Strange in name and strange in nature, Doctor Strange is definitely one of the most trippy superheroes ever conceived. Stephen Strange graduates to become Doctor Strange after a terrible road accident means he loses the use of his hands to perform delicate neurosurgery. When his career and livelihood are lost to him, Strange goes on a spiritual quest for a higher truth — one he discovers through the Arcane Arts. His subsequent adventures make for something out of a Guillermo del Toro movie on an acid trip.
A Strange Beginning
Doctor Strange first made his appearance in Strange Tales #110 in July 1963. He was created by Steve Ditko whose other credits include your friendly neighborhood Wall Crawler — Spider-Man. Ditko called his new character Doctor Strange because he would be appearing in Strange Tales.
Full name Stephen Vincent Strange, the good doctor’s appearance resembles the great gothic movie actor Vincent Price who appeared in such weird fare as Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death (1964) (based on the book by Edgar Allen Poe). I don’t think the middle name is a coincidence and the vibe of Stephen Strange’s strange tales is dead on. In fact, prior to Benedict Cumberbatch playing the part in the upcoming 2016 movie, Price would have made a terrific Doctor Strange. Maybe Tim Burton could have directed it.
Of course, there was a previous Doctor Strange Marvel movie, but Price sadly wasn’t in it. The part, instead, went to Peter Hooten. Who? Hooten, that’s who. He’s known for such great roles as …. Well, Doctor Strange. Except nobody really knows this movie even exists. At least, not on this earthly realm!
Doctor Strange 1978
It was 1978 and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) wasn’t the power house of movie production it is today. Hooten resembles Geraldo Rivera more than he does The Master of the Mystic Arts. I guess, at least he has a mustache.
The production value of the made for TV movie wasn’t exactly high and the script wasn’t particularly memorable either. Stan Lee, that living totem of Marvel, remembered the TV movie as follows, “I probably had the most input into that one … I was pleased with Dr. Strange and The Hulk. I think that Dr. Strange would have done much better than it did in the ratings except that it aired opposite Roots. Those are the only experiences I’ve had with live action television. Dr. Strange and the Hulk were fine. Captain America was a bit [of a] disappointment and Spider-Man was a total nightmare.”
In terms of plot, the 1978 TV movie appropriately starts in Hell (some might say that’s where it belongs). Here, The Nameless One, a very H.P. Lovecraft reference, discusses with Morgan Le Fay (of Arthur fame), her inability to defeat a wizard called the Sorcerer Supreme some 500 years prior. Apparently, her failure to beat him still stings a bit. The Nameless One tells Le Fay that the wizard is now weak enough to be defeated. She’s got three days to do the deed or kill his successor.
Possessing a woman named Clea Lake (“Clear Lake” a.k.a. “The Lady of the Lake”), Le Fay pushes her ancient enemy off a bridge and leaves him for dead, but he heals himself with magic and is aided by his companion, Wong.
Stephen Strange becomes involved with Clea Lake after she signed into his psychiatric care, because in this TV movie version, Doctor Strange is not a doctor of the brain, but of the mind! What follows is a convoluted plot where Strange learns he’s actually magical and special and his parents were killed protecting him (think of an older Harry Potter with a 1970s porn mustache) and that he is the only mortal who can defeat the otherworldly threat of evil.
Doctor Strange ends up defeating Le Fay after rejecting her sexual advances and takes the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme from the old wizard, becoming the new Master of the Mystic Arts and the first line of defense for the earthly realm.
The hope for this TV movie would be that Doctor Strange would be picked up for an entire TV series, the same way The Incredible Hulk had a year earlier in 1977 for Marvel. Fortunately for all of us, this didn’t happen.
If you like the sounds of your own screams, you can watch a commercial for Doctor Strange (1978) below.
Then cleanse your palette with the latest trailer for the upcoming, mystically good Doctor Strange movie coming in November.