A little while ago I wrote about Fictional Twins (see here) and that got me thinking about all those other instances that were kind of like twins, but not really. And that’s led to this post, which is about all the different reasons that I can think of that characters in fiction run into apparent duplicates of themselves, and some of my favorite examples of each!
So the list here isn’t a countdown exactly–it’s in more of an intuitive order than a “worst to best” order. Each entry on the list is a reason why characters have exact doubles out there for them to run into (and there are a lot of reasons, it turns out), accompanied by one of my favorite examples for that reason.
And to be clear, we’re not just talking about stories where doubles of characters exist, but specifically where characters comes face to face with (it would seem)…themselves.
1. Multiple Births
Let’s start with the obvious…twins and such. Usually that means identical twins, including multiple examples from my previous list: Nicholas Benedict & his evil brother, Shasta & Corin, and Edwin Dingle & Buzzy Bellew, and more. But not all multiple births are twins–some are triplets, or even larger numbers of identical siblings.
For my pick, I’m going with some of the most famous identical triplets out there:
Huey, Dewey & Louie
Walt Disney cartoons & comics
Huey, Dewey & Louie are the identical nephews of Donald Duck (and the grand-nephews of Scrooge McDuck). The boys were created by Ted Osborne and Al Taliaferro and made their debut in print in 1937 and then on-screen in 1938. The boys were rambunctious and adventuresome, and have appeared in many shows and comics over the decades. They were most notable to me from the 1980s series DuckTales, which they were basically the stars of. Certainly these characters came face to face with themselves many times, but I don’t know if there was ever a story in which the boys’ identical appearance was made into a plot point–ie a case of mistaken identity or a deliberate attempt to confuse anyone. It seems unlikely since they were basically interchangeable except for their names and the color of their shirts, but they’ve been around so long that it’s not implausible, so who knows.
2. Other Genetics
It’s not just siblings who end up looking exactly alike. In Star Trek, for example, there is an abundance of characters who look exactly like their ancestors, or their descendants–for example, Captain Janeway, T’Pol and Dr. Noonian Soong. Doctor Who also introduced an identical descendant for Danny Pink in one episode. But most of these characters never met their relatives, so we didn’t get to see them interacting with themselves.
One character that did meet his identical great-grandfather was Ben Greenbaum in the movie An American Pickle. Sam Beckett of Quantum Leap also encountered his father, who was played by the same actor, but he had a bunch of make up on to make him look different–obviously, the idea was that he was supposed to look similar but not identical.
There are also a couple of cases of identical cousins that I can think of. One of them is Laura Palmer & Maddy Ferguson from Twin Peaks, and the other one is way more famous and thus my pick for this category:
Cathy & Patty Lane
The Patty Duke Show
The Patty Duke Show was a popular sitcom that ran for three seasons in the 1960s, starring Patty Duke as identical (in appearance) cousins, a fact which was explained by the fact that their fathers were twin brothers (both played by the great William Schallert). Cathy was demure and sophisticated and was supposed to have grown up in Scotland (although she actually had a generic “European” accent), while Patty was from New York and was portrayed as a typically rambunctious and trouble-prone teenaged girl. It was a cute show that featured one of the most recognizable sung TV show theme songs ever.
3. Masters of Disguise
This category is all about people who are such experts at make-up and theatre that they can basically impersonate anyone (it’s not so much about science fiction shapeshifting, which we will come to). Adventure and espionage fiction are full of these guys, including comic book characters like the Chameleon (a Spider-Man villain), Nemesis (who I got to know from John Ostrander’s run on Suicide Squad), and Proxy (from the underrated comic Thriller). I really liked the Unknown Soldier (created by Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert), but I didn’t pick him for this category because I can’t remember any stories well enough to know when there was a particularly cool moment of he and the person he was impersonating coming face to face.
So my actual selection comes from another franchise which is full of masters of disguise:
Ethan Hunt & Owen Davian
Mission: Impossible III
Someday I hope to see a Mission Impossible movie that is better than Mission Impossible III, but as of 2022 this has not happened yet (the seventh movie is currently on its way). The whole franchise–both on film and TV–is full of super-spies who make a habit of wearing improbably life-like masks to impersonate other people to pull off their impossible missions. Notable mask-wearers over the years have included Rollin Hand (Martin Landau), Paris (Leonard Nimoy), Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) and Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise). Occasionally, the impersonated ran into the impersonator, with predictable results. One of the ones I recall the best is in the third movie, where cruel and heartless arms dealer Owen Davian looks up from the sink into a bathroom mirror only to be confronted with the image of himself standing behind himself. Of course, it’s Ethan Hunt in disguise, who quickly knocks Davian into submission—though this still early in the film, so there were still many twists and turns to come. Philip Seymour Hoffman does a great job playing both Davian and Hunt in this sequence.
4. Plastic Surgery, or Some-such
A variation on the “Master of Disguise” option is something a bit more permanent: plastic surgery or something a bit more speculative that is like it. I couldn’t think of that many examples of this (usually “plastic surgery” is employed to allow a new actor to take over an old role, which is sort of the opposite of this), but there were at least two examples in Alias where villains did something like this for nefarious purposes (including allowing Jennifer Garner’s Sydney to basically fight herself). It also happened in the Dynasty reboot (so I’ve read), the James Bond films Thunderball and Diamonds are Forever, the movie and play of Arsenic and Old Lace, and with the main character of the series Knight Rider (in the first episode, Michael Knight’s new face is assumed to be just random; later it is revealed to be a duplicate of the son of Wilton Knight).
My pick for this one is an example that is never actually specifically described–it is probably plastic surgery, but who knows?
Number Six & Curtis, aka Number Twelve
The Prisoner: The Schizoid Man
The Schizoid Man was one of my favorite episodes of The Prisoner, the surreal science fiction show of the 1960s, produced by series star Patrick McGoohan. In the show, McGoohan played Number Six, an unnamed spy who resigned for personal reasons, and was then kidnapped and imprisoned in a soul-suckingly pleasant prison known as the Village. Episodes dealt alternatively with Number Six’s attempts to escape and attempts by the mysterious rulers of the Village to break their prisoner’s will and find out why he resigned.
In The Schizoid Man, Number Six is confused when the villains of the story insist he is actually Number Twelve, a duplicate of their prisoner, who has been brought in to undermine the real Number Six’s confidence and identity. Thanks to secret aversion therapy that he has undergone, every effort he makes to prove his own identity (supposedly key for carrying out this scheme) fails.
Of course in the end, Number Six figures it out and is able to undo the villains’ plans, which makes for quite a cool victory for him (even though he still fails to escape).
5. Clones & other similar organic duplicates
This is a huge category which is best described with this catch-all description because a lot of times it’s actually tricky to tell whether something really counts as a “clone” (ie grown from original genetic material) or not. But rather than get too deep into all the science-based minutia of this, we’ll just say this category covers any duplicates that seem to be a clearly organic beings that were developed or grown through science fiction means. Notable examples include the like Ben Reilly (a clone of Peter Parker); Madelyne Pryor (a clone of Jean Grey); the younger versions of the Newsboy Legion and the Guardian from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World work; the Gangers from the Doctor Who episodes The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People; the human duplicates made in the last season of the 1980’s War of the Worlds TV show; clones made in the Blake’s 7 episode Weapon; Arnold Schwarzzenegger in The Sixth Day, and all those clones from Star Wars: The Clone Wars, including Boba Fett himself (although who knows if he ever came face to face with a double). The Sontarans from Doctor Who are also an entire clone species.
There’s also a number of clones of Kane Creole (a minor character in the comic book Thriller), Ellen Ripley from Alien: Resurrection, the Emperor from Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, the second Carson Beckett from Stargate Atlantis, and many of the characters in the movie Oblivion.
My pick for this category is one of the stranger versions of this idea:
The Meta-Crisis Doctor & the Tenth Doctor
Doctor Who: Journey’s End
In the Tenth Doctor’s debut story on Doctor Who, he had his hand cut off. Being that he was newly regenerated, he was able to just grow another one. But that hand continued to show up through the series until the end of the Tenth Doctor’s last full season, when a burst of regeneration energy found its way into it, and then combined with the human DNA of companion Donna Noble when she touched the hand’s container. This resulted in a “biological metacrisis” which quickly regrew an entire body, with an identical appearance and personality to the Tenth Doctor (or so it seemed–later some important differences were revealed).
David Tennant played the Meta-Crisis Doctor, along with the actual Tenth Doctor, and seemed to have a lot of fun doing so. The presence of a second Doctor made the already packed finale even busier, but still the script managed to make it all work. In the end, the Meta-Crisis Doctor got to go and live in a parallel world and settle into a relationship with Rose Tyler. This indeed seems to have been the reason he was created from a writing point of view–Rose got to have a happy romantic ending with the Doctor, without it actually being the Doctor.
6. Android & Robot Doubles
This is another classic one whose exact definition is a bit blurry. Basically we’re talking about mechanical and artificial life forms that were made (or reshaped) in the image of other characters. For example, there was an android that looked like Kirk in the Star Trek episode What are Little Girls Made Of? And The Avengers episode Never, Never Say Die featured robots in the form of all sorts of people, including Emma Peel and John Steed. Kamelion was a shapeshifting robot in Doctor Who, so it could go here (though it could also go later on this list). And the Teselecta from the Doctor Who episode Let’s Kill Hitler was a shapeshifting ship controlled by a miniaturized crew inside of it, but I think we’ll count it here as well. And back in the 1970’s Wonder Woman on TV faced off with an android copy of herself as well.
Marvel’s SHIELD comics and TV show have had Life Model Decoys (look-a-like androids to intercept attacks on agents) for a long time. In DC, Superman and Supergirl have had duplicate robots for even longer (there was a notable story in the Superman-pastiche Supreme that was about one of these).
Interestingly, Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation is actually an android double of other androids, who are introduced after him but existed earlier according to the internal chronology: the selfish and evil Lore, and the simplistic B-4 (all played by Brent Spiner). And all them are actually doubles of their creator, Noonian Soong (at least, in general). In Star Trek Picard we learn about another set of androids who also resemble another Soong ancestor. And Soong also created another android that was an exact match for his dead wife.
The White Vision on WandaVision was basically a duplicate of another android as well. He never met the original, but he did meet a living illusion copy (which we will revisit in the second half of this series) made by Wanda, so he was still face to face with a duplicate.
My pick for this category?
The Humanoid Cylons
The humanoid Cylons are artificial beings whose biology is so similar to humans that they are virtually indistinguishable. They don’t look like any particular humans, but they certainly still count as duplicates because they look like each other. The idea is that there are seven “lines” of Cylons, but many, many copies of each model. Many of the lines have basically identical personalities, while others (the Number Sixes in particular) seem to have developed a lot of individuality. Consequently, these Cylons are far more complex than one might expect from science fictions villains. The most notable Cylons are played by Tricia Helfer, Grace Park, Lucy Lawless and Dean Stockwell.
Science fiction is full of shapeshifters, especially when you look at various alien races. In DC, you’ve got the Durlans and the Proteans. In Marvel, there are the Skrulls. In Star Trek, there are the Founders (including Odo) and the Suliban. And in Doctor Who, there are the Rutans, as well as the alien in Meglos (I think—I haven’t seen that story yet).
There are also plenty of shapeshifting individuals out there. In addition to those who are simply notable members of the various species identified, the original series of Star Trek included Garth of Izar, who could easily impersonate other people thanks to a skill of cellular metamorphosis taught to him by the friendly inhabitants of Antos IV. There was also a “Chameloid” in the movie Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country–part of another alien race I know, but the one we ever actually saw.
My actual pick for this category, though?
Chameleon Boy & the Omni-Beast / Jimmy Olsen
The Legion of Super-Heroes
Certainly, Chameleon Boy, of the Legion of Super-Heroes, is the shapeshifter that I have read the most about. He’s one of the earliest and most-used members of the team. Created by Jerry Siegel and Jim Mooney back in 1960, Chameleon Boy (real name Reep Daggle) was from the planet Durla (mentioned above) where everyone had shapeshifting powers. Most versions of the character positioned him either as one of the most adept at these abilities, or one of the few who chose to venture off-world. He’s had different characterizations over the years, but frequently he’s been shown to be a fun-loving guy who gets very serious with his heroics, especially when there is a mystery involved.
Chameleon Boy has impersonated a lot of people and a lot of things over the years, but off the top of my head, I couldn’t remember when he had come face-to-face with the person or thing he was copying. So went digging through my comics and found two examples right there in the early years.
First, in “The Legion of Super-Monsters!” (Adventure Comics #309 from 1963), Chameleon Boy briefly took the form of an Omni-Beast–essentially a bird that could travel by water, land or air.
So you know, like a duck. (Well, to be fair, it could also travel through space—so it was like a space-duck). Anyway, Cham (as he’s known to his friends) copied its appearance in order to confuse it for a moment.
Later that year, in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #72, we had “The World of Doomed Olsens” in which the Legion decides to prank Jimmy by pretending to kidnap him and torture him with copies of other various identities that he has assumed over the years.
These various Olsens turn out to be members of the Legion in disguise (along the lines of entry #3, above), but one of them is Chameleon Boy, pretending to be Jimmy’s Elastic Lad persona. He even tortures Jimmy via tickling when he’s in this guise!
8. Alien Duplicates
So this is almost the same as shapeshifters, mentioned above, but it’s still a little bit different. Basically what we’re talking about is situations where some character or force (generally an alien) adopts the identity of a familiar character. They have changed shape to do so, but it’s not a situation where they could do change back and forth to different forms, like a lot of shapeshifters that are out there. One of the most obvious examples would be the “Pod People” from the various iterations of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but in those stories the originals would generally die at the same time that the copy was born, so they didn’t come face to face.
An example who did come face to face would include the Fifth Doctor with Omega in the Doctor Who story Arc of Infinity, in which the anti-matter creature Omega was attempting to enter the positive-matter universe by copying the Doctor’s body.
Another example was in the comic book Zero Hour, where the villain Extant basically “absorbed” the character Waverider and became his physical duplicate. Because of the time traveling nature of the story, the real Waverider saw his duplicate at one point before he died (which makes this example relevant for both this category and another one that will be covered in Part 2).
My pick though?
Trip & Sim
Star Trek Enterprise – Similitude
When Commander Charles “Trip” Tucker is seriously injured during a critical mission, Captain Archer authorizes the creation of a “mimetic simbiot” made by injecting Tucker’s DNA into an “Lyssarian Desert Larvae”, an organism that would develop into a perfect copy or the original organism. So it’s basically like a clone, except that it already had independent life prior to the procedure (albeit non-sentient life). The episode used concept to look at some pretty dicey ethical questions, and overall it worked pretty well in spite of the contrived concept. The original Trip was unconscious the entire time that his duplicate was looking at him, but it still counts as a face to face encounter.
9. Super Powers
One of the other main reasons that characters run into themselves is because it’s their actual super-power to split into more than one person–people with the ability duplicate or replicate themselves. Examples include Multiple Man (Jamie Madrox), Harbinger (from Crisis on Infinite Earths), and Dr. Manhattan (from Watchmen). Jack-Jack from The Incredibles demonstrates this, as does Multi-Man from the TV cartoon The Impossibles and (arguably) Agent Smith in The Matrix. Also, in the superhero-themed table top game, Sentinels of the Multiverse, there is a villain named Proletariat who makes copies of himself.
Luornu Durgo is from the planet Cargg, where all the inhabitants had the ability to split into three independent copies of themselves. Taking on the name Triplicate Girl, Luornu became the first person to join the Legion of Super-Heroes after the three founders. Later, one of her bodies was killed in the Legion’s battle with Computo, and she renamed herself Duo Damsel, where she continued to serve the Legion. In later continuities, Luornu was renamed “Triad”, her duplicates were given three distinct personalities, and she gained a special duplication-based combat style called Tri-Jitsu. There have been lots of other variations of the character through the Legion’s publishing history, but this one was my favorite.
She was almost my pick for this category, before I decided to go in a stranger direction.
Superman II, Superman III
What? Superman? The Man of Steel? With the power to duplicate himself? And only from a couple of movies? Whatcha talkin’ about Willis?
OK, here me out. What I’m going to share with you is, I admit, a bit speculative—even more than super-power-produced duplicates would be. To get what I’m talking about we have to look at Superman III
In that movie, from 1983 and directed by Richard Lester, some bad guys try to kill Superman by making artificial Kryptonite. It fails because they don’t get the composition correct, but the resulting material changes Superman’s personality—making him reckless and uncaring at first, and then getting to borderline evil. Things come to a head when a drunken mess of a Superman, looking rough and unshaven with a gross looking costume, flies to a junkyard. All the workers run away, and then Superman splits into two people and fights himself (and Christopher Reeve does a great job in the double role).
One of the personas is the same angry Superman; the other one is a “normal” and appropriately mannered Clark Kent. Superman continually gets the upper hand, but Clark simply does not give up. Eventually Clark becomes stronger than his opponent, and as he is defeating his enraged opponent, the original “evil Superman” disappears. Clark then stands erect and pulls open his shirt to reveal the familiar (and now clean looking) S-shield underneath.
So, what is going on here? Well, on one hand it’s easy to read this all as if Superman is having a hallucination. Except, the junk yard does seem to be taking damage, so one presumes something physical is happening. Is Superman just thrashing around by himself? Maybe, but at the end of the scene the evil Superman vanishes and Clark Kent remains. Is that part of the hallucination as well? Does he hallucinate changing his clothes while in reality he is cleaning up his costume and shaving?
Maybe the kryptonite is actually activating a little-spoken of power to split into two people when the situation demands it?
Is there any other evidence of this? Well, in the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, Kryptonians demonstrate all sorts of powers that they don’t normally have. Superman can kiss people so strongly that it gives them amnesia, he can repair the Great Wall of China with his vision, he can tangle up an enemy in a giant S-shield pulled of his chest, and he can fly so fast it reverses the course of time itself. General Zod and his cronies are seen levitating objects with beams from their hands, seemingly teleporting, and in one edit, obliterating a boy and a horse by throwing a police siren at them.
But more than that, there’s this bit in Superman II when Superman gives up his Kryptonian powers to marry Lois Lane. To do this, he enters a special chamber in the Fortress of Solitude (wearing his traditional costume) and gets zapped with all sorts of special effects. When it’s done, he emerges without his costume, dressed in normal earth clothes, leaving behind another copy of himself, still dressed as Superman, but slumped over lifeless in the chamber.
I’m calling it: movie-Superman has the ability, in the right extreme circumstances, to split into two people.
But if you disagree, just pretend I picked Triplicate Girl for this spot, and let’s move on!
Actually, we’ve move on right out of this post, since it’s getting so long, and pick this up in Part Two tomorrow.