Since we’re in the final throes of the dog days of summer, I thought it would be nice to talk about the rules of time travel. What are the rules of time travel? Well, there really aren’t any, are there? The reason for this is that time travel in our universe is not empirically possible. This is a fact – at least for now – because the laws of physics say so. So why are we all so fascinated with something that’s simply not possible? We all seem to have a favorite time travel story, whether it be a novel, a movie, a short story or a TV show. I think “Continuum” is the best topical thing to come along since “Fringe” ended.
Some of us may think time travel has rules, but I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t. We know that all time travel is fictional, so can’t we derive the rules from the stories that have been written? Well, yes we can, in a way. Through the process of elimination, we should be able to discern the rules. For instance; if you could time travel, could you go back in time and have a discussion with yourself? J J Abrams says we can, in his 2009 movie Star Trek, wherein Mr. Spock meets his younger self and does exactly that. But wait – Peter Cornel
says we can’t, in his 2005 “Doctor Who” episode, “Father’s Day”. Well, that’s not exactly true either, because he did make it possible in that story – but with terrible repercussions. When Rose Tyler inadvertently saves her father Pete from dying in a car accident back in 1983 (where she has been brought by The Doctor, but only to say a proper goodbye and NOT to interfere), mystical reapers then flood the world, as time strives to repair itself, forcing the Doctor and Rose to take refuge in a church. The Doctor then warns Rose not to
get too close to her baby self, or things will get even worse.
Rose tries very hard to stay away, but when fate steps in and her baby self is thrust into her arms by her mother, all Hell breaks loose. A reaper breaches the church and quickly gobbles up The Doctor and the TARDIS – and they can only be saved by Rose’s father sacrificing himself by dying in the street as he was meant to do in the first place. But
what if Pete had not been brave and loving enough to make that sacrifice?
So basically, we cannot discern the rules of time travel from the vast number of stories written, because they all differ depending on their authors.
There is only one actual rule of time travel, and it came about quite naturally. Basically, the author can create whatever time travel rules he wants – but thereafter, he must adhere to whatever boundaries he has created and set down, and he must do that consistently throughout his story. And let me tell you, this ain’t easy, because of all of the
possibilities that are created when you toss the laws of physics out the window in the first place. In both of the examples given, there is the possibility that the older person could have either accidently or intentionally killed his or her younger self—and yes, I do realize that the two Spocks are from two separate timelines and not actually the same person. But it was Spock who once said, “A difference which makes no difference is no difference.”
There are all kinds of time travel stories, beginning as early as 1733 with Memoirs
of the Twentieth Century, a novel by Samuel Madden, depicting letters from the late 1990’s. Time travel stories have been a most popular sub-genre of science fiction for a very long time, and with each new offering the rules seem to get more complicated. There is the concept used on the TV show “Lost” that says “Whatever happened, happened,” and it cannot be changed. This concept is based on the idea that if someone goes back in time to change an outcome, then that’s exactly what happened in the first place; which begs the question – then how did they know what the problem was, and that it needed fixing?
There are other concepts based on “The Butterfly Effect”, in which people travel backwards in time to change history – because wouldn’t it be nice if we could somehow erase the Holocaust, or 9/11, or perhaps a World War or two?
This brings us to our community, and the Canadian TV show “Continuum”, which has not as yet tipped its hand as to which of these two roads it will take. “Continuum” is highly complex, and has so many variables and players involved that the idea of bending the past to one’s will seems impossible, no matter how smart one is. With every new twist and turn, the writers take the risk of compounding mistakes in logic that is only pseudo-logic in the first place. But it’s their boldness that keeps us coming back for more. The very best time travel story I’ve ever experienced is the essentially seventy-five hour TV movie that was “Fringe”, which also had very bold concepts, and some of the best characters ever conceived. “Continuum” is getting better and better as it moves forward, and I think it will be right up there when it’s all said and done.
It was “Fringe”, however, that inspired me to write about time travel, and which is responsible for my new book, A Brief History of Time Travel. I attended Comic-Con 2013 in an effort to promote the book, and actually got to put a face to the name Jen Trolio (TV.com’s managing editor) and JT_Kirk (ardent TV fan and now compadre), to both of whom I gave copies of the book. I also gave Jen one for Mary Ann, because I really like her, and enjoy her reviews of “Continuum”—and anything else she writes. If you want to read more about the history of time travel, you can visit my site, www.historyoftimetravel.com where you’ll find many links to all-time favorite time travel stories. There is also a forum where you can discuss this fascinating topic – because when it comes to time travel there are no right or wrong answers, only an ever-increasing amount of mind-blowing questions.