Sunday, 27 September 2009

Stick a fork in him, he's Dunwoody

Series 7, Week 2, Part 2
TX Date: Saturday 26th September 2009

Last night on Strictly Come Dancing: the second group of celebrities shook it on down. Ricky Whittle was lauded, Jo Wood was criticised, and Len made a series of obvious and yet excruciating puns. Those of you who were surprised by any of might want to go back and start again with series one to six, because seriously. Tonight it's Latin night, and everyone is shitting a brick, essentially. Titles!

We have Bruce, and we have Tess. They're still not dancing together, a development I find both satisfying and oddly unsettling, though I'm sure I shall come to terms with it over the next 438 weeks. Daly Dresswatch: a red halterneck number that is largely flattering, but does have the unfortunate side effects of a) making her look quite angular and b) making her tits look like torpedoes. Still, I've seen worse, so I'll let this one pass.

Bruce tells Tess that doing the show has caused him to miss the opportunity of a lifetime: they wanted him to be the new Sugababe. Ooh, topical! And then the show does that weird thing where having done the joke, it somehow gets stretched out as though it should have a second punchline, but then it doesn't. It's quite strange.

The stars of our show are introduced, and for those of you who still haven't managed to learn who's in it this year, I shall repeat it once more: Rav Wilding and his dance partner Ashlee Simpson Aliona Vilani, Zöe Lucker and James Jordan, Ricky Groves and Erin Boag, Jo Wood and Brendan Cole, Chris Hollins and Ola Jordan, Natalie Cassidy and Vincent Simone, Richard Dunwoody and Lilia Kopylova, Jade Johnson and Ian Waite, Craig Kelly and Flavia Cacace, Ricky Whittle and Natalie Lowe, Lynda Bellingham and Darren Bennett, Phil Tufnell and Katya Virshilas, Ali Bastian and Brian Fortuna, Joe Calzaghe and Kristina Rihanoff, and finally Laila Rouass and Anton Du Beke. Just be warned: I'm going to do that like two or three more times, tops, and then you'll have to remember them by yourselves.

First up tonight are Phil and Katya. Bruce, unsurprisingly, struggles pronouncing Katya Virshalas's name. There's a joke about them both being nicknamed "cat" and it all resulting in them having kittens about tonight's dance. Said joke makes me want to start coughing up hairballs. Last night Phil's ballroom went down surprisingly well, and he thinks the Latin is his better dance. There are then some rehearsal shots of Phil fucking up his cha cha cha, naturally. He's enjoying the training, though, and doesn't want to be the first one to go home. Incidentally, while everyone says that this week, I can't help wondering if most of them were thinking "and I won't, because Jo Wood is in my group."

Phil's hip action, what there is of it, is rather terrifying. They're dancing to 'Daddy', and Phil spends the early moments of the dance looking like he's trying to hold a hernia in place. That said, as much as I am not a Tuffers fan, he's very much in the spirit of the dance and being all cheeky-chappy about it, and his technique seems fairly good. At the end, Bruce tells Phil that now he's only poking his tongue out when he looks at the judges. Heh.

Bruce welcomes back the "fabulous" "singers" and the judges. There's an obligatory poor joke here, about Len having presumably gone out for dinner last night because he was overheard saying "I could murder an Italian", and I'm transcribing this only because it's worth it for the consolatory shoulder-rub Alesha gives Bruno on hearing the punchline. Heh.

Len's asked what he's hoping to see in the cha cha cha that we didn't get last weeek, and Len says he would like more rhythm. He tells Phil it was like the England cricket team after winning the Ashes: from magic to tragic. I am so homosexual that I had to have my boyfriend explain the genesis of that joke to me. Look, I don't follow the rugby, okay? Len tells Phil he didn't like his posture, and the New Yorks were a bit strange, but on the positive side, he got through it without fucking up majorly, so, er, well done. Alesha tells Phil that the cha cha cha is a cheeky dance, and Phil brought that cheekiness. She says that we all have to bear in mind that last night's dance was all about perfecting the heel leads, whereas tonight's was about using the balls of his feet, and it will take time to perfect those cha cha walks. Essentially, Alesha's feedback is very much of the "I can so too comment on the technical aspects of the dance, so SUCK ON THAT HATERS", and good for her, quite frankly. She does seem a lot more relaxed this week, and I for one thought her judging improved considerably as a result, but I'm sure the tabloids will still be calling for her head on a platter all the same. [Even the Daily Heil is surprisingly pro-Alesha this weekend. YOU GO, QUEEN ALESHA! - Carrie] She finishes by telling him to not let his energy and enthusiasm detract from getting his technique right. Bruno says that Phil is very likeable, but he doesn't always get his feet right, which affects his hip action. He finishes up by saying, "You've got work to do, but you're great to look at", and then gets all "NOT IN A GAY WAY, MIND" about it, and Phil wiggles his bum at Bruno. Heh. Craig says it didn't set the studio on fire, and the arms were flagellant (I assume he said that, rather than "flatulent", which it kind of also sounded like), and says that his tongue got more action than his hips, but he reiterates that Phil is a likeable personality.

Phil and his gold shirt and the new girl head back to the House of Tesstosterone, where he wonders what "flagellant" means. Scores: Craig 4, Len 6, Alesha 6, Bruno 6 for a total of 22. That gives him a total of 51 for both dances.

Next up are Craig and Flavia, who are dancing a "raunchy rumba". I was under the impression that was the only kind. Craig's VT shows his messy tango from last night, where he lacked finesse. He admits to having been disappointed. He's enjoying the rumba, and was good at it when Flavia was teaching him the moves, but then the second phase of tuition came in and his dreams crumbled to dust. He's apparently feeling the pain at this stage, and asks Flavia if it's supposed to feel like his arms are coming out of their sockets. Yes, replies Flavia. "There's always painkillers," admits Craig to the camera. Heh. Or just take whatever it is Bruno takes before each show, Craig - that way everything will seem much sunnier.

Craig begins by doing some Acting as a kind of cocky bloke about town as Flavia slinks over to him, to the strains of 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?' His arm movements are a bit nothingy, and it all seems a bit...forced, I guess. I think my problem with this routine is, that as much as I love Flavia, she has essentially choreographed a routine that is too difficult for this stage of the competition. It's a routine that shows her talents off beautifully, but unfortunately it also shows up Craig's limitations. The Acting is nice, though, and I like their chemistry as a couple. I just fear that they're trying to run before they can walk. [Or dance, in Craig's case. - Carrie]

Len says that he wants to see more hip action in tonight's rumbas, and he thought Craig's cucarachas showed that, but the rest of it had too much posing, and the running promenades were clumsy, though he thought the performance aspect was good. Alesha thought his posture was okay, and that he'd made an effort with his hands and the attention to detail therein - she disagrees with Len on the hip action, because she thought it was more upper body instead of coming from his feet where it should, but she commends his effort. "I knew you'd fall out with Len eventually," remarks Bruce. Alesha, darling, if you ever do decide you want to whack Len around the head with the number seven paddle, you know you have my support. Bruno says that he likes Craig's focus, but he needs to caress the floor with his feet - it was too mechanical. There is work to do, but his determination is great. Craig found it all a bit too stilted and full of abrupt stops, and felt that he was presenting Flavia all the way through it rather than presenting the story, but he believes that The Other Craig can dance, and in his "hort of horts" (CHAR CHAR CHAR), he believes Craig has a lot of potential to progress. Bruce then asks Contestant Craig what the story of the dance was, and Craig explains that it was about a cool guy who thinks he can have any woman he wants, but gets his heart stolen and broken by this woman. Bruce turns to the judges all, "you didn't know that, did you?" I appreciate what he's trying to do there, but if the judges genuinely didn't know that, then isn't the dance essentially a failure?

Craig and Flavia trot off to the HoT, and Tess asks Craig how he's feeling. "It's tough at the top, isn't it?" Craig deadpans. Scores: Craig 5, Len 6, Alesha 5, Bruno 6 for a total of 22, which gives him a total of 44 for both dances. Tess reminds Flavia that she was out first last year and probably doesn't want to repeat that this year. Flavia's like, "Yeah, thanks for that."

Laila and Formerly Poor Anton are the next couple to dance. Her tango went down well with the judges and scored 30, despite a fairly major cockup in the middle. They were pleased with their score, anyway. Their training footage shows Laila asking Anton if he will be supporting her when she goes back, and Anton replies, "Of course," and then starts cheering, "Laila, you're the best!" Snerk. Their training does not look terribly promising, and Laila admits it's hard for her to let Anton have the last word, though by and large they seem to be getting on fairly well.

Laila's wearing a skimpy blue dress that wouldn't look out of place on Ola, and looks fabulous. Their cha cha cha is to 'Sway' and I have to say, I'm impressed with Laila's confidence at this stage, because her movements are all very definite, which is an interesting contrast to the hesitancy we just saw from Craig. It's not the most fascinating routine I've ever seen, but then it is Anton trying to choreograph Latin.

Craig loved Laila's spin into her backdrop, but they got out of sync a couple of times, and he thought the whole thing lacked excitement. He thinks there's a lot more in Laila that we didn't get to see tonight. Len says that Laila has lots of potential, and he loves to see a bit of basic in a routine, but the whole thing was very safe, and he thinks she can handle more choreography than this, though he appreciates last night's choreography was full-on. Alesha agrees that it lacked the attack and wasn't as good as last night's, and Laila needs to "smash it more". Bruno is incensed at the "waste of all that magnificent equipment...yesterday I was going crazy for you! Now, I want a divorce." Hee, I do love a good Bruno flounce.

House of Tesstosterone: Laila says the judges' comments were fair enough, because they're the experts. A slight pause while several hundred incensed Arlene fans chorus "EXCEPT FOR THAT NEW GIRL". Anton thought she did a good job with a tricky dance, and that they're saving the best for later. He even hints that he might go topless if they stick around, prompting Tess to protest, "not until you've waxed." Tsk: such blatant bias against the hirsute. I'm going to write a Strongly Worded Letter. [Srsly. Tess always moans about hairy chests. What's wrong with the woman? I assume Vernon waxes till he bleeds. - Carrie] Scores: Craig 6, Len 7, Alesha 6, Bruno 6 for a total of 25, and a total of 55 overall.

Sticking with the Footballers' Wives alumni, next up are Zöe and James. Initially, when I heard Zöe was going to be competing this year, I intended to recap it as though she was doing the entire thing in character as Tanya Turner, but to be honest, I think I've got more than enough unfunny running gags permeating my recaps these days, so I shan't be doing that after all. Though I may not be able to resist the odd reference to covering stolen babies in fake tan: I am only human, after all. The judges adored Zöe's opening waltz, but she's concerned about having to be sexy for the rumba. Apparently Zöe struggles when James tells her to be sexy. Well, it does sort of imply that up until the point he said that, she was being unsexy, which I can't imagine is that great a motivator for anyone. James wishes Zöe could share his confidence in her, and I guess we've got our "you don't know how good you are!" contestant for this year all sorted now.

Zöe and James are dancing to 'Out Of Reach'. I'm not a fan of the whole Cindy Beale thing they've done with her hair, but I think their rumba is rather lovely - very sensual, nicely understated and by and large, very well performed. At this point I start to wonder if the public's general antagonism towards James might take a break this year, but somehow I have my doubts. Alesha tells them she loved it - she said she expected a Tanya Turner-style filthy rumba, whereas this was tasteful (despite the fact that Zoe's outfit is the sort that would make even Ola feel a tad exposed) and brilliantly acted. Bruno says he "felt something growing - big and powerful". Ooer. He loves how they were in constant eye contact and still danced so well. Craig calls it "gob-smackingly good", like looking through a keyhole at a private moment. "Oh, you're one of those?" asks Bruce. Heh. Len liked Zöe's arms and thought she danced very well, but he thought it was more suited to a bedroom than a ballroom because it was too raunchy for him. Well, that's a problem to take up with James rather than Zöe, surely?

House of Tesstosterone: Zöe says that it was scary at first getting so intimate with James so early on. We are informed that Zöe's fiancé is 6ft2, and James goes, "Oops". Heh. Scores: Craig 8, Len 7, Alesha 8, Bruno 8 giving Zöe 31, and a total of 61 overall. Not too shabby.

Halfway through leaderboard update: Zöe is top, Laila second, Phil third, and Craig at the bottom.

Next are Jo (who looks like she thinks she's doomed) and Brendan. We're reminded of her unfortunate waltz from last night, and Brendan lifts her spirits backstage, bless him. In training, Jo admits that learning two dances at once is a struggle. She tells Brendan, "I know what I'm doing wrong: everything." Heh. She promises to "hold the frag [sic] for all the feisty young grannies out there."

Her dress is very odd, like she has a long, limp metallic penis. Their rumba is to 'Fallen', and...well, it is better than her waltz, but not by a lot. It's rather awkward, and her hands are all over the place. She does pull off some fairly tricky choreography in parts, though, so she's obviously not a totally lost cause (and kudos to Brendan for trying to choreograph something challenging for her and pulling it off). Bruno tells her that rumba is very difficult, THOUGH NOT AS DIFFICULT AS IT IS FOR MEN, because it exposes everything, and essentially it wasn't very good, but she should be proud of herself nonetheless. Craig says the best part was when she was standing still writhing, which Brendan takes exception to. Len says that it would've been so easy for Brendan to do all the choreography himself, and congratulates Brendan for his courage in actually getting Jo to do a full-on rumba. Ugh, Len and I just shared an opinion on something. I feel grubby. Alesha thinks the song choice was lovely (always a worrying opener), and tells Jo that she preferred tonight's dance to last night, because it suited Jo better, and then basically patronises her a little bit and ends with what is essentially "well done dear". Bruce tells them they're his favourites.

Jo retreats to the safety of the House of Tesstosterone. She would love to come back next week, and Brendan tells her it was the best she's danced that dance and not to listen to "that idiot on the end" [and also introducing a worrying variant of nationalistic prejudice by complaining about Craig being Australia - Carrie]. Scores: Craig 3, Len 5, Alesha 5, Bruno 5, giving Jo a total of 18 for tonight and 36 overall. Brendan tells her that if they're in the danceoff, "We're going to do it for us, okay?" It scares me when Brendan is sweet.

Up next are Richard and Lilia. We review his so-so waltz, and Lilia thinks it's a miracle for him to be able to dance at all, essentially. Heh. Lilia admits in a VT that Richard has no natural rhythm, but she likes a challenge. [A cha-cha-cha-challenge, which Alesha introduced to the competition two years ago? - Carrie] Richard has been practising by himself, and Lilia says that if they gave out trophies for dedication, he'd win the biggest one.

Their cha cha cha is to 'I'm Your Man', and the hip wiggling is rather terrifying. Richard falls over his feet a little bit and then wiggles his arms ineffectually. He's doing his best to put on a performance, and deserves credit for that, but a masterful cha cha cha this is not. [Oh, I loved it. I love Lilia's choreography, and I love that she always gets a performance out of her partners no matter how inept they are. She is all kinds of awesome. - Carrie] Len says that he likes how Richard comes out confident, though his hips aren't there. "He's been on a horse his whole life!" protests Lilia. Heh. Alesha says that Richard is adorable, and brought a smile to everyone's face - she agrees that he lacks natural rhythm, but she doesn't care. She says that it was more of a jive than a cha cha, and Lilia makes a "bitch I will CUT YOU" face. Alesha then talks over Bruno to compliment Richard on his attitude, which probably won't win her any fans. Craig says that it was full of timing issues and was rather wooden, "but I suppose in a vague way, it was entertaining". High praise indeed! Bruce tells Richard that he's his second favourite, prompting Lilia to ask, "Am I your first?" Hee.

In the House of Tesstosterone, Lilia says she had lots of fun, and Tess tells Richard to be happy he made Craig smile. Scores: 4 from Craig, fives from everyone else for a total of 19, giving him a sum total of 38 for both dances.

The Chosen One Ricky Whittle and his partner Natalie Lowe are up next. His waltz last night got rave reviews, and Ricky is thrilled that Len called them a "formidable couple". In rehearsals, he's concerned that he's "not snake hips", and thinks he looks like a girl when he's spinning. Ricky says it's a good job he and Natalie get on well because they're nose to nose for most of the dance.

Their rumba is to 'Stepping Stone' (Duffy, not the Monkees, obviously), and bugger me, Ricky really is very good. Like, everyone-else-might-well-go-home-now levels of good. I hope that there's a dance or two he's less gifted at, not because I have anything against Ricky, but just because I remember how boring Dancing On Ice got when Ray Quinn was such an obviously more accomplished skater than everyone else. [VOMIT. Who is this Ray Quinn of whom you speak? - Carrie] Alesha says that it's refreshing to see a male celebrity who can dance this well so early on (in her two weeks' experience as a judge), and she's really excited to see the rest of his Journey. Bruno loves that he is so macho and in control, and has rarely seen that sort of display so early in the competition. Craig thinks Ricky was born to dance, and has never seen a first Latin dance by a male celebrity done that well. Not that we're being niche about this. Len tells Ricky that dance is all about light and shade, and this was too fast and sharp, that he needs to get a blend of movement in there, though he is still the one to beat.

House of Tesstosterone: Ricky ascribes all of his success to Natalie, who is a great teacher. Scores: Craig 8, Len 8, Alesha 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 32, giving him 65 for both night's dances.

To round things off, here are Natalie and Vincent. She was disappointed with her unanimous sixes last night, as she would've liked a seven or an eight. She's enjoying the preparations for her cha cha cha: "I'm not a self-conscious person. I've got a bum on me, so let's move it." That's the spirit! You can see some of her aforementioned bruises in the training footage. They really do look quite nasty.

I have to say I love how this routine starts: with Natalie going out onto the floor and doing a bit of cha cha cha all by herself, really targeting the audience. You've got to be quite brave to begin like that so early in the competition. It may not be the most technically proficient routine in the world, but I'm very much enjoying it. Craig liked it but didn't love it - Natalie is lifting her feet up too much, but she did a great job and gave it verve and energy. Len loves her enthusiasm and thinks it was better than her tango. Alesha says that Vincent showcases Natalie's talent well, and says that if Natalie can get her technique up to the standard of her performance, she's got a real job. Bruno thinks she was too nervous to fire on all cylinders and got a few bits wrong, but he knows she can come back and show everyone what she's made of. Tinsel, if her dress is anything to go by.

In the House of Tesstosterone, Natalie wonders if going last made the nerves get to her because she sat and had to watch everyone going ahead of her. Scores: Craig 6, Len 7, Alesha 7, Bruno 6 for a total of 26, which gives her 50 for both dances.

And so all eight couples have danced, leaving us with the leaderboard as follows: Ricky on top, then Zöe, then Laila, then Phil, then Natalie, then Craig, then Richard, and poor Jo at the bottom. So, exactly as it was last night, then.

The phone lines open, and we get a recap VT of all the couples featuring both dances from both nights. You don't need me to go through that again, do you? No, good.

At this point, I expect the show to finish, but then I realise that we're just going right through to the results this year. That's going to take some getting used to. And so we stay with Tess in the HoT, where Zöe says that no one wants to go home, Phil says that he's been bitten by the Strictly bug, and Jo says she doesn't want to let down her knight in shining armour Brendan.

To kill some more time until the results, Bruce tells us that one of next week's dances will be the paso doble, and to show us how it should be done, here are the professionals. They're dancing to that last Bond theme that no one liked, which eventually segues into U2's 'Vertigo'. I do like a good paso, and this is an excellent paso, but there's not a lot I can say about it. I mean, it's hard to recap dancing at the best of times because it's a bit like trying to sing in morse code, but suffice to say it is very dramatic, and at least gives us a brief glimpse of lovely Matthew Cutler.

After that, we go to the judges for more feedback. Craig is asked what gave Ricky and Natalie their edge, and Craig thinks that Ricky really listens to his partner, and Natalie's choreography is exquisite. Len is asked how important technique is at this stage, and Len says that at this stage you can't bombard the celebrities with too much information - he's happy if they can come out and perform at this stage, and if they get the technique right, that's a bonus. Alesha is asked who was the biggest surprise, and Alesha says Zöe and James because she proved she can do ballroom and Latin equally well, and now she feels they've got a competition on their hands. Bruno is asked who he's looking forward to seeing again, and he says Laila, because he thinks she's got more to offer than we saw tonight.

Now we're back with Tess again, good God. Natalie says that if she's lucky enough to still be here next week, she'll be in the training room 24 hours a day. Laila says she hopes she can live up to Bruno's expectations, and that she's got a quickstep next week, which is Anton's forte. Ricky says he will try to cope with the long filming days and the demands of training, but having Natalie as a teacher will help. Then we get a trail from lovely Claudia for It Takes Two, where the eliminated couple will be on Monday.

And now we've got another dance showcase, to kill a bit more time, as Anton and Erin, Ian and Natalie and Vincent and Flavia do a quickstep to 'My Heart Belongs To Daddy'. It's pretty awesome, but once again, the written word doesn't really do it justice. There's even a cutaway to Craig laughing his little socks off behind the judging panel, that's how great it is.

Then Bruce sits down with Darcey Bussell again, and she tells us that she's had a sneaky peak with the contestants, where she didn't give them a ballet class because that would be information overload at this point, but she gave them a warmup that they can all do in their dressing rooms. And then we get to see a VT of it. Everyone is very excited to be taught by Darcey. Zöe cuts a slit into her ballet shoes for reasons best known to herself, and is gently rebuked by Darcey. Darcey reveals that there are some jokers in the pack, and she teaches the male celebrities to walk LIKE BLOKES as they dance. Len will approve.

The lines have now closed, but it's still not time for the results, because before that we have abysmal fucking jazz gnome, Jamie Cullum. Sorry, Jamie, no recap for you. Record some music that is in any way tolerable to listen to and I may rethink my position, but until then: *fast forwards*

Right, finally it's time to reveal the results. In no particular order, the couples who will definitely be returning next week are: Ricky and Natalie, Laila and Anton, Zöe and James, Phil and Katya, Natalie and Vincent, and...Jo and Brendan. Wow, I truly did not see that coming. Neither did Jo, judging by the look on her face. She gets a "well done you!" from Brendan for her efforts.

So it's Craig versus Richard in the danceoff. Poor Flavia, to be at risk of the boot so early for the second time in a row. Len is asked what advice he can give them, and he tells them to go out and give it their all, as he always does. Craig and Flavia are up first, and will be repeating their tango. The choreography is still somewhat troublesome, but I think they're improved from last night. Then Richard and Lilia repeat their cha cha cha, which I would say is slightly improved also, though his arm movements are still disappointingly weak.

And so the judges have to make their decision: Craig says the choice is clear and opts to save Craig and Flavia, Alesha says that for fighting spirit, she's going to save Craig and Flavia, and Bruno says that he has to go with Craig and Flavia also, so they're safe and Richard and Lilia are out. Len says that it's small consolation, but he would actually have saved Richard and Lilia. Of course he would, because Richard is a SPORTSMAN whose career has never led to him having to do NAMBY PAMBY things like kissing blokes. Or something - I'm just hypothesising. Richard says it's been an unbelievable experience, and Lilia is excited that now she's free to get those horseriding lessons she was promised.

Join us next week where all 14 remaining celebrities will be performing in a show that will last for 6.3 hours, and Andy Williams will be performing. Hurrah! Oh, and if you haven't yet opted to follow us on Twitter, why not do so now? Thanks for reading, and we'll be back next week...

Friday, 25 September 2009

Waltzing through

Series 7, week 2
Tx: Friday 25th September, 2009

Last week Strictly returned! Martina left, as did Matt! Now the remaining contestants have to dance twice, which I understand is VERY DIFFICULT.


We are live in London, Bruce and Tess (in another dress with assymmetrical top line. Why does she do this?) fail to dance again, thank goodness, although he does do a weird shimmy across the stage. Bruce is happy that he will be home at 11.30 and will miss Wossy. Corporate loyalty at the Beeb, eh, viewers? Nothing like it!

The pro dancers perform to Three Times A Lady. Hooray, Darren and Lilia are there at the start before the floor gets crowded with the whole mob of them. The choreography is weird. Oh, and now it's turned into some Latino-tinged number that I'm sure I should know, and some of them begin to tango while the rest of them go for a nice sit-down. In short, some filler.

Bruce patronises Alesha about everyone being horrible to her and I think she might cry. Bruno hugs her and Len applauds. More faffing and filler where everyone enthuses about how HARD IT IS to dance TWO DANCES and the standard IS HIGH and all that bollocks. Craig says he is always in a fabulous mood until the dance begins. Alesha nearly hyperventilates with laughter.

Tess steals Bruce's line and introduces "the stars of our show". Too many to type. You know who they are. Although Lynda Bellingham may be drunk.

First up, Natalie Cassidy and Vincent. There is a joke about coffee, biscuits and sex, but I don't really think it is good enough to bother writing down for posterity. Natalie VTs that people are obsessed with her weight. Because you keep having plastic surgery and releasing fitness DVDs, maybe? Just a thought. She complains about her nerves. Bored now.

Natalie and Vincent do some Acting; her movements aren't sharp enough, though there are a few good head turns. She is pouting like Posh Spice, and this looks like a really complex routine for a first dance, with interlocking leg hooking. Len says that Natalie has a really high performance level, and noted that she trod on her skirt at one point. Alesha admires the "role play", fnar, and says it is VERY UNCOMFORTABLE for FEMALE CELEBRITIES to get close to their professional partners ("It's Vincent!" wails Natalie, who has a good point). Bruno flails for a bit, and then admires the difficult routine. Craig loved the adornment and the heads, and the drama at the start and end of the dance, but the middle lacked purpose and intent. Then he gripes about her peculiar hand. Natalie talks to Tess about how exciting it is to be on Strictly. Scores - Craig 6, Len 6, Alesha 6 and Bruno 6 for a total of 24.

Zoe Lucker has been at home for ELEVEN MONTHS with her baby WHICH IS NOT QUITE NEW BUT WAS ONCE. James Jordan has a temper. Zoe did not know they had to do two dances, WHICH IS DIFFICULT. Anyway, they waltz to Someday My Prince Will Come; James's teeth are gritted, Zoe's fleckling is weird, and she goes wrong at the end and he grabs her dress to pull her in the right way.

Len mocks James's hair, James mocks his baldness, oh dear. Alesha says the waltz is HER FAVOURITE and their dance reminded her why. Bruno stands up and starts shouting about "the evil queen of wax" - oh, sorry, "WAGs". Craig didn't like the opening because of the sickly-sweet sentiment, but he liked the rest of it. And Zoe's arms. Tess is proud of Zoe, like that matters to anyone. Zoe starts jabbering and then tells herself to shut up. Scores - Craig 7, Len 8, Alesha 7, Bruno 8 for a total of 30. Tess tells them it's the joint highest score of the series so far. The series which has lasted for a whole four and a bit hours at the time of broadcast.

Craig Kelly is dancing with Flavia. He thinks his character in Corrie would be good at the tango. Flavia says that it definitely won't be a week one exit this year; well, no, dear, because you're dancing in week two. Craig is excited about being the boss in the routine, even though Flavia is really the boss, and it takes two to tango, or something.

Flavia is dressed as a spider. There are flashing lights. I like it. Oh, fuck, and then the singers begin. Why, why, why? Although the lady who's supposed to be on lead vocal has clearly had her mic turned down, which is funny. Craig liked the bhangra attitude in the music, but the dancing needed more drive. Alesha suggests he turns his hips in more. Bruno stands up again and says something about stomping and better doing more than less. I didn't hear what Len said, I don't think I was listening. Scores - Craig 5, Len 6, Alesha 5, Bruno 6 for a total of 22.

Ooh, it's my Lilia! Bruce says that she and partner Richard Dunwoody didn't get on well at first because he slapped her arse and shouted giddy-up, or something. Richard is the first jockey on Strictly. He has won many races, but is "shocking" at dancing. He says that he hopes Lilia is the Desert Orchid of the dance world. Lilia is all kinds of awesome. Richard has been having nightmares about her; she is tougher with him than previous partners because it seems to work. His posture is screwed because he can't hold his arms up due to injuries. That'll be OK, Richard, you are a SPORTSMAN.

Richard looks nervous but gets some acting in, and Lilia's dress is amazing. I covet it. They waltz to Truly, and though there's a little bit too much Ola-style choreography, it's quite neat in the end. Bruno says compared to the mambo last week, this waltz was a masterpiece, and there is "HOOOOOOOOOOPE!" Craig says it was a nervous start (hey, I just said that!), there wasn't enough rise and fall, and he needs to correct his posture and balance. Everyone boos. Len says facile crowd-pleasing things and mentions that Richard is a SPORTSMAN. Alesha thinks Richard is cute. Oh, come on, Alesha! She says concentrate on one thing - work on just the posture for next week. Richard thanks her, and tells Tess that Lilia has been teaching him to walk. Scores - Craig 4, Len 5, Alesha 5 ("very cute!") and Bruno 5 for a total of 19.

VT about the group dance, choreographed by Karen, who I kind of miss already. Rav moans about being rubbish and I sort of want to slap him, but not in the good way. Karen is being a total bitch to people and making them do press-ups if they are naughty. Brian says Joe isn't as tough as he thinks he is; Ali thinks Brian is cruisin' for a bruisin'. Tess talks to people and asks shit questions before handing back to Bruce.

Bruce introduces Laila Rouass - but doesn't mention Anton until a spiel about dinosaurs and monsters as per Primeval. She VTs that she is competitive but has a phobia about singing and dancing in public. This MAY not be the job for you then. Anton is happy with his competitive and attractive partner. He says he has been "saving up" all his dance "for a number of years, and she's going to get it all." Ewwwwwwww.

Laila's dress looks a bit daft. For a beautiful laydee she should really be looking better than that. Bad wardrobe. Also, I don't really like this tango. It's pretty, but there's too much intricate boring stuff; if I wanted to watch this sort of dance I'd watch bloody Vincent and Flavia. Bruce wishes Anton good luck with Hole In The Wall and plugs it relentlessly. Alesha tells Laila she looks incredible, and it is refreshing to see Anton with someone who could go a long way. She thinks it did have drama and passion. Ah well. Bruno pouts at Anton and then stands up while gesturing about "lush sensuality", as Alesha cackles in the background. Craig criticises Laila's hand for being like a wet fish. Len says he is not bovvered about the total cock-up they made in the middle. Of course you're not, Len. Scores - Craig 7, Len 8, Alesha 7, Bruno 8 for a total of 30 - level with her mate and rival Zoe. Laila says that Zoe will have to wait until tomorrow to get her bum kicked; Tess says Laila may take Anton all the way; Anton says that's a lovely thought; Bruce says he wishes Anton wasn't his love-child.

Bruce does a really tedious non-joke about cricket being complicated, because Phil Tufnell is next to dance with Katya, who is FOREIGN and DOESN'T UNDERSTAND CRICKET. She's previously worked with Richard Gere and Antonio Banderas. I think we can guarantee that Tufnell will be significantly more shit than them. Actually, it's not as bad as you'd expect - quite light, with a smug waltz face, perfectly decent. Which means that Len will give him many points for exceeding low expectations!

Ah, Len is bowled over! AHAHAHAHAHA! He reckons it was the best footwork of the night so far, and the whole thing was better than he expected. Alesha says that she can tell Tuffers is taking it seriously. Bruno is going to call him EASY DARS EET FEEL, apparently. Craig says the show is full of surprises, and Tufnell is one of them in a very respectable way. Scores - Craig 7, Len 8, Alesha 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 29.

Bruce makes a terrible joke about free love which I shall not bother to recap. Jo Wood happily admits that people know her best for being married to Ronnie of the Rolling Stones, and says she has been hanging out with bad boys all her life, so she's used to people like Brendan. He fears he has met his match. Heh. He seems to be utterly thrown by the fact that she's a grandmother.

Oh NO, they are not seriously going to tango to the fucking Strictly singers' fucking dreadful version of Let's Dance, are they? Um, yes, yes they are. Fuck's sake. It's so, so bad. How is a person supposed to watch dancing when this torture is going on. Actually, Jo's cocking it up so badly it's probably best not to watch it. Brendan is smiling and whispering encouraging things. Craig says it was careless, slovenly footwork with lazy head movements, and says people called Jo are bad at dancing (a reference to Calzaghe, which seems to bamboozle Bruce). Len says she has let nobody down, but as it went on she lost focus. Alesha hopes that Latin will be her dance, and admits that once she came out and blagged half of a paso (Bruno seems to be shocked by this - this was a CLASSIC day, don't you remember?). Brendan is proud of Jo. Drink! Scores - Craig 3, everyone else 5 for a total of 18.

Laydeez whoop for Ricky Whittle, who is GOOD AT SPORT, although he is an ACTOR. Ricky VTs about wearing his pants a lot in Hollyoaks. He says he has rhythm (possibly natural, I'd have thought?). He and Natalie are very happy to be dancing with each other because they are both so beautiful. Natalie is tying him up, or something. She's running a boot camp, or something. I hate the sash on her dress, and the skirt looks like it's been torn apart by a rabid dog. Also, they do the stupid walking-away bit at the end, as over-elaborated by Brendan and Lisa in the Series That Never Happened. Bruno squeals about Ricky slipping in the middle of the routine, but it was still good. Craig says it was a beautifully choreographed routine, covering up Ricky's bow legs, so well done to Natalie for that. Natalie shifts her skirts across in front of Ricky's knees. I quite like her now. Len says if his Latin is any good they will be the most formidable couple EVER. Alesha congratulates Natalie, and says something a bit confused about the music, before pronouncing it "the best dance of the night", and then that fuckwit Bruce tells Alesha, "You've been WONDERFUL tonight." Twat. Scores - Craig 8, Len 9, Alesha 8 and Bruno 8 for a total of 33. Much hugging.

The group dance is Michael Jackson-inspired, Karen Hardy-choreographed, and is one of the funniest things I have ever seen. Chris Hollins is not good at acting this. Ricky Groves moonwalks. Rav cannot do sharp head movements, bless him, because he is too busy nodding in order to keep to the beat. There is an awesome bit where they're all in a line and Ola looks brilliant, because she is. Lynda cannot throw her arms about in time. Ian's got his chest out again. Ali looks RUBBISH. Interesting stuff.

Bruno says that Lynda was ROCKEEEN EET. Craig says that he can't believe he's saying it, but Joe has improved this week. Alesha says Rav's chest was "quite entertaining", she loved Jade and Ian, and then forced Ricky to moonwalk again. Bruce objects to someone else adlibbing, and Alesha howls with laughter. Len is pleased he saved Rav last week. The dancers all whoop for Karen and her brilliance.

Bruce and Tess remind us that tomorrow there will be voting and also elimination, and to help us decide who we like, there's a recap. Also tomorrow, two pro group dances, and Jamie fucking Cullum. Join Steve then!

Monday, 21 September 2009

This week on It Takes Two, we have learnt...

- The contestants have their make-up done for the live shows first thing in the morning, and so can be wearing it for around eight hours before the show starts.
- The answer to the eternal question of "who would win in a playfight between James and Brendan in which the loser is dumped into a plant pot" is apparently James.
- Alesha has seemingly stripped down one of the Strictly glitterballs and turned it into a dress.
- Craig thinks Alesha is almost the standard of a professional dancer. SO SUCK ON THAT, HATERS.
- Alesha thinks that she is the Voice Of The Public. But bearing in mind a large percentage of the population seem to want her off the show immediately, maybe not so much.
- Matthew is the only pro-dancer to have been voted off the show first more than once.
- It is hard for male celebrities to move their hips in the rumba. Oh no, wait, we didn't just learn that, because we get told it EVERY FUCKING YEAR.
- [i]Strictly Come Dancing[/i] is the most terrifying thing Laila has ever done. And she has given birth.
- Zöe Lucker was Shirley Ballas's dark horse.
- Of this week's contestants, Laila and Anton have clocked up the most hours' training.
- Natalie Cassidy enjoys getting complimented on her dancing by Alesha. SO SUCK ON THAT, HATERS.
- None of the celebrities were allowed to bump into each other when they were filming the opening titles because the couples hadn't been announced to the press at the time.
- Spin is very important in dance. Also: in politics.
- The trailer for this series was filmed in the oldest music hall in the world.
- Lynda and Darren drink an alarming amount of tea during their training.
- Katya's mother bribed her with $25 to attend her second dancing lesson when she didn't enjoy the first. In retrospect, Katya is pleased she did this.
- Natalie Lowe once caught a really big fish.
- Claudia is going to make Joe a lucky peanut butter and banana sandwich.
- Alesha is officially the best dancer in Strictly history, with an average score of 36.5.
- The big mirrorball we see at the start of the show doesn't actually make pretty patterns and is only there for decorative purposes. Boo!

Sunday, 20 September 2009


First eight, part two
Tx: Saturday 19th September

Last night, eight couples danced, judges judged, Alesha cackled, and Tess was thoroughly mendacious in her voiceovers, as she is again tonight.


Still no Bruce-Tess dancing, thank fuck. Bruce wiggles his arse; this is less good. Tess is in purple with a bronze belt for no discernible reason; I appreciate that Bruce has a purple handkerchief in his jacket pocket. Bruce makes jokes about being old and leads the audience in a singalong of We'll Meet Again; Alesha joins in. Oh, this show is upsetting me so far this series.

Anyway, all the couples pile on to the floor, and I have not yet stopped laughing at "model and entrepreneur Jo Wood". Three hours later, they're still filing down the stairs. Can you say "too many couples"?

Tess reminds us that we have to watch last night's eight couples dance a Latin routine tonight. We begin with Jade and Ian. Jade is looking HOT in her cha-cha beads and fringing. Ian is bare-chested in an open waistcoat, for those of you who like that kind of thing. [That'll be me, then. - Steve] Bruce makes a good joke: "Jade is worried about getting to the next Olympics. She said to me, 'Bruce, I'm worried I'm not going to make it to 2012.' I said, 'How do you think I feel?'" Anyway, last night they did well but Jade wasn't happy with their performance, and she complains about having to learn two routines at once. She doesn't want to let Ian down - hope you've got your shot glasses charged, everyone.

Ooh, Jade has got some fierce hip action. I like it. And she finishes on the splits! Len says you need rhythm and cheekiness in the cha-cha, and then admires Jade's hips, though she has flat feet and bent posture. Alesha reckons she wanted to dance too, and Jade's arms are throwaway. Bruno says Jade's legs could crack walnuts - "nasty, naughty, I love it." And Craig wanted her feet to be less flat and pigeon-toed, but thought the body-roll and energy were fantastic. Scores - Craig 6, Len 7, Alesha 7 and Bruno 7 for a total of 27.

Bruce introduces Ali with another weak gag about policewomen. Ali beams wetly and benignly from backstage. She says many dull and obvious things in their training VT, in which Brian wears a baseball cap, and that is about all I have to say about that.

They're dancing the rumba, and Ali has a dress with a pink tail, which is always good. It's a bit weird to rumba (the dance of romance and raunch, apparently) to That's What Friends Are For. But then perhaps Brian and Ali have exceptionally close relationships with their friends. [I know there's not an awful lot you can do with a rumba, but the choreography did seem alarmingly close to that of Rachel and Vincent's from last year to my eyes. - Steve] Bruce tells them it was beautiful; Len says chemistry is the key to a good rumba, and we saw that by and large with Brian and Ali, but they posed and postured too much with not enough dancing. People boo in scattered pockets, which indicates that the audience perhaps agrees. Alesha wants more hip action, but thought she nailed it. How can you think both, Alesha? Bruno tells Ali to hold it all the way through. Fnar. And then he stands up and holds an impromptu dance class, as he is wont to do. Craig disagrees with Len, because he loved the posturing and posing. Len interrupts, which he complains about when other people do it, because he's an idiot. Then Alesha and Bruno starts giggling between themselves, as Len shouts ridiculously about Ali's heels being too high. Craig just ignores it all and ploughs on with his comments. I miss Arlene. Scores - Craig 7, Len 7, Alesha 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 30.

Lynda and Darren are up next. Her tango was quite shit with not enough movement. Lynda wants to fight Craig. My money would be on her. Except then she says she would like to see Craig on stage taking his clothes off. Darren has his glasses on in rehearsal, which is always cute. Lynda says she is here to entertain, which is what Daphne and Celeste said as they got bottled off the stage at Reading in 2000.

They cha-cha to Don't Go Breakin' My Heart (Lynda and Darren, that is; not Daphne and Celeste); [Daphne and Celeste for Strictly 2010! - Steve] I'm totally distracted by the fact that the Strictly singers cannot even perform this karaoke standard. Alesha says that Lynda "always" brings the spirit to the dance (always, based on tonight and last night) and that it is VERY HARD to learn two dances at once. Bruno says it was like "Carry On Strictly Matron", whatever that might be. Craig says Lynda's personality shone through and it was a vast improvement on last night. Len says...something to which I don't listen. Scores - Craig 5, Len 6, Alesha 6, Bruno 6.

Rav and Aliona are next, and he's made the wise decision to get his chest out tonight. In training, Rav gets utterly confused by the fact he has to learn two different dances AT ONCE which is VERY HARD. Also, I don't think I've ever heard Rav speak before. He talks like a proper policeman. Aliona is wearing half a tablecloth. Is this supposed to be a rumba? Do they have different definitions of dances in Russia? Oh, it's OK, they're doing more rumba stuff in the middle. There is zero chemistry, just in case you're interested.

Bruno squeals about Rav's image of smouldering hunk - "it wasn't perfect but you had control...the walks were not very could do with a bit more dancing." Good idea. Craig says it was awkward and unnatural, and points out that the routine was posing and posturing. Bruno says, "He's a MAN, it's DIFFERENT!" and Len adds that it is VERY HARD for the male celebrities to dance the rumba, particularly because we don't want any of that soft, feminine, not-dancing-like-a-bloke nonsense. He does however pull Aliona up on her crap choreography. Backstage, Rav admits his thighs are bigger than Aliona's waist. I'm beginning to hate them both. Scores - Craig 4, Len 6, Alesha 5, Bruno 7 for a total of 22.

Chris and Ola are up next. Last night, Ola was happy, and so she didn't shout at Chris. In training for the rumba, Ola gropes his backside and declares, "I love my job!" before yelling at him, "MANHANDLE ME!" Heh. Whenever he tries to do a "sexy" face, Ola laughs. And obviously the thing that'll help with sexiness is hauling his parents in to watch. His mum seems quite helpful. His dad is John Hollins, so that's weird seeing him billed as Chris's dad.

WHERE ON EARTH ARE OLA'S CLOTHES? Seriously. A few bits of string and a doily. Anyway, I actually love this routine, and I actually quite love Chris. He kisses her nose at the end. It's adorable. [Ola seems ecstatic to actually have someone who might be a contender this year. That's quite adorable too. - Steve] Craig says that Chris's mother was right, it was rather brilliant, with fantastic storytelling, but his fingers need to be cut off or changed. Len says it was good, and then starts talking bollocks about "man's hands" as opposed to "girl's hands". Cock. Alesha tells Ola that she looks lovely. Oh, Alesha. Chris apologises to James for molesting his wife. Scores - Craig 7, Len 8, Alesha 7, Bruno 8.

Last night, Joe and Kristina's tango was rubbish. But he's excited about tonight because he likes Latin movement, apparently. He treads on his own foot in training. Oh, Joe, bless you, you're marching in rhythm, but there's no movement. You need to look like you've thrown a hip out. Len says that Joe has come back like a boxer and given a proper performance. He reckons the show is about comparing each performer, and that Joe is like a slow bloomer in a bunch of flowers. Alesha says that Joe's personality shone through. Bruno says the footwork was poor, with no hip action, and suggests that listening to the music might help. Craig says he has two words - "rigor mortis". BURN! Bruce encourages Joe to punch Craig. Tess says that boxing is opposite to dancing. Really? Ever heard of "float like a butterfly", Tess? Scores - Craig 2, Len 5, Alesha 5, Bruno 4 for a total of 16.

Martina has been taking Matt to play tennis, and coaching him along. Perhaps she'd have been better served (ha!) spending more time dancing? Just a thought. Oh, and Steve will be along shortly to describe the Strictly singers' performance of Alone. [GAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. That is both my verdict on their performance and a vague approximation of what it sounded like. - Steve] Martina's rumba is awkward, coltish and graceless. Alesha says she needs to control her arms more, but there is a soft sensuality in her dance. Bruno says that her routine falls apart in the transitions (true fact). Craig says he liked the routine but he agrees with Bruno - the transitions were blocky and square, and she was flat-footed and leaden. However, her hand shapes were nice. Len says she lacks toning, but it was nice to watch. Unconvinced. Scores - Craig 5, Len 6, Alesha 7, Bruno 6 for a total of 24.

Bruce and Len reminisce about what the Real East End was like - ie, not like EastEnders. This has digressed somewhat from the script and production team all over the studio are panicking. In training, Ricky (for it is he, hence the EastEnders tangent) has decided to be a Brazilian, because they have fun and dance the cha-cha, apparently. Except this routine starts a bit too much like a samba for my liking. It turns into a cha-cha when they take hold. Bruno asks Ricky if he had rocket fuel for lunch, and you can hear Alesha snorting away next to him. Craig says Ricky has a big open mouth. Fnar. It was awkward, but he attacked it and danced in the spirit of the dance. Len says IT IS THE FIRST WEEK so it is VERY HARD. Alesha says it was the most entertaining dance of the night, and he should get extra points for wearing pink. Everyone looks utterly confused and it is almost like Arlene is back. Scores - Craig 6, Len 7, Alesha 7, Bruno 6 for a total of 26.

Time for a quick recap as the BBC urges us to spend our hard-earned pennies on boosting their coffers. Then time for some filler meeting the new girls, Natalie, Katya and Aliona, prior to their routine with Brendan, Ian and Matt. Again, I'm distracted by the fact that I KNOW the songs in this medley and I'm SURE none of them are supposed to sound like a cat being strangled.

Back to the contest, and Craig says Ricky is the most changed dancer from last night. Len says that some are already starting to develop as all-rounders, such as Chris, Ali and Jade. Alesha is asked who was the most entertaining, and fails to answer it herself, instead throwing it open to the audience, who declare it was Ricky. Bruno says Ali is the frontrunner and she doesn't know how good she is. Yeah, right.

Time for a pro dance to Hey Big Spender and The Rhythm Of Life from Sweet Charity, but then sadly that means a segue to If They Could See Me Now and the fucking awful comic business Tom and Camilla did for their show dance last year. [Now with 50% more mugging! *sound of retching* - Steve] But as we know, series 6 didn't actually happen, so this isn't as distressing as it might initially seem. Camilla is still crazy and overwhelmed by the occasion.

Tess talks to the Other Eight couples backstage. Ricky Whittle says tedious things. Jo says Brendan isn't a bad boy, he's a pussy cat. Then Tess throws back. What a waste of time. Bruce is talking to Darcey bloody Bussell, who's being coopted as a random guest judge at the end of the series. And then we have to suffer Katherine sodding Jenkins. You all know how I feel about her already, so it should come as no surprise that I'm muting this bit. Bint. [Ha, I muted that bit too. And I was watching on a slight time-delay, so I fast-forwarded through as much as possible. - Steve]

Time for the results which have been INDEPENDENTLY VERIFIED. Safe are: Ali and Brian; Chris and Ola; Ricky and Erin; Jade and Ian; Lynda and Darren; Joe and Kristina. That means Rav and Aliona dance off against Martina and Matthew. Len, as always, advises them to enjoy it. Rav and Aliona are first to dance, performing their rumba; Martina and Matthew force us to sit through another fucking awful rendition of Alone.

Decision time. Craig says both couples improved dramatically in the dance-off, but the best were Martina and Matthew; Alesha thinks both came out with fighting spirit, but also opts to save Martina and Matt; Bruno says it is difficult and very close, but will save Rav and Aliona; so Head Judge Len gets the deciding vote, but thinks in the dance-off one couple improved and one underperformed, so he's saving Rav and Aliona. [I think Len's reasoning was absolute bollocks - Martina was vastly improved in the dance-off. - Steve]

Martina and Matt are first out, then. Matt is gutted that he won't get to play any more tennis, but does not mention being gutted that he won't get to dance with her any more. Next week, more stuff, and in the meantime, lots of Claudia! Join us next Friday!

Murder on the dancefloor

Series 7: Show 1
TX: 18th September 2009

16 new celebrities, one new judge, same old bloggers. Shall we begin?

Tess's voiceover informs us that the new celebs have been training frantically for The Toughest Strictly Ever (because it's not like they've said that phrase so often it's completely lost all meaning or anything). This weekend, the first eight celebrities will perform two dances. Two! It's double the pressure and double the drama, we are informed. This is Strictly Come Dancing - live!

New titles, of course. They're very shiny. Joe Calzaghe is this year's "ho!"

Bruce is here, as is Tess. Daly Dresswatch: a deep pink single-shoulder number accessorised with a black belt and black shoes. Not brilliant, but not terrible. It's a promising start, at least.

It is nice to see us, to see us nice. Tess is very excited to be back, and reminds us that the first set of couples have to perform two dances each over the weekend. Bruce congratulates Tess on the birth of her new baby girl, and the whole room applauds her. And just remember folks, it's not all over! You can be a new mother and still lead a full and active life! Bruce attempts to bowdlerise the story of how Tess came to be in possession of her new baby for the younger members of the audience. Tess is all "Bruce, the kids of today own iPods and carry knives, they're okay to know how I came to be with child", so Bruce amends his story to detail how Tess and her husband Vernon went up the stairs to the bedroom - and opened the window when the stork arrived. Ba-dum-tish!

We begin with a medley of all the dances that will be performed this series, courtesy of the professional dancers. There is quickstep, there is jive, there is rumba, there is cha cha cha...well, if you care enough to read this blog, you probably know what they all are, without me having to list them and potentially embarrass myself by misidentifying several of them. It's a pretty amazing spectacle, though, and reminds me just how awesome this show can be when it puts its mind to it. I mean, any show that can musically segue from Gloria Estefan's 'Conga' into 'Use Somebody' by Kings of Leon is fine by me.

It ends, and then we have our first production cock-up of the series - a shot of the upper gallery where Tess sometimes stands, and a member of the crew standing directly in shot (presumably to help line up the camera), which I suspect is not where they intended to cut to. For a second there I thought we had a new presenter, too. [If only. - Carrie]

The pros get a standing ovation, and Bruce welcomes back the judges - including new face, series five winner Alesha Dixon and reigning champion (remember, series six NEVER HAPPENED), who gets a pleasing whoop from the crowd. Alesha has tinted her hair a sort of honey colour, which I don't think is the best look for her, but on the whole she looks lovely. Bruce welcomes Alesha, and then tells the other judges he couldn't care less about them. Hee. Alesha says she has the best seat in the house, because she's got a prime view of the dancefloor and isn't stood backstage trying not to throw up before going on. Unless I misunderstood, and this is all product placement, and Alesha is in fact the proud owner of a brand new Ibiza SC - the best Seat in the house.

Bruce asks Len what he's looking for this series - Len replies that he's interested to see how the celebs cope with two dances, because it's going to be a very difficult first weekend, and he's also happy he's not sitting next to Bruno this year. (For those who didn't actually see the show, the seating order from left to right is now Craig, Len, Alesha, Bruno.) Bruno asks if people wouldn't much rather sit next to Alesha than Len, and then Alesha and Bruno start pawing each other, and I suspect we're going to be seeing a lot of that. Bruce asks if Craig's going to be nice this year, and of course the answer is no, though Craig clarifies it is never his intention to be nasty. Bruno says we are going to get plenty of drama, excitement, surprises and great dancing. Well, let's hope so.

Tess is up in the upper gallery, where the rogue crew member was just now, and introduces "the stars of our show", doing an utterly appalling Brucie impression. Couple number one is TV presenter Rav Wilding and his partner Aliona Vilani, couple number two are actress Zöe Lucker and her partner James Jordan, couple number three are EastEnders actor Ricky Groves and his partner Erin Boag, couple number four are "model and entrepreneur" Jo Wood and her partner Brendan Cole, couple number five are sports presenter Chris Hollins and his partner Ola Jordan, couple number six are actress Natalie Cassidy (in a hideously unflattering red sequinned leotard) and her partner Vincent Simone, couple number seven are racing legend Richard Dunwoody and his partner Lilia Kopylova, couple number eight are Olympic athlete Jade Johnson and her partner Ian Waite, couple number nine are actor Craig Kelly and his partner Flavia Cacace, couple number ten are tennis star Martina Hingis and her partner Matthew Cutler, couple number eleven are Hollyoaks star Ricky Whittle and his partner Natalie Lowe, couple number twelve are actress and presenter Lynda Bellingham and her partner Darren Bennett, couple thirteen are former England cricketer Phil Tufnell and his partner Katya Virshilas, couple fourteen are The Bill's Ali Bastian and her partner Brian Fortuna, couple fifteen are boxing world champion Joe Calzaghe and his partner Kristina Rihanoff, and finally couple sixteen are actress Laila Rouass and her partner Anton Du Beke. God, my fingers hurt. Jo Wood struggles to even clap in time, by the way. This should be interesting.

Tess and Bruce run through the new set-up, so tonight the first group will attempt either a waltz or a tango, and then the same couples will attempt a Latin routine tomorrow. Bruce is looking forward to Sunday - not because there is a Sunday show, but because he can go and have a rest. Voting will not take place until tomorrow, when the couples have danced twice and had their scores added together.

The first couple to dance are Rav and Aliona. Rav is mugging quite a lot - facially, I mean. He hasn't stolen Tess's handbag. Rav says that he's probably best known for his work on Crimewatch and has a bit of trouble saying "background" in his VT. He is dancing with Ashlee Simpson - sorry, Aliona Vilani. But the resemblance is uncanny. Ashlee says that she's known as the pussycat of the ballroom world. She is pleased to have a handsome partner. Rav is worried that his "massive turkey legs" will be a problem, and rips his trousers in rehearsals. A concerned Rav asks what happens if he accidentally grabs her boob, and Ashlee replies "just enjoy it, I don't know." Hee! I think I love her.

Rav and Ashlee are dancing the tango to 'Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing''s not a great start. Rav's footwork is really messy and stilted, and he just looks very awkward and self-conscious - almost mechanical. And then as they start to speed up he starts pushing his bottom further and further out. Eventually it is over and they make their way over to the judges' table to receive their feedback. Bruce welcomes back the fabulous singers and wonderful orchestra, who will not be covering themselves in glory tonight (spoilers!). Bruce then proceeds to say "welcome back" to Ashlee, who is making her debut on tonight's show. But he is not doddery, etc.

Len says that the tango should have flexed knees, a tight hold, and a bit of passion and drama. He'd like to say it was first class, but he can't - he liked that Rav came out and attacked it. He says that like a lot of men, it had a good start but a disappointing finish. [Fnar. How does Len know? I thought HE LIKED GIRLS. - Carrie] Len scolds Ashlee for choreographing an illegal lift into her routine - she tries to counter that it was "more of a jump", but Len says he will have to knock a point off the score either way. Alesha thought that Rav looked the part, and says that it's tough being the first one out. She thought it was a bit too stompy, but says well done for giving it your whole (snerk). Bruno thinks that he ravaged the tango - people whoop because they mistakenly take this as a compliment. He says that Rav needs to listen to the music, because he was off-rhythm a few times. Craig says he was excited when Rav first came out, but that Rav's hands were flat throughout the dance, his footwork looked like it had velcro involved, there was lots of gapping and he thinks there's an awful lot of work to be done.

Rav and Ashlee head backstage to the House of Tesstosterone, where Tess asks him if it was a fair comment to say he "ravished" the tango. That's beside the point, surely, since it's not actually what Bruno said? Rav says he needs a pen and paper to note down all the comments, but he's got a lot to work on and hopes he can improve with his Latin tomorrow. Time for the scores. Craig: 3, Len: 6, Alesha: 5, Bruno: 5, for a total of 19. Not the best of starts, really.

Next up are Ricky and Erin. Bruce's joke relates to Ricky's role as Garry on EastEnders, where as a mechanic he was always tinkering with old bangers and now he's dancing with Erin. Cut to backstage, where Erin looks genuinely appalled before cracking up. Ricky's VT involves him saying he thinks he's more Fred Flintstone than Fred Astaire. Erin twirls amongst some glitter, before saying "I've been second, and third, and fourth, and...oh God." Word, Erin. We see the utterly, utterly ridiculous moment last series where Austin was inexplicably eliminated in favour of Lisa Snowdon, but Erin says that this is another year, and she's going to go for it. Their training footage seems promising - Erin says that even when he dances badly, he's not that bad. They look like they get on well, anyway.

Ricky and Erin are dancing a waltz to 'What'll I Do'. It's okay-ish - Erin's choreography is lovely as always, and it's not quite so awkward to watch as Rav's tango was, but Ricky is very concentrate-y in the face and his dancing is kind of stilted, making it look like he's about to fall over his own feet at any given moment. They walk over to the judges' table at the end, where Erin takes Bruce to task for calling her an old banger, and then says very earnestly, "you used to be my favourite". Ha! Erin is so awesome.

Len says that the waltz requires good posture and hold, and elegance - Ricky did look elegant and had great control, but he needs to lift his ribcage and lower his shoulders and get a better topframe. Alesha says that he moved really well around the floor, that she would agree with Len in him needing to lower his shoulders, and suggests Ricky harness his acting skills to show the mood of the dance in his face. Bruno says that the shoulders were the major technical problem, but says that the routine lacked romance - he didn't buy it at all. Craig thinks Ricky looked like a terrified spare part, and there is no relationship between them. Bruce tells Ricky he thought he had good posture, personally speaking, and Ricky - in a manner which gives him a lot of credit with me - accepts the compliment graciously without implying for a second that he's disregarding anything that the judges have just said.

They head to the House of Tesstosterone. Ricky says he wanted to smile more, but he was thinking so hard about the moves, it was difficult. He hopes to get the hang of it in the end. Scores - Craig: 4, Len: 6, Alesha: 6, Bruno: 5 for a total of 21. Erin considers this "not bad" and says "we'll take that", though it's not really as though they have any choice. Having said that, if ever a pro were to actively dispute a score on this show, you know it would be Erin. Or maybe Brendan.

Third up are Chris and Ola. Bruce tells us that Chris used to be a SPORTSMAN, and SPORTSMEN have done very well on this show. He also used to be a GMTV presenter, and if you don't know where that punchline is going to end up, what are you even doing here? VT: Chris looks really uncomfortable in his sparkly shirt, though he is not above wearing ludicrous outfits in his day job, as we see in a shot of him wearing an all-in-one lycra swimsuit, in a BBC Breakfast report I actually remember watching. He found Joe Calzaghe once in the boxing ring, and got his ass handed to him. He hopes he and Ola will get on, and notes with some level of glee that she doesn't exactly overclothe herself. Ola twirls under some glitter, and says she wants this to be her year. We see them training, and Chris says he loves the tango, but there is so much to learn. He hasn't slept for a couple of days, because the reality is kicking in. Ola, to her credit, seems to be a very understanding and patient teacher. Chris is scared out of his wits all the same.

Chris and Ola take to the floor for their tango to ZZ Top's 'Sharp Dressed Man' and...actually, it's pretty good. Chris's Serious Tango Face veers a bit too close to Constipated Face at times, but he has control of the routine and dances with some degree of precision. Plus it's nice to see a routine from Ola that doesn't involve the male celebrity standing there like a maypole while she dances around him. Comments: Craig thought it was not wild, passionate or sexy, and the kick-ball-changes were sloppy, but it was a fine effort. Len disagrees with Craig, he thought the body contact was great. Alesha was really surprised by him: she liked that he told the story through his face and thinks that he and Ola have good synergy. Bruno thought that he looked like he was sucking a lemon at times (which Alesha disagrees with), but he thought that the dancing was sharp and the timing was good. A very relieved Chris and Ola head backstage.

In the HoT, Chris says he really enjoyed it, and Ola was really happy with how it turned out. Scores - Craig: 6, Len: 7, Alesha: 7, Bruno: 6 for a total of 26. Chris and Ola are very happy with the score. Tess asks about the rumba they have lined up for tomorrow. Chris says it's "dirty - for me, for the professionals it might not be". Heh.

Jade and Ian are next. In her VT, Jade is sporting a very VV Brown-esque hairdo, and says that her dream is to win a gold medal at the Olympics. She says that she's going to be working very hard to prepare for 2012, and this is her chance to have a last bit of fun beforehand. Heh, I love that for Jade, this is the anti-work. She confesses that she's only fit when it comes to her athletics, and when it comes to doing anything else physical, her body hasn't got a clue. She's very excited to have the sparkle. Ian chucks some glitter around, and explains that Jade has to work on her elegance. Jade is finding it hard to let anyone else be in control, but says that Ian is a wonderful teacher. And while Ian/Jodie is my Strictly OTP, I have to say these two do make a great couple.

Their waltz is to 'Weekend In New England' by Barry Manilow, and Jade suffers from the usual ungainliness encountered by tall people [WHO ARE TALL - Carrie], especially when she has to work out where to put her arms, but all in all this isn't bad. Ian's right in that she has a bit of becoming graceful to do, but I think she's on the right track. Alesha thinks they look great together, and says that Jade has great potential. Bruno says that Jade can go far - she's very watchable, but she's also messy and needs to watch her lines on the top half. Craig liked her lines, but thinks they were hampered by her wrists and hands. It was a bit lumpy and tense in places, but all in all he thought it was first class. Len thought she had great musicality and movement, and was elegant - but she clings on with her left hand which makes her shoulders tense, so she needs to relax.

House of Tesstosterone: Jade says this is very difficult and she's a bit upset, but Ian keeps warning her about "the claw". Heh. [Diana Vickers? - Carrie] Scores - Craig: 6, Len: 7, Alesha: 6, Bruno: 6, for a total of 25.

Leaderboard so far: Chris and Ola in first place, Jade and Ian second, Ricky and Erin third, and Rav and Ashlee at the bottom. But don't worry, Rav, Joe Calzaghe hasn't been on yet! (Oops, spoilers.)

Time for some filler! The second group have been rehearsing a group mambo with world-champ Shirley Ballas, who is very strict. James and Zöe confirm that you do not mess with Shirley. Jo says her whole body is aching. James reveals that he went to get a coffee and came back to find Zöe dancing with Shirley, much to Zöe's distress. There's an awesome moment where Shirley rounds on Ricky Whittle with a withering "is that your best stretch?" at which point Ricky's self-confidence slithers out of the room and into the sewer. Craig Kelly says they've been thrown in at the deep end. Natalie says she's been put at the front, so she's first in the firing line. Craig says it's tough, but fun - "like toffee". Heh. Shirley tells them to go out there and make her proud.

And we'll be seeing that later, of course. Tess quizzes Phil Tufnell about the fact that he's in pink satin already. That's pretty much it, really.

Next up are Martina and Matthew. In her VT, Martina plays tennis with a glittery tennis ball. I WANT ONE OF THOSE! She talks about winning Wimbledon in 1997 at the age of 17, and she says that the dressing up and costumes of Strictly are every girl's dream. She wants to win, and hopes people will like her. After an epically gif-worthy shot of Matthew exploding with glitter, he tells us that he's won before and wants to win again. Martina is struggling in rehearsals, but smiles a lot. She thinks it could be even more nerve-wracking than playing in the final at Wimbledon.

They are dancing their waltz to 'Jesse' by Janis Ian and Martina does look rather hesitant in her performance - she's not a natural dancer, but she's really giving it a go, and that's really all you can ask at this stage, right? There are a few stumbly moments and her arms are all over the place, but they get through it without any major incidents. Bruno thinks she was very elegant, but rather tight, and says it looks like she's pushing Matthew away. He reminds her that technique and performance are equally important, and she needs to learn how to act. Martina's all, "yeah, usually I just concentrate on hitting the ball." Heh. Craig thinks they're not dancing as a unit yet, but thinks Martina has a lot of potential. He wants her to be less cautious, but it was "gorgeous" for a first attempt. Len likened it to a doughnut with no jam - it looked tasty but was disappointing. He thinks she's too loose in the core, and says there were a few "foot faults". Wah wah wah. Alesha thought it was lovely - she tells Martina that she knows she was nervous but that she's in safe hands, and advises her to just let go and relax tomorrow, and she'll be fine. Bruce asks if Alesha was jealous seeing Matthew dance with someone else, and Alesha says she "absolutely" was, before Bruno interjects that she was "bitter!" and erupts laughing.

House of Tesstosterone: Tess points out that Bruno said she was stiff and Len said she was loose. I think Martina's quite baffled enough by the whole experience without having the inconsistencies of the judging panel pointed out to her. Martina says that in tennis you're stiff all the time. Tess cracks that it's a "whole different ball game" and gets a "wahey!" from some of the other contestants for her efforts. Scores: Craig: 4, Len: 6, Alesha: 6, Bruno: 6 for a total of 22.

Next are Lynda and Darren. Ooh, Lynda's dental work leaves a bit to be desired. Lynda says in her VT that she would love to be known as a talented and versatile actress, but she knows that half the audience will know her as "that woman who makes gravy" and the other as "a loose woman". Heh. She's very excited to be dancing with Darren, who needs to bring out of her the determination to win. Darren says that he's aware Lynda is this year's comedy entrant, but he is determined to turn her into a competitor. In rehearsals, Lynda is pleased he has a sense of humour, and admits to being a bit stiff. She says that dancing for one and a half minutes feels like forever, and having to learn two dances is torture, but seems game enough all the same. As comedy contestants go, she's infinitely more palatable than John bloody Sergeant, anyway.

Lynda and Darren's tango is to 'Under Pressure', and the dancing is not good, I'm afraid, but Lynda is selling it as much as she possibly can, which I appreciate. The look on her face throughout is pretty priceless. Technically, it was dreadful, but heck, I'd be lying if I said I didn't quite enjoy watching it as far as spectacle goes. Len says it had drama and passion - he thinks Lynda's acting skills helped, but she needs more movement because "it was like both legs were down one hole of your knickers". Heh. He thinks it was great entertainment. Alesha's criticism: "Lynda, I have one word: fierce."

This seems like as good a point as any to state my feeling on Alesha becoming a judge this year. On the whole, I think she's doing a pretty good job. Certainly her comments don't give much advice on a technical level, but then you have Bruno, Len and Craig for that (and on the day when the three of them manage to get through an entire show without arguing or contradicting each other on any level, I will listen to any arguments about how Alesha's lack of professional experience has somehow destroyed an otherwise immaculate and perfectly coherent judging process, but not until then). I think she's actually quite helpful in terms of advising the contestants how they can improve their performance, especially since she puts it in terms that non-dancers can appreciate, which is something I think the other judges struggle with sometimes. I certainly don't think Alesha has done anything to deserve the slating she is bound to get in the papers and on most forums, especially not on the basis of two shows when she's still trying to find her feet and her place in a long-running series, and I think that with the benefit of time and experience she'll be absolutely fine. Having said all of that, however, I did kind of have my head in my hands during her feedback on Lynda's performance, because there is "encouraging" and there is "embarrassing", and on this occasion I think she crossed the line between the two. Believe me, Alesha, there is nothing to be gained from trying to imitate Tyra Banks. Have you seen what a mess America's Next Top Model is turning into?

Anyway, let's not dilly-dally any longer. Bruno loved Lynda's range of expressions, but "a bit more dancing would help!" Hee. Craig says it was the longest 1m30 ever, full of vacuous looks, and he was bored. Len thinks Craig "needs a check-up from the neck up", Lynda thinks Craig needs "more sauce in his gravy". I would like Lynda to stick around, if only for the level of bawdiness I anticipate she will provide each week.

House of Tesstosterone: Lynda "can't wait" to come back for the Latin tomorrow and kick her feet a lot. Scores - Craig: 3, Len: 6, Alesha ("I loved it!"): 7, Bruno: 5 for a total of 21.

Next are Ali and Brian. Ali plays a policewoman in The Bill and Bruce wonders if she gets mistaken for a stripper because of this, and then there is a terrifying moment in which stripper-tastic music plays and Bruce starts sliding off his jacket and undoing his waistcoat. There: I have recapped it, and now we need never speak of it again.

Ali's VT reminds us of when she used to pose for Hollyoaks cast calendars, therefore she is not afraid of the raunchy outfits on this show. She appears to be utterly terrified of the entire experience, though. She looks like she's about to faint just filming her VT. She says that the police boots on The Bill are a killer and she's pleased to have the chance to wear some heels. Brian does some nauseating toadying to the audience about how the British public accepted "this American boy" last year (oh I'm sorry, it must have been someone else who was repeatedly in the bottom two with Heather Small?) and he hopes that this "season" they do too. Ali is enjoying rehearsing the waltz, and Brian thinks she needs to be less robotic. His teaching method seems worryingly drill-sergeant-like, but in fairness, it seems to be working for Ali.

Ali and Brian are waltzing to 'Reach Out And Touch (Somebody's Hand)', and FINALLY, we've got a celebrity who can actually dance. She looks quite nervous still, and the performance isn't flawless by any means, but her technique looks good and there's a lovely leg extension in there that bodes very well indeed. She seems to be relaxing more as it goes on, and starting to enjoy herself. Craig thinks her top line needs some minor adjustments, as her right elbow flies away occasionally, but otherwise it was fab-u-lous. Len is sorry for anyone who watched a different channel tonight, because they've just missed a fantastic waltz. Alesha thinks Ali is the most naturally gifted dancer she's seen so far. Bruno thinks Ali has the potential for magic - aside from a slight slip, he thinks she was great and he can't wait to see her again.

Over in the House of Tesstosterone, we are told that they've trained harder than any other couple so far. Scores - Craig: 7, Len: 8, Alesha: 8, Bruno: 7 for a total of 30, sending them to the top of the leaderboard. They will be doing a rumba tomorrow, by the way.

And finally - oh God - Joe and Kristina. His VT shows us footage of him boxing, and he reminds us that he is undefeated. He says he's never danced before, so he's really nervous. Kristina says that everyone remembers her for being dragged across the floor by John Sergeant. Heh. She feels pressured in having to train a world champion. She seems very complimentary of Joe in their training, and he's enjoying it quite a lot. He'd like to at least stay in until next week.

Their tango is to some traditional tango music which sounds rather sinister, and dear God, there are no words for how appalling Joe's dancing is. He makes Mark Foster look like Mark Ramprakash. It's basically just rhythmic walking, and I know Kristina did a good job last year of choreographing John's routines to hide his weaknesses, but I think she's got a mountain to climb this year. That was just painful. Poor Kristina - stuck with the luggage again.

Alesha says that Joe looked petrified out there - she thinks they're a sexy couple, but she wants him to display more personality tomorrow. She offers a sunny "well done for making it through the routine" to close it off. Bruno calls it the most boring tango he's ever seen. He adds that Alesha is absolutely right - Joe needs to show some personality. Craig calls it passionless and lacking any form of attack. Len thinks he looks the part and has the potential to go a long way (based on WHAT exactly, Len?), but calls it "a dance that only a mother could love". He thought he could at least count on aggression from Joe, but he didn't get any.

In our final visit to the House of Tesstosterone, Joe says he'll try to prove the judges wrong, but admits he was very nervous. Scores - Craig: 2, Len: 5, Alesha: 5, Bruno: 4 for a woeful total of 16.

So here's the leaderboard: Ali and Brian are top, Chris and Ola are second, Jade and Ian third, Martina and Matthew fourth, Ricky and Erin and Lynda and Darren are joint fifth, Rav and Ashlee are seventh and Joe and Kristina are in last place.

Bruce is in the audience with Claudia, who'll be back with It Takes Two on Monday - hooray! Claudia said she loved the professional group dance so much she dribbled on herself. Hee! She can't wait to see the group mambo.

Speaking of which: here it is! They're all dancing to 'Tequila' and Ricky Martin's 'Maria' - and my initial observations are that Richard hasn't got a clue, that Joe is not much better, that Ricky W seems to show some promise and that Natalie Cassidy is going to be a right old trier in the spirit of Letitia Dean, bless her. And there's an awesome bit at the end where Natalie Lowe (I think) is chucked into the air.

Judges' comments: Len thinks that dancing with a muscular body is difficult, so he singles Ricky out for praise, Alesha thought they all did brilliantly, particularly Laila, Zöe, Natalie and Ricky, Bruno says to Richard "you nearly killed me - not a clue!" and Craig says Phil Tufnell's tongue was marvellous, given the amount of time it spent hanging out of his mouth, and he finishes with by saying to Brendan "good luck, darling". Aw, poor Jo Wood. She is so doomed next week.

Quick recap of the night's performances: Rav and Ashlee's stuttery tango, Gary and Erin's not-awful waltz, Chris and Ola's quite-good-actually tango, Jade and Ian's shows-promise waltz, Martina and Matthew's hesitant waltz, Lynda and Darren's lulz-filled tango, Ali and Brian's oh-thank-God waltz and Joe and Kristina's hideous tango.

And that's it! Carrie will be bringing you her recap of the Latin night very shortly, wherein someone will leave the competition. Boo! And Katherine Jenkins will also be there. BOOOOO! As will Tom Chambers. BOOOOOOOOOOOOO - oh, you get the idea.

Monday, 14 September 2009

The second coming of Christmas

Christmas Special 2008
TX Date: 25th December 2008

Hello everyone! Now, you may think this an odd time of year for me to be recapping a Christmas special, given that it is neither current nor seasonal, but in fairness it has always been my intention to recap this episode, and it's been sat on my PVR since December for that reason. I kept forgetting to do it, though, and with the new series just a few days away, I thought it very much a "now or never" kind of thing. And it's now. So let us journey back, back to those gloomy days of Smuggo, The Mechanoid and That Tall Girl Who Wouldn't Go Away and see how they fared against some old hands. But enough about what Len does in private. Hey-oh!

Right, we begin with David Morrissey in the Tardis. Oh, wait: this is the end of the Doctor Who Christmas special. Hang on. *fast forwards*

Okay, we actually begin with festive titles, mixed with a touch of 'Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time', arguably my least favourite of all seasonal tunes. Bleck. Gosh, what a lot of baubles!

There is Bruce, and there is Tess. Tess's Christmas present from the wardrobe department is an outfit that at least tries to suggest she is not some grotesque, shapeless lump. This is a step forward, certainly: perhaps if Tess is a very good girl over the next nine months, we'll be able to see an actual outline of her figure in the next series. [Or perhaps she'll be pregnant again. - Carrie] Bruce welcomes us all (nice to see you, to see you etc). Aw, Heather Small is in the audience, sitting next to James Jordan. She just can't catch a break, can she? Bruce and Tess do a bit involving the time taken to get that golden colour, which refers not to the turkey, of course, but to the fake tan. Wah wah wahhhh.

Tess explains that six couples will hit the ballroom tonight - the cream of the crop, in fact. They are: Alesha Dixon and Matthew Cutler (ahhh, remember the days when people still liked Alesha? Before she was symptomatic of everything that's wrong in society for reasons entirely outside her control? Sigh), Lisa Snowdon and Brendan Cole, Jill Halfpenny and Darren Bennett, Rachel Stevens and Vincent Simone, Kelly Brook and Brian Fortuna (since Brendan can't be in two places at once, something I think we should all be thankful for) and finally Tom Chambers and Camilla Dallerup. Y'know, rewatching all of this is making it much harder for me to pretend that series six NEVER HAPPENED, which I've managed to moderate success all year.

Tess informs us that Alesha, Kelly and Jill are "back by popular demand". No such claim is made of Tom, Rachel and Lisa, and I suspect we all know why. Bruce asks if we're ready for a festive feast of fun, and about three people in the audience give a half-hearted "yay". Snerk.

First up are Alesha and Matthew. Bruce tells us that Alesha's been very successful lately and has been travelling all around the world with her album. There follows a joke which I consider to be quite good by this show's standards, in which Alesha allegedly told Bruce of a time she shared dinner and a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, resulting in him asking what happened next and her replying "the plane landed and we both got off". Hey, it made me laugh. And it made Alesha laugh that oh-so-recognisable laugh of hers. Heh, I've missed that.

We see their Viennese waltz training: Alesha says they decided to do the dance because it was elegant and graceful. Cue shot of Alesha falling over in rehearsals and saying to Matthew, with [sics] all over the place, "we never was elegant, was we?" She remembers the basics, she thinks, but she's a bit rusty and needs to "fix up, look sharp". They would like to move people emotionally, and they'd love to "do the double", as the saying apparently goes. For a second I wonder if she means double-dutch, and they're just going to start skipping in the middle of the routine. That would be cool.

Mattesha hit the floor, both of them looking lovely, dancing to a horrid jazzy version of 'White Christmas'. There's lots of smouldering and shoulder-waving before they get into hold and start twirling, but when it gets going, the routine is lovely. And anyone who still thinks Alesha won't have the technical know-how to be a judge can just come around here and shut my mouth, because I think she'll be fine.

Bruce tells Alesha he loves the back of her dress, which is largely non-existent, and is glad she didn't put it on back-to-front. BOOBIES! Bruce gives a shout out to the wonderful singers, who he says are going to play "like they've never played before - together". Ah, if only that punchline had been "in tune", then I would've given it a standing ovation, even if all by myself, Arlene-style.

There are also judges! The now-departed Arlene, who reminds Bruce of Cinderella because she's spent all these years sandwiched between Craig and Bruno, the ugly sisters. Gay people are funny! Bruce apologises to Bruno and says that he only named them because he didn't want to offend Len, who he thinks can get very tetchy lately. Craig nods at the camera, all "you have no idea", which is quite funny. So, what did the judges think? Len thinks it's business as usual for Alesha - fantastic. Bruno thought Alesha was a vision, like crystals of snow under a beam of sunshine. Wouldn't they melt? Craig was concerned at the beginning because it was out of Viennese waltz character (I thought this too, actually), but he loved it in the end. Arlene says that "from the Wicked Witch to Snow White" (um, unfortunate), Alesha dances like a dream.

Over to the House of Tesstosterone. Tess says that Alesha was like a princess, prompting Alesha to go "aw, I wish I was one in real life", like she's forgotten where she is right now. Everyone cracks up. Alesha says that she wanted to do ballroom this time because the dresses are so lovely, and says that she missed Matthew. Awww. Scores - Craig: 9, Arlene: 10, Len: 10, Bruno: 10. 39 out of 40. Well, it's good, but it's no Lisa Snowdon, is it? This bit always feels so audience when there's no public vote.

Speaking of Lisa, here she is, sporting a vaguely unflattering 1920s hairdo. She and Brendan will be doing the quickstep, and this leads to a Bruce joke which returns us to the "too awful to transcribe" territory. We are subjected to some revisionist history that tries to convince us Lisa was all that, even though she was essentially a nice girl who improved a lot but was still very awkward a lot of the time. Grumble, grumble, 80 out of 80, bloody farce, grumble grumble. No, really, I'm over that now. Honest. She and Brendan claim to have morphed into one person after spending so much time together. What a terrifying thought. Lisa thinks it would be lovely to win. I wouldn't hold your breath, sweetie. Brendan reveals that they have a "special move" planned, which the judges may or may not go for. Honestly, after your showdance, I think they'll be happy with anything that at least attempts to acknowledge the laws of physics. Also, "special move" makes it all sound a bit Street Fighter II. Shor-yu-ken! They're pleased to be able to do this one last dance together.

They're dancing to 'Sleigh Ride', and skip around the outside of the dance floor out of hold to begin with, Lisa's manic smile making her look like she's on day release. It certainly is quick and steppy, though some of the hops are a bit out of sync with each other, and there' a part where Lisa seems to drift away from Brendan slightly and his attempts to pull her back in make her stumble ever so slightly. Nitpicking? Me? Never. The special move, apparently, is to run across the floor and sit on the steps, with Lisa on Brendan's lap. Hey, it worked for Matt di Angelo.

Lisa and Brendan seem to know it didn't exactly go brilliantly as they walk over, with Lisa asking with a giggle if they can do it again, and Brendan saying, "I'll save you the trouble: five!" Heh. Bruce applauds their wonderful spirit. Bruno says they took us for an amazing ride, and it was a quickstep full of festive fizz. Craig thought it was fantastic, and they maintained energy all along, but they did mess up over by the judges (the hopping part, I think). Arlene says that Lisa dazzles on the dancefloor. Len says that it was a perfect Christmas dance - he knows what Craig is saying, but commends Lisa on her posture and says that if she ever gives up the day job (which one? She's got, like, three!) she can come and work at his dance school. Lisa, bless her little cotton socks, goes "are you serious? January 1st, I'll be there, hahahahaha!" Aww. I'd forgotten how much I liked her before they started overmarking her to a ridiculous degree.

House of Tesstosterone. There are no tantrums, mercifully, and Lisa says she will be carrying on dancing after tonight, if Brendan will teach her. Brendan says he will, the universe is unconvinced. Scores - Craig: 8, Arlene: 9, Len: 9, Bruno: 10. Bruno's been on the sauce already, clearly. 36 then, for Lisa and Brendan.

Who's on next? Why, it's Jill Halfpenny and Darren Bennett. I never actually saw Jill's series, so this is something a bit new for me. Jill will be dancing the American Smooth, NOT THE JIVE, though the jive is of course mentioned because heaven forfend we discuss Jill Halfpenny and neglect to mention HER MIRACULOUS JIVE. Still, it all leads to a joke at John Sergeant's expense, so that's good.

Video: Jill says that she's still terrified, even now. She says that Darren isn't just her dance partner now, but her friend. They'll be doing lifts, which they never really did in series two, so she's quite excited even if he isn't (he is). They make reindeers with their fingers. It's a visual thing. Jill wants to go out and give it everything she's got and have a good time on the floor. Fair enough, really.

Their routine is to another ghastly jazz butchering, this time of 'My Favourite Things' from The Sound Of Music. I mean, if they're going to fuck with a classic, they might at least have done the Big Brovaz version. "Buy me diamonds and rubies, I'm crazy 'bout Bentleys" indeed. I'm not very taken with Jill's dress, which looks lovely when she is still but not so great in motion, which is surely a flaw in a dancing dress? Their routine is lovely, though, and they're clearly loving every minute. And wow, Jill can kick her leg up really high. [Ah, but can she bend and snap? - Carrie] A final lift and a flourish, and they're done.

Straight over to the judges: Craig was exhausted watching them - he says it was like viewing something on fast forward, but he loved it. Arlene says it was stunningly danced and brilliantly staged, and then she likens it to tossing sprouts into boiling water. It's times like this that Arlene's removal from the programme becomes less of a mystery. Len says it jingled his bells. Oh dear Lord. He likes that they controlled it so well considering the speed. And finally Bruno who calls Jill a "cracker of a performer". Cracker, because it's Christmas, innit.

House of Tesstosterone. Tess reminds us that Jill's never danced the American Smooth, and she says that she's always wanted to try it, so getting to dance it at last was a dream come true. Scores - Craig: 9 (gasps of disbelief, because Lord knows this show has done enough know to make people think that 9/10 is the sort of score a miser gives), Arlene: 10, Len: 10, Bruno: 10. 39/40, putting them in a tie for first place with Alesha and Matthew.

Next up are Rachel and Vincent, another "popular pair", per Bruce. So popular that they were in the bottom two twice! Bruce reminds us that all of their dances have been raunchy, even though I'm not sure there's a machine code for "raunchy". Bruce then demonstrates what a raunchy hokey-cokey might look like, and Christmas or not, no one will ever be drunk enough to deal with that.

Rachel's VT reminds us that she scored more tens than anyone else in Strictly history. They will be doing a rumba, but a romantic rumba, not a raunchy rumba. Vincent continues to be kind of creepy, Rachel continues to attempt to be interesting. Rachel says they got pipped to the post at the final, so she hopes they can take the trophy away in the Christmas special.

Rachel and Vincent are on the dancefloor, and Rachel looks like the spangliest bauble on the Christmas tree. Their rumba is to '2 Become 1' and begins with Rachel lying lifelessly (insert your own joke here) as Vincent lifts her from the floor. It is very similar to their raunchy rumba, just a lot slower. The Strictly singers are butchering the song, by the way. And seriously, when you are not vocally up to the task of performing a Spice Girls song, maybe it's time to switch careers. Meanwhile, the romantic rumba continues. It is pretty sweet - for all I mock Rachel and Vincent, they do have a lovely connection on the dancefloor, and that's one thing I would like to see in the upcoming series.

Bruce calls it a "raunchy rumba", either displaying comprehension fail or just proving my point (or possibly both). Arlene calls Rachel a "goddess", and enjoyed the Aled Jones tribute, because Rachel was walking in the air, d'you see? Len says Rachel's rumba is brilliant. Bruno says that Rachel and the rumba are the ultimate naughty treat. Craig would've liked a smoother transition out of the first lift, but he thought the lifts in general were exceptional.

HoT. Rachel fans herself. Tess reminds Rachel how they narrowly missed out on the title, and Rachel says that winning would be a wonderful Christmas present. Scores - Craig: 9, Arlene: 10, Len: 10, Bruno: 10, for a total score of 39, tying them with Alesha and Jill. Tess gripes that Craig isn't giving out any tens. Yes, because truly the biggest problem this show is suffering right now is its compulsive undermarking. Get a grip, Daly.

Up next are Kelly and Brian. They're doing a jive - and in front of St Jill of Halfpenny! Gasp! Such brazen cheek cannot be condoned! Their VT contains the infamous three-lifts American Smooth, and reminds us of how Kelly's journey was tragically cut short. Brian Fortuna and his uneven eyebrows and strange undereye bags are very excited to be working with Kelly, who has taken to wearing a large crucifix and smelling of garlic. Possibly. Brian says that they're fresh and new, and Kelly says the others won't know what to expect. They have planned a backflip, and Kelly promises their routine will be entertaining. Kelly wants Brendan to do well, but not as well as she does. Heh.

Kelly's in purple like she has a caramel hazelnut centre [with a skirt that is so obviously velcroed around her that the Surprise in the routine is rather less of a surprise and more a fait accompli - Carrie], and their jive is to 'Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree'. It starts in hold, oddly, as they sweep around the floor, then Brian whips off the bottom half of her dress, Bucks Fizz-style, and the jive proper begins. It's a fun and exciting routine, if slightly sloppy in places, but overall it has lots of lovely Christmas sparkle. "I don't know what it looked like, but it felt good!" are Kelly's first words after the dance. That's what she said. Bruce talks about how he and Kelly share a love of digestive biscuits. No, really.

Len tells Kelly it's lovely to see her back, and the highlight was when her skirt came off. You lech. Len says the jive was brilliant. Craig calls it uh-may-zing. Arlene thinks Kelly was popping corks all the way. Now there's a party trick. Then Bruce forgets Bruno, who's marginally offended in a not-really sort of way: eventually, he tells Kelly "you jive me crazy". That can't be difficult. Actually, the punctuation in that sentence is open to discussion. I have my suspicions it should actually be "you jive, me crazy."

Tesstosterone Residence. Brian says Kelly is all he could want for Christmas. The scores are in - Craig: 10, Arlene: 9 ("awww!" goes the crowd), Len: 10, Bruno: 10. 39 again - that's a four-way tie for first place. Oh dear. Brian asks if they beat Brendan, and Brendan jokily launches himself at him, causing Kelly to shriek. Hee.

And finally, the 2008 champions (groan), Smuggo Chinnerson and his dance partner Camilla Dallerup. Oh, and they're doing the foxtrot - because we didn't get enough of those in the final. His VT reminds us of his crushingly inevitable victory, which has been choreographed to 'Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer'. Their rehearsal footage is WACKY. I mean, everyone's is, but theirs is intolerably so. Tom suggests that if they win they could keep the trophy in the centre of London and both visit it. Camilla is unconvinced.

Oh God, there is so much cloying Business (yes, with a capital B) at the beginning. I'd forgotten just how awful all that was. Credit to Tom: he does do a lovely foxtrot, even if I spend the entire time staring at his chin. Then they ruin it all by going into a junior version of the robot halfway through, for reasons best known to Camilla and Camilla alone, I suspect. Tom's wife, WHO WAS NEW AT THE TIME BUT IS NOT SO MUCH ANY MORE, is in the audience.

Bruno says that it was a foxtrot with a panto feel (ain't that the truth) and calls it a festive treat. Craig thought it was more of an American Smooth than a foxtrot, but he'll overlook that, it being Christmas and all. He thinks it was a great routine. Arlene says the showbiz razzle dazzle is back, and says he was three reindeer in one: Dasher, Dancer and Prancer. Len says that the comedy was like John Sergeant, "but in a good way". Heh.

House of Tesstosterone. Tess asks if Camilla's stopped crying yet since winning on Saturday. Well, we're now 50 minutes into the show and I've not seen a single tear, so there's your answer, Tess. They would like to win, but do not wish to be greedy. Scores - Craig: 9, Arlene: 10, Len: 9, Bruno: 9 for a total of 37. Smuggo and Camilla look underwhelmed, but do their best to cover it.

Leaderboard: accompanied by a loud "OH NO!" from the House of Tesstosterone, which can only be either Brendan or Tom - I would've assumed Brendan, but it sounds more like Tom to me. Alesha, Jill, Rachel and Kelly all have six points, Tom has two and Lisa has one. Since they've had more than enough tied-scoreboard fuckups for one year, it's decided that Len should rank the top four couples, although he seems the least qualified of the four to do it, if you ask me. Curse that Head Judge title! Give it to Craig already. Bruce claims this all shows the calibre of the dancing tonight, and not the fact that the judges are always far too complimentary with their marks at Christmas, and have been so all series anyway. Anyway, Len says that the judges have discussed matters, and Alesha and Matthew are first, Jill and Darren are second, Rachel and Vincent are third, and Kelly and Brian are fourth. Incidentally, now that the tie for first place has been resolved, the names are still in exactly the same order on the leaderboard that they were beforehand. They're also in descending order of performance. I'm not saying that's necessarily suspicious, just pointing out an interesting quirk.

The studio audience will vote, and in the meantime, we have a very special performance from Russell Watson. I'd normally go "oh God" here, but Carrie will lynch me if I do. [HA! I heart the Russell. - Carrie] He sings 'Let It Snow' while Brian and Kristina and Vincent and Flavia foxtrot around them. It's lovely, but it's ultimately filler, so let's move on. [Does he not fall over a microphone, though? That's always funny. - Carrie]

Bruce and Tess have the cards in their hands, and it's final results time. Bruce and Tess reveal the four couples who will definitely not win the title, in no particular order: Tom and Camilla (like they care at this point), Lisa and Brendan (who saw it coming a mile off), Rachel and Vincent (barely any reaction) and Alesha and Matthew (they hug and applaud the others). Jill and Darren and Kelly and Brian step forward to approach the trophy. So close you can almost taste it, the rest is still unwritten, etc. The Christmas champions are...Jill and Darren! Fireworks, and so on.

Congratulations all round - Bruce seems to think it is remarkable that "a young mother" has won the title. Tess asks Jill how old her baby is ("seven and a half months", incidentally), and Bruce is all "ladies! See what you can do?" as though feminism never even happened a little bit. Sigh. Darren says it's an honour and a privilege to have danced with Jill, and he thanks her for giving up time away from her baby, WHICH IS NEW, to train with him, and Jill's all "yeah, it's been amazing, my feet hurt, can I go now?" And so Jill and Darren are named Christmas champions, and they hold the trophy aloft.

My PVR cuts off there, but I think it's safe to assume that's pretty much the end. See you over the weekend for series seven! Keep your fingers crossed for appropriate scoring and vaguely interesting contestants!