Man, I hate it when a simple miscalculation causes things to go wrong.  Like when you mis-enter the time for a particular recurring column, causing it to want to post in the dead of night, and don’t notice until after you’ve had Mongolian barbecue, for suspiciously specific example.  Either way, according to the great prophet Ford Prefect, “Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so,” and he’s never been more right.  In the history of time-travel, there have been any number of moments that seemed paradoxical, and only Bill & Ted (“Remember a trashcan!  Remember a trashcan!”) seemed to fully appreciate the ramifications of time-travel technology as it impacted their day-to-day lives.  Gary Seven, Sam Beckett and others found themselves hamstrung by limitations of their temporal mechanisms or just plan lack of imagination, which begs a query…

The MS-QOTD (pronounced, as always, “misquoted”) wonders what The Doctor would make of the tangled timeline of Philip J. Fry, asking: What’s the best example of a time-travel story done RIGHT?


About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.


  1. Back to the Future springs immediately to mind. However, I’ve always loved the ideas presented in the JLU episode, “The Once and Future Thing.” As usual for Timm and Co., they take an utterly conventional comic story and make something more interesting out of it. The episode introduces the idea that you can try to change the time line, but time is elastic, and it always tries to return to its proper shape.

  2. I am a pretty big fan of the way Doctor Who does time travel, especially when they have an example of a stable time loop/

    And Critical Hit does some great things with time travel.

  3. I think Terminator did a pretty good job with the time travel aspect of the story. I, too, enjoyed the time shifting stuff in Critical Hit. :)

  4. The episode of Futurama where Fry became his own grandpa.

    Actually, there is a certain sort of theory I prefer in my time travel stories, and several books, movies and series have done some interesting takes on it. I like the theory that time flows like a river, and just going back in time in and of itself won’t have a huge effect on the overall flow, and even trying to alter minor things is similar to throwing a pebble into a flowing river: There may be a few ripples, but eventually it all sorts itself back to reasonably normal. If you manage to cause a BIG effect on the timeline, it may or may not change your “present” at all and instead create a divergent timeline (Marvel did this in a Fantastic Four story where Mr. Fantastic found a way to cure Ben of being The Thing, but it had to be done within X hours of the initial exposure. They went back in time and used the cure, but while it did cure the “past” Ben, “present” Ben and the present timeline were unaffected).

    The 2002 version of “The Time Machine” did this in an interesting way when the inventor kept trying to prevent the death of someone he loved, but every time she still ended up dead by some other means. Doctor Who has used this idea almost as much as they have the idea that doing something in the past would cause an effect in the present, and Star Trek has used it to varying degrees alongside other time travel theories. Bill and Ted definitely fits the theme, although probably not on purpose.

  5. The BTTF Trilogy. Plot holes be damned, its still an all time fav. Plus in the third one you get cowboy ZZ Top.

  6. The Green Futures of Tycho, a book I read when I was a kid. Probably crowds my judgement. Still its all about how absolute power corrupts. Look it up.

    Maybe Army of Darkness.

  7. I’d have to say Dr. Who for obv. reasons. Bill and Ted: “remember a trash can” and the book A Wrinkle in Time was also really awesome. (Read that a long time ago tho)

  8. Back to the Future trilogy, which shows how the simplest thing can totally screw up the time stream. Aside from that, my favorite time travel story is the Star Trek episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday”. The sight of the damaged Enterprise, clawing its way back out of low Earth orbit, pursued by fighter planes, was astounding back in the day. Interestingly enough, this episode was originally written as the second half of a two part episode, “The Naked Time” being the first half of the story, but inexplicably, they were separated into two unrelated episodes. When the Enterprise warped away from the dying planet and went into a time warp, it was intended that they would have ended up going back in time, the next episode being “tomorrow is yesterday” but in separating the two episodes, they tacked on an unsatisfying ending to “The Naked Time” – and a weak opening to “Tomorrow is Yesterday” where an encounter with a rouge “black star” is used as a maguffin to explain away the Enterprise’s appearance at 1966 earth. Both episodes would have been better had they been linked as originally intended.

  9. On the Star Trek theme, “City on the Edge of Forever” (TOS) with the concept of the past changing the future. Having Harlan Ellison write the first draft didn’t hurt.
    The other is “Cause and Effect” (TNG) where the Enterprise is stuck in a time loop caused by a collision with a ship from the past.

    • Harlan Ellison’s script was really something. Mr. Ellison was outraged that Roddenberry rewrote his script and never did another script for Star Trek. It was published about ten years ago in book form. There were two major problems with it – it was far too long and dense a script for an hour television show – longer than most movie scripts. And he had the characters behaving in manners that were completely out of character for them. One example only: he had a crew member dealing in illegal drugs, and Doctor McCoy got hooked out on these drugs which caused him to go mad, and escape through the portal. It was a great script and was made into a great episode, but the original treatment certainly wasn’t Star Trek.

  10. Several of Moffat’s Doctor Who stories come to mind (e.g., Blink) because he seems to be one of the few who gets how screwed up cause and effect can become with time travel.

    One note: I don’t think Gary Seven actually traveled through time.

  11. two things 1) the film Primer – hard science time travel – watch it twice

    2 the rpg continuum now out of print you had to think in 4d and avoid making time loops and paradoxes all the time

    epic levels of complex some games are amazing to read about

    nothing else even comes close to those…

  12. Space Cadet Juan on

    I don’t know about the whole film, but my favorite time travel bit of all time is in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, when they decide to, at a later time, time travel back and steal the keys they already know are missing. Having made this decision, they then decide where they are going to hide the keys, then look there, and there they are. Love that.

  13. There was also a Marvel storyline where the heroes (young and lesser known ones like Arana) went to the future and saved the timeline, but couldn’t return because new versions of them existed in the present they’d left.

Leave A Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.