Have Time Machine, Will Have Already Traveled


Is time travel more interesting as mere transportation, or as a reality changing tool? If you really had a properly functioning time machine that could move backwards and forwards through time, what problem could you not solve? Just go back in time and fix it. Screw it up? Go back in time and fix it again.

Which may be why the scope of time travel is often limited. The time machine is broken, or stolen, or out of power. Or there’s no machine at all and a person is just randomly propelled through time and space. Sometimes, the problem is simply ignored, with mixed results.

Doctor Who, for example, uses a functional time and space machine that can go anywhere and anywhen in the universe. Yet nearly every episode features a “beat the clock” sprint through streets and hallways. Why? Why not step into the Tardis, roll the clock back fifteen minutes, then casually stroll to the doomsday machine and save the day? Because that’s boring. So they just pretend they don’t have a time machine, until they want a time machine.

Or Terminator. From our perspective it’s been 30 years of humans foiling killing machines sent from the future. But what’s Skynet doing exactly in the future? Was it sending a Terminator in, then looking around for a few seconds to see if it worked and the future changed? Would it even be aware the future changed? Or was Skynet just a cold, calculating dick, sending dozens of Terminators back at the same time, each to a different year in the past?

The only film so far to really attempt to deal with time travel causality with truly brutal logic, was Primer. It showed how complicated the consequences could be from even a very limited time travel ability (backwards one week only). The events and story were so complex fans of the film created a massive flowchart to track all of the different realities and characters generated. It’s almost required to watch the film again immediately, multiple times, just to keep up. For many people that sort of time and brain investment isn’t entertaining either.

So is time travel more interesting as mere transportation, or as a reality changing tool? We may never know. But what we do know, having read all of this, you have now traveled ten minutes into the future. Ta daa!