Tragic Love Across Time and Space: Three Stories Across Science Fiction

The Doctor and Madame de Pompadour, featured in “Doctor Who’s” “The Girl in the Fireplace,” share a tragic love story. Image courtesy of Radio Times.
Orion Bress, Contributing Writer

This Valentine’s Day I want to share my favorite tragic love stories, all of which feature time travel to some degree. From the “Star Trek” episode “City on the Edge of Forever,” to “Doctor Who’s” “The Girl in the Fireplace,” to “A God Walks into Abar” from “Watchmen,” these episodes demonstrate the conflict of love and fate. Each of these stories features a man with a greater understanding of the universe meeting and falling in love with a woman who completes them. Captain Kirk is enraptured by Edith Keeler’s compassion for the downtrodden and her borderline precognitive optimism that things will be better in the future. Madame de Pompadour and the Doctor are kindred souls that admire and deeply understand each other. Angela Abar reconnects Dr. Manhattan to his humanity after he all but abandons it following the events of the graphic novel. In return, Dr. Manhattan’s clairvoyance allows Angela to fill the emptiness and loss in her life.  

Each of these love stories is a tragedy of the inability to overcome destiny. Kirk prevents Dr. McCoy from saving Edith Keeler, ensuring that the U.S. enters World War Two and her vision of the future becomes true. After the Doctor saves Madame de Pompadour’s life, he tells her to wait for him. Unfortunately, Madame de Pompadour dies years later from illness still waiting for the Doctor, who arrives too late to see her. Despite Angela Abar and Dr. Manhattan fighting to save each other, Dr. Manhattan is unable to escape his eventual death.  

Along with the time-bending science fiction elements and the tragic romance, these stories are well executed. Each of the couples has strong chemistry with the other. The direction of these episodes is strong, ensuring that the stories are both stand-out episodes of television that still fit within their respective shows. The writing of each episode is strong with the writer being able to successfully sell the relationship and the tragedy of the story. While time travel stories are notoriously difficult to write, these stories successfully integrate the time travel elements to make them both interesting and essential to the plot. In particular, “Watchmen” successfully constructs its love story and time travel story by hopping around different points while still allowing the audience to follow along. This non-linear story structure shows the couple’s entire relationship and moves the series narrative along all while allowing the audience to understand the perspective of someone who experiences his life in different order/all at once. At the same time, “Doctor Who” can successfully keep much of the relatively lighthearted and humorous tone throughout the episode while ensuring that it does not get in the way of the dramatic or tragic moments. The “Star Trek” episode engages with its premise relatively straight, allowing the episode to be timeless while barring the data effects and relatively slow pacing. 

This Valentine’s Day, if you want love and tragedy with a sci-fi twist, or just want to see good television, I can think of no better recommendations than these. 

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