By Laura Denby
In 2016, Neighbours promised to resolve a mystery that spanned more than a decade – what had happened to Dee Bliss? While there was excitement amongst fans, it would take another few years for us to hear the answers. But the soap certainly proved that it was worth the wait.
Dee married show favourite Toadie Rebecchi back in 2003, but tragedy struck when he drove their car off a cliff into the sea. She was never found, and presumed dead – only to arrive on Toadie’s doorstep thirteen years later, giving him the shock of his life.
Except she wasn’t Dee, but a woman called Andrea Somers who planned to con Toadie. Her scheming was successful, and despite his happy marriage and family life they slept together, resulting in the birth of Hugo.
All the while, viewers were wondering what the ‘Fake Dee’ story meant for the real one. Until the two women finally came face to face last year, when it was revealed that they were twins who were separated at birth – and Dee had been adopted.
Initially, the ‘good versus evil twin’ scenario sounded like the most bonkers soap plot in years – as did the bizarre backstory that emerged about Dee and Andrea’s births.
We saw actress Madeleine West playing Andrea, who was posing as Dee and later tried her luck again. In the same episode the actress portrayed the real Dee, who then had to fool her biological mother Heather Schilling (Kerry Armstrong) by pretending to be Andrea!
It was a lot to keep up with, and could have easily been deemed farcical and over the top.
But the episode that saw Toadie trying to work out who was who turned that notion right on its head. In a brilliant, highly anticipated scene, Dee asked Andrea how she knew personal details about her wedding day, only for Andrea to brazenly demand: “how do you know it?”
We are of course used to watching soap characters in heated, dramatic confrontations; what would the genre be without them? What we had never seen before was one actress performing a showdown with herself – and keeping us on the edge of our seats!
At this point, the dodgy details of Dee’s survival no longer mattered. Her return was a hit with the audience.
Interestingly, it has never felt like we are watching the same person in Dee and Andrea. Madeleine West’s performances as both characters have been so convincing and animated that we can watch and forget there is just one actress behind them – whether ‘they’ are sharing a scene together or not.
Madeleine has the ability to catch our attention as the sweet, gentle Dee; and then captivate us as the cold and manipulative Andrea. We were transfixed as Andrea tortured poor Elly Conway (Jodi Anasta) in prison, while we cheered when Toadie later decided to explore a relationship with Dee.
The heartwarming reunion and subsequent bond between Toadie and Dee has been a delight to watch. Madeleine West and Ryan Moloney carried the story beautifully as their characters reminisced and reconnected.
Although it had been just over a year since the death of Toadie’s beloved wife Sonya (Eve Morey), the romance was well received. Perhaps the reception would not have been so positive if he had been paired with anyone else; history plays a big part here and a completely new love interest would have felt too rushed.
Dee’s return has kept the much-loved Toadie at the centre of the action without undermining his loss of Sonya. Her importance has never been cast aside or forgotten; and before she died, she had even set up the idea of him finding Dee.
Other aspects of the storyline have continued to be compelling viewing, even as things failed to go smoothly for the new couple. Most recently, Andrea swapped places with Dee and snatched Hugo. This could have been a predictable twist, but quickly developed into a satisfying conclusion. The remorseful Heather, who had arguably caused even more damage than Andrea – earned a moment of redemption when she saved the day.
Whether we are watching Toadie and Dee together, being entertained by the differences between her and Andrea or simply enjoying Kerry Armstrong’s scenes as Heather; we have been constantly intrigued and fascinated.
Neighbours delivered their riskiest plot yet – and it was a total triumph.