Call The Midwife may be a bastion of view joy, but parallel to our time and place, 1968 Poplar has a mostly unseen workforce of school-age children working in factories, markets, and other small businesses. The system is ripe for abuse, and Sister Veronica has been watching, suspecting these child laborers are exploited (or worse) despite it being an economic necessity for many families. Dr. Turner and Miss Higgins agree with her plan to create an evening clinic for the children, even though Nonnatus’s schedule is packed.
Even though we know he’s a kind and nurturing person, Fred looks guilty as he describes the routine of the fleet of paper boys the Buckles employ, up early each morning to deliver newspapers before school when Sister Veronica asks them about it. He gives one of the pamphlets about the clinic to the most conscientious of them, Joey Fletcher (Dylan Mynett) after he oversleeps and gets a telling-off from Miss Higgins over her late delivery. With an absent mother and a depressed father in ill health, Joey is the sole support for his family, buying medication for his dad, getting his brothers to school, and keeping everyone clean and fed in their one-room flat.
The first clinic winds up swamped with working kids as Nurse Shelagh and Dr. Turner are shocked by the undernourished, lice-ridden, and (in some cases) physically abused kids. Joey is the last to arrive, noticeably tired and underweight. His school records show his attendance is poor, even though he is “grammar school material.” (Meaning his teachers recognize he’s smart enough to be put on track for university later.) Dr. Turner is deeply concerned.
Returning from a recuperative weekend with fiancé Matthew, Nurse Trixie is running late, with no time to chat, even with Sister Monica Joan. Her first call is chaotic. She finds young Heather O’Dwyer (Lucy Burrows) in advanced labor, screaming and panicky at her boyfriend’s mother’s house. Boyfriend Nigel (Owen Baxter) is terrified and clueless, and his mother, Beattie Jones (Louise Breckon-Richards), entirely surprised, babbles about her rug being ruined. Heather and her baby girl are taken to the Maternity Home, where the nurses are concerned that the baby is relatively small and may be premature.
To make matters worse, Heather is fifteen, which means Nonnatus must inform her parents, Edith (Connie Walker) and Jimmy O’Dwyer (Sean Campion). They arrive and are met by Dr. Turner, who tells them that since Heather is a minor, it is up to them what happens to the baby. Edith has plenty to say, primarily abusive and centering on the shame she has brought to the family, while Jimmy is silent. Edith’s rant escalates until Nurse Trixie finally tells them to leave. Seeing the abuse and Heather’s disinterest in the baby or her health, she consults child welfare officer Miss Scriver (Rhiannon Neads) to determine what should be done.
Out of her depth, Heather runs away to meet Nigel at a cafe, but he’s just as overwhelmed and quickly goes from proposing marriage to saying his mother always said Heather was a tart and stomping out. Heather returns to the maternity home, ill, where they discover she’s developed a puerperal infection; Dr. Turner prescribes antibiotics as the girl slowly responds to Trixie’s calm and kindness, finally asking to see her baby.
Call the Midwife
Sister Veronica visits Joey’s dad Gerard Fletcher (Michael Lindall), challenging his statement that “we can cope.” No, he can’t. It’s Joey who copes and keeps the family together. Gerard admits he is terrified of the family being broken up and his children being institutionalized, as he was when he was a child. But when Joey faints at the Buckle’s store, Dr. Turner diagnoses severe anemia and admits him to the hospital. Dr. Turner visits Gerard and tells him Joey is seriously sick, and Gerard has no choice but to step up, and the first move is to seek medical care.
Dr. Turner tells him that his skin condition (psoriasis) is not curable but can be managed. Meanwhile, Fred visits Joey in the hospital, bearing good cheer and comics, and the next day Joey receives a bone marrow test. He has leukemia and is to start chemotherapy, and he knows he’s seriously ill, although he hasn’t been told what is wrong. Very sweetly, Fred brings Joey’s sick pay and almost bursts into tears (so do we) when Joey tells him he’s been considering the grammar school opportunity to become a doctor like Dr. Turner.
Meanwhile, at the Maternity Home, Heather is ready to be discharged; Trixie, the O’Dwyers, and Miss Scriver meet to discuss her future. Heather and her baby, Keeley, are bonding well, but her abusive parents are the baby’s guardians. Trixie knows that Heather will not have the emotional support she needs without intervention. Her parents nicknamed Heather (who was also an unexpected baby) “Mistake” — to them, it’s a joke, but we know it isn’t. They’ve rejected her emotionally all her life. A court case in four weeks will decide what involvement Heather will have. Simply put, the baby will be under the care of the O’Dwyers, with or without Heather.
As busy as Nonnatus House is, Sister Monica Jones, the heroine of Episode 4’s e.coli epidemic, now has nothing to do. She’s lonely, and when a small dog appears, she befriends him. At first, she won’t let him inside, but no one seems to notice her much these days, and it’s easy for her to house the dog in her bedroom and feed him spam. Sister Monica Joan and her new friend, who she’s named Nothing, have a terrific time together. She smuggles him around under her habit, and when someone catches sight of the dog from the corner of their eye, she delights in truthfully saying, “I see Nothing.”
She lets one person into her secret, Nurse Nancy’s daughter Colette, who asks permission to paint Sister Monica Joan’s portrait for a school project. Colette and Sister Monica Joan become giggling conspirators. At least until the Cheese Incident occurs.
Before that, Heather's court date finally rolls around, and Trixie serves as a witness, telling the truth about Heather's parents. The court decides because Heather never received appropriate parental care, the O’Dwyer family will have two-year supervision by a social worker, and Heather will be able to return to school. She is being given a second chance and thanks the judge. To everyone’s surprise, her father, with whom Heather had a closer relationship once, announces the family will make it work. Heather’s monstrous mother buys her favorite biscuits when she brings baby Keeley home. It’s a start, we hope.
Onto the Cheese Incident. Trixie’s wedding, about two months off, discovers her cousins’ no-showed for their bridesmaid dress fittings. Worse, the deadline for printing the order of service is sooner than she expected. (She’s slightly insulted when Nurse Nancy suggests Violet Buckle as an alternative.) Nurse Phyllis, meanwhile, is in the kitchen making up a snack tray of cheese when Nothing steals a slice and disappears under a large cabinet in the hallway. In rescuing the (now dusty) cheese, Phyllis finds a bundle of letters, including one from several weeks ago from Trixie’s cousin Polly, regretting that she and her daughters can’t be bridesmaids.
Luckily, there’s a solution — as Phyllis admires Colette’s painting, Trixie invites her and Nancy to be bridesmaids with dresses made by Violet Buckle. Also, she asks Sisters Monica Joan and Julienne to provide a prayer and a reading for the service. Sadly, Sister Monica Joan is well and truly busted; Nothing is immortalized in Colette’s painting and everything. Very gently, Sister Julienne and Nurse Phyllis persuade Monica Joan he cannot stay; Nonnatus is a medical facility. Besides, Nothing might have owners looking for him. Sure enough, the dog is happily united with his family as Julienne and Phyllis promise to include Monica Joan more.
As for poor Joey, Nurse Shelagh acts as a mediator when his mother, Pam Fletcher (Stacey Victoria Bland), returns to the family at the news of his condition. It may only be a temporary truce, but she and her estranged husband visit their son together, as she tells Joey she has a place nearby. We don’t know Joey’s prognosis; we see him for the last time in a wheelchair, visiting his family, looking frail and sick. It’s one of Call The Midwives’ strengths that tidy, happy endings are not always provided, but having met Heather and Joey in this episode, we want everything to turn out well.