1. THE PEOPLE ARE AMAZING
It's not just the tender and poetic script that makes Midwife stand apart (though we'll be looking at the wonderful writing in a few moments). It's the actors who really make things sing, and little wonder when you consider the legends who are part of the show. Take Jenny Agutter, a performer who's always been known for the reserved subtlety she brings to roles. She's the perfect fit for Sister Julienne, the ruling matriarch of the show whose perfect poise can veer into aloofness, but whose kind nature is always clear to see.
Or how about Pam Ferris, whose trademark verve and flamboyance makes the bolshy Sister Evangelina such a scene-stealer of a character? Other great acting veterans like Judy Parfiff and Vanessa Redgrave also lend their weight to the show, but we've also got to love the more recently enshrined stars like Miranda Hart as bumbling, good-hearted Chummy, and of course Jessica Raine who manages to make Jenny Lee - a character so saintly she could be dull - into a great TV heroine. (Oh, and Minty from EastEnders is in here too. Always a good thing.)
2. IT'S THE BEST EVER SHOW ABOUT MOTHERHOOD
No other programme on telly has ever explored EVERY aspect of motherhood - the joy, the fear, the wonder, and the pain - in quite the way Call the Midwife does. The show could so easily have just paid lip-service to the subject, while busying itself with more soapy storylines to do with the nurses and nuns. But not a bit of it. Call the Midwife is all about the miracle of childbirth, in terms of both the emotional fallout and - importantly in the 50s and 60s - the political dimension as well.
This, after all, is a world where "illegitimate" offspring could bring disgrace to a girl and her family, and Call the Midwife tugs on our heartstrings as it lays bare the plight of young women with nowhere to turn. It's also utterly fearless in the way it tackles hugely emotional topics like illegal abortions, as well as pregnancy problems like eclampsia. The frank, open realism of these storylines is an eye-opener, and just when we think it's going to be too much to take, we're also reminded of the bliss of childbirth and suddenly there are tears of happiness again.
3. IT TELLS OUR NATION'S STORY
Many period dramas don't move beyond the confines of the specific "period" in question. Call the Midwife is far more ambitious than that - it doesn't stay stuck in time, it travels through it. From the 1950s through to the 1960s, it depicts a changing Britain where society is in a state of thrilling flux, and old conventions are slowly but surely being overturned. Through the stories of the nuns, nurses, doctors and patients, it gives us the story of how our Britain was created.
There are plotlines exploring the rebuilding of the nation after World War Two, the evolution of the NHS, and the first wave of immigrants who would radically alter the very feel and culture of London. There is the fear of nuclear devastation brought on by the Cold War, and we even touch on a conflict largely forgotten by Brits today: the Korean War. All of that, plus a chronicle of the growing liberation of women, and the medical advances that would save so many lives.
4. IT GIVES US WORDS TO LIVE BY
Call the Midwife is so beautifully written that you almost want to keep a pad and pencil handy to write down some of the more remarkable quotations. Sometimes it's just the lyrical descriptions that stick in the mind, like the way a character sums up childbirth ("an event at once familiar and phenomenal, timeless and immediate, briefly making angels of us all"). There's a lot of that kind of ravishing language that would make even a cynic swoon.
You will feel better than this. Maybe not yet, but you will. You just keep living until you are alive again.
Even better are the casual nuggets of wisdom that make you see things in a new way. Love? "It's impossible to love too much. What's needed is taken up, and what's not needed hangs around somewhere, looking for a home." Feeling low? "You will feel better than this. Maybe not yet, but you will. You just keep living until you are alive again." Your home? "Not simply a mark upon a map. It is the place at the centre of the compass from which every arrow radiates." And something to remember when straining to give birth: "It's a baby, not a lubricated penguin. They don't come sliding out to order."