What is this history you speak of? (#SFWApro)

One odd idea which crops up in a few films/TV series is that history as we know it is simultaneously the real history and an alternate timeline.
To give you an example of what I mean, there’s BIGGLES (1986) (AKA Biggles: Adventures in Time). Alex Hyde-White plays a young New York businessman who finds himself suddenly leaping across time into 1917, to the side of plucky British pilot James “Biggles” Bigglesworth. Biggles, for those who don’t know (probably most of you) was a heroic pilot created by W.E. Johns back in the 1930s. The first book presented him as a Great War flier but he would keep having adventures all the way into the late 1960s (he belonged to the old school of adventure where age was blithely ignored).
Back in the present, British intelligence officer Peter Cushing (his last film role) tells Hyde-White that Biggles is hunting for a German weapon that will change the balance of power on the Western front and therefore change history. Hyde-White, as Biggles’ “time twin” is drawn back whenever Biggles is in peril; together they can destroy the weapon and preserve history.
Which is what makes no sense. Unlike, say, Philadelphia Experiment II or Harry Turtledove’s Guns of the South, the super-weapon (a sonic blaster that can shatter entire towns, or kill battalions) isn’t the product of someone interfering with history, it’s a homegrown German invention. So presumably it is a part of history—and by preventing the Germans from using it, Biggles and Hyde-White are actually changing the original history. Except why then does our history exist?
Basically the movie is exploiting our assumption that our history is automatically the real one and hoping we won’t ask questions (or maybe they just didn’t think it through). It’s not unique.
The cartoons Peabody’s Improbable History and Time Squad mined lots of fun from the same premise: history has gone off the rails and our time-traveling heroes need to fix it. Sherman can’t march across Georgia because he can’t get over a toll bridge. Fed up with never having any fun, Honest Abe Lincoln becomes “Dishonest Abe.”
The dreadful TV show Voyagers, on the other hand, tried to take it seriously. The protagonists (Jon-Erik Hexum and Meeno Peluce) travel through time, wherever history isn’t working right. The Wright Brothers aren’t going to make their famous flight because they’re arguing over a woman. Moses’ basket is tangled up river from Pharaoh’s daughter so she’ll never find it. Enter the Voyagers to fix things, except why do they need fixing? Is the past unstable?
Okay, this was primarily geared for kids, but even so, a little logic might have helped.
Then again, not much, as the stories were dull and Hexum had the charisma of a wood block. They tried to spice things up at the end of the run by introducing an evil Voyager who was trying to change history, but the axe fell right after so it didn’t help.
Biggles isn’t that good either, but I did like Cushing’s off-hand assurance that there’s absolutely nothing unusual about Hyde-White’s experiences—”time travel happens much more often than people suspect.”

1 Comment

Filed under Movies, Now and Then We Time Travel, TV

One response to “What is this history you speak of? (#SFWApro)

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

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