Early time travellers: One of the earliest stories of time travel is found in Hindu mythology in the Mahabharata, written down around 700 BC, where King Revaita travels to another world and returns to find many ages have passed on earth. The earliest description of a time machine – a clock that runs backwards – appears in an 1881 story by American journalist Edward Page Mitchell. In the same year, Spanish writer Enrique Gaspar y Rimbau published a light opera that featured a time machine called the anacronopete, which looked a bit like a flying house with snorkels.
HG Wells’ Time Machine: Science fiction pioneer HG Wells wrote several stories about time travel – the first was The Chronic Argonauts in 1886. But it was his hit 1895 novel The Time Machine that brought the idea of time travel to wide public attention. Wells’ time traveller voyages almost a million years into the future, where mankind has degenerated into the child-like Eloi and the canibal Morlocks – and eventually witnesses the end of the world, more than 30 million years hence. The story has been adapted for movies several times, most recently in 2002 with Guy Pearce as Wells’ time traveller (pictured).
Dr Who’s Tardis: The Doctor’s time-travelling police box, the Tardis, first appeared on British TV screens in 1963, and it’s still there. Its name is explained as an acronym of “Time And Relative Dimensions In Space”, which perhaps makes less sense than not explaining it at all. The Tardis – famously bigger on the inside, and prone to arriving at seemingly random destinations – is supposed to be able to change exteriors to blend in with the landscape wherever it appears, but it’s been stuck looking like an antique British police phone box for the last 50 years.
Doc Brown’s DeLorean: Back To The Future and its sequels feature what’s now probably the best-known time machine, built by Dr Emmett Brown into an 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 – and if the metal-skinned DeLorean is now considered iconic, it is largely thanks to these films. To travel in time, the operator sat in the car, dialled in the date, and put the pedal to the metal. Movie secret agent Austin Powers borrowed the idea of a time-travelling car for Goldmember, when he drove a Cadillac Eldorado “pimp mobile” back to the 1960s.
Carl Sagan’s wormhole: Space scientist and writer Carl Sagan was being a bit serious with the giant alien machine in his 1985 novel Contact, which was made into a movie in 1997 starring Jodi Foster. Sagan’s machine used space-time wormholes as a shortcut to the centre of the galaxy, a journey that might otherwise take almost forever. Space-time wormholes are permitted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and scientists theorise they could provide access to the past or the future – but no-one’s ever seen one.