In the episode The Stolen Earth, the doctor and Donna Noble followed the Tandocca Scale to where it went off : Medusa Cascade. Then they had no clue about the stolen planet until the doctor was called by the signal from Earth. And finally the Doctor concluded that the Medusa Cascade have 1 second out of sync with the rest of the universe and this was why they couldn't find the stolen planets. Then the doctor locked on to the signal and BAM! - the Tardis went to the correct path and they found themselves in the middle of the stolen planets.

I really don't understand the concept of 1 second out of sync. Could someone explain it please?

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    It's timey-wimey. Or possibly wibbley-wobbley. I'm sorry, that was silly of me. But I couldn't resist. Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 8:47
  • We could use this to explain everything in DW and it is funny using the term "wibbley-wobbley timey-wimey" to "explain" every question related to DW here, but it is science spirit forced me to ask this. The tenth doctor also said the term "1 second out of sync" in a confident tone which imply the meaning is obvious to most people. Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 9:15
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    This gets used quite a lot - it's certainly not specific to Doctor Who, e.g. tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/JustOneSecondOutOfSync
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 9:21
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    There is a whole trope page devoted to this episode. Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 10:40
  • I think the answer relies on the observation that moving the TARDIS one second "out of sync" with the rest of the universe required a LOT of effort on the TARDIS' part (as demonstrated by the heavy shaking of the cameras). Simply moving the TARDIS a few seconds forward in time is a comparatively trivial accomplishment. Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 16:29

5 Answers 5


As I understand it, the concept is that the timeline in the out-of-sync area is not consistent with the timeline in the rest of the universe. In this case, they are running 1 second in the past ( or future ), by comparison with our universe.

The idea comes from the concept of space-time being 4-dimensional. In the same way that the coffee on my desk can be moved to be 1 cm to the left, a set of 3D universe can be moved to be 1 sec out of sync. And because we are very much bound by the time co-ordinate, this puts it out of our normal sight, rather like if I was staring at the edge of my coffee mug, and someone moved it out of the way.

That is the basic concept. It is, of course, scientific twaddle, but it does have a scientific basis behind it.

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    And we can assume that by "scientific twaddle" you mean it's wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey?
    – Tango
    Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 9:36
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    Yes of course. It is something that can only be achieved by non-existent SF people. Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 10:34
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    If it's one second out of sync in 4D, you would not see it in 3D any longer. To take @SchroedingersCat 's coffee cup example... imagine a 2D plane that ran through the coffee mug, with 2D beings living on it, whose existence and perception is limited to their 2D world. If we move the coffee cup far enough so that it no longer intersects that specific 2D plane, then as far as the 2D creatures are concerned, it has ceased to exist, despite the fact that to a 3D observer, it clearly has not.
    – eidylon
    Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 16:31
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    @eidylon yes that is what I meant. You need to read Abbots Flatland for a whole lot more on dimentional perception. Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 16:41
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    Upvoted for answerer's user name in this particular answer. ;)
    – dlanod
    Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 5:00

Ok, on a slightly for serious note: the vaguely scientific concept of being "out of phase" is used as basic technobabble in many SF contexts to explain invisibility/cloaking devices. You can find it in SF staples like Star Trek.

The basic premise, I believe, is to take the physical concepts of light as a wave and apply them, more generally, to matter in general. If matter is a wave, and we are out of phase with it, we will be unable to perceive it or interact with it, because we are out of sync.

So what DW is doing is taking that concept, which is usually used in the context of SPACE, and using it in the context of TIME. This fits in with the generally wibbley-wobbley concept in DW as "The past is another country".


I always thought of it as though DW were taking the TARDIS out of the axis of time that we travel on. For us, space is 3D but time is only 1D, but what if time were also 3D? If something moved off the axis of time that we inhabit, we would no longer perceive it. So the object is not really being moved forward or backwards in time, but sideways, and as we can't move sideways through time, we can't interact with it.


Objects have two properties. Position, and momentum, in space. Now extend that into time as well. If we change somethings momentum, relative to a single point in time, we get time travel. If you change it's position in time relative to a single point, it is in the future. But if you change your momentum you will intersect.

By changing both, the object is completely out of sync. If you move it ahead in time (position) and change its speed (momentum), you will never intersect without matching both.


It's 1 sec out of sync meaning it is ALWAYS 1 sec in the future (or possibly past) of our (The Doctor's ) time frame. So in the example before of the apple being 1 sec in the future, the reason it does not "reappear" 1 sec later is because it is moving forward in time at the same rate, keeping it a constant 1 second in the future of "our" perceived point in 4D time. As we arrive 1 sec into our own future where the apple was, we still do not see it because the apple has already moved an additional 1 second into the future. It is moving thru time with us simultaneously (at the same temporal velocity) but shifted 1 second ahead or behind the rest of time (out of sync).

  • This answer is very hard to follow. Could you edit it to be less conversational?
    – Tritium21
    Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 3:34

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