Welcome back to another year of Strictly Come Dancing and, by extension, another year of Strictly Come Bitching. We're still here, and we still know about as much about dance as we did when we started but by gum we've got some opinions, so we're going to post them on the internet as per our inalienable human rights. The drama began long before the show did this year, as ITV decided to schedule an extra episode of The X Factor on Friday nights to make a serious dent in Strictly Come Dancing's ratings (not quite sure how this fits into that "gentleman's agreement" that Simon Cowell's so keen to uphold - you know, the one where they never schedule the two shows against each other, and where he inevitably gets all uppity if he thinks the BBC is reneging on the alleged agreement, which seems chiefly to mean that The X Factor should get all the primetime slots because it starts earlier in the year and Strictly should just be happy with whatever's left, but I digress), [That they showed THREE episodes of it this weekend makes me more and more glad we're not recapping that hot mess any more - Rad] and the inevitable result was that both shows were severely wounded by it. Ultimately more people opted to watch Strictly Come Dancing during the live broadcast on Friday, but the ratings for both shows weren't pretty - and while I'm not insane enough to actually check James Jordan's Twitter feed of my own free will, it wouldn't surprise me at all if he hasn't already claimed that the drop in ratings is entirely due to him not being there any more. Anyway, shall we put all that behind us and just get on with things?
The Voice Of Tess (which, just to clarify, is not a reality show that she and Vernon play at home where she sings in the dark and he sits in a big red chair, at least not as far as I know) reminds us that three weeks ago this year's 15 celebrities were paired with their professional partners. The show begins with an indifferently-acted VT where various people get excited about watching the show, starting with an older woman and a young boy who can't agree whether they're more excited about Steve Backshall and Mark Wright. Given what follows, there's a possibility that either or both of them may be connected to Steve and/or Mark in some way, but I don't know enough about Deadly 60 or The Only Way Is Essex to confirm or deny this, so for all I know they could just be some randoms plucked from the pages of Spotlight. What I do know is that the four women settling down to watch Frankie are the rest of The Saturdays (is it just me, or is Mollie gradually turning into Holly Willoughby?), and that a bunch of rugby players are excited about watching Thom Evans and Caroline Flack. I can't help feeling that if they actually wanted realism here they should've cut to a bunch of gays with their underwear around their ankles talking about how much they were looking forward to seeing Thom, but maybe that's a bit racy for this show even in a 9pm slot. There's also a very confusing scene where Mac and Tess from Casualty are watching the show on an ECG monitor (for god's sake let's hope Jeremy Hunt didn't see this flagrant misuse of NHS resources otherwise Holby General will be privatised faster than you can say "where's the bloody anaesthetist?") and see Sunetra Sarker on it, which apparently means that both Sunetra Sarker and Dr Zoe Hanna exist independently of each other in the Holbyverse. This is already far more confusing than a show about celebrities dancing should be. Also, there are some people who may or may not be related to Tim Wonnacott, and the rest of Blue are getting ready to watch Simon Webbe even though Lee really should be out somewhere saving the elephants. On with the show.
The new titles are quite fun. My favourite parts include:
- Aliona not allowing Gregg to touch her AT ALL
- Natalie waving her arm right in front of Tim's face
- Janette somehow looking half a head taller than Jake
- Aljaž playing peek-a-boo behind Alison
- Iveta emerging from behind Thom in the most predatory way imaginable
- Scott actually lip-syncing the "ho!" <3 <3 <3
- Judy getting the prime spot right before the title
Then we cut live to the studio, and something feels weird. Oh, that's right: the presenters can now actually enter from the top of the stairs, because we no longer have to worry about whether the insurance will cover an octogenarian for it. Tess and Claudia have some arm candy to lead them down the stairs (because even though we now have two women hosted they can't be trusted to arrive without male supervision ZOMG SEXISM) in the form of Aljaž for Claudia and Brendan for Tess. Also, Claudia is wearing hot pink and no eyeliner, which I can only assume is a cry for help, since we all know she'd never do that of her own free will. Maybe it's a sign to communicate that she's being held captive in the studio against her will, like in Five On A Treasure Island when the bad men captured Julian and George, and George sent a message to Dick and Anne but signed it "Georgina", knowing that they'd realise she'd never call herself that and deduce something was very wrong. Don't worry, Claudia! Dick's coming! (Daly Dresswatch, by the way: a black playsuit with lace. It's a decent enough start.)
Tess reminds us that six cubbles (I only mock because I care; Tess's mangling of the word "couples" is second only to Cat Deeley's idiosyncratic pronunciation of "judges" in my heart) will perform tonight, while the other nine will be on tomorrow. The judges enter showily, wafting their way across the floor, while Bruno does some of the slowest pirouettes I've ever seen. Well, he is getting on a bit these days, I suppose.
Let's meet the stars of our show. As is traditional for the first show of the series, I shall transcribe their bio lines verbatim. EastEnders star Jake Wood and his partner Janette Manrara. Pop princess Pixie Lott and her partner Trent Whiddon. Wildlife expert Steve Backshall and his partner Ola Jordan. Tennis coach Judy Murray and her partner Anton Du Beke. TV presenter and radio DJ Mark Wright and his partner Karen Hauer. This Morning reporter Alison Hammond and her partner Aljaž Skorjanec. Star of MasterChef Gregg Wallace and his partner Aliona Vilani. From The Saturdays, pop star Frankie Bridge and her partner Kevin Clifton. Bargain Hunt's antiques expert Tim Wonnacott and his partner Natalie Lowe. TV presenter Caroline Flack and her partner Pasha Kovalev. From Blue, pop star Simon Webbe and his partner Kristina Rihanoff. Star of Mrs Brown's Boys Jennifer Gibney and her partner Tristan MacManus. Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills and his partner Joanne Clifton. Star of Casualty Sunetra Sarker and her partner Brendan Cole. And finally, rugby star Thom Evans and his partner Iveta Lukosiute. As it's still early days, most of them have still got enough enthusiasm left to shimmy, although I note that Gregg can't even clap in time. Poor Aliona. (Lucky Aliona?)
Tess comments on all the legs on show tonight, and adds that she's not just talking about the girls, before running over and launching her vagina right at Thom Evans's crotch. Sorry, my mistake: before cooing at Anton, who's wearing a kilt because Judy is Scottish. Anyone who remembers Fiona Fullerton's cha cha cha last year (and if you've managed to forget it, more power to you - I'm scarred for life) will no doubt be anxious about the thought of Anton unleashed, so let's just hope the mouse stays in the house, as a wise man once said. (I think it was Gunther from Friends.)
Claudia reminds us that nobody is going home this weekend, but the judges will still be scoring the performances. Tess adds that the judges scores from this week and next will be combined, and then the public vote from next Saturday will be added to that total score to see who's going home. We all know all of this by now, of course, but it never hurts to be reminded. Tonight's six performing couples are Tim and Natalie, Jake and Janette, Judy and Anton, Scott and Joanne, Pixie and Trent, and Caroline and Pasha, who are up first. Tess says that Caroline has been working on her cha cha cha face, but will she have a "happy face" at the end of the routine? I don't know whether it's Tess's general inability to land a joke, or the writers scrambling for material now that they can't rely on "lol Bruce is old" any more, or some combination of the two, but all I can say is I hope that isn't their A material.
In her VT, Caroline says that she's banned her family from attending because she doesn't want the added pressure of having them there in the audience. There's an unspoken "for now" in all of this, but Caroline wisely doesn't vocalise this lest the audience whip themselves into a white hot rage at any woman assuming she might last long enough in the competition to start planning for the future. WOMEN, KNOW YOUR LIMITS! Caroline says that when she met the dancers for the first time, there was something about Pasha that stood out (that's funny, I'm sure Rachel Riley noticed the same thing), so she gave a little squeal of delight when she was paired up with him. What Caroline neglects to mention here is that she immediately turned into Patty Simcox, pawing Pasha to death and telling him how they were going to havesomuchfunandbelifelongfriends. Caroline claims that it's impossible to tell what Pasha's thinking because his expression never changes. That doesn't really match up with my experience of Pasha on this show thus far, so I'm wondering if maybe Pasha is just not really paying Caroline much attention. However, he does his best to persuade us otherwise, saying that Caroline is passionate and a good mover, and he thinks they could go far, maybe even win. Or maybe he can just get to the final and lose, again. Caroline exclaims that she's really excited about training because it's "almost being a dancer" (...are you going to tell her, or should I?) and she's going to buy legwarmers and everything.
Pasha tells her in training that the cha cha cha is a fun, playful dance. Caroline asks him if it's the hardest dance, and Pasha's all "lol no it's a piece of piss, that's why it's been a week one dance ever since this show began. Even Rachel got 27 for it last year, come the fuck on". Caroline is alarmed by this. Pasha tells Caroline that she has a very serious concentratey face, which isn't really appropriate for the cha cha cha, so she needs to work on that. Caroline vows to get out there and get the party started, and shit.
They're dancing to 'Can You Feel It', and I must immediately remark on how unflattering the dress is that they've stuck Caroline in. It's a short strappy gold number covered in fringing, which looks fine when she's standing still, but when she's whirling around for the actual dance the fringing makes the dress look about three times the size it actually is. All the way through this dance I kept thinking about that time a friend of mine came to our Hallowe'en party in an inflatable pumpkin costume. Sorry Caroline. Anyway, it's a pretty decent start for the series: Caroline obviously has natural dancing talent (which is how she won Dancing On Wheels, but it seems the show doesn't really want to talk about that), but she's a little stiff, particularly in the arms. I think she's focusing so much on remembering to smile that she's forgetting that there just needs to be a bit of give in her limbs to create that party atmosphere. Speaking of atmosphere, I'm pleased that our first dance of the series has no theme and no gimmick, since we're inevitably going to be overwhelmed with them before too long - this is just a straightforward competition cha cha cha. It goes a little bit wrong in the second half when Caroline fumbles an underarm pass, and Pasha's choreographed in an ugly bit where he gets down on his knees (steady) and she rests on him at a 45-degree angle, pushing herself around in a circle with her legs. It's just a bit messy.
Tess inherits Bruce's inability to place a comma in the right part of a sentence by introducing the singers "Hayley Lance, Andrea and Chris" (Hayley and Lance are two separate people, just fyi). Len says it's nice to start the nice with a glass of champagne and that was "sparkly, fizzy and effervescent". Isn't that three ways of saying exactly the same thing? He noticed the mistake, but calls her "Sweet Caroline" nonetheless. Bruno calls her "Caroline Flash", and loves the expressiveness of her arms, but agrees with Len that there was a problematic pass. He'd like to see a bit more hips, too. Craig liked the musicality, but would have liked more hip action and reminds Caroline to finish her lines properly. Darcey: "Caroline, you are what you definitely feel to me one natural performer and one natural dancer, and with those legs they are pretty good in a cha cha, well done well done." Is Darcey ESL? I've heard Paula Abdul give more coherent critiques than that. Hell, I've heard Janice Dickinson give more coherent critiques than that.
They run up to the Tess Circ...er, Casa Claudia? I guess we're going to need a new nickname for this bit. [Didn't we call it Claudia's Counselling Circle/Centre? Or is that a Monkseal phrase? It's like trying to remember if a comic book character is DC or Marvel, or if a part in a film was played by Glenn Close or Meryl Streep - Rad] [We did call it that before, yes, but I always felt that was mostly appropriate for it being the results show and everyone needing a pep talk after waiting to hear if they were safe or not. I just thought there might be a better name to use now that Claudia has it full-time. - Steve] Claudia reveals that earlier Caroline was saying she'd be fine as long as she didn't have to go first. Whoops. Caroline says that she loved it all the same, and the audience were amazing. Pasha says that it's hard to start the show, and Caroline nailed it. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 7 Bruno 7 for a total of 27, which is everyone seems happy enough with. I'm surprised we didn't see any 8s, but maybe the judges are trying to be restrained this year. (Also, you can tell it's early in the series because Craig gets cheered for giving someone a six. That won't last long.)
Second to perform are Tim and Natalie. In his VT, Tim describes himself as "amusing", "a bit eccentric", and "a snappy dresser". I guess now I'm starting to see why they paired him with Natalie. He vows that he might be the oldest contestant this year, but he can still show these kids a thing or two, as long as they KEEP OFF HIS LAWN. Natalie says`1 that she was "praying to get Tim" (I'm fairly certain that's the sound team manipulating her original statement that she was "praying to get Thom"), because she thinks he's "like unpolished silver that needs just a little bit of TLC". If she's going to make him dance to 'No Scrubs', I am all for that.
In training, Tim is full of praise for Natalie's skills as a teacher because she breaks it down into bits to make it easier to learn. Mind you, at Tim's age I'm sure he's used to people breaking things down to make them easier for him to manage: dance routines, corn on the cob, anything like that. Natalie insists that she wants to incorporate Tim's "Bargain Hunt kick" into the routine, but first she wants to see it in action, so Tim takes her along to the filming of the show. Personally I'm floored that Bargain Hunt is still in production; I just assumed they made like 1000 of them over a six month period back in 1998 and Tim's been living off the repeat fees ever since. So Natalie goes to Bargain Hunt, sees the kick in action, and squeals with delight. Bless Natalie. If I could even be half as optimistic as she is in my daily life, I think I'd be a much happier person. Natalie then asks if she can join in and have a go, and Tim gets a little bit chagrined that she can kick higher than he can. You mark my words, that's the point where this previously charming partnership began its descent into "irreconcilable differences".
Tim's cha cha cha starts with a "bit", with him as an auctioneer and Natalie as a bidder waving a 10 paddle. Frankly this just makes me yearn for the point in the future where she will be Head Judge Natalie Lowe. It's all very stilted and goes on for too long, so it's actually a relief when Tim starts dancing to 'Shop Around'. I don't think anyone expected Latin to be a natural fit for Tim, but he's giving it a damn good try, and it's...not terrible? I mean, for someone who was obviously cast to fit an "older/eccentric/comedy" contestant mould, I appreciate that he is genuinely trying to dance it, and Natalie has genuinely tried to teach him, and they didn't just dress it all up in a load of silly costumes and minimal choreography and attempt to ride the lolz train all the way to Blackpool and beyond. There's nothing happening in the hips, and he's rather heavy-footed, but there's a sense of rhythm in there somewhere, and I'm kind of enjoying the prospect of how Natalie might do with her first full-on comedy contestant, assuming the two of them can stick around long enough to make an impact.
Tess declares that was "so much fun!" and calls him a "cha-cha-charmer". Tim says "wasn't my Natty fantastic?" and I love him a little bit. Bruno's in hysterics already, and says he appreciates Tim's confidence, "because if you can sell this, you can sell anything". Bruno claims he was actually crying at one point (though I'm sure Bruno lost that ability about two eyelifts ago) and says that Tim's technique is "difficult" to define and "very personal", though he thinks it needs a bit of work. Ultimately he enjoyed it, but "I'm crazy, so..." Heh. Craig, surprisingly enough, did not enjoy it. He says that Tim's gait is extremely wide, to the point that "it looked like you were wearing a soiled nappy". He says that Tim's knees were bent and his free arm was "getting a bit Julian Clary". Hey, Julian Clary made the final! "But it's not where you start, is it darling?" Craig says, in a limp attempt at reassurance. Tess appeals to Darcey to be the voice of reason, so I think we all know there's no salvaging this. Darcey: "Well, I mean dance is about it being entertaining, and I am a judge, and I'm here to judge you on your ability and your style, but for me that was so entertaining. It was cheeky, it was fun, and surprisingly, um, entertaining. *cackles wildly*". Remember when Alesha left and they hired Darcey and people were all "hurrah! No more mangling of the English language!" I'd say they should be feeling pretty silly right now, but then Darcey is white and posh so they probably haven't even noticed that she can barely string a sentence together. Len tells Tim not to step forward on his hell in the cha cha cha: "Natalie's told you, I know she has." (Len's unfaltering belief in Natalie's skills as a teacher <3) He says that the footwork wasn't too clever, but "your feet are a long way from your heart, and you came out full-on with personality and you gave it everything, so well done you." I'm sure I can't be the only one who's hoping for Len's Biology Lessons to be a recurring skit on It Takes Two. Next week: "the leg bone's connected to me pickuwd wawnuts", or something.
The other dances are chanting Tim's name up in Casa Claudia, and Tim says he loves Darcey, and she's his favourite, without a doubt. Tim dad-jokes that he thought Craig's "soiled nappies" comment was a bit below the belt. Claudia says that it looked like they were having a great time out there, and Tim says that they've been having such fun in rehearsals, and he hopes this is just the beginning. Scores: Craig 3, Darcey 5, Len 5, Bruno 5 for a total of 18. I thought that might have been the lowest score Natalie had ever received, and then I remembered the So I Married An Axe Murderer jive, which only got 15. So there's something for Tim to be proud about, especially his jive's bound to score more than that, given his natural kicking skills. Assuming he lasts long enough to do it.
Next we have Jake and Janette, who will be doing our first (and indeed only) tango of the evening. Jake's VT reminds us that he plays Max Branning, Walford's resident sex addict. Apparently Jo Joyner, who played Max's long-suffering wife Tanya, told him that he had a "granddad" dance that involved sticking his bum out, and that he should probably be nervous. How supportive of her. Jake is then at pains to point out that he's nothing like Max, in that he's happily married and he actually smiles. Having watched a lot of EastEnders lately, I can confirm that this is indeed testament to Jake's fine acting abilities. Jake's pleased to have Janette as a partner because he thinks she'll be "no-nonsense". That's certainly one way of putting it. Janette is pleased because she thinks Jake has already got dem loose hips going on. Maybe that's why Max's pants won't stay up?
Janette explains to Jake that the tango is a passionate, manly dance (unless you're the woman, presumably), and she's created a storyline wherein he comes home and she finds lipstick on his collar. She suggests that he plays it as Max, which I guess is fine for the tango, but is really not going to work as a tactic for the charleston. [You say that, but the thought of Max Branning Charleston-ing makes me splutter with giggles and now I want them to MAKE THIS HAPPEN - Rad] Jake turns up for training one morning with an actual lipstick mark on his collar, which he explains was his way of getting into character. He seems quite pleased as he points out that Janette seemed genuinely upset by it. Jake hopes that he can stay in character and produce a great tango on the night. Considering it's a character he's been playing since 2006, one would hope he can indeed stick with it for the 90 seconds it will take to complete his tango.
The staging is a bit reminiscent of Scott Maslen's jive (must be a Branning thing) with the big glittery door and the adultery, only obviously this time it's a tango, and Jake and Janette are dancing to 'Toxic' by Britney Spears. It's actually a very good result for a first dance - it's perhaps the tiniest bit skippy, but the technique looks good, the attitude is excellent, and Jake seems to have huge potential. It's nice to see what Janette's capable of now that she's got a competent partner, too. Janette squeals and throws her arms round his neck after they finished and Jake, bless him, asks "are you happy?" I would say so, Jake, yes.
The audience (including Jo Joyner, who may be regretting that "granddad" comment now, and Scott Maslen himself) is on its feet as Jake and Janette make their way over to Tess. Craig declares himself impressed, because Jake had a strong frame and took total control of the routine with his sharp, staccato moves, and declares him "one to watch". Darcey thinks it was "cool", and was shocked by the drama and attack of it. She also praises Janette for how hard she must have worked to get Jake to that standard this quickly. Len agrees that it was far better than he expected it to be, and that Jake coped well with a lot of choreography. Bruno enthuses that Jake is "a brute", but is looking forward to seeing his softer side as well.
Jake and Janette make their way up to Casa Claudia, where Claudia points out that Jake seemed rather surprised by everyone's reaction to his tango. Jake mumbles that he was so focused on the dance that he'd forgotten he was actually going to get critiqued on it afterwards. Claudia posits that this may in fact have been Craig's first use of the word "impressive" in 12 series, and Janette agrees that she's never heard it. Janette, who only joined last year and was partnered with an irritant with no rhythm. Oh, Strictly. I've missed you so. Janette adds that Jake is the best student any dancer could ask for. Jake waves to his kids, Buster and Amber, and tells them "Daddy'll be home soon", and I'm fairly certain I just heard ovaries melting all across the nation. I've never ever understood the appeal of Max Branning in any context (give me Mick Carter any day), but Jake Wood seems utterly delightful. [I agree. Loving him - Rad] Scores: sevens across the board for a total of 28, putting Jake at the top of the leaderboard so far.
The fourth couple of the night is Judy and Anton. Claudia's voiceover in Judy's VT refers to her hilariously as a "sporting matriarch" (that's certainly the nicest way I can think of to say "you're chiefly famous because a Wimbledon champ came out of your foof 27 years ago"). Judy recalls the red carpet launch, and how surreal it was when they were all hiding behind a giant glitterball. She admits to being terrified of falling on the steps, because "I'm a tracksuit and trainers kind of girl". She wanted a partner with "patience, a sense of humour and a six-pack - so two out of three ain't bad". Judy and Anton are getting on well: she says that he's "so funny", and Anton says that Judy's sense of humour is good for him because he hasn't changed his material in the last three years. I think that was meant to say "13 years". Judy points out that the others are calling them "Sir Anton and Lady Judy". I'm suddenly disappointed that none of last year's VTs revealed what Fiona was calling Susanna behind the scenes, because I'm sure it was very colourful.
Anton goes to Scotland to train with Judy, and they're dancing the waltz to 'Mull Of Kintyre', because Anton is nothing if not a panderer. [He isn't pandering to me. I hate Mull of Kintyre with a rage that could burn a thousand suns. I hate it more than I hate every other terible song in the world fused together and played on a loop for eternity. I've never been a fan of Anton but I doubt I'll ever forgive him for putting me through that. Still love Judy though, obvs. - Rad] Personally after this particular shitstorm, I half expected Anton to put Judy in a Geri Halliwell-style Union Jack minidress and make her do a waltz to 'Happy Together' by The Turtles, so I'm quite glad they decided to go entirely in the opposite direction. I'm really not sure that Andy Murray's political affiliations have that much bearing on the voting patterns of your average Strictly Come Dancing voter anyway. In training, Judy admits that she's not particularly graceful or rhythmical, but she's having a great time nonetheless. During the week, it's Judy's birthday and Anton brings her a cake in the shape of a tennis racquet.
So yes, they are waltzing and Anton is in a kilt and it's all very terrifying, which might be why Judy looks so nervous. She actually starts off reasonably well, and her footwork looks good in places, but she's concentrating so hard that her face has gone all rictusy, and you can see her lips moving faintly as she counts the steps. There's also a point halfway through where her posture just seems to collapse. But on the other hand: there's a bagpiper! So it's sort of a mixed bag, really. Not dreadful, but not especially encouraging either.
Tess asks Darcey if she was moved, and Darcey (regrettably) does not reply "MY BOWELS WERE!" and make a fart noise. You're no fun, Darcey. Instead she leads us down this particular circumlocutious cul-de-sac of patronising piffle: "Well, the waltz is about moving effortlessly, it's an elegant, controlled dance, and much harder than it looks, and I did feel, Judy, that in that beautiful smile of yours, those nerves were coming through. It was a bit edgy for me. Bit edgy. And it's so, as Anton says, to control that rise and fall is hard, and to come out on that dancefloor for the first time is not easy, I don't think people realise how nervous you come, so I think when you come out next week you're going to show us what you really can do, okay? I can feel the nerves and you shook a little bit all the way through." I think that's the longest anyone's ever taken to say "you were shit, but never mind, eh?" Also, lolerama at the very idea of Judy's real strength being in the Latin next week. In Anton's Latin, no less. (To be fair, all the judges say something similar to that, so I'm going to let Darcey off the hook a bit for that one. I don't think anyone ever takes the "you'll be so much better next week!"-type comments seriously, it's just a very convenient piece of judging fluffery for week one.) Len and Anton have a bit of banter about Anton's sporran and his "Bonnie Prince Charlie" and...pardon me a moment...
*retches into bucket*
...sorry about that. Len thought Judy's footwork was Mull Of Kintyre, but her posture was "Mulligatawny". As possibly the only remaining person in the UK who still really likes Heinz Mulligatawny soup, I resent that comment. He advises her to lift up her diaphragm and get further away from Anton. Sound advice for us all there, I feel. Len then spends a very long time telling us all that the waltz is a "very difficult dance" and, well, see what Pasha said to Caroline about the cha cha cha. That pretty much covers it. (Len also seemingly reveals that Judy has the cha cha cha next week. I'm nervous already.) Bruno describes it as "a maiden flight into a new sky that got hit by turbulence" and advises her to "land safely and try again next week". Craig says he was on the edge of his seat throughout, because he felt like Anton was dragging Judy around a little bit. He says that Judy's arms out of hold need serious attention, her posture is appalling, and her head needs to be a lot more to the left, but well done for trying anyway. Anton tells Judy not to listen to anything that Craig says, because it's not like she's going to be here long enough to bother trying to improve. Or something.
Up in Casa Claudia, our hostess tells Judy that they loved the routine up there and Judy hoots "I'm glad someone did!" Judy <3. Judy tells Claudia that she was a bit nervous, but she did really enjoy it. Anton adds that he did too, "thank you for asking". Scores: Craig 3, Darcey 4, Len 6, Bruno 5 for a total of 18. Judy declares herself "delighted" with that score, because what else can she do, really?
Who's next? Why, it's Scott and Joanne. Tess crows that they'll be doing their cha cha cha to "a Robbie Williams classic" and already you can just tell this is not going to end well for anybody. In his VT, Scott says that every single thing about appearing on Strictly terrifies him. And that's without having to make small talk with Bruce, so think on that. Scott reveals that even his boyfriend has never seen him dance, because at parties he's always the one clutching a drink for dear life and being all "nah, I don't want to spill it". (Incidentally, how nice to have a gay contestant on the show whose sexuality manifests in the form of him casually talking about his boyfriend rather than having his partner dress him up in primary colours and making him erupt out of a seashell or whatever. Not that I have anything against camp, obviously, because I am watching this show in the first place, but if Scott can be a gay man on this show whose sexuality isn't used to either infantilise him or entirely desexualise him, then he's already justified his casting irrespective of whether he can dance or not. *steps off soapbox*) Scott reveals that when there were just two female pros left waiting to be partnered up, he was really hoping he'd get Joanne. Somewhere, Karen Hauer is watching this all "well, fuck you too, buddy". Joanne says that she was thrilled to get Scott because she got him in a ballroom pose straightaway. Scott says that Joanne is adamant she can teach him to dance, but he's not convinced.
To training, and much like Caroline, Scott isn't at all convinced by his pro telling him that the cha cha cha is one of the easiest dances to learn. (Though as we'll discover in a minute, that's pretty much where the similarities end between Scott and Caroline.) Joanne tells him that he's getting the steps right, but he's basically walking like a gorilla. Joanne is very excited because Scott is actually mates with Robbie Williams and, to prove it, [Joanne's super-gurn makes me think we may have another Karen Hardy on our hands - Rad] Scott gets a message from Robbie during rehearsals. Robbie's message is basically "lol 'Rock DJ' Scott stole my tiger underpants from the video BANTA!" Strictly Robbie isn't that much fun. I much prefer drunken, incoherent X Factor Robbie. Joanne asks Scott if he's going to wear the tiger underpants on the night and Scott is all "you know I don't actually have those, right?" and then Joanne starts tickling him. Hmm, maybe I was a bit premature with the whole "gay man not being infantilised by partner" comment.
Oy, so where to begin with all of this. First of all:
Yeah, that. Scott's dancing is terrible. Really, really terrible. I'm genuinely amazed that a DJ can have so little grasp of rhythm. But however bad Scott's dancing is, Joanne's choreography is worse. She's given him the start pose of putting one hand over his ear which I get is meant to be a DJ with his hands on his earphones, but just makes Scott look like he's got a stiff neck. Things don't improve when they get move - it's all static poses, arm-flinging, gyrating and very few steps that are actually recognisable as a cha cha cha. I think a big part of the problem is that so much of it is out of hold, and I just don't think Scott's ready for that yet - Joanne might have done well to keep the two of them closer together throughout the routine so she could keep him in place, rather than constantly sending Scott off on his own to flail in confusion. It's all so strange because I don't doubt Joanne's credentials as a dancer at all, so I'm wondering what went so wrong here: was she just going for the fun/comedy vote at all costs, or did she just completely misjudge the mood? [I wonder if, given Joanne's speciality is SHOWDANCE and she's never sticking around long enough to choreograph one going on Scott's form, she's trying to chuck in as many gimmicks as possible. That, or someone in production forced LOLZ on her, IDK. - Rad]
Tess asks Len if Scott rocked his world, and Len says that it was the sort of dance that would be better on the radio: the footwork was poor, the hips were non-existent, but at least it was entertaining? Bruno tells Scott that he had the "club vibe" going, in the sense that you might see someone dancing like that at 2am off their face on pills. Or something. Bruno thinks Scott needs to work on his rhythm and timing. Craig tells Scott that a zimmer frame has more movement than that - it was stompy and he was lifting his knees like he was having a tantrum. Darcey liked the "cheeky connection" between the two of them, and thinks that it might have worked better in a nightclub than in a ballroom, but she liked how hard Scott worked at selling it. As if that entire experience hadn't been humiliating enough for Scott already, Tess finishes by saying never mind what those mean old judges think, LOOK THERE'S YOUR MUMMY IN THE AUDIENCE AND SHE'S EVER SO PROUD! Scott is 40 years old. ['I'm 34, Brendan!' -Sophie Ellis Bextor]
Up in Casa Claudia, I watch Natalie very closely for any sign of the "shit, there goes my comedy vote" light draining from her eyes, but she's not giving much away. Scott is relieved that it's all over. Claudia reminds Scott that his boyfriend Brad is in the audience and has never seen him dance before. Scott suggests that that is "probably for the best". Scores: Craig 2, Darcey 4, Len 5, Bruno 4 for a total of 16. "That's where you want to start," Claudia assures him. "It's about the journey." It's funny how Claudia can make such a bullshit reassurance sound 100 per cent genuine. She really is so good at her job.
Finishing the evening, it's Pixie and Trent. Pixie's VT tells us that she's used to topping the charts, but then her last single peaked at number 114 so she panicked and signed up for Strictly. Possibly. Pixie tells us that she's used to performing to large crowds, but only in the context of being a singer doing the singing, so this is a very different ballgame and she's hoping Trent will help her adjust. Claudia's comment from the launch show about them looking like twins is brought up, and they both giggle that it's true, and that they'll have a brother-sister relationship. Kudos to Natasha R on Twitter for suggesting the specific brother and sister in question:
At least that's their routine for Movie Week sorted, right?
Trent tells us that Pixie is very busy with her pop career and London Fashion Week. Yes, I can see how the latter would be far more important than rehearsing to perform in front of millions of people on national television in the hope of endearing yourself to them so that they'll vote for you in subsequent weeks. We start with Trent sat in the studio all by himself, waiting for Pixie to arrive. He has a sort of laid-back enthusiasm that I find very sweet. I think I'm going to like Trent. [Me too. He seems like a really good fit for this show -Rad] Trent tells us that their first routine will be a jive, and the theme is that he's a photographer and she's a model at a fashion shoot. Pixie takes Trent with her to Fashion Week to get a feel for the occasion and Trent gives an adorably awkward interview about how he's watching all the photographers and trying to get a sense of the angles they shoot from. It's like he's been having nightmares about Craig telling him that the routine was excellent and Pixie danced it perfectly, but Trent just wasn't believable as a photographer so the best he can give them is a six.
They're dancing to 'Shake It Off' by Taylor Swift, and things start off well: Pixie can sell a performance and the two of them have great chemistry together. Things go a bit wrong in the first full kick-and-flicks section: Pixie's very heavy-footed in it and doesn't generate a lot of bounce, and I think she actually goes wrong somewhere because she ends up just sort of kicking wildly by the end of it. So she's perhaps not the total ringer many of us assumed she would be, but there's clearly a lot of natural talent in there, so I think Pixie will be around for a while. The routine ends with her pulling all the film out of Trent's camera and holding it up to the light, at which point the creative director runs in and screams at her that she's just completely destroyed all the negatives and thousands of pounds of studio time.
Tess calls Pixie "little lady". (Pixie Lott is 23.) Bruno calls her "tricksy Pixie" and says that the routine was like "Lolita does the jive". Let's move on from that comment immediately before any of us get dragged into Operation Yewtree. He tells her that she needs to work on getting the placement right on the balls of her feet, but otherwise: tick vg. Craig enjoyed it too, but he noticed a slight hesitation when she went to do her side kick. So it wasn't perfect, but it was great. Darcey agrees that the energy was wonderful, as was the armography, but she wanted to see more leg action and bounce. Len finishes by saying there was Lotts of energy, Lotts of kicks and flicks, and there will be Lotts of marks.
In our final visit of the evening to Casa Claudia, Pixie says that she loved it, but she was surprised by how nervous she was. Since we're running a little behind schedule, there isn't really time to talk to her any more than that, so we go straight to the scores: Craig 7, Darcey 6, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 27. Interesting observation: for all that Pixie and Caroline were both identified as ringers when they were cast, they both got lower first-week scores than Susanna Reid and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, neither of whom were seen as obvious contenders (on a previous experience level, at least) before last series. Not that that necessarily means anything, I just thought it was interesting.
So let's see that first night leaderboard, then:
1. Jake & Janette - 28
2=. Caroline & Pasha - 27
2=. Pixie & Trent - 27
4=. Tim & Natalie - 18
4=. Judy & Anton - 18
6. Scott & Joanne - 16
Bit of a gulf there between the frontrunners and the others, isn't there? It'll be fun to see how Saturday's scores play into that. Speaking of which, Claudia's joined by Saturday's dancers to see how they're feeling: Alison's nervous after seeing how good everyone else was, Gregg says that all he can do now is dance. We get a quick preview of everyone's training: highlights include Frankie doing a cartwheel, Simon being very sweaty, Alison nuzzling Aljaž, Tristan's lovely face, and Gregg asking Aliona if he's ever going to get it. We'll go through it all later in exhaustive detail.