On Dollhouse

Dollhouse's Future History Machines

By Kirsten Strayer

I. The Shape of Things to Come In

“The Attic” (2-10), technological savant Clyde Randolph gazed across the vast violence and animalistic chaos of his future dystopia and told Echo, Priya, Tony, and Dominic, “This is no nightmare. This is the shape of things to come.” This rather poetic turn of phrase that closed the episode’s second act referenced the final installment of the first season, “Epitaph One” (1-13). The DVD-only episode showed that, while in 2010 the dystopian dreamscape existed only as the worst possible scenario Clyde’s mind (and therefore the Attic) could imagine, eight years later this futuristic possibility was proved terrifyingly and irrevocably true.

Clyde’s prophetic statement of a chilling future not only linked the show’s main narrative to the dystopian season one finale, but also alluded to a rare literary genre that is currently making a small resurgence in sci-fi television. That well-turned, prophetic phrase—“the shape of things to come”—is the title of a cult-favorite science fiction novel by H.G. Wells. In addition to Dollhouse, both geek-favorite Battlestar Galactica and ratings juggernaut Lost have recently referenced the novel, pulling it from relative obscurity to small-screen circulation. In referencing The Shape of Things to Come, these shows aren’t just taking advantage of a catchy, prophetic phrase or a nicely worded sentence; intentionally or not, they are alluding to what’s called “future history,” a little-known science fiction sub-genre of which Wells’ novel is perhaps the most famous example.

Simply put, future history is the attempt to write the story of the future as if it had already passed into history. Future histories such as The Shape of Things  …

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