In a generation that starts off with two very plain common birds fairly near each other, we also get two very odd normal-type bird families one right after the other. And I’m going to use “bird” to describe its type pretty consistently here, since that’s the literal original-language name of the “Flying” type, explaining why the grounded Doduo fits there.
He definitely has some of the same odd, slightly-dopey charm that we attach to other flightless birds like penguins and kiwi, and the idea of single unit with two independent heads is proven to be delightfully wonky in everything from Through the Looking-Glass to King of the Monsters to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Couple the two concepts together into a beady-eyed creature and you get something that looks adorably ineffectual.
Like many of the good “if it ain’t broke” designs, Dodrio takes Doduo’s core idea and sharpens it. The three heads have more distinct personalities than Doduo’s double-curiosity, he’s more visually-balanced thanks to the addition of a tail and some head-crests, and in general he looks like a creature that could fight back now. Still pretty dopey if you look at him too long, though.
Of minor note is that its necks originally changed from black to beige in the evolutionary process, for what seems like little reason? Once Pokémon started adding visual differences between differently-sexed instances of a species, this was changed so that all male Dodruo had black necks, while all female Dodio were beige, which is a nice way of making more sense of the change while still keeping the dichotomy in.
Unfortunately, despite having three whole heads at his disposal, Dodrio still can’t fight back that well. He’s got pretty good attack and speed, sure, but not much to do with it. Normal and Flying aren’t very versatile offensively, and the games don’t really give him many diverse options otherwise. He’s not objectively terrible in the same way as a novelty Pokémon, but that’s about the nicest you can say – there are better and more common alternatives in the original 151 alone. Granted, it is fun to imagine him using “Tri Attack” by firing a different-colored beam from each of his heads, so he’s got that going for him.
His presence in the series overall reflects his “meh” ability in the games. Dodrio is in this weird spot where he’s not as marketable as, say, Pidgey, but he’s also not as outright bizarre as many alternatives for when they want to show off, so he’s just kind of in the middle of the rotation.
He’s also not, to be clear, especially dodo-like. There’s not much mention nor in-game representation of him being particularly rare, much less extinct – Farfetch’d is already all over that flavor. Besides, you’d expect the Pokémon representation of a famous extinction to manifest as a fossil or – more interestingly – a Ghost-type.
Rather, he seems to be more of an ostrich, emu, or moa given his gangly necks, but with heavy shades of a kiwi considering his beak shape and winglessness (or possibly very tiny wings; the series waffles on this point). But it’s hard to deny that morphing a name that doubles on itself like “dodo” for a two-headed bird makes for a fantastic marriage of moniker and design, and the skinny-necked birds make much more sense to use as a base for this concept.
Oddly enough, his two-and-then-three heads are supposedly split from one another, with Doduo splitting one but not both of its heads during evolution. Working backwards, perhaps there is or was a little Doduno out there? What this fella needs isn’t a younger form, though: the visual idea, boost in usability, and sheer wordplay of having some sort of “Dodeca” evolution with twelve heads is delightfully appealing.
He makes great use of the heads that he does have, at least. Doduo’s heads sleep in shifts, with one always available to keep watch for predators, and they move and bob about while running to keep balance at cheetah-sprint speeds despite the fact that something shaped like Doduo must have a wacky center of balance. He’s actually a wicked-good runner, frequently appearing as something of a steed ridden by trainers when the series needs something to show opposite a Ponyta or Rapidash.
Then there’s Dodrio, which keeps watch in all directions at once and actively collaborates on plans between his three heads, but the three seem subject to to near-constant bickering in the worst possible case of “three siblings cooped up on a permanent road trip”. The three even represent explicit characteristics – joy, anger, and sorrow, which I have to imagine as its center, right, and left heads respectively in the artwork, but the word used there is “represent”. I have to imagine that each Dodrio has its own unique combination of personalities present – imagine a Three Stooges situation where the three dunces are all trapped in the same suit, or an Odd Couple scenario where one side of Dodrio is noticeably better-groomed than the other, with a dogged mother-type moderating them in the middle. Precious.
Since virtually all Flying/Bird-types are given access to the move “Fly” (previously used as the series’ fast-travel mechanism), the developers slapped it onto this thing, too, which has encouraged some wild interpretations of how such a situation would even work. One of the more common and fun ones involves Dodrio spinning its heads akin to helicopter blades. Amusingly, Game Freak’s actual answer to this when it comes up tends to be to effectively shrug and just show Doduo and Dodrio running in midair. It’s a little disappointing considering the myriad of Easter-egg ways in which they sidestep never letting Diglett leave the ground, but you have to pick your battles and all. He just jumps really, really well is all.
This guy is pretty fun as a concept, and while other Pokémon play around a lot with the idea of multiple heads, this represents it in such a clear, distilled way that it deserves some credit. Still, it’s not a super practical monster gameplay-wise and – as noted – there are shades of its concept elsewhere in the series, which doesn’t bode well for the need for him outside of as a Reserve member.
Any and all appreciation for Doduo and Dodrio is welcome in the comments!