The 1978 TV movie “Dr. Strange” is one of the many failed pilots for a potential series based on a Marvel comic. This is yet another of the many seventies pilot movies that didn’t just misunderstand the source material, but didn’t have enough of a budget to realize the concept of its characters. Dr. Strange is a man who battles demons and monsters, and uses his will to use magic. “Dr. Strange” looks like a supernatural version of “Quincy M.E,” following a Dr. Stephen Strange as he focuses his efforts on troubled patients in his hospital while accidentally entering in to the magical arts. The movie even goes so far as setting up the entire series with the beautiful Jessica Walter as the series’ primary antagonist, but the storyline is a big hint at a sequel that would never come. It’s probably a good thing since the pilot movie is ninety minutes and we only get to see Dr. Strange in full garb in the final half hour.
The rest of the movie involves the Strange as a doctor trying to help a young woman being possessed by the evil Morgan LeFay. He then realizes he has a talent for the hermetic arts, which he denies at first but then embraces very quickly. The movie then takes an expectedly surreal twist as Stephen Strange enters in to the dream realm, battles Morgan LeFay, and tries to resist the temptation of her wish granting. With the final scene, I imagine the series would have revolved around Morgan LeFey granting people wishes like a twisted “Fantasy Island” in exchange for their subservience in helping to kill Dr. Strange. Strange would alternate between his medical career and career as the Sorcerer Supreme. Maybe every now and then a patient he’s helping would be a victim to LeFay. In either case, the pilot movie is fairly dull and monotonous with star Peter Hooten presenting a bored and listless turn as Stephen Strange.
Jessica Walter compensates with a very enthusiastic and charismatic performance as the movie’s villainous. As Morgan LeFay, she’s a sorceress planning on ruling the Earth realm and maintaining her youth and beauty forever, and pulls off slimy and creepy very well. Whether accidental or not there’s also a racist undertone where we meet the original Sorcerer Lindmer, who has spent most of his life training pupil Wong. In the second half he outright dismisses Wong as a potential replacement in favor of Strange, and Wong is back to serving another sorcerer supreme. It’s always been standard that Wong is somewhat a sidekick/servant to Dr. Strange, but the character is just wasted here. The whole magic and fantasy scope is so minimal and minute in the movie, as the more magical aspects of Dr. Strange are downplayed in favor of plot twists that don’t require too much of a budgetary strain.
When the movie does decide to bring us Dr. Strange’s magical realm involving monsters and demons, the movie is quite interesting, but it just keeps sinking back in to a monotonous medical drama time and time again. It’s not a surprise this never became a series. When the writers do finally give us their version of Dr. Strange, they seem almost embarrassed by the character. Even in his final shot it’s merely a drawing of him in plain clothing rather than his trademark outfit.