The world of eccentric or evil scientists is a constant plot in novels, TV and movies. The subject of mad science leads to dramatic consequences and can provide interesting characters. These stories often reflect the preoccupations of the times they are written in.
One of the first examples of a scientific experiment gone wrong is the novel, Frankenstein. Mary Shelley did not know that she was starting a trend when she came up with the tale after a night of sharing ghost stories. The story of Victor Frankenstein and his creation expresses the debate about religion versus science, so prominent in 1818, when the book was published. It could be interpreted as a warning against mad science and playing God or an indictment of the villagers who condemn Frankenstein's Monster out of hand.
H.G. Wells was another author who explored science fiction to discuss human nature and its frailties. Mad science is apparent again in The Invisible Man and The Island of Dr Moreau. The Moreau character, who experiments in genetic engineering with disastrous results, has modern reverberations today. Sometimes, futuristic plots were criticized for being far fetched but were actually windows on the future. Jules Verne wrote about sending rockets to the moon, an absurd notion to most people at the time.
The mad scientist is often portrayed as a man with wild hair, bent on an obsession and secretive about his work. He spends most of his time in his laboratory, mixing chemicals in test tubes and making electrical circuits and weird potions. Sometimes, an incompetent assistant is present. This stereotype was hilariously sent up in Mel Brooks' film, Young Frankenstein with Gene Wilder in the lead role.
The nuclear age has had its share of satirical parody, as in Dr Strangelove, directed by Stanley Kubrick. Peter Sellers is superb in this story that portrays the atom bomb as mad science, just waiting for human error or evil intentions to unleash its fury. Comic books too are full of scientists who develop fiendish, often radioactive, weapons and death rays.
The human race has long dreamed of teleportation, a routine exercise in Star Trek stories. In The Fly, Dr Seth Brundle transforms theory into practice but he unfortunately mixes his genetic material with that of a fly. Dr David Banner has his own accident in the laboratory and is transformed into The Incredible Hulk. One of the most endearing eccentrics is Doc Brown, the scientist in the Back to the Future movie trilogy. He achieves time travel and demonstrates that his brand of mad science can lead to some unexpected encounters in the past and the future.
The Psychic Blogger
Monday, May 14, 2007