The Doctor Who effect: why are there so many time travel shows at this point in history?
From 11.22.63 and Legends of Tomorrow to Time-Travelling Bong and Making History, something’s gone funny in the space-time continuum
Time travel is becoming an epidemic. Since Doctor Who’s last series ended and it was announced that the long-running sci-fi series would be taking a year off, a swarm of other shows that jump through history have appeared to fill the gap, resulting in the largest number of time-travellers since the last great Time Lord barbecue of 1103 AD.
First there was Legends of Tomorrow, featuring former Doctor Who companion Arthur Darvill as a “Time Master” who had to save the past (admittedly based on a comic that came out pre-Doctor Who), and we were amused by the similarities.
Then there was James Franco’s JFK assassination series 11.22.63 (or 22.11.63 for its UK airing, presumably), and we indulgently enjoyed another interesting sci-fi show coming to TV.
Then of course there was the news of a series called Time-Travelling Bong, and we….well we were just a bit weirded out.
But then there was the announcement of a comedy time-travel series from The Lego Movie’s Phil Lord and Chris Miller called Making History, and we started to feel like this was a trend worth watching. And THEN we learned about a show called Timeless, which features a team of agents chase a criminal through US history to save the present.
Frankly, it’s starting to get a bit creepy. There have always been time travel shows on TV of course, but why so many now? Are we just noticing them more because Doctor Who is off the air for a year, or has their number increased for mysterious reasons beyond our ken?
Still, after thinking it over we have a few theories over what could be causing this. It could be that this is all part of a calculated plan by real-life future time-travellers to prepare us for the idea of the new technology, gradually seeding our culture with the concept from their vantage point in the future so that when the secret to time travel is discovered in the near future, we don’t all lose our collective minds over it.
Alternatively, it could be that seeing as TV shows take a while to get made, something happened over the last few years that inspired a lot of US TV writers to come up with time travel-related ideas.
Perhaps it was the conclusion of offbeat sci-fi drama Fringe (which featured time-travel elements) back in 2013 that kick-started these ideas, or the last episodes of superhero series Heroes that lit a few writers’ lightbulbs.
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Or maybe the success of Rian Johnson’s trippy time-travel action thriller Looper and the arrival of timeline-busting sequel Men in Black 3 (both in 2012) led a few US networks to believe that time travel could be a viable concept for TV drama, investing in ideas for the future which only came to fruition now. Heck, even the two Hot Tub Time Machine films (2010 and 2015) might have had an impact, given that Making History and Time-Travelling Bong are also taking the comedy route.
Or maybe, just maybe, it has something to do with the fact that Doctor Who only really started becoming big in America post-2010, when there was a big push during the Matt Smith/Steven Moffat era to make it a success across the pond.
For now we’re still in the dark, but were pretty sure the reason for all these shows appearing at once will come out eventually. As they say, time will tell – and the rest is history.
Doctor Who will return to BBC1 this Christmas