In Back to the Future: Part III, we see the grave of Doc. If Doc. Emmet L. Brown is dead and has a grave, then how come he is still alive and kicking in 1885? If he is alive because Marty went back and saved him, then why does the grave exist?

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    ...did you watch Part 1 and Part 2? The past can be changed... – Izkata Oct 9 '14 at 23:30
  • @Izkata that's right, but if the past is changed, then there should be no tombstone. In Part I, Marty disappears when his mom does not fall in love with his dad. Or when he saves Doc, the gravestone disappears from the photo. – padawan Oct 9 '14 at 23:32
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    Or when he saves Doc, the gravestone disappears from the photo. - There you go. He changed the past. – Izkata Oct 9 '14 at 23:34
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    Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey.....wait, no...wrong time travel rules... – tilley31 Oct 9 '14 at 23:46

He was dead in the 1955D timeline that we see the tombstone in. After Marty went back to save him, he was no longer buried there in 1955--Marty travels back to about a week before Doc would have otherwise died in 1885. The tombstone itself was already made in 1885 before what was originally Doc's death, just not engraved yet. This is actually a plot point since Marty takes a picture of it and it changes throughout the movie as events change.

Here is the same tombstone, having been altered when Marty is about to get into a lethal gunfight:

Tombstone photo showing the grave of "Clint Eastwood" (Marty)

Later, the tombstone breaks in a fight, and vanishes completely from 1955:

Vanishing tombstone

(Edit) This does raise an interesting question--if there is no gravestone in 1955 anymore, why did the Marty in the 1955 of the final timeline go back and rescue Doc, and did the scenes at the beginning of the movie with him and 1955 Doc still "happen"? As far as I know, there is no official answer, and it ends up being kind of a strange reverse grandfather paradox. But as far as the basic storytelling logic goes, the answer is that he died and so there was a grave, then Marty fixed it so he didn't die and there wasn't a grave.

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    Actually, it disappears when the tombstone is broken in a fight. That's a piece of it you can see behind the photo. – Adeptus Oct 10 '14 at 1:37
  • @Milo Price - on your last comment in the edit, you could always imagine that after Doc sees Marty escape in the DeLorean in 1885, he goes back to the post office and says "hey, you know that letter I told you fellas to deliver to a particular spot in 1955? I need to rewrite it a little." Then in the altered letter he could tell Marty about the importance of coming back to a particular date in 1885 (and maybe even of taking a photo of a particular spot in a graveyard before leaving), in order to prevent a paradox. – Hypnosifl Oct 10 '14 at 21:26
  • Although come to think of it, there's also a similar paradox about why, in the "final" timeline, the Marty/Doc who return to a "normal" 1985 after their trip to 2015, rather than returning to 1985-A, would then decide they needed to go back to 1955 to make sure Biff didn't keep the sports almanac. Maybe the Doc in 1885 was smart enough to make sure two letters were delivered, one two 1955 and another to his own address in 1985, on the night they returned to 1985 from 2015. – Hypnosifl Oct 10 '14 at 21:30

The "rule" that the films follow is that once Marty or Doc make a change in the past to what they perceive as an "already happened" event, or one that they've already see/experienced, they are shunted into a new/parallel timeline based on their actions. They remember the original timeline, and are not acquainted with events in the new one.

So the tombstone is destroyed, and "vanishes" from the photo. But technically, Marty and the photo are moving into a timeline where the tombstone never existed in the future.

Each action they make shunts them into a successively different timeline. If Marty had only traveled back in the first film, destroyed one of Old Man Peybody's pine trees, and come right back, the only change would have been the mall's name.

So technically, there is no grandfather paradox - nothing changes in the original timeline, with the exception of Marty winking out of existence after he hits 88mph.

In the events of the original film, he shunts himself into a timeline where he does not exist in what would be his present. He is an anomaly of the timeline, and begins to be erased slowly. His actions shunt him into another timeline where he does exist, and is restored to potentiality, He only learns later that it is several steps away from his original timeline.

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He is alive in 1885 because Marty went back in time to a point in 1885 which was before he got shot.

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    So what does this add to the accepted answer? As far as I see nothing, it is a TL;DR of the accepted answer without any evidence. – TheLethalCarrot Jun 15 '18 at 15:37

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