Time Beings, Time Villains and Time Guardians
“Lesson one in time travel, Thursday. First of all, we are all time travellers. The vast majority of us manage only one day per day.”
In the SWIDGERS book series, Swidgers are cosmic beings that are human in form but with a unique energy running through their bodies which allows them to alter lives for the better by altering people’s Timepaths with a ‘a switch or sway, a shove or a nudge’. Hence the name Swidgers. Most Swidgers do what they have to do then simply walk away, never knowing the good they have done. But our hero William is not the same as others, and his Mentor, who goes by the name of ‘Granny’, understands that now he is coming of age he will soon discover his special gift that makes him so unique.
To say too much would be to give away the plot, but part of William’s preparation for what is to come in his life is to fully understand the nature of Time. And Cause and Effect. The concept of causation is linear for human beings, or ‘The Commonality’, as Granny affectionately refers to them, but for Swidgers it is more complicated. Part of William’s grounding in understanding Time involves a visit to The Royal Academy of Art where Granny asks him to look at a large modern art bronze sculpture of two chickens that has been cast as a single egg. It takes William a while but eventually he understands the point, observing:
“It’s what people say: ‘Which came first, the chicken or the egg?’ But here what the chickens are doing will lead to the egg. So perhaps it doesn’t matter which came first because chicken and egg are ultimately one and the same thing?”
And it’s that perception of Time as a ‘Oneness’ that will eventually allow William to move in Time and become a Time Traveller. But his time machine won’t be a mechanical device, but rather an innate Swidger understanding of Time itself.
There are stories where the protagonist just happens to be born with the ability to time travel. In THERE WILL BE TIME, by Poul Anderson, the young man has a genetic mutation that allows this, and in the movie ABOUT TIME, the ability to travel in time is passed on from father to son. That’s just the way things are in some families, but that’s fine because, after all, ABOUT TIME is a family melodrama drama.
In THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, Henry (Eric Bana) thinks of his ability to time travel as a “condition”. He sees it in terms of a medical illness or genetic anomaly and even consults the geneticist Dr Kendrick who later calls it ‘chrono-impairment’. Henry wants help to stabilise his situation as much for his wife as for himself. The central thrust of the story is making a marriage work – the clue is in the title – rather than saving the world from nuclear bombs and the like. Henry’s weakness as a time traveller is that he has no control over his time travelling and when he does jump, his clothes don’t come with him. Suddenly arriving naked in an unknown time or place has its drawbacks, but it is dramatically a very clever rule to have as it opens up all sorts of potential scenarios both comic and tragic. And one is his first meeting with the girl who will indeed become his wife.
In the Korean time travel series ALICE (AELLISEU), written by Kim Kyu-Won, Park Jin-gyoem has the power to stop time. As The Book of Prophecy says, “The child born while opening the Door of Time will end up controlling time.” However, Park Jin-gyoem has little control over where he lands or in which timeline. And this lack of control leads to some fascinating dramatic encounters.
The point here is that Time Beings are fictional creations and their abilities and concerns are ultimately designed for their role in that particular Time Tales story. Or put another way, Time Beings are Dramatic Beings.
And it’s their idiosyncrasies, weak spots and flaws that are just as important as their abilities. Every Time Being must have their Achilles’ Heel, or their Kryptonite, so to speak. And since not all Time Tales are the same, each Time Being is constructed differently. Or should be.
Granny and William are just two among many Swidgers who have been put in this world to help sort out the Universe. And as Time Beings who are here to do moral good, it is impossible for Swidgers to lie or act violently. There are moments in the story where Granny and William’s inability not to tell the truth or fight back puts them in danger, yet they are both smart enough to get round these rules, or at least bend them a little. But this is all part of the creative process, for in plot terms it’s a good thing that Granny and William have to find an unexpected way out of a perilous situation. That’s what stories are all about,
Weaknesses in characters, or perceived chinks in armour, are all part of the creative dramatic construction of a Time Tale. Take the American television series TRAVELERS. Disembodied consciousnesses from the future have been sent to our present but many of them have been put in compromised hosts. This may have been an accident as presented in the plot itself, but you can bet it was carefully thought through at the pre-planning story meetings. One Traveler is thought to have brain damage, another is a junkie and then there’s a mom with a baby and an abusive partner, plus, later in the series, a Traveler finds himself in a host body with paranoid schizophrenic and another in the body of a serial killer. With such characters at your disposal, the plots begin to write themselves. And the Travelers from the future can develop problems once here. Trevor, the oldest of the Travelers at 0115, succumbs to Temporal Displacement Aphasia, which means his ability to perceive the passage of time is degraded. Put simply, he freezes. Not good for him, but great for those plot moments where you’re really up against the clock.
In the BACK TO THE FUTURE series both Marty and Doc Brown have weaknesses written into their characters which add to the plot’s potential. Emmet Brown can’t take his liquor, which is a bit of a problem when he gets to the Wild West. In the first of the series Marty is presented as a “slacker”, but in the follow up movies this changes and “Are you chicken?” becomes a question Marty can’t walk away from, “No one call me ‘yellow’,” he replies, and usually what follows makes things far worse. Marty’s problem is even more of a difficulty for him because it is his inability to walk away from a dare which will ruin his life in the future. But one of the advantages of a time traveller going forward in time is that you can, as it were, learn from your future mistakes. One of Marty’s main character arcs is that he must learn to walk away from silly dares and challenges. And when he does this leads to what we believe, or at least hope will be, a happy future.
“We are material beings for a moment in time, but we are spiritual beings forever.”
“Children without families are the most vulnerable people in the world.”
Orphans Who Learn to Time Travel
In the Korean time travel series ALICE (AELLISEU), written by Kim Kyu-Won, a woman time traveller, after discovering The Book of Prophecy, a mysterious tale that speaks of the end of time travel, flees to the year 1986 and marries Dr Jang Dong-sik. Unfortunately, this lady dies giving birth to their daughter Yoon Tae-yi, who, in one timeline, later changes her name to Park Sun-young and becomes the mother of Detective Park Jin-gyum. In another time dimension this same girl grows up to become Professor Yoon Tae-yi, who is investigated by the same Detective Park Jin-gyum and who, not surprisingly, is the doppelganger for his murdered mother.
It turns out that The Book of Prophecy was much sought after and that was why the widowed Dr Jang was killed for it. However, just before he died, Dr Jang gaves the key last page to his young daughter Yoon Tae-yi. The Alice Time Agents arrived in time to save Yoon Tae-yi from her father’s killer and so rescue The Book of Prophecy, but never checked the past page. As it turns out, one of these Time Agents was none other than Park Sun-young, who, of course, was the grown up Yoon Tae-yi herself in one of the timelines.
In a flashback it is revealed that Park Sun-young took Yoon Tae-yi to live with her with the intention of bringing her up alongside her as yet unborn child (Park Sun-young is at this stage pregnant with Park Jin-gyum but cannot travel in time to the Alice Headquaters in the future as radiation would harm to the baby). While living with the pregnant Park Sun-young, the toddler Yoon Tae-yi draws a picture that her adoptive mother recognises as having a striking resemblance to those she saw in The Book of Prophecy which, as one of the Time Agents, she took from the killer of Dr Jang. Understanding the importance of the book, and the fact that there are those out there that would kill to know its contents, Park Sun-young takes her ‘adopted’ daughter Yoon Tae-yi to Hope Orphanage, believing that she will be safer there.
Park Sun-young’s biological child, Park Jin-gyum, is born sometime later and through his childhood never knows about his ‘adopted’ sister. As he grows up, it becomes clear that Park Jin-gyum has difficulty with social interaction and is diagnosed with Alexithymia, that is, a condition that results in a lack of empathy and emotional connection. This condition it seems was caused by the radiation that results from time travel when his mother as an Alice Time Agents passed through the Door of Time while pregnant. But Alexithymia is just the beginning of his problems, for Park Jin-gyum too becomes an orphan when he experiences the murder of his mother, who by that time had changed her name from Yoon Tae-yi to Park Sun-young. Park Jin-gyum does not see the actual murderer, but he is with Sun-young in her dying moments. Sun-young/Yoon Tae-yi instructs her son never to follow anyone he sees who looks like her, but, of course, not knowing then anything about time travel, this only makes Park Jin-gyoem more curious.
Park Jin-gyoem is adopted into the home of a police officer and becomes as detective himself when he reaches maturity. He vows to find his mother’s murderer and why she was killed. It should be added here that Park Jin-gyoem believes has no father, but his father was and still is an Alice Time Agents, in fact one of the Time Agents who saved the very young Yoon Tae-yi.
Essentially then both Yoon Tae-yi and Park Jin-gyoem grow up as orphans. In a scene packed with dramatic irony, Yoon Tae-yi, now a professor, tells the investigating Detective Park Jin-gyoem that the reason she became a scientist was because of her personal history. “My mom is a really good mom,” she says, “but she’s not my biological mother. My biological mom left me at the orphanage and disappeared. Detective, do you remember when you were five? I remember my mom’s scent. Though it was only a day and I don’t even remember her face, I remember her warmth and her scent vividly. When she left me at the orphanage and didn’t come back, do you know what I thought of? Time travel. I thought that if I could travel back to the day I parted from her, I would never let her go. That’s why I became a scientist. I want to go and meet my mom.” But of course the irony is that Detective Park Jin-gyoem in another time dimension is her son, a son who was close by when his own mother, a doppelganger for Yoon Tae-yi herself, was killed. On top of that, Yoon Tae-yi in another time line is the same Sun-young who took the orphaned daughter – that is herself – to the orphanage, though Yoon Tae-yi was wrong to say that this lady was her actual biological mother.
SIJIPEUSEU: THE MYTH (also known as SISYPHUS), the Korean time travel adventure written by Lee Je-in and Jeon Chan-ho, features more time travelling orphans who, like Yoon Tae-yi and Park Jin-gyoem, are high achievers. Han Tae-sul’s parents were killed while helping traffic accident victims many years ago when Han Tae-sul was just a young boy. Han Tae-sul, played by Cho Seung-woo, grows up to become a sort of Mark Zuckerberg figure, a socially awkward computer genius whose coding it seems eventually leads to the invention of time travel. But Han Tae-sul is not the only high achieving orphan in SIJIPEUSEU: THE MYTH. There’s also Seo Won-Ju/Seo Gil-Bok. Seo Won-Ju when a boy was a classmate of Han Tae-sul. Although Han Tae-sul was always socially awkward he was not, unlike Seo Won-Ju, psychotic. At first, the young Han Tae-sul sticks up for the bullied Seo Won-Ju and it’s only when Seo Won-Ju makes himself an orphan by blowing up his abusive father with a mixture of sodium and water, a method incidentally, the science obsessed Han Tae-sul showed him how to do, that Han Tae-sul tells him to go away.
Gang Seo-hae (Park Shin-hye) in SIJIPEUSEU: THE MYTH is young woman who leaves her father in the future and travels back in time, first, to the past to protect Han Tae-sul and, second, to make sure that he does not pass on the computer code that leads to time travel. SIJIPEUSEU: THE MYTH is essentially an Endangered Future narrative with a plotline very similar to THE TERMINATOR (the series even makes a direct comparison to the plot from the movie in one of its scene). There is also in SIJIPEUSEU: THE MYTH a subplot involving a son whose mother is shot and who, like Park Jin-gyoem in ALICE (AELLISEU), vows to find her killer and then seek vengeance, plus another subplot where there’s a woman working with a man who, unknown to him, is actually her father.
So, why so are there so many time travelling orphans?
An obvious point to make is that the orphan’s sense of loss or abandonment leaves him of her with psychological scars. And people with emotionally scars are always far more interesting than those without. Another point is that those who lose both parents early in life tend to be high achievers. It takes perseverance and determination when you’re left to fend for yourself. However, determination is the sunny side of obsession and obsession itself can lead to compulsion and addition. A further point is simply the nature of grief that is experienced when you are young and vulnerable. Grief is sometimes described as being like an ocean, an emptiness like no other. Psychologically that oceanic void needs to be filled with something – fame, fortunes, possessions, achievement, success – yet rarely does it ever compensate for the sense of loss. There is in the face of those who were orphaned young often a melancholy and sadness.
What we have in both ALICE (AELLISEU) and SIJIPEUSEU: THE MYTH is a fascinating opening up of the psychology of the lonely and grieving child as explored through time travel adventures. The openly emotional scenes in ALICE (AELLISEU) and SIJIPEUSEU: THE MYTH explore the dynamics of the Eternal Triangle that is Mother-Father-Child in a very affecting, powerful and moving ways. There are numerous scenes across all the various plotlines of dramatic reuniting and recognition of passed family loved ones. And not surprisingly there are many tears, too. The ancient Greeks loved scenes of anagnorisis or ‘recognition’ and there are many in both the ODYSSEY and the ILIAD, notably Odysseus meeting his mother in the Underworld, but the number in ALICE (AELLISEU) and SIJIPEUSEU: THE MYTH beats even Homer.
“The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.”
“How wonderful to have someone to blame! How wonderful to live with one’s Nemesis! You may be miserable, but you feel forever in the right.”
The Time Being’s Nemesis and Villains of Time
Often the protagonist of a Time Tale has a Nemesis, that is, a long-standing rival or arch-enemy. In DOCTOR WHO, this is The Master, in TRAVELERS it is Vincent Ingram (Traveler 001) and in TIMELESS it is Garcia Flynn, or at least he appears to be the enemy in the early episodes. The story guru Robert McKee makes the point that “a protagonist and his story can only be as intellectually fascinating and emotionally compelling as the forces of antagonism make them.” What makes The Master and Garcia Flynn particularly interesting is that they sometimes are forced to team-up with their adversaries to solve a shared problem where there’s a common goal.
The word Nemesis comes from the Greek, nemein, meaning ‘to give what is due’. In other words Nemesis is Retribution, or the matching of the punishment with the crime. And this equal balance is there as well in the concept of the arch-enemy. As Dr Evil says to Austin Powers, “We’re not so different, you and I.”
Perhaps though a more complex relationship can be found between The Master the Doctor Who in DOCTOR WHO. This dynamic is especially fascinating precisely because of their similarities. Both are outsiders, both are highly intelligent, but morally they are as different as night and day. These Time Lords are in a Jungian sense each other’s ‘Shadow’, each other’s ‘Inverse’. There is also Davros of course, the creator of the Daleks and all round bad guy, but Davros is not The Doctor’s Shadow or Nemesis in a way The Master is. But again what we are seeing, as with the Time Being protagonist, is that the Time Being antagonist/Nemesis is constructed essentially for dramatic purposes.
Time Villains differ from The Nemesis in that the enemy of the Time Villain is Time itself. A brilliant example of a Time Villain is the ‘Weeping Angel’ in DOCTOR WHO. Weeping Angels (quantum-locked humanoids) appear to be made of stone. At least when you are looking at them. But better not blink, for when you close your eyes, these ‘Angles’ become cosmic creatures that feed off Time, or at least they steal the energy of unlived lives by sending you back in Time, thus taking from you the power of those years. The blink concept, so ordinary in a way, is truly frightening and Weeping Angels have now become a firm favourite on DOCTOR WHO.
In the SWIDGERS book series, the Time Villain is the Dark Force that puts Time and Life out of kilter at the beginning of the Universe. Occasionally, this Dark Force sends part of itself back into the Universe to capture and control Swidgers who work against it, that is by their efforts to put back in sync Life and Time. One such is The Despiser who seeks out William in Book One of the series THE TIME THAT NEVER WAS. Granny, William’s Mentor, was a victim of The Despiser once herself, but somehow managed to resist its desires. To say how William survives would be to give away the plot, what can be said is that understanding the difference between real time and space and imagined time and space comes in handy.
“I have seen the Dark Universe yawning
Where the black planets roll without aim,
Where they roll in their horror unheeded,
Without knowledge, or lustre, or name.”
“Time is a companion that goes with us on a journey. It reminds us to cherish each moment, because it will never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we have lived.”
Captain Jean-Luc Picard, STAR TREK
For Time Lords in the iconic DOCTOR WHO television series, it’s Time that’s their thing. It’s what they know, it’s what they do, it’s what they care about. They are, after all, Custodians of Time. But in Time Fiction you are rarely alone. As early as 1951 there was an American television series centring on Captain Z-Ro whose task was to safeguard history from harm by sending people back to sort things out in time when the past had been altered. In the 1970s the British television series SAPPHIRE AND STEEL, the eponymous protagonists are The Guardians of The Flow of Time, and in FRINGE, there are beings called Observers, who evolved from humans in a possible future but now exist outside of Time and only make themselves known at important historical events. And of course there is also the DOCTOR WHO spinoff TORCHWOOD, the name being an anagram of the show that gave it birth, an organisation that exists to protect the planet Earth from invaders. Torchwood has a base in Cardiff. But why Cardiff? It seems the end of a time rift is in the Cardiff area and so two different points in time could overlap, resulting in beings and objects coming through time and ending up in Cardiff Bay. Time is just something you’ve really got to keep your eye on. And all the time.
In THE END OF ETERNITY, the 1955 novel by Isaac Asimov, there are members of a brotherhood called Eternity, an organisation that is ‘outside time’ which aims to improve human happiness by observing human history and, after careful analysis, directly making small actions that cause ‘reality changes’. Its members, known as ‘Eternals’, prioritise the reduction of human suffering, but it is at the cost of the loss of technology, art, and other human endeavours, which are prevented from existing when judged to have a detrimental effect. Yet why should these Eternals choose what’s good for us? It’s a little like the politics of Plato’s Republic, where the elite are put in charge. But what is it that gives any elite the right to control the lives of others? Might we be better off, as the political philosopher Edmund Burke argued, with the wisdom of the ‘unlettered man’? Anyway, in the story, the protagonist, Andrew Harlan, is placed in a situation where he must decide whether to allow the Eternity to be founded, or have a world where the Eternity simply never existed. So, which would you go with? The unlettered of the elite?
EL MIMISTERIO DEL TIEMPO is a Spanish television series following the exploits of a team at the Ministry of Time investigating incidents of changes to the present day caused by time travel, and TIMEWARS, by Simon Hawke, is a series of books revolving around an organisation tasked with protecting history from being altered by meddling time travellers. Similar plots and ideas are explored in the Time Patrol stories of Poul Anderson. In TIME CHASERS (1994) has an inventor who travels across time to prevent corporate industries from changing the past to make money and in TIME COP (1994) there is even a Time enforcement Commission (TEC that has been established to prevent the misuse of time travel.
In LOKI from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there is the Time Variance Authority, an agency created by mysterious Time-Keepers that keep track of the Sacred Timeline and in LEGENDS OF TOMORROW from the DC Comics Universe, Rip Hunter, The Time Master, brings together a team to stop those who would disrupt Time. Could they even be thinking of Doctor Strange from their rival, Marvel Comics? Wasn’t it Doctor Strange, who, after some training from the Ancient One and with a bit of help from The Time Stone, became an interfering Time Guru of sorts? Well, that is until The Time Stone was destroyed. And again, this raises the question, albeit in a fantastical way, would you want such power? Would you really want to possess such control over the lives of others? Or would you rather be a Time Guardian? Answer the question honestly and you’ll find Time Tales can tell you a lot about yourself.
“There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of a comfortable past, which, in fact, never existed.”
‘Am I a fraud, a fortune-teller babbling lies from door to door? Swear how well I know the ancient crimes that live within this house.’
Cassandra in The Agamemnon, part of THE ORESTIEA by Aeschylus
The Cassandra Complex – No One Believes You
The Cassandra Complex is what one psychiatrist claims that James Cole (Bruce Willis) is suffering from in 12 MONKEYS. It is conjectured that Cole is a fantasist who has created an elaborate story about coming from the future and now that story is being challenged his mind cannot cope and so he has become violently unstable. Actually, the explanation for Cole’s behaviour is much simpler than that: James Cole is angry because he’s not being believed. And that is something we can all relate to.
The scene where the Time Traveller tells the truth but is then ridiculed is a popular trope in many Time Travel Tales. Just like poor Cassandra of Greek mythology, who was cursed to utter true prophecies yet never have them believed, it is when Time Travellers tell the truth that their words fall only on sceptical ears. Very frustrating. In TIMESCAPE, even with both present and future versions of Ben Wilson (Jeff Daniels), it still takes a fight with the jailor to secure the present version’s release. Even then people don’t believe him when he speaks about the approaching meteorite that will destroy the town.
Usually, however, there is eventually some recognition of the integrity of the traveller. In TIME TUNNEL, the opening episode Rendezvous with Yesterday, has Dr Tony Newman (James Darren) and Dr Doug Phillips (Robert Colbert) finding themselves onboard The Titanic. At first the captain refuses to listen to them, but eventually he says, “My mind will not let me believe you, but I do believe in a God, and if what you say is true, I would come to the conclusion, only the fact that you are here will save those who do survive and that is a miracle of God’s mercy.” The captain is at least open to the possibility they may be who they say they are and it is even suggested that as a result of what Tony and Doug told him, that when the ship does strike the iceberg, the captain gives the orders to abandon ship and so save 750 souls.
Frustration is the name of the game, but Time Travellers from the future have something that Cassandra did not, and that is proof. Catherine Riley (Madeleine Stowe) eventually believes James Cole in 12 MONKEYS because she recognises him from a photograph in a history book from the First World War. And that too is moment we recognise in all our lives, when deniers finally see the truth of our words.
“The present time has one advantage over every other – it is our own.”
Charles Caleb Colton