Until last night, there was a hole in EastEnders. Or two holes if you count the weird pawprint-shaped gash that's been carved into the top of Phil Mitchell's bonce ever since he started taking crack. But the main hole – the more relevant hole – was created when Barbara Windsor left Albert Square earlier this month after failing to die in that pub fire.
But now that hole has just been plugged by the return of two EastEnders heavyweights – Alfie Moon and Kat Slater. Although it seems like only yesterday that they both rode off into the sunset, screeching and cackling like a pair of semi-professional Sid James impersonators caught in a bear trap, they've actually been missing from our screens since Christmas 2005.
How popular they'll be is another matter entirely. When Windsor left in 2003 and then returned two years later, for example, it coincided with a near-simultaneous drop and rise in ratings. But during the half-decade that we've been without Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace, EastEnders has ticked along quite nicely, thank you. For all the pomp and hype surrounding their return, one might be forgiven for thinking that Richie and Wallace need EastEnders more than it needs them.
Richie, in particular, has watched his stock divebomb calamitously over the last few years. Not only was his misjudged Channel Five remake of Minder quickly axed but Sky1's Don't Forget The Lyrics! is a gameshow even more exasperatingly terrible than its titular exclamation mark suggests. The days when Richie could write an autobiography, give it a name as hideous as Rags to Richie and watch it climb to the top of the bestsellers list, are apparently long gone.
Such reservations, however, fell by the wayside as Kat set foot on Albert Square last night. So much effort went into making us invest in her romance with Alfie first time round - one episode seemed to be exclusively about his slapstick attempts to buy a condom ahead of his first night with her - that they'll always be up there with Den and Angie, Ricky and Bianca, and Christian and the closest available reflective surface when it comes to enduring EastEnders couples.
Their return already looks like a good one, too. Kat's motives for coming back – she's on the lam from some northern thugs, with a ratty nylon wig plonked on top of her head – are just as delightfully preposterous as any of her previous "You're not my mum!" / "YESSI YAMM!" highlights. And the fact that Alfie won't make his entrance until later this week hints at trouble in paradise, so he might even be asked to do more than chuckle and twinkle mischievously. There's even a rumour that they'll end up taking over the Vic – provided they can stop any more middle-aged drug addicts from burning it down.
So here's to Alfie Moon and Kat Slater – Walford's answer to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, if Richard Burton enjoyed wearing genuinely ugly shirts and Elizabeth Taylor bought her make-up by the binbag. So is anyone else excited to see them back? Is their return exactly what Albert Square needs?