We Need To Talk About: Aaron Dingle


Given Emmerdale’s history, I shouldn’t be surprised by how close they’re pushing Aaron Dingle to the brink but Monday night’s special episode took things to a new low. One that, despite its acting and merits of raising awareness, is hard to fully defend or understand.

To say Aaron’s always been a troubled character is something of an understatement. After all, this is the same lad that tried to commit suicide when he couldn’t cope with his sexuality, only for his very first romantic experience to culminate in his boyfriend being hit by a train and become paraplegic.

That wasn’t anywhere near the end of it and after years of hard-hitting plots, Aaron left for France and had a two year break from his miserable life. On his return in 2014 Emmerdale seemed to have struck a better balance between the extreme angst we’re used to in Aaron’s stories, and character development. He was much more sure of himself as a person, experienced lust, love and had escaped the shackles of his succession of torture storylines to find happiness.

There’s no denying that Aaron being put through the emotional wringer is down to Danny Miller’s exceptional performances which resonate so deeply with the audience and make Aaron a beloved character. But there comes a point where enough is enough, before this becomes too heavy to burden one character with and before you exhaust an audience into the worst possible outcome: apathy.

The prison storyline began as a heartbreaking split of two newlyweds and the freshness of Aaron’s short-lived happiness served to make this tragedy TV gold. Tearing apart your much-loved couple moments after they wed? It’s a classic story and one that gets the tear ducts going in the right way. Aaron’s happiness (and particularly with new husband Robert) is something viewers are hugely invested in and have waited for after – yes – even more years of character torture.


What followed was a tough and claustrophobic display of the impact of homophobia in prison. A worthy and well-acted story and one which hasn’t been done before. It was especially poignant in light of how far Aaron has come in accepting his sexuality. The emotional impact of this alone would have served as an effective story, particularly combined with showing the effect on his loved ones in the outside world.

Unfortunately this is where the storyline began to spiral into a needlessly cruel territory, as prison top dog Jason discovered Aaron was the son and victim of paedophile Gordon and the sickeningly extreme torment drove Aaron to take the drug Spice. Why deal effectively with one topical prison issue when you can do three at once, eh?

There is a defence that argues it’s good that Emmerdale is highlighting these very real and very brutal realities in the prison system and while this might be true – the biggest question I have is why?

Not even a year ago, Aaron battled for justice against his father and reopened old wounds as he revealed he had been repeatedly raped as a child by him. On the whole the story was handled sensitively and despite dealing with horrifying issues, gave the audience a sense of hope for Aaron’s future. All along we saw Aaron’s support network come together, the arrival of his sister and a fresh start with Robert were huge beacons of light in a dark time. The storyline didn’t feel exploitative, particularly when it offered believable insight into Aaron’s lifelong struggles with identity and self-harm. But with this storyline came the opportunity to explore new directions with Aaron. Aaron was on a path of justice and recovery, with the audience optimistic that he would survive this fresh trauma, not as a new person, but a healthier and happier one.

And he was getting there (even without much-needed therapy), whilst still being a damaged man with multiple issues that continued to impact upon his relationships and mental health. As you’d expect for a character who had been abused as a child, he struggled with trust, insecurity and expressing emotion. But these were all believable facets to his character, all part of his character’s development – ones Emmerdale could use for conflict and drama when needed.

In a soap, where there is no end point in sight for a character unless an actor chooses to leave or the axe falls, characters need to develop, to grow. The best characters are ones that experience a diverse range of storylines and emotions. We all expect unhappiness, torment and conflict – it’s a soap after all – but in Aaron’s latest plot, it’s starting to feel that any progress and development made has been set back years as the torment mounts in prison.

Once more, Aaron has become Emmerdale’s tortured voodoo doll in a relentless and cruel way that veers between leaving many uncomfortable and some completely desensitised.


It doesn’t just feel like Aaron’s character progression is being undone (when he had merely begun to recover from his traumatic past and not even a year since Gordon’s trial) but that the good work of the abuse storyline has been tarnished by effectively punishing and destroying the fragile psyche of a childhood rape survivor.

To me, it’s irresponsible and insensitive.

What makes matters worse is that is this only the beginning. Even when Aaron leaves prison, the ramifications of this story will last for many months. Believable? Yes. Watchable? Debatable.

Last night saw Aaron begin drug use and if you’re aware of spoilers you’ll know that Robert’s breakdown on the outside leads him to make a pass at Rebecca, a nightmare situation which would destroy an already broken Aaron. When part of Aaron’s only strength comes from his marriage, just how far are they going to push Aaron? And to what end? There comes a point where enough is enough, where unfortunately it begins to become a parody and lose all resonance.

It might be true to life, but TV is not just about the important tragedies of life, but entertainment, an escape. With Aaron’s light and happiness so rare and so fleeting, the balance is tipped and this stops being entertainment.

Aaron Dingle (and Danny Miller’s performances) are worth more than just a factory line of issue-based misery plots and I just hope Emmerdale haven’t fallen into a trap of exhausting and breaking the character beyond hope.


7 thoughts on “We Need To Talk About: Aaron Dingle

  1. So very well said and absolutely spot on! Aaron was never going to be a ray of sunshine but misery just for misery’s sake gets old fast. Just how much more can one character take? You’re right, the abuse story last year was difficult but it had sparks of hope all throughout. This new one is just bleak, cruel and quite simply unwatchable (and sorry to say but it does feel like manipulative awards bait). It’s starting to remind me of the post accident/assisted suicide/self harm era where it was misery piled onto more and more misery for Aaron and I just had to switch off. It’s quite temping to switch off now too…
    If they wanted to highlight prison life and homophobia another character would have been ideal. Maybe Robert, who hasn’t been quite as tested by life. There could have still been the elements of homophobia, the outside partner, the beatings, the drugs, etc. And some of the audience would have seen it as retribution after all his past bad deeds. But with it being Aaron again, it’s just extremely cruel.


  2. Agreed, because I love Aaron and Danny Miller’s portrayal of him. The fact that they used his childhood abuse against him in such a way is pretty much horrible as realistic as it might be. They also never give the character the psychiatric help he deserves and needs without piling yet another issue on him. And last but NOT LEAST, they’d better not making him an addict! I cannot believe Emmerdale went down that road with him!!! We had already known he was ANTI-DRUGS!!!! If they made him an addict as well before they gave him help, I just cannot watch that anymore. He’s loved for being nonstereotypical as well, no one wants to see another Ste Hay either.


  3. You are absolutely right but I also believe that this storyline might put an end to Aaron’s fear or self-hatred. I really hope it will bring him some sort of closure so he can finally be happy for good. People were always complaining that Emmerdale didn’t deal with Aaron’s issues enough, well, here it is. So it’s cruel, and hard to watch, but Aaron’s always been tortured, I think this will be a wake-up call and that he’ll get help afterwards. I think we can give Emmerdale some credit…no?


    • I really *really* hope so, but I think there have been several times in many of Aaron’s dark storylines where it seemed like it would cause a wake-up call (and therapy) and then it didn’t happen. So I can understand that people are wary and personally I worry this will set the character back rather than cause any sort of progress. I live in hope though!


  4. gay characters tend to suffer the most for some reason on tv/ movies. aaron is becoming a sad stereotype of that. the long suffering gay character. emmerdale piles nothing but misery onto aaron while giving him 5 minutes of joy. that is not enough. they need to find their balance. i am losing interest in aaron and even robert (rebecca again? ugh come on)

    Emmerdale needs to do better


    • I’d say Rebecca is the least of Robert’s problems as a character. The main problem is he’s an empty shell who is there to move the plot along. We got the “bad” version in 2015 and the “good” version since then, but it’s just differently wrapped versions of an empty package.

      Sadly I’d say Aaron became what you describe a long time ago. I had hope that was finally changing last year, but it never does, apparently.


      • I’m gonna have to disagree with you. I think you’re letting your dislike or indifference for robert’s character cloud your judgement of him. He’s not an empty package nor is Aaron. I think Emmerdale are making a mistake in this storyline by throwing every prison “cliché” at Aaron. I don’t see the end goal in this and besides it’s plain cruel. I get what they’re trying to show, the prison violence and whatever, but I think they are more interested in getting Danny awards. And yes, Aaron’s character is the one suffering in all of this. Not because of the abuse, but because of the misery fest storylines that keep happening. But, in spite of everything I’m gonna have faith in Emmerdale and trust that they will solve this problem in the best possible way (maybe I’m being too optimistic). Now, about Robert, I don’t get what you see him as empty or a plot device. His emotions and his scenes are not part of a plot. but part of the story. One thing Emmerdale is doing right in this story is showing how much Aaron means to him and how lost he is without him. He’s being good, although stupid. But I can’t say I understand the involvement of the other character in all of this… It’s unnecessary, repetive and honestly stupid and cruel. If they don’t know what to do with the character, they should just get rid of her, because frankly no one is going to miss her (sorry if I’m being mean)
        Anyway, what I want to say is that the whole story is a misstep from Emmerdale, but the characters are still the characters. Their actions are still pretty much in character, most of the time, even when they are making mistakes that frustate me.
        My only hope is that they have a silver lining soon about all of this, because, if not, then, what’s the ponit?


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