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What did Doc Brown know?

By Bert Ehrmann

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Fort Wayne Reader


I found myself wondering the other day after watching a marathon of Back to the Future movies; what exactly did Doc Brown know about what’s about to happen to Marty McFly when we first meet Brown at the beginning of Back to the Future? I suppose there are a few ways to look at this; first, that there’s one timeline in Back to the Future and the other that’s there’s at least two.

Let’s assume that there’s only one timeline. If this is the case then at the very least ’85 Doc Brown knew when he first met Marty McFly sometime in the early ‘80s that he was destined to send Marty back in time to ’55 where Brown would help him return to ’85 since all this had already happened to Brown. He’d also know that after he sent Marty home to ’85 another Marty, this one from slightly farther in the future from Marty #1, would have to be sent to the Old West to rescue the ’85 version of himself (Doc Brown) from death at the hands of Mad Dog Tannen.

I suppose the one thing this Doc Brown wouldn’t know is if McFly was successful or not at that rescue. In fact, for all ’55 Doc Brown knows, both McFly and the older Doc Brown were stuck in 1885 for good.
So for much of Doc Brown’s life he’s known what’s going to happen next to himself big-picture-wise. That he’s going to invent the time circuit, since his future self has already sent McFly back in time and he’s seen this creation in ’55, and that he’s going to meet this McFly kid at some point in the ‘80s too.

All of which is true unless there’s more than one timeline in Back to the Future.

Let’s assume here that the minute that Marty McFly goes back in time to ’55 from ’85 that another timeline was created. The first timeline would be a past McFly doesn’t go back in time and while Marty’s parents do get together, they and the McFly family don’t have the best of lives.

But when Marty goes back to ’55 in Back to the Future he creates an alternate timeline where he changes things. He meets Doc Brown and gives his father George the confidence to knock Biff Tannen out and woo Elaine. And by doing this Marty effectively changes the time stream to where George McFly grows up with more confidence and becomes a successful novelist and the McFly’s have a nice house and things.
There’s also the fact that when McFly leaves ’85 for the first time he leaves from “Twin Pines Mall” but when he arrives back from ’55 towards the end of the movie it’s “Lone Pine Mall.” Which to me really points towards the idea of there being two timelines in Back to the Future.

There’s also the idea that I read years ago that says there’s more than one Marty jumping around in time. This theory said that there’s the Marty we follow who goes back in time and changes things for the better. That he doesn’t as much CHANGE things as he switches places with the Marty McFly who’s always lived in the good timeline. That this Marty also went back in time. But instead of giving his father extra confidence to knock Biff out, he instead sets into motion the events of Elaine’s father hitting George with the car, and her falling for the meek George that way.

So when this alternate Marty McFly gets home to ’85 he finds that the home he’s always known, the father who’s always been confident and the family of up and coming business people are all gone. Instead they’re replaced with lower-middle class duplicates of people he thinks he knows but really doesn’t.

I’ve always wondered if this was the case if this Marty, the one who grew up in the good time and had it replaced with the “blah” one, if he wanted to go back in time to set things right for him? Or even if he could since I suppose in his timeline Doc Brown was probably killed by terrorists and any knowledge that he had with him about time travel died with him.

Then again this Marty would still have the Delorean. And the only thing he’d need to travel wherever he wanted in time would be finding enough power to get him there.

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