Doctor Strange Writer Was Accused Of Stealing From An Earlier Script
Given the title character’s reputation for bending time, perhaps it’s fitting that a decades-old draft for a Doctor Strange movie came back to haunt one of the writers of the 2016 film.
Screenwriter and novelist C. Robert Cargill this week recalls how a complaint from Bob Gale – who worked on the script for an early, unsuccessful attempt at bringing the Sorcerer Supreme to the big screen – brought Cargill into contact with a long, messy history of unrealized scripts and shifting ownership.
I lost an entire Christmas after Doctor Strange came out… A month after the movie goes out I get a phone call. The WGA says, ‘Okay, we’ve got a problem. Bob Gale just contacted us and said that he wrote a draft in 1984 of Doctor Strange and he feels that that was borrowed for this film.’ And I’m like, ‘Wait, Bob Gale as in the guy who wrote Back to the Future?’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, he wrote a draft of Doctor Strange.’ ‘
Well that was done by Marvel Comics not Marvel Studios.’ And they’re like ‘Yeah Marvel Studios is owned by Disney who owns Marvel Comics so technically… chain of ownership goes all the way back to an initial draft by Larry Block in 1983… after Bob Gale’s draft they brought in a guy named Larry Cohen, schlockmeister of the 80’s, to write one of the most batshit misogynistic Doctor Strange stories ever told. That didn’t work out for Marvel so Stan Lee wrote a couple drafts, and that’s where Charles Band picked up the rights and did his own version.
From a legal perspective, Charles Band’s version of Doctor Strange wasn’t actually Doctor Strange but rather Doctor Mordid, a low-rent 1992 fantasy film that was made after Band’s option to adapt the Marvel character expired. This was one of many tidbits of information that Cargill had to parse through in order to make his case that nothing in his script was stolen from the work of previous writers.
I had to read every single draft, ever written, for Doctor Strange to then write a letter arguing how we didn’t borrow a single bit from a single draft (that we never knew existed)…What was really going on was Bob Gale and Lawrence Block were not aware that in 2004 the WGA had updated the rules on how credit gets attributed when adapting source material and now the rule is that anything you put in a script that comes from the source material doesn’t count as your material.
And so Bob Gale thought that ‘Well I was the first person to write a draft that used a guy named Stephen Strange, that used a guy named Mordo, and used a character called The Ancient One, so I get credit for those characters existing in a script.’ And the WGA was like ‘That doesn’t work anymore’ so they explained it to him. And so they all sent very nice apology letters. And apologized for ruining my Christmas. And we got credit. It was insanity.
In the same interview, Cargill was decidedly tight-lipped on the possibility of a Doctor Strange sequel. But seeing how Benedict Cumberbatch has made a habit of playing the superhero even in his off time, it’s doubtful that Avengers: Infinity War was the last we’ve seen of Stephen Strange.