Traveling at the Speed of Plot
aka: Travelling At The Speed Of Plot
"According to the computer, it should take us exactly one episode to reach our destination."The heroes need to get from point A to point B; occasionally, these things have a specific distance, and other times the distances involved are left fuzzy. Sometimes travelling at the speed of plot is a function of intentionally vague traveling speeds, sometimes of distance. In Science Fiction, travelling at the speed of plot ensures that the characters arrive Just in Time for a plot point, whether that's in the nick of time or as part of a Downer Ending where the only thing you can do is mop up. If distance and speed are too overused as factors, Phlebotinum Breakdown is a great way to make sure the characters don't arrive early, whether it's due to transporter malfunction or a jump-drive misalignment. This trope usually goes unacknowledged. If the writers explain it in a way that makes sense, then the trope no longer applies. If the writers explain it in a nonsensical way, Unscientific Science or New Rules as the Plot Demands are in effect. In Horror or Action series set in the near modern age, travelling at the speed of plot is often enforced by My Car Hates Me. The trope name comes from J. Michael Straczynski's partly tongue-in-cheek declaration of the cruising speed of the Excalibur on Crusade in June 2000; he said similar about the Starfuries in Babylon 5. In video games, see also Always Close for when a video game universe bends itself to fit this trope, and Take Your Time, which is about detours rather than travel speed. See also Overdrive, Faster-Than-Light Travel, Conversation Cut, and Transformation at the Speed of Plot. Traveling at the speed of plot may also be why there are No Delays for the Wicked.
— Mokuba, Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series
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Anime and Manga
- Happens in Pokémon. No matter how many distractions the characters encounter, they'll always manage to collect all their Badges/Ribbons just in time for the annual competition at the end of the saga.
- Though it's subverted after Ash gets the Beacon Badge in the Diamond/Pearl series. Flint tells them that there's still a month to go before the Sinnoh League starts, though they make it there the day before it begins, anyway. This despite the fact that in the game the island that the Pokemon League is on isn't that far from Sunyshore.
- In the first season there's many filler episodes in between getting the last badge and actually entering the competition because he has two months to spare (plus the time it takes for him to travel back to Pallet Town to find out where its on).
- In Naruto, Naruto revealed Sage Mode, which provided him dramatically enhanced speed, enough to move hundreds of meters in a few seconds. But when he's fighting Deva Pain he struggles to travel less than a hundred feet in the five seconds the guy needs to wait between bursts of his power. From a standing start.
- In Fairy Tail Happy could transform into a flying mode for a brief time and could only carry one person rather slowly. But when the team needs to stop a villain headed towards a town he suddenly has a "max speed" which lets him catch up with the guy even though he could fly quite quickly and was most of the way there.
- The gang in Rave Master is stuck traveling by foot or horse when there's no time limit or something they need to find nearby. If there is a time limit or nothing close by, they get an airship (someone else's, if Musica's has yet to be repaired from the last time it crashed as an excuse to make everybody walk).
- In One Piece, all distances traveled by the crew between islands is left completely undefined; with a couple of exceptions, we're never told how long they spend sailing in between story arcs. It could be a few days or it could be months. Whenever they're racing to stop an event, though (the civil war in Alabasta, Robin being sent to prison,etc.) they always arrive just as the unwanted event is starting, thus ensuring maximum mayhem as they try to set things right.
- Characters whose travels we do not follow sometimes seem to travel ridiculously fast, even if their ships should be no faster than the Straw Hats' ship. The following examples are not the only ones:
- The islands of the Grand Line generally seem to be at least within a few hours' travel time from each other. But when Mr. 3 and Miss Goldenweek, who are on a vacation on a resort island, are told to kill the Straw Hats on Little Garden, they manage to go there and build a wax house within what seems to be around 10-15 minutes.
- Mihawk appears in East Blue during the Baratie arc and then shows up at an unspecified island in the New World already after the end of the next arc. While it's not directly stated how long time passed, it doesn't at all seem to be more than a week, while the Straw Hats used several weeks, if not months, to get there (with a two-year Time Skip in between, but that shouldn't count as they didn't travel during that time).
- The Straw Hats spend a whole day of sailing from Punk Hazard to reach Dressrosa. Doflamingo as well as his two underlings manage to do that journey in one or two hours.
- Characters whose travels we do not follow sometimes seem to travel ridiculously fast, even if their ships should be no faster than the Straw Hats' ship. The following examples are not the only ones:
- Late in Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, Relena goes to try to talk down White Fang's leader Milliardo. We get scenes with her en route for two episodes before she finally arrives on Libra in a third, making her trip last four days total (according to an official timeline). In a series where space flight has been around for over 200 years, that's pretty dang slow. On the other hand, there's no sense that Faster-Than-Light is possible, so this might actually be a more realistic example than the Gundams' rate of speed.
- Gundam Wing does this frequently. There are a number of episodes where Wing Zero goes from space down to earth in one episode, and then back again in the next one. That thing must be damn fast.
- Mobile Suit Gundam SEED has one notable example. When Kira gets his shiny new Freedom Gundam, he flys off from a space colony all the way down to Alaska, just in time to save the Archangel.
- The anthropomorphic Gamba's Adventure starts with Gamba and friends meeting a little mouse, Chuta, who is on a mission to recruit saviors for his home island, which is terrorized by a vicious hermelin. In a flashback it's revealed that Chuta was seriously injured by the hermelin when he escaped - his wounds are still bleeding when he meets Gamba. However, it takes Gamba and friends more than half the series (20 episodes out of 26) to reach Chuta's home island. Which raises the question how Chuta could've survived before, being so severly wounded and all.
- Actually, they do sorta explain. Chuta originally arrived by stowing away on a ship run by humans. In the first episode, Gamba and his gang stowaway on the same ship heading to the island, but in episode 4 a storm causes it to sink. So Gamba and his friends had to create make-shift boats out of whatever scrap they could find.
- Trains in Fullmetal Alchemist tend to work like this, arriving just in time for Ed and Al to solve some crisis (sometimes on the train itself).
- Saint Seiya: In the Hades Arc, some of the Bronze Saints need to reach Greece despite some of them being in Japan and Siberia.
- Saint Seiya Omega: The Bronze Saints move from Greece to Mexico on foot. Unlike the original, they actually have a normal person traveling with them, making even less sense.
- Superman can zip about at supersonic speeds, for example grabbing something out of someone's hand and returning to where he was standing before they notice. Of course, he can't do this in the case of hostages, or any other situation where the plot requires him to move at a certain speed.
- The Flash consistently shows the ability to move faster than light and there are only negative effects of high speeds (sonic boom, becoming super massive) when he wants them. In one infamous case, he evacuated the entire population of a city to save them from a nuclear bomb...after the bomb had detonated, carrying half a million people to safety 35 miles away one at a time in the span of 0.00001 microseconds. He can also tap into a cosmic force called the Speed Force that allows him to control the physics of movement at will- which begs the question of why he has any trouble handling normal-speed foes, though. Or for that matter, how he has any trouble handing anything short of reality-warpers.
- Hsu and Chan lampshaded this. The protagonists declare that they're going to go to the park. In the next panel, they're in the park. Hsu says "One Panel! That was fast!" before moving onto other matters.
- Y: The Last Man apparently takes place in real time... even so the fact that it takes two years to get from one coast of the US to the other, even in a somewhat post-apocalypse landscape, considering that trains and cars are still running, and the friggin' Oregon Trail was consistently done in 6 months, seems like their traveling speed just follows the month to month plot.
- In All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder, an incredible amount of other things happen in the time it takes "Batman/Crazy Steve" to get Dick Grayson, Age 12 to the Batcave, to the point that it apparently took days for the Batmobile to cross town. It doesn't help that Frank Miller is forever forgetting how long one event or another was supposed to take, so something said to have taken weeks will occur at same time as something said to have taken minutes - Clark Kent even has a milk carton with Dick's picture during a flashback to "fifteen hours ago" during the same drive (in other words, before Dick was kidnapped by BINO.)
Films — Animated
- The Disney animated version of Sleeping Beauty falls prey to this one. Prince Philip returns from the woods where he has met the girl of his dreams. When his father shows disinterest, Philip spurs his horse around and leaves at a gallop. Between that moment and his arrival at the cottage, the good fairies inform the girl that she is a princess and escort her back to the castle on foot, night falls, and the evil sorceress arrives at the cottage to set a trap for him. Notice also that Philip makes it back to the castle in less time than it takes Aurora to get back to the cottage from her errand, unless we are to assume these events are purposely presented out of order.
- The Emperor's New Groove spoofs this - in a montage we see Kuzco and Pacha race against Yzma and Kronk back to the palace. Yzma and Kronk fall into a gorge on the way, but they still manage to arrive first and be waiting for Kuzco. The following gem of an exchange then takes place:
Kuzco: No! It can't be! How did you get here before us?!
Yzma: I... [looks confused] How did we, Kronk?
Kronk: [pulls down the map from the montage] You got me. By all accounts it doesn't make sense.
Yzma: Oh well, back to business.
- Disney's Beauty and the Beast has the Amazing Spooky Path of Variable Length. It is unclear how close to the village Beast's castle (which, apparently, none of the villagers have seen before) is, since depending on the requirements of the plot, it seems to take characters between five minutes and several days to travel between the two. For instance, while Maurice manages to wander aimlessly about in search of the castle for long enough to catch pneumonia, Gaston and his mob move from the village to the castle in the space of a single song. Of course, it also isn't clear whether Belle spends three days or three months at the castle.
- In Shrek 2, it takes Shrek, Fiona, and Donkey several days to get to Far Far Away. Later in the movie, when the supporting cast finds out that the group is in trouble, they get there in just a few hours. It's implied that perhaps the supporting guys were riding on Dragon and Dragon is capable of flying at a much faster speed than a typical horse-drawn carriage is able to travel.
- Frozen: Elsa somehow makes it to the peak of North Mountain in time to sing "Let it Go" in the time it takes Anna to get her horse ready and leave Arendelle. Yet it takes Anna and Kristoff at least a day to reach it. Elsa's headstart is somewhat justified by the fact that she ran across the fjord and was able to freeze enough water to be able to just walk across, while Anna had to go the long way around, but it's still an absurd difference in the amount of time it takes them (especially considering Anna and Kristoff spend at least part of the journey on a sled, while Elsa more or less makes the entire journey by hiking).
Films — Live-Action
- Super Troopers has Farva runs to join the local cops before the climax of the movie. It takes him forever to do this, but it necessary because he needs to miss the scene where the team figures out whats going on, by the time Farrva arrives he's missed the info that the local cops are the the ones helping smuggle the pot. The amount of screen time totals about 2 and a half minutes with one cut, possibly with a gap of another minute. Farva handwaves this by saying he was securing the perimeter. It's lampshaded in the commentary by how long Farva takes to secure the perimeter. Its not very big the fact that he's jogging should take him less than half the time.
- The Blues Brothers has a good example of somehow traveling as slow as the plot demands—despite how fast they're going, the Bluesmobile takes something like eight hours to cover the 106 miles to Chicago, so they don't get there until after the tax assessor's office has opened.
- The 2008 Knight Rider movie had an egregious example of this. The bad guys chase the super-car, who leaves them snarled up in a traffic accident. The car then travels AT SUPERSPEED to Las Vegas, hundreds of miles away. The very same bad guys are waiting for them when they arrive. Nobody in the plot feels this is worth commenting on.
- In Star Trek: Generations, the Nexus goes as fast as it needs to to be relevant to the plot. This means travelling at impulse in the opening then jumping to warp so it can move between solar systems almost as fast as the Enterprise.
- In Star Trek: First Contact, the Enterprise-E travels from the Romulan Neutral Zone to Earth to aid in a battle between Starfleet and a Borg Cube. Depending on what part of the Zone they were patrolling, this would require crossing a substantial portion of Federation space in a very short time. Granted, they were late getting there....
- In Star Trek: Nemesis, Shinzon's ship is going to be able to travel from Romulus (presumably deep in the Beta Quadrant) in roughly two days—still an amount of time that is bizarrely short when compared to travel times mentioned in the TNG TV series—which means that either the Enterprise-E travels at the speed of plot or the Romulan Empire is so large that traveling from its capital to its edge requires at least 40 more hours than getting from the Neutral Zone to Earth.
- Used in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, when the U.S.S. Enterprise — which is over three times bigger than the original — seemingly takes only three minutes to go from Earth to Vulcan. However, the sequence actually takes significantly longer than it appears to, since Kirk wakes up from being knocked out by a sedative after mere moments of screen time, in which McCoy has had time to change his uniform. Word of God is that the editing deliberately glossed over the passage of time to create the illusion of a real-time immersive experience.
- Star Trek Into Darkness:
- This extends to the sequel; the crew travels to the Klingon homeworld, partway in the Enterprise, and partway in a small ship. The sequence lasts several minutes, despite Star Trek: Enterprise stating that Qo'nos was four days away at warp 4.5. The real-life equivalent star system, Omega Leonis, is 112 lightyears away.
- A smaller scale example: Kirk, Spock and Uhura leave the cockpit to take a smaller ship down to the surface of Qo'nos, leaving Sulu as Acting Captain. As soon as Sulu starts speaking to inform the crew of this, just a few seconds after the aforementioned three left the room, the camera cuts back to them to reveal they've already changed clothes and are about to get on the smaller ship.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl:
- The Black Pearl is the fastest ship in the Caribbean, and the ghost pirates are suffering from a horrible curse. So after they abduct Elizabeth Swan, mistaking her for the one they need to break the curse, they would presumably head straight back to Isla de Muerta to do just that. Meanwhile, Will Turner wakes up the next day and, after an unsuccessful conversation with Norrington, breaks Jack Sparrow out of prison. The two steal a ship and sail for Tortuga where they recruit a crew. Then they proceed to Isla de Muerta. Despite what must have been a considerable detour and at least a few days head-start for a ship which is expressly faster than their own, Will and Jack still arrive at Isla de Muerta within hours of the ghost pirates at most. Perhaps the ghost pirates aren't in quite the hurry we would expect.
- Happens again after Jack and Elizabeth are marooned. With Will in custody, the pirates now have the real person they need. Yet Jack and Elizabeth spend the night on the island before being rescued by the Royal Navy. With Jack's navigation they reach Isla de Muerta, and again it's before the ceremony has started.
- In The Empire Strikes Back Luke and the crew of the Millennium Falcon leave Hoth at about the same time. Luke does a hyperspace jump to Dagobah to go meet Yoda. The Falcon, whose hyperdrive malfunctions, tries to evade Imperial forces in a nearby asteroid field. By the time they leave the field (the hyperdrive's still not working), Luke has crashed on Dagobah, met Yoda, and even began training as a Jedi. The crew of the Falcon then decide to go to Bespin. Bear in mind that they still have no hyperdrive or FTL and Bespin is in another solar system than Hoth. You'd expect the journey to take at the very least several days, even if Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale, yet they appear to make the trip is at most a few hours (they are wearing the same outfits when they land, no one looks particularly more scruffy or even remarks about the trip's length). Meanwhile, Luke leaves Dagobah, does a hyperspace trip to Bespin and arrives just after the empire's captured everyone. Either the Falcon's trip to Bespin took several weeks during which Luke trained on Dagobah, meaning the Falcon has facilities including a laundrymat, or they did the trip in a few hours and some how becoming a Jedi is something one needs only an afternoon to learn.
- Some Extended Universe sources posit that ships are often built with backup FTL drives that, while not as powerful as the main drive, is enough to get a damaged ship to the nearest planet, which, in deep space, is probably a good idea, as at sublight speeds the Falcon could easily have taken years to get to Bespin.
- In Willow, the villain's climactic ritual seems to take weeks. We see her chanting and pouring magical potions, while the heroes gather their forces, march overland to her castle, dig fairly deep trenches... she doesn't seem to sleep, eat, or do anything else for what must be rather a long period of time.
- Looney Tunes: Back in Action spoofs this when the heroes realize they have to navigate from a remote desert to Paris, France. When asked how they would get from the middle of nowhere to Paris, Bugs Bunny replies "Simple. Like this." and proceeds to pull the side of the screen creating a transition from the current setting to Paris.
- Pulp Fiction: "That's thirty minutes away. I'll be there in ten." Though Mr. Wolf is noted for driving very fast - the thirty minute estimate probably reflects a normal, law-abiding driver's time.
- Combined with a Travel Montage in The Muppets' "Travel by Map" sequence.
- Clash of the Titans (1981). While Perseus is returning to Joppa on Pegasus, he's shown passing over mountain ranges a long way from the sea. Even though he's clearly not traveling fast enough to get to the seashore in time, he does so anyway.
- Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: The autobots go from Giza, Egypt to Petra, Jordan and back in what seems to be a few minutes at most. Even apart from the substantial distances involved, this would involve crossing into and out of Israel four different times, which would probably not be the quickest endeavor for a platoon of unlicensed vehicles.
- In Stargate: The Ark of Truth, The time on the spaceship fighting the replicators seems to take less than a day, however Teal'c goes on an epic journey through mountains on foot in that same span of time.
- In preparation for the climax of The Wolfman (2010), Lawrence, Gwen, and Inspector Aberline all travel from London to the village, leaving at roughly the same time. Lawrence is on foot and seems to be keeping away from the roads. Gwen is on horseback. Aberline is in a horse-drawn carriage with several other policemen. They all arrive on the same day.
- In the beginning of Iron Man, either this trope is in effect, or Tony Stark is so good at seducing women that he can infatuate the reporter at the beginning of the movie enough to make her drive four to five hours from Las Vegas to Malibu just to have sex with him.
- In Kingsman: The Secret Service, Harry manages to get from his home in England to a church in the United States quickly enough that A. Eggsy is still hanging around and checking Harry's laptop, and B. Harry expects to be back soon to continue a conversation. Apparently the Kingsmen have a really quick way to get around.
- Lampshaded in the 18th Century by Laurence Sterne in Tristram Shandy: Uncle Toby sends a servant out on an errand, and then several chapters are dedicated to illuminating Toby's history and character, at the end of which the narrator says, in essence, "that probably took you about an hour and a half to read, so let's say the servant's returned by now."
- Averted rather painfully in the hard sci-fi novel Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds, the second half of the book is mostly a prolonged chase between two spaceships... Taking over sixty years. While the story is interesting, it would be an understatement to say that the plot moves very very very slowly.
- Douglas Adams once described a vehicle moving at a certain function of speed R which is the speed you need to be traveling to get there at the time you need to be there in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Therefore, the punchline went, R17 is not a fixed velocity but is clearly far too fast.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs' Pellucidar stories played with the notion of time as highly variable in a situation where there's no day-night sequence to measure it by. Hero David Innes was once accidentally separated from his comrade and went through several weeks worth of adventures. When they were reunited, he discovered that since his friend hadn't needed to exert himself to anywhere near the extent David did, for him less than an hour had passed.
- Lampshaded in David Eddings' Tamuli , where one member of the party is a goddess who can compress distance. Not only that, but she can alter mortals' perception of passing time. That handy-dandy army hasn't really been marching for weeks on end to arrive in the right place at the right time - they only think they have. She pauses periodically to get rid of all the extra food.
- Lampshaded by Space Captain Smith when our titular hero takes some damage to his navigation computer.
Carveth: The navigation computer's broken!
Smith: Can't we go on?
Carveth: We need that machine to plot our course! Without a plot device, we can't fly!
- Lampshaded by Kurt Vonnegut in Breakfast of Champions:
Kilgore Trout probably couldn't have made his trip from New York City in the time I allotted, but it's too late to bugger around with that. Let it stand, let it stand!
- In The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, A-Through-L explains that Pandemonium, the capital of Fairyland, comes to people whenever it likes; therefore, people quite travel at the speed of plot, no matter what.
- Subverted in Jacob's Trouble, the Gathering Storm where the author calculated how fast the NASA and ESA spacecraft would travel using JPL's 1980s vintage argon gas core engine technology and how long it would require to get to Mars (6 days). Each scene in the book has a date and time and pains were apparently taken to make it work. It's one of the most scientifically-accurate sci-fi books ever produced, perhaps explained by the author being both an engineer and a scientist.
- Lampshaded naturally in the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde.
The trip down river was uneventful and over in just twelve words.
- The novelization of Revenge of the Sith features this. Just after his duel with Yoda, Palpatine senses that Anakin is in danger on Mustafar, where he was currently dueling with Obi-Wan. Palpatine leaves the Senate chamber, boards his shuttle, leaves Coruscant, travels across the galaxy, and arrives at Mustafar moments after the Anakin/Obi-Wan duel has ended, while Obi-Wan is still standing over Anakin's burning, cut-up form. (The travel time is lengthened somewhat in the feature film.)
Live Action TV
- In the Thanksgiving 1968 episode of The Beverly Hillbillies, the Clampetts are seemingly able to drive from their mansion in Californy to Petticoat Junction in only a few hours. Other trips to and/or from Hooterville, including Granny's motorcycle/airplane/horseback jaunt home from caring for the Elliott baby, also appear to take a relatively short amount of time. However, by all indications, Hooterville is somewhere in the Midwest - probably not too far away from the Clampetts' native Ozarks due to the implied relation between their cousin Pearl Bodine and Hooterville's Kate Bradley. If it took the Clampetts several days to drive out to Californy from their cabin, as stated in an earlier episode, Hooterville shouldn't be a day trip for them.
- Fringe often assumes that the investigating team can navigate the Boston-New York-Washington megapolis in a matter of moments.
- Firefly and Serenity used this trope discreetly. Though creator Joss Whedon has been explicit in indulging in Fast as Plot Travel, precise distances and time are sparse in the shows dialog.
- An example of this trope occurs in The Bionic Woman television series, wherein protagonist Jaime Sommers lives in Ojai, California, and teaches "at a nearby Air Force Base school." Vandenburg AFB, the closest Air Force Base to Ojai, is still 95 miles away; a good hour-and-a-half jog even at sixty miles an hour or so. Jaime is shown to run to work frequently.
- Since every episode of 24 by definition takes one hour, it's amazing that a character can get from the north side of Los Angeles to the south side in ten minutes, in LA rush hour traffic. Of course, this is trumped by a character going from LA to Washington in twenty minutes. No, not Seattle. Washington, DC. There's also a case of a helicopter breaking the laws of physics by flying from Santa Barbara to LA in twenty minutes. And that trip to Mexico...
- A CTU assault on enemy forces can take any length of time to co-ordinate as long as it's ready when the episode has ten minutes to go.
- The show does this all the time with the elevator. Rides in this thing last long enough to hold surprisingly lengthy conversations. Since the building they're in is no more than a handful of stories tall and the conversations can last up to a minute, it can on occasion stretch suspension of disbelief to the breaking point.
- Sometimes however this trope is subverted by Gibbs, as he usually flips the elevator's emergency stop switch so he and whoever he's with can have a chat (or interrogation, depending on your point of view).
- Most episodes of Heroes take place approximately over one day. However, they fail to explain how characters can continually take part in plot revelations in New York, Texas, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas constantly. Even the one character who can teleport is shown driving from one end of the country to the other with distressing frequency.
- Happens constantly in all versions of Star Trek, driving hard-core fans nuts because the mechanical capabilities of the warp drive, impulse drive, and the shuttles vary violently from episode to episode. When the first Star Trek role-playing game came out, this characteristic was written into the rules. Unlike most science fiction RPGs, no maps with star systems, distances, and travel times was provided. The instructions specified that all this information should be made up according to the requirements of whatever adventure was being run.
- Also, turbolifts. Fast enough to throw people around when slowing or changing direction with inertial dampeners off, yet take long enough for a decent-length conversation (although they do typically hold them in the shaft if they are going to have a long one).
- The record holder must be the TOS episodeThe Enterprise Incident in which Spock and the Romulan Captain take the turbolift from the Bridge (Deck 1) to Deck 2 and have time for a minute-long conversation.
- This page lists all instances where both travel time and distance have been mentioned in any Star Trek series. The top speed that occurs is in the first series (mentioned to be at warp 8.4), and that would have been enough to get the Voyager home in a month!
- From TNG on, the writers had a warp speed equation they were supposed to use for consistency. TNG was pretty consistent about it. Deep Space Nine seemed to be half a day's travel by shuttle from both Bajor and Earth, but shuttles are only supposed to be capable of something in the range of warp 4. Voyager did better, but Enterprise threw it clean out the window, managing to establish that the Klingon homeworld Qo'noS is closer to Earth than Proxima Centauri.
- In defense of Enterprise, they weren't supposed to use the same warp speed equation as TNG onward — the in-universe justification in the manual where the warp speed equation could be found for why the TOS Enterprise went above warp 10 more than once while in TNG warp 10 was by definition impossible was that the warp speed equation had been recalibrated between TOS and TNG. The problem being that even by the retconned pre-TNG scale Qo'noS still really shouldn't be as close at Warp 5 as Enterprise's travel speeds indicated.
- Also, turbolifts. Fast enough to throw people around when slowing or changing direction with inertial dampeners off, yet take long enough for a decent-length conversation (although they do typically hold them in the shaft if they are going to have a long one).
- This is a staple of Soap Operas, with characters exiting one scene and entering another even if they have to go all the way across town — or, indeed, across the continent.
- When there's time, it takes days to cross the island on Lost. In other episodes the Losties seem to be able to get anywhere they need to be in an hour or two. Of course, time and geography are a little wonky on the island.
- The show has an interesting variation of the trope in that the time to travel between any two points seems to decrease each time. The first time they travel somewhere, it takes an episode or more; afterward, it takes less and less time until the trip is reduced to taking place offscreen. This can be explained by the simple fact that they don't know the route the first time, and will have some kind of beaten trail or markers to follow on subsequent journeys so they won't need to keep stopping to get their bearings.
- An example from The A-Team: The villains capture the A-Team and ship them off to be executed while they leave for a cemetery to kill a judge. The A-Team is driven to a car junkyard, where they escape, knock out their captors, and manage to repair, jury-rig, and clean and polish a hearse with a fold-out coffin with an armed gunman inside it. They then leave for the graveyard at what appears to be a reasonable speed and arrive one second before the villains.
- Battlestar Galactica plays this trope. The miniseries, the webisodes "The Face of the Enemy", and the finale suggest that colonial FTL drives may have an unlimited range, but the calculations required to use them become nonlinear when jumping farther than the "red line" and the difficulty in performing them increases exponentially. It can be done, either at great risk or with divine intervention. Which means that the effective top speed of the colonial fleet is dependent on how badly they want to get where they're going. The factor isn't velocity, it's accuracy. Cylon FTL drives are better because they are more accurate.
- The trope was played agonizingly straight in the original Galactica, where the fleet explicitly travelled at a maximum of "lightspeed" — and usually slower since not all ships could manage that pace — and yet they passed through at least three different galaxies in the course of the series. Although that's as much bad research as Speed of Plot.
- In Smallville the name-giving town and the city of Metropolis seem sometimes directly adjacent and sometimes it's a three-hour ride with the car.
- Another insane example comes from Season 3 of Lois and Clark. In episode 2, Superman is seen flying from Metropolis to places around the world like Japan and Switzerland to get stuff for Lois, arriving back with the goods in less time than it takes to tell — less than 5 seconds per return trip at the most; a few episodes later, he has 15 seconds to get to Eastern Europe to intercept a nuclear missile, but somehow he can't get there in time. Instead, he tunnels directly through the Earth because it's quicker...? Made for a good scene when he saves the day, but forget about it making sense.
- Jack-of-All-Trades routinely depicted people (including heads of state like Napoleon Bonaparte and George III!) making quick journeys from Europe or America to the South Pacific island of Pulau Pulau that would, in Age of Sail reality, likely take 6 months at the very least. (Of course, this is a show where Rule of Funny trumps everything else, and Bellisario's Maxim is very much in effect.)
- Among many other less than plausible things in The Event was the protagonists' ability to drive across the USA in a few minutes (or fly from the USA to France). Basically, the time it took to travel between any two locations was generally "about one ad break".
- The RevolGarry from Kamen Rider Double seems to move exactly as fast as it needs to in order to instantly cover any distance between the Narumi Detective Agency and wherever Double happens to be.
- Space: 1999 was based on the idea that Earth's moon (which was occupied by the 300 occupants of Moonbase Alpha) was blasted out of orbit by a massive explosion and sent hurtling through space. There was never any suggestion that the moon was traveling faster than light but it passed through numerous star systems during the two years of the series. Even more magically; while the moon manages to travel between stars in little time between episodes, it also travels slow enough during episodes to allow Eagles to shuttle people between Moonbase and any nearby planets.
- However, some episodes feature the moon going through space/time warps, which sends the Alphans across a whole lot of light years. Also, the first season features a loose Story Arc where a "cosmic intelligence" is manipulating the moon's departure from Earth and later journey.
- On Glee, not only do characters leisurely travel all over Ohio between cities that are hours apart in real life, but most of the McKinley graduates have gone on to college out of state, yet have no trouble making trips back home when the plot calls for it, regardless of travel time, cost, or school/work schedules. This is lampshaded by Sue, and later possibly explained by Brittany:
Sue:Don't you kids have jobs? You must have some kind of income to pay the team of scientists to run the teleporters you all clearly own because you keep coming back here!Brittany: I can bend time and space with my mind.
- The TARDIS on Doctor Who always arrives at the exact right time for the Doctor to become embroiled in the plot of the week.
Doc Oho: The Cybermen advance so slowly in their decrepit old banger of a spaceship that the Doctor should have tied them up in a bow and packed them off before they even arrive. Most alarmingly of all, as soon as the ship is docked he suddenly rushes off screaming ‘We’ve got to stop them!’ Does he just enjoy doing everything in a last minute rush? Is that how he made his name for himself? By putting everybody in danger when he could have saved the day before anxiety sets in?
The Doctor: You didn't always take me where I wanted to go!The TARDIS: No, but I always took you where you needed to be.
- Usually justified in that the TARDIS is sentient and almost certainly doing this on purpose. This is made explicit in the episode The Doctor's Wife:
- In the second season of Game of Thrones, Littlefinger was given his own Adaptation Expansion sideplot which consists of him travelling to talk to various people throughout Westeros. His appearances are somewhat sporadic, causing him to travel hundreds of miles in between single episodes. Of course, the show deliberately avoids telling how much time has passed, and it's implied in dialogue that season 2 covered about a year in-universe, so it's entirely reasonable that Littlefinger could travel where he travelled in reasonable time.
- Another case occurs in Season 5. Mace Tyrell and Meryn Trant travel from King's Landing to Braavos by ship and it takes them half the season to get there; just long enough for them to run into Arya Stark, who's recently been allowed to go outside by the Faceless Men. Its especially jarring considering other characters are traveling longer distances in a shorter amount of time.
- Dean's '67 Chevy Impala from Supernatural does this on an alarmingly frequent basis, although the journeys usually last long enough for the Winchesters to hold whatever heartfelt conversation needs to be held in order to advance the plot.
- Criminal Minds is a frequent abuser of this trope. No matter what city the team is investigating in, if the episode is almost finished and the team has someone to rescue, they arrive in the nick of time to save the day, and if the episode isn't almost done, they don't rescue the victim. The only time the show changed things up was at the end of "Our Darkest Hour" where the Los Angeles traffic rears its ugly head- even though, again, it was invoked solely for the plot, just so that the team couldn't come by to help out the final victim, who was kidnapped by the UnSub to be rescued in the following episode.
- In the series finale of Angel, Illyria walks in literally seconds too late to save Wesley from being mortally wounded by the villain he was fighting. Given how effortlessly she'd dispatched her own foes and the fact that she was not showing any sign of being in hurry, Illyria could've easily arrived minutes earlier just by traveling at a slightly brisker walk, let alone running...it's just that the plot required her arrive late.
- Most travel in Once Upon a Time takes place at the speed of plot. Crossing Storybrooke or the Enchanted Forest takes from seconds to hours, as needed. Characters can leave Point A and arrive at Point B at the same time, even if one set of characters stops for a side quest along the way. Walking, horses, cars, boats, flying, and teleportation all take about the same amount of time, as needed. For example, in Season Four's "Poor Unfortunate Soul," it takes about the same amount of time to cross town as to travel between worlds, get to Poseidon, convince him to come to Storybrooke, travel between worlds, and bring Poseidon to Ursula.
- The Star Wars d6 released by West End Games in the late Eighties had detailed rules for hyperspace travel and even "standard duration" travel times between systems mentioned or seen in the original trilogy, but it also says in the gamemaster section that travel between any two planets takes "as long as you want it to" so that the gamemaster can make travel times serve the plot. The section goes on to suggest reasons that the travel time might be longer (intervening gas clouds, energy storms, rogue planets) or shorter (a better route was found).
- In the Shadowrun novel The Lucifer Deck, a snooping character is trapped behind an office desk by an Awakened guard dog, and calls a friend for help. In a Speed-of-Plot demo that exceeds even The A-Team example (above), the friend calls a shaman he barely knows, persuades her to help, drives across town to meet her, and sets up an experimental ritual, allowing the shaman to send a spirit to assist the cornered snoop ... all in the time it takes a hellhound to muscle its way past a desk. Worst of all, the book even gushes about the spirit's incredible speed of travel when it flies to the rescue, never mind how long took to get the summons underway!
- Role-Playing Games in general follow this rule, at least in practice:
- The PCs will, as rule, always arrive to face the Big Bad right when they are in the middle of their fiendish plot/most dramatic time.
- Or will just miss them, possibly watching them get away with no chance to catch them.
- If you specifically try to attack them when they are, say, sleeping, they will conveniently not be there for whatever reason. But if you try again at the time the GM wants you to, they will always be there.
- PCs will always travel to a town just in time to solve their problems, they always arrive just days/hours/right when the issue started. Even if they heard about it on the other side of the continent and are traveling via horse, the issue will still be there and not have progressed.
- Exalted uses this when you enter the Wyld; as it's the domain of The Fair Folk, progress between points is not measured in hours or miles, but rather by where you are in a particular story.
- Add examples to Take Your Time if they fit there.
- Averted in Mass Effect 2 there are two storyline missions that start automatically when you receive them, one where you can dawdle), and the big one, the suicide mission: you can choose when to do it, but if you do more than ONE mission, then a member of your abducted crew will die. The death toll gets higher the more missions you do, culminating in Dr Chakwas being the only survivor.
- You can still get to your destination with time to spare, no matter where you are in the galaxy — even if it's on the other side of the galaxy.
- No matter how quickly you complete all previous missions in Mass Effect 3 you will not get the vital information about Thessia until Cerberus is already there one step ahead of you.
- The computer does this in Kingdom Hearts. Upon arriving in Monstro, the player encounters Geppetto and Pinocchio. Pinocchio was previously seen in Traverse Town, and the game establishes that without a Gummi Ship or dark powers, traveling between worlds is impossible. Sora even asks Pinocchio "how did you get here?", but Geppetto starts talking to him, and somewhere between that and Pinocchio wandering off, the game forgets to explain it.
- Oblivion: The only aversion to this is introductory quest to the Thieves' guild has you competing with someone else to steal something - you have to figure the location out, travel there, and steal it faster than they do.
- When you do fail it due to this reason, the guild gives you another way in.
- In Shadow Hearts: Covenant, it takes you about five or six hours and a couple dungeons to travel from the game's real starting place in the Ardennes Forest to the first major destination, Wales, as the party travels through Paris and then has to find a ship willing to travel to Britain during the height of World War One. From Wales, the party instantly and effortlessly travels to its next destination... Florence, Italy.
- Up until the recent events of the quest The World Wakes, the time in RuneScape has stood still for the player character; meaning hundreds of hours for random skill training, other quest plots, etc. have occurred within the same 24 hour period as no other quest give a sense of time passing and are referred to as "in the past" for anyone who does them after The World Wakes.
- Happens in all materials in the Warcraft universe, due to the writers never really establishing the size of anything. Especially bad in the World Of Warcraft Comic, where it takes a hippogryph less than a minute to fly from Ashenvale to Thunder Bluff, which would make the world about as big as the map in World of Warcraft, ignoring the obvious Space Compression that's present in the latter.
- Averted in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. At the proper start of the game you might think you can explore the Sarif building without problem. Spend fifteen minutes doing that and every hostage will be dead. Fortunately this is the only time this will happen in the game.
- Any game in which you have an open sandbox: You typically have an urgent crisis at hand, like a meteor is about to crash into the world or the princess is imprisoned by a Big Bad, but never mind all that, you have plenty of time to wander the desert in search of your lost airship, do all the side-quests, level grind, and beat all the optional bosses before hand.
- DM of the Rings: The trope is described in the comments of one of the strips: "A player is never late, Dave. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when the plot dictates he should."
- Invoked by Trope-tan in The Way of the Metagamer. Apparently it's Faster Than Light but slower than sound.
- Professor Dr. from The B-Movie Comic has been in enough movies to work it out, as he explains to an esteemed colleague.
- The Order of the Stick: Described here. Julio Scoundrél's airship goes faster the higher the stakes, but it never gets anywhere earlier than the nick of time.
Julio: No problem, I can get you there in ten days, eight if the world is at risk.
Roy: You have reserve power you can use?
Julio: No, I mean the ship literally flies faster the more is at stake. Darndest thing, really.
Roy: Huh. Do you think you could shave a day off if there might be two worlds on the line?
Julio: It's worth a shot, but I've been doing this more than 30 years and I've never arrived anywhere earlier than the nick of time.
- In the play-by-post game Adylheim, this is lampshaded (and possibly even justified!) by having the god of time and causality also be the god of drunkenness and debauchery. Why did it only take a day to get from Nander to Spire City? Quanoth's been at the barrel again.
- In Doom House, Officer Cop arrives at the doom house for the first time before Linux is finished speaking on the phone with the emergency operator.
- Justice League had the Green Lantern travel at varying speeds. Sometimes he could fly fast enough to approach light speed and other times he flew about as fast as Batman ran. It wouldn't be so bothersome if it weren't for the fact that when he was flying at the slow speeds he would get captured, even though he could've outrun his would be captors.
- Used in Avatar: The Last Airbender, as also noted on It's Always Spring. The last season was particularly notable for this as in the first half, it took a while for them to travel to the rendezvous point, with Sokka constantly complaining about all the detours cutting into their travel time note . In the last 4 episodes though, they travel from the Fire Nation to the Earth Kingdom and back again in less than 3 days.
- In The Transformers, the Autobots can travel to anywhere in the world in an hour from their Cascades headquarters. Memorable destinations include the Congo, India, New York, France and Antarctica. How a bunch of cars got to the middle of Africa in an hour is anyone's guess.
- This trop is averted in Transformers Prime with the use of the Ground Bridge.
- Futurama: The Planet Express Ship can travel to the edge of the universe and back in a week, which should make any trip in the Milky Way trivially short, yet they are shown to take days whenever convenient for the plot.
- Kim Possible and Ron Stoppable travel across the world by calling in favors with people they have helped in the past, while always arriving at the villains' lair in the nick of time and returning home in time to resume their mundane activities; they are late only when that episode plot requires it. Used specially in The (First) Movie where Ron Stoppable traveled independently from Norway to America, Australia and Africa; it was a plot point for him to be late to the action until the last location. The plot was kind of on the ball in this case, as Africa is a shorter trip from Norway than from the US, even accounting for the speed difference.
- Lampshaded in The Adventures Of Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius when Jimmy, Sheen, & Carl are traveling back from the moon:
Sheen: Hey, Jimmy, how come it takes astronauts days to fly to and from the moon and it only takes us a few minutes?
Jimmy: That's a good question, Sheen. You see—
[Carl's loud singing drowns out Jimmy and Sheen's conversation]
Jimmy: And that's about it.
- The first episode of Invader Zim indicates it takes Zim six months to get from the planet Conventia to Earth. All other trips into space, however, seem to go more quickly: for example, Foodcourtia is only three days away. Either Conventia is waaaaay out there on the far border of Irken space, or the first episode's time was just to torture Zim with six months of "The Doom Song."
- In another episode Zim is shown to be enduring Gir's messing around with base's computer for a year - it's a Running Gag. Another one: Sizz-Lorr mentions 20 years of being trapped on Foodcourtia after Zim runs away, but Zim's mission lasted no longer than few years. It got lampshaded with time-warp-thing. To sum it up, Sizz-Lorr did 20 years in about 2 or so.
- In the LeapFrog educational release Math Adventure to the Moon, Leap, Lily and Edison board a rocket bound for the moon. The entire point of this DVD is to teach kids about counting and math, so the rocket has a speed gauge with 1 being the slowest speed and 10 being the highest. As the two learn to count by 2s, then 5s, then 10s, the gauge keeps getting replaced with greater numbers, finally going up to a 100. Tad orders it to slow down and the computer says that cruising speed has been achieved. It then says that the moon is 93,000 kilometers... behind them. They've overshot.
- Generator Rex
- Played straight during the "A Family Holiday" episode. There ware two scenes happening simultaneously (we know because there is radio contact between the two). Holiday gets in trouble, so Six orders rex to fly him there. "But that's a hundred miles away!" They make it in about twenty-five seconds. That's four miles a second (or Rex messed up the distance). And that's using a jetpack. Rex might be made of Iron, but Six...well, he still seems to be, even if he is supposedly a normal human.
- Complicated by the earlier episode Payback, where Rex was using the jetpack to try to catch Van Kliess, who was flying away on his whale-blimp EVO. Rex pushes himself to keep up, while VK is only about a mile head of him at most and not moving much faster than the average car, so we know it's this trope.
- The time it takes to travel between Ponyville and Canterlot in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic seems to vary depending on the plot. It can range from a five-minute walk to a one-day train ride.
- In "D.W.'s Name Game" from Arthur, D.W. specifically invokes this in her dream sequence. Walter the deer, who is a real deer in the world of Arthur, but has become a Talking Animal in her fantasy, tells her that the Thesaurus dwells beyond the woods at the library. She says it's a long way to walk, so she asks if he has a picture of it. He holds one up and she leaps into it, Breaking the Fourth Wall to comment to the viewer that it would have been "so boring" to watch her walk through the woods.