Time vortex (Doctor Who)

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In the science fiction television series Doctor Who, the time vortex (sometimes called the space-time vortex) is the medium that the TARDIS and other time machines (such as the vortex manipulators used by River Song and Captain Jack Harkness) travel through.


The vortex is outside normal space-time, and therefore normal rules of physics do not apply. For instance, in the vortex the equation for the relationship between energy and matter is E = mc3 (The Time Monster). In the Virgin New Adventures novel Just War by Lance Parkin, it was stated that the vortex was built by the Time Lords as a multidimensional spiral that connected all points in space and time.

The vortex is an extremely hostile environment. In the serial Planet of Giants, opening the TARDIS doors in-flight caused the First Doctor and his companions to shrink to about an inch. Also, in the Second Doctor serial The Enemy of the World, the TARDIS doors open in-flight, pulling Salamander into the space-time vortex.

In Warriors' Gate the interior of the ship is exposed to the "time winds", which age whatever they come into contact with. Time Lords appear to have some resistance to this, although unprotected travel within the vortex is still extremely dangerous and often considered fatal (Shada). In "Utopia", Captain Jack survives for a time in the vortex as he clings to the TARDIS whilst it is in flight; but afterwards he is judged to be dead by Martha Jones, only to revive due to his personal immortality.

In Day of the Daleks a person travelling through the vortex could be drawn to a specific location by the use of a device called a "vortex magnetron".


Beings that dwell in the vortex include the Chronovores (The Time Monster, although in the novel The Quantum Archangel, they are said to live beyond the vortex, in Calabi-Yau space), the Vortex Wraiths (the Eighth Doctor Adventures novels The Slow Empire and Timeless), clockwork creatures (the Eighth Doctor Adventure Arachnophobia), the Vortisaurs (the Big Finish audio play Storm Warning), the Tar-Modowk (No More Lies) and the Reapers ("Father's Day"). It is unknown if any of them are related to each other. In the Eighth Doctor Adventures, Sabbath's employers set up their headquarters in the vortex, casting many of the natives out into the linear universe.

On screen presentation[edit]

In the classic series, the "howl-around" or "slit-scan" tunnel seen in most versions of the series' title sequence is supposed to be a representation of the time vortex (first implied in the pilot episode "An Unearthly Child"), although it is sometimes also shown as nothingness. The effect is a form of video feedback; the video equivalent of the whistling noise heard when a microphone 'feeds back' when too close to a speaker.

During the last season of Jon Pertwee's run as the Doctor as well as nearly all of Tom Baker's run afterwards, the vortex was represented as a silver tunnel constantly moving forward, created using a slit-scan photography technique. This version of the vortex was only ever seen during the opening and closing credits, although it was used in the direct-to-video release of Shada and for the effect of entering the Matrix.

During Peter Davison's reign as the Doctor, the vortex was shown on the monitor as a series of boxes within boxes supposedly moving forwards.

As for the 9th, 10th and the 11th Doctor, it has an overall blue, and sometimes red area where there can be different outlines, all of different colours.

However, during the classic series, exterior shots of the TARDIS travelling usually took place in space or a blank screen. Examples of this include The Mind Robber (with the TARDIS spinning in front of a plain background before exploding) and The Pyramids of Mars (with the TARDIS in space).

The new series' vortex graphics are produced by The Mill.

The time vortex for the 5th and 6th series has been given a redesign, with a cloud effect and bolts of lighting crossing through the vortex and sometimes hitting the TARDIS, which then falls into a second region where the cloudy look is replaced with fire. In the first half of series 7, as each episode's opening titles are unique, the time vortex is coloured accordingly to match. In the second half of series 7 (from "The Snowmen" and onwards) the opening titles have changed to show the TARDIS flying through nebulae and other space matter. In Series 7 Part 2 it is seen as being a red/maroon colour. In the 8th, 9th and 10th series, the time vortex appears as light blue waves of energy and various Gallifreyan symbols and cog shapes, on a dark blue background.


In the Virgin Missing Adventures novel The Well-Mannered War, the TARDIS accidentally wanders into the time spiral, which exists at the perimeter of the time vortex. Its forces are strong enough to destroy the TARDIS, which is equipped with a device that forces materialization in the event that it enters the spiral. The Doctor states that for this to happen, "there would have to be erosion in the systems circuitry on a massive scale". The spiral is mentioned in the first episode of The Sun Makers.

In the Virgin New Adventures novel Dead Romance, it is revealed that beings lost in the Time Vortex cannot die; their bodies are disintegrated but their minds remain trapped. After aeons, the people, creatures, aliens, and machines lost in the vortex fall under the influence of a supercomputer which merges them into a single entity known only as the Horror. It includes Salamander (The Enemy of the World), Ruath (Goth Opera), and the Eighth Doctor's companion Fitz Kreiner.[1] When Chris Cwej navigates the time vortex to access another universe, he is followed by the Horror, which manifests as a colossal alien sphinx with a desire to destroy all life. Christine Summerfield uses rock-paper-scissors to convince it to spend 30 years as a human in the hope that it will learn empathy.

At the climax of the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip story The Flood (DWM #346-#353), the Eighth Doctor hurls himself into the vortex, partially merging with it and gaining tremendous power which he uses to destroy the Cybermen invading Earth. He is almost content to merge fully with the vortex until he is persuaded to return by his companion Destrii.

In the 2005 series episode "The Parting of the Ways", Rose Tyler inadvertently exposes herself to the energies of the vortex while attempting to activate the Ninth Doctor's TARDIS. The exposure gives her absolute power over time and space, allowing her to destroy the Daleks and resurrect fellow companion Jack Harkness (which explains Jack's immortality), but the energies overwhelm her and she collapses. The Doctor is able to save her life by absorbing the vortex energies at the cost of damaging his cells and forcing a regeneration.

In "Utopia" (2007), the Tenth Doctor says that if a Time Lord were to absorb the time vortex, he would become a "vengeful god". While the Ninth Doctor displayed no such tendencies when taking the power from Rose (although he expelled most of it back to its source), the Eighth did during The Flood before he emerged from the vortex.

"Doomsday" and "Invasion of the Bane" clarified that time travellers in the vortex, such as Rose Tyler and Sarah Jane Smith absorb background radiation called "artron energy" which some creatures such as Daleks can use as an alternative energy source. Other races such as the Bane can use other energy that is absorbed through travel in the time vortex to identify time travelers.

In "The Sound of Drums", the Doctor tells his companions that there was a portal on Gallifrey called the Untempered Schism, a gap in the fabric of reality where one could look directly into the vortex. Eight-year-old Gallifreyans were taken there as part of their initiation into the Time Lord Academy. "Some are inspired, some run away, and some go mad."

In "The End of Time", it is revealed that on the final day of the Last Great Time War, the Time Lords used the Untempered Schism to send a signal back through time as part of a plan to escape their destruction. This signal, the sound of a Time Lord's heartbeats, was the constant four-beat drumming the Master heard throughout his life, driving him mad.

It is also revealed that the Time Lords were prepared to use a plan known as the Final Sanction to win the Time War, in which they would cause a rupture in time which would get worse until it ripped apart the Time Vortex and, by extension, all of creation. The Time Lords planned to survive this by ascending to another plane of existence but their plan is stopped by the Doctor who sends them back into the war, trapping them.

In "The Pandorica Opens" of series 5, the redesigned vortex is seen in-episode for the first and so far only time. It was also the first time since the series was revived in 2005 that a different vortex had been used during an episode. In the 2013 episode "Hide", the red/maroon vortex that briefly appears during the opening credits makes an appearance in an episode for the first time.

In "A Good Man Goes to War" of series 6, it is revealed that the daughter of Amy Pond and Rory Williams shares genetic traits with Time Lord DNA due to exposure to the time vortex. This happened due to her being conceived within the TARDIS whilst the TARDIS was within the vortex.

In "Hide" in Series 7b, The Doctor's TARDIS is seen flying through the maroon-colored vortex that was used in the final segment of the intro.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Clarke, Paul. "Dead Romance". whoniverse.net.