It’s December 1967, and it wouldn’t be a Call The Midwife Christmas episode without a pageant or other festive community event planned by Fred Buckle. Life in Poplar is slowly returning to normal a few months after the terrible train crash from last season. Fred decides that the neighborhood needs to come together to raise money for those families still affected by the tragedy and proposes they put on a local talent show, “Poplartunity Knocks”– a play-on-words from the title of a British talent show, Opportunity Knocks, from the 40s and beyond.
After recruiting Cecil Robinson as a set designer and Timothy Turner as musical director, the team tries to find acceptable performers (complete with the obligatory lousy audition montage). Meanwhile, Cecil’s biggest challenge is to construct a functioning applause-o-meter. More on the performances at the end of this recap.
In other news, the Mullucks family is back! Who can forget the harrowing but ultimately uplifting story from season five when Rhoda Mullucks (Liz White) delivered a daughter with severe congenital disabilities caused by the drug thalidomide? Now six years on, Susan is a happy, resilient girl. We also learn that Rhoda is expecting again and is understandably nervous about her unborn baby’s health and how she will manage a newborn and a child with significant physical requirements. Shelagh reassures Rhoda that she can cope, and when her son is completely healthy, Rhoda tells Dr. Turner she would like to name him Patrick.
Let’s not forget Rhoda’s husband, Bernie (Chris Reilly), a proud father who loves little Susan (Emily Webb) dearly. Unfortunately, over the years, he has turned to alcohol to deal with the stress and guilt of raising a child with severe physical disabilities. One night he gets so drunk he loses track of Susan’s Christmas present, a lovely Tudor dollhouse, which he later finds destroyed in the back of a rubbish truck.
When he shows up inebriated at the maternity hospital while Rhoda is laboring, Trixie takes him aside and assures him she understands his struggles. She offers him a place where he won’t feel alone but says he needs to ask for help. Matthew tracks down another dollhouse for Susan in time for Christmas. This kindness affects Bernie greatly and motivates him to attend an AA meeting with Trixie. In a touching tribute to his beloved Susan, he explains the pain of loving and his resolution to change.
In another story of birth and new beginnings, we meet Cindy Dalvert (Jesse Akele) just as she leaves Holloway Women’s Prison. It doesn’t take long for Cindy to realize she is on her own with a baby on the way – her boyfriend has done a runner, and she has no other family. She finds lodging in a dodgy boarding house and attempts to apply for benefits but doesn’t possess the needed documentation. She goes to Violet Buckle’s shop for baby supplies, and Reggie notices she’s not got a proper winter coat. Before he can offer his, Cindy disappears.
Call the Midwife
It turns out Cindy’s baby is indeed a holiday baby, but not an Easter one as she had claimed earlier. When her waters break in the stairwell, she is unceremoniously kicked out of her lodgings by her unscrupulous landlady. The scared young woman ventures into the cold night, calling for help but being ignored. That is until she collapses near Miss Higgins’s house. When she and Phyllis hear Cindy’s cries, they help her inside, where she safely gives birth to a baby girl under Nurse Crane’s expert care.
Once the baby is born, and Cindy is put up at the maternity home, Miss Higgins takes over. She learns that the Yorkshire lass was moved from place to place after her mother was committed to a mental hospital. Working her administrative magic, Millicent tracks down the documents necessary to get a benefit allowance for Cindy and her child and a long-term place at a mother and babies home in Essex.
Meanwhile, Nonnatus nuns in Poplar are apparently becoming an endangered species. One of the first things we learn in this episode is that Sister Hilda will remain at the Mother House – not even a goodbye glance of Fenella Woolgar. Then, by the end, Sister Frances is set to depart on account of that nasty double fracture she sustained in a snowy bicycle accident. The overworked young nun will also return to the Mother House to heal and recharge her spiritual batteries. Can Nonnatus House be considered a convent if you only have two nuns and one is retired?
Let’s turn now to the accelerating romance of Nurse Franklin and Matthew Alyward. At the beginning of the episode, Trixie has just returned from Portofino, where she’d been caring for her dying godmother. Matthew asks Nurse Corrigan to find out what Trixie’s ring size is so he can buy her an engagement ring. He swears the young midwife to secrecy, but word eventually reaches Sister Julienne, who takes it upon herself to question Mr. Alyward about his intentions. She then suggests he consult Trixie before buying the ring because she was disappointed with the one she was given by poor clergyman Tom Hereward back in Season 4. Bit of an overstep there, Julie!
After several interrupted attempts to propose, Matthew finally takes Trixie to a romantic spot on the Thames and offers a heartfelt testimonial of his feelings for her. Nervous that she won’t like the honking diamond ring he already bought her, he clumsily tosses the ring box down on the beach below. Trixie is a generous and caring woman, but nothing is coming between her and quality jewelry, so she high-tails it to the shore and finds the ring just shy of the water’s edge. The couple returns to Nonnatus House to share the happy news while the gang gathers around them to sing “Auld Lang Syne.”
As for highlights of the talent show: Susan Mullucks joins the Turner family in singing “Frosty the Snowman”; Matthew and Nancy perform a surprise duet of the Frank Sinatra song, “Something Stupid;” and the stricken look on Phyllis Crane’s face as she sits on stage during Millicent Higgins painful woodwind recital. But it’s the simple guitar rendition of “Away in a Manger” by Reggie with Cindy Dalvert and baby Melissa on stage showing their support that touches the audience’s heart. Reggie wins the competition and gives the prize cup to Cindy just for being his friend.
And so, after what I felt was a disjointed, jerky start to this episode, I was crying, moved, as usual, by the pain, compassion, and love displayed in this Christmas special. It’s been a hallmark of Call the Midwife from the beginning, and in a few short months, the series will be back for its Season 12 PBS debut.
Call The Midwife Season 12 returns to PBS on Sunday, March 19, 2023, at 8 p.m. ET on most PBS stations. As always, check your local listings.