The Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s retconned time travel rules are ripped straight from Doctor Who. Time travel is a popular trope in sci-fi and fantasy, but in reality, it’s rarely handled in a consistent manner. The core problem is that, in the real world, time travel is purely theoretical; that means fiction writers are always tempted to bend and break their time travel “rules” in favor of the needs of the latest plot. The longer the franchise deals with time travel, the messier it gets.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe, of course, hasn’t taken long to get messy. Time travel became part of the MCU in Avengers Endgame, and even the film’s writers and directors didn’t agree on how it worked. Loki clarified the MCU’s temporal mechanics, and then What If…? episode 4 retconned them once again. This episode introduced a new concept called an “absolute point in time,” where attempting to change history wouldn’t create a branched timeline – but, rather, would destroy all of that universe. It even proved the point by starring a twisted variant of Doctor Strange who did just that, establishing a paradox so severe all of creation collapsed around him.
Amusingly, this idea is lifted straight from Doctor Who, the longest-running science-fiction TV series in the world. Doctor Who season 6 featured a plot in which the Doctor learned of his own death, a “fixed point in time” that could not be changed. His beloved River Song attempted to do so all the same, and the result was the near-destruction of the entire universe, only averted when the Doctor persuaded her it had to happen. (He still found a way around it, in that the Doctor who died was actually an android doppelganger.) The concept is absolutely identical, and indeed Marvel’s What If…? episode 4 even used the terms “absolute point in time” and “fixed point in time” interchangeably.
No doubt Doctor Who viewers will be delighted to see the show get an implicit nod like this, especially as an indication of how influential it really is. BBC America made a particularly strong marketing push for the show in the United States from 2011 onwards – the same year the “fixed point in time” plot happened – and it has led to Doctor Who becoming bigger than ever before internationally. In this case, it seems the Doctor’s “timey-wimey” quantum mechanics have left a lasting impression, even making their way into the MCU.
Amusingly enough, this isn’t the first time Doctor Who has affected the MCU. The showrunners of Loki frequently discussed what they called its “British” influence, and reviewers couldn’t help comparing episodes and ideas to Doctor Who; the TVA is essentially what the Time Lords were supposed to be in the first place, a bureaucratic organization who police the timeline and suck all the joy out of it, leading to the Doctor’s abandoning them in favor of traveling through time and space. It will be thrilling to see whether Doctor Who‘s models of time travel continue to shape the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward.