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The problem with time travel as a dramatic device is that all of that looping around in a character’s time streat can tie them in knots, particularly when something concrete and unchangeable like a death occurs.
For example, in Doctor Who, how come the TARDIS is still in bits on Trenzalore in “The Name of the Doctor” when subsequent (or possibly previous) events in “The Time of the Doctor” would seem to indicate that the Doctor doesn’t—or didn’t—die on the planet after all? I mean, how could Clara go to the Doctor’s grave and enter his time stream and fix all the harm done by the Great Intelligence if the Doctor didn’t actually die there?
It’s a pickle isn’t it? And one that Steven Moffat himself admits to having wrestled with. And let’s face if, if he’s not sure, what chance do the rest of us have?
Thankfully, help is at hand. Steven, writing in the new issue of Doctor Who Magazine, explains that while he doesn’t always understand how this backwards/forwards, cause/effect timestream thing works, the Doctor most certainly does. So there’s really only one person that is best able to answer the question of the broken TARDIS on Trenzalore, and thankfully he’s on hand to explain:
He said: “I’ve often wondered about that. Fortunately, late one night, the Doctor turned up in person and explained it to me:”
And then, as if by magic, the Doctor appeared, saying “Changing time is tricky. It’s a bit like a detective story: so as long there isn’t an actual body, you’ve got a certain amount of wiggle room – for instance, if the body has, rather conveniently, been burned on a boat in Utah.
“Here’s the thing: I can change the future so long as the future has not already been established as part of my own past. I can’t rescue Amy and Rory because I already know that I didn’t.”
“But what do I know about Trenzalore? There’s a big monument that looks very like my TARDIS. There’s a temporal fissure leading to my timeline. Maybe it’s my grave. Maybe, one day, it’s my burial ground. Maybe it is something else entirely, and we got it all wrong. Don’t know. Don’t plan to find out for as long as possible.
“The main thing is, Clara still jumped into my time stream, and ended up helping me through all of my life. All that is established, unchanged – but there’s wiggle room!”
There, I hope that’s cleared everything up.
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See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic