From the very first Superbowl commercial where we learned Loki was in trouble with the Time Variance Authority, Loki has stoked fan excitement over how it would include the coolest part of Avengers: Endgame: time travel.
While there was a fair amount of time travel in Season 1 (who could forget the “Holding Out for Hero” needle drop set in a 1985 Wisconsin ren faire?), that significantly dropped in Season 2, with Episodes 1 and 2 both set primarily within the TVA, with only occasional scenes set in various points in time.
Thankfully, Loki Season 2 Episode 3 brings back that sci-fi device in a better way than we’ve ever seen before — and finally pays homage to its biggest influence.
The longest-running time-travel TV show is Doctor Who, the BBC sci-fi adventure series that has run off and on since November 23, 1963. The series, which follows a centuries-old alien known only as the Doctor as he has adventures through space and time, garnered many comparisons to Loki when the Disney+ series premiered.
However, the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey hijinks that the two shows have in common weren’t originally what Doctor Who set out to do. The series was planned as a partly-educational program that would teach children about the past via time-travel adventures through history. However, the episodes where the Doctor ended up on other planets fighting aliens proved to be far more popular, so the focus of the show quickly shifted to be more hard sci-fi.
While there were still occasional historically-set episodes in the original run of Doctor Who, the 2005 reboot became much more ambitious with the past, setting whole episodes around characters like William Shakespeare, Vincent Van Gogh, Charles Dickens, and even Queen Victoria (spoiler alert: she’s secretly a werewolf.)
Loki Season 2 Episode 3 pays homage to Doctor Who’s oldest sci-fi trope: a futuristic sci-fi story set in the past. On the hunt for a Kang variant, Loki and Mobius find themselves at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, where a new inventor named Victor Timely presents a new mode of energy generation that looks incredibly similar to the Time Loom, the metaphysical device that creates a timeline out of raw time.
This echoes one particular Doctor Who story: 1967’s “The Evil of the Daleks,” a seven-episode serial that follows the Doctor (played by Patrick Troughton, the Doctor’s second form) and his companion Jamie as they encounter a pair of Victorian inventors who have appeared to develop time travel. (The serial is now considered mostly lost: only one part is still available as the BBC taped over the original film, though the story is getting a new novelization written by Jamie’s actor Frazer Hines on October 26, 2023.)
Loki Episode 3 shows the delicate balance that Doctor Who mastered over the course of its 60-year-run: the ability to set an adventure in a historical era like 1893, slide in historical details like the Chicago World’s Fair or the existence of robber barons, and still tell a thrilling and lore-filled science fiction story. It’s Loki at its peak — and time travel at its best.