A big part of the appeal of Doctor Who is the idea of getting a guided tour of all of time and space. If the TARDIS suddenly materialized in your living room and the Doctor invited you in, who wouldn’t be tempted to sign on for as long as he’d have you? But if you’re going to travel through time, you want to have good company and you want it to not be an enormous pain in the ass. As you’ll see in this article, that’s not always guaranteed. Sometimes you get a sweet-ass DeLorean, sure… but sometimes you get Ashton Kutcher.
Just in case you’re in the market for a vacation into last week, you’ll definitely want to consider your options. Thankfully we did the legwork for you. Here are our picks for which time travelers would be worth your time, and which ones you’ll want to avoid at all costs.
Yes: Phil Connors from Groundhog Day
On the surface, Groundhog Day sounds like a nightmare: living the same day over and over, functionally immortal and doomed to be awakened each morning by Sunny and Cher. It certainly takes its toll on Phil Connors (Bill Murray), who gets so depressed about the whole thing that he tries to kill himself using every method he can think of.
But things don’t have to be quite so bleak if you tag along for Phil’s wild ride. Why? Because you’re getting to hang out with Bill Murray for the rest of eternity! Or at least until he gets his day sorted out (however long that may be). And okay, it’s not Bill Murray, it’s weatherman Phil Connors, but since Phil Connors looks, sounds, and generally acts like the Mountain of Cool that is Bill Murray, in our book that’s worth having “I Got You Babe” stuck in your head 24/7.
A Groundhog Super Bowl
Apparently America agrees with this assessment since Phil Connors was picked to star in a Super Bowl commercial about just how fun it would be to hang out with him. Watch him grab his groundhog buddy and go for a spin in a new Jeep, over and over and over again…
No: The Terminator
Okay, if you’re travelling through time, it might be nice to have a big, nearly un-killable mechanical companion along to provide safety. That might come in handy should you jump into the middle of a battle or the Crusades or something, but there are definitely some drawbacks as well.
First, the method of time travel. You can’t take anything with you, and wherever you go, you show up buck-ass nude. That can be a problem if you wind up somewhere cold, if it’s winter, or perhaps if you just have some issues showing off your naked body in public. It’s just awkward all around. And then there’s the fact that your travelling companion very well might be on a pre-programmed mission to kill you dead so you, or possibly your child, can’t lead the resistance against the machines who have taken over the world in the future. There are a number of reasons why that might prove problematic.
Yes: Bill & Ted
Blasting through the circuits of time in a janky phone booth might be cramped, and the pilots may not know exactly where they’re going or how they’re going to get there, but travelling with Bill S. Preston, Esquire, and Ted “Theodore” Logan is always going to be a good time.
Even when they’re about to be executed by “Royal Ugly Dudes” in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure or playing Battleship with Death himself in the Bogus Journey — one of the greatest sequels in all of sequel-dom — there are laughs and adventures to be had. And not only will you get to hang out with notable figures from history, like Socrates, Billy the Kid, and “Bob” Ghengis Khan (Napoleon is a total dick, despite his love of waterslides), you’ll even get to see that awesome tranquil future, and there will never be a shortage of sweet rocking jams.
No: Keanu Reeves In The Lake House
As excellent as it would be to travel through time with the Bill & Ted Keanu Reeves, invert that and you have Keanu Reeves in the 2006 romantic drama The Lake House. Instead of fun, outrageous Keanu, you get sad, mopey bastard Keanu sitting around on his ass waiting to get letters from Sandra Bullock.
To be honest, you won’t even really get to travel through time, they just have a goddamned magic mailbox that sends letters back and forth through time. While that could definitely prove useful, who wants to do that? It’s not even fun Sandra Bullock from The Heat, or space Sandra Bullock from Gravity; this is bland, Miss Congeniality, generic rom-com Sandra Bullock. Now, if Keanu tried to cram himself into the mailbox in an attempt to get to his lover from the future, that’s something we could get behind.
Yes: Marty McFly
Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) might turn into a whiny little brat a few times during the course of the Back to the Future movies, but the pros far outweigh the cons in this situation. If you’re going to travel through time, rolling up in a DeLorean is the way to do it. A stainless steel sports car with gullwing doors just screams, “I’m from the future, motherf***ers.”
Plus, when you hop time periods with Marty, you’ll get to witness key cultural events like the invention of rock and roll and the skateboard. You also get to live out every kid’s wild west, Clint Eastwood gunslinger fantasy in the actual wild west, and, when you travel to the future, you will finally get the chance to ride that hoverboard that we’ve been waiting on for 25 years now. That alone is worth hitching a ride with the young Mr. McFly and that sweet life-jacket vest he wears.
No: Doc Brown
It would, admittedly, be pretty fun to hang out with Doctor Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd). No matter what time period you’re in, kicking it with a mad scientist is always high on our list of priorities. And again, if you’re going to travel through time, a modified DeLorean isn’t a half bad way to go about it.
While there are these obvious upsides, there is also one major issue you’ll have to contend with. In true mad scientist form, Doc Brown is total wing-nut who is somewhat lacking in social skills. As you see in the Back to the Future movies, this can lead to sticky situations. After all, early on in the first movie, Libyan terrorists murder him in the parking lot of a shopping mall. And in Part 3, his oblivious ways and scattered persona put him at odds with a notorious gunslinger. If you’re okay with dealing with these types of scenarios, by all means hop in the DeLorean with Doc Brown, but if you’d rather not take that chance, you might consider sitting this one out.
Yes: Philip J. Fry
Though you may have to freeze yourself solid for 1,000 years in order to get there, it would totally be worth it to get to hang out with Futurama’s Philip J. Fry. Granted, once you go forward you can’t go back, but it’s totally worth it to get to experience all of the things that science fiction has been promising us since the very beginning.
Space travel is commonplace, and even the most remote regions of the galaxy aren’t out of bounds. You’ll encounter aliens from every corner of deep space — some friendly, some not so much. Technology has reached the point where damn near everything is possible, and who doesn’t want to live with a drunken, foul-mouthed robot? More than anything, a journey with Fry is guaranteed to be eventful, and will offer you all of the sights and sounds that speculative fiction has been showing us for decades.
No: James Cole from 12 Monkeys
We’re willing to grant you this: if you live in a disease-ridden future where an especially virulent plague has forced the survivors to live in cold, dank, cramped quarters underground, you very well might jump at the chance to get the hell out of there like James Cole (Bruce Willis) in Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. It might be worth risking the imprecise method of time travel — you’re never entirely sure that you’ll wind up in the right place, and you could, for instance, wind up naked in the trenches of World War I — just to be able to breathe fresh air again.
The biggest issue, however, is that, despite appearances to the contrary, no matter what you do, you’re trapped in the same loop of time, unable to affect change on your situation or the state of human race in the future. You’re stuck in predetermined rut, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t get out of it (this is something that the upcoming Syfy series adaptation of 12 Monkeys has apparently changed). And that, my friends, is a total bummer.
Yes: The Hot Tub Time Machine Guys
If you’re going to travel through time, stewing in a bubbling cauldron with a few of your friends, getting drunk and doing coke seems like as enjoyable a way to go about it as you can imagine. And who among us hasn’t wished, at one time or another, that we had the chance at a do-over in our lives like the guys from Hot Tub Time Machine?
You know you have a moment where you regret that you didn’t make a move, or should have called off a relationship. Maybe you could have prevented a terrible tragedy, or maybe you, too, just want to go back in time and invent Google, invest in Apple, or see Crispin Glover get his arm ripped off. [Just try not to become your best bud’s dad. – Ed.]
No: The Primer Guys
Some people get to cruise through time in style, inside a phone booth, a TARDIS, or a badass hover-converted DeLorean. And then there’s whatever is going on in Primer. Don’t get us wrong, we love Shane Carruth’s mind-bending tale, and it has the sort of mundane verisimilitude that makes you believe that, if somebody ever really did invent time travel, this is probably how it would play out. But it’s also not the most exciting of temporal journeys. No tumbling through a colorful time vortex or slingshotting around the sun. Instead you get to lie alone inside a small box inside a storage unit for six hours. This is clearly not the preferred time travel method for claustrophobics.
As for the guys who made the machine, they seem nice enough, but the constant technobabble would give us a headache, so we’d probably ditch them as soon as we arrived in the past. Although, honestly, we’re still not entirely sure we understand how the timeline works in Primer, so there’s a really good chance we’d end up erasing our own timeline or something.
Yes: Kirk & Spock
Obviously there’s no shortage of possibilities when it comes to the combination of time travel and Star Trek, but our ideal scenario would be getting to tag along during Star Trek IV. It’s easily the most fun of all the Trek movies, and even the villain who’s wreaking havoc in the future is just an adorable whale probe in search of a humpback to high five.
But forget all that, because the main attraction here is the ’80s! They’re far enough away now to be lodged squarely in the nostalgia zone for my generation, and even though Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the Enterprise crew were technically trying to save the future, the whole thing basically plays out as a light-hearted vacation romp. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are at their most banter-y, and you might get to help infiltrate a nuclear wessel or scare the piss out of some whalers. Just remember, if anybody asks, you love Italian.
No: Donnie Darko
As much as we’d happily slingshot around the sun with Kirk and Spock, not every voyage into the 1980s is created equal. Don’t get me wrong, I still quite like Donnie Darko as a movie (so long as it’s not the director’s cut), and it’s got a great soundtrack, but actually having to spend a time jaunt hanging out with Donnie himself? Thanks but no.
You’d be all like, “This is amazing, we traveled back in time! And also your little sister is gonna be Samara from The Ring!” And he’d be all like, “Every living creature dies alone.” Well, thanks so much for that, Captain Letdown. Don’t you have a pedophile to expose or something? While you and the freaky rabbit try to out-emo each other, I’m gonna take Jenna Malone and Drew Barrymore out for ice cream, and I bet the bleak inevitability of death doesn’t come up even once in our conversations.
Okay, okay, maybe I’m being little harsh. I realize you’re stuck in a time loop that will eventually end with you sharing a bed with a detached jet engine, and that’s got to be a sobering thing to face. Still, you do apparently have super powers of some sort for the moment, so let’s figure out something we can do to help cheer you up. What are your feelings about flooding a school?
Yes: Sam and Al from Quantum Leap
You know the story: theorizing that one could time travel, stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator and vanished, yadda yadda yadda. Not only would traveling with Dr. Beckett be the best interactive history lesson ever, you’d also earn some major karma points for helping set right a bunch of stuff that once went wrong. That’s got to give you a nice warm feeling. And getting dropped into other people’s bodies would certainly be interesting — who wouldn’t like to test drive the opposite gender for a day or two? — even though you never know when you’re going to wind up in the middle of Vietnam or inside a space chimp.
On the other hand, no matter how bad your particular leap is, you’re still going to have Al tagging along to provide context and lecherous commentary. Too bad you can’t fist-bump a hologram.
No: Evan from The Butterfly Effect
Okay, remember all the smack I talked about Donnie Darko a few entries ago? Yeah, I owe him an apology. I would gladly ride shotgun in Donnie’s angst-mobile if the alternative was spending time with Ashton Kutcher’s Evan in The Butterfly Effect, a succession of darkest timelines so depressing that the director’s cut ends with him traveling back into his own fetus and strangling himself with his umbilical cord while still in the womb. Eeesh.