"Timeless", TV & Time Travel

Posted October 26, 2016

TIME TRAVEL LAND — NBC’s “Timeless” was one of the 2016 Fall shows to which I was most looking forward, and I can honestly say I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen so far.

Watching the team of Lucy, Wyatt and Rufus trying to prevent the mysterious Garcia Flynn from changing history — for reasons not fully understood by us or the characters — has been a relatively enjoyable mix of nostalgia, history and a bit of mystery thrown in for good measure. The characters have also asked themselves a great philosophical question as they’ve traveled: Should history be preserved as it happened? Or if you have the chance to maybe make things better, should you?

But I realized as we prepared to talk about “Timeless” on our SLC Fanboys Podcast, just how many TV shows — especially right now — rely on time travel as a storytelling device. It’s easy to see why it’s an intriguing storytelling choice— what viewer hasn’t daydreamed at least once what it might be like to visit the future or be witness to famous events of the past? Having that brought dramatically to life is one of the main reasons “Timeless” interested me in the first place.

But writing about time travel brings its own dangers. Whatever rules you invent for time travel, you’d better obey them. Nothing removes me, as a viewer, from a story faster than when characters do something they supposedly weren’t allowed to do (movie example: Einstein the dog disappeared from the timeline during his 1-minute test jump in “Back to the Future,” but Marty McFly and Jennifer somehow did not when they jumped to the future in “Back to the Future II.”) Another is the danger of the viewer not feeling like anything is really at stake because you can change anything by time traveling to it again (something “The Flash” is coming close to doing on the current TV series.)

With that in mind, here are some other TV shows based on the premise of time travel (and where you can watch them, if possible):

Shows currently airing

Doctor Who (BBC)

No list of time travel TV shows should begin without the long-running British pop culture sensation. The adventures of a time-and-space traveling humanoid Time Lord, known as the Doctor, began in Great Britain and originally ran from 1963 to 1989. It was later revived in 2005 and continues through today.

Twelve different actors have portrayed the Doctor, which has cleverly included those changes as part of the storyline. Peter Capaldi currently occupies the role.

Where to watch it: All nine seasons of the current run are available on Amazon Prime.

Outlander (STARZ)

This currently-running pay-cable series from former “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Battlestar Galactica” writer Ronald D. Moore is based on books written by Diana Gabaldon about a World War II-era nurse who finds herself transported back to mid-1700s Scotland.

Much romance and gallantry ensues as the heroine attempts to both change and protect future events, as well as find a way back to her own time. Two seasons are complete, with two more in the works. Viewers should take into consideration that this show is not suitable for kids.

Where to watch it: All episodes are available through STARZ on-demand, but a pay cable subscription is required.

The Flash (CW)

While not technically a show about time travel, the current “Flash” TV show (based on the DC Comics character) has relied heavily on the effects of time travel as the driving force behind each of its first three seasons (the third of which recently began on CW network.)

Without spoiling too much for those who haven’t seen it, characters in the Flash can travel through time if they run fast enough, and more than one of them does it. The current season is called “Flashpoint” and shows the fallout from some major time-altering decisions made by the Flash himself.

Where to watch it: Seasons 1-2 are currently available on Netflix

Legends of Tomorrow (CW)

A spinoff of DC Comics’ TV series, “The Flash” and “Arrow,” “Legends of Tomorrow” is based entirely on time travel, with “Time Master” Rip Hunter assembling a team of DC Universe heroes and villains to oppose the time traveling villain Vandal Savage.

Where to watch it: Season 2 recently began on the CW. Season 1 is available on Netflix.

Blasts from the past

Quantum Leap

The now-classic NBC TV series from the 1990s featured Scott Bakula as Sam Beckett, a physicist whose experiment in time travel sent him into the past, temporarily taking the place of other people in order to correct historical mistakes.

Where to watch it: All five seasons currently available on Netflix


This NBC show ran for one season in 1982-83 and featured a time-traveler named Phineas Bogg who joined forces with a modern teenager named Jeffrey to “help history along… give it a push where it’s needed.” They used a device called the Omni (that looked like a pocket watch) which would flash red when history was wrong, then green when it was fixed.

Where to watch it: Amazon Video

Honorable mention

Star Trek

Though this show wasn’t about time travel per se, writers on the show used it as a plot device in each of the series incarnations, occasionally producing quite memorable episodes like “City on the Edge of Forever,” “Yesterday’s Enterprise, ”“Trials & Tribble-ations."

Where to watch it: Episodes are available on a variety of platforms including Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.

Andy Farnsworth is a traffic and news reporter for KSL NewsRadio & KSL-5 TV. You can email him at afarnsworth@ksl.com


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