The 10 Greatest MacGyvers of Science Fiction

The greatest science fiction heroes are resourceful, building high-tech devices out of whatever crap they find laying around. In the right hands, a paperclip and some bubblegum can become an interstellar wave modulator. The more ridiculous those moments of gadget improvisation are, the more they make you feel as if you could create your own otherworldly tech and access other planets using the materials you already have — if you only knew how.

Here are the 10 greatest MacGyvers of science fiction.


1. Doctor Who. The Doctor may be the king of the MacGyvers, constantly improvising incredibly complex devices out of whatever garbage he finds. But his craziest moment of jury-rigging is probably in "The Time Monster," when he builds a space-time disruption machine — which renders time-travel impossible — out of a wine cork, a yoyo and a fork. I loved that scene so much when I was a kid, but now it's a bit embarrassing. And yet, still kind of inspiring!

2. Star Trek. Over the decades of Trek, there's been a lot of people building weapons out of translators, or technobabbling their way into creating Everything machines. But the man who says the phrase "jury-rig" or "Jerry-rig" the oftenest, and in the craziest situations, is Scotty, our ingenious engineer. He's the guy who builds a nuclear reactor pump out of bits and pieces in "Devil in the Dark," and coverts an ancient ship's shields to hold a Dyson sphere open in "Relics." Not to mention retooling a transporter to keep him in stasis, in that same episode.

3. Stargate: Atlantis. Rodney McKay famously asks "What am I, MacGyver?" in this spin-off from the Richard Dean Anderson-starring Stargate SG1. But he actually does work technological marvels at regular intervals, making sense of Ancient technology. He built an atomic bomb for his sixth-grade science project. Not to mention, in "Condemned," he totally one-ups Scotty when he says it'll take two days to cobble together a new "Dial-Home Device" from secondary systems... and then downgrades that estimate to ten minutes in a pinch.

4. The Explorers. These kids build a spaceship out of an old Tilt-A-Whirl from an amusement park, a Commodore 64, and a couple of "D" batteries. You have to admire that.

5. Eureka. Henry Deacon, a former NASA engineer, is the mechanic for the small town of Eureka, and literally every other episode revolves around him building some crazy gadget out of nothing in particular. Need a pocket-sized gizmo to erase someone's memories of an alternate timeline? Or a quick cobbled-together device to undo the effects of a paranoia ray on a whole bunch of bigwigs? Henry's your guy.

The 10 Greatest MacGyvers of Science Fiction

6. E.T. Okay, you don't really think of that wormy-faced, big-eyed cute alien with the glowing cockfingers in the same breath as Scotty and McKay. But just think: who builds an interstellar communications device out of an old Speak & Spell toy using a coat-hanger? It's not Scotty.

7. Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure. The only people less likely than E.T. to come on your MacGyver radar are Bill and Ted — but they do fix their time machine using only a fruit can and some bubble gum. You have to give them props for that.

The 10 Greatest MacGyvers of Science Fiction

8. The Fantastic Four. I hesitated to include Reed Richards, the super-scientist who's always building rockets and weird toys out of bits and pieces, because he has a huge lab and doesn't really just use scraps. But then I saw this panel, from the alternate-universe Last Planet Standing, and had to give it to him.

9. Buckaroo Banzai is another wacky inventor who has a lab and an ample supply of parts, but we're still blown away by some of the things he throws together, like the Oscillation Overthruster, which transports matter into parallel universes. Not to mention the Jetcar.

10. Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius can build insane gadgets, like a communications satellite, out of a toaster. He can also build a shrink ray out of whatever happens to be laying around. When it comes to MacGyvering, nobody's more radical than Jimmy Neutron.

Thanks to Angel and Kevin for research help.

This article originally appeared on io9 in April 2008.