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"Will it stop Doctor? The drumming. Will it stop?"—The Master, Doctor Who, "Last of the Time Lords"
A character goes mad from a sound that only they can hear. Because of this, they may go Ax Crazy and try to destroy the source of the sound, or at least what they think is the source of the sound -- or end up resorting to Headphones Equal Isolation, abandoning the world in favor of just getting away from the horrible noise.
Named for The Tell-Tale Heart, for Added Alliterative Appeal, but one of the more common uses is for new telepaths to go mad from all the voices around them.
Anime and Manga
- Joshua in Chrono Crusade gets the telepath variant when he gets Chrono's horns stuck on his head. He complains about "the noise" and uses his new powers to "stop the time" of the people around him, freezing them in stone.
- Cromartie High School had a chapter of the manga, also adapted into the anime, which completely centered on the entire school trying to figure out what one song stuck in Hayashida's head was.
- Mao from Code Geass has both of the telepath variations.
- Yami Yugi gives this as a punishment to a karaoke-obsessed bully after he loses a Shadow Game to him.
- Stein has something like issue in the anime whilst he's with Medusa.
- In Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, it's not uncommon for one of the characters to start hearing footsteps, or occasionally a voice saying "I'm sorry" over and over. This is usually a sign that that said character is about to go off the deep end. Most of the time someone ends up dead. Much to the unhappiness of the being that was making the footsteps and apologizing.
- In a Judge Dredd strip paying Homage to The Tell-Tale Heart, a jealous man who murders and, literally, steals the heart from the lover of a woman whom he adores from afar is driven insane by the sound of his victim's still-beating heart, which he then decides to get rid of by returning the body part to the woman in person (and, consequently, completely freaking her out).
- Gaslight is an inversion of this trope. One character tries to convince another that the light isn't flickering, it's just them going crazy.
- In one of the short stories from Stephen King's Everything's Eventual, a maître d’hôtel flips out and starts killing people, while shrieking about a barking dog that only he can hear. Or possibly one that had barked at him once years ago. It's a little word salad-y.
- In H.P. Lovecraft's Rats in the Walls, the hero starts going crazy because he keeps hearing rats within the walls. Of course that's just the beginning, and it gets a lot weirder from there.
- Inverted in the Doctor Who novel The Clockwise Man - everyone could hear the ticking except Repple.
- Edgar Allan Poe's The Telltale Heart.
- Aquaphobic villainess Queen Tsarmina of the Redwall series is driven to insanity by the sound of dripping water, which her minions assume are the normal noises from the underground lake. Subverted in that it's not her imagination; the good guys have dammed the river and are causing said lake to overflow and slowly flood the castle. Also, in the same series, Gabool the Wild is kept awake by the sound of a stolen church-bell in his hall ringing on its own, though on one occasion it's not his imagination; his drunken followers throw apples at the bell while he's out of the room.
- Then the noise goes away, and Tsarmina is at peace; except the reason it's gone away is that now it's not just dripping, there's too much water for that.
- In Brain Twister (aka That Sweet Little Old Lady) by Randall Garrett and Laurence M. Janifer, telepaths invariably go mad from the voices. Most of them wind up comatose or raving -- the one notable exception being the titular little old lady, who would be able to easily pass for sane if she didn't keep confiding in people that she's actually Queen Elizabeth I.
- Subverted in the case of Captain Hook. Everyone can hear the ticking of the crocodile; Hook is always the one who will hear it first.
- In the Jedi Academy Trilogy, Luke seeks out a Force-Sensitive hermit, Streen, to recruit for his academy. Streen agrees to leave only if Luke teaches him to block out the thoughts and feelings of other people, which had overwhelmed him into hermitude.
Live Action TV
- Mr. Heckles on Friends. It must be noted that the level of noise isn't in in his head, it's more of a case of Malevolent Architecture creating absolutely teethgrinding acoustics.
- In the series 3 finale of Doctor Who, the Master claims to have been hearing the sound of drums in his head all his life from when he was 8. Duh-duh-duh-DUM. Duh-duh-duh-DUM.
- It's interesting to note that he seems to like it, the way you can like something you've had all your life. When he's revived during "The End Of Time", he says he's missed the drums. He says he doesn't know what he'd be without that sound... which is raised when the Doctor offers to make it stop. In his saner moments, he's less gleeful over it.
- In the finale of series 4, it's revealed that he wasn't just insane, the Time Lords put the drumming in his head as part of a plan to try and save themselves from death in the Time War. It's noted that the rhythm of four drumbeats is the same rhythm as the double-beat of a Time Lord's two hearts. Interestingly, it's also the same underlying beat found in the famous Theme Song, so one wonders if that was intentional...
- Word Of Russel is that it's based on his alarm clock of all things going BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP! in the morning, and it's maddening.
- In Heroes, the ticking clock sound effect that plays whenever Sylar's up to his old tricks evokes this trope. Even though it's not literally a ticking he can hear, it symbolizes that he can see how everything works in a way no one else can, which drives him batty.
- Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer had the telepath variant.
- The song "All Along the Watchtower" does this to four Cylons at the end of Battlestar Galactica Reimagined's third season.
- In the televised miniseries I, Claudius, Caligula goes mad, partly due to the sounds of running horses which only he can hear. (The series implies he was nuts from the beginning, and only got worse after he suffered an illness.) Caligula himself claims that, as a god, he hears many things that keep him from sleeping, and that's one reason he acts so strangely.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation. An alien (disguised as a human) plants the sound of a music box in Counsellor Troi's head so she won't be able to detect him. The sound drives her to madness, so he removes it once his identity is revealed.
- The beeping that Freddy hears in the back of his head in the "iGoToJapan" episode on ICarly. He doesn't know it, but the beeping is the tracking device in action that Mrs. Benson had implanted in his head when he was a baby.
- An episode of Tales from the Crypt had Danny De Vito as a crooked night club owner who murders a reporter (Fran Drescher) who threatens to expose him; shortly afterwards, his conscience starts nagging him that everyone will find out. Sure enough, he goes out into the club and everyone is staring at him, causing him to confess. It turns out, all they were staring at was the bloody wad of tissue paper and Q-tips he shoved in his ear to try and silence his conscience.
- There's a drumming noise inside my head / And it starts when you're around / I swear that you could hear it, it makes such an almighty sound
- (Time!) Got the time tick-tick-tickin' in my head / (Time!) Got the time tick-tick-tickin' in my head / (Time!) Got the time tick-tick-tickin' in my head / Tickin' in my head / Tickin' in my head / Tickin' in my head
- When the Tyranids of Warhammer 40000 descend on a world, they cast a "shadow in the Warp" before them strong enough to incapacitate or kill any nearby psykers: "They are coming! I feel them scratching inside my mind, scratching, screaming, roaring, so many, so, so many voices. They're coming for us flesh and blood, body and soul!" Since psykers are the key to interstellar travel and communication, a planet under Tyranid attack is effectively isolated and thoroughly boned.
- In the backstory of Nie R, hearing bells ringing in your ear is a sign that the White Chlorination Syndrome is driving you mad, and you'll soon turn into Legion
- Something Happens ran this guest strip by D.C. Simpson.
- This Xkcd. It keeps you unt-tsing all night long.
- In an episode of Disney's The Legend of Tarzan, Tarzan's animal friends go crazy, complete with the Madness Mantra "Stop the ringing!" Turns out the local trading post had installed a long-range radio tower, and something in the equipment was generating an ultrasonic noise that was doing this to Tantor, Terk, and the rest. The humans couldn't hear it, but it was driving the animals nuts for miles.
- Popeye did this in the short "Me Musical Nephews", destroying a radio before discovering that his nephews weren't really asleep.
- Mr. Krabs in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Squeaky Boots". He unloads a pair of old boots on SpongeBob and is driven crazy by their constant squeaking. He steals them one night and hides them, but then he starts to hear squeaking everywhere until he is driven to madness, a Whole-Plot Reference to Tell-Tale Heart.
- The same thing happens in The Simpsons episode "Lisa's Rival."
- A water faucet in the late 40's Donald Duck short Drip Dippy Donald, and an alarm clock in the Mouse Works-era Hickory Dickory Mickey.