In last week’s blog post I started ranking this year’s new EastEnders characters from worst to best and after a mostly negative review of the likes of Preston Cooper, Tom who spent all of his time stalking Michelle and the bland Mister Pryce, it’s time to focus on my top ten favourite new characters of 2017, in what should be a generally positive Part Two. If you read Part One, I’m sure you’ll have noticed that I haven’t included a fair few members of the Taylor Family or of Weyland and Co, so I don’t think it’s a massive spoiler to say that you should expect them to feature heavily here today:
10th: Josh Hemmings
Played By: Eddie Eyre
First Appearance: 17th March
See I told you. Coming in at number ten on my list is Josh, the half brother of Fi and Luke Browning and the son of James Willmott-Brown. I initially wasn’t fond of Josh because I found him to be obnoxious in his intense chasing of Lauren Branning, who he knew was already in a relationship but over time he began to grow on me, as it became increasingly more apparent that he was a good guy at his core, despite being part of an unapologetically evil family. The romantic angle with Lauren, that almost seemed to be harassment at the very start was toned down, with Josh giving her plenty of space to become attracted to him naturally, instead of trying to force it and now their relationship actually seems believable and much better for it.
Josh does have an aggressive edge to his character as we’ve seen over the last week or so and his struggle between his loyalty for his family and his loyalty for Lauren has caused him to rebel a little against his dad recently, so he’s more than just the bland minion of Weyland and Co that he seemed at the start. I’m very impressed at the turnaround they’ve managed to complete with him. With his sister and his dad already confirmed to leave at the conclusion of this Weyland storyline and Lauren’s imminent December exit, I’m pretty certain that there’s going to be no long term future for Josh on the show and that makes me a little sad. As a character who’s trying to do the right thing, he does have a chance when this whole mess is over to stick around but I have a feeling that unfortunately, Josh could end up dead as a consequence of his dad’s evil screaming.
9th: Woody Woodward
Played By: Lee Ryan
First Appearance: 18th April
As someone who liked Cora’s grandson Dexter better than most people and who ranks Fatboy as one of my favourite ever EastEnders characters, I understand inexplicably feeling attached to a character who conventional logic says that you should hate. Something like this has clearly happened to me with Woody. Portrayed by long term irritant Lee Ryan and with the ridiculous name Woody Woodward, Woody should have been an object of hatred but instead surprised me by injecting a bit of fun and life into a Queen Vic, which was starting to feel stale and depressing under the Carters.
When Woody, who was a cover barman as a favour for Linda Carter originally, was made bar manager by Grafton Hill, I feared that his fun and kind persona might have been fake and that he might have been a pawn in the Weyland and Co storyline but it seems like that was a red herring of some kind, since it was never hinted again that he was even remotely trying to plot against Mick and Linda. That wasn’t a problem, since it’s sometimes refreshing to have a character with no secrets or agendas and who is there to just add fun. I have a feeling that Woody is a Marmite character with most viewers, one that you either think is great or who you can’t stand, with no inbetween but personally I really like him.
This isn’t to say that I’ve found Woody to be perfect all the same. He recently returned to the show engaged to Whitney Dean, in one of the quickest offscreen whirlwind romances ever, which meant it was extremely irritating when they expected us to care and feel invested in the couple immediately without any build up but at it’s core, that’s the writing team’s fault. The relationship seemingly also brought out the worst in him, especially during one episode when he followed a conflicted Whitney around the square, basically arguing her into deciding to stay with him. The cowardly way in which he left for a bit recently also wasn’t a good look, after he got cold feet and left Whitney to go off to be a barman in Ibiza. When he returns, the writers are going to have to quickly work out the best way to write him and stick with it. Lee Ryan’s EastEnders future depends on it.
8th and 7th: Alexanda D’Costa and Madison Drake
Played By: Sydney Craven and Seraphina Beh
First Appearance: 17th January
For six months straight, I found myself absolutely hating Alexandra and Madison and that’s great because that was exactly the point of them. The bullies in the controversial but important Walford High bullying storyline, for no reason apart from maybe jealousy, decided to make Bex Fowler’s life absolutely miserable by doing various evil acts, such as turning her best friend Louise Mitchell against her, forcing her to eat dirt from the ground that they had convinced her were chocolate truffles and even smashing her precious and expensive acoustic guitar. As if they weren’t hateful enough by that point, they then turned their bullying towards their own friend Louise, getting her blackout drunk and convincing her the responsibility for it lay with her boyfriend (the aforementioned Travis who I talked about in Part One) and ultimately causing Louise to suffer from the burns that still mentally affect her in the present.
Madison and Alexandra were often difficult to watch at times but I have no doubt that the actors played their role well and if anything, my biggest criticism is that their back story was never really expanded on. It would have helped them if they’d showed us why they had so much hatred in their hearts. I get that they were so horrible that they deserved comeuppance in some way but their exit just involved them being carried away by the police, after burning Louise and then they were never seen or mentioned of again and this seemed to annoy a fair few fans.
Maybe some day when they’re older, the characters will return and I think so long as too much time hasn’t elapsed that most fans have forgotten them, they’ll be able to succeed all over again. EastEnders may have received a lot of criticism for the Walford High bullying story being ‘too much like like Grange Hill,’ or being focused on too much but in my eyes its impossible to claim any of the blame for that lies with the brilliant Alexandra and Madison.
6th: Karen Taylor
Played By: Lorraine Stanley
First Appearance: 15th June
As I’ve said already, the Taylor family took a bit of time to click but when they did, they became a vital part of EastEnders. A large part of their success of course lies with Karen Taylor, the family matriarch. The thing with a character like Karen, is that you need to correctly balance them being a bit rough around the edges and abrasive, with also being secretly good hearted and caring and at the start I felt like the writers did a poor job of it. She would be selfish and abrasive, which made it difficult to watch and had such a poor control over her children that sometimes, I genuinely wondered if they were trying to make viewers hate her instead of feel empathy towards her.
Like all of the Taylors and a fair few other characters on this list, over time the worst of Karen’s traits were toned down and she quickly became a delight in almost every scene she was involved in. Possessing audience pleasing humour and motivated by her driving love for her children, Karen’s vulnerabilities began to make her character stronger instead of weaker and now that she’s built up some friendships and respect with other characters on the show, she has started to become a major success.
Her recent loan shark story has maybe been a little cliche but after being involved in several great moments, such as when she helped Sharon, Michelle and Denise with Tom the stalker, when she found out that Bernadette had suffered her miscarriage and when the Taylors hosted dessert as part of the Queen Vic food night, I’m mainly excited to see more of Karen in 2018. I still feel bad for wishing for her axing during her first week! She can stay for a long time as far as I’m concerned now.
5th: Aidan Maguire
Played By: Patrick Bergin
First Appearance: 27th November
The fact that Aidan hasn’t been around for a full month and has somehow managed to make my top five is a testimony of how great a character he’s been. The steely, magnetising Irishman, who once shared a cell with Phil Mitchell, has spent the last few weeks trying to recruit a team of characters to help him in some sort of robbery/heist that seems to be targeted against Willmott-Brown and it’s been great television. We don’t know a big amount of his backstory and most characters, asides from his friend Phil don’t either but he’s still been impressive enough to convince Mick Carter, Vincent Hubbard and Keanu to join up, to help pull off his scheme, which is set to happen at the beginning of the new year.
In a testimony to just how charismatic Aidan is, it only crossed my mind the other night that his plan might not be successful and that the members of his team could all end up paying dearly in some way. When a character is so convincing that he’s able to make you believe in what he’s selling, that’s when you know they’re truly great. I really like Aidan and I’m so excited to see what he’s going to do in EastEnders over the Christmas holiday period. Even if his plan goes up in flames, it’s going to be an amazing fire to behold.
4th: Sophie (Fi) Browning
Played By: Lisa Faulkner
First Appearance: 31st March 1987 (Returned April 2017)
As a representative for Grafton Hill, brought in to make sweeping changes to the Queen Vic in order to make it more profitable, I didn’t pay as much attention to Fi Browning at the start as I should have. There was no doubting Fi’s charm or her charisma but at the time, I just thought she was a minor player in a storyline, that was hard to understand and way too slow at times. After the story got more familiar however and it was revealed that Fi was in fact Sophie, the daughter of past mega villain James Willmott-Brown, who had been behind the whole Weyland and Co scheme, it began to become apparent just how important she is.
A rare character who got more and more interesting as time went on, the slow reveals that she was in a relationship with Max Branning the whole time he was in a sham one with Carmel and that she was James Willmott-Brown’s daughter, were extremely effective and proved that when you don’t withhold character details just for the sake of it, they can be revealed to a positive reception. Fi has been probably the most important element of the Weyland and Co storyline, doing the majority of the heavy work when it came to taking over the Queen Vic and being a cool and calm influence in comparison to her hot headed and erratic older brother Luke and her conflicted younger brother Josh.
It’s a shame that Lisa Faulkner, who plays Sophie has confirmed that she is to leave EastEnders at the conclusion of this story. Recent events have showed that, just like Josh, she does have a heart and only did a lot of her more evil deeds, in order to please her father, so she could have been redeemed. It says a lot about the complexities of her character, that unlike Josh who is slowly turning on his dad because he’s fallen in love with Lauren, she’s mainly doing it because she’s fallen in love with the Carters and the Queen Vic.
3rd: Keanu Taylor
Played By: Danny Walters
First Appearance: 15th June
Ignore the tough guy pose in the photo above because Keanu Taylor, right now is possibly the most kind and gentle character in EastEnders. Even when I was convinced that the Taylors were dead on arrival, something about Keanu screamed ‘Breakout Character,’ and I’m pleased to say that so far I haven’t been wrong. He did fall into the same pitfalls as the rest of his family at the start and was very lucky to avoid a teased incest storyline between himself and his sister Bernadette but from then on it was almost plain sailing, as it became obvious just how much of a good guy he was. Despite being shunned by the community initially for his role in a ridiculous plot, that seen the family steal Arthur Fowler’s memorial bench, Keanu would go around the square performing random acts of kindness, like planting flowers again that had been destroyed and never once asked for attention or money, for any of his good deeds.
As someone who has spent pretty big portions of my life unemployed, I’ve loved seeing Keanu’s raw and very real struggle to get a job and his associated shame in having to claim jobseekers allowance. We all know there’s a pretty unfair stigma attached to signing on for benefits and his internal conflict between needing money and not wanting to be like his mother, who had been a claimant for most of her life was a heartbreaking but important plot to put on television and I don’t think Keanu or Sean O’Connor got as much credit as they deserved for addressing it. His other storylines have been mostly successful as well, give or take the outdated male escort story that seems to have been thankfully dropped and I’m very interested to see where his relationship with Ingrid and his role in Aidan’s upcoming grand crime is going to go in 2018.
It’s a little hard to put into words succinctly what’s so great about Keanu’s character (I could write endlessly why I love all of the characters in my top three) but with a moral compass that veers towards doing the right thing, a love for his family that stretches out above anything else, a gritty East End personality that makes him unafraid of getting his hands dirty and an extremely talented actor to draw all these factors together, Keanu has been great and I can’t wait to see more of him next year. I hope Danny Walters has no plans to leave for the foreseeable future because if he sticks around, Keanu is going to be huge.
2nd: Keegan Baker
Played By: Zack Morris
First Appearace: 9th January
The majority of characters that I’ve had positive opinions of in these blog posts, all started off rather unlikeable and then grew on me more as time went on, so it’s fitting that my second favourite new EastEnders character of 2017 completed the biggest one eighty turn of all. Originally introduced as Shaki’s mean best friend and as a supporting player during the Walford High bullying plot, Keegan was often shown to be violent, homophobic and cruel in his treatment of other characters and it got so bad, that when Denise Fox snapped and knocked him to the ground with a slap, I’m pretty sure I stood up and broke into a chorus of applause.
What really helped Keegan was the introduction of his family, the Taylors because it helped to explain why he was such a bitter and angry young man. Over time we began to see that there was a vulnerability to him, he loved his family despite often rebelling against Karen, he genuinely did care about being a good friend to Shaki and he felt guilt over what happened to Louise at the conclusion of the Walford High plot, unlike the unapologetic Alexandra and Madison. Recently he surprised everybody by getting a job as a market street sweeper and sticking with it and it seems as time goes on he’s only going to continue to be more likeable and less of the arrogant toerag that he was at the start.
Honestly, if you’d told me at the start of the year that I’d end up declaring Keegan to be the second best new character of 2017, I would have assumed that most of the other new introductions were terrible but that genuinely hasn’t been the case and I’m now a big fan of Keegan and extremely glad that he was allowed to stick around and be part of a brand new family unit. Aidan has clearly seen some raw, untapped potential in the young man as well, so don’t be surprised if he sadly veers towards some criminal activities in the new year.
1st and My Favourite New Character of 2017: Luke Browning
Played By: Adam Astill
First Appearance: 31st March 1987 (Returned September 2017)
Unlike with Keegan, there hasn’t been a single moment that I haven’t found this man to be a great EastEnders character. The son of James Willmott-Brown and a major player in the Weyland and Co storyline, Luke Browning quickly made his mark in Walford by entering into a relationship with Ben Mitchell, in order to acquire several properties for Weyland and Co and over time has shown an increasingly more violent and evil character, that constantly simmers behind his elegant and affable exterior.
I think my favourite thing about Luke is that he’s a gay character, yet his sexuality isn’t made a big deal of by anybody. There’s no hint that he’s ashamed about his sexuality or that anybody in his family feels negatively about him due to it. It’s just how he is and he doesn’t care about hiding it. In spite of his relationship with Ben being a ruse, their brief pairing felt so real and so genuine, that I spent every episode trying to ignore the clues that it was false because I was that desperate to see it work and both actors deserve so much credit for being able to create the chemistry they had, even if it ended with Luke leaving Ben a crumpled and bloody heap in the Arches.
I’ve made Luke my personal favourite new character of the year and honestly it wasn’t even a difficult decision for me. He’s probably my favourite EastEnders’ villain since the late, great Michael Moon and I hope that I’m going to get the chance to see a lot more of him on the show. That hope might be a pipe dream since, at the time of writing, he hasn’t been onscreen since he was kidnapped by Aidan’s gang of merry, masked men but if he can make it out of the Weyland and Co story alive and not imprisoned, I genuinely think that he could end up being one of the show’s great villains.
Even if last Friday’s episode was somehow his last, it wasn’t a bad way for him to go out, especially thanks to the kidnapping scene, where he looked unimpressed at two masked men who had just jumped out of the back of a van to assault him and simply responded with, ‘really?’ I love Luke.
That concludes my countdown of the top 23 new EastEnders characters from this year. Do you agree with my rankings? Is there somebody I have way too high that I’m wrong about? If you feel strongly about anything, so long as it isn’t about Luke not being a great character, feel free to let me know about it over on my Twitter account @heathyheath_ or down here in the comment’s section. Thank you so much for reading everyone. Oh yeah and Merry Christmas.