Refer to the previous two articles for a longer preamble. Suffice it to say that anyone reading these words who hasn’t seen the episode of The Twilight Zone described below should stop once they reach the spoiler-free synopsis, catch the show and then come back and read the rest of the article. It really is that good (the episode, not the review).
Today submitted for your approval…
8. Living Doll (Season 5, 1963)
‘Talky Tina, a doll that does everything, a lifelike creation of plastic and springs and painted smile. To Erich Streator, she is a most unwelcome addition to his household, but without her he’d never enter the Twilight Zone.‘
A little girl brings her new doll home, but her stepfather doesn’t like it. The little girl thinks he doesn’t like her. The doll thinks it’s time to do something about that.
As far as the more blatantly frightening Zones go, this has to be among the finest. Perpetually creepy, working on two levels and driven by its performers, Living Doll is riveting and scary as hell. Almost as scary as Talky Tina itself, in fact. With its little girl voice and outstretched arms, Talky Tina is still an object of fear, proving that dolls can be sinister as well as cute. This isn’t the only story about childrens’ toys that come to life and hurt people, but it’s certainly the most powerful.
Telly Savalas stars as Erich Streator, husband to Anabelle (Mary LaRoche) and stepfather to little Christie (Tracy Stratford). There are clear references to his inadequacy as a father figure from the very start of the episode. Trying to do the right thing by Christie, his temper drives her away and makes him an emeny of Tina, the talking doll Anabelle has bought for her daughter. When the family are together, Tina speaks in platitudes - ‘My name is Talky Tina, and I love you very much.’ Alone with Erich, her patter soon changes - ‘My name is Talky Tina, and I’m going to kill you.’ He thinks Anabelle or Christie are playing a grotesque joke on him, but later he becomes convinced Tina somehow has a personality of its own, and resolves to destroy it. Only he can’t. His every effort is thwarted, all the while Tina promising him that he’ll be sorry.
On one level, the story can be enjoyed as it plays. Tina really is alive, and it’s out to get the rather odious Erich. However, there are clues in the episode that suggest otherwise. Christie and Tina are two names that could join together, suggesting the little girl and doll share one personality. Certainly, Christie has reason enough to attack Erich. He isn’t an especially nice piece of work, though it seems deep down he means well. A little girl wouldn’t necessarily see this, insteasd focusing on the anger and mood swings to transfer her dark desires into the body of her doll. This means that she can be innocent throughout, whilst Tina carries out all the dirty work.
Another theory is that Erich is doing it all to himself. There’s some deep self-loathing going on inside him, and it’s possible, at least until the very last scene, to suppose that this transfers itself into his imagined persecution at the hands of a small piece of plastic.
Living Doll is superb for what doesn’t happen rather than what does. We never see Talky Tina act on her own, save for twisting her head and delivering chilling pronouncements to Erich. When she finally does make him sorry, as promised, the moment doesn’t require any special effects, or for Tina to carry out any actual work on her own. Almost certainly, a scene showing Tina moving about independently would have dragged the episode into silliness. Instead, it’s a genuinely creepy finish. To add to the chill factor, June Foray was hired to provide Tina’s squeaky voice. Previously, Foray had done the same work for Mattel, adding vocals for real-life doll, Chatty Cathy, which was a big seller at the time this episode screened. It can only be imagined what contemporary audiences might have felt as they heard the murderous Tina use the same voice as the doll that had been part of their household for years.