15 Random and Geeky Facts About Time Machines

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Time MachineMain
It may have been 35 years ago this month since Doc’s DeLorean traveled back to 1955, but it is still a favorite. All images: Lisa Tate

Thirty-five years ago this month, accidental time traveler Marty McFly took a journey in a modified DeLorean fitted with a flux capacitor back to 1955 and went on the world’s most awkward date that eventually brought together his parents.

Although this Robert Zemeckis film, which was the highest-grossing movie of 1985, is still popular with fans a generation later, Doc Brown’s DeLorean certainly isn’t the first time machine to get its own fanbase. In celebration of the 35th anniversary of Back to the Future, here are 15 random and geeky facts about time machines:

1. One of the first time machines to gain a following was H.G. Wells’s book The Time Machine that was deemed an “overnight sensation” when it was published in serial form 1895. (Interestingly enough, the year is an anagram of 1985 when Back to The Future first debuted.)

2. Although The Time Machine is only 84 pages long, it was spawned from an even shorter piece of work Wells did for a college newspaper called The Chronic Argonauts about an inventor who built, well, a time machine.

3. In the 1960 movie version of The Time Machine starring Rod Taylor, a close look at the ornate time machine (The Time Sled) itself reveals a metal plate that reads “Manufactured by H. George Wells.” It also has exactly 365 rivets on its main disc to coincide with the days of the year. The original “time sled” used in the film was sold in an MGM prop auction in 1971, and found in a California thrift shop five years later.

Here’s a look at the over-explained trailer from 1960:

4. There likely isn’t much Whovians don’t know about one of the most iconic time (and dimension) traveling machines in pop culture, Doctor Who‘s TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimensions in Space), but it wasn’t intended to always be the blue Police Box. The TARDIS is stuck in that shape, as many fans know, because its “chameleon circuit” is broken. Not too much of a problem, since the 2005 rebirth of the series gave it a “perception filter” making it harder for people on the street to notice it.

5. The TARDIS is famously “bigger on the inside” and fans have seen or read about everything from the library, wardrobe, swimming pool, bedrooms (even some with bunk beds), engine rooms, and more. But how many rooms does the TARDIS actually have? We’ll never know because it has been often implied, including the from the Eleventh Doctor in the episode “Journey to the Centre of The TARDIS,” the machine is “limitless.” There are an infinite amount of rooms, and no one can count that high, much less find them all.

6. Although it will be impossible to find all the rooms in the TARDIS, its control room has only undergone at least eight different designs between the 1996 Eighth Doctor movie to the current Thirteenth Doctor’s interior. This frequent redesign is a “new generation development” as even though the TARDIS’s control room may have been often tweaked with prop and effect updates, its style remained pretty much the same for its first 26 years.

Whovians all have a different favorite Doctor, but everybody loves the TARDIS.

7. Since 1994, The TARDIS hasn’t been the only popular time and dimension traveling machine, with the creation of the book and animated The Magic School Bus stories, created by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen. Ms. Frizzle, who leads students on science-based adventures in the magic yellow psychedelic-looking bus, was voiced by in the PBS series for more than 10 years by comic legend Lily Tomlin. It was announced this year a movie version (that will mix animation and live-action) will feature actress Elizabeth Banks as Ms. Frizzle behind the big yellow time machine’s wheel.

8. Although not as cool as a DeLorean, another iconic 1980s time machine is Bill and Ted’s phone booth, to which Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter will return this year in their long-awaited sequel, Bill and Ted Face The Music. However, this most excellent phone booth was originally supposed to be not a phone booth but a van. According to Winter, director Stephen Herek  scrapped the van idea for a phone booth because he wanted something with “a bit more energy and a bit more technology.”

9. In a 2014 Wired story, Winter said the phone booth time machine is almost a prediction for the internet, where young people find their information on history and by coding in a few keys on a phone instead of opening up a book. Hmmm.

10. Mr. Peabody’s WABAC (affectionately known as the Wayback Machine) took this time-traveling cartoon canine scholar and his boy, Sherman, on many a pun-filled journey in history and back. The machine’s name was a play on mid-century computer names like UNIVAC or ENIAC, and it wasn’t until the 2014 film that its WABAC acronym was revealed: Wavelength Acceleration Bidirectional Asynchronous Controller.

11. One of the most popular elementary level “time machines” was the tree in The Magic Tree House, in which siblings Jack and Annie Smith are sent on several time-traveling missions by either Morgan Le Fay or Merlin to witness various historic events or figures. The series creator, Mary Pope Osborne, had donated hundreds of thousands of free books to underserved schools so they can travel on their own adventures, and she also donated all her proceeds from an anime based movie into her educational programs.

Time Turner
Time travelers in pop culture use time machines of all shapes and sizes, from pendants to maps.

12. The raunchy comedy Hot Tub Time Machine about four 40-something friends who accidentally travel back in time to 1986 (thanks to an illegal Russian energy drink getting in the vessel) while reminiscing about their past was never meant to be a film at first. Screenwriter Josh Heald (one of the writers behind Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle) said the idea was based on a running joke in college where they swore they would write a film called Hot Tub Time Machine but laughed it would never happen. When they did “take the plunge” the film grossed more than $64.6 million its opening weekend and prompted a sequel in 2015.

13. According to an article written for NASA’s “SpacePlace” site in April of this year, time machines aren’t real, but in time travel is… sorta. People normally travel one second per second, but in certain situations (like some air travel), we may travel at a slightly different rate, which is technically time travel.

Here’s another explanation for time travel from The Action Lab:

14. Time machines in pop culture don’t have to be large vessels, and have come in all shapes in sizes, including Hermione Granger’s Time-Turner necklace in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, a map in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits, and Terminator’s “Time Displacement Sphere.”

15. One fan of Doc Brown’s DeLorean is Ready Player One author Ernest Cline. The book’s hero, Wade (Parzival) Watts, has a virtual mash-up of ’80s vehicles, “Ecto-88,” with the time-traveling DeLorean as its main body. Cline, who is releasing his sequel, Ready Player Two, later this year, owns a real-life version of this car.

Since so much of the year 2020 has become postponed, canceled, put off, or closed, it’s tempting to want to take an adventure into the past or skip ahead to what the future may hold.

Thanks to Marty and Doc, we’ve got a perfect ride to do it… but remember, “when this baby hits 88 miles and hours you’re gonna see some serious sh….”

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2 thoughts on “15 Random and Geeky Facts About Time Machines

  1. And did you know that at the front of the train in The Polar Express is a flux capacitor from Back to the Future!!!

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