THE MARVEL TV UNIVERSE [BelserVerse]: Magic and Bell-Bottoms.

“There is a barrier that separates the known from the unknown. Beyond this threshold lies a battleground, where forces of good and evil are in eternal conflict. The fate of mankind hangs in the balance and awaits the outcome. In every age and time, some of us are called upon to join the battle…” – Dr. Strange

Next up on the list for the CBS/Marvel deal would be Doctor Strange. Doctor Strange debuted in Strange Tales #110 (July 1963) by writer Stan Lee  and artist Steve Ditko, the team behind the creation of Spider-Man.  Inspired by the 1930s radio program Chandu the Magician, Lee and Ditko set out to create a different kind of character, a superhero sorcerer.  Stan Lee admits that Dr, Strange was initially Steve Ditko’s idea:

Introducing Doctor Strange

 

 

“Well, we have a new character in the works for Strange Tales (just a 5-page filler named Dr. Strange) Steve Ditko is gonna draw him. It has sort of a black magic theme. The first story is nothing great, but perhaps we can make something of him– ’twas Steve’s idea and I figured we’d give it a chance, although again, we had to rush the first one too much. Little sidelight: Originally decided to call him Mr. Strange, but thought the “Mr.” bit too similar to Mr. Fantastic- now, however, I remember we had a villain called Dr. Strange just recently in one of our mags, hope it won’t be too confusing!”( 2019, Doctor Strange, Wikipedia)

Dr. Strange’s visual inspiration: Vincent Price

The look of Dr. Strange is based on horror film legend Vincent Price, who would play lots of magicians, mad scientists and vampires in movies like House of Wax, The Mad Magician and The Fly.  Price also provided the sinister voice and cackling laughter for the ‘rap’ portion of Michael Jackson’s Thriller( ‘ Darkness falls across the land. The midnight hour is close at hand. Creatures crawl in search of blood, To terrorize y’all’s neighborhood….’)

Vincent and Scooby-Doo

Price would even assume a Dr. Strange-like role as Vincent Van Ghoul in the 1985 animated series The 13 Ghosts Of Scooby-Doo.

Dr. Strange’s realm of mysticism allowed both Lee and Ditko to indulge themselves in different ways:

  • Lee was able to create mystical-sounding verbage like the “Eye of Agamotto” or the”Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!”. Lee said he never had any idea what any of the incantations meant. He just liked them because they sounded mysterious.

 

  • An example of Steve Ditko’s art work

    Ditko’s artwork became a tapestry of imaginative landscapes and increasingly vivid visuals that made Dr. Strange a favorite of college students (and potheads).

While Doctor Strange was an important central character in many Marvel stories, the character was never able to sustain a substantial run of his own solo comic. His book was constantly cancelled from low sales and restarting from scratch.

In 1978, both The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man have both become series and getting great ratings. Dr. Strange is tapped to be the next CBS/Marvel collaboration and easily the most ambitious of the bunch. Writer, director and producer Philip DeGuere was given an ample budget for Dr. Strange, due to the special effects needed to make the idea come across.  DeGuere told Starlog Magazine in 1978 about the difficulties of the project:

“It has to do with dealing with an area which is completely foreign to TV. Unless people are familiar with myth, folklore, and fairtyales on the one hand or fantasy literature on the other, it’s difficult to understand a story like this. The picture went five days over schedule and probably $50,000-100,000 over budget”( Cecchini, 2016, Doctor Strange: The Wonderful Weirdness of the 1978 TV Movie, Den of Geek).

As with all the other Marvel shows, DeGuere made a number of changes to the TV film that differed from the comics:

  • Stephen’s job changes from a surgeon to a psychiatric resident
  • Stephen’s attitude is changed from initially arrogant and egotistical to a genuinely caring person.
  • The mysticism aspect is taken more from the legends of King Arthur than Eastern myth. The villainess Morgan Le Fay is a direct character from Arthurian legend while the mentor Lindmer is meant to be Merlin the Magician (the name Lindmer is an anagram of Merlin).
  • In the comics, a car accident that damages Strange’s hands leads him on the journey to becoming the Sorcerer Supreme. In the film, a car accident kills Strange’s parents, not him.

NOTE: A common misconception that the character of Lindmer is The Ancient One. The Ancient One is presented in this film as a disembodied being of light towards the end of the movie.

Concept Art for Dr. Strange( 1978)

Towards the end of the movie, Doctor Strange wears a costume that looks the one he wears in the comics . It was based on concept art by  Frank Brunner, an actual Doctor Strange comic artist. DeGuere explained to Starlog, “I tried to keep as much to the comic costume as possible, but those tend to look silly on real people…Actually, we ended up working with a model of a gentleman going to the opera. It’s the only instance in modern dress where a guy would wear a cape.” ( Ryan, 2014, The Bizarre Case of the 1978 ‘Doctor Strange’ Movie, Screen Crush).

NOTE: The ‘star’ chest symbol on the movie costume was borrowed from another Marvel superhero: Mar-Vell, the original Captain Marvel.

Composer Paul Chihara, a friend of the director, provided the film’s distinctive synthesizer heavy score. Chihara comments “{Deguere} encouraged me to do an electronic score, which in 1978 was quite forward”( Couch, 2014,  ‘Dr. Strange’: The Untold Story of the 1978 TV Movie Everyone “Had Great Hopes For”, The Hollywood Reporter).

The score embraced that 70’s style and sounded like a something from a horror movie soundtrack at times.  Over time, the score has gotten a number of high profile fans, including Michael Giacchino (who composed the 2016 Dr. Strange movie). Chihara comments: “When he was in London recording it, he was telling me that they already knew the score that I did for Dr. Strange and Michael was kind enough to say he appreciated my score“( Couch, 2014,  ‘Dr. Strange’: The Untold Story of the 1978 TV Movie Everyone “Had Great Hopes For”, The Hollywood Reporter).

Stan Lee had a largely positive experience working on Dr. Strange, compared to most of the other CBS/ Marvel projects:

“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.” (2019, Dr. Strange(1978 film), Wikipedia).

Casting Dr. Strange:

Peter Hooten in all his splendor

In the role of the Sorcerer Supreme, the director cast Peter Hooten as Stephen Strange. Hooten was a largely unknown journeyman actor who did guest spots on shows like The WaltonsMod Squad and Mannix. His most famous film role was in the JAWS rip-off Orca: The Killer Whale. Hooten has become notoriously private since taking the role but gave an interview around the time of the 2016 Dr. Strange film release. He stated he took the role because he could relate to Stephen Strange’s medical background and the mystical themes of the film:  

“If I hadn’t been an actor I might have done pre-med. Also, I’ve always been interested in mystical things. I always liked reading about theosophy [a religious philosophy rooted in mysticism], which was a 19th century rage. When I lived in Los Angeles, I used to go The Bodhi Tree, a metaphysical bookstore. I took right to the character of Doctor Strange” ( 2016, AICN COMICS Q&@ with Peter Hooten the Original Doctor Strange!, Ain’t It Cool News).

Origin:

Stephen Strange, M.D. was born in 1945.  In 1963, the Stranges were killed in a car crash when Stephen was 18.  As an inheritance, Stephen received a golden ring branded with the mystical symbol of light from his father’s estate. Prior to this,  Strange’s father was a colleague of a man named Thomas Lindmer. Lindmer, unknown to the public, is the Sorcerer Supreme, Earth’s main mystical protector.  Lindmer and Strange’s father saw that Stephen was an extraordinary young man with a talent for mysticism. Stephen Strange eventually became a resident psychiatrist for the East Side Hospital in New York. While a good natured person, his behavior can rub people the wrong way: A nurse reprimands him for being a womanizer and the Chief of Psychiatry Dr. Taylor chided Strange for being late to meetings and completely disregarding his opinion. Meanwhile, The exiled witch Morgan Le Fay has been tasked to go back Earth for three days to defeat Lindmer and to corrupt his chosen successor, Stephen Strange. Lindmer  learns of this plot and has his old friend and pupil Wong locate Strange and quickly found the hospital where Strange works. Morgan possesses the body of a girl named Clea Lake to attack Lindmer, pushing him off a bridge (Strange had a psychic vision of the act, thinking it’s a dream). This event has a traumatic effect for Lake and she ends in the care of Stephen Strange. Strange quickly recognized her from his vision and Lake then explains the exact accident where an old man was pushed off a bridge which unsettles Strange. Lake also talked about being stalked by an evil woman and refuses to sleep.  Lindmer decides to go to the hospital to talk with Strange. Strange agrees to meet with Lindmer at his office because he recognized Lindmer from his dream. Lindmer explains that Strange and Lake now have a psychic connection but Strange is sceptical. Lindmer says that Strange can help Lake but not by traditional means and that Strange should visit Lindmer at his mansion. Soon after this meeting, Strange discovered that Dr. Taylor had given a tranquilizer to Lake ( against Strange’s wishes), making her sleep. As a result, Lake falls into a coma. After this act, Strange took Lindmer’s card and noticed something unusual:  it had the same symbol as Strange’s ring. Strange meets with Lindmer at his mansion and asks him about the ring’s symbol. Lindmer reveals that Strange’s father worked with him and this eventual encounter was destined to happen. Strange agrees to try Lindmer’s method and lends him the ring. Lindmer used his magic to empower the ring and returns it to Stephen. He then explains to Strange his method to save Clea: Lake’s trapped spirit is in the astral plane and Strange is to be sent to rescue her. The ring would stop most of the demonic inhabitants from attacking Strange or Lake. Following Lindmer’s words, Strange is immediately sent on an extradimensional journey and finds Lake in the astral plane. Both escape and Lake finally wakes up in the hospital. After this, Strange visits Lindmer again and tells him that he declines being a sorcerer. Soon, Morgan bypasses the mansion’s mystical barrier (with Strange’s unknowing help), defeats Wong and kidnaps Lindmer. Morgan then causes Lake to have another psychiatric break. Le Fay appeared in front of Strange and offered to leave Lake alone if he accompanies Le Fay to her dimension. In her lair, Le Fay offered to teach Strange to use his powers and gave him riches . She expresses that she has romantic feelings for Stephen and kisses him. However, Strange found her lips to be cold. Le Fay then asks Strange to take out his enchanted ring, but Strange was unable to do so. Le Fay mocks Lindmer’s power and shows that Lindmer was now her tortured prisoner there. This sight disgusts Strange, and he rejects Le Fay. The offended witch tries to destroy Strange, but he stops the attack with the ring and defeats her for the moment. Strange finally embraces his destiny and recognizes Lindmer as his master. With that proclamation, both of them were transported back to the mansion. Strange and Lindmer were soon joined by Wong in the studio. After a brief ceremony, Strange accepts his role and becomes the new Sorcerer Supreme of Earth.

The Ceremony:

Lindmer:  You’ve been brought to this moment by forces beyond your control. You were chosen but the final choice must always be yours.

Strange: What choice is it that’s mine?

Lindmer:  To serve yourself or all of mankind.

Strange: Is that a choice? What will I be called upon to do?

Lindmer:  Become more than a man. And renounce such earthly pleasures that are given to men that are only mortal. The pleasure of ignorance, or offspring or an easy death.

Strange: Will be asked to give up even love?

Lindmer:  The Universe is love. That you shall have.

Strange: I don’t understand but I’ve made my choice. Let it begin.

 

After a big rescue, Lindmer stages a quick ceremony so that Strange could officially admit his destiny and became the new guardian for humanity (with Wong as a witness).

  • By accepting those powers, Strange had to renounce three things: ignorance to the ways of the universe, the desire to have children and an easy, non-painful death.
  • Strange accepts and a bright light enters the window of the studio. They all hear the diembodied voice of The Ancient One. The Ancient One asks Strange whether he accepted to custody the light.

“Let the transmutation begin” – The Ancient One

  • A glowing rectangular platform rises from the ground to Stephen’s waist level. As it rises, Strange hovers his hands over it and his clothes changed into his new uniform as a Guardian of The Light : a purple tunic with a white eight-sided star on the chest , gold bracelets, blue slacks, a golden belt and a yellow cloak.
  • A glow envelops both Strange and Lindmer as Lindmer’s power is transferred to Strange. The action overwhelms both men. Strange recovers quickly while weakening Lindmer into unconsciousness. Wong explains that Strange now has the power, but not the skill or wisdom to use it yet:

Wong: It is done.

Strange: I felt tremendous pain.

Wong: Energies beyond your comprehension were circuited into your body. The circuit held.

Strange: Have I taken his place? Have I become the sorcerer?

Wong: You will be when The Ancient One has taught you to use your powers. You’re like a child with a loaded gun. Unless you are not careful, you can harm yourself or others. You have the powers but not the knowledge or wisdom to accompany them. Yet.

Strange: What have I become?

Wong: More than a man.

 

Powers/Abilities:  

Medical Training: Strange is a qualified M.D, specializing in psychiatry. He is able to treat several patients both from a psychological point of view (such as reassuring Clea Lake) and through proper medication (when stabilizing Lake’s critical state).

Magic:  Strange has the ability of harness and manipulate the energy of the universe. It allows the practitioner many different activities, including astral projection, divination, spell casting and teleportation. A person’s magical power in this film manifests itself as an all-enveloping glow that wraps around the person’s body.

  • Good practitioners of magic like Lindmer, Wong and Stephen glow a bright golden color.
  • Evil practitioners like Morgan glow a ruby red.

NOTE: As Stephen only displayed a scant amount of powers throughout the movie, most of this dialogue will be based on Lindmer and Morgan and the powers they displayed throughout the movie.

  • Extended Lifespan/ Healing: Magic practitioners are granted the ability to live much longer than the average human. Though they can still be killed and even physically wounded, they cannot succumb to any medical diseases, nor will they age normally. However, they still require food, water, oxygen, and sleep, same as a normal human. Both Lindmer and Morgan were said to be over 500 years old. Lindmer also displayed an ability to heal himself after a fall from a bridge to a highway that should have killed him.
  • Astral Projection: Magic practitioners have the ability of astral projection. This is achieved by separating the spirit form from the body, gaining access to different dimensions. Lindmer applies this ability to Stephen which allows him to rescue Clea from the dream dimension.
  • Energy Bolts/Force Field: Magic practitioners have the ability to fire bolts of magical energy that resemble lightning. The glow also protects the user from the destructive energy as a force field. However, sustained use of this power can be harmful to whatever practitioner it is used against.
  • Protection Spells: Lindmer can also cast spells that would bar an evil person from entering his home. A loophole of this rule is if a person that is allowed to come into the home carries something with him, it can pass through even if it is evil (which allows Morgan to enter Lindmer’s home).
  • Transmutation: Morgan also displayed the ability of transmutation changing herself into the form of a black cat at one point. Strange also shows this ability at the end of the film by turning flowers into a dove during an amateur magic show.
  • Telepathy: Morgan and Lindmer displayed the ability to speak telepathically to each other. Morgan could possess the minds of others to commit acts on her behalf ( pushing a man of a bridge) or influence their movements(  almost causing a child to get hit by a bus). Lindmer used a form of hypnosis to gain access to a restricted area of Stephen’s hospital.

TV Movies:

Dr. Strange:

Debut: September 6, 1978 on CBS

 

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 uses Clea Lake as a weapon against Thomas Lindmer, the “Sorcerer Supreme”. Suffering from psychic aftereffects of the possession and haunting dreams of le Fay, Lake is under the care of 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 special ring. 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. 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. LeFay craves Stephen, promising him that she will not harm Lake so long as he comes with her to the demon realm. She offers him love, wealth, power, and knowledge. He refuses, defying her. She attacks him, but he defeats her, rescues Lindmer, and returns them both to the earthly realm.  Lindmer explains that Strange must choose whether to remain mortal, or to become the Sorcerer Supreme.

Film Notes:

John Mills as Lindmer
  • Lindmer was played by veteran actor John Mills. Mills won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Ryan’s Daughter (1970).

 

  • Jessica Walter as Morgan

    Morgan was played by actress Jessica Walter. Walter’s best-known film role was an iconic turn as the jilted love/stalker in Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty For Me. In recent years, Walter has gained acclaim for her roles as two off-kilter mothers:  Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development and the voice of Mallory Archer on the animated series Archer.

Eddie Benton as Clea Lake
  • Eddie Benton( now known as Anne-Marie Martin) would go on to marry Michael Crichton, the best-selling author of books like Congo, Sphere and Jurassic Park (All three would be adapted into massive box-office hit films in the 90s). Benton would go on to co-write a box office hit in her own right( 1996’s tornado hit Twister).

NEXT TIME: CAPTAIN AMERICA!

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