Marvel's What If: 5 Coolest Changes To The MCU In The Doctor Strange Episode

“What If…. Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead Of His Hands” Doctor Strange

SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for the latest episode of What If. If you have not yet watched it, proceed at your own risk!

When it comes to the subject of possibility, Doctor Strange is easily one of the most exciting characters in the MCU canon. The hero’s whole deal is in part exploring the limits of reality, and that means his stories have the potential to examine anything and everything. Because of this, the episode of What If centering on Master of the Mystic Arts has been one of the most anticipated episodes of the Disney+, and now that it’s here it doesn’t disappoint.

Titled “What If…. Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead Of His Hands,” the latest episode of What If is now streaming for subscribers, and to say the least it is one emotionally devastating ride that puts a serious twist on the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it. As has become the normal with this feature, let’s begin by exploring the big change that winds up catalyzing the rest of the deviations featured in the story…

“What If…. Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead Of His Hands” Doctor Strange Christine Dead

Doctor Strange’s Hands Are Fine, But He Loses Christine Palmer

As featured in Scott Derrickson’s blockbuster about the Marvel hero, Doctor Strange’s origins can be tied back to a car accident that completely changes his life: with his hands going through the dashboard of his vehicle, he goes from being an elite brain surgeon to barely being able to hold a pen. The latest episode of What If posits a different course of events for the character, however, and it starts with the fact that Strange isn’t alone when tragedy strikes.

In this particular branch of the multiverse, Doctor Strange’s hands are perfectly fine, but his accident causes the death of Christine Palmer – creating a fixed point in the timeline that cannot be changed no matter what. The character is still put on a path that sees him turn into a powerful sorcerer, but his motivations are wholly changed, and it winds up having a devastating impact on his trajectory. He becomes desperate to try and save the woman he loves, and he proves he is willing to try and face any consequence to make that happen.

“What If…. Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead Of His Hands” Two Doctor Stranges

The Ancient One Splits Doctor Strange In Two

A key concept at the heart of the multiverse theory is that there are an infinite number of realities where an infinite number of everything exists, so the idea that What If introduces two different Doctor Stranges isn’t radical in the slightest. What does make the circumstance in the episode special, however, is the idea of both of the versions coexisting on the same plane of reality.

About midway through the episode, The Ancient One comes to the understanding that her abilities and will aren’t going to be able to convince Doctor Strange to abandon his pursuits to save Christine Palmer, so what she opts to do instead is try and get the doctor himself to try and do it. She manufactures a showdown between two parts of the Marvel hero – but as will be discussed later in this feature, things don’t precisely go as planned.

“What If…. Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead Of His Hands” O'Bengh

Doctor Strange Meets O’Bengh

A big part of What If’s gimmick has been its fun reutilization of characters whom we’re familiar with from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and “What If…. Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead Of His Hands” does very well in that arena – featuring a cast that includes MCU stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, and Benedict Wong. There is, however, one special thing that the episode does that we have not yet seen from the show, which is to introduce a whole new character we haven’t been aware of previously.

During his quest for more power so that he can reverse Christine’s death, Doctor Strange winds up meeting a man named O’Bengh, and he becomes a key supporting player in the protagonist’s journey into darkness. O’Bengh, who is known as Cagliostro in the comics, has not yet made his live-action debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but in What If he is played by voice actor Ike Amadi. Could we eventually see him rendered in live-action? Just like the case with all of the alternate versions of the Marvel heroes on the show, nothing feels impossible at this point.

“What If…. Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead Of His Hands” Doctor Strange absorbing power

Half Of Doctor Strange Absorbs Power From Beings Across The Multiverse

One of the biggest reveals in Doctor Strange is the exposure of where the Ancient One’s powers come from, as Kaecilius explains to Strange that his master has been syphoning energy from the Dark Dimension to add to her power and extend her life. In the latest episode of What If, it’s not made explicitly clear if the version of the hero featured has been made aware of this fact – but either way he seems to do his own take on it. Rather than just pulling from Dormammu’s realm, he spends a century straight up absorbing energy straight from a multitude of monstrous beings.

As he conjures being after being, he is not only clearly afflicted with a kind of larger darkness, but he also takes on features of his victims. Mostly he is able to remain looking normal and human, but things reach a tipping point at the very end as he becomes a monster whose appearance causes his love to shriek in terror.

“What If…. Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead Of His Hands” Doctor Strange destroys universe

The Universe Is Destroyed

Each new episode of What If is cool in that they allow audiences to peek into new layers of the multiverse where things play out slightly different than what we’re used to in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That being said, “What If…. Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead Of His Hands” is a unique case because the layer of the multiverse that is featured no longer exists by the time the credits start to roll. The Sorcerer Supreme’s mistakes prove to be too massive, and by the end of his story he has successfully managed to destroy his own reality.

We’ve already seen a number of dark endings in the latest Disney+ original from Marvel Studios, as Episode 2 hinted at Ego being victorious in his plans for universe domination, and Episode 3 wasn’t able to ultimately reverse the deaths of all the Avengers – and yet Episode 4 still packs what is the most grim conclusion we’ve seen yet from the show. It definitely makes you wonder if things can even get darker in the weeks ahead.

We’ll just have to wait and see if that’s the case, and it all starts with us be patient for the arrival of Episode 5. The next installment of What If will be live on Disney+ next Wednesday, September 8, at midnight PST/3:00am EST, and just a couple hours later you can be certain that you’ll also find our latest recap here on CinemaBlend.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.