Inconsistencies in Time Travel

One of the primary issues people have with time travel stories is inconsistent application of the rules. This is why “old” Doc Brown doesn’t remember meeting Marty McFly in 1955, but does know to protect himself from terrorist gunfire. Or how everyone “remembers” the Black Omen having always been dangling there in mid-air, while the king of Guardia knows absolutely nothing about the priceless artifact that has been hidden in his basement “all along”.

People are generally more forgiving of plot holes like these in time travel stories, since they’re required to make the plot work. Events might be mutable in one scene and immutable in the next. Changes made in the first act might alter the future entirely, but in the second act might instead cause an entire spin-off timeline.

My solution: instead of calling these “inconsistencies” why not call them “side effects of time travel”? Since time travel is an utterly bizarre twist of natural law, wouldn’t we expect it to have some utterly bizarre aftereffects? Throw a huge rock into a lake and you somewhat predictable ripples. But if the lake has an awkward size or shape they will become more irregular and haphazard.

Surely a magic phone booth punching holes in the time/space continuum would have similar irregular effects?

5 comments to Inconsistencies in Time Travel

  • Destil

    The third Harry Potter movie, I think, managed this without any slip ups. And it’s about the only movie to have ever done so to my satisfaction.

    … and maybe Bill and Ted.

    • Brickroad

      @Destil: The big plot hole to the time travel mechanic in Harry Potter was how many OTHER plot holes it could have tidied up had they just kept the goddamned magic stopwatch (or whatever it was). “Sirius Black fell behind a curtain and died!” “Really? Rewind!”

  • Lys

    You’ve probably seen it already, but if not: I highly recommend the movie ‘Primer.’ If time travel could have a basis in Real Science, I think it would feel like it does in that movie. ^_^

  • jpfriction

    Eh, it works out if you subscribe to Doc Brown’s theory of branching timelines/universes. Marty goes back in time in a universe where Doc Brown doesn’t remember meeting him and ended up in a universe where he did hang out with Doc in 1955. Its kind of sad if you think about the fact that Marty must have just vanished from his original universe and never came back, his parents must have freaked out.

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