This particularly well-constructed episode documents a pleasing change in Beatrice’s fortunes, a conclusion to Kate’s story, and a realisation on the part of all the former internees that their time in the camp will always be with them.
Kate is one of those second-tier characters in Tenko whose storylines have never dominated but have instead offered passing interest, such as her claustrophobic reaction to camp life in the first series and her decision to initially hide the fact that she was a nurse in the second. And yet in those rare moments where Claire Oberman has been given meatier dialogue to deliver and a more important role in proceedings, as in the opening episodes of this third series, she has never disappointed. Her performance in this episode, in which Kate is more central to the action, is no exception.
Some of the episode’s most notable scenes are shared between Oberman and Peter Benson, who plays Tom’s friend Jim. In particular, Kate’s sorrowful reaction (‘Wish I’d been here’) and Jim’s anger that it falls to him to break the sad news (‘Oh Christ! … You shouldn’t have heard like this’) are beautifully played. It is a lovely touch that, in their subsequent scene together, Jim feels compelled to let Kate know that Tom used to talk about her all the time in camp (‘Where you’d live. The number of kids you’d have. Perfect wife you’d be’), and that he is endearingly honest about the fact that they used to tell him to ‘shut up about it.’ This information briefly brings Tom alive again for Kate (and to a lesser extent for us) and gives her the emotional closure she sorely needs.
That Kate’s feelings about Tom’s death are less than straightforward is admirably typical of the series. Despite appearances to the contrary, we learn that, after the initial shock, Kate has feelings of relief rather than grief, confiding in Ulrica that she was uncertain of her future with Tom because she ‘could never have given up medicine.’ Kate, like Marion and Christina, has come out of the camps a changed woman, no longer craving children and ‘domestic bliss.’ Given her poor treatment at Beatrice’s hands and the terrible suffering she witnessed in the camps, the fact that Kate is now instead set on a career in medicine suggests that her vocation is very strong indeed and that, as Joss believes, she’ll make ‘a good doctor.’
Initially at least, Beatrice’s role in this episode follows the same pattern as recent episodes as she mopes about in her dressing gown to no good purpose, clearly feeling defeated and worthless. However, this narrative is thankfully set to change all that, as a large chunk of it is set aside to principally prove to her that, despite her doubts and self-pity, she is needed after all. Before she turns this corner though, there is more pain to come, when: Alice declares that she is not really a doctor anymore; Phyllis insensitively refuses her offer to fetch Joss and Christina; and worst of all, Kate rejects her suggestion that she comes with them to the funeral even as she is attaching a black band to her arm (‘Oh you really don’t have to though. Thanks all the same’). Appropriately enough, it is ‘speak as you find’ Maggie, who requires Beatrice’s professional opinion, who gets through to her by giving her some home truths as to what she made of her in the camp: ‘I thought you were a right bossy cow, but I did admire your guts. You wouldn’t have thrown your hand in then nor let anyone throw theirs in either!’ The stern ‘talking to’ has an obvious effect, but it is Alice’s sudden arrival and need of her support that builds on the work that Maggie began. The realisation that Alice has not in fact been raped brings possibly the broadest smile to Beatrice’s face that we have ever seen. And from here on in it only gets better for Beatrice, as she makes herself useful by ‘mothering’ Alice (the moment in which she gathers her up in a towel and starts rubbing Alice dry is particularly charming), is apologised to (and flattered) by Stephen, who compares her to Lady Louis Mountbatten and requests her medical guidance, before Maggie finally gets a look in again as she asks her to confirm if she is pregnant. Throughout these sequences Stephanie Cole’s ‘suddenly needed’ acting is incredibly endearing as Beatrice finds herself ‘wanted in all directions’ and recognises that her life is not over after all. This reversal of fortune undoubtedly stands as one of the most feelgood storylines of the final series.
The intention behind Marion’s controversial visit to Yamauchi at Changi is ostensibly to check that he is not being treated badly, but it is fairly obvious that the real reason is that the meeting will present her with the opportunity to adopt the leadership role that she misses so much. Thankfully, like Beatrice, Marion is to find in this episode that, as well as being important to her, the other women still need her to assume this role too. After Tom’s death, Kate immediately thinks of Marion as the person she should turn to and smiles as she says both her name and her former role, accentuating their importance to her. Marion’s invitation of the women to tea after the funeral and her show of concern for Sister Ulrica’s and Christina’s futures also restates her leadership. It seems apparent that Marion will always be their leader to a greater or lesser degree, a fact which does not sit well with Clifford, who selfishly admits at the episode’s conclusion that he resents ‘playing second fiddle to them.’
Marion’s visit to Yamauchi brings with it Burt Kwouk’s penultimate performance in the series. And once again Kwouk somehow manages to retain Yamauchi’s dignity despite the costume. It is something of a relief that Marion is now using a new line to explain her stance on Yamauchi: ‘We don’t have to treat them as they’ve treated us,’ as it holds far more weight than the ‘sometimes he showed kindness’ defence she employed previously. Although Yamauchi tells Marion: ‘It is better I am dead,’ it is interesting that he chose not to take the same way out as Sato. Rather than taking his life under the bushido code, he chose a different path of honour, which saw him obey the orders of his Emperor. The revelation that Yamauchi knew all along about Marion’s second diary is a neat postscript which echoes his question to Christina about why she had not taken paper at the end of the first series…
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.