The title says it all. I really do take time-travel far too seriously. I am… obsessed with stable time loops. Rarely do I come across time-travel in shows, books, movies, etc. that I am completely happy with. I don’t like Doctor Who time-travel. I don’t like the Sarah Connor Chronicles time-travel. I hate Charmed time-travel. I like the first Terminator movie’s time-travel, and I like 12 Monkeys’ time-travel. But that’s about it.
I like time-travel where nothing can be changed. Everything has already happened. You can’t go back in time to stop something from happening, because then that thing would never have happened, and you would never have known about it, which means you would never have travelled to the past to stop it. And even if you were just in the past for some random other reason, it is impossible to stop something from happening when you already know it as having happened. For example, you can’t go back in time to prevent the Holocaust. You also can’t prevent the Holocaust during a stop-off on your trip to the past to visit your grandmother. You already know that the Holocaust has happened. You can’t just change your entire reality. You could, however, save the life of a Jewish woman who no-one has ever heard of. “Hang on!” some people might say, “You just said we can’t mess with the Holocaust!”. And they’re right, I did. However, ‘not messing with the Holocaust during time-travel’ is a thing because the Holocaust is a known event. No-one knows who the Jewish woman is. In fact, you have already saved her life. That same Jewish woman is running around your present, perfectly alive. You just didn’t know it yet.
The future is also off-limits. Your present is someone else’s past. Your future is someone else’s present. And it’s someone else again’s past. You have free will because you don’t yet know what has happened. If you time-travel to the future, you can’t prevent anything from happening. You could try, but you would fail, or perhaps even cause it. Perhaps you might find yourself in a mental institution from having gone insane, the knowledge of which would then proceed to drive you insane.
This is my argument whenever I get asked if I’d rather time-travel to the past or the future. I will always say the past. I’d like to travel to a very long time ago, when people lived in stone houses, and there were nobles and peasants all over the place. I like to think I’d steal some noblewoman’s dresses, frolic in meadows for a few years, singing folk songs while some friends accompanied me on the harp and the flute, then join a convent, eventually become an abbess, and have more power than a Lord (yay!). Of course, that last part is a bit unlikely, since being religious is probably a prerequisite for being a nun. I’d probably have more luck being burnt at the stake. In that case, I might like to be a tavern-wench. That’d be pretty cool. I wouldn’t be able to prevent any big events I knew had happened, like the plague and whatnot, and I wouldn’t be able to cause anything that I knew hadn’t, like invent the internet or something, but I would be able to live there and frolic harmlessly.
But here’s where it gets tricky. You can’t change things, but you can stage them. You wouldn’t be changing your past, but merely your perception of it. For example, a nice way for John Connor to defeat the Terminators would be to grab them in the early stages and install some kind of hidden program in them, telling them to self-destruct just after his last time-travelling helpers return to the past. A nice way to find out how the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would have ended would be to go back and secretly ask Douglas Adams to write the last book and bury it under a plot of land you know is being constructed on in your present. Unlikely, as creativity can’t really be forced, but still better than trying to get him to write something new and publish it then and there. A nice way to save your friend from dying in an explosion is to kidnap a missing person, use them as a replacement for your friend, and tell your friend to hide out in a cave for a few years until you discover time-travel. Congratulations, you have just become a kidnapper and discovered that you caused the death of a missing person, but hey, at least your friend’s alive.
That is my favourite type of time-travel. Nothing will ever meet my expectations unless it uses the above time-travel, but I might still be able to tolerate it. If someone does something in the past, you can’t have people coming in from twenty years in the future saying that they were just affected (yes, Charmed, I’m looking at you). You can’t prevent some past events and be the cause of others (yes, Doctor Who, not even you can escape my microscope). I mean, seriously, don’t you have any sense of pride? Be consistent, people! And make some bloody sense!