We’ve all wanted to travel in time. You might want to travel forward in time to see the next season of Game of Thrones or backward to undo that stupid late-night impulse buy. While science-fiction has covered time-travel since the beginning of the universe, it’s not the only genre that’s taken its lead characters on journeys through space and time. So, we wanted to explore some of the most bizarre methods of travelling through time in TV and film.
Timmy’s Wheelchair — South Park
After moving to the fourth grade, the four boys realise how hard school is about to get. Bored by the end of their first long division, they decide upon a nefarious plan – to travel back in time and re-live the third grade.
Calling upon the local pair of spotty geeks for help, they attempt to unravel the secrets of time travel. Working through the night, the geeks cannibalise Timmy‘s mobility scooter to create an artificial wormhole when it hits 5 mph. Instead, it shunts him through the classroom wall and starts a full-blown SWAT situation to disarm the chair before nuclear meltdown. With seconds to spare, Timmy somehow manages to throw himself back through antiquity.
Though the attempt ultimately fails for the rest of the class, Timmy spends much of the episode travelling through history and returns when a new time machine creates a second wormhole to the past in the closing few minutes of the episode.
The Speed Force — The Flash
Already fast enough for time to stand still, the Flash also has the ability to travel back and forth through history. Unlike most forms of time travel, this method has two components to it: super-speed and extreme concentration. Without one or the other, Barry just plods along with the rest of us. But if he finds that motivation, Barry can break through a dimensional barrier into the Speed Force.
As the Speed Force exists beyond conventional space and time, Barry can appear next week as easily as he could 1892. All he needs to do is focus on a particular time and place hard enough and the path opens up to him.
The Flux Capacitor — Back to the Future
Back to the Future has all the classic trademarks of the ’80s: shockingly designed cars, electric guitars, and the mad ‘scientist’ blowing things up in his garage. Iconic among science-fiction films, it features possibly the most ram-shackle attempt to travel through time yet – the DeLorean. Utilising a plutonium-powered flux capacitor, Doc Brown’s crazy invention has to reach an arbitrary 88 mph to break the time barrier.
Although the DeLorean worked well enough, Doc sensibly took to finding other sources of fuel in later sequels. He adapted the Mark II flux capacitor to run on garbage and, when stranded in 1885, the scientist managed to go one step further and create a steam-powered flying train time machine to continue journeying throughout the ages.
The Hot Tub – Hot Tub Time Machine
Everything related to time travel is allowed a certain amount of leeway. You have to be open-minded to the weirdness of science-fiction for it to make some sort of sense. But then you have Hot Tub Time Machine.
In an attempt to pull their depressed friend Lou (Rob Corddry) out of a funk, Adam (John Cusack) and Nick (Craig Robinson) decide to holiday at their favourite old ski resort. While doing some time-honoured heavy drinking in the balcony hot tub, a can of illegal Russian energy drink ‘Chernobly’ spills on the console and turns the hot tub into a temporal vortex back to 1986.
Instead of conventional time travel, the three amigos are simply shunted back into their younger bodies — except for Adam’s nephew, Jacob, who wasn’t born until the following year and still looks like himself. The group then relive their ‘glory days’ as closely as possible to avoid any repercussions in the future.
Whilst conventional sci-fi wisdom agrees that you shouldn’t mess with history, Hot Tub Time Machine ends with Lou ‘discovering’ everything from Lougle (not Google) to ‘The Motley Lue’ (Motley Crue). Considering the personal and monetary gain, this might be the most reasonable ending involved with time travel yet.
The Waverider — Legends of Tomorrow
There are some pretty wacky methods of time travel in movies and TV, but when it comes to the Arrowverse, they turn to science to explain how their timeships voyage through the ages. The most noted of these timeships is known as the Waverider and it’s the chosen method of time travel for the heroes of Legends of Tomorrow.
With 36 separate rooms, including futuristic rooms for each Legend, the ship is powered by a “time drive.” However, this is the least impressive thing on the ship. It also has a room that can fabricate clothing from any era, a galley with the ability to serve any food you can imagine, and a medical bay with highly advanced technological features.
The Time Vortex – Doctor Who
Whilst the Legends enjoy their temporal zone with passages to every corner of history, The Doctor has something even better – the Time Vortex. Unlike most imaginations of time, the time vortex is something of an ‘un-time’. It is where space and time intersect and where they do not exist. It embodies everything and nothing.
Raw exposure to the Time Vortex is harmful to almost all life but controlled use can prove beneficial. Constant exposure to an opening into the Time Vortex was partially responsible for accelerating and enhancing Gallifreyan evolution. Even simply travelling in a TARDIS has been shown to bolster the immune system. Say what you want about Doctor Who, but it has the best time travel ever.
Full Circle — Futurama
Professor Farnsworth has created many incredible (if useless) inventions in his life: The Fing-Longer, the ship that moves the universe around it, the Smell-O-Scope, and the What-If Machine. But, in what was perhaps one of his worst conceived ideas yet, the Professor created a machine capable of only travelling forward in time.
After failing to find anyone in the future who had invented a backwards-moving time machine, the Professor, Bender, and Fry decide to see what happens after the universe collapses. Given enough accelerated time, a new universe appears, identical to the old one in every way. Two universes later, the three travellers arrive just in time to crush their future-future selves. It’s messy but it resolves the paradox of two copies of the same people.
A Toaster – The Simpsons
How can we list ridiculous methods of time travel without mentioning that one time Homer tried to fix a toaster? As with most things he touches, events rapidly spiral out of control. Sent back to prehistoric times, Homer squishes a single bug and returns to a world where Flanders rules supreme. Hey-diddly-oh-no!
After narrowly avoiding his paradise world – a happy family, plenty of riches, and raining doughnuts – Homer continues to travel with hopes of returning to his own time. With whatever voodoo the toaster uses, history constantly changes with Homer just replacing whichever version of himself that previously existed. Nobody knows quite how it works but we all have the same question – what does the toast taste like?
Self-Hypnosis – Somewhere in Time
The 1980 romantic sci-fi film, Somewhere in Time, introduces the (relatively) easiest method of time travel: extreme self-hypnosis. To travel into the past, one must simply remove all objects that relate to the present and fully convince themselves that they are really in the past.
Of course, this method of travel comes with some extreme risks. If someone unexpectedly awakens the traveller from their journey, it can be such a shock that they can die. A more unique problem is the difficulty in convincing oneself that they can travel back. Christopher Reeves’ Richard Collier tries several times without success. He only manages it after seeing his signature in an old sign-in book, proving he has, must, and will travel back. Just because it’s mind over matter doesn’t mean that matter isn’t going to put up a fight.
God — Quantum Leap
Scott Bakula became one of the more recognisable figures in science-fiction following his starring role on Quantum Leap. Bakula plays Sam Beckett, a scientist attempting to create a stable method of time travel. When the government announces an end to his funding, Beckett undertakes the radical decision to jump into the Quantum Leap accelerator to prove his theory is true. The only problem is, he ends up randomly swapping bodies with people throughout the past instead.
With intermittent communication with his team back home, Beckett attempts to right wrongs throughout history. Each time he betters a life, he is instantly thrust forward into the next conundrum. Along the way, he encounters other leapers, some working to put wrong what was once right but also with no way to return to their own time.
Exactly why he keeps jumping around is only resolved in the controversial final episode. A bartender called Al implies that Beckett is subconsciously forcing his leaps out of a desire to improve reality. Al also implies that as well as being responsible for the Quantum Leapers, he is actually God or ‘fate’. One of the best science fiction programs in the history of the genre – God did it.