You Already Changed The Past
aka: You Cannot Change The Future
"Things have their shape in time, not space alone. Some marble blocks have statues within them, embedded in their future... Any moment now, Janey's watchband will break. Somewhere, the fat man is already lumbering toward the shooting gallery, steps heavy with unwitting destiny."
You go back in time
to Set Right What Once Went Wrong
, only to discover that the "changes" you're making to the past were what "already" happened anyway. In other words, there was no "first time around" - the past only happened once
, there were no different "versions" of it, and the changes you made to the past ultimately created the very past you read about in the history books before leaving on the trip.
It's like being Time's own personal Unwitting Pawn
This does not necessarily mean that You Can't Fight Fate
. For example, if Bob wanted to go back in time to stop Alice's death, he could simply convince his past self that Alice still died in the future. Following this logic, Alice never dies at all — and Bob suddenly remembers how several months ago, some "other" Bob came up to him insisting that Alice was going to die of something
and the two of them had to go save her, which they did, so she's still very much alive and well all along. (Do you have a headache yet?
) Or to avoid the headache and ensuing paradox, Future Bob could go back and save Alice in such a way that Past Bob still thinks that she died
Needless to add, grammar can sometimes become thoroughly useless
at trying to put the point across, as all sense of tense gets thrown of the window. This trope is easier to observe rather than analyze.
This trope arguably
makes the most sense when considering time travel from a scientific point of view, see the Novikov self-consistency principle
However, the number of time-travel plots that it allows for are extremely limited and the logic gets complicated very
quickly. This, however, also has the side-effect of creating a 'self-correcting universe
' usually by a slew of Contrived Coincidences
(e.g. if you try to shoot your grandfather the gun will jam; if you try poisoning him he will recover; if you try strangling him you will be overcome; if you wear Power Armor
from the future you will have second thoughts; if you try sending a bomb back through time and detonating it directly inside his chest the time machine will break down). This can also lead to a scenario where the only
reason why the past is not changed is because someone else says 'you cannot' and you take his advice. Meaning the advice itself
is a part of the universe's self-correcting nature.
Thus, most time travel stories that involve altering the past will provide some of the characters with Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory
. This makes less sense, but it makes for a narrative convenience. If a You Already Changed The Past plot is used, the time travel will probably be a one-off thing, since repeating it would most likely get tedious.
The Ancient Greeks
and Norse loved
the notion that You Cannot Change The Future
, and their works heavily imply that they believed in this specific notion of time (which even the Gods were trapped in). Although they used predictions rather than time travel, the effect is the same. Many first-time readers of the classics who don't buy into this notion of time, or don't realize this is why You Can't Fight Fate
in the classics, have a hard time accepting The Fatalist
behavior of classical Greek and European heroes.
See also Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
. Compare Retroactive Preparation
, where having changed the past already works to your favor
. Related to Stable Time Loop
where you go back in time, because you already changed the past.
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Anime and Manga
- Urusei Yatsura has time travel in a few occasions.
- In one, Lum goes into the future where she brings back Ataru's diary. He reads it and believes things will go right for him, but attempting to cause them makes everything go horribly wrong. It's later found that when writing the entry about everything that went wrong, his tears blur the ink, causing it to look like he wrote about things going well.
- In the other, the cast goes back in time to prevent Mendo from getting claustrophobia and nyctophobia. As a result, young Mendo pisses off the modern Mendo, causing him to attack his younger self. While hiding from his older self, young Mendo was trapped in a dark jar, causing him to grow deathly afraid of dark and tight spaces.
- Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. Details would be massive spoilers, but suffice to say that time travels differently in different universes, and something the heroes do midway through in a world that later turns out to be their own past sets up the very premise of the story, as revealed in the finale.
- Also, one character who pulls a Face-Heel Turn halfway through is fated to pull a Heel-Face Turn back, given that his future self, who actually reincarnates in the past is the protagonist's father. Yeah...see, all grammar is useless. In fact, depending on which angle you see it from, the whole story wouldn't have happened if the past had not already included the influence of the future.
- However, the first instance of tinkering with time that we knew of was not an example of this - the group visits the world of Shara twice, before and after visiting Shura which turns out to be the past of Shara; and the effects of their actions are quite visible. CLAMP seems to have lost track of their time-travelling system as the Mind Screw got more and more complicated...
- In Rave Master, after much time is spent freaking out over what horrible ways they've twisted the past, Sieg, Elie, and Haru (but mostly Sieg) discover that all their actions caused the future they were trying to protect by not taking those actions. Haru made it very clear to the knight that the criminals he brought had invaded the castle ten days earlier, and that the knight was to take credit for catching them, which we see him talking about at the time Haru gave 50 years later. Getting Resha kidnapped enforced the king's decesion to have her fake her own death, leading her into the future where she get's amnesia and meets Haru, and ditching Sieg in the past leads to him being there to set the whole time loop up and make sure they mess with the past like they're supposed to.
- A Blade series had Doctor Doom lure the Daywalker to his castle, where Doom then proposed Blade with going back in time and saving his mother from a vampire attack. Blade asked him why he should do it, and Doom replies with "Because I've already seen you do it in the past." Doom is nice enough to give him a serum which would suppress his bloodthirst though.
- An issue in The Mighty Thor series had an storyline where Loki sends himself back through time with the aid of Hela to accomplish certain tasks that had already been mentioned in a previous issue, but with certain details left unclear. Turns out that Loki was responsible for many of the major events in Asgardian history, but it's left unclear whether they still would have happened had he never gone back in time. Even he isn't completely sure.
- He lampshaded this trope, saying that he cannot change a past and make future comes different way, but he can make sure it will go a way it did.
- In the "Dead-End Kids" arc of Runaways, the team is sent back in time to the 1900s to avert a catastrophic gang war. As it turns out, the only reason the gang war boiled over was because the Runaways went back in time; as it turns out, one of the gangs back then was under the control of Gertrude Yorkes' time-travelling parents, and when they discovered that their daughter was dead, they decided to fire up the gang war in hopes that the other Runaways would be killed.
- Twelve Monkeys, as well as its inspiration, La Jetée.
- The Terminator gives a rare example of the good guys directly benefiting from the immutability of time. The machines sent back a Terminator to kill Sarah Connor before her son John Connor was born, in response, the rebels send back... the guy who becomes John's father. Also, in a deleted scene, it turns out that Cyberdyne, the company that built SkyNet and the original Terminators, acquired the remains of the Terminator. The sequel shows that they'd begun reverse engineering the Terminator, which would presumably have led to the creation of the Terminators had the events of the sequel not occurred, so it happened on both sides.
- Harve Bennett's explanation for why the Enterprise crew was so careless about altering history in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home seems to be (he says it in a rather disjointed way) that this trope is in place and the characters are Genre Savvy. Although this contradicts how time travel is usually portrayed in the series, it does fall into line with the one episode of the original series that also used the "slingshot around the Sun to visit 20th century Earth" method.
- This gets covered regarding the movie Happy Accidents very well here.
- This is a central theme of brilliant Spainish Mystery thriller Time Crimes.
- In Déjà Vu, the first few attempts at actually changing the past just end up causing things the characters and audience have already seen happen. Eventually, for the sake of having a happy ending, they do manage to make a change that works. This could be a case of subversion, as it was mentioned in passing during the course of the movie that a big enough change could change the future (i.e., not having the ferry blow up). As the Other Wiki has a diagram showing at least four runs◊ of the timeline are needed to explain how the events of the movie are possible, perhaps several trips of smaller changes adds up to one big enough change.
- An interesting case is the movie Paycheck. What happens to the protagonist (he is administered a procedure which would erase all of his memories from the coming two years; when he is finished, he's told these two years already happened) would be a perfect example of this trope. Only there's no time travel (though the plot revolves around a future-seeing machine).
- In the 2007 film Premonition, Sandra Bullock lives the week of her husband's death out of order. She's unsuccessful in her attempts to save him, as on the last day she accidentally causes his death by preventing another one.
- Played with in Back to the Future, where Marty goes back in time and introduces 1985 concepts to 1955, but the movie implies that he only changes the source of the original idea without actually altering their progression into the modern day. He didn't invent skateboards but he introduced skateboarding to Hill Valley earlier than would have caught on naturally, and he didn't write Johnny B. Goode, but hearing his guitar solo inspired Chuck Berry over the phone. Since these things don't actually change the future, it looks like they were always that way. His comment also inspires the busboy Goldie Wilson to go into politics, although Wilson is still mayor in the original timeline, meaning he would have found inspiration elsewhere.
- Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure: One of the signs that Bill and Ted are clever if not book smart is their recognition of this trope; they realize that to solve a problem in the present, they can use their time machine to plant helpful items in the past, and then they'll be there for their present selves to discover - and they keep reminding each other "Once this is over, we have to go back and place all that stuff!"
- The entire climax of Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey is B&T and the Big Bad performing dueling versions of this. Except that, as Bill points out, only the winner can change history, so all the things the villain thought he planted were just decoys B&T placed to lull him into a false sense of security. In fact, as dumb as Bill and Ted usually are, they tend to be very smart when it comes to this trick.
- In "The Final Countdown" Martin Sheen is sent on a mission by the mysterious billionaire he's never met. The aircraft carrier is sent back in time and almost prevents the attack on Pearl Harbor and loses one of their officers. When the ship returns to the present Sheen finds out that the mysterious billionaire is that officer, made wealthy by 30 years of fore-knowledge.
- There Will Be Time by Poul Anderson. A substantial number of humans have had the innate ability to Time Travel since before recorded history (possibly because it was inserted into the genome by future travelers). So little of human history is known exactly, and the book's scope is so great (from Jesus' crucifixion to a far-future postapocalyptic revival of civilization—at least) that the inability to change the past comes up only rarely—but the protagonist is nearly broken when his Byzantine wife dies of an illness because other travellers have abducted him to the future.
- It is established fairly early in the story that it is impossible to change anything that the hero knows about what will happen. Every attempt he makes to save his father (who died in WW-II) is prevented in some way.
- Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl Time Paradox The matter is discussed before they actually Time Travel and Artemis presumes that whatever happened in the past cannot be changed. It turns out he's right. It also lets a huge variety of crazy actions take place.
- Strangely, the previous book in the series, The Lost Colony, completely averts this trope in favor of shooting hoops with the Timey-Wimey Ball. Artemis manages to bring multiple people Back from the Dead by firing a stun-gun into the recent past.
- Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series runs into this a lot.
- Robert A. Heinlein:
- The Door into Summer. Various instances of Human Popsicle, but more importantly a weird time machine that has an equal chance of throwing the subject forward or backward. The protagonist uses it knowing he HAS to be sent backwards. Bonus points to a throwaway gag that suggests that Leonardo da Vinci is (and always has been) an accidental time-traveler.
- His short —All You Zombies— involves a time agent making sure he completes the correct steps to finish the changes he remembers happening earlier in his life. This includes sending himself back in time to impregnate himself before his sex was forcefully changed, causing his female past self to give birth to... himself.
- And in his By His Bootstraps, the protagonist is introduced to time travel by a man from the future, and shortly finds himself meeting himself twice, and each self gets trapped into saying and doing the same things he saw and heard said before. Eventually, he gets the drop on the man who introduced him to time travel by traveling into that man's past 10 years, only to find out he's waiting for himself.
- In Aunt Maria, by Diana Wynne Jones, the main characters go back in time in the form of cats to stop Anthony from being imprisoned underground. He ends up tripping over them and falling into the trap.
- Technically they were only trying to figure out where he'd been buried. The protagonist's mother happened to be a bit Genre Blind though, and tried to save him.
- The Dandelion Girl, a short story by Robert F. Young; the trope specifically applies to Julie. In the end, it is revealed that Anne and Julie are actually one and the same person; Anne/Julie's real name is probably Julianne. And so Mark has always been married to the same girl-from-the-future all along, as "Julie" had traveled further back in time to meet him in his 20's.
- Dragonriders of Pern
- In Dragonflight, F'nor returns from the past to warn his friends that an expedition they're planning is going to fail. Unfortunately they now know that if they don't go it'll create a paradox because the guy who warned them won't come back in time to warn them... so his warning has exactly the opposite effect. Knowing they're going to fail they have to set out anyway.
- And of course we have the situation where there are too few riders in the present due to many of them having suddenly disappeared in the past. So someone travels into the past to gather some more, thus causing the shortage. (Although it's not as futile as it sounds because their numbers would have declined anyway due to a coming period of long inactivity. This way their disappearance is useful.)
- This is without even mentioning events from a more recent novel in which a Gold somehow randomly jumps to a few centuries in the past after being given a BAD mixture of gene-altering medicines in an effort to cure a plague running through the dragons themselves, which results in said Gold crash-landing in a time when one of the last trained geneticists is still alive, thereby resulting in the creation of aforementioned medicines when they would not have otherwise been made, but had already been made anyway because in the past the sick dragon had already crashed....good god my head hurts.
- And even THAT ties back to the original trilogy of books by establishing, at long last, just what the 'Ancient-timers' room was made for, and what the colorful diagrams REALLY were.
- Also noteworthy is the climax of All the Weyrs of Pern, where the AIVAS reveals to Jaxom that two of the three antimatter charges used to divert the Red Star from its orbit have to be placed in the past in order to have the proper effect, and that those past explosions are what caused the so-called Long Intervals in which Thread did not fall. Of course, if those hadn't occurred, none of the events of those books would have occurred either, including the discovery of the AIVAS itself.
- Tim Powers plays with this trope a lot in The Anubis Gates. The time-traveling protagonist comes to believe that You Can't Fight Fate, then learns that it's not that simple, since historians don't know all the details.
- He encounters the brand-new original manuscript of a poem he'd studied in his own century, and wonders how it would pick up the stains he'd seen on it in his own time. A poet he recently met then walks in carrying some food, puts it down, and picks up the manuscript with his greasy hands to look it over.
- He encounters a 17th century book with an inscription in it that shakes him up. He later travels accidentally to that century, and on encountering the then-new book, writes the pig-Latin inscription addressed to himself that he would read in the future.
- The climax of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. They go to the past to save Buckbeak and Sirius, and Harry wants to see a mysterious figure that he believes to be his father. Buckbeak never died; the thumping sound was the executioner taking his frustration out on a fence (pumpkin in the movie). The mysterious figure was Harry from the future saving himself, his dad really is dead. Then they save Sirius, who rides off with Buckbeak. Plus they hear a couple strange noises, which turns out to be their time traveling selves.
- Connie Willis:
- To Say Nothing of the Dog involves time traveling historians (which first appeared in her Doomsday Book) who spend a lot of effort to repair the "incongruity" caused when one of them inadvertently brings a cat forward from Victorian England (they're extinct in 2057). This involves trying to make sure that the cat's owner winds up with the "Mr. C" that her diary specifies after they've accidentally introduced her to a different man. It turns out that all perceived incongruities are the continuum's self-correcting system.
- Blackout and All Clear have a similar example. Some historians go back to WWII era, then find that they can't get home. They agonize over every little thing they do, worried that the slightest change might cause the Germans to win the war. It turns out that the things they did, the people they saved, and so on, were exactly the tipping points to let ENGLAND win the war. Their future, in which the third reich fell, predicates on them getting stuck in the past and doing the things they're convinced will ruin everything.
- Time Travel in the Saga of the Exiles novels works this way. Of course, since Time Travel must take you back six million years (and then only works in one spot in France), it's rather difficult to know exactly what the time travelers already did.
- Used extensively in Suzumiya Haruhi this seems to be the whole purpose of future(er) Asahina. Who is suspected to be the superior of Present(or rather not-so-future) Asahina, and puts her younger self trough all the missions and trouble she already went trough herself. So she already changed the past because she will order herself to go to the past and change it so she can get to the future and order herself to change the past.
- Minor example in So You Want To Be A Wizard by Diane Duane: Nita and Kit are stopped for a moment on their way to a world gate by a loud bang on the other side of a door they are about to open. It turns out at the end of the book that it was Nita herself, coming back from the future a little earlier than planned and trying to avoid meeting their younger selves.
- This was true in the novel The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. The main character was constantly going into both the past and future, but everything was pre-set. Everything he did when he went into the past, he had "already done", and once something happened, he could never change it; in situations where he already knew what was going to happen, he had to act in the way he had already acted, he didn't have any choice.
- Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy universe works this way. In the second book, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, while stranded on prehistoric Earth with an exodus' worth of incompetent aliens who are plainly going to begin colonizing, Ford Prefect tells Arthur Dent "This doesn't change the past, this is the past."
- Then again, Ford and Arthur's presence in the past is almost completely negligible. For example, they simply show up in the alien ship. It was already supposed to crash on Earth and they had nothing to do with that.
- Isaac Asimov's short story "The Red Queen's Race" has a character who tries to make this trope happen. He was asked to translate several modern books on physics into ancient Greek, with the work being beamed back into humanity's past. History fails to change because the translator was very careful to leave out most of the advanced material.
- Specifically, the translator only includes information which would account for discoveries and advances already present in our own time line.
- Inverted in The End Of Eternity. Despite changing history themselves all the time, the Eternals are certain that the existence of their organization is guaranteed by this trope—how can they eliminate their own existence? The exception, an Eternal who is certain that time loops are intrinsically unstable, turns out to be correct, and Eternity eliminates itself.
- Unborn Tomorrow, a short story by Dallas McCord Reynolds. A wealthy man wants a private eye to locate a time traveler from the future and get the secret of eternal life. He believes such time travellers would go to the Oktoberfest, where everyone would be too drunk to notice anything strange about them. The secretary is surprised when her boss curtly turns down this chance to get drunk on someone else's money. The private eye explains that he's already taken the assignment three times, and each time the time travelers sent him back to this point in the time line, with a massive hangover from drinking too much German beer. There's no way he's getting another hangover piled on top of the previous three, not for any amount of money!
- The Skull by Philip K Dick. An assassin is sent back in time to kill the founder of a subversive religion before he gives a famous speech, only to realize that the Founder is himself — the 'miracle' that inspired the religion's creation was him appearing after he'd been killed (he'd arrived at the wrong point in time) thus 'coming back from the dead'. The Rousing Speech supposedly given by the Founder never actually happened, but was a result of history being embellished after his death.
- Happens quite a lot in Count and Countess, in which the two eponymous characters exchange letters with each other despite living more than a hundred years apart. Notably, Elizabeth, living in the 1500s, knows that her ancestor Matyas Hunyadi (in the 1400s) held the throne of Hungary for a very long time. In an attempt to save Vlad Dracula's life, she warns him not to try to make a grab for the throne, or he will probably be killed. As a result, Vlad stays as far away from Hunyadi as possible. Which gives Hunyadi plenty of time to rouse the Black Forces against Vlad and stop him in his tracks.
- Happens at the very end of The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel books.
- Stanislaw Lem pumped this to the max by time travellers creating the whole world from the physical constants up. What started as an attempt to make things better for everyone ended with our reality because of bureaucracy, competition, attempts of personal gain, human mistakes etc.
- This is how most of the wizards decide time travel works in The Last Continent ("In fact, history depends on you treading on the ants you've already trodden on.") There's no real evidence they're right, but it's simpler than Stibbons attempting to explain the Butterfly of Doom. It does seem to apply in Fourecks, where Scrappy tells Rincewind that things he's going to do will affect the past, but in Fourecks the Timey-Wimey Ball is in full effect.
- This is how Time Travel might work in Magic20, at least, as far as they know. Nothing seems to change the future, past a certain point. For instance, time travellers who went to live out Arabian Nights caused medieval England to have glass windows, but the future is unchanged. Shown in more detail in the second book, where two of the same person are there at the same time, and the older one insists on this trope.
- Greg Egan plays with this trope every which way from Sunday (except straight) in his Orthogonal trilogy — mostly just because everybody accepts that it would be impossible to change the past, so nobody tries.
- Discussed: As mentioned on the main bullet above, as soon as the characters nail down the nature of spacetime, it's pretty much accepted that Time Travel, while possible (and surprisingly easy), cannot actually change anything.
- Double (Triple?) Subversion: On Esilio, a planet with Merlin Sickness, the crew of the Surveyor blow up a rock. After the explosion, they find what looks like writing etched into a newly-exposed part of the rock, which seems to be a message from the ancestors (the inhabitants of the homeworld). Because of the planet's Merlin Sickness, the message must have been carved at some point in the future. The obvious assumption is that the message means the journey is successful; the Peerless makes it home, and at some point the ancestors visit Esilio and carve the message as encouragement to the travelers. But Ramiro decides that he wants to have a hand in fate, so he plans to go out and "carve" the message himself. Tarquinia prevents him from doing so — and he then realizes that she is going to carve the message. He spends most of the rest of the book under the impression that she did — only to discover after the climax that she tried to carve it, but no matter what she tried, the message stayed there, which means that she didn't do it either. The book ends with an implication that one of the characters who returns to the homeworld in the epilogue is the one to go to Esilio and carve the message.
- Invoked: The Surveyor returns to the Peerless after a long absence to find that the inverted Time Capsule messaging system (which essentially lets people send email back in time) has been built, but also mysteriously stops working all at once at a known point in the future. But since no one actually knows what causes the disruption, the crew of the Surveyor realize that if nobody does anything, they are most likely consigning themselves to being hit by a meteor. On the other hand, if they attempt to sabotage the system, they are raising the probability that they will cause the disruption, which means no one will be harmed. In other words, they know they Can't Fight Fate since the universe is an absolutely Stable Time Loop, but if nobody tries to cause the disruption, then it's almost guaranteed that it's caused by a disaster such as a meteor strike; but as long as no one knows what causes the disruption and someone is trying to cause it, they are increasing the odds that the disruption has a harmless cause. Yeah.
Live Action TV
- Star Trek: The Original Series ("Assignment Earth")
- Early seasons of Andromeda used this, but it degenerated into Timey-Wimey Ball territory after a while.
- The first Time Travel episode of Stargate SG-1 ("1969") can be perceived as following this logic, but none of the subsequent Time Travel episodes in the Stargate Verse can — they all involve alternate timelines instead.
- Though it seems SG-1 held to the "Alternate timelines/universes" first. The 20th episode of Season 1 had the "Quantum Mirror" which put Daniel Jackson in an alternate timeline/universe. "1969" was the 21st episode of Season 2.
- Stargate Continuum shows the present universe being erased by Baal's actions in the past. As a part of the SG-1 team consciously try to outrun the phenomenon, the stargate wormhole somehow shields them from it. So, while there are alternate realities in the Stargate Verse, those may be unrelated to time travel. Either that, or the writers just can't decide.
- In the Murder Most Horrid episode "A Determined Woman", a female scientist working on a time machine becomes so frustrated with her idiot husband's antics that she kills him. Several years later she is released from prison, finishes her time machine and goes back to try and save her husband, only to find that his confusion between the two versions of her is what caused his erratic behavior in the first place.
- After the film Hobgoblins was shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Tom Servo tried to go back in time to stop the movie from being made by hunting down the director and... kicking him in the shin. Upon Tom's return to his present, Crow pulls up an article where the director claimed that his inspiration for Hobgoblins was that time when a squat red robot ran up to him out of the blue and kicked him in the shin...
- In the Hercules The Legendary Journeys two part adventure "Armageddon Now", Callisto goes back in time to prevent who she thinks was Xena (because her army was in the village) from killing her parents. While trying to protect her family from Xena's army, the adult Callisto accidentally kills her own father and is forced to kill her mother after realizing that she can't change anything.
- This is actually done multiple times in the Doctor Who universe (as are most time travel theories):
- In the series 4 episode "The Fires of Pompeii", The Doctor doesn't want to avert the destruction of Pompeii, is convinced to avert it anyway, and then is forced to cause the disaster in order to avert a larger catastrophe.
- "Blink": "You're reading aloud from a transcript of a conversation you're still having?"
- The rift in space time that already exists in Cardiff is created by the Doctor's actions in "The Unquiet Dead".
- The TARDIS explosion at the end of Series 5 was successfully prevented (in a fairly static timeline, probably) with the help of River Song, who wouldn't exist until a series of events that could only have happened after (?) it. Adding to the temporal weirdness which comes with this is the fact that she was around to see a crack in "Flesh and Stone", even though, from her perspective, the cracks never existed (or maybe they did, but she had just played a direct role in making sure they were completely erased from the universe). Every encounter with River can basically be summed up as "an inexplicably Stable Time Loop".
- Another one related to the TARDIS explosion. It's revealed in "The Time of the Doctor" that those responsible were a splinter group of the Silence, who had travelled back in time to kill the Doctor in order to prevent him reaching Trenzalore, where the Time Lords were preparing to return to the universe through a crack in time after having the Doctor confirm his name to them. The explosion of the TARDIS is what caused the cracks to begin with.
- Inverted in Farscape. Sent back in time and desperate to keep things the way they were, the crew screws up, with each attempt to force what they know to be history resulting in the present time line getting worse. In the end, rather than the noncombatant survivors of the battle being spared in a hasty but well-regarded treaty, they are butchered by enraged enemy soldiers. The memorial to peace becomes a lament of the senseless slaughter.
- A later episode plays this trope much straighter, with strong hints that certain events from John's childhood were always caused by his future self and Moya's crew accidentally traveling back in time to 1985.
- Crime Traveller had this as a central point, in theory. In practice, everything about the show's time travel suffered from galloping They Just Didn't Care.
- The only time-travel arc on Babylon 5 involves this trope, and it is absolutely central to both the Myth Arc and the background mythology of the show. Babylon 4 appears in Babylon 5 space four years after it disappears (the episode "Babylon Squared." The events leading up to that appearance are explained in the two-parter "War Without End," in which we find out that Babylon 4 was taken to the year 1260 AD (or so) to help the Minbari and their allies gather to fight the Shadows. To prevent this from happening, the Shadows sent a big bomb to Babylon 4 just as it was about to come on line in 2254. However, the White Star also goes back in time (because Delenn, Sinclair, Sheridan, and Ivanova see it in a recording), destroys the bomb, and (as it turns out) takes it back in time as well. However, this is not before the time device (sent by Draal and transported by Zathras) malfunctions, dropping Babylon 4 into 2258, leading to the events of "Babylon Squared." Sinclair then realizes that he must take Babylon 4 back in time himself, and then uses the triluminary device to turn himself into a Minbari—specifically, Valen, who led them in the First Shadow War, organized their society, and effectively became the main prophet of their religion. The Stable Time Loop is fully completed, so to speak, by the fact that when Valen dies, he eventually gets reincarnated as Sinclair.
- Valen/Sinclair doesn't need to be reincarnated. From his point of view, he is born in the 23rd century as a human, goes throgh the War and subsequent events of the series up to "War Without End" and then goes back in time to the 13th century as a Minbari and lives out his life as Valen. The Minbari think he is Valen reincarnated when they enounter him at the Battle of the Line because he has Valen's soul; not knowing about the time travel, they don't see that Sinclair will become Valen in the future before travelling back to the past.
- This concept became a major plot point in the fifth season of LOST (which Hurley couldn't quite grasp) though it was put to the test in the cliffhanger finale...
- Particularly annoying with Sayid shooting young Ben, which was not only implied to have already happened, Kate and Sawyer's interference in order to put things right seems to actually have caused Ben to become evil, as Richard says that because the island healed him he would always be "one of them" and that he would "lose his innocence". So by trying to kill him, they effectively caused what they were trying to prevent. Nice going, guys!
- Quantum Leap was somewhat inconsistent on this trope. It's the trope namer for Set Right What Once Went Wrong, but Sam and Al always remember how things used-to-be even as Sam changes the past (Al keeps track of the current timeline's history using his handheld computer-link to Mission Control). In episodes that directly impacted Al or Sam, they would have the entire memory of both things happening.
- Sam successfully tries to save his brother's life in Vietnam, which alters history and results in Al still becoming a prisoner of war. Al allowed him to save his brother by not telling him he was one of the prisoners.
- The series finale had a somewhat omniscient bartender asking Sam if there was anything that he wanted to do differently. Sam remembers when Al was invisibly dancing with his first wife, Beth, who became heartbroken when she thought Al was killed in Vietnam and married someone else by the time Al was released. Sam then travels to that moment and tells Beth that Al is alive and coming home - the next leap only shows a black screen, with epilogue text stating that Al and Beth had celebrated their 39th anniversary and Sam was never seen again.
- In one episode, Congress is reviewing Project Quantum Leap's funding and leans on Al (acting as the project's representative) to have Sam alter history in ways beneficial to the US. Al tries to get Sam to prevent the U-2 spy plane incident, but Sam is in the past protecting a young attorney. At the end of the episode, the Congressman in charge of the committee is about to cut the project's funding when, in the past, Sam unintentionally corrects the attorney on a key piece of Constitutional law which she had wrong and she says could have made her fail the bar. Cut to the present, where the obstructionist Congressman is replaced by an older version of the attorney, who approves the project's funding for another year. It's never made explicit, but Al's surprise at the sudden change suggests that he's aware of the change.
- However, in the episode about the Kennedy assassination, while Sam can't prevent himself from killing JFK, it then appears the reason he was sent back there was to prevent Jackie Kennedy from being killed, which most viewers would have assumed had already happened, whether Sam had anything to do with it or not.
- The Outer Limits (1995): This is a recurring theme in the time travel episodes of the Nicholas Prentice arc.
- In the episode "Tribunal", history professor and Holocaust scholar Aaron Zgierski is taken back to Auschwitz by time-traveler Nicholas Prentice (who turns out to be Zgierski's own great-grandson). While there, they rescue Aaron's "older" sister (who is only eight at the time) by bringing her into the future to live out her life free of Nazi oppression. History recorded Aaron's sister as dying at Auschwitz after being "dragged away" by a couple of guards, who were actually Zgierski and Prentice in disguise.
- In "Gettysburg", Prentice wants to change the past by convincing a Civil War buff (who has pro-Confederate views) of the wrongness of his convictions by taking him and his friend to just before the Battle of Gettysburg. Originally, the buff was going to assassinate a black President in his own future. Instead, the buff takes this opportunity to try to alter the course of the battle in the Confederate favor. He accidentally uses Prentice's time machine (shaped as an old-fashioned camera) to transport a Confederate general through time. His attempts at preventing the (from his viewpoint) catastrophe result in him getting shot for cowardice. Prentice takes the friend back to his time, and the latter finds an old newspaper with the picture of his dead friend. Meanwhile, in the Future, the transported Confederate general appears at the moment of the original assassination, and he ends up being the presidential assassin (he was actually aiming for a man dressed as Abraham Lincoln, who was standing next to the president).
- "Time To Time" subverts this when a new recruit into the temporal agency goes back in time and prevents her father's death due to eco-terrorists' bomb going off prematurely. This results in another member of the agency suddenly vanishing. His colleagues figured out that, without her father to tamper with the bomb, it went off as planned and killed a lot of innocent people, including an ancestor of the temporal agent who disappeared. Reluctantly, the girl has to let her father sacrifice himself. However, she does alter her mother's fate somewhat by giving her a coping mechanism (in her timeline, her mother's a wreck; in the altered one, she is an accomplished artist).
- In The Twilight Zone (2000s revival) episode "Cradle of Darkness", a young woman (played by Katherine Heigl) is one of the few people capable of surviving time travel. She agrees to take a one-way trip to the past to kill Hitler as a baby (it's not clear why the future people think that the new reality will be better). She pretends to be a new maid and ingrains herself into the Hitler family, realizing that Hitler Sr. is the one who taught his son to hate the "lesser races". In the end, she grabs the baby and jumps into the river (also unexplained why she had to jump herself). The other maid, takes a homeless gypsy's baby and passes it off as young Adolf. So yeah, if this is believed, Hitler was one of the "lesser races" he hated so much.
- In The Sarah Connor Chronicles episode "Allison from Palmdale", Cameron malfunctions and believes herself to be Allison Young, the resistance fighter on whom her appearance was based. She calls "her" mother, who says this must be some mistake since she doesn't have a daughter "yet"...
Claire Young: [rubbing her pregnant belly] That's a beautiful name though. "Allison"...
- Given how time travel appears to work in this universenote , however, it's probably that Allison's mother would have chosen that name anyway.
- In the Haven episode "Sarah", Duke is sent back in time to the point when his grandfather Roy was killed, and decides to try and avert this. Instead he accidentally tips the guy off that he's about to be killed and by whom, sending Roy racing off to start the shootout that ends in his death.
- Heartbreakingly (how else?) done in Supernatural when Dean is sent back in time to 1973 and meets his father. He decides to kill the Yellow Eyed Demon that killed his mother, poisoned his brother and set his family on a decades long revenge quest, before it ever comes near his family. Unfortunately, his efforts to kill the YED is what attracts it to his mother who is manipulated into making a deal with the YED, thus dooming his family.
- In The Twilight Zone episode "Profile in Silver", a time travelling historian saves his ancestor John F. Kennedy from being assassinated. The resulting damage to space time then creates a timeline where World War III and the extinction of humanity is inevitable. Kennedy volunteers to go back to set things right but the historian instead sends Kennedy to the future and takes Kennedy's place in the motorcade, being assassinated in his place. A colleague of the historian then tells the Secret Service agent who helped him that "Even the act of traveling in time is part of history" and that the historian's sacrifice was part of the "correct" timeline.
Mythology and Religion
- As mentioned, Greek and Germanic mythology tended to hammer on the idea (relying on prophecies instead of time travel) that You Cannot Change The Future. Even the Gods can't change the outcome of the story. (How many steps is Thor destined to take in the final battle of Ragnarok?) Not only that, but historians actually posit that Norse culture went into a prolonged funk over it, presaging the rise of Ingmar Bergman and Werner Herzog by centuries. (The lack of sunlight in wintertime didn't help.) Norsemen in particular lamented the decline in pagan beliefs for exposing them to the horrors of existentialism, making them less resigned to the inevitability of death in battle. Meanwhile, the Greeks preferred to set up stories where characters would have hubris enough to believe this trope did not apply to them, and then brutally swat them down in order to provide an entertaining Aesop. For examples, see You Can't Fight Fate and Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.
- There are some indications Germanic mythology played with this, however, in that while one couldn't alter their own fate, because the fates of all beings are intertwined with one another else's actions can affect another's fate.
- The concept of Predestination. This concept is prevalent in all Calvinist churches (Reformed, Presbyterian, Baptist, congregational, Pentecostal) and in nutshell means that the life and final depository of a human being is pre-ordained and pre-determined by God and he or she can do nothing to avoid it. In other words, people are selected either to Heaven or Hell before they even were born.
- This same concept is prevalent in Islam. The only way to avert the predestination is to get killed in Holy War, which earns you an automatic admission to Paradise.
- In Transdimensional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the GM was to have an important recurring character recognize the characters in a future era even if they hadn't met him yet in a past one.
- In the time-traveller role-playing game Continuum, it's an ironclad article of Spanner faith that there is only one universe — including one past and one future. A player will meet fellow spanners who've been affected by changes that are in the player's Yet, and you'd better do them or risk Frag.
- Featured in one of the videos leading into The Simpsons Ride at Universal. Professor Frink arrives looking for Doc Brown's Institute of Future Technology, only to find it replaced by a clownish theme park (Krustyland). He decides to stop it by going "back to the future, I mean past." He gets into a Delorean and accelerates into a time jump. Two years ago, a broker is telling Doc Brown that he'll be able to keep the Institute open for years to come. At that point, the Delorean materializes and runs over the broker. Frink jumps out and Brown yells at him "You ruined everything! Now I'll have to sell the Institute of Future Technology to that mercenary clown!" Krusty promptly pastes a Krustyland logo over the IFT logo on the front sign.
- Brown then shows Krusty to his limo, and Krusty tells him to tear tickets at the front gate after he gets a haircut.
- Steins;Gate: Understanding this concept is what allows Okabe (with some help from his "future" self) to turn the constant stream of Downer Endings into something much more pleasant. His early episodes boast about being "able to cheat the universe itself" doesn't look so silly anymore by the end. That said, the series doesn't follow this trope entirely with regards to time travel; it's more like a combination of For Want of a Nail and Rubber-Band History most of the time. Sending messages to the past can have fairly far-reaching implications (such as changing the actual biological sex of a person), and the butterfly effect is explicitly called out by name. However, some events have greater inevitability than others (such as Mayuri's death in the beta world line by a series of increasingly Contrived Coincidences).
- In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors: Akane sets up such a time loop to ensure her survival. Her future self, posing as a fellow victim of the mysterious kidnapper who set up the second Nonary game, guides her childhood friend Junpei in a way that he can psychically contact her and help her out of the room that she is still trapped in.
- In Umineko: When They Cry, Ange tries to Set Right What Once Went Wrong in regards to what happened on Rokkenjima in 1986. In the end, it's clear that she can't change her future; nearly everyone who was on Rokkenjima will die, Ange will still have a strained and miserable relationship with her aunt Eva, and her brother Battler will technically survive but will have undergone Death of Personality due to amnesia and will no longer consider himself her brother.
- A three-part episode of Red vs. Blue had Church travel back in time and try to change history to prevent both his 'death' and that of Tex, as well as attempting to stop the other difficulties that the Blue Team had to encounter at the time (such as the problem with Lopez's switch, and Tucker getting blasted by an RPG). He ends up accidentally causing, or failing to prevent, every major event of the series up to that point including his own 'demise'.
- He then wants to try again only for another version of him to tell him that it's all been tried a dozen times already by other versions of Church who all failed. Eventually, Church gives up.
- All the Time Travel in Bob and George eventually resolves itself into this.
- 8-Bit Theater has been explained by an in-comic character to be this, with the added You Can't Fight Fate.
- At least, that's what the character believes. The character with enough nigh-omnipotent abilities to force things on the track he remembers.
- Sarda did this to himself. As a young wizard, he time-traveled back to the beginning of the universe, only to find that a White Mage had gotten there first. After living through all of creation being formed around him, Sarda planned to put that White Mage into a pocket dimension before she could go back in time to the universe' start...only for that pocket dimension to be the beginning of the universe. Thus it's quite possible that Sarda came to the conclusion that time travel works this way due to his own ego: he tried to alter his own history once and it didn't work...so that has to be because it's just not possible rather than because he personally screwed up.
Sarda: So now I know how she got there and what it feels like when I utterly screw with someone's lifelong ambitions.
- In Sluggy Freelance Bun-Bun's whole adventure in Timeless Space was based off this trope. As Uncle Time put it, "Life's so much funner with the paradox rules turned off."
- In Homestuck, only Dave, the Knight of Time and Aradia, the Maid of Time get to go back in time and create Alternate Universes. Everyone else, no matter how much they've screwed around with the timeline, can only make Stable Time Loops, and the Trolls regularly insist that they've already lost the game and that You Can't Fight Fate. It probably helps that all in-universe timechanging items have built-in failsafes against causing paradoxes.
- Notably the alternate timelines created by Time players are "doomed timelines", they and anything and everything from them is marked for destruction, this can still be very useful though as they can create armies of doomed copies, they will all die off in a relatively short time, but if you just need a lot of bodies to fight something that would get a lot of people killed anyway it doesn't actually matter. Of course, it turns out that the creation of the doomed timelines and their involvement in the alpha timeline was also predestined, so either way, You Can't Fight Fate.
- How Time Travel works in Umlaut House, as Volair explained to his future son here:
Volair: "You can't change the future, Pierce. Past, future, it all fits together like a big, freaky jigsaw."
Pierce (Who just accidentally broke the UST
between his future parents): "So the future you knows we're here?"
Volair: "No, but I will if you tell me the date you're from."
- A borderline example in Nodwick. Zorion visited the future and was upset to see there's only Dung Ages and a crater instead of his hometown now. How this could happen, indeed?
- Time travel in The Way of the Metagamer runs entirely on predestination. This doesn't stop it from being ludicrously convoluted.
- In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Chuck Goodrich is a time traveler from the future who comes to avoid The End of the World as We Know It play with this tropes. it's not like you can't change the past...you can change how it will be The End of the World as We Know It.
- The Adventures of Dr. McNinja does use Branching Timelines, it's just that Cumberland Is The Center Of The Universe and everything in the universe is trying to kill us. A more accurate description of the various time traveling adventures of Chuck Goodrich is that each disaster in itself acts to prevent all the other disasters that are waiting.
- As explained by one character in a particularly nasty future, the branching timelines are the reason you can't technically change the past. See, since a future-you didn't come back in time to the present when you were taking The Slow Path to the current future, you didn't do that, so if you go back in time, you create an alternate past where you did, and the versions of your friends and family in your current future-present will never see you again, and also their lives still suck.
- In American Barbarian, Rick's attempt to go back results in his appearing as a character already seen.
- At the end of A Very Potter Sequel Hermione asks future!Draco what was really supposed to happen during their first year and Draco says that this was how it all played out originally, it just makes sense now that he lived through it.
- Played straight on Futurama, where Fry ends up in 1947 and spends half the episode just trying to make sure his grandfather doesn't die. After the Professor warns him not to change the past unless he was already destined to change the past, Fry's extreme caution and stupidity result in his grandfather being vaporized by an atomic bomb. However, subsequent events make it clear that the man Fry killed was not actually Fry's grandfather, and that his real grandfather is Fry himself. Of course, this is immediately followed by the Professor launching a full-blown assault on Area 51 with his intergalactic starship to retrieve the parts necessary to get home...
Professor: Choke on that, causality!
- Also, Zoidberg is the Roswell alien.
- The movie "Bender's Big Score" tinkers with this a lot, for example Bender was responsible for the destruction of New York seen in the first episode. This gets especially weird when Bender travels back in time and turns out to be responsible for giving the secret of time travel to himself.
- The standard rule for time travel in Gargoyles.
- Goliath tried to convince Demona in the past not to turn evil, and she seems to take it all to heart. Unfortunately, one guy, even the love of your life, telling you to "stay good" is trumped by centuries of of being brutalized by humans. It's a true Tear Jerker to realize that Demona and Goliath were once really and truly Happily Married.
- During the same incident, Demona also tried to warn her younger self of the destruction of her clan in order to turn her against the humans. Demona is in massive denial, however; she herself was one of the major causes of that very destruction, in one of her anti-human plots.
- Xanatos uses this to his advantage. He gives two period coins to the Illuminati, along with a letter. The coins are like pennies in the past, but by the present they're very valuable and are the coins that started his fortune. The letter of course, is to tell him to do just that.
- Later, Goliath attempts to use the time-traveling Phoenix Gate to save Griff from being killed during the Blitz in WWII London, after being accused of abandoning or murdering Griff by his companions. With incident after increasingly improbable incident occurring that indicates the universe has decided Griff is its new Chew Toy, Goliath ultimately concludes that fate will not allow Griff to get home and uses the Phoenix Gate to bring Griff back with him to the present, thus causing his original disappearance.
- Mid-way through the Avalon arc, the Arch-Mage Took A Shitload Of Levels In Badass via a self-inflicted Stable Time Loop. Full details on that page.
- Goliath winds up in a Bad Future, and various characters suggest using the Phoenix Gate to fix it; Goliath repeatedly points out it doesn't work that way. In the end he is finally willing to try it, only to discover that this whole thing was All Just a Dream made by Puck as a ploy to get Goliath to hand the Gate over.
- Used on an episode of Justice League Unlimited. Brainiac 5 imports heroes from the past because history mentioned an incident where heroes traveled to the future. He tries to avoid mentioning how it turned out, of course, just to be sure things go the way they're supposed to, with only two of the three returning. Nobody dies. Supergirl just decides to stay in the future.
- In the Darkwing Duck episode "Paraducks", Gosalyn warns Darkwing not to interfere into the past when they went back in time to his childhood. At first he doesn't and returns to the present, only to find that S.H.U.S.H. doesn't exist, the King, a two bit thug from Darkwing's childhood has taken over St. Canard and he serves as the King's cowardly lackey, never became Darkwing Duck. They go back and time and shut down the King for good and give little Drakey Mallard (Darkwing) the courage he needed.
- The Fairly Oddparents special "The Secret Origin of Denzel Crocker": Timmy and 21st-century Cosmo were the ones responsible for making Crocker lose his fairy godparents and giving him the opportunity to partially get around the ensuing mass mindwipe thus causing his obsession with fairies, which also indirectly led to his own birth due to the disappointed scientists at Crocker's presentation in the '80s investing in Dinkleburg's parachute pants and causing him to break up with Timmy's mom, thereby getting his parents together.
- Of course, in the original timeline, 1970s-era Cosmo would have exposed himself and Wanda as fairies due to his own stupidity. In addition, the original timeline Crocker did not have a functional scanner nor build one. Here, Crocker stole the one Timmy got from AJ before putting Cosmo's hair and having an effective fairy detecter, though not any more success.
- Somewhat subverted in the Invader Zim episode "Bad, Bad Rubber Piggy" had Zim send a rubber piggy into Dib's past at crucial points to kill him, only he survives by an inch each time (though everytime he comes close to death, he's given robotic body parts from his father due to losing his own) and after his tampering with the past results in an angry Dib in a Humongous Mecha bent on killing him, he sends his last piggy to the past to warn him not to send any piggies to the past in the first place. Unfortunately the premise of the piggies was they replaced something in the timeline they're sent to and it replaces Zim's brain at the end.
- In Powerpuff Girls Mojo Jojo goes to the past to kill the adolescent Professor Utonium before he can create the Girls. The Girls pursue him. It turns out that in the past Professor was a lazy ass and a bully with no interest in becoming a scientist and creating the Girls, if it weren't for Mojo's interference and the consequent encounter with and rescue by the Girls that gave him inspiration.
- Mojo should be glad for this, considering that, if not for the Chemical X accident when Professor Utonium created the Girls, Mojo would be just another monkey.
- In the season 2 episode "It's About Time" of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Twilight Sparkle is visited by her future self (from a week later, looking entirely worn) and told "whatever you do, don't..." with the sentence being cut off. Past Twilight then spends the whole week worrying about and trying to prevent whatever happens during the next week, with each incident causing her to gain the looks of Future Twilight, indicating she hasn't changed the future at all. She only then learns later that nothing actually happens. So she goes back into the past to tell her past self "Whatever you do, don't... worry about the future" only to end up being pulled back into the future right where it cut off for Past Twilight, setting the events into motion for the whole episode.
- Played with in Beast Wars. While it is entirely possible to change the past and thus the future, thus finally answering Dinobot's soul searching about the nature of time travel and what that means for free will (if the past is immutable, than our ability to choose anything is a cosmic illusion). By changing the past, Dinobot learns that it is possible for an individual's choice to matter to the universe. Ironically however, with this new knowledge, it means that Megatron can change the past for the worst, and that the only choice Dinobot has is to invoke this trope.
The question that once haunted my being has been answered: the future is not fixed. My choices are my own. And yet... how ironic, for I now find that I have no choice at all. I am a warrior! Let the battle be joined.
- Played with again in the finale. Dinobot II, being influenced by the original Dinobot's spirit sends the Maximals information concerning an Autobot shuttle docked in the Ark. Black Arachnia points out that the historical records never mentioned that the Autobots had a shuttle. Rhinox then exclaims that history is still being made, and uses the...