With this TV movie finally getting its release on DVD and the new feature film hitting theaters today, it is worth revisiting this failed 70’s pilot. This 1978 telefilm introduced Prime Time audiences to Marvel’s Doctor Strange (though the honorific is abbreviated to Dr.) as CBS mulled adding that character to their growing superhero line-up which included The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, and Wonder Woman at that point. In the movie, the demon Balzaroth seeks to cross-over to Earth and tasks Morgan Le Fay with either defeating Earth’s aging Sorcerer Supreme (something she failed to do five hundred years previous) or killing his successor. Thomas Lindmer is Le Fay’s target, but she fails in her first attempt to eliminate him. Lindmer then seeks out Dr. Stephen Strange and reveals to him that it is his destiny to take up the mantle as the next Sorcerer Supreme. This movie came at a time when superheroes were riding high on television with the three shows mentioned above pulling decent ratings and the Bionic shows (Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman) having had some success on their networks a few years earlier. The CBS version of Doctor Strange took plenty of liberties with the source material (just like the other comic book adaptations at that time) and the telefilm was ploddingly slow and marred by subpar acting and cheesy special effects. But it was actually somewhat inventive and stylistic at times, especially with the portrayal of the demon realm, and it showed some definite potential. It went way over budget, though, which likely caused the network executives to hesitate on committing to the property as an ongoing series. Plus, the ratings for its initial airing were not great, though that was in a large part because it ran against a repeat of Roots which pulled much higher than expected ratings. CBS had also decided that they did not want to become labeled the “superhero network”, and all but The Incredible Hulk were gone from the network’s schedule by the end of the 1978-79 season. I recalled watching Dr. Strange when it first aired and really enjoying it. I revisited it a few years ago and while it didn’t hold up to my earlier impressions, I still see where it could have continued into a decent television series (and it would be a great candidate for a TV reboot today with all of the advancement in special effects). The TV movie finally received its long-awaited DVD release earlier this week and I recommend giving it a look as yet another cheesy but fun 70’s take on a popular comic book character. And Hollywood Reporter recently ran a behind the scenes piece about the movie which you can read at this link.
Aired: CBS, 1978
Starring: Peter Hooten, Clyde Kusatsu, Jessica Walter, Ted Cassidy
Developed By: Philip DeGuere
Available from Amazon.com: