The Twilight Zone: Season 5, Episode Seventeen “Number 12 Looks Just Like You”

Original Air Date: January 24, 1964
Writer: Charles Beaumont/John Tomerlin
Director: Abner Biberman

“When everyone is beautiful no one will be…”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Based on Charles Beaumont’s 1952 short story “The Beautiful People” published in the science fiction If magazine and adapted into a teleplay by science fiction screenwriter John Tomerlin, “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” is a dystopian tale of futuristic horror –perhaps it is not all too distant from our own age.

“Given the chance, what young girl wouldn’t happily exchange a plain face for a lovely one? What girl could refuse the opportunity to be beautiful? For want of a better estimate, let’s call it the year 2000. At any rate, imagine a time in the future where science has developed the means of giving everyone the face and body he dreams of. It may not happen tomorrow, but it happens now, in The Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

The setting is a futuristic society (in the year 2000!) wherein all young 19 year-olds undergo a conformist “transformation” to change their bodies into beautiful models. The popular option is for women to transform into model #12 and for men to transform into model #17 and this has forced people in the future to wear name tags to avoid confusion. In the future marriage is a loosely understood practice as it is not uncommon to be married dozens of times, and people drink a cup of Instant Smile to feel happy (echoes of Aldous Huxley abound in this episode). However, one young girl named Marilyn (Collin Wilcox of To Kill A Mockingbird repute) refuses to participate in this culture. Marilyn’s late father had raised her to be a free spirit and to think for herself by reading the works of Plato and Aristotle. Sadly, her father was also forced to undergo the “transformation” himself, and he tragically killed himself out of regret.

As a result of her rejection of the “transformation,” Marilyn is checked into a hospital where she is closely inspected by Dr. Rex (Richard Long). Marilyn’s mother Lana (Suzy Parker) and her friend Valerie (Pam Austin) are concerned about Marilyn. Recognizing this creeping sense of brainwashing and identity erasure, Marilyn desperately tries to flee the hospital but she is captured and forced to undergo the “transformation.”

In an epilogue, Marilyn emerges from her procedure smiling at her colleagues. She now looks exactly like her friend Valerie (Pam Austin). Marilyn walks up to a mirror and happily announces that she looks exactly like Valerie.

“Portrait of a young lady in love – with herself. Improbable? Perhaps. But in an age of plastic surgery, body building and an infinity of cosmetics, let us hesitate to say impossible. These, and other strange blessings, may be waiting in the future, which, after all, is The Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

“Number 12 Looks Just Like You” bears a certain social criticism of Hollywood’s superficial, vapid culture, however it also echoes contemporaneous Cold War fears of rigid communist conformity contra Western freedom and individualism. It is a chilling and cautionary tale about the dangers of social conformity.

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • Earlier in their careers, under the joint pseudonym “Keith Grantland” John Tomerlin and Charles Beaumont wrote the novel Run From the Hunter (1957). To write the teleplay Mr. Tomerlin consulted with Mr. Beaumont via a phone call.
  • At the time this episode was released Charles Beaumont was ailing from degenerative illness which would soon end his life in 1967.
  • This episode was originally sponsored by American Tobacco, with an “alternate sponsors” message from Procter & Gamble in the middle.
  • Richard Long previously appeared in the Season 3 episode “Person or Persons Unknown.” Amusingly, Mike Myers later borrowed the pinky maneuver Richard Long uses in this episode for his character Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers series.
  • Model #12 is played by Pam Austin and Richard Long plays model #17.
  • There was only a two or three year age difference between Suzy Parker and Collin Wilcox, even though Wilcox plays the daughter of Parker.
  • This episode features selections of a stock musical score borrowed from Bernard Herrmann for an episode of CBS Radio Workshop entitled “Brave New World.” It also features music by Jerry Goldsmith and Fred Steiner.
  • According to the story, Marilyn’s mother has been married ten times, and Valerie says her mother has been married eleven times.
  • All the characters in this episode are named after famous classic film stars: Marilyn Monroe, Lana Turner, Grace Kelly, Rex Harrison, Eva Marie Saint, and Valerie Allen. One background character is named Dr. Sigmund Friend, an obvious play on Sigmund Freud.
  • This was the third of four Twilight Zone episodes directed by Abner Biberman.
  • Marc Scott Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion, notes that this episode is a companion piece to “The Eye of the Beholder.”

Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.

One response to “The Twilight Zone: Season 5, Episode Seventeen “Number 12 Looks Just Like You””

  1. As an important message about the dangerous consequences of conformity, this is one of the TZ classics that holds up the most. Thanks for your review.

    Liked by 1 person

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