Tenko consistently excels in its depiction of the complexity of human emotion and motivation and this is nowhere more the case than in the portrayal of the enigmatic Dorothy Bennett. Here, as the girl from Edgware bows out of the series (for the time being), the hugely talented Veronica Roberts once again has the welcome opportunity to flesh out this highly unpredictable – but eminently likeable – character, as Dorothy’s journey of self-discovery reaches a very true conclusion. Elsewhere, Marion continues to find her new life with Clifford an exercise in endurance, Beatrice seeks to come to terms with the deterioration of her eyesight, and the newly arrived Sister Ulrica once again struggles with the denial of self. These plotlines all come together to form a particularly emotional episode in which the performances of the leads and Anne Valery’s beautifully lyrical script hit exactly the right tone.
In Tenko’s second series Sister Ulrica advised a distraught Dorothy that life is longer than she imagined and this episode seems to prove it, as by its conclusion she appears to be completely reborn as she makes plans for her new life back in England. However, in this one episode alone she has to go on quite a journey in order to reach this point. She starts the narrative fortified by Ulrica’s return and, following her run-in with Madge and company, determined not to ‘turn tail and run to God knows where.’ However, she is to become unstuck on both counts. For one thing it transpires that Ulrica will not be around to guide her for long, and for another, underneath it all – just like her mother – she does care what the neighbours think. Indeed, in retrospect, her ‘I am what I am… take me or leave me’ speech to Ulrica sounds like nothing more than a desperate attempt to convince herself.
It is fascinating that Dorothy is seen to put such store by her time in the camps, even going so far as to declare that: ‘In no time it will be like the old days!’ countering Ulrica’s question: ‘Were they so very precious?’ with the view that: ‘Bits were, the closeness and the friendships. Us against the rest!’ It is as if Dorothy is using her experience in camp as justification for her default ‘against the world’ setting: ‘They’re still out there, you know. Waiting for someone to trip up…’ a stance which, as Ulrica wisely observes, helps hide her insecurities and allows her to lash out at anyone including do-gooders like Phyllis Bristow. Although, to be fair to Dorothy, Phyllis does have it coming with her achingly patronising suggestion, after Agnes lodges her complaint, that she should go home as: ‘At least there you’d have the guidance of your mother.’ Phyllis thinks this is for Dorothy’s own good, but naturally that only makes her more determined to dig her heels in. As an aside, that it is the previously unknown ‘Agnes’ who lodges the complaint against Dorothy is very strange. Why not Madge, Enid or Cherry after the way they were rather clumsily shoe-horned into the previous episode?
A key turning point for Dorothy is the news that her mother was killed several years previously. Somehow the manner of her death seems as comically fitting as Dorothy’s ‘doilies and dainties’ description of her: ‘Bombed in the paper shop together with Mr Bright.’ We already know that Ulrica was more of a mother to Dorothy than her real mother ever was, so it is no great surprise that she doesn’t immediately react with floods of tears, however, it is not too long before her guard comes down. We see another side to Maggie in the scene in question as she makes some surprisingly insightful observations, firstly recognising that Dorothy’s tears are about her mother rather than Violet, and secondly, the idea that: ‘Nagging’s one way of loving, ’specially if you don’t understand someone.’ The cheerful follow-up comment: ‘You are a bit of a mystery even to me,’ chimes with the series’ audience who have found it similarly difficult to keep up with Dorothy’s thoughts and feelings. Roberts’s delivery of Dorothy’s lines about her mother talking at her (‘Do this, do that. Oh Dorothy, how could you?’) and her expressions (‘that was “not being very nice”’) are wonderfully naturalistic, as is her heartfelt cry as she finally breaks down and calls out ‘Oh Mummy!’ and her considered intonation of the word ‘home’ after Jake’s arrival cuts her tears short.
However, as Dorothy later relates, Agnes’s complaint and the discovery of her mother’s death are only part of the story, and it is the news that Marion’s diary will be made public that is the actual catalyst for her return to England. It is a brilliant piece of writing that this situation and her immediate compulsion to defend her actions in the camp (‘You know, right away I started imagining how I could win them over! Dorothy sacrifices herself for her baby’s eggs, for medicines for the sick’) prompts her to recognise that she does care what the neighbours think after all. It is an honesty that also incorporates a belief that she no longer knows her true self, as she tells Ulrica: ‘I don’t think I have one. Not anymore,’ which is also why she playfully responds to Phyllis’s comment that she could have been more understanding about how Dorothy felt, by saying: ‘Well even I didn’t, so don’t kid yourself!’…
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.