Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse”: Why Bother?

MikeachimThe Everyday12 Comments


Mr Brooker, I sympathise.

But you’re wrong.


The first 5 episodes are a worrying experience. Your expectations are high – because this is Joss Whedon of “Firefly”, which showed that Mr. Whedon could make TV history in just 14 episodes (New Scientist’s “World’s Best Space Scifi Ever”; inspiration for the name of Google’s next-gen application, Wave; and snowballing quietly onwards).

But after 5 episodes, “Dollhouse” is…erm.

It’s interesting, it’s quirky, it’s morally unsettling, the performances are good, but…

Stick with it.

At episode 6, it gels. It comes together with a bone-jarring *click*, throwing your brain across the room, and you start to see what the story is, and as importantly, what it isn’t.

It’s not Quantum Leap. It’s not Sports Illustrated With Guns. It’s a lovely, nasty little fable about what happens when we think we can separate mind and body using technology. It’s bleak, challenging, adult and far more complicated that it initially pretends to be (which is one of its early faults). And it’s anything but formulaic, as the unaired, DVD-only episode “Epitaph One” illustrates – depicting the end of the line, the culmination of the whole arc, a massive flash-forward to a modern world in pieces. This story overwhelmingly has a direction, and it’s not a happy one.

But early on, this show is tatty. It fluffs the all-important First Impressions part of winning itself an audience. I don’t know if this is because of newbie writers on the team, or Fox’s influence (yes, it’s on Fox – an added frission of fear for the fans), or just Mr Whedon struggling to feel the material. But then it starts coming together, and you realise you’re leaning forward in your chair, anticipating watching it again. It becomes something worthy of the great man’s back-catalogue. It becomes unique.

We have at least one more season.

Consider me a fan.

“‘Dollhouse’ DVD released today: Is it worth your time and money?” – Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly.
“Dollhouse: sci-fi series finally hits its stride” – Lucy Mangan, The Guardian.
  • greennogo

    If you watch the original, unaired pilot, it’s pretty obvious that the first five broadcast episodes are case studies in network intervention. Not that ‘Echo’ is the greatest pilot ever, but it tackles it’s concept and characters with much greater depth and moral complexity than ‘Ghost’ did, and it leaves one to wonder what the 1st season could have been if production was never shut down.

    • Mikeachim

      I’ve yet to watch the unaired pilot “Echo”, but I’ve heard similar things. It ties in with the material in the trailer last year, including the iconic image of Echo hugging her knees at the bottom of a swimming pool…

      If Fox is guilty, it has made some amends with the granting of a second season…but it would be frustrating. Let the man make his own show! Get rich from the DVD sales, and stuff the ratings. The old ratings-pivoting model of TV show success is broke – get with it, guys.

  • Ms Moss

    Look! Theres Helo!

    • There, indeed, is Helo.

      And he spends quite a lot of his time with his shirt off, you maybe be not uninterested to learn.

      Furthermore, we also get Apollo in season 2…and Wash, (Firefly’s pilot) as a key character in season 1.

      • Ms Moss

        Obviously, as a Married Woman, i no longer have any interest in such things.

        …however, should Malcolm Reynolds turn up at some point you could, ya know, just mension it…

        • Shiny.

          I fully respect your devotion to your hubby, and will therefore keep this photo of Cap’n Mal wearing really tight pants, signed and dedicated to yourself, because it would be Wrong to pass it along.

          I, however, am single. So if you see Inara or Kaylee around, say hi and mention me in glowing terms. Be seein’ ya. Wash – take her up.

  • Kay

    As far as I’m concerned a man who created the genius that is “Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” can do no wrong.

    A musical and Dougie Howser MD combined – it’s like he looked into the part of brain filed ‘died and gone to heaven’ and made a film out of it. fffff

    • You’re not wrong. :)

      And you’ll be delighted to learn that after Dollhouse, Mr. Whedon has promised he will be throwing his energy into similar online projects. So we will have more. MORE!

      Oh, and you’ll recognise a Dr Horrible cast member in the Dollhouse lineup, as well.

      The Dollhouse DVD boxset is out in September. It’s worth it. Dramatic, controversial, and often piss-funny. What’s not to love?

  • GG

    Right on!

    Now do yourself another favor and go check out the new Torchwood 5-episode miniseries. It’ll surprise the shit out of you. It’s tight, it’s tense, it’s morally disturbing, the characters have dimensions, the aliens are way scary, and the drama is gripping. Torchwood finally has got its act together. Bask in the brilliance of RT Davies’ editorial involvement, rejoice at director Euros Lyn’s spot-on timing and visuals. Wince a couple of times at Barrowman’s dramatic limitations then forgive and forget as you marvel at how the show pulls no punches. Prepare to be horrified by people. And speaking of which, if you haven’t seen it yet, watch Doctor Who season 3 episode “Midnight” (the one with strangers on a train) as a companion piece on human nature.

    • Mikeachim

      I know, I know. You’re not the first….


      You know me. Mr Completist. It’s like Pokemon in my brain: I have to have ’em all. And I haven’t watched any of them. So…I need to fight my way through the early, crappier Torchwood to get to the new stuff. And I will.

      (Regarding Doc Who, I am at last onto season 3, so I’ll be watching that one soon).

      I trust your judgement. I know it will rock. And I’ll get there as quick as I can, promise. :)

      • GG

        Oy vey, I mistyped; Midnight is in season 4. So it’ll be a little while yet, unless you get through them like my pet chinchilla chews through new furniture (at bullet speed, without mercy nor remorse). But it’s worth the wait, and there’s plenty other good stuff in store for you on the way :)

        Yay for completism. And, chin up mate, early Torchwood has it ups as well as downs. Although there’s some slogging to be done, it’s not all the uphill fight in the mud one might fear.

        May I recommend, incidentally, that you intercalate the Torchwood seasons relative to the Doctor Who chronology? There are some crossing-overs you won’t want to miss. Specifically, you should watch Torchwood S1 before the finale episodes of DW S3, and TW S2 before those of DW S4.

        • I’ll watch Torchwood s1 post-haste, I promise. Even though I know it has the effing awful Cyberwoman episode in it, which I was unfortunate enough to catch a bit of when it aired, scarring my sanity for life.

          For me so far, Doc Who’s finest hour is still s2’s The Girl In The Fireplace. Elegant, witty, touching, clever, and all about character. If it was all like that, it would be the best thing on British TV. (Not dissing it, mind).

          I just wish they’d stop having unconvincing British military people everywhere. “Send for General Doris Ramsbottom!” etc. If Doc Who got over its occasional tendency to try to blend The X-Files with Last Of The Summer Wine, it would be twice as good.

          Again, not really dissing, it’s good enough as it is. But scifi shows need to work harder to get the mainstream audience – fact of life, if unjustly.