Back to the Future: The Case of 1885
Let’s continue our exploration into the cinematic mysteries of Back to the Future that we recently started with The Two Martys. If you haven’t seen Back to the Future II or Back to the Future III, then you may not want to read this but also why haven’t you seen Back to the Future II or III?
Speaking of the events in 1885 means digging deep into how reckless Doc Brown became towards the space-time continuum at the end of the series. When Doc Brown decides to become a blacksmith and Clara is prevented from plunging to her death into the Shonash Ravine – twice- it causes so many ripples in time it will make your head spin.
At the end of Back to the Future II, Doc and the time machine are stranded in 1885 thanks to a rogue lightning bolt. Doc leaves Marty a letter in the past on how to recover the time machine, repair it and get home. Marty and Doc’s 1955 counterpart venture to the abandoned Delgado Mine to retrieve the time machine left for them. Afterward, Marty discovers Copernicus – Doc’s dog – laying front of the tombstone of Emmett Brown. Doc Brown was killed just after the Western Union letter was written, and his tombstone contains a strange phrase on it. “Erected In Eternal Memory By His Beloved Clara.” After this Marty decides to go back to 1885 instead of 1985 to save Doc Brown but what about this Clara?
Clara Clayton was supposed to be Hill Valley’s new schoolteacher, but she died September 4th, 1885 after falling into Shonash Ravine when her horses were spooked by a snake. Shonash Ravine was then renamed Clayton Ravine in her memory and the story of her death widely known among Hill Valley kids who all have teachers they would like to see fall into the ravine. Doc Brown stopped her death twice, In the first 1885 timeline when he met her at the train station and in the second 1885 timeline – When Marty goes back to save him – Doc saved her before she fell into the ravine.
Doc’s initial decision to live his life in Hill Valley circa 1885 has always confused me. He is a wise man and would know everything he does there changes things in the future, Clara cheating death only exacerbates this even further. Everything they both eat or drink was meant for someone else to consume and every time they interact with somebody it changes that person’s future. Either of them merely bumping into someone causing that person a 10 second delay could set into motion events causing that person to live later on that day when they should have died. Think of the hundreds of things like this on the timeline they change daily, which in turn causes hundreds of other things to change. There is no telling the millions upon millions of things that have altered when Marty gets back to 1985.
Walter Mondale could have defeated Ronald Reagan in the 1984 presidential election, the Titanic may not have sunk in 1912 and is currently used as a hotel/casino outside of Atlantic City and New York City could have been branched off into its own state thanks to the influence from Norman Mailer, who won the 1969 Bid as Mayor of New York City instead of losing. If Marty was confused when he first got back to 1985 at the end of the first movie then he’s in for a surprise.
Then Clara and Doc decide to go and have kids, why would they do this? These are two kids who should never have existed in any form now living and breathing. Obviously something is wrong with these kids, when we see them on the time train at the end of III they stare at Marty with the devil’s eyes and don’t speak. The whole family is unnatural and should not exist, but they continue to travel around like a group of time terrorists.
The fact that Doc even created the locomotive time machine is very odd, he was very adamant that they needed to get back and destroy the time machine because of everything that has happened. Why would he create a new one and have some family adventure through time? Is it because it dawned on him at some point that he set in motion a chain of events that not only changes everything, but could cause the end of mankind at some point? This thought forcing him to spend ten years creating another time machine to determine what exactly has happened.
Then having gone into the future he has seen that it is very different and that they did cause endless irreparable damage to the timeline. Maybe he went to the year 3978 and discovered earth was ruled by damn dirty apes? Maybe the year 2274 found the remnants of human civilization live in a sealed domed city, a utopia run by a computer that takes care of all aspects of their life? These events all linking back to Clara living and Doc existing in 1885.
He then decides to flee through time with his family looking for points in the timeline they could correct to alter certain aspects for the better. This, of course, is better in his eyes than the alternative, killing his entire family.
What could Doc have done? Once landing in 1885 and realizing that he could not repair the time machine, Doc should have stored it, left the letter and committed suicide. That may sound a bit cruel and unnecessary, but Doc would have known that he could not exist in this timeline. He instead adopts the out of sight, out of mind mentality – with zero regards to anything that happens; he figures, “I’m stuck here, so I couldn’t care less.”