What is the deal with science fiction adhering to the ridiculous notion of not interfering with events or history when time travel, parallel or alternate dimensions are involved? Doesn’t it seem reasonable that, in a medium where artistic license and suspension of disbelief are two core aspects of the genre that there would be more shows out there that throw caution to the wind and mess with some stuff? The few times I’ve seen something like that happen in recent memory have been plots centered on the villains; it’s never the heroes who get in there and change some stuff.
Look at Primeval. The show is based around a team of individuals, who deal with portals through time and the creatures that roll into the present day through them. Their whole job is minimizing the damage done by these creatures and securing the portals until they can be closed. The first few seasons had a villain who wanted to use the portals to travel through time and fix things, and eventually wanted to travel through time and wipe out humanity.
Now look at Star Trek. There are a bunch of time travel related episodes, and almost every single time it’s a ‘fish out of water’ episode that turns into finding a way back home without impacting the timeline. In Voyager the ship is sent spiraling through time so much it became a plotline in the show, and running joke amongst the fanbase, and yet even they attempt to keep from introducing superior technology to people in their past. Deep Space 9 has both time travel and alternate dimension episodes, but the time travel episodes stick to the regular formula, and the alternate dimension episodes are largely centered on the bad guys attempting to gain a technological advantage. In fact, The Original Series was the only series to have their characters deal with trying to change an alternate timeline for the better, which was shown in DS9 to have not worked out so well.
The Stargate series is slightly different. They travel to various other planets and are often determined to help the humans living on those planets in an effort to combat the various evil galactic superpowers. On the surface it seems like it’s a show with flaunts its characters interference with other cultures, but then has at least onetime travel episode where they destroy all their technology so as not to change the timeline before making it back home.
Even Quantum Leap, a show whose entire concept was based around a dude winding up in people from the past had the guy making sure things went exactly as history dictated them happening, and only the bad guys were popping up and trying to change stuff.
These are just a few examples, but you can practically find them in almost any long running science fiction program. There is one particular show I can think of that did it in a way that went convention, and went so far that the entire show basically revolved around it.
Every time the cast of Sliders had an opportunity to change something, they did. They’re jumping into portals to find a way back to their specific home, and instead landing on parallel worlds where things were never quite the same – and then they’re changing it to try and make it better. I haven’t watched the show in a while, but two episodes jump out at me almost immediately. There was an episode where they landed on an Earth that didn’t know what penicillin was, so the dude invented penicillin to help cure a sick population, and there was an episode where they landed on an Earth that hadn’t worked out the proper way to build an atomic bomb, so the dude helped design the proper method for building an atomic bomb to achieve the kind of chain reaction needed to make one blow up properly. Who cares whether or not they were radically changing the way the population on those alternate Earths developed? It made for some pretty awesome television.
And that’s sort of my gripe with science fiction. It’s all ‘don’t change the timeline’ and ‘don’t help inferior cultures develop’. That’s the domain of the bad guys. Good guys have to do their best to keep everything the way it was.
I’ve always thought that if someone goes back in time and gives secretly gives people a cellphone, then comes back to the present technology would have jumped so far ahead they could just do it again and again until they had pushed technological evolution so far their world was a utopia, or a galactic presence, or whatever. I figure if someone takes a cellphone, goes back in time, and the people back then get their hands on it and reverse engineer it then that had already happened, and was meant to. Why would somebody doing that alter the timeline if they came from a present where that was a thing that already happened in their past? In my mind it just seems more likely that if something happens in the past because someone from the future did it, it is a thing that already happened. It seems like less of a leap of logic than time travelers having to deal with the Butterfly Effect.
What do you guys think? Any quantum physicists out there who feel like explaining why my thoughts on time travel are a wordy read of incredibly incorrect thoughts? Have any shows that are built around the stuff I talked about? Hit the comments and let me know.