The long unanswered question of the four Doc Browns.

Posted on 03 November 2009 by Quaid

NOTE: The symbols in this article are broken and replaced with question marks. I’m trying to fix it…bear with us, and apologies. :(

When I was in high school, a friend of mine took it upon himself to chart out the entire timeline of the Back to the Future films in a spiral notebook.  He was a little OCD and worked on this for days.

Back_to_the_future1The goal was not to prove the time travel logic of the film realistically sound–that would have been impossible.  Instead, my friend wanted to attempt to prove that the logic constructed within the movie was sound–that is, that the rules set up in the movie never contradicted themselves.

He ran into some pitfalls and pratfalls, but the proof was fairly compelling.  And even though the logic of photographs from the future slowly changing based on the probability theory is wildly unsound (in reality), it seemed the movie managed to treat these incidents with the same made-up rules throughout all three films.

Good job, Bob Gale!

The entirety of my friend’s arguments is too dense and complicated to effectively explore in this article.  Today, though, I wanted to bring up a question that came to me last night while watching the third Back to the Future movie.  It’s a simple question, but one whose answer is surprisingly complicated.

How many Doc Browns exist in the Back to the Future universe?

Now, we could do this for just about any character, even Marty.  While we only follow one version of our main character, every time the past is changed in any way, a new version of Marty must, in theory, split off.  For example: in Part 2, our main character Marty drops a sandbag on a group of thugs’ heads to keep them from mugging the past version of himself (this is while he is onstage at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance in 1955–an event originated in the first movie).  As Marty Prime (the past version of our Main Character Marty) walks off the stage, he sees the thugs onstage and sidesteps them.

This experience is new, so the Marty leaving the stage ceases to be our Main Character Marty in the past and becomes a totally new Marty.  We can assume that the events of his life will play out almost identical to the Marty that we follow throughout all three movies, but there is at least ONE memory that is different–something that never happened to our main character.  Therefore, by definition, there must be at LEAST two Marties in the world of Back to the Future.

Now let’s move on to our original question.   The only way to do this, I think, is to walk through the entire trilogy of amazing films one at a time.

It all starts out simply enough.  Marty McFly is asked to partake in an experiment by an old and wizened scientist, Doc Brown.  We will call this “Doc Brown α.”  This Doc, unfortunately, is gunned down by Libyans just as he sends Marty back in time to 1955.

In order to get Back…to the FUTURE! Marty must enlist the help of the past version of Doc Brown ?. According to the logic of the films, though, the second Marty shows up at 1955 Doc Brown ?’s home, the good Doc is altered immediately and ceases to be Doc Brown ?. This new character, with a new set of memories triggered by Marty’s presence, will be known as Doc Brown ß.

Now, for all intents and purposes Doc Brown ? ceases to exist as the future in which he lived and worked is erased. Marty has, in effect, erased an entire person.

When Doc Brown ß manages to send Marty Back…to the FUTURE!, Marty runs to rescue his friend from the Libyans. Luckily, this is no longer Doc Brown ? but is Doc Brown ß, and this new Doc has taken measures to protect himself.

I know what you’re thinking…how do we know that it wasn’t Doc Brown ß the whole time, and he simply kept mum about meeting Marty in the past so as to ensure that a paradox didn’t occur? This argument would bring the rules of the series more in-line with conventional time-travel theory, but, alas, is not a reality supported by the film. This is proven by the fact that Marty has significantly changed the future, altering Biff’s personality and ensuring his father’s success as a science-fiction author. So the “one-reality, one Doc Brown” theory holds no water.


So far we have two distinct Doc Browns, and our main Doc Brown going into Part 2 is Doc Brown ß.

Doc Brown ß goes into the future and discovers that Marty’s kids are in trouble. Then he enlists Marty’s help to go into the future and rescue them. Throughout most of Part 2 we are dealing with only Doc Brown ß. In the future scenes there is no question about the creation of a second Doc Brown because there is no Doc Brown in this time period (we can assume he’s dead, having been killed by Mad Dog Tannen in Part 3…more on that later).

When Biff steals the time machine, he changes everything completely, and Doc Brown ß and Marty return to an alternate 1985. This is where things get messy. Somehow there is no alternate Doc Brown within this time period. You would think that if it were an alternate reality, a separate version of the Doc would exist with the memories of this wildly different world. Alas, he does not, and I’m not quite sure why. Maybe my friend can explain it to me…

But for the purposes of this article, let’s accept the fact that when Marty and Doc Brown ß travel back to 1955 (for the second time), there is only one Doc Brown that still exists.

But that’s all about to change. With the end of Part 2, Marty and Doc Brown ß again rewrite history in order to delete the alternate and hellish 1985 from existence. Mainly, they have to steal the sports almanac from 1955 Biff.

In the process of doing this, Doc Brown ends up running into and having a conversation with his 1955 self. With these new memories, 1955 Doc Brown ß becomes Doc Brown ? .

When Doc Brown ß gets sent into the past, it’s Doc Brown ? who helps Marty travel into the old west to rescue his friend from being shot in the back by Mad Dog Tannen.

BackFuture3When Marty introduces himself in the old west, though, he changes the timeline of Doc Brown ß, and so Doc Brown ß (who was to die from a gunshot wound) is changed into Doc Brown ?. What we would think of as Doc Brown ß ceases to exist in his pure form.

At this point, too, we can assume that Doc Brown ? is wiped from existence because we are altering the events that MUST occur in order for him to exist. He can no longer find his own gravestone (which no longer exists) and send Marty back to save himself. So I’m not really sure how this works in the grand scheme, or how, if he is erased from the future, he could have sent Marty to the past.

Again, issues my friend will have to explain someday. Let’s move on.

At this point we are dealing only with Doc Brown ?, and I believe that this Doc is the doc that finishes out the rest of Part 3.

So the Doc Brown we end up with is actually three people removed with the Doc Brown who starts the series. All the other three Doc Browns have been erased from existence.

And when you look at it like that, isn’t it a little sad? We all proclaim to love this character (I know I do), and Marty goes out of his way to save the guy, but, on an existential level, he’s actually destroying the man he proclaims to love and replacing him with a similar version.

I guess that’s why Doc Brown decided that he never should have invented the infernal time machine to start with.

Then again, he goes right out and invents another steam-powered one just so he can show up at the end of Part 3 and give Marty a friggin picture frame…an event that probably erased three or more persons from the face of the space-time continuum.

But it was a nice keepsake, so I guess that’s fine. In the end, the audience isn’t thinking about the erased persons and the created versions. They aren’t thinking about how many life choices and possibilities are deleted by gunning the DeLorean to eighty-eight. Instead, they’re just happy that Marty and Doc made it through everything safely.

The truth, though, is that they didn’t. They were replaced with pod-people who have a different set of memories and behaviors. These people believe themselves to be the “real” Doc Brown and Marty McFly, but they aren’t. They’re living with assumed identities.

So let’s acknowledge the tragedy of the Back to the Future trilogy. While we celebrate the life and times of Doc Brown ?, let us not forget the sacrifices of Doc Browns ?, ?, and ?, who gave up their existence (against their wills) to ensure that Doc Brown ? can jet around the STC with his beloved Clara.

As Marty would say, this is heavy.

UPDATE: There has been some serious discussion in the comments below about whether or not I have forgotten a Doc Brown–that is, the Doc who was committed to a mental institution in the hellish alternate Biff-run 1985 in Part 2.

The reason for NOT including it was this. In the original, Marty drastically changes the course of history including the events of his own life. When he returns to 1985, he finds himself with a different car and a very different life. Despite all these changes, there is NO alternate Marty.

How, then, can I assume that there would be an alternate Doc Brown when he returns to another drastically altered 1985 in Part 2?

In the original, Marty is unaware of all the changes to his life events, but there is no other Marty. This begs the question…who was living that alternate life?

The same question can be asked of Doc Brown in 1985 hell. We know he was committed to a mental institution, but is there actually a Doc Brown in the institution at the time that Doc returns to this alternate 1985? The rules of the series say no.

I believe the filmmakers put Marty in boarding school and Doc Brown in a mental institution specifically to avoid this question–an unanswerable paradox they had set up with the first movie. In the end, this can make no sense. I agree that the intentions of the filmmakers were to imply that there was a doppleganger, mentally deranged Doc Brown in the alternate 1985, but this does not fit in with the rules of logic set up in the first movie.

It’s an impossible paradox, but as the Huey would say, “That’s the Power of Love.”

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60 Comments For This Post

  1. Mark Says:

    “Somehow there is no alternate Doc Brown within this time period”

    It has been a while, but wasn’t he committed to an insane asylum in the alternate reality 1985?

  2. WaveRyder Says:

    Yeah, Doc ß finds out that the Doc of that reality was committed when he returns to his lab. Would this have been Doc ß*? Since there had been no other interactions that would have disrupted ß’s timeline during the first movie, this couldn’t have been ? yet.

  3. Milton Says:

    I can’t imagine how many times you’d have to re-watch the movies for this little article. That alone is impressive! GREAT SCOTT!

  4. Derick Says:

    “It has been a while, but wasn’t he committed to an insane asylum in the alternate reality 1985?”

    That’s what I was thinking also. They show a newspaper clipping of Doc being taken to the Asylum.

  5. brendo Says:

    I think Mark is right, there was an alternate Doc Brown in the “Biff Controlled” 1985. They mention that he was comitted…

  6. John Says:

    Yep… I remember him saying some line that finishes with “… and THIS has happened to ME!” At which time he holds up a newspaper with the headline “Doc Brown Committed.” It later changes, after the resolution of events in the second or third movie, to “Doc Brown Commended.”

  7. Psy Says:

    ^^^what he said…

    C’mon…Doc held up the newspaper that said he was committed…the same one that changes to “commended” later. He’s there, just locked away securely…

  8. Adam Says:

    Your right Mark!
    He is committed and martys dad is dead.
    so i guess there was no way to run into doc from alternate 1985!?!!?

  9. Michael Says:

    But if the Doc Brown living in 1955 at the end of Part 1 is approached by Marty again at the end of Part 2/Start of 3, doesnt the sequence of events that follows (to send Marty to 1885) distract Doc Brown from re-assembling the message from Marty about the Libyans, and therefore does actually get shot and die further forward in 1985, preventing him travelling to the future and everything that happens as the end of Part 1?

  10. Bob Says:

    Yes, in the 1985 hell, Doc Brown was committed to an insane asylum. I don’t know why the post author would have said otherwise. Even if he didn’t see or remember that scene, I can’t imagine any reason that he would just assume there wasn’t a Doc Brown. Also, there was an alternate Marty, who was in boarding school.

    I would like to see someone try to explain where Marty Beta went. Marty Beta would have been the Marty who grew up with cool parents; his Dad was a Sci-Fi writer and his Mom was hot. He owned a large black truck. He went back in time just after Doc Beta was shot down by Libyans, but before Doc Beta got up and said “just kidding.”

  11. sandra Says:

    Yes, yes he was.

  12. dave Says:

    indeed, yes, the alternate doc brown in this time period is committed in a mental institution (doc shows marty the newpaper headline).

    also of note is the alternate 1985 marty, who is “supposed to be in switzerland” in boarding school, according to evil biff.

    and, let’s not forget all the alternate deloreans. in BTTF II’s 1955, for a time, there are THREE! (marty’s original, the one biff brought back, and the one marty and doc returned in) in 1885, there are two (the second one sits buried in that mine, waiting to be discovered in 1955, while marty takes the other back home).

  13. Jimmy Says:

    yeh he was

  14. Daniel Says:

    When Marty goes to Dr. Brown’s after discovering that 1985 is a hellhole. Dr. Brown whips out a newspaper and says “LOOK WHAT HAPPENS TO ME!” I forget the exact headline but it says something like “Local Scientist Committed” and shows a picture of a strait-jacketed Dr. Brown. That would be another Dr. Brown to add to your total.

  15. Chris Says:

    Great article. I liked it.

  16. JQ Says:

    I think Mark’s right. Wasn’t there a picture of him being taken there at the alternate 1985 library?

  17. Jay Says:

    Blew my fucking mind while also depressing me a bit.

  18. Quaid Says:

    For some reason, my impression was that the Doc Brown in the insane asylum would have just disappeared when the new Doc appeared in alternate 1985 because there can only logically be one doc per time period, and our doc was the 1985 doc. Every time in the rest of the series that we return to 1985 it is a return home and no matter what changes occur in the past, Doc is still the original doc without a doppleganger. Otherwise doc would return to a double every time he changed ANYTHING in the past. I’m guessing, though, that your version was the intended interpretation. Thanks for pointing it out…that’s now FIVE Doc Browns.

  19. Bob Says:

    dave: “and, let’s not forget all the alternate deloreans. in BTTF II’s 1955, for a time, there are THREE! (marty’s original, the one biff brought back, and the one marty and doc returned in)”

    No, there are 4. You forgot the one that 1885 Doc left for Marty.

  20. Jonathan Haddad Says:

    There’s a major flaw in the 2nd movie – when Biff travels forward back from 1955 to 2015, he flies to the reality he left – back where Marty and Doc are hanging out. But according to Doc back in 1985, if they travel forward in time to prevent Biff from stealing the almanac, they’d travel to the one where Biff is “rich and powerful… and married to your mother”. Biff should have landed in this alternate, terrible universe rather than the one he left, since he was traveling forward from the point where he now has the Sports Almanac.

    Hopefully your friend spotted this.

    Additionally… if you stole a time machine, why would you bring it back to the original owner? What’s Doc brown going to do, call the police? Even if Biff could have brought it back, he’s an idiot for doing so.

  21. Malfrex Says:

    Although this whole article is quite interesting, and I commend you for it, isn’t it all sort of moot? Recall from the 2nd movie when Doc runs into Marty and explains the split – when he draws the diagram there is the straight line of the “original” timeline and then there is the split, where Biff gets ahold of the almanac.

    Note that Doc doesn’t erase the former timeline, he leaves it on the board. That gives me the notion the films are working on the notion of parallel realities as opposed to a static timeline that is being altered. Therefore, using this piece of information the other Doc Browns, Marty’s, and other characters are not destroyed. They simply exist within alternate timelines. They are only aware of the crossing of the timelines when they actively occur (ie. Marty meeting “Doc Brown ?”. The “split” between “Doc Brown ?” and “Doc Brown ?” occurs theoretically at some point between Marty’s initial arrival in 1955 and his physically knocking on Doc Brown’s door, at which point they interact.

    A clearer way to explain it is if you were to go to the store and buy something – you have the choice to pay in cash or credit. At the moment you’re unaware of any difference of your choice but the “split” occurs then. However, the divide may become bigger between the two timelines later when you realize that perhaps you don’t have enough left in credit because of that earlier purchase but if you had paid in cash you would have.

    Go go confusing sci-fi logic!

  22. WaveRyder Says:

    @Quiad: That logic doesn’t work with the rest of the movie. There were two visible Martys in 2015. Which doesn’t make any sense, either, as Marty had vanished from the timeline in 1985.

  23. BabyWithThePower Says:

    Malfrex has it right I think with the alternate realities. None of the other Docs are destroyed (except Doc Brown ?, who’s shot).

    But as for Marty, you’ve got that all wrong.

    Marty McFly ?, as the time traveler in the series, is removed from time. The timelines he returns to are not his own. Remember at the end of the first one he’s stunned to find everything changed and remembers his reality (says the car’s totaled only to find Biff out front polishing it). A new Marty is created in the altered 1955, but he isn’t Marty Prime. So the Marty we’re left with at the end of III is the Marty we started with.

    Where things get really murky is in regards to Jennifer. Marty dumps her on her porch, passed out, in Biff’s 1985; then miraculously finds her exactly where he left her in the current 1985. And furthermore, once Biff took the almanac back to 1955, thus creating the fractured Biff 1985, he effectively undid everything Marty and Doc accomplished by going into the future to begin with because that timeline had been completely eliminated (or at least shifted to an alternate reality that Marty Prime would never be able to touch again)…

    … My head hurts.

  24. Gargantuan Says:

    @Jonathan Haddad: Interesting point. I remember going over this with a friend some years ago which eventually led to a massive fight… as these things tend to do. Anhyoot, I’m a little rusty on the details since the debate raged for hours and it was a really long time ago, but it went something like this.

    When Biff returns the delorean, Doc and Marty have already gone back in time to get the Almanac back. It’s only when Doc and Marty travel back to 1985 that they can leave their current reality to end up in the alternate reality created by Rich Biff, which makes them travel back to 1955 and fix everything. In the Movie, we’re watching Doc and Marty’s current universe. Biff will have actually returned to two Universes. One in which he is Rich, and one in which nothing happened, the one we’re watching since all three characters now have their own timelines, and each character exists in each other timeline.

    Or something like that.

  25. Josh Says:

    You actually left one out, in the second film, in 1955, Doc Brown ß interacts with himself while he is setting up the lightening catching apparatus. Since Marty did not step around the thugs in the original film we have to assume that Doc Brown ß and his Marty at the time were not in 1955 during the original film, therefore during it Doc Brown ß did not interact with himself. When he does so in the second film he creates a knew memory, one he does not possess and therefore creates Doc Brown ? at that time, therefore pushing the rest of the theory one more Doc Brown ahead.

    Ok now my brain hurts.

  26. Josh Says:

    Crap apparently I skipped that paragraph, you did cover it, my mistake.

  27. Ken Says:

    The question has been posed “Is there an alternate Marty at the end/beginning of Part 1″. If you think about it, Marty Prime witnesses the existence of Marty “B” when he sees him go back in time after Doc is shot by the Lybians. Marty “B” goes back in time and effectively switches universes with Marty Prime who is surprised at his new, better life that Marty “B” has been living all along. What happens to Marty “B”?…he immediately reloads the time machine with extra plutonium that Doc purposely put in the Delorean to avoid any paradox. Marty “B” comes back to the future to find Marty Prime’s Doc dead because he had no forewarning. All this admittedly takes place off-screen, but answers the question of what happened to the Marty that leaves for the past at the end of the first film.

  28. Jack Says:

    There is always a duplicate… Marty had a duplicate but he left shortly after the Marty Prime came back… the truck and other changes would have been the norm to this Marty so his journey to the past and changes he might make would be completely different then one made by Marty Prime… Since he never would have heard dad falling out of a tree story insteand he would have heard stories about himself and most likey figured it out down the round…
    In regards to “hell” This universes Marty is in boarding school as mentioned by biff and is never seen… Doc is seen in the paper to be in a insane asylum… the “rules” of the series do imply that when traveling backwards to an altered time line you do in fact have a duplicate that sees this timeline as the norm…

  29. cbergstrom Says:

    This story is entirely told from Marty’s perspective. He is Marty Prime, and the story revolves around him and his actions.

    There are five time travelers in the series (technically 6, Clara doesn’t count because we don’t see the result of her affecting causality): Marty, Doc, Jennifer, Einstein, and Biff. Marty is present at every since instance of time travel (save one, the one big causality flaw in the series, which I’ll come to later), so we can observe the affect his travel has on the others.

    Marty Prime, in movie 1, travels back to 1955. Every action he takes affects his perception of what 1985 is, so when he returns, he is effectively lost in time. It’s not his 1985, nor will he ever be able to return to his 1985 Prime (his original 1985). I think that in 1985 Prime he simply disappeared that night, after Doc was fatally shot. Those events continue, his family trying to find him, etc, in 1985 Prime, but Marty will never know of it.

    In the newly altered 1985 of the 2nd movie, we learn about the affects of the past when you alter the future. Nothing happens. Causality maintains its integrity. Marty, Doc (#2), Jennifer (#2), and Einstein (#2) travel to 2015; the 2015 of the new 1985’s future. It occurs to one, and should have occurred to Doc based on what he learned of causality from Marty in 1955, that there was no need to go to 2015 to change the future, as just his knowledge of it and coming back will change that future. However, they go anyway. The 2015 that Doc went to without Marty is not, in theory, the same 2015 that the whole group goes to start movie 2, but it’s close enough that the main event that Doc wanted to prevent was still going to happen.

    Now we come to the one big flaw in causality in the entire series, and one which cannot be explained. Biff steals the time machine and goes back to 1955. (Remember, there is no pre-1955, so 1955 can always be thought of as 1955 prime, which is why they try in the 2nd movie to heavily maintain causality between the two versions of Marty that are there: both are Marty Prime, but one just got there first.) When Biff travels back to 2015, he should have arrived in a brand new 2015, one where Marty and Doc are not present, because they never would have been there in the first place. That future no longer exists (or if it does, it’s not one that Biff can return to). However, he returns to that same future.

    The only theory I have for this is that, somehow, in the universe of this movie, if you step outside of time, you are no longer affected by causality and stay linked to the others who have broken the timeline in the same way. The continuity makes sense in movie 1, as only Marty ever takes a trip in the time machine. In movie 2, this gets more complicated as the aforementioned five all travel in different parts of the 2nd movie. This would explain things a bit… perhaps 2015 *did* change around Marty, Doc, etc, and they simply didn’t notice. They pretty much bail as soon as they recover the machine. Biff dies offscreen, assuming a heart attack from the trip (in a deleted scene, they have him disappear, but I think they realized that didn’t make sense, and cut it). Marty, Doc, Jennifer, and Einstein are still effectively out of time, in this new 2015 timeline that they don’t know they’re in, and when they travel back to 1985, it is now a full 3rd new 1985 caused by Biff’s tinkering with 1955.

    This actually makes some sense based on a line Doc says before they both go back to 1955. Marty asks about Jennifer and Einstein, and Doc says something like “they’ll be fine, assuming we complete our task everything will shift around them”. This backs up the “outside of time” theory and that all 5 of them (4 now, cause Biff is dead) are linked in causality.

    They fix 1955, come back to 1985, now a 4th version which in theory is similar to the 2nd, and the same Jennifer and Einstein are there. The ones they are linked with. Jennifer has memory of what happened in 2015 and the “You’re Fired!” paper, and Einstein we obviously don’t know cause he’s a dog. The circle completes, Marty changes his future by not hitting the Rolls Royce, and the 2nd movie ends with a tight loop of causality.

    Movie 3 only has the one time trip, and it’s backwards (then forwards). Assuming the link between the 4 remaining people, all of this theory holds true. This is also backed up by when Doc goes back to 1885 and changes history, Marty, Jennifer, and assumedly Einstein are also not changed, and the Doc’s affect on 1885 was so minor (as a scientist, he would attempt to do as little damage as he could) that not much has changed in the now 5th version of 1985.

    Marty returns to 1885 and saves Clara and Doc. When he returns to 1985, this is now a 6th 1985 but linked by causality to #2, #4, and #5. The link allows Doc and Clara, from 1885, to show up and see Marty in 1985 and it be the same Marty: Marty Prime.

    I have a headache.

  30. nick Says:

    I remember reading somewhere, cannot recall where right now, an article or book about the multiverse theory; every possibility of things exists, at once, in a variety of universes, and that our perception of time and consciousness is merely us passing from one to the other. Going off of that theory, none of the characters cease to exists, merely the path their consciousness takes through the multiverse is altered.

    It has been a while since reading that, and i won’t claim to be capable of understanding the deeper complexities it would require to exist. Thought i’d throw it out there…

  31. CornRose Says:

    I think that cbergstrom has hit the nail on the head folks. The line that Doc delivers about the world changing around Jennifer was put there to validate the return of Biff to the “same” 2015 that he left. Even though it ISN’T the same 2015, like he said, it changed around marty and doc and they didnt notice.

    The only thing I don’t agree with is how he said Biff’s fading away in the deleted scene didnt make sense. It does make sense. In the first movie, Marty Prime is fighting for his life because he’s inadvertently swayed his mother’s attention from his father. A pivotal moment on the dance floor, the one mentioned at the beginning of the movie, where they kiss, looks like it might not happen, and Marty starts to fade from existence. He is having the same “heart attack” type symptoms as Biff was having before he erased as well. I think if they had left the scene in the movie it would have been better. I remember when I watched it the first time I wondered why he simply died and didn’t fade away like Marty in the first movie.

  32. Mark Says:

    I rememeber reading something about how two Marties switched places. Marty A leaves 1985 (and his crappy homelime) to go back in time to 1955. He leaves from the parking lot of the Twin Pines mall. Marty A later returns to the Lone Pine mall and sees Doc Brown gunned down. Now, if you look over at the Twin Pines sign in the background early in the picture when we first see Doc killed (before Mary A leaves for 1955), you can see a figure standing over by the sign watching the shooting. This, theoretically, is Marty B. Marty A returns to Marty B’s universe, with the happy homelife and boss pickup truck. Meanwhile, poor Marty B is now stuck in the crappy universe of Marty A, and has no way to escape because the Delorean is out of gas and Doc Brown is dead and can’t help him. Arguably, if Marty B has the presence of mind, he may find and grab a spare radiation cannister among Doc’s stuff in the parking lot, and restart the Delorean, but the odds are long against him returning to his happy life universe now occupied by Marty A.

  33. milo Says:

    That’s a terrible article.

    “The reason for NOT including it was this. In the original, Marty drastically changes the course of history including the events of his own life. When he returns to 1985, he finds himself with a different car and a very different life. Despite all these changes, there is NO alternate Marty.

    How, then, can I assume that there would be an alternate Doc Brown when he returns to another drastically altered 1985 in Part 2?

    In the original, Marty is unaware of all the changes to his life events, but there is no other Marty. This begs the question…who was living that alternate life?

    The same question can be asked of Doc Brown in 1985 hell. We know he was committed to a mental institution, but is there actually a Doc Brown in the institution at the time that Doc returns to this alternate 1985? The rules of the series say no.”

    There’s a few problems here. There was an alternate Marty in BTTF 1. Marty Prime jumped from 1955 to 1985. His duplicate lived the only life it ever knew and then traveled back in time just as Marty Prime came back. So there was an alternate Marty for a very short duration. Marty Prime didn’t know about his alternate’s life because he jumped over it by traveling through time. The Doc Brown from 1985 Hell would have lived his life up to that point, thereby being committed to the asylum. Time traveling Doc, having jumped through time from the future, would be living in parallel to his other self, just as Marty Prime and Marty B were at the end of BTTF 1.

    Granted, there are plenty of holes in the plot, but the “rules” do work. You can’t just say that there wouldn’t be a Doc Brown in 1985 Hell because it doesn’t fit within your misunderstanding of the storyline when they clearly showed he was there. All your update does is qualify your own mistake with an additional error and further misunderstanding.

    “Doc Brown ß goes into the future and discovers that Marty’s kids are in trouble. Then he enlists Marty’s help to go into the future and rescue them. Throughout most of Part 2 we are dealing with only Doc Brown ß. In the future scenes there is no question about the creation of a second Doc Brown because there is no Doc Brown in this time period (we can assume he’s dead, having been killed by Mad Dog Tannen in Part 3…more on that later).”

    What? That makes no sense at all. The 1885 events involving Doc Brown hadn’t yet occurred at this point according to the rules of the movie, so he couldn’t possibly have been killed. If he were killed, then he couldn’t have existed in 1985 Hell at all (which he very clearly was). Added to that, if Doc Brown could have been killed in 1885 before we witnessed the “current” events that sent him there, then the entire structure of the movie’s logic collapses because all of the alternate realities could occur before the characters that we follow through time went through the process of experiences or enacting them. That’s more in-line with the close loop theory, similar to what was presented in Twelve Monkeys. You’re scrambling the theories and making a mess of the BTTF logic. It’s plenty flawed, but you’re making an even bigger mess of it.

  34. Quaid Says:

    Wow….more people take this seriously than I had anticipated…

    First off, Marty B. I don’t believe Marty B would have returned to Marty Prime’s reality….any changes made would have created yet another alternate reality.

    So in the first reality of the first movie, Doc is dead and marty is missing. In fact, every time someone travels through time they are just creating an alternate reality. So you aren’t really fixing the past, you are just making another version. This kind of sucks because there are a lot of broken lives when you look at the movie like this. And it makes me sad.

    so I guess, yes, there must have been another doc brown in 1985 hell. Chalk that up as 5 again? Every time new information is put forward, I change my mind.

    I don’t like the “parallel reality” approach because it means there is: 1 reality where doc is dead and marty is missing, 1 reality where biff rules the world and doc is in a mental institution, 1 reality where doc was shot by mad dog tannen etc etc. In other words, every bad thing that happens in the movies still happens, and the characters are only selfishly changing things for themselves.

    Heavy. I hope everyone can still enjoy this article, flaws and all, for what it is.

  35. Malfrex Says:

    I don’t think one could say your article has flaws, as unless the writers of the movies come on here to debate the statements made there is no one argument that has greater weight then another. It all boils down to opinion.

    I’d like to throw one thing at you though, just to mix things up a bit further – apply the thought experiment of Schrödinger’s cat to the mix. You say you don’t like the idea of a parallel reality due to what it would mean for the fates of the various characters. What if your variants do get split off, as you stated, but in the grand scheme of the universe there is a undetermined probability for each timeline and which will persist while the other will cease to exist.

    Let’s say the timelines do split, but after the universe “lifts the box” to see which state has the greater probability of existing, the lesser one is destroyed and ceases to exist. The end result is still that they are selfishly changing things for their own purposes, but if one is not aware of the cause of their actions, is it really selfish? Ah, moral questions!

  36. CornRose Says:

    Quaid, this was an excellent article, please don’t take any of this discussion personally, at least not from me, this is just a bunch of nerds going off on a tangent as nerds do. I fully appreciated the time and effort you went into to provide this conversation starter. Any point of view based off of a viewpoint and interpretation of a movie can only be taken as such. A viewpoint and interpretation. As such, any public voicing of a viewpoint will trigger discussion.

    I too don’t like the parallel reality approach, as i said before i actually agree with much of what cbergstrom said, and is how i also interpreted how the movie worked. Aside for the biff fading away not making sense comment.

    All in all, the movie was brilliantly constructed, brilliantly acted, and overall extremely well executed, and i think it’s safe to say, regardless of everyone’s viewpoint, anyone who is participating in this conversation has a deep rooted love for the movie that won’t go away just from a conversation with some other BTTF lovers. Things like this only serve to keep the movie alive for me. So Quaid, thanks for this.

  37. Paul5 Says:

    It makes sense that as soon as one change was made then the characters would then remember that new reality. Such as, why does he live in the same house when his dad is a successful author as he does when he dad works for little money?

  38. Mark Says:

    Thing is, there really IS a Marty B.

    Remember, Marty Prime (A) has gone back in time and changed things, returns, and witnesses [a different version of] himself leaving for 1955 from the Lone Pine Mall. Previously, we clearly saw another Marty (Marty B), witnessing Marty Prime’s departure to 1955 from the Twin Pines Mall.

    That Marty (B) has lead a somewhat different life from Marty Prime, and is now (obstensively) trapped in Marty Prime’s timeline.

    I’m not sure how this affects the timeline without the existence/creation of a parallel universe, or how A and B cross over, or how changes made by Marty B will affect one of the timelines, or if B can even return to 1955 or 1985 B.

    For the record, I’ve always thought this was a goof on the part of the filmmakers; they never should have had the second Marty watching events at the Twin Pines Mall, since it becomes the Lone Pine Mall later when Marty Prime returns.

    Sorry… maybe I’m on my own Geekery!

  39. LBDG Says:

    You could solve the Marty A / Marty B problem by turning the events into a möbius strip of sorts.

    -Marty A with the geeky dad and overweight mom goes back in time and manages to alter how his parents first met, making his dad cool and his mom hot. He also runs over a tree turning Twin Pines Mall into Lone Pine Mall.

    -Marty B with the cool dad and the hot mom goes back in time. He DOES NOT do any of the things Marty A did, so his dad still falls out of the tree and becomes (remains?) uncool and his mom evolves into the original overweight version. He also doesn’t run over the pine upon his arrival (having richer parents gave him better driving lessons), transforming the Lone Pine Mall he always knew into Twin Pines Mall upon his return.

    Both Marty A and Marty B watched Doc Brown get shot, so both go to him for help and both give him the same warning.

    These 2 events repeatedly alternate in a never-ending cycle between A/B/A/B/A/B, with Marty continually causing and un-causing changes. Assuming the film starts on any “A” iteration other than the very first one, that explains the appearance of a Marty watching in the distance at Twin Pines Mall.

    (Incidentally, I’ve seen the movie many many times and have never noticed this other Marty in the initial Twin Pines Mall scene, but based on this article and the discussion I can’t wait to watch it again to look for him. Thanks for the tip!)

  40. Chris Says:

    2 things.

    1. When the newspaper changes to “Doc Brown Commended”, since the final Doc wasn’t actually commended, does this create yet another Doc?

    2. There is one place where I’ve always thought the internal rules of the film biffed, so to speak. As stated in the beginning of the article, the rules of the movie always show the actions the characters take as being the prime actions. When Marty goes back to 1955, it’s because Doc is dead, not as suggested, wearing the vest but not telling Marty so that he’ll have to time travel, that’s the paradox style the movie avoids. When we see them time travel, it’s always the alpha event. This is not the case in part 3 when the canyon was named after Clara in an event that only takes place because of an interaction with the main characters. Since Marty was aware of the story behind the canyon, it’s the explanation that a different chain of events, but one that still involved Doc Marty and time travel had already occured in 1885 and dictates, since it’s the “first” event in the timeline (1885), that the entire chain of events in all 3 movies, had in fact, occured before. Similar to Neo in the Matrix.

    mind = blown

  41. NotTheBuddha Says:

    “For the record, I’ve always thought this was a goof on the part of the filmmakers; they never should have had the second Marty watching events at the Twin Pines Mall, since it becomes the Lone Pine Mall later when Marty Prime returns.”

    This was not apparent to the people who are familiar with the film from cable or VHS cuts that panned-and-scanned the “other Marty” away.

    I don’t see the other Marty’s existence as a mistake so much as a suggestion that 1955-Doc’s warnings about the consequences of time travel are rightfully severe: that Marty ended up in a 1985 with a family of losers and probably got in trouble for having a stolen car belonging to a murdered Doc Brown.

    And of course, there’s the real life “other Marty”, Eric Stolz.

  42. xy7 review Says:

    True, but there were gaps. The electrical grid was falling apart even before any attacks.

  43. paul Says:

    Exactly, we shredded that country and killed a million civilians, we have just as much blood on our hands.

  44. imment Says:

    I even defaced a rare book to get that picture of Saadam in a speedo!

  45. Says:

    I hope we safe some of these artifacts. This is history.

  46. mrwords Says:

    And instead we replaced it with substandard construction, concrete walls separating neighborhoods and a fortified embassy. Fear just has a new face.

  47. squib Says:

    A few people mentioned that in the initial scene where Marty Prime departs from the Twin Pines Mall we can see another Marty–Marty B?–watching from the background? If this is true then where and when exactly? I can’t seem to see it on a choppy streamed version.

  48. Justin Says:

    I would agree that the filmmaker decided to avoid dealing with the complexity of an alternate Doc and Marty in the Biff-run 1985. But I feel that had these alternate characters been present, they would not have posed any kind of threat to the continuity of the temporal theory employed in the film. Marty prine and Doc prime would never have met; Doc would not have built the time-machine, and Marty would not have gone back in time. So there would have been two of them in that timeline. We can assume that balance in the temporal universe is restored (I call it this because the fading pictures is evidence that these universes seek to balance themselves out, but take time to do so – a clever plot device, but in terms of time-travel theory its really quite awful) when a timeline in which there is only 1 Marty and 1 Doc. that is, if Marty and Doc travelled to one timeline, we have to assume that the Marty and Doc in this second timeline had also travelled, otherwise there would be multiple copies.

  49. online banking Says:

    Just blowing some in between class time on Digg and I found your post . Not typically what I prefer to read about, but it was certainly worth my time. Thanks.

  50. Justin Says:

    I feel I should add, because a few people interpreted 2 incompatible time-travel theories, when in fact the logic of the films is rather sound (but quite silly). Changes made to the past cause changes to the future under the condition that the person from the future went back in time. We have to assume that history proceeded normally, as if Marty had not previously travelled in time. The fulcrum of everything is the time-travel. Doc was not wearing a bullet-proof vest under his labcoat in the terrorist attack; not until Marty travelled in time and then a new chain of events was underway. Marty went back, created a second Doc brown (this was correctly posted above) and then travelled to this parallel universe in which Doc was influenced by the letter. The silly part is the continuity-discontinuity between objects. Would that photo of the kids been taken like that had there been no kids? Everyone fades out of view, so why would someone have taken the picture of nothing? The picture itself should have faded and not the people in it. My biggest problem with the film, in terms of time-travel theory, is the way the universe slowly balances itself out, where transported objects serve as indicators of things affected from changes in the past. As I said, clever plot device, but far too similar to The Sound of Thunder, where evolutionary time waves hit people…

  51. TOMAS Says:

    cbergstrom Is right about Biff disappearing in the 2nd movie that was deleted. in the new Blue Ray behind the scenes they explain that he disappears because Lorane shoots him in the 90s. Thats makes sense since he treated her so bad she sets out to kill him. Thus he doesn’t exist in 2015. I like the idea that time changes around Marty and Doc and they don’t notice since there are just in a housing community.

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  53. Mark Says:

    I believe the mysterious figure in the background watching Twin Pines Mall Marty was Three Pines Mall Marty, so it makes sense at the end of the movie that we see Twin Pines Mall Marty watching Lone Pine Mall Marty jump into the Delorean. It is just one continuing chain. That just leaves No Pine Mall Marty.

  54. Mark Says:

    Yeah, you kids really got it rough, when I was your age, if I wanted to watch two shows at once, I had to put two sets next to each other.

  55. Mark Says:

    At the end of Part 3, I always find it funny that 1985 Biff doesn’t recognize Marty as that “Calvin Klein” guy who not only stole the almanac from him but also caused Biff’s car to get slammed in a manure truck twice in 1955, whereas alternate 1985 Biff did when he said “Funny, I’d never thought it would be you”.

  56. Mark Says:

    Today, on Lybia’s Liberation Day, the new government has finally issued an apology for the 1985 assassination of Doctor Emmett L. Brown.

  57. Sequoia Says:

    Normally I’m against killing but this article slaughtered my ignoacnre.

  58. mzkhlwkdf Says:

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  59. Casey L Anderson Says:

    Good . of course, but all in vain. Why, because of the multiverse theory, Marty doesn’t erase the previous versions of doc he just traveled through time and changed one significant event and he came back to the future in an alternate timeline(ie. alternate parallel earth).

    It’s hard to explain without a blackboard/whiteboard, but Timeline A, is the original version of not doing nothing or Timeline A Doc, gets shot and Timeline A Marty goes back to Nov. 5, 1955 to escape the libyans of course, first and since he figured he gone back in time to change Timeline A’s Doc course of action of being shot dead by the libyans. But on his way to warn Doc, he runs into both of his parents and makes them miss their original meeting and so when he finally enlists Doc’s help to get back to the future, he also enlists his help to get his parents back together and Timeline A Marty succeeds at the ending of BTTF1 and when Timeline A marty returns to the future, Timeline A is in Timeline B’s Marty’s time. And Sees Timeline B’s go back to the past in order to ensure their is no paradox happening, but I believe he might change more than Timeline A did, so Timeline B would return to timeline c and so on and so forth all the way to timeline Y, and Timeline Y’s return to Timeline Z’s world and sees Timeline Z goes back and Timeline Z doesn’t mess with anything so Timeline Z returns to Timeline A. one theory of course;

    Second theory, timeline A, continues on and On Oct 28, 1985 Lorraine and George report Marty missing and Timeline A Doc is still dead. and marty is missing in timeline A but little did the timeline A’s selves know that their Marty was in Timeline B. and continues on like that so the second theory becomes the first theory.

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