2017 has been an interesting year for EastEnders. After a slow and clunky start that essentially cost Executive Producer Sean O’Connor his job, the storylines he put in place eventually picked up steam and it seems like, mainly thanks to the Weyland and Co plot, EastEnders’ 2018 is going to provide a lot of captivating and good television. Like any EP, Sean’s impact on EastEnders will be felt for a long time to come, whether you liked him or not and of course a major part of his legacy involves the characters he introduced during his tenure.
In today and next week’s blog posts, I thought I’d take all of the characters introduced by Sean O’Connor in 2017 (and one introduced by John Yorke) and rank them, starting with who I think is the worst and ending with the best.
There’s some rules here. I’ve only included characters who were around for at least a full month, excluding the likes of Jay’s mate Tommy (I don’t remember him either) and Denise’s mother. I’ve left out babies and animals (sorry Bronson and Hope Fowler) and after a lot of backwards and forwards internal debate, I’ve also excluded characters who were established in the past, ruling out Michelle Fowler and James Willmott-Brown. I get the argument that Michelle is a recast and JWB has been away for so long, that they both act as almost completely new characters but they’ve had so much character building before 2017, I didn’t think it would be fair to include them. I’m also aware that Fi and Luke both appeared as Willmott-Brown’s children in the 1980s, but that’s a little different. They still act as completely new characters so they’re included here.
23 new characters were introduced in 2017 under these rules, so I’m going to break my rankings up into two parts, in this one focusing on the 23rd best character to the 11th best, before counting down the top ten this time next week. So I guess you could call part one my mixed to negative rankings. Just call me EastEnders Advisor:
23rd: Preston Cooper
Played By: Martin Anzor
First Appearance: 14th February
The fact that even looking at the face of Preston Cooper again induces anger in me, makes me feel a lot less guilty for declaring him to be the worst new character of 2017. The 17 year old American Preston, was handicapped even before he arrived in Albert Square, thanks to his first time being referenced on screen, involving an affair he had with his 40+ year old teacher Michelle Fowler, while she was teaching in Florida. This reveal at the time, was meant to be the launching pad for Michelle’s first major story since she arrived back in Walford but it was so badly received and made viewers feel so uncomfortable, that many hoped the character of Preston would never appear in EastEnders.
Sadly those hopes were dashed when he made his onscreen debut on Valentine’s Day, as a romantic surprise for his former teacher and over the course of the next month and a half proceeded to annoy viewers with his immature attitude and on and off relationship with the already unpopular Michelle. If I had been writing for the show, I would have had Preston subvert the expectations of viewers, by being mature and focused and genuinely appearing to be in love with Michelle but instead, they decided to have Preston be exactly who we thought he would and he absolutely sucked. After just over six weeks of excruciating pain for viewers, Preston left after being justifiably shooed away by Sharon and I can say with near certainty that we will never see him in Walford again. Good riddance.
22nd: Gethin Pryce
Played By: Cerith Flinn
First Appearance: 23rd January
Gethin or Mister Pryce, as he was known as throughout most of his EastEnders tenure due to his role as drama teacher at Walford High, was no doubt hurt by taking part in a badly received and awkward to watch storyline but honestly even before that, there didn’t seem to be much long term potential for him. With his bland character and wishy washy grip on the responsibilities that came with being a teacher, Mr Pryce was only used as a minor supporting character in the Bex and Louise bullying storyline, so it came as a big shock to me when, after the angle concluded, he moved to Walford and began a relationship with Sonia Fowler and an uncomfortable plot where her daughter Bex constantly tried to seduce him after they shared a shock kiss.
The kiss literally was a shock one, taking place minutes after an explosion rippled through Walford but that didn’t stop Bex from completely abandoning all of the things that made her a good, wholesome and likeable character as she proceeded to spend weeks chasing after her conflicted music tutor. Due to horrible scenes, like where contrived circumstances led to Mr Pryce giving Bex an awkward driving lesson or she led poor Shaki on in order to make Gethin jealous, it became clear quickly that both the character and the story weren’t working and thankfully a way out appeared, when John Yorke took on the Executive Producer’s role and seemingly ended it much earlier than it was planned to.
Strangely enough, Gethin Pryce’s best episode was also his last, when he made the mature decision of telling Sonia about the kiss, only for it to backfire on him and see Sonia end their relationship, after he had already got desperately drunk and roughed up by an irate Jack Branning. It was nice to see him finally show a bit of a backbone at the very end but it was nowhere near enough to save Gethin for me and I’m glad he’s gone.
21st: Travis Law-Hughes
Played By: Alex James-Phelps
First Appearance: 17th January
There’s not really that much to say about Travis and his time on EastEnders. Asides from the fact that he may be notable as the first ever EastEnders’ actor with a double barrelled second name, to play a character who also has a double barrelled second name, Travis never did that much notable for bad or for good. Clearly brought in to add another recurring face to the Walford High bullying storyline, Travis’ greatest sins were probably being a little too bland to have long term potential and at times even being way too nice to a sickly extent, something that led to his girlfriend Louise Mitchell ending their short lived romance. Compared to some of the much better young characters introduced this year, such as Alexandra, Madison and especially Keegan, Travis was just kind of there and never really did much of note.
20th and 19th: Chatham and Riley Taylor
Played By: Alfie and Tom Jacobs
First Appearance: 15th June
The first two members of SOC’s completely new family the Taylors to feature on this list, Chatham and Riley are only so low down because they’ve done nothing much of note which is completely understandable considering both actors, who are real life brothers, are young and have learning difficulties just like their characters. The two boys are often worried about by Karen due to their vulnerabilities, unfortunately being targeted and threatened during her recent loan shark storyline and both of them add a lot of heart to a family unit who have been a massive success in my eyes, if you don’t think about their opening few weeks on the square.
I’m not too sure what the long term future of Chatham and Riley looks like but you have to admire two young boys with learning difficulties managing to get exposure through their acting on national television every single week and for that reason I hope they’ll continue to help the Taylor family be such a huge success in 2018.
18th: Joyce Murray
Played By: Maggie Steed
First Appearance: 26th May
Oh Ted and Joyce Murray. I’ve really tried to like the long term married couple who were introduced to EastEnders this year, since more elderly characters on the show isn’t a bad thing and they’ve really tried to get us to like them in return but I just haven’t been able to enjoy them much. Ever since their debut, constant comparisons have been made between Ted and Joyce and Les and Pam Coker, another more popular elderly couple who were axed mere months before Ted and Joyce came around and those comparisons have been so negative, it makes me wonder why they ever axed Les and Pam to begin with.
While the couple haven’t worked as a whole, I’ve enjoyed Ted a lot more than Joyce, (ironic because I loved Pam a lot more than Les), so Joyce has found herself at the negative end of my list. Generally portrayed as dreary and always ready to complain about something, Joyce has mostly failed to exude anything that resembles warmth and limp storylines that seen her trying to cover up Ted’s mental health issues and feuding with Dot over her cat Dave/Lucky have done her no favours. I get that for an older resident in Albert Square, a rivalry with Dot isn’t a bad way to introduce a character but the problem was that it dragged on too long. Even recently, in scenes where Dot and Joyce have sat around drinking tea, you haven’t got the impression that they’re friends and the majority of the blame for that lies with the dour Joyce.
My disdain for Joyce is so bad that recently I was disappointed to see her and Ted escaping a jail sentence, for Ted shooting Johnny accidentally and Joyce trying to cover it up. When you’d rather see an elderly couple go to jail than continue onscreen, that’s obviously bad and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Joyce axed in the new year. Bring back Pam Coker.
17th: Felix Moore
Played By: George Maguire
First Appearance: 6th July
Clearly brought in to answer the persistent question of, ‘this is London, where are the hipsters at?’ Felix Moore was first introduced in EastEnders, drinking expensive hipster craft beer in the Queen Vic and flogging antique goods from a market spot he took from Donna and that’s all he’s really done since July. He last appeared on Halloween night aiding and assisting in the search for the missing Janet Mitchell, so it’s not like he’s been axed and will never be in EastEnders again, so it makes me wonder why he hasn’t been given much to do.
I’ve enjoyed the sight of somebody slightly aloof and above the hectic goings on in Albert Square, being forced to deal with unpleasant situations like having to spend time with Robbie and being the villain by proxy, for taking the market spot of somebody who was behind with her pitch fees and now that he’s shown there’s a heart in there as well after trying to find Janet, I hope Felix will be kept around under John Yorke. Apparently the man who plays him is an extremely talented West End actor as well, so it’s not like he isn’t capable of being given a more prominent role. He’d have been considerably higher on this list if he’d been given something to do.
16th: Tom Bailey
Played By: Daniel Casey
First Appearance: 1st June
Tom Bailey, the creepy stalker who tortured Michelle Fowler for a few months, is probably yet another victim of changes at the top of the show’s hierarchy causing a story to end early but honestly a character who was originally credited as ‘Nosebleed Man,’ didn’t have a lot of long-term potential to begin with. After meeting Michelle in a couple of seemingly random encounters on the train, he very quickly developed an intense and creepy fixation on her that only escalated when she thought he was too full on and ended the relationship.
It looked like some great TV was ahead. Tom played the role of the obsessive stalker well, the premise that he believed Michelle could replace his similar looking ‘dead,’ ex-wife was a great hook and there seemed to be a lot of decent mileage in the storyline due to how realistic it was. In real life sadly there are ladies out there who do get bombarded with creepy messages and gifts from men, who just automatically assume they’re entitled to whatever girl they want, if they put enough effort in and EastEnders deserved plenty of plaudits for covering this and acknowledging the fact that sometimes, the police can’t even do anything about it until it escalates.
I think what halted the story and Tom’s time as a character was that once the point was made that this was an awful situation, the new people in charge didn’t particularly care about showing this escalation and just wanted to wrap things up as quickly as possible. This did lead to an awesome episode where Michelle, with the help of Sharon, Denise and Karen, got one over Tom, recording him acting like a creep and tying him up after Sharon knocked him out with a vase. During this, it was revealed that Tom’s wife had never died and had instead just divorced him and Tom was shown to be more of a woman hater who didn’t value women, than an outright psychopath, which is okay I guess.
I don’t think it’s the end of the world that Tom was cut early but I don’t think he deserves too much criticism either. Being limited to a plot with the unpopular ‘Fakechelle,’ meant he could only go so far.
15th: Bernadette Taylor
Played By: Clair Norris
First Appearance: 15th June
I’ve talked about it before in more detail but the Taylor Family’s first few weeks were so bad, that it almost made the whole unit seem Dead On Arrival as characters. Their main problem was that they were written at first, to be the most blatant stereotypes of a low income, benefit reliant family that the mind of your worst Daily Mail reader could conjure up. Obviously all the Taylors bounced back after those first few weeks but by far the character who had the biggest comeback to complete was Bernadette.
Over the course of a month, Bernadette was shown to be lazy and always miserable (her first press introduction photo has her scowling for some reason), it was briefly hinted that she could have been having an incestuous relationship with her brother Keanu and she was even given the dreaded cliche teen pregnancy storyline, that only invited negative comparisons to Demi Miller from the mid 2000s. Despite being handicapped in so many ways during her first weeks, Bernadette did manage to complete a decent enough turnaround as a character and even though she’s not beloved or anything, the Taylors would be worse of without her.
Personally, I found the scene where she tore up flowers in the Square because she wanted to destroy something beautiful, particularly interesting because I can’t remember a young character saying something as poignant as that before but it was her performance when she suffered a miscarriage a month or two into her pregnancy, that got her the most positive attention and deservedly so. The subject of miscarriages is obviously an extremely sensitive and delicate one and for a young character to go through that situation in a way that was so well acted and real, is something that deserves a lot of praise. As a whole, I like Bernadette and how her vulnerabilities bring out the best in Karen, Keanu and Keegan. It’s just a shame about those first weeks.
14th: Hugo Browning
Played By: Simon Williams
First Appearance: 26th January
When Hugo debuted as a mysterious stranger, outlining to Max Branning his plans to redevelop Walford, it seemed pretty certain to me that he was set to be the next big EastEnders villain. As we know now, this was a bait and switch, with Hugo’s brother-in-law James Willmott-Brown being the true driving force behind the Walford redevelopment villainy but that doesn’t mean Hugo isn’t without his merits.
Much more understated in his villainy compared to the likes of Luke or James, as evidenced by him skipping last week’s big reveal in the Queen Vic because he prefers to step back and let others take the glory, Hugo is a refined yet sinister presence and is definitely a valuable and important cog in the Weyland and Co machine. His finest moment to date was probably when he arrived at the Queen Vic about a month ago, expecting the Carters to sign their ownership of the pub over to Weyland and Co, only for Mick to kick him out after signing the contract in Lady Di’s name instead. In those scenes we seen a temper from the usually cool Browning and a stuck up contempt for what he considers to be the lower class and I’m looking forward to seeing more of that. His comparative lack of screen time compared to the rest of Weyland and Co is the main thing that prevents him from a higher ranking on my list.
13th: Ingrid Solberg
Played By: Pernille Broch
First Appearance: 22nd June
A lot of people, myself included, feared the worst when a lady who looked vaguely like Ronnie Mitchell got hired to be a live in babysitter for the grieving Jack Branning, who still wasn’t over the death of his wife Ronnie just six months ago. Those fears were seemingly confirmed when the two shared a passionate kiss, causing a lot of fans to write off Ingrid as a ‘fake Ronnie,’ and a terrible character. I hated the storyline as well don’t get me wrong but was willing to still Ingrid a chance, since she’d already shown some promise in a few scenes that didn’t involve Jack and always seemed good hearted, a trait that isn’t shown enough in EastEnders,
I’d like to think that my faith was rewarded because not long after the kiss, all hints of a romance between Jack and Ingrid were completely dropped and since then, she has went on to be quite a well rounded character who adds a lot of brightness and warmth to an often dreary Albert Square. The way I look at it is, if a character isn’t intended to be involved in massive storylines and isn’t going to be a villain or gangster of some kind, then they might as well make the show a happier and better place and Ingrid does that for me. Her new romance with Keanu has been pretty cute as well and has worked out much better than the one with Jack would have. If John Yorke is behind that story being dropped as well, he deserves his EP job for that alone.
12th: Konrad Topolski
Played By: Piotr Baumann
First Appearance: 16th February
I’d love more than anything to put Konrad higher on this list but he just hasn’t been on TV enough and for all I know might never even be coming back. For a few weeks in February and March, the charming, down to earth owner of a local Polish delicatessen, helped out the Carters with their countless themed food nights in the Queen Vic and seemed to develop a fondness for Shirley, before suddenly disappearing from our screens with zero explanation as to why and it sucks. He was recently referred to in a throwaway scene in the Vic’s dining room, when Linda teased Shirley for having a crush on him, so there’s still hope he’ll be back again even if it doesn’t seem likely.
I don’t want to get into this too much, since there could be a tonne of reasons why Konrad hasn’t became a regular character but one of the counter arguments I always see when the need for diversity on TV is mentioned, is that the actor, no matter their colour or ethnic background, should add to the show and seem like a natural fit. Konrad definitely did this and offered a lot of potential, so it felt like a slap on the face when the previously mentioned, bland and generic Mr Pryce was given a full time role on the show around the same time that Konrad seemingly fell off the face of this earth. I’m not sure what’s going on but I do know I’d love to see Konrad continue this story with Shirley at some point in 2018.
11th: Ted Murray
Played By: Christopher Timothy
First Appearance: 26th May
Coming a massive seven places ahead of his wife Joyce is Ted Murray, the man to finish off part one of this post. I know I said earlier that Ted and Joyce don’t seem to work as a couple but I do think that Ted has got an upside and has became a valuable part of the community unlike Joyce. Originally I found it an insult that Ted was considered as a better option to be the Queen Vic potboy, than the iconic Patrick but since they ended up sharing the role, I’ve found myself enjoying almost every pub scene that Ted has been involved in, especially when he’s hanging out with Patrick.
I found the reason behind Ted owning a gun (PTSD from the war) to be a little underwhelming when it was finally revealed, since a similar story had already been done with Lee Carter recently but at least Ted’s mental issues are an interesting aspect of his character that makes him stand out, unlike Joyce. I’m not too sure what should be done with Ted in the new year, since as I’ve said I wouldn’t have been upset if he’d had to leave with Joyce but I’d like to see him stick around in some capacity if they can improve the characterisation of his wife. EastEnders have always had an impressive roster of older characters on their show at all times, so I’m really rooting for Ted. Patrick needs a friend who can relate to him after all.
That concludes part one of my rankings for today. If you feel like I’ve been unfair on anybody, feel free to let me know in the comments section or over on my Twitter account @heathyheath_ and if you get a chance please come back next week to check out part two. It’s pretty much a positive tone from here on out!