Review: Dollhouse 1×1

Welcome to the puppet show

Eliza Dushku in Dollhouse

In the US: Friday, 9/8c, Fox

Ooh Joss Whedon. Ooh Eliza Dushku. Ooh Steven DeKnight. Ooh, Amy Acker…

And so on.

Because as you look through the credits of Dollhouse, Fox’s new sci-fi spy show, you can’t help but notice a few Buffy alumni in the list.

What you won’t see is Gerry Anderson’s name in the list, despite the fact this is perilously close to one of his old shows. Joe 90, although basically a bit of wish fulfilment for kids involving puppets, saw one boy become a secret agent thanks to a special gadget that gives him the brain waves of other people – and their skills to match.

Dollhouse, while slightly more malevolent, follows more or less the same plot. Eliza Dushku, plays Echo, a personality-less drone who gets given a new persona each week for various missions. One day a party girl, the next day a hostage negotiator, Echo remembers nothing (apparently) except what secret organisation Dollhouse wants her to, including all the special skills necessary for the job and a personality to match.

Ironically, Dollhouse is pretty personality-less itself; even more ironically, you might be hankering after the acting in Joe 90 by the end, too.


Joss Whedon, creator of the groundbreaking cult favorites, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and “Firefly,” returns to television and reunites with fellow “Buffy” alumna, Eliza Dushku, for a thrilling new drama, DOLLHOUSE.

ECHO (Dushku) is an “Active,” a member of a highly illegal and underground group of individuals who have had their personalities wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any number of new personas. Hired by the wealthy, powerful and connected, the Actives don’t just perform their hired roles, they wholly become — with mind, personality and physiology — whomever the client wants or needs them to be. Whether imprinted to be a lover, an assassin, a corporate negotiator or a best friend, the Actives know no other life than the specific engagements they are in at that time.

Is it any good?

It would be nice to love everything Whedon, but it’s hard to love Dollhouse from its first episode. Its biggest problem is that it’s very hard to care for anyone and anything in it. While the obvious centre of our attention is Dushku, she’s not the greatest of actresses and since Echo herself has no personality of her own, it’s hard to root for her. The people who surround Echo are generic scary corporate people and tech types; even Echo’s ‘handler’ is little more than ‘what you’re doing to her is bad’.

There are other plots, with BSG‘s Tahmoh Penikett playing an FBI agent trying to get into the Dollhouse, what’s probably an escaped ‘doll’ called Alpha busily going psycho on the outside and the possibility Echo’s memories aren’t completely wiped – or that her old life might be about to intrude. But each of these looks like it’ll take a long time to develop and I’m not entirely sure they’re worth it (not even Penikett), given we’re going to have to endure Eliza Dushkua pretending to be a ninja/barber/clown in the A-plot of the week until then.

The whole thing, in fact, feels quite cliché, and while Whedon still writes nice lines of dialogue, they’re few and far between and not worth hanging around for. There aren’t even any obvious metaphors or feminist sub-text to mull over yet. It’s a shame really, since it would be nice to love Dollhouse, but it’s just not that fun or interesting to watch – even if occasionally you get to see ‘Faith on a motorbike’.

However, given this is effectively the second pilot (the original will be a later episode), hastily rushed into production after Fox decreed the original didn’t work as an introduction to the series, it’s possible that series proper will have a better feel and those sub-plots will come to fruition sooner, so I’m going to hang around for a while. Well, three episodes at least.

Here’s a YouTube trailer or two.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.