EastEnders returns: No touching, no kissing and shorter episodes, but it’s still the soap we know and love

Sharon, Ian, Dotty and a whole load of drama mark the beginning of "season two".

EastEnders Sharon Mitchell

There are many things in life we take for granted – a solid cup of tea, sunny days, and the soaps being on TV. So when they mysteriously disappear from our schedules, it’s not just a travesty, it goes against the very foundations of of Being British.

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The pandemic halted the country back in March, and the entertainment industry was perhaps one of the biggest victims, with many shows and movies having to postpone filming indefinitely. Gone were music festivals. And forget about the cinema.

And as if that wasn’t enough, EastEnders ran out of episodes and “season one” which started back in 1985 finally came to an end.

But now, out of the darkness, doom and gloom, comes a rising phoenix – Walford is open for business once more.

Finally EastEnders returned to screens this evening and though we were lacking physical contact, we weren’t lacking any drama.

The action picked up quite rightly in the Vic, the home of that epic season one cliffhanger with Queen Sharon (Letitia Dean) safely back in the pub she was born to rule. But all was of course not well – she’s there with Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt), the slippery business owner who was responsible for her son’s death.

We start with Ian replacing the bust on the bar which somehow was recovered from the bottom of the Thames (hopefully she’s had a full deep-clean since then), but all this does is serve to remind Sharon about the fateful night her son Dennis was tragically torn from her.

As if she hasn’t had enough torture already, Ian breaks it to her there were none of Dennis’ belongings to hand back to her either, despite the bust recovery. Ouch.

But the really doozy came at the end ahead of those infamous Duff Duffs as Dotty (Milly Zero) finally told Sharon about Ian’s involvement in Dennis’ death.

EastEnders' Dotty (Milly Zero)
BBC/Kieron McCarron/Jack Barnes

Though we’ve been craving those dramatic drums for three months, for once EastEnders cut us short and we’ll have to wait to tomorrow to see Sharon’s rage explode. (Full points to Letitia Dean’s eye acting at the end, however.)

And that’s maybe one of the faults with the returned EastEnders’ episodes – at just 20 minutes long, we don’t get to delve right into the drama, just have some sprinkles of it. With some huge storylines on the horizon, many of which were teased this evening, will 20 minutes be enough to give them the storytelling they deserve?

That brings me along to the set up tonight’s episode did do well. In the space of just 20 minutes, we delved back into Sharon/Ian, Ruby/Martin, Mick/Linda, Ben/Callum and of course, the harrowing abuse storyline between Chantelle and Gray, which we now know will come to a tragic end as the former is killed.

We only touched on these stories but that’s enough to help us reacquaint with the characters and remind us of the storylines they face. But going forward, how effective will 20 minute episodes be? My only hope for the future is EastEnders truly do give these important plots the time they deserve, because really, we’re in for a treat this Autumn in E20.

Sure, it all looks a little bit different and the jury’s out as to whether it works. Callum (Tony Clay) got himself involved in a minor police chase, running after some local thug who conveniently got knocked by a car and fell to the floor so our latest police man could just shout, “You’re nicked!” instead of actually cuffing him. Hardly Line of Duty, but look, they’re doing their best.

This is a new world that everyone’s having to get used to, and EastEnders is no different. At times, the tweaked soap is a little clunky and you really could see the two-metre distancing. But does it really matter? Absolutely not. The gang are back together and they are already proving absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

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EastEnders always has and always will pack a punch, regardless of the pandemic. Just don’t expect any characters to actually punch each other soon. At least not without a bucket of hand sanitiser on stand-by.

Visit our dedicated EastEnders page for all the latest news, interviews and spoilers. If you’re looking for more to watch check out our TV Guide.