Much like the rest of the TV industry, Casualty was significantly impacted when the coronavirus pandemic halted filming back in March– but is planning to come back with a bang in 2021.
Digital Spy recently caught up with show boss Loretta Preece to get all the gossip and some exclusive teasers on what's ahead in the next series...
1. The social-distancing cheats will be hard to spot
Since returning to filming, the Casualty production team have developed comprehensive production protocols to ensure that the series is produced in a safe and responsible manner. But rest assured that this will be very hard to spot on screen.
Discussing some of the challenges of filming while social distancing, Loretta said: "At first it was an enormous challenge. Casualty is predicated on close contact medicine, stunts and emotional exchanges, all of which took a lot of thought to film with social distancing.
"It was also editorially very challenging to try and predict how the pandemic might affect emergency departments many months from the point of planning stories and writing script. However I'm happy to say that we've been really innovative in the way we're filming – our teams have come up trumps.
"Everyone has embraced new ways of working. We have got such great results that the audience won't even notice the social distance on screen! We are coming back bigger and bolder than ever, we haven't compromised.
"Ironically some of the hardest scenes to film are the most prosaic. Passing a piece of paper from one actor to another is extremely difficult!"
2. Some episodes will time-travel
It will come as no surprise to fans that the timescale was one of the biggest challenges Casualty bosses faced upon its return to filming.
The show's special coronavirus episode, airing on January 2, will take us back to March as the the pandemic inexorably rips through the department in real time – all the way through the summer.
However, Loretta has also confirmed that the episodes following it will time-travel back to spring and summertime too, in order to tie up several of the loose ends we were left with in the months Casualty was off air.
"The time jump was our biggest challenge here and our first episodes are set in the summer and the autumn of 2020," Loretta explained.
"This allowed us to cover the first wave of the pandemic but also to continue some of the fantastic stories that we were in the middle of telling such as Fenisha's pregnancy, Lev's big secret and Connie and Jacob's passion for one another."
3. Covid won't dominate future stories
Looking beyond the show's coronavirus episode, Loretta explained that it was important to still deliver the Saturday night escapism that Casualty is known and loved for. Therefore, while Covid will continue to be referenced in stories moving forwards, it won't dominate.
"Casualty also offers the audience a slice of Saturday night escapism," she said. "After that impactful first episode, we mostly look away from COVID."
4. Grace's return will bring trouble for Connie
We already know that Emily Carey will be reprising her role as Connie's teenager daughter Grace, but Loretta has teased that this will be far from straightforward.
As Connie faces more big challenges – in both her professional and personal life (more on that to come), Grace's comeback doesn't necessarily come at the best time.
"Grace returns to the ED beautiful and forthright but underlying that is a deep desire to be noticed and appreciated by her mother," Loretta told us.
"Emily is a fantastic actress and we are really lucky to have her in our cast. There are some great stories to come from her, she seems to constantly get into trouble! She and Connie don't have the smoothest relationship and in many ways the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree."
5. More twists in Dylan, Lev and Faith story
Fans who have seen Casualty's new trailer will know that the next series will be a big'un in the ongoing Faith, Lev and Dylan saga. And Loretta has promised lots more twists that you won't necessarily see coming.
She said: "Faith didn't believe Dylan when he told her that he saw her husband kissing a man, but when we see her again, she's had some time to dwell on that and to wonder why Dylan would say such a thing.
"Lev is on a journey this series but so are Faith and consequently Dylan. There are lots of twists in this story to come."
6. Ethan will discover the truth about Fenisha
Again, no big surprise here but Ethan will indeed discover that Fenisha is still pregnant in the new series.
This kick starts the next chapter of the story, as Ethan's Huntington's gene comes into question – throwing Fenisha's life upside down.
"Ethan doesn't yet know that Fenisha is carrying his child and there is a lot more to come between the two of them," Loretta said.
"We have set some of the early episodes back in the summer and autumn 2020, there were several reasons for this but one of them was to make sure we can play out all the complications of Fenisha and Ethan's situation."
7. Jade to take centre stage again
We have a soft spot for Jade here at Digital Spy and were therefore pleased to hear that a new story for her is under way.
Jade took centre stage in a groundbreaking episode back in July, written, directed and acted by deaf writers and actors, and the show will be continuing to explore the impact that the pandemic has had on lip readers through the nurse.
"We were delighted with the response to that episode – it was one that was very close to our hearts," Loretta said. "Jade is a very important character to the show and we will certainly be doing more with her. We have a really interesting story for her which we are filming right now.
"The pandemic and specifically the wearing of PPE and masks has been extremely challenging for lip readers like Jade and we touch on that in our COVID episode."
8. Rosie Jones joins for a guest stint
Casualty will be bringing in comedian Rosie Jones for a guest stint in early spring, and she'll be making a big impression on ambulance boss Jan.
Loretta explained: "We are also delighted to announce that Rosie Jones will be joining us as a guest for a fantastic straight acting role in episode nine.
"She has an electric pairing with Jan and although she had us all in stitches on the floor, her role reveals a whole new side to Rosie."
9. An unexpected new story for Marty
Marty went on quite the journey last series, but his story will be going in an entirely new direction in the middle of next year.
"Marty has a story coming up mid series which is unlike any other he has had in the show before," Loretta teased. We're intrigued...
10. The 35th anniversary will be very different
With Casualty due to mark its 35th anniversary in September, we were keen to get some early teasers on what we can expect to see.
After the high-octane drama we saw in the 30th episodes back in 2016, viewers may be interested to know that Casualty's 35th milestone will be looking very different.
Loretta said: "We are going in a totally different direction for our 35th anniversary special, something very different which we are confident will be a real fan favourite. Watch this space."
11. Some exciting returns
It's an exciting time to be a Casualty fan as Loretta has promised that there will be some familiar faces reappearing this series.
We already know that Michael Stevenson will be reprising his role as popular paramedic Iain Dean, but he's not the only Casualty alumni returning.
When we asked Loretta who she would most like to see return, she said: "Happily, a couple of the characters that I would most like to see return will be doing so over the next 12 months, and at least one of those returns comes from a very unexpected direction. Watch this space… viewers are in for a treat!"
12. Stunts have been unaffected
In a time of social-distancing and ever-changing guidelines, were keen to know if and how Casualty bosses would be continuing their trademark stunts. The good news is that they are, but it's not necessarily been easy.
Loretta said: "Casualty wouldn't be Casualty without the stunts! It's taken a lot of planning and innovative thinking but there are some fantastic stunts coming up.
"Happily many of our trademark stunts have been unaffected and we have a doozy for mid January when Faith gets trapped in an ambulance."
13. Charlie could find love again
Charlie's life changed forever when his wife Duffy passed away back in February, and there's a long way to go for him yet.
When discussing Charlie's future, Loretta insisted that the grief process would be continuing in the next series, but wasn't ruling out the possibility of him finding love again.
She said: "Duffy is the love of Charlie's life and it will take him a very long time to process her loss. But never say never."
14. Meet Leon
It was announced last week that Bobby Lockwood had joined the show as Leon Cook – whose first episode will be airing in January.
Teasing what fans can expect to see from Leon, Loretta said: "We are delighted to welcome a gorgeous new himbo paramedic starting in episode 2.
"The character is called Leon Cook and is played by the brilliant and hilarious Bobby Lockwood. He's not always the sharpest tool in the paramedic kit bag and he will put Jan through a few trials!"
15. Ffion and Jan are getting a big story
Casualty were only just warming Ffion up when it went off air over the summer, but the good news is that there is a lot more from her to come next year.
"Jan and Ffion have a fantastic storyline coming up, totally new territory for them both," Loretta teased.
16. Jacob and Connie on the rocks (again)
Jonnie fans are in for another bumpy ride this series – sorry guys! The on-off couple reignited their passion in the series finale back in August, but things will go very south, very quickly when we catch up with them again.
Loretta said: "Viewers were delighted to see Connie and Jacob's passion reignited but can their fledgling relationship survive through a pandemic?" Possibly not.
17. Everyone is proud of the coronavirus special
As we all know, Casualty is returning with an episode centred entirely around the pandemic. The emotive special, kicking off the show's January return, will see these unprecedented times through the lens of the Emergency Department staff.
Jacob and Dylan are among those who are physically impacted by the virus, and there's a chance that not all the staff will make it through to the end of the episode. So while we can assure you that it is no easy watch, the episode is undoubtedly one of the show's biggest achievements to date.
"We are enormously proud of our COVID episode," Loretta said. "We knew from the start that we had to show the impact that COVID has had on emergency departments and hospitals in general. Casualty has always prized itself on being topical and this is the biggest crisis to have faced the NHS in a generation.
"We knew we had to do medics, COVID victims and survivors and their relations justice and I strongly believe that we have. We worked very closely with our medical advisors throughout the process leaning on their first hand experiences and everyone involved took the responsibility extremely seriously."
Casualty returns on Saturday, January 2 at 7.35pm on BBC One.
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