Jun 11, 2021 I Nick Redfern

Time Travel and the World of Entertainment

There’s absolutely no doubt, at all, that when it comes to how we perceive time travel, much of it is dictated by the world of entertainment.  There’s also no doubting the fact that those time-travel-themed productions range from the intriguing to the thought-provoking, from the exciting to the disturbing, and from the unintentionally awful and the laughable. Certainly, there’s no shortage of such product. Indeed, to cover just about every movie, book and TV show on time travel would take a lifetime: the Terminator franchise is still rolling along nicely, despite having begun in 1984. At the very least, an entire book on time travel in fiction could be written. Maybe, a second volume, too. I dare say a third, too. With that said, I’m going to share with you some of my favorite books, movies and TV shows of the time travel type. We have to begin with the ultimate, fictional classic: H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine of 1898. Certainly, novels and short stories of time travel were written before Wells had ever taken up his pen. His novella, however, remains unbeatable. It’s a story of one man’s journey into the future. And what a future it turns out to be.

Planet Earth, on 802,701 A.D., is nothing like our world. Civilization is split into two very different groups: they are the Morlocks and the Eloi. The former are devolved, monstrous humans who live underground and feed on the naïve and innocent Eloi, who are reliant on the Morlocks for their food and clothing. They have no understanding of the fact that they are their equivalent of cattle for the Morlocks. As the story continues we see the final days of the Earth. Our time traveler continues on with his treks through the millennia. That our civilization is completely gone, is one of the bleakest part of the story. Its history and society are no more. So much for the future. Such was the success of The Time Machine, it was turned into two movies: the first in 1960 and the second in 2002. To the credit of the producers of both movies, few changes were made to the original script.

Now, let’s take a look at the world’s most famous, fictional time traveler. He is, of course, Dr. Who. The show first appeared on BBC television on November 23, 1963. Viewers quickly learned that Dr. Who was not, and is still not, your average time-traveling-themed show. For example, the doctor did not began as a dashing, handsome, heroic type of the kind that you might like to see in a Hollywood movie. Quite the opposite, in fact. The eccentric doctor was played by William Hartnell, a British actor known for his work in movies and who was in his sixties when he took on the role of the now-legendary time-surfer. As for the doctor’s time machine, it was disguised as nothing less than a British Police Box, the Tardis (which, in the show, stands for "Time and Relative Dimension in Space") that is much larger on the inside than the outside. The white-haired old man became a star, perhaps to everyone’s amazement. And the show became one of the BBC’s most popular shows – period. Of course, Hartnell, given his age, couldn’t be expected to go on playing the doctor forever. So, when he decided to quit the role in 1966, the writers came up with an ingenious idea. The doctor, periodically, would have to regenerate – and in doing so he would take on another appearance. And another. And so on.

It should be noted that the BBC didn’t have much of a budget at the time. Special-effects were not great, but viewers loved the quaint imagery, the rubbery/plastic monsters and the not so good make-up. It was all good fun. Also loved by the fans were the arch-enemies of the doctor – the Daleks, the Master, and the Cybermen - and his ever-rotating companions. Alas, all things come to an end. Dr. Who did so in 1989. It wasn’t due to monsters or aliens. Ratings – or, rather the lack of them – were the cause. Nevertheless, it’s not easy to keep a Time-Lord down for long. A movie was made in 1996, which was received in positive fashion. Things really changed, however, in 2005. That’s when the doctor was back in big-time fashion. High-tech special-effects caught the attention of a whole new generation and there was barely an old man in sight. The new doctor (in all of his new regenerated forms) was cool. She still is. That’s right: we now have a female Dr. Who – played by English actor Jodie Whitaker - much to the delight of the fans. There seems to be no stopping Dr. Who – whether in the past, in the present or in the future.

It’s intriguing to note that some of the most popular and enduring movies with a time travel theme are not the big, adventure-driven, thriller-type productions like 12 Monkeys and The Philadelphia Experiment. Rather, it’s the feel-good types that never seem to go away. And, they all but ensure that the whole family will be sitting together to watch. Three particular examples stand out: It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol (it’s alternate title being Scrooge) and Back to the Future (the latter spread across three movies). Without getting too deep, I would suggest that at least part of this popularity is due to one, key thing. It’s the yearning that all of us have had at one time or another to change the past, to put things right that went wrong, to see an old friend again who passed away too early, or to spend a few hours with your long-gone, much loved pet dog from decades ago.

Now, it’s time for me to share with you two of my favorite movies with time travel themes. One is Millennium, the other is Sound of My Voice. Both are guaranteed to entertain and intrigue. As for the former - starring Kris Kristofferson, Cheryl Ladd and Daniel Travanti – Terrestrial Navigation have these words for you: “Things are bad in the 30th century. The environment is severely degraded and all of humanity is barren. The people of the 30th century intend to use time travel to take people from the past who won’t be missed and then send them into a far future where the Earth is (presumably) more livable." In essence, that’s the theme. And it’s done well, I’m pleased to say. Now, onto Sound of my Voice. At the website of the late Roger Ebert, we get this: "'The Sound of My Voice’ is a sci-fi thriller made with smoke and mirrors. No special effects, no other worlds, only the possibility of time travel, which you can’t show but can only talk about. In fact, it's probably not science fiction at all, but belongs in some related category, like a story from the old Weird Tales magazine." If that has got you thinking, well, that’s exactly what it was meant to do!

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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