I had a thought while watching Back To The Future Part 3 recently. For the most part, the changing of timelines used in this movie series follows a consistent pattern, even if it’s not one I personally think is realistic. It is a work of fiction though, so I am willing to suspend my disbelief for the purpose of entertainment. There is one gaping flaw though that I never noticed until this watching.
At the beginning of Part 3, there is a historical picture of Doc Brown, alone, in front of the infamous clock tower’s clock face. Shortly afterward, Marty finds Doc’s gravestone, buried by his beloved Clara. Additionally, in Marty’s original timeline, Clayton Ravine is named for a teacher who died crashing into it, Clara Clayton. These three things cannot all co-exist however.
If Doc Brown was in the clock tower photo alone, then Marty had not yet gone back in time to when it was taken, at the town festival. If that were true, then Doc Brown would not have gone out to the unbuilt bridge (prior to the photo and festival), because the whole purpose of that trip was to look at the feasibility of using the tracks to take the Delorean home again. In short, if Marty had not gone back to the old west, Doc Brown would not have been nearby enough to save Clara from the ravine.
Doc must have saved Clara from the ravine prior to his burial however, because Doc’s gravestone had her name listed as the person who buried him. For continuity’s sake, one of two things should have been done differently in the film, given that Marty’s absence from the original clock photo cannot coexist with Clara’s name on the gravestone.
The first option is to have Marty in the photo all along, and just have Doc not allow him to see it. That would be an easy catalyst for Doc helping Marty go back to the old west in the first place. This also follows the logic set forth in the previous films that you can’t just go changing things around. Think about it, in the first movie, in 1955, Doc was angry that Marty wrote him a letter with information about the future. Now, a day or two later in 1955, Doc is suddenly ok about meddling in his own future. Having Marty in the photo would correct two inconsistencies at once, since not only would it be ok for 1955 Doc to send him to the old west, but it also allows for Clara to remain alive to bury 1885 Doc.
The second option is to have Clara’s name appear on the tombstone’s photo only AFTER Marty goes back in time. That would have been easy enough to accomplish, because Marty could simply note, while in the old west, “Hey, that name wasn’t there before.” Doc could still dispell the notion of love at first sight, and the remainder of he movie would have been virtually unchanged.
In my opinion, the movie people should have gone with both of these options concurrently. Really, with as much as the plot of the second film twisted around on itself, tweaking these two things shouldn’t have been too confusing for the average movie-goer to follow. The inconsistencies created therein would be easy enough to explain away: If Marty was in the clock photo, then Doc wouldn’t have been buried at all… except that Doc’s death was dependent on other factors and decisions as well, which hadn’t been made yet, and thus the changing gravestone photo.
Although, come to think of it, the second movie did have it’s own major flaw: if old Biff gave his younger self the sports almanac, and then returned to 2015, like he did in Back To The Future Part 2, he would have returned to a future where he had been rich and where George McFly had been dead a long time. Instead, he came right back to the same 2015 where George McFly was visiting Marty and family for rehydrated pizza. And in the first film, why did 1985 George and Lorraine not recognize their son from the 50’s? I mean, they did name their third kid after the guy that introduced them, but didn’t recognize him when they saw him again?
You know what, forget about it. These movies have plenty of flaws, but never cease to entertain me despite them.