In Dollhouse, Eliza Dushku plays a young woman called Echo, a member of a group of people known as "Actives" or "Dolls." The Dolls have had their personalities wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any number of new personas, including memory, muscle memory, skills, and language, for different assignments. They're then hired out for particular jobs, crimes, fantasies, and occasional good deeds. On missions, Actives are monitored internally (and remotely) by Handlers. In between tasks, they are mind-wiped into a child-like state and live in a futuristic dormitory/laboratory, a hidden facility nicknamed "The Dollhouse". The story follows Echo, who begins, in her mind-wiped state, to become self-aware.
Beyond Dushku's character, the show also revolves around the people who run the mysterious "Dollhouse" and two other "Dolls", Victor and Sierra, who are friendly with Echo (the names are simply letters in the phonetic alphabet). Although the Actives are ostensibly volunteers, the operation is highly illegal and under constant threat on one end from Paul Ballard, a determined federal agent who has heard a rumor about the Dolls, and an insane rogue Active on the other.
Dollhouse, which is produced by 20th Century Fox Television, Whedon's Mutant Enemy Inc. and Dushku's Boston Diva Productions, has been granted a thirteen-episode production commitment by Fox, with a reported license fee in the range of US$1.5 million to US$2 million per episode. Fox decided to forego the pilot episode of the series, opting to put funds towards the construction of the elaborate set and cultural context of the television series. It has been described as a "life-size Dollhouse". On July 22, 2008, Joss Whedon announced that the first episode shot, "Echo", will be pushed to be the second, while a new episode will become first, saying that this "idea to do a new first episode wasn’t the network’s. It was mine."
Dollhouse, along with J. J. Abrams' Fringe, will air with half the commercials and promo spots of most current network dramas, adding about 6 minutes to the shows' run times, as part of a new Fox initiative called "Remote-Free TV". Fox is charging a premium price for this advertising space, but they are not completely recouping the money that this move is costing them, thus it is not yet known if "Remote-Free TV" will be back next season.
On July 22, 2008, Whedon announced he was planning to shoot a significant number of Dollhousewebisodes—one for every regular episode produced.
On Feb. 10, 2009, Dushku told reporters in a conference call that Whedon had a 5-year plan for the show and had already planned out the evolution of his characters through that point. Whedon has said repeatedly that he hates "rewind television," episodes where the characters don't learn and don't evolve from show to show. That's why he has already mapped out an evolution for his characters.
Echo (Eliza Dushku) is the star Active, or doll, in the Dollhouse's cast of imprint-able friends, lovers, assassins - whatever the client calls for. Echo excels at pleasing clients because she's able to adapt fully, or perhaps beyond, each imprint. Echo is a special doll, but in the Dollhouse, special is dangerous. In her mind-wiped state, Echo begins to become self-aware.
Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams) is a beautiful, sophisticated, cold-as-ice woman who is the highest authority at the Dollhouse, answering only to its parent company. Adelle is both ruthless and protective, but prefers to keep the Dollhouse running like the business it is. She is a visionary who firmly believes that all involved benefit from the service they provide.
Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) is an FBI agent assigned to the dead-end case designated "Dollhouse". He believes the Dollhouse is a secret and powerful human trafficking operation, but he is not taken seriously. The ridicule only feeds Paul's obsession with the Dollhouse and its occupants—specifically, one occupant, Echo, whom he believes to have been a girl named Caroline in her former life. Ballard acts as a twisted romantic foil for Echo.
Topher Brink (Fran Kranz) is a precocious scientist at the Dollhouse whose talents exceed his morals. He designs and operates the technology used by the Dollhouse, which he does with unreserved glee. Topher's awareness of his own flaws, and everyone else's, make him the ideal architect to build the perfect personality for any job. Brink is a genius programmer who is articulate, attractive, yet blithely amoral and untrustworthy. He is responsible for imprinting the dolls and making sure they stay unaware of anything. He is both fascinated by the science and intoxicated by the illegality of it.
Sierra (Dichen Lachman) is the newest Active to join the Dollhouse. We know nothing about her previous life, but her otherworldly looks and ability to adapt quickly have made her an instant asset. She has every personality in the world but her own, but is not as self-aware as Echo, to whom she is instinctively drawn.
Lubov (Enver Gjokaj) is the most recent addition to the Borodin family, a Russian mob that runs a large human trafficking ring on the FBI's radar. It is unclear whether the ring has any connection to the Dollhouse, but Paul Ballard is interested in finding out. (This character was originally known as Victor, a Doll, and the other closest thing to a friend Echo has. Childlike when he's inactive, and everything from Errol Flynn to (young) DeNiro when he's active.)
Dr. Claire Saunders (Amy Acker) looks after the physical well-being of the dolls. Has an acid wit that she usually reserves for Topher, who may only be kidding about being smitten with her (or not). She is scarred from a razor attack. The role was originally conceived for a woman in her 40s or 50s. Since working together on Angel, Amy and Joss had been close friends; deciding Acker would be the best actress for the part, Whedon adapted the character, despite initial reservations about casting too many Buffy and Angel alumni.
An as yet unnamed character (Miracle Laurie) — Romantic interest to Paul Ballard. Laurie was originally cast as November, another Doll, one who got fewer of the criminal gigs and more of the personal ones. Eventually, it was decided the character would not be included in the show. Joss Whedon has stated that "the show simply moves too fast now for me to do what I wanted with her". He has hinted, however, that the character November may emerge later in the series.
On Feb. 9, 2009, Fox launched Dollplay, a participation drama centered around Dollhouse. As an interactive webisodes and forum, Dollplay is more content to the canons of the show, as well as a viral marketing campaign. The campaign asked users on the Fox Dollhouse website to "Save Hazel!" Hazel is a character trapped inside the Dollhouse in real-time. The campaign is called "Dollplay" according to the official FOX press release. Dollplay is created by The company P "a radical production outfit from Sweden". Five videos released in a four-hour span show Hazel entering a room, turning on the light, and messing with a computer. That's when the room locks her in and it starts to move. She approaches the camera and yells for help and the transmission cuts off.
On Feb. 12, 2009, Fox opened the website up to further exploration, and interaction with the main character is now possible via Webcam. It is not yet clear how the character in the viral marketing campaign relates to the TV show Dollhouse, but both deal with science fiction and mind control.
Echo is one of the "Actives" in the elite and illegal Dollhouse. Through different personality downloads, she plays the role of a lovestruck girl on a romantic weekend, and then a ruthlessly
efficient kidnapping negotiator.
Echo becomes the ultimate outdoorswoman when she is is hired by a handsome young client named Richard, but it may turn out that neither of the pair is what they seem to be. Meanwhile, Agent Ballard
receives a clue about Echo's past, and we...
Echo uses the story of "Sleeping Beauty" to help a young girl overcome a past trauma, but does the story foreshadow Echo's own future? Meanwhile, Ballard may have found the original designer of the
Dollhouse, Adelle goes to an ex-employee...
The year is 2019, and the world is broken. A small band of survivors discovers an abandoned Dollhouse and as they explore they begin to understand the shadowy organization and to suspect that they
may have been responsible for the current...
As part of the Dollhouse's deal with Ballard, Echo becomes the ultimate double agent. Believing that she is Paul's former FBI partner, she goes deep undercover investigating weapons broker Martin
Klar. But before she can get the information...
For her latest assignment, Echo is imprinted as a new mother, and the mental changes are so profound that they affect her body on a glandular level. But when she believes that someone may want to
harm her "son", her reactions are more...
At the request of a Dollhouse shareholder, Victor is imprinted with the mind of the man's nephew. The man's unstable, psychotic, homicidal nephew.
Now, just as Ballard is starting to adjust to his new role, he must call upon all of his FBI...
Senator Daniel Perrin is on a mission to expose secrets of the Dollhouse and Echo is sent to put an end to his plan. Adelle realizes that someone is trying to eliminate the LA Dollhouse and is using
Perrin to do so. Meanwhile, Paul makes...
Echo meets Bennett Halverson in Washington and both of them receive a shock. Adelle must deal with her DC counterpart, Stewart Lipman. Topher recruits Victor, and Senator Perrin finds unexpected help
in his quest to reveal the activities of...
Echo is left adrift in the world after her experiences at the DC Dollhouse, and her multiple personalities struggle against each other... and Echo. Meanwhile, Boyd receives a call and Harding makes
his move against Adelle.
Adelle realizes that Echo's suppressed memories and personality hold the key to saving mankind, but Echo's past connection to Bennett Halverson puts Topher's efforts at risk. Meanwhile, the leader of
Rossum is revealed.