If you passed through the (fictional) village of Midwich in the UK, it would likely prompt a reaction of: "Well, isn't this lovely?" It's the kind of middle class, leafy 'burb where Union Jack bunting bristles in the wind and local estate agents display framed newspaper cuttings proclaiming its position as one of "The Top Ten Best Places To Bring Up Children". It's where young couples move when they want to start a family; where your roomy, detached property might have wallpaper with ducks on it and you can see grazing horses from your kitchen window. It's also the kind of liberal, aspirational commuter town that becomes hell when the unthinkable happens.
One summer evening, after a series of strange electrical disturbances — TVs on the fritz, lights flickering, phone lines frazzling — all the people in the town of Midwich faint for no reason. Upon awakening from their blackouts, they come to a horrifying realisation: all women of childbearing age have become pregnant. Based on John Wyndham’s science fiction novel of the same name — the inspiration behind John Carpenter's 1995 classic, Village of the Damned — this is the eerie premise upon which we see the seven episodes unfold (now streaming on Stan in Australia).
An unplanned and unexplained pregnancy is alarming for everyone but some are able to take it in their stride, such as young couple Zoe and Sam, who were told that they had a less than 1% chance of conceiving. They view it as a blessing – confirmation that their decision to up sticks for a less stressful, rural life has had the intended effect of solving their fertility issues. For all the teens affected, as well as directionless twenty-something Cassie, the news is very disturbing indeed.
The series takes an even darker turn when all the expectant mothers are pulled into an impromptu meeting by the police. They are encouraged to sign NDAs for their "security and protection" but it turns out that they – and their future offspring – will be closely monitored by the government. Surveillance cameras are installed on every street corner and Facebook posts from some of the women detailing what they have been through are immediately taken down, the accounts later blocked. It's a total media blackout. Cassie's mother, child psychologist Dr Susannah Zellaby (Keeley Hawes), has been enlisted by the police to help the women cope psychologically. After the meeting she bumps into local police boss, DCI Paul Haynes (Max Beesley), while having a cigarette and apologises for the "bad habit". He tells her: "Free country, last time I looked." She retorts with a glare: "Well, that's a matter of opinion."
The paranormal circumstances feel disturbing but even more alarming is the swiftness with which the government enacts control over the women's bodies under the guise of protection. In the meeting, when armed guards threateningly block the doors, one of the women cries out: "I'm pregnant! How can that be a hostile act?"
As to be expected, some of the women decide to terminate their pregnancies. But in the abortion clinic – after doing ultrasounds and forcing the women to listen to the foetal heartbeat, mirroring horrifying real-life bills in US states such as Utah – the women ready their hands for the final medical signature and something strange happens. The lights flicker and their pens drop to the floor. In unison they all stand up and walk out.
As their pregnancies progress, the women are frightened to find that they are unable to leave Midwich at all. When trying to visit London for a day trip, one of them finds themselves frozen on the train platform, their feet unable to step onto a departing train carriage as if immobilised by some invisible force. Something is stopping them from going; their agency and independence has been completely stripped from them. They are now mere vessels for whatever ominous presence is growing inside them.
The series is suspenseful as a sci-fi and a horror but it is most impactful in its earlier episodes when it leans into moments of social commentary. Seeing the women essentially forced to carry their unwanted pregnancies to full term is nothing short of horrific. Then seeing the government and law enforcement crack down and encroach on the rights of these women with increasing ferocity is enough to induce a shudder in any viewer. It might be billed as dystopian fiction but The Midwich Cuckoos has glaring parallels with the imminent overturning of Roe v. Wade in the US in regards to women losing control of their reproductive lives. Watch the show, or turn on the news. More than anything else, this speaks to the depressing state of the real world right now.
The Midwich Cuckoos is available to watch in Australia on Stan.