Time Travel: Fixed and frozen? (#SFWApro)

One of the themes that crops up a lot in time travel stories is the idea that time can’t be changed.
The past is frozen. It’s happened. We can’t change it. The future is predestined, so we can’t change that either.
It’s not a view screen time-travel uses much (at least based on my viewing for the book so far), probably because it’s rather downbeat: if you’re going back in time and you can’t change anything, or if you future is already set, what’s the use of struggling? It’s one thing if you’re doing a serious SF novel or really thinking about the implications of time-travel, but movies (and TV) aren’t usually doing that. Even in Terminator 3, where the rise of Skynet is inevitable, there’s still plenty of wriggle room for Skynet to try and prevent its ultimate defeat.
What we do get a lot of is that changing the past is a bad idea. This can be because changing the future might make it worse (a concern in Hot Tub Time Machine), or because in practice it does make it worse (Butterfly Effect, Always Will). This is the time-honored SF movie theme that tampering with God’s domain is bound to have negative consequences.
Doc Brown in the Back to the Future trilogy states repeatedly that tampering with time is not only dangerous on that level (and the movies do prove his point, even if things worked out well for the McFly family) but adds that on a cosmic level, the entire timestream could go kaphloooey if they start messing around with it too much. The movies, however, don’t really apply this standard. In II, for example, Doc warns Marty against tampering with his dismal future, but his whole point in taking Marty to 2015 is to change his future or more specifically his kids’ future.
The Doctor in Doctor Who frequently asserts that it’s impossible to change the past, but that’s not consistently applied either. For one thing, why is “the past” always “the past from the point of view of the contemporary audience”? The Doctor’s been centuries into the future, so isn’t the present the past from that perspective? Of course, choosing our “now” as the baseline makes dramatic sense, but not so much for chronotransportation logic.
And of course, the Doctor changes history all the time. Certainly Genesis of the Daleks takes it as a given he can change Dalek history even though he doesn’t (there are probably earlier examples, but that’s the first that comes to mind).
As far as I’m concerned, time travel fiction should have pretty much a free hand. At this point it’s still guesswork what would happen if we traveled into the past, or the future. Just keep it internally consistent (which admittedly many films don’t manage), and I’m fine.

3 Comments

Filed under Movies, Now and Then We Time Travel

3 responses to “Time Travel: Fixed and frozen? (#SFWApro)

  1. I always enjoy these time travel posts. My novel in progress concerns time travel and the ability to change history, so I paid extra close attention to today’s article. Thanks for consolidating the information.

  2. You’re welcome. It’s been really interesting looking for things like that as I watch the movies.

  3. Pingback: Destiny is a stacked deck (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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