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Perilous Power Source

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"Man does not behold the face of the Gorgon and live."
Doctor Morbius, Forbidden Planet

The captain of the Cool Ship shows off the fantastic power source of the vessel to others, usually hapless passengers (and of course us, the audience,) to impress them with just how powerful indeed the ship is. Included will be dialogue of how dangerous it is to be exposed to such terrible energies, and that were it not for the radiation suits/visor/lead glass that were provided to gaze through, it would have otherwise been certain death to merely look on such elemental fury.

Related to Take Our Word for It, a Perilous Power Source can be used to compensate for lack of budget or Special Effects Failure.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • During Outlaw Star the ship's computer, Gilliam, helps the new crew activate the XGP's engines during start up. Gene screws up the sequence during practice, resulting in a (simulated) catastrophic failure that destroys the ship.

    Comic Books 
  • One member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, Element Lad, was left the only one conscious when they were all cast into a different universe, and seems to have this reaction to the energies of the forming universe, terrified of looking out the windows of their spaceship. After he sends the others back but is left alone in the new universe without the ship, he spent billions, if not trillions of years simply floating through space—his powers allowed him to survive by transmuting his body and the air that came with him. He watched stars come into being and die several times before he realized that was what was happening. Eventually, growing lonely, he drifted down to a planet and started to use his powers to help life come into being... and by the time his teammates came along, the entire galaxy was essentially embroiled in an ongoing conflict between the Progeny, the species he was currently using as his instrument to shape the evolution of the local races, and the "variant" species which he'd decided didn't fit into that shape. When his teammates finally met up with him, his way of thinking was completely unrecognizable. According to Brainiac 5, he's not necessarily mad or sane or good or evil anymore—he's simply living in an incomprehensibly larger time scale, from which the eye blinks that are mortal lifespans simply don't matter, and the galaxy is his petri dish because he doesn't need to care about the feelings of the beings living there—regardless of what the germs in the petri dish think of him while they're alive, regardless of anything, they'll be dead before he blinks one way or the other.
  • Ms. Marvel (1977): Kree ships use the almighty mineral cavorite to power their ships. Cavorite is highly temperamental, and if it goes up rips time and space a new one. A guest appearance in Marvel Team-Up has Ms. Marvel and Spidey fighting Super-Skrull over a small cavorite crystal. It goes boom, and apparently takes Super-Skrull with it (he gets better, obviously).
  • Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: The Lost Light has a Quantum Drive, which is noted as being an extremely powerful but also extremely dangerous form of faster-than-light travel. The first time they activate it, Ore ends up being fused with the wall and killed, prompting the observation that you should never stand next to a Quantum Reactor while it's violating the laws of physics.

    Fan Works 
  • Rocketship Voyager. Voyager's Cochrane Drive is a "fail-deadly" system, because if the electromagnetic fields isolating their contraterrene falter, the entire ship would be obliterated. This is invoked at the climax of the story when they need a Weapon of Mass Destruction to destroy the cube-ship of the Psiborg Collective, so they disconnect a cargo container of contraterrene from its power supply and eject it into space to get caught in the cube-ship's Tractor Beam. When the on-board battery runs down, the electromagnetic field-trap collapses and the Anti Matter explodes.
  • Franky from One Piece sees the anti-matter Warp Core on the USS Enterprise-D as this in These are the Voyage, hence why he replaced it with a cola engine that runs with 120% efficiency.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Forbidden Planet, where the scientist even compares the source of the Krell core to Medusa ("One cannot behold the face of the gorgon and live!") as they have to look at a mirror opposite the core itself, not directly at it.
  • The Disney version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, from 1954 - when Nemo offers a big riveted visor and chestplate to Messr. Arronax, before hiding his own face in his arm and opening that big lead door to the atomic reactor. To be fair, Forbidden Planet's writers probably didn't rip off this movie - '50s magazines were no doubt full of scenes of scientists in goggles peering at atomic piles...
  • The Russian engineers of K-19: The Widowmaker have a bad experience in their gorgon gaze; forced to enter the reactor compartment to prevent a meltdown, they pay the price of close-up and unshielded work with an atomic reactor. A sad and real-life example of why working with such forces in person rarely comes to a happy ending.
    • They did have safety suits... but they were designed for biochemical work and provided little, if any, protection from radiation.
  • Ice Station Zebra has a scene where the submarine captain (Rock Hudson) shows the Russian agent (Ernest Borgnine) the ship's nuclear reactor. "Where is reactor?" he asks. "Under you," our captain answers, and shows how Ernest is kneeling on a thick hatch with an equally dense glass viewport to show red hot reactor action.
  • It Came from Outer Space. The protagonist is shocked to find the aliens assembling what appears to be a classic giant Death Ray, but the aliens don't have hostile intent; it's actually a device for powering their ship, which they just want to repair so they can leave. One of the aliens says, "Yes, look at its power...power to drive a ship through Space...power to tear your Earth apart!"
  • Event Horizon has an expository scene in the spike filled, ominous Engine Room Of Doom — that is utilizing a motive energy that opens the very doors of Hell itself. That pretty much trumps any 92 suns worth of whatever, Doctor Morbius.
    • Even worse is when the unfortunate gorgon-gazing crew member suddenly gets sucked into the engine by an unseen force and soon after tossed back out in a catatonic state.
  • In Sunshine:
    • The Icarus ships have a special Sun-gazing room where the crew can sit and do exactly that. We (and the crew) are told that the filters are set at maximum or near-maximum capacity, and the sunlight is already blinding white. To release the filters would undoubtedly be fatal to whoever stood there. One crew member has taken to donning a pair of sunglasses and turning the filters down as low as is safely possible (apparently in the visible-light spectrum only, as he doesn't have a noticeable tan) and describes it as a very spiritual experience. It's uncomfortably noted by other crew members that this obviously-slightly-crazy person is actually their ship's psychiatrist.
    • By the midpoint of the film his skin has started to peel from his repeated exposure and when marooned on the other disabled ship he decided to die by exposing himself to the full intensity of the sun rather than wait for the oxygen to run out.
  • In the climactic scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana and temporary love interest Marion are tied to a stake in the middle of things as the Nazis are about to open The Ark of the Covenant. Indy tells Marion not to look at whatever power or entity comes out - sound advice, as it turns out, as nasty, Nightmare Fuelish things happen to the Nazis, including one guy getting his face melted off.
  • Star Trek II includes a scene wherein a critical piece of the ship's engines is sealed in a small room. Anyone entering the room will be subjected to lethal radiation as demonstrated when Spock sacrifices himself to repair the warp drive.
    • The novelization makes this apparent design flaw slightly more understandable: ordinarily the room wouldn't be lethally radioactive (and of course ordinarily the engineers would have time to put on a proper protective suit). It's just that radioactive gasses are currently leaking into the sealed small room (which exists entirely for secondary containment in case of this very thing) due to a breached pipe.
  • 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness makes reference to Star Trek II only this time Kirk is the one who exposes himself to lethal levels of radiation while Spock remains safe outside (and wholly ignorant of Kirk's intentions and actions until it's far too late to do anything about them). Well before this, Scotty spells out the dangers of the technology The Captain takes for granted.
    Scotty: Do you know what this is, Captain?
    Kirk: I don't have time for a lecture, Scotty!
    Scotty: [more forcefully] Do you know what this is?
    Kirk: [sighs] It's a warp core.
    Scotty: It's a radioactive catastrophe waiting to happen. A subtle shift in magnetic output from, say, firing one or more of six dozen torpedoes with an unknown payload could set of a chain reaction which would kill every living thing on this ship!


  • Robert A. Heinlein
    • Farmer in the Sky. The teenage protagonist asks why his Colony Ship has an engineer for the Nuclear Torch Rocket given that it never shuts off. He's told that if there's a problem with the drive, the engineer is expected to sacrifice his life fixing it.
    • Rhysling, the blind singer of The Green Hills of Earth, loses his sight this way—he peers past the baffles of a rocket's reactor and is then blinded by Cherenkov radiation. Ouch.
  • In one of the Nightside books, John Taylor finds out that the local power plant has kidnapped one of his supernatural friends and is siphoning off his Power of the Sun abilities to generate its power. Naturally he does something drastic.
  • In Alan Dean Foster's novelisation of the animated Star Trek episode "One Of Our Planets Is Missing", one of the Enterprise's nacelles is constructed internally of antimatter components; restarting the warp engines requires walking down a narrow pathway suspended magnetically down the center. Not exactly the same thing but, true to the idea that the power source of the ship is made of some VERY dangerous stuff.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The End of the World", the guests have come to watch the destruction of Earth when the sun goes nova. Shield failure due to sabotage proves that even before the actual explosion, the sun is giving off tremendous energy enough to kill an unprotected onlooker.
    • Looking at the Heart of the TARDIS turns you into a god, but you will die after even a minute or two. Fortunately, the Doctor had some spare lives.
    • In "Midnight", xtonic radiation prevents the Doctor from looking at the planet's landscape for more than a few seconds.
    • The Eye of Harmony is a friggin' black hole kept in juuuuust such a balance (that's the "harmony" part) that it can be used as a power source. Just leaving it exposed causes time distortions, and being near it for too long subjects you to a Body Horror Fate Worse than Death, and that's when it's working right. Screw with it and the balance is thrown off and the Unrealistic Black Hole could become a regular black hole, in which case, it's adios for the nearest solar system. Squish!
  • Power Rangers Beast Morphers hinges around the city of Coral Harbor, which has turned the Morphin Grid — the mythical source of energy used to create Power Rangers — into a source of infinite, clean energy for civilian use. It's not the Morphin Grid itself that's dangerous as much as the fact that it's a ridiculously large magnet for supervillains, all of whom want to exploit it to take over the universe. By the end of the series, everyone agrees it was ultimately far too much trouble than it was worth, causing them to convert to other natural, renewable sources like wind and solar power.
  • Pretty much any episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that showed Main Engineering, considering that the Warp Core contains Antimatter. A few episodes depict the results of a Warp Core Breach, which essentially converts the entire ship (and everything nearby) into a rapidly expanding ball of white-hot energy.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The Bible: Moses meets with God (or as close to meeting God as a living man can get), but only gets to see God's back, since looking Him in the face would kill a mortal man. Moses comes back sunburned, and his face is glowing for a few days afterward such that he had to wear a veil.

    Video Games 
  • Halo establishes that active human slipspace drives are highly dangerous to be around, due to emitting radiation and just straight-up warping nearby spacetime. Indeed, it's noted that technicians who work on drives manually tend to outright vanish, and an improperly mounted/maintained drive can result in catastrophic failures like randomly teleporting half a ship into oblivion.
  • Mass Effect 2: The engine room of the Normandy 2 is built with a window looking straight into the crew quarters. Should the ship's armor not be upgraded before the Suicide Mission, damage during a fight will result in the reactor venting hot plasma directly into the crew quarters with lethal results for one of your team.

  • The White Hole energy used by Lady Spectra & Sparky is said to be highly unstable and radioactive. And indeed, exposure to the unshielded energy killed Lady Spectra's husband.
  • Sam Starfall from Freefall is an alien from a far less technologically advanced world, and he takes the hazards posed by a Polywell fusion reactor—a common "portable" power source in this setting—especially to heart, even though it rests in Florence's capable hands.
    Sam: One of the scary things about Terrans is they're peaceful and still over half their power sources put out death rays as a byproduct.

    Real Life 
  • Staring at the sun is a bad idea, at any time. Most of the time people instinctively know not to do this (as any ancestors who made a habit of it went blind) but during an eclipse the sun is different, so our gaze tends to be drawn to it. While the sun is totally covered by the moon, it's fine to look at it. Please note that this safe time is only a few minutes at most and can be as little as a few seconds.
  • Arc welding without a safety helmet can cause severe eye damage, even if you aren't looking directly at the arc. Then again, it is not what you see that is dangerous — it is what you can't see, the UV radiation. A better example is gazing into a DVD burner's laser — this time, it is the actual visible light that ends up burning its ones and zeros into your retina.
  • Heysham Nuclear Power Station in the north-west of England has a visitor's center, and part of the tour includes a viewing gallery (through some very thick glass) looking onto the top of the reactor housing (albeit, the reactor itself is sealed and shielded, and visitors are not allowed to view when they are changing out fuel rods as the top of the housing has to be open to load the new ones in). It's rather impressive to look upon.
  • Nuclear reactors in general. Nuclear runaway is a very real thing and can quickly become very difficult or outright impossible to stop, most of the mass of a typical reactor is just radiation shielding, and they require special multi-stage coolant systems to prevent irradiated water from venting its radiation into places you don't want it. note  Chernobyl comes to everyone's mind, but a fair share of reactor design flaws and avoidable human actions were involved as well.
  • Batteries with lithium-based chemistries contain volatile compounds that react violently with plain old air and require some pretty serious precautions in the design to prevent such a disaster. Such batteries are far and away the most popular option for powering cellphones. That's right, we're putting these little bombs in our pockets. These can have design flaws or be damaged (ever wonder why getting your phone wet voids the warranty?), or even be kept in a place where they get too hot, and explode with killer force.

Alternative Title(s): Showing Off The Perilous Power Source