Peter Beale’s return to EastEnders in 2020, during the show's 35th anniversary week, should have signalled an exciting new era for the character. But since his homecoming, the character — as portrayed by Dayle Hudson — has suffered a real lack of purpose as his place in the show hasn’t truly been cemented.
Apart from having another brand new face to adjust to (seven actors have played him to date), Peter hasn’t had a chance to evolve; and it appears the soap hasn’t made up its mind over which direction to take him in the long-term.
Narratives with potential are only deemed worthy of the occasional mention, while most of his screen time is limited to superficial story strands. A prime example is Peter’s fast-moving love life which has earned him a reputation as a lothario.
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He has undergone a personality transplant since his reincarnation; and the most noticeable side effects are his immaturity, bravado, and a baffling demand for an ‘allowance’ from dad Ian despite being a grown man.
Peter recently began channelling his father, taking charge of the family empire. This sudden change of pace doesn’t quite ring true for bemused viewers, who are wondering where his sudden businessman ambition has come from.
Even more confusing are the circumstances surrounding his current role in young son Louie’s life. Louie’s mother Lauren Branning made contact last year following a fire at her home, and Peter tried to access funds for her and their child.
But the plot was short-lived and you’d be forgiven for failing to recall how, or even if, the problem was resolved. Since then, there have been no updates on little Louie.
The soap is wasting time with the character instead of exploring Peter’s five years away. This era has never been discussed, so there could easily be a criminal bombshell waiting to explode or a secret health battle he refuses to acknowledge.
At the very least, delving into Peter’s recent backstory might offer explanations over his split with Lauren and why he left New Zealand, and Louie, behind.
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While the grief that Peter has experienced has understandably changed him, every intriguing nod to the past is dealt with far too quickly, allowing little room for growth.
Earlier in the year, there were promising glimpses of his bond with younger brother Bobby beginning to heal following the trauma of Bobby accidentally killing their sister — and Peter’s twin — Lucy.
As EastEnders revisited this story, actor Dayle Hudson gave a memorable, poignant performance as we watched Peter begin to let go of his resentment for Bobby while exchanging memories of their late sibling.
But the scenes were brief and inadequate, and Peter was never given the time to recharge and reset. So why didn’t the soap use his history to allow him to grow?
Having run away from the pain of his loss before, this would have been the perfect opportunity to examine it head on. Peter might then finally be able to move on with his own storyline, rather than constantly being sidelined.
We know there’s more to him than what the show has delivered so far. The clues are there in his fleeting acts of compassion: from his support of Ash to his successful intervention in Bobby’s relationship with Dana Monroe.
Again, though, these moments are glossed over almost as soon as they appear, when at this stage EastEnders should be expanding on them.
I want to see how Peter fares as a father, and watch him build up new relationships that don’t just revolve around his romantic conquests. Alongside this, he needs a significant plot of his own, challenging him to the limit until that facade begins to drop.
It’s about time the soap put its energy into the future of this legacy character, because right now, Peter Beale Junior is being neglected and in danger of a permanent background role.
As a member of one of EastEnders’ original families, he should be in line for soap longevity.
This means the show must fully commit to the character; so it’s vital that Peter’s path is chosen soon so he can really make his mark.
EastEnders airs on BBC One, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
Watch: EastEnders star Kacey Ainsworth looks back at her time on the soap