The Matt Signal – Episode 76: Baby-Doll

Plot summary: A child actress with a rare medical condition that prevents her from ageing begins kidnapping her former sitcom co-stars for a twisted reunion.

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Each Saturday and Sunday Matt Waters recaps an episode of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

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Notes

Episode Title: ‘Baby-Doll’

Original Air Date: October 1st, 1994

Directed: Dan Riba (7)

Written: Paul Dini (16)

‘Cousin Spunky’ is almost certainly a reference to Cousin Oliver, who many blame for the decline and cancellation of The Brady Bunch.

Furthermore, Cousin Oliver’s actor, Robbie Rist, voices the father in Baby Doll’s sitcom.

Baby-Doll’s heavies are an homage to Gilligan and Skipper from Gilligan’s Island.

Recap

An actor stumbles onto a crying little girl after his show and tries to comfort her, but quickly recognises her and seems afraid. His fears are immediately warranted as he gets knocked out by her accomplices.

Summer Gleeson (remember her?) immediately fills us in on the mysterious child, presenting a ‘where are they now?’ piece on an old sitcom called ‘Love That Baby’, starring Mary Dahl, the kid from the opening. Turns out three of the original cast have been reported missing…

The plot thickens, as we learn from Batman that Dahl suffered from a rare medical condition preventing her from ageing, and that she was 20 at the time of the show, despite looking like a young girl.

The exposition game is interrupted by Harvey Bullock calling in gunfire from the theatre where the final cast member is under police protection. Batman & Robin swoop in to assist Bullock’s men, but the actress is kidnapped regardless.

Batman attempts to pursue, but a small girl runs out in front of the Batmobile and he has to swerve to avoid her. Her ostensible mother collects her, but The Dynamic Duo recognise Dahl’s TV catchphrase. She throws a smoke bomb and escapes.

The kidnapped actress awakens on the set of the old sitcom wearing a larger version of her old costume and is horrified to see Dahl has still not aged a day and means to keep them together forever.

Bruce confronts Gleeson, who reveals Dahl quit the sitcom to pursue a serious drama career only to fail miserably. Robin borrows some old ‘Love that Baby’ tapes for research, which Summer attempts to trade for an exclusive interview, but the pair of course vanish into thin air.

Dahl forces her former TV family to act out little birthday scene under threat of armed guard, going as far as to play a laugh track. She explains how difficult her life was, but now they’re back together, everyone will love her again.

Batman & Robin swap notes about the sitcom, and we learn that they introduced Cousin Spunky, who embarrassed her in a birthday party scene, causing Dahl to quit on the spot.

They correctly posit that Spunky will be Dahl’s next target, with Dick disguising himself as the actor and getting captured. Batman follows them to the studio and the jig appears to be up.

Unfortunately they didn’t count on Dahl’s badass assistant, Mariam, who legitimately kicks both of the Dynamic Duo’s asses. Batman eventually takes her down and chases Dahl, leaving Robin to rescue the hostages.

Dahl Big Wheels her way to a nearby theme park, where she is naturally incredibly difficult to spot. Bruce puzzles the situation out beautifully, standing in plain sight and letting dozens of excited children flock to Batman, with only Dahl staying put. Chef kiss.

Continuing his pursuit through the park, he eventually corners her in a closed funhouse where her small size gives her an enormous advantage in the narrow tunnels.

Stumbling into a hall of mirrors, Dahl is pushed over the edge by the sight of her elongated appearance, making her resemble an adult woman. She fires her gun wildly before breaking down in tears and hugging Batman’s leg.

Best Performance

This episode is stuffed with fun voice acting from our principal cast, and the TV family comprised of Jason Marsden, Robbie Rist, Judy Strangis and Alan Young. Heck, Tasia Valenza’s deadpan delivery of the line “it’s a living” after kicking Batman & Robin’s asses is outrageously good.

But Alison LaPlaca’s performance towers over all. It might actually be the finest individual work in the entire series. Leaning so hard into the intentionally grating baby-talk voice is one thing, but she effortlessly delivers it in varying ranges, with Dahl slipping in and out of ‘character’. Heck, when she’s called on to do some capital ‘a’ Acting, she crushes that too, with the Macbeth clip providing a slightly comical prelude to the devastating closing scene. ‘Heart of Ice’ could not dream to match the true tragedy of her remarks about the real her and her fury that Batman couldn’t let her pretend.

Ranking

Boy, oh boy. Girl, oh girl. Season 2 has been pretty kind to us with villain-centric episodes (if you ignore ‘Sideshow’ and ‘The Terrible Trio’). I won’t go quite as far as to call this the best one, but it’s right up there.

Paul Dini deftly weaves a tale that makes it past censors while still being equal parts heartbreaking and sinister. The cast of a cancelled TV show getting kidnapped and forced to participate in a reunion at gunpoint is something that any live action crime procedural would gladly take a stab at, but animation allows for an ostensible child to be the puppet master. It also allows for a funhouse mirror to make her look like a completely different adult woman, which again wouldn’t be possible with real actors. Bravo.

The action scenes are surprisingly good as well, with Robin barely escaping death via last-second somersault, Mariam’s heroics, and the clever little theme park chase scene. Many Batman episodes conclude in such a venue – heck, even Mask of the Phantasm did it – but this one gives ‘Robin’s Reckoning’ a run for its money for the best one. Mr. Dini, take a bow.

  1. The Laughing Fish
  2. Mask of the Phantasm
  3. Almost Got ‘im
  4. Heart of Ice
  5. Harlequinade
  6. The Trial
  7. Shadow of the Bat Part I
  8. I Am the Night
  9. Robin’s Reckoning Part I
  10. Baby-Doll
  11. The Man Who Killed Batman
  12. Perchance to Dream
  13. Two-Face Part I
  14. Bane
  15. A Bullet For Bullock
  16. Joker’s Favor
  17. Read My Lips
  18. Feat of Clay Part II
  19. Catwalk
  20. The Demon’s Quest Part II
  21. Harley and Ivy
  22. Robin’s Reckoning Part II
  23. House & Garden
  24. Beware the Gray Ghost
  25. Mad as a Hatter
  26. Heart of Steel Part II
  27. Appointment In Crime Alley
  28. Two-Face Part II
  29. Pretty Poison
  30. Shadow of the Bat Part II
  31. Feat of Clay Part I
  32. His Silicon Soul
  33. Off Balance
  34. Vendetta
  35. Birds of a Feather
  36. Heart of Steel Part I
  37. On Leather Wings
  38. See No Evil
  39. The Clock King
  40. It’s Never Too Late
  41. Joker’s Wild
  42. Eternal Youth
  43. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  44. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  45. Zatanna
  46. Day of the Samurai
  47. Avatar
  48. The Demon’s Quest Part I
  49. The Mechanic
  50. The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
  51. Terror in the Sky
  52. P.O.V.
  53. Christmas with the Joker
  54. Fear of Victory
  55. Be a Clown
  56. The Worry Men
  57. What is Reality?
  58. Fire From Olympus
  59. Night of the Ninja
  60. Mudslide
  61. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  62. Nothing to Fear
  63. Prophecy of Doom
  64. Tyger, Tyger
  65. Blind as a Bat
  66. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
  67. Dreams In Darkness
  68. The Last Laugh
  69. Cat Scratch Fever
  70. Moon of the Wolf
  71. Paging the Crime Doctor
  72. Time Out of Joint
  73. Sideshow
  74. The Under-Dwellers
  75. The Forgotten
  76. The Terrible Trio
  77. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Baby-Doll (Alison LaPlaca) (first appearance)

Much like The Ventriloquist, this is just a flawless elevator pitch for a character that doesn’t need much to work. The notion of a tiny child actually being a thirty-something year old criminal with multiple henchmen is great in itself, but the way they utilise that concept is sublime.

Honestly, just put on the final 60 seconds of this episode and try to change my mind that this is a top ten BTAS villain. If you need further convincing, consider her badass bodyguard, Mariam.

  1. The Joker
  2. Poison Ivy
  3. Harley Quinn
  4. Mr. Freeze
  5. Two-Face
  6. The Ventriloquist
  7. Catwoman
  8. The Phantasm
  9. Baby-Doll
  10. Bane
  11. Mad Hatter
  12. Penguin
  13. HARDAC (and Randa Duane)
  14. Clayface
  15. Ra’s al Ghul
  16. The Riddler
  17. Lloyd Ventrix
  18. Killer Croc
  19. Count Vertigo
  20. Clock King
  21. Rupert Thorne
  22. Nivens
  23. Josiah Wormwood
  24. Scarecrow
  25. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  26. Talia al Ghul
  27. Sid the Squid
  28. Thoth Khepera
  29. Maxie Zeus
  30. Jimmy ‘Jazzman’ Peake
  31. Tony Zucco
  32. Man-Bat
  33. Hugo Strange
  34. Red Claw
  35. Arnold Stromwell
  36. Mad Bomber
  37. Tygrus
  38. Rhino, Mugsy and Ratso
  39. Kyodai Ken
  40. Gil Mason
  41. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  42. Cameron Kaiser
  43. Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
  44. Mad Dog
  45. Ubu
  46. Professor Milo
  47. Romulus
  48. Sewer King
  49. Boss Biggis
  50. Montague Kane
  51. The Terrible Trio

Plugs

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.

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Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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