It seems like every EastEnders’ fan right now has a strong opinion on the current James Willmott-Brown storyline. The 1980s villain, who was involved in a groundbreaking and compelling story, regarding his rape of Kathy Beale back in 1988, has been the mastermind behind this complicated plot that has been rumbling in the background of EastEnders for all of 2017 and for every fan like me, who finds it intriguing and interesting television, there are other fans on various mediums of social media, who find the whole storyline dull and who can’t wait for it to end.
I personally love everything about Willmott-Brown and find him to be a compelling villain, even 28 years after he last featured on EastEnders but I am aware that many fans don’t particularly care for him. Whether it’s finding his scheme to redevelop all of Walford too methodical and plodding or feeling a level of emotional disconnect to the Kathy storyline that happened before a lot of viewers were born, I can understand the criticisms aimed at JWB, even if I personally don’t feel the same way. The jury is still out on him of course and his story could still burn out in a blaze of all engrossing glory but I have a feeling that when it’s all said and done, the James Willmott-Brown of the 2000s will be thought of as a villain who was just alright. Not terrible, nor incredible on the level of the likes of Archie Mitchell or Janine Butcher, but alright.
All of this talk about James Willmott-Brown recently, has led me to think about all the villains who have made their way onto Albert Square this millennium that were much, much worse than he is. From bad guys (I can’t think of a single long term female villain EastEnders have treated poorly, unless Alice Branning counts), who have failed to be threatening or intimidating in any way, despite being written as such, to those who have been unable to break the mould of appearing to be a cardboard cut out of a pantomime villain, EastEnders has had some terrible villains over the last 17 years and today I’m here to shine the spotlight on five of them.
Villain One: Andy Hunter
First Appearance: July 2003
Final Appearance: February 2005
It almost physically pains me to have Andy Hunter on this list. At the age of just 10 when he debuted, I found the leader of the Firm to be imposing and scary and would genuinely fear for the lives of the likes of Kat Slater, Alfie Moon and Sam Mitchell, who he had various disputes with. Unfortunately over the years of reading bits and pieces about Andy, it’s became apparent to me that he wasn’t particularly loved or cared for by a good portions of the show’s audience. Long term viewers didn’t feel like he compared to some of the East End gangsters of the past and the way he allowed Kat and Alfie ,who had humiliated him on what should have been the day of his marriage to Kat, get away from the situation relatively unscathed, was a big credibility blow to the smarmy criminal.
In hindsight, I find it easy to see that Andy Hunter wasn’t as great as I thought he was at the time. Myself and my primary school friends were so in love with the dark and gritty ‘Gangster Era,’ of EastEnders, that we probably would have found any character who was a criminal and proud of it to be awesome and even when I look back to this time frame in EastEnders nowadays, my first thought isn’t of Hunter, but instead the vastly superior Johnny Allen, who came along at the start of 2005 to steal Andy’s thunder and ultimately murdered him. The most damning thing in my shift in opinion on Andy Hunter probably came a few years ago ,when I made an offhand comment to my mum about him and my mother, a regular viewer of EastEnders since it began, had absolutely zero memory of him, even after I showed her a photo. I can’t defend someone who was in EastEnders regularly for two years and who can’t even be remembered by a long term fan. Sorry Andy.
Most Memorable Moments: Despite his long term irrelevance, Andy was involved in some important storylines that the effects of can still be seen to this day. He was responsible for the murder of Paul Trueman, something that has shaped the iconic Patrick Trueman as a character since the day it happened and as mentioned, was instrumental in how Kat and Alfie got together but perhaps, his most iconic moment came in how he died. After trying to con the new Big Dog Johnny Allen, out of close to a million pounds, he was mercilessly flung off a motorway bridge by Johnny in one of the show’s most brutal and harrowing death scenes of all time. Sadly in a way that sums up Andy Hunter’s entire time on EastEnders, his death took place on the night one of EastEnders biggest legends of all time, Dirty Den Watts was also killed, immediately overshadowing his own grisly fate. Tough break.
Villain Two: Danny Mitchell
First Appearance: January 2010
Final Appearance: January 2017
Archie Mitchell in my eyes, is one of the finest villains in the history of EastEnders. Eventually universally hated by all of Albert Square and the vast majority of the show’s viewers, there was something about the spiteful, manipulative father of Ronnie and Roxy Mitchell that made him that rare kind of character that everybody loved to hate. A big problem about villains in soap world however is, unless redeemed in some way, they have some form of a shelf life and eventually there comes a time when they will need to exit the show for good. This time came around for Larry Lamb’s character sadly but the show made the most of it and Archie Mitchell’s death story was done masterfully and hooked me in so much, that I haven’t missed a single episode of EastEnders since then. Despite this, there still would come the time a villain as great as Archie would need to be replaced, so what did EastEnders do to fill their Archie shaped, villainous void? They invented a secret son that had never been even hinted at before and threw him into the spotlight.
Enter Danny Mitchell. As the son of Glenda, the brother of Ronnie and Roxy and of course a member of the iconic Mitchell Family, Danny should have been well placed to take over from Archie as the lead villain in Walford but there was one problem, he really wasn’t all that good. Too young for the role to be particularly intimidating and written to appear too awkward and reliant on his mother for help in his scheming, Danny was quickly written out after his attempts to try to con his sisters were unearthed and even more fatally to the character, Glenda revealed that he wasn’t actually Archie’s son, but was the product of a fleeting affair she had, after she split up with him. I don’t have any background information on this but Danny was introduced in January and ended his first tenure in June of the same year, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the not being Archie’s son reveal, was tacked on at the time, when they realised just how much the character was outright tanking.
In what came as a real surprise to a lot of people, like I alluded to in the paragraph above, Danny Mitchell actually had a second run as a character in EastEnders, being brought back in January of this year after seven years away, with the same actor in tow. There to support his returning mother after the deaths of Ronnie and Roxy, Danny once again made little impact, showing that he had experienced hardly any character growth and was still as terrible at scheming as ever, after trying and miserably failing to extort money from Ronnie’s grieving husband Jack Branning. After that didn’t work out for him, Danny disappeared again and I’d say his chances of ever returning for a third run, are almost completely non existent.
Most Memorable Moments: As far as I’m concerned, Danny only had one truly memorable moment and it actually came this year, which says a lot about his first time in Walford. After offering Jack, in the home he used to share with Ronnie, to convince his mum Glenda to drop her plans to take Ronnie’s son Matthew away from Jack’s custody, in exchange for a hefty sum of money, Danny was beaten savagely by the enraged and insulted Jack in response. In something that summed up Danny’s time on EastEnders, what made the moment truly memorable was that Max Branning was sitting stoically in the kitchen watching the proceedings unfold, while calmly putting ketchup onto a sausage sandwich and watching quietly as Danny was assaulted by his brother. Even in a bizarre and wonderful TV moment like that, Danny was nothing more than a mere plot device.
Villain Three: Danny Pennant
First Appearance: September 2012
Final Appearance: February 2014
Danny Mitchell wasn’t the only Danny of the 2010s that was intended to be a major villain before failing miserably. Danny Pennant, who was introduced around two and a half years later, seemed to have a lot of potential that for whatever reason quickly fizzled out. The city investment banker was played by soap veteran Gary Lucy and was an LGBT villain in EastEnders before Luke Browning managed to pull it off so effortlessly in 2017, appearing as a mysterious stranger who ended up convincing Syed Masood to sleep with him behind the back of Syed’s partner Christian. Danny only was involved occasionally in the show as part of the story surrounding Christian and Syed’s problems but his role that lasted from September to November 2012 was so intriguing that it left viewers desperate to see more of Danny, so he ended up returning in June 2013 as a full time character.
From then on, it didn’t take long for the wheels to fall off Danny Pennant’s car of credibility. After a promising enough start, where it was revealed he was bisexual and ended up sleeping with Janine Butcher, he was quickly reduced to being Janine’s lackey and was kept in mostly boring storylines involving his relationship with Lucy Beale ,that never really clicked with the average viewer. Danny was so mishandled in his second run on EastEnders that it makes me wonder why they bothered bringing him back to begin with and after he was revealed as the Walford Wonder (a name that makes me wonder if it subconsciously inspired the name of my blog), an anonymous male on a gay dating site who was stalking Johnny Carter, Lucy dumped him and Danny left Walford in shame, clinging onto a fistful of cash that Lucy had thrown at him. For the third villain in a row, I feel the need to point out something that was indicative of why they failed as a character. Danny had entered Walford as a successful city banker and had left broke and desperate. That’s just how it goes in Albert Square I suppose.
Most Memorable Moments: This won’t ring true for everybody but when I think of Danny Pennant, the first thing that goes into my mind is his banter with Michael Moon, Janine’s estranged husband who often feuded with Pennant. I enjoyed every scene with Michael and Daniel, as Mr Moon called him and found that he was the character Danny had the most chemistry with by far. What Danny is perhaps most known for by the average viewer, is initially being the most popular suspect with bookmakers and fans in the Who Killed Lucy storyline, even though he’d left Walford a good while before it happened. Granted, it could have been interesting viewing to see Danny return and reveal that he had killed Lucy in an act of revenge but it had already been made pretty clear that writers could not invest in him as a major villain and the police quickly revealed that he had been in living in Marbella when Lucy was killed.
Villain Four: Carl White
First Appearance: June 2013
Final Appearance: January 2014
I have to admit that I loved Carl White, even if it was from a ‘he’s so bad I find him hilarious,’ perspective. In the same sense that Danny Mitchell was introduced to fill the void left by Archie Mitchell’s exit, Carl was pretty much brought in to fill the void left by Derek Branning’s departure. Granted, Derek Branning wasn’t close to a villain on the level of Archie Mitchell but I think that most viewers of the time will agree that he was leaps and bounds above Carl White, who screamed generic, non threatening and too much of a cliche from the minute he made his entrance into Walford, on a quest to claim back money that Derek Branning owed him, which had somehow ended up with Ian Beale.
Given a firm hold over Ian Beale and written to appear dominant against both Max Branning and Phil Mitchell, it’s not as if Carl White wasn’t pushed onscreen enough to succeed but as the months went on, it became more and more apparent that viewers just weren’t taking to him. Perhaps the biggest blow to Carl came when he hatched a plot which he hoped would eliminate both of his rivals for good. The convoluted scheme, that Carl hilariously told Max was coming, down to the exact day it would happen on, involved him taking Phil Mitchell out for a drive in a car that didn’t have functioning brakes, crashing the car seconds after releasing Phil’s seatbelt and then taking over Phil’s businesses while he was in hospital. During all of this he also got Max Branning arrested, after coercing poor Ian into claiming he had seen Max tampering with the car’s brakes. Boy do I feel stupid even typing all of that out.
Needless to say, this story only brought on mockery and derision by viewers and the media and Carl’s days in Walford were numbered, especially when Phil managed to take back his businesses with minimal fuss. As his exit story, Carl got together with an on the rebound Roxy Mitchell and got into a feud with Roxy’s sister Ronnie over their relationship, which led to his grisly and memorable end at the hands of Ronnie, who slammed a car boot down on his head, in retaliation to him attempting to rape her.
Humorously, a storyline after where Carl’s mum and brother tried to get answers from Ronnie about their son’s disappearance, was never truly resolved. Ronnie just got a few people to threaten Nora and Adam and that was it, they didn’t seem to care about Carl enough to push the matter further. With Ronnie and Roxy’s death this year, it can be assumed that this story will never have a resolution and that Carl’s skeleton is just set to lie there in the boot of a crushed up car for eternity and maybe that’s for the best.
Most Memorable Moments: As I’ve already said, Carl White’s death scenes were memorable in how gruesome and unpleasant they were but apart from that, most of the things he’ll be remembered for involve how bad a villain he was. The plot against Max and Phil stands out but only because of the sheer ridiculousness of it and I guess the fact his story never got resolved, makes him more notable than if it had been but apart from that Carl White was a true waste of such a concentrated attempt to create a new big villain.
Villain Five: Gavin Sullivan
First Appearance: August 2015
Final Appearance: July 2016
Speaking of a waste of opportunity, no list of the worst villains in EastEnders’ recent history could be complete without the inclusion of Gavin Sullivan, a man who managed to bungle being the driving factor behind Kathy Beale’s fake death and Sharon Mitchell’s biological father. It was during this storyline that I began to get frustrated with EastEnders’ leadership under Dominic Treadwell-Collins and it’s pretty much all down to how corny and laughably handled Gavin was. Since he was supposed to be dead just like Kathy, Gavin would disappear and reappear for what felt like his entire EastEnders run, popping up to cause trouble for his wife and the Mitchells before vanishing and then resurfacing weeks later. This made it nearly impossible to connect with the character because he was gone and out of your mind for weeks after he’d done anything that remotely made an impact.
Just like with Carl, a concentrated effort was made to convince people he was a big deal but nothing ever seemed to work. The identity of Sharon’s biological father should have been an honour, that was enough to turn any character into a major EastEnders’ player but even that, coupled with actually giving Gavin, Den’s ‘Ello Princess,’ greeting didn’t help him. History of some major characters on the show was actually retconned, in order to give him the best chance to succeed but nothing seemed to help and by 2016 it was starting to become clear that The Powers That Be were getting tired of trying and failing to make Gavin Sullivan work.
After several long months of Denny, Sharon’s son, concealing the fact he was still in contact with his granddad, who had been paid off by Sharon to leave them all alone, Gavin’s time in EastEnders came to an end in the most hilarious and laughably bad fashion. In July he hatched a cunning scheme to coerce Kathy into visiting his newly bought, super villain mansion, where he planned to live happily ever after with the under duress Kathy and his solicitor sister, who was also involved in this plot for some reason but his evil plan backfired miserably. A lot of over the top, B Movie level stuff happened and Gavin accidentally sent his sister plunging to her death and ended up arrested by the police, never to be seen and rarely to be mentioned of again. It was TV gold and those disastrous episodes were almost enough to make me regret that Gavin was leaving. Almost.
Most Memorable Moments: Thanks to a heavy show of hand from writers, there’s lots about Gavin that has sewn him into the fabric of EastEnders history for the long term, with perhaps the most important being that he will always be known as the real father of Sharon Watts, unless somebody decides to retcon that in the future. From a personal standpoint, I’ll never forget those few precious episodes that were held in his mansion right at the end of his EastEnders run or the time they tried to make him seem a bigger deal, by showing Walford legend Dot Branning reminiscing that he was a troublemaker back in the day. When Gavin Sullivan was first introduced to EastEnders, Dominic Treadwell-Collins said that he hoped Gavin would be an EastEnders villain like no other and in a strange little way, he kind of was.
Thank you so much for reading today’s blog post. If you’d like to suggest any bad villains from the 2000s that I’ve missed out on, or have any thoughts on the credibility of these five, feel free to let me know in the comments section below or tweet me over on @heathyheath_ because I would love to hear from you. Maybe at some point in the future I’ll return with a similar post about five EastEnders villains of the 2000s who I consider to be the best but it’s probably worth waiting to see how well James Willmott-Brown and Luke Browning do in this current storyline before I commit to that. It would take a lot to join the likes of Michael Moon and Archie Mitchell on a list like that but you never know. Well, you probably do know.