The Ancient One was the Sorcerer Supreme as well as the leader of the Masters of the Mystic Arts. For centuries, the Ancient One protected Earth from mystical threats, and dedicated herself to helping others in need by educating them in the magical arts to give them new hope. However, later on, she was challenged by a former student, Kaecilius, who had become corrupted by the Dark Dimension and sought to bring Dormammu to Earth. In the midst of her war against Kaecilius and his Zealots, the Ancient One encountered Doctor Strange and, despite her initial reluctance, was persuaded to accept him as her student by Karl Mordo. During one final battle, the Ancient One was fatally wounded and despite the best efforts of Doctor Strange and Christine Palmer, she accepted her fate and died, but not before giving Doctor Strange the advice he needed to defeat Dormammu as well as to find his new purpose in life as a master.
- "No one knows the age of the Sorcerer Supreme. Only that she is Celtic and never talks about her past."
- ―Karl Mordo
The Ancient One was the latest in a long line of Sorcerers Supreme who had defended Earth from mystical threats for millenniums. According to Karl Mordo, no one knew her exact age, and she never spoke of her own past, though it was still revealed that she was of Celtic descent. Apart from her responsibilities as the mystical defender of Earth, the Ancient One was also dedicated to helping others in need, especially those who were paralyzed, heartbroken from loss of loved ones, or suffering from ailments believed to be incurable.
Whether by coincidence, by luck, or by their own intentions, if they managed to reach Kamar-Taj, she would tutor them in the arts of sorcery, which in turn could either cure them of their supposedly incurable ailments, or enable them to find inner peace as well as to develop a better understanding of the natural laws. Examples of such individuals would be Jonathan Pangborn, who was cured of his paralysis through magic, and Karl Mordo, who claimed that the Ancient One gave him the power to defeat his demons and to live within the natural law.
Fighting Dragon Raiders
This section requires expansion
- "If that relic is in the hands of anyone but those who know how to wield it, the effect can be absolutely devastating."
- ―Ancient One to Karl Mordo
To be added
- "Master Kaecilius, that ritual will bring you only sorrow."
- ―Ancient One to Kaecilius
However, the Ancient One's healing methods were not always effective: Kaecilius, one of her most gifted students in the mystic arts, did not manage to recover from his emotional wounds, and later on he discovered the secret of her drawing power from the Dark Dimension to preserve her immortality.
Given how the Ancient One had forbidden others from doing the exact same thing, Kaecilius viewed this hypocrisy as an act of ultimate betrayal and, besides losing all faith in her, decided to gather his own group of followers to carry out his own nefarious plans for the entire world. Stealing a forbidden spell from the Book of Cagliostro, he fled with his Zealots to London, where they ran down the streets hoping to get away from the Sorcerer Supreme. However, the Ancient One managed to drag Kaecilius and his Zealots into the Mirror Dimension, and expertly fought them by channeling magic through her Tao Mandalas. Through her Tao Mandalas and her ability to manipulate reality, she successfully killed many of the Zealots, but Kaecilius and a few others managed to escape.
Meeting The Skeptic
Introducing the Mystic Arts
- "You're a man looking at the world through a keyhole. You spent your whole life trying to widen that keyhole. To see more, to know more; and now, on hearing that it can be widened in ways you can't imagine... you reject the possibility."
- ―Ancient One to Doctor Strange
One day Karl Mordo brought Doctor Stephen Strange to the Ancient One at Kamar-Taj as the latter hoped she could mend his damaged hands, with Strange at first mistaking Hamir for the Ancient One due to his preconceived ideas. As she poured him a cup of tea, the Ancient One told Strange to expand his mind but Strange remained stubbornly skeptical.
When Strange accused the Ancient One of being a liar, she pushed his Astral Form out of his body and then returned it. While Strange was dazed and confused from the brief but startling experience, the Ancient then sent his consciousness through several dimensions and realities, showing him terrifying images including sights of the Dark Dimension. She then sarcastically asked if he could find that in a gift shop.
Strange begged her to teach him but she refused as his arrogance and headstrong attitude reminded her of Kaecilius. Mordo convinced her that Strange could be of use to them in fighting Kaecilius and she eventually let him study magic.
Training Doctor Strange
- "The language of the mystic arts is as old as civilization. The sorcerers of antiquity called the use of this language spells. But if that word offends your modern sensibilities you can call it a program, the source code that shapes reality. We harness energy drawn from other dimensions of the Multiverse to cast spells to conjure shields and weapons to make magic!"
- ―Ancient One to Doctor Strange
The Ancient One showed Doctor Strange how spells work, using her Sling Ring to create images and shields from thin air made of pure energy. When Strange questioned how he could possibly do the things she could do, she responded by questioning how he had become a successful doctor, when Strange explained it had taken years of practice to reach an advanced level the Ancient One told him it was the exact same concept.
Having witnessed his difficulty in using magic, she promptly abandoned him on the top Mount Everest as an encouragement for him to finally work out how to wield his Sling Ring. Seeing this test, Karl Mordo declared "not again" suggesting that she had used this method of 'encouragement' before to varying success.
Strange succeeded in returning Kamar-Taj again only to rapidly progress in magic so much that he found it difficult to work in the conditions offered. To help, the Ancient One offered him the Mirror Dimension where he could train without affecting the Physical World.
- "Measure your next words very carefully, Doctor."
"Because you might not like them?"
"Because you may not know of what you speak."
- ―Ancient One and Doctor Strange
Once Doctor Strange managed to stop the Zealots from destroying the New York Sanctum, the Ancient One offered him the title of 'Master' and a position as Protector of the New York Sanctum, as Daniel Drumm had been killed by Kaecilius. Strange refused and alluded to her drawing power from the Dark Dimension, which she did not deny, in order to fuel her immortality. She warned him to choose his next words carefully before leaving.
During the second attack on the Sanctum, the Ancient One saved Strange and Karl Mordo from the Zealots and fought them herself. She also confirmed that she did draw her power from the Dark Dimension when the symbol appeared on her forehead. During the fight she used her Tao Mandalas to duel but was fatally wounded when she was stabbed by Kaecilius' Space Shard and thrown hundreds of stories towards the Physical World ground below.
- "We don't get to choose our time. Death is what gives life meaning. To know your days are numbered and your time is short. You'd think after all this time I'd be ready. But look at me. Stretching one moment out into a thousand... just so that I can watch the snow."
- ―The Ancient One's last words to Doctor Strange
As Doctor Strange rushed her to Metro-General Hospital, where he and Christine Palmer operated on her, the Ancient One left her physical form and went out onto a balcony, prompting Doctor Strange's astral form to follow. Once outside, she confessed to Strange that she had always known the exact moment of her death, and though she had only been able to foresee the possibilities of his future, she did know what kept him from true greatness: his inability to learn that the world did not revolve solely around him.
The Ancient One went on to explain that Strange, like Jonathan Pangborn, also had a choice through his newly-acquired magical powers - he could have his hands restored to their former healthy state and regain his old life, or he could serve something greater than himself. She also confessed that she had always hated drawing power from the Dark Dimension, but she still did so to ensure that she was able to protect the world, and that he too would have to bend the rules for the greater good.
Despite agreeing with Strange's assessment that Karl Mordo would fail to understand her perspective, the Ancient One still told him that he needed Mordo's rule-abiding nature, just as Mordo needed his flexibility, for it was only through their cooperation could Dormammu be stopped. When Strange argued that he was not ready, she told him that no one was ever ready, and took his hand in hers.
With a final piece of advice to him regarding treasuring his time, as well as acknowledging her own fallibility, despite the centuries she had lived, she was also not ready for death, and was actually using magic through her astral form to manipulate time so she could watch the snowfall one last time. The Ancient One released Strange's hand and then vanished from the Astral Plane, signifying her death despite Christine Palmer and Nicodemus West's best efforts to save her.
- "I know that she is steadfast, but unpredictable; merciless, yet kind."
- ―Karl Mordo
According to Karl Mordo, the Ancient One is "steadfast, but unpredictable; merciless, yet kind." This is shown when she was willing to kill multiple Zealots in combat and initially refuse to help Stephen Strange when he first came to Kamar-Taj due to his arrogance, though she did so for the sake of protecting the world from the rogue sorcerers and to ensure that other sorcerers did not become like Kaecilius and his followers. She was also very wise, as even though Doctor Strange broke several rules when they inhibited his ability to learn, she allowed him to break those rules and even accelerated his learning by showing him the Mirror Dimension.
While she enforced rules on the Masters of the Mystic Arts against breaking the laws of nature or using their power for god-like feats, such as manipulating time or becoming immune to death, she was willing to break her own rules to continue to personally ensure that they were followed and that the world was safe, though she never wanted to do so. This lead her to draw power from the Dark Dimension to become immortal, an act which she herself forbade. Since Doctor Strange was similar to her in her breaking the laws of nature to save the world, she believed that he and Mordo, the latter of which was completely devoted to following her rules, would need to balance each other out in order for them to protect the world when she died.
Whenever she drew power from the Dark Dimension, especially to increase her powers in the Mirror Dimension, she wore a hood over her head to conceal the mark on her forehead that signifies connection to the Dark Dimension, showing that she was still ashamed of her actions. In her shame, however, she would maintain a proud stance, such as calmly threatening Strange when he revealed that she drew power from the Dark Dimension in front of Mordo. Despite this pride, she was willing to rise above it to save Mordo and Strange from the Zealots in the Mirror Dimension, revealing her connection to the Dark Dimension in the process. Even when doing so cost the Ancient One her life, she humbly accepted her death, though she briefly astral projected to watch the snow with Strange to gain more time before her passing.
Powers and Abilities
- "We harness energy and shape reality."
- ―Ancient One to Doctor Strange
Master Sorceress: As the Sorcerer Supreme, and the leader of the Masters of the Mystic Arts, the Ancient One was the most powerful member of the order, possessing absolute mastery of the mystic arts, which she used to defend her native reality from threats from other dimensions of the Multiverse, having successfully prevented countless threats during her long life. With the help of numerous mystical artifacts and relics, in addition to her astral powers, the Ancient One is able to gain access to a multitude of mystical powers. The Ancient One is also a highly capable teacher, having taught the mystic arts to many students who became skilled practitioners of Magic, most prominently Kaecilius and Stephen Strange both who became extremely powerful sorcerers in their own right.
- Eldritch Magic Manipulation: The Ancient One is able to create, shape and manipulate Eldritch Magic.
- Teleportation: Using a Sling Ring, the Ancient One is able to open a fiery portal to another location, gaining the ability to move tremendous distances instantaneously.
- Inter-Dimensional Travel: Using the same Sling Ring, the Ancient One can travel between different dimensions and universes, crossing over different planes of existence or traveling across various forms of reality. She was also able to forcibly send Strange's consciousness flying across multiple dimensions by touching his head and later brought Strange to the Mirror Dimension, but without having to use the Sling Ring.
- Astral Projection: The Ancient One is capable of separating her astral form from her body, gaining access to the Astral Dimension. She used her astral form to speak to Doctor Strange's own astral form before her clinical death. She was also able to forcibly push Strange's soul into the Astral Dimension to prove a point.
- Dark Dimension Magic Manipulation: Having drawn power from the Dark Dimension, she is far more powerful in the Mirror Dimension, enabling her to take down several Kaecilius's zealots single-handedly. Unlike zealots, however, she had greater experience and understanding over this forbidden magic that through unknown means, she somehow prevent Dormammu's influence from reaching her that also prevent her from becoming Mindless One.
- Immortality: The Ancient One achieved immortality by drawing power from the Dark Dimension to fuel her long life. However, this form of immortality only suppresses the aging process, meaning that she can still be fatally injured. She was notably resilient enough to not be killed instantly by falling from a great height after being stabbed through the torso by Kaecilius. Furthermore, she lasted several minutes afterward to be brought into an operating table, just so she could astral project and watch the snow fall outside before her clinical death.
- Master Martial Artist: The Ancient One was a highly skilled martial artist, in both armed and hand-to hand combat, with her overpowering many Zealots sorcerers and seemingly maintain the upper hand against Kaecilius, though the latter ultimately managed to kill her while teaming up against the Ancient One with his Zealots.
- Multilingualism: The Ancient One could speak English and Chinese, in addition to Sanskrit, which the Book of Cagliostro is written in.
- Sling Ring: A mystical object which enables the wearer to open a fiery portal to another location.
- In the comics, the Ancient One was an ancient Tibetan magician named Yao, and the previous holder of the title of Sorcerer Supreme. After his death, he transcended into the spiritual plane after his death, becoming a minor cosmic entity.
- The mark that forms on the Ancient One's forehead and her ageless life are both references to the comics, as both the Ancient One and Doctor Strange passed a test of the entity Death, earning them an ageless life, and an ankh-shaped mark on their foreheads only appeared when their lives were in dire jeopardy.
Behind the Scenes
- Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has stated that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe there have been several individuals who have held the title of The Ancient One throughout the ages: "As we were developing this film we looked at The Ancient One as a mantle more than a specific person. The sorcerers have been around for millennia, protecting us from things we didn’t know about until this story. There have been multiple [Ancient Ones], even if this one has been around for five hundred years, there were others. This is a mantle, and therefore felt we had leeway to cast in interesting ways."
- The casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One has been the subject of much controversy, with many accusing it of whitewashing. A variety of opinions on this issue have been stated by crew members and actors of the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- Screenwriter C. Robert Cargill explained that the motivation behind the casting was that the character in the comics is considered a racist caricature originating from Tibet, as well as the history of political unrest between Tibet and China: "The Ancient One was a racist stereotype who comes from a region of the world that is in a very weird political place. He originates from Tibet. So if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that he’s Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people who think that that’s bullshit and risk the Chinese government going, ‘Hey, you know one of the biggest film-watching countries in the world? We’re not going to show your movie because you decided to get political.’ If we decide to go the other way and cater to China in particular and have him be in Tibet… If you think it’s a good idea to cast a Chinese actress as a Tibetan character, you are out of your damn fool mind and have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about."
- Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige also stated that the character's race and gender were changed to avoid stereotyping: "The casting of The Ancient One was a major topic of conversation in the development and the creative process of the story. We didn’t want to play into any of the stereotypes found in the comic books, some of which go back as far as 50 years or more. We felt the idea of gender swapping the role of The Ancient One was exciting. It opened up possibilities, it was a fresh way into this old and very typical storyline. Why not make the wisest bestower of knowledge in the universe to our heroes in the particular film a woman instead of a man?".
- Benedict Wong praised the film for its diversity: "I'm really pleased with this whole production. This production really is about championing diversity. We have two strong female leads, Mads, Chiwetel, posh Benedict and not-so-posh Benedict. It has all the colors."
- Lewis Tan, who portrayed Zhou Cheng in Iron Fist, was more critical of the casting: "I’m not the biggest fan of that casting choice. I can see why they wanted to switch it up. Producers, studios, directors, writers — there’s a lot of voices. I think that an Asian woman would’ve been fantastic cast in that. They said she would be too much of a "Dragon Lady" or too stereotypical, but I disagree."
- Swinton discussed the issue in a lengthy series of emails with Margaret Cho.
- Morgan Freeman, Bill Nighy and Ken Watanabe were originally considered for the role.
- The Ancient One in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the second live-action incarnation of the character, following an incarnation portrayed by Michael Ansara.
- Julia Schunevitsch was a stunt double for Tilda Swinton in the role of the Ancient One.
- ↑ Doctor Strange’s Screenwriter Explains the Movie’s Biggest Twists
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Doctor Strange
- ↑ Expect “Mind-Bending Weirdness” From DOCTOR STRANGE, Says Kevin Feige
- ↑ EXCLUSIVE! DR. STRANGE WRITER “C. ROBERT CARGILL" - Double Toasted Interview
- ↑ Kevin Feige On ‘Captain America: Civil War’ And All Things Marvel – Deadline Q&A
- ↑ Doctor Strange: Benedict Wong on Updating the Character
- ↑ 'Iron Fist' Star Lewis Tan Reacts to Marvel Whitewashing
- ↑ Tilda Swinton Sent Us Her Email Exchange with Margaret Cho About Doctor Strange, Diversity, and Whitewashing
- ↑ Morgan Freeman Among Those Eyed For 'The Ancient One' Role In DOCTOR STRANGE