The Multiverse of Madness finds a strong way to reveal a key part of Doctor Strange’s background, after the first film decided not to include it.
The original Doctor Strange movie omitted a key part of the character’s background, apparently for the sake of expediency. Strange’s sister Donna, who drowned when he was a boy, played a vital role in his decision to become a surgeon, as well as his need to control and his overall coldness. A scene was shot covering her death in the first film, but cut before the initial release, leaving Donna an open question as far as the Marvel Cinematic Universe was concerned.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness takes steps to address the omission, which is telling considering how full the plot is. With narrative threads packing it to the rafters, the film still found a way to address the question of Donna and her impact on Strange’s life. Not only that, but it did so in a way that enhanced The Multiverse of Madness instead of just hearkening back to Doctor Strange.
Donna’s story was first revealed in the comics in 1992’s Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #45. It revealed that Stephen Strange first became interested in medicine while treating her for an injury. Some time after that, the pair went swimming together, and Donna suffered a cramp. She drowned before her brother could get to her. That tempered his earlier enthusiasm for medicine with both a detached nature and a huge streak of control freak in him.
All of which was on display in the original Doctor Strange without Donna’s story being present. Director Scott Derrickson felt it was important – and even shot a flashback scene of Donna’s death according to a 2016 interview with Collider – but ultimately chose to excise it. Instead, he focused on Strange’s relationship with Christine Palmer and the shattering damage to his hands, which launches him on the path to becoming Sorcerer Supreme. Adding Donna’s death to that, while helpful, wasn’t necessary for the character.
The same justification could easily apply to The Multiverse of Madness, which carries a much heavier narrative load with much more significant implications for the larger MCU. Wanda Maximoff plays as much a part of the narrative as Strange, and when concepts like The Illuminati are added, room for unnecessary ideas becomes very sparse. Furthermore, Donna has the same problem here that she did in the first movie: she’s not necessary to make the point, especially since the story concerns Strange firmly putting the past behind him.
And yet director Sam Raimi finds a way to insert it at the perfect time. Strange and Christine are thrown into an alternate universe: one destroyed by an incursion. There, they seek out that universe’s surviving Doctor Strange, who has been corrupted by the Darkhold spell book, and in many ways, is quite mad. The Prime Strange makes a connection with him by mentioning the death of Donna, as well as revising a few details in the MCU. Here, she fell through the icy surface of a pond. The moment allows the two Stranges to connect and speak with an intimacy they never could otherwise.
It may also suggest more than just a shared experience. Donna’s death could be an absolute point – a place on the timeline that can’t be altered without threatening that reality – and might cause a problem if Strange or one of his variants tries to change it. The MCU already covered that contingency in What If…? Season 1, Episode 4, “What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” That variant watched Christine die and couldn’t live with the loss. But The Multiverse of Madness ended with Strange finding peace with Christine, and letting her go. Donna may be an entirely different story, and with Raimi’s elegant callback to her death, the Multiverse now has something entirely new with which to torture him.