No Right Explanation

Michael Jackson Is Still Black


Late week, the boys wrapped up their discussion of what the best time machine in popular culture – with some help from their friends. Here’s what they have to say for themselves.

Chris: By now you’ve seen the second half of our Best Time Machine episode of No Right Answer and have taken offense to the fact that the T.A.R.D.I.S. didn’t come in as our “best.” It’s all in good fun of course, and we’re not done with The Doctor (I have at least one good troll left), but for now we’re happy with the Hot Tub Time Machine both because it was an answer that made a fair deal of sense and was wholly unexpected from the viewers (and because obviously I wouldn’t get to ride in the T.A.R.D.I.S. anyway since I don’t have female genitalia or a spare heart).

What it got me thinking about was not so much which time machine is necessarily best, but rather which is most fun (I stand by the Phone Booth in that regard), as well as which time travel stories are the most enjoyable. See, writing about time travel seems to be near impossible from an intellectual level, and too many episodes of Doctor Who are either about wacky space adventures or wacky old-timey adventures, but very, very rarely about using time travel (“Blink” not withstanding of course).

I’ve found that I enjoyed Chrono Trigger a lot for this, which some of you noticed was sitting in the background on purpose. In that game’s plot, you travel back and forth through time, futzing with the timelines here and there and really causing major changes to landmarks, characters, and history as we know it. The time travel aspect was integral to the game’s plot and discovering how everything played together was fantastic to learn.

In contrast, Ocarina of Time, despite being my favorite video game, doesn’t really use time travel in any meaningful way beyond a puzzle here and there. More than anything the game just has a time skip and then a means of traveling back before the time skip, and that’s hardly enough to really classify it as “time travel.” It’s essentially just the Light world/Dark World gimmick from A Link to the Past reused, something that Miyamoto openly admitted. Even Majora’s Mask, a game that really pushed the reversing time aspect, doesn’t quite do a lot with time travel to make it feel just right.

To me, I feel that to truly “do” time travel, you need some aspect of timelines crossing. Dragon Ball Z, for how utterly moronic it handled the entire Cell plot arc, at least attempted to cross timelines here and there and play with the idea of knowing events before they’ve happened, witnessing events going awry, and ultimately failing to understand time in general.

That’s a lot of why I loved Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure so much since they were simpletons who had access to a time machine and used it to just go visit random time periods and create nice convenient plot points, such as needing to remember to steal keys a week earlier and hide them so they can be found when they’re really needed. Simple timeline crossing, but entirely fun.

Back to the Future Part II was another fantastic movie for this as it showed the previous movie and then played with it immensely by witnessing previous events from a different point of view. Such fun! Bender’s Big Score, the first Futurama movie, did a ton to show time travel and timelines messing with one another, and I for one was utterly pleased with the results there.

Maybe all I’m really doing is saying that I don’t absolutely love Doctor Who. I’ll take my public beatings now, thank you.


Kyle: I am deathly serious about my choice of DeLorean for Best Time Machine. I love the Back to the Future movies. Okay? I even plan on a Marty McFly cosplay day at PAX Prime this year.

So rather than point out the missteps of the other guys, I will make several more arguments. Because, while I respect the group decision as final and I commend Herman’s argument for the Hot Tub, I feel I owe more to Doc and Marty’s fantastic invention.

So for starters: How is the DeLorean better? How about the level of training involved with the operation of said time vehicle?

While Primer’s device is experimental and dangerous, Bill and Ted’s phone booth is dangerous just because it is so willy-nilly and requires no basic knowledge to use it. Presumably, a child could ride that chaos-generator into the most hostile time/environment and destroy the space-time continuum in the process. Unsafe. I demand a recall.

Meanwhile, the Hot Tub is extremely hazardous. You want to try to replicate the accident that transported Cusack and co.? Really? Would you also like to take your lucky toaster into that tub, too?

And the TARDIS? Come on. That’s too much training involved. I have no idea how to operate that thing, and I’ve watched enough Dr. Who. No, don’t accuse me of not watching enough. Don’t accuse me of not researching enough into the Doctor’s past or the history of the Time Lords. I don’t care. The world’s most devoted Dr. Who fan would not know how to successfully travel through time in the TARDIS. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.

The DeLorean is meanwhile the perfect medium. It requires a driver’s license and at very least a cursory instruction course from the Doc. Basically, as long as you listened during Doc’s demonstration, and you know how to drive a car, you know how to operate it. And if you can pay attention during Doc’s later lectures about the space-time continuum, you know the basic rules to follow. Just the right amount of training and know-how makes you the master of time.

And to conclude, Mr. Fusion makes the DeLorean the only time machine in this debate that helps the environment. While Bill and Ted are littering the time landscape with pudding cans and gum wrappers, Doc Brown is using that rubbish as fuel. And that hot tub has to be giving off some offending emissions if there’s an energy drink involved, right?

I rest my case … for now.


Dan: Once again, we find an episode where there were no points to award, mostly because a five-way debate would be impossible to treat the same as our normal duets. Thus, baby birds, it is up to papa Dan to regurgitate some pre-chewed insight and knowledge on you. Chris’ shirt can double as a napkin, so don’t worry about that.

I want to talk about a time machine that we didn’t bring up in the debate, and isn’t a time machine that many people think about readily. The television show Seven Days was a short-lived series where the government has a time machine that only goes back one week. Why the time limit? Because they have no idea how it works, and that’s the best they could do. This time machine always held something special in my heart, and I’d like to convince you guys why this series should hold a higher place in yours.

Of all the time machines we listed, they all work the way they were designed. DeLorean can travel where you tell it to go, the hot tub worked how Chevy Chase wanted it to, the Primer box worked perfectly but the users were a bit confused … there is a pattern of control as far as the mechanics are involved. The time machine in Seven Days was a result of some metal found that had the ability to travel back in time, and the government built a machine to harness that ability. Did they do it perfectly? No, due to the scarcity of the material and the sheer lack of understanding by our scientists, we only get the week range. They couldn’t even guarantee that the machine appeared in the same country as it was supposed to. I think that’s probably most realistic to a time machine in the real world. Do you honestly think a real time machine would be precise enough to get you 10 minutes before Doc got shot? No, you are going to be lucky if you can get within a decade of when you wanted to appear.

Another reason I like the television machine is that it was controlled by the government, with government passwords and everything. All the other machines seem to be either run by the inventor or by a mystical entity. That’s all fine and dandy, but I think the movies show that this model leads to disaster. Perhaps it’s the liberal in me, but if you can bend time and space to your will with the potential to kill everyone that has ever lived or will live … I wouldn’t mind having a committee approving all uses of that technology. And every time the traveler in Seven Days came back, he called the facility and gave them the code that proved he wasn’t the “Evil” version of himself. Got you there, evil Bill and Ted.

Finally, and this one is a big one, the pilot in Seven Days was picked because of his piloting ability in the face of extreme pain. That’s right, their machine was so prototype-y that it basically ripped the pilot apart every time he used it … and he was still expected to balance several gimbals to increase the probability that he would appear on the landing pad instead of in high Earth orbit. Quite a feat. If you guys think that doesn’t sound realistic, let me ask you about real world astronauts. Many of them were picked because they could withstand extreme gravity, and they all had the knowledge that radiation and microgravity would significantly shorten their lives. You think that level of sacrifice will be looked at as barbaric when the rewards of time travel are on the table?

So, there’s my argument for why the time machine from Seven Days should be respected more than it currently is. The pilot may die, the machine doesn’t work well or consistently, and there is tons of red tape just to use it.

Yay for realism.

About the author

Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.