The real monster in the Back To The Future movies isn't the bully Biff, argues Premiere's Gene Newman. It's Doc Brown, the lying manipulator who deals with terrorists and nearly destroys the space-time continuum. Spoilers ahead.
Back to the Future is one of the greatest films ever made and spawned a really good mind-bending sequel and a mediocre finale. I spent an entire weekend buried in the new 3-Disc 25th Anniversary Blu-ray release, which is six discs of pure magic (three Blu-rays loaded with pristine copies of the films, all-new extras, and three DVDs housing digital copies). After spending more than 10 hours poring through it all something troubling became eminently apparent. Marty McFly is a typical 80s teen who just wants to play guitar, take his girl to the lake, and not have sex with his mom. (Well, it wasn't really his mom. When he travels from 1985 back to 1955 it wasn't his mom yet. Plus, she was so...so...thin!) Our gripe isn't with Marty, or his hapless loser dad George, or even the bully Biff who keeps getting buried in horse shit era after era. It's with the puppet master of this whole time-bending charade: Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown.
Doc is the one who slips in his bathroom, bangs his head, and thinks up the Flux Capacitor, a Y-shaped component enabling time travel. From there he spends 30 years and his entire family fortune trying to achieve his one goal. But, why does he even want to travel through time? What are his motivations? He says he wants to look beyond his years and "get a clear perception of humanity, where we've been, where we're going, the pitfalls, the possibilities, the perils and the promise. Perhaps even an answer to that universal question: Why?" But to what lengths will he go? Let's examine him as a person. Be warned: THIS IS LOADED WITH SPOILERS!!!
He's A Terrorist
It's hard to call a lovable character from our childhood a terrorist, but he was. The DeLorean was electric but he needed a nuclear kick to generate the 1.21 gigawatts...again, 1.21 GIGAWATTS!!!...to shoot through time. Since you can't buy plutonium at the corner drugstore he had to steal it from Libyan terrorists. He takes the toxic and deadly substance for his own personal use and makes a bomb for the Libyans out of used pinball machine parts. This proves he knows how to make a bomb and is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his goal. When they realize he made them a fake bomb they want revenge so they drive their van down to the Twin Pines Mall—later the Lone Pine Mall—at 1 AM looking for some payback. He then promptly gets shot in front of his dog and a teenage boy, who's then forced to jump in a time machine and destroy the space time continuum. This all happened because he was working with the enemy. More like Doc "Taliban Al Qaeda" Brown, right?
Let's face it: He deserved to get shot. That's what happens when you deal with terrorists. They kill you. However, in the process he put a teenager and his dog at risk. Doc was on his way to the future moments before the terrorist van tore into the parking lot. What if he had remembered to pack the plutonium, left for the future, and then the terrorists arrived while Marty was still there and took out their revenge on the happy-go-lucky teen who was drawn into the mad scientist's web of deceit? Or, worse yet, what if the terrorists killed Doc, Marty, and took the time machine for themselves? Plutonium is nothing when compared with a machine that could take over the world. Biff had a shot to run the world and made it sleazy; terrorists would travel back in time and run over George Washington with the De Lorean. If there's no George, there's no Great Satan. But what if the terrorists killed them all and didn't realize it was a time machine, you ask? Well, genius, Marty made a videotape detailing every aspect of the DeLorean. It even shows how to fuel the damn thing. If they can find a guy in a mall parking lot in the middle of the night they can probably operate a VCR.
Even if everything went according to plan, Doc still contaminated a mall parking lot with plutonium, poisoning a helpless community for decades to come. You really think those thin hazmat suits or plutonium chamber in a jury-rigged DeLorean are safe protection against nuclear fall-out? Well, they're not.
He's An Old Man Whose Best Friend Is A Teenage Boy
Let's rewind to the very beginning, when Marty first walks into Doc's home. That's weird to begin with: A teen having access to a much-older non-relative's house. Then the phone rings and Marty is comfortable enough to answer the phone in a house that isn't his own.
It's Doc. How did he know Marty would be there at that precise moment? He should have been in school. Does Marty always stop by Doc's house before school? Does he ever spend the night? Doc tells Marty to meet him at the mall at 1:15 AM and Marty's totally cool with that. Later on he wakes Marty at around 12:30 AM to make sure he'll be at the mall in time. He also reminds him to stop by his house and grab some condoms...sorry, the video camera.
He's a loner in 1955 as well, living on the outskirts of town, on the precipice burning through his family fortune to make a machine that could destroy the world.
In Part III they give him a love interest. Director Robert Zemeckis and Producer Bob Gale say in the Blu-ray special features it was time for Doc to stop living with his head and start living with his heart.
Likely story, Bobs.
He Unnecessarily Puts His Dog's Life At Risk
When he first tests the machine he puts his Dog Einstein in the DeLorean with a stopwatch around his neck. He then sends the poor pooch one minute into the future. What kind of man tests something this dangerous on his unknowing pup? What if it did what Marty thought had happened and it disintegrated him. The car was set up to run on a remote. Why didn't Doc just put a stopwatch in the driver's seat? He would have gotten the same result. The clock would have skipped over the minute regardless. His excited reaction when the DeLorean disappears proves this was the first time he tested it, so there was a chance something catastrophic could have gone wrong. Risking Einstein's life and not testing it himself first proves our next point...
He's a Selfish Coward
Near the end of the original Doc rips up the letter where Marty tell him about getting shot by terrorists.
He says no man should know his own destiny, space-time-continuum, blah, blah, blah... But what's he do at some point between 1955 and 1985? Tapes the letter back together!
When Marty asks about the whole destroying the universe thing Doc responds: "I figured, what the hell."
So it's wrong for Marty to make a few bucks from the future with a sports almanac, or for other people to not know their fate. But when it comes to his own ass it's "what the hell." Really brave, man.
He's a Thief
He burns through all his family money to make the time machine, yet he still has enough to fill a suitcase with different denominations from every possible era.
Plus he upgrades the DeLorean with a Mr. Fusion machine and visits a rejuvenation clinic (took out the wrinkles, did a hair repair, changed his blood, and replaced his spleen and colon) adding 30-40 years to his life. Where's he get all the cash?
Clearly he stole it. Moving on...
He Destroyed The Space Time Continuum
He ruined time. He takes no responsibility over his unholy invention. He proclaims over and over again that it was a mistake and must be destroyed, but he kept on using it. Like a junkie who's always prepared to quit tomorrow.
The Back to the Future logic says time is not set in stone, or self-correcting, and the future can be changed. With each trip they take he destroys time that much more. George McFly, his father, was a weak peeping-tom loser. Biff was a strong Alpha-male, most likely raised in an abusive home (did you hear how much his grandma screamed at him in Part II?). That's how things were supposed to be. That's nature. But it's okay to change things if the results benefit Marty and Doc? Biff of the alternate 1985 world would strongly disagree.
Speaking of which, wouldn't George and Lorraine remember Marty? Marty took a nap in his future mom's home, got his dad to hook up with his mom at the dance, and played an integral part in their lives. And then they just completely forget him? His mom was infatuated with him. At no point do they say: "You look a lot like this guy you're named after. I was gonna bang him in a parked car but then Biff came along and almost raped me before your father got up the stones to punch him out. Then you played guitar on stage and we kissed and fell in love." Also, as Marty is leaving them at the dance Lorraine says she likes the name Marty. Well, not enough to use the name on her firstborn son. Instead they name their first son Dave, then they have a daughter named Linda, then they wait to named the youngest Marty. That's cutting it kinda close for a name you really like.
This is just the tip of the destruction caused by Doc. Even when he goes into the future to save Marty's kids he could have done more harm than good. When he's toying around in the old west he's inventing items that shouldn't be in existence yet. We're not saying Doc is responsible for global warming, but it's a definite possibility.
He's a Big, Fat Liar Who Plays God
How many times does Doc say once they get back to 1985 they have to "destroy this infernal thing" referring to the time machine? At least twice. He also says he wishes he never invented it. When Marty arrives back in 1985—alone because Doc was too busy thinking with his Lil' Emmett by saving the damsel in distress (a woman who was supposed to die in a ravine)—the DeLorean is pulverized by a train. Whew! It's over. Everything is in place, Doc is stuck in the old west with his true love, and Marty can get back to his life. He goes home and it's the 1985 where his dad wasn't a loser and he has his own truck. He gets his girlfriend and takes her to see the destroyed DeLorean.
A big f-ing old west steam train appears with twirly things on top almost killing them.
Who's it in? Hey, it's Doc, his wife, and two young kids, one of which he won't let take a pee.
What happened to the whole notion that traveling through time is wrong? That he should have never built that infernal machine? Since his eldest son Jules doesn't appear to be older than five he must have been building it shortly after Marty went back to the future. Why would he do that? Did he build it so he could show up in the future—almost killing Marty and Jennifer—and tell them in person that the future is up to us? He also said he had to come back for Einstein, but we proved above that's a crock (i.e. using him as a guinea pig to test out the time machine). Couldn't he have just sent a letter like he did at the end of Part II? Or maybe his great-grandson could have approached Marty and told him of all the good his great-grand pappy did to benefit humanity and given instructions on taking care of Einstein. At least we know Marty wouldn't try to vaporize him. But no! The devious Doc decides to start the whole process over again, only this time dragging a wife and two young kids into his madness.
From a Hollywood perspective this ending made it clear that if Zemeckis' career went in the tank he could always return to this franchise. But success smiled on The Zemeck and he never needed to make another BTTF. But somewhere, shooting through time, is Doc, addicted to the power of controlling the universe, wielding his infinite power over three hostages he calls family. Great Scott, indeed.
This article by Gene Newman originally appeared at Premiere.com.