Doc Emmet Brown: mad scientist, or scientific madman?
Every time I watch the Back to the Future trilogy (believe me, this is quite often), something new emerges. There’s a lovely moment when Doc Brown sees that his dog, Einstein, is getting agitated. He goes over to the dog and reassures him: "Everything'll be all right, Einie." Which is weird when you think how throughout the films, the whole construction of reality – particularly the future – is constantly in doubt. Will everything really be all right? He says it with such conviction.
It was this train of thought that got me thinking about Doc Brown, and I came to some unexpected conclusions. Eagle-eared viewers will notice a number of references to "the Brown estate", money which Brown has inherited and used to fund his science experiments. But despite the films’ constant references to genealogy, particularly to the family McFly and the Tannen clan, there is never any mention of Brown's family.
At this stage, one begins to wonder whether in fact Brown's inheritance has in fact been "handed down" from himself to himself. But when his young friend Marty McFly attempts to profit from time travel (by taking a sports almanac from the future back to the present) Brown lambasts him. How is this different from what Doc seems to have done himself? One imagines Brown would defend himself by saying that he did it in the interests of science – and he would undoubtedly say the same when asked why he lied to and stole from a group of trusting Libyans. But how far will you let such moral relativism take you, Emmet?
When, in Back to the Future 2's 1955, Brown opens a suitcase full of money of a range of currencies, muttering "Need to be prepared for all eventualities," Marty looks up at him in surprise. In his mind a distant voice is challenging him, whispering, "Marty, how much do you really know about this 'Doc' man?" I have now heard that voice, but unlike poor Marty, I have heeded its words.