In Boston this past Tuesday night, Doctor Strange screenwriter, C. Robert Cargill, sat down with Joe Hill to talk about their newly released books and tell entertaining stories from their careers. Cargill shared one story that took place in the months following the release of Doctor Strange. Apparently, the film rights have been passed through a lot of different hands and there were many scripts written that never made it to the big screen. In order to argue that he didn’t steal anything from them, Cargill became the world’s leading expert on unused Doctor Strange scripts.
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.
I’d be really curious to read the drafts written by Stan Lee. Also, the version that Charles Band made was titled Doctor Mordrid and was released in 1992. It’s one of the most cheesy and low-budget superhero movies you’ll ever see. Cargill also explained that even though Band had the rights to make a Doctor Strange movie, by the time the film was being produced, it had been so long that the rights reverted back to Marvel. That’s why it’s called Doctor Mordrid instead of Doctor Strange. Cargill goes on to explain how he knows all this by saying,
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). But at the same time, as much as it was a lot of work, I’m like ‘Hehehe, I get to read a Larry Cohen draft…’ 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.
Cargill then went on a bit of a tangent explaining how he ended up getting hired to write a version of Doctor Strange that was actually made into a film:
There were these two writers who got hired by Marvel to do one in 2011 or 2012 and Marvel read that and said ‘That’s not Doctor Strange’ and tossed that out… And so they ended up hiring John Spaihts. John Spaihts wrote a draft and they weren’t thrilled with that and so they were like ‘Well Scott [Derrickson] what do you want to do? What’s you’re favorite scene in this script?’ And he said ‘Well, we love the ER battle while Strange is being operated on.’ [Kevin Feige] says ‘We know. That came from your pitch. That’s why we hired you.’ [Scott] goes, ‘Yeah, I didn’t write that. Cargill wrote that. The one scene you guys like in this movie was written by the one guy not working on this movie.’ And Kevin Feige’s like, ‘Alright, we’ll hire Cargill.’
After the talk, I got a chance to ask Cargill about his comments regarding the villain Nightmare. He said he loves the character of Nightmare and, if given the opportunity, would like to incorporate him into the next film. But that doesn’t meant there are any concrete plans to do so. The other villain he mentioned was Doctor Doom, and he discussed for a few minutes how cool it would be to see Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment adapted into the MCU. This 1989 story follows Strange and Doom as they enter the realm of Mephisto to free the soul of Doom’s mother. When I mentioned the difficulty with using Doom because he’s owned by Fox, Cargill said that he’d expressed to Kevin Feige that Doom would be an awesome character to get their hands on. But it’s important to note, he’s saying all this as a huge fan of the comics and not as a representative of Marvel Studios. And he made sure to clarify that he isn’t aware of any current plans for a sequel.
Cargill’s new book is a collection of short horror stories titled We are Where the Nightmares Go and Other Stories