The Doom Patrol isn’t like other superhero teams. Mostly because they’re not superheroes, and they’re more like a broken family than a team. A group of superpowered people whose powers are at least as much curses as they are gifts, the Doom Patrol isn’t the typical crew you’d think of when looking in the phonebook for someone to take on dangerous villains.
We were first introduced to the live-action incarnation of the Doom Patrol during the first season of Titans, when Beast Boy’s introductory episode was also used as a stealth pilot for the series. There we met Robotman, Elasti-Woman, Negative Man, and the Chief and their small family-like bond. Just as we were starting to get to know them, though, it was time to get back to Robin and Co.’s adventure. Now, we’re finally getting to spend time with these misfits to find out what they’re like without any distractions.
This first episode is primarily an origin story for our three most visually arresting characters, and an introduction for newcomer Crazy Jane, as well as the story’s villain.
Doom Patrol has its own idea of how origin stories work, though. We’re introduced to the villain first: Mr. Nobody. And that’s because he’s played by Alan Tudyk (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Dodgeball, Moana), and acts as narrator for at least the first episode. And it’s great.
Tudyk’s narration immediately sets up Doom Patrol with an off-kilter, irreverent tone. I don’t know yet whether this continues throughout the series, but I’m really hoping it does. I could listen to Tudyk narrate just about anything, but he’s especially on his game here. The episode is filled with dark humor, but Tudyk’s narration is a frequent source of genuine out-loud laughs.
One by one, we work through the origin stories of Cliff/Robotman, Rita/Elasti-Woman, and Larry/Negative Man. Each character is given ample time to develop, and each origin story requires that layers be peeled back for us to fully understand how they came to live with their powers and their scars. It’s easy, for example, to grasp that Robotman is the result of the Chief, Dr. Caulder, putting a brain into a mechanical body, but it takes time for the layers of “protective” lies and mis-remembrances to be pulled back. Even still, I feel like there are more layers to each of these characters’ stories.
Another highlight is Dr. Caulder himself. If you weren’t paying attention during the Doom Patrol episode of Titans, there’s room for a little confusion. Between the filming of that episode and the filming of Doom Patrol, Dr. Caulder was recast. Bruno Bichir did a good job as Caulder, but now he’s being portrayed by Timothy Dalton. Dalton brings some extra gravitas to the character that at the same time softens him and complicates him. He seems nicer, but also more slippery. It’s immediately clear that he’s somewhat of a mad scientist, and that the line between him and the Nazi doctor that turned Tudyk’s character, Eric Morden, into Mr. Nobody is a blurry one, and I look forward to seeing how his relationship with the team unfolds.
An outing into the city reveals just how maladjusted the team is. Aside from Crazy Jane, the other members of the team have been disconnected from society for literally decades, living outside of time. Powers go into overdrive and confidence unravels until a peaceful street is strewn with toppled power lines, crashed cars, and news vans as our protagonists flee the city.
But that’s also the point of re-entry for our villains who are, right now, Mr. Nobody, and a donkey that can fart word clouds. As funny as that sounds – and it’s definitely funny in the context of the episode – it also ends up feeling decidedly ominous. That Doom Patrol has me hooked that well after one episode is a good sign.
The whole show looks great. The opening has a very Westworld-like feel to it with it showing characters being assembled, and the pilot has a lush feel with the characters surrounded by the old mansion. Flashbacks to earlier periods are convincing. And kudos to Brendan Fraser on his mustache. Arguably the best in DC live action.
All of this bodes an interesting and unique series that better balances its darkness and humor than we saw in DC Universe’s flawed first series, Titans, which often struggled with its tone.
I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the Doom Patrol.