- The Locked Room – Judy: first printed 1982
- Reprinted – Judy: #1459 (26 December 1987) – #1466 (13 February 1988)
- Reprinted (as Judy Classic ) – M&J: #188 (17 Dec. 1994) – #195 (04 Feb. 1995)
Susan Brown lives with her parents, her older brother Phil and younger sister Linda. They are a close family, helping each other out and sharing everything. That is until one night something strange happens. First Susan hears and accident on the road, she runs out to investigate and finds a puppy on the road and a car driving away. She settles the puppy in the shed, as he seems to be terrified of the house. The next morning she gets up and can’t find any of her family. She finds one of the rooms locked and her family reappear acting peculiar.
Her father tells her he has new scientific equipment in the room that can’t be meddled with and that is why it is locked. The family continue to act strangely, they don’t joke or talk naturally. Instead they seem cold and their speech is stilted. Her mother finds it interesting that Susan thinks they talk strangely, and after this conversation Susan sees them watching a TV programme about learning English. When she raises concerns with a family friend, already the speech patterns are loosening up. Susan feels very alone and tries to find the secret of the locked room herself.
She gets an opportunity to search the house when the family leave looking for samples, for an experiment. She finds a furnace with a very high temperature gauge in her father’s office and she also finds a false eyelash in her parent’s room. Later when her father and Phil are using the furnace she burns her hand on the office doorknob and passes out. She wakes up locked in her room (with bandaged hand) and gets another chance to investigate as the family are missing again.
Finally she gets into the locked room through a trapdoor in the attic. What she finds in there are her parents, Phil and Linda lying unconscious in the room. Fearing they are dead Susan cries, and her tears un-paralyses her real family. The fake family were actually copies made by miniature aliens that crashed outside their house. They have collected all the metal they needed to repair their ship and fly away. The copies of themselves just melt away.
This is one of my favourite stories, I mean who couldn’t love a story where the explanation for a family acting strangely is because they are copies being controlled by miniature aliens! It is a good sci-fi story, the mystery of what has happened to the family is interesting. Also what the secret of the locked room is, is quite intriguing, I would have guessed some alien technology or something similar at first. In my first reading I assumed the family were being mind controlled rather than copies (which has been the case in other stories like “The Face in the Crystal”). Also nice change to to see there aren’t sinister motivations, the aliens are just trying to get home and have no interest in taking over Earth.
So it is a nice pay-off to see what is in the locked room and I do love the image of the little spaceship flying away afterwards. Though one flaw is the ending seems to be full of expository dialogue. First the explanation of why Susan’s tears free the family, then the father’s theory of what has been going on from the aliens crashing and why they locked them up. Also conveniently the clones melt away clearing up any last bit of evidence. Still other than that it is a solid story.
There is a lot great imagery in the story and also the contrast of the family and alien family is handled well. It could have been interesting to see the aliens in their actual form, but I think it works well with just having them fly away, and not interact with the family after they are free. It was good to see them try to fit in, and adjust to human life while they are working on their repairs. The real Mrs. Brown was relaxed and a bit scatty, whereas alien Mrs. Brown tries to follow advice from housekeeping magazines, to try and be the best mother. As Susan was out of the house when they took it over, they were not expecting a fifth member of the family. Although they are cold and wooden to Susan and don’t want to her to interfere with their plans, they don’t actively set out to hurt her. Fake Mr. Brown bandages up her hand when she is hurt and Mrs. Brown tries to follow housekeeping’s advice in being a mother to Susan. Good characters, intriguing mystery and some nice sci-fi explanations.