Follow TV Tropes


In the Doldrums

Go To

"Captain's Starlog, supplemental. Our entire crew is eager to make First Contact with the Deltans, whose culture is based on sexual intercourse. Unfortunately Admiral Forrest has just informed me that the Vulcans want us to study the Dulthic Expanse, a vast region of space where nothing exists. It is commonly regarded as the most boring phenomenon in the universe."
Farce Contact, a Star Trek: Enterprise fanfic.

This place is barren, and it takes steps to keep it that way.

The Doldrums is a place with the distinguishing characteristic of being boring. But this isn't your standard, run-of-the-mill boring. This is advanced boring. Here is a place that defies the normal properties of space to create a barren wasteland. Its properties may include lack of purpose, loss of memory, time dilation, space dilation, lack of living things, and Involuntary Fading Disorder.

A common variant has The Doldrums is an infinite featureless plane, potentially overlapping with Blank White Void if it lacks even the most basic visual features like distinction between ground and sky. The Doldrums is often also a Place Beyond Time, the endless calm resulting from having no passage of time for events to occur in.

The trope has a particular overlap with Super-Sargasso Sea in which the emptiness is dotted with lost objects drifting in the cosmic calm, echoing the Trope Namers for both: Part of the original Sargasso Sea's infamy stems from lying in the doldrums, a region near the earth's equator prone to prolonged periods of windless calm. Careless navigation or bad luck could find a ship drifting with the seaweed and flotsam in the Sargasso's circling currents for weeks, as the food and water slowly ran out and the crew went mad from boredom.

Overlaps a bit with Mordor, but the key feature is the bareness, not the evilness. Purgatory and Limbo are often depicted in this way.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • The "Room of Spirit and Time" from Dragon Ball Z ("Hyperbolic Time Chamber" in the dub) is an infinite White Void Room where a year passes for every day outside. This, combined with increased gravity and wildly fluctuating temperature, can have an erosive effect on your sanity — Goku is mentioned to have tried it when he was younger, only to barely last a month.

    Comic Books 

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End: Davey Jones' Locker is a barren wasteland (for a while, anyways). Nothing but perfectly flat, white desert in every direction. It's called "The Doldrums" twice, and it is true to the original definition (It is a sailors hell, after all): no wind to sail on nor even water to sail in; Just Jack Sparrow, his ship, and a bunch of crabs.

  • Some people end up in one in Discworld when they die, an apparently infinite dusky desert. The afterlife they ultimately end up in is at the "end" of the desert. Some march on resolutely, others just stay there with different results (Anghammarad, being a golem, enjoyed finally being free and simply sat down to do absolutely nothing, Vorbis, having no clue what to do, was paralyzed with fear for a century).
  • Similarly, the Troll Gods of The Elenium can access the world between seconds. While there are people and animals, they're all frozen in place and cannot be moved and everything is quiet. It's very efficient for traveling long distances in a short time but also very unnerving.
  • The interior of the labyrinth in House of Leaves. Nothing but bare, ash black walls and empty corridors, without so much as dust or microbes to violate the stillness. Anything left behind in the labyrinth is gradually obliterated, possibly by the same being responsible for the horrifying growling noise that can sometimes be heard inside.
  • Johannes Cabal the Necromancer has a Pocket Dimension in the form of an eternally rainy country garden outside of time. All changes slowly undo themselves, and everyone inside slowly slides into mindless, repetitive behaviours. Cabal escapes by rigging up a water clock and bringing time back to the place.
    Inventor: Nobody has any time here. No time at all.
  • In the Stephen King novella The Langoliers, the characters are stuck in between seconds. The resulting dead world acts in this manner, but it is fated to be eaten by Eldritch Abominations.
  • Trope Namer (kind of; see Real Life below) and possibly the Trope Codifier is The Phantom Tollbooth. It's home to the Anthropomorphic Personifications of boredom, and you get there by not thinking.
  • The Crapsack World of The Road might qualify.
  • The Muddletop Moors in Alan Dean Foster's Spellsinger novel The Day of the Dissonance. It's overcast all the time, food is tasteless and anyone traveling through it gets so bored and depressed that they just lie down and die. It turns out that the depression is caused by the telepathic broadcasts of the intelligent giant fungi who live there. But of course, Jon Tom provided some magical entertainment to the fungi and passed through the moors safely.
  • Xanth gives us the Neverglades. An infinite expanse of featureless marsh that traps people within it for all eternity unless you can overcome the spell in some way.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The titular setting of the Doctor Who serial "Warrior's Gate". A subversion of sorts as doing nothing is the only way to get out.
  • Star Trek: Voyager:
    • On "Death Wish", the Q continuum was described this way by a Q who had become so bored with his omniscience that he wished to commit suicide. In order to back up his statement, he led the crew to a part of the continuum inhabited by a group of Q who did absolutely nothing but sit in one spot — having done ''literally everything'.
    • A variation in "Night" — the ship is going as fast as always, but they're crossing a void 2,500 light years across, and the outside stars are obscured by theta radiation, so it certainly feels like they're not moving. While they have enough supplies to last, for a Starfleet crew used to new and challenging adventures every week, the prospect of doing essentially nothing for so long is maddening.
    Chakotay: It's like being becalmed in the middle of the ocean. If it weren't for sensors we wouldn't even know we were at warp. We've only been crossing this expanse for two months and we're already feeling the strain. How do we last another two years?
  • Supernatural: Crowley invokes it when he reshapes hell into a long, long, long queue. And when you reach the end of it? You start it again.
  • One episode of The Twilight Zone (1959) has a man who only wants to read be the sole survivor when everyone else on earth is killed off. He finally has all the time in the world to read! And then he breaks his glasses.

  • Gorillaz: Mentioned in "Empire Ants", which is about a moment's peace in the sense-dulling rush of daily life.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Sheol in early Jewish myth, and Hades in Greek myth, were both places like this: neither good nor bad, just gray.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • In Planescape, the properties of the Grey Wastes of Hades replace all emotions with hopelessness and gloom, and cause colors fade to Gloomy Gray.
    • The same is basically true of Dollurh in Eberron, except while only some evil people (and the occasional adventuring party) wind up in Hades, everybody winds up in Dollurh.
  • Nobilis: The Dead Zone of Libya is a place where an Excrucian Strategist applied the World-Breaker's Hand especially hard, and annihilated far more than just the land and its dwellers. Not only is there no life in there, there's no meaning, no hope, and no worth left within it, to the point any man would break in half mentally if they had to spend more than a day in there. But no one's ever tried doing that, because whatever makes a land memorable, even remarkable, was burned away too.

    Video Games 
  • The Rakatan prison in Knights of the Old Republic is a big blank whiteness with a single prisoner being the only remarkable feature. Talking to him reveals that there were others as well who got trapped by accident and eventually ran off into the endless void.
  • The Guardian's realm looks like this in The Longest Journey. It turns out to be a Fisher Kingdom — in the sequel, the replacement for the first game's ailing Guardian adds plant life and a proper sky.
  • All Minecraft maps have an upper and lower Void. The upper Void is simply the sky in the overworld and the End, while in the Nether it's the open space 128 meters above the bedrock ceiling. The lower Void, in all dimensions, is an infinite drop into black oblivion that kills entities (including players) that go past y-64.
  • Sandboxes in Open Simulator. They usually consist of nothing but textured ground, often sand, and the sky above. Most of them actually clear anything that has been rezzed on them and give it back to its owners automatically after a few hours so that they don't end up cluttered or misused by squatters as free homes.

    Web Comics 
  • Richard of Looking for Group gets locked in one called "the Infinite Plane of Suck."

    Western Animation 
  • There's an episode of the Care Bears like this, called "Drab City," where the titular bears find a town where everything is depressing and colorless, and all the people are apathetic. As they travel through the town, they begin to turn gray and depressed as well.
  • A cutaway in an early Family Guy episode showed the Griffins on holiday in Purgatory. They were all just hanging in a featureless void, commenting on how it was neither good or bad.
  • One episode of SpongeBob SquarePants ends with Squidward in an endless expanse of white emptiness, until he mentioned he was, at last, alone. Cue voices saying "alone" and the word itself appearing in different colors and sizes.
  • In the Tiny Toon Adventures episode "Kon Ducki", Day 18 of the voyage sees Plucky and co in “The Dreaded Doldrums”, with Plucky beginning to fear his crew is approaching the point of utter terror. He then checks on them, and they’re watching a cartoon mouse on the ship’s TV.
    Plucky: Utter terror takes a lot of different forms, okay?

    Real Life 
  • "The Doldrums" is originally a nautical term for areas with no wind, where the ship can't move. The longer the ship stays there, the more the sailors' refuse piles up around it (termed "sailing under Admiral Brown"), so when the wind finally does pick up, the ship's movement is blocked. Obviously, no longer the case with modern sailing, but a huge problem back in the day of tall ships.