Posted by Max Farrow @mfarrow
Fanatical film-watcher, Hill-walker, Writer and Procrastinator Extraordinaire.
Max Farrow

By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth! Following that awesome comic-con trailer, Doctor Strange has been cemented as one of 2016’s most anticipated movies. From the brilliant (if controversial) cast to the sensational effects, Doctor Strange looks set to become another firm favorite in the interconnected Marvel movie canon.

Indeed, it’s going to be very interesting to see how Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) fits in among the other fantastical events of Phase 3; after all, the progression of time in the MCU flows in a similar way to our own. Indeed, Kevin Feige has explained that:

"The present day films take place within the chronology of the release of [the] movies, the exact months and the exact weeks [afterwards]..."

As such, Captain America: Civil War picked up the plot threads of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and we already know that Spider-Man: Homecoming will directly follow Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) participation in the airport battle. But is this necessarily the case with Doctor Strange? Will there need to be some temporal tampering to bring the Sorceror Supreme in line with the rest of the MCU? And will that tampering come about through one of the remaining Infinity Stones — namely, the Time Stone?

Doctor Strange's Comic Book History

Strange fulfills his destiny. [Marvel Comics]
Strange fulfills his destiny. [Marvel Comics]

In the original comics, Doctor Strange was already a well-known genius in his field — but it still took a long time until he became the hero we know and love. Indeed, following his car accident, he searched all over the world for a cure to his damaged hands. Naturally, you can’t complete a tour of the globe in just a couple of weeks! And when Strange committed to the mystical arts, it took until the very end of issue four for Strange to begin practicing the Mystic Arts (as seen above)...which, even then was not the end.

He had an even longer period of studying before him until he was merely a capable sorcerer, let alone a Supreme one. For those fans who aren’t as familiar with the term “Sorcerer Supreme,” it is essentially the title which is held by the most powerful magician, and therefore Earth's prime magical defender.

It’s an unwritten rule of comic books that their interconnected timelines are a tad fluid. Certainly, in the fifty odd years of books written about Spider-Man, he has only aged around ten/fifteen years. But is this the case in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Do We Know About Doctor Strange in the MCU?

Surveying a strange New York. [Marvel Studios]
Surveying a strange New York. [Marvel Studios]

Unfortunately, the MCU’s timeline is a little bit more rigid than its comic book counterpart. As we've discussed, Kevin Feige has confirmed that each present-day MCU movie (therefore excluding Captain America: The First Avenger) is set in the year of its release. Vision (Paul Bettany) confirms this on-screen in Captain America: Civil War. He states that Tony Stark became Iron Man 8 years ago — since Iron Man was released in 2008 and Civil War in 2016, we see how rigidly the MCU movies adhere to 'real time'.

This is where things start to get a little bit tricky. It's clear that the final battle of Doctor Strange takes place in modern days, since we can glimpse Avenger's Tower in the latest trailer (see the below still). So, the movie is following Feige's pattern so far!

Avengers Tower in the Doctor Strange Trailer [Marvel Studios]
Avengers Tower in the Doctor Strange Trailer [Marvel Studios]

Sure, we could speculate and say that Strange had begun his journey, and his studies way before the events of The Avengers in 2012. Therefore, he would have ample time to complete this long learning curve. However, this explanation doesn't add up, since the MCU has already dictated where Stephen Strange is, and what he is doing in previous films.

We all got chills when Strange was name-checked by Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández) in The Winter Soldier back in 2014. In that great interrogation scene, he blurted out:

“You! A TV anchor in Cairo, the Under Secretary of Defence, a high school valedictorian in Iowa City, Bruce Banner, Stephen Strange, anyone who's a threat to HYDRA... The 21st century is a digital book. Zola told HYDRA how to read it. Your bank records, medical histories... Zola's algorithm evaluates people's pasts to predict their future.”

As Movie Pilot's Kit Simpson Browne reports, Kevin Feige has recently confirmed that Stephen Strange is simply a very famous surgeon at this point, and he had not begun his training in the mystical arts just yet. Therefore, Strange was only under HYDRA's surveillance in The Winter Soldier because the algorithm had correctly predicted his heroic future; thus Strange wasn't training to be a sorcerer before, or during, the events of the movie.

But what about shortly after The Winter Soldier? Well, there are other factors to consider, such as the canonical viral marketing from WHIH Newsfront (see below). In their series of in-universe news reports, Christine Everhart (Leslie Bibb) speaks to President Ellis (William Sadler) and, as she does so, we can see a scrolling ticker tape at the bottom of the screen which advertises an upcoming interview with Stephen Strange, who will discuss his medical practices.

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Therefore, Strange is clearly still a surgeon whilst Civil War rages. A lot of fans are no doubt scratching their heads at this. If he's still a surgeon both before, and during, the time of The Winter Soldier, all the way through to the events of Civil War, how will he become a formidable sorcerer just a few short months later? As Stephen Strange himself says:

"This doesn't make any sense..."

Strange being instructed by the Ancient One [Marvel Studios]
Strange being instructed by the Ancient One [Marvel Studios]

Of course, there are several explanations for this. Firstly, there are several nuggets of information in the trailer that suggest that Strange is preternaturally strong in the Force- sorry I meant magic- and is fulfilling his destiny as some sort of "chosen one." Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) admits at one point in the trailer that "there is a strength" to Stephen Strange, and the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) reveals:

This could go someway to explain how Strange is ready to combat the deadly Kaecillius (Mads Mikklesen) after only a few months of training. Even so, the years of study and practice that Strange refers to in the trailer still seem like the most logical route, rather than depicting Strange as possessing a very rapid and intuitive grasp of the mystical arts.

Strange studies and practices magic! [Marvel Studios]
Strange studies and practices magic! [Marvel Studios]

Or, perhaps Sitwell’s comments and the news broadcast could be ignored and ret-conned for a new alternative?

Strange could have been secretly training between the events of The Winter Soldier and Civil War all along. Sounds unlikely? Well, it would hardly be Marvel’s first foray into meddling with their established media. Plus Kevin Feige has recently highlighted that Marvel is being a bit more laissez-faire with their structure going forward. After all, we suspected that there would be a gap of three years between the events in 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy and 2017's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. However, it has been confirmed by Marvel that the events of Volume 2 will occur only months after the first film. And it seems that Spider-Man: Homecoming will chart a Harry Potter-esque structure, whereby the stories of each Spidey-flick occur one year after the other, rather than progressing in real time.

Spidey's memorable recruitment in Civil War [Marvel Studios]
Spidey's memorable recruitment in Civil War [Marvel Studios]

However, there are counter-arguments to this. If Hydra/S.H.I.E.L.D. had intelligence on Strange prior to Civil War, surely Tony Stark would have known about the sorcerer and therefore come to recruit him instead of Spider-Man (Tom Holland)? Of course, there are also counter-counter-arguments. Maybe the files were erased by magic? Perhaps Stark simply couldn’t locate Strange in Civil War. Or, most excitingly,could the Doctor Strange movie broach this subject by way of a small cameo or a post credit scene? It's worth mentioning that no one knew about the Mark Ruffalo/Bruce Banner appearance at the end of Iron Man Three, so some secrets can be kept in these blockbuster productions. It would be interesting to see Cumberbatch's Strange turn down Downey Jr's Stark, as he did in the Civil War comics.

Yet a neater, and more elegant solution presents itself...

Bring on the Time Stone!

Thor's vision of the stones in Avengers: Age of Ultron [Marvel Studios]
Thor's vision of the stones in Avengers: Age of Ultron [Marvel Studios]

It’s long been assumed that the mystical story of Stephen Strange would introduce another of the Infinity Stones into the MCU. Doctor Strange certainly has the perfect tone for it, and with only a few movies to go until Avengers: Infinity War, the pressure is on Marvel to deliver everything correctly.

It's recently been confirmed that the Eye of Agamotto is housing an Infinity Stone, and there's lots of evidence to suggest the Eye may, in fact, be the Time Stone. In the MCU, there are only two Infinity Stones left to be revealed: the Soul and Time Stones. As we know, each Infinity Stone is denoted by their color:

  • Purple: The Orb/Power Stone
  • Blue: The Tesseract/Space Stone
  • Yellow: Loki's Scepter/Mind Stone
  • Red: The Aether/Reality Stone

Only green and orange remain out of the six colors and...very significantly, the Eye is shown to be glowing green in Doctor Strange...

Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto [Marvel Studios]
Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto [Marvel Studios]

Plus, in the original stories, the Eye has the ability to manipulate perceptions and, most significantly, look backwards in time - something which is crucially similar to the Time Stone’s ability to change or travel in time.

This is really interesting if we place this information against what we already know. In the movie, Strange is seen to be in possession of the Eye, which he has no doubt borrowed from the Masters of the Mystic Arts, lead by the Ancient One. Tellingly, it is also revealed by the Doctor Strange prelude comic entitled "Zealot" that the Ancient One associated with Cagliostro, a little known mystic who was adept at manipulating time.

Therefore, surely the Ancient One might be privy to a few of his secrets? Could they both have studied the Eye/Stone and used its unique qualities for their own benefit?

Concept art for the Sanctum Sanctorum [Marvel Studios]
Concept art for the Sanctum Sanctorum [Marvel Studios]

If so, this could mean that the rules of time have been changed in Kamar-Taj (the Himalayan village where the Ancient One lives) and in the Sanctum Sanctorum (Doctor Strange’s New York home) so that it does not progress or operate in the same way as the outside world. This could mean that it moves slower or faster, allowing for Strange to spend years studying in the mystical bases following his accident, whereas mere months pass outside.

Indeed, Kevin Feige seemed open to the fluidity of origin stories and their chronology, saying that some could be set in the past, and that there is room for tinkering with the current timelines:

“There are no rules. I think the majority of them will be chronological, but not all of them necessarily.”

If Kamar-Taj and the Sanctum do exhibit these powers, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility. We do see the entirety of New York warping in the trailer! And this ability would be in keeping with their comic book counterparts. In the graphic novels, The Sanctum is enchanted to block certain beings or powers from entering or exiting, and in the 'Civil War' comics, the Wasp commented on its uncanny abilities, as seen in the extract below.

[Marvel Comics]
[Marvel Comics]

Plus, if there is time warping involved, it might go some way to explain why Strange visibly ages so much in such a sort time-span. Don't believe me? Check out the comparison of his hair below, and see how much more grey he has in it be the movie's conclusion!

The growth of the gray! [Marvel Studios]
The growth of the gray! [Marvel Studios]


So, in addition to connecting Doctor Strange with the rest of the MCU, could the Time Stone solve the movie’s continuity issues in some shape or form? It certainly seems possible!

Though whichever way we see Stephen Strange become a master of mysticism, or however long it takes for him to become a master of the mystic arts, there is still a lot of potential for Doctor Strange to be one of Marvel’s most action-packed, thrilling, legendary, and yes, strangest outings yet!

What do you think? Could we be on to a winner here? Or have you got any of your own theories? Head down to the comments section, and let me know!