Back to BTTF: The Secret Plot of Doc Brown

Doc cap

My last post covered the ever multiplying Martys in the Back to the Future flicks, and as long and rambling as that post was, I still have yet more to say. Much more. This time I’d like to talk about another sort of temporal anomaly in the third film.

Two DeLoreans Too Many

And coincidentally instantly after posting my last BTTF article, two separate people (shout out to Robot's PJs and Masters of None) pointed out the two DeLorean theory of Back to the Future Part III. Here’s a snippet from the Master’s blog:

When Marty went back to 1885 to save Doc, he first had to uncover a DeLorean in 1955 that was already buried by Doc in 1885. When he went back to 1885, he ripped the gas line and emptied the gas tank, thus causing the car to be useless and having to have it be pushed by the train in the final sequence. However, what neither of them realized is that when Marty travels back to 1885 from 1955, there are now TWO DeLoreans. One that Marty ripped the fuel line, and one that Doc JUST BURIED not but a few months earlier to be uncovered by Marty in 1955. To rectify the situation and travel back to 1985, all they had to do was patch the gas line of the first with some tubing and siphon the gas from the buried DeLorean to the other, simply leaving a note for the 1955 counterparts to remember to fill up when found.

But this isn’t a paradox or a film flub or a mistake. It’s just normal stupidity, and stupidity I can always believe. Marty has spent three movies proving exactly how unbright he is; Strickland was totally within his right to be rough on him. He’s a slacker, bottom line. Marty was ready to fight Griff and his gang because of a chicken sound effect; this is not a thinking man. Doc, on the other hand, is brilliant with machines, but noticeably less than brilliant at other things (namely life and love). Let’s say at his best Doc is prone to rash decisions: stealing plutonium from known terrorists for one, challenging Mad Dog Tannen to a duel over a matter of $80 for another. Rewind back to the first movie, Doc forgot to put more plutonium in the trunk (one pellet, one trip). This is not a wild assumption on their intelligences (as most of my assumptions are), this is totally believable. Not remembering the second DeLorean was dumb, yes; problematic for me in terms of plot, not as much.

My problem is Doc returning to the present with a wife and kids. What’s up with that? And let me explain this in the longest, most drawn out way possible. So, Back to the Future III ends with Marty punking out on his drag race (I mean if you’re going to own a big ass monster truck and you’re going to be hanging out with dudes named Needles, I think it’s expected of you), Doc shows up in a locomotive and says everything’s cool, Doc’s son does some sort of weird finger in finger gesture, then Doc’s train flies off, and The End. Good feelings all around. Trilogy over. Roll the credits. But something is missing for me though.

I’m on board with Doc building a steam-powered time machine out of a train, why not? It’s no more unbelievable than a car. But what were Doc and Clara up to before dropping in on Marty? There's a missing story here. Namely why did Doc & Co. visit the future before visiting Marty? Maybe, it was just for the cool visual of a hover converted train. 1985 was not their first stop and this is important because there’s a hidden plot that they don’t ever get at. They went to the future first in order to destroy Marty’s family.

Follow up:

Lady and the Doc

If you boil the first Back to the Future down to its most basic component it’s really a love story. A love story about a boy and a girl who come together not through “density,” but through manipulating destiny. It’s summed up in George McFly’s own book: A Match Made in Space. Of course, it’s not space but his own son from the future who’s nudging love and destiny in the right direction. Now apply this theme to the whole series. The Back to the Future franchise is extremely cyclical after all. The skateboard scene of one mirrors the hoverboard scene of two. Wild Gunman of two mirrors the shooting gallery of three. Three movies with three scenes of Marty blacking out and waking up in a strange bed in a “good old” place by someone who’s an awful lot like his mom (side note: Marty should really be checked out for a concussion at this point). So, if it’s all about a love story, why not Doc's? I think the driving force behind BTTF III is that Doc Brown meets a lady. And this becomes the point of the whole series really.

Here are some of the major events that need to happen in order for Emmett and Clara to find each other:

  • Doc goes to 2015
  • Marty’s future kids are arrested
  • Doc recruits young Marty to help them
  • Marty buys the Grays Sports Almanac
  • Biff steals the Sports Almanac and the time machine
  • Biff gives the Sports Almanac to younger self
  • Doc & Marty have to return to 1955 to destroy said Almanac
  • DeLorean is struck by lightning and is transported to 1885
  • Marty goes to save Doc in 1885
  • They save Clara from crashing into her ravine
  • Doc meets Clara

Those are a lot of events that teeter on a very temporal edge.

A Case of Cause and Effect

Guess what happens if any of these things don’t happen just right then? Doc’s wife and children vanish. If Marty and Jennifer’s kids aren’t arrested then Doc has no reason to get Marty in 1985, which means Marty’ll never buy the Sports Almanac, which means Biff won’t steal it, and that the DeLorean will not get struck by lightning again in 1955 and accidentally go to the old west. Which all eventually leads to no Clara, no Jules, and no Verne. Back to the Future Part III ends with Jennifer handing Doc a piece of blank fax paper and Doc saying, “It means your future hasn't been written yet. No one's has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one, both of you.” But for Doc it’s very important that Marty and Jennifer’s future is written.

bttf chart

Why did Doc go to the future first? He went to the future to sabotage it.

Here are the facts:

  1. It’s Doc fault Biff saw a flying DeLorean in 1985 allowing him to make a connection that Doc Brown invented a time machine. He didn’t have to fly, Doc could have easily backed up. He did it on the same street in the first movie.
  2. Doc didn’t throw away the Sports Almanac (Marty bought it, but Doc had it and didn’t dispose of it. Instead he placed it in a convenient place for Old Biff to find).
  3. It was Doc’s bright idea to bring Jennifer along and to leave Jennifer in an alleyway, which eventually lead to the opportunity for Biff to steal the DeLorean. Instead of saying "Bring her along," Doc could have said, “I want to take Marty for a cruise in my new car. No chicks allowed.” Which would be fine with her because his car only had two seats anyway.
  4. Doc left the keys in the DeLorean, making it easy for Biff to steal. He left the keys to the time machine in the time machine! Of course, he left Marty with the time machine as well, but that’s just as bad. That just means he left a teenager with a known history of altering timelines alone with a time machine.
  5. Doc was the one flying the time machine in an electrical storm. He could have landed at almost any time after Marty got the Almanac.

What's up, Doc?

Which leads me to theorize that Doc is behind everything. Doc is the brains behind Griff’s heist (Come on, Griff don't plan), both pressuring Griff to do the job and to involve Marty Jr. (because why would he need the junior Marty for anything? He had three thugs already, why does he need some nerd in a rainbow cap?). Then Doc reported them to the cops during the heist. Which will eventually lead to all things in Part II and Part III to happen. Why would Doc even try to get Marty to help with Marty Jr., when it’s so much easier to say to Marty, “Don’t race Needles”? Because he needs Marty to go through the series of events that eventually leads Doc to Clara.

What do we really know about Dr. Emmett Brown anyway? We know he likes to plan intricate things with miniatures that are not quite to scale (a good skill for planning crimes). He cavorts with known terrorists. He used his dog as a guinea pig (putting a dog in a remote control car going 90 is bad enough, but if that car may or may not disintegrate is even worse). He lures teenage boys to his garage with the promise of giant amplifiers. He was institutionalized in an alternate 1985 (maybe, for a good reason even!?).

Doc hints to his intentions in the second film: The time-traveling is just too dangerous. Better that I devote myself to study the other great mystery of the universe: women!

So, what am I really trying to say? Dr. Emmett Brown is Keyser Söze.

Usual Suspects

If you change Marty’s future, it changes Doc’s past (or future depending on whether you’re thinking 4th dimensionally or not). If Marty’s children end up well adjusted, Doc doesn’t have kids at all. Doc and Marty have to go to 2015, if they’re ever going to end up in 1885. Doc wasn’t coming back to give Marty a photograph, he was coming back to see why Marty didn’t crash his truck then do everything in his power to cause it again. It's in Doc's best interest for Marty to crash his truck and give up his Huey Lewis cover band, which is probably in Marty's best interest, too.

Or think of it as this, Back to the Future Part III cannot exist if Part II doesn't exist. Part II doesn't exist if Marty's kids aren't imprisoned. Marty's kids aren't imprisoned if Marty never got in that car accident with that Rolls-Royce. Unless, of course, someone has access to a time machine to make sure all these events play out correctly.

The End

This will be my final Back to the Future… until my next back to the future post.

  • Smatsy
    Comment from: Smatsy
    05/17/13 @ 08:42:44 am


  • Eishtmo
    Comment from: Eishtmo
    05/17/13 @ 11:03:52 am

    Actually, there is a good reason why they couldn't get the gas from the other DeLorean, because gas goes bad. Within a few months, without special additives, gasoline goes bad, gels and no longer burns. Doc Brown likely would know this, so he would have PUMPED OUT the gas from the car and used it in his furnace (and probably for experimenting with those presto logs of his).

    The damage to the car was the gas tank (Doc says he could fix that easy enough), but the fuel was the real problem, and he probably didn't mention the gas in the other DeLorean because he knew there wasn't any. And MARTY would have known there wasn't any because he pulled the car out of the mine. So both knew they had no extra gas.

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