Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Twilight Zone Vortex 2016 Halloween Countdown #2: "Living Doll"

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


#2 - Talky Tina Kills, from “Living Doll,” season five, episode 126
Written by Jerry Sohl (credited to Charles Beaumont), directed by Richard C. Sarafian, starring Telly Savalas, Mary LaRoche, Tracy Stratford, June Foray (voice of Talky Tina)

“Living Doll” is the perfect embodiment of the type of grim fantasy the series predominantly turned to during its fifth and final season. And though tales of terrible dolls were prominent by the time “Living Doll” was broadcast (Fitz-James O’Brien’s “The Wondersmith” and Algernon Blackwood’s “The Doll” are just two examples among many), Jerry Sohl’s story of an insecure man’s feelings of inferiority mirrored in a malevolent doll set the standard from which nearly every subsequent effort in a similar mold would originate. The devastating and effective measure used by Sohl in his script is that each seemingly irrational action taken by Erich Streator to rid himself of the terrible toy appears to his wife as an action of deliberate hate for his stepdaughter. The series was always interested in using fantasy to examine the construct of a marriage (“A Piano in the House” and “Young Man’s Fancy” are two episodes that spring immediately to mind) but here Sohl takes it a step further by placing a child at the center of the conflict. The child is not a malicious child in the least, and we can be sure that the malevolent doll does not originate as an element of the child’s psyche. If anything, the child seems largely oblivious to, or willingly ignorant of, the conflict around her. Even though the toy masquerades as a protector, it is clear that it is either a purely malignant influence which happens by pure chance to have landed in the lives of the family or it is a supernatural reflection of the marital and familial strife within the household. 

Of course, all of this conjecture is left unexplored in the twenty-six minute play, which only succeeds in making the episode stronger. It presents itself as a simple story and yet can be interpreted and explored in myriad ways. Perhaps the episode functions best as the simple story of supernatural persecution it presents itself to be, although many elements of the episode remain disturbingly ambiguous, such as the fact that Erich Streator, though a bad stepfather, is surely undeserving of such a horrible fate. Sohl seems to hint that it was never only about punishing Streator when the doll threatens the mother at the close of the episode, leaving the viewer to wonder where the family goes from there and if they are forced to live with the entity that calls itself a Talky Tina doll for the rest of their days. The addition of Bernard Herrmann’s exceptional original score ensures “Living Doll” a very high place among the most memorable and exceptional episodes of the series.  

Trivia:
           
-This is one of three episodes written by Jerry Sohl and credited to Charles Beaumont. Sohl wrote the scripts to help Beaumont honor his writing commitments to the series.
           
-Talky Tina was a modified version of the Vogue Doll Company’s Brikette line of dolls. It was modeled on Mattel’s Chatty Cathy line of dolls which could speak a set of phrases when a string on the doll’s back was pulled. June Foray, who voice Talky Tina in the episode, was also the original voice of the Chatty Cathy dolls. 

1 comment:

  1. They seem to show this one every time they run a marathon. Some of the doll's lines have become catch phrases in my family.

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