Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has received a new official synopsis along with an expanded featured cast list of the film’s top-billed actors. Somewhat surprisingly, along with Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff), Benedict Wong (Wong), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mordo), and the rest of the principal cast, actor Michael Stuhlbarg is again included in the list of featured actors.
It’s no secret that Stuhlbarg will appear in the film. He was even glimpsed reprising his role as Dr. Nicodemus West from the first Doctor Strange film in the trailer for Multiverse of Madness (and we mean just barely glimpsed in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene of what appears to be the wedding of Christine Palmer). But what’s somewhat unexpected is another featured billing alongside the stars of the film, considering that even in the first movie Dr. West is a relatively minor character.
That billing could be an aspect of Stuhlbarg’s contract with Marvel Studios, requiring him to be listed in the top-billed cast. But Dr. Nicodemus West’s short comic book history, having appeared in only one actual story, is surprisingly impactful on Strange’s life and mythos – and that could imply that Stuhlbarg’s presence and billing in the cast are indicative of a more significant role for West in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
So how does Dr. Nicodemus West fit into Doctor Strange’s comic book history, and what might that mean for his future in the MCU? We’ll gaze into our crystal balls … check that … we’ll break out our Eye of Agamottos and unpack it all right now.
Who is Dr. Nicodemus West?
Dr. Nicodemus West notably appears in the first Doctor Strange film as the rival surgeon who unsuccessfully attempts to repair Strange’s injured hands (the ailment that sets Strange on the path from being a surgeon to being Sorcerer Supreme), and that relationship is taken directly from West’s one and only comic book appearance in the limited series Doctor Strange: The Oath (opens in new tab) by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin, in which Strange attempts to solve his own murder (kinda like in the recent Death of Doctor Strange (opens in new tab) limited series) in a mystery with ties to his origin as a sorcerer.
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The origin story that’s retold in Doctor Strange: The Oath generally follows Strange’s commonly known backstory: he’s a gifted surgeon whose hands are left unable to perform delicate operations following a car accident. To try and repair his hands, Strange seeks out the magical teachings of the Ancient One, eventually working his way up to Sorcerer Supreme.
The Oath also adds another element to Strange’s backstory in the form of Dr. Nicodemus West, a colleague of Strange’s who is one of the surgeons who try to fix his hands (just like in the movie, as we said). But there’s more to their relationship than that in Doctor Strange: The Oath, as West also follows Strange on his quest to seek out the Ancient One, becoming a student of magic himself after Strange’s departure.
However, West does not complete his training, and his attempts to use the small bits of magic he mastered to heal and save lives begin backfiring thanks to his lack of training, so West retires from medicine (and magic) to become the CEO of a pharmaceutical company in order to avoid the consequences of his magical mistakes.
Dr. Nicodemus West in the Marvel Universe
West’s interests in magic are rekindled when he learns that Doctor Strange, now the Sorcerer Supreme, has discovered a mystical potion named the Elixir of Otkid, which is said to have the power to cure any disease or ailment.
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Seeing the Elixir of Otkid as the ultimate healing tool (and selfishly desiring to destroy it for his own ends), West sends a mercenary known as the Brigand (also in his only appearance) to break into the Sanctum Sanctorum and steal the elixir.
Once again however, West’s schemes backfire, and Strange’s ally Wong is injured in the attack, while West himself is momentarily apprehended by Strange – though he manages to magically escape and steal the Elixir for himself.
As West is about to get rid of the Elixir of Otkid in order to maintain pharmaceutical supremacy for his company, Strange interrupts him, magically teleporting the pair to the roof of the building they’re in. West casts a spell that temporarily disrupts the use of magic in the immediate area, forcing Strange into a fistfight.
Despite West’s belief that Strange is too reliant on magic to win a hand-to-hand fight, Strange’s martial arts training under Wong gives him the advantage, and West falls from the building in a botched attack on Strange, sending the Elixir shattering to the ground with him
With West’s body dead and his astral form taunting Strange, Strange gathers the last drop of the Elixir and uses it to save Wong’s life, with West’s Astral form quickly dissipating into eternity, never to be seen again – at least not so far.
Dr. Nicodemus West in the MCU
In the first Doctor Strange film, Dr. Nicodemus West occupies a similar role in Strange’s history, as Strange’s rival in his surgery ward and the doctor who saves Strange’s life but can’t heal the injuries to Strange’s hands.
As in comics, he also has something of a relationship with the Ancient One, having attempted to surgically save her life at Strange’s personal request.
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Though his role in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness hasn’t been revealed, the inclusion of West in the sequel, which focuses on the alternate realities of the Multiverse, could introduce West as a new magical rival for Strange – perhaps from a world where a variant version of West is a sorcerer himself?
The one brief flash in which he’s spotted in the movie’s trailer seems implied to take place in an alternate reality of the Multiverse. Could that reality’s West more closely resemble the comic book version of the character?
As one of Strange’s oldest foes (in terms of his history as defined in Doctor Strange: The Oath), West may also be in a unique position to bring a bit more of Strange’s classic comic book history to the screen as a villain or potential supporting cast member.
The film’s new synopsis mentions a “mysterious new adversary” for Strange. Perhaps this refers to the seemingly evil Strange Variant seen in the trailer – but could it refer to a surprise enhanced role for Dr. Nicodemus West?
Marvel Studios likes to surprise audiences by revealing characters who aren’t what they seem, and it would be straight out of its playbook to elevate a character whose role in the first film is minor at best.
Such an expanded role would also somewhat mirror the aforementioned recent Marvel Comics Death of Doctor Strange limited series, a whodunit murder mystery of Stephen Strange himself (yes, he’s dead for the time being) that reveals his killer is Kaecilius, the main villain of 2016’s Doctor Strange played by Mads Mikkelsen but a minor Doctor Strange comic book character for decades.
All that said, we’ve got some reasons to dig a little deeper into Doctor Strange: The Oath coming up sooner rather than later – and those clues may point to an increased MCU role for Dr. West one way or another.
Whatever role he’ll play in the movie, we’ll see what the future has in store for Dr. Nicodemus West when Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness releases on May 6.
Doctor Strange: The Oath is one of the best Doctor Strange stories ever.