Doctor Strange is one of the most beloved MCU characters to date, and yet, one of his greatest feats came in his very first appearance – the 2016 ‘Doctor Strange’ film. He had to fight an unfathomably powerful entity named Dormammu and beat the ruler of the Dark Dimension with a simple yet effective bargain. So, how long were Strange and Dormammu in that time loop?
How did Doctor Strange and Dormammu end up in a time loop?
The loop in which Doctor Strange and Dormammu found themselves near the end of the 2016 ‘Doctor Strange’ film has quite an interesting background. So, let’s start from the top and what led to Strange creating the loop in the first place.
The primary villain of the film – that is, before the appearance of Dormammu – was Kaecilius, who was once a master of the Mystic Arts, just like Strange. He wanted to bring forth the Dark Dimension and have Dormammu swallow Earth. Meanwhile, Strange was only learning at the time, getting a hold of how his powers work, including the Eye of Agamotto.
Once the process of the Dark Dimension swallowing Earth started, Kaecilius told Strange there was nothing they could do to stop it. Wong was killed, but one particular thing stood out to Stephen – it was pointed out that the Dark Dimension exists outside of the concepts of time and is essentially a realm parallel to that of Earth and the ‘common’ universe.
That meant that, once Dormammu and the Dark Dimension ‘connected’ to Earth, he could jump in and out of our dimension at any particular point in time due to time not existing in his own dimension. It’s a complicated concept, but it gave Doctor Strange a brilliant idea. One that required incredible sacrifice, but it was a ‘small price to pay’ to save Earth if you ask Strange.
Seeing that Dormammu knew no time, Strange brought time to the Dark Dimension. He used the Eye of Agamotto, aka the Time Stone, to create a loop within the Dark Dimension where he emerges, states, ‘Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain,’ and is then brutally killed by Dormammu, only to reemerge at the same point in time again, coming back to bargain.
Angered, Dormammu would kill Strange again, but the loop would never end, regardless of how many times Stephen had to endure a painful, brutal death at the hands of the ruler of the Dark Dimension. Yes, it was absolute torture to him, but as long as he was there to bargain with Dormammu, the Earth was safe.
Eventually, Dormammu realized that regardless of how many times he killed Strange in all the brutal ways he could imagine, the Sorcerer Supreme would never give up. It was a stalemate with only one possible outcome – Dormammu had to bargain and leave Earth alone.
How long was Doctor Strange in the time loop with Dormammu?
The montage of Strange and Dormammu attempting to bargain showed us that it took some time – like, a lot of time – before the loop finally ended. But how long were Strange and Dormammu in the time loop?
As it turns out, the clear answer was never given, but I do believe that it’s safe to assume it was at least several years – if not decades. And we have information to corroborate that statement.
Back in 2016, when the movie premiered, the director, Scott Derrickson, gave us a little nugget of information to let us know that it really wasn’t just a few loops. In an interview with Empire, Derrickson shared that there was originally a line in the script in which Strange tells Dormammu: ‘We’ve been through this a thousand times.’ He then added:
“I fancied the idea that they went through it thousands of times before Dormammu finally realized he wasn’t going to get out of it.”
So, they weren’t in the loop a thousand times – but thousands of times. So even if the loop only lasted a few minutes, it was years for Strange. And it seems he used that time to his advantage, perfecting and harnessing his skills and powers to perfection.
In 2018, the movie’s screenwriter, C. Robert Cargill, shared on Twitter (now X) that the time frame was deliberately left vague. The Tweet said:
“We left it intentionally vague with room to address it later – but it wasn’t just a few minutes, I’ll tell you that. He was there long enough to gain even more mastery over his powers.”
I found this particularly interesting because it did kind of seem odd to me that so little time passed between ‘Doctor Strange’ and ‘Thor: Ragnarok,’ and yet in ‘Ragnarok,’ we see Doctor Strange a million times more skilled than he was just recently.
In reality, Doctor Strange used the long, long time in the loop to try new skills, learn new spells, and perfect his mastery of the Mystic Arts, becoming a much, much more powerful sorcerer after the loop was over.
Was the entire universe in a time loop as well?
Lastly, people wondered how Doctor Strange didn’t age at all if the loop lasted for so long. Also, there’s a question about our common universe – was everything and everyone in a loop as well? If not, how come it seemed that only a few moments have passed between Strange’s arrival into the Dark Dimension and his return to Earth?
Firstly, you need to understand that the concept of time literally does not exist in the Dark Dimension – it’s a realm outside of time, allowing Dormammu to enter our dimension at any point in time. Doctor Strange literally brought time to the Dark Dimension – a concept that Dormammu was fairly unfamiliar with – and the Sorcerer used it against him.
The entire universe wasn’t in a loop with Strange and Dormammu because the time loop was an anomaly in a timeless dimension. Regardless of how many times the loop repeated itself in the Dark Dimension after it was done, Strange could return to Earth at the very same point in time in which he left in the first place.
That’s why no one aged a bit despite the loop lasting for at least a few years, and that’s why the rest of the common universe didn’t experience the time loop themselves.
Finally, Doctor Strange didn’t physically age because time didn’t actually pass for him either. He came to bargain, died, and was then returned right back to the point in time where he came to bargain. Kind of like the ‘Groundhog Day’ that lasted only a few minutes.
He still remembered each time the loop was reset, meaning his mind matured and became more experienced, but he remained at the very same point of his physical age.
Seeing that we were introduced to Clea in the post-credits scene of ‘Doctor Strange 2’ – who’s canonically the benevolent niece of Dormammu – we might just get the concrete answers about Dormammu, the bargain, and the exact amount of time Doctor Strange was in the loop with Dormammu in ‘Doctor Strange 3.’
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