The Midwich Cuckoos

Although all science fiction tends to be about the context of its creation, the classics can transcend their eras and their malleable meanings can speak to different generations. Invasion of the Body Snatchers might have been a straightforward reds-under-the-bed political allegory in the 1950s, but by the 70s it reflects the political cynicism of the post-Watergate era; even later, it reflects (post)modern fears about personal identity and authenticity. “I feel like a pod person,” as one of Douglas Coupland’s characters says in Generation X.

From pod people to brood people: the brood parasites of The Midwich Cuckoos. John Wyndham’s 1957 novel was a British take on the “enemy within” genre — with a patriarchal slant — as civil servants and dutiful military officers take charge of a small English village when all the women of childbearing age become pregnant with alien babies.

Sky Max’s television version immediately reflects the times we live in. The quaint village of the original has become the “historic market town” of 2022: complete with new-build cul-de-sacs and far weaker community bonds. The well-meaning officials of 1957 become the slippery technocrats and compromised law enforcement officers of 2022. The white people who all have blonde haired children in 1957 become the ethnically diverse melting pot de nos jours. And so it goes. At least the wigs remain reassuringly, distractingly bad.

The reviewer in the Guardian wasn’t keen, awarding two stars and complaining that this new version was a missed opportunity, post #metoo, to talk about women’s reproductive rights and the rest. A classic case of reviewing the show it isn’t rather than the show it is. As it stands, this is a fairly faithful adaptation (although I haven’t seen it to the end) that allows Wyndham’s allegory to work its magic. Of course, there is a reproductive rights angle, but these telepathic babies put a stop to any such terminations from inside the womb, and there’s not much more you can say. They’re a telepathic hive mind: a new kind of human, or something else altogether.

So what does it all mean, in 2022? My mind couldn’t help drifting to thoughts about Generation Z and snowflakes, and Twitter pile-ons, and the lack of tolerance for any kind of offence or discomfort. I was thinking of it today when a colleague was surrounded by aggrieved teenage girls in a classroom when she attempted to introduce a new seating plan. You get this vibe from the Midwich children: how dare you make us feel bad?

More straightforwardly, Midwich in 2022 is about how you can’t trust the government, or the police, or your kids, or your spouse. But the wigs are perhaps the most disturbing element; and that baby cuckoo’s mouth in the title sequence looks like a vulva.

[Insert joke about blonde-haired, blue-eyed parasite in Downing Street here.]

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