Warning: contains MAJOR spoilers for The Midwich Cuckoos episodes 1-7
The majority of changes made by screenwriter David Farr to the source material for Sky’s new adaptation of The Midwich Cuckoos were tweaks rather than departures. In the seven-part series, Midwich is no longer a remote country village, but a commuter town within easy reach of London. Its lead character isn’t erudite author Gordon Zellaby, but child psychiatrist and single mother Dr Susannah Zellaby, played by Keeley Hawes. Book narrator Richard Gayford and his wife Janet are absent, replaced by new characters Zoe (Aisling Loftus), Sam and DCI Paul Haynes, played by Max Beesley.
Shifting the narrative perspective towards the story’s women reflects changes in gender politics between the 1950s and today. The same goes for the inclusion of a sequence in which the women of Midwich – mysteriously all pregnant at the same time following a town-wide blackout – attend appointments to terminate their pregnancies but are stopped from doing so through pre-birth mind-control from their alien foetuses. John Wyndham’s book having been written a decade before The 1967 Abortion Act was passed, no such scene features.
The Children born from the Midwich blackout are different from their novel counterparts too. Unlike the eerily identical book Children, the modern changelings don’t all look the same, but resemble their mothers, thereby fitting in more easily with the rest of the town. In broad strokes though, it’s the same story: blackout, pregnancies, alien children with the power of mind control, a stand-off between species, and [finale spoiler] boom: the Children are eliminated via a bomb explosion that also kills Zellaby. In the novel, Zellaby smuggles an explosive into the Children’s school hidden in his projector equipment and takes them all out; in the series, DCI Haynes detonates a bomb on the bus that’s taking the Children away from Midwich to the next stage in their invasion plan.
That’s where the series’ major departure from the original book comes in: the Children’s plan.
A very different Bernard Westcott
In the novel, military intelligence officer Bernard Westcott is an old war commander of narrator Richard Gayford. Westcott is brought in by the government after the village’s “dayout” (as the blackout was known), to keep an eye on events and ensure the Children are kept a state secret. He runs into Richard and his wife Janet just after the blackout and asks them to act as spies for him in the village and to keep him apprised of any developments.
Nine years later, Richard and Janet (who were fortuitously out of the village during the blackout and so didn’t become pregnant) have moved to Canada but are back visiting England. Bernard takes Richard back to Midwich to attend a hearing following the death of a local man who drove his car into a wall after accidentally almost running over one of the Children. When the man’s death is ruled as accidental, the villagers – who know that the Children forced him to crash his car – go to the school intending to burn it down. The Children protect themselves by making the villagers fight each other, and four people die. Bernard and a local Chief Constable interview the Children about the deaths, and they mentally torture the Chief Constable in Bernard’s presence. Later, Bernard has an eerie conversation with the Children about military conflict and the inevitability of one species wiping out another to ensure its own survival.
Book-Bernard is the one who reveals to Gordon Zellaby that the Midwich Cuckoos weren’t the only cluster of Children born after a blackout – it happened all over the world. The Midwich Children however, were the only ones to survive. Other cohorts died of illness or were killed as infants. The second oldest surviving group were in Russia, being kept as a potential state weapon, until the army bombed them out of existence. It was after the Russian hive were killed that the Midwich Children, who were psychically aware of what had happened, became extra defensive and destroyed any planes they see flying towards the village.
In the Sky adaptation, the Russian cluster of Children were born and bombed during the 1970s, not contemporaneously with the Midwich cluster. In a major twist not in the book, one of the original Children survived and grew up to become military intelligence agent Bernard Westcott, played by Samuel West. Deprived of his ‘hive mind’, Westcott has grown up alone and placed himself where he could best aid the coming and development of the next brood of Children. He’s been protecting them ever since they arrived, and was planning to move with them to a military facility before DCI Haynes detonated the bomb on the bus. Westcott survived the bus bomb as he was in another vehicle, leaving him in play for any potential second series.
Nathan Blake – a More Human Cuckoo?
Like the Russian explosion, not all of the Children were destroyed in the Sky series blast. One of them – Jodie Blake’s son Nathan – had separated from the others and didn’t get on the ill-fated bus. For whatever reason, Nathan felt differently to the other Children and didn’t want to be a part of their group. He used to deliberately hurt himself by holding sharp metal in the palm of his hand in order to use the pain to block the others from reading his mind and discovering he was breaking away. Unlike the book, in which all the Midwich Children were killed, the Sky series ends with Nathan and Bernard as survivors, opening up possibilities for the future. John Wyndham wrote six chapters of a planned sequel to The Midwich Cuckoos, entitled ‘Midwich Main’. That took place after the death of Bernard Westcott, when a widowed Richard Gayford is tasked by the British military with travelling around the world and identifying ‘cuckoos’ from among child prodigies. That sequel was never finished, but this Sky series leaves open the possibility for more, just as film sequel The Children of the Damned continued the story of 1960 adaptation The Village of the Damned.
A season two on the cards?
While nothing has been announced writer David Farr and director of episodes 1 and 2 Alice Troughton wouldn’t rule it out. Chatting to Den of Geek Troughton says she’s read some of the sequel Wyndham was writing, while Farr explains that while the first season definitely has an ending there could be opportunities to expand the story.
“We wanted to do the book and there is no halfway house thing or hedging our bets: at the end we finish. We really finish the story I’m very proud of it,” he says. “But conceptually at the very heart of it we are only in one tiny little bit of the world. And as you know from the book, who knows what else is going on elsewhere? So conceptually there is always the possibility of doing something exciting.”
Watching this space!
The Midwich Cuckoos is available to stream on NOW.