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Playing With / Time Police

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Basic Trope: An organization (or at least one individual) is dedicated to ensuring that time travelers don't drastically change history, and/or cleans up after such changes have occurred.

  • Straight: The Time Police typically come from The Future and use time travel themselves to accompolish their missions. They are often Lawful Good heroes who act only to counter villains that change time for evil purposes and well-meaning fools who don't realize they're stepping on the Butterfly of Doom.
  • Exaggerated:
    • Time Police are everywhere and everywhen, micromanaging all of history. Every instance of a bus running late or two people having a child is due to their meddling, because history really has to be just so. Or, they have to keep appearing at the same point in time again and again, because other time travelers keep trying to cause the same change. An exaggerated form of their power (rather than presence) is Clock Roaches.
    • The Time Police consist entirely of one individual, in a reality where Only One Me Allowed Right Now is averted, and the structure of the Timey-Wimey Ball ensures that the police won't die if just one instance of them is killed.
  • Downplayed: History usually gets along just fine, so the Time Police only have to appear once or twice and make small changes that lead to bigger effects. Or, they have very limited resources (can only travel once or twice altogether).
  • Justified:
    • If they don't make things go the right way, the inconsistency will destroy the universe. Or, they only undo changes that would be unquestionably bad, such as World War III. Or, even changes that seem bad at the time (like ensuring that World War I happens) is necessary for an ultimately better, utopian future.
    • Or it's simply legal regulation for the sake of consistency. If Time Travel is frequent, you want to return to a Close-Enough Timeline to the one you left and not have someone screw it up for you.
  • Inverted:
    • A team of characters meddles in history not to Set Right What Once Went Wrong, but just for the sake of meddling — they act chaotic where Time Police would be neutral/good.
    • Some neutral Time Police are actually from a different timeline than that of Real Life. They work to ensure that Julius Caesar isn't assassinated, that germs are discovered in the Middle Ages, and that the Cuban Missile Crisis results in nuclear war — because from their perspective, any schoolchild can tell you that's how history is "supposed" to go.
  • Subverted:
    • Characters meddle in history and expect to be stopped by Time Police, but aren't. Or, these particular Time Police turns out to be acting with entirely different motivations — for example, they make sure Lincoln is killed not because that's the correct timeline, but because his death is actually necessary for a better future — they'd be just as happy to save him if they knew that would improve things (their next mission has them saving JFK).
    • The time police are actually an evil organization dedicated to dogmatically protecting the existence of their dystopian timeline. Their society is the peak any changes to it must be bad - even if it is through natural progression. They are also completely stagnant in progress despite having all of the time in the world (literally) to make improvements because of their dogma.
  • Double Subverted: "This is the best outcome, really!" was just a cover story to ensure the heroes' cooperation. Or, it turns out that some apparent history-meddling was allowed by some hidden Time Police as part of a larger plan that ensures history does go exactly as it should (maybe with the help of a Tricked Out Time scenario).
  • Parodied: The Time Police are incompetent, and cause history to change at least as much as they fix it.
  • Zig Zagged: An organization, perhaps with mysterious motives, only sometimes behaves like Time Police, while at other times it decides that changing history would be for the best. They might function by means of prophecy instead of time travel, and make their changes to history only via The Slow Path. Alternately, the Time Police act in regards to events in the future relative to the real-life audience, and hence whether or not they are actually bringing about the "true" timeline is unknowable.
  • Averted: Time is mucked with by various parties, and no one acts to stop them or deems history-changing to be a bad thing in itself.
  • Enforced: The audience knows how history went. A story in which our known history were actually changed could feel confusing (what with the possible Temporal Paradox), or disappointing (by comparison to real life, in which history's worst moments can't be undone). Time Police hence serve as a well-established tool for maintaining history as the audience knows (and/or maintaining the series' internal continuity).
  • Lampshaded: The question of why a given timeline is more "correct" than another is raised explicitly.
  • Exploited: Characters mess with time not because they want things to change, but solely as a way to get the attention of the Time Police, perhaps because they want to learn what they know or lure them into a trap.
  • Defied: The Time Police are successfully fought, possibly by preventing their very formation.
  • Discussed: While altering history, the characters wonder aloud whether this will get the attention of Time Police, should any exist.
  • Implied: History still goes as expected despite apparent modifications, and the only possible explanation is the existence of unseen time travelers undoing the changes in the background.
  • Deconstructed:
    • Time Police ensure that history's worst events occur, which makes them morally monstrous if they happen to lack a larger justification than "It was supposed to go that way" (obsessive-compulsive?). Also, the "different timeline" inversion deconstructs the questionable idea that one particular history is the "right" one.
    • There are no sources of Ripple Effect-Proof Memory, thus nobody can prove that the Time Police are doing anything relevant to the timeline.
  • Reconstructed: The Time Police are well aware of multiple equally-valid timelines, but they do their job nonetheless because they know that their efforts will ultimately produce the greatest good in a maximum number of timelines. Or in the case of a single-timeline universe, they recognize that truly changing history would have even worse implications than not doing so, because it erases potential billions of people from reality altogether (by "overwriting" their existence).
  • Played For Laughs: The Time Police arrive predictably fast. "I think I'll go to a Nazi rally in the 1930s and kill —" *time police appear* — "um, nobody." (Or the opposite, they arrive long after the events have resolved themselves one way or another. "Time Police! You are under arrest for the future murder of — oh, dammit.")
  • Played For Drama: Characters, both within and outside the Time Police organization, ponder and argue violently over the philosophical implications of changing time or preserving it.

Courtesy line returning you to Time Police.

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