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Ask Doctor Who's Forgotten Companion

Hard-earned wisdom from Pete, who discovered that some time travel mistakes are too much to be borne.

Q Dear Pete,

I've always dreamed of the opportunity to travel through time, but you got to actually do it! What advice would you give to people visiting the past?

Sick of the scene in 2017

A Dear Sick,

I know, I couldn't believe my good fortune either! I must be the luckiest man in the universe. To answer your question, I would advise you to watch where you step. I was thrilled to find myself in 1814 London with my friend Bill and her tutor, who likes to be called the Doctor. Bill was just asking him what the rules are with regard to time travel, and brought up the example of how one could step on a butterfly in the past and set in motion a chain of events that leads to one never even being born. By coincidence, I noticed a butterfly on the pavement just where my shoe was about to come down. It was too late to arrest my stride without slipping on the frozen ground. I would have felt bad for the butterfly, but then I couldn't feel anything at all. I had ceased to exist, or to ever have existed. I don't know if even the Doctor, a Time Lord, was aware of what happened to me. Perhaps he would have made some silly dad joke at my nonexistent expense while pointing in the general direction of the spot where I'd vanished forever, irrevocably and retroactively. And all because I crushed a bug that shouldn't have been flitting about in the dead of winter anyway.

So I can't really recommend doing that. Even if I could recommend anything at all, which I can't, for obvious reasons.

Q Dear Pete,

Can you recommend any classic time-travel literature? All the current stuff seems so meta and self-referential.

Not Reading In North Reading

A Dear Not,

Well, obviously there's the first example of the genre, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. Though I wouldn't be surprised (or experience any emotion whatsoever) if you can't find it, because the Doctor claims to have ditched "Herbert" on a planet called Varos and God knows how the poor sap ever made it back. There's another story you might check out called "A Sound Of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury. That one's very close to where my heart would have been, had it ever existed. Skip the movie, though; I probably would have heard that it's shite. Obviously I never saw it, but neither did a lot of other people who don't have the excuse that I do.

Q Dear Pete,

Sometimes I feel like I'm not living up to my full potential. Do you ever get the sense that you're letting yourself down, and what do you do about it?

Down On Myself In Detroit

A Dear Down,

Maybe I would feel that way, if I hadn't carelessly obliterated myself from history and human memory with a freak accident of causality. I'll never get to do a lot of the things I wanted to do, or any of the things I ever would have wanted to do, or indeed anything at all, on account of not having ever existed in the first place. If I'm being honest, even before I wiped myself from the timeline, it's not like I was on track to cure cancer or anything. Eradicating it, yes, but that wouldn't have helped the people who already had it. Probably.

Q Dear Pete,

I have a big decision to make. I've discovered that there is a very large and possibly dangerous creature that's confined somewhere in close proximity to a significant segment (or possibly all) of humanity. I can't go into detail, but I can definitively tell you that it is not a star whale carrying an ark-type spaceship, or an interstellar dragon about to hatch out of the moon, or a miles-long ichthyosaur chained beneath the frozen river Thames that's eating people and then pooping them out in the form of a highly efficient fossil fuel. What I can tell you is that through a series of convoluted circumstances, the decision of what to do about it has fallen to me. What would you do in my shoes?

Torn in Tucson

A Dear Torn,

I won't object to your insensitive reference to shoes, even though I might have wanted to, had I ever lived. Honestly, I wish I had the kind of wisdom you seem to attribute to me. Alas, since I was never born, I have no experiences to draw on, no body to have ever lived them, no mind with which to store or interpret them. Asking me for advice is like asking Louis XXIII to return and rule France, or planning an expedition to Earth's second sun, or falling in love with the child of Romeo and Juliet. It's flatly impossible, because none of us ever existed.

That said, even I know you always cut the beastie loose. How is this hard?

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