Tenko’s second episode, which details the characters’ last few weeks of freedom before the majority become prisoners of the Japanese, is as exciting as it is engaging, building nicely on the foundations of the scene-setting opening instalment.
Once again the narrative principally focuses on the experiences of Marion Jefferson as she unwittingly moves inexorably closer to taking on the mantle of leader of the British women prisoners of war. The meeting she leads at her home with her privileged counterparts from Singapore’s British ‘high society’, in which she seeks assistance with refugees and setting up relief centres, is in many ways a template for the many meetings she will find herself leading in camp. They will be just as trying and frustrating and will also require her to stand up for what she thinks is right. On first glance, Marion might seem to be an unlikely leadership candidate, but as the episode nears its conclusion it becomes clear that she possesses many of the requisite skills. It is Marion who suggests that the survivors of the shipwreck take shelter out of the morning sun, and when one of her party, Rose, unwisely lashes out at her captors it is Marion again who quickly intervenes in order to ensure that she is not shot. It is clear that her practicality and surprising mettle will be important attributes in the grim years of imprisonment that are to follow.
Nearly all of the characters receive further enriching screen-time here, as their personality traits are explored in more detail than was possible in the debut episode. In some of the most powerful lines in the episode, Rose is shown to be insightful and forthright as she attacks Clifford for the part he has played in keeping the citizens of Singapore ignorant of the terrible threat they face. While Beatrice, in a rare moment of downtime at the hospital, is shown to drop her formidable matron routine in order to thank Marion for her help. Later she displays her compassionate side as she bids her nurses to leave Singapore regardless of her own fate. It is clear that there is more to Dr Mason than first meets the eye, and as the series continues it will choose to gradually reveal, layer by layer, why she is the person she has become; a perfect example of Tenko’s dedication to careful and subtle characterisation.
The only character who has thus far failed to come across as coherent is Jeananne Crowley’s Nellie Keene, but this may have more to do with Wheeler’s scripts than Crowley herself, as the nurse certainly comes into her own later in the series. The problem is that, unlike the other characters, as yet she has few discernible or likeable characteristics, and the reason for her inclusion in the series is unclear. The only clue is in her discussion with Kate about all the men she has been out with, which, if you’ve seen the series before, is an obvious precursor to her relationship with Sally Markham, the suggestion being here that Nellie has been ‘through’ so many men as she is in denial about her sexuality…
This is an excerpt from Andy Priestner’s acclaimed book Remembering Tenko in which this episode is reviewed in full. The book also explores and details how the series was made and boasts hundreds of behind-the-scenes photographs. You can purchase Remembering Tenko on Amazon.