Published: Tammy 12 March 1977 to 23 April 1977
Artist: Mike White
Translations/reprints: Princess (second series) 26 February 1984 – 31 March 1984 (one double episode); Tina #35 1984 as Het mysterie van het poppenhuis [The mystery of the dolls’ house]
Jan Dale has taken a temporary job as a nanny to a wealthy family. At first glance the house looks a “dream house”, the sort Jan would buy if she won the pools. Then she is informed Mr Glenn the owner disappeared two days ago; just vanished into thin air while gardening, it seems. His disappearance spooked the staff into leaving except the housekeeper, Miss Royd. Mrs Glenn is a bag of nerves, shrieking, “I won’t go in there! Please! Let me stay outside!” Now what can she mean by that? Elder daughter Diana Glenn is a rude, unpleasant type, and the younger children John and Becky are playing with a dolls’ house that is an exact replica of the house. Later Jan learns the busy parents neglected the younger children, so they turned to spending time with it.
Jan notes there are no dolls in the house, but later she and Diana see a doll outside it that looks just like Mr Glenn. Diana thinks it’s her siblings playing a cruel joke, but later Jan hears a voice calling for help from inside the dolls’ house. Becky says it’s “Silly old Dad!” and John aggressively tells her to shut up.
John and Becky show Jan doll’s clothes in the drawer, saying there will be more dolls in the house soon. Jan is shocked to realise the doll’s clothes are replicas of the clothes she brought with her – but how can that be when she only arrived a few hours ago? John says it’s because the dolls’ house knew she would be coming. Miss Royd tells Jan the dolls’ house is evil. Eventually John and Becky tell Jan they found the dolls’ house in a secret room in the house and show it to her.
Mrs Glenn just vanishes into thin air without explanation. Jan hears her voice calling from the dolls’ house and a hand waves from the window in the dolls’ house. Sure enough, it’s a doll-sized Mrs Glenn screaming for help. But when Jan rouses Diana the doll has disappeared. Diana wants Jan out, but the younger siblings insist she stay, and warn Diana she will be the next for the dolls’ house.
That night Jan has a dream of standing outside the dolls’ house, a voice calling her in, and don’t fight it. At first Jan resists but then calms down and welcomes it; it looks so peaceful in there. Then she wakes up, saying the sun woke her up in time from being snatched by the dolls’ house.
The dream is a forewarning of what happens to Diana. Jan sees her abruptly vanish from the grounds and heads to the dolls’ house, where she sees Diana about to open the house, urging it to let her in. Jan stops Diana in the nick of time, and even Diana is becoming convinced Jan is right. She flees the house in terror, but then she does disappear, as do the doll’s clothes that matched hers. Then Miss Royd and Jan see all three dolls in the house.
Realising she is next, Jan tries to destroy the dolls’ house with an axe, but Miss Royd stops her. Then Jan realises something: there are no doll clothes for Miss Royd, so the house was not planning to take her. Now why could that be?
Caught out, Miss Royd reveals she is behind the dolls’ house. She came with it and lived in it for centuries, and Jan and the Glenns are going to do the same. She was a squire’s wife who sought to discover the secret of eternal life. Frustrated with her constant failures she exclaimed, “Let the devil take anything of mine if I can succeed!” At this, a fire broke out, burning her house down, and the dolls’ house mysteriously appeared. Taking it as a sign, Mistress Royd ordered her new house (now the Glenns’) to be an exact replica. She also ordered a secret room to be built into the dolls’ house and the real one. She had the man who built them murdered, but he made a statement before he died, and the authorities came to arrest her. Mistress Royd and her niece Mary headed for the secret room, but soon realise the authorities had been informed about it. Working through Mary’s mind, Mistress Royd hid in the secret room in the dolls’ house. She stayed there until her mind reached out to John and Becky. Like Mary, they were young children, and her mind can only work through children.
Miss Royd says that it’s not just Jan who is going in there now; John and Becky are going in there too, and they are delighted about it: “It’s lovely being a doll!” She has them believe, and they’ll all be very happy in there. However, Jan manages to turn the power of the dolls’ house against Miss Royd: she persuades Becky and John to let Miss Royd go in first and let the family out, saying this will enable Miss Royd to find out how happy she is being a doll. This sends Miss Royd right back into the dolls’ house and frees the trapped people.
Jan soon finds nobody except her remembers what happened. The parents find they suddenly hate the dolls’ house for some reason and want it gotten rid of. So Jan puts the dolls’ house back in the secret room. She can only hope no other child finds it – Miss Royd is still in there, waiting and calling to be let out.
Surprisingly, Tammy didn’t often run serials on evil dolls, objects or influences, which makes the theme quite refreshing here. By contrast, DCT ran such stories with great abandon, which is another peculiar difference between IPC and DCT. Maybe one of these days we should have an analysis on how IPC and DCT had such differing emphases on serial themes and why this might have been.
The story establishes the theme and the mounting evil very quickly, which is not surprising as it has only seven episodes. So there is no padding or drawing out of the plot. The plotting is tight and well paced, and the evil is closing in fast like a tightening coil, which makes it even more gripping and scary. Unlike some evil doll/toy stories, it does not take long for Jan to realise the evil of the house and what’s progressively happening to the people who disappear. After all, it’s pretty obvious, what with the dolls’ clothes matching the people in the house, the dolls being replicas of the vanished people, the cries for help from the house, and what everyone else in the household is saying about the dolls’ house.
Unlike many protagonists in evil influence/object stories, Jan does not have a frustrating time trying to convince anyone what’s going on, only to find everyone thinks she’s nuts. Miss Royd already says the dolls’ house is evil (but of course she knew that all along). The young children know what’s going on but embrace it and even facilitate it. Mrs Glenn can already sense it coming and is scared out of her wits. Only Diana rubbishes it, but deep down she has her doubts, and it’s not long before her doubts turn into terror.
The family dysfunction (neglectful parents, unpleasant big sister) clearly made John and Becky easy targets for the dolls’ house and falling under the power of Miss Royd. It appeared to offer them happiness, comfort and peace, and would make them all one happy family once they were all inside, as dolls. From what we gather from Jan’s dream and how Diana almost got enticed in, this is how it lures them all in and gets the children into its power. Like its real-sized counterpart, it appeared to be the dream house. But once they were all inside, they would soon find it was really the nightmare house. Once released, Dad’s remark that he now hates the dolls’ house for some reason gives the impression that although they don’t remember anything, they will be wiser for the experience and work on being a better family unit.
Miss Royd is clearly a cautionary tale in the consequences of dabbling in the dark arts and tempting the Devil. Though the Devil does not seem to be after souls – after all, what he gives Miss Royd offers eternal life – any gifts from him will have strings attached. The dolls’ house is no exception. It grants eternal life – but from the look of it, it’s eternal life as a doll. Is that really the lovely and happy thing Miss Royd says it is? We don’t think so from the way the Glenns keep screaming once they are trapped in the house. Or Miss Royd herself once she is returned to the house. She screams at Jan to let her out, in the way Mrs Glenn did. Aww, poor diddums Royd – don’t you like it in the dolls’ house, even if it does give you the eternal life you wanted?