Time Loops in the Netflix “Dark” Series – Part 2

Roller coaster Ride. Photo by Stephen Hateley on Unsplash

I have written previously on the German Netflix production “Dark” (2017–20) in The Dossier. That earlier article considered how time travel paradoxes are fully embraced by the series Dark. This new article sets out the examine the other aspect of time travel that “Dark” deals with, namely, that of circular time. There is some Bonus Material available that discusses how the concept of circular time has been used in popular TV culture. 

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This article is available exclusively on markselby.co. It is a unique review that combines factual physics with a review of the sci-fi fictional TV series “Dark“. Part 1 of this series is available.

In “Dark” the concept of circular time is more advanced than is usually seen in TV and movie culture, Circlular time in Dark resembles the physics concept of closed time-like curves CTCs where the future communicates with the past and the past with the future. . CTCs are one of the weirdest concepts in all of physics .– and you thought that dark matter and dark energy were pretty weird.

Indeed, the late, great, Stephen Hawking offered the chronology protection conjecture which basically states that CTCs are just too weird. Therefore the universe must have a way of protecting itself from them.

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Bonus Material: Time Travel in Popular Culture

If you’re a fan of the Doctor Who TV series, you might have encountered nonlinear time before in the episode of “Blink” from the TV series Doctor Who (2007) with David Tennet as the 10th Doctor, stuck in 1969, talks to Sally Sparrow from 38 years into the future through a DVD recording, he says (video below):

People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a nonlinear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff. The 10th Doctor

Even though time is circular in this Doctor Who episode, it isn’t a causal loop. Despite the timey-wimey-ness, cause-and-effect still work the way we expect as viewers. The Doctor is able to recover his TARDIS, escape from being trapped in time, and resume his normal affairs as the beneficent Time Lord.

Fans of the Star Trek Next Generation franchise might remember the episode “Cause and Effect” from season 5, episode 18 (1992). In this episode, the USS Enterprise D of 2368 collides with the USS Bozeman, caught in a temporal anomaly, which displaces it from 2278 into a collision course with the Enterprise in a region of space known as the Typhon Expanse. The resultant explosion creates a causality loop whereupon it’s no longer possible to discern cause from effect: did the temporal anomaly cause the collision or did the collision cause the temporal anomaly? 

Furthermore, the Enterprise-D crew are apparently doomed to repeat the same time fragment, reliving over and over again the events that lead to the destruction of the Enterprise D and the crew’s deaths.

Somehow we’ve entered what seems to be a temporal causality loop. We think we’re stuck in a specific fragment in time and that we’ve been repeating that same fragment over and over. Lt Cdr Geordie La Forge (played by LeVar Burton)

Fortunately, for our Enterprise crew, their lives are constrained by the laws of movie-making, rather than the laws pf physics The causality loop in the Star Trek Next Generation universe is a plot device, serving as it does as a puzzle box that invites the audience to unravel the mystery alongside the actors on the screen. This has become a much-used device in modern film making.

The episode is resolved because Beverley Crusher, Jean Luc Picard and the crew all experience déjà vu and because android Data is able to send subatomic dekyon particles into the Expanse that his positronic brain will be able to decode on the next repeat of the time fragment. The dekyon particles provide a suitably deus ex machina ending, since they are an invention by the writer (Brannon Braga) for the sole purpose of being able to travel in time in causality loops!

Final Thoughts

Time travel in sci-fi popular culture, apart from providing a puzzle box, links the audience with a shared perception of the the most famous and beloved genius of an era: that of Albert Einstein [1]. A photo or caricature of Einstein is instantly recognisable by anyone from junior high school and above. Our shared recollection of the science revolution, initiated by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, is one of those things distinguishes modern society from that which came before 1905. In the new post-Einstein millennium, to some small degree, we all feel a little smarter, and a little smugger, by dint of the genius of Einstein.

Media organisations, such as Netflix, unknowingly perhaps, trade on our shared consciousness of Einsteinian relativity. Though most of us wouldn’t claim to have anything but the shallowest idea of what relativity means. For instance, would you know the difference between special relativity and general relativity?


[1] John Horgan, Scientific American, “Why There Will Never Be Another Einstein,” published: Aug 23 2015, accessed 23 Aug 2020. Available online:

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