Doctor Who is on everyone’s minds these days, and the good Doctor (all 11…or 12…or 13 of him, depending on how you’re keeping track) is clearly the greatest time traveler in popular fiction, but there are other characters who break the time barrier. Chronal explorers that pierce the barrier of physics to find reality’s hidden truths. Comics, literature, television, film, and everything in between have always been preoccupied by the concept of time travel, so we present to you a list of those that dare to experience the past and endure the future. We all know the greatest time traveler is the Doctor so we excluded him here in order to focus on some other great chrononauts. Here are popular culture’s greatest time travelers not from Gallifrey!
Hank MorganCreated by Mark TwainFirst Time Traveled: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889)
While not the first time travel story, Twain’s satire of the romantic notions of old world chivalry was pre-dated by “The Chronic Argonauts” (1888) by H.G, Wells, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888), and “Fortunate Island” (1882) by Charles Heber Clark. Twain presented an idealized notion of the past with Morgan’s modern notions of technology screwing things up for the residents of Camelot. Morgan’s time traveling antics were mostly used for comedic purposes, but like all things Twain, this chronal plot device also served to cast a reflection on modern society. Morgan was the readers’ guide through a past which is viewed as an ideal time period, but really it is as fraught with power struggles, greed, and disease as the modern day.
It is right and proper to consider H.G. Wells the father of time travel. He was the first author to use the name “time machine” for a device that can take its passengers through the timestream. Every story that utilized the device after owes something to Wells. Wells’ first explorer in time was simply known as the Time Traveler and there is a little of him in every traveler that came after. It’s interesting that Wells never named his Time Traveler, but this gives the adventurer a feeling of the everyman, of any human who suddenly was tossed back in time to fight Morlocks or witness the final end of the solar system. When the Traveler witnesses the end of the Earth, it’s a shocking and visceral moment that changed science fiction storytelling forever.
Per DegatonCreated by John Broome and Irwin HasenFirst Time Traveled: All Star Comics # 35 (1947)
Perhaps the first time traveling supervillain in comics, Per Degaton first fought the Justice Society of America in 1947. Think of Degaton as a time traveling Nazi, a man who bounces between eras, collecting weaponry to conquer any age. Degaton was a member of the first super-villain team, The Injustice Society of the World and taught neophyte comic fandom just how dangerous a mad man with the ability to travel through time can be. Degaton has been the focus of many stories throughout the years, from an amazing Justice League/JSA All-Star Squadron crossover in the 80s, to recent era wars with Geoff Johns’ JSA, to an appearance on Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Degaton has been a constant in the DC Universe. It’s only a matter of time before comics first evil time master pops up in the New 52.
Legion of Super-HeroesCreated by Otto Binder and Al PlastinoFirst Time Traveled: Adventure Comics #247 (1958)
When the Legion arrived in Smallville to meet their hero Superboy, it showed fans that the world they had been reading in DC Comics has a future, and that future would be awesome. When Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, and Lightning Lad first appeared, it probably looked like just another gimmick story, but the Legion’s future showed that the heroes of the present created a legacy of heroism that will last 1000 years into the future. Time travel is naturally a major part of Legion history but it was one journey to meet the greatest hero of the future, Clark Kent, that changed the DC Universe forever.
Comics’ most enduring time traveler, Rip Hunter has been a part of the tapestry of the DC Universe since the very beginning of the Silver Age. With his pal Jeff Smith (not the dude that created Bone), his girlfriend Bonnie Baxter, and Bonnie’s kid brother, Corky, Rip uses his Time-Sphere to adventure through time and help those in need from any era. Rip’s more modern incarnation was a member of a group of time cops called the Linear Men and a mentor and ally to Booster Gold. While briefly appearing in the New 52 to desperately stop a budding romance between Superman and Wonder Woman, Rip has yet to make an impact on DC’s current continuity. But Rip has been around longer than many DC heroes, and as such an enduring character, he deserves special mention as comics’ greatest time warrior.
Kang the ConquerorCreated by Stan Lee and Jack KirbyFirst Time Traveled: Avengers #8 (1964)
Think of Kang as an evil version of the Doctor who uses all his knowledge and weapons to try and conquer every moment in the timestream. Kang is arguably the Avengers’ greatest foe: an evil that knows no limitations, a despot that can be everywhere and anytime, who has fought every battle an infinite amount of times in order to figure out how to win it. Kang is so evil he is actually three major Marvel villains, all existing at different points in his life. Kang is also Immortus and Rama Tut, two additional characters that have had major repercussions on the Marvel Universe. Kang may not have a charming British accent, but he is every bit as capable as the Doctor, and, much to the Avengers’ chagrin, Kang’s only desire is to bend time and history to his will.
James T. KirkCreated by Gene RoddenberryFirst Time Traveled: Star Trek (1966)
As all fans know, Kirk’s great motivation was to boldly go where no one has gone before. Usually that meant into the uncharted reaches of space, but sometimes he became a traveler through time as well. Kirk’s most famous voyage through time came as the Enterprise was knocked three days into the past while observing the death throes of Psi 2000. Kirk ended up on 1930 Earth and fell in love with the beautiful Edith Keeler. Tragically, Keeler was fated to die, and Kirk had to stand by and allow it to happen. Kirk ended up on modern day Earth twice more (“Tomorrow is Yesterday” and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) but his last time jaunt was his final adventure, as he was propelled into the future to meet Jean Luc Picard and the crew of the future Enterprise. Final in that timeline anyway, because JJ Abrams and stuff happened.
George Taylor did not even realize he was a time traveler at first. He thought he was just an astronaut knocked off course to a planet where super evolved apes ruled. Turns out, Taylor and his crew were propelled into the far future of an Earth where humanity had been eradicated. The screenplay, co-written by master sleight-of-hand writer Rod Serling, served up a heaping helping of irony when the protagonist realized his chronal plight. Audiences are still picking their jaws up off the floor almost fifty years later from the shock of the realization that Planet of the Apes was a time travel story after all. Apes gave the concept of time travel an element of horror and wowed audience with daring story manipulation and end of the world themes. So much so, that the franchise remains vital in the modern era.
Billy PilgrimCreated by Kurt VonnegutFirst Time Traveled: Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)
As all readers of Vonnegut’s classic know, Slaughterhouse-Five is a treatise of the nature of linear human existence disguised as a sci-fi novel. Whether a real time traveler or a man who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, Billy Pilgrim is unlike some of the other explorers on this list, only traveling to his own past. Billy is a stoic observer, a man who prefers sinking to swimming, so as the time stream shows him his past, Billy is swept up in the events rather than being an active participant. In many ways, Billy is the opposite of the villains, heroes, and explores on this list as he observes time passively rather than attempting to be an active part of it.Rick, Will, and Holly MarshallCreated by Sid & Marty Krofft, Allan Foshko, and David GerroldFirst Time Traveled: Land of the Lost (1974)
Technically Rick, Will, and Holly actually traveled to an alternate dimension, but Land of the Lost just gives us such warm feelings of nostalgia that we are going to justify their inclusion on this list. A Saturday morning staple for years, Land of the Lost followed the Marshall family as they struggled to survive in a prehistoric world of dinosaurs, constant threats, and latex suited aliens. The lizard-like Sleestaks, despite their hokey appearance, had something unsettling about them. Maybe it was the sugar high we got from the three bowls of Trix that would usually accompany the show, but something about those aliens sent pre-teens running from their Motorolas throughout the ’70s and ’80s. Land of the Lost was pretty much the only place little dinophiles could see their beloved thunder lizards on TV and the whole thing paved the way for Jurassic Park. In case you think it’s all silly nostalgia, such literary luminaries as Larry Niven, Theodore Sturgeon, Ben Bova, and Norman Spinrad wrote for the show.
Edana (Dana) FranklinCreated by Octavia ButlerFirst Time Traveled: Kindred (1979)
Perhaps the bleakest time travel story on the list, Kindred is a novel about Edana (Dana) Franklin, a woman who on six separate occasions time travels from 1976, Altadena, California to the antebellum South where she is forced to endure life as a slave. The son of a slave owner, Rufus Weylin, calls Dana back whenever his life is in danger. Dana saves Weylin’s life each time she is pulled back, but she still is treated as property, abused and marginalized, by the boy, and then man, she has spent her life saving. The novel is a harsh and honest look of the dehumanization of slavery as seen through the eyes of a thoroughly modern woman of color. The novel is a gut punch, as Edana Franklin remains perhaps the most tragic chronal traveler in the history of science fiction.
KevinCreated by Terry Gilliam and Michael PalinFirst Time Traveled: Time Bandits (1981)
The youngest member of our league of the intrepid tick-tockers, Kevin was the companion of six brave dwarves who experienced the Mycenaean Wars, fought a Minotaur side by side with King Agamemnon, met Robin Hood and Napoleon, took a cruise on the Titanic, and sprung from the feverishly fertile imagination of Terry Gilliam during the filmmaker’s most creative period. Anchored to the present, Kevin was a lonely boy, ignored and misunderstood, free to experience the timestream. Kevin was a brave and capable adventurer, worthy of mention in the annals of time jumpers.
Kyle ReeseCreated by James CameronFirst Time Traveled: The Terminator (1984)
Kyle Reese was the great plot twist of the Terminator franchise, a man who travels back in time to save the mother of the savior of the human race, and ends up conceiving him. John Connor sends Reese back to save his mother Sarah from a killer cyborg that for some reason was made to look like a young, really buff version of the former Governor of California (I wish I could go back in time to stop myself from making that joke). Anyway, the great tragic twist of the film is that Connor knew that Reese would be killed in the past but he had to send him back anyway to ensure his own existence. This was one of the greatest chronal loop plot twists in film history. Reese was a great soldier that used time as a weapon to help win a war and insure a future for humanity.
Marty McFlyCreated by Bob Gale, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven SpielbergFirst Time Traveled: Back to the Future (1985)
Marty was the protagonist of, perhaps, the most popular American time travel story ever. On three different occasions, Marty hopped into his Delorean and rode the clockwork. First to the past where he made sure his hot mom met his oddball father so Marty could be conceived. The second time, Marty took Doc Brown’s time machine to the future to make sure his own son wouldn’t be killed drag racing, and the third time, Marty traveled to the Old West to make sure Universal Pictures had another pay day. All of Marty’s adventures are tightly-plotted time travel stories compete with paradoxes and contradictions. The time travel rules of Back to the Future seem to be pretty much the ones popular culture has embraced. Filled with a humanity, Marty is time traveling everyman who helps audiences experience the waves of the timestream without getting overwhelmed by all the wibbely-wobbily science stuff. By the way, Back to the Future 2 took place in 2015. We have a tiny bit over a year and we at Den of Geek think we speak for everyone when we ask, WHERE ARE OUR COCKLEDOODY HOVERBOARDS!!!
Booster GoldCreated by Dan JurgensFirst Time Traveled: Booster Gold #1 (1986)
DC’s premiere time traveler, Booster Gold is one of the unlikeliest heroes of all. In the future, he was a petty crook who stole a super suit and used it to become a hero in the past. In the present, he was a man who had to make up for his misdeeds by becoming a member in good standing of the Justice League. Booster Gold is a unique time traveler in that he wants to profit off his knowledge of the future because he is such a nothing in his own time. Despite his humble beginnings, Booster, in spite of himself, became a great hero. Booster’s recent antics caused Western badass Jonah Hex to became trapped in modern times, showing that despite rising to the status of a hero, some part of Booster is still a time traveling screw up.
Bill S. Preston and Ted “Theodore” LoganCreated by Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon, Stephen Herek, and Scott KroopfFirst Time Traveled: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Many time travelers dared to defy physics but only Bill and Ted dared to do it so awesomely. Using their time traveling phone booth, Bill and Ted, travel in time to meet historical figures from the past in order to pass their history report. Evidently, in San Dimas, California, students give term papers in front of a packed auditorium rather than, you know, writing them, so Bill and Ted use all their style and rock n’ roll acumen to bring Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Joan of Arc, Socrates, and Billy the Kid to their school. I guess just having people in costumes on-stage is enough to get a passing grade, as Ted is not sent to military school, the two pals get to keep their band (Wyld Stallyns) together, and go on to make music that will bring peace and harmony to the world…music that sounds an awful lot like late ‘80s Kiss. While farcical, these films are a blast making Bill and Ted the most excellent time travelers on this list, and they got to travel around with future George Carlin. Traveling with future George Carlin is beyond awesome.
Dr. Samuel BeckettCreated by Donald P. BellisarioFirst Time Traveled: Quantum Leap (1989)
The late ‘80s and early ‘90s were not a fountainhead of genre entertainment on television, so what the sci-fi fans did get, they embraced like a rare gem. Of that era’s paltry pickings, Quantum Leap stood out as a treat well ahead of its time. Each week, fans were treated to Dr. Samuel Beckett leaping into other peoples’ bodies to fix an event that once went wrong. Beckett was like a chronal fix-it man, a heroic scientist who sacrificed his own existence to journey through the time stream and help strangers throughout history. Some of the lives Sam led were hilarious, from a beauty queen to a pro-wrestler, and others were challenging and tragic, like an inmate on death row, a rape victim, and a boy with Down’s syndrome. Fans never knew what they were going to get from Sam (and neither did Sam), but rest assured, whatever life he led on any given week would be compelling and wholly entertaining.
CableCreated by Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson, and Rob LiefeldFirst Time Traveled: New Mutants #87 (1990)
Time travel has always been a major part of X-Men history. From the moment fans caught a glimpse at the brutal future in Days of Future Past, time jumps and glimpses into horrific futures have been a story device X writers have returned to again and again. With Cable, fans got a new type of time traveler, a mysterious figure from the far future, one that created a paradox with Days of Future Past, and one whose identity as the son of Cyclops would not be revealed for quite a while. While complex almost to the point of parody, the core idea of Cable, a mutant warrior who can jump around in time, remains pure. It takes a good writer to cut the dross off Cable, but when it happens, fans are usually treated to a kickass time travel adventure.
BishopCreated by John Byrne, Jim Lee, and Whilce PortacioFirst Time Traveled: Uncanny X-Men #282 (1991)
As a time traveling wild card, Bishop threw quite a wrinkle in the X-Men universe after he debuted in 1991. Through Bishop, readers and the X-Men got a glimpse of a very different future than they first experienced in Days of Future Past. Bishop was a futuristic mutant cop that followed the evil Trevor Fitzroy into the modern era. Bishop carried knowledge and history that tantalized fans, as he knew that one of the X-Men would betray and destroy the team, but he never knew which one. The plotline remained unresolved for a long time, leading Bishop to become a major player in the X-Verse. Bishop is still jaunting through time after spending a good portion of the new millennium as a villain.
Ash WilliamsCreated by Sam and Ivan RaimiFirst Time Traveled: Army of Darkness (1992)
Ash Williams was many things: a warrior, a victim, a hapless clown, a maniac with a chainsaw, and (of course) a time traveler. After being shunted into the year 1300, Ash finds himself in a mad quest to find the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis so he can return home. It doesn’t go well as Ash is drawn into a medieval feud between a Lord and A Duke, forced to fight a miniature versions of himself, face down a Deadite army, and fight his own evil clone. Many travelers on this list are learned men on subtle adventurers who witness the sublime secrets of the cosmos. Ash is a blunt instrument wielding a chainsaw. Ash doesn’t glide through time, he rips it to shreds.
Hermione GrangerCreated by J.K. RowlingFirst Time Traveled: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999)
In the third Harry Potter novel, over achieving third year, Hermione Granger got timey-wimey by getting her hands on the magical time-turner, a magical device that allowed her to take more than one class at a time. In addition to making real world children queasy at the thought, Hermione’s ingenuity allowed her and her stalwart friends to win the day in the book and save their griffin friend Buckbeak. Introducing an element of time travel to the world of Harry Potter allowed Rowling to get clever with her plot structure; actually showing her heroes lose and lose big. The tuner also revealed an important element to Hermione’s character, as it showed that she wouldn’t be confined to the constraints of reality when it came to her eagerness to expand her knowledge.
Donnie DarkoCreated by Richard KellyFirst Time Traveled: Donnie Darko (2001)
Donnie Darko, like many time travel jaunts, is a non-linear narrative of a doomed boy trying to prevent his own random death. It is a somber, brutal, honest tale that revels in its own strangeness. While not overtly dealing with time travel, the story does deal with the ramifications of trying to change one’s own destiny. Donnie Darko is a fascinating and often brutal look at the personal nature of physics and reality, and Donnie traveling in time wearing a horrific rabbit suit which, while not as cool as a Delorean, has a certain post-modern edge to it.
Desmond HumeCreated by Carlton Cuse and Damon LindelofFirst Time Traveled: Lost Season 2 (2006)
One thing Lost fans can be assured of; if it was a Desmond episode, there would be tears. The creators of Lost weren’t afraid of tragedy or romance, and in Desmond, they found both. Desmond was a chronal Romeo on a star-crossed quest through time to find his Juliet, Penny (the show already had a Juliet who had her own doomed and tragic romance with Sawyer, oh Lost) Though Desmond, the showrunners introduced the concept of time travel to the show’s already complex narrative. Hume probably had the most complex and fantastic backstory of anyone on the show, what with the being disconnected from time and all, but his love and devotion to his dear Penny made him one of the most beloved characters.
Jacob “Jake” EppingCreated by Stephen KingFirst Time Traveled: 11/22/63 (2011)
Jacob Epping was a simple English teacher who only wanted to avert America’s darkest day. Epping traveled back in time to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The portal that Epping finds can only take him to a certain time, so he must live his life in the past until 11/22/63, shadowing Lee Harvey Oswald and preparing for the day he can change history. Through Epping, Stephen King was able to realize the full potential of a time travel story and to show readers a view of the past through modern sensibilities. Epping is a unique time traveler in that he was not in the past to explore but to right a grave wrong, something time did not want him to do. Through Epping, King was able to explore America through the lens of America before Oswald’s act and America after that fateful day in Dallas. Epping was a parable for America itself, a man who was lost and desperately wishing to find a way back to a time of innocence, where a selfish man’s bullet was not able to bring down a god.
Kiera CameronCreated by Simon BarryFirst Time Traveled: Continuum (2012)
Continuum, the other great time travel drama on television, focuses on future police officer Kiera Cameron who must travel back in time to stop a gang of anarchists from destroying the events that create her future world. Cameron is from an almost dystopian future where mega-corporations rule every aspect of peoples’ lives. The terrorists she is in pursuit of can be viewed as the heroes from a certain point of view as they have a more humanist view of what the future should be. As for Kiera herself, she just wants to get back home to her family. As a reluctant time traveler, Kiera is the perfect point of view character through which viewers can see the modern world as well as experience the possible future that awaits. Kiera kicks ass in her futuristic crime fighting suit and is a master at future law enforcement tech. Continuum’s plot defies genre convention and expectations as Kiera must navigate a time where those that are villains in the future may be innocent altruists in the past.