Time Machine

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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"Aaron, I'm standing at the Time Portal, which scientists say follows Terminator rules, that is, it's one way only and you can't go back. This is in contrast to, say, Back to The Future rules, where back and forth is possible, and, of course, Timerider rules, which are just plain silly."

A Time Machine is the main prerequisite for Time Travel and all the other fun that goes along with it. Time Machines in fiction can boil down to a few simple types. The type of machine can combine with any of the different ways of experiencing the process of time travel and with the various degress to which the past can be changed.

  • With the Back to The Future-type machine, one simply gets into a vehicle of some sort, and the vehicle is transported to a certain time. When a traveler wants to go back, they use the machine again. This is pretty much the most common type, possibly having to do with the fact that one of the earliest time travel stories (The Time Machine) used this type.
  • A TARDIS-type machine works like a Back to The Future-type one except not only can you program it to go anywhere in time, but also anywhere in space. Basically it's a vehicle that can go anywhere in 4 dimensions.
  • Terminator-type machines usually involve some sort of big device that projects a traveller back, but does not come with them. Once back in time, the person has no way back to the future besides The Slow Path, unless they can somehow build another device, or if they were able to bring an entire additional time machine with them to leave behind on that trip also. (And this is sometimes precluded by time machines being too big, or the rules not allowing you to take things, or just time machines, with you.) Sometimes these only allow backwards trips to start with.
  • Time Cop-type machines are a cross between the Back to The Future-type and the Terminator-type; the traveller is sent back by a machine that does not come with him, but has some sort of way (such as a remote or prearranged time portal) to make a trip back, utilizing the future time machine. Can also being used as a "time scoop" to bring things from the past into the present without going there. Losing the signaler or missing the prearranged portal can require past travelers Writing Back To The Future to get home.
  • A Time Portal provides a direct gateway between two points in space and time is another variation. These can be random, appear and disappear in a predictable way, or be permanent. A pre-existing Time Portal is a way to introduce Time Travel to a series without opening the Pandora's Box of "why didn't they just go back in time and stop the bad guy".
  • A Time Dilation Field is a device that causes time inside a certain area to either go faster or slower. While not a time machine in the classical sense, a field with time set to go slower is a good way to travel forward in time.
    • In Real Life, Time Dilation is an actual effect that occurs when bodies are moving at different relative velocities, or at different depths in a gravity well. This is generally too tame and prosaic for all but the hardest Science Fiction, though.

Other types exist, but these are the most common. Compare Interdimensional Travel Device.

Examples of Time Machine include:

Anime and Manga

  • Mahou Sensei Negima has the Cassiopeia, which is essentially a time-travelling pocket watch.
  • Suzumiya Haruhi has the TPDD (Time Plane Destruction Device), which the Time Travelers use. No one really knows what it is because its "Classified Information", but it seems to be a handy device.
    • The Integrated Data Sentient Entity is capable of producing a Time Dilation Field (technically Time Stands Still, but functionally the same), as demonstrated in Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody.
  • In alternate timelines in Dragonball Z, Future Bulma created a time machine so her son Future Trunks could go back in time to find a way to defeat the rampaging Cyborgs or to bring back Goku to help.

Comic Books

  • The time machine in Meanwhile is one-way and can only go as far back as when its receiving end was originally built. When Timmy first encounters it, the Professor has locked it so that it can only go a maximum of ten minutes into the past.
  • Dale and Stacey Yorkes from the Marvel comic Runaways pilot a stationary two-seater TARDIS-type time machine.
  • In Suske en Wiske (Spike and Suzy) the "teletimemachine" is a Time Cop-type; the machine does not come with the time traveler, but an operator who stays behind can retrieve the time traveler at any moment. This feature was often used for last second rescues.
  • The Blake and Mortimer episode The Time Trap features a Back to The Future-style time machine. But the Mad Scientist who created it rigged it so the time traveler has little control over when he ends up...


  • For the record, Time Rider uses a Back to The Future-type.
  • Time After Time, naturally, has a Back to the Future-type, since it stars the author of The Time Machine.
  • The movie Deja Vu has a Terminator-type.
  • The Bill and Ted movies have a TARDIS-type that runs on San Dimas Time.
  • The movie 12 Monkeys is another Time Cop-type.
  • The film Primer has an interesting variation on the Time Machine that doesn't quite fit into any of the above types, but can be imagined as a sort of unique combination of Time Dilation Fields and Time Portals that only go backwards a la Terminator. It gets worse; see the film's Wikipedia entry.
    • Summary: The time machine is a box containing a volume that exists over time. Turning the box on causes this volume to (slowly) dissociate from the rest of the universe, and turning the box off reverses that. Within this mini-universe, time flows like it usually does, but it cycles back and forth between the two endpoints - inside the box, time reverses when the box is turned off, and back again when the box is turned ("back") on. Turning the box on, waiting a minute and getting into the box just before it turns off, and waiting another minute before getting out means...
  • Austin Powers in Goldmember features the Back to The Future-type.


  • It's been suggested that the Time Portal must the only feasible method out of the ones listed, by dint of the fact that all of the others would allow time travellers to have come back to visit us in the past/present, which would presumably be noticeable - more out-of-the-blue ET Gave Us Wi-Fi moments, for example. A Time Portal requiring a "receiver end" to be built before travellers can come back would mean time travel is only possible as far back as the invention of the time machine. On the other hand, it could just be an Extra-Strength Masquerade at work.


  • Named for The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, which might even be the trope maker.
  • El anacronópete by Enrique Gaspar y Rimbau, published even before of Welles' Time Machine, making this one Older Than Radio.
  • The book Pastwatch is another Terminator.
  • The book To Say Nothing of the Dog has an interesting variation on the Time Cop-type machine mixed with Time Portals; it's mostly used for historical purposes.
  • The book To Bring The Light involves a guy sent back to the late Roman Empire by way of lightning.
  • The mechanics of the trip back in Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court are never explained, but time travel forward was due to the wizard Merlin, even though there was no magic in the book before this.
  • Time Dilation Fields are used extensively in Larry Niven's Known Space stories, most notably ARM and World of Ptavvs.
  • In Poul Anderson's series of short stories and novellas about the Time Patrol, the members of the Patrol use distinctly TARDIS-like vehicles, ranging from one- or two-person motorcycle-like "time scooters" to larger, multi-passenger time transports.
  • The Time Matrix, from the Animorphs mythos, appears at first to be a basic TARDIS-type, though it's notable that it's (realistically) regarded consistently by the characters as the greatest weapon ever created. Then it gets really weird. For example, if mixed or vague coordinates are given, it will actually create new universes to fit the specifications.
  • Several of Robert Rankin's novels involve time travel, most often by means of a talking time-travelling Brussels sprout named Barry, who can share his powers with people if shoved in their ear. Largely, it seems implied that Barry is a Back to The Future type 'time machine' - although physical locations rarely seem to be a bother. Barry was also cited to be the driving force behind Wells' Time Machine, inhabiting a metal box in the back. Oh and he's Elvis Presley's best mate.
  • Time travel in Dan Bayn's Tempus setting is Terminator style. You can only travel to the past, and once you've arrived, you cannot go back—time is like a funnel in Tempus, with an infinity of possible futures spiralling into the present until just one becomes the past, and going forward in time would scatter you among those many futures like dust in a hurricane. Basically, it's an excuse to have cool futuristic tech in the modern day.
  • Harry Turtledove's The Guns of the South features South Africans using a time machine to go back to the American Civil War. The machine goes back by a fixed amount, so time passes at the same rate on both sides.
  • The trolley (shopping cart) in Johnny and the Bomb is a Back to The Future-style time machine.

Live-Action TV

  • Stargate SG-1, while mainly using Back to The Future-type machines, also uses Time Portals and Time Dilation Fields.
  • While the TARDIS in Doctor Who in theory can go anywhere in four dimensions in practice, it breaks so often that it only really works if you don't care where you're going. It doesn't so much break down as take you where you need to go.
    • "Carnival of Monsters" and "The Five Doctors" had Time Cop style Time Scoops, machines that could beam in objects from anywhere and anywhen to the machine's present, without needing any equipment at the other end.
    • The episode "The Girl In The Fireplace" revolves around Time Portals.
      • Also totally random in their targeting, and their reliability in the case of the titular fireplace.
    • The Daleks' time-travel technology has varied over the years. In "The Chase" and "The Daleks' Master Plan" they use TARDIS-like time vessels, but in "The Evil of the Daleks" and "Resurrection of the Daleks" they use portal-style "time corridor" technology. (According to fanon, their minds are too hidebound to be really comfortable with the job of navigating a time vessel.) But then in the 21st-century series, the Cult of Skaro, at least, have time-vessel capability built into their power armour.
  • Star Trek often uses Back to the Future-types, especially Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. They've used other types from time to time (no pun intended) though:
  • Seven Days has a Terminator-type that goes back, you guessed it, exactly seven days, except when it's eight days one time due to an upgrade.
    • Or seven years in one case due to another alien ship crashing, providing more fuel.
  • Phil of the Future has the Diffys' van as a time machine. It's always broken, though, for some reason or other.
  • Kamen Rider Den-O has time-traveling trains, which generally work in Back to The Future fashion. The biggest difference is that you can't travel freely: the trains require a ticket to a specific point in time,[1] and then can only go between that time and the "present". There's also an extremely rare Infinity Ticket that lets the bearer go whenever he wants, but the DenLiner's Owner has it and only lets the heroes use it in times of immense crisis.

Tabletop Games

  • Feng Shui uses the Time Portal method of going through time. Characters travel time by means of going through the Netherworld, a weird mystical realm made up of loamy grey tunnels as well as whatever stuff its inhabitants can Shape into being that acts as a Portal Network between different junctures in time. The main method of effecting changes in the timestream is by capturing or destroying Feng Shui sites, Places Of Power that generate Chi.

Video Games


  • Chrono Trigger has an interesting mix of three types: the Epoch is Back To The Future-type, while the Timepod is a Terminator-type, and the gates are Time Portal-types.
  • The Journeyman Project uses a Time Cop approach (which helps since that's what the player is), depositing the agent at points where time has gone all ass-over-teakettle... by comparing all of history to a flimsy CD containing all known history or something (lolwut?). Each trip has a time limit that seems surprisingly lenient, as long as the agent doesn't achieve catastrophic failure.
    • The sequel has a cooler time machine entirely self-contained within a metallic space suit (mobile TARDIS-type?). In addition to allowing instantaneous time travel, the suit has a cloaking mechanism, a temporal anachronism detector, and permits instantaneous translation of the written and spoken forms of all languages (except Latin written backwards). Notably, the suits worn by the live action actors in the game's cutscenes were designed by the same group responsible for the suits from the Turtles films.
    • The third game has a modified version of the spacesuit time machine, equipped with holo-projectors and voice synthesizers, allowing the wearer to imitate any person he scans. This is done so the player can actually interact with characters in the past (and get punched by Genghis Khan).
  • Tales of Phantasia has a combination of TARDIS- and Terminator style time machine in the sunken city of Thor. It can send the user anywhere in time and space but does not come with them. The game also features Time Travel by magic spell, but only two NPCs can use that spell.
  • The Master Sword in Ocarina of Time is a Time Portal that transports Link 7 years into the future when he picks it up (also aging his body in the process, so it shows traits of a Time Dilation Field as well), and 7 years back when he returns it to the Temple of Time.
    • The ocarina can also move objects in time, as is shown during the ending scene of Ocarina of Time, and exploited more fully in the sequel Majora's Mask, where it can take Link to the start of the three day cycle, setting up that game's Groundhog Day Loop.
    • In Oracle of Ages, the Harp of Ages can at first only open Time Portals in fixed spots, but when upgraded later it can transport Link freely between the game's two time periods; the present, and 400 years into the past.
  • In Achron, human and vecgir players can build chronoporters / slipgates (which act as Terminator-type projectors) while grekim units can all time travel without external assistance (making them living Back To The Future-types).
  • The Alpha and Beta suits from TimeShift. The beta suit has the interesting adaptation that damage to the 'jump' drive allows you to use time powers.
    • Actually its designed to work that way, the jump drive just lets you go back and forth much more greatly than the 10, 15 seconds you can in combat. It was designed for military purposes, presumably they would remove the jump feature so everyone couldn't screw with the timeline.
  • Dr. Richtofen from Nazi Zombies found that the Teleporter is capable of time travel through overcharging it with Element 115: first on accident, bringing them to an abandoned theatre in Berlin, 1962; then on purpose to present-day Siberia.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable: The Gears of Destiny has a time machine Lost Logia as central to the plot. Unfortunately, normal humans can't use it since it puts too much strain on their bodies. Ridiculously-Human Robots, on the other hand...

Web Comics

  • In Homestuck, Dave gets a pair of turntables that can accelerate or reverse the flow of time around him. He uses them to go back to the past to Set Right What Once Went Wrong. The turntables also have the distinction of being one of the very few forms of time manipulation in the series that doesn't outright create Stable Time Loops (thanks to the universe's built-in precautions against Temporal Paradoxes).

Western Animation

  • South Park, as implied in the page quote, featured a Terminator-type machine in one episode.
  • In Jem and The Holograms, Techrat uses his own Time Cop''-type Time Machine to send the Jem and The Holograms back in time in "Journey Through Time."
  • Meet the Robinsons features a TARDIS-type time machine: It is essentially a jerry-rigged (flying) car like the DeLorean, and can be driven like a regular car, but has instantaneous space/time-travel capabilities as well.
  • The Kim Possible movie A Sitch in Time had an ancient Time Monkey Idol that created a Time Portal used by the villains, and unexplained Time Portal-opening watches for the heroes.
  • Gargoyles has a few episodes with a TARDIS-style amulet, the Phoenix Gate. The characters can't use it to change the past, because they didn't. Time travel's funny that way.
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron has one (in "The Tomorrow Boys"); the Chrono-Arch. This is a Terminator-like type of time-travel machine (Jimmy had to find it back when he went 15 years into the future, which he luckily did), and has an additional view-mode.
    • Additionally, in "The League of Villains", Jimmy built a wormhole generator: the Wormhole Generator 9000. The invention sent all of Retroville (except Jimmy, the gang and Tee) to the prehistoric past with no hope of ever returning, until Jimmy appears. This can't really count as a time-traveling-machine, though, since Jimmy had to disrupt the wormhole in order to get all of Retroville back to their time (leaving the bad guys in the past).
    • In another episode, Jimmy invented a small gizmo which could accelerate or reverse time. And he ended up in the past by it, so he had to use Bamboo Technology in order to get them back. Ultimately, someone uses the gizmo on all of Retroville, sending them back to the point where the adventure didn't even start! "Deja vu"!
  • In Xiaolin Showdown the ineffectual villain Jack Splicer had apparently built a working Terminator-style time machine years ago. It only goes backwards and there's no forward counterpart since he was never able to provide sufficient power to make it useful (he could only go back about a minute in time).
  • In Beast Wars any ship equipped with Transwarp Cells has Back to The Future style time travel. This includes ships that were never intended for Time Travel, like the Autobot Shuttle the Maximals use at the end of the series.
    • The whole Golden Disc plot involves the original Megatron leaving a message for his descendants, expecting transwarp drives to develop to the point where they can be used to travel to a specific point in time in order to alter the course of the Autobot-Decepticon war.
    • The ridiculous point is the episode where the Maximals start sending out transwarp probes to search all of time and space for Optimus Primal and his crew. The amazing thing is that they almost succeed, considering this is an impossible task, and the probes can't scan for shit (it passes right above the stranded Maximals and doesn't see them or the Axalon). There's also the question of why they'd go into all this effort to find them, given that they're not terribly important figures. Optimus Primal is not the leader of the Maximals unlike his ancestor.

Real Life

  • Truth in Television / Portal to the Past - Okay fine, only sort of. But during the controversy over the Large Hadron Collider in the run-up to its activation, as media all over the world started blabbering about the end of the world due to some pretty poor evidence, some supporting scientists put out a reassuring theory. Apparently, after some calculations were done, it proved more likely that time travellers would come out of the first full power collision, than the LHC bringing about the end of the world. Basically, there's a chance someone in the future will make a machine that can target wormholes in the past and use them for time travel, if they know about them. Given that the LHC may be capable of generating wormholes with fraction-of-a-second long lifespans, this may give them a 'year zero', an earliest point for time travellers to come back to, as it would be the first instance of a wormhole forming close enough to Earth to be useful. Note, the LHC has not made a full power collision yet.
    • Also in real life, Dr. Ronald Mallett has proposed a time machine that works more on lasers and particles than macroscopic objects, but otherwise is quite similar in manner of operation to the system from Primer, described above.
  • Any sort of Faster-Than-Light Travel, such as the Alcubierre drive, could theoretically travel back in time. This would technically be Back to The Future-type, but given that this one can go a lot faster than 88 mph, it's somewhat TARDIS-type.
    • Except the key thing with the Alcubierre drive is that it avoids any time dilation effects because the ship is "stationary" within the bubble so the ship wouldn't actually travel back in time but could still arrive before a light pulse.
  • If you had a wormhole and used time dilation to make time pass faster on one end, you would eventually get a time portal.
    • A Krasnikov tube would be similar to this. It's built with the ends at different times. The entrence and exit time match the departure and arrival times of the space-craft making it. If you built one and went through it, you'd arive a little after you left. But if you spend ten years building one in a giant circle, then anyone from the future can follow you back.
  • A Tipler cylinder would technically be a Time Dilation Field that lets you go back. Specifically, it skews time and space so moving to one side takes you back in time a little. If you move in circles around it fast enough, you go back in time. Practically, it's Portal To The Past.
  1. created by "scanning" an individual with a blank ticket, which then registers the date of an extremely strong memory