EastEnders served up one of its most epic Christmas Day episodes in years as Phil confronted Sharon, Louise put out a hit on Keanu, and Martin turned to the dark side – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg as we head into 2020.
In a sneak preview of the year that sees the soap celebrate its 35th anniversary, show bosses Jon Sen and Kate Oates spoke to RadioTimes.com about new arrivals, returning characters, relationships in crisis and an experimental episode to see in the New Year that will change one family forever.
Buckle up, it’s going to be a tumultuous 12 months on Albert Square…
1. Linda on the lash
Linda Carter’s spiralling drink problem escalates on New Year’s Eve in a unique episode told entirely from the landlady’s point of view. Staggering from party to party, Linda’s bad behaviour under the influence puts her in a terrifying situation – with shocking consequences for the future. “Her addiction gets in the way of her marriage to Mick,” says Oates. “She chooses alcohol over her family which has huge ramifications. Can they stay together?”
2. Peter Beale’s new face
Following successful recasts of Ben Mitchell and Bobby Beale, Dayle Hudson takes over from Ben Hardy to become the seventh actor to portray Ian’s son in early 2020.
“If you’ve got a Beale out there, it makes you want to explore what they’ve been up to and what drama they can bring to the Square,” says Oates. “The clans are really important in this genre, but if you bring back old characters they’ve got to have a story and contribute something fresh. We’ve done it recently with Dotty Cotton – you want people with those classic surnames still inhabiting Walford, it’s important for the future. Jon is brilliant with casting and found Dayle who is awesome, so we’re looking forward to playing out lots of good Beale drama with Peter and Ian.”
Will the impact of twin sister Lucy’s murder still be felt?
3. Sharon and Phil fight dirty
The Mitchell marriage was messed up over the festive season and a reconciliation looks unlikely. Oates tells us to expect things to get a whole lot more bitter… “There’s tension and Denny becomes a pawn in the game between them. Sharon wants him back but Phil is using him against her and that is painful. Sharon is a strong woman and stands up to Phil, and will rely on her oldest friend Ian to support her.”
4. Chantelle stands up to Gray?
Gray Atkins’ physical and psychological abuse of his wife continues, but her parents are suspicious since the pair’s wedding vow renewal over the festive period. Will Chan eventually open up about her husband’s violent streak? “Chantelle has a growing awareness of her situation,” Sen teases. “As we start the next chapter of the story, she is questioning whether Gray will ever change…”
5. Whitney’s unfinished business with Leo
Creepy Leo King deliberately targeted Whitney Dean to clear his dead dad’s name, convinced he was innocent of abusing her as a child. Now he knows the truth and how misguided he was, but he’s still hanging around so it’s not the end of Whit’s painful reminder of the past.
“Whitney felt that Leo was done and dusted but, as we will discover, that ain’t so,” says Sen. Early January sees him establish a place on the Square as a new stallholder on the market. When he begs for a chance to explain himself, insisting he’s fallen for Whitney for real, will she give him a second chance?
6. Tiff and Keegan’s rocky start
Newlyweds Tiffany and Keegan Baker-Butcher (no sign of the candlestick maker just yet) provided a rare moment of joy and optimism in 2019 when they convinced their disapproving families to accept their teenage romance and allow them to marry. However, Oates warns 2020 will put some challenges in the way of the young lovers: “We’ll be testing Tiff and Keegan’s relationship in the next 12 months. We’ve got a big story for them coming up which is very exciting.”
7. Ballum’s future
Ben Mitchell dumped perfect man Callum Highway to protect him from the dodgy darkness of his family, not wanting to put the wannabe-copper in danger, but considering the popularity of the #Ballum brand you’d be a fool to think it was all over for the fellas. “In 2020 we have the next chapter of the Ballum story. Ben made this sacrifice to break up with him to protect him from a dark world he’s too good for.
“But Ben is not the only player in this, it’s also whether Callum will give up on him. There’s a lot to look out for.”
8. Martin becomes a monster
Manipulated by Ben into debt collection and general thuggery, Martin Fowler has gone from friendly fruit-and-veg vendor to ruthless hitman. He’ll come to regret getting mixed up with the Mitchells in 2020 and will do whatever it takes to protect daughter Bex, and there may be more unwise choices ahead – including a possible reunion with ex-wife Sonia who is falling hard for her old flame. “Sonia has fallen for him again,” says Oates. “Martin didn’t start it but she is quite up for it!”
9. Hello mum!
The Panesar family arrived in the autumn and are already set to expand with the arrival of matriarch Suki (played by Balvinder Sopal) in January – the mother of Kheerat, Vinny, Jags and Ash is battling ill health and rejected her daughter for being gay, causing a rift in the clan.
Described as a force to be reckoned with who’s hiding lots of secrets, Sen tells us: “It’s clear the Panesar siblings live under the shadow of an overbearing matriarch and Suki will make her presence felt. She will give shape to the family and is more powerful and ruthless than she looks.”
10. The 35th anniversary
In February, EastEnders notches up 35 years on screen, but Sen refuses to be drawn as yet on how the soap will mark the milestone. “Of course in 2020 we have the little matter of the 35th anniversary – of which I can say nothing!”
The last two big anniversaries, 2010’s 25th and 2015’s 30th, went big with live episodes, characters coming back from the dead and huge secrets being revealed – how will 2020 top all of that? Surely Sharon’s baby is due around mid-February, could that be part of the events unfolding? Stay tuned for more news soon…
Visit our dedicated EastEnders page for all the latest news, interviews and spoilers