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Plot-Demanded Manual Mode

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"The heat of the sun has melted through the navigation system. You will need to manually navigate it into the aperture."
H.U.E., Final Space, Chapter 8

Whenever a plot device (literally) must be activated to save the day, some mechanical failure or computer damage will inevitably get in the way. Someone will then have to do something manually (the word "manually" will most likely be used) to make the solution work. It often adds a burst of extra tension to a movie, or an extra goal in a game.


More often than not this trope is a consequence of a Plot-Driven Breakdown and/or may require an Override Command. See Unplanned Manual Detonation when a bomb won't go off as planned prompting a character to go after it for a manual detonation. Overlaps with Someone Has to Die in the most dire and extreme scenarios.


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Failing Autopilot:

    Comic Book 
  • Subverted in Y: The Last Man when airline stewardess Beth II tries to land the aircraft after the male pilots die in the Gendercide. The plane crashes, killing all but three of the passengers. She later realises that the automatic landing system had already been set and if she'd just left the controls alone they would likely have landed safely.

    Films — Animation 
  • WALL•E. Captain McCrea takes command of the Axiom by shutting off the mutinous AUTO and driving the ship himself.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Ad Astra. Just as the Cepheus is landing on Mars a Surge knocks out their electronics. The protagonist has to take over from the acting captain who has frozen up under pressure and land the rocket on manual.
  • In The Avengers, during the attack, when Nick Fury orders the Airborne Aircraft Carrier turned south, the navigator tells him the computers are still rebooting. Fury doesn't have patience for that.
    Fury:Is the sun coming up? Put it on the left!
  • Captain America: The First Avenger: Steve Rogers has to manually pilot the Hydra bomber plane into the ice because it's carrying several nuclear warheads programmed to target US cities and he has no way deactivate them in time.
  • Star Trek: Insurrection: While doing the 'Riker Maneuver', Commander Riker apparently believes leaving this highly-dangerous maneuver to his highly qualified bridge crew isn't wise, so he steers the Enterprise using what looks suspiciously like a computer game joystick.
    Riker: Computer, access manual steering column! Transfer helm control to manual!
    • Spoofed in Sev Trek: Pus in Boots when the joystick is missing because Data is using it to play Pokémon.
  • Major Landon from Tora! Tora! Tora! is piloting one of twelve B-17s to Pearl Harbor, only to discover that he's flying "smack into the middle of a war." Too low on fuel to try for Bellows Airfield or Wheeler Airfield, Landon must land on the battered Pearl Airfield. Worse, his right side landing wheel won't deploy. A crewman tries working a crank to get this wheel down, but the mechanism is hopelessly jammed. The result is an ugly but survivable touchdown on two wheels.
  • In Slipstream (1989), the villain attempts a Short-Lived Aerial Escape from an unstoppable android intent on revenge, but the android just smashes his way into the flight cabin, rips out all the controls and starts to choke the pilot to death. At this point his Thou Shalt Not Kill programming takes over and he decides to Save the Villain instead, but the plane is crashing and he's destroyed the controls. Oops! So the android manoeuvres the plane by physically pulling on the control cables. Reality Ensues and the airplane crashes.
  • In Total Recall (1990), Quaid is chased by the bad guys and gets into an Automated Automobile but since he cannot name a valid destination, the robot driver refuses to go anywhere. Cue Quaid ripping the robot from its chair and driving the car himself.
  • Inverted in Sunshine where the Master Computer takes control of the Icarus II spacecraft from the astronauts, because it has been programmed to prioritise the mission. Exposure to sunlight has started a fire in the garden that provides their oxygen, so the computer turns the Icarus II so the heatshield is fully facing the sun, killing the captain who is on the heatshield doing repairs. The astronauts try to re-establish Manual Mode to prevent this, but the captain refuses to give his permission.
  • In I, Robot Spooner deactivates his car's autopilot when the traffic control network puts him between two trucks full of homicidal robots.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Blake's 7:
    • In "Breakdown", Zen switches itself off rather than pilot the Liberator through a Forbidden Zone. Jenna has to do the job manually, but it's pointed out by Avon that the Liberator is designed for computer control, so this trope will get them killed if they don't get the computer back on-line, due to cumulative minor errors by the pilot.
      Vila: What was all that about? Everything is running smoothly.
      Blake: That was because everything was balanced before the computers went off line. Try and adjust something, and you unbalance something else. Try and adjust that, you unbalance two more and before you know what's happened, the ship is out of control.
    • In the final episode, Scorpio is crashing-landing on a planet so the crew has teleport off, except for Tarrant who insists on Going Down with the Ship.
      Tarrant: If I leave the controls for a second, she'll flip over and break up!
      Avon: Slave, take over the flight controls!
      Slave: I am most humbly sorry, Master, but I can find no flight controls.
      Tarrant: It dropped below his tolerance a couple of minutes ago. It's only a computer, Avon. It takes talent to fly a dead ship.
  • Star Trek: Voyager. In "Caretaker", a much larger spaceship is hammering Voyager. So Chakotay sets his even smaller vessel on a collision course, but his guidance system is disabled so he has to pilot it manually. He has Voyager put a transporter lock on him to beam him out at the last second.

  • In the sci-fi novel The Neutronium Alchemist, the intelligence agents pursuing Dr Alkad Mzu have to switch to manual driving when the electronic-warfare abilities of the Possessed glitch their Automated Automobiles.
  • In the graphic novel of The Stainless Steel Rat for President, the title character and his family have stolen a spaceship only to be hit by a missile as they're returning to the planet.
    James diGriz: The auto-guidance has had it and the motors are shot. We're out of control and burning up!
    Jim diGriz: You're not trying hard enough son. This rustbucket is so old it actually has wings. We can glide down.
    James diGriz: Manual aerodymanic re-entry? That hasn't been done for centuries!
  • Spaceship Medic by Harry Harrison. A solar flare is heading towards a damaged spacecraft, and the only defense from the radiation is to evacuate everyone to the engine room, then turn the spaceship so the heavily shielded part is facing towards the solar flare. Unfortunately the officers who know how to program the ship to do this are dead, and the control circuits are nowhere near the engine room, so someone has to remain exposed to the radiation to operate them. The pilot works out an improvised radiation shield by putting himself in a spacesuit, then flooding the room with water, but then the spacesuit starts running out of oxygen before the flare has passed.
  • Limbo by Bernard Wolfe. During World War Three the protagonist has stolen an aircraft in an impulsive act of desertion. The Master Computer controlling the aircraft sends the airplane back to the airfield just when the enemy launch an attack. Facing either death from radiation poisoning or execution, he has to take an axe to the controls, thus damaging the autopilot and invoking this trope.

    Puppet Shows 
  • In Thunderbirds, during the climax of the first movie, the pilot of the Zero-X volunteers to stay in the cockpit and steer the damaged ship while the other crew members retreat into the escape pod. Downplayed in the pilot doesn't have to manually steer the craft, but it's just that he can do a better job at keeping the Zero-X steady than the automatic pilot.

    Video Games 
  • Super Robot Wars: Kai Kitamura is an Ace Pilot who favors the weak, mass-produced Gespenst machines, but can control their movements manually instead of relying on patterns preprogrammed in, making them more acrobatic and capable of pulling off complex maneuvers like judo throws. It's implied that the Jet Magnum and Gespenst Kick attacks found in some models are based on movement data recorded by Kai, and he's also developed upgraded versions like the Jet Magnum S and Jet Phantom.

    Web Videos 
  • In Red vs. Blue, after Andy the Bomb goes off in a ship, the Flight Log shows that Tex tried to resort to manual control after the computer failed to stabilize the ship.
  • Key of Awesome's Space Girl is trying to Abandon Ship, but her ship's computer keeps debating the issue. Space Girl threatens to use the Manual Override, and we're shown a bank of levers marked with everything from SELF DESTRUCT to PULL IF COMPUTER IS IN DENIAL.

    Western Animation 
  • One episode of Kim Possible has the titular character working along a talking self-driving car to save the car's maker. During the climax the car gets damaged and cannot self drive, so Kim has to do it herself. Also in this episode Kim was having confidence issues due to her driving classes.
  • Subverted in an episode of The Simpsons: Future-Kearney is a cab driver who must take future-Maggie to the hospital. When his cab automatic driving computer malfunctions, Kearney takes his driving gloves, but they turn out to also be automatic, and he orders them to drive.
  • Final Space: In episode 8, the Galaxy One has to fly into a sun in order to reach the dimension of the titan Bolo. It's a potentially suicidal move since the slightest error would result in the ship crashing into the sun and burning up. H.U.E., the ship's AI, tries to do it, but the sun's heat destroys the navigation system, forcing Gary to fly the ship manually. He barely manages to pull it off.
  • In the Codename: Kids Next Door movie Operation: Z.E.R.O., Numbuh One plans to drop the Moon Base on Grandfather, but the battle to get control of the base destroys the targeting system, so he has to aim the base manually.

    Real Life 
  • Happened in Faith 7, the final Mercury mission. Astronaut Gordon Cooper had to do a lot of the re-entry steps manually because the onboard computer controls started malfunctioning.
  • Apollo 11's lunar module had to be taken under manual control and landed by Armstrong because the computer was sending it toward a boulder field.

Failing Auto-Target:

    Films — Live-Action 
  • During the Battle of the Mutara Nebula in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the auto-targeting locks for the weapons systems are inoperative because the nebula interferes with the ship's sensors. Sulu tries to fire phasers at the Reliant, but an inconvenient jolt causes his shots to go wide. Similarly, Khan is forced to blind-fire at the Enterprise. It's only at point-blank range that either ship can score any hits.
  • Star Wars: A New Hope: Luke has to turn off his targeting computer and use the Force to destroy the Death Star.
  • Inverted in the Star Wars parody Thumb Wars. During the trench run on the Death Star, Obi-Wan Kenobi's voice urges Luke to use the battle computer, because hitting small targets is what a sophisticated weapons computer is designed to do.
  • In the climatic scene of Moonraker, James Bond and Holly Goodhead use a laser-armed space shuttle to locate and destroy three globes filled with nerve gas sent to kill off the entire world population. As per Rule of Three the first two are destroyed easily, but as the shuttle enters the atmosphere the automatic targeting starts to malfunction from the heat and vibration, so Bond has to aim it manually using a fold-out joystick.
  • Star Trek:
    • At the beginning of the film, Kirk's father gets put in command of the Kelvin as it's attacked by the Narada, and ends up ordering everyone to abandon ship. He's about to escape himself when the computer informs him that the automatic controls have been destroyed. He stays and performs a Heroic Sacrifice, manually shooting down torpedoes being fired at the escape shuttles and finally ramming his ship into the Narada.
    • Later on in the film, the computer is having difficulties locking onto a falling Kirk and Sulu, so Chekhov rushes from his station on the bridge all the way to the transporter room so he can manually lock on for a Teleportation Rescue.

    Video Games 
  • Devil May Cry 5: Nero can normally target enemies easily and then automatically aim at them when he attacks. When he activates the "Tomboy" Devil Breaker, however, it increases his attack power dramatically at the cost of him being unable to automatically aim.

Manual Opening/Closing/Unlocking/Activating:

    Comic Books 
  • The second Superman/Spider-Man Team-Up offers an example. The regulating computer for Dr. Doom's reactor has been damaged in the final battle with the heroes, and without it, the reactor will melt down. Superman's the only one who can hold the reactor's core, so he dives underground and leaves Spider-Man to deal with the damaged computer.
Fortunately, Spidey figures out which lever to throw (and in what direction, thanks to his patented Spidey-Sense) just in time to avert the cataclysm.

    Films — Animation 
  • One of three huge circuit breakers of Titan A.E. won't reset, which means Cale's plan to reroute Drej energy will fail. Fortunately, a Heel–Face Turn by Captain Korso results in this man making a manual bridge between the contacts.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the Nautilus is sinking from a bomb explosion, and controls to seal off the area where the hull is breached aren't working. Mr. Hyde needs to swim down and release the hatch manually.
  • In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the Enterprise crew's stolen Klingon bird of prey is sinking into San Francisco Bay. Kirk needs to swim underwater and manually open the hatch to release the whales, as the automatic systems won't respond.
  • Jurassic Park: To manually restore the power that Nedry foolishly shut down, Dr. Sattler must sneak into the utility bunker that routes power to different parts of the park. This provides for a convenient Trapped with Monster Plot situation when Dr. Sattler finds herself alone in the bunker with a dinosaur.
  • In Passengers (2016), Chris Pratt's character has to go outside the starship and open the fusion reactor's outer vent door because the electronics failures across the ship disabled the internal controls. To make things worse, the door closes the second he takes his hand off the lever, requiring him to stay out there in the plasma stream while Jennifer Lawrence opens the inner door.
  • Avengers: Infinity War: In order to restart the forge on Nidavellir so that they can make the Stormbreaker axe, Thor has to hold the forge's lens open because the mechanism was crippled during the last use. Eitri notes that taking the full force of a Neutron star would be a suicide mission but Thor is willing to take the risk because facing Thanos without the axe is just as much of a suicide. Needless to say, Thor succeeds.
  • Space Cowboys: The Russian satellite's propulsion system is malfunctioning and it's free-falling towards Earth, which wouldn't be a problem if said satellite wasn't also carrying a dozen armed nuclear warheads. In order to prevent the oncoming disaster, the terminally-ill Hawkins straps himself on the satellite, points it towards outer space, and fires up the missiles' propulsion systems, guiding it away from the planet.
  • After Doctor Bowman from 2001: A Space Odyssey disables the A.I. Is a Crapshoot HAL 9000 computer, he must operate the spacecraft Discovery on manual, though many of the ship's subsystems are autonomous, and require nothing more than monitoring and acknowledgement. Nevertheless, Bowman must review system logs regularly.
  • Alien 40th Anniversary Shorts. In "Harvest", the Escape Pod can only take two people and there are three survivors, so Mari manually overrides the command so it will launch. However it's then revealed that Mari has placed two alien eggs on board to impregnate the two survivors, and she's actually doing this so the escape pod will launch regardless of its biocontainment protocols.
  • Subverted in Interstellar. Dr Mann tries to manually dock with the spacecraft after TARS shuts off the autodocking system. He ends up killing himself because the shuttle isn't forming a proper seal, so when he opens the hatch Explosive Decompression blows him out the airlock.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Stranger Things episode "The Mind Flayer", the lab went into emergency shut down, locking the heroes in with the demodogs. Bob had to reach the basement to override the security codes with a manual input that would open gates for the group to escape.
  • In the 7Days episode "Lifeboat", Frank has to manually prevent a reactor meltdown. He gets a lethal radiation dose, but, luckily, one of the alien devices Project Backstep has is intended to treat such cases.
  • Deconstructed in one episode of Andromeda. One of the ship's parts fails, so Beka and Tyr have to start manually performing the functions it was supposed to do while Dylan hunts down a replacement. Since these are mundane functions, they both start getting more and more bored as it drags on.
  • In a Lenny Henry spoof of Doctor Who, the Doctor can't get the TARDIS to start, so has to resort to the dimorphic inertia system. His Companion promptly hands him a crank-start handle. This may refer back to a more serious instance in "Death to the Daleks," in which he had to open the doors with a crank-handle after the TARDIS found itself completely without power.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In the first episode after the saucer & drive sections of the Enterprise are separated, Picard tells Riker to do the redocking manually — which is still fairly computer-aided, it's just a question of giving individual orders/instructions rather than pressing the "dock" button.
    • In Star Trek: Voyager, in the climax of "Future's End", Captain Janeway has to crawl into a photon torpedo tube and launch it manually because most of Voyager's computer systems have been knocked out. She ends up being scorched by the exhaust gasses, though not seriously as the Doctor was on hand to treat her.
  • In the The Incredible Hulk episode "747," Hulk foils a group of jewel thieves aboard an airliner, and in the struggle, a bullet damages a hydraulic hose that controls the flight surfaces. As the pane arrives at its destination, the controls have lost so much pressure that they can't be operated by a normal person, ensuring that the plane will crash. A teenage boy, whose father is a pilot and was reading a manual, manages to convince Hulk before he turns back into Banner to take control of the plane, and with his strength, the plane manages to land safely.

    Video Games 
  • Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. The Aurora Unit instructed Samus to assemble the Theronian bomb so they could drop it on top of the Leviathan Seed shield to breach it. In order to do this, Samus has to Ride the Bomb and disable the engines manually.
  • Portal 2: The opening ride ends with Wheatly performing a "manual override" (via Ramming Always Works) to dock the sleeping compartment. The actual docking port was a few hundred feet below, presumably in working condition.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Simpsons episode "King Size Homer", Homer makes himself obese so he could work from home. His job is to release gas from the plant's boiler to avoid buildup that would lead to a catastrophic meltdown, which he does from a computer workstation set up in his house. When he slacks off and gas starts to build up, he has to run to the plant and release the valve manually. He barely makes it when the tank blows, but fortunately, his fat body blocks the hole in the tank.
  • The original Justice League finale (before Unlimited) saw Batman Colony Drop the League's orbital station, the Watchtower, onto the bad guys' main base on Earth. Because the Watchtower wasn't actually designed for this thing, he was forced to stay behind after everyone else evacuated to manually guide the descent until he passed out from the heat and was pried out of his seat in the last second by Superman.
  • In the Justice League episode "The Enemy Below", the controls on the Doomsday Device are destroyed, so Batman goes inside for a manual reset while John provides a defensive field for him.


    Films — Live-Action 
  • The cranking-down-the-undercarriage version also happens in Memphis Belle, albeit they succeed Just in Time in that case.
  • Captain America: Civil War: When Iron Man's targeting systems are damaged in the final battle, he raises his visor and aims the missile-launcher attached to his arm with the Mark One Eyeball.

  • Stewart Cowley's Terran Trade Authority universe features this trope during the Laguna Wars in Great Space Battles. The centrally controlled human battlefleet is vulnerable to the Lagunans' control-systems disorientation weapon and the manual backup systems are grossly suboptimal, so the mothball fleet of a previous era actually designed for independent manual control is hauled out of retirement.

    Live-Action TV 

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • In "Episode 0" of Code 7, once you and Sam finally reach your ship so you can escape Schrödinger Station, you find out that automatic controls are disabled. Sam needs 50 energy for maintaining the Deflector Shields, so you have to distribute the other 50 between the engine (main thruster and attitude control unit) and life support (oxygen, pressure and thermal control unit).

    Web Animation 
  • In Animator vs. Animation 4, the mouse cursor is destroyed and the animator has to use the keyboard to recover it.


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