EMMETT L. "DOC" BROWN (Christopher Lloyd), in the "Back to the Future" franchise, invented time travel. Having invented it, he withholds it from humanity and reserves it to himself. Why? Because he has personally watched, felt, and taken part in, several changes of time-lines. One thing that worries him is whether he has accelerated the increase in entropy in the universe though his activities. But he also has fresh memories of far more immediate effects, on himself and on those close to him.
He is married to Clara Clayton, a woman he met on his travels. They have two sons, named Jules and Verne.
Timeline 1: Invention and death
Emmett Brown, in the prime timeline, lived all his life in the town of Hill Valley, California. He has never once shown to anyone, not even his best friend, the great pop artist Marty McFly
, any evidence that he really deserves his title of "doctor." That is, he never showed Marty or anyone else a framed PhD. The only reason for that is likely that he could never stay on one subject long enough to write, much less defend, a doctoral dissertation.
But his scientific mind is no less keen for the lack of official academic recognition. His scientific research and experimentation lie primarily in the field of physics, but also spans across different areas, from nuclear physics to astronomy. It is not very clear whether Doc has a paying job, but it appears unlikely, because Doc does not seem to treat his scientific work as a job, but rather as a field of great interest.
In 1955, Doc lived on a vast, 450-acre estate. The estate's mansion burned to the ground in 1962. Brown sold the land to developers. So that in 1985 his real-estate holdings consisted of a single-family residence in the Lyon Estates subdivision, crammed to the rafters with his equipment and gadgets.
Doc devoted most of his life to science, but achieved little success in his work. He is indisputably a scientific genius, but was sloppy with little things and never seemed to concentrate his research on one area for long.
In addition to being a student of many sciences, Doc is also a hopeless romantic. He dreamed to live a serene rural life at the time of Old West. Failing that, he acquired a Colt .45 revolver and carried it with him, though he never loaded it.
In 1985 he achieved his dream of time travel.
He actually assigns the date of November 5, 1955 as the date he invented time travel. On that date, he took a fall while trying to adjust a wall hanging in his bathroom. Coming to himself, he had a "revelation" of a device he calls a "flux capacitor." That is the key to time travel, the one device that can channel the energies of space-time that time travel involves. It took thirty years and the spending of nearly all his family fortune to make his device real.
He finally realized that time travel requires a moving vehicle, at a relative speed of 88 miles per hour. So he acquired one of the last of the DeLorean DMC-12 sport cars, probably in 1983, the year DeLorean Motor Company ceased production. To generate the 1.21 GW of power to produce the tremendous energy fluxes, he built a tiny nuclear reactor. To fuel it, he used plutonium, which he acquired by a very dangerous means: a cell of terrorists from Libya stole some plutonium from the Pacific Nuclear Research Facility and brought it to him in the hope he would help them build a nuclear device. Instead he used the plutonium for his own purposes.
On October 26, 1985, he asked Marty McFly to meet him at 1:15 a.m., at the former Peabody's Farm (now known as Twin Pines Mall), to test the device. Using a radio-control console, he steered the DeLorean time machine to its 88-mph speed with his faithful dog, named Einstein, as a passenger. (Thirty years ago he also owned a dog of the same mixture of breeds, whom he named Copernicus.) The test was successful: he sent Einstein exactly one minute into the future, and he and Marty waited for the DeLorean to reappear, which it did. Sure enough, Einstein wore a timepiece that was now one minute slow, where before it had been in exact synchrony.
Brown planned next to journey into the future. Before he tried to leave, he demonstrated some of the controls to Marty, including the date-and-time readouts. On a whim, he set a destination time of November 5, 1955, the date he had taken his bathroom fall.
But before he could do anything else, the Libyan terror cell found him. At first he tried to hold them at bay with his Colt .45. But it was unloaded, so he could do no more than dry-fire it. He tossed the gun away, and the Libyans promptly shot him to death.
Timeline 2: Marty's 1955 Visit
Marty McFly changed the timeline by using the time machine to escape the terrorist attack. Doc Brown would learn that only later.
The timeline split began when, as Brown perceived it, a young man wearing a sleeveless jacket that looked like nothing so much as a sailor's life jacket showed up at his mansion. He tried testing a telepathy device on him and was frustrated with its failure. But when this young man described the fall he had taken only hours earlier that day, as if he had been a witness, he listened. This gladdened his heart, because now he could be sure that he would eventually build something that worked!
He was intrigued with Marty's portable TV studio and the recorded television program he had brought with him. But the thought of having to generate 1.21 GW of power defeated him. That is, until Marty told him of an upcoming event that would generate just that kind of power: a lightning storm that would strike the old clock tower in the town center, knocking it out, as they would think, forever. If they could harness that lightning, in a manner similar to Ben Franklin's kite and key apparatus, they could generate the power needed to send Marty "back to the future"!
Doc worked hard to improvise an apparatus that would capture the necessary power. But he also realized that Marty had changed his own history in a manner that would eliminate it: he had prevented his parents' first meeting. He impressed on Marty the importance of making sure that meeting would take place!
Marty showed up late to the appointed date with the lightning storm. He breathlessly said he had arranged another way to kindle his parents' romance, that involved his father, George McFly
, decking the town high-school bully, Biff Tannen
, with a single punch, while Biff had been assaulting Lorraine Baines
, his eventual intended. Doc knew then that Marty would find his life subtly changed.
But before Marty departed, Doc found a note in his coat, describing his own murder, thirty years in the future. He tore up this note in front of Marty, saying he could not accept the responsibility for altering the space-time continuum, even by preventing his own murder.
After Marty made a successful time transit, Doc reconsidered. He gathered up the torn-up shards of Marty's note, pasted them together with transparent tape, and, when the appointed day came for him to test his machine at what was now called Lone Pine Mall, made sure to wear a flak vest. He also installed a trick starter in the DeLorean so only he could start the car.
When Marty returned, he and Doc restarted the car, and Doc did as he planned: he journeyed thirty years into the future of Hill Valley, California. What he found there (or then) brought him back to 1985 in a hurry: Marty McFly's life and career had taken a nasty turn. As nearly as he could figure out, Marty had the bad sense to get involved in a drag race on the street. He had, as a result, broadsided a Rolls Royce Silver Phantom and not only cripped his guitar-playing hand but also made himself liable in a king-sized lawsuit. So now he was a mere office drone, the very thing Doc Brown had never thought anyone ought to be. Worse, his son and daughter were headed for big trouble with the law.
How could he reverse that? He must demonstrate to Marty how events can change one's fate. To do that, he set up an experiment. He brought back a copy of USA Today
with the banner headline: YOUTH JAILED. The story described what would happen to Marty's son after he got involved with the local gang (led, as ever, by a Tannen: Griff Tannen, grandson of Biff). Then he returned to 1985 and encouraged Marty and his girlfriend, Jennifer Parker
, to come to 2015 with him.
His experiment worked. Marty managed to stop his son from getting involved with Griff's illegal activity. Better yet, Marty managed to get Griff and the gang jailed instead for "reckless hoverboarding."
But Doc was careless. Marty bought a copy of Gray's Sports Almanac, which held the result of every sporting event from 1950 to the then-present, i.e. 2015. Doc firmly told Marty not to bring a thing like that to the past, to try to profit from foreknowledge. But what Doc never realized was that Biff Tannen had seen him depart for the future back in 1985. And in 2015, he still remembered.
Doc would learn only later the magnitude of his error.
Timeline 3: Hell Valley
The younger Doc Brown, in this timeline, never built the time machine. Because Biff Tannen, who somehow had gained knowledge of future sporting events, had grown rich enough to build his own high-rise hotel and casino in the center of town. Biff also recruited a larger gang, this time armed with weapons. That gang virtually took over Hill Valley politics, and affected national politics, too. Goldie Wilson, who was Mayor of Hill Valley in Timelines 1 and 2, was relegated to living in a nondescript house in Lyon Estates. The Twenty-Second Amendment to the United States Constitution,l the one limiting a President of the United States to two terms or ten years of service, was repealed--and President Richard Milhaus Nixon, who must have allied himself with Biff Tannen, did not
suffer impeachment and in fact prepared to seek a fifth term of office in 1984. In that very year, Doc himself was committed to an insane asylum. Worse yet, George McFly was murdered in 1973, and Hill Valley High School was destroyed by fire in 1979.
But when Doc traveled back to 1985 as a time traveler
, he instantly became a free agent. (The trick: a time traveler remembers not only the altered timeline but also the original.) Marty, likewise, was no longer a boarding school student in Switzerland. The two used their free agency to full advantage. Marty boldly confronted Biff about Gray's Sports Almanac and learned the details of how a much-older Biff of 2015 had given it to the Biff of 1955. Accordingly, the two traveled together to 1955 to intercept Gray's Sports Almanac and destroy it.
Destroy it they did--or Marty did. By so doing, he saved the timeline for everyone.
But then disaster struck. Doc was piloting the DeLorean, now equipped for levitation, when the same lightning storm that disabled the clock tower (and sent an earlier version of Marty back to 1985), sent a bolt that struck the DeLorean and sent it back to a time that Doc had absent-mindledly set: January 1, 1885.
Timeline 4: Doc Dies in Hill Valley
Doc Brown did reach the Old Western version of Hill Valley. He loved it at once. He opened a blacksmith's shop and even built a refrigerator the size of a barn so he could make ice whenever he wanted it. But he had a problem. Doc Brown suffers from alcohol idiosyncratic intoxication, also called pathological intoxication. Meaning he absolutely cannot hold his liquor. One drink will lay him out.
So Doc avoided alcohol and did not frequent the saloon. But that did not stop him from running afoul of Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen and his gang. Doc little knew how disastrous that meeting would be.
On September 1, 1885, Doc took the DeLorean and buried it in an abandoned mine driftway. (FYI: a shaft
goes straight down; a drift goes in level, or on a slight downward incline.) He then wrote a letter giving very strict instructions on how to make the DeLorean serviceable to make one more run. He instructed Marty equally strictly: destroy the time machine as soon as he returned to his own time.
He sealed the letter and entrusted it to Western Union, with instructions to deliver it to a young man that someone would find on a specific road, seventy-odd years into the future. Western Union did not argue, as long as Doc was good for payment in advance.
Doc met and fell in love with a local woman, one Clara Clayton
. He met her by intercepting her before her horses could carry her head over heals over the Shonash Ravine. He would learn only later that he had stopped a death that was commemorated in History Prime by the renaming of Shonash Ravine to Clayton Ravine.
But Buford Tannen was still his downfall. Buford accused Doc of not shoeing his horse properly. Buford would not be put off even by an offer to re-shoe the horse. Buford was out for blood. And at a box social, he got his revenge. He shot Doc in the back, with a small bullet that would kill him by inches over several days.
A heartbroken Clara Clayton buried him on Boot Hill, and left this legend on his tombstone: SHOT IN THE BACK OVER A MATTER OF EIGHTY DOLLARS. Which was the value in dispute..
Seventy years later, Boot Hill would survive as the town cemetery. The Doc Brown of 1955 would be shocked to have Marty McFly rush up to him even though, as he thought, he had just sent Marty McFly back to the future! "I'm back from
the future!" Marty said. That made Doc faint dead away.
Marty showed him a letter he had just received from the Western Union man. With it as a guide they found the abandoned driftway, and the DeLorean, now better equipped, inside it. They managed to get it ready for travel--independent travel now, because it relied on a more commonplace power source.
But then the young Doc Brown saw his own tombstone in the cemetery! So now he outfitted Marty in a Western outfit. Only all that was available were the kind of silly "dude clothes" that were a 1955 person's idea of a cowboy. With this inauspicious sartorial selection, Marty went off, deeper into the past. Doc Brown would learn only later that Marty's mission was successful.
TImeline 5: A Man Out of Time
In this timeline, on September 2, 1885, before Doc could have an argument with Buford, he caught Buford and the gang stringing up the most ridiculous-looking "dude" he had ever seen. He got his gun and with one shot cut the rope, dropping the "dude" to the ground. Only after he had his fruitless argument with Buford over a loose horseshoe did he realize who the "dude" was: Marty!
Despite Marty's disobedience of his orders, Doc was glad to see Marty again. The first thing he attended to was outfitting Marty properly for Western life. Then he thought about another problem: Marty, in making yet another return, had disabled the DeLorean. He had run over a sharp rock and torn open his fuel tank. The DeLorean was now undrive-able.
Doc did meet Clara Clayton, just as before: stopping her runaway horses from carrying her over the Shonash Ravine.
Came the social, and this time Clara Clayton intervened, but that only made Buford hold her hostage and force her to dance with him, with a gun pressed to her back. Doc took exception to that and shoved Buford aside. Buford then drew his derringer and prepared to shoot Doc straight-on.
And from out of nowhere, a metal pie shell sailed between them and knocked the little gun out of Buford's hand!
Marty had thrown it--after noting the name on the bottom of the pie shell: FRISBY & CO.
Before Buford could turn and shoot Marty, the town marshal, none other than James Strickland (father of a famous schoolmaster), intervened.
Doc hit upon a solution to the time-travel problem. First he equipped the DeLorean with flanged wheels so it could run on the railroad tracks. Then he prepared to commandeer a steam locomotive. The idea was to use the loco to push the DeLorean to 88 miles per hour. The two, safely in the DeLorean, would be in no danger, because they should instantly travel forward in time, to a time when they would have rail, and a bridge, under their wheels.
But Marty could not avoid Buford. The two of them met in battle, Marty armored with an old stove lid. Marty not only survived, but he thoroughly humiliated Buford. Whereupon Marshal Strickland arrested Buford on unrelated charges.
Came the time to propel Marty to the future, and Clara Clayton discovered their secret and ended up aboard the train! Doc had to stay behind, using Marty's "hoverboard" (a 2015 acquisition), to save Clara Clayton.
Marty went forward in time, and the loco plummeted into the Shonash Ravine--that would henceforth be called the Eastwood Ravine, because Marty used the name of the actor Clint Eastwood, of Man With No Name fame, as his alias.
Doc married Clara. For awhile they lived in Hill Valley in the Old West era. But then he caught the wanderlust. So he acquired yet another steam locomotive and built another time machine around it. He and Clara then re-created the dramatic run to the Shonash/Eastwood Ravine, and propelled themselves 130 years into the future. Where Doc could then outfit his loco with levitation pads, and even build a proper passenger car, decorated after the Victorian style, for him and Clara to live in. Clara fell pregnant and, nine months later, gave birth to twins. Doc named them Jules and Vern, after the Frenchman who invented science fiction in the era where he had met Clara.
Doc Brown did not take long to determine that Marty had learned the most important lesson Doc had wanted to impress upon him: not to act impulsively, and remember that actions had consequences. He noted with satisfaction that Marty had indeed declined the drag-race challenge that had turned him into an office drone in 2015. So in 1985 he set his loco to reappear at the Eastwood Ravine, just as Marty and Jennifer were investigating the wreckage of the DeLorean. He introduced his family to the young lovers, and told them, "Your future is not fixed. No one's is. So make it a good one!"
Doc levitated his loco and sped off into another time, and another field trip for his sons. He would only occasionally reappear in Marty McFly's life, but would follow his career as an American Top Forty artist. He never once shared with Marty any of his insights as to what the future would hold, hundreds or thousands of years later. And he made sure that no one would ever learn the secret of time travel from him.
If you can find him, you'll probably have to join him. But you won't find him. He is far too scrupulous for that now, having learned from his, and Marty's, mistakes.