I recently watched the Twilight Zone episode, “The Living Doll,” starring Talky Tina, a murderous doll who is representative of a living little girl’s emotional frustration and pain. The episode first aired on November 1, 1963 and starred Telly Savalas as the controlling, angry stepfather who, intentionally or not, terrorized his young stepdaughter out of his own pain in not being able to have a child with her mother. On the surface, this is a strange and creepy tale that is fun to watch in an autumnal midnight, but it possesses psychological complexities that can be delved into and should be delved into to fully understand the power of a little girl’s pain to invoke the intense action of a deadly doll.
British psychologist of the 1930s and 1940s, Melanie Klein, was a woman who often disagreed with Freud, but always considered herself a purveyor of his ideas. Klein had her own ideas independent of Freud’s, ideas freshened by her diverse experiences, her female perspective, and also her work in using play in the therapy of children.
This Twilight Zone episode is an artful way to illustrate Kleinian notions of play. In “The Living Doll” the child is attached to her new doll, Talky Tina, a doll bought without the permission, and to the dismay of, her overbearing stepfather. The stepfather, mentioning several times that he is not the father of the little girl, Christie, is experiencing major obsessive feelings that he and his wife, Annabelle are unable to have children of their own. Christie is Annabelle’s daughter from a previous relationship, the dissolution of which is never discussed. The father is constantly expressing his anger toward the child, his wife, and then the doll as a result of his obsessive inadequacies.
The doll seems to be a murderous manifestation of the little girl’s apparent and complex emotions and psychological consequence that may be embedded in the subconscious of the guilty father. Until the end of the episode, the father is the only one who hears Talky Tina say odd and threatening things like, “My name is Talky Tina and I am going to kill you.” Eventually, in the last shot of the episode, the mother hears, “My name is Talky Tina and you had better be nice to me.” This, it seems, is a warning, perhaps since she has allowed this abuse to happen to the little girl. It is never clear if Christie is in possession of powers to manipulate an inanimate object like Talk Tina into warning her abusers of her desires to destroy them.
I do think that this episode illustrates the profound and deep power of a child’s emotional life, something Klein believed strongly in; that the life of a child plays a major if not a primary role in the development of a healthy or unhealthy adult. Talky Tina seems to be representing these unseen emotions of Christie, a turmoil that was not palpable to her parents who were supposed to be taking care of her. Instead, her fear and turmoil created Talky Tina, enveloping the entire family’s psyche in order to teach the lesson of emotional power.