“Become more than a man. And renounce such Earthly pleasures as are given to men who are only mortal. The pleasure of ignorance, or offspring, or an easy death.” – Thomas Lindmer
In view of the impending (at the time of writing) release of Doctor Strange, the big new Marvel Universe movie in cinemas – I thought I’d take a look at Dr Strange – the TV movie.
I first heard of this being made as a pilot for a TV series back in 1978, in a then-current issue of Starlog magazine (now, sadly no longer in publication and much missed).
I remember seeing a still from the film in the magazine and wondering how on Earth they were going to manage to get Doctor Strange – Marvel’s Master of the Mystic Arts on to a mainstream TV series and what they’d have to compromise. This was 1978, and they were considering a weekly drama series about the Sorcerer Supreme? Witchcraft being depicted on prime time? Unlikely.
But there was kind of a hope – Marvel were hugely successful with at least ONE series that seemed to me an unlikely hit – the Incredible Hulk. Oddly, far less successful was Spider-Man which only ran for a handful of episodes over two seasons.
Anyhow, CBS declined the opportunity to pursue a Dr Strange TV series – and I’ve often wondered what it would’ve been like.
So, the film kind of faded from my mind – until August 30 1982. Specifically, the late summer bank holiday. Our local TV region was HTV, and on that sunny Monday morning, it was shown. I watched it and LOVED it. It made an impression, because it was a bit less bland than the superhero offerings we got at that time. Seen today with the proliferation of film and TV superheroics, it might appear a bit dull, but 1982? It was pretty damn cool.
You’re probably wondering how on Earth does this OCD nutjob remember the exact date? Well, therein lies a tale and a quest.
The day immediately following the public holiday was payday. And I was instigating my biggest, most absurd plan ever (or up to that point at least). At the age of 22, I was going to commit an unspeakable amount of money to my dream of collecting films. (Remember – 1982, nobody really collected films, they were hugely expensive). And August 31 would see my purchase of my first VHS recorder/player a big, bulky Hitachi VT 9300.
Now the problem was I had been really impressed with Dr Strange on the 30th and my means of recording it and having it in my collection wasn’t arriving until the next day. It became a quest of almost Holy Grail proportions – because it was never shown here again, and my only means of adding it to the growing collection in the eighties was a second generation copy which really wasn’t very good. Recordings of recordings never are.
For years I sought high and low – until – get this – a couple of months ago, I took the plunge and imported the film on DVD from France. (And only a couple of days ago did I discover that it’s FINALLY getting a UK release to tie in with the new movie. I only waited 34 years!)
As the film begins, we’re in a mystical realm, where the Nameless One, a hideous demon tells Morgan Le Fey, a witch basically, (Jessica Walter) that it’s time to defeat the aging Sorcerer Supreme and take his power before he transfers it to his successor. Guarding our realm is Thomas Lindmer (Sir John Mills) a wizard who grows old and weary. He and Morgan have been adversaries for possibly centuries.
Morgan tricks her way to get close to Lindmer by possessing the body of a young woman and pushing him off a bridge. The fall onto a busy road doesn’t kill him, but it does make him realise that it’s time to hand over to his replacement – Stephen Strange, a doctor working in the psychiatric wing of a nearby hospital.
Meanwhile, the young woman has been left with the residual effects of the psychic invasion she has undergone and keeps seeing images of Morgan. She ends up in the hospital under the care of Strange, who finds himself attracted to her.
Stephen Strange, as played by Peter Hooten is a likeable enough leading man – but not quite as well, mystical looking as the character was drawn by Steve Ditko. (Benedict Cumberbatch looks a lot more like the original concept). He’s a reluctant hero, who has to be persuaded to allow Lindmer to send him on the Astral Plains to search for the young girl when she falls asleep and her psyche slips into the Dark Realm. (Astral travelling was something Strange did a lot of in the comics.)
Once he succeeds in his mission, he still doesn’t accept the whole being the new chosen one thing even though he has experienced it for himself. But it seems everybody’s going to be living happily ever after, until Morgan defeats Lindmer in his own home and transports him to the Dark Realm – where she can kill him. She then lures Strange to the realm and tempts him with riches, love and the safety of the girl.
Though tempted, Strange comes to his senses and defies and defeats her with an incantation, rescues Lindmer, accepts him as his master and returns them home, where embraces his destiny and becomes the Sorcerer Supreme.
Morgan, meanwhile has her youth taken away from her by the Nameless One as a punishment for failure. But in a kind of epilogue, is seen young again on a TV promoting a self help program for young people. Yes – she’s building an army. Meanwhile, Strange is going about his business, arranging a date with the girl and confounding a street magician with his new found mystic powers.
The origin in no way resembles that told in the comics, but hey – it works within the confines of TV as they were at the time.
You can buy your copy here – without waiting 34 years like I had to.
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