Last week’s entry saw the biggest disruption in the timeline to date, so it’s nice to ease back into things with one that’s pretty straight forward. The timeline of Doctor Strange is pretty straight forward, but it’s also unusual in its own unique way. It’s not immediately obvious, but the story of this film spans a greater amount of time than any other movie in the series with the exception of Captain America: The First Avenger. Curious to see what I mean? Well, let’s dive in.
But before we do, let’s go over the rules once more…
Rule #1: Only the movies are canon.
Rule #2: Title cards are always true.
Rule #3: References to dates in spoken dialogue are always true unless they conflict with rule #2.
Rule #4: Written dates that are prominently displayed in the world are usually true, unless they disagree with rules 2, 3, or each other.
Rule #5: Props and background objects that can be tied to a specific date almost never count.
We begin with Strange showing his prowess in music trivia as well as surgery, debating the finer points of when Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good” was released.
Now we begin to nail down the timeframe for this movie, between Strange’s 2016 award for spinal fusion surgery and the watch face dated February 2, 2016, we can firmly place the beginning of this film in February of 2016.
Okay, so we need to talk about this. This doesn’t actually mean anything for our purposes, but this is a weird piece of dialogue that’s often mistaken for a reference to Rhodey’s injury in Captain America: Civil War. I even made that mistake the first time I saw the film, but there are a couple problems. For one, we’ve already established that Civil War takes place one year after this, but even beyond that, there’s no way Rhodey is 35. We made the leap back in Iron Man Three that the “68” in Rhodes’ username is the year he was born, but even if we set that aside, Don Cheadle was born in 1964, and it’d be wild for him to be playing almost twenty years younger. Like I said, this line is weird because it feels like it’s a reference to something we’re supposed to recognize, but it doesn’t match up to anything we know about.
During Strange’s physical therapy, he hears a story about a man who was paralyzed from a spinal injury, only to later be seen walking a few years later. We get to see the man’s file (and his birth date, which doesn’t really matter for us) and an x-ray dated December of 2014. Assuming that the x-ray was taken following the injury and not after he’d recovered, that narrows the window of “a few years” pretty dramatically. That being said, by this point, Strange is likely months into his physical therapy, so it’s possible that the doctor could have seen this man earlier in the year, making it roughly two years after the initial accident.
This is our best indication of the timespan of this film. Before Strange arrives at Kamar-Taj, he’s mugged and subsequently rescued by Mordo. In the scuffle, his watch breaks, and we get a close up on it when it’s handed back to him. Now, the year is obscured by a crack in the glass (I’m sure intentionally so), but because the month is shown as January, we can assume it’s been at least eleven months since Strange’s accident in February of 2016. So almost a full year has passed before Strange even begins his magical training.
Around the midpoint of the movie, after the battle in the Sanctum Sanctorum, Strange reunites with Christine in the hospital who comments that it’s been a long time since Strange left for Kamar-Taj. This is vague, but we can assume it’s been at least several months. Going back to the patient mentioned earlier. If he trained for a little less than two years to restore his ability to walk, and we assume Strange was able to progress in about half that time, that would put us somewhere in late 2017 – or almost exactly one year after the movie was released.
We’re never given a clear answer on precisely how old the Ancient One is, but this conversation with Mordo reveals that she’s been around for “centuries.”
The last bit of information we get is following the credits when Mordo says it’s been “many months” since he abandoned the other sorcerers at Kamar-Taj.
There’s not a ton to go on, but what we have gives us a pretty clear timeline. We know the film takes place over the span of at least one year just from the shots of the watch face, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that the film ends some time in the fall of 2017. There’s not a ton of evidence for that, but even as accelerated as his learning was, we know Strange had to spend a significant amount of time training in Kamar-Taj. Anything less than six months just feels a little bit too quick.