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Reluctant Mad Scientist

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"Science does not have a moral dimension. It is like a knife.
If you give it to a surgeon or a murderer, each will use it differently."
Wernher von Braun, inventor of the V2 ballistic missile and the Saturn V rocket (and a notable non-example of this trope as per the USA's Operation Paperclip)

The Reluctant Mad Scientist considers himself a sensible man of science whose quest of discovery is unaccountably misused by his Evil Boss for destructive purposes. Reluctant Mad Scientists (and wizardly/seer variants) do not require a change of heart to do good; they merely need a change of employer, but they have Magic Nerd License to do what they want either way, as attested to in real life characters.

Prior to the introduction of this trope, all stories about Mad Scientists (Faust, original Frankenstein, Lovecraft) seem to revolve around the scientist's own ethical and mental condition, usually involving Things Man Was Not Meant to Know that somehow cause him to go mad. In traditional accounts, the mad scientist himself suffers a nervous breakdown of some sort and becomes either the villain or the victim of his own experiments. Or at best he'd commit a Heroic Sacrifice so that our sensible, down-to-earth protagonists can right the wrongs he created. As if!

The obviously charismatic Einstein and other early 20th-century physicists somehow inspired the notion of the Reluctant Mad Scientist who is generally beyond good and evil by virtue of sheer genius, leading to this new version of the Mad Scientist.

The new generation of Reluctant Mad Scientists mark a refreshing non-villainous departure whose work was undeniably of immediate value to civilization, but only in the right hands. Unlike ordinary Mad Scientists, they are not heroes or villains per se; they are simply the only person who can be trusted to handle the new Weapon of Mass Destruction they invented. This usually makes them into a Living MacGuffin as far as the plot is concerned.

This set up a new image of the scientist as a sort of natural resource, to be sought after by both sides. The Reluctant Mad Scientist may or may not be tormented by the evil that other men do with his work, but either way he is a Magical Nerd whom mortals must tolerate.

The Reluctant Mad Scientist is generally morally neutral, and is rarely held accountable for the adverse consequences of his work. So long as he avoids romantic entanglements and anything else that might produce a character arc and self-doubt, he is ensured of a long and productive career.

As a Magic Nerd, the Reluctant Mad Scientist is usually presented as the only person in the story who truly understands the implications of his work and thus the only person who is truly worried about applying it to good use. When detained by the hero, he will often immediately enter into a lecture warning of the evil to which his own inventions could be turned if used by anyone, such as, say, the evil boss who has funded his efforts for the past 20 years.

Of course, everyone knows evil people are expected to disregard the Reluctant Mad Scientist's instructions not to use the Death Ray for harm; what's important is the good guy must not be allowed to make a similar mistake, and it is the responsibility of the Hero, not the Reluctant Mad Scientist, to destroy all copies of the Death Plans before they are made operational. Unlike the traditional Anti-Villain, the Reluctant Mad Scientist is not required to ask "My God, What Have I Done?"

Even when employed by the Big Bad, he is generally portrayed as True Neutral because he is only concerned with one thing: to continue his work. When the Earth has been blasted into a million pieces, the Reluctant Mad Scientist only shakes his head and says, "I told you so".

The Reluctant Mad Scientist is obsessed with his work and is unconcerned with outcomes or prosaic ambitions. He will either work for anybody so long as his work gets funded, or he will justify continuing his experiments in hopes of some abstract public good regardless of what the Big Bad does with them. He will immediately start collaborating with the Hero if "rescued", but only if he perceives that the other side values his work and wants to continue it.

It is important to note that the main distinguishing characteristic of the Reluctant Mad Scientist is that he does not require a Heel–Face Turn to be persuaded to come and work for the good guys; indeed, if he ever does pick a moral side, he is almost sure to be the next character killed. Nor is he held responsible for righting his previous wrongs, because they are never perceived by him to be mistakes, merely discoveries.

  • The Reluctant Mad Scientist merely works for whomever is likely to get his ideas out there. After all, Colonel Badass also wants to know how to build a Phlebotinum Bomb in order to study and defend against this new phenomenon.

  • Previously motivated only by his work, only The Power of Love can persuade the Reluctant Mad Scientist to destroy all his efforts after declaring that, "mankind was not meant to know what I have discovered." This conveniently preserves the status quo, because no one else gets to use his inventions to benefit world civilization in the next episode.

  • After being rescued/turned by the Hero, they will inevitably show up again after the climax and provide a solution to help the Hero escape from the Collapsing Lair which was usually set off by the failure of the scientist to disarm his own creation, which he was supposed to do while the Big Battle was taking place.

  • Corollary: the Reluctant Mad Scientist almost always delivers his creation to the Big Bad before its effects are known and before he has figured out how to disarm the device or reverse the effects. He must then spend the entire story trying to figure this out. He usually fails, prompting the Hero to simply inflict random damage to the Weapon of Mass Destruction causing it to only destroy the boss's lair and nothing else.

The Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter may be his Morality Chain, or his Conscience. A Playful Hacker could turn out to be a Reluctant Mad Scientist. If he is Reformed, but Not Tamed or an Ignored Expert for long, he may as well be Well-Intentioned Extremist.

Compare and contrast Cut Lex Luthor a Check and Trapped in Villainy. Related tropes include Motherly Scientist, Doctor von Turncoat, and You Can't Make an Omelette....

Science-Related Memetic Disorder is probably the opposite of this trope.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Dr. Onishi in AKIRA. He ignores an order to kill Tetsuo if Tetsuo's vital signs get out of hand. You have two guesses why, and the first guess (deeply cares about saving Tetsuo's life?) doesn't count. Tellingly, nobody ever blames him for the outcome.
  • Nina Einstein in Code Geass ends up as this. She makes a weapon of mass destruction for Britannia with help from Schneizel (her first few tries are spectacular failures), then after seeing what happens, turns right around and makes the counter-weapon.
  • Cyborg 009:
    • Subverted with Dr. Isaac Gilmore. He knew damn well what he was getting into when joining Black Ghost and it took him years to develop enough conscience to drop out. His subconscious doesn't let him forget that detail, either.
    • Played straighter with Dr. Finder, however. He first was kidnapped by Black Ghost to force him build a certain super weapon, and when it seemed that he would stop doing that, they kidnapped his daughter Cynthia to twist his arm even more. Then Cynthia is rescued by the Cyborg team...
    • In the graphic novel reboot, 001's father is portrayed this way. He works with Black Ghost to save his son from a deadly illness and is clearly not on board with their plans for global domination. After 001 pleads with him to stand down because he accomplished his goal and saved his child, he performs a Heroic Sacrifice to let the cyborgs escape.
  • Kishin Corps (a.k.a. Alien Defender Geo Armor) has an alternate Eva Braun as a Broken Bird of a Reluctant Mecha scientist who worked on making Imported Alien Phlebotinum into Humongous Mecha for the Axis before being captured by the good guys and working for them with little to no moral difficulty.
  • Seiketsu No Hagurama has a literally blue-blooded prince construct Steampunk Mechanical Monsters called Kirin for his father who, unbeknownst to him, uses them to eradicate the remaining red-blooded refugees in a war between the red-blood and blue-blood groups.

    Asian Animation 
  • In Guardian Fairy Michel, Dr. White's greatest fear was that his inventions would be used for evil. Sadly, he was right.

    Comic Books 
  • Will Magnus, creator of the Metal Men, is conscripted to be one in 52. Most of the others in the program are more than happy to go along with it. It's also revealed that he has bipolar disorder which makes him a Mad Scientist — the only reason why he works for the Science Squad is because its members took away his meds. Then combined with Beware the Nice Ones when he rebuilds the Metal Men secretly and takes on the evil conspiracy keeping him as prisoner from the inside.
  • Professor Cuthbert Calculus in Tintin, who is also an Absent-Minded Professor; most notably in The Calculus Affair, in which he's abducted by Taschists after he invents a Tesla-style sonic superweapon. Calculus is extremely opposed to any government using his invention, goes to meet a fellow scientist because his discovery frightens him, and burns the plans on his own volition. He'd become much less of a Cloudcuckoolander at this point in the series and more The Professor, even as his inventions became more dangerous and sought-after.
  • Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen, although he's more of a super-powered being whose research is largely unrelated to his ability to explore the universe and have his powers harvested for devastation. Of course, it's justified in his case, as he really has no reason to care about what happens.
  • X-Wing Rogue Squadron: Prior to the storyline The Phantom Affair, physicist Rorax Falken was consulted by the Empire about constructing artificial moons to benefit underdeveloped planets. He suffered a mental breakdown upon discovering that Emperor Palpatine used his work to help build the Death Star.

    Fan Works 
  • Abraxas (Hrodvitnon): Ren Serizawa has shades of this when he's doing technical work on Project Talos. He's been contributing significantly to the creation of Kiryu as an ostensible Monarch-controlled ally for Godzilla, but Walter Simmons is exploiting Ren to further Apex Cybernetics' sinister agenda (which is implied to be just as bad here as in Godzilla vs. Kong). Partly defied, as Ren uncovers the negative Morality Chip that was coded into Kiryu without his knowledge, and he makes some tweaks of his own to rectify it.
  • Marionettes: Dr. Bright Future was hired by the Stallions in Black to create the titular machines, which they intended to use to carry out what they believed was the Tree of Harmony's plan.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The second American Ninja movie features the Big Bad using a doctor/biologist's input to create a line of Super Soldiers trained in ninjutsu and meant to be assassins and enforcers for his enterprise. The doctor is horrified by this, claiming that his work was supposed to be for the improvement of humanity. In the end the doctor blows up his lab so the work will be destroyed and cannot be misused again, taking the Big Bad with him in the process.
  • Dr. Regent is horrified when his Death Ray falls into the wrong hands in the 1932 film Chandu The Magician. (What good use he could possibly have in mind for a Death Ray remains a mystery.)
  • In Danger!! Death Ray, the scientist who invented the titular Death Ray exclaimed that he only wanted his invention to be used for peaceful purposes. Just like the above example, what those peaceful purposes are exactly is anyone's guess.
  • Daybreakers: Edward is working at a company in the vampire-dominated world harvesting humans to try and make an artificial blood substitute, although he is only doing so to try and stop humans being slaughtered for blood like cattle and is quick to jump onboard with a faction instead working to try and cure vampirism.
  • Deep Blue Sea: Susan McAllister and Jim Whitlock are only looking for a cure for dementia when they're forced to genetically enhance man-eating sharks to harvest viable brain tissue from them. Unfortunately, while their security protocols are enough to keep the sharks from easily escaping, they aren't enough to stop the smarter than normal sharks from flooding the research facility and eating people. Unusually for the trope, Susan and Jim aren't driven to genetically enhance the sharks because their employer is evil, but because he's impatient with their experiments and contemplating cutting their funding.
  • Diamonds Are Forever has Dr. Metz, a "committed pacifist" who lends his expertise to Blofeld to create an orbiting death ray which will ensure world peace... right?
  • Nahum Whitley from Die, Monster, Die! is trying to use a radioactive Magic Meteor to grow larger vegetables but ended up turning plants, animals and people into monsters.
  • Godzilla:
    • Godzilla (1954): Dr. Serizawa. He invents a weapon called the Oxygen Destroyer, but refuses to make his findings public and fears what'll happen if it gets into the wrong hands. It's only after he sees the destruction Godzilla has caused that he decides to use it... but only once.
    • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): Dr. Emma Russell has invented a bio-acoustic device called the ORCA, with which she can communicate with the Kaiju, manipulate their behavior to a limit, and potentially bring humanity closer to achieving cohabitation with the creatures. Mercenaries led by Charles Dance kidnap her and force her to use the device to forcibly awaken the dormant Kaiju around the world, including King Ghidorah. Subverted, as Emma was actually in cahoots with the mercenaries to set the Kaiju loose all along.
  • In Iron Man, Tony Stark is perfectly fine with developing cutting-edge weapons systems... until he finds out they're being covertly sold to Middle Eastern terrorists, at which point he instantly shuts down the company's weapons manufacturing division and uses the titular Powered Armor to annihilate the terrorists' cache of Stark weapons. Tony then refuses to share the technology behind either the suit, or the miniature arc reactor that powers it and keeps him alive, for fear of what they might be used for. At the climax of the film, Obadiah Stane steals the arc reactor to power his own Iron Monger suit, and to copy its technology for use in weapons of mass destruction.
  • The Losers: The Indian scientists making Max's island destroying weapon in the film are at least partially motivated by knowing that he'll kill them if they refuse (although their leader at least still is out to get paid for it).
  • Professor Fassbender in The Pink Panther Strikes Again, who is forced to make a Disintegrator Ray for the mad Dreyfus, after threats against his daughter and the use of Nails on a Blackboard.
  • Resident Evil: Apocalypse: Charles Ashford only made the cell-regenerating virus to cure his paralyzed daughter and it's largely the fault of the sleazy pharmaceutical company he worked for that it got out of control and started a zombie apocalypse.
  • Galen Erso in Rogue One is a research scientist who gets forcibly recruited to construct a super-weapon for the Galactic Empire. That super-weapon turns out to be the original Death Star of the chronologically later Star Wars film A New Hope. Resenting the fact that he has been taken from his family, he secretly plants a weak spot, a thermal exhaust port leading directly to the main reactor, which would easily be destroyed by even a small starfighter.
  • The former members of Unit 11 in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow are classic examples, forced to conduct experiments to save the human race from extinction from a war that ultimately didn't escalate to the depths they'd thought, causing them to wash their hands of the project and try to leave.
  • Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams: Romero spliced animal DNA and created a lot of monsters, but he was just making small ones for a zoo before they accidentally were made to grow big (and they aren't that dangerous in the end), with Romero being more afraid of them than eager to exploit them.
  • Professor Deemer in Tarantula! wants to use the nutrient he has invented to end world hunger. Unfortunately, its side effects include deformity and death in humans, and gigantism in animals. Deemer is smart enough not to release the nutrient to the public until he has fixed these problems. It's not his fault that his assistants kill themselves by taking the nutrient before it's ready. Or that before one of them dies, he accidentally releases a giant tarantula that they had created while testing the nutrient. Really, the only thing Deemer is guilty of is not thinking to only test the gigantism-causing nutrient on herbivorous animals.

  • Deconstructed with Dr. Robert Stadler of Atlas Shrugged. He sees himself as a noble pure scientist who seeks only to discover truths about the physical cosmos, and he is shown to have real tendencies to live up to his values of achievement and humanitarianism. However, his allowing himself to be co-opted by the evil government of looters — laying the groundwork for a weapon of mass destruction — is not portrayed as excusable, and he is often considered to be the most evil villain in the book (not least because John Galt's speech calls him out by name). He has a moment of Ignored Epiphany when he gives a speech about how great it is that he's given the government an increase in firepower — though he's selling out his true belief, that he disapproves of how the weapon (best known as Project X) will obviously be used for repressive purposes. And his end is somewhat similar to the tropes of a character who's a just-plain Mad Scientist: He begins to believe that it's okay to force the masses into doing his will, he ends up fighting with another character who, like himself, is planning to defy the bosses in Washington to use the Project X weapon to take over a part of the country, and both are destroyed by the weapon that Stadler helped to invent.
  • Discworld:
    • Leonard of Quirm (loosely based on Leonardo da Vinci) is a subversion; he never envisions violent uses for his ideas, and immediately becomes horrified and angry if anyone else suggests such uses for them. When one of his inventions is used for ignoble means, he tries to have it — and all of his plans and diagrams — destroyed out of shame. A later book suggests that he does realize the destructive potential, but tries to sell it as being used for peaceful purposes. When he designs an obvious weapon that he can't possibly spin into something else, he sighs and burns the plans.
    • Qu, the gadgets and weaponry man for the History Monks, is another example of the type — only he makes no evasions about his gadgetry being weaponised. It doesn't always work as intended, but that doesn't stop him.
    • Ponder Stibbons, in his quiet methodical way, comes up with concepts for the Wizards of Unseen University which have many unintended consequences. His less careful and more bellicose colleagues tend to misuse them or exploit the consequences in a way that horrifies Ponder. These include a seriously Big Bang.
  • The assistant to the titular doctor of Dr. Franklin's Island, Dr. Skinner, is tormented by the ethical ramifications of turning unwilling teenagers into Mix-and-Match Critters and then psychologically testing them. He's swayed by the potential of the research and by an unspecified past that means he can't get work in this field and at this level elsewhere, and is somewhat weak-willed anyway. While drunk he tries to set some test subjects free, but Dr. Franklin catches him and Skinner immediately bows his head and returns to helping him, though that's not the end of his conflict.
  • The Girl With All the Gifts: Dr. Selkirk clearly dislikes helping Caldwell's vivisections of the zombie children. Eventually she can barely look at the kids. Caldwell notices this, but sees it just as a testimony to her own triumph and talent, accomplishing so much with just a single, weak-stomached assistant.
  • The Last Days of Krypton: Jor-El is an interesting variant of the trope. He's a genuine Science Hero whose inventions are being used to save Krypton from various cataclysmic disasters. It's just that Zod, the man granting him the resources to carry out those projects, also finds ways to use those same inventions for tyranny and destruction once they've served their original purpose (to Jor-El's distress).
  • Dr. Kokintz, the inventor of the Q-Bomb in The Mouse That Roared. In the end, he's happy to see his weapon unused.
  • Blayce the Nothing Man in Protector of the Small, when cornered by a furious Kel, claims to be this. He was born with the necromantic aptitude to use human souls to power horrific metal constructs and he'll do it for anyone, offering his services immediately to Kel's king. Kel doesn't believe him - he likes what he does, and he doesn't have to use children for it - and kills him rather than finding out if King Jonathan actually would allow Blayce to change sides.
  • Smoke features a pair of scientists seeking a cure for skin cancer. Their experiments turn their test subject invisible as a side effect. To the scientists' dismay, this interests their Corrupt Corporate Executive boss far more than their original medical research.
  • Star Wars: Catalyst: Galen Erso (along with several other more minor characters) was hired to design an energy source based on the Kyber crystals and wasn't told it would be used as a weapon: the Death Star.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Qwi Xux and the team of scientists that built the Death Star, which they believed was for blowing apart asteroids to get at the valuable minerals inside. Unusually, she does get called out on her naivete (for example, believing that anything called "Death Star" wouldn't be used for exactly that), and winds up siding with the New Republic. Of course, according to the Empire's propaganda department, the official name for the Death Star was Imperial Planetary Ore Extractor. It should also be noted that her part in this trope is taken to Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds levels, as the reason why she even felt as though she had to solve problems no matter the cost is because Wilhuff Tarkin, after taking her from her family, had her go through an intense high-risks mathematics/science course taught by him and his underlings. And by "high-risks", we mean "if one of the students failed to answer a question correctly, Tarkin will force said student to watch as his/her home village is destroyed from orbit, and then executed shortly thereafter" kind of "high-risks". The fact that she, not to mention her home village, were the only ones that literally survived that harsh course makes matters a lot worse.
    • Years before Galaxy of Fear, Mammon Hoole was one of these. He and his colleague were conducting experiments on the nature of life. His colleague knew the latest one would backfire horrifically and wipe out all life on the planet, and after consulting with the Emperor decided not to tell him. Hoole felt responsible, went into hiding for a few years, and came out as a different kind of scientist — an anthropologist. Some of his old work still comes up in the series.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Avengers (1960s): The episode "Return of the Cybernauts" has a couple of these being hired/coerced (with varying levels of enthusiasm) into assisting with the villain's revenge scheme against Steed and Emma.
  • Phil and Lem from Better Off Ted invent exactly the kinds of things mad scientists are supposed to but are shown following not only proper lab procedure (most of the time) but also keeping strictly to testing protocols. The dubious legal and ethical grounding of their work is mostly a matter of what Veridian Dynamics assigns them to develop than personal insanity.
  • Yvonne Hartman, Director of Torchwood in the Doctor Who episode "Army of Ghosts", widens an apparent power source leading to the void between realities and lets through an army of Cybermen.
  • Topher Brink of Dollhouse is an interesting example. At first, he seems the perfect man for the job, a sociopath who sees human beings as toys. However, it soon becomes rather clear that much of this is merely scientific detachment, and although he's immature and his morals are shaky, his favorite parts of the Dollhouse are the assignments that make him feel like a good person (like the Priya storyline... at first). By the end of the series, his loyalties are clear.
  • The eponymous town in Eureka exists in part to keep these people (scientists with legitimately reasonable and innovative goals and research projects which sometimes go haywire) from falling into the wrong hands.
  • Hogan's Heroes has this several times with people the Heroes help defect.
    • "The Witness" has a Russian Wernher von Braun stand-in working for the Nazi rocketry program. He built the rocket just to test his theory and then programmed it so it would turn right around and kill everyone at its launch point, including himself in order to keep his rocket design from being used for the war effort. Fortunately, his plan was thwarted.
    • Dr. Vanetti in "The Assassin" is a somewhat easily flustered atomic scientist being pressured to invent the bomb for the Nazis, when he'd prefer to defect and ride out the war, feeling such a weapon would be "far too noisy".
    • "The Scientist" features Henri Dubois, a French chemist working for the Nazis to develop a synthetic fuel who turns out to only be helping them because the Germans have his daughter hostage.
    • Karl Svenson in "How to Win Friends and Influence Nazis" is the inventor of a new steel alloy but is reluctant to give it to the German government unless they can prove that their prison camps are humane, and is only willing to consider it due to a desire to bring a quick end to the war.
    • In "Carter Turns Traitor", Leni Ricther, the second in command of a chemical warfare program, turns out to be a secret opponent of Hitler who has been deliberately sabotaging the project to keep it from producing anything useful for the German war effort.
    • Professors Rieman and Bauer in "The Dropouts" are atomic scientists introduced trying to flee to Switzerland with their recently completed research rather than entrust it to Hitler.
  • Jeremiah:
    • Jeremiah's father and his lab partner Dr. Weil were manipulated into creating the Big Death virus by the U.S. government and are appalled by everything it did. They immediately devoted themselves to trying to undermine the Valhalla Sector from within afterward, although Dr. Weil didn't live long after that.
    • "The Face in the Mirror" has a flashback which shows several other Valhalla Sector scientists being miserable in the work they do for a budding dictatorship and talking about how they want to stop it. Several of them (a team of psychological warfare experts) escape Raven Rock to set up an opposition government of their own. Most of them end up becoming their own antithesises (assuming they were ever genuinely noble in the first place), but Dr. Monash is as appalled by them as he was by the Valhalla Sector and ends up defecting.

    New Media 
  • Dr. Ian Asmodeus, a sweet, pretty Mad Scientist from the virtual pet site Subeta, will create potentially dangerous items for anyone who provides the materials, and stated in his Q&A thread that he'll work for anyone who funds his projects.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000 provides an interesting variant in the form of Magnus the Red, Primarch of the Thousand Sons. He was the galaxy's most powerful and knowledgeable psychic after his father, the Emperor; and in this weird, gothic Science Fantasy setting, this made him more akin to a mad wizard than a mad scientist. After some political maneuvering by Magnus's brothers and the covert influence by a malign deity, the Emperor called the Council of Nikaea, in which the use of psychic powers were publicly banned. (The Thousand Sons's hat was warrior-psychics, so they would have to radically change everything from the ground up, had they complied.) The Horus Heresy broke out, Magnus used his power to reach out to the Emperor across the galaxy. What Magnus didn't realize was that the psychic shock caused enormous damage across Earth, even destroying the Emperor's secret projects for the Imperium's long term survival. The Emperor dispatched the Space Wolves in response to subdue Magnus and his Legion, with Horus intercepting the order and altering it to destroy them. The following battle ended with Magnus sacrificing his physical body to transport the relative few survivors of his Legion to a new planet, and having to throw his lot in with the traitors for survival. What's notable here is that Magnus was one of the Emperor's most loyal sons, and his hubris in thinking he knew best allowed him to be manipulated by the God of schemes and sorcery (which Magnus was ironically ignorant of), destroying the Emperor's plans and exposing himself in flaunting the Emperor's decree, both in spectacular fashion. This caused the avoidable tragedy of two of the Emperor's most loyal forces to clash for survival. Magnus was crushed with guilt to the point of nearly allowing everything he loved and worked for to be destroyed right up to the point where he nearly did lose everything. At the last possible moment, he had to cut a deal with the God that had tricked him, his eternal service and what little he had left would be kept intact, especially his few surviving Sons. That included siding with Horus in treason, and after the whole ordeal was finished, Magnus and his sons fully cast off any old loyalties and decided to pursue revenge against the Emperor and the Wolves.

    Video Games 
  • Dr. Schroeder in Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown was brought in by the Eruseans to collect flight data from one of their top aces, Mihaly, to improve upon the drone army. At first, he was willing to go through with it to avenge his homeland of Belka, but he became increasingly disillusioned with the project as the war dragged on, and Mihaly's granddaughters began to resent him for putting their grandfather through increasingly risky sorties. It's not until the end of the war, when his motivations are discovered, that he finally relents and tries to stop the project after it results in two UAVs that try to start a Robot War.
  • Professor Mei Ling Hua, Mei Fang's creator in Arcana Heart, who was kidnapped by the Big Bad to help her cause a rift in the dimensional boundary that would lead to the merging of this world and the Elemental world. She secretly placed a failsafe mechanism to prevent the merge from happening, but if you get the Bad Ending, you'll learn that it wasn't very effective.
  • In Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Leonardo da Vinci is conscripted by the Borgia to put his Gadgeteer Genius talents to use creating weapons for them. He tries to sabotage them by deliberately not giving them his best work. Unfortunately, even his half-assed inventions like the wheel-lock rifles are still considerable improvements over their older weapons.
  • Dr Tenenbaum in BioShock technically fills this role by the end of the series (barring the exploding arena, as the final boss area does not explode, but she does provide the means of defeating the final boss). Going back over the audio diaries leaves it a bit ambiguous how reluctant or willing she was, how much of it was a desire for survival, how much was for science, and how much was just Rapture spiraling out of control. It doesn't help her boss is a murderous crime boss who probably would kill her if she protested too much.
  • BlazBlue: Litchi Faye-Ling used to be a scientist who made a device similar on how to make a Nox Nyctores. Later on, she became a doctor after a freak accident that created Arakune and seemed really content with her life as a doctor while seeking to cure Arakune. Until the side effect of said freak accident started to affect her and the appearance of Hazama made her aware that NOL may have the answer to the cure of Arakune and herself, and her old mentor rejected her plea for help. As she didn't have much respect on NOL previously, after a lot of hesitations, she ends up retaking her old science way and becoming their Reluctant Mad Scientist (compared to the very much less reluctant Relius Clover) only for the cure of Arakune (and herself).
  • One of the missions in Borderlands 2 involves finding ECHO entries of Hyperion's slag experiments. The ones you find involve a scientist by the name of Dr. Samuels who isn't happy about performing cruel and decidedly pointless experiments but is forced to do so due to Handsome Jack threatening to kill her wife. In a sidequest of the Son of Crawmerax DLC, it's heavily implied that she was the one who killed Krieg's assassin, out of deep regret for what she did to him.
  • Dr. Zelinsky in Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 is the mind behind the time machine used by the remnants of the defeated Soviet leadership from the previous interation of the series who goes back and changes history by erasing Einstein from it, giving rise to a three-way war between the western Allies, Soviets, and Empire of the Rising Sun. He is on the lighter side morally compared to other examples on this page, as he becomes horrified at the implications of his work being played out in front of him and tries to rectify it in various ways depending on whose campaign you're playing:
    • In the Allied campaign, he makes secret contact with Allied high command during the Enemy Mine situation they have with the Soviets to combat the Empire to warn them that the Soviets are planning to backstab the Allies with a mustering of forces in Cuba, and later defects to them.
    • In the Imperial campaign, he also secretly contacts the Allies to warn them about the nature of their existence — the Emperor and his son are able to listen in via their spy US President Ackerman, who is a android controlled by them in this meeting, and learn that the Empire was never meant to be a power at all if it weren't for his actions; this sends the Emperor into a Heroic BSoD as the whole nature of Imperial destiny is called into question. Later, Dr. Zelinsky defects to the Allies after the Soviets are defeated and helps them make a Last Stand in Brussels against the Empire in the campaign's final mission, considering it his duty to right the wrongs his work has done (namely, the Empire's existence).
    • In the Soviet campaign, he attempts to contact the Non-Entity General player commander to convey the same information, but the transmission is interrupted. Presumably, Premier Cherdenko had him silenced to make sure the truth behind his rise to the top of the Soviet hierarchy is not found out.
  • Fatal Frame has Dr. Kunihiko Asou, whose inventions included various types of Camera Obscura. While his inventions originated from his curiosity regarding the afterlife and were never meant to actively hurt anyone, the fact that those who become exposed to extended use of such items could become mad upon seeing spirits (especially if said users hadn't seen one before) and possibly Driven to Suicide caused many of his inventions to be considered dangerous or even cursed.
  • A group of scientists working for the dictatorial Empire in Gadget: Past as Future, according to the art book Inside Out With Gadget, once developed a device called the Beam Machine that they intended as a therapeutic tool to help psychic disorders by accessing hidden memories and such, but knowing that the Empire's leader, Paulo Orlovsky, would want to use it as a brainwashing tool, they created a new version of the machine called the Sensorama which they secretly changed so that anyone subjected to it would instead have a hypnotic suggestion planted into them to nonviolently overthrow the Empire that would be activated once they saw the "key" to trigger it, a giant airship the scientists were planning to build, although the discovery of an incoming comet caused them to abandon those plans.
  • Professor Minas and Leo Folias from Infinite Space, who are such big geeks to the point they don't seem to be bothered at all with who becomes their boss. Well, except when the former is under Desmond's watch...
  • Jade Empire has Kang the Mad, who only really cares about building and improving his Steampunk Schizo Tech, and literally couldn't care less about what it's used for. He betrays his boss Gao the Greater at the first opportunity, but that's only because Gao dared to make copies of his inventions, not because he was using those copies for slaving and piracy. This is mostly attributable to him being Lord Lao, a member of the Celestial Bureaucracy, all of whom seem to have a noninterventionist Above Good and Evil kind of worldview.
  • Dr. Mikhail Cossack in Mega Man 4 was blackmailed by Dr. Wily into creating a series of killer robots and taking the blame for their rampage. When you face him in the final stage of his fortress, Proto Man comes in, having just saved his kidnapped daughter, at which point Cossack immediately leaves his mech and asks forgiveness from Mega Man. Come Mega Man 5, Cossack has both increased the power of Mega Man's Mega Buster, as well as creating Beat.
  • Metal Gear:
    • Metal Gear Solid: Otacon is an Occidental Otaku who created the Metal Gear Rex under the impression it would be an anti-missile platform. They didn't tell him they would slap on a railgun to launch undetectable nukes that aren't technically regulated by existing arms treaties.
      "I just wanted to make robots!"
    • Sokolov from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater has a slightly less incredulous tale: he was originally a rocket scientist, who just wanted to build rockets to go into space. However, due to the escalating arms race, he was forced by the Soviet government to build nuclear missiles, eventually culminating in the Shagohod, which he was literally forced at gunpoint to build. He requested that the American government give him asylum, because he knew the weapon, if completed, would plunge the world into chaos.
    • Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker: Otacan's father Huey Emmerich agreed to work on Hot Coldman's Peace Walker project only so he could apply deterrence in such a way that wouldn't result in launching a nuke even once (as well as having to put up with it as, because he was born incapable of walking presumably due to his father's involvement in the Manhattan Project, he can't work in any other place than nuclear deterrence-related developments). As soon as he learned that Coldman was planning on launching a nuke as part of his test (something that Huey never agreed to), he immediately quit and defected to the Militaires Sans Frontieres, and also deeply considered quitting the field of science due to his unintended role in nearly causing a nuclear holocaust.
  • Dr. Andonuts in Mother 3, who creates the chimeras and ultimately tricks the Big Bad into sealing himself in a capsule with no escape.
  • Sheegor from Psychonauts is a twist on this trope, a Reluctant Igor (and a girl one; note pun in name). She is completely opposed to her boss Dr. Loboto's plans, but has a childlike mind and fears for her beloved pet turtle who Loboto has taken hostage. She instantly switches sides when Raz rescues him — indeed, using Clairvoyance reveals that she sees him as a shining, angelic savior.
  • Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri: Academician Prokhor Zakharkov has this as his starting morality as explained through his backstory, which involved building Powered Armor for the Russian Republic to fight the USA before defecting to the UN to build spaceships. Whether or not he actually stays reluctant is entirely up to the player. He's essentially a Russian Werner von Braun, balancing between Mengle and Einstein in morality.
  • Dr. Gerald Robotnik of Sonic the Hedgehog was contracted by the former president of the United Federation to assist with their Immortality Seeker research. Gerald initially refused believing No Man Should Have This Power but changed his mind after seeing it as an opportunity to help his ill granddaughter Maria, eventually creating the Ultimate Life Form Shadow the Hedgehog in the process after making a Deal with the Devil with the alien Evil Overlord Black Doom. Despite him actively working with the government, a later administration turned on him ironically believing No Man Should Have This Power themselves and attacked his space station, killing Maria and turning Gerald into an Omnicidal Maniac.
  • Abrahim Zherkezhi of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, a chronically naïve computer theorist who only wants to use his unblockable magic hacker-program to promote the course of 'world peace'. It's not his fault he chose Douglas Shetland as a partner.

    Visual Novels 
  • Code:Realize depicts Victor Frankenstein as a brilliant, kind-hearted, and idealistic young man, eager to help people with his research in medicine, chemistry, and alchemy. He previously worked as Head Alchemist for Queen Victoria, and in this capacity he accidentally invented chemical warfare by developing Zicterium. When he realized the uses his research was being put to, he fled, and at the start of the game is wanted by the government since he's the only person who knows the process for making more Zicterium; on the run as an accused terrorist, he's searching for the remaining stockpile of Zicterium to destroy it before it can be used as a weapon.

    Web Animation 
  • gen:LOCK: Dr. Weller is called a Mad Scientist by Cammie when they first meet, but he intended the gen:Lock programme to be used for purely scientific reasons to help humanity unlock its potential. He wanted it to be a new way of communicating and understanding other human beings, so he's not happy that its first use is to militarise it before it's even ready for use. As a result, the technological inventions he's creating for the Polity military, including the technology he's using to keep Julian alive despite Julian's extensive injuries, and his encouragement of a Union spy's use of the Holon despite knowing what would happen to an incompatible subject isn't entirely by choice.

  • Walter from Dubious Company. He is one of very few Magitek engineers in the world. All he wants to do, however, is fly around in his airship and play pirate. The urging and endangerment of his friends changes him from Boisterous Weakling to Captain Science Hero.
  • While the whole point of Girl Genius is that "Mad Scientists rule the world. Badly," most of the main characters are Reluctant Mad Scientists. While they are still afflicted by "The Madness Place", they work very hard to control it and are defined by their ability to actually use their Sparkiness to make the world a better place. Klaus Wulfenbach does this by being a Magnificent Bastard; Othar Tryggvassen (Gentleman Adventurer!) tries to make the world better by ridding it of all Sparks (including, once his "job" is done, himself); the others are just trying to do their best in a world pounded into submission and littered with wandering monsters. (Ironically, this may involve pounding the world into submission and/or creating armies of monsters. Sometimes you have to work inside the system.)
  • Kevyn, from Schlock Mercenary, is very nearly the dictionary definition of "mad scientist" (which gets pointed out both by his teammates, when discussing his reputation, and himself, when wishing to capitalize on that reputation). But he also knows how wrong things can go: not only does he believe in the value of following the instructions the first time, to see how things are supposed to work before being modified, he insists that anyone working under him does the same thing. When tasked to build a robotic Longshoreman to help with distributing food to a colony, Para tried to place a bet: "With the parts on your shelf, I bet we can make a Longshoreman of the Apocalypse." It ended up being made anyway due to being in a rush job (and an order by the captain); Kevyn still wanted to test it out first. Of course, if the tests happened, LOTA wouldn't have saved the station's population after some holes were blown through its shell, and later become King LOTA.
  • Dr. Lee of Skin Horse. Her morality is nebulous at best; she feels terrible about doing things like scooping out a man's brain to turn him into a weapon, yet she goes right on doing it. And while she does Mad Sciencey stuff, she's not exactly a Mad Scientist by the setting's definition, being far too connected to consensus reality. She's useful to the Shadowy Forces because she can turn mad science into things that actually work, while the non-reluctant Mad Scientists mock her for expecting things to make sense. Her naïveté on the matter is summed up fairly well here:
    Lee: I'm sorry! I didn't know the cybernetic death squads would be used for violence!
    Marcie: How could they not?
    Lee: I picked out such a nice shade of green!
  • Riff from Sluggy Freelance just likes inventing stuff (especially exploding stuff) because it's cool. A recurring plot thread is the damage that resident Big Bad Hereti-Corp can do using Riff's technology. His attitude towards the whole thing is best summed up here:
    Riff: How could my innocent inventions be used to harm people? OK, blowing stuff up can harm people if not done with proper precautions [...] Anywho my inventions weren't designed to be used to destroy the world. Well, except for that one device I built to destroy the world. I was just seeing if I could!
  • Doctor Universe of Spinnerette used to be this trope, before the government aborted his project to prevent China from using his studies to make Super Soldiers.
  • In Trevor (2020), Dr. Maddison is the only member of the original medical team looking after Trevor who wants nothing to do with the military and their Super-Soldier project, despite it being an extremely well-paying job. He likely would have left, but according to Enid, the military "weren't exactly asking" and everyone else needed no coercion to go along with it.

    Western Animation 
  • The Mechanist from the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Northern Air Temple" creates weapons of war for the Fire Nation, because his work gives protection for his family and colony.
  • In the Batman Beyond episode "April Moon", a gang blackmails a scientist to make them super-strong with robotic body parts, claiming to have his wife taken hostage. Turns heart-wrenching when the scientist discovers that his wife is apparently a willing participant in the scam while cheating with the gang leader. Turns scary when the gang leader, who doesn't know that the scientist knows this, goes in for one last upgrade, with the implication that the doctor is going to get some revenge during the surgery.
  • In Exo Squad, Prof. Algernon starts off working for the Neo Sapiens (though he masquerades as a lab assistant while his Neo "boss" pretends he's the genius inventor), but when he gets captured by the good guys, he starts working for them without batting an eye.
  • Professor Farnsworth in Futurama. "This box contains our own universe! We must cherish it as we would every moment of our lives."
    • Not to mention his collection of Doomsday Devices. Ironically, he's saved the world with them on a few occasions but otherwise doesn't seem motivated to use them.
      "I suppose I could part with one and still be feared..."
    • "Mother's Day" reveals that at one point, he invented a teddy bear that shoots rainbow-colored lasers. When boss Mom wants to use them as military weapons, he protests that this would defeat the purpose, because enlarging them would eliminate the cuteness factor due to the square-cube law!
  • Gravity Falls has the author of the journals, Ford Pines, whose journals catalog his many inventions and various creatures he's encountered and studied — both of which tend be incredibly dangerous or at least have the potential to be. His primary motives are For Science! and to avert The End of the World as We Know It... due to one of said inventions.
  • In Invader Zim, the Vort(ian)s, which seem to be a species of scientists, were once allies of the Irkens before they were betrayed and conquered, and are now forced to make them weapons like the Megadoomer and Minimoose. (Some fans have noted that these weapons don't work very well when compared to the stuff that they made Irkens before the conquest.) Special mention to Prisoner 777, whom Zim calls especially for this purpose; in the comic continuation, it's revealed that Prisoner 777 goes along with this because Zim's kidnapped his children and threatens to "erase" them.
  • In The Legend of Korra, while he's willingly working for Kuvira's Earth Empire, Varrick accidentally creates a Fantastic Nuke while experimenting with spirit vines. His first instinct is to shut down the project, deeming it too dangerous. Kuvira however forces him to continue or else be kicked off a moving train. It's worth noting that this is the first time he's ever had second thoughts about one of his inventions — most of the time, he's just plain Mad Scientist.
  • The Samurai Jack episode "The Tale of X-9" shows that Aku gathered all of the world's top roboticists to build a robot military police force. Despite a few of the scientists resembling villains from other franchises, they are portrayed as simply following orders, though it's unclear if they're doing so because they just really want to make robots or if they're doing so at gunpoint.
  • In The Simpsons, Dr. Frink draws up plans for a Death Ray that can destroy an area the size of New York City. When confronted on what it's for, he sheepishly admits, "Well, to be honest, the ray only has evil applications."
  • Dr. Sionver Boll from Star Wars: The Clone Wars is commissioned to engineer an indestructible armor for soldiers and spaceships from the Zillo Beasts scales. She is caring for the Zillo and doesn't want to kill it. In a DVD bonus feature, one of the people who made the episode even points out the Fridge Logic in well-meaning scientists always being appointed to the construction of weapons instead of curing diseases.
  • The Venture Bros.: In the pilot, Dr. Venture doesn't seem to realize how much of an evil scientist he's being until someone points it out. He figures there's plenty of peaceful uses for a ray that melts buildings.
  • In Young Justice (2010), Serling Roquette was captured by the League of Shadows to make the Fog, a cloud of Nanomachines that could destroy anything in their path as well as download any information that the villains needed. She was actually rescued at the beginning of the episode she appears in, but spent the rest trying to create a virus to destroy the Fog while the Team protected her from League assassins.
  • The Zeta Project: All of the named scientist who helped build Zeta either seem morally uncomfortable with making an assassination robot and/or moved onto other, more peaceful and widely beneficial, fields of science afterwards.

    Real Life 
  • Robert Oppenheimer, the inventor of the first atomic bomb.
    Oppenheimer: I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.note  I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.
    • The link goes into great detail about his unusual perspective on science and ethical responsibility.
    • Oppenheimer was hardly "reluctant" about the work itself; he actively campaigned to be put in charge of it. He (along with most of the other scientists involved) did have some misgivings about how it was used.
    • Einstein also later lamented that his work on nuclear reactions had led to the escalating nuclear arms race. More directly, he felt some personal responsibility because the (much less famous to laypeople) scientists like Szilard who feared the Nazis were already working on an atomic bomb persuaded him to sign his name to a letter so that the government would take them seriously.
  • Edward Teller, the 'father of the hydrogen bomb'note  went where Oppenheimer refused to go. An advocate of Mutually Assured Destruction, Teller even proposed using hydrogen bombs for peaceful uses, such as excavating harbors, drilling for oil, and widening the Panama Canal. The Soviets, interested by Teller's proposals and eager to prove their own originality in this regard, conducted further investigations of these uses - to the point of actually using some to seal leaking oil wells.
  • Leo Szilard, a Hungarian-born physicist, was one of the earliest developers of nuclear chain reactions and was the first person to conceive of an atomic bomb. Concerned that Germany might be attempting to build such a weapon, he wrote the famous letter to Roosevelt, along with Teller, (signed by his more famous colleague, Einstein) that directly led to the creation of the Manhattan Project. Once it became clear that Germany was nowhere near getting the bomb, and concerned about the increasing militarization of the project, he drafted a petition (signed by more than a hundred scientists) to ask for a demonstration of the bomb's power to Japan before actually using it, but the petition never made it to President Truman. After the war he was so disturbed by atomic weapons that he switched his specialty to molecular biology and even published a book of short stories, The Voice of the Dolphins, dealing with the morality of atomic bombs and the Cold War.
  • Andrei Sakharov, the designer of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, became a dissident and human rights activist later in his life. Interestingly, Sakharov was never quite ashamed of his nuclear weapons work as Oppenheimer and Szillard were and was rather sympathetic to Teller, whom he felt was wrongly demonized by many American scientists. He felt that the nuclear weapons and the balance of terror were potentially helpful in preventing major wars from breaking out in the latter half of the 20th century. He did, however, feel that the arms race represented a huge waste of resources and the changing nature of politics was destabilizing the balance, which led him to his political activism.
    • Interestingly, after Stalin's death and Khrushchev's accession Igor Kurchatov (Sakharov's boss and the head of the Soviet atomic weapons programme) became a fellow dissident, though his focus was primarily on nuclear disarmament/arms limitations.
  • Alfred Nobel, the creator of dynamite, was so ashamed of its violent applications that he left much of his estate to found the Nobel Prizes. Ironically, he had originally invented dynamite to help exonerate himself of some of the poor reputation his work with explosives and work as an arms manufacturer had left him with, by making nitroglycerin safer to use—Nobel's dynamite is a mixture of nitroglycerin (which is very unstable) with inert diatomaceous earth, making it very stable, but still very potent, and therefore useful in such things as blasting mines and tunnels. Unfortunately, this also makes it safer to use for military purposes, as well. When an erroneous obituary showed him that even with dynamite, he would be remembered as a "merchant of death", he established the prize so he'd have some legacy other than this.
  • Ken Alibek (originally Kanatjan Alibekov), Kazakh microbiologist, was a high-ranking officer in Biopreparat, a Soviet bioweapons program that involved diseases such as Smallpox, Anthrax, the Plague, and Marburg. His memoirs, Biohazard discuss his scientific curiosity and loyalty to serve his country (although that began to be increasingly strained). He defected to the USA in the 1990s and works in biodefense.
  • Nikola Tesla, an actual Mad Scientist, was this type (well, maybe not so much "reluctant" as "well-intentioned overall and a genius, but still crazy as a loon"). Allegedly invented a sonic superweapon while also working on a giant coil that was intended to electrify Earth's atmosphere, so that people would not have to pay for electricity. He refused royalties for his inventions, claiming that the betterment of mankind was reward enough.
  • The original Gatling gun was designed by the American inventor Dr. Richard Gatling in 1861. He wrote that he made it to reduce the size of armies and so reduce the number of deaths by combat and disease.
    • Not reduce the size of armiesnote  but reduce the length of conflicts. Since at the time the vast majority of soldiers died of disease during a war there was actually some logic to this.
    • Only part of a long history of scientists inventing new, powerful weapons, hoping nobody would be willing to use them. (The ancient Roman ballista, for example, was supposed to end war because no one would want to attack an enemy who had them.) It seems it only actually worked once they got up to the A-bomb and even that came pretty close.
    • The Wright brothers started building military planes in WWI, Orville was convinced that airplanes would "win the war and put an end to war." He lived long enough to see airplanes used to deliver atomic bombs, and was still hopeful that this would finally make war unthinkable.
    • Arguably it worked. Modern armies are smaller and leave much less collateral damage when they leave. Conflict where the aggressor's intention is to conquer is relatively rare today, and most powerful countries on this planet haven't been involved in mutual war for decades.
  • Leonardo da Vinci, most famous nowadays for his art and ingenious designs for gadgets years before their time, was fairly pragmatic about the fact that the best source of a steady income during The City State Era of Italy was as a retained inventor for a wealthy duke, and what they needed inventing was artillery. What's especially terrifying (and the inspiration for Discworld's Leonard of Quirm, above) is when he combined his skills and came up with charmingly anachronistic weapons of mass destruction scattered among his other idle doodles. His weapon designs all had critical design flaws that would've rendered them nonfunctional if built...which has been determined to be intentional. Simply reading his notes wouldn't be enough to be able to build functioning weapons; you needed either Leonardo himself or somebody else smart enough to figure it out in order to correct the flaws. For example his famous hand-crank-powered "tank" had the gears reversed so that it would be incapable of moving if built to his specifications.
  • Jesuit missionaries in Ming dynasty China were called upon to help the Chinese improve their artillery against their enemies, rather than preach the Gospels.
  • Brazilian inventor Santos Dumont is credited in Brazil and France as the real inventor of the airplane instead of the Wright Brothers. In 1932, he killed himself; he didn't leave a note, but it's heavily assumed that the reason was that he was depressed after knowing that planes were used in a civil war in Brazil.
  • Anil Dash, the co-creator of NFTs, disowned his creation. He wanted to create a technology to support digital artists, but quickly realized his creation did not go as planned. One major point is that NFTs cannot store an actual image, just a hyperlink to the image that is still stored in the regular internet; this was supposed to be just a shortcut from when NFTs were being developed, but the shortcut has persisted to this day.

...Here, you activate the device and tell me what happens.