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Get Back to the Future

An accident involving time travel strands someone in the past; they have to figure out how to get back to their own time. The accident can take at least three forms:
  • The traveler didn't mean to time travel at all, and has to figure out what was going on in the first place in order to replicate it.
  • The traveler breaks or loses a crucial component of the time machine in the journey, and has to find it or improvise a replacement.
  • The traveler accidentally screws up the past, and the time machine won't work properly until they Set Right What Once Went Wrong.

Often the eventual plan for getting back requires the traveler to have foreknowledge of events, Write Back to the Future, or otherwise exploit their out-of-time status.

Compare Trapped in the Past, where the character simply lives in the past instead of trying to return.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Fan Fic 

    Film 
  • This is the plot of Back to the Future (also the Trope Namer), where Marty is stranded without plutonium in 1955 and needs to harness lightning in order to get home. The 3rd point makes several appearances in the series as well, including Marty messing up his parents relationship in the first movie and the Timeline-Altering MacGuffin scenario in the second.
    • The second point is varied in the third film: the actual time machine part isn't broken — no need to harness lightning — but the car is broken in a way that can't be fixed in the time they are in, and since the time travel requires reaching a specific high speed...
  • Inverted in Idiocracy, where Joe travels to the future in suspended animation and tries to find a time machine to return to the past. Turns out said "Time Machine" was a simple ride, going through a horribly incorrect history.
  • Timerider The Adventure Of Lyle Swann. The title character is accidentally sent back to the Wild West by a time travel experiment. He's eventually rescued by the scientists who sent him back.

    Literature 
  • In Johnny and the Bomb, Wobbler finds himself unable to travel forward in time from the Second World War after he inadvertently causes the death of his own grandfather, leading to a timeline where he stays in the past and uses his foreknowledge to become the richest man in the world. His friends go back to save Wobbler's grandfather and restore the timeline.
  • In Doomsday Book and Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis, time travelers are stranded in the past, the former during the Black Death and the latter during the second World War.
  • In Time Scout, uptimers occasionally get into scrapes downtime and have to work hard to get back to the future. This usually involves escaping from angry downtimers and their prisons, and getting past the hidden security that's been set up around the gate. Oh, and the gates go at intervals, so you have to get there at the right time.
  • The main plot of Septimus Heap: Physik involves him trying to find back to his time after having been kidnapped 500 years in the past.

     Live Action TV  
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "Blink", the Weeping Angels strand the Doctor and Martha in 1969 and they have to get Sally Sparrow to send the TARDIS back to them, so from their perspective the plot follows this trope. (The episode isn't written from their perspective.)
    • A great many stories from the the First Doctor era pretty much live on Rule 2. In the second story, the Daleks take a vital component to the TARDIS (rendering the ship immobile); the TARDIS is trapped behind a one-way wall in an Aztec temple; the TARDIS is buried under a pile of debris during the Dalek invasion of Earth; and so on.
  • Most of the main cast of Eureka is sent back to 1947 in "Founder's Day". Interestingly, this specifically averts the third variant; they do screw up the timeline, and they manage to get back to a version of 2010 anyway...
  • The Farscape episode "...Different Destinations" has the third variant, though they explicitly only have to get close to the correct events in order for the timeline to correct itself. Unfortunately, the "close" version into which they stumble is the one where a peace conference turns into a massacre, and they can't go back again to correct it.
  • Its About Time starts out being about two astronauts Trapped in the Past, and passes through this trope on the way to a Re Tool into a show about cavemen adjusting to the present.
  • Lost in Space episode "Visit to a Hostile Planet". The Jupiter 2 goes through a time warp and ends up orbiting Earth in the year 1947.
  • A solar flare in the Stargate SG-1 episode "1969" strands SG-1 in the year 1969; they need to make a cross-continental road trip and use their foreknowledge of some other solar flares in order to get back.
  • The Stargate Atlantis episode "Before I Sleep" is a cross between this trope and Trapped in the Past; an alternate-universe version of Weir ends up returning to the present by putting herself in stasis and taking The Slow Path.
  • The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Little Green Men" has a starship accident which puts Quark, Nog, and Rom in Roswell in 1947; they need get back to their ship and figure out how to reproduce the accident.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series
    • "Tomorrow Is Yesterday": While breaking away from a black hole, the Enterprise is flung back in time to the year 1969. They must find a way to reverse the effect to return to their own time.
    • "All Our Yesterdays": Kirk, Spock and McCoy are sent back in time to earlier eras of the planet Sarpeidon and must find the doorway(s) that will take them back.
  • The Twilight Zone TOS episode "The Odyssey of Flight 33": In 1961, a airliner is sent back to the time of the dinosaurs when it's accelerated to enormous speed by an unusual jet stream. It uses the jet stream to try to get back and ends up in the recent past (1939).

     Tabletop Games  
  • Each of the players in Chrononauts is a time traveler from an alternate history, stranded in our timeline. One of the three ways a player can win is to restore his specific timeline and return home.

    Video Games 
  • Downplayed in the Soviet campaign of Command & Conquer: Yuri's Revenge, in which the time machine gets too much power and takes the player and all nearby Soviet units to Prehistoria; to return to the recent past like Zofia had originally intended, you only have to survive against the dinosaurs for a couple of minutes while the time machine recharges.

    Webcomics 
  • In The Packrat, the titular character invents a keytar with a built-in flux capacitor. What Packrat doesn't know at first is that it does work as a time machine. It promptly sends him to 1939. When he tries to travel back, he ends up in 1955 where it is discovered that the keytar burns up one voltage-controlled oscillator per year jumped, now all 88 VCOs are fried, and Packrat has to get new oscillators to Get Back to the Future. As it's impossible to obtain 56 VCOs in a time where the synthesizer is just being invented, Packrat has to jump smaller amounts of years through the history of synthesizers. He meets a lot of famous people on his way, not all of whom are actually helpful.

     Western Animation  
  • Futurama, "Roswell That Ends Well": Supernova radiation collides with radiation from a microwave oven with metal inside to create a wormhole that sends the Planet Express ship back in time, accidentally creating the Roswell Incident and making Fry his own grandfather. They need a microwave oven in order to go back through the wormhole before it closes in, oh, say... EXACTLY 24 HOURS!
  • Jackie Chan Adventures: Jade accidentally went back to the 1970's and had no means to return until the Enforcers followed her with a magical object given to them by Shendu that allowed time travel the other way.
  • On Phineas and Ferb:
    • In "It's About Time!", Phineas, Ferb and Candace are stranded in the age of dinosaurs after their time machine is destroyed, and Phineas has to Write Back to the Future telling the Fireside Girls to build a second time machine and come rescue them. When the rescue party arrives, it looks like they're still going to be stranded, because the time machine has to be plugged in. Fortunately, a convenient bolt of lightning gives them the power they need to get home.
    • In "Phineas And Ferb's Quantum Boogaloo", Future!Candace goes back in time and busts her brothers on the day they made that Rollercoaster. She goes to the future and finds it's now a dystopia. Then she goes back again, stops her other previous self before she can bust her brothers, succeeds, but they both get trapped in the past. So they track down Phineas and Ferb so they can repair the time-machine and take them back to the future. (Or one of them, at least. Or maybe it never happened at all. Timey-Wimey Ball means that this episode is something of a Mind Screw.]]
  • The beginning of Season 9 of The Smurfs cartoon show has seventeen Smurfs accidentally traveling to the prehistoric era to deliver a baby dinosaur back home, but as they attempt to create the temporal whirlwind that takes them back home, the ruby key that controls the time crystals is lost within a boiling lava crater, and the Smurfs end up spending an additional episode in the past with Papa Smurf trying to arrange the crystals so that they can possibly travel back to their own time. Unfortunately, Failure Is the Only Option as the time crystals instead carry the Smurfs from one time period (and/or geographical location) to another through that season's episodes, and that's how the series ended.
  • Wunschpunsch: The wizards went back in time to prevent their supervisor's parents from ever meeting each other and ended up stranded in the past. They didn't mind but their pets had a different opinion and soon learned that, in order to return to their own time, they had to make Maledictus Maggot's parents meet since it was to prevent that the wizards started the time travel in the first place.
  • Almost every episode of Time Warp Trio. The only exceptions being the few times the Trio actually MEANT to go to the past (and didn't loose their time travel device The Book in the process) and the time they were trying to get back to the past from 2105.

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