With more exciting storylines ahead in the coming months, Digital Spy recently caught up with the show's series producer Peter Lloyd for an exclusive chat about what's next for BBC One's popular daytime drama.
We've seen some huge storylines on Doctors in the past year. What do you feel the highlights have been?
"I'm particularly pleased with the Heston abuse story - the commitment from Owen, Marian McLoughlin and the hard work of our storyliner really paid off. And it hasn't quite finished yet, so stay tuned.
"The Freya/Kevin fire climax worked really well and was one of our most satisfying yet frustrating cliffhangers. I could go on: Julia's farewell, introducing Howard, Shakespeare week, Chimmi's wedding, Zara's pregnancy and Joe's birth.
"It's such a shame that the Soap Awards didn't reflect any of this - it would have been nice to have had some kind of recognition. But then, it's beginning to feel as if we're only there to make up the numbers these days…"
We've just seen the show return with the news that Freya is dead. Will this have a big aftermath for quite some time?
"Of course, a death always has major repercussions for friends and loved ones. Kevin and Mandy are particularly affected in very different ways - we'll be seeing both struggling to make sense of Freya's death."
With a handful of cast departures this year, can the viewers expect an influx of new characters in the coming months? Are there any types of characters you feel the show currently lacks that you would like to bring in?
"This is quite a tricky year for us, with so many going. But it happens every few years and though you mourn the characters you've lost, you learn to accept it, move on, and look for new opportunities. So we've got a new kind of family arriving, a young female doctor and some other surprises.
"We're also looking at a doctor who maybe cares a little less than the others, and sets a bad example for his patients. Maybe not as dark as the dreadful Charlie, but someone who may not be everyone's favourite. He's still being formed, but the writers are enjoying working on him and he could be quite something."
Unsurprisingly, we've had lots of questions about the character of Zara and Elisabeth Dermot Walsh's absence from the show. Can you give us any gossip on how Zara departs and how long she is likely to be off screen for? Is there heartbreak ahead for Zara and Daniel?
"Can I just give a big shout out to our Costume and Camera teams for hiding Elisabeth's pregnancy so successfully? And Elisabeth herself for being a complete trooper and carrying enormous handbags and piles of files for months on end?
"We're so pleased for her and she's loving being a mum, though of course we miss her - she'll leave our screens at the end of August. Don't panic, it's not forever; rest assured she will return - maybe in the festive season.
"But yes, how to get rid of Zara? It was a real challenge to motivate such a dramatic exit, particularly when she has to take Joe with her and have a reason to come back. Things do get very dark for Zara and Daniel - with an act that changes many lives at The Mill. That's all I'm saying for now, but there's a major clue just before the Olympics."
Given their popularity, would you ever consider a 'Zaniel' wedding?
"Isn't that a bit conventional for them? I'm not sure either would be that keen, for various reasons. Being able to trust each other is always going to be an issue for these two, though since Zara 'chose' Daniel as the father of her child, she should really follow through. But nothing is straightforward and it's very easy for either one of them to ruin a good thing."
Viewers have noticed Zara and Kevin's friendship. Is this purely a friendship or could it cause some real soapy drama in the future?
"I rather like this relationship, but we've no plans to go further with it, not yet anyway! There is a wickedness that they share (poor Barry!) and that's great fun, but I think Zara regards Kevin as more of a little brother than anything else. Kevin of course finds her scary and thrilling, but he's going to have other concerns soon…"
With Zara disappearing from screens, are there still big plans for Daniel? Would you ever delve back into his darker past, or do you feel he has moved on from that now?
"You don't want to overplay characters' pasts, simply because it means endless explaining and exposition, which isn't very dramatic. It's always preferable if things happen 'in the now', so to speak. However, the audience already know a lot about Daniel's past and what tendencies he has - he could well revert to type if he's not careful…"
The character of Howard had big shoes to fill following Julia's exit. How do you feel he's settling in? In the long-term, would you delve deeper into his past and background? Could he have a secret?
"We knew that Howard would be loathed when he first arrived - everyone's missing Julia and we deliberately decided to go in a completely different direction with her replacement. Those are very big shoes to fill, but Ian Kelsey has very big feet - this is literally true.
"I love what Ian's doing and I think the audience will come to realise that Howard isn't quite the ramrod disciplinarian he seems - there's a lot more to Howard than that. It's exciting because there's so much to find out about him, and he's going to be loosened up, whether he likes it or not! And of course he has secrets."
We've had lots of questions about the opening titles. Would you ever give them a complete revamp or new style, or are they staying in their present form for the foreseeable future?
"There are no plans to change the titles."
'Special' episodes or even entire weeks without the usual stories of the day are often a real treat for fans. Are there any notable episodes on the way which stray from the usual format?
"Oh yes, that's one of the great things about working on this show, that we can play with the format. I'm really proud of Shakespeare week and how that inspired our writers - I still can't quite get over how Dale Overton told a version of Hamlet in half an hour!
"There's a lovely two-parter at the end of August that plays with the format quite a bit, a flashback to Howard's life before The Mill, a flashforward to Daniel's potential future and I'm writing something a little leftfield which features the return of a big character - let's just say it's rather unconventional. We're also working on an idea inspired by Chaucer, which I hope will prove as successful as Shakespeare…
"Doctors fans should look out for a special week where we use the BBC Red Button to follow a gripping story away from The Mill. It will also be available on iPlayer, but will work much better if people watch it immediately after the broadcast episodes. It will air between 17 and 21 September."
Doctors always does big, dark storylines really well such as Lauren's murder and Julia's struggle with Lyme disease. Are there any more stories on the way that will really push the boundaries?
"Very much so - we have a new female police surgeon which will take us into that rather dark world, and from a female perspective. There's also a huge, slightly Greek storyline towards the end of the year which I hope is going to keep people on the edge of their seats…"
As always, the fans are campaigning for Doctors to be given another slot out of daytime. Do you think this would be beneficial to the show, or would it actually have to change too much if it aired in another slot?
"I'm always being asked this and really the response is the same - there are no plans as far as I know; it's really up to the fans to lobby the controllers and schedulers.
"But hypothetically, if we were to go into the old teatime Neighbours spot (as was once discussed), we would have to have a different approach editorially; since kids are home from school and there is a different expectation at that time of day. I'm not sure that would necessarily be a good thing… But BBC Two?"
Back to individual character gossip, will we ever discover anything more about Mrs Tembe's past?
"We've been wrestling with this for a long time - is there a Mr Tembe? Is he really dead? Does he exist at all? It's taken us a while to find a story that is true to the character and has some power to it. But yes, we will find out - it's going to be heartbreaking."
While we're on the subject of Mrs Tembe, will Heston ever realise that she has strong feelings for him? Could the feelings ever be reciprocated? Or would Mrs Tembe find a different love interest?
"This does come to a head - caused by Jimmi, of all people! Heston has never considered her to be a romantic prospect - he has bad taste in women, we've decided - and though Mrs T's longing has been lovely for Lorna to play, she kind of needs to move on, I think we all agree!"
On a similar note, will there be happier times ahead for Heston after all of his recent troubles, or will he remain on a slightly darker path for the foreseeable future?
"I was discussing this with Owen only recently - it's fascinating to see how life's blows can affect people in the oddest ways. Of course, everyone would like to 'go dark' as it's great for actors to play, but for me, it has to be true to the character. But maybe Heston isn't always going to bounce back as well as he has before, particularly after Marina. Loneliness can do strange things to people…"
Things have been a bit quieter for Elaine since the Harrison dramas played out. Does she have any more storylines on the way?
"Yes, poor Elaine hasn't quite found the peace she's looking for. I'm afraid she's not quite done with Harrison - his trial is coming up and she just isn't going to be able to shake him quite so easily."
Can the fans expect Mandy to remain in the show as a character in her own right despite Freya's death?
"Absolutely - Danielle [Henry] has been a great addition to the cast and has made an impression in her own right. She has some great storylines coming up."
Can you give us any gossip on where things are heading next for the Hollins family?
"It's a strange kind of limbo for them, as Imogen waits for her retake results and what that might mean for her. And Jack has completed his three-year degree too - they've both got to make some major life decisions this summer and as always with the Hollinses, it's never going to be simple. Are Rob and Karen facing an empty nest?"
Can you give us any final teasers?
"So how's married life panning out for Jimmi and Cherry? Are we convinced? Is it everything she dreamed of? Does she help him manage his OCD or is she an enabler?
"Remember the episode when Kevin and Freya first appeared? The title was 'The Asian and the Lesbian' after Zara's cutting remark. The point was an ironic one, since the description was wrong on both counts. Now it's time for Kevin to examine his identity, how important his race is to him and what that could mean for his future…
"Also, someone makes a move on Howard, and someone else is after Rob. Someone gets into real danger, two people resign - and it's not who you think - there's a suspicious death that affects three of our characters, an outward bound course, a couple of musical numbers and a dead guinea pig - what more could you want?"
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