The Time Vortex, also known as the Time and Space Vortex, the Space-Time Vortex, and simply the Vortex, was the dimensional plane (PROSE: The Shadow of Weng-Chiang, Twilight of the Gods) where time and space met, intersecting at an angle determined by non-Euclidean geometry. (PROSE: Cat's Cradle: Witch Mark)
According to some accounts, all time travellers passed through the Vortex, often using space-time machines including TARDISes and vortex manipulators to achieve "time-flight." (PROSE: Harvest of Time) However, other accounts indicate that there were other dimensional planes where one could travel through time and space, such as the Maelstrom (PROSE: Elementary, My Dear Sheila et al) and the Very Fabric of Time and Space. (PROSE: Mad Dogs and Englishmen)
The Vortex was hinted at existing outside of time and the universe itself, (PROSE: The Dark Path) meaning time and the Vortex were not the same. Often being in the Vortex was compared to being "outside" of time, (TV: The Time Monster) where travellers were neither connected to nor separated from time. (PROSE: Harvest of Time)
The Space/Time Vortex exists outside of any normal frame of reference. Within it, light, darkness, matter and energy all blend, divide, shift and change. It underlies the whole of Creation, touching the normal Universe only slightly. Its pathways are twisted, unstable and hard to follow. A journey through these strange dimensions might take a moment and carry a traveller a million years and a billion light years from his/her/its origin. Alternatively, a journey of months in the Vortex might end in a shift of six feet and ten days in conventional space. Without being able to calculate the pathways, there was simply no telling.
According to one source, the Vortex was built by the Time Lords as a transdimensional spiral that connected all points in space and time, (PROSE: Just War) the Vortex existing in Interstitial space, (AUDIO: Neverland) which surrounded and separated every space/time event. (PROSE: Falls the Shadow)
Millions of years of exposure to the Time Vortex was in part responsible for Gallifreyans becoming Time Lords. (TV: A Good Man Goes to War) The moment any of them first entered the Vortex, they became inextricably linked to it. (PROSE: Omegamorphosis)
The Order of the Black Sun tried to prevent the Gallifreyan from conquering time travel during their early history. After a failed attempt, their agent Fenris time-jumped from within a black hole without directional control, resulting in being scattered in living splinters through time, dooming himself "to the eternal agony of the time vortex". It was said to have been banished to the Zone of No Return, where nonetheless he would have been retrieved safe and sound twenty years later. (COMIC: 4-D War)
The inventors of the Clade were obliterated with such ferocious cruelty that nothing remained of them. The Time Vortex around the history of their civilisation was so polluted with weaponised chroniton particles that any time capsule attempting to venture into their past would be burned from the continuum. (PROSE: Peacemaker)
About 400 millions years before the 20th century, due to the explosion of his spaceship while in the warp control cabin, Scaroth of the Jagaroth was scattered through the time vortex across Earth's history in 12 splinters. (TV: City of Death)
In 1926, the Shadow Proclamation used the Doctor's TARDIS to create a time vortex and take him from Earth to stand trial for saving Emily Winter, a static point in space and time. While he spent days with them, only a few seconds passed in the 1926 timeline. (COMIC: Fugitive)
In the 2020s, the Elder God To'Koth died as the Seventh Doctor returned him to the Board so that the energies released wouldn't rip apart space and time. During the journey, the Vortex "turned inside out." (AUDIO: Signs and Wonders)
Though seemingly chaotic, the Vortex was in actuality an ordered environment. (PROSE: Timewyrm: Genesys) Native life in the time vortex included the Reapers, (TV: Father's Day) the Chronovores, (TV: The Time Monster) Pantophagens, (AUDIO: The Foe from the Future) the Vortisaurs (AUDIO: Storm Warning), and the Time Roaches (AUDIO: Foreshadowing) and the transcendental beings which included the Great Old Ones, Eternals, and Guardians of Time. (PROSE: The Quantum Archangel) The Mandragora Helix inhabited the uncharted regions of the Vortex, (PROSE: Doctor Who and the Masque of Mandragora) although it was also said to exist as a constellation. (COMIC: The Mark of Mandragora)
The Bad Wolf entity also seemed to be linked to the time vortex. When Rose Tyler looked into the heart of the TARDIS and became the Bad Wolf, she was infused with the time vortex, and the entity spread the Bad Wolf name through time and space, looked at all of space and time, destroyed the Dalek fleet and resurrected Jack Harkness. However, she was unable to control it and almost died. (TV: The Parting of the Ways)
The Vortex had various appearances at different times, possibly because it possessed a myriad of paths. (PROSE: The Chase) Generally, it had various butterfly patterns, (PROSE: The Shadow of Weng-Chiang) was grainy and particulate like a photograph, (PROSE: Cat's Cradle: Witch Mark) and had various colours, for a time appearing as either red or blue. Red generally indicated forward time travel and blue indicated travel to the past. (TV: The Parting of the Ways)
Upon dematerialising the TARDIS with the doors open, Ramon Salamander was sucked out into the Vortex, which had a "flowing glittery" appearance, and floated through time and space. (TV: The Enemy of the World) From Salamander's point of view, the Vortex was black and empty besides from the with distinct bright red lines repeating trailing off into the distance. When Salamander sent the Electronicon LTD building into the Vortex, it took the same appearance. (COMIC: The Heralds of Destruction)
The Third Doctor and the Master flew their TARDISes through a time vortex that was comprised of a blue tunnel, surrounded by black nothingness; their vehicles glowed with a white light whilst travelling. (TV: The Time Monster)
When Funhouse was sent into the Vortex, it resembled five flat surfaces stretching out into eternity. (COMIC: Funhouse) When Death's Head entered the Time Vortex on the hunt for the Seventh Doctor, it took the form of a looping tunnel of yellow rings. (COMIC: Time Bomb!)
By the end of Seventh Doctor's and the start of the Eighth Doctor's life, the vortex changed again. It appeared as a few streams of colourful energy and space debris in the middle of a background of stars. (TV: Doctor Who)
The Eleventh Doctor's time introduced a new vortex. This one was far different from any other, and appeared similar to storm clouds, complete with lightning. It normally was coloured grey-blue or orange. (TV: The Power of Three) Later on, the vortex changed to resemble a swirling tunnel of a red/orange and purple flame-like energy. (TV: Hide)
Nowhere and no time
Just as interstitial time was an envelope of non-space, non-time underlying the "real" universe, (PROSE: Falls the Shadow) the Vortex was composed of "no-time" and "no-space." (AUDIO: The Forbidden Time)
On several occasions the Doctor mentioned that, just as people didn't "exist" in the TARDIS, (TV: The Hand of Fear) travel through the Vortex took "no time" and was actually "outside" of time and space, (TV: The Time Monster) meaning the Vortex itself was "nowhere." (TV: Colony in Space, The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, PROSE: The Shadow of Weng-Chiang) This was only true in that the Vortex connected all points in time and space, with the Black Void outside the universe also described as being "out of time and space." (TV: Logopolis) The Seventh Doctor even told Ace there were no Sundays in the vortex, though she proved him wrong when they materialised on a Sunday. (PROSE: Sunday Afternoon, AD 848,988)
There were actual "entrances" to the Vortex that could be blocked off, (AUDIO: Neverland) and self-contained pockets of the space-time vortex that were undetectable from the outside. (PROSE: Midnight int he Cafe of the Black Madonna) If a TARDIS drifted too far into the future, going beyond the limits of Time Lord knowledge, it would be stopped by the Vortex, (PROSE: Frontios) the Time Spiral existing at its perimeter (PROSE: The Well-Mannered War) while another Spiral was said to exist at the nexus of the Vortex, (PROSE: Spiral Scratch) possibly within the Vortex core. (PROSE: State of Change)
Along with the Darker Strata where few beings dwelt, (PROSE: The Quantum Archangel) hyperspace was a subset of the Vortex. The topography of the Vortex included a "surface", "oceans", and "substrate" and was the structure of the space-time continuum. (PROSE: The Crystal Bucephalus) The Grey Man described removing the Doctor's TARDIS from the vortex as "plucking a TARDIS from the time streams" (PROSE: Falls the Shadow) as did the Seventh Doctor when he mentioned coming "out of the time stream." (PROSE: Sunday Afternoon, AD 848,988) The vortex itself poured into the Glory. (COMIC: The Glorious Dead)
While the Vortex was what a TARDIS travelled through, (PROSE: Frontios) sometimes it would be referred to as "a" vortex, indicating that there were more than one. The Fourth Doctor mentioned being on the edge of a time-space vortex, describing the difficulty in navigating a vortex in response to Sarah Jane Smith asking why it took so long to get to London, (TV: Planet of Evil) and Romana I later explained that the TARDIS travelled by passing through a space-time vortex. (TV: The Pirate Planet) After the Fourth Doctor had left Skaro's past, (TV: Genesis of the Daleks) the timelines altered and an energy filament escaped, forming a loose vortex that followed the artron trail of the Doctor's Time Ring and scatter himself, Sarah Jane, and Harry Sullivan across the Adelphine Cluster. (PROSE: A Device of Death) The Sixth Doctor mentioned being drawn off course by a time vortex, which the Celestial Toymaker claimed was him. He explained that the vortex fluctuated and that he could intensify it on occasion. (AUDIO: The Nightmare Fair)
The Master explained that E = mc3 in the Time Vortex, as opposed to E = mc2 in the main universe. (TV: The Time Monster) According to the Captain, materialisation out of the vortex ripped the entire fabric of the space-time continuum apart for ten seconds, putting the whole infrastructure of quantum physics in retreat. (TV: The Pirate Planet) It was in constant flux, with no stability, and things lost in the Vortex could be deposited into the continuum. (AUDIO: The Butcher of Brisbane) A TARDIS travelled through the Vortex even if it was just relocating in space while still in the same time zone. (PROSE: Harvest of Time)
The existence/creation of alternate timelines and parallel universes was held in check by the existence of the Vortex, which was sustained by the existence of the Time Lords. (PROSE: The Domino Effect) Both the Six-Fold-Realm and N-Space were inextricably linked by the Vortex, (PROSE: The Quantum Archangel) and it was also related to shuntspace. (PROSE: The Crystal Bucephalus)
Travelling backwards in time in the vortex was akin to travelling "up-hill" and required more energy than travelling to the future, (PROSE: Anachrophobia) the vortex being a river and travelling into the past being swimming against the current. (PROSE: Engines of War)
The Heart of the TARDIS, a white-gold energy, served as an access to the Vortex, (TV: Boom Town) meaning staring into the Heart was staring into the Vortex (TV: The Parting of the Ways) and something placed in or near the Heart would be exposed to the time winds of the Vortex. (TV: The Time of the Doctor)
The vortex contained time winds which shouldn't exist outside. (PROSE: Omegamorphosis) While the natural forces of the time winds could be chaotic and tear away at anything unprotected, (PROSE: Timewyrm: Genesys) the Eighth Doctor mentioned that there was nothing to hit in the Vortex; any disturbances in travelling through the Vortex would have been external. (AUDIO: The Book of Kells) The particles of the Vortex could sometimes clump together and serve as something for time vessels to anchor themselves against the streaming delta flows. (PROSE: Cat's Cradle: Witch Mark) Theoretically, it was impossible to hit something within the Vortex as nothing existed while it was in the Vortex, while at the same time co-existing at every point. The Second Doctor could not easily explain how his TARDIS still managed to come in contact with other vehicles and objects. (AUDIO: The Forbidden Time)
Travelling through the vortex without a capsule of some kind could prove harmful to humans and Gallifreyans alike; it killed Jack after he hung onto the outside of the TARDIS all the way to the year 100 trillion. (TV: Blink, Utopia / The Sound of Drums) The Doctor also advised Billy Shipton not to eat or go swimming for an hour after being sent through the vortex. (TV: Blink) The energies in the vortex reduced cirque posters attached to the Doctor's TARDIS to burnt cinders. (TV: Vincent and the Doctor)
When Rose Tyler became the Bad Wolf, she and the Ninth Doctor absorbed vortex energy into their bodies. Rose looked into the Heart of the TARDIS to obtain it, then the Doctor absorbed it from Rose. In both cases, the energy, which resembled bright white-gold wispy light, threatened to destroy their cellular structure, much like radiation. The Doctor pulled this energy out of Rose before it became fatal to her, but in turn, the Doctor endured its lethal effects and had to regenerate in order to survive. Rose had resurrected Jack Harkness, (TV: The Parting of the Ways, TV: Children in Need Special) as it was theoretically possible for living matter to be imbued with the essence of the vortex and become immortal. (PROSE: Omegamorphosis)
Mrs Wormwood detected artron energy in a body scan of Sarah Jane Smith and concluded that she had travelled in the Vortex. (TV: Invasion of the Bane) Daleks could absorb this energy to repair their damaged casing. (TV: Dalek) In the case of a human who had travelled in the TARDIS with the Doctor, their immune systems were strengthened by the radiation, allowing them to fight off diseases better. (TV: Reset)
Behind the scenes
- It has been a convention of several eras of Doctor Who storytelling that, when the time vortex is shown, it resembles the imagery seen in the opening title sequence. This tradition began with the very first episode, "An Unearthly Child", which used the title sequence imagery within the narrative of the episode. Likewise, the season 6 titles were used to illustrate the vortex seen in COMIC: Land of the Blind; the vortex from the opening titles of the 1996 tele-movie was seen at several points in its narrative; the vortex from the RTD-era titles was used in-narrative several times; the 2010-2012 vortex was seen in TV: The Pandorica Opens and TV: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe; and the one which was used during Series 7b in TV: Hide. In the script of TV: Time Heist, a sequence is described of footage from the vortex becoming footage from the moving inside of a washing machine, and a part of the title sequence is used to represent said vortex in the episode proper.
- The blue vortex introduced in the title sequence of Series 8 is yet to be used in-narrative, therefore, cannot be confirmed as the time vortex.
- Before the broadcast of The Eleventh Hour, promo pictures and a trailer showed the Doctor and Amy falling through a blue, fluid-like vortex. Some people presumed this was the new vortex. When The Eleventh Hour broadcast, the new opening titles showed another vortex, which was a gaseous version of the old vortex, debunking this rumour.
- In Series 1 on the continued series, the Vortex was often shown partially faded over flashback footage. This stylistic change did not continue into the series.
- The Time Vortex appears as the setting of the first and last levels of the online game Doctor In A Dash where, as with all levels, the Doctor's TARDIS (the player) races against a Dalek flying saucer, a Judoon rocket, and a Slitheen craft to find a Space-Time Manipulator. Time distortions act as obstacles to the ships.
- In The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, Tom Baker gets stuck "in the sodding time vortex...again!" and so cannot help Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy in getting into the 50th Anniversary Special. This is also a reference to The Five Doctors.
- The two main colours of the Vortex in the RTD era, described above (red and blue), are based on scientific principle: the frequency of light from an object that is accelerating away from the observer shifts towards the "red" end of the visible-light spectrum ("red shift"), while an object accelerating towards the observer will shift towards the "blue" end ("blue shift").
References in other media
Star Trek's Quantum Slipstream Drive generated a "quantum slipstream" that looked almost exactly like a Seventh Doctor Time Vortex.