Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness expanded the MCU’s character lore and introduced many variants of the sorcerer, but one new theory suggests that the hero’s previous antagonist, Dormammu, may have also been an earlier Strange variant. The concept of variants is something that the MCU has progressively developed since Loki. With the MCU now fully accepting the Multiverse theory, the concept states that within the infinite number of universes, there is an infinite number of each person – some of whom appear as humans while others take on different forms.
Spider-Man: No Way Home first brought these variants to the big screen, with Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield appearing in the film alongside Tom Holland as their respective universes’ Spider-Man. Doctor Strange 2 returns to this concept, but rather than recasting the various Strange variants, Benedict Cumberbatch plays each one – differentiated by varying features. It is the past adventures of the variant from Earth 838 that are shrouded in the most mystery, as Doctor Strange 2’s Illuminati reveals that their version of the sorcerer went rogue and began dreamwalking – possessing the body of another variant – and subsequently caused an incursion event in which their universe was destroyed.
While the Illuminati are reluctant to share any further information on 838 Strange’s actions – as Mr. Fantastic notes, “[Strange] never shared any details” – Doctor Strange 2’s mid-credits scene introduces Charlize Theron’s Clea and teases that the incursion event may have occurred in the Dark Dimension. “Steven Strange, you caused an incursion,” states Clea as she opens a window into what appears to be the Dark Dimension, “and we’re going to fix it.” If this dimension is the one that suffered from universe 838 Strange’s dreamwalking, then there must be a Strange variant present in that universe, and, as ruler of the Dark Dimension, it stands to reason that this variant is the sorcerer’s original villain, Dormammu.
Appearing only in the Doctor Strange 2 mid-credits scene, very little is currently known about what Clea’s role will be in the wider MCU. In the comics, Clea is the niece of Dormammu and briefly ruled over the Dark Dimension following her uncle’s defeat at the hands of Strange. The two sorcerers are classically presented as lovers in Marvel comics, even entering something of a marriage contract for a brief time, though Christine Palmer’s MCU future may mean that this relationship is not explored.
These links to the Dark Dimension suggest that the location may have a prominent role to play in Doctor Strange 3, with the two sorcerers potentially exploring the universe to a greater extent than it was in 2016’s Doctor Strange. Clea’s promise to help Strange fix his variant’s incursion event further expands this theory, teasing that the Dark Dimension could have been the one that suffered the wrath of 838 Strange’s actions. If this is the case, then Clea will have an essential role in reshaping the MCU’s presentation of the Dark Dimension from a place of evil to one on the brink of collapse.
Earth 838’s Baron Mordo explains that there is a spell in the Darkhold that allows the one casting it to project themselves into the body of one of their variants, thus traveling between universes. Wanda uses this spell several times during Doctor Strange 2 to chase Steven and the newly introduced America Chavez across the Multiverse, and the final act sees Steven do the same to prevent Wanda from stealing Chavez’s powers. In an earlier conversation with the Illuminati, the heroes warn of the dangers of dreamwalking, stating that Strange’s obsession with it caused the unseen incursion event.
The fact that Clea opens a gateway to the Dark Dimension after offering Steven her services suggests that this was the universe upon which Strange brought the incursion. To bring the universe to this end, 838 Strange must have found a way to dreamwalk from his universe into the Dark Dimension. The lore established by Mordo states that there must be a Dark Dimension variant present for this dreamwalking to work, bringing into question what form this version of Strange may take in the MCU.
The answer to Strange’s Dark Dimension variant may lie in Dormammu, the ruler of the Dark Dimension who repeatedly killed Strange in his first film. In the sorcerer’s first solo adventure, both Strange and Dormammu were played by Benedict Cumberbatch – a casting decision which, at the time, appeared to be nothing more than a chance for the actor to play both a live-action and CG role. However, this dual performance may have hinted at a deeper connection between the two characters in the grand scheme of the multiverse.
As seen in both Doctor Strange and the sequel’s mid-credits scene, the Dark Dimension is sparsely populated, with Dormammu being its largest living entity. If 838 Strange was to have caused an incursion event in the Dark Dimension, then it stands to reason that Dormammu was the variant into which the sorcerer was dreamwalking – with his enviable power potentially providing the reason that Strange returned to this form so frequently. If this is the case, then Strange’s most potent variant may have been the first one introduced in the MCU – secretly teased in the actor’s dual casting from 2016.
Doctor Strange’s future role in the MCU remains to be seen, but the appearance of his third eye at the end of the film suggests that the sorcerer’s power is only going to grow. While Wanda may have dispatched Doctor Strange 2’s Illuminati in short order, their warning of 838 Strange’s actions will surely have to be explored in the future as the franchise delves deeper into the Multiverse’s mysteries. Judging by this theory, it may prove that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will be the first of many films that not only set up the future of the MCU but also affect how audiences understand each previous Phase.