Take the 2-minute tour ×
Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In the comics and also in the movie we see that Dr. Manhattan gets so upset about have given his ex-girlfriend Janey Slater cancer that he decides to remove himself from the equation and abandon the Earth.

Since he seems to have almost omnipotent control over matter (he can recompose himself after being disintegrated and he says at the end of the movie that he might even create life in the future) why didn't he simply cure Janey's cancer?

It's obvious that he was losing his humanity but surely he could have fixed the problem in a very easy way for him just before he left the Earth.

share|improve this question
1  
Cancer Surgery is not a power, it's a skill and a difficult one to acquire at that. Dr. Manahattan's skills were in physics, not medicine. And there's nothing in the comics that gives any suggestion that Dr. Manhattan's powers would have given him any advantage over a surgeon's tools. –  RBarryYoung Mar 30 at 18:39
    
@RBarryYoung More or less as difficult as reintegrate himself after being disintegrated or teleport a lot of people to their houses. I think eliminating cancerous cells would be a feat he can accomplish taking into account his other powers. –  Averroes Mar 30 at 20:06
1  
Not really. I can copy an article from the New Yorker or even Fax it to someone, that doesn't mean that I'm qualified to write such an article or even edit it. –  RBarryYoung Mar 30 at 22:09
    
Not a valid example IMHO. He already is showing awesome (in awe meaning) powers and feats or is it that removing cells is more difficult than being able to teleport someone to Mars or just blow up Rorschach? Also what about his words about create life? –  Averroes Mar 30 at 22:48
    
I think a major question is whether he can, in fact, make life. From his deterministic perspective, it's easy, but my suspicion is that all that he'll be able to create is robots. Possibly biological robots, but still automatons that do little more than follow the algorithms he encodes. –  Sean Duggan Mar 31 at 12:38

4 Answers 4

up vote 21 down vote accepted

There's no reason Dr. Manhattan could not have cured Janey's cancer. For all intents and purposes, he has the powers of Molecule Man, a villain so powerful that only his psychiatrist can beat him.

Dr. Manhattan is nigh-omniscient. He can (generally) perceive every instant of time (though it may be limited to things he has/will/is perceive/ed/ing). He literally has known since he first gained his powers everything that was going to happen. He knew the second he reconstituted his body that he would end up, years later, standing on Mars building beautiful, doomed things. He knew that he would forget to give Janey air. He knew that he would forget about the everyday miracles, and that she would remind him.

In a way, Dr. Manhattan is not a character in Watchmen at all. Until the point at which his observation powers no longer work (which, in the comic, was due to tachyons that he postulated (or saw himself postulating) could have been caused by nukes detonating) he is completely unable to take any action excepting those he has already taken. He is, in essence, an actor in the play of his life. He has a script and it cannot be deviated from.

As he cannot truly choose (though he appears, to people with a strictly linear view of time, to make choices all the time) he cannot truly 'do' anything. He, from his viewpoint, has always freaked out in the studio. He has always been standing in a room of 'super heroes' staring at a woman he has always been dating. He has always been catching flack from his then-girlfriend for staring at the young woman he has always been leaving her for.

So, dependent upon your point of view, Dr. Manhattan can't cure anyone's cancer because he doesn't cure anyone's cancer. If he doesn't cure anyone's cancer, he cannot cure anyone's cancer. His powers, however, mean that he could have cured anyone's cancer, at any time.

It's almost like he's in a quantum state - he both can and cannot cure cancer. The only problem is that with Dr. Manhattan, all quantum states have been viewed. They have been collapsed, and there is only one possibility. Schrodinger's cat is not both alive and dead, he was alive or dead before he was even put into the box, but no one knew except Dr. Manhattan.

Once he regains his free will (due to being incapable of perceiving his future state) Dr. Manhattan can act again. But at that point, he doesn't cure cancer. Instead, he decides to become God.

TL;DR: He can't, unless he does, until he can, but doesn't.

share|improve this answer
    
In earlier drafts of the screenplay he does cure Laurie's cancer. He whines about the nature of choice for a bit but she eventually bullies him into it –  Richard Mar 30 at 12:46
    
@Richard: Sure. But Dr. Manhattan observed those events and was always able to cure the cancer. He always knew he would cure the cancer. He was always in the middle of the act of curing the cancer. He just was also always being a jerk about it. Manhattan can't do anything, that was sort of the whole point :-D –  Jeff Mar 30 at 12:50
    
Actually, at that point in the proceedings he was stymied from viewing the future. He felt that it would be worthless to cure her since the world was clearly ending. It then transpired that he was wrong. –  Richard Mar 30 at 12:52
    
@Richard: Ah. Sorry, haven't read that draft so I didn't know when in the script it was. Yeah, after the whole 'I have free will thing' Dr. M went through a mopey 'woe-is-me' phase before his whole 'Oh wait, DEITY' phase. Phenomenal cosmic power in the psychology of a three-year old. My Molecule Man link was closer than I thought... –  Jeff Mar 30 at 12:55
3  
Nice perspective of Dr M Self-fulfilling-prophecy-man status. I liked the quatum metaphor ;) –  Averroes Mar 30 at 13:23

I don't believe that Dr. Manhatten ever does anything productive with biological systems. Within the movie, you see him blowing up people, but in the movie and in the comics, the only things that he builds or fixes are inorganic objects. It's part of a greater symbolism where, for all of his great powers, he can't do anything to bring about life, merely sterile inorganics.

share|improve this answer
3  
But he doesn't need to create life to cure cancer. He just has to kill the cancer cells or remove them from her body, which he ought to be able to do since he can perceive matter on a subatomic level and manipulate it telepathically. I mean, he created a skeleton, circulatory system and musculature for himself after he was disintegrated. –  Lèse majesté Mar 30 at 8:59
1  
@Richard: He'd be more likely to remove them one cluster at a time, much as surgeons do. Except he doesn't need to cut anyone open or use a laparoscope or perform biopsies. He'd just destroy the cancer clusters directly and scan the nearby tissue for microscopic cancer sites that a surgeon would likely miss. –  Lèse majesté Mar 30 at 12:22
1  
@Lèsemajesté - This assumes that the tumours are in nice, easy to remove clusters. The cancer caused by Adrian Veidt was a modified lung cancer, basically inoperable. –  Richard Mar 30 at 12:36
1  
@Richard: The type of cancer it is and to what stage it'd progressed to definitely could have made it impractical for him to treat, even if he does have huge advantages over regular doctors. –  Lèse majesté Mar 30 at 12:53
5  
@Lèsemajesté: Dr. M eventually decides he going to take his toys and go home and build some new human to play with, because Earth bores him. He would have exactly 0 trouble curing any form of cancer, he just doesn't care to do so. –  Jeff Mar 30 at 12:57

It very much depends on your choice of canon. In the film and comic, his powers are certainly up to the task of interacting with humans on a cellular (or even atomic) level but the reality is that removing the cancer in that way would be prohibitively time-consuming.

I have witnessed events so tiny and so fast...they can hardly be said to have occurred at all...

[later]...like oxygen turning into gold... I've longed to witness such an event

In an earlier draft of the screenplay, Dr Manhattan does indeed cure Laurie's cancer.
I've edited for brevity;

LAURIE : Then do me a favor. If the world's going to end, it shouldn't matter a bit. I want you to cure me [of cancer]

DR. MANHATTAN : I won't do that.

LAURIE : You have the power to do it. I want you to do it. Please.

Eyes wild, she GRABS his great blue HAND -- and THRUSTS IT into her chest, where it DISAPPEARS UP TO THE WRIST.

A BRILLIANT BLUE AURA engulfs them both. It SPREADS and GROWS IN INTENSITY, suffusing the sky, finally BLOTTING OUT the vast Martian landscape altogether.

LAURIE: What -- am I --

DR. MANHATTAN : Cured, yes.

share|improve this answer

Almost certainly, but possibly not permanently and he has no motivation to do so

It's difficult to say that Dr. Manhattan can't do something, considering he has seemingly total control over matter down to the molecular level. Janey had lung cancer from radiation exposure. Removing Janey's tumors would be a matter of detecting those cells and removing them. For Jon, he could probably do this while brushing his teeth.

However that does not mean Janey is "cured". Whatever the radiation did to start the body producing tumors could still be at work, it could already be migrating to other parts of her body - and if it is in her blood or lymph, then it is quite possible for the cancer to return, maybe not even as lung cancer. Given Jon's understanding of the world, he may realize this as well. Arguing that Jon could effect someone biologically is easy, it is a bit harder to make a case that he would go around messing with genetics.

And Janey isn't doing herself any favors either:

enter image description here

But more to the point - Dr. Manhattan may not be able to cure her purely from a psychological point of view. Jon has now taken an extremely deterministic view of the world and does not feel like it his job to stop death and disease. Right before the Janey interview scene Laurie notes:

"I remember soon after he failed to prevent JFK's assassination we argued. I said, 'Jon, you know how every damn thing in this world fits together except people!'"

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.