By FRANCES GRANT



Dr Love's evil double, conspicuously absent for a long six months, popped up behind a hotel door as Shortland Street (TV2, 7pm) marked its 3000th episode last night.



Not bad, as jaw-droppers go. The return of master manipulator Dom, last seen in action as the prime suspect in the murder of Geoff Greenlaw, gave Chris Warner, heading for what he hoped was going to be an amorous interlude, a terribly nasty turn.



Dom's comeback not only puts a bit of nip/tuck in the sagging storylines of plastic surgeon Dr Warner but also promises some satisfying conclusions. He only managed to half-strangle the irritating Delphine Greenlaw last time round, let's hope he's back to finish the job.

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After 3000 episodes, the soap has evolved its own cycle of reality and fantasy; it's emerging from a gritty phrase and swinging back to the glam. The nationalisation of the clinic was always a dour piece of plotting and those public hospital uniforms really had to go.



Dr Warner's plastic surgery unit marks the welcome return of trashy private enterprise; the plan to launch the unit as a commercial and state-owned joint venture has allowed a brash blonde Sydney businesswoman into the swim.



With the welcome release from the tedious Donna's clutches, Dr Warner has slipped back into his niche as the show's premier sleazebag. Dr Love never was much good at lines such as, "I don't want to be Peter Pan, I just want a relationship that works."



The blonde Aussie temptress is played by Sally Stockwell who appears to be relishing every moment as the Great White Shark from across the Tasman. Stockwell is doing double duty as a man-eater at the moment, playing the voraciously ambitious TV host Lindy on The Insiders Guide to Happiness.



Other storylines have been less pleasing. No one should ever have allowed Waverley, a hideous wailer at the best of times, to have a baby. Someone should be fired for giving her the most protracted labour in the history of telly soaps.



But at least one good thing came of the birth: a classic Shortland Street moment of pure farce, when wailing Wav was packed off to maternity hospital in a hearse.



On the teen angst front, the soap offers Delphine, fretting about her parents breaking up even though they have been entirely absent in her affections until now. Tash is battling for the title of most unwanted child with the equally whiny Scarlett.



On the more vital romance front, things have gone a bit quiet, with only Shannon - all of a doo-dah between fiance Tama and nurse Vinnie - to challenge the antics of Dr Love. Still it's hard to top the accomplishments of the Layla-Nelson-Jesse love triangle: one suicide and two banishments to, gulp, the Solomon Islands.



The soap is doing its duty conscientiously in other rounds, with resident nerd Sticky rumpled, sad and homeless and Asian dragon lady Li Mei dating a mortician.



It's overachieving in the busybody receptionist category with Avril, not only a loudmouth but a champion back-stabber to boot.



The lying, cheating, murdering Dominator may be back and locked in a power struggle with Dr Warner but it's always the added extras that have made the Street. The fine social skewering ranges from the "anything but chardonnay" mantra of the wine bar and cafe set to a wonderful hippy magic bus which made far too fleeting an appearance and must be brought back.