While Call the Midwife is typically more of an episodic show, its serialised stories have been some of its most effective.
None has been more so than the story about the effects of Thalidomide from last season, which saw many babies born with deformities because their mothers took medicine that wasn’t known to be dangerous at the time.
As soon as Rhoda Mullucks (Liz White) appears onscreen in this episode we know that this story is being revisited. She gave birth to her baby Susan, who was born with malformed limbs, during last season, where she featured in two episodes, and she and her family are still dealing with the many difficulties that come with helping Susan to live a normal life.
It’s unsurprising to see that Dr Turner still holds himself responsible and struggles with how many patients he prescribed the drugs to, but this episode aims to be less about wallowing in the past and more about finding a way to move forward. Rhoda clashes with her husband who wants to protect their baby and keep her close where she can’t be judged, but this disagreement doesn’t divide them. Ultimately, we see that they’ll always have to worry about Susan but that they’ll be much stronger doing so together.
It’s heartwarming and emotional to see this family build a support structure for Susan, and now that she’s also is going to be fitted with artificial limbs, it’s unlikely this is the last we’ve seen of this highly important plotline. More than just supporting each other within the family, the episode also looks at how so many of the parents affected by the Thalidomide crisis came together to help each other in the aftermath of these events.
The show doesn’t only deal with the ongoing consequences of Thalidomide in this hour, as it also devotes its other central plotline to exploring racial tensions in Poplar through a mixed race family. Carrie Antoine (Melody Grove) is about to give birth to her fourth baby, but her four sons are being bullied because of the colour of their skin. Mere moments after the birth of Carrie’s fourth son, tragedy strikes the Antoine family when Phylis accidentally hits one of the boys as he runs across the street.
It’s a shocking moment, and one that sees Phylis under investigation for potentially reckless driving. It prompts a great deal of introspection for her, and is perhaps too neatly resolved when we find out that the boy’s reason for running across the road was to escape the bullying from other kids. While it temporarily seems like Phylis might not be able to be her usual self, it does become clear she’ll use this experience to learn and grow.
Elsewhere in this episode we see Trixie finally come clean to new love interest Christopher about her alcoholism, although she’s slightly let off the hook by his seemingly bigger fib about the fact that he has a daughter and was previously married. The stakes are relatively low for this little conflict, though, especially while Phylis is considering the very real implications of the car crash and the Mullucks family are going through even more ordeals as they try to find a way to help Susan. Even so, it helps balance the episode and it all adds up to be another powerful and emotional hour for the show.
This instalment is another one that continues to show how Call the Midwife’s always ready to look at complicated and difficult issues, and it’s good to see that the series is also not prepared to forget about the effects of Thalidomide after last season.
Aired at 8pm on Sunday 5 March 2017 on BBC One.
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