Lords of Time #10: Doctor Who Vs The Terminator

Guest contributor Alice Baker continues the series pitting Doctor Who against other time travel fiction.


“I’ll be back” – The Terminator

As you’ll have noticed, a huge part of this series has also been about exploring the different mechanics that make up time travel. There’s been alternative universes in Steins;Gate, writing back to the future in Back to the Future, time travel as a super power and last week we explored the Groundhog Day loop. Now, one week away from the series end, it’s time to look at the most commonly used storyline used in time travel fiction and the series it’s usually associated with – The Terminator!

About the Challenger!


Country of Origin: United States

The Terminator franchise revolves around SkyNet, a force in the future that have taken over and where machines rule supreme. John Connor is humanity’s last hope and his forces are fighting a desperate battle in the war of man versus machine. To eliminate the threat, SkyNet sends ‘Terminators’, metallic killing machines with a flesh exterior, back into the past to destroy and prevent John Connor from ever existing. To combat the threat, John Connor sends some of his own into the past to protect those targeted by the Terminators which includes his mother and his own past self.

The Lure!

Of all the titles dealt with in this series, The Terminator stands out because of the prestige it’s gained. Probably the closest contender to Doctor Who in that it has won a grand total of 33 awards and earned 51 nominations. If you count The Sarah Connor Chronicles as part of the canon, then that adds another win and 22 more nominations into the mix. With a CV like that, it’s no wonder The Terminator makes this series.

While it wasn’t the first to use the storyline in which ‘a character from the future goes into the past to correct a ‘historical’ mistake in the timeline’, The Terminator Franchise is the most popular example of it. It is action-packed, riddled with temporal paradoxes and alternative universes and plus: Did I mention it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger? Well it does. The Terminator portrays an apt example of what Doctor Who could be like if the Doctor dropped the whole ‘I don’t like guns’ motive and opted to become a badass gun wielder. Instead of being a family drama where situations are resolved via words, it would become an action drama with lots of guns, car chases and explosions with timey-wimey thrown into the mix.

Dynamics and Differences

One of the most famous examples of the ‘most commonly used storyline’ is Day of the Daleks, which features numerous parallels to The Terminator. Not sure who would win between them and the Daleks though. Actually we all know Arnold would win. Nuff said. Deal with it. In Day of the Daleks, a group of guerrilla soldiers travel back from a dystopia future ruled by Daleks to try and ‘fix’ a mistake that led to the bad future. Unfortunately, time is a cruel mistress and they become the very reason their world became a living hell.

Stable loop paradoxes are also used everywhere in The Terminator. John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time in order to create the grandfather paradox and ensure his existence – which means that John Connor is the ‘real’ reason John Connor was born in the first place. SkyNet works more or less the same way in that the humans reverse engineered the Terminator technology (the assassins) they sent back in time to create the SkyNet that will ultimately rule the world. If you haven’t thought of River Song by now, then you haven’t been paying enough attention to the article. In a disturbingly timey-wimey way, River Song ensured she was born by setting up her parents to fall in love.

Another aspect of The Terminator series that is very Doctor Who is the rules regarding time travel. The Terminator never treats the rules regarding time travel the same way. Most of you know that when writing time travel fiction, you either follow a) the grandfather paradox theory of time travel or b) the multiple-worldline theory. By movie 3, it gets really confusing trying to follow which route The Terminator is travelling on. This is the same for Doctor Who and is especially true depending on which writer is penning the script. This often leads to really timey-wimey scenarios. In both series’, time can be written, rewritten or unwritten and that’s not even taking into account The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I’ll be honest; I’m one of those who gets most paradoxes Moffat pens. He surprises me, but he can’t confuse me when it comes to time travel. However, even I’m not good enough to explain The Terminator spin-off series, so that is not canon for me.

However, an element of The Terminator that contradicts Doctor Who (or just the Doctor in this case) is the fact that instead of trying to protect the timeline, the protagonists are fighting tooth and nail to change it. How often they succeed against time is another story, but very rarely does this happen in Doctor Who, not counting the Doctor trying to worm his way out of his death. He almost never purposely tries to go against time and create a brand new timeline without it ending up being an ontological paradox. Some believe the Time War to be just such an alteration, but I assure you it’s just an ontological paradox. Gallifrey never blew up in any timeline. War, 10 and 11 always saved it.

As mentioned, The Terminator series has numerous paradoxes and alternative timelines, very Back to the Future of them and it’s also a franchise that, like Doctor Who, is such a huge cash cow that it’ll continue to be rebooted and redone. And unlike 90% of the titles covered in this series, The Terminator possesses Doctor Who’s greatest advantage – its flexibility when it comes to storytelling! Thanks to the endless number of story ideas available, not just those that take place in the past, but those concerning the war in the future, The Terminator is a series that can survive on multiple protagonists without it feeling watered down and without it needing to be rebooted.


  • Plot – 4.5/5
  • Characters – 4/5
  • Character Development – 4/5
  • Tearjerkers – 2.5/5
  • Timey-Wimey ball – 5/5
  • Plot Point – 3.5/5

Based on these criteria, The Terminator scored 23.5 out of a possible 30. This means that the rankings look like this now:

  1. Steins;Gate  – 25/30
  2. Back to the Future / Life on Mars24/30
  3. The Terminator – 23.5/30
  4. Heroes22.5/30
  5. Future Diary 22/30
  6. Quantum Leap20/30
  7. Shadow of Destiny19.5/30
  8. The Time Machine16.5/30
  9. Groundhog Day16/30

Join us next time for the grand finale as we rate where Doctor Who belongs on this list of time travel veterans.