Great Scott! Time Travel in Popular Fiction

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Yesterday was Back to the Future Day… and for many of us, the day the future became the past. The legendary sci-fi trilogy Back to the Future gave us one of of the most memorable looks into the future, and it’s a series of acclaimed time-travel movies in its own right. In that light, we’re going to take a look back at some famous (and not-so-famous) stories that have time travel as a vital component.


The Time Machine

Few discussions of time travel are complete without H.G. Wells’ legendary work. First published in 1895, Wells’ novel gave us the notion of a time machine for the first time, whilst remaining an important and fascinating sci-fi story. After creating the titular device, the unnamed inventor travels to 802,701AD, where humanity has evolved into two distinct species: the diminutive, fruit-eating Eloi and the brutish, ape-like Morlocks. When the machine is stolen, the traveller must fight to retrieve it and return home.

As well as popularising time travel, the original book has been widely adapted in other mediums including radio, film and television. It’s also been widely alluded to in other works, and most if not-all time travel stories today owe it a debt of gratitude.


Doctor Who

Who could have predicted this oddball sci-fi show’s rise to glory? Revived in 2005 by Russell T Davies, the current incarnation of Doctor Who is in its ninth season, and shows no sign of slowing down. Travelling in his remarkable time machine the TARDIS, Doctor Who has been everywhere from the birth of planet Earth to the end of the universe itself. We’ve also met a host of historical figures, including Marco Polo, Charles Dickens and Queen Elizabeth in the series’ long and storied history.

In recent years, there’s been a number of episodes showing how time travel is both a privilege and a burden. Check out episodes like The Fires of PompeiiThe Waters of MarsThe Girl Who Waited and- most recently- two parter Under the Lake/Before the Flood for a look at its many, many pitfalls.


Sonic the Hedgehog CD

Sega’s spiky mascot engaged in a spot of time travel back in 1993, with the release of Sonic the Hedgehog CD. At the time it was an exclusive release for the Sega CD accessory, and it’s one of the Sonic series’ more unusual titles.

As the titular hedgehog, players explore the mysterious Little Planet- collecting rings, jumping on robots and thwarting the evil Doctor Robotnik. Unlike other Sonic games, however, players could travel to the past or future, with actions in the former affecting the latter. This meant there were four versions of almost every level: a present, a past, and a good or bad future depending on the player’s actions.

Sonic’s time-travel method- revving up to full speed and sustaining it for a brief period- was reportedly inspired by Back to the Future‘s DeLorean. The time travel concept was also revisited in 2010 for Sonic Generations, which saw a modern-day Sonic teaming up with his shorter, silent 1995 counterpart.



Taking a more sober look at time travel, 2004 film Primer is known for its low budget, grounded setting and incredibly convoluted story. It tells the story of two engineers who create a machine designed to reduce an object’s weight: however, it has the side effect of sending the object forward in time as well. Upon discovering this, the engineers decide to use the machine to make money in the stock market, but a series of double-crossing begins to destroy their friendship.

Despite being warmly received, Primer‘s high level of complexity has brought it under fire. A video like this one may help you to unravel its complexities.


The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Anime film The Girl Who Leapt Through Time places time travel in the hands of Makoto, a run-of-the-mill Japanese high schooler. Like Primer, it presents a sober look at time travel and its consequences: Makoto gains the power to jump back and forth along her own timeline after an accident in the school chemistry lab. She quickly uses it to improve her own life, improving her grades and scoring free karaoke sessions. But she also learns how the tiniest changes can have horrifying results, and her selfishness means she may lose the things that are most important to her.

Don’t let its premise depress you too much- in spite of this, it’s got a light-hearted tone and a great sense of humour, making it a must-watch for time-travel fans.


Chrono Trigger

Squaresoft RPG Chrono Trigger was released in 1995 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It’s also widely recognised as one of the best video games ever created. Set in an alternate fantasy world, the player must assemble a team of heroes from across time to defeat Lavos, an alien being destined to destroy civilisation. Despite its acclaim, Chrono Trigger wasn’t released in the UK until 2009, but it remains a fantastic game even today.

As with Sonic CDChrono Trigger featured frequent time travel, as well as a highly acclaimed battle system that did away with random encounters. It’s also famous for its range of alternate endings: players can save the world or doom it, and one ending replaces modern-day people with dinosaurs!

Wherever it’s featured, time travel is a tricky prospect, and should provide fertile ground for stories well into the future. Be sure to share your favourite time-travel tales, here or on social media!

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