Despite springing from the mind of Joss whedon – the acclaimed creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly – Dollhouse started off very badly indeed, with a batch of almost laughably poor episodes.
Tentatively renewed for a second season that everyone involved seems to have guessed was its last, the show suddenly clicked as Whedon crammed his five-year narrative plan into a mere 13 episodes.
The result? Unmissable television, even if the dramatic turnaround still wasn’t enough to save a series that suffered from a flawed premise and uncertain execution.
Like a grown-up Joe 90, Dollhouse explores the implications of implanting personalities in otherwise blank people, or dolls. Controversially, the more mature role-play aspects of this scenario were not avoided and star/producer Eliza Dushku (Buffy, Tru Calling) found herself inhabiting a variety of sex-driven roles as the lead doll Echo.
Supposedly, the series’ plan was to explore Echo’s growing self-awareness, but the cancellation meant this was accelerated, as were a variety of narrative developments that would originally have occurred over a number of years (including Echo and Ballard’s time in the wider world, the reveal of the show’s overall bad guy and the eventual face-off with the mysterious Rossum organisation).
Ironically, it is the squeezing of these storylines into a shorter timeframe that makes the final few episodes such compelling viewing.
The bonus features are rather limited given the goodies dispensed by some other TV series boxsets – even those consisting of only 13 episodes per season. Three commentaries, which are exclusive to the Blu-ray release, accompany key episodes, providing some much needed background.
That’s because the perfunctory featurettes ‘Defining Moments’ (13 minutes of on-set puffery) and ‘Looking Back’ (a 16-minute post-series cast-and-creator congratulatory dinner party) fail to deliver anything worthwhile.
It’s left to some okay outtakes and deleted scenes to help round out an otherwise average selection of extras.
Dollhouse was a series that probably didn’t deserve a second chance at life, but audiences of imaginative television should be grateful Whedon got to further explore the philosophical complexities he’d only touched on first time around.
Thanks to a rousing second season, Dollhouse remains a noble failure.
Whedon gets his chance to explore some interesting SF ideas. Muchneeded commentaries rate this above a DVD purchase.