“I suggest you don’t worry about those things and just enjoy yourself": Time Travel, the Scientist and the Evolution of Narrative Conventions

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


A submission by Dylan Pank and John Caro, building on our work for "The Scientist in Popular Culture - Playing God and Working Wonders" edited by Rebecca Janicker

Time travel has been a staple of science fiction since H.G. Wells established the central tenets of the trope in The Time Machine (1895). Time travel opens up rich formal possibilities that science fiction authors have mischievously played with, disrupting or even destroying the traditional plot chains of cause and effect. Through the character of the scientist, writers and creators have significantly toppled and subverted narrative stakes with the destruction of specific realities via paradoxes, or occasionally provided rewards, when the protagonist amends the past or the future for their own or others’ benefits.

As with much fiction, time travel becomes a surrogate for popular fantasies and fears regarding science in general and its ability to deliver progress, alongside the existential and tangible threat that goes with individuals choosing to play God. This paper will investigate the role that the scientist plays in popular film and TV science fiction in helping audiences navigate the formal and structural complexities of time travel narratives, as well as embodying the contradictions of prevalent attitudes towards the perceived threats and opportunities embodied in science and technology in general.

Our research will look at a range of archetypal scientist figures such as H.G. Wells eponymous time traveller, Doc Brown of the popular Hollywood Back to the Future series (Zemeckis, 1985-1990), the evil scientists of Twelve Monkeys (Gilliam 1995), and the Silicon Valley start-up in the independent release, Primer (Carruth, 2005). Television shows will also be considered, such as Doctor Who (Newman, Webber and Wilson, 1963 – present), The Flash (Berlanti, Kreisberg and Johns, 2014 - present) and Rick and Morty (Roiland and Harmon, 2013 – present).

Research will draw upon academic work such as James Gleick’s Time Travel: A History; Lorna Jowett’s Time on TV: Narrative Time, Time Travel and Time Travellers in Popular Television Culture and David Wittenberg’s Time Travel: The Popular Philosophy of Narrative. The focus will expand upon the time travelling scientists’ particular role in fiction, as well as looking at how the narratives interact with and deploy real world philosophical and scientific explorations of time and the possibility of time travel.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA Celebration of Time Travel
Subtitle of host publicationDePaul Pop Culture Conference
EditorsStephanie Grau, Paul Booth
ISBN (Print)9798211303515
Publication statusPublished - 26 Apr 2023
EventA Celebration of Time Travel: 10th DePaul Pop Culture Conference - DePaul University, Chicago, United States
Duration: 20 May 202320 Jul 2023


ConferenceA Celebration of Time Travel
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


  • Pop Culture
  • Time Travel

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