TV Shows That Featured A GROUNDHOG DAY TIME-LOOP - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad


Well it's Groundhog Day. Again.
The 2022 New Years Day Doctor Who episode, Eve of the Daleks, resurrected the old trope of the time-loop, with a little bit of a novel twist that is. It's a trope that's been seen in many a TV show and perhaps most famously played around with in the Bill Murray film Groundhog Day - a character, or characters, caught in a time loop, doomed to repeat a period of time over and over, until something is corrected. Often, only one character realizes what's going on, or at least has an odd sense of Déjà Vu — everyone and everything else undergoes a complete Snap Back, and if not interfered with will do the exact same things every time, right down to dialogue. Once the character realizes this, two things happen, usually in this order:
  1. The character starts experimenting, then playing around with the people around them, confessing or acting on their feelings for another character, telling off their boss, getting themselves killed in interesting ways, and other things, in a form of Save Scumming.
  2. The character finally gets down to the business of what's causing the loop, and finds out how to stop it, often using the information learned in all the previous iterations to make sure this one last loop goes perfectly.
Sound familiar now? That's because you've seen it a gazillion times, and here are a few of the more memorable examples from the small screen...
Doctor Who
Eve of the Daleks wasn't the first Doctor Who time-loop episode, although kudos to Dan for naming it Groundhog Day and bonus points to Chris Chiball for at least giving the format a twist by having the loop shrink every time it resets. First seen in some effect back in the Third Doctor adventure Carnival of Monsters which featured a ship bound for India, shrunk down, put in a miniature People Zoo, with the memories of the passengers and crew altered to reset after ten minutes so they don't realise that they are never reaching their destination. Fortunately the Doctor and Jo Grant were not part of the original loop.

In the Fourth Doctor story Meglos, the Doctor and Romana are caught in a time loop (called a chronic hysteresis) that repeats after only a couple of minutes. In the Eleventh Doctor adventure The Big Bang, River Song is stuck in an even shorter time-loop to prevent her from dying. And in spin-off Torchwood it is mentioned that Jack Harkness and John Hart were stuck in a two-week time loop together for 5 years. Oh the fun they no doubt had!

But arguably (by me anyway) the best use of this trope within Doctor Who came in the Twelfth Doctor adventure Heaven Sent. After being teleported to an ever-shifting maze that resets portions of itself, and pursued by a creature that attempts to kill him unless he confesses something, the Doctor eventually discovers an exit, but getting through it requires getting through a barrier of a substance ten times harder than diamond. The monster catches up with him and burns him too badly to regenerate, so he crawls back to the teleporter room he started in...and activates it as he burns up, releasing a brand new Doctor into the situation. This loop continues until the Doctor punches a hole through the azbantium barrier... a process that occurs one punch at a time over the course of four and a half billion years!!!
Being stuck in a time-loop does sound like hell, so when Lucifer revealed that it is a very common punishment in Hell, with the people who go there getting trapped in loops of their most shameful moments, it made perfect sense - and a couple of memorable episodes. Most notably season three's Off The Record, and was also referenced in season five's Really Sad Devil Guy.
The Twilight Zone
And where might Lucifer have gotten the idea that a time-loop could be used as punishment within Hell? Perhaps from The Twilight Zone and the 1959 episode Judgement Night. The story is set in 1942 on a passenger liner on the Atlantic. One of the passengers, Carl Lanser, has no memory of how he got on board but realises the ship will be sunk by a German U-boat. He tries to warn the crew but they don't believe him. The ship is torpedoed and everyone on board is killed. It is revealed Lanser was the captain of the U-boat and that he is now doomed to spend the last night on the ship and share the same fate as the people he killed over and over again.

This wasn't the only time-loop episode seen during The Twilight Zone's original run, but it was the most faithful use of the trope. Other examples include Shadow Play, in which Adam Grant has the same dream every night, about being convicted for a heinous murder and being executed for it. There's a twist to the trope here as it's told from the perspective of the other characters. They eventually grow to realize that if Grant is put to death, he'll wake up and they will cease to exist. They do it anyway.

And when The Twilight Zone was resurrected by AppleTV in 2019, two episodes played with the trope. Replay saw the protagonist in full control of the loop, continuing to repeat until she can get the outcome she wants. And in Try Try, a man has been stuck in a time-loop for around a thousand days. However, unusually the episode does not take place from his perspective, but from that of the woman he has been continually trying to seduce during that period.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Used in the Voyager episode Coda and the Discovery episode Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad, the finest example of time-loop use within the Star Trek franchise, and predating the movie Groundhog Day, was seen in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Cause and Effect, in which the USS Enterprise D keeps exploding but also sends the crew back in time a few hours until they figure out how to prevent it. They were stuck in the time-loop for 17 and a half days.

If you watched this episode on its original US broadcast, March 23rd 1992, you'd be forgiven for having your own feelings of Déjà Vu as some local affiliates also looped the commercial breaks!
The X-Files
The episode Monday was broadcast in 1999, many years after Star Trek:TNG's Cause and Effect, yet it echoes the plot structure completely, right down to the characters' déjà vu and the explosion before every commercial break.

Mulder and Scully keep finding themselves in the middle of a bank robbery, but the robber has explosives strapped to his body and always ends up killing them all. The only person who is aware of the loop is the robber's girlfriend, who's repeated the day more times than she can remember—she keeps trying to warn people, Mulder especially, but it never works. Until her death breaks the cycle.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Seen in two episodes, I Only Have Eyes For You and Life Serial, the latter references both the Star Trek and X-Files episodes when Buffy is caught in a spell repeating time whilst working at the Magic Box.
Of course Supernatural produced a time-loop episode, and of course Dean name checked it "Groundhog Day". And of course the trope was handled incredibly well with sophistication and wit. In the season 3 episode Mystery Spot, Sam replays the Tuesday Dean dies over and over, snapping back each time his brother dies - and at least "about a hundred and fifteen" times, although likely thousands. Dean's deaths become exponentially more comical, and Sam's efforts to save Dean reach a level of paranoia and desperation that causes him to accidentally directly kill his brother himself at least once. And indirectly many more times. Classic Supernatural.
Tru Calling
Finally, a show that was pretty much built around the premise of a time-loop. Starring Eliza Dushku as Tru Davies, a coroner's assistant, the 2003 series also featured Zach Galifianakis as her boss. When recently-deceased people being processed by Tru suddenly come back to life and ask for her help, Tru's day immediately resets to the point where she awoke that morning and she relives the day so she can fix 'something' for the dead person. This usually, but not always, prevents their death. In a few episodes it was shown that if Tru fixes the wrong thing she will continue to relive the day until she gets it right. And in a twist to the trope within season two, a nemesis character called Jack, played by Jason Priestly, is her 'inverse'. He also relives the same days that Tru does, but his "calling" is to ensure that things play out as fated—the same way they did the first time.

These are just a few of the memorable examples of the time-loop trope, but you may well have seen it utilised to some effect within shows like Lost, Farscape, Stargate: SG-1, Charmed, Haven, Xena: Warrior Princess, Eureka, Westworld, Fringe, The Vampire Diaries and so many more. Which has been your favourite use of the Groundhog Day time-loop? Why not let us know in the comments below...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad