It was time to say goodbye to Dot Branning in this week’s EastEnders, and the BBC soap certainly ensured that both she, and iconic star June Brown, received the very best send-off.
After last week featured a rather questionable tribute, these episodes were a welcome tonic. Dedicated to Dot’s final journey, the entire community watched over her coffin as it made its way through Albert Square.
Sonia Fowler (Natalie Cassidy) revealed that, despite Dot’s ripe old age, she couldn’t comprehend a world without her. And for viewers, it’s still hard to imagine EastEnders without her.
As Sonia, Dotty Cotton (Milly Zero) and Jack Branning (Scott Maslen) prepared for the service, they were joined by returning faces Lauren Branning (Jacqueline Jossa), Colin Russell (Lord Michael Cashman), Mary Smith (Linda Davidson) and more.
Hidden away to pay his own respects was Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt), who hadn’t been seen in almost two years. Ian didn’t make his presence known, saying a tender private goodbye to Dot before taking a mysterious phone call and departing once more. Whether he’ll be back is a question for another time, but the surprises weren’t even nearly over yet.
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First, though, we were given one last chance to hear Dot’s voice on-screen. We heard the wise woman reflecting on the journey of life, while her loved ones stood by her graveside. Then, seamlessly, a slow rendition of the hymn ‘Abide With Me’ transitioned into Dot’s very own EastEnders Theme.
Composed by Simon May, who added this poignant contribution to his EastEnders collection, Dot was bid farewell accompanied by this stunning music.
Once we’d recovered from this emotional moment, it was time for the aftermath as tonight, the show continued where it left off. In the Queen Vic, the wake gave way to a celebration of Dot’s life. Patrick Trueman (Rudolph Walker CBE) spoke fondly of lost friends, while Jack recalled the happy years Dot spent with his late father Jim (John Bardon).
Sonia found herself charmed by a long-lost relative of Dot’s, Reiss Colwell (Jonny Freeman). But they were interrupted by the rest of the mourners — some intent on drinking the evening away, others reflecting on growing old disgracefully. Later, Sonia was cheered to find Reiss playing a french horn to We’ll Meet Again, and she retrieved her famous trumpet, much to everyone’s amusement.
But now, back to those promised surprises, although the first wasn’t much of a shock. As revealed by his daughter Lauren, the absent Max Branning (Jake Wood) hadn’t changed one bit — she had caught him in bed with one of her best friends. But that didn’t stop her from calling out Max’s ex-lover Linda Carter (Kellie Bright) in true East End style after she remarked on the news.
Meanwhile, Colin told Sharon Watts (Letitia Dean) that his husband had passed away, but he had reconnected with an old flame. This turned out to be none other than Barry Clark (Gary Hailes), the man Colin had shared EastEnders’ first mouth-to-mouth kiss with decades ago. The pair departed Albert Square together with some affectionate bickering and another kiss for good measure.
As Dot’s wake came to an end, there was one last unexpected return which took the story away from her loss. Watching mum Karen Taylor (Lorraine Stanley) was a nearby Keanu (Danny Walters) - but given that he left Walford to escape the wrath of love rival Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden), why is he back? Will Keanu stay long enough to meet his young son Albie, whose mother is Sharon?
EastEnders has closed a huge chapter with Dot’s beautiful send-off, and now a new one begins. And as always, there’s plenty of twists to come as the festive season truly gets underway.