It's been another big year for Doctors with some very well-received storylines! What do you think the highlights have been?
"There's so much to choose from, which is always a good sign. The Simon suicide story worked really well - although there was something of a mixed reception to 'The Living Gaylights'! - and David gave an extraordinary performance, I felt. Finding a great actor in Chris Reilly to play Ed was a highlight, as well as our new characters. Mrs Tembe established herself immediately and it's now difficult to imagine the place without her, 'marmite' character though she may be.
"The Karen abortion storyline was a heavy hitter and struck a lot of chords with our audience, going on the response we had, as did the Lyme disease story for Julia. This last took us by surprise, but people appreciated that we'd highlighted the condition and from the correspondence, Julia got off pretty lightly compared to many others. As an aside, this story also gave me an opportunity to write an episode myself, something I rarely have time for - that was a personal highlight for me!
"And then we have the Cherry/Jimmi courtship, Imogen's shoplifting, the 2,000th episode, the phenomenon that is 'Zaniel' and the introduction of Freya and Kevin. Looking back, it's pretty amazing how much we've done with these wonderful characters and I'm very proud of the team for making it work so well."
In the past few years, Doctors has usually picked up one or two prizes at the Soap Awards but this year, the show went away empty-handed. Was that a disappointment?
"It's always disappointing, of course, because we'd like some recognition. We accept that we're never going to win an audience prize since the differences in audience size and profile means it's very difficult to compete. So naturally we target the jury prizes, but it all depends who's on the jury in any given year. Many are soap magazine journalists who spend all their time running stories on the big three shows and don't necessarily watch Doctors regularly, so we're at a disadvantage from the start.
"And there is something to be said for the fact that, strictly speaking we're not a soap - we're a continuing drama with a soap element, so that can prove troublesome for us. We were very hopeful that David Sturzaker would be a strong candidate for 'Best Newcomer', but sadly he'd been in the show too long to qualify - it did feel like we couldn't catch a break this year! Ultimately it was a case of being stoical and enjoying the party…"
We ask this question every year, but in light of The Weakest Link finishing next year, is there any chance that Doctors could take a spot in the teatime schedule? Or get another evening repeat slot or omnibus?
"And as every year, my answer is the same - I don't know of any plans at all. Seriously, there could be conversations going on in the corridors of power in TV Centre right now, but we're unaware of them. But who knows, if we survive the BBC cuts, maybe they'll give us a repeat on BBC Two at 6.30pm (hint hint)! The people in charge do listen to viewers, so if you have strong feelings, feel free to get in touch with them."
"Not without a lot of hard work. We don't have a team of publicists like the other shows do; our publicist works on a hundred other shows, so sometimes it's a bit like wading through treacle. But we're trying our level best to get the show some recognition - improving the website, setting up a Twitter feed etc. We've got the Freya/Kevin documentary now and we're hoping to do more later in the year. And it's down to Elisabeth Dermot Walsh that we're on This Morning - she had a little chat with Phil Schofield!"
The 'Carousel' week and the hour-long 'Quarantine' episode had a great reaction from viewers. Are there any plans for more 'special' episodes like this in the coming weeks and months?
"Very much so, though I don't want to give too much away. The neat answer is that there will be a birth, a marriage and a death, though who's involved is a secret for now. We do have a very dramatic story coming out in the autumn which I hope is going to blow people's socks off."
Are there any other arrivals, departures or returns that you can tell us about, or is the cast looking pretty stable at the moment?
"It's pretty stable, I would say, but you never know what's going to happen. We do have a new receptionist starting in August who's going to rattle some cages. And a face from the past does come back at a crucial time - observant viewers will have already guessed who that is, I'm sure."
Out of the characters who have left in the past year, who do you think the show misses the most?
"See my blog on this! Of course we miss them - Simon, Ruth and Michelle were all popular characters, though to be honest, we invest so much time and effort into our characters that it's unusual if we don't miss them. But I'm pleased with the current make-up of the cast, I think we've got a pretty good cross-section - Kevin and Freya have really helped to even things out."
Since Michelle left, Cherry has been the only nurse in the cast. Are there any plans to bring in a new nurse character?
"We retain some flexibility here - Karen's HCA work involves some nursing; she has a story with Roy Hudd coming up but things can always change. There will be a new nurse after Christmas, but she's coming for a specific story. We don't feel we need someone permanent at the moment - remember that Michelle was the only speaking nurse for a couple of years before Cherry came along."
Often the 'story of the day' plots will focus on a character and an 'old friend' of theirs, and there's a long-running joke on our forum that we must have been introduced to hundreds of Julia's 'old friends' over the years! Is there a danger of the 'story of the day' strands becoming a bit too formulaic in that sense?
"It's a very good point, one that we're very much aware of. We're always trying to find new ways into stories. But the reason is simply necessity. We have a very small cast of characters and because of the workload, each of them must be able to carry stories of the day, or they have less value than those that can. With doctors, nurses and cops, this is easy, but for admin staff and the Hollins kids, this proves tricky as the fans have identified. Karen working part time as an HCA has helped, but improvements can always be made and the work on that continues.
"Perhaps there is a danger that things become formulaic, but that's the challenge to our writers. And Doctors is a formula; one where we cut corners all the time for dramatic purposes - doctors don't do housecalls, you can't get an immediate appointment, test results aren't that fast, etc etc. We know, and trust the audience know too, that 'reality' can sometimes get in the way of a good story…"
> Want more Doctors gossip? Read some exclusive character teasers from Peter Lloyd in Soap Scoop