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Back to the Future

Episode Studies by Clayton Barr

Back to the Future: Looking for a Few Good Scientists "Looking for a Few Good Scientists"
Back to the Future #1
Story by Bob Gale
Script by Erik Burnham
Art by Dan Schoening
Colors by Luis Antonio Delgado
Letters by Shawn Lee
October 2015


A piece of Doc Brown's scientific past is revealed in 1943.


Read the story summary at Futurepedia


Notes from the Back to the Future chronology


This story takes place in 1943.


Characters appearing or mentioned in this story


Dr. Emmett Brown

Dr. Robert Millikan

Vannevar Bush

Major General Leslie Groves

Mrs. Gomez (mentioned only)

J. Robert Oppenheimer


Didja Notice?


This story opens at the California Institute of Technology in 1943, where Dr. Emmett Brown is teaching. Popularly known as CalTech, the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA is known for its strong sciences and engineering curriculum. The building shown on page 1, panel 1 is the East Norman Bridge Laboratory of Physics on the university campus.


The man Doc talks to on pages 1 and 2 is Dr. Robert Millikan (1868-1953). He was an American physicist who won the 1923 Nobel Prize for Physics and was the first president of CalTech from 1920-1946. Millikan is here seen perusing The New Heavens by George Ellery Hale. This is an actual book about the history astronomy published in 1922. Hale (1868-1938) was an American solar astronomer.


When Dr. Millikan asks Doc why he's not in his classroom teaching at the moment, Doc tells him he has the class working on the Jacobian conjecture. The Jacobian conjecture is a famous unsolved problem in mathematics.


At this time of his life, Doc lives in an apartment in the Pasadena area.


    On page 3, Major General Leslie Groves finds a copy of the Encyclopedia of Needlework by Thérèse de Dillmont in "Doc Brown's apartment." This is an actual book first published in 1886 and still in publication today. Dillmont (1846-1890) was an Austrian needleworker and writer with a number of books to her credit.

    It is interesting to note that Dillmont worked for the French textile company Dollfus-Meig et Cie, which also published books of textile patterns and her encyclopedia. The company is often known as DMC, the same shorthand as the DeLorean Motor Company!


On page 4, Vannevar Bush accidentally steps on Mrs. Gomez's mail, including an issue of Good Housekeeping magazine.


    Also on page 4, Doc walks past several storefronts in downtown Pasadena: Reliable Radio, Fox Pasadena Theatre, and Schwab's Pharmacy. Reliable Radio and the Fox Pasadena Theatre were actual businesses in the city at the time. I've been unable to confirm Schwab's Pharmacy existing in Pasadena, but there were a few in the Los Angeles environs.

    The Fox Theatre is showing a matinee of Time Flies, starring Dall, Handley, and Moon. This was an actual film, a British comedy starring Evelyn Dall, Tommy Handley, and George Moon, ironically about a time machine trip to the Elizabethan era (1558–1603). Unfortunately, the film is out of place here unless it travelled back in time itself; it was not released until May 1944 in the UK and not seen in the U.S. as far as I can tell until it was shown on television in 1950. 


On the last panel of page 4, two portraits are seen hanging on the wall of Doc's apartment. They are also seen in Doc's house in 1955 in Back to the Future. The top portrait is Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), a key player in the Scientific Revolution and best known for his mathematical theorems on the nature of gravity. The bottom portrait is clearly Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), famous American polymath and scientist.

There is also a hat in the same style as the one Doc wears in 1955.


    On page 5, many of the same items seen in Doc's apartment here are later seen in his 1955 home in Back to the Future: a stuffed marlin, a globe, a saxophone (does Doc play?), and a Kit Kat Klock.

    Several clocks are seen, but they all show different times (in contrast to the plethora of perfectly synchronized clocks in his home at the beginning of Back to the Future).

    A copy of the Hill Valley Telegraph newspaper lies on the floor, which seems kind of odd considering he's not in Hill Valley at this time. Still, his family home is in Hill Valley, so this may be an old copy he brought with him. The Hill Valley Telegraph is, of course, a fictitious newspaper, as is the town of Hill Valley itself.

    A stack of records is seen in a Western Fruit Sales crate. Western Fruit Sales was an actual company at the time. One of the record sleeves has "Bluebird" printed on it; this is probably from the Bluebird Records label, a budget label of RCA-Victor at the time, known for it blues and jazz releases.

    In the bottom left corner of the page, a copy of the novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne is seen. This is a real world novel originally published in 1870. In Back to the Future Part III, Doc reveals to Clara Clayton that he's a big fan of the works of Verne.


Mrs. Gomez is Doc's landlady in Pasadena.


On page 6, J. Robert Oppenheimer welcomes Doc to the Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project was the U.S. research program during WWII that produced the world's first atomic bomb. Oppenheimer (1904-1967) was the head of the Manhattan Project and so-called father of the atomic bomb.


After being invited to join the project, Doc wants to mark the occasion with his guests with something he says he's been saving...a plate of Jell-O with a mushroom in the middle of it. An odd way of celebrating, but Doc is an unusual guy. The mushroom in the Jell-O must represent the mushroom cloud of an atomic explosion, so he must have, through his research on the top secret project, figured out it was geared towards producing an atomic bomb.


DeLorean Time Machine: Doc Brown's Owners' Workshop Manual Notes from the DeLorean Time Machine: Doc Brown's Owners' Workshop Manual

(The page numbers come from the 1st printing, hardcover edition, published 2021)


Doc Brown's journal entry of May 14, 1946 states that he has been hired by King Class Technologies on a classified assignment. This appears to be a fictitious company. Doc's entry also states that two redacted names whom he worked with in Los Alamos were also hired there. This may be a reference to Kenneth Bainbridge (the director of the Manhattan Project's Trinity nuclear test) and Oppenheimer. Doc also has a sketch of a group of scientists he would likely have worked with at the Manhattan Project (from September 1945): Kenneth Bainbridge, Joseph Hoffman (I'm unsure if this is meant to be an historic figure), J. Robert Oppenheimer, Louis Hempelmann (a researcher of radiobiology for the Manhattan Project), Victor Weisskopf (an Austrian-born American theoretical physicist), Robert Bacher (an American nuclear physicist), and Richard Dodson. The sketch is actually based on a real world photo of these men (plus Doc himself drawn into the back row).


Doc's employment at King Class Technologies was terminated on May 27, 1949 due to his repeated violations of the dress code (Hawaiian shirt under his lab coat).


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