and only he knew its secrets. This is unfortunately averted with the Harvester in Golems of Amgarrak. There are still dozens of them left.
    • In Caridin's case, he purposely destroyed his research after suffering a crisis of conscience, coming to realise how horrific his "masterpiece" truly was. It turns out that Golems are created by pouring molten lyrium into a shell containing a Dwarf to animate it. For his disobedience, he was sentenced to undergo the same process, as half-remembered by his apprentices.
  • Discussed in Dragon Age: Inquisition with Varric's crossbow Bianca, which is quite literally a machine gun or automatic rifle compared to the other bows and crossbows in the universe. Played straight in the sense that Bianca is unique and one-of-a-kind, however Varric is still asked why her creator did not try to make more. Varric's answer is, to put it simply, if every army had an arsenal of Biancas to tote around, battles would be a whole lot bloodier. What he tells people is that the creator (whose identity varies with the telling) could never figure out why his worked and their other attempts failed.
  • The super-suit of Earthworm Jim was designed by Professor Monkey-For-A-Head, originally for the villain of the series. The manual states that he could have made another one... if the damn monkey hadn't eaten the blueprints. Subverted in the cartoon. Turns out the professor can build another suit, but since the power source literally came from the Gods, and they ain't eager to give him another one, any suit he builds would be pretty weak.
  • Endless Space has this crop up in a strange way: in the distant future, we'll only be able to store 10 ship family designs. You may delete a ship blueprints to make room for new ones, but then that entire ship family cannot be built or upgraded ever again. Besides those, you can upgrade any version of a ship to the most modern if it's docked at one of your planets, meaning you can upgrade a several-hundred-year-old ship for just a little extra money than a year-old ship.
    • Some random events create "Advanced Defenders", ships that are powerful in the very early game but can never be upgraded, due to the same mechanic of not having blueprints for them, to the point that they're hilariously underarmored, outgunned, and slow even by the mid-game.
  • Escape Velocity Override gives a slightly more positive spin to the 'ominous statement about nothing hindering the villains from building another' with the Voinian Dreadnaught. After its destruction, Admiral McPherson acknowledges that the Voinians of course could build more of them... but given the necessary effort and resources, that will take time, giving the United Earth the opportunity to consider ways to counter it more permanently in the meantime rather than the desperate scramble destroying the first one was. Word of God had it that the Voinians did indeed deploy more dreadnaughts eventually, but that at that point the UE was stronger strategically (the frontier is pushed significantly closer to Voinia in the UE storylines, and several important resource-extraction worlds are denied to the Voinians), militarily (the UE was able to use the aforementioned as well as a number of other factors to expand and upgun its fleet) and technologically (plenty of Voinian technology was reverse-engineered, and mutually beneficial commercial ties were established with a friendlier advanced alien society), leaving it rather less of a war-winner than the Voinians had hoped for.
  • Appropriately played straight and then subverted in Fallout and Fallout 2. Being After the End, high-tech gear like powered armor is rare and largely irreplaceable, and must be maintained vigilantly. Then the Enclave show up, having survived the apocalypse with all their technological data and manufacturing facilities intact, and are actually wielding weapons and armor more advanced than the pre-war models. Lots of them.
    • And then Fallout 3 comes around (which is set in the east coast, rather than the west coast) and you'll find power armor and rare plasma and laser weapons wherever you look. Though oddly, the Enclave's previously superior armor is suddenly inferior to the pre-War models, despite the most common power armor in the game being a step back from what could be found on the West Coast.
      • The reason that T-45d power armor (The stuff the East Coast Brotherhood uses) was considered inferior to later models was because the suits had a couple of drawbacks: Their servo systems weren't quite up to scratch so they were bulky and hard to move around in (represented in game as a -2 penalty to your agility); had problems with heat dissipation; Various electronic and mechanical subsystems of the armor were exposed on the outside of the casing, making it far more susceptible to damage (the condition deteriorates faster than Enclave armor); and the suits also burnt through energy cells like a gas-guzzling SUV (thankfully, you don't have to worry about that issue).
    • Fallout: New Vegas fixes the power armor issue. The old-gen (Mk1) Enclave power armor (the stock variety from 2) has the best DT of any armor that made it into the final game. The Mk2 armor (from 2 & 3) has one less DT than the Mk1, by which I mean, the Mk2 armor itself has nearly the same DT as the set of Mk1 armor. The Mk2 didn't into the final game, but was still included in the game's data files.
      • New Vegas also makes a major point about how the need to manufacture goods is problematic more than ever as it's pointed out that most pre-war locations have been picked bone dry.
      • New Vegas also averts this with some of its more conventional weapons The NCR relies on primarily Pre-War weaponry (such as wooden-furniture AR-15s, M1 Garands, and Browning Hi Powers) rather than the more advanced technology the Enclave, Brotherhood, and even some Raiders favor. It's implied, however, companies within the NCR are still reproducing a lot of their weaponry; the Hi Power, for instance, is made by a company called M&A and, since Fallout Tactics confirms Browning exists in the Fallout universe and did make a Hi Power themselves, one can safely assume M&A's model is a reproduction, albeit one seeing front-line combat use.
      • The game also averts with the companion ED-E. He is one of the prototypes and his creator uploaded the plans to his memory banks when the project that created him was cancelled by the Enclave one ending to the game has the Brotherhood Of Steel mass producing him if The Courier allowed to recover the plans from ED-E.
  • Justified in Final Fantasy X-2. The technologically-advanced Bevelle was able to construct a prototype superweapon supposedly capable of taking down Zanarkand's Sin... but the weapon, Vegnagun, went sentient and became unable to recognize friend from foe. Instead of risking annihilating themselves by activating it, the leaders of Bevelle sealed it away deep within the city, and the Church of Yevon became its keeper. Naturally, no other attempts were made, especially as the Church of Yevon needs Sin, and wouldn't want to create something capable of destroying it.
  • Front Mission 3 plays this trope worryingly straight, as the MIDAS weapon (think "nuclear bomb without the nuclear") is stolen tech. The technology was originally intended as an energy source, but when it was discovered that it could be used as a weapon, numerous countries jumped at the chance to obtain or recreate it. Just the weapon, no notes. The main characters are witnesses to a failed reproduction of it (which works), and are on the run from the military as a result. There are only two people in the world who know how to recreate it, and one of the two ends up in your party depending on which one's storyline you choose. The main villain of the game is less than pleased that neither will share their knowledge, so in one storyline he obtains the knowledge by coercing one of them. The other storyline, he Mind Rapes the other by forcibly extracting the knowledge from her and leaving her as little more than an Empty Shell as a result.
  • Persistently averted throughout the Geneforge series; the plans for it always leak through the Shapers' best efforts to eliminate them. More prototypes and upgraded versions are created each chapter.
  • In Guild Wars 2 Taimi is able to construct a device that could theoretically kill the Elder Dragons Primordus and Jormag simultaneously. When she realizes doing so would destroy Tyria, the Commander has no choice but to destroy the device when Balthazar activates it. Unfortunately the core of the device was Omadd's Machine, a one-of-a-kind creation of a now-dead Asura who didn't leave enough notes to recreate his work, meaning the device can't be recreated.
  • An aversion of this trope fuels the climax of Hacknet. Entech IS keeping backups of the HackNet software, and the only way to make sure it's destroyed completely is a tightly-coordinated attack on their primary storage server (which your contact handles) and the mostly-isolated backup server (which is up to you), or else one would restore the other. As for completed prototypes, there is exactly one out in the wild - what does the software you're using call itself?
  • Holy Potatoes! We're in Space?!: Any weapon blueprints you find are destroyed once you craft a weapon with that blueprint. Any weapons that are destroyed at the end of battle explode and cannot be repaired. It's implied that Captain Cassie really is that big of a reckless klutz to be responsible for both.
  • Subverted in Horizon Zero Dawn: When Aloy's Focus is destroyed, Aloy angsts about losing the information she has gathered, and the abilities the Focus gives her, when Sylens simply passes her a new one. Sylens had been surreptitiously making copies of all the data Aloy gathered for his own use, and so had a full set of backups. As for the Focus, the devices are rare and irreplaceable, but not so rare that a dedicated dungeon crawler won't have picked up a couple. Giving Aloy one is a big investment for Sylens, but a worthwhile one given the value of what she already uncovered, and copying the data from the backups to the new Focus is a matter of pushing two buttons and waiting.
  • Partly justified in the case of your Cool Ship in Jade Empire. Kang the Mad actually the minor inventors' deity Lord Lao hates to duplicate any invention of his because that would take away its uniqueness. One Marvelous Dragonfly is a wonder and an awe, but thousands of them would not be. He's also so scatterbrained that his notes and schematics are cryptic at best.
  • Subverted in Jak II: Renegade:
    Praxis: Remember: the first rule in making a to always make two!
  • Averted and deconstructed in The Journeyman Project series. As far as the government is aware, they possess the only functional time machine in existence. They then immediately create a police force solely dedicated to using that time machine to prevent anyone from tampering with the past just in case anyone else ever manages to figure out how to make a time machine. In the sequel the "any technology once created can always be recreated" is used as an argument in favour of not shutting down the Time Police agency.
  • Justified in The Last Federation. The uniquely powerful flagship the last Hydral steals at the start of the game was the prototype, and they completely annihilated the research facility on their way to get it, kicking the race who built it four or five branches down the Tech Tree in doing so. Add some Hydral-activated Lost Technology and reverse-engineering it is out of the question too.
  • In MDK2 Kurt Hectic is brought back from captivity without his Coil Suit. As he returns, he says to Doctor Hawkins "They've got the suit. We're all doomed. Can I go now?". The Doctor laughs and shows Kurt that he made many more Coil Suits and that losing it wouldn't be a problem at all. Kurt then loses his hope of not having to fight aliens yet again.
  • Averted on two counts in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Though destroying the Naxos prototype and scuttling the U-529 will keep the balance of power in the Atlantis in Allied hands, it's merely a temporary delay to the Germans. Same with the destruction of the StG-44 stockpiles - though quite a blow to German forces, they're still fielding the assault rifle in later levels.
  • Subverted in Mercenaries. The nuclear cannon at the end of the second part of the game does have a prototype. And you have to use it to destroy the final version.
  • Metal Gear:
    • Subverted in Metal Gear Solid. At the end of the game, Solid Snake destroys the prototype nuclear-armed Humongous Mecha Metal Gear REX. Just a few minutes into the sequel, it is revealed that the plans for REX were sold on the black market, and consequently, numerous countries are working on or have already completed their own sui generis versions, leading to the creation of the anti-Metal Gear weapon Metal Gear RAY.
    • In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the first time we see Sokolov, he actually is burning the production notes to the Shagohod, explaining why nobody tried building another.
  • In the first Metal Slug, we have the Tani-Oh, a gargantuan land master and boss of mission 3. According to the additional info provided by SNK, the Tani-Oh was actually a prototype that was being tested in the mountain range. The tank was subsequently destroyed by the peregrine FALCONS before it could be mass produced. Note this does not apply to other creations of the Rebel Army: The Iron Nokana, a rusty armored carrier and boss of Mission 5, has appeared a few other times in the series.
  • Metroid:
    • The series always involves lead character Samus collecting items for her Power Suit. She is able to equip a wide variety of Chozo artifacts, including the Morph Ball, the Screw Attack, and various armor upgrades (including the Varia and Gravity suits). Despite the fact that she has collected these items multiple time overs in the course of the game series, and has interacted with Federation scientists and soldiers (see Metroid Prime 3: Corruption and Metroid Fusion), no one has been able to replicate her upgrades for use successfully with their soldiers. The Space Pirate race has (according to logs found in Prime) tried to back-engineer the Morph Ball, but those experiments killed many of the subjects on which the prototypes were tested. As of now, the Chozo artifacts are still only compatible with Samus' suit. Later entries in the series tried to explain this away by stating that Samus' Power Suit is a specially modified version of a Chozo Battlesuit, linked to her unique biology (part Human, part Chozo) and made of refined Unobtanium, since the creators (the Chozo) were a technologically super-advanced race who up and disappeared less than twenty years ago (when they were still super-advanced compared to everyone else). Also, the Galactic Federation has been able to design weapons based on Samus' suit, including upgrades for her suit, most notably the Diffusion Missile technology from Metroid Fusion.
    • The Chozo seem to have backups everywhere, but in a way that only they can use them. Despite this, the Pirates and Federation have at least attempted to recreate them. The Pirates ended up with weaker beams immediately, and the Federation got some really good missile systems after a few years. Everyone has a Chozo door system, however. On their own, the Pirates have been able to recreate everything they've stolen, and the Federation keeps backups of Metroid DNA and whatever else was on BSL (they probably have more).
    • During the Prime series of games, you frequently attack Space Pirate bases conducting research into Phazon-enhanced supersoldiers. The bases are filled with failed or developing experiments and computer records. Destroying not only the successful experiments, but the entire bases and research team merely sets back the research, and other stations find new applications for Phazon to try and kill you with.
    • Concept Art shows very bulky Federation power suits that are apparently too expensive to deploy in vast numbers. A version of these suits would later enter use in Federation Force.
    • In Metroid Prime: Hunters, Sylux has a power suit that was stolen from the Galactic Federation that allows him to transform into its second form, Lockjaw, which uses a compression technology similar to the morph ball. The same can be said for the other hunters, but the secondary forms of the rest are all part of their biology, save for Weavel who splits himself in two. Sylux's prototype suit would indicate that the Galactic Federation has been doing some research into morph ball technology as well.
    • Metroid: Other M: Big Guy Anthony Higgs wields a Federation-issued Plasma Rifle. It's twice as long as he is tall, and takes about 10 seconds to charge up enough energy to fire a single shot. Samus' Plasma Beam is rapid fire and integrated with her Arm Cannon to the point where she can charge for a stronger blast. The Federation is reverse engineering Samus' weaponry, they're just nowhere close to the Chozo's level.
  • An unfortunate real-life example with Panzer Dragoon Saga. According to the developers, the original source code is lost, shooting down any chances for a port (meantime, the game remains the rarest and most valuable Saturn game.)
  • Parasol Souls was a spin-off to Bubble Bobble released for a number of consoles in the early 90's. The exception to this was the Commodore 64. It was going to be ported the system but Ocean, who had the publishing rights to the Commodore, handed it to an external programmer since it was near the end of the C64's lifespan and they didn't want to divert a team to make the port. There are two official stories as to why this port was cancelled. The official reason is the straight example - the programmer's computer was stolen in a break-in. The game was nearly complete and since it was so close to the projected release date they decided to cancel the game instead. This led to collectors searching for the fabled computer with the C64 port in vain, until the truth came out. The actual reason is a Double Subversion - after an argument with his alcoholic wife about her affair with her ex-husband, she destroyed everything related to his work, including his computer and the notes related to the game. The subversion is that the programmer did have backups to all of his work. The Double Subversion is that she knew about them and where they all were! When the programmer explained what happened, Ocean made up the above story in solidarity to the man's failing marriage.
  • Subverted with [PROTOTYPE], where this appears to be in full force with the eponymous prototype, Alex Mercer, and the Blacklight virus. In fact, the real Alex Mercer created the Blacklight virus and stole a sample, which eventually absorbed Mercer after his death. Blackwatch is fully able to replicate those conditions, but they sure as shit don't want another Mercer running around. It's uncertain. Your Blacklight virus spread a plague through the city. Your copies are vastly inferior things you can run circles around and slay by the hundreds. You are a Super Prototype. You may be unique and impossible to backup for genetic reasons
  • Subverted in Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal — near the end of the game, you use a handy Giant-Ass Plasma cannon to blow up the Doomsday Device that threatens to "destroy" every lifeform in the universe (by which we mean turn them into robots) ... only to find out there's a second one ready to go in case of such an attack. And it's more powerful than the first.
  • Resident Evil 3: Nemesis: The titular Nemesis is the only one of his kind. Umbrella never bothered to make more copies of him, despite the entirety of the game proving that the Stupid Evil Mega-Corp obviously had a winner on their hands with him; he's stronger, smarter and faster than the Tyrants Umbrella did decide to mass-produce, and the only thing that could finally, definitively kill him was a nuclear missile strike. It appears someone at Capcom eventually did ask about this, because supplementary materials in subsequent games reveal that the Nemesis was incredibly expensive to produce and considered a failure (it did fail to kill one of its targets), leading Umbrella to pull the plug. Another problem was that Nemesis was too smart. One prototype (mentioned in side materials) gained enough self-awareness to rebel; the "finished product" in the remake is sadistic and arrogant, to the point that he deliberately toys with Jill instead of killing her as soon as he can.
  • Subverted in Second Sight. After the prototype psychic super-soldiers are killed in a battle with the protagonist, John Vattic, Director Hanson coldly informs him that the unit was one of several hundred being prepared all over America. Even worse, everything that John has done in that part of the game has all been part of the testing procedure. Additionally, a big deal is made over how Grienko (the researcher in charge of the psychic experiments) actually managed to achieve replicable results. In the flashback or rather, present day scenes, Grienko himself actually hands a huge ream of files to Vattic and talks of how they contain detailed and comprehensive notes on his methods at every stage of the process. Hanson had planned to kill Grienko AND the original test subjects, before heading back to the States and refining the processes.
  • Completely averted in Shin Megami Tensei I. Aware of the impending demon invasion, STEVEN deliberately emails copies of the Demon Summoning Program to as many people as possible, so they would save mankind. It's just unfortunate that only one of those people survived the Great Destruction... (at least until Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE, that is.)
  • It's standard operating procedure in Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey to copy out their own Demon Summoning Program to other teammates and crewmen from other ships so that everyone has a fighting chance within the Schwarzwelt. And in the Neutral Ending, the crew of the Red Sprite actually want to make a backup of the artificial intelligence Arthur so that his Heroic Sacrifice doesn't destroy him. But Arthur himself opposes the idea, stating that his vast insight on the Schwarzwelt and the future of humanity would make him an object of worship back on Earth.
  • Three-quarters of Singularity is spent, at the behest of one of its inventors, traveling back in time to destroy the Singularity Generator before its technology alters the world. Except this is an aversion; when you go back to the present, the villain just laughs about how nothing stopped him from rebuilding the machine. The TMD however was made to be like this so nobody could make another one.
  • Subverted in Skies of Arcadia, with the Moonstone Cannon. Not only is a prototype version seen and actually used against the heroes, but when they steal the ship bearing the completed version, it is explained that it is the first unit of a line of ships, fresh off the shipyards — the rest don't show up because they weren't constructed in time, given the timescale involved. Finally, the Hydra sky fortress is one of a kind due to the fact that the sheer expense involved in constructing it made it utterly economically unfeasible — but the Big Bad had one made all the same, out of his own pocket. The Moonstone cannon also put a good size dent in the Empire's budget, so much so that "they could not afford to build any more."
  • Played very straight in Solar Jetman: The Golden Warpship you're trying to assemble is the only one of its kind in the universe. Once you've acquired all of the ship's parts, you play one final stage where you have to escape the planet while piloting the Golden Warpship itself. If it gets destroyed, then the game is over regardless of how many lives you may have saved up from previous levels.
  • In the Sonic The Hedgehog games, it's actually common for Dr. Eggman or any of his henchbots to haul out old Eggmobiles, bases or the like. As early as Sonic 3 & Knuckles did these things get reused.
    • In Sonic Unleashed, Eggman claims the Egg Dragoon that Werehog Sonic fights is a prototype and that the finished product would be much stronger. Indeed, later versions in Sonic Generations and Sonic Forces prove to be much tougher.
    • On the subject of Forces, a Zig Zag of this trope is what leads to the heroes' victory. Eggman made prototype copies of the Phantom Ruby, then tries to make sure those copies are destroyed. Infinite losing one while battling Silver is what allows the heroes to save the day.
  • In Cammy's ending in Street Fighter IV, she found the secret research for the BLECE project and promptly deletes it. Apparently S.I.N. doesn't keep back-up copies or journal entries of all their secret experimental terrorist weapons.
  • In the second Time Crisis game, the main protagonists, Keith and Robert, get a Hope Spot as they think the satellite hasn't been launched, but then the Big Bad, General Diaz, tells them that it's just a prototype, and they're about to launch the real thing. The prototype doesn't have any of the real thing's capabilities, but it does serve as the Final Boss of the game.
  • In TimeShift the time-altering beta-suit the player is wearing is the second, improved version, with the old alpha-suit being in the baddie's hands. (He didn't grab the Beta version because that version had Anti-Paradox protection. The Alpha version does NOT. So, the Alpha version could be used to change the past!) Additionally, it turns out the technology has been used in cyborg soldiers who can activate the same time extension power you have, and super-advanced soldiers who can use time freeze to teleport around (but not shoot you, strangely enough).
  • Zig-Zagging Trope in Tron 2.0. The Encom science staff did keep notes and records about the Shiva laser, but were unaware of the A.I. Is a Crapshoot nature of the Master Control Program, which was "tweaking" the process and took the research with it when it was defeated. It took twenty years and the building of a more Benevolent AI (Ma3a) to compensate and even then, it's an arguable case as to how much actually was rebuilt, seeing as Ma3a is a cross of an AI and the Virtual Ghost of the laser's co-inventor and the laser doesn't work correctly without her. Those who did shoot themselves in without her permission ended up very corrupted by it Alan and Ma3a do re-build the technology and algorithms to make it work, but after F-Con's attack and attempt to conquer Cyberspace, Alan, Ma3a, and Jet agree to lock those things up very tightly and not share their discovery, concluding The World Is Not Ready.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Poppi's ether furnace is a one-of-a-kind creation of the Nopon engineer and Artificial Blade creator Soosoo, far superior to any of the ones used by the other Artificial Blades in the setting. With Soosoo apparently dead before the events of the game though as it turns out Not Quite Dead and having never left any discovered written works on how he did it, no one else, not even his son and collaborator on Artificial Blade construction Tatazo could remake it while in captivity. Tora only got his hands on it because Tatazo literally shoved it into his hands and told him to run when the ones who came to kidnap him and shot Soosoo arrived. As a result, those criminals (Bana and Muimui) are very eager to get their hands on Poppi so they can analyze the furnace and improve their own Artificial Blades.
  • Xenosaga:
    • KOS-MOS is effectively one of a kind of an android as her creator Kevin Winnicot took the plans for her to his grave after KOS-MOS went berserk and murdered him. Kevin's successors are only capable of repairing and (attempt to) reprogram the same prototype as building another android on the same level as her is simply beyond their knowledge. As a result, the current KOS-MOS is treated like a faulty hand grenade which her development team is loath to admit they have zero control over if push comes to shove. She's laden with Black Box parts and programs, each with unknown functions, which come online at seemingly random intervals (like her Gnosis-obliterating X-Buster ability), often to shocking effect. Series protagonist (and KOS-MOS co-creator) Shion is only able to figure most of them out enough to rebuild KOS-MOS a second time after gaining access to Kevin's original plans via a time paradox.
    • A great deal of the series's technology is the product of one man, Joachim Mizrahi. After he died on Militia during the Federation's invasion, a great amount of effort has been poured into piecing his prototypes back together, as well as reassembling his codex of knowledge: the Y-Data. Efforts to recreate his work from scratch by his rival Dr. Sellers amount to impressive, but fatally flawed knock-offs.

  • Normally played straight by Narbonic, being a story about Mad Scientists, which makes this subversion more significant (what he backed up was Lovelace, the Benevolent A.I.).
    Madblood: I do make backups, you know!
    Mell: Isn't that, like, against the mad-science rules?
  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, the formula which accidentally produced Molly is a prime example of this. Lampshaded here.
  • The Sparks of Girl Genius produce notes, prototypes, and sometimes backups, and appear to do their best work when supported by academic institutions and ordinary mechanics. However, Sparks' genius is such that their inventions are rarely possible to understand or reproduce for anyone not a Spark with talent in a related field, leading to a similar effect in practice. Some of the truly great masterworks like the Muses have capabilities that remain effectively mysteries over a century after their creation.
  • In Drowtales, after the lead researcher for a biological poison & antidote is assassinated, a Jaal'Darya botanist is tasked with reproducing her work, much to her dismay.
    Amanita: RAAAAAAA WHY DOES NO ONE EVER TAKE NOOTES!! Researcher. Secrecy. Is. SHIT.
  • A good-aligned example: the Hall of Names, a central part of the Dream Land in City Of Somnus, has been built by a genius who didn't leave understandable notes. This is why it hasn't been refurbished in a thousand years, because nobody quite knows how to do it without destroying the entire Dream Land.

    Web Original 
  • In the Whateley Universe:
    • This is a common problem with Devisors, as their power allows them to violate otherwise rock-solid physical law with their devises - but the further they take it from consensus reality, the more unstable the devises are, and the harder it is to reproduce them even for themselves. Worse, a Devisor with 'The Big Idea', or one in the throes of rage or a Diedrick's episode, often don't really understand their creations themselves once they are completed. For example, the devise Spark made while she was furious at her boyfriend worked the one time, but doesn't seem to be reproducible. The one-shot forcefield blaster Mega-Death made and sold to Phase worked once, the second one exploded when Phase used it against a PK brick, and Mega-Death hasn't been able to get any new ones to work.
    • Also, Devises are shown as unpredictable, with one devise having different results each time it's used. And the third time shows WHY screwing with unproven Devises is a bad idea!
    • While it is difficult, it is sometimes possible to reproduce a Devise as a Gadget (i.e., something extremely advanced but still works within normal physical laws) if it is only bends the laws of reality just a little. The 'Devisor Test' (or 'gadget test') is a process in which a Gadgeteer Genius tries to replicate a devise within consensus technology; if it succeeds, the devisor gets to share in any resulting patents.
  • TQ-02 from Space Voyage does this with the Powered Armor he made. Upon trying to reverse engineer it, He makes two ovens that make muffins.
  • In Worm this is one of the defining traits of Tinkers. They can create amazing machinery and devices but the individual tinker is usually the only one who has any hope in hell of understanding it enough to reproduce, so most tinker inventions are one-offs. In fact, the reason that Dragon is considered the greatest Tinker alive is explicitly because her inventions aren't like this; her talent is that she can understand other tinkers' work enough to reproduce it in a way that anyone can use or manufacture. This is most prevalent with Leet, whose Tinker power is to be able to make one of anything, and only one of anything. If he tries to make a second one, or even to repair the first one after it gets damaged, it explodes.
  • Radham Academy in Twig employs a simple policy with experiments: test to destruction, then make another using what you've learned from that one. This applies to all members of the Lambsbridge Gang, who are fast approaching the age when they'll be terminated to make room for a new experiment.
  • In the Mystery Flesh Pit National Park world, Anodyne has a contingency device to pacify the Flesh Pit that relies on "mystic artifacts" excavated from ancient ritual sites. Because the ritual sites were destroyed by commercial development no other intact artifacts have been recovered, and the ones used in the contingency device were damaged during its first and only activation.

    Western Animation 
  • A delightful aversion in Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers with the Mindnet device. The finished prototype is broken into two pieces for safety reasons, but the main piece is stolen and brought to the Big Bad. The heroes use the other half of the device and Niko's psionics to track down the stolen piece. During the inevitable escape from the Queen's palace, the Queen makes off with the device...but Buzzwang shows up with another Mindnet. It looks like a mistake on the part of the animators until later episodes demonstrate that, while the heroes were captured, the Queen simply made her own backup copy.
  • Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • Apparently, the intelligence-boosting microchip that Dr. Robotnik was researching in "Grounder the Genius" had only a one-in-a-million chance of being successfully created. Once that one was inevitably destroyed, his computer informed him that he'd be once again subject to that probability if he were to try to recreate it. Uh...
    • Averted during the Chaos Emerald Saga. Robotnik strands Sonic and Tails in the past by destroying Sonic's time travelling shoes. Sonic responds by writing a note in a treasure chest, knowing the shoes' inventor will find the chest in the present and get him to send a new pair of shoes to get them out.
  • While blueprints for several machines play important parts in Avatar: The Last Airbender — mostly as Chekhov's Guns — the trope is still played straight with the Fire Nation's mobile drill. The drill, designed to break through the outer wall of the city-state of Ba Sing Se, is apparently one of a kind; only one ever makes it to the battlefield, with no readily accessible back-up. Considering how effective it was (it only failed because the Avatar and his friends disabled it, and it got through the outer wall before they did), there's no reason they shouldn't try again. This might be justified as a matter of expenditure, given the drill was absolutely massive and probably used the equivalent resources of hundreds of tanks or other more practical war machines for a single campaign. It also had to be built in enemy territory to begin with. Azula conquered the city a few weeks later anyway, eliminating the need for it entirely).
  • In Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, there is exactly one BGY-11, and exactly one person who can pilot the mech without accidentally destroying it. It is explained that the military lost the original blueprints, but since they can still perform maintenance on it, it does seem odd that they wouldn't build another one. And there really isn't any logical reason not to train a backup pilot.
    • Further explained that the US Army promised a working robot and didn't want to admit all they could build was a oversized suit of Powered Armor. Thus the reason they don't produce more.
    • In the episode with Po the Conqueror, it's stated that they can build another Big Guy, or at least scrounge one up from spare parts, but the lieutenant was the only person who had any idea how to pilot it. It's later shown that most people know how to get the thing moving (as when he gets dropped back in time and a British soldier managed to pilot it as "Iron Jack") but have no idea about how to regulate the power core from exploding.
  • In an episode of Captain Planet and the Planeteers, we see an inventor on a remote island who has invented a solar battery much more efficient than the ones already used by the Planeteers and commercially viable to boot. Unsurprisingly, because of the attempts of the villains to seize it, his lab is destroyed and he loses his memory, but he promises to start over from nothing. Not to mention the vehicles the Planeteers use, despite how much they alone could help the environment are never mass produced (although given they were gifts from Gaia they may be unique Magitek).
  • Grizzle's inventions in Care Bears: Adventures in Care-a-Lot are generally all of this type.
  • All of Professor Nimnul's inventions on Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers fall under this category. Only once in 65 episodes was one of his inventions re-used (a shrinking/growth ray), and even then it was not being used by Nimnul.
  • In the first season of Code Lyoko, Odd accidentally finishes Jeremie's materialization program for Aelita by dropping some candy on the keyboard. Jeremie can only use it once, though, because he doesn't know what keys the candy pressed. Apparently, he can't simply copy the program and just reuse it, even though it is clearly something he can store and use whenever he wants. Yumi ends up needing to use it, and Jeremie completes the program permanently later in the season.
    • Averted with Franz Hopper, who made plenty of notes that he kept in crypted form in his informatic diary. Decrypting said diary is a major point of season 2. Also, the Lyoko-Warriors are very careful to not let the tech fall into wrong hands, so Hopper's supercalculator would most likely be replicable if taken by the army.
    • Also averted violently with XANA in season 4, where the Lyoko-Warriors find out he has infected several computer over the world as backup to store his datas. They proceed to destroy them one after another... only to find out that he infected hundreds of them all over the world.
  • Dexter's Laboratory tends to have this happen with Dexter and Mandark as both geniuses will build something spectacular and once it breaks down, they dump it and build something else to replace it. It's not that they don't know how to fix it, it's that their egos demand something bigger and better to replace it.
  • In the five part pilot for DuckTales (1987), Glomgold buys Scrooge's chocolate factory after he floods it, because Scrooge's treasure map (which is a model ship) has made an impression in the solidified chocolate, giving Glomgold and the old captain a map of their own; sort of. Rather than copy this onto paper, they use the chocolate itself, following it while keeping it in an ice cream cart while making attempts on Scrooge's life, which they are forced to stop when their mule eats their slipshod map. (Even if the mule hadn't eaten it, they'd never have found what they were looking for; both sides of the model would eventually be needed.)
  • At the beginning of "Bring Me The Head of Earthworm Jim", Psy-Crow wonders why Prof. Monkey-For-A-Head, creator of Jim's supersuit, couldn't simply build another. The Professor explains that while he could, without the first suit's power source, the Battery of the Gods, another suit would be "Pretty weak." He did try to get another, but the gods rebuked him and turned him into a breadmaker (which he admits isn't much of a punishment, but he's not risking it).
  • An episode of Enigma has the bad guys break into a lab, with explicit orders to steal a prototype and destroy its plans.
  • In the Futurama movie "Into the Wild Green Yonder," Fry joins a cult that seeks to prevent an evil race known as "the Dark Ones" from destroying a rare species and is given the only device that will stop them. He's naturally curious about the device and asks what's inside.
    Hutch: No one knows. It was invented by a blind inventor, and the one guy he described it to was deaf.
    Random guy: So the legend goes...
  • Invader Zim justifies this by having the eponymous Villain Protagonist be completely insane as well as an utter moron, making it entirely plausible that he simply forgot how to make his sometimes amazing inventions, if he remembers that he built them at all.
  • In an episode of Justice League, Toyman makes an energy cannon that apparently disintegrates Superman before being smashed by the rest of the League (it actually sends him on a one-way journey through time). Superman does (thanks to some extraordinary, never-to-be repeated luck) reappear after a few days, but it's still odd that the Toyman didn't build another one and try again. It's commented in the show that Toyman "didn't know what he made" — but isn't knowing that it's a thing that makes Superman disappear for a few days enough? Of course, the implication is that the time machine was an accidental invention, and he can't remember how he created it (because he didn't keep notes; see above).
  • Subverted in My Life as a Teenage Robot: It turns out there were eight predecessors to XJ9. Of course, they are really, really annoying and dysfunctional, so Dr. Wakeman won't reactivate them except in dire situations. Later, one of Wakeman's rivals recreates his own male version of Jenny, which for some reason has dog instincts. Go figure!
  • The Owl House plays with and justifies this trope in regards to the Portal Door. Since Eda found it, she has no idea who made it nor did she have any interest in finding out. After Luz destroys it, Belos is forced to repair it instead of trying to make a new one. Meanwhile, Luz herself is able to figure out who made it and gains access to his diary, which contains detailed notes on its construction. Luz is even able to make her own Flawed Prototype, the only hitch being a lack of access to the primary ingredient.
  • The Powerpuff Girls:
    • Mojo Jojo, the girls' archenemy, rarely seems to use the same device twice. He does have some recurring tech, though, and usually whenever his armory is shown, all of the older tech still remains. This is probably used as a convenient background to show just how much heat he's packing, but is also a bit of fridge brilliance: each and every one of those robots, death rays and other tech are probably prototypes. The only reason he hasn't replicated them yet is because he's still improving them; the one time he tries that with the Anubis head, it backfires even worse than just doing the exact same thing he did the first time.
    • Also, despite not being a villain, Professor Utonium seems to suffer from the same work ethic, even lampshading it in the episode "Bubble Boy":
      Blossom: "Gee, Professor, you sure outdid yourself this time with that containment ray!"
      Professor Utonium: "I'll say! Once again, I have no idea what I did!"
  • In The Real Ghostbusters episode "Standing Room Only," Brilliant, but Lazy psychologist Peter Venkman tries his hand at inventing a machine to attract ghosts, eliminating the need for going out in the field. The machine he invents doesn't attract ghosts but absorbs spectral energy and ends up being the weapon that turns the tide in their battle against Mee-Krah. Naturally, the machine is destroyed at the end of the episode, but Egon doesn't understand why Peter's so upset about it.
    Egon: We'll just use your notes to build another.
    Peter: Notes? Uh... what notes?
  • Sofia the First: In "Cedric Be Good", Cedric makes a potion that'll enable him to use the Amulet of Avalor's blessings without the risk of being cursed but he accidentally destroys it. He cannot make another batch because one of the ingredients is too rare.
  • Star Wars Rebels: The heroes steal Grand Admiral Thrawn's Super Prototype TIE Defender, and it ends up getting destroyed before they can take it apart and study it. This doesn't slow Thrawn down in the slightest; since he is more interested in efficient supply lines than paranoid limiting of information, all he really needed from the prototype was a proof of concept. Once it was proven to be up to spec, he immediately moved into full production.
  • Both played straight and averted in SWAT Kats:
    • The Gemkat 6000 in the episode "Chaos in Crystal." Averted. Not only do blueprints for the machine exist, but Dr. Greenbox was so thorough he had a prototype of his prototype (think the two Cosmic Keys in Masters of the Universe), which he is able to rewire the second machine in order to undo what the first one did.
    • The Behemoth super tank in "Metal Urgency." Played straight. It appears Puma-Dyne made just the one tank, and had no means of remotely shutting it down in the event it gets stolen. Its forcefield and thought-controlled arsenal make it impervious to everything the Enforcers throw at it... meaning they can't stop a tank designed explicitly for their use.
    • Averted and then played straight with the two Macro-Bots in the same episode. Professor Hackle quit working at Puma-Dyne after they wanted to weaponize two giant space exploration robots he designed. He left the company before the robots could be built, but Puma-Dyne built them anyway, using Hackle's original designs and just adding weaponry to the final product(s). If Hackle didn't want Puma-Dyne to build the Macro-Bots, he shouldn't have left the plans for them with the company. An example of having the plans being a bad thing. But Puma-Dyne being Puma-Dyne, they, again, apparently had no backups or countermeasures to the Macro-Bots prepared in the event that they fell into the wrong hands, so once the Metallikats steal them, there's no choice but for the SWAT Kats to destroy them.
    • The Blue Manx fighter jet in "The Ghost Pilot." Played straight. Apparently, the Enforcers had just the one, left a grand total of two guys to guard it (!), and once the Red Lynx steals it, they have no means of countering it. Meaning they didn't learn from Puma-Dyne's earlier screw-up with the Behemoth and Macro-Bots.
    • The anti-weapon scrambler in "SWAT Kats Unplugged." Played straight. You'd think Puma-Dyne would've learned from the Behemoth/Macro-Bot debacle to have backups and countermeasures ready, but nope. Once Hard Drive gets his hands on it, there's nothing to counteract the device's effects. Its inventor, Dr. Ohm, is shown frantically trying to build a second device to counteract the first one, but the SWAT Kats find a means of defeating Hard Drive without resorting to weapons before he finishes it.
    • Viper Mutagen 368 in "The Origin of Dr. Viper." Averted, then subverted. Although there exists only one sample of the mutagen, Dr. Zyme does have notes on how to make more. This allows for more to be made in the event that something happens to the sample - which it does when Zyme's thieving assistant Purvis steals it and spills it on himself. However, then it turns out Zyme's calculations were flawed, and the formula has the unintended side-effect of mutating Purvis into Dr. Viper, so the existence of his notes become a moot point - after all, the formula is "worthless." That is, until Viper uses them to start making more of the stuff in an effort to turn Zyme, Callie and Mayor Manx into mutants, too, giving another example of how sometimes, having the notes/plans can be a bad thing.
    • The micro-brain repair unit in "Unlikely Alloys." Averted, then subverted, then played straight. It turns out Greenbox had a device to shut the thing down in the event it went rogue (that or he quickly whips one up), but he never gets a chance to use it because after the repair unit becomes sentient, names itself "Zed," and starts going around on the usual rampage, Greenbox gets too big for his britches over what "his genius" has created, and not only refuses to use the shutoff device, but smashes it. And of course it was the only one.
  • The Shredder's spaceship in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) (presumably) has plans, but no prototype nor back-up. This is justified, however, by the fact that several of its parts were salvaged from the remains of an alien invasion, and could not be replicated.
  • In Xiaolin Showdown, self-proclaimed evil boy genius Jack Spicer creates a time machine that can send people into the past with no way back.
    • And he had to use one of the Shen Gong Wu to get enough energy to go back more than a few seconds. Which is the main reason he never built a forward-in-time device. He didn't need one.

    Real Life 
  • When Richard Wagner was composing the Ring Cycle, he at one point intended for the operas to be performed three times in a purpose-built opera house. Afterward, all copies of the score and all the props were to be burned, along with the entire opera house. Obviously this did not happen. But it explains the elaborate finale...
  • When Nikola Tesla died of heart failure in 1943 most of his plans went with him. His memory was phenomenal, and he had to constantly deal with limited resources. This meant that he did most of his work either in his head or directly tinkering with a single functional prototype until reaching the final design, which he then dismantled and cannibalized for his next project. He also invoked this intentionally in some of his work, as he was extremely paranoid, especially towards the end of his life. He said that his office had been ransacked during this time by persons unknown looking for notes or blueprints, but that they couldn't have gotten any because his plans had never been written down. Of course, the fact that so many governments and individuals were actually interested in anything he came up with - given that so many of his absurd-sounding ideas, like radio, actually worked - it's less crazy than it sounds. After his death, everything he had written down was seized by the US government, and has only recently been declassified. Probably a good decision. For instance, the few notes for his infamous Death Ray, the teleforce gun, while rough and somewhat impractical in concept, bears a striking resemblance to modern particle accelerators and plasma cutters. Other notes anticipated things like secure wireless computer networks, weaponized EMP, radar, and signal jamming.
  • This story. A whole petrochemical factory of which nobody knew how it worked, why it was built that way, which processes it ran or how it was constructed.
  • Deliberately invoked by Stanley Kubrick. He had the sets, models, and production notes for 2001: A Space Odyssey destroyed once filming was finished, so they would not be reused for some low-budget B-Movie. When someone else decided to make 2010, they had to painstakingly go frame-by-frame to reconstruct the sets.
  • The way The Turk looks is only shown by artists' drawings; there are no actual blueprints. The artist of Clockwork Game had to make an educated guess as to its functioning.
  • Fermat's Last Theorem. In 1637, he stated tantalizingly in his commentary for a book that he had figured out a proof for a theorem, but there was not enough space in the margin for him to explain. He never did, and left no notes about it. It took 358 years of stumped mathematicians until it was finally figured out, in 1995. (It was solved using mathematics which hadn't been developed yet during Fermat's time and goes on for hundreds of pages, leading some to speculate that Fermat may have just decided to leave something to annoy future generations, or that he realized his proof wasn't correct, as there is a nearly-correct proof that is short.)
    • Incidentally, Fermat died in 1665. The fact that he had all this time from 1637 to 1665 to put his proof on paper has led historians to suggest whatever proof he discovered did not work.
  • This can happen in the computer world where the developers of a piece of software left the company and the sources are lost: you end up with software that runs perfectly but which may not be improved nor reinstalled without some serious reverse engineering. And sometimes, even the sources may not be enough, as anyone who had to face a thoroughly uncommented code can attest...
  • Starlite: An amazingly heatproof composite material, created by a lone inventor. He died without ever revealing the recipe. It's since been reverse-engineered. Turns out the recipe is incredibly simple: just some carbon-rich substance that will char easily if exposed to heat, some chemical that will let out a gas like CO2 or water if heated up, and a substance to glue both in place. Even flour, baking soda, and school paste will do. The heatproof effect is impressive, as, upon exposure to high temperature, the top layer becomes carbonized and thus resists melting while the trapped gas beneath it acts as an insulator. However, the whole thing is ultimately a case of Awesome, but Impractical, as it has the consistency of putty.
  • When the Avro Arrow jet fighter project was abruptly de-funded and cancelled in 1959, orders were given by the Canadian federal government of the day to scrap the prototypes and blueprints, for fear of them falling into enemy hands. However, they did not destroy the rocket-mounted test models, which were fired over - and landed in - Lake Ontario. Some have been located on the lake floor; the team responsible for the find intends to recover them. Some models and documents have also survived.
  • Many government agencies in the U.S. run on antiquated, out-of-production mainframe and minicomputer systems without any plan for replacement. To make things worse, many of the original programmers have long since retired or died. Not many computer science programs in the country are going to devote much time to PDP-10 assembler, either.
  • During Peter Davison's tenure on Doctor Who, it was intended for the character of Kamelion to become a companion, which would make him a regular member of the cast. However, Kamelion was portrayed by an animatronic prop, and some time after his debut the only person on the planet (and we mean the real planet Earth) who knew how to operate the blasted thing died in a boating accident without telling anyone else how to work it. As a result, Kamelion only made one other appearance in the series, that being "Planet of Fire", where he was killed off.
  • Girolamo Segato was a scientist who figured out how to petrify human body parts in a way that has never been seen before or since. He seems to have injected the recently-deceased with an unknown chemical that somehow reached even the tiniest of blood vessels (which generally collapse soon after blood stops pumping through them). Segato destroyed all of his notes in the fear someone would steal his ideas, and thus the technology died with him. The petrified bodies are very disturbing (the linked pictures are NSFW).
  • Machine learning software has shades of this. Of course it can and does get tested and copied countless of times, but many of its applications are essentially "black boxes", whose own creators can't fully explain how they work. Subsequently, they can be very difficult to update if a major bug is discovered in them.
  • In business, especially in software development, this idea is sometimes known as the "Bus Factor". How many people would have to be hit by a bus for some important knowledge or ability to be lost? If that number is 1, your business is in trouble.
  • Stradivarius violins. Despite many theories and analyses, no one has ever really determined the reason for, or has been able to replicate, their superior quality sound. To be fair, though, double-blind tests with other violins have not always found Stradivarius to be the best.
  • A material code-named FOGBANK by the U.S. military plays a crucial role (the exact nature of which is classified) in the functioning of thermonuclear weapons. Mass production of it ceased in 1989, and was picked up again in 2000. These plans quickly ran into problems. Records of the manufacturing process were sparse, and attempts to produce the material in a new facility failed. Successful manufacturing only resumed eight years later and after 92 million dollars was spent trying to recreate the process. It turned out a crucial element for the functioning of the material came from an impurity that was accidentally introduced in the original manufacturing facility.
  • In the mid-2000s, NASA contracted various manufacturers for a new rocket engine for upcoming space programs which would go back to the old single-use systems rather than the somewhat reusable Space Shuttle. Some people wondered why NASA didn't dig up and use the plans for previous rocket engine designs such as the F-1 or the J-2. People speculated that either NASA lost the original plans or that the original plans were backed up in a data format that's unreadable by modern computers. It turned out neither were true. NASA did have the original plans and they could use them, the problem was that they weren't usable as-is. Today, with sophisticated computer modeling programs, we design and solve everything as much as possible before even building the first prototype. But back then? They had to build something that appeared good enough, test it, and tweak the engine before testing again until they got to the "good enough" state. The problem was those tweaks were what was lost in time, either because they were kept on the engineer's notebooks or they kept a mental recollection of it. However, it was better to design the engines using current techniques anyway because they turned out to be, at least on paper, more efficient and simple.
  • The Heinkel He 100 was a prototype fighter that never went into production, but nevertheless was regarded as the fastest design of the time, to the point that it broke a world speed record. Why the Germans never put it into production is unknown, but all of the prototypes were destroyed and even the blueprints were lost in a bombing raid.
    • Heinkel He 100 was less suitable to mass production than Bf 109, and it was less manoeuvreable. It also had evaporative engine cooling system, which meant it was vulnerable to enemy fire and an example of Awesome, but Impractical. Also the caster angle of the landing gear was too steep, making it weak. These faults were rectified in the mass production version, Heinkel He 112, but at that time Messerschmitt Bf 109 had proven already superior. Finns were interested in purchasing the He 112, but instead settled on slower but more agile Fokker D.XXI.
  • The sodium vapor process for masking out actors from a blank background, an alternative to Chroma Key that, at the time, had many significant advantages (most obviously, one needn't be picky about what colors the actors wear). It relied on retrofitting a decommissioned Technicolor camera with a custom prism that can split the narrow wavelength of yellow-orange light produced by sodium vapor lamps (similar to the kind used as streetlamps before LED lighting) from all the others. The prism's own creator was unable to replicate it, so even in its heyday there was only one camera in the entire world that could be used for this.