Doctor Strange once tried to live adventures on television, with a mediocre result but also some good surprises.
There are movies using the Marvel characters and universe that some would rather forget. In this series of articles, we will explore these “Marvels of shame”, productions so failed that they never manage to rise to the height of the license they exploit. Is there however nothing to save there? We will see that with the first films of our selection: the TV movie Doctor Strange from 1978.
Between the series Spiderman (1977) and the project Captain America (1979), a new pilot is born, dedicated to the Master of the mystical arts: Doctor Strange, superhero who appeared for the first time in Marvel comics in 1963. The idea is then that this 1h30 TV movie becomes the first episode of a series if the public finds it of interest.
The film begins when a supervillain, Morgan LeFay, is sent to Earth by an evil cosmic entity to assassinate a powerful magician named Lindmer. The presence of the latter prevents the entity (which distantly evokes the Dormammu of the comics) from invading the globe.
Morgan temporarily possesses a human, Clea, and attempts to assassinate Lindmer. The aging Sorcerer Supreme pulls through, but realizes he needs help. He will seek her from Stephen Strange, who has the gifts to take over. From this moment, begins for this young doctor an initiation to the mystical arts and the discovery of the Astral Plane.
For once, Stan Lee got on well with the director and screenwriter Philip DeGuere and it feels! Unlike many Marvel productions of the time, there are characters sticking to the chosen universe: the Elder, Clea and Wong are in the game, but also Morgane the fairy, a well-known supervillain from the comics (and that we will see again in the MCU series Runaways). Only the demon Balzaroth is an invention of the TV movie.
And it must be recognized that in addition to respecting the names of the characters, this Doctor Strange more or less follows the origin story of its hero: a doctor acquires magical powers which give him access to one or more universes which were hitherto unknown and must protect the Earth from these unknown worlds.
peter hootenwho interprets Strange, clearly lacks charisma, but the special effects are in the canons of the time but the whole is not ridiculous, even if the final result is clearly light years away from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and embarrasses a bit of the past on the screen of the House of Ideas.
Because finally, the pilot is not ordered in series by the CBS channel, in particular because of the bad returns of the diffusion of this telefilm on September 6, 1978. In the magazine Comics Feature from January 1985, Stan Lee will blame the channel for placing Doctor Strange opposite the miniseries Roots, thus explaining his poor grades. It should be noted that Lee seems to get tangled up since Roots was officially broadcast the previous year, from January 1977.
Anyway, the pilot therefore remains in the pilot state and Doctor Strange will not return to live-action until 2016 under the guise of Benedict Cumberbatch.
After two solo films, the Sorcerer Supreme is well on his way to continuing to play an important role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and obviously eclipses Peter Hooten’s version, which is however worth giving him a second look despite his obvious flaws.