There are fir trees, snowflakes and Quality Street a-plenty, but festive spirit is in short supply when we are reunited with the nuns and midwives of Nonnatus House.
Sister Monica Joan is busy giddily looking for brandy in Nonnatus kitchens. She’s is in charge of steaming the Christmas puddings but Sister Evangelina doesn’t have time for any premature jollity. There are enemas to be performed and babies to be birthed.
And the exercise quickly goes awry when Sister Monica Joan collapses on the stairs, leaving the pudding basin to explode and fling soaked fruit all over the ceiling. With the threat of swiss roll and custard on December 25th, the festive season hasn’t got off to a good start…
Dr Turner is called to a delirious Monica Joan, as the nurses rally around to care for her. Christmas is a time for returning to your home, the ailing nun mutters – “The very purpose of Christmas is to revisit where ones roots lie” -while in more lucid moments, she rants about the lack of a television at Nonnatus House.
Meanwhile, Barbara is feeling homesick. She can’t go home for the festivities because the red cardigan-ed clan are too busy. Patsy isn’t that upbeat either, pausing to look at poignant photos while she pens a Christmas card to Delia. But Trixie is back to her bubbly self, on the surface at least. Though her refusal to join in with Patsy’s whisky nightcap is a reminder of the sorrow she suffered last season. “Alcohol is awful on the complexion,” she chirps, opting for a handful of foil-wrapped chocolates instead.
When Monica Joan regains her strength she’s full of festive spirit once again and fights to deck Nonnatus’s halls with miles of “space age” tinsel. But her plans are met with hostility from the other nuns, who disapprove of decorations before 18th December. “We are out of kilter with the world… Only we await our tree… and we will never know the joy of television!” she cries, before Sister Evangelina loses her patience and a bitter argument ensues.
Talking of telly, the BBC want to film the Christmas carol service in Tom’s church and air it across the nation on Christmas Day and he’s keen to place a real-life newborn baby in the church’s nativity scene. The nuns aren’t convinced filming in a church is quite proper, but Trixie thinks it will be “frightfully glamorous”. “Tremendously jolly!” Patsy agrees.
Plans for the carol concert get underway, despite the producer being underwhelmed by inside of Tom’s church. Shelagh agrees to take the children’s choir in hand and organises auditions to find the best young voices in the district.
Extra decorations and elaborate costumes are called for too. “The aesthetics are vital. We can’t have any one looking poor,” puffs the producer. Mrs Iris Willens, the church cleaner, must get involved to help Tom and Shelagh if they are going to pull this off. But not before we find out a little more about her. Christmas is a sad time for her, having lost her only little girl at four months years ago – and her pain is closer this year, when her niece gives birth to two perfect twins.
Barbara, Patsy, Fred and a host of children head out on a red double decker to see the Christmas lights in central London. It’s an awfully fun affair, which sees Tom and Barbara bond over sherbet lollies, until one of the children falls ill. The trip also opens old wounds for Patsy, who, as the bus slows on a central London street, spies Delia and her mother stood on a busy pavement.
Meanwhile, in the wake of the argument, Sister Monica Joan opens the door and slips out of Nonnatus House into the snowflake filled air.
The next morning, Iris delights in helping to hold auditions for the children’s choir while Nurse Crane finds Sister Monica’s bed unslept in and her mother’s jewels missing. PC Noakes is soon called and everyone sets out in search of her.
Fred finds her shoes sat in the snow by the docks, while her habit and wimple are found in a bin on Commercial Road. Barbara worries that she left because she wasn’t allowed to celebrate Christmas, and a guilt-ridden Sister Evangelina heads out to buy a huge fir, shedding tears while she decorates its branches.
Meanwhile, Patsy bumps into Delia, who is in the capital to see a specialist, and the pair go for tea in a local cafe. It turns out Delia’s been writing Patsy letters and her mother hasn’t been posting them because she wants to stop her returning to London to live or nurse. That’s exactly what Delia wants though, telling Patsy she wants to pick back up where they were.
Soon, the search for Sister Monica Joan takes a terrible turn when a body washes up at the docks. PC Noakes must tell them the bad news and accompany the nuns to the mortuary to identity the elderly woman. We all hold our breath, but it isn’t her. “Poor, poor woman,” wails Sister Evaneglina, before the nuns return home to pray for their sister’s safe return.
Monica Joan, meanwhile, is alone in a barn talking to a mouse. She’s pawned her mother’s jewels and is travelling though the rural countryside to her family’s ancestral home, a boarded up country estate which is on the market.
She stumbles into the property to find squatters inside. It’s Call the Midwife’s first brush with hippies, who are staying in the grand manor while protesting nuclear weapons at the Aldermaston RAF Base. They care for the desperately unwell nun, who is refusing to be taken to hospital. “I was born in this house and I am content to meet my maker here,” she says.
Back in Poplar, there’s more illness. The little girl from the bus trip has measles and it confirms Dr Turner’s worst suspicions: there’s a epidemic in Poplar. He pushes for a quarantine, which means the local schools are shut early for Christmas – and that Shelagh’s children’s choir can’t perform at the BBC carol concert. It’s almost a disaster, until Shelagh convinces the nuns and midwives to sing instead.
Brand new preparations are well underway at the church. But Iris isn’t feeling quite right either. Shelagh takes her straight to see Dr Turner and the cleaner has a shock in store. It turns out she’s pregnant and about to give birth. She’s 46 and had no idea, but is calmed down by the arrival of Sister Julienne, who delivered her first baby. Within minutes her and her incredibly surprised husband have a little girl, who they proudly name Joy.
Patsy and Delia meet up again, whispering in a Poplar phonebooth. Delia’s been to see the specialist who has promised she’ll be back to her former self once she’s rested a little longer. They almost kiss, but someone bangs on the glass and they go their separate ways.
Meanwhile, Sister Evangelina is getting desperate, and takes the search for Monica Joan into her own hands. She talks to Nurse Crane about the last time she saw her and puts two and two together, setting off in search of the nun’s family home, with the help of Fred and his van full of Christmas trees. They arrive in the nick of time and take Sister Monica Joan back to her home at Nonnatus House.
Back in London, everyone, including the newly-found Sister Monica Joan, heads out to the BBC carol concert. The midwifes don frilly caps, Shelagh sings a solo and Barbara takes great pleasure in the knowledge that her parents will be able to see her on the television during Christmas Day, while Iris offers up her surprise baby Joy to be placed in the nativity cradle as the cameras roll.
On Christmas Day, everyone crowds around a television set to watch themselves on the screen. Sister Monica Joan has spent the money she received from her mother’s pawned jewels on a brand new TV for Nonnatus House.
That and a replacement Christmas Pudding…
Call the Midwife returns for a fifth series in the new year