Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Twilight Zone Vortex 2016 Halloween Countdown #21: "Number Twelve Looks Just Like You"

The Twilight Zone is an amazingly diverse program that offers stories of almost every conceivable theme and setting within the overall structure of intelligent modern fantasy. One area in which The Twilight Zone excelled was in the story of terror, exploring the darkest aspects of human existence in myriad ways. To celebrate the Halloween season, we’re counting down the 31 most frightening and unsettling moments from The Twilight Zone, one for each day of October. We’ll be revisiting some of the episodes we’ve already covered and looking ahead to episodes from the final three seasons of the series.                                                                                                                                      -JP


#21 - A Girl Transformed, from “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You,” season five, episode 137
Written by Charles Beaumont and John Tomerlin, directed by Abner Biberman, starring Richard Long, Collin Wilcox, Suzy Parker, Pam Austin

Based on one of Charles Beaumont’s earliest short stories, “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You” combines the grim futurism popular on the series with the atmosphere of dread and horror characteristic of Beaumont’s work. The episode was produced at a time when the combination of overwork and quickly deteriorating health forced Beaumont to seek the assistance of his friends to help honor his writing commitments. Beaumont called upon his friend and fellow writer John Tomerlin, who co-authored a novel with Beaumont in 1957 titled Run from the Hunter using the joint pseudonym Keith Grantland, to adapt his short story into a teleplay. Tomerlin took the original idea and ran with it, adding nuance of character and setting to Beaumont’s original story. Under the direction of Abner Biberman, the episode presents a vision of a sanitized, minimalistic future which perfectly represents the mindless conformity of a society in which a young, independent girl finds herself at war with a forced cleansing of her individual appearance and personality. The most disturbing moment of the episode occurs at the very end, in which the girl emerges from her forced transformation. She has changed mentally as well as physically and it is wisely left ambiguous whether the operation caused the mental effect or if the girl has succumbed to the change on her own. It is a scene which adds an additional layer of horror to the preceding events. Many of the episodes in the fifth season of the series had a uniquely grim feeling, likely caused by a combination of the departure of producer Buck Houghton, the near cancellation of the series, and the strain placed upon both Rod Serling and Charles Beaumont from overwork and health issues. “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You” reflects the stifling creative environment the show had become but remains a chillingly effective exercise in the style of science fiction horror story the show made famous.

Trivia:

-Charles Beaumont’s original short story, “The Beautiful People,” was first published in the September, 1952 issue of If: Worlds of Science Fiction. The magazine was edited by Paul W. Fairman, author of the 1952 short story, “Brothers Beyond the Void,” which was adapted by Rod Serling into the memorable first season episode, “People Are Alike All Over.” “The Beautiful People” was collected in Beaumont’s 1958 volume Yonder: Stories of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

            -The similarities between Beaumont’s story and Rod Serling’s classic second season episode “Eye of the Beholder” are obvious, and the two episodes work quite well in tandem, as separate but equally compelling treatments of the theme. Beaumont’s story also shares characteristics with the 1967 dystopian novel Logan’s Run, which concerns a future society so covetous of youth and beauty that citizens are voluntarily executed upon reaching the age of 21. The novel follows one of the society’s appointed executions, a Sandman, named Logan who resists the process and is forced to flee an isolated city. The novel was written by Beaumont’s close friends William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, who were also acolytes of Ray Bradbury. Logan’s Run was turn into a successful film in 1976 and a television series, far less successful, followed a year later. William F. Nolan complete a trilogy of Logan novels with Logan’s World (1977) and Logan’s Search (1980).  

2 comments:

  1. This is a very memorable episode but it pales in comparison to "Eye of the Beholder." This was the show that made me look up more info about Suzy Parker...

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  2. Of course, "Eye of the Beholder" is a classic but I really like the way this episode handles the theme with a psychological complexity typical of Beaumont's work and without an over-reliance on a twist ending. Really like the art design in this one as well.

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