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Trapped in the Past

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Sometimes, the Time Traveller never intends to go anywhere. They're just minding their own business when Alien Space Bats or some form of Applied Phlebotinum sweeps them into the past, leaving them without any hope whatsoever of ever getting back home.

Once the initial excitement has faded, and they have resigned themself to the situation, there's nothing for it but to do the best they can in their new world, or die trying. How much the unwilling traveler can achieve depends on how far back they are swept, and how well prepared they are.

If a time traveler lands in the recent past, they typically use their foreknowledge to try to gain a comfortable life. Interacting with their immediate ancestors is a great temptation and they can hope to live until their original time. The really unlucky travelers end up in the path of war or disaster — on the Titanic, during the last days of Pompeii, in medieval England with the Black Death raging — in which case, the plot will be about escaping the immediate peril.

At the other extreme, they are lucky enough to have in depth knowledge of the time period they're stuck in, extensive engineering skills, or both, making them the ideal people to bring progress to the past. After some initial teething troubles, the industrial revolution is soon in full flow, several centuries early, allowing the traveler half the comforts of home.

The middle ground of travelers, those who avoided immediate disaster but didn't have the foresight to learn the right things, have to accommodate themselves to the past. They may be able to improve their life in little ways, but for the most part they are stuck with the dismal realities of history.

This trope typically ignores the implications of language and biology. Individuals who find themselves transplanted in the Medieval period are able to communicate without difficulty with people whose language bears very little resemblance to their own (for example, middle English is not the same as modern English, and so forth). Furthermore, those same individuals never have to worry about the disease or poor hygiene practices that made living during those ancient periods extraordinarily hazardous, by modern standards. Likewise, they never have to worry about infectious diseases common in their own time spreading wildly among a population with no immunity, the way that smallpox and other plagues spread in the New World after Europeans showed up. (This is actually justified by modern vaccines — a modern human may have been vaccinated against many of said infectious diseases. Said time traveler then would be a superhuman among the population, completely immune to certain deadly diseases.)

Well, hardly ever. Aversions and subversions of those parts of the trope are increasingly popular.

The original victim, Hank Morgan of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, failed to permanently industrialize Arthurian Britain and was sent back to the nineteenth century as mysteriously as he'd left it. Most of his successors, however, have had better luck.

A Sub-Trope of Fish out of Temporal Water. Compare Get Back to the Future, The Slow Path, Trapped in Another World, and Summon Everyman Hero.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Doraemon stories:
    • Doraemon: Nobita's Dinosaur have Doraemon, Nobita and friends trapped in the Cretaceous era after having their time-machine malfunctioning. It was earlier on damaged during a chase against the Dinosaur Hunters, and with Nobita's friends, Gian, Suneo and Shizuka tagging along, the machine ends up overloading and crashes upon impact.
    • Doraemon: Nobita's Dorabian Nights have the gang traveling to ancient Arabia with the help of their robot tour guide, Mikujin, only for Mikujin to screw up and accidentally leave everyone stranded.
    • Doraemon: Nobita's Great Adventure in the South Seas have the gang touring the seas, only to unintentionlly enter a time warp sending them to the 16th Century during The Golden Age of Piracy, with plenty of Sea Monsters abound.
    • In Doraemon: Nobita in the Wan-Nyan Spacetime Odyssey, Nobita and gang sneaks a group of stray cats and dogs back to 300 million years ago with the Evolution Light, before leaving (with Nobita promising his new pet dog, Ichi, that he will return the next day). But when the gang (with Doraemon included) tries going back a day later, their Time Machine hits a temporal warp and jettisons them to 299,999,000 years ago - a millenia off their designated timestamp - and they realize the cats and dogs they left behind have now formed a society of their own. And as luck would have it, the machine gets damaged beyond repair because of the warp, and the gang need to find a way back.
    • Near the end of Doraemon: Great Adventure in the Antarctic Kachi Kochi, this fate happens to Doraemon only - due to a freak storm as the gang tries fleeing from the rampaging eldritch monster Blizarga who is destroying an ancient civilization 100,000 years ago, Doraemon gets separated from everyone just as Nobita hits a switch on his Time Belt. Returning to the present, Nobita must find a spare battery for the belt so everyone can return to 100,000 years ago and retrieve Doraemon.
  • Jin: The title character, a present-day Japanese doctor, is sent back in time to the end of the Tokugawa Era.
  • Rave Master: Sieg Hart is trapped fifty years in the past, and makes sure not to interfere with the upcoming history to occur. However, he does end up setting up a Stable Time Loop and pulling off a gambit to call for aid in time for the final battle.
  • A Distant Neighborhood: Middle-aged Salaryman Hiroshi finds himself back in the body of his 14-year-old self, in the early 1960s.
  • The anime and manga Zipang sends the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force vessel Mirai, an advanced version of Kongo class destroyer (in turn a modified version of the American Arleigh Burke class destroyer), back to just after the Battle of Midway. Similar to The Final Countdown, where a Nimitz class aircraft carrier gets sent back to just before the attack on Pearl Harbor, but much better done.
  • Rumiko Takahashi has used this, in Fire Tripper — a modern Japanese girl finds herself swept back in time to feudal-era Japan. But not all is as it seems at first...
  • In Amakusa 1637, seven teenagers from a Catholic school get trapped in the Japan of few before the sakoku ("isolationism") period. They learn that they're in the Amakusa area, right before the Shimabara Rebellion, and they decide to try averting the bloody massacre of Japanese Christians. When one of them returns to the future alone, she finds out that their mission has been succesful.
  • The Ambition of Oda Nobuna: Ordinary High-School Student Sagura Yoshiharu finds sent back to the Sengoku era for no reason. The good news is... he's a fan of Historical Simulation games based on that era, and didn't even have much of a shock over transported back at time at all.
  • At the end of Inuyasha it's implied that Kagome willingly does this to herself when she chooses to make an apparently one-way trip to feudal Japan to be with Inuyasha.
  • This is the primary conflict of Tamagotchi! Miracle Friends, where a pair of twin girls named Miraitchi and Clulutchi are inexplicably sent to the past and have to get help from Mametchi and co. in the present day to collect Dreambakutchis, creatures that will return them to the future, before a villain named X-Kamen can make off with them.

    Asian Animation 
  • Happy Heroes: The premise of Season 9 is that the heroes accidentally set off a time machine Doctor H. created when he was younger and are sent to the past.

    Comic Books 
  • Cavewoman: Gramps more-or-less exiles himself and his granddaughter Meriem in the prehistoric past. The entire town of Marshville is later accidentally transported into the past.
  • Chronin is the story of a graduate history student from the 2040s who takes part in her school's time travel program to observe life in 1860s Japan, but her group of students is attacked, she is the Sole Survivor, and during the process she loses the device that would return her to her own time. This leaves her stuck, trying to survive at first by passing herself off as a Rōnin, and later trying to recover the device and return to her own time.
  • Fantastic Four:
    • Reed Richards was shunted to the distant past by a villain without his gadgets and he wasn't rescued until much later when his teammates found out what happened to him.
    • This has happened several times with Doctor Doom. The first time he was shunted back to the medieval age with Iron Man (And kept calling him Lackey because he was Tony Stark's bodyguard. It bothered Iron Man. A lot); a second time happened with Iron Man and The Sentry, though they were sent into the Silver Age and were desperately trying not to cause any Butterfly of Doom effects. Another time Doctor Doom's so called "Mentor" the Marquis of Death came by to fight the Fantastic Four and sent Doom, burnt alive, straight into prehistoric lands where he got eaten by a Megalodon. Naturally, Doom showed up a few issues later, boasting that he survived via The Power of Hate and took The Slow Path back to the present. Though it was later retconed that the Thunderbolts unwittingly saved Doom during an unrelated time travel adventure, and he merely hijacked their time machine to get back to the present.
  • Green Lantern: In Green Lantern (1941), in a blatant homage to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Alan and Doiby were once transported to Arthurian England. They were there long enough that Alan's ring ran out of power, leaving the two of them apparently stranded. Thankfully, Alan's lantern was centuries old, and existed in that time period, so he was able to charge his ring and return to his own time.
  • Legion of Super-Heroes: Ultra Boy was once trapped in the distant past. It took him a while to realize, since he started out stranded on an alien world as well. There have also been several periods where a subgroup of Legionnaires was trapped in their past/our present for a span of issues; in the Nineties, the 20th and 30th century groups each 'owned' one of the two Legion titles being published then.
  • Mandy: Kyra of "A Switch in Time" - she's from the year 2084, and gets stuck in 1984.
  • Marvel 100th Anniversary Special: Happens to Reed, Franklin, Johnny and Doctor Doom in the Fantastic Four issue, and they spend several years trying to find a way home.
  • Marvel 1602: The mini-series has a time-displaced Captain America sent back to Elizabethan times. When asked to return to the future, he insists on staying to try and build a better America from the beginning — which he does in small ways, such as helping a group of colonists survive a winter that should have wiped them out, or warning the natives against selling their land. The final touch comes when, because of his actions, the American colonies declare independence from Britain 174 years early. Unfortunately, it has consequences beyond his control — his presence causes the Marvel Universe to impose itself on the past, and period versions of the X-Men, The Avengers and other superheroes start appearing.
  • Pugad Baboy: Temporally inverted in the 2078 arc of the Filipino comic strip, whose main cast accidentally ride a train from the then-present of 1992 into 2078, thanks to a wormhole swallowing up their train car. The whole arc has them briefly adjusting to a very dense, overcrowded, and Cyberpunk-ish metropolitan Manila (and lamenting the lack of beer in the 2070s) before riding the next wormhole back into their time. (The arc never explains the fate of the presumed other passengers though.)
  • Sasmira: A young couple from the present day somehow find themselves sent back to the turn of the 20th century.
  • Seven Soldiers of Victory:
    • This fate befell the team when they finally reappeared in the 1970s in Justice League of America #100, as the Seven Soldiers were trapped in time by the villain, the Nebula Man, and were saved by the JLA and Justice Society of America.
    • Stargirl Spring Break Special would use this trope to restore Green Arrow and the original Speedy, who'd been regulated to "present day characters" following Crisis on Infinite Earths, to the team's history: early on in their careers, a fight with the Clock King resulted in Ollie and Roy being sent into the past, where they helped form the team.
  • Spider-Man 2099: The 2014 comic is the end result of this: thanks to his dad stranding him in the past and Superior Spider-Man's interference, Miguel O'Hara is now trapped in present-day New York. Miguel decides that if he can't get back home, he'll make home a better place by trying to nudge his future grandfather down a better path.
  • Superman:
    • In Two for the Death of One, the Man of Steel gets dragged to the fourteenth century by his enemy Satanis. During a magic duel between Satanis and villainess Syrene, the Man of Steel gets split into two duplicates. Since their enemies only need one Superman to carry out their plans, one "twin" is hurled back to the present day. The remaining Superman remains trapped in the XIVth century until his duplicate self manages to go back to the past and merging back together with him.
    • Superman's Return to Krypton: Superman accidentally goes back to pre-destruction Krypton, and since his powers do not work in the vicinity of a red sun, he gets stuck there. Since he cannot leave the planet, Superman tries to adapt to his new life until the planet explodes.
  • What If?: One issue features an alternate ending to the Doomquest story arc mentioned above, where Doom betrays Tony Stark and leaves him stranded in Arthurian times with only a damaged suit of armor. Stark instead uses what tools already exist to make better tools to partially fix his armor, and ends up becoming one of the knights of the round table. After being mortally wounded by Mordred, Arthur passes Camelot to Stark, who ushers in a new golden age of peace, and jumpstarts the industrial revolution 1000 years ahead of schedule. This also foils Morgan Le Fay's plots for good, and Camelot never falls.

    Fan Works 
  • My Choices: Twisted Tales Through Time: Twilight Sparkle is pulled to about five years before Luna's fall and transformation into Nightmare Moon by a time-viewing spell gone wrong. At first she wants to leave the timeline unaltered, and takes on the alias of Blue Star so that even if she shows up in the history books it won't be as herself. Although the pseudonym bit works, she still ends up Giving Radio to the Romans and changing the course of history.
  • Ripples: Will ends up sent back in time to decades in Meridian's past, long before Phobos' rise to power, and on top of that is also regressed to childhood and changed into some kind of hybrid.
  • The Second Try: In chapter 10 Shinji and Asuka found themselves stuck in this situation: someone or something had sent them back to the past and they had no way to return to the future. Why would they want go back to that future post-apocalyptic wasteland where they were the only humans left? Because their daughter had not returned with them. Shinji inmediately wanted to change the past but for a while Asuka was torn between trying to avert the end of the world or let it happen in hopes of finding Aki again.
  • Shard: As revealed in the first chapter, Summer Rose never actually died; she was transported to the distant past and ended up in Totum.
  • Thousand Shinji: Subverted. Khnemu was trapped in the past, but he wasn't aware of it — he thought he was trapped in another dimension — and he didn't try to change the timeline since he intended to lie low and merely survive. However his actions — mentoring Shinji Ikari — change the past.
  • Transformers Prime: Time War: Smokescreen, Wheeljack and Knock Out along with Predaking and Darksteel are unintentionally pulled through a time portal. They wind up in the television series very first episode, where they have to fight Megatron as he attempts to change history.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: Amazing Pleasant Goat, Weslie walks in on Paddi trying to capture Wolffy and messing with Mr. Slowy's time camera. The mishap causes them to all be transported by the aforementioned camera to prehistoric times, and Mr. Slowy and the goats have to go and find them. While there, Weslie, Paddi, and Wolffy all end up meeting the various goat inhabitants of a prehistoric village, and Wolffy in particular accidentally proposes to one of the prehistoric goats, named Miss Lotus.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Army of Darkness, Ash is pulled through a time portal and winds up in the medieval era, where he has to fight Deadites as he searches for the Tome of Eldritch Lore that will allow him to return to his own time. In a deleted ending, he ends up in a post-apocalyptic future instead.
  • In Back to the Future Part III, Doc Brown resigns himself to the fate of living in The Wild West — and he's actually quite happy about it. He even goes as far as to give Marty instructions to not pick him up. Being an inventor, though, he does manage to invent some technology of the future with the era's limited materials. He doesn't share his inventions with anyone else, as he's mindful to not risk changing history. At the end of the film, he does create another time machine out of a steam train. However, it's uncertain whether he chooses to live out the rest of his life in the past — or move back to the future, or really just travel to any era as he pleases. The ride and animated series, though, both have Doc ultimately moving back to the future.
  • Zira and Cornelius are this in Escape from the Planet of the Apes. After their planet exploded in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Cornelius, Zira, and Dr. Milo escape on the spaceship that George Taylor and his crew used in the beginning of the first Planet of the Apes movie. The ape trio used the ship to go backwards in time to the way the human crew came, landing them on the same time when Taylor left on Earth. Since the ape planet was destroyed, they are now stuck in the present Earth in the 70s.
  • Billy in The Lost Medallion: The Adventures of Billy Stone accidentally wishes himself and his friend Allie into the past 200 years ago, when encountering danger in modern day Thailand from crooks who threatened Billy's dad. Well, now they're stuck in Thailand of 200 years ago and have to save it a kingdom from a conqueror.
  • Picard accepts this fate for the crew of the Enterprise in Star Trek: First Contact, when it appears that they may not be able to return to their own time; as he prepares to attempt to rescue Data from the clutches of the Borg Queen, he gives the order that if he doesn't return, they should pursue happiness in this era, "and stay out of history's way."

  • The last installment of the Sorcery! saga, The Crown of Kings, has this as a possible fate for players choosing to be a wizard. One of the Last Disc Magic spells you'll cast is the ZED, which turns out to be a time-traveling spell, but without consulting Jann the Minimite for the proper methods of control it can backfire and send you to any random location without your equipment - the worst of them being stranded in prehistoric times, where you encounter avian monsters which went extinct several millennia ago, or sent centuries to the future, in the ruins of a destroyed world. Theoretically speaking you can cast the same spell again, but considering it requires a hefty stamina cost (at 7 points; your maximum is 24) you probably wouldn't have enough to do it again.


By author:

  • Happens several times in Andrei Belyanin's novels, likely because of the author's love for Anachronism Stew. Also, almost never do the heroes end up in a historical version of the past but a deliberately fictionalized version full of magic. The three prominent examples are Tsar Gorokh's Detective Agency, which involve a modern-day Russian policeman being transported by unknown means to a cross between Medieval European Fantasy and Russian Mythology and Tales; Sword with No Name, where a modern-day man finds himself in a typical Medieval European Fantasy, and The Thief of Baghdad, with yet another modern-day man being transported by a genie to "Arabian Nights" Days (there are aliens there too). Also inverted in The Redheaded Knight, in which an English crusader ends up in modern-day Russia thanks to a witch's spell.
  • In Michael Moorcock's novels, a repeating theme is the appearance of the Chrononauts at their Time Centre base, especially Oswald Bastable, Lord Jagged, and Una Perrson. These are time travellers who, voluntarily or involuntarily, have found themselves adrift on the seas of time and have banded together for both mutual protection and to investigate the nature of Time more scientifically.

By work:

  • In the 1632 series, the West Virginia coal-mining town of Grantville is translocated to southern Germany in the middle of the Thirty Years' War by an "art" project by Alien Space Bats, utterly shattering the power structure and world view of Reformation Europe. The problems of the period, including communication with the natives by the transplanted West Virginians, wars and other conflicts, and the spread and control of diseases both of the 17th and 20th centuries are discussed in detail, often as significant plot points.
  • Temporally inverted in Philip Francis Nowlan's Armageddon 2419 A.D., or as it's better known, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Rogers, in the various versions of his tale, brings lost knowledge and a certain 20th-century vitality to future America and/or Earth as a whole.
  • The Assiti Shards milieu by Eric Flint and others. Cast-off shards of transdimensional alien "art" bombard Earth and transpose large chunks of it with other times and places. Several alternate histories are planned in this meta-setting, including Time Spike (several separate Shard events deposit a modern maximum security prison, the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears, a band of conquistadors, and multiple pre-Columbian Indian settlements into the Cretaceous), 1776 (the armies of George Washington and Frederick the Great both find themselves in ancient Rome during the Crisis of the Third Century), and By Any Other Name (the Assiti themselves make unwilling contact with Elizabethan England), but only two has seen any publishing. The first one has, however, seen a lot:
  • The Axis of Time trilogy by John Birmingham. World War 2.1: Weapons of Choice, World War 2.2: Designated Targets, and World War 2.3: Final Impact. A multinational naval task force from 2021 is sent back to World War II, where it (literally) impacts with the American fleet steaming for Midway. The consequences are extremely far-reaching.

    The characters themselves claim that they're not in their past but in an alternate timeline. Their own timeline is fine and can't be affected by their actions. However, since the technology that sent them back was the very cutting edge in their own time and didn't survive the Transition, there's no way back for them.
  • Inverted in The Centurions Empire by Sean Mcmullan, the premise of which is that Ancient Rome developed a medicine that allowed the human body to survive being frozen, and promptly started storing its best and brightest. After the empire collapsed the one survivor set up shop in an English village, being unfrozen when they needed his military expertise.
  • Older Than Radio: In Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, the aforementioned Connecticut Yankee, Hank Morgan, gets whacked over the head with a crowbar and finds himself in Arthurian England.
  • Conrad Stargard by Leo Frankowski. Polish hiker Conrad Schwartz, in a drunken stupor, bypasses all kinds of security and stumbles into a historical-research time portal (created, coincidentally, by his cousin) and awakens in thirteenth-century Poland, where he has just ten years to industrialize and unite his nation before the Mongol hordes arrive and kill everybody.
  • The Dechronization Of Sam Magruder by George Gaylord Simpson —Sam Magruder, a scientist, is accidentally sent back to the dinosaur era by an experiment. The novel is in the form of his diaries, carved in stone, concerning how he copes with being stuck in the past, alone, for the rest of his life.
  • In Dinoverse, the four eighth-graders sent back in time and put into the bodies of various megafauna aren't stuck; they know that if they reach a certain place and are there at a certain time there's a chance that they can make it back. But one of them, Janine Farehouse, would rather be stuck, so she abandons the group to try and live as a Quetzalcoatlus. A native Quetzalcoatlus hangs around her and she does fairly well for a few days, before the thought of never having anyone to talk to softens her resolve enough that one of the other kids can persuade her to help them find the place.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel Night Watch, Commander Vimes is eventually torn between trying to fix the timeline so that he can get back to his own time, or attempting to improve the Ankh-Morpork of thirty years ago. He eventually decides to take the latter course of action, but historical inertia forces the former one. Mostly.
  • Doctor Who Expanded Universe: In "The Liar, the Glitch and the War Zone", Missy does this to Street Urchin Antonia, stranding her in the fourteenth century... only to encounter her in twenty-first century Venice when she returns there, having been rescued by the museum curator, or should we say, the Doctor.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's The Door into Summer speculates that Leonardo da Vinci may have been a Leonard Vincent who attempted to time travel 500 years.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy: Arthur and Ford find themselves trapped on prehistoric earth, the only skills between them the ability to live in a crapsack universe. They're unable to communicate with the aborigines, an odd aversion since their babel fish allow them to communicate with all the rest of the known universe, including the interplanetary immigrants they are marooned with.
  • Household Gods: Nicole is sent into the body of her ancestor, a 2nd century Roman woman, and finds herself stuck without a way to get back.
  • Island in the Sea of Time by S. M. Stirling. The island of Nantucket is whisked into 1250 BC, and must contend with Bronze Age cultures and their own crop of power-hungry renegades. This one does contend with language difficulties, uptime diseases, and so forth; the Nantucketers manage to wipe out huge numbers of Native Americans before they even realize what's going on, because the first party sent to the mainland contains someone with a sniffle. Their language difficulties are moderately eased by the fact that the languages of Europe are, at that point, much closer to still being "Proto-Indo-European"...
  • In the horror novel Jago, one character gets blasted back in time by the Reality Warper villain's power, with no way of returning. It's a moot point, anyway; the energy release accompanying her arrival in the past attracts the attention of a paranoid villager who kills her while she's still trying to understand what just happened.
  • The Last Day Of Creation by Wolfgang Jeschke. The US government sends an expedition five million years into the past to drill for oil in what will become the Middle East and ship it over to the Americas. A scientist protests that they have the technology to send things back in time, but not to retrieve them except via The Slow Path, so it will be a one-way trip. The admiral in charge just waves this off, as surely they will invent a way sometime in the future and the expedition can be rescued then. This never happens, not least because the timeline changes so much due to temporal meddling that the United States ceases to exist. At the end of the novel one man encounters a time traveler from an alternate timeline who raises the possibility of at least returning to that future, but he decides there's no point in doing so.
  • Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp. Martin Padway is struck by lightning and finds himself in sixth-century Rome, on the verge of its ruin at Justinian's hands and the onset of the Dark Ages. He may be able to save civilization, if he can only get the ruling Goths to grasp the value of his innovations...
  • Lord Kalvan Of Otherwhen by H. Beam Piper. Pennsylvania cop Calvin Morrison runs afoul of the Paratime Police and is accidentally transported to a medieval alternate Earth where a corrupt theocracy controls the secret of gunpowder. Pretty realistically handled — he knows the basic formula, but also knows that there were steps in making it consistent that he needs to rediscover, and he has to convince wary leaders to build up the entire infrastructure for gun manufacturing from scratch.
  • Poul Anderson's short story "The Man Who Came Early", in which an American soldier stationed in Iceland is sent back to the Viking Era after being hit by lightning. Luckily the Icelandic language has not changed much since then. All his attempts to change history fall flat on their face. When he tries to show the Vikings how to make compasses, he has no idea where to find or mine magnetic ores. When he tries to show them how to build more modern sailing vessels, the Vikings point out that such vessels are too cumbersome to dock anywhere where there is not a ready built harbor, an obvious rarity in that time period. The Vikings find the matches he brought with him impressive, but he has no idea how to make more. The only knowledge he has of any use is modern martial arts. In the end the soldier runs afoul of his ignorance of Viking legal customs and is killed. The story's main point is that victims of this trope don't really have much chance of introducing future inventions because most advances are useless without an advanced societal and technological infrastructure to support them, while the characters in question don't have sufficient skills, tools and resources to introduce new technology. Anderson admits that he wrote the story, in part, as a criticism of "Lest Darkness Fall".
  • In Terry Pratchett's short story Once and Future a time traveller called Mervin finds himself not only trapped in the past, but in a past that never existed: the Anachronism Stew that was King Arthur's time. Working as a doctor for a village in Sir Ector's demenses, he quickly realises that what they need is a great and noble leader, gimmicks up an electromagnet to hold a sword in a stone, and waits for a candidate whose body language suggests he's sensible enough to take advice. It works, although not quite how he expected.
  • The Other Time (started by Mack Reynolds, completed by Dean Ing after Reynolds' death) features a modern day (1980's) anthropologist doing field work in Mexico who gets thrown back in history to just the right time to run into Cortez and the conquistadors. The language issue is avoided as the hero (being an anthropologist) naturally speaks Nahuatl and Spanish.
  • The entire premise of Outlander is a World War II nurse being transported back to 1743 Scotland and how she survives there.
  • The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.: Melisande spends the bulk of the narrative trapped in Victorian England narrating how she got there.
  • Schooled in Magic: While not exactly in the past, Emily does find herself trapped in a world which is essentially still in the middle ages.
  • In Piper's story "Time and Time Again", a World War III soldier suddenly finds himself in the body of his thirteen-year-old self in 1945. His future knowledge enables him to prevent a murder and convince his father of the truth of his story; the story ends with them beginning a long-range project to acquire enough wealth and power to change history and prevent the war.
  • This can happen in the Time Scout series. A Portal to the Past can become unstable and vanish, trapping people on the other side. Or you can go through a temporary unstable gate and get trapped. This happens once in the series, and a few times in back story.
  • Jon Scieszka's Time Warp Trio book series follows the protagonists, Joe, Sam, and Fred, and their attempts to get back to their home time once The Book drops them in that story's relevant time period.
  • The Arthur C. Clarke novel Times Eye is the extreme form of this, involving Alexander the Great's army, Genghis Khan's Mongol hordes, six people from 2037 (three UN peacekeepers and three Soyuz cosmonauts), and a British outpost from the days of the Raj, with Rudyard Kipling in it.
  • Brought later full circle with To Bring the Light by David Drake, which is bound with Lest Darkness Fall in some editions. In this story a woman from Justinian Era Rome gets sent back to the founding of Rome and must use the inventions of later Rome to help found it...
  • Jayfeather from Warrior Cats finds himself stuck in the time of the Ancients twice. He manages to leave both times.
  • Yesterdays Flight by Martyn Ellington has a Boeing 737 airliner come off course through Yosemite National Park, resulting in its flight through an electrical storm. On the other side, Captain David Padel finds that his instruments have failed and the GPS cannot pick up satellites. After circling for some time, the aircraft lands with nearly no fuel remaining, and the passengers settle in for rescue. Everything goes downhill after Padel comes back from a reconnaissance walk claiming to have located the body of a T-Rex... Meanwhile, in the present day, Chief Air Crash Investigator Bruce Ackland is on his way to Death Valley to find out why a section of an airliner's tailplane has been dug up embedded in a 65 million year old fossil...

    Live-Action TV 
  • During Continuum, most of the characters are trapped in the present, which for them is seven decades in the past, as their time machine was dismantled upon arrival and they have no suitable power source for it. In the season finale, Matthew Kellog, one of the time-travellers who has become increasingly independent from both parties, attempts to hijack the now-operational time machine with the intention of going back to when the travellers all originally arrived in the past so that he can kill them all and basically Take Over the World using his new future knowledge. Fortunately, others manage to reprogram the machine to send Kellog further back in time to pre-Columbian America, where he will be unable to influence future events and will almost certainly get killed by the natives.
  • In Dark (2017), as Time Travel is still a pretty new concept and hence unexplored, some of the characters who go to the past get stuck there due to various reasons.
    • Mikkel, who disappears from 2019, is stranded in 1986, and is unable to ever get back. He is adopted by Ines Kahnwald, is given the identity of 'Michael Kahnwald', and eventually marries Hannah and fathers Jonas.
    • As of the end of Season 1, Mikkel's father Ulrich is trapped in 1953 - though in his case, it is not because he can't find his way back to 2019, but rather because he's been incarcerated as a murder suspect by the police of the era. In Season 2 we learn that Ulrich is still incarcerated in a psychiatric facility in 1987.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Silver Nemesis" subverts this by having a character from Restoration Era Britain transported to contemporary times with the secondary villain and finds himself stranded in the future and bemoaning his fate. Fortunately, the Doctor and Ace immediately arrive and playfully tell him they can help, considering they can easily give him a ride home.
    • In "The Girl in the Fireplace", it almost happens to the Doctor. Luckily for him, the portal in Reinette's fireplace was still online.
    • "Blink": The Weeping Angels do this to people; they "kill" their targets by sending them however far back in the past will result in them dying of old age around the time they catch back up to the present. As a result, the Doctor and Martha spend several months in 1969, while Kathy Nightingale and Billy Shipton are left permanently in the past. In Billy's case, the Doctor explicitly tells him that he would normally offer him a lift home, but since Billy taking The Slow Path back to 2007 is necessary for the resolution of the Stable Time Loop, he can't.
    • "The Angels Take Manhattan": The final fate of Amy Pond and Rory Williams, as an Angel warps Rory back in time, and Amy chooses to follow suit. She manages to tell the Doctor that despite everything, they had each other and lived comfortably to old age.
    • "Rosa": The antagonist, Krasko, from the 79th century, first gets his vortex manipulator destroyed by the Doctor while in 1955. Then Ryan uses the temporal displacement weapon the Doctor confiscated from Krasko to send him even further into the past, with no known way back.
    • "Spyfall, Part 2" has the Master trying to find the Doctor in 1943 (where she is accidentally stranded) by disguising himself as a Nazi officer, however he is exposed and captured, enabling the Doctor's return to the present. In the present-day sequence of the episode, set in 2020, the Master then turns up, remarking that he has just had the worst 77 years of his life; being a Time Lord he was able to live through these years and has barely aged.
  • The Flash (2014) features "Harrison Wells", aka Eobard Thawne/Reverse-Flash who is in this situation, though it's entirely his own fault. He got trapped in the past as a result of a failed attempt to go back in time and kill the Flash as a child. After failing, he decides to kill Barry's mother instead, but after doing so he discovers that he lost his connection to the Speed Force and is unable to get back to his own time. His actions throughout the series have ultimately been dedicated to creating the Flash (earlier than in the original timeline) and using his speed to travel back to the future.
  • Goodnight Sweetheart features its then-contemporary 90s protagonist living two lives, one in the 90s and one during WWII. Eventually, he gets trapped in the past. It's not wholly a bad thing for him, though.
  • Heroes Reborn has this happen to Hiro Nakamura after Claire Bennet's newborn son Nathan absorbs his ability, leaving Hiro trapped in the year 1999 with Angela Petrelli, baby Nathan and Nathan's twin sister.
  • Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect end up stuck on prehistoric Earth with the idiotic Golgafrinchans at the end of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1981). In the earlier radio series they were rescued when Arthur's towel become fossilized and picked up by the Infinite Improbability drive in the future. In the third book of the "trilogy", they are instead "rescued" by a sofa that was supposedly displaced in time. It brought them back to modern day Earth, a few days before its destruction.
  • It's About Time: Two astronauts accidentally break the time barrier and end up in caveman times. They get back midway through the series' all too short run.
  • Life On Mars: Sam Tyler, a policeman from 2006, mysteriously wakes up in 1973 and does indeed have problems communicating with his police colleagues. Even though they speak the same language, they don't speak the same language. Also, obviously, the spin-off/sequel Ashes to Ashes (2008), Alex Drake from 2008, finds herself trapped in 1981 with a perm and a wardrobe full of jumpsuits.
  • Lost: When Daniel, Sawyer, Juliet, Jin and Miles finish traveling through time after Locke pushes the frozen donkey wheel, they arrive in 1974, and end up in the DHARMA Initiative. They blend in well, integrating well into the Initiative and going about their lives. Three years later, this all goes to hell when Jack, Kate, Hurley and Sayid time travel to 1977 and kids are getting shot, then kidnapped, vans are set on fire, physicists start shoot outs and hydrogen bombs and Daddy issues start coming into the picture. All it takes is about three days for everything to fall apart.
  • In Korean Drama Nine: Nine Time Travels, after using the last magic time-traveling incense stick to go back to 1993, Sun-woo should have warped back to the present (2013), but he doesn't. He doesn't have long to worry about what went wrong and why he's still stuck in 1993, though, as Big Bad Jin-chul promptly kills him.
  • Subverted in Primeval, where Connor Temple and Abby Maitland spend a year in the Cretaceous, before finally returning to their own time. How they survived so long, without any effective weapons, in a forest crammed full of flesh-eating dinosaurs is anyone's guess.
  • The Red Green Show: Discussed in an "Experts" segment where Red said time travel wouldn't make sense because he wouldn't want to travel through time. This trope was his reason for not wanting to travel back in time; his reasons for not travelling forward in time is because he couldn't even figure out the gadgets he had now, and didn't want to pit his wits against the future's gadgets.
  • As Star Trek: Enterprise featured time-travel heavily this happens more than once. Reptilians travel back in time to release a plague on mankind in the early 21st century, their method to get back gets destroyed resulting in them attempting to release the plague early to hamper humanity. At some point the Enterprise goes through a Negative Space Wedgie, sending the ship back 100 years; placed out of time Enterprise becomes a generational ship and aids the present day Enterprise before it can go back in time. Finally, and infamously, the opening of season four saw Time-traveling Alien Space Nazis; who were a group of aliens helping Nazi Germany win, provided the Nazi's helped them build a portal back to the future.
  • Voyagers!: As the Omni is only supposed to go up until 1970 and Bogg's arrival in 1982 was a fluke, he can't return Jeffrey to his own time.
  • At the end of Tomorrow's End, the sequel to The Girl from Tomorrow, villains Silverthorn and Draco are left stranded in the prehistoric past when their attempt to flee through the Time Gate from the year 2500 back to 1990 (which they intend to rule with their future technology) is sabotaged by Petey, who reprogrammed the coordinates on the Gate behind their backs, and they're left there by the heroes.

  • Kids Praise: In the seventh album, the time machine runs out of energy, threatening this outcome. It's narrowly averted with a solar watch.
  • In "Weird Al" Yankovic's song "Everything You Know Is Wrong", aliens offer to transport the protagonist back to anywhere in time. Since they don't mention a return trip, he has them send him back to "last Thursday, so he can pay his phone bill on time."

    Print Media 
  • An early '70s National Lampoon has a short story "Going Back" where a guy in his 30s wakes up in his childhood home. (Oddly, he's still his grownup self, but everyone sees him as a kid.) He eagerly goes to school, thinking he'll wow the teachers with his talent and knowledge, but is perceived as merely average. He upsets his teacher when he blurts out that General MacArthur has been kicked out of Korea, forgetting it hasn't happened yet, then launches into a Vietnam-era rant about policing the world, not a smart thing to do in the McCarthy era. He gets grounded by his parents, and gloomily pictures his kid self in the future in his bachelor apartment, watching color tv all night and dropping water balloons off the balcony.

  • Journey into Space: In Journey to the Moon / Operation Luna, the proximity of the Luna to the Time Travellers' fleet near The Moon causes it to be sent at least 13,000 years back in time. Jet believes that they have travelled about 50,000 years into the past. The announcer gives the date as 20,000 years prior to 1965 in the introductions to the twelfth and thirteenth episodes of Operation Luna. This is confirmed in-universe by Jet in the latter.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Feng Shui 2, the new edition to Feng Shui, features Pop-Up Junctures, temporary portals to other places in time. Unlike the four established junctures, the Netherworld portals leading to pop-up junctures only stay open for a limited time, and thus there is a very real chance of getting stranded in another time if you don't make it back to the portal before it closes.
  • Both Visionary and Omnitron-X in Sentinels of the Multiverse are incapable of returning to their futures(actually alternate timelines). Neither of them seem to have any problem with it, though, as their futures are pretty sucky (well, in Visionary's case, at least. It's a bit more vague with Omnitron-X).
  • Tabletop Game/Predation: A future conglomerate sends several expeditions to the late Cretaceous period to establish research colonies but one day the time travel technology fails, trapping the colonists. The game itself takes place about 100 years later, the player characters are third-generation descendants of the original colonists and live in a Schizo Tech society, combining remants of advanced tech with stone age tools and Domesticated Dinosaurs. Hanging over all this is the fact that the asteroid that originally wiped out the dinosaurs is still on its way. No-one is sure when, but many suspect it will hit in the near future.

    Video Games 
  • Overlapping with Trapped in Another World due to the nature of Alternate Timelines in Area X, this happens to Elcia when she loses her Dimensional Watch in the Middle Ages, meaning that she can't travel back to the Future. It also happens to Rexus, who's trapped in the Present because Belph stole the needed item for Rexus to travel back to the Future.
  • In Back to the Future: The Game, Edna Strickland takes the DeLorean for a ride, not realizing what it is, and finds herself stuck in 1876 with no hope getting back. She then accidentally burns Hill Valley to the ground and lives out the rest of her life as an insane least in that timeline, until Doc and Marty arrive.
  • The Crash Bandicoot series uses this trope as a bridge between two sequels.
  • Happens in Dungeons & Dragons Warriors of the Eternal Sun. Searching for assistance in the past is your main objective.
  • The plot of Final Fantasy X revolves around Tidus being plucked out of the futuristic city of Zanarkand (while said city is destroyed) and dropped in the world of Spira. He finds that Zanarkand was destroyed 1000 years ago and has no way of getting back, so he helps a summoner on her quest to destroy the local ancient city-destroying monster whale. Fully subverted when we find out Tidus, along with his version of Zanarkand, is a dream of the Fayth, the last survivors of the actual Zanarkand.
  • Injustice 2: Eobard Thawne, the Reverse Flash, can't return to his original timeline due to The Regime killing off one of his ancestors. Suffice it to say, he's not too happy about it.
  • In Original War, the time travel device used by all factions is a one-way door to 2 million years before the present. The Americans send in volunteers, the Soviets send in "volunteers", and the Arabs send in Private Military Contractors after tricking them into thinking that there is a way back.
  • Pokémon: Later games in the mainline series have "Fallers", who are individuals who slip through cracks in space-time to other timelines/dimensions (Looker in OmegaRuby and AlphaSapphire, Anabel in Sun And Moon) or points in history (the player character and Ingo in Pokémon Legends: Arceus), losing much of their memories in the process and being unable to return home.
  • In Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, at the end Sly is stuck in Ancient Egypt.
    • Sheriff Toothpick from the same game is also stuck in the Wild West. He gets sentenced to building the railroad, goes deaf and is killed when a train he didn't hear coming runs him over.
  • This is one of the most predominant theories on the relation between Yukari Yakumo and Maribel Hearn, that the latter became the former after ending up in the past.
  • Being stuck in the past is one of the many ways to earn a game over in The Journeyman Project. If you run out of energy, you can't jump back to the present and you're caught by security. If you encounter people in the past when you're supposed to stay out of sight, you're detained by security and it's presumed you lost you gear or energy, preventing you from returning to the present time.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom sees this happening to Zelda, who is transported to Hyrule's founding days during the prologue and has to figure out a way back, which is further complicated by the fledgeling kingdom being in a war against the local warlord and soon to be Humanoid Abomination Ganondorf. Eventually, she has to take The Slow Path by turning herself into an immortal dragon.
  • Terminator Rampage sees this happening to you in the good ending. You're sent from 2024 to 1984 to prevent Skynet's latest sentient AI, Meta-Node, from destroying the past and accelerating Judgement Day. You succeed, but you have no way to return to 2024 and decide to stay four decades ahead of time.

  • Cargo Cult is about a 747 pulled back in time to 1942 by the titular cargo cult, who believe the Americans on board can use their "magic" technology against invading Imperial Japanese forces.
  • In Recursion, the titular time portals can only go backwards from their point of origin, although they form a two-way tunnel once established. This means that, if the Recursion you used to get to the past unexpectedly closes, you need to have a friend in the future open another one to you, or you'll be stuck then.
  • Zatanna & the Ripper: After she is hit by a combination of her father's magic and that of a mysterious sorceress, Zatanna finds herself transported from 2022 to 1888 Whitechapel, during the era of Jack the Ripper and her attempts to magic herself home instead transport objects to her.

    Web Original 
  • Happened to Mark, a power copier, in The Bright Sessions. He was able to project his consciousness into the past whilst near a mental time traveler, but unfortunately the time traveler died in the present and he lost his ability.
  • Pokémon Talk: In "Back in Time", Squirtle and Bulbasaur are trapped in the past due to Celebi using their Time Travel power on them.

    Western Animation 
  • The Tick and Arthur were stuck millions of years ago for quite a while and got mixed up with time-travellers from the future who were exploiting the Australopithecines as resort help.
  • Inverted with Samurai Jack. Aku rips open a portal in time and flings the protagonist into the future, where he must find a way to return to the past to undo the temporal damage done by said villain.
  • Young Justice (2010): Bart Allen, the future grandson of Barry Allen, the second Flash, got hit with this at the end of "Bloodlines". Then it's revealed that he knew it was a one-way trip, and he didn't care, because he didn't consider the Bad Future he lives in worth coming back to.
  • Pretty much Once an Episode on Time Warp Trio (the exceptions being the time they were trapped in the future and the maybe two times they didn't lose their time travel book on arrival like they usually do).
  • Kaeloo: Happens to Mr. Cat in Episode 75 as a result of being flung into the air at an incredibly high speed. The rest of the cast rescue him in the time machine.
  • Xiaolin Showdown In "Citadel of Doom", Omi goes 1000 years into the past and successfully gets a new Puzzle Box from Grand Master Dashi, only to panic upon realizing he has no idea how to get back to the present. He eventually hits on the idea to freeze himself in the exact spot where Wuya's Evil Tower of Ominousness will rise up in the present, as the upheaval will free Omi from the ice.
  • In the Hoops And Yoyo Christmas special hoops&Yoyo Ruin Christmas, Hoops, Yoyo, and Piddles hitch a ride on Santa's sleigh and wind up falling through one of the many wormholes the hi-tech sleigh travels through. The three end up stuck in the past, before Kris Kringle started his toy-delivering tradition, and have to help when he doesn't feel like making toys.