When something bad happens to Doctor Who, why doesn't he just go back in time and fix it?
December 19, 2007 6:53 PM   Subscribe

DoctorWhoFilter: When something bad happens to the doctor, why doesn't he just go back in time and fix it? He doesn't seem to have a problem with fiddling with time, so why not?

Just finished watching the end of the second season of the revised Doctor Who. It was a great episode but it got me thinking... When bad things happen (or an episode doesn't go his way), why doesn't the doctor just use the TARDIS to go back in time and try again?

SPOLIERS: The thought that made it come into my head was when Rose was falling towards the void, and I thought "Well, if she goes in, he can just go back and catch her next time"... Now, in that case Pete caught her anyway, but I can think of many other times, even just from this season, where it would seem to make sense for the Doctor to go back and fix things... (ie. why not take Elton back and rescue the "real" Ursula before she was absorbed, rather than giving him a paver; why not go back and rescue some of the people that died in "Satan's Pit", or stop Toby from infecting the ood so the base wouldn't blow up?)

I know the final answer is "because it wouldn't make good TV", but I'm wondering if, in the many years Doctor Who has been on, whether they've addressed this issue?

Any Doctor fans out there who can provide some insight, or even non-doctor fans who have a theory? :)

(PS. I know this is an odd AskMe question, but I can't get anywhere with google and I figured Christmas is a good time for silly questions!)
posted by ranglin to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
My dim and aged memory suggests it is explained in the episode that Rose goes back to see her Dad. Because there are two of her in one place (after she screws up time and has to go back to fix it) he explains how extremely bad it is for them to both be there at the same time.

Doubles of a single person in the same time/space point were the key, if I recall. If he went back to try again, there'd be as many of him as there were re-tries. Several shades of bad.
posted by Brockles at 7:00 PM on December 19, 2007


I've only seen the first three seasons of the new Who, but I think the handwavium used is that it'll cause paradoxes which will draw the big monsters that attacked the time Rose saved her dad's life.
posted by drezdn at 7:00 PM on December 19, 2007


Because he knows that you can't fix time by breaking time even further. In most cases, he's already screwed with the scenario by getting rid of whatever alien invasion is creating the "ghosts" or the creepy tv broadcasts, or the kids with gas masks, or whatever, but the theory I think is that the aliens were ALREADY screwing with the timeline. He's just undoing the damage.

And yet, it's a big universe and a big timeline, and there's lots of work to be done. You can't be going back to the same place all the time to tweak the same situation over and over.

... and otherwise Billie Piper wouldn't be able to leave the series, EVER. Right?
posted by nkknkk at 7:01 PM on December 19, 2007


And that the Time Lords used to fix those paradoxes, but after the Time War they're all dead (except for the Doctor of course).

In addition, I could be wrong about this, but I don't think the Tardis navigation is always that accurate anymore.
posted by drezdn at 7:02 PM on December 19, 2007


I believe this question was answered in the episode from the first season called "Father's Day."

Once the Doctor enters a certain timeline and is a part of events he cannot later go back and change those events in the future because it will create a paradox. When this occurs nasty creatures swoop in and tear apart the space around the paradox in order to cauterize the wound in time.

I don't know how it was answered in the original series though.

on preview: I was beaten :(
posted by crashlanding at 7:02 PM on December 19, 2007


Essentially, Brockles and crashlanding are right about it being explained in "Father's Day", but it's slightly more subtle, if I remember correctly. I believe that the difficulty isn't just that there are paradoxes, nor is it a problem with being in the same time more than once. The things that are forbidden to be changed are those events in the traveler's "personal" history. Meeting yourself is sometimes a problem if you don't remember meeting yourself because that would change your personal history. So you can't make changes to things you remember happening. General paradoxes can be problematic unless you have a paradox machine, but it's the personal paradox that is focused on in "Father's Day" and that is what brings the monster thingies.

Don't think about it too much. The show isn't exactly consistent or logical.
posted by ErWenn at 7:20 PM on December 19, 2007


Brockles, that episode was Father's Day

When Rose saved her dad on the day Pete was suppose to die they get stuck in a sort of time loop. The only way to fix everything was for Pete to go out there and die like he was suppose to. The events of the past change slightly, but otherwise are unaffected.

Rescuing someone who had already died is something they cannot do.
posted by Kioki-Silver at 7:20 PM on December 19, 2007


The Doctor and all Timelords are constrained by the laws of time -- a set of rules governing time travel. For example, after Adric dies in Earthshock, the Doctor clearly would like to go back to save him, but explains he cannot due to the Laws of Time.

I get the impression these laws are not laws of physics, but strict rules of conduct. It's not clear what the reason for their existence is, aside from a convenient plot device, or why some of the laws can be bent or broken, but not others.
posted by justkevin at 7:47 PM on December 19, 2007


The Laws of Time. Always referenced, hardly ever stated out-right. I guess one could refer to Rassilon's Five Great Principles ... had they ever been written instead of simply being referenced (again) in some dialogue from "Shada."

So really, such laws are up to interpretation by the viewer. This fellow from the Who Discontinuity Guide has made an attempt at compiling his own Post-Gallifreyan Laws of Time. Worth a look, if only for the fact that he bases these laws on the already-cited "Father's Day" episode.
posted by grabbingsand at 8:37 PM on December 19, 2007


I was a Tom Baker/Jon Pertwee generation. So this is old.

But I thought the Dr always had trouble getting the Tardis to be very precise. Very early on, I'm sure we all adjusted to that. It made for better stories. Never knowing exactly when or where he would turn up.

Remember all those times he walked out of the Tardis and had to deduce things about the society based on his observations?

So, although I haven't watched much of the new-fangled modern Dr, I always assumed the same basic premise.

That he's a genius, and a Time Lord, but he can't fix a Tardis for shit.
posted by taff at 9:53 PM on December 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


My perspective comes from 1980 reruns of Pertwee/Baker/Davidson on US PBS.

I always thought that the problem with the navigation of the Doctor's TARDIS was that if he picked a picked a point in space, he couldn't pick a time. And conversely if he picked a time, he couldn't pick a point in space.

So if he wanted to go back in time to save someone, he could end up on the other side of the galaxy. Or if he picked a specific place to save someone, he could end up 10000 years in the future.
posted by sandra_s at 1:35 AM on December 20, 2007


I always thought Doctor Who was just a big messy bag of nonsense-fun. For example, after the Time War, there aren't any more Daleks or Time Lords. Now given that both of these species have mastered Time travel and travelled to both the beginning and end of the universe, what does 'any more' mean in this context?
posted by greytape at 2:47 AM on December 20, 2007


I think they have previously had it that the tardis (or I presume any tardis) won't let you go to somewhere you've already been because bad shit happens if you meet yourself.

I always thought Doctor Who was just a big messy bag of nonsense-fun. For example, after the Time War, there aren't any more Daleks or Time Lords. Now given that both of these species have mastered Time travel and travelled to both the beginning and end of the universe, what does 'any more' mean in this context?

It's not fully explained but it seems to be suggested that the war involved the time lords and the daleks effectively wiping themselves out of existence across the whole time continuum.
posted by biffa at 3:34 AM on December 20, 2007


"I think they have previously had it that the tardis (or I presume any tardis) won't let you go to somewhere you've already been because bad shit happens if you meet yourself."

You know - I'm not sure they ever stated that in the TV series, however, in the Big Finish Audios, there is a specific one (I think it's Renaissance of the Daleks) where it is stated that there is a circuit that specifically keeps you from entering the same time stream at the same point/place.
posted by niteHawk at 11:29 AM on December 20, 2007


See also the Blinovitch Limitation Effect, which is the classic, before-the-destruction-of-the-Time-Lords-and-their-cosmic-observance-of-space-time Whovian explanation for this plot hole.
posted by jbrjake at 11:35 AM on December 20, 2007 [4 favorites]


So, the answer to my question is "Go and watch the first-season episode Father's Day, where Russell T. Davies has already addressed this issue!" ... :)

Oh, and for those of you that are 5th Doctor (Peter Davidson) fans, you should get on the net and download the episode Timecrash, which was filmed for the children in need special in Britain and features the 10th doctor and the 5th doctor meeting!
posted by ranglin at 5:17 AM on December 21, 2007


The Time War thing is apparently all explained in the novels which are about the Time War. Giving you a second-hand account from someone who has read them - Gallifrey was cut-off from time in some weird loop, and the Daleks were destroyed throughout time - except for the ones which were hiding outside of time.
posted by jb at 9:43 AM on December 22, 2007


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