'Call the Midwife' Recap: Season 9 Episode 4

Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter) makes plans to save Nonnatus House   Credit: Courtesy of BBC / Neal Street Productions

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Neal Street Productions

Believe it or not, we’re at the half-way point of Call the Midwife Season 9. This week, Sister Julienne’s quest to keep Nonnatus House relevant results in ruffled feathers and close quarters. Fred and Reggie befriend a man whose passion has made him ill and Valerie attends a tricky delivery with a trainee doctor in tow.

The Junior Doctor Experiment

We are reminded, as Sister Julienne reads an ominous letter from the council, that Nonnatus House is on the schedule for urban renewal demolition in the near future. Therefore, she’s a nun on a mission when she approaches Dr. Turner with her idea to keep her midwives relevant and the maternity home in business in these changing times.

When the united front of Turner and Julienne present their scheme to offer training, guidance and accommodation to four junior doctors during their interim diploma training, the others have questions, particularly about the sleeping arrangements. The nurses have to give up a bedroom and a bathroom roster is put in place. Valerie insists Phyllis take her bed since they can’t have her back going out again during this critical time. Nurse Crane accepts this kindness, and the whole situation in general, begrudgingly.

The arrival of the doctors is met with equal parts trepidation and excitement.


Introductions are made at the dinner table and it becomes obvious very quickly that only two of the four doctors will be consequential. One of them, posh Dr. Benedict Walters (Sam Woolf), is the son of a famous physician and writer of the seminal obstetrics and gynecology textbook. Apparently, Benedict is asked about his father all the time finds it annoying. Valerie is paired with the more polite, but much less confident Dr. Kevin McNulty (Lee Armstrong).

The next morning at the clinic, the midwives get to work training their assigned docs. None of them seem accustomed to speaking directly to patients- a shortcoming the doctors are quickly made aware of.   

One experienced mother comes in already in labor. When the ambulance doesn’t arrive soon enough, Dr. Walsh grabs the opportunity to get some hands-on experience. (There’s obviously some competition between McNulty and Walsh). The ladies in the waiting room are sent way as the team go to work on this urgent delivery. Nurse Crane guides Benedict through the delivery and when he awkwardly puts the baby in her mother’s arms, Phyllis compliments him.

Inviting four male doctors into a convent was bound to cause some issues. Dinnertime around the Nonnatus table has gotten rather crowded and the appetites of the new doctors have made for skimpy meals for the others. The guys’ delivery tally board seems crass and Nurse Anderson expresses her disapproval. But their most egregious transgression is when bad boy Walters starts mixing up beaker cocktails and then suggests a drunken game of cricket out front.

A broken window brings the nuns and Phyllis running. Sister Julienne gives the young men a serious dressing down as only a nun can do. If they mess up again, they will be kicked out of the house. They look chastened and uncomfortable, particularly Dr. McNulty who had already taken Walsh to task on his inappropriate drinking.

Later, Valerie and Kevin have a chat about the tension between him and Dr. Walters. He says that Benedict is a natural and top of class. Conversely, Kevin endlessly studies yet still falls short. Nurse Dyer commiserates that some of us just have to work for what we get.

Meanwhile Dr. Walters and Trixie have their own chat. He doesn’t feel the elation and compassion he’s observed in her and her colleagues. Though he feels it’s preordained that he follow in his father’s footsteps, Trixie disagrees.  

“We make our own choices in life, Dr. Walters.  You won’t find any solutions in there(alcohol). Believe me, I know.”

Dr. Turner sums up his feelings about this junior doctor adventure, telling Nurse Crane that it’s nice having a few chaps about. Not only that but having the extra help has convinced him that now might be the time to take on another doctor in his practice. Shelagh is glad to finally hear this coming from her overworked hubby and says she will discuss the financials with Miss Higgins.

George Benson and his Birds

On a Civil Defense Corps outing through apartment buildings scheduled for demolition, Fred Buckle discovers an older gentleman with a worrying cough trying to retreive one of his pigeons. The man brushes him off, but Fred is still concerned so he and Reggie return for another visit.

Reggie is fascinated by the birds so after proper introductions and a little instruction, George Benson (Phil Daniels) allows the young man to hold his favorite pigeon, Dot.  George ignores Fred’s reminder that his home is set for demolition and shows Reggie the rest of his flock. Fred notices there is blood on the man’s handkerchief and makes a call to Dr. Turner with his concerns.

Dr. Turner shows up to examine Mr. Benson at his flat. They both suspect he has TB, but tests need to be run. George insists he won’t go to a sanitorium or move to a flat surrounded by strangers and without his birds. His father kept pigeons as well. They’re his passion and his family.

Dr. Turner returns with the good news that he doesn’t have tuberculosis and antibiotics should take care of the infection. But when George comes to Fred’s CDC meeting to talk about homing pigeon raising and racing, he has a bit of a relapse and has to depart early. Fred invites him to return when he’s rested up, but he’s uneasy about the health of his new friend.

Fred’s worries turn out to be warranted. Reggie decides to check on Mr. Benson while Fred and Violet are out, and he finds George collapsed on the floor with his pigeons flying around the flat. Reggie goes for help. A puzzled Dr. Turner sends his patient to the hospital for tests. Reggie and Fred assure George they’ll look after Dot and the others.

At Nonnatus, Dr. Turner shares his patient’s baffling situation with Sister Julienne. Dr. McNulty overhears the conversation and has an idea about what might be wrong with Mr. Benson but is hesitant to mention it. Val ignores his qualms and soon the men are bonding over their working-class backgrounds. The younger physician shares the story of his coal miner uncle who contracted histoplasmosis, a fungal infection with symptoms similar to TB that is transmitted through pigeon droppings. Dr. Turner is grateful for his input and reassures young Kevin to trust in his own knowledge.

Patrick informs Mr. Benson of his diagnosis and that he must go into hospital treatment. The doctor also breaks the news that he must let his birds go because keeping them is making him ill. At first, George refuses, but he understands his life is at risk. Fred has found some members of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association who are willing to take Benson’s birds.  And though George entrusts his precious Dot to Reggie, he’s still heartbroken to lose the most meaningful part of his life.

Fred (Cliff Parisi) and Reggie (Daniel Laurie) accept George Benson's (Phil Daniels) beloved pigeon  Credit: Courtesy of BBC / Neal Street Productions
Fred (Cliff Parisi) and Reggie (Daniel Laurie) accept George Benson's (Phil Daniels) beloved pigeon (Photo: Credit: Courtesy of BBC / Neal Street Productions)

Lesley Pike’s Difficult Delivery

This plotline intersects with the junior doctor portion of the episode but I decided to highlight it separately because it seemed substantial enough to stand alone.

Lesley Pike (Poppy Gilbert) is married to a wheeler-dealer of sorts, always making shady transactions with suspect merchandise. She’s afraid he’ll end up in jail, but he assures her it won’t always be like this. While her fear is repeated several times, the issue is never resolved so we have to assume the point of this story arc is to allow us to see Dr. McNulty in action.

Mr. Pike calls Nonnatus House in a panic with news that his wife is in labor.  Valerie gets the call and Dr. McNulty not only asks to join her, but demands the keys to Dr. Walter’s car.  I like this more assured Kevin!

Nurse Dyer guides her trainee through the delivery. The head is almost out but it’s very tight fit- remember when Lesley mentioned earlier that this pregnancy felt “bigger”? Valerie switches places with Kevin in order to locate the shoulders. It’s very uncomfortable and she apologizes to her patient.  (Anyone else wonder what’s happened to the gas and air we used to see so often?) One of the arms is behind the baby’s back. McNulty suggests an episiotomy, but Val firmly says it won’t be necessary.

When the baby is finally out, her heart rate is low and she’s not crying. McNulty almost makes the mistake of cutting the cord before clamping it, but again Val saves the day. The pair work to get the baby breathing and the danger passes for the Pikes’ new daughter.

Back at Nonnatus, Kevin finally gets his tick on the delivery chart and, more than that, valuable experience in the presence of a skilled and patient midwife.

As the episode draws to a close, we see Trixie at a AA meeting. She’s been sober for almost two years. When the junior doctors say their farewells, Benedict gifts Trixie his beakers as a sign he got her message about alcohol not being the answer to his problems. Sister Julienne considers this exercise a success, but says if they do it again, they will have the doctors lodge elsewhere. Nurse Crane strongly concurs.

So what did you think about this week’s installment of Call the Midwife? Personally, I found it to be more engaging than earlier episodes in this season. I don’t want to say it was the infusion of testosterone, but I did enjoy the dynamic between the young medics who were untried in the field and their more experienced teacher-midwives. I’ve not watched ahead, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Dr. McNulty again as a protégé to Dr. Turner and perhaps a love interest for Valerie (fingers crossed). Also is anyone else concerned about Nurse Crane? She’s seemed tired and out of sorts all season. Let’s chat about my predictions and more in the comments below!

Carmen Croghan

Carmen Croghan often looks at the state of her British addiction and wonders how it got so out of hand.  Was it the re-runs of Monty Python on PBS, that second British Invasion in the 80’s or the royal pomp and pageantry of Charles and Diana’s wedding? Whatever the culprit, it led her to a college semester abroad in London and over 25 years of wishing she could get back to the UK again.  Until she is able, she fills the void with British telly, some of her favorites being comedies such as The Office, The IT Crowd, Gavin and Stacey, Alan Partridge, Miranda and Green Wing. Her all-time favorite series, however, is Life On Mars. A part-time reference library staffer, she spends an inordinate amount of time watching just about any British series she can track down which she then writes about for her own blog Everything I Know about the UK, I Learned from the BBC.  She is excited to be contributing to Telly Visions and endeavors to share her Anglo-zeal with its readers.