Doctor Who

Rebuilding The Future: Fixed Points In Time, an article by GF Willmetts.

While the Doctor acknowledges the immutability of certain fixed points in time, given that he has halted various alien invasions at various points in Earth’s timeline, he must also modify or reconstruct the timeline to maintain its order. Furthermore, because some of the fixed points are from early Earth history, he refuses to touch them, even if we don’t know which ones or what exactly happened there. So he must either be creating or recreating them, knowing how far he can go before he becomes counterproductive. After all, the Doctor is the biggest time meddler out there. He might be correcting for the good, but we rarely see any of his bad decisions or repercussions later.

People regard Gallifreyans as time lords due to their ability to perceive the intricate patterns of time. It’s hardly surprising that many of them chose not to interfere, but equally, they might not be able to without accounting for all the differences they might make in reality. They may not always be aware of their own timelines, but they could be aware of various consequences. When compared to humans, not all of them are science-, artistic-, or both-oriented. The same must surely apply to them, too. They might be scared to do so.

The Doctor, being the original Time Lord, must surely have his or her full abilities, and despite having his or her memories erased from time to time, he or she is still aware of what is right and wrong with reality to keep it on track, whatever that is. The best example of that is his refusal to stop the genesis of the Daleks but modify a little to ensure that they were fallible… for a time. The various breeds of Daleks in recent years, especially after the Time War, have been determined to make more remorseless Daleks with occasional backfire when it goes wrong, attempting to correct that mistake in their make-up.

The Doctor has explained to various companions that humans do not remember various alien invasions because of their selective memory, although you would have to question that based on the number of deaths and damage. I mean, how can you forget the total destruction of Number 10 Downing Street or the damage to the Big Ben tower? The damage to the Big Ben tower is particularly noteworthy due to its lengthy renovation and repair process.

Given the sheer number of alien invasions in London, they would barely have a chance to complete repairs and rebuild buildings before another one took place. One only has to look at the year 2150, when the Daleks had not only destroyed most of London and its inhabitants, but also turned many humans into robomen. This is so significant that I doubt if anyone could ignore it. The yeti and auton attacks were comparably mild. Logistically, the Doctor could have prevented the yeti and auton attacks if the TARDIS had transported him to the correct location, but it typically places him in historical contexts for maximum impact.

The thing is, there have been so many early invasions that you would have thought they were better prepared, like, well, in the present, 2008, when PM Harriet Jones ordered the destruction of the Sycorax spacecraft by Torchwood, having previously built up the organisation to not depend totally on the Doctor in the future. That was good, even if it ultimately cost her her job. From that point on, the UK or organisations like UNIT would have been better prepared for alien invasions. So, would the first doctor have come to the rescue in 2150? That’s only 26 years away. Yes, he did, but that version of Earth probably doesn’t exist anymore as future regenerations have constantly been rewriting the present because, without any permanent fixed points in time, the timeline is flexible enough to rearrange itself. The Doctor is essentially doing what the Time Lords abhorred: changing events. He also lies from time to time.

Rebuilding The Future: Fixed Points In Time, an article by GF Willmetts.
Rebuilding The Future: Fixed Points In Time, an article by GF Willmetts.

There’s a lot of analysis in all kinds of directions here, and probably many solutions. I’ve already covered in the past the reason the Time Lords have rarely flexed their temporal muscles to stop the activities of the Doctor or Master, mostly because their activities are part of the temporal framework. The Doctor stopping the Master’s activities has left reality in a better state, at least for a time. If our own reality is anything to go by, having a dangerous world-wide dictator only seems to happen one at a time. Despite my doubts about their coordination, the actions of the master could potentially prevent the rise of more powerful and dangerous dictators. Even the Doctor has pointed out that for all the evil the Daleks have done, this has also stopped wars between other species that would have happened otherwise and made a worse reality. Having a common enemy is a way to keep other species together. An oddity is why don’t the Daleks or Cybermen attack these species? However, as time travellers themselves, the backbone of the future seems to focus on mankind reaching out to the stars. Break the backbone, and the rest becomes easy pickings. No wonder the doctor is so interested in mankind.

Then we come to the fixed points in time, and how do they work? From the perspective of the Time Lords, they can discern that altering certain events, no matter how heinous, will exacerbate the situation. This perspective offers a deeper understanding of reality that surpasses the perceptions of most species. The real problem is, where do you determine the start of this? We have the butterfly effect, in which stamping on a butterfly in the past initiates a chain of events. Where do you find the starting point? The Capaldi Doctor had this dilemma with the young Davros, but as his earlier Baker One Doctor realized, stopping the Daleks would do the same thing. In both cases, neither are seen as fixed points in time when surely they have to be or the Daleks would never have happened.

I think it would be wrong to perceive ‘a point in time’ as just that, a single split second. It’s not. It’s more like a particular event, but where does it start and end? If it involves people, you would have to protect their lifelines up to and possibly after the event. If many people are involved, there are a lot of butterflies to protect.

I should also point out that the results of such an event might not always be for the better and might even be for the worse over a longer period of time afterwards. The final result determines whether the actual event could be worse or better if it were there or not.

When the time patchwork involves the doctor, one could probably surmise that if it wasn’t him, then someone else would step in to resolve the issue. Unlike him or her, unless killed, they would be there for the aftermath and might not be suitable for that. Winston Churchill might have been an excellent wartime prime minister but not suitable for peacetime. The doctor steps in and quickly leaves afterwards. Had he stayed, his long life would have made it more difficult to find a time to leave before becoming entangled in other events and needing assistance. The Time Lords placing the Pertwee Doctor on Earth in exile, considering the number of invasions he stopped, must surely indicate they were aware of his importance.

A real problem is that with time-travelling species like the Gallifreyans, Daleks, and Cybermen, it is impossible to commit genocide against them because they would exist somewhere else in time and might even be aware of events. They might not be able to prevent a massacre in certain places in time, but they would be leaving survivors elsewhere to carry on, before but definitely after such events. Because of such events, both the Daleks and Cybermen keep members of their species in hibernation. Of course, there is a timeline for each species to consider, but it doesn’t cover the entire species. Even the Doctor erred when he asserted that the Time War killed all Gallifreyans, citing the presence of rogue Time Lords in the cosmos. Even some Daleks escaped, one severely damaged, as well as the emperor elsewhere. In the case of the latter, one must question the feasibility of building spaceships without the presence of an automated factory. One could well believe that the Daleks have hidden automated factories across the cosmos to keep themselves equipped and updated. The same might apply to the Cybermen as well.

As already commented, these fixed points in time aren’t necessarily a place or an event, just a situation that can have grave repercussions if things change. The fact that Amy Pond and Rory Williams remain trapped in this situation until the end of their lives, without the Doctor’s intervention, implies that they are incapable of altering or participating in events. That doesn’t preclude the doctor from changing them should he appear in one or prior to it, whether by intention or by accident. If he is aware of the risk, it’s the inadvertent actions that pose the true threat.

The most challenging thought I had while contemplating the ‘Doctor Who’ timeline was the types of events the Doctor would steer clear of, followed by the events he intervened to prevent. There are a few common denominators. The number of invasions the Doctor has curtailed, which would have had world-changing differences had they succeeded, did succeed for a while and then stopped. Yet none of them are fixed points in time. The Doctor’s involvement in earlier events involving entities such as the Daleks and Cybermen may not have prevented these invasions, but rather, it could have influenced their future developments. That’s the kind of thing that will happen with time travel. In essence, you are either allowing or preventing certain events from occurring. When you have an excessively long life, it’s possible to correct all problems eventually. The Tennant Doctor went too far in ‘The Waters of Mars’ by rescuing Adelaide Brooke, who committed suicide, to put the timeline back on track. A rare occurrence. Well, only if you don’t consider that Peter Tyler realised his own fate to maintain history previously. Some people are clearly aware of their own fate.

There is also a question about whether the doctor himself or herself is a fixed point in time. I mean, without the Time Lord’s existence, the entire reality would fall apart, starting with the first points in time, especially the Earth. The caveman story could serve as an exception, as humanity would have undergone evolution. However, Scaroth sending fragments of himself throughout reality and his spaceship 400 million years in the past might have changed the conditions on Earth. With no humanity, who knows what would have happened to the Daleks and Cyberman empires, as well as their destruction of other sentient species? Scaroth’s existence in the past isn’t a foregone conclusion, and even without the doctor’s intervention, he might not have succeeded.

Considering the various pursuits of his terrestrial companions after they left the Doctor, if they hadn’t had the connection, none of the work they have done since would have happened. Nothing draws out more incentives than determined people at the top.

This isn’t entirely the doctor’s actions, but rather a faulty TARDIS, which seems to be going to the right places that need remedies, for lack of a better word. We always acknowledge that the chameleon circuit of the TARDIS is malfunctioning, but its ability to travel to the right place at the right time requires more than mere coincidence. Ciara Oswald, mindful of the impossible girl, assisted in choosing the TARDIS for the Hartnell Doctor, guaranteeing its selection. While the doctor may identify necessary corrections, the TARDIS remains an unknown conspirator.

Even so, it doesn’t explain why both of them avoid certain fixed points or their importance; hence, my original theory is still holding up. There is a limit to the changes the doctor can make before they become detrimental. Equally, even the Daleks and Cybermen do not enter the same time zones to continue the wars or invasions for similar reasons of interfering with their own timelines. They might not be aware of the fixed points, but they know that regardless of who wins or loses, it would be counterproductive to their own timeline, provided they survive. This makes sense for both to have backups in hibernation when they are so single-minded in everything else.

The Doctor is also careful not to cross his own timeline and meet himself, although it has happened and he appears to have limited memories of such events, so not to jeopardise events. He must also recognise that there are certain events that he shouldn’t question too much. One only has to witness the Whittaker Doctor hesitating over a very early regeneration, giving her information about her past and not reading it because of the effect it might have on her own future. As a result, some may view the Doctor as a fatalist, yet who truly desires to discover their ultimate destiny?


© GF Willmetts 2024

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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