Spoiler warning for the EastEnders episode made available on BBC iPlayer at 6am on Thursday 31st August 2023.


"Oh, and I'm not Rose anymore, I’m Cindy."

As Michelle Collins’s Cindy Beale strutted off from estranged husband George Knight (the towering Colin Salmon) at the conclusion of Thursday’s EastEnders, the dawn may have been breaking over Albert Square but it’s also the dawn of a new era for the soap’s first family – the Beales – too.

Much has been said about how executive producer Chris Clenshaw has turned around the fortunes of the BBC One soap, so much so we’d argue that it’s having a renaissance. However, this week’s batch of episodes among the traditionally quiet summer weeks have been the soap at its absolute best – so much so that it could have been ripped out of the golden era of ratings smashers in the 1990s.

Cindy Beale and Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt) finally returning to Walford full-time was always going to be an event, but the episodes more than lived up to expectations.

Monday’s episode saw Cindy arrive back in Walford with an emotional scene demonstrating the character’s grief for the lost Lucy Beale (Hetti Bywater) before finally heading to Albert Square and facing her old nemesis, former mother-in-law Kathy Cotton (Gillian Taylforth).

We were due a casual “hello” from resurrected Cindy – now a tradition after Dirty Den Watts (Leslie Grantham) and Kathy herself made such polite entrances upon their own returns from the dead – but what followed was a soap confrontation for the ages.

Building on wells of history and with two soap legends knocking it out of the park, Cindy and Kathy went toe to toe once more. Utilising soap insults of old and dealing each other slaps to the face, the scene was quintessential soap camp and showed just how nasty the pair’s relationship has been – and where their similarities lie.

Of course, further confrontations beckoned as Cindy finally came face to face with first George and then her daughters Gina (Francesca Henry) and Anna (Molly Rainford). So far, the Knights have proven a believable and likeable unit standing on their own feet and tying them to Cindy and the Beales was a masterstroke for the soap.

Cindy’s barrel store confrontation with George led to some gasp-worthy flashbacks as the soap expertly tied archive footage in with new scenes as we saw Cindy first in Marbella and then on Walford the night after Lucy died.

The soap also sent social media spiralling with the surprise cameo of fan-favourite Arthur “Fatboy” Chubb (Ricky Norwood) in a loveable and totally unexpected scene that already has us wondering if we could see him again. The moment also brought a welcome respite of levity amid the high drama of Cindy’s return.

Ricky Norwood as Arthur "Fatboy" Chubb in EastEnders in a flashback to 2014.
Ricky Norwood as Arthur "Fatboy" Chubb in EastEnders in a flashback to 2014. BBC

The doof-doof to Tuesday’s episode was also an all-timer, with Cindy bursting into a packed Queen Vic during Anna’s surprise birthday and shocking her children and the locals who remember her. To see the Vic so busy and also for such a grand moment felt like classic EastEnders.

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The drama continued in the second half of the week as the repercussions of Cindy and Ian’s returns became clear, along with the endless possibilities of drama that emerged from it.

Whether it’s Cindy’s frosty first meeting with Ian’s son and Lucy’s killer Bobby Beale (Clay Milner Russell), Anna sleeping with Bobby’s best friend Freddie Slater (Bobby Brazier), Gina’s substance abuse issues, Elaine (the dynamite Harriet Thorpe) and Ian’s paranoia about George and Cindy, or the continued spectre of Lucy, the week had us hooked and brought back old fans ready to see what comes next.

Michelle Collins as Cindy Beale in EastEnders.
Michelle Collins as Cindy Beale in an already iconic doof-doof moment in EastEnders. BBC

EastEnders hasn’t felt the same without Ian Beale and we’ve missed Woodyatt’s likeable performance as the weasel, while Collins is clearly in her element back as Cindy. Despite her underrated turn as Stella Price in Coronation Street, Collins just feels right at home as Cindy and the tinge of insincerity she brings to the schemer in even the emotionally charged scenes will always keep us on our toes as we wonder if we can ever trust her...

Thomas Law also proves himself the right man to play Peter Beale – the apple of his father’s eye but someone who always fell short of his twin sister, the late Lucy. Law has an inherent likability and brings warmth to the character once more.

Elsewhere, the soap is also finally giving two previously underserved stars their dues. Gillian Taylforth is finally getting the respect she deserves as Kathy – a true treasure of a character and performer who can balance light and dark with ease. The character had been wasted since her resurrection in 2015, but in Clenshaw’s era, Kathy is finally having her legendary status on the Square rewarded.

Clay Milner Russell as Bobby Beale in EastEnders.
Clay Milner Russell continues to impress as Bobby Beale in EastEnders. BBC

Similarly, Clay Milner Russell is one of the most instinctive and naturalistic performers in the show and has crafted Bobby into such a textured character. Whether it’s with his loveable double act with Freddie or now his tortured familial ties, there is so much storyline potential with him and he’s finally getting the air time he deserves.

Speaking of Bobby, we should also continue to respect the lasting impact of the ‘Who killed Lucy Beale?’ storyline. Almost a decade on and the whodunnit continues to provide fresh drama and material for the soap and on a large scale. It is a pleasure to see Clenshaw profit on the dramatic investment from former executive producer Dominic Treadwell Collins’s transformative era on the soap.

So, where do we go next? There are so many avenues to explore and no shortage of stories. Whether it’s the climax to Stacey’s stalker story beginning next week, 'The Six’ and that Christmas death, Alfie’s bond with Phil amid his prostate cancer battle, or Whitney Dean’s exit next year, we can’t wait to see what surprises lie in store.

Cindy's explosive comeback is just the latest chapter in EastEnders' triumphant return to form.

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EastEnders airs Mondays to Thursdays at 7:30pm on BBC One and from 6am on BBC iPlayer. 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 and Streaming Guide.


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