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|Based on||Doctor Strange|
by Steve Ditko
|Written by||Philip DeGuere|
|Directed by||Philip DeGuere|
|Music by||Paul Chihara|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Cinematography||Enzo A. Martinelli|
|Running time||93 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Universal Television|
|Distributor||NBCUniversal Television Distribution|
Dr. Strange is a 1978 American made-for-television superhero film based on the Marvel Comics fictional character of the same name, co-created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. Philip DeGuere directed the film and wrote it specifically for television, and produced the film along with Alex Beaton and Gregory Hoblit. Stan Lee served as a consultant on the film, which was created as a pilot for a proposed television series. Dr. Strange stars Peter Hooten in the title role, along with Jessica Walter, Eddie Benton, Clyde Kusatsu, Philip Sterling and John Mills. The film aired on September 6, 1978, in a two-hour block from 8pm to 10pm on CBS, the same network that, at that time, aired The Amazing Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk; CBS did not pick up Dr. Strange as a series.
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Somewhere, an evil entity tells Morgan le Fay that she has been prevented from breaking through to the earthly realm by a great wizard, and that she has three days either to defeat or kill the wizard and win over his successor to her master's side.
Le Fay possesses a young woman named Clea Lake and uses her as a weapon against Thomas Lindmer, the "Sorcerer Supreme". She pushes him off a bridge to his death, but instead of dying, he slowly gets up and magically heals himself. His friend, Wong, looks after him and locates Lake for him. Suffering from psychic aftereffects of the possession and haunting dreams of le Fay, Lake is under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Strange at a psychiatric hospital. Strange has the potential to become Lindmer's successor by virtue of abilities and items inherited by from his father, including a signet ring. Strange intuitively senses something very wrong, sharing Lake's nightmare about the previous day's events, but does not understand what is going on.
Lindmer contacts Strange at the hospital and tells him that Lake needs more help than what can be offered by medical science. Strange takes Lindmer's card and is intrigued by the fact that Lindmer's card bears the same symbol as his ring. Meanwhile, le Fay possesses a cat and tries to have it enter Lindmer's house, but magical barriers repel it.
At the hospital, the head of Strange's department sedates Lake against his directions, and she appear to slip into a coma from which Strange is unable to revive her, Strange goes to visit Lindmer. Le Fay sees an opportunity to kill Strange, but hesitates, and he survives.
Lindmer tells Strange that his ignorance is a form of protection, and asks him whether he wants to know the truth or remain ignorant. Strange demands to know the truth, and Lindmer says that he knows about how Strange's parents died when he was eighteen. He says Strange is special, and that his parents died protecting him. He says there are different realms, and that Lake is trapped in them and only Strange can save her. Strange is dispatched to the astral plane and confronts and defeats the demon Balzaroth, who had been sent by le Fay to stop Strange from rescuing Lake. Strange and Lake return to the physical world.
The evil entity asks le Fay why she spared Strange. She confesses to being attracted to him, and the demon threatens to make her suffer eternity as an old woman. She vows that she will not fail. Strange checks on Lake, and agrees to dinner with her later. He goes to see Lindmer and rejects the reality of magic despite his recent experiences. As he leaves, he tries to remove his father's ring and finds he cannot. Without meaning to, he lets the possessed cat into the house. The cat transforms into le Fay and defeats Wong, seemingly killing him. She then defeats Lindmer, but she cannot kill him in this world, so she summons Asmodeus to transport Lindmer to the demon realms.
Strange visits Lake, but le Fay interrupts, promising him that promises him not to harm Lake so long as he comes with her to the demon realms. He agrees. Once there, he appears to be under her command. She offers him love, wealth, power, and knowledge. She attempts to seduce him, and on the verge of success, asks him to remove his ring. He protests that only Lindmer can remove it, but she counters that he can do it if he tries. He refuses, defying her. She attacks him, but he defeats her, rescues Lindmer, and returns them both to the earthly realm where he also revives Wong. The evil entity transforms le Fay into an old hag.
Lindmer explains that Strange must choose whether to remain mortal, or to become the Sorcerer Supreme, forgoing ignorance, offspring, and an easy death, but promises that he will, at least, have love. Strange chooses to protect humanity, and Lindmer's power is transferred to him. Lindmer passes out. Wong then warns him that, while he now has Lindmer's powers, he does not yet have the knowledge or the wisdom to use them correctly, and that, if he is not extremely careful, he can harm himself or others. Strange then carries Lindmer in his arms, and puts him to bed to recover.
Strange is then shown at the hospital, where many patients have been discharged. He leaves with Lake, who seems to have no memory of what happened, other than as a bad dream. Le Fay is shown on television, young again, posing as a self-help guru. Lake fails to recognize her. Strange agrees to meet Lake later, and the film closes with him playing a trick on a street magician, turning the flowers the magician was going to produce using sleight-of-hand into a dove.
Philip DeGuere was given an ample budget for Dr. Strange, which he wrote, directed and produced. The film was shot on Universal sets in Los Angeles, going over-schedule by several days because of the special effects, which included a lot of the era's green screen. Friend and composer Paul Chiraha was encouraged to produce an electronic score. Chirara, interviewed in 2016, said that DeGuere had high hopes for the film, and was crushed when it "tanked".
In January 1985, Stan Lee recounted the largely positive experience of working on Dr. Strange, compared with the other live-action Marvel Comics adaptations under the publisher's development deal with CBS and Universal in the late 1970s, saying, "I probably had the most input into that one. I've become good friends with the writer/producer Phil DeGuere. I was pleased with Dr. Strange and The [Incredible] 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."
Dr. Strange got very low ratings. Kieran Shiach and Elle Collins call it a bad film and suggest that is the reason CBS did not pick up the series, saying "it struggles under its origins, and not much happens over the course of ninety minutes." Mike Ryan finds the film "boring", complaining that the first two-thirds of the film play like a medical procedural. Scott Beggs defends the film but concedes it is slow-moving, lacking any sense of urgency, or indeed much going for the titular character, as Strange is a bit of a Gary Stu: "He’s instantly good at everything without any training, only fails once before miraculously being awesome immediately afterwards, and he’s just generally an idiot. He’s also barely there as a figure." Aaron Couch calls the film an "ambitious shoot" whose effects are "campy by today's standards" but he describes the acting as "wonderfully committed performances".
The film was released twice on VHS in the United States, in 1987 and 1995, and also had multiple foreign releases. Dr. Strange was released on for the first time on DVD in the United States and Canada on November 1, 2016.