Not-So-Super Heroes – Doctor Strange (1978)

When I put up the poll for last month’s theme, one of the options was Not-So-Superheroes, a look back at some of the earlier attempts at bringing superheroes to both the big and small screen. The truth is, most of those efforts were largely unsuccessful and in some cases they were utterly horrible. Thus, the “not so super”. Of course, that was not the winner of the poll, but it still seems like a pretty good idea, so I figured it would make for a pretty intermittent series.

So we begin with the 1978 TV movie Dr. Strange. One of the surprise hits of the marvel universe, the 2016 film version was a fairly faithful (well, at least as faithful as any of the MCU movies has been) adaptation of the comic series first created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. The 1978 version? Yeah, not so much.

In the comics, Steven Strange is a self-absorbed surgeon whose hands are damaged in an automobile accident. When modern medicine fails to restore use of his hands to him, he desperately turns to other means to return to the life that has been taken away from him. Finally following rumors and whispers he travels to Tibet and the mountaintop retreat of The Ancient One where he learns the mystic arts and eventually becomes Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.

The biggest change in the TV  movie is that while Strange is still a doctor, he is no longer a surgeon but instead a psychiatrist. Nor is there a car wreck, nor does Strange suffer any kind of tragic loss that leads him on his quest for recovery and power.

In this version, Strange is simply the heir-apparent to Thomas Lindmer who is the current Sorcerer Supreme and the Ancient One analogue. This takes away any emotional investment on Strange’s part and completely changes his motivation for what is to come.

Lindmer has been locked in mystical battle with Morgan le Fay who has escaped from the prison that Merlin (presumably a previous Sorcerer Supreme incarnation) had previously encased her in. This provides us a chance for the perfect TV movie motivation – romance. When le Fay possess a young woman named Clea Lake (a name the will be – sort of – familiar to comics readers though she hasn’t been introduced in the theatrical MCU yet) in order to attack Lindmer by pushing him off a bridge into oncoming traffic, Clea becomes disoriented,  not understanding what has happened to her and she is brought to the hospital where Strange works and is put under his care.

Lindmer then seeks out Strange and informs him that he is actually Harry Potter and that not only is he specially attuned to magic but that his parents died protecting him from evil magic.

We do eventually get to the magic with a showdown between Strange and le Fay in a demonic realm, but honestly even this is less than spectacular. Between the 70s era effects and the television budget I suppose it could be said that they do the best that they can, but honestly, the destination is not worth the journey.

This was, of course, originally intended as a pilot for an ongoing series, but it’s probably best that it was never followed up on. While Peter Hooten has a pretty good look for Strange, he doesn’t have the charisma necessary to carry the role into the future. Plus, the simple limitations of effects and budget would have kept the most fascinating aspects of Strange’s lore from our screens.

Not-so-super? Yeah, I’m afraid this one fits.



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