What happens when someone as powerful and determined as Doctor Strange loses someone he loves? That’s the story of this week’s episode of What If…? on Disney+. The official question is: “What if Doctor Strange lost his heart, instead of his hands?”. The central question and problem in the original Doctor Strange film is how does a fantastic surgeon go on with his life without his hands? Stephen Strange loses his hands in a car accident and he has to find a way to heal himself. Along the way, he learns about the Sorcerer Supreme and magic. That’s the most barebones way to describe that plot.
Here, though, he loses the love of his life, Christine (Rachel McAdams). The same car accident causes Strange to seek out the same Magic and healing, but this time, so he can turn back time to save Christine. If you haven’t guessed, in Marvel, that’s an act of magic that requires almost infinite amounts of power. We get a return of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and of course (thankfully) Benedict Cumberbatch voices Doctor Strange in this episode. In addition to them, we have Benedict Wong as Wong, Leslie Bibb as Christine Everhart, Ike Amadi as O’Bengh, and Jeffrey Wright as The Watcher.
In the grand scheme of things, all of these episodes of What If…? are confined stories. They should be judged on whether or not they use the theme and spirit of the central question of the show. Does this episode do that? Yes, and then some.
We Need More Doctor Strange In The MCU
This episode would have been much worse off if Marvel couldn’t get Benedict Cumberbatch to return as Stephen Strange. It just would have been. Anyone trying to imitate his iconic delivery and pitch would have sounded cartoonish and out of place for the tone of this episode. I can see the argument that recasting the voices makes sense for the show because it’s a different universe than our own, but for Stephen Strange, you need Cumberbatch.
Luckily, he gives a voice-over performance that’s on-par or even better than his live-action performances. He gets to play two distinct halves of Stephen Strange here. One that is filled with the desire to bring Christine back, no matter what, and the other who learns to live with the loss. Each has distinct differences, but as the Ancient One says when the “good” Strange asks if he has an evil twin, “no just misguided”. It’s not exactly about an Evil Doctor Strange, just one that is filled with desire and loss. I was expecting this episode to just be a showcase for an “evil” version of Strange, and I was pleasantly surprised when it was much more than that.
The writers of What If…? even gave us some moments of doubt from The Watcher. He questions his role and thinks, even for a second, about interfering. The scene at the end of the episode with Strange and The Watcher is a true highlight of the series and was an interesting way to use the character.
Somehow They One-Upped The Previous Episodes
This was a deep dive into what makes Stephen Strange tick. It was a character study and a fantastic one at that. If you love Doctor Strange, this episode might make you fall deeper in love with the character. As for an episode of television, this one hits the same marks as the second episode of What If…?. Following that episode, I didn’t think it was possible to reach it’s heights. It felt like a mini-Marvel movie. This episode also felt like a movie.
The ending is bleak, but for those of you out there worrying if Doctor Strange is Mephisto in Spider-Man: No Way Home. You might need to rethink those theories. Strange could just be someone who’s arrogant and wants to make himself better. Taking “no” for an answer to something involving magic isn’t really his style. This episode shows how far that arrogance and stubbornness can go.
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