Yesterday, I traveled into the future and read a blog on Tor.com about temporal paradoxes in Doctor Who. To my horror, I realized the blog was written by me! So without missing a trick, I copied and pasted the text into a Word document, copied that document to my flash drive, grabbed my vortex manipulator and popped back into this Wednesday and pasted the text into a blog. Whew! I’m pretty sure this is a predestination paradox, or maybe an ontological paradox. I mean when did I write this thing in the first place? What do I mean by first? Anyway, The Doctor has dealt with a lot more of these things than me. Here are five of the best.
5. “The Big Bang” - Eleventh Doctor
The question of an ontological paradox is all about determining how something existed in the first place. In “Smith & Jones” the Doctor says you should never cross your own personal timeline, “except for cheap tricks.” In the most recent season finale, this cheap trick saves the day. The Doctor is trapped in the Pandorica, which can only be opened from the outside by his sonic screwdriver. Where is the sonic screwdriver? Why, it’s in Amy’s pocket of course! And in the future, Amy is in the Pandorica. How did Amy get there? Well, the Doctor put her in there, after Rory opened the Pandorica with the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver. The Doctor got his sonic screwdriver from Amy’s pocket because he had Rory put it there in the past. So, how did the Doctor originally escape the Pandoria then? Rory let him out, right? But Rory couldn’t have let him out if it weren’t for the Doctor already being out to begin with! So where did the sonic screwdriver come from? As the adult Amy says to little kid-Amy, “Okay kid, this is where it gets complicated…”
4. “Father’s Day” - Ninth Doctor
Because the Doctor is like, totally morbid or something, he agrees to take Rose back in time to witness her father’s accidental death in 1987. Though the Doctor supposedly just wants to give her a chance to be with him in his final moments (also creepy) Rose ends up rescuing her father, and nearly causing the universe to collapse. While Pete Tyler eventually makes the right call and sacrifices himself for the sake of the universe, Rose is still able to be with him in his final minutes of life. She then, retroactively remembers her mother telling her the story of a strange woman who held her father as he died. In addition to this retroactive memory paradox, there is the notion that the adult Rose imprints herself onto a toddler version of Mickey Smith, who as a result eventually becomes obsessed with her when he becomes an adult. So, did Rose really change history, or was she always meant to go back and be the woman who was there with her father? Does infant Rose remember being touched by her adult self? Does she remember being held by The Doctor? Is that why she trusts him so much? Of all the crossing-of-personal time-line stories, this one certainly raises more questions than provides answers.
3. “The Curse of Fenric” - Seventh Doctor
In the midst of vampires from the future, undercover World War II-era Russians, cipher machines, and an ancient foe, the Doctor’s companion, Ace, is faced with a kind of opposite of the grandfather paradox. Unlike “Father’s Day,” where Rose’s actions nearly destroy the universe, this paradox creates Ace’s very existence. Because Ace frantically sends her grandmother and the infant version of her mother, Audrey, to live in London, she ensures their safety from Fenric and the crazy future-vampires attacking her and the Doctor. This presents a closed-loop or predestination paradox, as Ace was always destined to save the infant version of her mother in order to ensure her own birth. The great thing is though, Ace doesn’t even know these people are her grandmother and mother when she puts them in a truck and instructs them to drive. She’s just doing it out of pure human compassion.
2. “Blink” - Tenth Doctor
Finally! The Doctor reveals to us how all this paradox stuff works with technical terms like “Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey-stuff”! And this one looks like another ontological, or as Heinlein would call it—a “bootstraps paradox.” Anyway, the entire episode revolves around a transcript of a conversation between Sally Sparrow and the Doctor via hidden DVD extras. A future version of the the Doctor has an entire copy of the transcript which basically explains how everyone is going to get out of this whole Weeping Angels problem.
And yet, the Doctor doesn’t get the complete transcript and the whole lowdown on what happens until the end of the episode when Sally gives it to an earlier version of him. For the Doctor at this point, none of this has happened, and yet he is the author of half of the transcript via the DVD extras which he ends up creating. But he only knows to create those because of the complete transcript Sally gives to him, and she only knew about the transcript from the Doctor, who only knew about it from her…jeez. Forget about not blinking, my head is spinning…
1. “City of Death” - Fourth Doctor
This episode presents another closed-loop paradox, with a bit of a twist. Combining various elements of great time-travel stories, the Doctor, Romana, and their 20th century friend Duggan, in the final moments of the episode, are tasked with preventing all of history from being changed. As it turns out, the origin of all life on Earth can be attributed to Jaggaroth spacecraft exploding in low orbit, thus providing various amino acids with the right amount of radiation that caused them to form into proteins. Now, the villainous Scaroth wants to prevent this explosion from happening, and save his people. Luckily, via TARDIS, the Doctor, Romana and Duggan show up to stand between Scaroth and the Jaggaroth ship. Duggan heroically punches out the one-eyed Scaroth, thus keeping history on course. Indicating this paradox has always existed, the Doctor remarks “that was probably the most important punch in history!” The bumbling Duggan becomes in a roundabout way, the reason for everyone’s existence on Earth, even though he’s from the future. So what existed first? Duggan’s punch or the explosion?
What about the Doctor’s presence in Paris to begin with? If he hadn’t been there, the Scaroth’s plot would have never been uncovered, and Duggan would have never started hanging out with our favorite Time Lord and Time Lady. So, was it the Doctor, in a roundabout way, the reason for the evolution of life on Earth just because he was on holiday in Paris in the 20th century? But wait, how could there be a Paris of the 20th century without life on Earth evolving in the first place? It can be argued that the Scaroth’s splintering into Earth’s future always happened, and Duggan, the Doctor and Romana are there, in the first scene of the episode, just a little to the left and off camera. Or something.
There are of course more paradoxes in Doctor Who, so if I missed your favorite, I’m sorry. But keep in mind; I don’t actually know who wrote this to begin with, as I just copied it from my future self…
Ryan Britt’s writing has appeared here as well as Nerve.com, Clarkesworld Magazine, Opium Magazine and elsewhere. This blog is not the only thing he has copied from his future self. In fact, he frequently takes trips into the future to get an idea as to what he should be working on. He lives in Brooklyn.