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An aspiring supervillain trying to get into the Evil League of Evil finds himself entangled in a Love Triangle with his arch-nemesis and a girl he knows from the laundromat. Presented as a three-part Musical Web Original Vlog Series, created by Joss Whedon out of his own pocket as a more-or-less direct result of the Writer's Guild strike of 2007-2008.
The series was released for free until July 20, 2008. After that time it was placed on iTunes for purchase (USA, Canada and UK only) and for free with ads on Hulu.com (United States Only) with the revenue from both going to pay the cast and crew. Overwhelming response crashed the servers, and vigorous international response prompted the team to make the videos viewable internationally. A DVD was released in December, 2008.
There's an an official site with liner notes for the various songs, merchandise links, and other goodies. There are also several Prequel comics: three half-length ones on the Dark Horse My Space page for Captain Hammer, Moist and Penny, a full-length print one-shot for Dr. Horrible himself, and a 3/4 length comic featuring the ELE and Johnny Snow that's exclusive to the trade paperback collecting all the previous comics, all written by Zack Whedon.
There is also an official fansite. And a fanmade prequel, Horrible Turn, that has been recognised by Joss as "itsy kitschy glitzy." Whether that is to be taken as a compliment remains to be seen. Also on the fan front is Doctor Octoroc's 8 bit version of the musical.
The series won the 2009 People's Choice Award for "Favorite Online Sensation" as well as several 2009 Streamy Awards for:
- Audience Choice Award for Best Web Series
- Best Editing
- Best Cinematography
- Best Directing for a Comedy Web Series
- Best Male Actor in a Comedy Web Series
- Best Original Music
- Best Writing for a Comedy Web Series
It also won the 2009 Emmy for "Outstanding Special Class Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Program", making it potentially the first show to have won an Emmy without having ever been aired on television. Possibly a unique honor; definitely exceptional. It also picked up the 2009 Hugo Award in the more conventional "Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form" category.
The DVD commentary takes two forms - a traditional commentary, and Commentary the Musical, which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin and, well, just see that article. Also see the zany theories page for the show. After you've seen the show.
From this point forward there are unmarked spoilers. Read after seeing the 'sodes. The trope references won't make much sense until you do, anyway.
- Actor Allusion: Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion play characters whose names begin with "Dr." and "Captain", respectively. Now, why does that sound familiar...?
- Affably Evil: Dr. Horrible.
- Almost Kiss: In Act II, after Penny's song, you can see them lock eyes and start inching in towards each other before Penny mentions Captain Hammer.
- Amusing Injuries: Well, Captain Hammer considers them amusing while he inflicts them on a helpless Dr. Horrible. Also, Captain Hammer's injuries from the exploding Death Ray, and by his reaction to them - "I think this is what pain feels like!"
- Also: "Billy? You're driving the spork into your leg." (Beat) "...So I am! Hilarious!"
- Animal Supervillain: Bad Horse. Yes, he really is a horse.
- Animal-Themed Superbeing: Invoked with Bad Horse until you realize he really is a horse. See above.
- Anti-Villain: That trope fits Dr. Horrible like a glove. At least, up until the point where he changes his gloves and uniform.
- Applied Wonderflonium
- Arch Enemy: Doctor Horrible says that Johnny Snow is not his archnemesis, but rather that's Captain Hammer, who dislocated his shoulder...twice, among other humiliations. It Got Worse.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: During "Slipping," we get this gem that shows how Dr. Horrible's determination to get into the Evil League of Evil clashes with his Well-Intentioned Extremist philosophy:
"[I get] All the cash! All the fame! And social change!"
- Aside Glance: Captain Hammer pulls one when the Fan Boy trio says "we do the weird stuff."
- Attack of the 50 Foot Whatever: In Dr. Horrible's revenge daydream sequence during "Brand New Day" at the end of Act II, he turns into a giant and stomps Captain Hammer flat.
- Bad Date: Moist has a bad double date.
- The Bad Guy Wins: Depending on your definition of "victory", and of who the bad guy is.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: What poor Billy gets in the most painful way possible.
- Betty and Veronica: With Billy the laundry buddy as the Betty and Captain Hammer as the Veronica.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Dr. Horrible is a Technical Pacifist even against his nemesis Captain Hammer, who regularly beats him silly (dislocating his shoulder at least twice, throwing a car at his head, launching him several hundred feet into the air in the comic) until Hammer decides to date Penny explicitly because Billy is in love with her. It says a lot for the quality of the piece that the supervillain is the "Nice One" and does it effectively.
- In fact, "Brand New Day" is pretty much Dr. Horrible stating how he's finally snapped and found the motivation to kill.
- Bittersweet Ending: Dr. Horrible has finally been accepted into The Evil League of Evil, has gotten fame and fortune for being the baddest bad guy, he's defeated his Jerkass nemesis, but Penny was Killed Off for Real, which leaves Dr. Horrible empty on the inside.
- Black and Gray Morality: When the "hero" is worse than the "villain", and the only genuinely good character is an Innocent Bystander...
- Blatant Lies: "What a crazy random happenstance," "we're meeting now for the first time," "when I fell deeply, deeply in love with my serious long-term girlfriend Penny," and "And I am fine / And I won't feel a thing." to name a few.
- Blessed with Suck: Moist has the power...to be moist!
Moist: At my most bad-ass, I make people feel like they want to take a shower.
- Blond Guys Are Evil: Note the titular character.
- Blown Across the Room: Captain Hammer, upon firing Horrible's broken death ray. Justified as he's invulnerable.
- Bond Villain Stupidity: Kind of, in that Dr. Horrible really wants to get rid of Captain Hammer once and for all, but is a Technical Pacifist who considers doing any real harm "not his style" so he resorts to all manner of non-lethal weapons instead (most of which don't work as planned, much to Captain Hammer's amusement). Even when he does finally decide to actually try to kill Captain Hammer, he still in the end can't actually bring himself to go through with it. (Meanwhile, Captain Hammer has absolutely no problems whatsoever with Kill Him Already.)
- Break the Cutie: Dr. Horrible's humiliations in Act II are only the latest in a long line of humiliations and injuries inflicted on him by Jerk Jock Captain Hammer.
Billy: "Listen close to everybody's heart / and hear that breaking sound / hopes and dreams are shattering apart / and crashing to the ground."
- Penny's death in Act III does this even more effectively and completely. What follows has the lyrics of a triumphant song to the tune of a dirge.
"Here lies everything / the world I wanted at my feet / my victory's complete / so hail to the king..."
- Even more interesting is that the lyrics of the song have a double meaning. They simultaneously mean victory and defeat. Penny's body is literally laying in front of him as he says the above lyrics.
- Break the Haughty: Inflicted on Captain Hammer by himself, most karmically.
- Brick Joke: Dr. Horrible's trying out different laughs at the start of Act I; he appears to have perfected it by the time of Act III, opening "Slipping" with a likely well-rehearsed Evil Laugh.
- Also, remember Moist's discussion of his double-date with Bait and Switch? At the evil party in the end, he is standing with two blondes, one much, much prettier than the other. Hmm...
- Not to mention:
Captain Hammer: Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!
- BSOD Song: Everything You Ever. My God, Everything You Ever. Neil's Turn from Commentary is also a comedic take on this.
- Buffy-Speak: A given when you consider the writer.
Dr. Horrible: "Moist! My evil...moisture...buddy..."
- Captain Superhero: Captain Hammer
- Canis Latinicus: The seal of the Evil League of Evil bears the phrase "Homines Non Boni Seriose" which can be translated as "Seriously Not Good Guys."
- Cannot Talk to Women: Billy is so painfully shy that his first on-screen attempt at talking to Penny at the laundromat ends with him mumbling unintelligibly, and his second attempt ("Love your hair.") becomes a Did I Just Say That Out Loud? moment for him when she turns around in surprise. He backpedals hastily, "No, I- I, I...love the air." At one point he tells Moist that he is so close (surely only a few weeks at most!) to achieving "real audible connection" with Penny. He never gets around to actually telling her that he loves her.
- Card-Carrying Villain: Dr. Horrible, who wants to prove his worth as a supervillain to be allowed to join the Evil League of Evil. Not to mention the actual members of the actual Evil League of Evil, like Bad Horse, of course, of course. Ironically, he just about epitomizes the opposite of that trope in all other respects.
- Car Fu: "Captain Hammer threw a car at my head."
- The Cast Showoff: Obviously.
- Catch Phrase:
- "I'm Dr. Horrible! (I hold / I've got) a PhD. in horribleness!" Lampshaded by Moist: "Is that the new catchphrase?"
- Apparently before that it was "Horrible is just what the Doctor ordered", which Moist stated needed changing.
- Catchphrase Interruptus (well, High Note Interruptus): "WAAAAAAAAAY!" (Captain Hammer)
- Chekhov's Gun: The Freeze Ray. Mentioned throughout Act I and II as something of a joke, it comes back with a vengeance in Act III.
- Penny sings, "So keep your head up Billy buddy" to Dr. Horrible in Act II. Later, when Dr. Horrible gate-crashes the Captain Hammer statue unveiling at the end of Act III, he pep-talks himself into killing Hammer, singing, "head up Billy buddy," thus cluing in Penny that her friend Billy is the villain.
- Act I starts with Dr. Horrible displaying a comically bad evil laugh. He's working with a voice coach. Fast forward to Act III, where he's able to deliver a classic, intimidating evil laugh as he freezes Captain Hammer.
- Character Blog: As the title states, Dr. Horrible operates a blog in which he talks of his life as a supervillain. Unfortunately Captain Hammer watches the blog—and so does the police department.
- Chest Insignia: Captain Hammer has one of these. It's a... well, take a guess. Nevertheless it's not a cool iconic design of a warhammer, or a jackhammer, or a sledgehammer, but a photograph of a garden-variety claw hammer, likely from Sears.
- Child Prodigy: In his prequel comic, it's established that Dr. Horrible was skipped at least three grades in school when he was 8, and is still considered smart relative to his classmates.
- Civvie Spandex: Captain Hammer's costume consists almost entirely of normal items of clothing
- Clark Kenting: Played straight and subverted. Penny doesn't recognize her laundry buddy Billy as Dr. Horrible (though admittedly she didn't get a very good look at Dr. Horrible). Captain Hammer seems not to recognize him, but it turns out he's just waiting for Penny to leave the room. Penny later recognizes Billy/Horrible after he does a Call Back to her encouraging song in Act II.
- Coconut Superpowers:
- We see the (dubious) success of Dr. Horrible's Transmatter Ray when he shows off a Ziploc bag full of liquefied gold bullion/bouillon.
- The prequel comic showed him using it to make a steel beam that Captain Hammer threw at him teleport.
- We only hear from Dr. Horrible that Captain Hammer threw a car at his head. We never see it.
- Subverted twice, in that we see the Freeze Ray and the Death Ray in operation in Act III.
- We see the (dubious) success of Dr. Horrible's Transmatter Ray when he shows off a Ziploc bag full of liquefied gold bullion/bouillon.
- Color Coded for Your Convenience: Reversed (Or is it?) -- Dr. Horrible wears white, Captain Hammer wears black.
- Dr. Horrible's red suit at the end of Act III is definitely an example of this. So are Dr. Horrible's new black gloves, which now match Captain Hammer's black gloves from earlier, hinting that Dr. Horrible is now as evil (and hypocritical) deep down as Captain Hammer.
- Comically Missing the Point: During "Slipping," Dr. Horrible mentions the prospect of "Anarchy/That I run!"
- Contrived Coincidence: Presenting Penny with an "extra" frozen yoghurt surely counts as this, as Billy saw her and Hammer enjoying the same treat earlier.
- Corporate-Sponsored Superhero: "Captain Hammer, corporate TOOL!"
- Counterpoint Duet: My Eyes.
- Crapsack World: Penny is portrayed as the only genuinely good person; the "hero" and "villain" are certainly anything but, and in the end, Penny's the one who dies, pretty much sealing the world's fate. Emphasized in "Everything You Ever" when the "sheep" who idolized Captain Hammer are only too happy to do the same to Dr. Horrible.
- Create Your Own Villain: It is heavily implied (and outright stated in the prequel comics) that Captain Hammer's belief that anyone who is nerdy or uncool is a potential supervillain is why Dr. Horrible got to be the way he is. The story then cements it by having Hammer's attempt to defeat Horrible once and for all drive him over the edge into true evil.
- Cue Card Pause: "I hate the homeless...ness problem that plagues this city."
- Cut Lex Luthor a Check: "It's not about making money, it's about taking money." Of course, this is blatant hypocrisy on Dr. Horrible's part, as the Transmatter Ray was supposed to transport the gold bar intact, and it's clear from "Slipping" that he is after cash and fame as well as social change.
- Damning With Faint Praise: You don't get much fainter than "I guess he's pretty okay" in regards to the hero of the city!
- Dartboard of Hate: Dr. Horrible's not a very good dart thrower. Fortunately this is quickly rectified by more direct application of dart to Hammer.
- Death By Origin Story: Penny, unless Joss has something really twisted up his sleeve for the putative sequel.
- Death Ray: Dr Horrible was originally a Technical Pacifist, but later recants and turns his Stun Ray into a Death Ray. You know it used to be a stun ray because he is shown covering up "stun" with a piece of black tape with "death" written on it.
- Deconstruction: The Superhero and Super Villain dichotomy as follows:
- The villain is a likable, Shrinking Violet Technical Pacifist, and there's a strong indication that the main reason he's evil is because the world (and specifically, Captain Hammer) believes all nerds and geeks to be potential villains.
- The hero saves the day but only to feed his ego...he's an obnoxious Jerk Jock, Jerkass womanizer with complete disdain for anyone who isn't him.
- The hero gets the girl, but only wants her for, well, sex (musing about how he might even sleep with the same girl twice, and later cheerfully announcing their bedroom activity to the press during his speech in Act III, much to Penny's horror). And, also, because he knows the villain genuinely loves her. Have we mentioned Captain Hammer is a Jerkass? Because Captain Hammer is a Jerkass.
- It's the hero's actions that ultimately drive the villain to become truly evil.
- Interestingly, the strict actions of the hero and villain fit the usual template. Dr. Horrible stalks a girl, can't be bothered to sign a petition for a good cause, and idolizes clearly evil villains (and all this before his flip). Meanwhile, the hero saves the girl, stops the villain, starts a new homeless shelter, and gives an "everyone can be a hero" speech.
- Department of Redundancy Department: The "Evil League of Evil" is, arguably, semantically justified; the first 'Evil' describes the nature of the league, the second the composition of the league. It is a league of evil, which is itself evil. However, it most definitely captures the spirit of the trope.
- Designated Hero and Designated Villain: Invoked; thanks to the Deconstruction mentioned above, Captain Hammer has a heroic demeanor but is a xenophobic, anti-intellectual, pompous Miles Gloriosus with Super Strength who prefers to beat up and humiliate Dr. Horrible rather than turn him over to the police; while Dr. Horrible is a classic Well-Intentioned Extremist who is too introverted to pull off any serious crimes. Until, of course, Captain Hammer makes it personal.
- Despair Event Horizon: After Penny's death, Dr. Horrible just stops caring. In one scene at the end, you see him holding up a bank, only half-heartedly threating people with his gun. It's implied at the very end that his contempt of the world consumes him, going from a Well-Intentioned Extremist to a just plain villain.
- Did Mom Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?: Did Penny just eat frozen yogurt with Dr. Horrible?
- Die for Our Ship: In-universe example - the groupies have an irrational hatred for Penny...
"So they say he saved her life / They say she works with the homeless / And doesn't eat meat / We have a problem with her!"
- Dies Wide Open: Penny.
- Digital Piracy Is Evil: Inverted on the DVD when the League warns you against using the DVD for non-evil purposes. Ripping the DVD reveals a screen reading "You ripped our DVD? How do you not fear us yet?"
- The Dog Bites Back: Captain Hammer dating Penny solely to hurt Dr. Horrible, in addition to the massive amounts of pain and suffering he's put him through in the past, causes him to snap and decide the one he's going to kill is Hammer. "Brand New Day" is pretty much a song about this trope.
- Dogged Nice Guy: Billy is, at his core, a genuinely nice guy who's too shy to act on his wishes.
- Don't Explain the Joke: [Captain Hammer holds up fists] "These are not the Hammer." [leaves then returns] "The Hammer is my penis."
- Double Entendre:
- "Make the Bad Horse gleeful or he'll make you his mare."
- Downer Ending / Bittersweet Ending: Captain Hammer is revealed for the punk he is. Penny dies, fulfilling Bad Horse's requirement. Dr. Horrible becomes a famous supervillain and gets admitted to the Evil League of Evil. But now, the world is an empty place, full of haunting memories. Billy's last shreds of idealism and innocence are gone.
Dr Horrible/Penny: There's no happy ending.. so they say.
- Dream Team: Written, directed, and produced by Joss Whedon, with acting by Felicia Day, Nathan Fillion, and Neil Patrick Harris.
- Dying Like Animals: The people of L.A. worship the Designated Hero Captain Hammer even while he's insulting them to their faces, and despite the presence of real heroes like Penny. Dr. Horrible calls them out on this in "Slipping", only to fall victim to a similar kind of worship after defeating Hammer.
- Easter Egg: On the DVD, in the scene selection, no less. Act II, 'Moist Dries Out'. It gives you a full-screen close-up of the ELE seal, with Dr. Horrible's picture and a countdown from five before it auto-directs you back to the main menu
- It actually has a purpose... try pressing 5 or 6 on your DVD remote during the countdown. There are two other similar Easter eggs as well, accessed the same way: try pressing Enter during the "Act 2" title and during the "What Just Happened?" special feature when Felicia says "Mariah Carey", and more countdowns will appear. Again, pressing 5 or 6 yields interesting results.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Dr. Horrible isn't so sure about this whole killing people thing and is especially appalled at the suggestion of killing a little kid (and future president) to boost his own reputation of evilness. This is introduced in Act I in his response to Johnny Snow's challenge.
Dr Horrible: Besides, there are kids in that park.
- Even the Guys Want Him: Captain Hammer has at least one man swooning over him.
- Everything but the Girl: To the tee at the end.
- Evil Costume Switch: In Act I, during the heist to steal the Wonderflonium, Billy changes from his normal clothes into his evil persona and dons the Dr. Horrible outfit (complete with goggles).
- In Act III, the final switch from villain to supervillain occurs: from Dr. Horrible's previous iconic outfit consisting of white labcoat, white boots and gloves to a blood-red labcoat and black gloves. He keeps his goggles, but now they've become Scary Shiny Glasses, covering his eyes.
- Evil Feels Good: What Dr. Horrible learns in Act II. Before, his determination to get entrance into the prestigious Evil League of Evil was merely a wish to gain respect. Now, It's Personal. Now, he wants revenge.
"I cannot believe my eyes / how the world's filled with filth and lies / but it's plain to see / evil inside of me / is on the rise."
- Evil Gloating:
- Captain Hammer's gloating at the laundromat, when he tells Billy/Dr. Horrible that he will date Penny solely because Dr. Horrible has a crush on her. He grinds it into Horrible's face (metaphorically) with, "...and I get what you want."
- Dr. Horrible's song "Slipping" in Act III.
- Evil Laugh: What Doctor Horrible is practicing in Act I. He has a vocal coach. He gets it right in Act III.
"If you're gonna get into the Evil League of Evil, you have to have a memorable laugh!"
- Evil Minions: Moist barely qualifies as a henchman, because in his own words, "Even at my most Badass, I can only make people feel like they want to take a shower." On the other hand, he's got enough evil hours to be in the Henchmen's Union and has some rather vicious ideas.
Moist: "Hourglass says she knows a kid in Iowa, grows up to be president. That'd be...big."
- Evil Sounds Deep: Possibly deconstructed, if not subverted or even averted. The Designated Hero antagonist has a much deeper voice than the mostly-sympathetic Villain Protagonist.
- Though Hammer does sing higher than Dr. Horrible.
- And also, Penny, who is pretty much an Ingenue, is an alto rather than a soprano as is traditionally done in musical theater.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Bad Horse. And Moist, who, well...is.
- Speaking of Moist, about his double date he had with Bait and Switch:
Moist: "I kind of thought I was supposed to end up with Bait, but..."
- Lampshaded with the sticker label on the Stun Ray turned Death Ray.
- Face Framed in Shadow: During "My Eyes" while singing about the darkness in him rising, he stands so that only half his face is lit by a streetlight. When he mentions that it's rising, he steps back, allowing his entire face to be covered. The only light still hitting his face is from a hobo-fire.
- Fan Disillusionment: Captain Hammer's three biggest fans change their Hammer themed attire and allegiance in favor of Dr. Horrible after he defeats Captain Hammer.
- Fan Girl: In-universe example - Captain Hammer has a trio. Well, two fangirls and one Camp Gay fanboy. In the end, they change sides to Dr. Horrible, because Hammer has been defeated, in a nastily satirical twist that helps to prove Dr. Horrible's point.
- Fantasy Twist: In the first song, much of which takes place in the imagination of Billy/Dr. Horrible, he imagines himself slipping up and saying "Love your hair" out loud, then awkwardly trying to cover his Did I Just Say That Out Loud? moment by claiming he loves the air.
- Feet of Clay: Penny starts seeing Captain Hammer as he truly is during Act III: an egotistical Jerkass bully with superpowered brawn. Hammer's final attack on Horrible really shows his True Colors and shows him for the punk he is. Subverted with Penny's line, which demonstrate that she still believes in heroes -- "Captain Hammer will save us."
- Fiery Redhead: Subverted, or at least averted. Penny is so mild-mannered and gentle that she is only grateful when Captain Hammer uses his super strength to push her at high speed into the garbage. She's so sweet that her dying words are meant as reassurance to her Billy buddy.
- Final Speech: Penny's Last Words are to ask if Billy is alright, and to reassure him that "Captain Hammer will save us." Brutally ironic considering that she'd just seen both Hammer and Billy show their True Colors, and in her dying moment she chooses Hammer. Whether she was delirious or not, her attempt to comfort Billy ends up twisting the knife in the cruelest possible way.
- Bad Horse insists that Dr. Horrible kill someone. He doesn't say who. And Penny's the Morality Chain for Billy/Dr. Horrible. Uh oh.
- And, at the end of Act 1, Captain Hammer damages Dr. Horrible's equipment (i.e. the van remote), which almost results in Penny's death.
- Also, several quick lines during the songs:
"'Cause the dark is everywhere and Penny doesn't seem to care that soon the dark in me is all that will remain..."
Horrible/Penny: There's no happy ending/So they say
"It's not a death ray..."
Hammer (to Penny): The only doom that's looming is you loving me to death...
- The username of the person who asks Dr. Horrible about Penny at the beginning is "deadnotsleeping".
- Fun with Subtitles: The "Wiccan" subtitles on the DVD.
- Fourth Wall Mail Slot: Parodied in the opening scenes.
- Freeze Ray: Although in this case, Billy's Freeze Ray isn't a Freeze Ray—it's his rival Johnny Snow that has the "ice beam."
- Freudian Couch: Captain Hammer ends up lying on one of these, sobbing and talking to a psychiatrist after being physically injured for the first time in his life.
- Funny Background Event: Two, both during the "My Eyes" song in Act II.
- In the soup kitchen, Billy shows up in "incognito" (Fake moustache and Apron), scoops up soup for the homeless but doesn't throw it into bowl, but back into the pan. He then gives the bowl to one of the homeless.
- Dr. Horrible stalking Penny and Captain Hammer on their date, complete with Mobile Shrubbery.
- Gag Dub: Commentary the Musical at times has elements of this.
- Gainax Ending: Act III has Dr. Horrible walking into the meeting room of the Evil League of Evil and the door closes, then we switch out of the blue and unexplained to Billy sitting in his street clothes in front of his webcam, and then the movie just... ends.
- Genre Busting: For its first two chapters, it's a musical, superhero Deconstruction, romantic comedy about a wannabe mad scientist supervillain and his attempts at gaining power (frequently detailed, of course, in his video blog). Then the last chapter ends with elements of classic tragedy, the only remotely sweet and sympathetic character dying in the most gut-wrenching, Whedon-specialty way possible. The montage that follows, however, still includes some brutally funny moments.
- Genre Savvy: Doctor Horrible has a voice coach for his laugh, and respects Bad Horse's work on his terrible Death Whinny. He insists it's about standards. He uses the laugh appropriately later. Of course he has a stunning moment of savviness failure when he spends too long monologuing in Act III, giving the Freeze Ray time to run out of juice.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar:
Bad Horse Chorus: So make the Bad Horse gleeful, or he'll make you his mare--
Captain Hammer: And these *holds up fists* are not the hammer.
- Gloved Fist of Doom: Just before Dr. Horrible enters the room to join the Evil League of Evil.
- Goggles Do Nothing: Doctor Horrible literally has goggles, but never seems to do much with them. At the end, Doctor Horrible wears the goggles over the eyes on his new, 'true evil' costume, signifying the completion of his change.
- The Good Captain: Subverted by Captain Hammer.
- Green-Eyed Monster: Dr. Horrible is driven by this increasingly throughout Act II and III.
- Grief Song: Everything You Ever.
- Groin Attack: During the Seasonal Montage in "Brand New Day", we see Captain Hammer first knee Dr. Horrible hard in the crotch while beating him up, then later give him a vicious-looking wedgie.
- Groupie Brigade: Captain Hammer has one.
- Half-Empty Two-Shot: The scene in Act III of Penny sitting in the laundromat with two frozen yogurts, waiting for Billy, who isn't showing up.
- Hammerspace: Dr. Horrible produces the Death Ray from beneath his coat in Act III, despite there being no evidence of it being there in earlier shots. While not an actual use, it's also worth noting that Captain Hammer pulls the notecards for his speech in Act III out of his oversized glove.
- Happy Ending: Well, that depends on how you look at it.
- Played straight: Billy finally achieves his ambition. He defeats Captain Hammer and Dr. Horrible becomes a member of the inner circle of the Evil League of Evil.
- Subverted, big time: Billy's Death Ray explodes in the hands of Captain Hammer. The shrapnel hits Penny and she dies, losing the girl he loves without ever getting a chance to say how he feels about her, let alone goodbye.
- Hard Work Hardly Works: Lampshaded.
Captain Hammer: "I don't go to the gym. I'm just naturally like this."
- Hate Plague: Tie-Die has some sort of strange incense powers that can make hippies evil and violent.
- He Had a Name: Played for Mood Whiplash in the closing montage, with newspapers announcing "Girlfriend of Captain Hammer Murdered" and "Country Mourns Whats-Her-Name". It's intended to demonstrate how the Crapsack World cares more about superheroes and supervillains than real, honest people like Penny.
- Heel Realization: Dr. Horrible has this over Penny's corpse, as he realizes that now he really is a villain to the world at large.
- Hellish Horse: Bad Horse is a black horse who doesn't look like anything special but his Coconut Superpowers include a "terrible death whinny." He must have done something evil to cause Penny to look horrified at the mention of the Thoroughbred of Sin.
- Hero Antagonist: Captain Hammer, though he barely qualifies as a hero in the first place.
- Hero Insurance: Captain Hammer, big time.
- Heroes Want Redheads: Ok, so the term "hero" is debatable but both Doctor Horrible and Captain Hammer go for Penny. Even if Hammer does just want to screw with Horrible.
- Heroic (Villainous?) BSOD: Dr. Horrible twice: first at the beginning of Act II after Penny and Captain Hammer have hooked up, and then the very last shot of Act III.
- Captain Hammer, running away whilst crying for "someone maternal" and then later seen in therapy counts.
- He Who Must Not Be Seen: Bad Horse, until the very end. Also, Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The "Thoroughbred of Sin" is revealed to be... yeah, a real horse. Apparently, the actors who played the Evil League of Evil's members did not know that Bad Horse was a real horse until the scene happened.
- Hollywood Nerd
- Hope Spot: Dr. Horrible has a moment of triumph as he survives his gun exploding without harm, and Captain Hammer has fled, broken and humiliated. But then he turns around, to see the fallen Penny.
- Hopeless Suitor: Dr. Horrible to Penny, with the difference that Hammer knows that Billy the laundry buddy is not "just a friend."
- Humans Are Morons: Dr. Horrible laments that most humans are sheep and can't think for themselves. Obviously, only a complete overhaul of the system can fix this problem.
- Hypocritical Humor: "Wow, sarcasm! That's original!" Subtly lampshaded as Horrible pauses a moment, as if reflecting on this statement, before continuing.
- "I Am Becoming" Song: "My Eyes", "Brand New Day", Billy's parts in "So They Say"...
- "I Am" Song: "A Man's Gotta Do" starts out as Dr. Horrible but is hijacked by Captain Hammer before he even gets to the first chorus. "Bad Horse Chorus" is a He Is Song for the eponymous horse, of course. "Everything You Ever" is this for Dr. Horrible at the conclusion of the story.
- If You're So Evil Eat This Kitten: The deed to be done to get into the Evil League of Evil ("A heinous crime, a show of force, [a murder would be nice, of course"]). After Dr. Horrible's first attempt fails, the league tells him only an assassination can make up for it, and implies another failure will make him a target.
- Incessant Chorus: Bad Horse's henchmen.
- They even appear at one point during a completely different song. They aren't singing, but they are posed and moving in the same way they do when they are. It could be assumed that they are singing, we just can't hear them.
- Incoming Ham: Captain Hammer is Milking the Giant Cow in his very first scene.
- I Need to Go Iron My Dog: "Oh goodness, look at my wrist, I gotta go."
- Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Played straight in Act I and Act II. Double Subverted in Act III—even when Dr. Horrible steps up to the plate, he can't follow through with killing Captain Hammer, only for said hero to solve the problem for him, causing his breakdown.
- The Ingenue: Penny comprises this trope distilled. There are hints she is not as naive as she seems to be on first glance, though. She certainly has experienced sorrow and rejection in her life, but unlike Billy, she did not let this get her down, she kept her optimism intact.
- Innocent Bystander: Penny gets dragged into the rivalries between Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer. In the first Act she is nearly run over by the out-of-control van, and in the last Act she pays for it with her life.
- Insert Cameo: JOSS'S FIST!
- Intercourse with You: Captain Hammer's other reason for dating Penny was for the sex and the bragging rights thereof.
"This is so nice / I just might sleep with the same girl twice / They say it's better the second time / they say you get to do the weird stuff."
- Intrepid Reporter: There are two people who do not run or cower during 'Slipping'. One is taking pictures of Dr. Horrible. The other is taking notes on his speech, and the latter is in the front row. She doesn't even flinch when he leans over to correct her spelling, gun in hand. She just shows him her notebook.
- Ironic Echo:
- In "Penny's Song", she sings "So keep your head up, Billy buddy" to try to cheer Dr. Horrible up and get him to be more optimistic. Then in "Slipping", Horrible repeats the line... to build up his courage to kill Captain Hammer. (This also clues Penny in that her laundry buddy and Dr. Horrible are the same person.)
- In "Slipping", Dr. Horrible sings triumphantly "Then I win, then I get everything I ever" in anticipation of his victory. In the next song, "Everything You Ever", that phrase instead becomes a eerie, almost mocking refrain.
- In "Freeze Ray", Billy sings about how "I'm the guy to make it real/the feelings you don't dare to feel" regards Penny. In "My Eyes", Penny sings "He looks at me and seems to know/the things that I'm afraid to show", but she's talking about Captain Hammer.
- A smaller one, but in Act I Dr. Horrible informs the audience to "tell their friends" about the Freeze Ray. In Act III he says the same, but to "say it was Horrible."
- It Runs on Nonsensoleum: The final component for the time-freezing ray is "Wonderflonium." (Which must never be bounced.)
- It's Personal: One of the many reasons Billy finally decides to get rid of the kid gloves and off Captain Hammer.
- "I Want" Song: "My Freeze Ray".
- Jerkass: Capt. Hammer.
- Jerk Jock: Meet Captain Hammer, corporate tool and narcissistic womanizer.
- Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Referenced.
Billy: And sometimes there's a third, even deeper, level, and that one is the same as the...top...surface...one. Like with pie.
- Just Between You and Me:
- In Act II, at the laundromat, when Captain Hammer catches Billy before he can slip out the door and then, while Penny is otherwise occupied, has a little chit-chat with him, revealing that he knows that Billy is Dr. Horrible and also that he noticed Billy's/Horrible's feelings for Penny. All the while having his arm around Billy's shoulders in what looks like a jovial, friendly buddy gesture between guys... until you look at Billy's face frozen in fear and impotent rage.
- In Act III, Dr. Horrible's song "Slipping" is the musical equivalent of the supervillain's triumphant monologue. Of course, his two-minute song gives his Freeze Ray time to run out of power and release Captain Hammer...
- Karma Meter: The colour of Doctor Horrible's goggles. In Act I, they're reflecting some light, and look white. As the story unfolds, the light gets reflected less and less often, and the goggles turn darker and darker as Horrible's personality does the same. Finally in Act III, the goggles are completely black. Interestingly, just as "Everything You Ever" starts, light momentarily reflects off the goggles again. Last trace of goodness?
- Kent Brockman News: "It's a good day to be homeless!" Also: "Next up: Who's gay?"
- And right after that, it's time for the guy in Captain Hammers fanclub to sing.
- Kick the Dog: Captain Hammer is made of this. In Act II, Hammer reveals that he's dating Penny just to mess with Horrible.
- Knight Templar: Captain Hammer, the self-designated Hero. Not only does he not hesitate to shoot a helpless opponent in the face, but according to the Captain Hammer: Be Like Me! comic he considers everyone who is a "freak" or a loner or just good at science and math a potential villain and danger to society.
- Lame Rhyme Dodge: "Love the...uh...air."
- Large Ham: Captain Hammer, especially in-universe. Especially in-universe. Dr. Horrible, by contrast, is mostly subdued...up until "Slipping," where he goes full ham as only a singing, Death Ray wielding supervillain in top Evil Gloating form can.
- Late to The Punchline:
- People have reported only getting the Bait and Switch gag later, and/or after repeated viewings.
- The same is true for the Fury Leika joke and gold bullion and other Stealth Pun jokes.
- Nobody gets the Conflict Diamond reference. She's apparently a bad date.
- The commentary notes that the picture of Penny that Dr. Horrible holds when he sits in the big chair being taken from a Stalker with a Crush vantage was less noticeable than expected.
- The Law of Conservation of Detail: Does it ever. The series is about the length of a standard TV show, and in that time it manages to fit in every bit of character development, deconstruction of various tropes, Foreshadowing, stealth humour and all the other minute details which are mentioned on this page. Every last second counts.
- Dr. Horrible's theme from the act openings shows up played normally in the middle of "Slipping" as the song switches from him philosophizing to being in full villain mode, and as a harsh version with heavy downbeats in "Everything You Ever" as he suits up in his new red-and-black uniform.
- The same Lonely Piano Piece melody shows up in both of Penny's solos "Caring Hands" and "Penny's Song", and then in the credits where it gets overtaken/drowned out by a loud, heavy version of Horrible's theme.
- The background chords of "Slipping" play when Dr. Horrible is throwing the remote onto the courier van, and later in the credits.
- Let's Get Dangerous: Brand New Day.
- Like a Weasel: Billy does this to Penny, in reference to laundry.
- Little No: Dr. Horrible is too paralyzed with grief to manage a Big No, or even much in the way of speech at all, as his mind catches up with Penny's demise and the implications thereof.
- Living Legend: Captain Hammer, Bad Horse, and the Evil League of Evil are all incredibly well known. By the end of Act III, so is Dr. Horrible.
- Lock and Load Montage: The Doctor converting his Stun Ray into a Death Ray in Act III. Also at the end of Act III, the Doctor changes the color scheme of his Mad Scientist getup.
- Lonely At the Top
- Lonely Piano Piece: Penny's theme and song, as well as the beginning of "Everything You Ever". Doubles as a Simple Score of Sadness.
- Loose Lips: Dr. Horrible has a blog, which he uses to talk to his fans about various things he's done and is planning to do. This backfires on him when it turns out his viewing audience includes Captain Hammer and the LAPD.
- Lost Love Montage: My Eyes, the first song of Act II, seems to be this for Dr. Horrible.
- Love Makes You Evil: Pretty much the entire second half of the story.
- Love Triangle: Triang Relations type 7. You may think type 4, since Penny never gets the chance to reciprocate Horrible's affections before she dies, but note how she buys two frozen yogurts and looks whenever somebody comes in the door in Act 3.
- Lyrical Dissonance: Used intentionally throughout.
- "Brand New Day" is an upbeat rock anthem about plotting murder.
- "Everyone's a Hero" is an inspirational anthem that actually insults its audience.
- "Everything You Ever" is a (supposedly) triumphant victory song with the cadence of a dirge.
- Mad Scientist: Dr. Horrible and his various inventions. Also possibly Professor Normal, given that headgear.
- And Mister Maniacal in the prequel comic.
- A Man Is Not a Virgin:
- Subverted by the clueless (or possibly in denial) Billy.
Billy: ...they're probably going to French kiss or something.
- Played straight with Captain Hammer. And he's so proud of it.
Captain Hammer: This is so nice / I just might sleep with the same girl twice / they say it's better the second time / you get to do the weird stuff...
Billy: "Tell you how / how you make / make me feel / what's the phrase? / Like a fool / kinda sick / special needs / anyways..."
- Meaningful Name: Captain Hammer is a real tool.
- Minor Injury Overreaction: Captain Hammer blubbers like a baby and needs to see a psychiatrist to deal with getting physically hurt for the first time.
- Misapplied Phlebotinum: Moist. "Humidity Rising" reveals that his condition was caused by a plutonium-powered humidifier.
- Mobile Shrubbery: Dr. Horrible uses it to follow Penny and Captain Hammer around at the beginning of Act II.
- Mood Motif:
- The crunchy guitars of determination in "Brand New Day"
- The Creepy Drums of Sinister is that middle part of "Slipping"
- The Violin of Tense Suspense is audible at the end of "Slipping" We see Horrible hesitate ...will he pull the trigger on the death ray and take out his nemesis once and for all...?
"Here goes no mercyyyyyyyyyy...."
- The Theremin of Mad Scientist is audible at the very end of "Everything You Ever" and through the closing credits.
- The Harp of Sweetness is in the mix for most of Penny's songs, especially "My Eyes".
- And then, appropriately enough, in a minor key thrumming in the background during "Everything You Ever".
- Mood Whiplash: The series begins with a light comic tone that begins hinting at darkness in Act II, to abandon the comedy (almost) entirely by the end of Act III. Although Dr. Horrible singing: "Say it was (H/h)orrible! Spread the word! Tell your friends! Tell them the tale. Get a pic! Do a blog!" amidst the carnage is still pretty funny (especially in light of the title of the musical). He even pauses mid-rampage to make sure a reporter is spelling his name correctly. Not to mention the headline which reads "Country Mourns Death of What's-Her-Name" during the Downer Ending. Mood Whiplash, indeed.
- Morally-Ambiguous Doctorate
- Morality Chain: Penny to Billy, made clear in "Penny's Song". Notice that his blinking tic crops up most often when he's dealing with the Billy/Dr. Horrible moral dichotomy, and is crucially visible during the "Head up, Billy buddy" line during "Slipping" as he works up the resolve to shoot Captain Hammer. He truly starts turning evil.
- Mortal Wound Reveal: After the Death Ray explodes, Dr. Horrible happily looks on as Captain Hammer discovers what pain feels like, then turns to see Penny was impaled by the shrapnel.
- Most Definitely Not a Villain: When Dr. Horrible meets Captain Hammer in the laundromat, the first thing he says is "We're meeting now for the first time."
- Mundane Utility: Dr. Horrible wants to use the Freeze Ray as a "conversational aid" to get up the nerve to speak with Penny.
- Also, in the ELE comic, Johnny Snow uses his ice beam to chill a six-pack of beer/soda.
- Murder the Hypotenuse: Dr. Horrible's motivation for going after Captain Hammer. He hopes to make it up to Penny by giving her "the keys to a Shiny New Australia".
- Musical World Hypotheses: Mostly Alternate Universe Hypothesis plus All In Their Heads, but still a bit of the Adaptation Hypothesis:
- Judging from the half-embarrassed way in which Billy stops singing when Moist enters, Freeze Ray seems to imply he really is singing, hence Alternate Universe, though the laundromat scenes are of course All In His Head.
- Both versions of the Bad Horse Chorus are Adaptation Hypothesis: Billy actually is reading the letter, but the singing cowboys are an artistic touch to make the reading of the letter more fun.
- However, Moist comments on the contents of the letter and Billy nods his head in time with the music, even snapping his head back to the letter after a pause in the music, making this one a bit more difficult to sort out.
- Brand New Day and Everything You Ever are All In Billy's Head, inner monologues that are clearly not heard by the other characters around in the scene.
- My Eyes is an All In Their Heads duet, with no other characters present in the scenes being aware of either Billy or Penny's singing.
- Caring Hands, A Man's Gotta Do, Penny's Song, So They Say, Everyone's a Hero and Slipping are all probably Alternate Universe.
- Musicalis Interruptus: Multiple events and situations lead to people repeatedly being unable to completely finish their songs.
- Act I has Moist interrupting "My Freeze Ray," Dr. Horrible interrupting "Caring Hands" with a scream of surprise, and Captain Hammer stealing "A Man's Gotta Do"
- Act II has perhaps the most interesting one, where Penny interrupts her own song due to her Almost Kiss.
- Act III finishes on a high note (pun intended) with the Freeze Ray interrupting Captain Hammer's "Everyone's a Hero" (who is determined to finish anyway) and Billy interrupting his own "Slipping".
- Musical Spoiler: In Act III, after the Death Ray explodes and Captain Hammer runs off screaming and crying like a little girl, Dr. Horrible picks himself up from the floor and starts to grin with the sudden realization that he has won after all. And then he turns around, and sees... And everything goes very quiet. No music, not a sound. Just his expression, changing to horror.
- My Greatest Failure: The story is designed to set up Penny's death as Dr. Horrible's greatest failure, driving his transition to villainhood.
- Mythology Gag: Dr. Horrible creates his Death Ray by, er... modifying, a Stun Ray. Said Stun Ray is a repainted Alliance stun-gun, carried upside-down.
- Nerd: Billy (and Dr. Horrible, too, although that changes halfway through, when he gets his mad on.) He's also a tech geek, to judge by his apartment.
- Never Hurt an Innocent: Dr. Horrible, initially.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Despite all of Dr. Horrible's attempts to be evil, it's Captain Hammer who causes all of the really bad things to happen.
- In Act I, he smashes the device Dr. Horrible is using to remotely control the courier van, making it careen out of control and almost kill Penny.
- In Act III, when he slams his fist into Dr. Horrible's face and sends him flying backwards, the Death Ray goes flying, too. The sudden impact on the floor causes it to begin sparking ominously. Hammer doesn't notice, and, despite Horrible's warning, seeks to kill the Mad Scientist with his own weapon. But when he pulls the trigger, the Death Ray explodes.
- The story is about largely Captain Hammer's part in "breaking" Dr. Horrible as a person.
- Nietzsche Wannabe: Dr. Horrible's part in "My Eyes".
"Any dolt with half a brain/ Can see that humankind has gone insane/ To the point where I don't know if I'll upset the status quo/ If I throw poison in the water main..."
- Also: "The world is a mess, and I just...need to rule it."
- Nigh Invulnerability: Captain Hammer.
- Noble Demon: Dr. Horrible fits this trope to a tee, at least before the finale.
- No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: The Freeze Ray and some of Dr. Horrible's other inventions. During "So They Say", we can see Horrible working out plans on the whiteboard to convert the Stun Ray into a Death Ray.
- "No Respect" Guy: Until Act III, Dr. Horrible was more of a villain wannabe than an actual force to be reckoned with.
- Not Listening to Me, Are You?: Penny's spiel in Act I trails off with "...so they can buy rocket packs and go to the moon... and become florists" as she realizes that Billy's attention is elsewhere.
- Not-So-Harmless Villain: Although a Technical Pacifist and Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain throughout Act I and II, and held in contempt by Captain Hammer, it's Hammer's pursuit of Penny that spurs Dr. Horrible to finally go all in on the Evil business, converting his Stun Ray to a Death Ray to defeat his nemesis once and for all. While it's Hammer who ends up pulling the trigger, the result of this (Penny's death) is the final step to drive Dr. Horrible to true supervillainy.
- Not So Invincible After All: Captain Hammer, as seen in Act III when the Death Ray explodes in his hand and proves his Miles Gloriosus nature -- "I'm in pain! I think this is what pain feels like!"
- Oh Crap: "...that's not a good sound..."
- The Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The Evil League of Evil.
- Only Sane Man: (at stage 3: Violent Sarcasm) Billy/Dr. Horrible is exasperated that he seems to be the only person who can see through Captain "Cheesy On The Outside" Hammer's disguise and spot him for the jerk he is. Everyone else (the "sheep") are practically worshipping Hammer.
- Opposites Attract Revenge: A good summary of the Love Triangle dynamic, complete with Murder the Hypotenuse.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Billy's "disguise" while tailing Captain Hammer and Penny at the soup kitchen, which consists of a moustache and nothing else.
- Parental Abandonment: Implied in the comic Penny: Keep Your Head Up.
- Part Time Villain: Apparently even villains need to do laundry.
- Peer Pressure Makes You Evil: Billy wants to be an achiever, he longs to be taken seriously, and he believes the only way he can attain his goals is by becoming a Super Villain. After he applies for membership in the prestigious Evil League of Evil, Bad Horse puts the metaphorical thumbscrews on poor Dr. Horrible, demanding that Horrible must prove that he is ruthless enough... or else.
"He rides across the nation, the Thoroughbred of Sin / He got the application that you just sent in / It needs evaluation, so let the games begin / A heinous crime, a show of force / (a murder would be nice of course)"
- Pieta Plagiarism: When Dr. Horrible carries Penny's body to the stretcher, like an offering.
- Playing the Heart Strings: The beginning of "Everything You Ever" with violins, and throughout with the harp strumming.
- Power Incontinence: Moist is always icky wet due to his profuse sweating, and it's bad enough that when he brings Horrible the mail, the top few pieces are soggy.
- He fights a losing battle with the lid of a preserving jar, too.
- And to complete the trifecta, the finale has him dropping the money bags he's supposed to be carrying during the bank heist.
- Pow Zap Wham Cam: As Dr. Horrible encroaches more and more on Billy's psyche, the shots of him become more angular and starkly lit, culminating at his sudden appearance at the shelter dedication. His "Last Shot of Remorse" ("A thing...") has him completely out of uniform, just looking pitifully like he needs a hug.
- Pre-Ass-Kicking One-Liner: Dr. Horrible gets a suitably cheesy one in his prequel comic, when he declares "Your meter's expired, Captain Hammer!" before setting off all the pre-explosive-trapped parking meters that Captain Hammer's standing in the middle of.
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Two, right after each other, one of which is a Metaphorgotten, by Captain Hammer in Act III.
Captain Hammer: A death ray! Looks like Dr. Horrible's moving up. Let's see if this one works any better than the others.
- BTW, it's King Minos, in case anyone's wondering.
- Product Placement: Dr. Horrible uses a remote program on his iPhone for nefarious purposes. Guess who's sponsoring the episode downloads. It was actually Nathan Fillion's personal iPhone, so this is more a coincidence than anything else. For some reason, for "Bad Horse Chorus (Reprise)", Horrible has a flip-phone, instead of an iPhone.
- Probably to prevent triggering any remote-operated rayguns or vans while relaying instructions to Moist. Or maybe he just uses the iPhone as Billy in case his number is ever traced.
- Protagonist-Centered Morality: From whichever angle you look at it—for a "hero", Captain Hammer takes It's All About Me to its egotastical limits; and as a Villain Protagonist, Dr. Horrible is about world domination under his terms. The world's only too happy to ignore the work of good people like Penny to worship its heroes and villains.
- Protagonist Journey to Villain: Dr. Horrible is the protagonist, and he turns evil over the course of the plot.
- Psychotic Smirk: Dr. Horrible, at the end of Act II as he starts singing "Brand New Day."
- Punched Across the Room: What happens to Dr. Horrible as a result of his hesitation with the Death Ray. Hammer unfreezes and lets fly with a haymaker that sends the somewhat hapless Mad Scientist sliding across the floor.
- Puppy Dog Eyes: Dr. Horrible at the opening of Act II, and his disheveled look after Captain Hammer threw the car at his head. "Eyes full of unshed tears"? Check. The second half of Act III is overflowing with this trope. The poor guy carries his emotions on his sleeve, or rather, on his face.
- Pyrrhic Victory
- Pyrrhic Villainy: Depends on how you interpret Dr. Horrible.
- Real Men Wear Pink: Moist's friend "Pink Pummeler".
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: "Everyone's a Hero" is this disguised as a Rousing Speech.
- Recurring Riff: bum BUM bum, bum BUM bum!
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: The most prominent color in the auditorium is red for the beginning of Act III, as Captain Hammer makes his speech and sings "Everyone's a Hero." When Dr. Horrible reveals himself and his Freeze Ray, the lighting changes and the room appears blue, then goes back to normal when the Freeze Ray runs out of power.
- Repetitive Name: The Evil League of Evil.
- Romantic False Lead: Captain Hammer, to some degree.
- Rule of Cool: It's a super-villain musical. It practically subsists on this.
- Sanity Slippage: From "My Eyes" all the way to the end, you can see Billy and Horrible vying for dominance of the brainpan.
- Sanity Slippage Song: Probably most evident in "Slipping", but definitely in "My Eyes" and "Brand New Day" as well.
- Sarcasm Mode:
Dr. Horrible: Wow, sarcasm. That's original!
- Secret Identity Identity: Billy and Dr. Horrible.
- Shiny New Australia: Trope Namer. Dr. Horrible plans to give Penny Australia once he takes over the world.
- Shout-Out / Mythology Gag: Possibly. During their duet, Penny asks Captain Hammer (played by Nathan Fillion) what exactly he's supposed to be the captain of.
- Also, the head of the Evil League of Evil is "Bad Horse." And the company who puts out most of Joss Whedon's comics (including the Captain Hammer comic) just happens to be called "Dark Horse." Okay, could be coincidence, but still.
- The newsreaders in Episode III were played by David Fury and Marti Noxon, also from the Evil League of Evil, "Professor Normal" is played by Doug Petrie and "Fake Thomas Jefferson" by Drew Goddard. All were writers for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- The "do not bounce" warning on the Wonderflonium is ...horribly similar to the warnings that go along with "Happy Fun Ball" from Saturday Night Live.
- Penny's "..and become florists?" comment when Billy isn't paying attention. Becoming a florist is stated as an indicator of some sort of implied mental derangement at least twice in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- Dead Bowie being in the Evil League of Evil might be a shout out to The Venture Brothers, where David Bowie (voiced by not David Bowie) is the head of the Guild of Calamitous Intent.
- This isn't the first time Neil Patrick Harris has played a Doctor.
- There's mention of a Deputy Mayor in Act I as well.
- There seems to be a Serenity model hanging in Billy's house, framed rather conspicuously in the background of any shot of him vlogging. According to Word of God, this is actually just a silhouette formed by several pots and pans hanging up and quite unintentional.
- The final scene is extremely reminiscent of Barney's Face Heel Turn flashback in How I Met Your Mother (season 1).
- Shrinking Violet (the male version): Billy. Although he is smart and quite handsome, he is bitter, cynical and painfully shy around women. He wants to be an achiever, but things never work out the way he wants them to. He dresses like someone who does not wish to draw attention to himself, and his circle of friends seems to consist of his buddy Moist. He invented his alter ego Dr. Horrible, a cooler Mad Scientist version of himself, who unfortunately gets bullied mercilessly by Captain Hammer. Not only that, but the perpetually squicky Moist appears to have a more active social life than he does. How depressing is that?
- Signature Style: It's a Joss Whedon story. Honestly, what other ending did you expect?
- Simple Score of Sadness: Again, Penny's theme and song, a Lonely Piano Piece with her singing about how she hopes to make the world a better place.
- Also significant in that it gets quickly drowned out in the ending credits by Dr. Horrible's much louder and darker theme.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The "My Eyes" duet highlights this contrast between Dr. Horrible and Penny.
- Smash Cut: A particularly bleak and devastating one is employed at the very end.
- Smug Super: Captain Hammer.
- The Song Before the Storm: Possibly 'Brand New Day', but definitely 'So They Say'. It doesn't hurt that 'So They Say' is the only Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number in the whole blog...
- Sounding It Out: Subverted whenever Dr. Horrible gets a communique from Bad Horse, a trio of cowboys lean into frame to sing the message Horrible is reading (or listening to in the case of the cell phone call). Also, justified when he reads viewer emails to his video blog.
- Spandex, Latex, or Leather
- Spiritual Successor: To Once More With Feeling, the musical episode of Buffy.
- Split Screen: Twice with Billy/Horrible and Penny singing in duet. In "My Eyes", they were just on opposite sides of a convenient wall. "So They Say" uses a more conventional Split Screen.
- Stalker with a Crush: Dr. Horrible dons various flimsy disguises to blend in and observe Captain Hammer's wooing of Penny. And one of the Captain Hammer fans is an extreme example of this. "This is his hair." "This is his dry-cleaning bill...four sweater-vests!"
- In "Brand New Day" we see Dr. Horrible in his lair admiring a candid photograph of Penny...obscured by and clearly taken from behind bushes.
- Start of Darkness: Some of the prequel comics show how Billy decided to become a villain. There's also Moist: Humidity Rising, which covers how Moist was given his condition and his first meeting with Dr. Horrible.
- Though the show itself technically isn't a Start of Darkness, since it isn't a prequel or flashback, it conveys much of the same feel.
- There's also the comic detailing the beginnings of Dr. Horrible, showing how he was inspired to be a supervillain after seeing a Mad Scientist successfully defeat a superhero while being called Einstein (a nickname used by an ignorant bully) by the mocking crowd and him becoming the official nemesis of Hammer.
- Stealth Pun:
- Moist went on a double date with Bait and Switch. He thought he was going to end up with Bait, but...
- The fact that one of the members of the Evil League of Evil is named Fury Leika. Needless to say, she's a woman. ("Hell has no fury like a Woman Scorned.") Not only that, but a Laika is a type of dog. Put that together with the fact that she wears a wedding dress, most men are likely to think of her as, well, a bitch.
- Dr. Horrible points out he successfully transported gold bars from the bank to his lab. He holds up a ziploc bag full of the gold, which has turned out liquefied. ("bullion" for metal bar/"bouillon" for soup) That one gets an assist from the Doctor when he says it "smells like cumin."
- Captain Hammer is introduced as being a corporate tool, and since "The hammer is [his] penis," he's Captain Penis. And he's a dick.
- "Your humiliation means he [Bad Horse] still votes (nay/neigh)!"
- Two of the songs on the sound track are called "Horrible Theme" and "Horrible Credits".
- Stood Up: In Act III, Penny waits at the laundromat with a second cup of frozen yogurt to share with Billy. Presumably it's a Saturday, given Billy's stated observation of and familiarity with Penny's pattern, and Penny's having said the shelter can open on Monday. He's plotting against Captain Hammer as Dr. Horrible, so he has no idea she was waiting for him, and might even have picked him.
- Stuffed Into the Fridge: Penny dies to fulfill Dr. Horrible's quest to kill someone to join the Evil League of Evil, despite taking away his hope in the process. Her disposable status is even lampshaded by the news coverage of the death of "Captain Hammer's girlfriend, Whats-Her-Name". Of course, she's also the only genuinely good character in the show, sealing the crap firmly into the Crapsack World that Dr. Horrible will now rule over.
- Sugar Bowl: Played straight with the charming "My Freeze Ray" song, and the sweet Penny moments. The sets are also brightly and cheerily lit, and the songs full of delightful, catchy tunes and phrasings. But the Signature Style of Joss Whedon soon changes that.
- Switching POV: The song "My Eyes", between Penny (optimistic) and Doctor Horrible/Billy. (not).
- Take Over the World: One of Dr. Horrible's declared goals .
Dr. Horrible: (re: Johnny Snow, his self-proclaimed "nemesis") "Look, I'm just trying to change the world, OK? I don't have time for a grudge match with every poser in a parka!"
- Take That: How the media in the room reacted to Dr. Horrible after Penny dies by taking pictures and asking him questions instead of getting the police was very eerily similar to celebrity journalists on the red carpet.
- Talking Is a Free Action: Averted in "Slipping", as singing that song wastes all of the time his Freeze Ray had to hold Hammer in place.
- Technical Pacifist: Literally. Dr. Horrible does not want to kill anybody. He also shows disdain for people who don't seem to respect life. He likes to build various ray guns (although with one exception they're all nonlethal) and fantasizes about taking violent revenge on Captain Hammer, but outside his daydreams he hesitates to actually follow through. He shoots into the ceiling instead, while encouraging the onlookers to run away.
Dr. Horrible: I don't have time for a grudge match with every poser in a parka. Besides...there are kids in that park, so...* scoffs* .
- Not only does he not want to kill anyone, but when Captain Hammer "saves" Penny by shoving her into the garbage using super-strength after Billy has stopped the van ... Billy is the only one to show genuine concern for her safety.
- When Dr. Horrible freezes Captain Hammer and launches into his showstopper Villain Song, he urges the crowd to run; ostensibly so that they can tell the world the evil scientist is winning the day, but...
Dr. Horrible: Go ahead! Run away! Say it was horrible! Spread the word! Tell a friend! Tell them the tale!
- When holding his Death Ray on a helpless Captain Hammer, Dr. Horrible sings the line "No time for mercy!" as a cue for him to pull the trigger. But he hesitates, clearly uneasy about killing him. He even sings more or less the same line again ("Here goes no mercy!") to take a second (unsuccessful) stab at it.
- When the Death Ray begins sparking ominously, Horrible attempts to warn Captain Hammer. Hammer refuses to listen, despite the room still having bystanders in it, among them his supposed long-term girlfriend Penny.
- Theme Song:
- Dr. Horrible has his own tune
- Bad Horse does as well, right down to it being the ringtone on Horrible's phone for when Bad Horse calls.
- One could argue that Penny also has her own theme, considering that both Caring Hands and Penny's Song (note the self-referential name) follow the same tune, and are incidentally her only solo pieces.
- Thirteen Is Unlucky: The thirteenth song is "Everything You Ever" A lament on Penny's death and the culmination of Billy's transformation to Dr. Horrible.
- This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself: "The League is watching. This is something I have to do alone." Also, the whole "A Man's Gotta Do" song.
- Throwing Out the Script: Captain Hammer tosses away the notes for his speech and starts singing a song, "Everyone's a Hero", instead.
- Time Passes Montage: A delightful medley of seasonal reflections on Dr. Horrible's relationship with Captain Hammer are as follows:
- Spring (A trellis of roses grow as Dr. H. is smacked into a wall, punched in the stomach, and kneed in the groin.)
- Summer (Captain Hammer punches Dr. H. in the face repeatedly, pausing to smile for a camera-toting tourist in a Hawaiian shirt.)
- Autumn (Dr. H. is hung suspended over a pile of fallen leaves in a brutal Atomic Wedgie.)
- Winter (Captain Hammer spins through a snowfall with Dr. H over his shoulders in mid-TKO as a charity Santa Claus rings his bell.)
- Time Stands Still: The Freeze Ray does this. "It's not an ice beam."
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Penny.
- To the Bat Noun: Parodied. In his prequel comic, after concocting a new way to fight Captain Hammer, Dr. Horrible tells Moist to "Fetch the Horrible Mobile!" ...which is just Moist's perfectly ordinary car. That he he wishes the Doctor wouldn't call that because it's "a very reliable car".
- Captain Hammer also claims to own several Hammer-themed items, including the Hammer-Cycle and the Hamjet, although we never see them.
- Trampled Underfoot: The "Brand New Day" Imagine Spot ends with Dr. Horrible about to do this to Captain Hammer.
- Triumphant Reprise: Played straight and subverted simultaneously in the finale: in the instrumental bridge of "Everything You Ever", reprises of "Brand New Day" and "Dr. Horrible's Theme" are both audible—and indeed the Doctor has triumphed and is welcomed into the Evil League of Evil. Unfortunately, it's also subverted because Horrible's triumph is Billy's tragedy: The death of Penny and possibly of Billy's nerdy but sweet persona.
- Truth in Television: Captain Hammer's obsessed fans. Admit it.
Groupie number 2: "This is his hair."
- Hey, that's NATHAN FILLION'S HAIR!!! What's wrong about...?! Oh...
- Twitchy Eye: A nervous squint (so pronounced as to resemble a Tourette Syndrome tic) which our protagonist suffers from both as Billy and as Dr. Horrible, so it's not merely an affected character quirk of the Dr. Horrible persona; happens repeatedly throughout the first two Acts (less so during the third). Some examples:
- When Dr. Horrible discusses Penny with Moist, expressing his hope that he will soon make "audible connection" with her.
- After Horrible receives Bad Horse's letter and declares that he will go ahead with his heist to steal the Wonderflonium to prove his worth as a villain.
- During his conversation with Penny on the street, the twitch becomes almost spasmodic, as he tries to reconcile the fact that he's finally talking with her with the fact that he's trying to pull a heist and she's distracting him.
- During the scene where he video-blogs the tale of his latest failure, about how Captain Hammer threw a car at his head, he looks mostly resigned. Then, after a pause he rallies himself and strikes a firmly (fake?) upbeat tone, "Not to worry though! Because I'm..." But that's the exact moment when his tic starts up again, belying his optimistic tone.
- At the laundromat, when Penny touches Billy's face to cheer him up but then aborts their Almost Kiss by suddenly blurting out, "Anyway that's what Captain Hammer says...". Upon hearing his rival's name Billy flinches, hunches his shoulders and squints his eyes hard. Moments later, Billy runs smack into Captain Hammer's chest and tries to avoid meeting Hammer's eyes. After Penny introduces them, Hammer greets him with mock affability, "Oh! Billy, the laundry buddy! Well it is very nice to meet ya!" and then adds, "You look horribly familiar." at which point poor Billy's nervous eye twitch becomes really pronounced.
- When Captain Hammer tells Billy (Dr. Horrible) that he is going to sleep with Penny. Although this is more of a traditional eye twitch of rage.
- A big one in the middle of "Slipping," though that may just be him closing his eyes in frustration at the stupidity of the world around him, and it happens again at the "Billy buddy" line, as a sign that he's not quite all evil... yet.
- Un Evil Laugh: The first act opens with Billy trying for an Evil Laugh but not quite managing it, despite the voice coach. He does get it right in the end, though (just before Slipping, in Act III).
- Unobtainium: Wonderflonium.
- Un Paused: Double Subverted. Captain Hammer is frozen mid-song. After he unfreezes, he punches Dr. Horrible across the room, and then finishes the song.
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Turns out to be literally true; Dr. Horrible reports that his evil scheme fell apart because Captain Hammer had been watching his blog videos.
"I also need to be a little bit more careful about what I say on this blog. Apparently, the LAPD and Captain Hammer are among our viewers. They were waiting for me at the Mayor's dedication of the Superhero Memorial Bridge... the freeze ray takes a few seconds to warm up and I wasn't..." (pause) "Captain Hammer threw a car at my head."
- Villainous Breakdown: After Captain Hammer torments Dr. Horrible with exactly what he's going to do with/to Penny, Dr. Horrible breaks, doing significant damage to his Technical Pacifist nature, although he still hesitates (nearly fatally) when it comes time to finally pull the trigger on Hammer.
- Villain Love Song: "My Freeze Ray"
- Villain Protagonist
- Villain Song: It's called Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, of course he sings the best songs, especially "My Freeze Ray", "Brand New Day", and "Slipping", which is this trope played straight to the moustache-twirling hilt.
- Captain Hammer hijacks "A Man's Gotta Do What A Man's Gotta Do", and then sings "Everyone's A Hero". They are both grade A Villain Songs.
- Villain Ball Magnet: This trope was originally inspired by Dr. Horrible.
- Villain with Good Publicity: Well, a villainous kind of hero; Captain Hammer is a colossal dick, but nobody apart from Dr. Horrible seems to pick up on it.
- Lampshaded by Dr. Horrible in "Slipping" when he sings "the fee's too pricey/ for them to realize / your disguise is slipping." The implication is that everyone knows Captain Hammer is a jerk, but won't admit it because they don't want to lose their hero.
- Penny does, about halfway through in Act III. Although she showed signs of doubt in her relationship with Captain Hammer and in his personality as far back as Act II. If a woman describes the guy she dates with the words, "He's... nice." and "He's ok, I guess." she's trying very hard to persuade herself she's happy.
"And you believe there's good inside of everybody's heart / keep it safe and sound..."
- Also subverted with Dr. Horrible, the actual villain. When his death ray accidentally kills Penny, he starts getting on the cover of newspapers as the most evil villain around - which is good for him, considering it cements his place as a high-ranking member in the Evil League of Evil and sends fear into the hearts of everyone who meets him, making him the perfect supervillain.
- Viral Marketing: The word spread about Dr. Horrible by word of mouth and word-of-internet. So fast and so far that the server was not prepared for the load and went down.
- Visionary Villain: Dr. Horrible talks like an Ubermensch, but can't physically back up his ideas.
- Vlog Series: Used as a framing device.
- Was It Really Worth It?
- Water Source Tampering: In "My Eyes", Billy mopes that mankind has gotten so crazy that if he poisoned the city's water main it might not change a thing. In their prequel comic, the Evil League of Evil actually does try to poison the city's water main.
- Weird Trade Union: Moist mentions the Henchmen's Union, but Dr. Horrible blows him off, claiming that he, Dr. Horrible, is not a henchman, he deserves to be in the Evil League of Evil.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Dr. Horrible wants to take over the world so he can improve it and give the Status back some Quo. (Because the Status is...not Quo!)
Dr. Horrible: "The world is a mess, and I just need to...rule it."
- What Does She See in Him?: "She called him sweet. How is he sweet?"
- What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?: Moist's power is, apparently, to make things moist. Which, if you look carefully, is because he's constantly sweating... Lampshaded frequently by him.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Dr. Horrible calls Captain Hammer on his "acts of heroism".
Dr. Horrible: Maybe the fee's too pricey for them to realize / Your disguise is slipping / I think you're slipping.
- Also, in Act I, Dr. Horrible points out the recklessness of Hammer's "heroics".
Dr. Horrible: You idiot! ... You almost killed her!
- Who's Laughing Now?: Stated in "Brand New Day" during his revenge fantasy.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Penny seems to be one, but she's not that wide-eyed, just trying to make the best of things:
Penny: Here's a story of a girl/Who grew up lost and lonely/Thinking love was fairytale/And trouble was made only for me... Grief replaced with pity/For a city barely coping/Dreams are easy to achieve/If hope is all I'm hoping to be...
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Dr. Horrible at the end.
- You Have Failed Me: The other reason why Dr. Horrible has to commit a murder.
Bad Horse Chorus: He saw the operation you tried to pull today/But your humiliation means he still votes "neigh"/And now assassination is just the only way/There will be blood, it might be yours...
- Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: In the ELE comic, Johnny Snow saves the city's water from being poisoned by freezing it entirely. Which impresses the ELE and causes the media to call him a villain, leaving him to mope miserably that "I'm a good guy!"
(At the Comicon panel for Dr. Horrible):