Monday, 28 October 2013

Dragon slain

Top 12 Results: 27 October 2013

I don't know about the rest of you, but I did find myself wondering how they could possibly top the craziness of KRISTINA doing the KRISTINA in a giant cocktail glass last week. about a routine to a ballided-down version of 'Halo' where the girls are all done up in geisha-face and wearing kimonos, while the guys are all kitted out for a Saturday morning karate lesson? It's certainly one of the more eccentric concepts they've done, and I hate to be a bearded tree-hugging lefty about this, but I find the cultural appropriation questionable, to say the least. (Then again, on the same evening I watched the episode of Downton Abbey where the big twist was that Sybil Cousin Rose had let some black people across the threshold and was NECKING WITH ONE OF THEM, so at least this routine was guaranteed not to be the most clumsy handling of race relations I saw that day.) [It was so dodgy I couldn't quite believe it - the singing that is.  The casual racism was also very troubling - Rad]

Back to the matter at hand: here are Tess and Claudia. Having done such good work last night, sadly Tess is right back to square one again in a purple dress that has inexplicable peach-coloured slashes across it. I can only assume that Nina Garcia was briefly let loose with a pair of scissors backstage but was restrained before she could cause any further damage. Claudia, meanwhile, is in a rose and burgundy tunic. It's nice to see her wearing some colour, obviously, but still: no. Claudia reminds us that one couple must leave tonight, and Tess reminds us that the results are imminent. Tonight's musical guests are Earth Wind & Fire, and for those of you who scoff at the BBC for hiring bands more in keeping with an older demographic, may I remind you that The X Factor has booked Nile Rodgers and Chic for next week.

Of course, the way to the Results Round-Up is as always blocked by the guardian known as "Recap Of Saturday's Show With Additional Backstage Footage". Obviously if you want to know what happened on Saturday you can just look here, but I am more than happy to collate the extra revelations for you: Len's dicking around in a golf cart, Abbey is giving us the backstage tour and has taken to trapping various members of the crew inside Pasha's cage (I wouldn't mind getting trapped inside Pasha's cage, etc), Deborah likes to hang out in the make-up room, Dave and Abbey argue over who makes the better fish pie, the BBC is still using the same warm-up guy that they use for everything ever, Natalie claims never to have been accused of being erotic before (given the sort of weirdo fanmail that most soap stars receive, I can only assume she never read hers), Aljaž thinks his and Abbey's foxtrot was a 10, Dave and Karen are bottom of the leaderboard but top of the world, Deborah's really pleased with her score of 27, Patrick is very grateful to Anya for all her work in a very difficult to week, Fiona and Anton still can't believe their scores, Rachel's glum about the reception for her paso, Ashley claims to have enjoyed dancing for the first time in his life, Susanna and Kevin are super-cute about scoring 32 and Ben is at least happy that he didn't make a mistake.

With that, we're back to Tess who has the results for the first half of the competitors. The following couples are safe and guaranteed a spot in next week's show: Fiona and Anton (surprised, gushing), Susanna and Kevin (grinning, hugging), Natalie and Artem (joyfully squirmy), Mark and Iveta (relieved) and Rachel and Pasha (surprised, triumphant). The first couple in danger, however, is...Deborah and Robin. Deborah closes her eyes, and Robin pinches the bridge of his nose.

Tess asks Len what they can do to improve. Len says he's in shock because he thought they'd be safe, and he thinks her Viennese waltz was as good as any dance she's done this series, so she just needs to trust in Robin and give it her all. Of course, trusting Robin when he was all "hey! Let's push a table around for no reason!" is kind of what got Deborah into this mess in the first place. Poor Deborah. She's clearly upset already - much like Rachel last week, she's a superfan who had rather hoped not to be leaving quite so early. She tells Tess she wants to put in a good performance to repay Robin for teaching her to dance. Oh, Deborah. You did the best with what you were given - I sincerely doubt that your performance is what landed you here.

Meanwhile, Claudia's up on the balcony with the five couples whose dancing dreams are safe for another week. Mark's still giddy from getting good comments from Craig, and Anton's still gleeful from being here and being in the top half of the leaderboard. Rachel confesses that she ran through her routine in her head "17,000 times", because she was convinced she'd be in the Dread Dance-Off again, though she didn't want to. "Thank you, British public!" she beeps meekly. Susanna does the whole "yes, I'm happy to be safe but WHY MUST WE LOSE PEOPLE? WHY MUST IT BE DEBORAH? TAKE ME INSTEAD, SHE HAS DONE NOTHING WRONG!" Seriously, Susanna, I love you and everything, but you're currently operating at "Lisa Snowdon" and we need you at more of a "Holly Valance" sort of level.

To distract from the sadness of people departing, we have Earth, we have Wind and we have Fire. (It's a good job we booked them in this early in the series, because energy prices are going up in November and after that point we'd have only been able to afford Earth and Wind. BOOM! TOPICAL HUMOUR!) Earth, Wind & Fire provide a medley of 'Let's Groove', 'My Promise' and 'Boogie Wonderland' while Brendan and Aliona (oh yes, she's still here) and James and Ola get their cha cha cha on around them. I'm disappointed that they don't go into 'September', but since I can't listen to that any more without drawing the movements from Elite Beat Agents in the air, it might be for the best.

Once they've finished, it's time for Len's Lens - this week with one fewer participant, as Craig is not capable of managing the stairs in the aftermath of his hip operation (either that or he has finally reached Mariah levels of divadom). This week Len's Lens is all about Anton's face during his quickstep (frankly, as long as we remain above the waistline, we can focus on Anton wherever we like), and the judges even admire Fiona's posture briefly in the process. Claudia then moves us on to "Ashley's splits", which isn't even close to the splits at all - it's just yer bog-standard leapfrog over Ola, but everyone's too polite to correct Claudia, and we must remember that Ashley has now not slept for 186 consecutive hours, so it's a miracle he got off the ground at all. Darcey is impressed that he didn't put any pressure on Ola, but notes that Ashley forgot to point his feet. Still, she says, the important thing is that he "pitched it forward". A bit like Anton during his cha cha cha. (SORRY.) Then we move on to the big news of the weekend - Natalie shattering Poor Artem's nose. Poor Artem. (Artem, being Artem, just keeps going.) We have another look at Patrick's one-handed lift, which really does not benefit from being viewed in slo-mo, and then we see Dave whipping his hair back and forth. "There was more movement in the hair than there was in the feet," says Bruno sagely. Finally, just in case we're worried that Craig's missing out on all the fun, Len's Lens cuts back to the judge's table, where Craig is being served cocktails by Aljaž. If there was ever an advert for smashing your own hips with an iron skillet, this is it right here. "Aljaž, turn round, be a love," snarks Claudia. I still haven't worked out if what she means by that is "prevent me from having to see your lovely face lest I become overpowered by lust" or "please allow me to objectify you some more by staring at your magnificent arse", but either way, I understand.

Now it's time to rejoin Tess and see which of the other remaining couples are safe. In no particular order, they are: Sophie and Brendan (exhaling for the first time in 20 minutes), Ashley and Ola (still praying for sleep), Abbey and Aljaž (muted squeals), Dave and Karen (obnoxiously loud celebration) and Ben and Kristina (shamed relief, seeing who they've left in their wake). That means Patrick and Anya will be joining Deborah and Robin in the Dread Dance-Off, which...I mean, Patrick took at least three weeks too long to develop a personality of any sort, so this is entirely understandable, but damn, Great British Public, making the guy with the injured wrist do a salsa again is just COLD. [Can we have a John Sargeant memorial panic about Dave yet?  Because I don't want Deborah to go and there's not a hope in hell they're axing one of the two men who might vaguely be able to dance this early.  Gah, why can't it be Fiona and Anton already? - Rad]

Tess: "Come and join me, nobody wants to." Sometimes she just makes this too easy, doesn't she? Tess asks Darcey what Patrick must do to save himself, and Darcey babbles in shock and eventually registers that Patrick is a natural dancer because he was able to adjust to all those last minute changes. Thanks Darce, big help. Patrick tells Tess he's just going to "do it again". He doesn't exactly look distraught at the prospect of elimination, it has to be said.

Up in Claudia's Counselling Circle, Claudia tells Dave that his reaction to being declared safe was "dreamy". I can think of a few other words for it. Abbey is pleased to be here for another week. Claudia tells Ashley that he's going to have t-shirts with "the busiest man on earth" printed on them, and congratulates him on the splits that never were. (This time Ola's around to LAUGH IN HER FACE, which is fun.) Ashley says he's glad to get through because this has been such a tough week. Claudia then does a passable Kristina impression (although it's not a patch on Kevin's Artem impression or Mark's Iveta impression), and Ben says it was a nerve-wracking experience and asks them not to leave him until last ever again. Heh. Sophie says she was convinced she was going to have to do that FUCKING CHA CHA CHA AGAIN (she expresses it in a slightly more polite fashion, obviously, but I think the sentiment is clear), so she's very glad to be safe.

Hey, you know what next week is? HALLOWE'EN WEEK! Looks like Len might have to wait an extra seven days for that 50% reduction in FAFFING ABAHT that he requested.

Claudia's with the two couples fighting for survival, and tells them she's sad to see both of them in this position. Deborah appears to be fairly certain she's going home, presumably because of who she's up against, and has got the air of a woman determined to maintain her poise all the way to the gallows. Sniff. Robin says that dancing with Deborah has been amazing and he doesn't want it to end. Choreograph less ridiculous routines for her, then. He and Deborah head to the dancefloor while Patrick continues to shrug about the prospect of not being here next week.

Deborah and Robin reprise that thing that was ostensibly a Viennese waltz. Deborah gives, I think, the best performance she's ever given on the show, and it's such a shame to have that bloody table obstructing so much of it. They're followed by Patrick and Anya, whose salsa is similarly improved the second time around, with Patrick making his upper body look less...undead than it did the first time. He's a little bit too wobbly in the hips and shoulders though, maybe. He chuckles when it's all over.

Time for the judges to make their decision, and I don't even have the words to describe the pain in Deborah's eyes at this point - she knows it's over. Craig wants to save the couple who did the best dancing in the Dread Dance-Off, and that's Patrick and Anya. Darcey wishes that "neither couple was even here" (so she wants a double elimination?) but ultimately opts to save Patrick and Anya. Bruno tells both pairs that they did a great job, but Patrick and Anya had the edge for him - and with three votes out of four, they're safe and through to next week. Len confirms that he would've agreed, but tells Deborah that she danced much better in the Dread Dance-Off, "and my heart goes out to you". Deborah looks crestfallen. I am heartbroken for her - she seems like such a lovely woman, and she was clearly having a fantastic time, and I'm gutted she didn't get to stick around for longer. [Me too.  I LOVED her. - Rad]

Robin is sobbin' (as he should be), and Deborah thanks him for teaching her to dance, and says that she won't cry because she's a dragon. Robin sobs that he just wishes he could stay in for Deborah because she loves it so much. I'm furious that easily the most likeable of all Robin's partners since he joined the series ended up being the one that got eliminated the earliest. I BLAME THAT BLOODY TABLE AND ALSO BY EXTENSION ROBIN. Deborah says that she loved her dance tonight and also her quickstep, and while she's sad to be going, she's had a great time.

Deborah and Robin head over for their last dance as Claudia rejoins Tess, and the pair tease the Hallowe'en special one more time. Then Deborah and Robin spin around to Bon Jovi's 'Never Say Goodbye' as everyone comes over to hug them. Now if you'll excuse me, Ivegotsomethinginmyeye *runs off wailing*.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Table for two

12 Couples Perform: 26 October 2013

Last week: Tess tells us that some couples sailed to "dizzying new heights", and this is illustrated with Abbey & Aljaž even though the only couple who actually shook up their usual leaderboard position last week was Patrick & Anya. There was a bit more of a shift at the lower-end of the leaderboard though, as Fiona tumbled down to the bottom when Anton tried to choreograph a rumba to possibly the only uptempo Westlife song in existence. However, it was Rachel who saw her public support collapse and she ended up in the dance-off after a skippy, busy, frantic quickstep - but of course she was up against Julien, whose luck finally ran out and he was dispatched to go and tell more aspiring fashion designers that they are basic bitches who should just give up now.

Tonight: eh, there's not really a theme of any sort, so we just get a generic Rocky-style sports training montage (including Iveta whacking Mark around the face with a boxing glove, because there is never a single moment on this show when Iveta is not being thoroughly amazing) as Tess mumbles something about everyone having to fight even harder this week. Blimey, I never thought I'd say this, but I wish Hallowe'en week would hurry up just so these bits could be a bit more focused.

Titles! Natalie's eyebrow-pop gives me life every single time.

I've just noticed that we are "live from the Strictly Ballroom" this year rather than "live from London". Is this because they're technically in Hertfordshire these days? (Also, isn't the phrase "Strictly Ballroom" kind of copyrighted by someone else already?) Anyway, wherever we are, it is somewhere with a Bruce and a Tess. Daly Dresswatch: heavens to Betsy, she actually looks rather good tonight in a midnight blue full-length sleeveless gown. I'd prefer the skirt to have fewer ruffles, but the colour and the cut are both flattering, and her hair looks good as well. Well played, Tess Daly. (I apologise to the Fug Girls for stealing their bit.) Anneka Rice is in the audience tonight. It's rice to see Anneka, to see Anneka, RICE! There are also some Strictly alumni present, including Gloria Hunniford and Ricky Groves. All the stars, darling, all the stars.

Speaking of stars, here are the 12 remaining stars of Strictly 2013: Sophie and Brendan, Mark and Iveta, Susanna and Kevin, Ben and Kristina, Natalie and Artem, Abbey and Aljaž, Ashley and Ola, Deborah and Robin, Patrick (complete with a large white plaster cast on his wrist. Couldn't they have Strictlified it a little bit? They must have a few crystals going spare now Julien's gone) and Anya, Rachel and Pasha, Dave and a drag tribute to Carmen Miranda, and finally Fiona and Anton. Bruce goes a bit off-script saying that people don't believe the amount of hours the couples put into training. This is not a phenomenon I've witnessed personally, but if it does exist, I'm just going to blame Natalie for last week's "oh, I have been so badly injured that I may have to leave the competition, we've only had about two hours of rehearsals, LOL J/K CHECK OUT MY FLAWLESS QUICKSTEP". Tess reminds us that nobody wants to face the Dread Dance-Off. Least of all the audience, but the producers still insisted on bringing it back.

Up first this week are Natalie and Artem. Bruce describes Natalie as "young, current and very with-it", which is regrettably the segue into a joke about twerking - specifically the one about how "twerk" is where people from Yorkshire go between the hours of nine and five. Except Bruce says that they "go to twerk", and unless people in Yorkshire actually do say that they're going to the work, then Brucie's got the joke wrong. Still, at least he doesn't ask Tess to pretend to be the Miley Cyrus to his Robin Thicke, which was a brief concern of mine. (Actually, a bigger concern would've been the possibility that he might have wanted them to do the opposite roles. Shudder.) Bruce demonstrates the joke on Tess, asking "what do you come here for?", as though he's suddenly the voice of the audience. Also, Tess is from Derbyshire. I guess anywhere north of Milton Keynes might as well be Antarctica if you're Bruce.

Natalie's VT, understandably, is all about her just being happy to still be upright: she informs us that her back is "now on the mend" and she's looking forward to putting it behind her. I feel one of the reasons I can't fully engage with Natalie as a contestant is that she failed to truly embrace the comedy of that sentence. "I'm looking forward to putting it behind me. BECAUSE IT'S MY BACK, GEDDIT? BADUMTISH!" See, I know funny. This week, they're dancing the samba - Artem's first samba ever on this show, apparently. As usual, the editors search with fevered brows for any signs of Natalie struggling with the dance in rehearsals just so they can structure some sort of journey out of this week, and as luck would have it, apparently she can't quite shake her ta-tas to the required effect. (My hopes for SPECIAL GUEST COACH SUSANNA REID here sadly come to nothing.) Artem tells her she needs to feel the character of the dance, and Natalie replies that she's "never been to mainland Spain". First of all, god bless her for qualifying it with the word "mainland". [OMG SPANISH RINGAH ALERT etc - Rad] Second of all, I appreciate that they're trying to put a flamenco flavour on it, but the fact remains that SAMBA IS BRAZILIAN. Saints alive, I'm terrible at geography and even I know that. Natalie says that they're determined to make it "authentic", and then Artem turns up in a sombrero and carrying some maracas. They are literally all over the place at this point. Artem announces that he did not have fun (of course not!) but it helped the routine. Sure, why not?

They're dancing to 'Bamboleo' by the Gipsy Kings, and as always with Natalie, her grasp of the rhythm is impeccable and her body-shaping is excellent. There's maybe a slight touch of sluggishness in her legs, but that's pretty much the only thing I can find to fault about it. Well, that and the giant ruffle in the back of her skirt that makes it look like it's tucked into her underwear, but somehow I don't think that's Natalie's fault.

Bruce tells them they were so good that he wishes they could've seen themselves. He introduces the judges, and by far the most important thing to note here is that post-operation Craig gets to set in a bedazzled high-backed chair, like he's the boss looking to give a big endowment in The Gay Apprentice. Bruce congratulates Craig on his bravery for still making it to the show after his operation, and it certainly sounds sincere, but you can never quite tell with Bruce. Len says that he was "palpitating, perspirating and flatulating" during that performance. Poor Len; perhaps all that Latin American spice just doesn't agree with him. The good news is that he loved the choreography and thought it was danced well, though it could have had a tad more bounce "here and there". Bruno agrees that it was "hypnotic, exotic, with a touch of the erotic". Is that a lyric from the new Katy Perry album? He says that Natalie extends her lines "right to the last beat of the bar and retrieve it suddenly without missing a beat, with your legs and with your arms". She really does, as well. Craig tells her that her double-bounce action escaped her and her elbow on her free arm was a bit too close to her body, but admits that he's being picky because she's so good, and her hips and timing were amazing. Darcey thinks "the flamenco style really suits you, I think Spain is your place." I never really know what to do with a comment like that, other than to sigh "OH DARCEY" and move right along. Darcey wants to see more flamenco from Natalie, so I look forward to her flamenco-themed charleston and Viennese waltz in upcoming weeks. Darcey warns Natalie not to bend her supporting leg when she's going for height, but that's all the criticism she has.

An elated Natalie and Artem head up to the Tess Circle, confident at least in this particular piece of navigation, and Tess asks Natalie how much she's enjoying the experience? "It's just magic, I want to eat it!" says Natalie, before roaring with laughter. She's a strange fish sometimes, isn't she? I like that about her, though. If she has to be a ringer, she can at least be a Ringerbot Who Does Not Understand Our Human Comedy Or Emotion. Natalie assures us that her back is much better: although she's still on painkillers, she's not on as many as she was last week. "I'm much more present today," she promises. Speaking of painkillers, ARTEM'S BROKEN AGAIN. Natalie fractured his nose during the dress rehearsal, and Artem does his spacey grinning "everything's fine" face, so I assume he is hopped up on goofballs just to get through the show. Either that, or making any other expression requires him to move his nose too much. Poor broken woobie Artem. (*goes to check AO3 for all of that Kartem hurt/comfort fanfics that this will inspire*) Scores are in: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 35. Still no tens for Natalie (or indeed anyone, but I find it hard to believe she won't get the first one), but they can't be far off, can they?

Our second couple for this evening is Abbey and Aljaž. Bruce has now given up entirely on trying to say "Skorjanec", by the way. (Fun fact about Steve: I found myself wandering around in my lunch break this week just saying "Skorjanec" and "Lukosiute" over and over again, trying to get the pronunciation absolutely perfect just in case I ever actually needed to say either of those names out loud in some sort of official capacity, because I am weird and sad like that.) Bruce does a joke for Abbey's two-and-a-half year old daughter Sophia, which is far more successful than any of Bruce's attempts to make jokes for anyone outside the target demographic of CBeebies. Abbey was very happy with how her tango last week, but she admits she was nervous and shaking throughout, and how this feeling persists throughout the competition. Aljaž tells Abbey to stay focused, but not allow her nerves to get the better of her. Abbey talks about how much her family means to her, and then goes for Maximum Ovary Impact by showing a home video of Sophia with yoghurt (I assume-slash-hope) all around her chops stroking their cat. (Bonus observation points: in the background, their Tivo is showing a recording of Strictly ready to play back.) Sophia says, ADORABLY, that she wants "to be a dancer like mummy". I have to hand it to this year's contestants, they really know how to deploy their children very effectively.

Abbey's foxtrot is to 'Dear Darlin'' by Olly Murs ("deer darlin, pleez exkuse mi spelin", etc) - Aljaž is sitting at a large, antiquey-looking desk while Abbey reads a letter a few feet away, and the lyrics of the song are projected all over the floor. It's a little on-the-nose for me, as staging goes, if I'm honest. Still, it's our second surprisingly enjoyable foxtrot in the space of two weeks, thanks to some strong choreography, although I still want more of an emotional connection from these two. I can see that Abbey's an incredibly skilled dancer, but there's just something about her that feels cold to me when she performs, which is making it hard for me to really get on board with her as a contender yet.

Bruce welcomes Dave Arch and his wonderful orchestra, shouting "get the pork pie in!". I guess he gets cranky at snack time. Bruno thinks the dance had the feel of a love letter set to music. ("Yes, chemistry, that's what I said!" mumbles Bruce in the background, because he's having one of those days where he thinks he's the fifth judge.) Bruno thinks the chemistry is tangible and that the dance was graceful and elegant, and that Abbey pulled off three underarm spins, despite that not being her forte. Craig loved the storytelling throughout, and Abbey's control in the underarm spins, but he says she needs to control her topline, but that's just being picky. Again. Darcey says that Abbey brings a wonderful understanding to the role, and she's clearly thinking about who she's playing. She disagrees with Craig, saying that Abbey has a perfect line in her upper body, but she wants to see even more stretch in those back leg extensions. Darcey's hair is really huge tonight, incidentally. Maybe that's where they're storing that pork pie for Bruce for later. Len makes a crack about how Abbey shouldn't listen to "Ironside down there", and says that it was an ocean of effortless movement around the floor. He thinks that both Natalie's and Abbey's dances were equally beautiful. (Spoiler: this feeling is not going to last much longer.)

They head to the Tess Circle, and Tess says that after getting their highest score last week, is Abbey really feeling the pressure to deliver every week now? Abbey says she's just thrilled with the praise and she's coping with the nerves, just about, adding that she thinks everyone's just as terrified as she is. She and Tess coo over Sophia's cuteness for a few seconds, and then the scores are in: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 35, exactly the same as Natalie.

Bringing that opening one-two punch of superb dances to a crashing halt will be Dave and Karen. Last week, Dave felt like he was starting to dance properly, but Darcey was still commenting on his posture, so COMEDY VT AHOY: Karen's booked him in for anti-gravity yoga. I imagine that this is probably quite strenuous when you do it properly, but as performed by Dave and Karen, it looks a bit like a nice lie-down in a brightly coloured hammock. Still, Dave seems to think it's done wonders for his back.

Let's see how that works out for them on the dancefloor: they're dancing a salsa to 'Cuban Pete', and they clearly got the same "dress for flamenco" memo that Natalie and Artem received. This is another one of those routines where Karen has lobbed not just the kitchen sink, but the garbage disposal and the entire plumbing system at the choreography in the hope that it works. There's flamenco (of sorts) in there, there's a conga breakdown, there's probably some actual salsa somewhere. Lamentably, Dave can neither shake maracas in time, nor he can he actually do the conga the way that every other human being does it, so I'm beginning to realise the true scale of what Karen's been up against this whole time. He's trying, and he's still counting out loud, but the whole thing is a mess. Also, the part where he just yells something loudly at the end of the routine is apparently A Thing now, and I wish it wasn't.

They strut over to the judges, and Karen removes a banana from her headpiece and eats it dismissively. It's clearly not a spontaneous move in the slightest, but she rolls her eyes enough to sell it. "Why does it always have to be Craig first?" wonders Bruce. Craig suggests that Dave should've explored "the possibility of remaining on the fruit trolley" that he was wheeled in on. I can't believe that Craig says "on the fruit trolley" and nobody makes an off-colour gay joke. Bruce tells Craig that he can see he's laughing, and Karen's all "HE IS! HE IS!", brandishing her banana at him, and Craig finally cracks. Darcey tells Dave that he "didn't have fun with the maracas" (Dr Pamela would have a field day with that comment) and Dave replies that "Jim Carrey doesn't do that". Ay yay yay. Darcey says he was out of sync all the way through, but at least he never gives a boring performance. Len tells Dave that he has a unique ability of "never letting your left leg know what your right leg's going to do". He says it's not top-quality dancing, but it is top-quality fun and entertainment. Is it? Bruno calls it "Strictly Come Dancing Presents: Crackers With Maracas 2". I'm sure I'm not alone in wanting to know precisely what happened in Crackers With Maracas 1 (which was presumably just called Crackers With Maracas, unless everyone involved knew that it was a surefire hit that it demanded a sequel). He tells Dave that he was off-time all the way through, which is "an achievement".

They march fruitily up to the Tess Circle, where Karen hands her banana skin to Pasha (another bit that Dr Pamela would surely deduce a lot from). Dave tells Tess that he's "always had a bit of La Vida Loca about me". He thinks that this less-formal approach to dancing is likely not to go down well with the judges. Tess asks Karen if Dave is a serious contender. Karen lies. Scores are in: Craig 3, Darcey 5, Len 5, Bruno 4 for a total of 17. "Been worse, Tess," shrugs Dave. Yes Dave, she certainly has.

Couple number four is Deborah and Robin. Deborah admits that she struggled with her jive last week, and vows to make sure she is technically better this week. And what is she doing this week, you might ask? A Viennese waltz to 'It's A Man's Man's Man's World'. Robin's choreographed it to have the feel of the boardroom, so he and Deborah go "back to the boardroom" (/an empty office somewhere that they rented for an afternoon) to help her to get her mojo back. Deborah draws up a "business plan" for her Viennese waltz, and then they dance on the table. This is like the weirdest porn ever. [is Robin auditioning for Christian Grey?  I'm  not entirely sure that's going to work for him... - Rad]

Their routine begins, and Robin is sitting behind a table that, like all of the best boardroom tables, is on casters. Deborah runs up and slides all of the papers onto the floor while Robin slides underneath the table (or at least attempts to; he bumps into it and knocks it out of place in the process) and then he and Deborah circle around it before taking opposite sides and dancing a Viennese waltz WITH THE TABLE BETWEEN THEM. Oh, Robin. I really have tried not to criticise your choreography too much, but seriously: what the fuck is this? This sort of shit might fly on Dancing On Ice (actually, on that show it probably would literally fly) but not here, chum. I feel a bit bad for Deborah, whose footwork does actually seem pretty good, being lumbered with such a ridiculously high-concept routine that doesn't actually allow her to properly show the progress she's been making. I mean, how can you demonstrate you've worked on your ballroom posture when you're hunched over a table? Eventually the table is discarded and they take hold properly, where it really does seem like she's improved a lot, but Robin has put in a few too many "just stand there and waft your skirt" moments for my liking. [I never thought I'd live in a world where LEN GOODMAN is right, but this episode?  Far too much mahckin abaht - Rad]

They get a partial standing ovation, which Bruce points out is not something you get on Dragons' Den (to be fair, I'd imagine they could summon enough sycophants between them on that show to get a proper standing ovation if they wanted one, not this half-and-half nonsense). Darcey says it was "an interesting twist" (oof), but she liked it. She liked the elegance when they were in hold, and pulls out the "imagine you're wearing a jewelled necklace" line for the eighty-ninth time. Len says that the Viennese waltz is a romantic dance, and he did see touch of Mills & Boon when they were in hold, "but the beginning was more like Meals On Wheels." (That's one of those jokes that you need to hear in Len's accent for it to work properly.) He thought she did well once she was doing some actual dancing, and it was an improvement on last week. Bruno liked that it was a bitter take on romance, but he wanted her to spend less time on the table and more time dancing, because the dancing that she actually did was much improved. Craig says that she proved she can "push a table in waltz time, so there is some sort of gift there, darling, if you're into that." Hee. However, the topline was a disaster as her left arm was lagging, but he liked the paso doble-style centrepiece of the dance.

Up in the Tess Circle, Deborah says that it's amazing to have a standing ovation. Tess asks her if she's feeling fitter five weeks in, and Deborah says that yes, ten hours of dancing a day will do that for you. I feel like they're running out of things to ask Deborah, which doesn't bode well. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 27. Tess tells Deborah she's "starting to feel as at home in the ballroom as you are in the boardroom". Deborah's all "yes, congratulations on making the same pun that everyone else has been making all series."

Patrick and Anya are next. Looking back at last week, Patrick is chuffed that he didn't go wrong at all in his cha cha cha, and getting an "absolutely brilliant" from Craig was a bonus. This week they've got the salsa, which is apparently a FUN DANCE, so Anya "spontaneously" asks Patrick what he does for fun. He goes roller-skating, of course! So Patrick gets out some rollerblades (not skates) and they skate around the rehearsal room, and everything's fun and jolly until Patrick falls over backwards and lands rather heavily on his wrist. Cut to Anya the next morning, sitting on a chair in the middle of the rehearsal room waiting for news of Patrick's arm (which immediately makes me think of this). Patrick says that when he went into work the next day, he saw the medical advisor (I'm just going to go right ahead and assume it was Charlie Fairhead), who told him he would need an x-ray. Luckily, once he gets his scans back it turns out his wrist isn't fractured, so it's just a case of him proceeding cautiously and using it "as pain allows". Still, it's a bit of a blow for their salsa, and Anya has to drastically rechoreograph the whole thing to accommodate Patrick's arm.

They're dancing to 'Wings' by BixMix (ugh) and this is a hard one to critique because it's hard to ignore Patrick's right arm dangling limply at his side for a lot of the dance, and the way it makes his movements feel rather zombie-like, at the same time it's clearly not something we should hold against him. Indeed, it's impressive that they still manage to incorporate a lift into the routine and that Patrick uses it as much as he does. I guess I'm just a little sad for both of them, because while this is an impressive routine all things considered, I can't help wondering how much better the intended routine could have been.

Len tells Patrick he should feel right at home: "with your wrist and Craig's hip, it's like Casualty." I can't imagine what sort of storyline would lead to someone coming into the A&E department for a scheduled hip operation, but okay. Len tells Anya that she did a wonderful job of changing the routine so that Patrick could do it with one hand. (SO much material for Dr Pamela this week.) Bruno says that Patrick was a bit like a switch going on and off - sometimes he got it right, and sometimes it was very stiff. He thinks it felt slightly unfinished, and he understands why, so he hopes they get to come back and show what they can do without injury restrictions. Craig agrees - it felt stoppy-and-starty (technical term), and the isolation in the shimmies wasn't always there, but he liked the naturally good hips and rhythm (drink!). Darcey loves to see a man in control of the dance (calm DOWN, Dr Pamela) and Patrick gave her that tonight. She would like him to be conscious of mirroring Anya and finishing off the arms, but it was an impressive display considering everything that happened.

Patrick and Anya manage to make it up to the Tess Circle without any further injuries, and Tess says that she can tell Patrick loves the latin dances, but it must have been nerve-wracking to re-do the routine in the space of two days. Patrick says it's all down to Anya's brilliance. Anya thanks Patrick for working so well with the last minute changes. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 8, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 28.

Fiona and Anton are here to lead us into the halfway point. Last week's rumba was a disaster, and Fiona thinks that her problem might be a little voice in her head telling her that she can't do it. Well, since Aliona's not got a competitive role to play any more, the poor girl has to amuse herself somehow, right? This week they're rehearsing the quickstep, and Anton thinks that Fiona keeps second-guessing herself and needs to stop assuming that she's gone wrong when she hasn't. It all starts to fall into place for Fiona, who declares herself much happier. Oh, and then she gets a message from "a very special friend": Sir Roger Moore, who wants to wish her luck for Saturday. Not pictured: the gun pointing at his head or the personal assistant going "FIONA. Fiona FULLERTON. You know, the one from the JACUZZI..." [My reaction?  They made him a SIR?  Does being Bond automatically get you that title eventually? - Rad]

Back in the ballroom, Fiona and Anton are dancing to 'If My Friends Could See Me Now', and the routine begins with them sitting at a table preparing for champagne and cakes. BECAUSE THEY'RE EATING FANCY CHOW AND DRINKING FANCY WINE, DO YOU SEE? Anyway, just in case her friends can see her now, Fiona is inspired to do a rather hammy quickstep. She's better and clearly more confident this week, but she still has a couple of balance issues here and there and there are parts of the routine that do feel rather stuttery.

Bruno says that Fiona is finally "putting on the glitz" - he thinks she moved better. "There were a couple of mistakes in the footwork, but you covered it so well we didn't notice." There's a barley sugar up for grabs for anyone who spots the problem with that sentence*. Craig drawls that he noticed the charleston section that went COMPLETELY awry, darling, but he thought she flew around the floor and was definitely back on form. Darcey thinks it was Fiona's best dance and pronounces it "fabulous". Len: "more confident plus more focus plus more content equals more points". I feel like that's a line he had pre-planned for Rachel, but then Rachel...well, you saw last week. Maybe Len just figured he'd best deploy it elsewhere before he forgets it.

Tess asks Fiona if she feels like she's staged a good recovery from all of last week's horror, and a rather out-of-breath Fiona says that she thinks she turned a corner this week. Anton says she did him proud, but more than that, she did herself proud. Scores are in: Craig 7, Darcey 7, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 30. Hmm, maybe a tad overscored for what it was, but hardly the most egregious example of that this series (I think Ben's salsa from last week probably holds that honour). Still, it gives Poor Anton the chance to crack the not-at-all-tired-at-this-point joke that he hasn't had an eight since 1972. My feelings here are broadly the same as always: learn to dance latin to an acceptable standard and maybe you won't get paired with so many talentless duffers, dude.

After the obligatory halfway-point filler VT reminding us which six couples have yet to perform, we move on of those six couples actually performing. Seems logical enough, doesn't it? The couple in question is Rachel and Pasha, hoping for a comeback after last week's unwelcome visit to the bottom two. Rachel's hair has been entirely slicked back like this and between this haircut and the bizarre yellow trousers/leopardprint waistcoat/red beret ensemble last week, I'm beginning to wonder who she upset in the hair and costume teams in the last couple of weeks, because why else would they be making her look like this? In her VT, Rachel says that she was unhappy with her performance, and once she'd missed one step, it was really hard to catch up, and she just blew it. She's grateful to have survived, though, and she's determined to come back fighting. Sadly, Rachel's dance draw continues to be incredibly unfortunate, and she's been landed with the paso doble this week. Pasha brings in an acting coach, who tries to get Rachel to connect with her inner rage. (For some inexplicable reason, he does not just ask her to try to get from Tooting Bec to Charing Cross on the Northern Line at 8:30am on a Monday - that usually works for most people.) Rachel then faces a test of her ability to hold a stern expression: Pasha stands directly opposite and does animal impressions at her, trying to break her with cute. I think the Secret Service should look into this as an alternative to waterboarding; I'm sure terrorists have cracked under less. Rachel thinks the acting class helped, and she hopes she's done enough to avoid the Dread Dance-Off this time.

Pasha is IN A CAGE (let's just be glad Dr Pamela cannot see into my mind at this point, because she would sign me up for a lifetime's worth of sessions there and then) and they're dancing to 'Maneater' by Nelly Furtado (obligatory). I wish I could say this was a triumphant comeback, but so much of it is just wrong: Rachel's on her own too much and struggling to stay in shape out of hold; then even when she gets into hold she veers between too stiff and too limp. Also, her paso face quickly turns into an "eating umeboshi" face. She's clearly trying so hard, and I don't know if being in the bottom two just broke her or whether this particular dance would always have been a struggle for her (possibly a combination of both), but it's just painfully awkward and actually quite difficult to watch. I know I go on about her having had a fairly rotten draw of dances since they've shown up all of her limitations fairly quickly, and perhaps it's hard to think of any dances that would've been a good draw for her, but salsa/cha-cha-cha/quickstep/paso is a real bastard of a run for someone who's clearly not a natural dancer, and I can't help thinking that if she'd even had one dance like a foxtrot or an American smooth in the middle, something with a bit more form to focus on while she's still getting the hang of this dancing lark, she might have fared better. Maybe I'm just making excuses for Rachel because I like her (also, PASHA), but I do feel sorry for her, and I fear this might actually be it for her. Maybe she'll get a bottom two bounce, but this feels like the sort of performance that doesn't so much inspire a pity vote as it does a mercy kill. [She is lovely as a person (also PASHA), but in the immortal words of Judy Geller: It. did. not. taste. good. - Rad]

They head over to Bruce, who says he felt the story of the dance: "Why didn't you get him a ladder and a little bell?" Pasha and Rachel both make absolutely exquisite ", seriously, what the hell?" faces in response to this. Rachel does really the only thing a person can do in this situation and promises that they'll do that "next week". Hee. Craig says that there was so much tension in the dance that it "felt like a whole heap of trees being felled" - it was too stiff, and the drama wasn't compelling because Rachel doesn't dance well enough alone. There were shaping issues, balance issues, and general DISASTUH issues. Darcey tries to sugarcoat it by saying she can see how hard Rachel has worked, and then breaks out the old standard: "it's so much harder for the girl, it's easier for a boy to be a matador." I beg to differ. She thinks that Rachel is too lovely to be hard, and she needs to learn to focus with her eyes, and that'll solve all her problems, apparently. Oh Darcey. Len says he feels bad because he knows Rachel has worked hard and is trying her best, but this isn't a dance that suits her personality because she's "Smiley Riley". Bruno says that it's hard being a maneater, adding that Rachel had all the content there but it was the vegetarian option - it needed more blood and guts. Bruce tells a rather crushed Rachel that she's wonderful, and she and Pasha head up to...

...the Tess Circle, where Rachel says that she's been trying to channel mean and moody, and everyone surrounding her applauds and shouts encouragement. Aww. They do seem like a nice lot this year, by and large. Rachel says she's been scowling all day, and she just hopes she can avoid the Dread Dance-Off because she's enjoying being on the show so much. Tess asks Pasha if Rachel is improving each week, and Pasha says that they try for something more difficult each week and in his opinion she always delivers - he was right there in the dance with her, and she "almost ate me alive". Everyone giggles while trying not to think about certain scenarios involving Pasha and eating that might be quite pleasant. Scores: Craig 4, Darcey 6, Len 6, Brno 6 for a total of 22. James starts shouting "undermarked!", and Brendan, Abbey and Susanna quickly join in.

Next we have Mark and Iveta. Mark says that last week's cha-cha-cha was his favourite dance so far, and the audience reaction was amazing - but that Craig's comments soon put a dampener on things. He vows to work on being graceful and elegant in his waltz to prove to Craig that he can do it, so Iveta turns up with an invitation for him to visit Lady Henrietta Rous at "finishing school". Is this something to do with loading a dishwasher? Mark turns up in his t-shirt and shorts (♥) to receive a lesson in elegance from a woman who is wearing tartan stockings. Frankly I'd have turned on my heel and walked straight back out again if I were him. Lady Henrietta gives Mark some lessons in elocution and posture, making him walk with a book balanced on his head and all the old tricks like that. Sadly, the VT does not end with Iveta declaring "by George, I think he's got it!"

They've got a slowed-down version of 'Apologize' by OneRepublic for their music, and Iveta has delivered once again on the choreography front. Mark could do with a bit more rise and fall, and maybe he needs to relax his face slightly more, but I've got to hand it to him - he really does look refined and elegant in this waltz, and he and Iveta continue to have really lovely chemistry when they perform together.

Darcey tells Mark that he's now a real elegant gentleman, and his topline is much better. She points out the slight problem with the rise-and-fall, but she loved the hold and the care he took of Iveta. Len says that Mark's left arm went a bit too far forward and he lifted his shoulders a bit too much, which affected his frame and posture, but he loves the natural way that Mark performs. Bruno says that everything Mark does when he dances is so deeply felt that he always believes it, but he agrees with Len that the topline and posture need a little work. Craig says it was so much better than "that ghastly dance you did last week" - he thought it was danced simply, effectively and with feeling and emotion. Wow, feeling AND emotion!

Mark and a clearly very proud Iveta head up to the Tess Circle, where Tess enquires if it's harder doing a serious routine than doing a "crowdpleaser". Mark says that it is, but they really wanted to do something different and not just be funny. Tess reminds him that he was hoping to prove Craig wrong, and Mark says that Craig was "lovely" this week. He's hoping he might get more than three this week. And he does: in fact, he gets 7s from everyone for a total of 28, Mark's highest score so far.

Up next are Ashley (who's now definitely wearing the über-caffeinated look of a man with a full-time job and a new baby who maybe slightly regrets signing up for a labour-intensive reality show in the middle of all this) and Ola. Ashley says that he was frustrated with how his Viennese waltz went - the nerves got to him and he stiffened up. (That's funny - when most men get nervous, they have entirely the opposite problem, arf arf arf.) He thinks the judges' comments and scores were fair, but he's cross with himself for not delivering. This week he's got the jive, which is about the worst dance you can give a VERY TIRED MAN at this point, I would think. Ola explains that because of Ashley's tight schedule, she has to fit 30 hours' worth of work into 10 hours. We follow a day in the life of Ashley, which as far as I can tell was last Monday: he gets up early, goes on Lorraine, does a couple of hours of phone interviews, does a photo shoot, goes on It Takes Two and then goes training. I happen to know for a fact that Ashley then went to the Inside Soap Awards because I was there and chatted to him and maybe stalked Mark and Iveta a little bit and I can confirm that for a man as tired as Ashley ought to be, he manages to be impressively lucid and fresh-faced in person. Ashley vows to give his jive some "oomph" if he survives this week.

They're dancing to 'Johnny B. Goode', and Ashley starts out in the orchestra pit strumming on an (unplugged) electric guitar. I always knew he was the serious musician in allSTARS. He really does his best with the jive, but it's just a little bit too obvious at this point that he's knackered. Ola's done some impressively showy choreography and Ashley's clearly up to the challenge, but his kicks and flick just don't quite take flight, possibly because he's reached the stage where he actually thinks he's dancing with a giant pillow. (This is obviously where a lesser blog might make a joke about Ola's boobs. I will refrain, of course.)

Len declares that "it had speed, it had energy, it had plenty of gurtcha". I think I've got some of that at the back of the spice cupboard, although it's probably out of date by now. He says that Ashley lost technique in places, but it was a terrific effort. Bruno isn't sure whether it was "Elvis or Shakin' Stevens" - he thinks the foot was on the accelerator at all times, but warns that the kicks and flicks need to be sharper and cleaner. Craig: "I'm glad no one at home saw you recovering from your knee-slide, darling, that was a little ungainly, wasn't it?" Ashley and Ola both do a "yup, guilty as charged" laugh in response to this, which Craig wonders out loud if that might have been caught on camera for It Takes Two. (Len's Lens, surely? They'd better not be trying to tell me after everything we've been through that Len's Lens does not actually see all, or I'm complaining to Ofcom.) Craig goes on to tell Ashley that "you've got to be aware that you do have feet, darling, at the end of those legs" (BEST. CRITIQUE. EVER) but he loved it. Darcey thinks it wasn't safe or placed, it was brilliant. She loved the energy, but the feed needed to point. Ashley pulls a derp face and blames his shoes. Bruce, bless him, takes this comment entirely seriously.

Can we just build Ashley a bed in the Tess Circle? Seriously, GET THAT MAN SOME SHUT-EYE. Ashley says that was the first time that he enjoyed dancing. Tess says that she's loving Ashley's weave that the hair and make-up team gave him to allow him to get a rock 'n' roll quiff. Scores are in: Craig 7, Darcey 8, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 31. I mean, if we can't get Ashley a bed in the studio, can we at least get him a chair? Tess says that in the dances still to come, Ben will need to demonstrate if he can be "light in his loafers". I guess she wasn't listening when they were both on Chatty Man and he said he'd requested to dance with Robin.

Susanna and Kevin are the next couple to hit the floor. Susanna's frilly lemon-yellow dress seems not to have been all that popular on The Twitters this week - personally I thought it was fine, even if it does look a bit like something Rachel Zoe might use to disguise her toilet brush. My concern is more with her austerity Britain hairdo and how it makes her bear an uncanny resemblance to Phoebe from Goodnight Sweetheart. Also, open letter to whoever is in charge of Susanna's tan: make sure she counts mississippilessly. In her VT, Susanna recalls last week's samba, and admits that she likes the idea of it being muddy, but promises to "clean it up" this week. Boo! Now, I'm not suggesting that this is one of those partnerships where the pro completely overshadows the celeb, but this entire VT is about Kevin's family of dancers and Susanna going off to Grimsby to meet them. (I bet Rad was ever so cross she didn't get to recap this one.) [Damn right.  Not pictured in this VT: that really skeffy pub near the station that changes its name every time I visit; the really dodgy pub across the road from that one; the Yarborough Hotel, which is the Wetherspoons the other side of the station that is always packed even though it's not very nice, even by their standards, because the drinks are cheap.  Basically, the station is just surrounded by pubs, because: you've just arrived in Grimsby, obviously. I also bet the Grimsby Evening Telegraph have spun this into a front page story for a whole week - TOURIST GUIDE TO GRIMSBY Rad] When Susanna arrives at Kevin's family's dance studio, they happen to be teaching a class of sweet little girls, so Susanna gets to give them all a big hug and score a few points without even having to wheel her own kids out. Efficient! Susanna dances with the kids, and then has a dance with Kevin's dad and jokes that maybe she's dancing with the wrong Mr Clifton. She hopes that seeing Kevin's family has strengthened their friendship and it'll add some magic to her performance this week. Sorry, who are you again?

They're dancing the American smooth to 'On The Sunny Side Of The Street' by Tony Bennett, hence the yellow dress. It's definitely a more controlled performance than last week (which may be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how much you enjoyed Susanna shaking her boobs right down the camera lens) and Kevin's choreographed a great routine that Susanna executes wonderfully, with lots of fine little accents to the music. It's maybe a little cheesy for my taste, but they're another couple who just have such great chemistry together that I'm willing to overlook a lot of things.

There's a quick cut to the Tess Circle where you can see Sophie turn to Natalie and go "they were great, weren't they?" (Sophie always being right at the front of the balcony clapping everyone else on is one of my favourite memes of this series), and then we're back at ground level where Bruno tells Susanna that she exudes happiness, and it's joyful to watch her. He thinks she was nice in hold and in the side-by-side, but she could stretch her leg a little more in the extensions. Craig has just one word for them: "GAWJUSS." Susanna tells him it's lovely to have him back. Hee! Darcey loves the focus that Susanna gives to each dance and tells her that there's a film star in her, but tells her to have more confidence in the lifts. Len says that last week was all "bounce, bum and bongos", but this week was "smooth, suave, and sophisticated". It's like Arlene never left, isn't it?

Upon their return to the Tess Circle, Susanna reiterates that it's wonderful to have Craig back and in such a good mood. Tess asks her about being lifted by Kevin for the first time, and Susanna says she felt totally safe. Kevin shows off his guns, and Susanna says "he's not going to drop this sack of potatoes with a pair like that, is he?" Tess asks Kevin if he thinks Susanna's got what it takes to go the distance, and Kevin says that he'd vote for her. Susanna replies that he has her vote too. Bless. Scores: eights all round for a total of 32.

Our penultimate couple is Ben and Kristina. "It's Big Ben time, ladies!" Bruce declares. Careful Bruce - we've already established that he's a charity founder with adorable children who's loved by the gays - if you start rumours about the size of his penis as well, he might end up winning in The Year Of The Woman. Anyway, VT time: Ben giggles that he felt at home throwing Kristina around last week, and that he was pleased to get 31 and good comments from Craig last week. In training, Kristina tells Ben that he's a serious contender now, and Ben's all "eh, I'm retired now, I don't feel competitive". Kristina is having NONE OF THIS, so Ben is sent off to see his Uncle George, a member of the winning 1966 World Cup final squad. Ben tells Uncle George that nowadays he feels like his real battles are WITH HIMSELF (such a woobie), to which Uncle George responds (I'm paraphrasing): "fuck that, there's a trophy up for grabs, now go and win it and stop being such a wimp."

They're dancing the quickstep to 'I'll Be There For You' by The Rembrandts. Kristina has taken the Friends theme a little too literally, so they're starting the dance by...sitting on a sofa. (What, no glittery mugs of coffee? No Anton in the background dressed as Gunther? Nobody's thought about this at all, have they?) Between this routine, Fiona's and Deborah's, there's been a frankly unwelcome amount of sitting down this week. I half expect to see "Creative Director: Denise Van Outen" on the credits. Anyway, they spend far too long having a popcorn fight, then a pillow fight, and eventually they start a quickstep. Or rather, a slowstep. Seriously, it's deathly leaden and sluggish, making me that all this talk of Ben's ballroom journey may be just a touch premature. Still, at least he looks like he's enjoying himself out there now, which is half the battle, I suppose.

Craig thinks Ben was out of his comfort zone at the beginning with all the snaps. "It was a little bit too Joey, not quite right there." Well, at least we know this dance took place in the later seasons, I guess. He didn't feel that Ben was actually leading it, and that was his major problem with it, but he loved Ben's face because he was having fun. Darcey disagrees, because he was so light on his feet that he made it look like a walk in the park and he didn't even get tired. Presumably Darcey walks around some really big parks. She tells Kristina to make it harder next week (FNAR) because she thinks Ben can handle being pushed. Len agrees, and says that the way to make it harder - and he clarifies that this is not just a criticism of this particular couple, but of several couples this evening - stop doing so much MESSIN ABAHT. Next week is week six, and he wants to see fuller routines for everyone, but what Ben did was well done, because this is a tough dance for men. (Are there any dances that Len doesn't think are tough for men? I'm surprised he didn't scratch Darcey's eyes out over her paso doble comment earlier.) Bruno agrees with Len, in a round-about way, about the mise-en-scène - "if it carried on any longer, I'd have joined in, maybe bring a pizza, I might as well - we'll all join in together and have a great time." He thinks Ben's been teasing them with his ability for weeks, but now he wants the full monty. I'll send you some back issues of Gay Times, Bruno, don't worry. From my private collection. A couple of the pages are stuck together, but try to ignore that.

In the Tess Circle, Ben says that it's getting easier every week (alternative reading: they're just scoring him more leniently), he's not suffering with his nerves as much, and he's having fun. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 27.

The final couple of the night is, of course, Sophie and Brendan. Sophie admits to having been petrified before dancing last week, but it all went all right on the night, thankfully. However, she worries when something goes well in case the next one won't be as good - and this week she has the cha cha cha. She's finding it rather fast, and makes a lot of squealing noises in training as she tries to keep up, so Brendan takes her off to a running track, with the rather specious reasoning that if she can beat him in a race, she'll be able to keep up on the dancefloor. Sophie is unfamiliar with the athletics field (you can tell this because she decides to run a race with her outdoor coat on). Apparently Sophie wins, but Brendan blatantly slows down at the last minute to let her catch up, so I'm not sure this comedy VT entirely legitimate training exercise actually amounted to all that much.

Their cha cha cha is to 'P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)' by Michael Jackson, and begins with Sophie on the stage, standing behind various drapes in a game of hide-and-seek with Brendan. Eventually he catches her, but instead of swapping roles they go for a dance instead. Sophie looks a little unsure as she heads down onto the floor, and as the dance begins it's clear why - this just doesn't work for her. She's unsteady on her feet, overextends her arms and spins around too far, almost losing her balance in the process. She mentioned on It Takes Two during the week that she really struggled with moving on the second beat instead of the first, because it flies in the face of everything she was ever taught about music (♥), and she almost goes on the wrong beat a couple of times during this performance. It's not a terrible performance, but it's just a real step backwards from the standard of her recent dances, and you can see on her face that she knows she's fucking it up a bit. I don't think it's likely to dent her chances of taking home the glitterball in real terms (everyone's allowed an off week), but it was enough to make her slip back to second place with the bookies (behind Natalie, which: LOL).

Darcey is a little bit stuck for what to say, falling back on the whole "well, you gave the cheeky attitude" side of things, before saying that Sophie's knees were too soft. Len doesn't agree with Darcey - he thinks it was "competent", but he doesn't think Sophie got into it properly, and it was too brittle, lacking in cheek and interplay with Brendan. Bruno thought there were elements of a "saucy vixen sashaying with style" in there, calling it "a different approach". He thinks it's hard for tall people to stretch the back of the leg (unless you're like me and that's your natural state of being because you have a really wonky centre of gravity). Craig tells Sophie to keep dancing when she's walking and spot when she's turning, because that's why she almost fell over. He "didn't mind it", though, and thought it was "rather good". It's not exactly the most effusive compliment I've ever heard, but Sophie is happy to take "rather good", she decides.

In the Tess Circle, Sophie says she always agrees with everything the judges say that's negative, swooping in and stealing Fiona's entire storyline without so much as a by-your-leave. Tess asks if Sophie's too cool for Brendan, and Brendan says that she might be - but he thinks she's a fantastic dancer and partner. Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 8, Len 7, Bruno 8 for a total of 30. Sophie says "I'm very happy with that, actually, thank you very much." (Such lovely manners. Janet Ellis must be so proud.) Maybe she was a tad overscored, but a) the cha cha cha is a week-one dance anyway, so I don't think anyone really cares that much about technique; b) she got the same score as Fiona, and I refuse to believe in any universe where Sophie belongs below Fiona on the leaderboard; and c) I like Sophie, so I don't really object to her being overscored. Hey, I never said I was impartial.

Time for that leaderboard, and there are quite a lot of ties again:

Natalie & Artem - 35
Abbey & Aljaž - 35
Susanna & Kevin - 32
Ashley & Ola - 31
Fiona & Anton - 30
Sophie & Brendan - 30
Patrick & Anya - 28
Mark & Iveta - 28
Deborah & Robin - 27
Ben & Kristina - 27
Rachel & Pasha - 22
Dave & Karen - 17

Tess opens the lines (not personally, obviously), and it's time for that ever-so-handy recap: Natalie doing a samba in Spain, Abbey dancing all over a letter, Dave and Karen going bananas, Deborah tabling an amendment, Patrick doing better with one arm than Julien ever managed with two, Fiona keeping it together for once, Rachel trying to eat Pasha, Mark discovering that it is not in fact too late to apologise, Ashley NEEDING SOME SLEEP WHY WON'T YOU JUST LET HIM REST, Susanna being a ray of sunshine, Ben stepping not all that quickly, and Sophie not quite sorting the wheat from the cha-cha-chaff.

So that's it for this week's performances - two couples must face the Dread Dance-Off, and this is the first week that Julien isn't there to provide a buffer of sorts. I'd say that Rachel and Deborah should probably be the most worried, but anything could happen...

(* While stocks last)

Friday, 25 October 2013

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

- Kevin is really good at acting scared of Artem.
- Either that, or Artem genuinely is a big bully.
- Robin rips off his pants and Deborah's skirt... sounds like some particularly niche fan fiction.
- Fiona sometimes wonders why she's here. At least that puts her one step ahead of Nancy, who was never entirely sure where she was in the first place.
- Karen Hauer wants to be hot and a mom. KevinfromGrimsby, take this as a hint. (Imagine - we could have Karen vs Erin BABYWARZ next year.)
- Julien celebrated his elimination by sleeping in until 2pm on Monday.
- Julien has put pictures of Janette all over his house.
- Julien reminds a 7 year old viewer of his hamster, Pickles.
- Dave claims he has always tried to dance seriously. He clearly hasn't been paying attention to Karen's Komedy Khoreography if he thinks that.
- Karen wants to stretch Dave out 'like a turkey'.  Bit early for the Christmas special, no?  Or is she commenting on his dancing skillz?
- Apparently someone thought filling several minutes of the show with a tour of Dave's houseboat was a good idea. It wasn't.
- His houseboat does have satellite TV though, which is quite cool.
- Ola really can't sing. She's certainly no Iveta, let's put it that way.
- Pasha blames himself for Rachel being in the bottom two because he choreographed such a difficult routine.
- Rachel loved the choreography though, and swears she got it right in rehearsals, just not on the night.
- The paso is Rachel's favourite dance, which is lucky because she's drawn it for this week. (They're dancing to 'Maneater', which should be fun.)
- Vincent is planning to come back next year and compete as a celebrity, with Flavia as his partner.
- Apparently the rumba is HARD FOR WOMEN because you have to straighten your legs.
- Kristina is "a bit of an out-there person". Make of that what you will.
- Ben wasn't worried about dropping Kristina, because she's bigger than a rugby ball and he can catch those.
- NATALIE LOWE IS ALIVE. All being well, she can return to group rehearsals in two or three weeks.
- She's also been assigned a special It Takes Two project: to teach engaged couple Gordon and Melanie how to do the best wedding dance ever.
- Flavia thinks the samba is the hardest dance.
- There is definitely no ban on shirtless men on the show, and Ian is more than happy to disrobe in order to prove it.
- Mark will be keeping his gold shirt and Hammer pants.
- Mark is challenging Kevin for the impressions crown. His Iveta impersonation is alarmingly good.
- Mark and Dave have a little check-in with each other once a week to see how the other's training is going. Aww.
- Rachel reminds Ian of Jodie Kidd, so he thinks she can turn into an great ballroom dancer. (He didn't mention Latin. Sorry Rachel and Jodie.)
- Going out to do a dance that you know you're not going to be that great at makes you very self-conscious, per Deborah.
- Deborah's husband researches the dance that she's doing each week and sends her the appropriate flowers for it.
- Fiona needs to learn to banana her body towards Anton. As we saw in the cha cha cha, however, Anton has already learnt how to banana his body towards Fiona.
- Kevin has been rehearsing without his glasses this week. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE KEVIN.
- Watching their samba back, Kevin wasn't all that impressed with his attempt at a Hero Voice.
- Susanna asks more questions than a man meeting his teenage daughter's boyfriend for the first time.
- Artem doesn't know what the rules are in terms of how much of the quickstep should be done in hold. Don't worry, Artem, neither does anyone else.
- Natalie's hair hits Artem in the face quite a lot when they dance. Well, now we know where this year's WOOBIE INJURY is coming from.
- Sophie is not an extrovert.
- Abbey tried to push Aljaž into the mud on the assault course last week and it made him squeal like a girl.
- Aljaž wears baggy trousers to rehearsals. To be fair, when you've got a BADONKADONK like that, it must be hard to get the fabric to cling to your legs.
- Fiona's impression of a petulant chicken is well-known in her village. Apparently that's all the fame you need to be on this show nowadays.
- Patrick injured his wrist while rollerskating this week.
- Going first is worse than going last, according to Sophie and Brendan.
- Sophie sometimes openly laughs at some of Brendan's choreography, but he takes it surprisingly well.
- Lucky The Pup tips Susanna and Kevin for the top of the leaderboard this week.
- Ashley Banjo owns a small chihauhau called KP, "like the peanuts".
- Anneka Rice is such a Strictly superfan that she hasn't been out at the weekend for ten years. She knows it's not actually on for nine months of the year, right?
- Zoe Ball's kids' favourite song is 'Dear Darlin'' by Olly Murs. I mean, I hate to say "I blame the parents", but… *gives Zoe a LOOK*
- Ashley Banjo really rated Mark's hip hop dancing, and would be happy for him to join Diversity on tour.

Monday, 21 October 2013

The fallen Macdonald with the big gaudes

Top 13 Results Sunday October 2013

We open with a Baz-Luhrman's-Gatsby-style dance featuring a lot of Kristina, who clearly likes being thrown about.  Random pro pairings this week: Anton and a very curly wigged Iveta whilst Aljaž gets to fawn over Kristina with Robin.  I'm not sure what the genre is, except LOOK AT KRISTINA.  She’s thrown about and stuck in a wine glass to pose a lot whilst everyone else swivels wildly around the floor, seemingly fusing every step known to humanity.  Though if we must do FUSION week again then this mashup of about a zillion genres ALL OF THEM KRISTINA is preferable to the awful cut and shut crap we got last year.

Tess and Claudia enter.  Daly dresswatch - a white flowery thing which is almost there but not quite – it’s clinging oddly at the bust and is a weird length, which makes her legs look super-sparrowy.  Essentially, its pattern is that of a sparkly doily, which I don’t mind so much but YMMV.  This also caused someone on my timeline to tweet #tessdressmess which is my favourite new hashtag even if I think Tess’s dresses are not quite as bad this year. Claudia’s – navy!  Satiny!  They remind us how the show works and we welcome the judges, all in black.

Lucky us - we have TWO performances coming up: Andrea Begley from The Voice and Keane doing one of their greatest hits. I see Christmas album season is upon us already. Claudia tries to get us excited about Len’s Lens.  She fails.

We have the usual recap of last night.  Of note: Susanna wants to come off going RUARGH it was great.  Not sure whether she did or not.  Every part of Julien is going to be danced off.  Prescient, Julien.  BEN HAZ GUNZ. 

Results time.  Safe are: Mark and Iveta; Natalie and Artem; Deborah and Robin; Abbey and Aljaž; Ashley and Ola.  In the bottom two: Rachel and Pasha.  Aww, how could you meanies put them in the bottom two? (I say this as if I'd voted, which I didn't. In my defence, I was on a train at the time) [I voted for Rachel, but I voted for Mark more. - Steve]

Bruno tells them the content of their dance was good so Rachel needs not to panic.  Rachel is glad she has the chance to do it again and enjoy it more.

Up in Claudia’s Counselling Centre, Abbey is thrilled, Mark had a ball and Natalie is grateful for all the support.

Andrea from The Voice is our first star guest.  She's been styled by Tess’s old stylist, poor thing.  And as if to prove the point that Abi from X Factor has basically stolen her schtick, which she in turn stole from John Lewis, she is doing a Ballided version of Dancing in the Dark, with some sort of tree behind her and the floor candles of Annie Lennox that time.  Pasha and Anya do some lovely wafting and rolling about in front, which is lovely but it could have been a lovely jive or something instead without the tedious balladry (and I quite liked Andrea on The Voice so I wanted to approve of this). I watch this show to get away from what Funsponge Borelow considers fun. [However, releasing a cover of 'Dancing In The Dark' is A+ trolling on the part of Andrea, so well done there. - Steve]

Time now for what we have learned from Len's Lens: Claudia loves carp, Patrick and Anya look worse in slo mo than they did last night - really out of time with each other, despite evil judge lies that they're amazing in slo-mo.  Ben haz gunz and also THIGHZ.  Natalie is caning it but canes are dangerous!1!!!

Our next round of safe couples: Ben and Kristina; Sophie and Brendan; Patrick and Anya (who Jamaica-voices 'Lord have mercy'.  Sorry, Ash from Casualty, still not enough to establish a personality); Dave and Karen; Susanna and Kevin; Fiona and Anton – leaving Julien and Janette in the bottom two, setting up the precise opposite of a ZOMG! SHOCK BOOT!

Julien says it’s a bit surreal but he’s prepared as he’s been there before and gets in his exit speech early, claiming he’s had an amazing time and will keep dancing.

Back with Claudia and her Counselling Centre, and Anton thinks Fiona is brilliant and everyone’s allowed a slip-up – I presume he means himself and his rubbish Latin here.  But next week he has ballroom, so yay!  Ben is happy to be able to turn throwing around into a dance.  Well, Kristina is doing her best with what she has, I guess.  Sophie is sad that Pasha and Rachel are in the dance off and Claudia basically takes the piss out of being sad.  Love her.

Keane perform next, and their singer looks unrecognisable. They do 'Everybody's Changing' accompanied by some nice contemporary dancing from Artem and Janette. I thought Keane has split up ages ago but seems this is the obligatory shill a greatest hits for contractual obligations bit and then they're splitting up. JLS seem to be doing the same but with added annoying X Factor ad bumpers.

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE!  No, not another tedious ‘who stole the Glitterball?’ skit (it was Zoe, by the way, after Pasha and Rachel proved to be rubbish thieves earlier) – NATALIE LOWE is back.  And OK, it’s for comedy VT purposes with a miffed James Jordan sat beside her rueing being out so early and having to do this shit, but NATALIE LOWE everybody.  I’ve missed her. Claudia says ‘Give it back ball, we know where you live.  Which is with me.’  Zoe and Claudia’s flatshare is a sitcom and/or reality show I am desperate to see.  Make it happen, BBC! [Yes please. Bruno and Craig can be their wacky neighbours. - Steve]

Claudia talks to the bottom two couples.  Pasha says they just need to do it.  Claudia wishes the ‘humans’ luck (because Janette and Julien can’t be human with shrieks like that).  Julien says he feels like he’s been here before, oh yeah, he’s been there twice and they’re going to dahnce and do their best and then go home for some refreshments.  

Rachel and Pasha go first and if I’d say they are significantly worse than before, whereas the others are possibly marginally better (not so the singers, mind you). Maybe. Of course we still have to go through judgey lies about both improving before Julien and Janette finally get a full house of rejections.  Julien thanks “everybody” at home who voted for him, the audience and the judges, but not Janette, who looks a bit put out.  She says she hasn’t met anyone who put in more hours to make it happen than him and she was happy he was her first partner on Strictly.  Julien then remembers to thank Janette and they go off to dance.

They dance off to ‘Go Now’ (Ha!) and we’re told next week will be ‘twelve new routines’ with no mention of Halloween, but I can’t imagine we’ll get away without that… will we?  Join Steve then to find out!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Get to Du Beke of Du Leaderboard.

Top 13 Performance Show.  Saturday October 19 2013

Last week! LURVE was the tenuous theme; largely, it seemed, because James and Ola were celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary. The 9s were out in force for Natalie, Dave continued his march towards SargeWiddy-dom, Julien continued to be ignored by the GBP and he found himself in the dance-off with Vanessa, who was swiftly dispatched so that at least one woman could leave before the MAN MASSACRE begins.

This week! ‘Superstition’ is in the air – 13 couples – ‘unlucky for one’ – and they show everyone avoiding ladders, pavement cracks etc, whilst Julien and Janette wear shamrocks, wave horseshoes and scream DOOOOOOMED. Welcome to Strictly Come Dancing!

Bruce arrives in a natty waistcoat, they do the leg to Tess’s delight as per. Daly Dresswatch – black with sparkly lacy sleeves.  It’s unremarkable and therefore it’s actually a success. Bruce makes a political joke about pensioners and heating and shouts ‘VOTE FOR BRUCE’ – but in what sense, Bruce? If we’re getting to vote on the presenting team of this series now then I’m firmly team Tess/Claud – I continue to find it remarkable how Tess is a good lead presenter and a poor second-wheel. Bruce then grabs her with a ‘come here my beauty’ that’s straight out of the Brothers Grimm’s book of fairytales (What?  I’m not going to make any jokes about Operation – redacted).

The couples enter and there’s about 40% participation in jigging along with the theme tune.  Tut tut.  Bruce discusses Craig’s hip operation and makes an obligatory Craig is a pain joke. The camera cuts to Rachel and Pasha. Pasha is stony-faced but Rachel has her Bruce joke faces down pat. She knows her audience. Bruce then calls everyone chicken for not laughing at the obvious joke.

First up, Sophie and Brendan.  Their dance is ‘1920s and 1930s inspired’ because a) Brendan can’t tell the difference and b) it seems to be Sophie’s era, if their Charleston is anything to go by.  ruce says he was born in the 1920s, and the midwife congratulated his mother on having a lovely chin.  The audience laugh at this which gives Bruce another opportunity for one of his crises of conflict where he has got a laugh but at his own expense, so he quickly descends into shouting ‘SHUT UP’ at them all. I think we’re at the stage now where ‘shut up’ is an official Brucie catchphrase, aren’t we? [I think we're at the point where anything he manages to say without fluffing his lines is a catchphrase. - Steve]

Sophie decides that going vintage shopping will help her get into character – cue lots of dress shopping where Sophie looks awesome in an array of period outfits. Their foxtrot is to ‘Cheek to Cheek’. Sophie’s dress is a glittery peachy thing with pink ruffles and her hair’s been curled up with flowers. The foxtrot is glamorous and controlled and fits with the Hollywood themed backdrop they’ve been given. Sophie’s arms seem to flail a little in a couple of places, but other than that it was a decent effort. Bruce reminds us that Craig is having a hip op and gets everyone to shout ‘hip hip hooray’. I’m not entirely sure that’s sensitive, but… Bruce.

Len says Brendan and Sophie got straight into the routine, with no silly stuff (those of you who had MAHCKIN ABAHT on your bingo cards – close, but no cigar). Bruno says she’s brilliant but needs to watch her top line.  Bruce says it’s because she’s a singer, because, erm? Craig agrees with Bruno about the top line (but gets booed for that unlike Bruno) but says other than that it was clean and had some lovely footwork.  Darcy says she has style and grace but needs to watch her spins and her shoulders when she comes out of them. Bruce declares it ‘near perfection’ because he hasn’t yet learned that his opinion doesn’t count. Up in the Tess Circle, Tess says she excels in both ballroom and Latin, although I think it’s too early to tell with the Latin yet, but never mind that, she has a NAN in the audience (DRINK!) Scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 for a total of 35 and I think Brendan is way more nervous about messing this one up than Sophie is. When are we envisaging the ‘Brendan vs Artem (possibly also vs Ola) for the first pro to win twice’ storyline kicking in, by the way? My money’s on either the first or second weekend in November, when they’ve had a chance to lose some more deadweight (otherwise known as 'men').

Fiona and Anton are next. Bruce makes a BOND BOND BOND joke which is offensive to Judi Dench and is also about BOND and I had enough of that storyline last year with Colin Salmon so I refuse to bow to it this year and discuss it in any detail.  Anton is thrilled to have 28 points as he doesn’t think he had that in the last three series put together.  Oh boo hoo, Anton.  WIDDY got you to sixth place, and you had a third with Lesley Garrett, a fifth with Patsy Palmer and a fourth with Laila Rouass, so forgive me if I don’t join your pity party, especially given what they did to Erin most of the time; Robin’s steady stream of mid-table wonders [Robin got a contender last year and failed to do anything useful with her, so I'm still not feeling terribly sorry for Robin - Steve] and Kristina’s ability to get a hoofer on paper who’s a duffer on the dancefloor.

Fiona reminds us she is a SUPERFAN and has a dad WHO IS DEAD (wrong show). She watches Strictly with her mum and daughter [, exactly? She is ON STRICTLY. - Steve] and brings Anton home to dance with her mum. Sidebar: Her daughter looks like Kimberley Walsh.

Their rumba is to ‘World of Our Own’ which is a curious choice, and not one that’s especially suited to the singers. It’s a bit clunky. Fiona does a decent floor spin but has difficulty getting up again, and generally she’s better when she’s being posed than when she’s moving.  Her hair and make-up look lovely though, and it’s nice that they’re both wearing a kind of indigo shade that is not seen enough on this show. Although Anton’s ‘issues’ don’t seem to be as bad as I’d feared given what I saw on Twitter last night as I was on a train home, he would benefit from better tailoring.

Bruce calls them over and shouts ‘DID SOMETHING GO WRONG?’ even though he always snaps at contestants when they point that out themselves. Such a class act. Bruno says it didn’t have enough fluidity for a rumba (not helped by the totally inappropriate song choice, I’d add). Craig says the hips were a bit clunky, her exit from the floor spin was bizarre, she lost her balance in places and the connection with Anton wasn’t really there. I’d kind of blame him for this – I don’t think he’s exactly comfortable with a rumba, what with it being Latin and all. Darcy says she needs to focus more and bring out more fight next time. Len says the steps were there and the attitude was good but the slowness of the rumba amplifies any mistake and he slips in a quick promo for Len’s Lens. He says there were a few issues. Fiona: I thought there was only one issue. Bruno: one in each section. Ouch. Can we get over the ‘Anton’s bestest partner ever’ narrative now? [Especially since Anton's bestest partner ever is and shall always be Nancy Dell'Olio. - Steve] Tess asks if the nerves got to her.  Fiona says she thinks she’s concentrating really hard but she lost her balance which she hadn’t done in rehearsals and she thinks going wrong is something she just seems to do.  Scores: 4, 6, 6, 6 for a (slightly generous) total of 22.

Mark and Iveta are next and OH MY DAYS can we have a moment’s reflection on their costumes?  Iveta is a hardcore urban gangsta princess [someone on Twitter said she was Jentina, which is SO PERFECT - Steve] whilst Mark is a comedy Elvis as a rapper in gold and bling.  I can’t wait to see what’s about to unfold. It’s as if Iveta saw Dave and Karen trying to reap the comedy votes and decided to bring her A-game. Bruce makes a LOL I’M OLD joke which gets a laugh. VT – Mark says he likes that they get good marks for storytelling but when he gets nervous his hands go wrong.  Their cha-cha is going to be to ‘U Can’t Touch This’. Oh Iveta, I am beginning to love your ridiculous ways. If only you’d been here when they randomly did Jive Bunny, it may even have made some ludicrous kind of sense.

They begin with a dance-off of ‘hip-hop’ moves before moving into a more regular cha-cha coupled with some ACTING. Mark’s wearing gold trainers and MC Hammer pants which probably don’t really help his performance, as his feet are quite stompy and flat. He’s having a good go at the steps though – even if he doesn’t always make them – he doesn’t have much refinement in his arms or legs - but he does have good rhythm and energy. It could have had more cha-cha moves in it, but if they’re going down the comedy route, then I’d rather see this semi-competent comedy than whatever it is Dave is doing. [Agreed - it wasn't a cha cha, but it was a lot of fun, and I laughed more at this than I ever have at Dave. - Steve]

The audience give a standing ovation. Craig says he can’t believe the audience, giving him a false sense of security as it was stompy and the cha cha chaaaar bit was very stompy. Darcy says she disagrees and Mark has put a lot of work into the details. She says it was fabulous and she loved it. Len says Mark’s full of talent unlike Craig who is full of… He says the basic steps were all there and he wants him to do it again (is that a backhanded way of saying he wants to see him in the dance-off). Bruno says it was unique, different, memorable and funny – none of which is a comment on the actual steps, purity of the dahnce fans. Tess says the audience loved it and Mark’s found his funky Latin side. Iveta says they have a lot of fun and he works really hard in training. Scores: 3, 8, 8, 7.  Everyone (apart from Bruno, possibly) earns a LOLWHUT from me for those scores.

Ashley and Ola are next. Ashley loved getting good remarks for his salsa. This week he has to be ‘lovey’ in their Viennese Waltz. I thought that theme was last week? They go to a cinema and watch him kissing various women in Hollyoaks (whom he calls birds, nicely done, Ashley). I’m sure watching your work makes you feel totally romantic and not at all awkward. They’re dancing to ‘Angel’ and the singing is as you might expect. The dance is not bad – his arms certainly seem to have improved although there’s a bit where his feet stutter. It’s a sweet dance, although he does look to be concentrating more than enjoying it.

Bruce snaps at him for wearing a lycra vest instead of a proper shirt like wot a proper man would wear all these poofs I dunno (I paraphrase slightly). Darcy tells us what a Viennese Waltz is and says this was many of those things but it was a bit too safe and placed, but his top line has improved. Len says it had romance, elegance and style but it was a bit ‘wafty’ on occasions. He liked the fleckerl but it was a bit stiff. So, was it stiff or was it wafty, Len? Make your mind up. Bruno says he didn’t mind the wafting – it was tender and romantic but it needed more WHOOMPH and drive. Craig says his arms out of hold still seem unnatural and were a bit stiff rather than wafty. Bruce snaps at him for wearing a vest and blames Ola. Somewhere, Vicky from wardrobe is sticking pins in a Bruce voodoo doll. Up in the Tess Circle, Ashley says he probably was a bit stiff with nerves, but he enjoyed it. Scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 for a total of 31. Ola reveals that Ashley is kicking her a lot in training.

Julien and Janette are next, wearing all the colours of the rainbow to dance a samba to the Spice Girls.  It’s as if Janette has decided to throw every GAYTASTIC element she could think of at the dance to go out on a high. Julien’s VT says that he used to dress the Spice Girls and hadn’t realised they were all Strictly fans. Even though one of them came third in THIS VERY SHOW and another was runner-up in Dancing with the Stars. It’s not their fan credentials I’m questioning right now, Macdonald. He gets a voice call from Mel B who half-arsedly tells him not to mess it up and that she'll be 'thinking of' (note: not 'watching' him).

Janette then says “she” created a game show memory game with a Spice Girls theme to help him remember his steps. Oh Janette, bless you and your lack of commitment to the narrative – it’s basically the conveyor belt round from the Generation Game, cuddly toy and all, but she entirely misses that, much, I’m sure, to Bruce’s chagrin. For that alone, it’s my favourite VT so far this series.

OH MY EARS. This intro to ‘Spice Up Your Life’ is quite possibly the worst the singers have been all series, and that’s saying something. If I wasn’t recapping this, I would definitely mute my TV – it’s so, so awful. [You're such a trouper. - Steve] The dancing is ropey in places but in other parts, Julien manages a few more moves than in many other attempts. And he’s in uber-gurn mode. Len says it needs more dynamic but it was an improvement. Bruno says it looked like he was trying to do all the Spice Girls at once. Leave that kind of mental image for your fan fiction Bruno. Bruce starts snapping that Julien was on the beat more. Julien says he loves it but he finds it difficult. Craig says there was no real hip action and Julien lacks musicality. Darcy says it was fun and in sync and his best dance yet. In the Tess Circle, Julien says he’s giving ‘400, 500, 1000 percent’. Reality show percentages are laughable at the best of times but to make up three contradictory figures on the spot is really testing things – I can only assume he’s angling for a spot on the Celebrity Apprentice if they ever do one of those again. Scores: 4, 6, 7, 6 for a total of 23 and their best score yet.

Rachel and Pasha are playing bank robbers in their dance, which gives Bruce the cue for a half-hearted bank=rip-off joke that gets a half-hearted laugh. He then shouts at the audience ‘well, is it there, or isn’t it?’ until they respond more noisily. He then starts to berate them, saying he hates it when and another awesome Bruce rant is cut off by the editors, whilst someone backstage probably gets the emergency Claudia on standby.

Rachel was pleased with last week’s cha cha and hopes she can only get better.  To help Rachel get into the speed of quickstep, Pasha is taking her to play squash. OK then. Their quickstep is to some Caro Emerald type thing called 'Johnny got a Boom Boom'. [It's Imelda May, apparently. Yeah, I'd never heard of it either. - Steve] They’re wearing natty outfits with leopard print bits and red sparkles. Rachel is in trousers and they just look adawwable as usual. The dance itself is pacy and Rachel’s legs go wrong in a couple of places and she seems a bit scared, but generally this is much better than I could have ever imagined her doing a quickstep and some bits go very right. [Those TROUSERS, though. Good lord. - Steve] There’s a bank vault set behind them and at the end they break in to steal the glitter ball but fall before grabbing it, which is… how Pasha’s narrative usually goes.

Bruno says she almost got away with it and needs to work on her control. Craig says that her top line let her down and it look as though she was being flung about and there were a lot of mistakes. She needs to tighten her bum cheeks to glide more beautifully. Darcy says that was a very challenging dance and she needs to watch not to grip on to him – but it’s Pasha – who wouldn’t? Len says Craig will be clenching his bum cheeks when they dig his hip out. I think Len has some… niche preferences.  He says the quantity of steps was there but the quality in the top and the posture were lacking. ‘Everything downstairs’ was beautiful. Filth. Up in the Tess Circle, Tess asks if she found her dancing feet.  Rachel: ‘Well I found them, then I lost them, then I found them again, so maybe one.’  Dawwww. Scores: 5, 7, 7, 7 for a total of 26.

We then get a trail for all the couples coming up making their faces. We’ll probably see this in their VTs so I’m not recapping that. Get on with it, show. Bruce asks Len why he didn’t say ‘yum yum pig’s bum’. Because, as insufferable as Len is, he doesn’t tend to just randomly shout his catchphrases willy nilly? Bruce then snaps at a camera person ‘I know which camera it is’ and gets all huffy. CONSUMMATE PROFESSIONAL.

Ben and Kristina’s VT is about Ben falling over and Kristina reminding him that Matt Dawson did well and AUSTINWUZROBBED so he has rugby tradition to keep up. Matt Dawson them comes into their training. I don’t like Matt Dawson. [Nobody likes Matt Dawnson. - Steve] The end.

Their salsa to ‘Hot to Handle’ sees them both in powder blue, which is a curious choice. As you might expect, Kristina is doing all the work and BENZ GUNZ get a very early airing. There are lots of lifts and he looks even more like he’s trying to carry her through a scrum than ever, and then there’s a bit where he looks like he’s trying to strangle her. [OH KRISTINA. - Steve] Erm, also, it was fast and there was a quite good bit where he does steps over her. It gets a standing ovation because of BENZ GUNZ. Craig says ‘dirty, oiled, mechanic, ticks every box’. Darcy says he can ‘handle Kristina with ease and confidence’ because he’s just treating her like a rugby ball.  Len says he’s got the guns and tonight he’s got the ammunition. Bruno says it was surprisingly smooth for such a big brute and Bruno wants to see ‘more of you’.  Kristina does the check on which gender Bruno is fancying that week and he confirms Ben.  Am I missing something here?  Kristina worked very hard and the lifts were great (except one really ugly one) but she was pretty much doing the whole thing and all Ben had to do was lift her a bit for the most part. I mean it was enjoyable to watch, but I think the judges are all just hypnotised by BENZ GUNZ at this stage. Even Bruce cops a good feel of them.  (Also: Kristina’s abs. Wowsers).  Tess asks if he was having more fun, he says he feels more comfortable doing some throwing around. Scores: 8, 8, 8, 7 for a total of 31. Nonsense. And Bruno even got booed for the 7!

Deborah and Robin are doing the jive which leaves Bruce room to make a joke about her doing the ‘cokey cokey’ – which surely is a cue-card to use for Julien, ho ho. Then Bruce moans about having to do live television.

Deborah was pleased with last week and is desperate to keep getting better. Robin has talked her into jiving to Bucks Fizz because he’s desperate to out-camp Janette. Deborah worries about the skirt ripping bit. They watched the Eurovision clip and Deborah says it really helped her remember what the dance was about in the same earnestness she talked about understanding the Latin dance because of her travels (which then led to the dragon v drag queen dance). Aww, bless her taking Bucks Fizz seriously. She’s definitely my favourite Robin pairing yet.

You can tell this is everything Robin has ever wanted to do since he was a kid watching Eurovision – he’s wearing the stripy jacket and everything. [And the wig! ♥ - Steve] They start on Perspex stairs doing a hand jive. The singers continue their ‘form’, and I have no idea what the hell the wig is that they’ve thrust upon Robin – it’s brunette and cut in the style of Clint Boon from the Inspiral Carpets rather than the blonde mullet-mop of the Bucks Fizz boys. He then whips his white trews off to reveal silver ones underneath. Basically, this is his time to shine and so Deborah almost feels like an afterthought here. She is struggling with some of the kicks and flicks and it’s largely another example of Robin giving his partner choreography that’s too hard for them, but he is clearly having the best time of his life (and they do the skirt thing too). Essentially, I imagine Robin when he was younger as Kylie, the best friend from short-lived sitcom Beautiful People – all energy and showboating and desperate for a stage upon which to be fabulous. Deborah smiles throughout, even when Robin seems to be running away from her rather than leading her. The love of dahnce, everyone!

Darcy says it was a difficult dance and a bit soft for a jive and missed her confident self. She says there’s always a dance that isn’t someone’s and that wasn’t hers. Len says it had plenty of fizz and enthusiasm but the feet weren’t there and she needed better technique. Bruno says it was lots of fun but the technique wasn’t there. Craig says there wasn’t much spring and the kicks were lame – not her dance. Deborah loved it anyway even though she knew she was struggling. Scores: 5, 6, 6, 6 for a total of 23. Robin looks like he’s half laughing and half-crying.

Anton and Natalie now. Natalie injured her back and had to take two days off training, but O NOES WHAT IF SHE SUDDENLY GOT RUBBISH THROUGH LACK OF REHEARSAL? The strings of INJURY PORN doom play as she doesn’t want to let Artem down. Who would have thought that it would be Artem’s partner and not Artem himself who got the first injury porn VT of the series?

They’re both in black and white (Natalie in some odd flarey trousers) for their Quickstep to a very weird swing version of Usher’s ‘Yeah’. It starts out with some saucy business with canes before they go into hold. Natalie has excellent sass-face and there are some lovely jumps, flicks and patented Natalie Lowe head rolls. There’s a clicking of fingers bit where they ever-so-slightly get out of time with each other but other than that, it was fast, complicated, energetic and fun. Len says it was a bit long-winded getting started, but still no ‘MAHCKIN ABAHT’ and he doesn’t think they were on hold for long enough. Bruno says he can’t believe she delivered a dance of that standard in such a short space of time and it was like being at the Cotton Club – she has some brilliant musical nuances. Craig loved the fusion of quickstep and jazz and thinks there’s no stopping her. Bruce tries to give his opinion. Darcy says she needs not to be too ambitious in case she breaks again and Natalie cries a bit. Artem holds her back as they go up to the Tess Circle. Natalie says the show has really looked after her this week. [The way things are going, we might all have to become Strictly contestants just for the free healthcare. - Politically Satirical Steve] Scores: 9, 9, 8, 9 for a total of 35.

Spotted in the background! Aliona is still here!

Patrick and Anya are back. Patrick takes Anya on the set of Casualty but they missed an opportunity to cover her in fake blod and make her stiff of the week. Casualty spoiler spot: some new nurse we’ve never seen before!

Their cha cha is to ‘Mercy’ and his hips are OK, but his arms are a bit clumpy. He has generally good rhythm and timing though, and has been practicing his dance gurn. Anya’s perhaps trying to get more attention by wearing fewer clothes this week. He has a couple of nice bits of footwork and then there’s a clumsy spin where he nearly pushes Anya over. Overall, a solid attempt and he’s still one of the better male dancers but I imagine it’s probably nothing much to propel him out of that upper-middle of the table groove he’s gotten into. Bruno and Craig loved it though, so what do I know? Bruce warns him not to kiss Craig in case the bisexualness catches. Darcy tells him to look at Anya more but he has an inner groove. Len says it’s happy hour, and ‘you were steaming, I was beaming’. Again with the niche fetishes, Len. They bound up to the Tess Circle and Anya tries to get his chest out in the hope of getting more votes. Scores: 8, 8, 9, 8 for a total of 33 and their best score yet.

Abbey and Aljaž are next and I kind of hope they get kicked out soon, only because Aljaž is giving us blog problems which we entirely blame on Blogger, so that sometimes his name looks fine, but sometimes it doesn’t, so Steve’s blogs often look like Alja on my computer but if I put in a ž then they look like Aljažž sometimes. So if you see weird anomalies, it’s not because we can’t write his name properly, but the vagaries of the system. [I think I've found a solution. Famous last words and everything, but we'll see next week when it's my turn to recap again. - Steve] (Their VT is also so boring, involving an assault course and I can’t be bothered recapping it).

Their tango is to ‘Spectrum’ and it has some attack and purpose although Aljaž is clearly driving things. Abbey’s head flicks are a bit sloppy and her ‘fierce’ face looks a little gormless, but it’s a much better attempt than her jive, with a lot of pace and the end pose is great.

Craig says it had great staccato moves, real intent and purpose and was amazing. Darcy wasn’t expecting it but her top line was better, it was sexy and cool with some great changes of direction. Len says they are a formidable couple with snap, crackle and pop. Bruno says it had power, passion, drama and beauty and snappier than the crack of a whip and they have great chemistry. Janette’s reaction to this is not pictured. Tess suggests mud wrestling with Aljaž must have been utter hell. They’re doing this on purpose now. Scores: 9, 8, 9, 9 for a total of 35 and their highest score yet, as well as the joint highest of the night so far.

Dave and Karen next. Dave boasts about how he got a standing ovation last week and moans that he’s trying hard.  I liked Dave in week one but he’s getting more and more like Widdy as the weeks go on. Karen takes him for a manicure and pedicure because so early on, the VTs have already run out of steam. Project SUPERFUNCOMEDYLOLS can only be a week away.

For their waltz to ‘Take it to the Limit’, his hair has been slicked back and their set is all romantic music and flowers even though LOVE WEEK WAS LAST WEEK. He walks very awkwardly with his hands perched behind his back as if he’s pretending to be a chicken and then there’s a bit where he becomes a doll in a music box, which Anya already did with Patrick the other week. In hold he does less damage although it’s pretty stiff and slow and hunched over, then there’s a hug bit that looks like the end even though the music is still going, and then Karen goes home and waves at him and Dave cheers and does an air punch, the moral of the story seemingly being ‘even ugly blokes can get fit girls’. Nice, show, nice. [It's also the moral of about 90 per cent of late nineties US sitcoms. - Steve]

Darcy says he needs to travel more and try a ballet class to sort out his posture, which is the “only” thing letting him down. Len says on Strictly, the only failure is the failure to try - which explains why they keep giving certain singers work on an ongoing basis. Bruno says he scrubs up well and there’s a ray of hope on the horizon – what he did was minimal, but it was a waltz, even though it didn’t travel. Craig says it was very placed and he needs to feel the music a lot more and move more, but it was nice to see a serious side to him. Bruce says they’re still his favourites.  Scores: 5, 6, 6, 6 for a total of 23, which Karen is ecstatic about.

Susanna and KevinfromGrimsby are our final couple. She gets into the BABYWARZ by bringing her three sons in as judges.  Two want more from her, one thinks she’s brilliant.  They score her 8, 8 and 10.

Kevin from Grimsby has nicked Pasha’s braces and is wearing his glasses. [I don't think they're his usual glasses, though. They're bigger, I think, and a slightly different shape. I didn't like them as much. I'm very finicky. - Steve] Unfortunately he’s also wearing explorer garb for their jungle-themed samba, and Susanna is wearing a ‘tribal’ print dress and it’s vaguely close to the edge, xenophobic-stereotype-wise.  They’re dancing to ‘Whenever, Wherever’ and it’s all a bit over the top although Susanna’s face sits between embarrassment and enjoyment at times. They spend quite a bit of it away from each other. It’s quite exuberant and fun and silly although I’m not sure how the judges will take to it. Len says she should be ashamed as a nice girl off the news being all ‘bounce, bum and bongos’. Bruno says she can go for it any time, any place with him but she needs a cleaner finish. Bruno is such a slut, I love it. Craig thought it was a bit muddy and they seemed to be fighting each other at times. He thinks it lost impact and she’s losing her neck at times, and she could go further with the hips – it’s OK and he wants more. Darcy likes the wild samba queen and thinks she should ‘go for it’. Thanks Darcy! Up on the Tess Circle and Susanna shakes it some more. Tess mentions a standing ovation like that’s even a thing that means anything on this show any more. Tess and Susanna then get into mutual appreciation about being mums and having careers and that. Right on, sisters. Tess reminds us that Kevin’s family are ballroom champions, the dirty ringer… oh wait. Wrong side of the partnership. Scores: 6, 7, 8, 8 for a total of 29.

Scoreboard time and it’s all quite samey –
Sophie and Brendan 35
Natalie and Artem 35
Abbey and Aljaž 35 – all of whom get 13 points
Patrick and Anya 33 for 12 points
Ashley and Ola 31
Ben and Kristina 31, both for 11 points (MAN POWER in this bottom half of the top half)
Susanna and Kevin 29 for 10 points
Mark and Iveta 26
Rachel and Pasha 26 – both couples get 9 points
Julien and Janette 23
Deborah and Robin 23
Dave and Karen 23 – all on 8 points
Fiona and Anton 21 for 7 points.  ANTON’S “BEST” PARTNER EVER, EVERYBODY.

Tess implores us to ‘use and abuse’ our voting power – I’m sure someone from BBC Compliance is having kittens about that statement right now.

And now for the epic, beautiful Doctor Who trailer (*crosses fingers* please don’t be rubbish, anniversary special). A part of me did hope they’d gone completely mad in Who’s 50th year and cast Strictly entirely from Who cast members. It would be pretty easy, after all, Kate O’Mara could be the older woman who’s still ‘got it’ and is also a bit of a sassy bitch, Bonnie Langford could be the ringer, Sophie Aldred could be the mum doing it for all the other over-50s mums (HOW?  How can that woman be over 50?), Sylvester McCoy could be the sweet older man first boot, Katy Manning could be the eccentric whom the VT makers love, Colin Baker and Tom Baker could fight to be the Dave, Arthur Darvill could be the first man to be paired with a man and he and Kevin from Grimsby could together take adorkability to a whole new level, and the final would probably be BARROWMAN vs Freema Agyeman, Jenna Coleman and a Dalek - cast for comedic purposes and coasting its way through via a combination of public love/terror and its smooth gliding across the dancefloor (Ola would be its partner, as I think she’s the pro most likely to replicate this for publicity shots, plus the Dalek would likely give ample starfish choreography options). I may have thought about this whole scenario a bit too much. [Just a smidge. - Steve]

Anyway, join me tomorrow when one of these couples, whose names probably both begin with J, will be leaving, and we’ll get performances from Keane, who are apparently still a thing, and Andrea from The Voice, who is probably never going to be a thing.  Join me then!