The first time travel tale to ever appear on television was in 1959 on The Twilight Zone, and since then there have been scads of time-tripping adventures available to viewers, some good and some bad. Here's a list of some of the best and worst chronoscopic escapades that television has to offer.
- The Twilight Zone: Time travel has long been a staple of Twilight Zone stories, and numerous episodes have featured things like soldiers traveling through time to Custer's Last Stand, people revisiting their pasts, and trying to alter the future. One of the best shows was "A Stop in Willoughby," which featured an overworked businessman who would dream that his train was stopping at a utopian city in the 19th century called Willoughby.
- Doctor Who: Following hard on the heels of The Twilight Zone was Doctor Who, a series about a time-traveling alien that first appeared in 1963. It's the longest running science fiction series in history, and its recent seasons have been hailed by fans and critics alike, even if the special effects are still a bit craptastic. In a great episode called "The Face of Evil," the Doctor (played by the excellent Tom Baker) revisits a planet he'd been to in the past, only to find that they now fear a giant stone effigy of his face. Meddling in the past sometimes leads to poor results.
- Voyagers!: This time tripping series featured a traveler from the future, Phineas Bogg, teaming up with teenaged Jeffrey Jones and "fixing" history. They'd do stuff like make sure the Wright Brothers invented the airplane. They traveled around with a device called The Omni, which looked like a big pocket watch. It had two lights on top: the red one meant there was a problem with the timestream, and the green one meant all was well. Yes, it sounds cheesy, but it was great fun.
- Quantum Leap: Yet another show about fixing mistakes in history, but this series made the episodes a bit more personal, as Dr. Sam Beckett could only travel through time within his own lifespan. With his holographic pal Al from the future, he had to figure out what was wrong and fix it so Sam could "leap" out into his next adventure. One of the more emotional moments had Sam leaping into Vietnam to try to stop his brother from dying.
- Time Tunnel: This campy series from the 1960s featured a government project (called "Tic-Toc," ouch) which was basically a giant tunnel that could take people back through time. When an irritated Senator threatens to shut the project down because of ballooning costs, Dr. Tony Newman enters the tunnel and is shortly followed by Dr. Doug Phillips, who is trying to save him. They become "stuck in time" and somehow transported to the scenes of major events, like the Titanic sinking, Pearl Harbor being bombed, this show being canceled after one season.
- Back To The Future — The Animated Series: This cartoon version of Marty and Doc Brown could have been whimsical fun, but it only manages to capitalize on very early 90s cheese. You can check out the opening for the series, but be aware that you won't be able to travel back in time to unwatch it.
- Time Trax: this series features Dale Midkiff as a cop from the future who was sent back to capture over one hundred criminals who had escaped into the past. Armed with his sentient and holographic computer SELMA, which looked like an AT&T MasterCard, he'd zap the baddies with a shot from his car alarm alarm remote and send them back to the future. Okay, so it was really a futuristic device disguised as an alarm remote, but still. Ouch.
- Timecop: Yes, they made a TV show after the semi-cheesy Jean Claude Van Damme movie of the same name. In it, Jack Logan tracks down criminals who try to go back and alter time. If only they could go back and cancel this show before it began. Mercifully, only nine episodes were produced.
- Do Over: 34-year-old Joel Larsen accidentally gets zapped with a defibrillator, and wakes up in his 14-year-old body, back in the past. Armed with the knowledge of a thirty-something, he tries to change his life for the better, and promptly fades into television obscurity. 80s nostalgia just couldn't keep this one alive.
These are the shows that haven't quite proven themselves yet, but are very promising so far.
- Life On Mars: This much-lauded BBC series features a cop who gets struck by a car in the present day, and suddenly wakes up in 1973. He's able to keep working as a policeman in the past, but it isn't made clear if he's imagining everything via a coma in the present, or if he's just a bit mentally deranged back in 1973. It's getting an American makeover, in the grand tradition of taking great BBC shows and turning them into sludge, so try and track down episodes of the original.
- Journeyman: This show is pretty much 'Quantum Leap Redux,' except the storylines and acting keep us coming back for more. San Francisco reporter Dan Vasser finds himself traveling through time and changing the destinies of people he meets along the way, which is somehow related to his time-tripping. We'll see if it can travel through time and avoid the writer's strike and the new show chopping block.