This episode, which principally dramatises Dorothy Bennett’s single-minded determination to keep her baby healthy, with desperately tragic consequences, is arguably the most accomplished instalment thus far. This is Anne Valery’s first contribution to the series and, like Jill Hyem, with whom she shares scripting duties from here on in, Valery demonstrates that she is equally capable of writing strong, character-led drama.
Veronica Roberts gives a breathtakingly realistic performance as Dorothy, as she holds on to the one thing that still gives her life meaning, but inadvertently, and in a cruel twist of fate, contributes instead to the very situation she is frantically seeking to avoid. The idea of bringing up a baby in such squalor with such a poor diet doesn’t bear thinking about and, in particular, mothers in the audience must find it almost impossible not to identify with Dorothy’s plight. What mother would be comfortable with the idea of their baby having to get used to the conditions in the camp, as Beatrice suggests Violet will in time? Dorothy’s determined pursuit of Violet’s good health sees her swallow her pride and work as a skivvy for the dreadful Mrs Van Meyer, and risk her life by regularly escaping the compound for precious bottles of milk from trader’s wife Lia. So consumed does Dorothy become that she is shown to be the only woman present at the discussion of the tree felling who is not listening, as she is tending to Violet instead. Ultimately, Dorothy’s problem, as she recounts towards the episode’s end, is that she doesn’t ‘do as she’s told,’ although only the most heartless viewer would judge her for it. That Dorothy seeks forgiveness for Lia’s torture by going out to her with water despite the punishments threatened by Yamauchi, says a great deal not only about her sense of guilt but also about her courage and strength of character. As we will continue to learn as the series progresses, there is much more to complex Dorothy than first meets the eye.
Some of Roberts’s most affecting dialogue sees Dorothy think back to her bungalow with a real nursery back in Singapore (which, although it is hard to believe here, we will eventually see for ourselves some twenty episodes later) and her Auntie Violet – after whom her baby is named – in Wolverhampton who sent on a photo of herself in the garden, in which she was holding a Japanese parasol of all things. Similarly moving is the scene in which Dorothy recounts to Nellie how cross she’d get with Dennis for biting his nails and leaving hair in the comb, and her emotional breakdown when she recognises that she’ll ‘never be able to say sorry’ to him.
One of the episode’s other chief concerns is the further rehabilitation of Sylvia Ashburton, as she transforms from the loud-mouthed, racist snob of the previous episode to a thoughtful, caring matriarch. She not only provides support to Sally, accompanying her to the latrines and dispelling fears about her pregnancy, and Dorothy, by giving her money, but also, despite her prejudices, even fetches water for Christina. Furthermore, by the close of the episode she appears to be willing to risk her own life by volunteering to take water to a native she barely knows. It is to the credit of both Renée Asherson and writer Anne Valery that these changes are achieved believably…
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.