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At last, Stephen Strange's first live-action appearance (no, not that one!) is getting a profile boost and high-definition home media release. Shout! Factory, a company well known for its DVD and Blu-ray releases of hard-to-find genre films and pop culture curiosities, revealed this week that its latest release is a Blu-ray edition of Dr. Strange, the 1978 TV movie starring Peter Hooten in the title role.
Like The Incredible Hulk TV movie that arrived the year before its release, Dr. Strange was intended as an extended pilot episode for a potential series that would've put the character on the same network as the Hulk and his new live-action adventures. The Stephen Strange series never happened, but the pilot movie did air on CBS in the fall of 1978, and remains a fascinating curiosity for Marvel completists and fans.
Though Stan Lee himself served as a consultant on the film, Dr. Strange deviates in some very interesting ways from the character's comic book origin story. For one thing, Stephen Strange is a psychiatrist, and for another he apparently has the potential to become the Sorcerer Supreme through an inheritance from his father. He also doesn't inherit the mantle from The Ancient One, and meets comic book love interest Clea not in another dimension, but in the hospital where he works. It's a very interesting twisting of the mythos, even if it doesn't always pay off. Plus, it features some fun work from the late, great Jessica Walter (Archer, Arrested Development) as the villain of the piece, Morgan Le Fay, presented at first as a kind of New Age thought leader who eventually reveals a dark magical agenda.
It hasn't necessarily aged well, both in terms of the visual effects and in terms of the plotting, but Dr. Strange is a really interesting look back at a time when superheroes in live-action were still very hard to come by. Superman: The Movie was still three months from its release when this TV movie aired, and the biggest pop culture superhero force outside of comics at the time was probably the Wonder Woman TV series. It would be years before superheroes widened their live-action footprint beyond a handful of heroes, and even longer before characters like Doctor Strange would get another major chance at the spotlight. In that respect, it's a fascinating artifact from a different era of superhero media.
Dr. Strange is now available for pre-order on Shout! Factory's website ahead of its release next week.