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Time - Who's Worried?

By Matthew Goodall

(This is not a definitive article on time but is written in reply to Mr Scheib's comment in his review of The Trial of a Time Lord. The following theories are based on evidence in science-fiction novels, etc).

The Future

Why should the Doctor have to worry about the future? After all, he has seen that the Valeyard exists so (at least up until that point), he as the Doctor exists as well. Why should he be concerned about Earth and a variety of other planets he has visited? In the case of Earth (the present one that we live on, he knows it will survive as he has visited its future on numerous occasions. Is it not therefore safe?

To understand the Doctor's concern a little understanding of time itself is needed. Time is not as straight a line as many would like to think. The past is a relatively simple matter of sorting out what has happened and what might have occurred if such-and-such had happened.

The future is not quite so easy. For any event in your own life there are at least two alternative futures. To illustrate this point, imagine the following situation: you are walking home one day and see a piece of paper lying in front of you. The possibilities are a) that you pick it up and find it is a cheque made out to you for a hundred dollars or b) you walk right past it thinking it is a piece of paper to be disregarded, leaving you potentially hundreds of dollars poorer.

Okay, so it's unlikely but it shows how the situation can happen in everyday life in just about everything we do. (One of the greatest and most obvious examples of the use of this scenario is the Fighting Fantasy and Choose-Your-Own-Adventure series).

Also when one's future is dependent not only upon your actions but also the actions of others then even more variables enter the picture. Imagine a quiet drink at the local pub - during a brawl someone knocks you over the head with a bottle, killing you; or you bash someone else and kill them. Either you die; or you are put on trial for manslaughter charges instead of going home calmly afterwards. Again slightly unlikely (maybe not so considering some of the Auckland and Christchurch Chapter's reports of Trakon). But anyway this form of uncertainty demonstrates why the Doctor is concerned for the future, particularly when he knows how it is supposed to turn out - and especially in the case of the somewhat self-centered sixth Doctor when concerned for his own future and well-being.

The Doctor, on at least two occasions, has shown how the future can be uncertain. In Pyramids of Mars, Sarah Jane asks why they should be concerned about Sutekh's activities when they know that events will come right, as the future (1975) still exists. He then took her for a quick trip to the future (1975) to show the barren desolate Earth which would result if they didn't try to stop Sutekh in 1911.

The second example is from the Pertwee story Day of the Daleks. The whole plot of the story is centered around how a group of guerrillas travelled back in time to try and change their own past (1972), so that the Daleks would not rule their future Earth. The Doctor works out that the guerrillas are at fault and sets things right so that the future is back on track. The story also shows how one error (in this case, killing the wrong man) can have dire consequences for the future.

In the case of the Sixth Doctor during the trial, it is therefore quite obvious why he was concerned existence, especially when you consider how the whole affair was conducted out of time, and it is currently unknown how a Time Lord's abilities are affected by such an environment. Also there is the possibility of the Valeyard having increased powers due to his being the amalgamation of the Doctor's evil. Therefore this makes for great deal of variables, giving the Doctor good reason to be concerned.

The Past

In many cases the Doctor has had reason to visit the past to either set the present or the future back on track. Often this was due to the intervention of the Time Lords. One memorable case was the classic episode Genesis of the Daleks where he was sent to Skaro's past to try and prevent the creation of the Daleks. This kind of intervention should be relatively trouble free to the rest of the universe as the Time Lords should have considered the consequences of these actions.

However if someone without a comprehensible knowledge of time travel and its dangers visited the past they could unwittingly change the future. Probably the most recent example of this is the film Back to the Future Part II where the time travellers return to an alternate Earth after making one mistake.

Then of course the question arises: what happens if you somehow change history?

There seem to be two alternatives: a) history is totally altered, producing a new Earth, possibly which you don't exist on or b) history slightly alters to accommodate the change but still possibly eliminating you.

One example of this could be as follows: you have managed to lay your hands on a time machine and decide to travel back to 1937 pre-War Germany. While there you get the perfect opportunity to kill Hitler and do so. Following the first possibility World War II never took place, various people never met or died and as a result you were never born. The second possibility says that while Hitler did die, someone else rose up to take his place ensuring that the chain of events remained the same. There is still the possibility that you are not born because it is not the past that you originally knew it. (In the case of the Doctor these sort of effects are not necessarily global eg. Genesis of the Daleks).

This also gives the Doctor and the Time Lords good reason to be upset as someone blundering through time could easily upset the whole timestream. (This is an obvious reason why the second Doctor had to stop the Kartz-Reimer time experiments in The Two Doctors. Of course it could just be the Time Lords petty selfishness but it is more a combination of that and their concern for the continuity of time).

Therefore it is fairly clear why the Doctor is concerned about experiments into time and why he is justified in interfering in such cases.

Time is not the stable line we would like to believe.

This item appeared in TSV 18 (May 1990).