It's like, take a piece of paper and draw a line on it. Then from the end of that line draw a bunch of branches. Then from the end of each of those branches, draw a bunch more. That's time.Now take that tree you've just drawn. Put it on a desk. And empty your inkwell onto it. That's what happens when a time machine blows up.
—Tycho Green, Shrapnel
It's already been well-established that time is like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff. Cause does not lead directly to effect; you can shoot your own grandfather and in all likelihood get away with it, take an active hand in the events that made you who you are, and generally abuse time until it cries uncle.
But what about universes where time is not quite so wibbly-wobbly or timey-wimey? What about those realities where time is a rigid, orderly, and above all fragile structure, and some well-meaning fool sets off with a time machine to change history?
Then in all likelihood, you'll have a Time Crash on your hands.
When you've gone and broken time, all bets are off. More benign Time Crashes may take the form of a Groundhog Day Loop waiting for someone to find the magic key which breaks the cycle. In others, cause and effect itself may be shattered, resulting in a Fate Worse Than Death for all affected.
Garden-variety temporal wedgies need not apply in this trope. This is not about your usual temporal inconveniences, the kind that make your best friend vanish from the time line, put Adolf Hitler in the Oval Office or make medieval Japanese the lingua franca of the 21st century—that is, the sort that can be solved by a simple trip back in time to Set Right What Once Went Wrong. A good and proper Time Crash should have some large-scale, reality-breaking effects: holes get punched in the fabric of space-time, the Clock Roaches show up and start eating people, things that should happen one after another happen the other way around instead, or worse, simultaneously, etc.
A Time Crash is not a simple thing to solve, either: usually, it involves either some serious Applied Phlebotinum or enough firepower aimed at the right Eldritch Abomination...if it can be fixed at all.
Anime & Manga
- In Suzumiya Haruhi, the titular character creates a Time Crash 3 years ago that prevents human time travelers from going back further than that. Presumably, Yuki's faction has no problem as Yuki mentions very casually that the human's TPDD is an average method of time travelling. Moments later, she leads Kyon and Mikuru into a room and freeze the whole room, stopping time in there. It is maintained, even when Yuki engages in a battle against Ryoko in a data space created by Ryoko.
- Of course, this assumes that she created a Time Crash rather than simply creating an Alternate Universe for herself which, as a result, has no history before she created it.
- In the Strontium Dog "Max Bubba" story, as Bubba alters time, various meteorological and electrical anomalies occur around him, which the Vikings believe is Ragnarok. Then things start falling into Norway from various points in the future.
- The Astro City story "The Nearness of You" is about a character who's haunted by memories of his no-longer extant wife after a Time Crash.
- Zero Hour: Hal Jordan/Parallax deliberately triggers one of these destroying the entire timeline with the purpose of rebooting the universe his way. Fortunately, some heroes are pulled outside of normal time to deal with it.
- Happens during Crisis on Infinite Earths when the five remaining Earths (read: Universes) start to converge. As the heroes are trying to halt the process, time gets screwed up mixing people up between universes and different time periods randomly. Then the heroes and the Anti-Monitor race to the beginning of time and battle over Anti-Monitor's desire to become the hand of creation. This results in the remaining Multiverse crashing and being rebooted as a single universe (see Post-Crisis for more details.) Notable in that the heroes don't exactly fix everything so much as try to salvage what remains.
- Happens again in Infinite Crisis, where some of the people directly involved with the first Crisis are dissatisfied with its results, and so they temporarily divide the one stable universe into several unstable ones again, then mix it back together after shuffling the parts around a bit.
- During Infinite Crisis, the Justice Society of America had a story arc in which they travelled back in time. During the journey to the present, they hit the Time Crash created by the original Crisis.
- The final story arc in Major Bummer is about the attempt to repair a Time Crash.
- One occurs in issue #7 of the short-lived Bill and Ted comic book.
- Back when The Dandy had adventure comic strips, one of them was about a group of scientists creating a time machine whose vital component was a crystal. They attempted to test it by sending a plant one minute into the future, but this caused the machine to explode and fling fragments of the crystal throughout history. The scientists' children had to travel to different periods to retrieve the fragments; in the meantime, the explosion caused a series of "Timequakes" which resulted in people and things from across history breaking into the wrong time. For example, The Three Musketeers appearing in the Trojan War.
- This is the reason Flashpoint happened. Barry Allen wanted to save his mom from being killed by the Professor Zoom and succeeds. However, doing so caused time to futz up, creating a world where most heroes are dead or out to kill each other!
- In Methods of Rationality, Harry decides not to experiment with the Time-Turner any more for fear of one of these (after a truly brilliant experiment that, if successful, could have used Stable Time Loops to solve any NP problem, yielded instead the sentence 'DO NOT MESS WITH TIME').
- Brilliant, maybe, but also fundamentally flawed - the idea was to test a potential solution, if it worked, cause a stable time loop by seeding the loop with that solution, and if it didn't, to seed the loop with the next solution. The trouble with the plan is that it only gets to the stable time loop if he hits the solution first time, while he planned to iterate through the potential solutions in a fixed order, starting with one that he knew wouldn't work... Rather than cause a paradox by producing the solution, the situation resolved in a safe stable time-loop instead - a Time Error Message.
- While the likes of Harry are properly scared by notes in their own shaky handwriting, the likes of Dumbledore know what can happen if you push it. Apparently, experimenting with time got Atlantis erased from the timestream.
- The movie Millennium concludes with a massive paradox barreling its destructive way into the future whose time travel efforts caused it.
- In the Back to The Future movies, this is a major concern for Doc Brown, although more often than not he'll change the future (or past) for personal reasons. He believes, for instance, that present!Jennifer meeting future!Jennifer could destroy the galaxy. It doesn't happen.
- The reasoning is fear of paradox: what if Jennifer seeing her future self faints, falls badly, breaks her neck, and thus can't be there to go back in time to startle herself? If you're a dabbling mad inventor who doesn't know if paradoxes might do really quite unpleasant things to reality, advocating caution is almost uncharacteristically pragmatic. (How do you do a controlled experiment to see if some event X destroys the universe, anyway?)
- As a Shout-Out, Spock Prime implies to Kirk that this will happen if he ever meets himself in Star Trek. As he tells his younger self by the end, he was just misleading the captain.
- The Philadelphia Experiment has this happen as an unanticipated side-effect of experiments in building an Invisibility Cloak. A Navy destroyer from 1943 and an entire Midwestern town from 1984 get sucked into the resulting vortex, which has to be stopped (from within) lest it destroy the entire world.
- Discworld's History Monks (the Monks of Time, the Men in Saffron, from No Such Monastery) exist to prevent this sort of thing happening. Again. They've managed to piece things back together, but a Time Crash is used to explain why Ankh-Morpork has a Shakespearean theater on the same street as an opera house, and why there have been so many Battles of Koom Valley.
- Fan's attempts to create a complete series timeline seem to always end up with inconsistencies - the author cites that same Crash as the reason.
- In C. J. Cherryh's Morgaine Cycle, it's claimed that any attempt to use the Gates to change the past will result in a catastrophic Time Crash that will destroy civilization on every world that has a Gate, and there may be millions. The reason Morgaine knows this is that it's happened before.
- M. Shayne Bell's short story "Lock Down" is about a team of time travelers trying to repair the continuum after one of these.
- A Tale of Time City is about three children who want to prevent this from happening when their town, Time City, falls apart.
- Greg Bear's City At The End Of Time is all about a time crash and an aeon-spanning Xanatos Gambit to ensure something will still exist afterwards.
Live Action Television
- An episode of the new The Outer Limits has a time travel experiment go wrong after an attempt to weaponize it by a corrupt military official, which results in a Groundhog Day Loop...a rare Groundhog Day Loop with a time limit. Each iteration grows shorter, and eventually there will be no hope of preventing the Time Crash from destroying the world. In the end, the disaster is averted, and the man responsible suffers a Karmic Fate Worse Than Death, as he's caught forever in the moment of his own annihilation by the malfunctioning time machine.
- Parodied in the (as-mentioned-above) "wibbley-wobbley, timey-wimey" Doctor Who universe. In a short made for Children in Need (which Word of God says is canon), the Doctor accidentally somehow merges his TARDIS with the TARDIS of his fifth incarnation. Hilarity ensues at first as a starstruck Ten (and a real-life admiring David Tennant, who was thrilled to be on the same set with his own childhood favorite Doctor) and a bewildered Five have to stop their inadvertent meeting from ripping a hole in space-time the exact size of Belgium.
- In a less humorous example, Rose causes a Time Crash in Father's Day when she saves her father from dying at a predetermined time. Flying Killer Time Monkeys come out and eat everyone on Earth.
- Also, the mastermind behind the cracks in the time field in NuWho season five was trying to cause one of these, referred to as a "total event collapse" in-series, by remotely taking control of the TARDIS and blowing it up. It actually works, and the Doctor and co. only narrowly prevent the universe from never having existed. As a result, every star in the universe is completely extinguished in the 2nd century A.D., and only the residual heat and light from said TARDIS explosion keeps life on Earth going until 1996, where the sky is bright orange by day and empty at night, Richard Dawkins is the leader of a "star-cult", the British Museum has exhibits of petrified Daleks and Cybermen, and Rory is an Auton who takes the place of the Wandering Jew in folklore. As of the end of Series six, we still don't know why.
- The Wedding of River Song: The entire universe goes pear-shaped when River refuses to kill The Doctor, even though it's meant to be a fixed point in time. Her failure to do so results all of earth's history happening at once - people travel by intercontinental steam trains and cars tethered to hot air balloons; pterodactyls are a nuisance in public parks; Charles Dickens is directing the BBC's big Christmas special; Winston Churchill is kaiser of the Holy Roman Empire, which is headquarted in London, has classical Roman trappings, and is fighting the Wars of the Roses, and his barber is a Silurian; JFK and Cleopatra are a known item, and the great pyramid of Giza has an American flag painted on the side and is known as "Area 52".
- In Eureka, the latest meddling with time causes one of these, causing 1947 and 2010 to merge at an exponential rate, which would eventually annihilate time itself.
- In one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation Worf causes a Time Crash by flying through a Negative Space Wedgie, causing millions of starships Enterprise from different universes to appear in the same place. Fortunately, he manages to fix it before reality is entirely full of Enterprises. Another episode had a Mad Scientist accidentaly rip open time with his experiments, causing temporal hiccups. Way to Divide by Zero there, buddy.
- One episode of Sliders has Quinn meddling in a world where time moves backwards... somehow. He changes the events that lead to his incarceration and the death of a police officer that was the double of someone he loved in his world, and a wormhole akin to Clock Roaches appears. We never know what happened to that world, as the heroes manage to slide out before things get serious, but we know messing with time created that paradox and the professor wonders if "there'll even be a tomorrow in that world".
- In the Looney Labs game Chrononauts, you play a bunch of time travelers meddling with history. If there are ever 13 unresolved Temporal Paradoxes on the board, the space-time continuum collapses in a Puff of Logic and everyone loses.
- Unless you're Crazy Joe, who wants to destroy the universe to draw in more business to his extradimensional restaurant chain. If he's in the game when a Time Crash happens, he wins.
- In the Tabletop Game Continuum, the rogue time travelers known as Narcissists are called thus because they're self-centered enough that they're trying to cause these. In fact, the Sahara Desert was created when the Narcissist kingdom of Antedesertium was destroyed in a massive Time Crash called Interregnum. Of course, they think they're trying to Set Right What Once Went Wrong. (Appropriately enough, another name for them is the Crashers.)
- Ontocylsms in GURPS: Infinite Worlds start with rewriting history and get more devastating from there.
- The premise of the Time Spiral block in Magic: The Gathering is basically this: the planeswalks of powerful planeswaklers and other high-energy events like blast of the Golgothian Sylex, the time-travel experiments at Tolaria, the creation of Karona and the firing of the Legacy Weapon were gradually bending time until it broke, resulting in a massive and quickly deteriorating Time Crash, centered on Dominaria and threatening the very existence of the Multiverse.
- More of a time explosion than a crash, but in Mage: The Awakening, the collapse of the Celestial Ladder and the fall of Atlantis was such a magical clusterfuck that time itself grew extremely unstable around it. It's why no one's able to accurately place when Atlantis fell, despite certain mages being master-class postcognitives, why they can't even solidly place whether it actually happened in the past or was a future event cast backwards by the sheer weight of the event, and why they can't tell if anything like Atlantis will ever come into being again.
- Chrono Cross is the Trope Namer, and the circumstances of its Time Crash forms a significant part of the backstory. In the good future resulting from the events of Chrono Trigger, a time experiment sent the Chronopolis research facility back into antiquity, with the side effect of summoning a city from an alternate timeline as a sort of cosmic counterbalance. Chronopolis was able to defeat and subdue the opposing civilization, then used its extensive records of history to hide its presence from the rest of the world, subtly manipulating events to avoid any paradoxes that could threaten its future existence. And then Schala interfered with the lab's plans and rescued Serge from drowning, which screwed all this up and split the timeline in two. In one timeline where everything went according to plan Chronopolis is still able to exist, but in the other is a region where the Bad Future from Chrono Trigger is trying to reassert itself, creating a place where time is effectively broken. A collection of futuristic structures have sort of congealed into the Tower of Geddon, you can walk on the waves of a frozen ocean, and ghostlike temporal "echoes" haunt the ruins... including three familiar faces from Chrono Trigger...
- It's not apparent from the start, but this is the central premise of Shrapnel, an Interactive Fiction by Adam Cadre. The protagonist and an ill-fated time traveler are caught in a particularly vicious and inescapable Time Crash caused when the time traveler's time machine was damaged by a piece of shrapnel. Cause and effect cease to exist, and the protagonist experiences several key events in Anachronic Order and dies multiple violent deaths with no lasting aftereffects before discovering the nightmarish truth.
- Speaking of Interactive Fiction, All Things Devours is all about averting a time crash. The timeline in the universe doesn't take kindly to paradoxes, and will promptly "censor" them with a huge explosion. What's more, the lab housing the time machine is in the middle of Boston, and the military experimenting on it have no idea what they're doing.
- In Final Fantasy VIII, Ultimecia's plan is to trigger one of these on purpose so she can rule the resulting time-compressed universe as a goddess.
- The really futzed up part is, the heroes do basically exactly that to stop her.
- In Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack In Time, one of these is caused in the backstory by the Fongoids abusing time travel to the point where the space/time continuum grew thin enough to breach. The resulting Negative Space Wedgie took out 83 star systems before Orvus and the Zoni sealed it with the Great Clock. History would have repeated itself permanently had Alister Azimuth succeeded in abusing it as a time machine. Which it's not supposed to be used as.
- The Elder Scrolls universe, at least for mortals, is governed by the Earthbones, immutable laws of how reality can and cannot work. Akatosh's Earthbone ensures that all mortals are bound to a single, shared progression of time that cannot be split, reversed, or in any other way changed. At the end of Daggerfall, however, Numidium activated and managed to shatter time to a confusing mass of different possibilities which all eventually merged into one paradox smorgasbord that became history. Such events, known as Dragon Breaks happen a few times throughout history.
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky has this in spades, certain parts of the present start to break down or have time stopped when the Gears of Time are stolen, as well as in the Bad Future, messing up the deity that Controls Time itself tends to have this. Not even Celebi, a legendary Pokémon that could travel through time could escape for long.
- This was the goal of Big Bad Time Master from Freedom Force when he tried to break the Celestial Clock. At the end of the game, Man-Bot makes a Heroic Sacrifice and locks himself inside the clock to allow the rest of the heroes to escape. Wraiths of Chaos begin attacking the clock because of his presence there, locking Man-Bot in an Endless Struggle to keep the Celestial Clock going and prevent another time crash from happening.
- In a particular test chamber in Portal 2, Cave Johnson claims:
Alright, this next test may involve trace amounts of Time Travel. So, word of advice: if you meet yourself on the testing track, don't make eye contact. Lab boys tell me that'll wipe out time. Entirely. Forward and backward. So do both of yourselves a favor and just let that handsome devil go about his business.
- In the original Red Alert, using the Chronosphere too much could trigger a mild form of these - a swirling distortion in the map that fried any nearby units or buildings with lightning or tore them apart as it roved around at random. Which naturally led to some players using as many Chrono-based abilities as possible in hopes of triggering one near their opponent's base.
- It is implied that this was supposed to be the true objective of Rasputin's masters in Raidou Kuzunoha vs. the Soulless Army, as the entire timeline has been clearly warped in a big way by way of devil summoners and alternate dimensions. Said fellow decides to blow the mission off.
- In Blinx the Time Sweeper the titular sweeper has to fix the damage caused by a rather large one of these.
- Plays heavily in the plot of Final Fantasy XIII-2, with a Time Crash causing paradoxes and "debris" from the crashing timelines to fall into other timelines and frames of reference. Resolving these paradoxes is the major quest of the game.
- In a nutshell, this is basically what happens in The 3rd Birthday, the underwhelming third installment of the Parasite Eve games. We're still trying to figure out just how it leads to mutant monsters snatching people through dimensional holes.
- Black Mage's flow chart in this Eight Bit Theater comic lists a Time Crash as the only thing that would stop him from trying to kill all life on Earth.
- Chaos, who is trying to destroy all of existence, considers a Time Crash to be an acceptable way to get the job done.
- There was a recent arc in Irregular Webcomic in which every plot thread created a time paradox at once and the universe was destroyed as a result.
- Followed by an entire arc of black black panels, and an entire arc of everyone hanging out in the afterlife.
- In And Shine Heaven Now the I-Jin Wells goes back in time to kill one of Integra's ancestors, Prince Hakim. This causing things to rapidly get chaotic until Alucard briefly comes face to face with D at which point time and the universe are completely torn apart and everybody from all possible timelines find themselves in the Whole Sort Of General Mish Mash.
- Parodied in the webcomic Beaver and Steve. The characters go back in time and Steve eats the apple that was supposed to fall on Newton's head; thus, Newton never invents gravity [sic] and in the future everything floats. Then, they travel back in time again and launch an apple at Newton's head but it ends up bludgeoning him to death. Finally, they travel back a third time and end up killing their own past selves. At this point, Beaver remarks, "Well, I'm no expert on temporal physics but my guess is the universe will implode." And then it does.
- In Homestuck, there is a group of characters that have a computer program which lets them speak to another group of characters in the past or future. It's eventually revealed that the groups will lose contact after an event called "the Scratch", which is shown as a timeline graph that is suddenly cut off and replaced with flickering scrawls. Ultimately subverted in that the Scratch is not a Time Crash, but actually a Reset Button.
- A Futurama What If episode ends with the space-time continuum being shattered by Fry not going to the future. Because of his previous adventures in time, the universe itself is tied in to his existence.
- In the main Futurama universe: at the end of Bender's Big Score Bender creates so many time paradox duplicates that he makes a tear in the fabric of reality. This becomes a major plot point in the sequel The Beast With A Billion Backs.
- The most apt Futurama example has to be "Time Keeps On Slipping", in which the removal of chronotons causes time to skip randomly. Professor Farnsworth explains the ramifications thusly:
"At this rate, by Tuesday it will be Thursday, by Wednesday it will be August, and by Thursday it will be the end of existence as we know it!"
- Chronos did this in the "Once and Future Thing" episode of Justice League Unlimited. Time started to crack and fall apart, and killed several people before it was stopped.
- In Transformers, this is known as a time storm, and happens whenever someone makes a massive change to history. Cases include the Quintessons bringing Alpha Trion forward in time to cause the original Transformers Rebellion to fail, Megatron killing Cyclonus, and Beast Wars Megatron attempting to destroy Optimus Prime what the latter was in stasis, before the events of Transformers Generation 1.
- In the "It's About Time" episode of The Penguins of Madagascar, several future versions of Kowalski show up as a result of his experiments with a Time Machine. This ends up creating a vortex that threatens to wipe out reality (according to Kowalski, anyway) and ends only after the machine is destroyed.
- In the Kim Possible movie "A Sitch In Time," it is feared that the destruction of the Time Monkey will result in a Time Crash. It doesn't.
- In X Men the Animated Series, Apocalypse tried to cause one of these so as to rebuild reality as he saw fit once the dust was cleared.