Outlander (now out on Blu-ray and DVD) follows the story of Claire Randall, a married combat nurse, who, in 1946, is mysteriously swept back in time to the Scotland of 1743 and immediately thrown into an unknown world where her life is threatened.
We’ve seen time travel on the big screen countless times but TV is so much better at showing its intricacies; in fact it may be the best medium for sci-fi in general. So in this new Golden Age of television, we’re going to countdown the best time travelling TV series ever…
10. Goodnight Sweetheart
What list of time travel TV shows would be complete without this classic British comedy (was it a comedy? I can’t actually remember) set in Nineties London and the London of the Blitz?
Featuring Nicholas Lyndhurst breaking out from his role as the hapless Rodney from Only Fools and Horses to portray the hapless Gary Sparrow, Goodnight Sweetheart was a staple of British dinnertimes for six years. The show cleverly uses one of the most significant periods of recent British history to lend drama, romance and hilarity (I’m sure it was a comedy, right?) to the time travelling narrative. Sure it had an unexplained mode of time travel and sure it’s unclear whether it was a comedy, but this slice of 90s nostalgia is dear to any time traveller’s sweetheart.
What would happen if The X-Files were a bit better and a lot more fun? Controversial I know, but Fringe is exactly that.
There’s a lot of parallel universe hopping in Fringe with alternate universes, special names and major differences like the Twin Towers having been saved due to butterfly effect loopholes. However, time travel occurs less often but when it does it’s done beautifully with white tulips, wide-reaching revelations and Robocop himself, Peter Wier. The world of Fringe is full of the best sci-fi our screens have seen since The Twilight Zone and X-Files, both of which it owes a huge debt, and it’s for this reason and the fact that so much pseudo-science is used to explain it all that Fringe appears on this list.
“2077. My time, my city, my family. When terrorists killed thousands of innocents, they were condemned to die. They had other plans.” What a way to open a TV show! Continuum wears its time travel premise confidently on its sleeve right from the first 30 seconds and it’s confidence is only matched by the creation of such a good time travel show.
The series treads the well-worn story of how events in the past can change the future but sneaks in some gripping twists and keen observations along the way. The Canadian series doesn’t have the depth of Fringe or the grit of Life on Mars but because of its continuously entertaining episodes and dramatic time travel narrative it earns a place on any time travel TV show list.
7. Samurai Jack
What would you do if you were being flung across time for aeons by an evil shape-shifting Master of Darkness named Aku? Train your body and mind to become the best Samurai ever in order to defeat him of course!
Using time travel as a way to allow a character to continually better themselves as a warrior and a person is genius enough but when it’s coupled with Genndy Tartakovsky’s stunning artwork, you achieve Zen-like qualities. We could all do with a bit more time to train our bodies and minds, maybe then we’d all be able to create art like Samurai Jack… or maybe not.
6. Life On Mars
One of the most interesting and dramatically engaging series on this list, Life on Mars blends flared corduroys, detectives and a golden MKIII Ford Cortina to create something very special.
The show, starring a never better John Simm, never gets bogged down in its time travel premise instead letting deep sci-fi themes and spot-on police procedural plots do the talking. After being hit by a car in 2006, DCI Sam Tyler (Simm) wakes up in 1973 to a world of outdated politics and police corruption but he is never really certain if he’s travelled back in time or is just going crazy. Any show named after a David Bowie song deserves its place here so here’s a quick mention to Life on Mars‘ sequel too, Ashes to Ashes.
Travelling back in time to a relatively unknown period of history featured rarely in film or TV, Outlander immerses you in a world Jacobite wars, highland romances and kilts, lots of kilts.
The newest entry on this list, the series tells the story of Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe – Super 8, Now You See Me), who is transported from World War Two back to the time of the House of Stuart in Scotland. Using the stunning Scottish highlands, this series features some of the most beautiful scenery ever seen on the small screen which you truly do believe are from 1743. For this reason alone, Outlander makes number five in our top time travel TV shows list.
Dinosaurs in Dublin, Wooly Mammoths on the M25 and a Tyrannosaurus Rex chomping central London. What else could it be but the inimitable ITV series, Primeval?
For every HG Wells story there’s a Forgotten Time by Lorraine Beaumont, a camp stab at the genre in the face of more thoughtful fare. Primeval takes camp, B-movie trappings and runs with them so fast, it feels like they’re running from the dinosaurs themselves. It’s unintentionally hilarious, it features a thing called a ‘Future Shark’ and it stars Hannah from S Club 7. It’s going on this list whether you like it or not!
Sliders! For people of a certain age this show conjures up vivid memories of Vern from Stand By Me jumping through the coolest looking wormholes CGI could produce in 1995. OK, so technically they’re ‘sliding’ into alternate universes but the premise of the show dealt with parts of our own history so we’ll allow it. Sliders allowed us to see the histories that never were, like a never-ending Summer of Love or Hillary Clinton as the President of the United States. The show had a great premise and a willing if slightly hammy cast and who wouldn’t want to go sliding with Gimli?
2. Doctor Who
Doctor Who has been careening about space for over 50 years now so it’s no surprise that the flagship BBC series is on this list.
It’s a wonder that writers of the show don’t have brain aneurysms with the Doctor’s convoluted backstory, cosmic characters and time travel on such an epic scale that every iteration appears to be on the verge of meeting themselves or being each other’s own wife! However, for its mind melting time travel over 50 years, for the fact that it’s still must-see viewing across the world and for its unwavering British charm, Doctor Who, we salute you!
1. Quantum Leap
When it comes to time travel, no other series can really come close to this beautiful, funny and sometimes heart-breaking series from the Eighties.
Quantum Leap comes top of the pile for a number of reasons; it features a lot of time travel it features history amidst the pseudo-science and has the best time travel computer with an ego, Ziggy. Oh, and SPOILERS, Sam ends up meeting God in the final episode in one of the most poignant and open-ended finales ever. For that reason alone, this series is the greatest time travel TV series of all time… Oh Boy!