It’s Christmas in Poplar and there’s a wedding on the horizon, but the discovery of an unexploded bomb and the beginnings of a polio outbreak threaten to halt the festivities, especially when Nonnatus House and the surrounding streets are evacuated to make way for the army experts. The bomb functions as a well-placed reminder that the East End of the late 1950s was still recovering from the damage wrought by the Second World War, and the impact of war on its survivors emerged as a central theme of the episode as a whole, as midwives Jenny and Trixie offer their support to a heavily pregnant young woman and her husband, a traumatised veteran of the Korean War. As ever, the show touches on contemporary issues in a way that isn’t at all heavy-handed; on the contrary, Yvonne and Alan Bridges’ situation is treated with characteristic sensitivity by head writer Heidi Thomas, and Trixie’s involvement in their story allows Helen George to reveal a new and more complex side to her character.
Meanwhile, Shelagh Mannion (formerly Sister Bernadette) and Dr Patrick Turner are preparing for their wedding, following Shelagh’s decision to leave Nonnatus House at the end of the last series. However, it’s clear that Shelagh feels her departure has cut her off entirely from her former sisters at the time when she most needs their support, and when Patrick’s son Timothy becomes dangerously ill it looks as if the wedding might be off. Laura Main and Stephen McGann were highly praised for their performances throughout Call the Midwife’s second series, and the standard remained high as their characters struggled to come together in spite of obstacles both internal and external.
At its heart, Call the Midwife is a show about family, and as such it fits naturally into the Christmas TV schedule. However, in spite of the obvious focus on birth, family is not given a solely biological definition and familial bonds are consistently shown to be no less strong for having been formed by choice rather than by blood. It’s a message whose impact could easily be lessened by excessive sentiment, but the creators have always been careful not to make that mistake, choosing instead to deliver high quality drama without sensationalism or soap opera. Their reward has been the show’s enduring popularity and by the impressive hype for the upcoming third series of eight episodes, to be broadcast in 2014. If the writing and acting continue at a similar standard, it could be one of next year’s TV highlights.