Doctors welcomes back fan favourite Zara Carmichael this week as she returns to The Mill following her long absence.
Zara initially reappears with the sole intention of disrupting Howard Bellamy's (Ian Kelsey) plan to become a partner at the practice. However, when this task proves trickier than she expected, Zara decides that she's sticking around for good to see it through.
In real life, Elisabeth Dermot Walsh - who plays Zara - is back on Doctors after maternity leave. She gave birth to baby son Bertie in May last year.
Digital Spy recently caught up with Elisabeth to hear all the gossip on Zara's return.
How does it feel to be back on Doctors?
"It's amazing. As they say, everything changes but everything stays the same! I filmed Zara's departure scenes in April last year, and then I did two weeks in September for her return at Christmas, which was a bit early because my baby was so little! I then returned full-time in November.
"It's madness as I'm just busier than ever! I'm doing the same job, but of course I've got my baby now too."
Did you miss the show while you were away?
"Obviously I had my hands full, but I watched it avidly while I was gone. I missed the guys very much and it's lovely to be back. Everything is different for me now, because I'm acting with my 'acting baby' as Zara, but now I have different information than I did before, because I'm a mum myself! Probably even the way I hold him might be different."
How did it feel to come back and see so many new faces on board?
"Well, I did overlap with Ian Kelsey and Vineeta Rishi before I went, but Dido Miles and Nathan Wright both arrived afterwards. But it's the nature of the show that people come and go regularly, and it's lovely to have new faces on board. Everyone is so lovely. We're a very small company at Doctors so everyone has to get along, and luckily we do."
Out of the newcomers, is there anyone in particular who you've made friends with?
"They're all lovely! I've had some good scenes with Ian Midlane who plays Al, and he's a great person to be up against as Zara. They're both equally abrupt and I've had some good sparring scenes with him!"
Who were you most looking forward to seeing again?
"All of them, really! I know you want me to say Matt Chambers, don't you?! (Laughs) Myself and Matt have a brilliant bantering relationship, so I'm sure he's been perfectly fine without me, but I've had to come back and make sure he was bantering properly! I don't know how he could have possibly coped without me! (Laughs)"
Why does Zara have such a problem with Howard wanting to become a partner at The Mill?
"I think she is just stamping her feet. She wants to assert her authority and her control now that she's back. Obviously Julia was a partner and wasn't a doctor, so it's not his lack of medical training that's the problem.
"But I think Zara just feels that Howard has been trying to get more power behind her back. She just wants to come back into town and say, 'You can't do this without my say-so'. We all know that Zara is a huge control freak!"
Could Howard win Zara over?
"I don't know at the moment. We've had some good episodes together. Zara does wind Howard up, but she does that with everybody. She enjoys doing that, and with Zara, that can either go in a positive direction or a negative one. But I really don't know what the future holds for them!
"There's an episode where the team all go for a murder mystery event at a big country house, and Howard is hoping to win Zara over at that point. But then the twist is that what was fantasy suddenly becomes very real. They're all very frightened and worried that there's a real murderer on the loose.
"They're all dressed up in vintage, period costumes because they're playing the parts for this event. That was very good fun. I did lots of period drama before I did Doctors, so it was nice to be back in a frock!"
How is Zara feeling about Daniel when she returns?
"Well, it's very complicated. She gives him a very hard time and she's keeping his access arrangements to their baby as they were before - very minimal. However, if she hated him that much and really did want him out of her life, my question is: what is she doing back?
"Zara obviously can't live with Daniel and can't live without him. Their relationship is so complicated."
As Elisabeth, would you like to see Zara and Daniel get back together?
"I think it'd be a shame if they didn't. It's wonderful playing all of those scenes with Matt, and the dynamic with Zara and Daniel is so interesting to play.
"But of course, it's most interesting to play when there's friction. As an actress, it's fun when they're 'together' in Letherbridge but not actually together as a couple, which means winding each other up and rowing. That's more interesting than when it's happy families!"
Would you like to film a wedding for them one day?
"Well, Daniel asked her to marry him and she said, 'Don't be ridiculous, I never want a wedding, it's not my style'. That was the same day that Jimmi asked Cherry to marry him, and they went on to have their fairytale wedding. I think there'd have to be a real turnaround for Zara if she was to get married, because she's said that she doesn't believe in it."
With new characters at The Mill, will Zara be making new friends or new enemies?
"There's a whole new batch of people for her to wind up, trample all over and be sarcastic to! That's really good fun. When Zara first meets people, she doesn't really hold back with her inner voice. She doesn't really censor herself when she has something unpleasant to say!"
Zara is arguably the most popular character on Doctors, so the fans are eager to hear whether you'll be sticking around for the foreseeable future…
"That's amazing to hear. I'm very lucky because I've had a really fun and complicated character written for me. I think that's possibly what makes Zara popular, that she's so complicated. She doesn't always behave as you'd expect.
"It's wonderful to be back. I was so lucky to be able to go away and come back - that's so rare in an acting job. I'm really happy to be back and I'm loving it, so I'm not planning to leave anytime soon. Although, Zara regularly threatens to resign and leave Letherbridge, so we'll see - I don't know how long she'll last if she gets grumpy again!"
You film about three months ahead on Doctors. Are you working on a happy or sad time for Zara at the moment?
"It's a grumpy time, as always! Something happens to Zara which means that she has to rely upon Daniel, and they have to be in each other's lives much more than she would want! They are inevitably pulled together by this accident, so that's really good. Even though they don't want to be together, they're in the same room, the same car, and the same house! There's lots of friction and sexual tension which comes with that, so that's very fun to play.
"Zara is on crutches in the scenes we're filming at the moment, and the terrible thing is that she can't wear her high-heeled shoes! She's furious and it's terrible. We're about to film Zara coming out of that era, and I've got these wonderful new shoes which she buys to celebrate that she can wear high heels again.
"Also, the way she broke her ankle was falling off the high shoes in the first place! Zara's relationship with her shoes is equally as passionate as her relationship with Daniel!"
Do you miss having your on-screen sparring partner Sophie Abelson on set?
"Oh yes, I miss her very much. That was always great fun, because Zara would just behave appallingly to Cherry. But don't worry, Zara has found new victims to patronise and stomp on! When she comes back, there's possibly even a new man on the scene, though I can't say how long he might last! But I do have lots of new people to play with."
How is baby Bertie doing?
"He's doing really well. I get to see him a lot, because he's nearby and he comes to work sometimes, so I'm really lucky. I wish there were more hours in the day, because Doctors was a very time-consuming job before I had a baby! I'm always on the phone or rushing here or there.
"I'm learning, as every mother does, how to juggle the different responsibilities. But I have an extremely supportive partner who's very hands-on and looks after Bertie while I'm working. I'm so lucky."
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Doctors airs weekdays at 1.45pm on BBC One.
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