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The Twilight Zone (Episode #126): “Living Doll” (airdate 11/1/63)
The Plot: A new doll threatens a little girl’s mean-spirited stepfather, and all the lollipops in the world may not be enough to save him.
The Goods: Annabelle and her daughter Christie return from a day out with a new toy for the girl, but husband/stepdad Erich (Telly Savalas) is none too thrilled with the purchase. He’d prefer it if his wife didn’t spend his money or use his credit cards, and he’s not above being a complete tool about it towards her and the child. Erich’s angry power play intimidates Annabelle and Christie, but the Talking Tina doll is less than impressed.
Quite the opposite in fact. It threatens to kill him.
The old ‘evil animated doll’ chestnut is a classic for a reason. Dolls, much like clowns and mustachioed clergymen, are inherently creepy even before they’re given dialogue. Movies and television are filled with examples of the genre including the Child’s Play and Puppet Master film series and the Monsters and Night Gallery TV series. Of course, even The Twilight Zone got into the act a few times…
The story here is far more straight forward than the last time Rod Serling entered evil doll territory. “The Dummy” starred Cliff Robertson as a ventriloquist who ends up swapping places with his wooden sidekick in an ending that makes little sense, but this one eschews any such ridiculousness plot points. Aside of course from the talking doll herself.
Tina speaks to Erich, but only when others are out of earshot, and her proclamations become threatening fairly quick. To be fair, he did start the fight by verbally attacking his wife and stepdaughter as soon as they arrived home, but that hardly warrants the death threats. Their feud escalates as Erich tries to get rid of the doll in various ways including tossing it in the trash, burning its plastic skin and crushing its head in a vice.
Excessive? Perhaps. But when his efforts end in futility he gives up the fight, returns Tina to his poor, unloved stepdaughter, and retires for the night. The doll finally follows through on its threat in the most passive and least exciting way possible, and Erich meets his doom.
Savalas really seems to enjoy the various scenes where he tortures the doll, but his glee isn’t enough to make this episode feel anything but pedestrian. It’s a solid example of a pretty standard story, but it never really stands apart from a crowded genre. Talking Tina is menacing in her words, but we never see her move aside from some eye and neck motions so there’s no sense of growing danger or imminent threat. The real menace here could just as easily have been a slow, creeping madness taking over Erich’s mind if it weren’t for the episode’s ending which is also its best moment.
What do you think?
The Trivia: Talking Tina is voiced by June Foray who also voiced the real-life Chatty Cathy doll manufactured by Mattel.
On the Next Episode: “A mysterious old man in a cave guides a group of townspeople after a nuclear war.”
We’re running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes over the next several weeks, and we won’t be doing it alone! Our friends at Twitch will be entering the Zone as well on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at Twitch and feel free to also follow along on our Twitter accounts @twitchfilm and @rejectnation.