Sunday, October 17, 2021

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: The Deadly Dolls

For fans of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, it is chance to see her old pal Vincent Price in a new context. If MST3K is more your thing, Gypsy’s beloved Richard Basehart was one of the regular stars. If neither appeals to you, chances are you might be a bit befuddled by one of the weirdest episodes of dramatic TV ever produced. Vincent Price and his evil little friends try to take down the crew of the Seaview in “The Deadly Dolls” episode of Irwin Allen’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (written by Charles Bennett and directed by Harry Harris), which airs this coming Saturday night on ME TV.

While docking for supplies, the charming Professor Multiple performs a puppet show for the Seaview, gently lampooning the submarine’s officers. It is a great hit, but oddly, his marionettes look inexplicably featureless after the show. That’s because they will become doppelgangers for crew members, once Multiple starts his body-snatching campaign. Eventually, even Admiral Harriman Nelson is replaced by an especially nasty, smart-alecky puppet. Only Captain Lee B. Crane (played by David Hedison, Price’s co-star in
The Fly) remains free, shimmying through airducts and crawlspaces (on a sub, mind you), like he is Bruce Willis in Nakatomi Plaza.

It is hard to describe how tripped out these devious little puppets are, like an unholy union of Sid & Marty Krofft with Avenue Q. Honestly, they make Vincent Price look reserved in comparison. You have to see it to believe it, especially the puppet that looks like Basehart’s Nelson, who sort of sounds like a megalomaniacal Alf (the sitcom alien).

Notwithstanding the puppets, this installment bears some narrative similarities to the “By Any Other Name” episode of
Star Trek, in which Enterprise crew-members are turned into crushable cubes, but these doppelgangers are in a league of their own. Believe it or not, they even upstage the great Price, who is still good fun to watch smirking his way through the episode. For what its worth, Hedison had a believable military bearing as Crane and Basehart’s puppetry voiceovers (or whoever it was) are absolutely classic.

It is hard to imagine the rest of
Voyage’s four seasons could compare to the wacked out lunacy of “Deadly Dolls.” Frankly, we are reluctant to watch any other episodes, because we assume they will disappoint when measured against this one. You can make up your own mind on that score, but “Deadly Dolls” is a must-see. Again, this is Vincent Price with puppets, almost ten years before he guested on The Muppet Show, so what’s not to like? Very highly recommended as a vintage 1960s TV oddity, “The Deadly Dolls” airs this coming Saturday night (10/23—technically 10/24 in the AM) on ME TV and the series is available on DVD.