The year is 1964, and Call the Midwife is back on our screens for series eight – with plenty more tearjerking stories, screaming babies and brand-new characters at Nonnatus House and beyond.
UPDATE: Call the Midwife series eight has now aired in the UK. For more information about series nine and the Christmas special, click here
Here's everything you need to know about the BBC's much-anticipated new series of Call the Midwife...
When is Call the Midwife on TV?
Following on from the Call the Midwife 2018 Christmas Day special, series eight began on Sunday 13 January, with new episodes following every Sunday at 8pm on BBC1.
In the USA, the drama premiered on PBS on Sunday 31 March at 8/7c. If you can't wait until then, the first six series of Call the Midwife are available to watch on Netflix.
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Series eight kicked off on BBC First in Australia on 17 January, and began on TVNZ 1 in New Zealand on Friday 8 March at 8:30pm.
Who are the new characters in Call the Midwife?
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Harry Potter star Miriam Margolyes has joined the cast of Call the Midwife as Sister Mildred, a "forthright and indefatigable sister from the Order" who appeared in the Christmas special. She returns in the first episode of series eight, and will be popping up again as Call the Midwife's “extra-special regular guest star.”
She's not the only newcomer, because – after we first met them at the nuns' Mother House in the Christmas episode – two more new characters have arrived at Nonnatus to make up for diminished numbers.
Fenella Woolgar will play Sister Hilda, and Ella Bruccoleri will play Sister Frances.
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The final addition to the cast is Georgie Glen, who appears as the "redoubtable" Miss Higgins, the new receptionist at Dr Turner's surgery.
We've already said goodbye to Charlotte Ritchie as Nurse Barbara Hereward, whose sad death from sepsis cast a shadow over Poplar at the end of series seven. Luckily, she wasn't forgotten in the Christmas special, with her friends and colleagues paying tribute to her memory.
Speaking at a screening, creator Heidi Thomas said, “You will all be pleased to know that the joy and the optimism of Call the Midwife did not die with Nurse Barbara Hereward, 1936 to 1963. I think something of Barbara’s spirit carries on, and multiplies. We reference it in the Christmas special.”
Her on-screen husband Reverend Tom Hereward (Jack Ashton) will not be back for the new series either, as the character has travelled to New Guinea for his missionary work with Barbara's father.
Sister Winifred actress Victoria Yeates has also left Call the Midwife to focus on her role as Bunty in Fantastic Beasts, although the door has been left open for her return.
She said: "With the opportunity of Fantastic Beasts and all that it entails, it became clear that it was time to hang up Sister Winifred’s wimple and move on to the next adventure."
Which cast members are back for series eight?
So which Call the Midwife characters are back for series eight?
The Call the Midwife team confirmed the return of Helen George as Nurse Trixie Franklin, announcing, "We're delighted to confirm that our Trixie is back where she belongs for Christmas and the forthcoming series."
Trixie was absent from much of the previous series as she sought recovery from her alcoholism (and as actress Helen George gave birth to her own child), but fans can look forward to seeing her back on the job.
Also returning are:
- Leonie Elliott as Nurse Lucille Anderson
- Jennifer Kirby as Nurse Valerie Dyer
- Jenny Agutter as Sister Julienne
- Laura Main as Shelagh Turner
- Stephen McGann as Dr Patrick Turner
- Max MacMillan as Timothy Turner
- Linda Bassett as Nurse Phyllis Crane
- Judy Parfitt as Sister Monica Joan
- Cliff Parisi as Fred Buckle
- Annabelle Apison as Violet Buckle
- Daniel Laurie as Reggie Jackson
- Trevor Cooper as Sergeant Woolf
What will happen in Call the Midwife series 8?
Series eight moves into the spring of 1964. In the first episode, anticipation is building for a new royal baby, and community-minded Violet is holding a Teddy Bears’ Picnic and raising funds through a competition on whether the Queen will have a boy or a girl. But when the midwives are introduced to their new midwifery bags, old Sister Monica Joan becomes distressed as her dementia takes a turn for the worse...
With the addition of the two new Sisters and the return of Trixie, Nonnatus House "feels full once more."
"Trixie has come back from Portofino fully healed of her demons, with a whole new wardrobe, which is just delightful," Heidi Thomas told press at a screening in London. "You'll find Trixie much more focused on her professional goals; she's instrumental for example in something which I think only Call the Midwife could use as a selling point, which is the first cervical smear test ever done in London!"
Thomas also teased romances for Lucille and for Nurse Crane, subject of the world's slowest-moving will-they-won't-they? love story with the gruff Sergeant Woolf.
"Later in the series we have romance for Lucille. Throughout the series we have the possibility of romance for Nurse Crane, but I'll let you see how that unfolds," she said. "And at Nonnatus House we have several new faces. Miriam Margolyes joins us and will appear at intervals throughout the new series. We also have two lovely new nuns who I think have really helped to back up the spiritual qualities of Nonnatus House."
The synopsis for the first episode also reveals that Shelagh must help Trixie with a birth "take takes a surprise turn," while Lucille is seen "caring for heavily pregnant Lesley White, whose sister Cath, an aspiring model, has been feeling extremely unwell".
What medical conditions will Call the Midwife tackle in series 8?
Call the Midwife has gained a reputation for highlighting issues of physical and mental health, putting the spotlight on conditions from Huntingdon's to pica to sepsis.
“I think in this series we’ve got some fantastic medical cases,” Thomas said. “Our trusty foe, pre-eclampsia, puts in an appearance, but we also meet a young woman who, on the eve of her marriage, discovers that she has what doctors would then have called ‘Testicular Feminisation Syndrome’.”
Testicular Feminisation Syndrome is an intersex condition. Intersex people can be born with ambiguous sexual anatomy (i.e. genitals which are not clearly either “male” or “female”) or may actually have no outward signs that they are intersex, merely having variations in their chromosomes or sex hormones.
In other words, a person can be genetically male and have both X and Y chromosomes, but be born with female sex organs and appear externally female.
It isn’t just a medical story, Thomas explained. “It’s about questions of identity: who are we? Who do we think we are? What does it mean to have a female body?”
She added, "We also have a beautifully told – and I have to say, fantastically well-realised – story about a baby boy with cleft lip and palate, and the effect that has on the wider family structure. So these stories often have a medical root, but ultimately they're human."
We will also be hearing about Anthrax later in the series. This rare but serious illness mainly affects livestock, but humans can become infected via direct (or indirect) contact with sick animals.
Anthrax bacteria usually enter the body through a wound in the skin, causing a painless sore that blisters and the becomes an ulcer. But – in more dangerous cases – the spores can also be inhaled.
While quick treatment with antibiotics cures most anthrax infections, 'inhalation anthrax' can be deadly. Symptoms can include chest discomfort, nausea, skin sores, coughing up blood, painful swallowing, fever, trouble breathing, shock, and meningitis. Even with treatment, it is fatal in approximately half of cases.
What happened in the 2018 Christmas special?
Sister Mildred (Miriam Margolyes) arrived unexpectedly at Nonnatus House with four Chinese orphans in tow, including adorable little May (April Rae Hoang).
The child refugees had been found abandoned in Hong Kong. They were being adopted in the UK as part of the World Refugee Project, and their unexpected visit to Poplar brought joy and chaos in equal measure – particularly when May's adoptive parents failed to show up and the Turner family stepped in to provide a foster family.
The Christmas special also saw the return of Trixie to Poplar, just in time to cover for the Sisters as they were summoned back to the Mother House. The Order’s Mother Superior had been taken ill and a new spiritual leader needed to be elected.
Sister Julienne was horrified to discover she was the favoured candidate, but ultimately it was Sister Mildred who was chosen by the nuns as their new leader. Meanwhile, Sister Winifred found her calling at the Order's orphanage and decided not to return to Nonnatus House.
Call the Midwife season eight airs on Sundays on PBS at 8/7c
This article was originally published in July 2018