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The countdown to Dr. Stevens' final farewell

Popular actors quitting a popular series are likely to offer the same reason for their departure—they just couldn't take the character any further.

They will talk at length about the mixed emotions they wrestled with when confronting such an important and potentially life-changing-decision. But, eventually, they all say it was simply time to move on.

When All Saints' favourite Erik Thomson tells you there was nowhere else for his character, Dr Mitch Stevens, to, he's not overstating the case.

"I've been married, divorced, blown-up, been involved in earthquakes, train crashes, Ebola scares—it has been a very rich tapestry of storylines." He laughed.

"And now Mitch and Terri are finally together. What more could possibly happen to him?"

Thomson bore the secret of his departure for most of 2002—a considerable achievement in the world of television, where secrets are generally leaks waiting to happen.

"When I went back to work at the beginning of the year, I was asking myself if I had another year in me," he said. "For the first time, the option on my contract was in my favour—I could decide whether I would stay or go.

"I decided that after four years of enjoying it week in, week out, that I had nothing else to add to it."

All Saints' writers and producers then had to figure out how Dr Stevens would exit. Would he move to Queensland—or New York, as they prefer in post-millennial departures, a la Holly Valance from Neighbours?

Would Mitch and Terri (Georgie Parker) tie the knot and dedicate the rest of their lives to treating starving children in Third World countries? Or would the good doctor die?

"I was in Broken Hill and was approached by several fans who wanted to know what was going to happen to Mitch during the season," Thomson said.

"I asked them if they really wanted to know. They insisted, and so I gave them all the gory details.

"Then they didn't believe it—they thought I was making it up."

All Saints fans who do not want to know the details leading up to Mitch's exit in the next couple of months should stop reading at this point.

"Mitch's exit was always going to be a death—it had to be death," Thomson said. "There was no way they could let him live after everything the poor guy has been through."

But how to kill him off?

Viewers will be aware that Dr Stevens' behaviour has become increasingly erratic and even violent in the past couple of weeks, culminating in him hitting Terri.

After that incident, the pair come to the same conclusion: there must be something seriously wrong. And they are right. A CT scan reveals Mitch has an advanced brain tumour.

A considerable spanner was thrown into the works as the writers were developing the storylines leading up to Mitch's final farewell.

The equally popular Dr Mark Greene was making a dramatic but excruciatingly drawn-out exit from ER, dying from a brain tumour.

"The question was asked if there was concern because we are both medical dramas and both doctors and both getting brain tumours," Thomson said.

"But that device wasn't invented by ER and it is a great device for the writers and audience.

"It allows the writers to milk the drama over several weeks and it also gives the audience time to get used to the fact that this character is going.

"To the writers' credit, they have really excelled themselves in the lead-up to the day Mitch dies, but it isn't as drawn out as Mark Greene's situation. We do it over five episodes.

"And by given him a tumour in the frontal lobe, it means they could develop some very meaty storylines, because that kind of tumour affects your behaviour. ER didn't have the guts to go there."

There were moments during the filming of Thomson's final episodes when emotions ran high, particularly between himself and Georgie Parker.

"We were shooting a scene where Mitch is about to go in for a very risky operation and he and Terri are alone," Thomson recalled.

"Georgie realised as we were doing the scene that it was the last time we would ever speak to each other on the show. There were a few tears and then suddenly you've got the production crew going: 'There, there, it's time for your close-up now.'"

Since filming his last scenes late last year, Thomson has been relaxing. He and his wife, Always Greener actress Caitlin McDougall, indulged in some travelling during the Christmas holidays and Thomson spent a few weeks trying to teach himself how to play the banjo.

"I have been playing guitar for 20 years and I went to buy a new capo and some strings and there was this banjo on the counter," Thomson said.

"Now I'm trying to work it out. Surfing and playing the banjo. What's after that, we'll have to wait and see."

February 23, 2003
The Sunday Telegraph