At the end of Back to the Future II, Marty receives a letter from the Doc from September 1885, just a few days before his death. He explains in that letter that he had been living in 1885 for the past 8 months and wanted to stay there. My question is; why did Doc take so long to write that letter? He had 8 months to do it, and I would have thought he would have done it much sooner in case anything happened to him so that at least Marty would know that he had at least arrived safely.

Additionally, if something had happened and he couldn't write to Marty, Marty would have been stuck in 1955; remember it was because of the letter that 1955 Doc could find and fix the DeLorean.

  • 3
    He met Clara and forgot about Marty:)
    – hindmost
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 8:04
  • 6
    @hindmost you forget that he didn't meet Clara until after Marty arrived; Clara wasn't coming until after the date when he wrote that letter! Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 8:08
  • 3
    That was a joke. Seriously, possible reasons: 1) he tried to fix it himself first; 2) AFAIR he left some instructions to younger himself how to fix DeLorean - it should take time; 3) He had need money to send the letter by WU.
    – hindmost
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 8:16
  • 2
    Is there any reason to not presume he still had the "money case" in the DeLorean? Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 15:05
  • 11
    He knew he had "plenty of time" to do so, cause no matter when he writes it, Marty wasn't going to read it earlier.
    – Tloz
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 15:27

4 Answers 4


He tried to fix the DeLorean:

I set myself up as a blacksmith as a front while I attempted to repair the damage to the time circuits. Unfortunately, this proved impossible because suitable replacement parts will not be invented until 1947.

He wouldn't have sent the letter if he thought he could fix the DeLorean. He would have only sent the letter after exhausting every option he could think of and had finally accepted his fate. After all, he would need to put it in the cave and make completely sure no-one would disturb it.

Doc Brown is a scientist- while he was interested in the Old West, he couldn't continue to invent as effectively and there was always the possibility of affecting the timeline, so he would have done everything possible to ensure he wasn't stuck there. It would have taken some time to finally accept it.

Of course, this doesn't negate the possibility that other explanations contributed, but I can imagine him attempting for months to try to repair the car. And, of course, having to set himself up as a blacksmith, learning the trade and whatnot would have taken some time too.

  • 3
    This seems more plausible than the top rated answer. Why would he bother to write a letter if he could still time travel (after repairing the DeLorean). It makes the most sense that he would only write it after it was apparent he couldn't fix it and finding out about that would take some time.
    – Zikato
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 11:41
  • 1
    I'd add that it's possible that he wouldn't know whether he could repair it himself until he learnt the Smithing trade. In fact, it would be more than a front- it would be a way to learn how to repair the car and earn a living. Of course, I don't know how much he knew about electronics manufacturing (and I know little about it myself). Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 12:13
  • 1
    Nonetheless the letter mentioned that he tried to repair it first, so it's the only answer quoting the movie.
    – Zikato
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 12:15
  • 5
    Also, why would he think he needed to hurry? While he was planning to return, he didn't NEED a letter, because he could have returned to just after he left. He only wrote a letter when he had decided to stay; it was only that that point at which he knew Marty would be waiting for him, instead of having a cup of tea WITH him.
    – Layna
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 14:03
  • @PointlessSpike Even more than that, he would initially have no tools to help him examine the extent of the damage to even figure out what he would need to do to repair it. Even with infinite knowledge, he had to get the resources to build up the technology necessary to diagnose the problem and make the repairs. ...He also spent probably a significant amount of time on that ice machine.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 4:39

Doc probably "sent" at least one earlier letter.

Knowing Doc, he probably wrote Marty a letter as soon as he found paper to write on and cash to pay for it. But his chosen method of delivery was... quite slow. As such, he could have gone to Western Union at any time and simply tell them "Hey, you know that one letter I gave you to deliver 70 years from now? Forget about it and take this one instead!" Doc was already paying for a letter to be delivered seventy years in the future, they were probably laughing so hard, swapping the letter for free seems like a common courtesy at that point.

From our point of view, we only ever see that one letter because it was the last one he gave Western Union. He could have written any number of letters prior to that final one, they just never got sent.


The letter specifically asks Marty NOT to retrieve him. If he really tried to fix the car, it means he had previously thought of going back, and would probably have sent a letter to that effect to Marty, just in case. After all, we can see in the movies that Doc is aware that the era he is stuck in is a very dangerous one (he has, for example, acquired guns and become proficient at using them).

This is pure speculation, but Doc seems to be intelligent enough to send a letter earlier than he did if he was thinking of leaving, since he could die for any reason, from banditry to dysentery, before being able to complete the repairs on the car. After he had resigned himself to staying, he put the car in the Delgado mine and changed the letter for the one telling Marty to go back to 1985 and destroy the DeLorean.

  • 2
    That is a very plausible theory! +1 Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 8:27
  • 2
    The cash was probably a serious issue too. That kind of service would be pretty expensive, and since his trip was unplanned, he probably didn't bring any form of payment that would be accepted in 1885. (They hadn't even invented plastic yet, let alone credit cards, and any cash he had on him would be dated so far in the future nobody would believe it was real.) Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 15:31
  • 2
    @DarrelHoffman In one of the movies - I don't remember which one - Doc pulls out a suitcase with a collection of dollar notes from many different periods of American history. It has stacks of dollar notes which are dated even earlier.
    – Philipp
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 15:36
  • 1
    @Philipp - Yes, but that was when they were planning to go back to 1955 from alt-1985. Since Marty didn't bring the suitcase (it was left back in 1985), he wouldn't have had it with him, so on Doc's unplanned trip back to 1885 (caused by accidental lightning strike if you recall), he wouldn't have had it with him. Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 15:49
  • 3
    @DanHenderson & DarrelHoffman Just watched the money case scene in BTTF2, Doc & Marty land & hide the DeLorean in 1955 again, Doc runs back & forth on the street talking about how the lightning bolt hasn't occurred yet & to not interfere with their other selves, while holding the money case, then he gives Marty some 50s cash to buy "inconspicuous" clothes with. So the money case is in 1955 and would be with Doc when he goes to 1885 - so Doc's got some cash
    – Xen2050
    Commented Dec 25, 2015 at 2:38

He was establishing himself in the community. He was dropped in the middle of the Old West without a penny to his name of current-era currency (as far as we know), no relatives, nobody who knew him or could trust him. He had to build up a presence in the community, earn some money so he flat out wouldn't starve, etc. I would think that this would keep him busy. In addition, I can only imagine how much a letter held for a hundred years would have cost.

I might also add that he might have had to wait for the delivery service that he knew would eventually exist to form. Maybe he even had a hand in its formation solely to ensure the delivery of the letter.

  • 4
    This is the correct answer. It's just that simple. If Doc had sent a letter "the first day" we'd all be saying "well, that's ridiculous - it would take him a few months to just get established - surely they should have waited a year or so before he sent the letter".
    – Fattie
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 18:06
  • 3
    Except that it's not. Doc had 1875 currency in the car, at least a small stack of it, according to the screen capture @MichaelItzoe's comment on the question. The case is at least an inch thick, and based on cursory googling, there are over 200 bills per inch. More cursory googling says that 200 1875 $1 bills would be worth over $4000 in equivalent modern currency. It's unlikely Doc had nothing but $1s, so it's a safe assumption that he had a decent lump of money.
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 15:45
  • Western Union was founded in 1851. I'm fairly confident the company would have been well established throughout California by 1885. Even today it's still a well known company and Doc would have certainly known about it in 1955. Doc had every means needed to send the letter from day 1.
    – 16807
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 17:42
  • @T.J.L. It's being pointed out above that the case was left behind so, no, he didn't have it. Western union did indeed exist, but there may not have been a branch in Hill Valley at that point.
    – Broklynite
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 18:19
  • @Broklynite Where would he leave the money case? He had it when they arrived to 1955 in BTTF2, so by the end of the movie it should still be in the DeLorean. Related comment
    – xDaizu
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 12:28

In addition to the other answers given, he recognized he really had to get the information in the letter right. He would raise even more suspicion by leaving multiple 'letters for the future' at the post office, perhaps to the point of them returning all letters and refusing to help him. So, he made sure he exhausted all other options and had the best possible plan to give to Marty.

  • the best answer.
    – Fattie
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 18:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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