Created By: KimikoMuffin on July 3, 2011 Last Edited By: KimikoMuffin on July 18, 2011

Dying To Change The Past

Changing the past indirectly causes the death of the one who changed it.

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Needs a Better Title - Suggestions: "Time Travel Duplicate Exclusion Principle"

A character travels back in time and changes the past for good or bad, and then explicitly dies as an indirect result, rather than vanishing as part of a Delayed Ripple Effect or sticking around.

The reasons for doing it this way might vary. One reason might simply be to have a Time Travel plot involving a visitor from a Bad Future and/or a Heroic Sacrifice but without changing the status quo, either by killing a major character or harming their Uniqueness Value; another reason might be to provide all the drama of killing a major character without harming someone with Contractural Immortality (see Expendable Clone). Having multiple copies of a main character might just be confusing, too, so this also deals with that possibility.

For a trope which doesn't necessarily involve Time Travel but still treats multiple copies of a character as expendable, see All the Myriad Ways. Not to be confused with Clock Roaches and Time Police, which don't count because if they kill you, it is for all practical purposes a direct result of changing the past. If a character dies attempting to change the past, but merely causes a Stable Time Loop, that's You Already Changed the Past.

As with all Death Tropes, these examples will most likely contain spoilers.
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  • Homestuck is noteworthy because there is a force actively working to make this hapen: if you're not from the Alpha Timeline, you're doomed, as is the timeline you came from. For instance, in a Bad Future, Dave went back in time, became "Davesprite," and then fell in a fight with Jack Noir when he went One-Winged Angel (although Davesprite was recently revealed to be Not Quite Dead, so perhaps the technique isn't perfect); then there's the hundreds of Aradia-clones who contributed to the fight against the trolls' Final Boss, and were all killed. Stable Time Loops are perfectly fine, though, and seem to be the bulk of how this force gets things done.
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[[folder:Western Animation]]
  • In the Futurama special Bender's Big Score, this is actually a rule. It's a well known fact in the universe that a time duplicate, as they're called, has to die because of the paradox their existence creates, and becomes a plot point in pretty much every character's subplot.
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Community Feedback Replies: 23
  • July 3, 2011
    Darthcaliber
    Futurama: Bender's Big Score -happens in spades

  • July 3, 2011
    Valentine
    I think you should leave out Temporal Paradox as a necessary part of the trope. There are going to be plenty of examples from the parts of the sliding scale of Temporal Mutability where you can cause such changes without it explicitly being a paradox - anything where Time Travel involves branching AlternateUniverses, but which would be otherwise identical, particularly with regard to the Status Quo Is God nature of the trope, for instance.

    Compare What Measure Is A Non Unique and Expendable Clone.

    All The Myriad Ways is very similar.

  • July 3, 2011
    randomsurfer
    In Doctor Who "Turn Left," Future!Donna goes back in time to make sure she meets the Doctor. She ends up doing this by purposely getting run over by a truck (and dying), causing a traffic jam which makes Past!Donna turn left instead of right.
  • July 3, 2011
    KimikoMuffin
    Good point, Valentine. I suppose I was using "temporal paradox" to mean "any situation in which the past is changed," but yeah. Not sure what to use in place of that in the title ...

    I also didn't think of Status Quo Is God as that fundamental to the premise, just one of the reasons the writers might do it that way; a writer might still use this trope in a story that doesn't have a "status quo" per se.
  • July 3, 2011
    c0ry
    Perhaps an alternate title could be There Can Only Be One At A Time - indicating that a given character must be unique and that it has something to do with timelines.
  • July 3, 2011
    Stratadrake
    Definitely needing a better title, I thought "Temporal Paradox Death" meant Ret Gone.
  • July 3, 2011
    KimikoMuffin
    c0ry: I don't think that quite captures the time-travel aspect.

    I'll change it to "Changing The Past Death" for now so that, while it's probably technically a worse name, it's clearer what the intent is.
  • July 3, 2011
    Ryusui
    Dying To Change The Past? :3

    I'm not wholly sure Homestuck is this, however, especially considering that the one person to apparently sacrifice themselves by changing the past is, as you noted, not dead after all (but AH kept us thinking so for the longest). And while it's true that non-alpha timelines are "doomed" - that is, such timelines and all their inhabitants will eventually perish - it's recently been made quite clear what constitutes the alpha timeline in the first place: it is the timeline where Doc Scratch dies and Lord English emerges.
  • July 4, 2011
    NetMonster
    "Death by changing the past" is clearer I think.
  • July 4, 2011
    Stratadrake
    ^ But can still be confused with Ret Gone, where the cause of death is changing the past.
  • July 4, 2011
    KimikoMuffin
    I like "Dying To Change The Past." Switching it to that for now.

    And I think Homestuck is worth mentioning at least insofar as there is a force which is actively working to make this trope hapen.
  • July 5, 2011
    Duncan
    In Lisa Mason's Time Travel Novels Summer of Love and The Golden Nineties, part of the backstory of the first uses of time travel the backstory of the creator of time travel is that she wanted to use it to go to the past and rescue a homeless woman she'd hit with her car as a child. When she arrives in the past, she gets mugged, beat up, and then crashed into and killed by her past self.
  • July 6, 2011
    KimikoMuffin
    I don't think that's really an example, Duncan, because that example doesn't involve changing the past, that just creates a Stable Time Loop.
  • July 6, 2011
    MetaFour
    • Back To The Future, Part II: A deleted scene would have shown the elderly Biff Tannen, after giving Grays Sports Almanac to his younger self in 1955, returning to 2015 and fading from existence. (Word Of God is that, in the timeline resulting from his interference in 1955, Lorraine shot him sometime between 1985 and 2015.)
    • In the Justice League episode "Hereafter", Superman ends up in the far future where Vandal Savage is the only surviving human. Savage uses his time machine to send Superman back to the past to set things right. When Supes arrives in the past, there's one last shot of the Bad Future--including Vandal Savage--fading from existence and being replaced by a good future.
  • July 6, 2011
    KimikoMuffin
    Not really an example; those are both Ret Gone. It needs to be an actual death which is not directly from changing the past.

    Any suggestions for rewriting the opening paragraph, or other objections to launching?
  • July 6, 2011
    Psychobabble6
    To elaborate on the Futurama example above:

    • In the Futurama special Bender's Big Score, this is actually a rule. It's a well known fact in the universe that a time duplicate, as they're called, has to die because of the paradox their existence creates, and becomes a plot point in pretty much every character's subplot.

    Not sure if this works:

    Literature
    • Averted in Dean Koontz's Lightning. Their method of time travel does not allow anyone to go to a date if they have the slightest chance of encountering their other self. Also averted because the time machine won't allow them to travel into the past, so unless they travel to the same time and place in the future multiple times it can't happen anyway. Dean Koontz does his best to avoid paradoxes.
  • July 7, 2011
    Stratadrake
    I have some concern for the title getting confused with Ret Gone, and the Example As A Thesis.
  • July 7, 2011
    KimikoMuffin
    Okay. Like I said, I'm open to any suggestions for rewriting the opening paragraph. Or I could just remove it and the references to it in the second paragraph. And I thought that, if anything, the title is more descriptive than Ret Gone, which doesn't actually require death or time travel, if I'm understanding it correctly.
  • July 8, 2011
    KimikoMuffin
    I've reworked the first couple of paragraphs. Any other thoughts?
  • July 16, 2011
    BraveHoratio
    I like it, but the problem with "Dying to change the past" is that it sounds like it's the dying that causes the change, while in this case it's the other way around.

    The Stargate epsiode "Mobius" is a an interesting example, because only part of the team dies after changing the past - but the other part of the team dies in the future before coming back to change the past again, so you still only have one copy of each person. And the second time they change the past, this doesn't apply at all, because it's so long ago that they've all died of old age (we presume) long before they'd be born in the present.

    Maybe for a title something like "Time Travel Duplicate Exclusion Principle". Formulate it (as in the Futurama case) as some kind of law or rule preventing more than one of the same person. That would at least help keep it seperate from Ret Gone - and show that it's not so much causal as...a condition applied to end states. If that makes any kind of sense.
  • July 18, 2011
    KimikoMuffin
    Hmm, good point. "Time Travel Duplicate Exclusion Principle" sounds good, as far as that goes ... I'm open to other suggestions about that.
  • July 18, 2011
    CrazedOtaku
    The first thing I thought of was the special episode from Explorers Of Sky with Grovyle and Dusknoir. Even though they fade, (I think. I haven't played this episode yet...) it's implied that they're dying. Once again, I don't really know.
  • July 18, 2011
    ladygem
    I Thought It Meant when a person changes their appearance before going to the past, in order to avoid confusion with their past self, for example, dyeing their hair. Guess I read it wrong :).

    • in the Fairly Odd Parents TV-movie Chanel Chasers Future Timmy goes back in time to prevent Vicky's rise to power and is killed just before the climax.
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