As we prepare for Marvel's new Doctor Strange movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the role of the iconic sorcerer, I take a look back at an early attempt to bring the character to the screen.
Dr. Strange is a TV movie from 1978 that was meant to be the Pilot episode for a potential series but it was never picked up. Stan Lee worked as consultant on the project so the goal was definitely to stay somewhat true to the comics but a low-budget, a dull script and some wooden performances all around contributed to a film which is forgotten for a good reason. Reviewing it is, in fact, no easy feat since very little actually happens in the film story-wise: there's an evil witch, she wants to defeat a wizard, she doesn't, the end. The witch is Morgan Le Fay, played by a glamorous and over-the-top Jessica Walter who tries to make the film entertaining but fails due to an underwritten character that's hardly a genuine threat at all.
Dr. Stephen Strange is played by Peter Hooten whose perm is single-handedly more involving than anything he says during the film. If only the character had been given his powers within the first half hour rather than right at the end of the film, then maybe his monotone line reads would not have been quite as soporific. Even the stop-motion demon we see a couple of times seems more lively. There's very little action in this entire Pilot, if you can call it that, aside from a couple of scenes where two characters shoot lights out of their hands at each other and one moment where the wizard (John Mills) is pushed over a bridge for no reason. Surely if the plan had been to eventually make a series then the priority should have been to entertain, not put the audience to sleep.
Armed with a horrendous soundtrack, obvious sets, cheap costumes, flat performances, forgettable characters and a story which moves at a snail's pace, it's obvious why Dr. Strange never became a series. Here's hoping Marvel's latest attempt at least provides some form of spectacle.