PBS’ Call The Midwife returns in just about a week, which means that unless you’re VERY dedicated and have the week off, you won’t have time to binge the whole series before Season 9 starts on March 29. Never fear: I watched all eight seasons to prepare for Drama After Dark, the live drama aftershow I co-host for WGBH, so I did the binge-watching for you. Read on for a quick-and-dirty overview of each season!
We meet the nurses and nuns of Nonnatus House through the eyes of Jenny Worth, our noble main character and the real-life person from whose memoires the show is drawn. We’ll start with our four nuns: sweet Sister Bernadette, tough Sister Angelina, doddering Sister Monica Joan, and the wise Sister Julienne. Our civilian nurses, other than the babe-in-the-woods Jenny, include spunky Trixie, thoughtful Cynthia, and Hufflepuff-incarnate Camilla Fortescue-Cholmondeley-Browne, who goes by Chummy. There are only three men you really need to care about: Dr. Turner, who basically acts as the only doctor in the entire area, Fred, the Nonnatus handyman and comic relief, and PC Noakes, local bobby (that is, “police officer” in Brit-speak) and Chummy’s love interest.
- Jenny meets Mary, a teen mother from Ireland whose baby is taken away, causing her to steal another woman’s baby.
- Jenny befriends Joe, an elderly man who lives alone. When he’s moved to a nursing home, his leg is amputated and he dies.
- Cynthia supports David after his wife Margaret slips into a coma and eventually dies due to eclampsia.
It’s 1958, and there are some major changes coming to Nonnatus house. Specifically: Chummy and Peter leave to work as missionaries for several episodes, and when they return Chummy is pregnant! Her friends help her deliver the baby until serious complications send her to the hospital, but both Chummy and baby Fred make it through. Sister Bernadette starts to question her life as a nun and develops feelings for Dr. Turner. During a tuberculosis screening, they find out that she has the disease, and she’s sent to a sanatorium to recover. While she’s there, she comes to the decision to resign, and gets engaged to Dr. Turner (awww). Cynthia has a major crisis of confidence after a baby she delivers dies. Jenny saves her ex boyfriend’s life and impresses the higher-ups at The London. Trixie continues to be glamorous and charming. Jenny’s new love interest Alec, who works as a council surveyor, tells the Nonnatans that Nonnatus House has been condemned and will be torn down.
- Trixie and Sister Angelina treat a woman on a cargo ship, who it turns out is the captain’s daughter; he kept her on board to keep the sailors happy. Trixie strikes up a friendship with her and convinces her to leave the ship behind.
- Jenny delivers a baby with spina bifida, a serious birth defect of the spine, which at the time was not well understood.
- Trixie, Sister Bernadette, and Dr. Turner help an intense pair of adult twins: the sisters share a husband, one is pregnant, and the other fears midwives and medical assistance.
Sister Bernadette? That’s Shelagh to you! She’s all set to marry Dr. Turner when an unexploded ordnance left over from the blitz AND Turner’s son Timothy contracting polio forces them to postpone the wedding. The bomb also hastens the demise of the original Nonnatus House, so everyone moves into the new place, to much grumbling. Nerdy but kind Sister Winifred joins the cast and the midwifery rota, replacing Shelagh and Chummy, who’s struggling to adjust to homemaking, and eventually comes back as a part-time midwife. Also new to Nonnatus is Patsy, who briefly appeared last season. Shelagh and Dr. Turner find out she can’t have a baby due to the tuberculosis, and decide to adopt. Chummy’s mother visits and ends up staying when they discover she has terminal cancer. Trixie dates a local curate and then gets into a fight with Jenny when Jenny gets promoted. Speaking of Jenny, remember that boyfriend of hers, Alec? He’s badly injured in a workplace accident, and while it initially seems he will recover, albeit without his foot, he dies suddenly, prompting Jenny to take some time away at the Mother House and ultimately to leave Nonnatus to work in hospice care.
- Patsy diagnoses a mysterious tropical disease and reveals her horrific backstory of growing up in an internment camp during WWII.
- Jenny, Sister Monica Joan, and Dr. Turner treat a family with two children with cystic fibrosis, a serious genetic condition that at the time was not well understood.
- Sister Julienne and Cynthia help a mother with severe postpartum psychosis.
Chummy and Patsy get snowed in at a home for unwed mothers, and Chummy ends up staying on to manage the place. Cynthia does a reverse Sister Bernadette and leaves Nonnatus to become a nun, returning later in the season as Sister Mary Cynthia. Two new nurses join Nonnatus: the no nonsense Phyllis, who immediately clashes with Sister Angelina, and sweet Barbara, who struggles to stand up for herself. Trixie gets engaged to curate Tom, but eventually breaks it off, and in the aftermath realises that she is an alcoholic. Sister Winifred attempts to teach the working girls of the East End about safe sex. Dr. Turner suffers a depressive episode, and Shelagh takes the reins at the clinic. Sister Julienne reunites with an old flame. Fred marries Violet, a local shopkeeper. Patsy’s secret relationship with Delia hits a roadblock when Delia develops severe amnesia after a car accident.
- During a fire at the maternity home, Sister Evangelina accidentally switches two babies, prompting conflict between their mothers.
- Phyllis bonds with Paulette, a young diabetic woman who is encouraged to have an abortion due to her high risk pregancy, and Paulette’s boyfriend, a bad boy to whom Phyllis reveals that she was born illigitimate.
- Barbara helps a patient with hyperemesis gravidarum, a very severe form of morning sickness. This case is also notable because Dr. Turner prescribes thalidomide, a drug now known to cause serious birth defects.
The thalidomide introduced last season is back. Everyone at Nonnatus House is rocked by births of babies with very severe birth defects, and Patsy, Phyllis, Shelagh, and Dr. Turner set out to find the cause. Delia, her memories restored, comes to live at Nonnatus house against her mother’s wishes, and decides to train as a midwife after helping a woman through a home delivery over the telephone. Blossoming feelings between Barbara and Tom lead to awkwardness with Trixie, who has channeled her breakup and sobriety into becoming an exercise instructor (Trixie, of course, eventually comes around and supports Barbara and Tom). Sister Mary Cynthia is attacked by a man preying on Poplar women and is brave enough to help the police arrest him. Sister Evangelina goes to the Mother House after her bullying about breastfeeding leads to a young mother’s breakdown. She returns near the end of the season, and dies peacefully at Nonnatus house after a stroke.
- Patsy and Shelagh deliver baby Susan Mullucks, who suffers from severe limb abnormalities, which we now know were caused by thalidomide.
- Trixie and Sister Mary Cynthia are called to help when mom Thora’s attempt to deliver her daughter Diane’s baby in secret to preserve Diane’s reputation goes horribly wrong, leading to a uterine inversion.
Everyone comes back from South Africa where they’ve been volunteering for the Christmas Special. Big deal alert: while there, Trixie performed a cesarean section when doctors couldn’t be reached, and Barbara and Tom got engaged. On their return, they find out that rigid Sister Ursula has been put in charge, only to return to the Mother House a few episodes later when her strict rules almost lead to the death of a newborn. Trixie dates a dentist. Sister Mary Cynthia leaves to get treatment for her trauma-induced mental illness and is in and out the rest of the season. Patsy heads to Hong Kong to take care of her dying father. Shelagh finds out that she’s pregnant but is put on bed rest due to complications, and eventually gives birth to a healthy son. To fill the gap, the Nonnatans hire local nurse Valerie, whom we first meet early in the season in the aftermath of an explosion. Patsy returns from Hong Kong to be with Delia, and Tom and Barbara are married, with Phyllis serving as maid of honor.
- Valerie treats a woman who underwent female genital mutilation, helping her through a difficult birth and unpleasant interactions with the specialist doctor at St. Cuthberts.
- Trixie and Dr. Turner treat an enthusiastic early adopter of birth control pills who suffers the unfortunate side effect of a pulmonary embolism and dies in hospital.
- Patsy befriends a mother with a high risk pregnancy due to her achondroplasia (referred to as “dwarfism” on the show), and visits her at St. Cuthberts against the orders of Sister Ursula.
Patsy and Delia, reunited, have gone off to travel the world (good for them), and Barbara and Tom have been temporarily sent to another parish, so you know what that means: new midwife! Lucille is a sweet, hard-working immigrant from the West Indies who immediately gets along well with everyone at Nonnatus, but isn’t as immediately welcomed by some of the families in Poplar. We also have a new policeman, Sergeant Woolf, who is overbearing and immediately clashes with Phyllis. Speaking of Phyllis, when she and Barbara see a fire in the shop and house of one of their patients, Phyllis saves the day, battling through the flames to save the family. Barbara develops a lingering illness which turns out to be meningitis, with septicemia. Despite her original recovery, she takes a turn for the worse, and dies, supported by Tom and Phyllis. Trixie breaks up with her dentist boyfriend, insisting he should be with his daughter, and falls off the wagon, eventually taking a leave of absence to regain her sobriety. Finally, everyone celebrates Sister Monica Joan’s birthday by taking her to the movies to screen a reel of her life.
- Valerie delivers a premature baby she believes to be stillborn, only to discover that the baby is in fact alive.
- The Nonnatans and Dr. Turner try to locate a man who they believe has smallpox. He’s finally found by Fred’s nephew Reggie, who confides in Phyllis. It turns out that he’s actually suffering from the much less contagious leprosy.
- Valerie and Shelagh treat the Turner’s au pair Magda after she attempts to give herself an abortion with stolen ergometrine from Nonnatus House.
In the Christmas Special, Sister Julienne, Sister Winifred, and Shelagh visit the Mother House: Mother Jesu Emanuel is dying, and a new Mother Superior must be chosen. To Sister Julienne’s relief, she’s off the hook and new character Sister Mildred becomes Mother Mildred. Sister Winifred decides to stay at the Mother House, and in her place two new characters, Sister Hilda and Sister Frances, join Nonnatus House. Valerie and Sister Monica Joan try to set up Lucille with a handsome young mechanic Cyril. Despite her initial reservations, she eventually agrees to go out with him. And speaking of dates, Phyllis goes on one with Sergeant Woolf, to a nude art exhibition no less, though she doesn’t realize it at the time. Over the season, the nurses meet three women who have undergone dangerous illegal abortions, one of whom (Trixie’s friend Jeannie) dies from the procedure. They realize that the person performing the abortions is in fact Valerie’s beloved grandmother, who is sentenced to three years in jail.
- Trixie and the Turners find out that the soon-to-be-married Lois is intersex during a pelvic exam. Initially confused and upset, Lois eventually confides in her fiance and family who support and accept her.
- Mother Mildred and Trixie diagnose a dock worker with anthrax while caring for his dying father.
- Trixie and Sister Hilda care for a woman with anemia and heavy postpartum bleeding. Trixie raises her concerns about the case to Dr. Turner, and they diagnose the whole family with sickle cell disease.
- Valerie and Lucille deliver a baby with a cleft lip and palate, and help his mom cope with the unexpected development.
What will happen in Season Nine? Only one way to find out! Catch Call The Midwife starting on March 29, and don’t miss WGBH’s live aftershow Drama After Dark immediately following broadcast on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter!