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Comment > The Newcomers by Si Hunt

One of the things Neighbours has done quite well recently is to introduce strong new characters into its storyline mix. There was a debate not long ago around which tactic was best: bringing a big new family into Ramsay Street in one go, or introducing characters one at a time, usually as absent friends or hitherto unseen relatives of established characters. To the series' credit, in recent memory it has pulled off both approaches well. After having two large new families (the Willises and the Turners) appear almost at the same time, the way is now clear for estranged additional family members to turn up when required (come on Piper, COME ON!). Astonishingly, the most notable character manages to be an estranged member of BOTH families. So let's deal with her first as we take a walk through the best and worst of Neighbours' recent new arrivals.

We like Paige Novak. Even if her methods for integrating herself into the lives of her secret mother and father are slightly unorthodox, (the #### is really going to hit the fan over this one, trust me) she's got a semi-legitimate reason to be both cautious and defensive. But better, she's intelligent, independent and quite honest. There's notably been no attempt on her part to stir up trouble for those members of her "new" family she doesn't like, in fact she's even guided the straying Amber back to boyfriend Josh (block of wood personality vs Olympic swimmer body - which quality outweighs the other?). This makes Paige something of a sympathetic character for the viewer to get behind, and people will have kept watching if only for the moment when she finally 'fesses up.

One of the nicest things about the Paige storyline is that it hasn't been afraid to heap on yet more layers of complexity as it goes on. With only the briefest of 'Previously' trailers (scissored in the UK so Sheila and Naomi can promise us a chance to win £1000 a month for the rest of the year if we ring a premium rate phone line- very nice of them but no thanks) viewers now have to cope with Paige's estranged adopted brother Ethan turning up and making a beeline for her half-sister Imogen. It's a good job I don't have an adopted brother and a half sister to keep apart, and a half-sister and half-brother to push back together at the same time, or I wouldn't have time to follow these tremendously complicated plot twists. We don't know much about Ethan yet, but he seems to be more of a Josh than a Daniel Robinson; brilliantly white teeth and biceps you could crack peanuts on, but not a lot of depth upstairs. Gleefully intercepting brainbox Imogen's combine harvester-like plough through every male in Erinsborough, it wasn't long before he'd led her astray and got her stripped (of her school captaincy). But many viewers at home will have been yelling "Oh, quit complaining, it was so worth it!". So that's Ethan - a man of few talents, Scrabble unlikely to be one of them.

The aforementioned Daniel Robinson is a little more 'complicated' shall we say. His strengths lie in other areas (he looks like the oldest teenage skateboarder in Melbourne crossed with a tramp), and unlike his Dad, he looks for more in a woman that a buoyant perm and a sizzling bikini.

"I feel a connection," he announced to Amber, a girl who falls deeply and then tires of her men a few weeks later like a bored child. A connection being, he later tried to explain, like an aura; a meeting of spirits. "I see you." he said simply, which was ironic, as they were in the dark room at the time. If only he had access to Doctor Who's TARDIS, he could fly back into the past and seduce Kerry Mangel. He's that kind of "way out" sort of dude. Incidentally, several times Daniel has been seen on the phone (Paul had to convince him to take this step into the modern age, otherwise he’d probably have been playing with a kiln) to his ma and pa, presumably catching them between touring commitments. But the other side of these conversations has remained tantalisingly hidden from viewers. Would it really be too much trouble for Kylie to record a little insert in her hotel room and e-mail it back to them? She wouldn't have to put the Charlene overalls back on or anything to do it (though that would be a nice touch).

Finally in our roll-call of newcomers, we save the best for last. Naomi Canning. Ah yes! How we love Naomi, for whom the word "spunky" might almost have been invented. Naomi is a woman who lives on the edge. When she fancies a guy, she doesn't simply seduce him, she pays a man to break into her house to win his sympathy. Naomi rose in on the crest of a wave, casually revealing herself to be a husband-stealing art thief. When she later needed money (this girl is like Elton John; she seems to have thousands of dollars fall into her lap, then loses it just as easily) she didn't just raid the family safe. She didn't take the easy option and prize open the work office cash tin. No, she went for the big one – stealing the flapping Georgia's engagement ring, staging an inventive plan involving spiriting the ring away during a baking session. She uses cakes as a subterfuge!

Her best plan yet though was letting a pursuing thug steal Paul's car and then swiftly claiming it back by using photographs of him committing said theft as blackmail material. By the end of the morning, having gambled Paul's BMW to rid herself of a pest, the keys were neatly back with the unwitting Lassister’s owner along with a jaunty quip explaining that she had nipped out to buy him a curry! So cool. So accomplished. Such style, risking everything in a morning's skulduggery! We Heart Naomi Canning. And of course, the beauty of our Canning Girl is that Dame Sheila is forever at her shoulder, watching what she's doing and ALWAYS seeing through her. Nothing gets past Sheila! The chemistry between the two is a joy to watch.

If Naomi is the best of the newcomers, then the Paige storyline is the more gripping, and we watch every day to see what further twists and turns it takes. Is Ethan about to move on to Amber (give her a week or two to get bored of Daniel) and further confuse the tangled web of relationships in this family? Will Paige's adopted parents turn up and challenge Lauren to a Ramsay Street hairpulling duel? And will someone finally realise that both Paige and Lauren have a cute little matching teddy and rumble the whole shebang? With all this going, it's no wonder that excellent characters are being sneaked in under our very noses. You need to pay such attention that you barely notice.