In ‘A Christmas Carol’ the Doctor is attempting to save a crashing space liner. In order to do so the artificial cloud layer around the planet below must be lowered by cruel Kazran Sardick. Finding him resistant to his request the Doctor sets about changing the man’s past, to make him kinder.
This is very different from how the Doctor usually deals with things. Usually if he is in the flow of events he deals with the situation as it is. If he were to leave there is a danger that he might not return to the same point and if he changes the past his own timeline would be affected.
In this episode the justification given is that Kazran is the only one who can operate the controls that will save over 4,000 lives on the space liner. Making him a better person is the only way the Doctor can get him to do that.
Clearly this isn’t a pre-destined universe presented here. The Doctor’s trips into the past haven’t happened and without his interference the space liner would crash. Here the Doctor is clearly making alterations to the universe.
It could be argued that the alteration is so small, changing just one man’s life, that it will not greatly affect the web of time. In truth the alteration is massive, as 4001 people will now live. Unless they spend the rest of their lives not affecting anyone that is a big change.
We’ve discussed here how time travellers can apparently cross back and fore between rebooted universes. It could be that just as there are fixed points in time there are unfixed points.
In these areas there is no pre-destination. It is the job of the time traveller to make them fixed, so that events are in synch with the rest of the universe. If they aren’t fixed then the rest of history is altered. This could be what we see in ‘The Pyramids of Mars’ when the Doctor takes the TARDIS to a wasteland of the 1980s or how the 7th Doctor could see a poisoned Earth in ‘The Curse of Fenric’.
Can Time Lords sense when a point in history is Unfixed? The Doctor seems to be able to in ‘Cold War’ indicating that it is possible that nuclear war could break out. Knowing this can give players more freedom in how they deal with a situation, including altering the past.
If these Unfixed points are naturally occurring a Time Lord could specifically seek them out, ensuring that they become fixed. This works best if they know what the end result should be. It is then just a matter of making sure that events work out to produce that result.
It could be that the TARDIS itself can unfix a moment in history, like a stone displacing water in a pond. Fixed points could be resistant to this displacement while other sections become Unfixed, requiring the time traveller to fix the damage they’ve caused.
The model of time travel presented within ‘A Christmas Carol’ is similar to that used in the film ‘Looper’. A change to a person’s past occurs only in the present, rather than retroactively. Physical changes or new memories appear in an instant, without altering anything that has gone before.
This allows a time traveller to be more cavalier with the changes they make. They don’t need to worry about unforeseeable outcomes or that they’ll accidentally cause the subject to die too early or negatively impact the world around them.
In the ‘present’ the person will still be where they are, with the same level of power. Only their memories and personality will be changed. Everything else will be exactly the same.
It could be that those changes will eventually happen and that they just haven’t caught up with us in the ‘present’. It could also be that when this becomes a Fixed point no further changes can occur. From his point of view Kazran Sardick will be the only one who has two sets of memories.
Players may enjoy taking this approach to dealing with NPCs. Adventures can present them with a problem and they can then go back in time and tweak things to make a better present.
In order to do this they need to understand the NPC and work out what in their past made them the way they are. Maybe the NPC is haunted by the death of their mother in an accident so the PCs go back and save her. Maybe it was a war that turned them into a bitter scarred battle monger, so the PCs go back and mediate peace.
This could be seen as the equivalent of ‘Quantum Leap’ with the PCs putting right what once went wrong. The difference is that they can only guess at which are the key moments in the life.
Even the NPC might believe that one particular moment was the significant turning point of their life when in fact it was something else that shaped their out look on life. PCs can spend several trips travelling through their life, each time returning to the ‘present’ to see how the person has changed.
This doesn’t need to be done just as a way to eliminate a villain (by making him nice). It could be used to help people or give them the skills they need in the present to survive or make the world a better place.
Once the PCs are successful and time become Fixed it could appear to those affected that their life was blessed or fated to come to its current conclusion. They could be oblivious to the PCs hard work behind the scenes, pushing them to become the way they are.
A Time Lord could choose his companions in this manner. Just as the Doctor takes a young Kazran on trips in the TARDIS maybe a Time Lord has chosen a particular companion because he knows what they will be like in the future and is desperate to change their outlook.
If the companion finds this out how would they react? Would they be grateful for the Time Lords actions or resent that they’ve had their original timeline changed? What happens if they meet their future self? Would they agree that they need to change or would that make them more driven than ever to become that person?
There is an ethically dubious practice and the PCs might instead try and oppose time travellers who try to do this type of thing. This could be exactly the type of meddling that the 1st Doctor was so opposed to.
In this case not only would the PCs have to stop the rogue time travellers they’d have to fix the damage they’d done, changing things back. The question would be do they know what the original time line was?