Sep 30 2012 5:00pm

“I”m Young/I’m Old!" When Time Travelers Meet Themselves

As the recent film Looper demonstrates, it’s always perversely satisfying when older characters meet their younger selves and vice versa. Emotions always seem to run high when this kind of thing occurs, because after all, no one can push your buttons more than you!  But if your past or future self evers shows up, beware!  Meeting yourself tends to be a harbinger of coming disasters, tricky paradoxes, or both. When has this happened before? When will it happen again? Check out some of the best examples of self-on-self action below.


For a certain generation of science fiction fans, our collective awareness about meeting a future or past version of ourselves probably comes exclusively from Back to the Future II. (And solely that movie. Believe it or not, neither of the other Back to the Future movies feature characters meeting themselves.) 1955 Biff is infamously given the Sports Almanac by 2015 Biff. 1985-ish Doc also speaks with 1955 Doc in this one (albeit with his back turned.) And Marty from the first film accidentally knocks out Marty from the second film with an ill-timed swinging door! Finally, 1985 Jennifer comes face to face with 2015 Jennifer and both promptly faint before simultaneously uttering, “I’m young!” and “I’m old!”

Harry Skips Over Learning How to Do a Patronus in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

How does Harry Potter learn to produce his patronus? By watching future Harry Potter produce his patronus. In the only instance of time travel in the Harry Potter universe, Harry uses Hermione’s time turner to go back in time and save himself from Dementors. Though Potter doesn’t technically meet himself, he does help himself out, even though the past version of Harry believed some weird version of his father had helped him. Like the massive slacker he is, Harry manages to skip learning how to do the Patronus Charm by simply ripping himself off in the future. The explanation? “I remembered watching myself do it.” Later in, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, all the time turners are conveniently destroyed during a big battle at the Ministry of Magic, presumably so other lazy students wouldn’t learn how to do complicated spells the easy way like Harry.

Fyr's his Own Ancestor on Futurama

Futurama resisted time travel for a while, but once it made that science fiction plunge it really committed. The first of the DVD movies, Bender’s Big Score, goes all out with this, marooning Fry back in his original era while in the future Leela dates some bald guy named Lars. It turns out that Lars is the end result of Fry living out his time in the past in accordance with events to come, i.e. Lars is Fry. This is unfortunate for Lars, though, because in the Futurama universe a duplicate from another time is doomed to die. Lars is no exception, dying in an explosion just after he and Leela are married. Fry then realizes the kind of person he has to become in order to win Leela’s affection.

Usually when someone learns about the actions of an alternate self, it’s so they can avoid making the same mistakes/turning into a monster/etc. Here, we get that same struggle from the other perspective. Fry is already making those mistakes, though, and gets to see a version of himself that has wised up, letting him know that he’s capable of the same.


Arthur Dent is Unable to Call Himself in The Restaurant at the End of Universe by Douglas Adams

In the sequel to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Ford Prefect informs Arthur Dent that the main problem with trying to telephone himself in the past and warn himself about the destruction of Earth is that it simply won’t work. Because the titular Restaurant at the End of the Universe is more of a time than a place, it guarantees you can never run into yourself “because of the embarrassment this usually causes.” Like most of the sci-fi mechanics of the Hitchhiker universe, this isn’t adequately explained, but like most Douglas Adams gems, it’s designed more as a anti-logical punchline than anything else.


Amy Pond Meets Herself Constantly on Doctor Who

Oh Amy Pond! It seems like you’re always meeting yourself via time travel. This soon-to-be departed companion of the Doctor has interacted with herself on three occasions thus far, which must be some kind of record. The first time was in “The Big Bang,” where little kid Amelia is living in the bizarro timeline created by all the stars exploding back in 102 A.D. Right at the start of this, twenty-something Amy Pond emerges from the Pandorica in the late 1996 and tells her 7-year-old self “this is where it gets complicated.” Though Amelia and Amy don’t get to hang out for very long, this sequence does allow for the Doctor to say, “Come along, Ponds!” and have it not be in reference to Amy and Rory. Then, in the minisodes “Time” and “Space” two Amy ponds help sort of the conundrum of the TARDIS materializing inside of itself.

Tragically, the most recent instance of Amy meeting herself was in last season’s “The Girl Who Waited” in which Rory is confronted with choosing between young and happy Amy and old and grumpy Amy. At some point the idea having both Amy’s live on the TARDIS is floated with Rory asking the Doctor if it could work. “I don’t know, it’s your marriage!” the Doctor replies.

Will Amy meet herself again before the Ponds bow out? She’s only got one more chance!

Okay, your turn readers. Tell us all about your favorites examples of time-travel-meeting-yourself shenanigans! There’s an intriguing one from Red Dwarf that we skipped, for instance....

Stubby the Rocket is the voice and mascot of and only met itself once. The results were super, super hot.

Hampus Eckerman
1. Hampus Eckerman
Barney Hendrickson meets himself and tells himself how to travel in time to be able to meet himself in Harry Harrisons "
The Technicolor Time Machine". At the same time he fools himself to believe that he has damaged his arm, just because he's a sadist. A really good book if I remember it correctly.
lake sidey
2. lakesidey
3 occasions isn't really a record...Amy's not even the big fish in the small, ah, pond of Doctor Who canon. The good Doctor himself has met himself on several occasions - (I guess the fifth doctor alone has met the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th (sort of anyway, in Logopolis) and the 10th. And possibly the 7th and 8th though I doubt that's canonical.) The Brigadier, Romana (iirc), Jo Grant, Rose (well almost) and a few others have also met, or at least seen their future/past selves at some point or other. (And some of them have also met their selves from parallel universes, which can be just as hilarious. Liz, the Brigadier (again!), Mickey/Ricky Smith...)

And there was this Heinlein story called "By his Bootstraps" which also has a remarkable number of "meeting self" incidents. And Larry Niven's lovely but oh futz convoluted"Wrong Way Street" where the guy doesn't quite meet himself but....

Jay Dauro
3. J.Dauro
Of course, Heinlein also did By His Bootstraps, where we see 4 different ages of the same person.

Edited I type too slow. Beaten by lakesidey
Jeff Weston
4. JWezy
My favorite - Red Dwarf - Lister meets his earlier self, who calls the older self a "crypto-facist" and sings an awful song called "Om", appearing with a group called "Smeg and the Heads".

Due to disorganized timeline, I read "By His Bootstraps" before "All You Zombies", and felt the latter was derivative. My own personal time-travelling paradox.
Andrew Love
5. AndyLove
"Lars is no exception, dying in an explosion just after he and Leela are married."
Lars and Leela never married - Lars backed out just before the ceremony, as soon as he realizes he is doomed.
Hampus Eckerman
9. LazerWulf
My favorite one is "Time Crash" where Doctor no. 10 meets Doctor no. 5, and Doctor no. 5 is inexplicably old. (Well, hand-wavably old, anyway). I got a little choked up when Tennant gets to say to Davison, "You were my Doctor".

Also features what Wikipedia calls a Bootstrap paradox, named after the Heinlein story. "Time/Space" and the Harry Potter example also feature this particular paradox. So does "Blink", though in that case it's called a "stable time loop", and doesn't feature characters meeting themselves, but the concept is the same.
Hampus Eckerman
10. Evan H.
No discussion of this topic is complete without a mention of David Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself, which eclipsed Heinlein's "--All You Zombies--" as the most thorough examination of the implications of time travel ever published.
Robert Garza
11. FunBob
12 Monkeys...Willis travels back in time from a post apocalyptic world to determine who caused the disease drove humans underground...he is gunned down as a murderer and kidnapper while his younger self sees the whole thing and walks out of the airport with his parents
Kalvin Kingsley
13. KalvinKingsley
The Lost in Space film (the most recent one, with Rollergirl and Joey from Friends) has Will Robinson and Dr. Smith meeting their future selves, as well.
Hampus Eckerman
14. Jan the Alan Fan
My favourite... in Julian May's Galactic Milieu series, icy teenage genius Marc Remillard meets the elderly version of himself, though he doesn't realise it at the time.

The series has a stable one-way time portal to Europe of 6 million BC, and is seen by the authorities as a convenient way to deal with troublemakers / misfits.
Hampus Eckerman
15. UKJeeper
No mention of Ron Silver meeting himself in Time Cop?
Hampus Eckerman
16. handymoreno
Bruce Willis sure have seen his younger self quite a lot, my favorite is "The Kid"
S Cooper
17. SPC
In the time travel plot of the comic PS238 (one of my favorite time travel stories of all time), Tyler is helped by future versions of himself at least twice. They remember how it all went, so when he pops up confused, they get him where he needs to be.
Andrew House
18. housephd
Bill and Ted meet themselves in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, where we actually see the meeting (where future versions tell past versions to trust Rufus) from both ends of the timeline.

(I appreciate that movie more now as an adult than when I first saw it as a child. :)
marian moore
19. mariesdaughter
well, you have to mention La jetée, the movie that 12 Monkeys was based on, n'est pas?
Kevin Marks
20. KevinMarks
I noted the omission of By His Bootstraps, but Heinlein had a bigger idea in mind:
I have had a dirty suspicion since I was about six that all consciousness is one and that all the actors I see around me (including my enemies) are myself, at different points in the record's grooves. I once partly explored this in a story called BY HIS BOOTSTRAPS. I say "partly" because I touched on one point only—and the story was mistaken by the readers (most of them) for a time-travel paradox story...whereas I was investigating whether "the wine we thought we swallered could make us dream of all that follered...but we was only simple seamen so of course we couldn't know."
Hampus Eckerman
21. wfsch
Dinosaur Beach (Keith Laumer): hero sees younger self killed in an event he remembed surviving. Also, Grand Tour, a well-crafted b-movie based on C.L> Moore's Vintage Season, where Jeff Daniel's character calls a younger version of himself to bust him out of jail, then they team up to take on the town's judge.
Hampus Eckerman
22. wyoarmadillos
I just finsished the Map of Time and Map of the Sky by Felix J Palma. There are several instances of H.G. Wells interacting with his past/future self in the series.

Not to mention the opening of the movie the Time Travellors Wife.
Noneo Yourbusiness
23. Longtimefan
Danny Torrance sees is older teen self as Tony in the Shining. (book not movie)
Hampus Eckerman
24. Thomas Bosack
I got to hand it to you, your super smart!
Great article.
Hampus Eckerman
25. phil green 3k
There is a problem with this page's encoding, making it hard for me to read it. I am sending this message from the future by the way.

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