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Comment > A Footstep Away... The Year Of The Return by Si Hunt

2013 has been the Year of the Returning Character for Neighbours - we're not sure who, but someone on the production team has evidently decided that the past rules. But has this strategy been a success? Let's take a look at just some of the torrent of returning faces (not all new!) to Ramsay Street...

Brad Willis was originally seen as a blonde-haired, dopey-eyed surfer - so when he returned this year, it was quite a shock to see him with new, more sensible locks and a stable family in tow (none of them ugly; this is Erinsborough after all). Altered appearance aside, it hasn't taken long to warm to New Brad, his likeable wife Terese and troubled kids Imogen and Josh (plus the mysterious Piper, who will surely turn up at an inopportune moment). Perhaps the oddest thing about New Brad is that a storyline with the also recently returned Lauren has revolved around an old sketch of Brad. And what do you know, it's of his current incarnation, with no blonde hair or dopey eyes in sight! It's always amused us in the past that when old characters revisit Ramsay Street with a new face, there arenít old photos on display with their previous aspect visible. This was perhaps the ultimate reminder that Brad has changed in more ways than the obvious - but we have still warmed to him! Now how about a Natalie Imbrulia (Beth) return? And it surely can't be long before Doug and Pam Willis pull up in a combie to catch up with old friends...

Lauren Turner (formerly Carpenter) might put paid to Brad's ex Beth renewing his acquaintance, as her own storyline seems entwined ultimately with Brad's for now. Was it just a coincidence that Brad made his return to Ramsay Street, only a few months after Lauren had also rocked up with her new brood - steely policeman husband Matt and kids Mason, Amber and Bailey - in tow (also not ugly)? Or were cosmic soap forces at work? We also like the new Lauren, and between them Brad and Lauren have disproved the myth previously voiced by the Powers That Be behind Neighbours that families shouldn't be introduced en masse for fear of putting off viewers... this new lot have fitted in just fine! Lauren these days is one of those characters who makes things ten times worse than they need to be by lying about them, whether it's hiding her money worries from her family or going to great lengths to mask 'The Brad Sketch' from poor hubby Matt, a slightly bewildered soul who has somehow kept his law-enforcing job despite his delinquent offspring. But the story liners have been cagey as to just what Lauren's biggest secret is - and surely there is something. So let's take a guess - she's very keen to cover up her previous dalliance with Surfer Boy and modern day sports trainer Brad. Do the math - could it be that the parentage of one of her boys isn't quite as clear cut as it seems currently? Poor old Matt could have more to worry about in the future than just Lauren's jealously over Brad and Terese's (to be honest, rather dull looking) "date nights". Let's watch this space...

Returning for a short guest spot earlier in the year was (and this was quite a surprise) Sarah Beaumont, played as before by Nicola Charles. Now this was something of a masterstroke, as the Karl/Susan storyline had been played out in the (very) long term, with viewers watching as Susan trod the incredibly long road of learning to trust Doctor Karl again after his ages-old betrayal. It's so long ago that even I had forgiven and forgotten, but Susan's a tough cookie and for a while it seemed as though Karl was going to be forever given the cold shoulder as Susan struggled to come to terms with the past. Then - finally! - and with the help of a fellow ex-Prisoner, sister Carmel (maybe Karl just couldn't face any more of the lusty pensioner's advances) Susan saw her way into forgiving Karl. Just as she did so, who should step out of a cab but Sarah! Brilliant curveball from the plotliners. We have something of an issue with old characters ending up running Lassiters/Erinsborough News, but Sarah being Susan's boss gave us some terrificly tense scenes. Nicola Charles was superb at handling Sarah's guilt and for a while viewers were teased - was she actually after Karl all over again? Where would this unlikely love triangle end? Happily Sarah's humility enabled Susan to face up to the reasons why she couldn't forgive Karl and she was soon stepping back into that cab, her work done. A brilliant returning guest stint we thought.

Less successful for now - simply because of its brevity - was the re-emergence of Lucy Robinson, played by the fabulous Mel Bell. Watching old episodes, we find it amazing that the snuffly kid that once ran round Paul's legs in "the good old days" had now risen to - yes - running Lassiters Worldwide (when exactly did Lassiters take over the world? We hope that somewhere in America there's a Lassiters HQ with an enormous statue of Helen Daniels outside). Nevertheless it was a punch-the-air moment when Lucy (introduced oddly undramatically as she slipped into Charlieís in a background shot) put her big bro in his place. Even better was seeing Lucy put her "woman on the spot" Terese Willis in charge of the complex. Is there a better thrill than watching Paul Robinson cut down to size by two brassy women? The only problem was that the Blonde Bombshell was away again before she'd really had a decent storyline. However, we doubt she'll be gone for long, so here's hoping for a passionate affair with Matt Turner or at the very least a game of strip poker with hapless gambler Lucas, when she next needs to return to Erinsborough to clean up Paul's mess. She desperately needs more screen time (and a few mentions of Jim, who was weirdly absent from conversation last time) to satisfy our cravings. Incidentally, how about a few Robinsons (to go with the new Ramsay caste) permanently in Ramsay Street? Isn't about time Scott's kids showed up to research their family heritage? Just a thought.

Finally a more obscure - but no less inventive - returnee has been seen in the past few weeks for UK viewers. A mysterious stranger checked into Lassiters and charmed manager Terese Willis (who must be hoping they build her an office set soon, so she doesn't have to continue holding her staff meetings behind reception) with his tales of family coming first. Paul recognised him straight away as Jack Lassiter, the old buzzard who gave his name to the corporation. It took the rest of us slightly longer to name him as Wally Wallace, again formerly of old Grundy show Prisoner, to which Neighbours continues to owe a debt. At the moment (unless you peek at spoilers) the bets are on as to what Jack wants in Erinsborough. Has he buried some hidden treasure under the hotel? Is he looking to claim a stake in the complex and is armed with a decades-old ownership agreement? Or is he simply there to remind Paul (who disturbingly let slip plans to turn Ramsay Street into a casino one day! Dance on Helen Daniels grave, much?) that family is more important than dollars? Whichever it is, it's nice to see Neighbours embracing its history by re-introducing the founding father of one of its biggest institutions.

We're sure that Jack, Lucy, Sarah, Brad and Lauren arenít the last old residents due to make a return to the Street, so who will be next? Henry? Mrs Mangel (now that would be something!)? Des Clarke? The most pleasing thing about the recent old-comers is that there have consistently been intriguing storyline reasons behind the resurrections - and we wouldn't have missed the Susan vs. Sarah showdown or the Paul and Lucy friction for the world! So as long as there are new ideas, here's to old characters! And may we see many more of them again.