I’ve started watching Dr. Who, and that started me researching Who-time, and found very little in way of explaining the treatment of time in the Dr. Who universe.
I asked a few Whovanians (Whovanites? Whovians?), and their answer was:
“WILL YOU LIGHTEN UP, AND JUST ENJOY THE SHOW!?!?! Sheesh!”
Yeah, right . . . as if I had a choice.
I’ve only watched a few shows, and here is some of what I have gleaned so far:
Everything that’s going to happen has already happened.
The doctor intervenes even though he shouldn’t.
Let’s look at those two statements.
I read a recent article (April 2010 Discover, “Back From The Future”, by Zeeya Merali) describing experimental data which seems to confirm the first statement. At least at the quantum level there is data which seemingly indicates future events affect current events. One way this would work is to imagine everything as already having happened, and we are traveling the time-stream. That is, rather than time “flowing”, we are riding it.
Let me see if I can come up with a metaphor. Imagine time a funicular, and imagine Dr. Who traveling along it in some sort of vehicle, call it a TRAM (Time Rail Adventure-Mobile). He can go up and down along the fixed tracks, stop anywhere, look around, hop back on the TRAM, and decide to go either up and down to check out another point in time. The funicular just is; it does not “flow” per se. If we consider the TRAM as a fixed point of reference, then the world around it seems to “flow”, very much like we perhaps experience the passage of time. As such, it’s not so much time passing, as us experiencing what has already happen, what already is.
But, taking the first statement at face value, the second then gives rise to a minor problem. If everything has already happened, then DW’s interventions are part of what has already happened; he can’t help but intervene, since he already has. If time is a single funicular, if there is only one timeline, then his actions are not in fact changing anything; he’s merely riding through particular events, much like perhaps we are doing. Of course, him being a Time Lord and all, that means at any particular point in time he should already know what is happening, what will happen, and his own role in all of the goings on. If that’s the case, he does a good job of hiding it.
If we look at the Dr. Who universe in such a way, much of the suspense, interest, and even some of our admiration for the Doctor’s ingenuity, courage, and resourcefulness go right out the window.
But here comes String Theory, and comments from the series itself . . . when the Doctor intervenes, he essentially jumps the tracks and finds himself in a different funicular, or timeline. This sort of explains the whole “Hey! What’s happening here” bit whenever he exits the TRAM . . . er . . . TARDIS.
But this raises other questions; does he exist in multiple timelines as unique individuals? That is, do the multiple timelines have their own version of the Doctor? The answer would seem to be “no” since it’s often repeated there is only one. And what of him still knowing things in his timeline if he’s been intervening the crap out of it for the past 900 years?
Oh, wait . . . he can’t change his own timeline, so after intervening he must be in a new timeline, which brings me back to him knowing future stuff and destinations in whatever timeline he is in. Does this mean he know all of the timelines, and everything that’s going to happen has already happened in all timelines?
Then we have the fixed points in time, marking immutable events which are outside even a Time Lord’s ability to change them. If there are multiple timelines, I’m thinking these events are points where these different timelines must all rejoin, coalesce, and fuse into an ordered timeline which I’m sure the Time Lord can’t wait to start splitting it up again just past the confluence.
Confusing, especially if one starts to think creatively. What if he goes back to somewhere where he’s visited before? Does he meet himself? Can he stop himself from making mistakes? Can he give himself a hint about whatever problem he is facing?
Yes, I know I’m over-thinking the matter, but in my defense . . . well, I have no defense. It’s how I am. The show creates, be it by intent or not, a framework composed of various tenets aimed at providing a semi-structured universe for the characters to play in. As such, there must be some rules the creators and writers of the show follow with regards to what the Doctor can and cannot do. If there be rules, I want to know and understand them, if for no other reason to ensure the writers play nice, but more so to enhance the enjoyment of the show.
The rules is what I am interested in, and what make the show interesting. The rules provide the opportunity for drama, advance the plot point, and ensure continuity as the series progresses. It would be nice if I could find a place explaining what the rules are. Meanwhile, I will continue watching, all the while aware time-traveling-themed shows are and will always be severely constrained until such time as an actual, working time machine comes to visit up from the future. But, to paraphrase Sheldon, there are no time machines in the future, otherwise they would be here right now, offering rides in exchange for a small fee.