Saturday, 21 October 2017

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

- Brendan threw the bouquet very enthusiastically in rehearsals and it ended up in the light rig.
- Brendan wanted Richard to catch the bouquet but he'd already gone.
- Zoe likes the idea of Craig getting married, Brendan doesn't.
- If Charlotte had stayed in, she would have done the Viennese waltz next week.
- "Friends for the life" is still a thing, and it's nice that Iveta has some sort of legacy I guess?
- Charlotte wants Davood to win.
- Zoe would like Ben Shephard to be the next GMB-er on the show.
- Katya likes to help the wardrobe people with little jobs and thinks this ensures she gets the best outfits.
- Susan is always first in line to queue before the show because she doesn't like to be any bother.
- Ruth's tango dress rehearsal was awful.
- Anton favours velvet for the dramatic dances because it makes the colours more intense.
- Ruth hates Anton making her start on the stairs by herself every week.
- Ruth and Anton are joking about doing a tango-samba hybrid (which would make about as much sense as fusion week) - Ruth suggested 'tamba' as the name, Anton.... sambo.  Oh, Anton.
- Neil's dress sense remains...idiosyncratic.
- Chloe thinks Joe suffered from Katya putting too much content in their cha cha routine.
- Mollie's lifts were even worse in the dress rehearsal. Think on that.
- Both Mollie and AJ eschew the wearing of socks and will therefore not be supported by this blog in future, I'm sorry.
- Mollie would like 'less dancing, more lifting'.  I'm sure Craig and his new rulebook will love that.
- AJ can't say "fleckerl".
- Nadiya has done many accidental illegal lifts during her professional competitive ballroom career. Try to look surprised.
- Davood's jive is "going to have a lot of proper jive in it".
- Chloe has taken to referring to Neil as "my assistant", what a goddess.
- Neil thinks Kevin might actually win this year. I hope he's right because that would be hilarious.
- Chloe thinks Jonnie is the most affable person she's ever met.
- You don't necessarily have to rotate your hips in the salsa - if you prefer you can keep your hips still and rotate your shoulders.
- Gemma and Aljaž are going to be doing a foxtrot to 'Believe' by Cher except not by Cher it's going to be some godawful JohnLewisification instead.
- Cilla Black used to live next door to Mary Berry.
- Simon can't even get the Carlton dance to 'It's Not Unusual' right, bless him.
- Chloe has been replaced as the two Lisas' model of choice for hair and make-up demos.
- We have our first "get to Blackpool" campaign courtesy of Simon.
- Tim Lovejoy has a lot more faith than Karen that Simon will get there, however.
- Karen likes food, did you know that?
- Flo Rimmer is now sufficiently proud of her dad to go on It Takes Two in support of him.
- Brian thinks that all the characters that he's played in the dances are quite like him, and that this shows his versatility. I think that shows the opposite, personally.
- Amy and Brian's goal is to make it to Hallowe'en.
- Amy has a twin sister called Rebecca.
- Brian and Amy are planning a "homage" to one of Shirley's iconic moves on Saturday. This can only end well.
- Jonnie will be using his blade again for the quickstep and Oti is happy.
- He's been told the quickstep is 'basically running' so he thinks he'll be fine.
- Debbie owns a ridiculously revealing playing card patterned skirt that she wears with thigh-high boots what a minx.
- Debbie recommends getting Giovanni to come and yank your leg up.
- Giovanni likes uniforms.
- Giovanni told Debbie that no-one gets good scores for their cha-cha, even though Aston just did the week before.
- Giovanni thinks the rumba is 'difficult, especially for females'.  I feel like everything I've ever been told is a lie.
- Anton's staple Anton!Latin moves include the 'chuck and slide' and the 'throw her on the floor and spin her'.
- Susan's steps are too big for the Latin.
- Simon and Karen have got actual fiddles for their charleston.
- Alexandra sees Gorka and just goes RARRRRGGHHH. Relatable.
- Alexandra saw Tina Turner on Wednesday and said "hello Miss Turner".
- Gorka would like Alexandra to follow in the footsteps of Ore. Presumably not the two dance-offs, though. Or any of the steps from his charleston.
- Alexandra thought Craig was angry after their jive because she can't read him, and she doesn't think they'll get a 10 from him this week.
- Debbie's rumba is looking "earthy". Hooray!
- Joe claims to have enjoyed his cha cha cha. He's clearly not as good an actor as I thought.
- The only thing Joe liked about cuban heels was the way they gave his calf muscles a workout.
- Joe's hand is so bruised from hitting the floor that he can't high-five Katya any more.
- The colour scheme for Brian's jive is Hi-De-Hi!-inspired.
- Susan likes the way that even Craig's compliments sound negative somehow.
- Susan has already apologised to Kevin for the likelihood of breaking his perfect record of reaching the final.
- Susan has never been dumped before.
- Susan and Kevin's cha cha has been inspired by Bridget Jones.
- Due to the weather, Kevin couldn't make it up to Susan to rehearse at the start of the week.
- Susan's sustained a knee injury this week.
- Darcey has had a couple of girls before. Make of that what you will.
- Darcey's always upset if someone gets their 10 out before she does.
- Darcey's midweek fashion choices are as 'interesting' as Neil's.
- Aljaž still really likes reading the captions to see what joke they've made about his name this week.
- The foxtrot is Gemma's least favourite dance. So relatable.
- Everyone's scores are going to go down this weekend because Bruno is taking the week off.
- The group dance this week is speed-dating themed, and Anton will be flipping Pasha around.
- This week's Friday panel is Harry Judd, Shane Richie and Emma Samms off Dynasty. What an odd combination.
- Harry has got Jo Clifton to help out with his new book. Bet Aliona's thrilled.
- Emma thinks the problem with Mollie and AJ's lifts is that he's too short.
- Every couple has to practice standing under the red light on a Saturday.
- Jonnie likes lifts because they mean he has to do less dancing.
- Apparently Jonnie's bum is more chicken-like than dinosaur-like now.
- Anything said in the Clauditorium is legally binding.
- The pro challenge is coming back!
- Harry thinks Simon might be going home, Emma thinks Not Her Paul Susan, Shane agrees with Harry.
- Joe wants to make sure you know that Holby City isn't a soap, it's a continuing drama.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

That's Char lot

Week 4: Top 13 Results - 15 October 2017

Last night! A severely underpowered first 90 minutes of the show was followed by a final half-hour that had more going it than a whole litter of Duracell Bunnies (which Dragon interpreted as Jarvis Albanese, bless its special little heart). Top of the table were Alexandra and Gorka following their Proud Mary jive, gaining 39 in the process. Bottom of the pack?  A tie between Simon and Karen with an embarrassing dad samba and Charlotte and Brendan with a jive consisting almost entirely of kickball changes and Charlotte shaking her hands around. Lots of people underperformed, with the likes of Debbie, Davood, Jo and Mollie all hanging around in the middle of the leaderboard danger zone. Logic suggests that Charlotte, Simon or Brian will be in the dance off, but could tonight see our first SHOCK!BOOT of the series?

Before we get to that, of course, we have a ton of business to get through, beginning with one of the weirdest pro dances we’ve seen in some time, to a very percussive version of ‘Run Boy Run’. I noticed on Twitter someone suggesting it looked like the kind of thing our old friend NotLouis (a.k.a. Brian Friedman) could have conjured up in one of his fevered dreams and I totally see where they were coming from. The storyline is that mad King Anton has some kind of bizarre S&M dungeon where he lures unwitting pros and makes them wear a ton of eyeliner and fetish gear. Pasha and Brendan play the caped gatekeepers, whilst Kevin, Giovanni and Aljaž are poor innocent little boys who find themselves thrown in the dungeon unwittingly. Lots of Stomp-cum-paso-cum-haka dancing [this is probably the wrong scenario to use the word "cum" in - Steve] ensues (none of which is actually done by Anton, let’s be thankful for small mercies). They then escape the dungeon and emerge into the realm of light, where Gorka ushers them in with some floating cloth. Then all of the sex dungeon pros turn up in white as I don’t know, heavenly beings or something, and this freaks our three plucky heroes out so they run to the back of the stage and put their hands on their head and presumably scream into the wall. I haven’t the foggiest.

Tess and Claudia enter. Claudia is wearing a fairly cute black-and-white striped dress. Tess is wearing a red dress, and somebody has stitched an ugly wave of red fabric along the side of it to give her the impression of being a theatre curtain that is pulled halfway open. This really has not been a good weekend for her, wardrobe-wise. Claudia says she hasn’t had as much fun in the dungeon since BLACKPOOL. Yes, Claud, we all know the tabloid rumours about what happens there. I’m mildly impressed they got that gag in before the watershed.

The judges enter, in pairs - Shirley and Bruno (Shirley and Barbie pink with an asymmetrical neckline-watch out Tess, you’ve got competition. Then Darcey and Craig. Darcey is wearing a white trousers and top combo that actually makes her look really neat. Good job, Darcey’s stylist.

Tess and Claudia preview the rest of the show, including the dance off, Gregory Porter and ‘frame by frame’ aka Len’s Lens which I thought they were calling dance debrief? Also, I don't want to relive it frame by frame after I've already done that in recap form.

There follows a recap of last night in which: Simon has a sweaty stomach, Joe feels like an idiot in his sequined vest, the cameras run frantically around Gemma and Aljaž, Hot Greg does his usual authoritative act (hooray), Gorka blows us a kiss (love you too), so does Craig (thanks, I guess). We also see Mollie and AJ biffing their lift whilst Craig says he loves the lifts in voiceover, which is marginally hilarious. Susan and Kevin get a big bump up, including Lee, (Susan’s wife) being quite tearful. Per Hall (Jonnie’s childhood surgeon) gives an interview where he says it was a delight to see him dancing beautifully. Aston and Janette’s dance is presented only with Bruno’s positive comments, not with the negative ones they receive from everybody else, Davood and Nadiya are shown as being on a high, as are Ruth and Anton. Debbie and Giovanni are shown with mixed comments, as are Mollie and AJ. Joe, Charlotte, Brian and Simon are presented with negative comments only, suggesting potential bottom two-ers. Then things get back to the positive, with Gemma and Aljaž and Alexandra and Gorka being singled out as highlights. Alexandra’s brother David says it was amazing to see her get that score.

And now time for our first results of the evening. Safe are: Susan and Kevin (and I know they say these are in no particular order, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they got the highest vote of the night); Jonnie and Oti; Ruth and Anton; Alexandra and Gorka; Simon and Karen (which he is completely shocked about-and she seems quite sad about). The first couple in the dance off, and a shock result, perhaps - Davood and Nadiya. Davood says he’s a bit gutted, but it is what it is - and he thought they did the best dance they’ve done so far and he’s happy to do it again. Craig says they can’t do anything to change the routine, but he wants to see a real fire and passion and he says he was delighted with how they danced it first time and would like to see them repeat that this time. Tess says ‘we are all behind you’ (how dare she, biased BBC et cetera et cetera).

Up in the Clauditorium, Susan says she’s feeling tremendous and she has great memories of doing such a happy dance and knows the lots of the people really love that song and Morecambe and Wise.  She’s also sat clutching Jonnie’s hand and says she wouldn’t have believed a year ago she would be sitting on TV holding Jonnie Peacock’s hand. Claudia reminds Jonnie that he needs to learn to act and asks him to demonstrate his relaxed face. It looks like a blowfish - I don’t know if that’s meant to be a burn on Brian or not. Ruth is excited about having her first real success. Claudia says they have the samba next week and Anton says it’s going to look remarkably the same as the tango. Well, that would be better than the usual Anton!Latin, so I’m all for it. Alexandra has a teddy with her - her lucky mascot that she calls ‘family’ who she takes everywhere with her. Not sure I would bring that onto TV with me, but do what you need to, Alex. Claudia asks Simon if he assumed he would be in the dance off and Simon says yes, he did but he loved doing the dance and points out that Alexandra had more marks tonight than he’d had in the last two weeks combined. Claudia said he needs Alexandra’s mascot.

Time for our Very Special Guest Performance of the evening-Gregory Porter doing an unbearably slowed down, dreary, version of ‘Smile’ that is having the opposite effect on my face. Is it just me who finds him smug and annoying? I just hope he’s never paired up with Andre Rieu and his smug face orchestra. At least Dianne and Pasha get to waft about doing some contemporary dance in front of him, and it’s nice that they’ve given them something to do, I guess.

Claudia introduces us to what they’ve started to call ‘dance debrief’ again. This segment really needs to establish its own identity, doesn't it? We open with Bruno singing along to Proud Mary. Shirley goes through Alexandra flexing her knees, giving great pivots and kickball changes. Shirley is also wearing incredible earrings that look like those magic tricks you get with several hoops that you have to pull apart and join back together, wonder if she borrowed them from The Lovely Debbie McGee? Darcey then demonstrates Aston’s sickled feet and how that damages the line of the leg. Wow, actual footwork technique from Darcey, let’s remember this moment for all of time. We look at Charlotte and Craig says her upper body should be still in the jive rather than all over the place as in the clip. We then look at Ruth and Anton and unfortunately begin with a moment where their legs are slightly out of time with one another, but then we focus on her steely facial expression and Bruno saying she really looked like she was determined to go for it.

More results. Safe are: Brian and Amy - she is ridiculously excited about this, such a strange dynamic with those two; Debbie and Giovanni; Aston and Janette; Gemma and Aljaž; Mollie and AJ, leaving Jo and catchier and Charlotte and Brendan. The couple in the dance off are, indeed, Charlotte and Brendan, meaning that the dance off is surely rendered pointless as we all know who the judges will send home. But still, we have to fill that airtime.  Charlotte says she is disappointed as they were trying to come back fighting and she loved the dance, but it is what it is, which is everyone’s catchphrase tonight for some reason. Tess goes over to the judges for advice and I’m sure their only advice could be 'hope Davood doesn’t even bother doing his dance'- and even then, I’m not convinced they’d put Brendan and Charlotte through. Darcey tells her to just keep her focus and do a great job. Brendan says they had an incredible time and they’ll go out fighting. I like how he’s not even pretending they have a chance of staying.

In the Clauditorium, Claudia reminds Brian that he told her the only exercise he’d ever done before was walking the dog and next week they have the jive. Brian doesn’t make a joke about this, but gets all sincere and says it’s just a privilege to be here. He then says that he’s been learning a lot from Anton, sorry Aston, and we have a moment to focus on their unlikely bromance as they embrace each other enthusiastically. I guess someone out there ships it, but it makes me feel a little bit sick in my mouth, sorry. Claudia asks Aston if he will call his child Brian or Brianetta (not Brienne?  Brianna? Briony?). We also learn that Debbie and Giovanni have the rumba next week - I. Can’t. Wait. Claudia tells Gemma she is the only celebrity who has gone up every week in the scores and Aljaž punches the air.  Does that say more about them or about everybody else, though? They have the foxtrot next week. Mollie and AJ have the Viennese waltz and Mollie is looking forward to getting back into ballroom. Claudia points out Joe’s fascination with dancing with furniture and asks if he is quietly building a home. She asks what else you would like to dance with and he suggests a pizza oven and a Lamborghini. Don’t make suggestions that you know the props team are likely to uphold, Joe.

Our pre-dance off interviews feature Davood saying he was a bit surprised to be in the bottom two after getting his highest score (especially when there are still so many celebrities in the competition) and if he goes he had a really good time. Davood, you could vomit all over the judging panel and the front row and still sail through over the others, don’t worry about it. Brendan thanks Charlotte for being a wonderful partner and tells her to just give her everything on the dancefloor and not leave a bit of herself off there. I must say, I haven’t generally seen stars leaving their random body parts on seats, but maybe there’s a first time for everything. [Except for that time Erin's hair fell out in the dance-off. - Steve]

Davood and Nadiya dance first and there is some clever work on behalf of the camera crew, who choose to focus almost exclusively on his bum, to the extent that it’s me ages to notice that he’d fluffed a couple of the moves, so distracted was I. He then massively struggles to lift her leg for one of their final moves, but overall it’s more than competent enough to see them through to next week. That said, I’d love it if Charlotte and Brendan were able to pull off a jive of the level of Alexandra’s in this dance off, just for the hell of it. Of course they don’t - but Brendan attempts to rival Oti in the puling focus stakes, popping, preening and pointing down the camera lens. Charlotte is also participating in the situation. A bit.

Craig saves the couple who ‘danced the best and fixed a problem’ (Brendan almost fixed the problem of… well, Charlotte having any role in the dance), Darcey the couple who ‘gave the best technical performance’ and Bruno ‘a couple who actually danced better than Saturday’ – you’ll be shocked to hear they all save Davood and Nadiya, as does Shirley.

Charlotte says she’s had an amazing time and thanks Brendan and all her supporters.  Tess says she’s improved and we cut to Karen on the balcony pulling an ‘uh-huh, sure she has’ face.  Brendan says it’s been one of the best Strictlies he’s had in 15 years.  He got to sass the judges a lot and do Top Gun, of course he did. They dance off to ‘Don’t Stop’ and I look forward to the aftermath on ITT on Monday.  Next week, Steve’s off having a social life or something so I’ll see you then for Week Before Halloween Week!

Burke and Hair

Week 4: Top 13 perform - 14 October 2017

Last week! Our first official theme week of the series occurred. Brian pulled out a surprisingly reasonable performance, Aston gave us the first interesting cha-cha-cha since Natalie Gumede, Richard faced off against Simon in the dance off where, inexplicably, Simon’s car crash Buzz Lightyear routine was voted through by all four judges over Richards super camp Flash Gordon. What even is the show anymore? However, none of that was as important as the controversy over the definitely, definitely real 10-second rule, which has always been a thing, just as we have always been vigilant about extra lifts and at war with Eurasia.

This week! The recap comes to you very delayed due to my headset breaking leaving me stranded in the actual time I’d put aside to recap, meaning I needed to pinch my work one until the new one arrived and find spaces to recap in some very busy days, and then Dragon deciding to format everything in red italic underlines, highlighted in green-which I couldn’t get rid of, even when trying to work with in Blogger, rather than Word.

Then I threw everything out of the window and had to start all over again. Anyway-apologies, especially if I seem rather curt or if the recapping ends up rather short as a result. Also! This show is still two hours long and there are still far too many celebrities and (spoiler alert) the first two thirds will be really dull!

I’m not recapping the pre-credits sequence as it’s the usual boring black and white ‘we don’t want to go home montage’, and we have enough filler coming our way, as it is. Tess and Claudia enter-Claudia in black, Tess in white. Tess’s dress is another weirdly asymmetrical affair. It’s as if she goes to a special tailor just to get that particular look, isn’t it? Tess describes last week’s highlight is having a pair of trolls that blew everyone away. Very generous of Aston and Janette to be so giving even after the dancing, wasn’t it?

The judges enter. Darcey arrives weirdly, stroking her arm. I think Shirley giving her a dressing down the other week has officially broken her. Speaking of Shirley, she’s arrived in a ball gown made of curtains. You do you, hun. Our celebrities enter: Ruth and Anton; Davood and Nadiya; Mollie and AJ; Gemma and Aljaž; Simon and Karen; Debbie and Giovanni; Aston and Janette; Charlotte and Brendan; Joe and Katya; Susan and Kevin; Jonnie and Oti; and Alexandra and Gorka. Literally the only person doing the dance along is Aljaž. Such a special weirdo, this series, isn’t he?

The first couple of the evening are Debbie and Giovanni and, of course, we are reminded of the entirely manufactured for drama controversy over the 10 second rule last week. The slow mo recaps of Debbie’s face in reaction to this are an utter treat. Onto the comedy VT that has been making Debbie laugh all week, then. Remember how their VT’s have been essentially them living out porn fantasies? Well, here’s another. Giovanni is Debbie’s post man, and she keeps ordering packages from him (who wouldn’t want Giovanni’s package, et cetera)-learn the punchline is that the final package, which he finds heavy, is her. Rest of VT redacted due to watershed. Not gonna lie, this was not quite as hilarious as Debbie’s actual hilarity about it on ITT, but they are still giving better VT game than most of their competitors, so…

Sadly, what they are not giving us that is better than their competitors is a competent cha cha. It’s danced to the ‘Shoop Shoop Song’ and the storyline is, indeed, Gianni being a postman and them having a torrid liaison. Debbie gives him lustful looks, flirty dancing and shoes and his shirt gets ripped open. Note that I’m not talking about the actual dancing, that’s because it… isn’t especially good. By no means a car crash for the ages, but Debbie doesn’t look entirely comfortable and she’s not giving it enough energy – other than when she does her patented stick the leg up over the head to aerate the chuff move, she looks like she actually quite hates this particular dance – and who can blame her, the cha-cha is the worst of the worst. Still, it’s over now, even if it doesn’t bode especially well for her salsa and samba. I have a theory on Giovanni and Debbie’s diminishing returns, by the way, which is that since Chris stopped pre-empting their weekly narrative, they’ve been floundering without his guidance.

Dance over, we meet our singers, with new boy Jamie replacing Lance - not sure if that is simply for this week (for reasons that will be made clear fairly soon) or if he is here to stay. Also, Dave Arch, the wonderful, wonderful orchestra and the man in the hat are here, too.

Over to the judges and Shirley opens by telling Debbie how wonderful she looks and complementing Giovanni as well. It’s never a great sign when we open on how contestants look rather than the dancing, is it? She once Debbie is dancing to be more earthy and less balletic. Yes, Shirley, get those burns in on Darcey, stoke those flames. Bruno says Debbie always delivers, on time, exact and efficient and very bending. He says she reminds him of centuries and he loves how dainty she is and how clipped her free hand is with no messing about. Craig says she looked a bit like a Barbie doll - too stiff, with legs that were too straight. And also too bendy. He also wants more raunch from them, and so say all of us, amirite? Darcey praises her intent and focus and says that she’s here to dance and show off her ‘facility’-yes, she does seem rather keen on that, doesn’t she?

In the Clauditorium, Claudia says week for is when they get pernickety. I think it’s just as and when it suits them, Claude, to be honest. Scores: six, six, seven, eight for a total of 27. Ouch.

It’s then time for the terms and conditions and Claudia says they are ‘Cher style’, as ‘Believe’ plays in the background-which makes little sense until poor Neil wades into shot in a big black curly wig, fishnet vest and leather jacket. Hey - anything to get screen time.

Speaking of which, Brian and Amy.  They are in the death slot - has the show decided it’s time to be done with them? Our reminder of last week when they achieved the heady heights of five from Craig does have an end of journey feel about it. The rest of their VT involves them going to an empty tapas bar with Brian’s wife and daughter, who seem remarkably un-embarrassed by everything, which is not what we expect from contestants’ relatives who usually look like they want the ground to swallow them up, but I guess if you live with Brian, you’ve probably learned to have a high shame threshold.

They’re dancing the Paso to ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’, and Brian opens with a completely out of time and wrong tempo shout of ‘1234’. He is dressed like an arthritic rock star, and she is dressed as Karen Clifton from two weeks ago. Between them, they have emptied the local Boots of black eyeliner. And if you were wondering why we suddenly had new singer Jamie turn up, this is the reason - he manages to do a decent Justin Hawkins impression, which goes to show that occasionally when a song is out of the range of the usual singers, something is done to address the situation. I just wish it would happen more often - I feel for the regular singers as they are asked to cover so many genres and clearly they are not all going to match their vocal tones, so the problems we identify with their performance a lot of the time are really about song choices that are beyond their capabilities. Anyway, it sounds good, is what I’m saying. What is less good, surprise surprise, is the dancing. Brian is clutching his hips the whole time and has a look of Eddie Izzard’s grandad about him, facially. After Simon and Karen’s effort two weeks ago and Flash Gordon last week, I have had all of the comedy duffer Paso Dobles I can handle in one series, sorry guys. [I have decent hopes for Susan's, since at least Kevin is King of Pasos. - Steve]

Bruno says he went for the shapes and ended up falling to pieces, with his arms flailing everywhere. Brian, I was aiming to be you. Fair play, he almost got a smile out of me there. Craig says it was stumpy and largely dancing by numbers, but he can see that he is trying. Darcey said his lips had conviction and he was trying to extend his body and that it was a great improvement overall. Shirley appreciated his ‘oval’, and she’s giving him an extra point for being a blowfish or something.  Gok Wan and Tim Lovejoy, in the audience, seem to approve, anyway.

Scores: four, six, six, five for a total of 21.

Claudia makes a vague joke about Gemma doing a dance under the Northern lights, quotes or ‘as they call them up north, lights’.

Tess introduces the next couple, sitting in between former Strictly legend Frankie bridge and former Strictly Christmas legend, Yellow JLS, aka Merry Christmas JLS aka the only member of JLS that counts. Seeing Frankie there only serves to rub salt in the wound that we have a lower tier Saturday up next. Also, Tess gets a little bit molesty with Frankie, call Ofcom.

Frankie also features in Mollie and AJ’s VT, the story of which is that the dance is going badly until Frankie turns up and then it becomes great (or, as the visual evidence suggests, Mollie just feels embarrassed the whole time). I could not be less invested in this pair at this point.

They are dancing the salsa to ‘Súbeme La Radio’ and all I can think about whilst watching them is how much they are a cut-price version of Pixie and Trent - at least Pixie and Trent went to Amsterdam and got stoned. And gave us ‘Danger! High Voltage!’ And when they did a rubbish salsa, at least they had the decency to bring me a silly hat to go with it. Also, the lifts suck and at one point he drops her on her shoulder. And yet poor Chloe and poor Neil are still sidelined as proper pros.

Tess attempts to ignite some interest in the pair by saying at least Mollie did her bikini line, spawning Internet outrage in the process, but I bet there is less outrage than they would have been had she not shaved #everydaysexism. Craig says the footwork was sloppy, she needs more rotation in her hips and her timing was a bit late in places, but he loved the lifts. Especially the one where AJ dropped her because it’s about as entertaining as they’ve ever got.  At least I assume that was the subtext. Darcey says she is definitely saucy and the two of them together are fabulous, and that Mollie lost her place sometimes, but that the lifts were improving. Shirley says it was a challenging routine and she was 100% committed to it, but it lacked in quality dance content. I’ll say. Shirley suggests to work on her footwork and in Latin to imagine your feet like a clock and present them at the 5 to one position, rather than in parallel. Hooray for technical advice! Bruno says if it had any more lifts, they would have ended up in Cirque du Soleil and that there was a real sense of flow missing, she kept stopping in between movements, but he appreciates the ambition. Bruno would like to see her do it again, and get it right. Pretty sure she’s not going to hit the dance off just yet, Bruno, but maybe you know more than I do.

In the Clauditorium, Mollie finds dancing embarrassing. What a tragedy. Scores: six, seven, seven, seven for a total of 27.

From one set of bland beautiful people to another. Is it just me, or were you hoping Davood and Nadiya would have more personality than they’ve displayed so far? Their VT centres on Davood being dizzy in the Viennese waltz. Whilst this narrative does get boring, year-on-year, especially when it never delivers in somebody having a full on vomit/faint, I do empathise with his position - I get extreme travel sickness and would feel exactly the same. Hell, I walked out of a 4DX film 20 minutes in because I couldn’t cope with the motion, and I’d paid an uplift and everything, and us Grimbarians like to get value for money. [I did not know the word "Grimbarian". Never let it be said this blog is not educational. - Steve] He uses those little travel sickness bands to try and help him - although I’m not convinced they actually work, or at least they never have for me.

They are dancing to Jessie Ware’s ‘Say You Love Me’ and it’s a facially dramatic Viennese waltz, that never quite delivers in the movement what it promises in the faces - it’s a very serviceable mid pack mid-journey Viennese waltz - functional, but not remarkable, and he does look a little bit stuttery in places - which is no doubt the sickness. He looks pretty green after they finish and tells Tess he’s seeing two of her. [No wonder he feels unwell. - Steve] Oh well, never mind Davood, it’s not like you’ll have to do that dance again, ever, is it?

Darcey likes that he’s tamed his inner beast, and managed to hold onto his frame, despite the constant turning. She says he could still do with smoothing out the quality of his movements, but it was generally nice work. Shirley opens by saying she hasn’t been able to sleep all night thinking of him grinding in her face. I’m sure no one can blame you for that, Shirley. She compliments his change step, explaining it’s very hard to do that when you’re spinning. Bruno does his patented endorsement of them as the sexy couple, saying he is always so hot watching them, and he liked the intensity of the piece, and he appreciated how Davood kept the timing with the song being on two, rather than on three. Oh, the joys of using 6/8 music. Craig says there was too much of the dance out of hold, and that the section in the centre took him away from the Viennese feeling.

Up in the Clauditorium, we are told that Nadiya’s mum is here, and we cut to her looking like the most disapproving mum in the whole world. Tens, Nadiya, or no tea for you tonight. Scores: six, seven, eight, eight for a total of 29. Claudia tells them it’s their highest score and Davood says he’s ecstatic. 

We then have our weekly Claudia’s comedy corner. This one focuses on Claudia eating a banana (because Karen will be having bananas in her headdress later), telling Tess that fear over slipping on one is purely an urban myth invented for TV comedy, you can guess the rest. My favourite part of Claudia’s comedy corner is whether or not Tess is going to break out of her robot mode and this one almost manages it, but not quite.

We now come to Charlotte and Brendan, the pair most people are talking about this series (Giovanni and Debbie aside, let’s face it). Well, when I say the pair people are talking about, I mean they’re talking about Brendan, obviously, and by people doing the talking, I mean Brendan. Their VT recaps how the mean judges are out to get them and features extracts of their car crash training footage as seen on It Takes Two. The comedy gimmick is to bring Charlotte’s husband, then while Brendan asks him if it’s okay to ask Charlotte for her hand in fake marriage in the dance.  Guys, that’s not how consent works.  

This jive looked a complete state in rehearsals, so I’m kind of hoping for a train wreck we’ll never forget, to be honest. Sorry, Charlotte. They are dancing to Bruno Mars’ ‘Marry You’ and there is an incredible amount of faffing about in it. The beginning includes much more than 10 seconds of Brendan jumping up the stairs, sliding down the banister and offering a ring box to Charlotte. The routine, when it eventually starts, involves a lot of Charlotte waggling her hands like she’s shaking water off them, some very unpolished kickball changes, clumpy footwork and a lot more faffing about where they put wedding gear on, get under an arch (sadly not Dave) and do the ceremony-more than 10 seconds worth of this as well. What’s missing in all of this - kicks and flicks, actual jive content, you know that kind of thing. That said, it’s not quite as bad as it was in rehearsals and there aren’t any mistakes on the scale of their cha-cha, it’s just not very good.

Shirley’s first comment-removing her glasses in the way that teachers and parents have of demonstrating how disappointed they are in you-is calling Charlotte ‘Mollie’ (poor Charlotte). She said there were nine counts of eight (I’m assuming in music terms) before they got started and they can’t criticise other people for that, without mentioning it, but she did like a tiny aspect of Charlotte’s Charlotte’s footwork. One aspect. Once. Huge praise. Bruno says that he liked that she was ‘participating in that situation’ which is a) the biggest backhanded compliment ever and b) presumably a reference to last week where Brendan did everything. Craig says her shoulders should not be moving in the kicks and flicks but he is surprised. Tess asked to clarify if this surprise is a good one, and he says, well, yes, surprised that he liked a bit of it. Darcey says you could see how much Charlotte was enjoying it (LOL Darcey, no, you couldn’t) and that she kept the kickball changes going and going and going and going (again, presumably this is a backhanded compliment, as that that was all there was to the routine).

In the Clauditorium, we learn that this is the first week that Brendan’s been sweating in rehearsals since series 1 with Natasha. I guess he is getting a little too into the storyline of being a newlywed, huh? And we thought it was Debbie and Giovanni where all the fun was happening. Scores: four, five, five, five, for a total of 19, an improvement on their score last week at least.

Joe and Katya are next and, lovers of the facial furniture, you may want a moment to mourn the loss of his moustache. Their VT covers the fact that he had a birthday this week and Katya bought him cakes with their faces on. Their training footage also looks completely appalling and Joe doesn’t seem to be able to get the chapter frame right, which bodes well.

Indeed, this dance is bad. His arms, in particular, are completely awful - he has no shaping in them, half the time he looks like he doesn’t know what to do with them, and his face is flushed with embarrassment throughout. And when I say that, don’t think that I’m saying his legs and hips are any good, because they really aren’t. There is also some faffing about with a door, because God forbid Joe do a routine without a huge piece of prop furniture. It’s his ‘thing’ now. The one thing I could say about it that’s nice is that the singers do a reasonable enough job of ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’. It is a bit better than Brendan and Charlotte’s, simply because Joe has more dancing prowess in general and a better sense of performance and rhythm, but not one of his better routines.

Bruno says that the routine was very fast and he couldn’t keep up with her, and the footwork was bad. Craig agrees, saying his hips were also part of the problem and he looked awkward throughout, demonstrating that he seemed to be struggling. Craig says it looked like he got off a horse because his legs were so far apart. Darcey says she didn’t think it was too bad-although there were moments where he seemed to switch off. She found it inconsistent, with places where he was better than others, because Darcey doesn’t trust him to know what inconsistent means. Shirley loves the music choice-yes, because Joe had everything to do with that. Shirley said he missed the mark onto many aspects of dancing tonight, and if he can get the fundamentals right, it will serve him well throughout the whole competition.

Scores: five, seven, six, six for a total of 24. This evening is going so well, isn’t it?

Ruth and Anton now and Tess says Ruth needed to learn how to be a strong, confident woman, so that will be the focus of her VT. I would say to have been married for Eamon Holmes all that time suggests she does have a level of strength, but I guess you could also interpret it as she’s used to being talked over all the time? Anyway, the thrust of it is that they go to the set of Loose Women and all of her co-hosts (including Strictly ringer of yore, Denise Van Outen) talk over her and dance with Anton instead. Hooray for confidence!

They are dancing the tango to ‘Allegretto’ and lovers of Ruth’s wigs may be disappointed by the lack thereof this week. However, as routines go, this is clearly their best. Yes, there are moments where she clings to Anton for dear life and looks a little bit afraid or unsure as to what’s happening, and the footwork is a little flat-footed in places-but predominantly, they keep up with the pace (probably using pace to their advantage given the VTs we’ve had of Ruth preferring to dance quickly), there are some recognisable tango steps, she is generally keeping in time and, whilst it doesn’t attempt anything especially complex, what it does do it generally does well. They are ecstatic as it finishes, bless.

Craig says that’s more like it, and whilst there are small problems with gapping and elbows, it’s a big improvement. Darcey says her frame needs a little bit of work but she loved how Ruth managed to gain control in places, and she wants to see more power in Ruth’s performance and less reliance on the music to bring the power on her behalf. Shirley says it’s 100% improvement on their rumba and that she did an amazing fall away (I’m not sure what that is, but I take her word for it). Bruno says there were no mistakes and he thought her neck was going to explode with the force with which she grabbed Anton.

The Clauditorium is full of joy and Claudia says the other contestants were screaming at her as she did it. Anton says this is her dance-and, therefore, presumably, he doesn’t think she’s likely to own any of their future routines? Scores: six, six, six, six for a total of 24. Anton says he’s not sure why sixes should matter that much, but they do. Claudia: ‘talk to Brian’. Heh.

We get a mid-episode leaderboard, in which the highest score is 29. Great. It is possible that could change now, though, because we have Aston and Janette. Their coverage of last week focuses on the pot stirrer, presumably to rub it in Brendan’s face even more. Rehearsal footage of this week shows Aston struggling with the speed of the quickstep and wearing an unattractive bun on his head. The conclusion to this is that he hopes it will be better by Saturday. Talk about downer ending.

They open with a cute/annoying gimmick (delete as per your preference) where they are lit in silhouettes, Aston directly above Janette, as a noisy neighbour. I make it 12 seconds before they get into hold. The choice of ‘Mr Blue Sky’ is quite a good one for the quickstep, as it gives the dance a real personality, and Aston is very good at the character aspect of the dance, portraying a kind of cuteness with a comedic edge. The dancing itself, though, is not their finest. His legs are a bit of a mess, as if he’s not quite sure where to put them at any given moment-this is particularly true when travelling across the floor. It also seems as though Janette choreographed routine that slightly beyond him, and I admire her ambition, but that kind of thing has been her undoing many times before-including two weeks ago with their salsa.

Tess says their scores have gone up week on week and asks the judges if that is likely to continue. Darcey immediately bursts that bubble by saying she was disappointed with it and that the footwork got worse as it went on. She says that he was pigeon toed, presumably getting in before Shirley can, and had flexed foot at various times and she ends with a patronising ‘but well done’. Meow. Shirley says she agrees with Darcey when it comes to the feet. That’s right, Shirley, confuse her with building her up in between all the knocking her down. She says his frame was a good try but wasn’t consistent throughout, and he needs to really think about how uses his ankles in the shaping of his feet. Bruno says the sky is the limit for him and he loves his speed, his timing, his ease of movement on the interpretation of the song and argues that he found the footwork impressive. Craig says it lacked elegance and was quite jolting in places, but he loved the routine as a whole-particularly the energy and agility.

In the Clauditorium, Claudia comments that they haven’t done ballroom since week one, so it must’ve been like learning a new language-isn’t every dance supposed to be like learning a language? Aston says he hasn’t been getting much sleep because his pregnant wife has a new pillow and is taking up much of the bed. Claudia says ‘boo-hoo to you, you’re not making a new human inside you, so sorry you’re not getting enough sleep’. Scores seven, eight, eight, nine for a total of 32. Even Janette is shocked by the nine, as she should be.

Simon and Karen now, whose training footage rivals Charlotte and Brendan’s for its potential to be a disaster. The narrative of their VT is that he keeps doing steps that are too wide for the Samba and has to put a pound in a dance equivalent of a swear jar each time. Hilarious.

The fact that they are dancing to ‘Copacabana’ and he is in a colourful Hawaiian shirt, whilst she has plastic kids’ shopping set bananas in her hair should be your indication that this dance is being played for comedic purposes. His movements are those of a dad who’s downed too many Sangrias from the all-inclusive bar in Torremolinos (Flo notRimmer is presumably incredibly proud at this moment in time) - but I am guessing that’s probably what they were going for, given that they know they can’t achieve technical brilliance. His body moves in a very bizarre way-his limbs are all over the place and they look like they don’t even belong to the same person half the time - each am is tensed and twisted at a completely different angle, for example, making me wonder how he’s even managed to achieve that. Still, fair play to him, he’s embracing more of the comedic side than I thought he might. He isn’t doing very well at keeping up with the beat, though, and once they go into the moving around the floor sections (he just about copes when they are standing still), it falls even more to pieces.

Shirley begins by saying there were some mistakes and Simon replies ‘I know’. He is growing on me. A bit. However, she was pleased that there was a lot of basic samba content in there with a whole range of steps. Bruno says it went down like a Pina Colada (surely that’s a good thing?) [Maybe Bruno's more of a Sex On The Beach man? - Steve]. And it looked like Simon had had a few, with him being more Benidorm than Brazil, but he could see that Simon had tried hard. He tells him, next time do it right. Fully anticipating him being in the dance off their than Craig says it had potential at the beginning, but it descended into a mess, whilst Darcey says he gave it his all and it was a ‘sweet party rather than a cracker’. Karen gives this the WTF eyes that it truly deserves. Tim Lovejoy and Gok Wan in the audience, look at this with a slightly nervous expression that reads to me ‘If we ever do this show, will we be able to do that dance any better’? Scores: 4, 5 (which has about two people clapping, 5 (about 10 people), 5 (cheers and whoops) for a total of 19.

Gemma and Aljaž now and, poor girl, what have they done to her hair? It looks like it’s been wrapped up in glitter tinsel. She’ll be finding bits of that in her pillow for weeks. Aljaž says last week was one of his favourite ever weeks. All this time it was Pasha they were putting in terrible clothing and make-up to look like a hideous comedy character when Aljaž was desperate for it, who knew? For some reason, their highlight in the scoring was getting a seven from Craig. Such strange beings, these two. The dance is apparently going to be set under the night sky which is a cue for them to go to the Greenwich Observatory. Aljaž says it’s going to be beneficial because you have to look up and in the paso doble you have to keep your chin up. On flimsier premises have VTs been made. As Gemma looks through the telescope she sees a 10. Aljaž says where? She laughs ‘weeks away’. They then try and dance and she is in a really tight skirt, which is probably not the best choice.

They are dancing the Paso to ‘Viva La Vida’ and she’s wearing a glittery bodice with fake crisscrosses on it that actually looks pretty cool, combined with a pink skirt (Kelly Brook sparkly cape of yay never forget), whilst he has a pink waistcoat and black trousers with the obligatory bare chest. The dance starts a little bit too contemporary dance like, but once the music really kicks in, it starts to develop real purpose. She has a ridiculously over-the-top Paso face - gnashing her teeth throughout as if possessed - and whilst the shaping in her arms is dynamic but not always very elegant, there’s a real sense of attack and energy about the dance. Then there’s a bit where they clap glitter, which is quite fun, and he strangles her to death. The end.

Bruno calls her a real gem and loved that they did a step with a pullback which he hasn’t seen very often. Craig says she needs to be sharper and more dynamic out of hold and take up more space when she’s by herself, but overall it was powerful and they really took over in hold and he loved it. Aljaž looks like all his Christmases have come at once. Gemma is like ‘calm down luv’, because she’s DED NORMAL. Darcey says she loves her but she thinks she buries her chin a little bit too much. Darcey found it powerful but sensual and says Strictly is a marathon rather than a sprint and she can see Gemma here for the long run. She also noticed some beautiful footwork on her twist turn.

Claudia says their scores have gone up every week, unlike everyone else in the show. Scores: eight, nine (which Darcey delivers a horrible aggressive way that she has), nine, nine for a total of 35 and they are, understandably, ecstatic with that.

Alexandra and Gorka now and I’m so delighted to see that she has big hair after implying on ITT that she might not. Tess, over with Bruno, says Alexandra is playing the role of the diva and she knows just the person to give her tips (Bruno) - girl, Alexandra duetted with Beyoncé, she doesn’t need any diva tips. Their VT focuses on some moves they are finding tricky in training, including Alexandra going through his legs. She says she’s worried that Gorka’s bum will knock her out-I’m sure many people have had that response to his derriere, yes.

This is the ‘Proud Mary’ jive we were denied with Natalie Gumede when she was taken ill and it’s everything we’ve been waiting for for all those years. Alexandra throws herself into it with gay abandon, covered in silver fringing that really works for the over-the-top character. Gorka also has his chest out for good measure. It’s fast, it’s sleek, it’s full of energy, it looks like it should be on a stage show, so her musical theatre training (ringer) has clearly come in handy here. There’s a moment where it stutters a little before they slide her under his legs, but then it picks the pace up pretty swiftly afterwards-he even does a leapfrog over her which works really well-he manages to clear the hair and everything. After sitting through so much dross, I’m glad the evening’s starting to really pick up. Although I’m sick of jives being feted as the 2nd/3rd/4th/5th coming, that still was a wonderful routine.

It receives a standing ovation from the audience, what seems a genuine case of Tess astonishment, and a half standing ovation from the judges (Shirley and Bruno) and a rewind from me because it was so much fun.

Craig said he had no idea where that came from and she was dancing to split the atom, and he found it had a nuclear reaction - do we want to be making offhand comments about that given The State of the World in 2017? Darcey says she kept going and was just brilliant. Shirley said she is ‘proud Shirley’ and it left her speechless. Bruno says he had the honour to work with Tina Turner-at which Alexandra gasps ‘did you? Wow!’ and thus divides the audience into lovers and haters who either think she’s adorkable or up herself OMG entitled ringer bitch (the latter are entirely wrong of course) Bruno says Tina Turner is a force of nature and Alexandra really captured that quality in a dance.  Also, one of my former students, who’s a journalist, saw the actual Tina perform ‘Proud Mary’ live this week and I am dead from the jealous.

In the Clauditorium, Alexandra gets kisses from all the boys. Claudia tells her that her boyfriend like he was crying throughout - and we cut to her boyfriend looking incredibly unhappy to be on camera, with her brother laughing at it. Claudia says it’s lovely to Alexandra keeps mentioning how Gorka is a great teacher. Scores: nine, 10, 10, 10 for a total of 39 and our first 10s of the series. And if you are wondering whether Darcey delivered that with complete obnoxiousness, of course she did. Shirley has coined a new catchphrase ‘it’s never too early for 10 from Shirley’. Of all the things I don’t miss about Len, rhyming ten with his name is up there, kindly stop this Shirley thanks. Bruno’s fist bump seems almost tame in comparison. The rest of the contestants start screaming ‘Alex Alex Alex’ in the Clauditorium and she starts crying, hugging Claudia and saying that she wishes her mum could have seen her. Claudia says ‘baby, you did so well and we’re going to get you to your boyfriend and your brother now’. I’m not crying, you’re crying. [No shut up you are. - Steve]

Tess tells the judges she’s so glad they gave Alexandra tens (BBC BIAS!1!!) and as she introduces Jonnie and Oti, Oti wipes away a tear (who’d have thought it?) before realising the camera is switched on and gently wiping and turning her face into full beam smile mode. Atta girl.
Their VT reminds us that Jonnie has struggled to get into character-could we be seeing our first acting coach VT of the series? No. Instead they’re getting into character via the medium of re-enacting one of Captain Picard’s Dixon Hill holodeck stories from Star Trek: The Next Generation (Happy 30th TNG!  Now can we get Star Trek: The Even Nexter Generation, Paramount?  Discovery just isn’t the same, even with all the promo press telling us that’s all we deserve because the absolute state of humanity in 2017). Oti, is, of course, playing the alien of the week cunningly disguised as a foxy lady intent on bringing the ship down via the medium of losing Jonnie to the Holodeck forever before Riker comes in, seduces her and tricks her into revealing her nefarious plan! I hotly anticipate their Borg-themed Charleston in the future. [Neeeeeeeerrrrrrrrd. - Steve]

Their American smooth is to ‘Cry Me a River’, and the styling and lighting looks very Argentine Tango - all dark and moody. Which is an unusual, but not unwelcome, tone for an American smooth. You know how, often, the female pros on the show do that thing where they cover up the deficiency of their male partners by making the dance all about them (holla Ola) well, this is Oti giving a masterclass in how to completely dominate the dancefloor. She lunges, leaps and clambers, using Jonnie as her prop, throughout. For his part, he does perfectly adequately in hold and demonstrates plenty of strength in supporting Oti as she does the gymnastics around him. The most impressive moment is where she does a cartwheel over him as he lies on the floor and supports her. He isn’t quite into the tone of it, performance-wise, but you can tell he’s game for whatever ideas Oti is throwing at him, which is going to bode well, I think. If you were in any doubt as to who the new Queen of the pros was, doubt no more.

Tess says that Darcey wanted more character and asks if she got it. Darcey said there was a lot in the dance, particularly the lifts, although he leans forward little bit too much in hold and needs more confidence. She says when you have someone like Oti who is full on, hundred percent passion, he needs to be up there with her and fully exaggerate his character. He doesn’t seem to me like the kind of guy who channels passion very easily, he’s about as laid-back as they come, but I guess he’ll get his AMAZING CHARLESTON ACTING BREAKTHROUGH soon enough. Shirley said he had some nice moments, although he was a bit lumpy in places. She says he does have amazing peripheral vision, which gets him into the right position all the time and she was very pleased with how he handles himself. Bruno says it worked very well for him and he was playing it call, which is the right character. I think that’s just his natural self, Bruno, but whatever. He says it was brilliant that he never lost the phrasing throughout the dance and thought his musicality was absolutely correct. Craig says he tends to stop acting in hold and then loses the story and he suggests he has some acting lessons - I guess that next week’s VT sewn up given it didn’t happen this week. However, Craig loved it other than that.

In the Clauditorium, Jonnie says he loves out his choreography and we learn that the surgeon who operated on him and saved his life is in the audience. Much like Alexandra’s boyfriend, said surgeon does not seem to be very happy to be on camera. Jonnie calls him the man who stole his leg. Scores: seven, eight, eight, eight for a total of 31. Oti is very excited with that. Jonnie is also pleased.

And in your pimp slot tonight? Kevin and Susan. This could be one of those where they have done their annual let’s give the comedy contestant the last slot to give the public a laugh, but I’m kind of hoping it’s more than that because I really like these two. In their VT they catch the sleeper train, which actually looks like quite good fun - although I appreciate it won’t be if you’re doing it for business on a regular basis. They dance in the carriage, then go to bed in matching unicorn sleeping masks and tartan pyjamas, which I think is a Morecambe and Wise tribute as well, with a 2017 Instagram twist?

As soon as this quickstep to ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ begins, you can see why it was given the pimp slot. They open with absolute joy on their faces, Kevin dressed in his glasses to replicate Morecambe and they do some lovely business at the front with top hats and canes, before getting into the dance proper. She really can dance this one - it’s not necessarily a top of the pack performance, but a very solid dance, the kind that you usually get from a middling ability dancer. She doesn’t quite have enough bounce in the jumps - but height is no doubt a problem here. Sometimes her execution could be sharper, but this is far and away the best she’s ever done and the breeziness and sense of the joy that they’re clearly both experiencing makes it work-they end with the traditional Eric Morecambe dance and then do a big old jazz hands and exaggerated kicky ending in the style of Eric’n’Ern. What a great big beaming smile of a routine. Kevin Clifton, I salute you.

Susan is completely breathless and doesn’t seem to appreciate Tess trying to ask a lot of questions while she gets it back. I’d be exactly the same in her position. Shirley says ‘what a way to end the show’ and she was surprised how light on her feet Susan was and enjoyed her whizzing around the floor. Bruno says it was like a box of delights and every week she comes out with a surprise and that it was a wonderful tribute to Morecambe and Wise, as well as being a full on, proper quickstep. Craig says she ran around at a hellish speed and she missed a couple of moments due to the speed, but he thinks it was her personal best. Darcey says it was bright and breezy and beautiful and she wanted to hug them. She said she needs to watch the frame in places as the shoulder sometimes came up, but it was a gorgeous routine.

In the Clauditorium, we see that Susan’s parents are next to her wife on the front row and learn that normally Susan doesn’t let them see her perform, so good job that went well, eh?  Scores: seven, seven, eight, eight for a total of 30 and Susan lifts Kevin up in celebration. Neither of them can believe it. Claudia tells them that they got 10 more marks the last week and Susan launches herself at her with a full-on hug.

Scoreboard time!
1. Alexandra and Gorka - 39
2. Gemma and Aljaž - 35
3. Aston and Janette - 32
4. Jonnie and Oti - 31
5. Susan and Kevin - 30
6. Davood and Nadiya - 29
7=. Debbie and Giovanni - 27
7=. Mollie and AJ - 27
9=. Joe and Katya - 24
9=. Ruth and Anton - 24
11. Brian and Amy - 21
12=. Charlotte and Brendan - 19
12=. Simon and Karen - 19

Well, that’s got a few surprises in it, hasn’t it? I’m off to stick a lot of votes on Debbie this week because I think there’s a good chance that some of the mid-pack couples could find themselves in danger. Smart money would say Charlotte vs Simon dance off, of course, but you can never tell for sure. People may still be loving the saga of Brendan vs Shirley and Simon could possibly get a boost after being in the bottom two last week.

So, that was a dreary two-thirds followed by half an hour of extreme emotion. And that’s just the process of recapping. Join me later for the results show with the “fantastic” Gregory Porter.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

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

- Aston wears his bun (man-bun is a redundant term, no?) as a top knot in training.  It does not look good.
- Oti screamed when she saw Aston in his troll make-up for the first time.
- Craig doesn't really understand the meaning of the word "surprise".
- Craig thinks he would've probably voted for Richard if he was a regular punter at home.
- Craig thinks 'everyone' should know the 10 second rule.
- Apparently the 10 Second Rule means that the contestants can be out of hold for 10 seconds at the beginning, 10 seconds in the middle and 10 seconds at the end. That is some hot, hot bullshit.
- So much so that even Craig admits he doesn't usually bother applying it. #justicefordebbie
- It seems Richard hadn't banked on being out this early because filming commitments meant he couldn't be in the ITT studio for his exit interview.
- He also got pissed with some viewers on his way to film in Glasgow, so did his interview over the phone whilst hungover.
- Dianne has been enhancing Richard's vocabulary and teaching him words like "tezza" (which I think means "terrible"?).
- Bonnie Langford has been telling Davood to practice his hip movements while brushing his teeth, but he can't do two things at once.
- Aston didn't go to the toilet all day once he was in his troll costume.
- Janette's dance teacher came to watch them on Saturday.  Bet Janette was glad it wasn't in salsa week.
- Erin loves theme weeks.
- Erin's way of pronouncing 'buttocks' is 'butt-ex'.  There's some sort of joke in there somewhere.
- Erin thinks the 'rise and fall' controversy was Brendan 'bobbing up and down' to add some flourish to the tango.
- Anton is not here for demo time.
- Ruth prefers to dance quickly to get it over and done with, so sometimes Anton has to choreograph extra steps.
- Ruth was more worried about dancing sexily in front of her son than she was about dancing sexily in front of Eamonn.
- Anton thinks that only 10,000 people are watching The X Factor. Give it a few years, he probably won't be wrong.
- Ruth's love of wigs has now extended to the point of demanding that Anton wear them.
- Erin and Oti doing 'Proud Mary' is what you never knew your life was missing.
- Erin thinks Giovanni broke the entirely real 10 second rule because he was choreographing to the music instead of arbitrary and entirely made-up legislation.
- In an American smooth, the bum goes underneath the body. That can't be right, can it?
- If you want to make an impression, wiggling your bum on the judges' table is a sign you want to stay in the competition.
- Ian and Gorka apparently buy the shirts at the same shop.
-  Zoe loves it when Giovanni is naughty. *eyebrow raise*
- Giovanni is more than happy to play by the rules in future as long as all the other pros abide by the same rules, Brendan.
- Giovanni tickles Debbie if she goes wrong in rehearsals. Get a room, you two.
- Debbie has been watching Fred’n’Ginge for inspo in the evenings
- Debbie really enjoyed filming her VT for this week. The mind boggles.
- Joe has shaved his moustache off. Sorry everyone.  (His stubble is still more facial hair than Kevin can manage though)
- Judging by Katya's outfit on Weds, she thinks Halloween has come a couple of weeks early.
- Joe turned 42 this week. Or as he prefers to call it, "35 plus VAT".
- Katya bought him a tartan belt for his birthday.
- Zoe thinks 'Cry Me a River' is a 'Michael Buble classic'.
- Ian is enjoying Brian's paso face.
- Ian thinks Aston is going to struggle with the quickstep. Then again, he said that about Chelsee in series 9.
- Alexandra and Gorka and Aston and Janette are really good friends and train together and help each other out NO RIVALRY HERE HONEST.
- Alexandra isn't sure if she's going full-on big hair for her 'Proud Mary' jive yet.
- Gorka has a lot of stamina. *theatrical wink*
- Debbie's cha cha training outfit includes a black fringe dress and enormous blingy belt over multicoloured leggings.
- Ruth and Anton's tango training footage contains a lot of rise and fall.
- Simon was pleased to be first on on Saturday to get it over with.  It, presumably, being the shame.
- Karen doesn't care about the scores, she just wants to see Simon smiling at the end of each dance.
- This series has completely broken Karen and she's pretending to be a cat woman in training.
- Simon is not built for the samba - he has childbearing hips and a static back.
- There's a move in Simon's samba that they have nicknamed "the Ricky Martin". Ricky should sue.
- Brendan thinks we should "make this about Charlotte". Sure, Brendan. You go first. Any time you like.
- Like Giovanni, Brendan is blaming the music for him breaking the rules and doing some rise and fall (that he isn't calling rise and fall, of course).
- Susan's boots were made by the original Wonder Woman bootmaker.
- Vicky is planning some fruit for Karen's samba dress.
- Aljaž thinks his charleston with Gemma was the best dance he's ever done on the show.
- Aljaž met Ryan Giggs this week because he's mates with Gemma (how? We need more information on this!) and got totally starstruck.
- Coldplay are Aljaž's favourite band.
- This show seems to think there’s a scenario in which AJ would allow the breaking of a mirror to happen. Pull the other one.
- Lots of people stopped Susan at Euston station on her way home to shout “Wonder Woman!” at her.
- Susan’s first dance at her wedding was “clompy-clompy-clompy-clompy, clompy-clompy”.
- Kevin met Susan's family this week and they're all big superfans too.
- Susan probably won't be leading any more dances because dear god they have two lady presenters and a lady gay hasn't feminism done enough damage etc.
- This week’s pro group dance is a paso set in a parallel world where Anton is the king. Presumably that was in his contract.
- Chris Hollins doesn’t have fond memories of his jive. In fact he doesn’t really have any memories of the jive and that was mostly the problem with it.
- He also hated his samba. And pretty much everything else he danced.
- And he happily calls out series 7 as the worst. I'd say series 6 was in with a chance, but it's a close call.
- Candice Brown off the Bake Off is a Debbie fan.
- The highlight of Neil’s dance career was playing an assistant lollipop.
- Karen bought Kevin a book for his birthday.
- According to Mollie, Thursday is when AJ “really goes in”. I guess those showmance rumours were true.
- Mollie is trying to channel Beyoncé for her salsa. She also thinks AJ can be Jay-Z, but I think “names that are also initials” is pretty much all they have in common.
- Katya’s training technique involves digging her nails into Joe’s flesh to make him more aware of his body parts.
- According to Anton, the tango is “walking quick to music looking a bit intense”.
- Brian cannot remember the names of Indiana Jones or the protagonist of The Wizard Of Oz.
- Brian trained for 10.5 hours on Tuesday.
- Chris Hollins has welcomed Susan into the Hobbit club.
- Louie Spence thinks Mollie and AJ should breed.
- Chris thinks Simon is going home this weekend, Candice didn’t want to say, and Louie didn’t want to say unless he was being paid.
- Gorka seems to have inherited one of Robin’s old nipple-baring vests.
- Alexandra and Gorka went to a wedding together this week. ‘Proud Mary’ came on just as they were leaving and Gorka wouldn’t let Alexandra do their routine because her heels were too big.
- Alexandra cleans on Fridays, and Janette cleans on Friday mornings while Aljaž is making breakfast.
- Alexandra spent the whole of this week's Gethin'n'Gorka moment with her arms firmly round her man.
- 'She's So Lovely' by Scouting For Girls is still the worst song ever written.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Coles shouldered

Week 3: Top 14 Results (Movie Week) - 8 October 2017

We open with the much-hyped Disney-themed pro routine, which begins with lowly clerk Brendan opening a Mickey Mouse-shaped vault and removing a load of film canisters - no doubt containing his most cherished copies of his tango with Charlotte which definitely did not contain any rise-and-fall. (I think there are a few copies of Snowdance in there as well.) Through the magic of vaguely passable GCI, Simba and Nala bound out of the vault just as Brendan is blowing a load of glitter off one of the canisters, followed by Tigger and that snowman from Frozen whose name escapes me [Olaf!  He likes warm hugs etc - Rad]. Then Tinkerbell waves her magic wand and turns the ballroom into Agrabah and...I'm sorry, is this Kingdom Hearts or something? Anyway, for everyone who felt hard done by last night when Aljaž was put in that unflattering bear costume, there is reward tonight as he gets to play Aladdin with the girls out on full display. The pros dance to 'One Jump Ahead' before the scene changes to the underwater kingdom of...wherever it is Ariel lives. Katya has been gifted Dianne's hair for the role of Ariel and glides around on a harness to 'Part Of Your World', touching the floor almost as much as Mollie did in her American smooth. (Anton plays Prince Eric, for what it's worth.) Then we go to yet another number, this time 'Be Our Guest' with Janette as Belle. There's a quite impressive moment where Pasha chucks Janette back over his head, but that's the end and...I'm rather underwhelmed. I think they might have been better served by picking one Disney number and doing it justice rather than doing a drive-by of a couple of different films. (Also I bet all those costume changes were a right pain in the arse for the studio audience.)

Alan Dedicoat appears to have been on the sauce tonight, introducing and I quote, "our very own Lady and the Tramp, Tess Deeley [sic] and Claudia Winkleman!" Tonight Tess is wearing an asymmetric short black number with one sleeve, and Claudia's wearing a hot pink strapless dress. I know Claudia always prefers dark colours but bright pink really, really suits her. They remind us that we've voted, and two couples are about to face the pointless dance-off. The judges return, and Shirley's now in an all-white A-line dress (with much more freedom to move than she had earlier) and Darcey's in an all-in-one black pantsuit with red-lined slits down the sides of the legs. Darcey looks severe, and amazing.

But first: our recap of last night: Charlotte says there is "such a buzz" about the place (which is undercut with footage of Simon getting his make-up done, yes very clever editors, I see what you did there). Alexandra enjoys her transformation into an elegant lady, just as Aston enjoys becoming a troll. Davood remarks on the surrealness of all the characters you bump into backstage on Movie Week, we get to see Joe having his shirt sewn to his trousers. But what if he needs a wee? Speaking of which: Ruth shows off her Bond girl dress before informing us that she needs a wee. Gemma bursts through a door yelling "I am a cat -- no, I'm a panther!" Bless. One of the make-up team applies make-up to Jonnie's chest and I would just like to make it clear that if she ever phones in sick I am available to cover at short notice, free of charge. Then - best of all - Hot Greg The Floor Manager appears to give everyone the five minute warning. He's back! Finally, this series can get going! In terms of new and/or useful behind-the-scenes content from the show itself, Gemma and Aljaž celebrate their ever-improving scores, Una from The Saturdays is here to support Mollie but is rather cruelly captioned just as "Mollie's friend", Oti yells "WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT THAT BUM" to Jonnie, Davood's wife Isobel tells us that she's blown away and incredibly proud of him, Simon says it was "such a buzz" out there (yes, you did this joke already, show), Charlotte is treated to a slow-mo replay of messing up her footwork, Richard's civil partner (who is not a great advert for Christianity) says that he is a star, Ruth and Anton giggle about how crap their rumba was, Joe is chuffed to have got two thumbs up from Craig, Aston's mum is proud.

But enough jollity, it's time for Tess and the Cue Cards Of Doom. The following six couples are safe and guaranteed to be back next week: Gemma and Aljaž, Alexandra and Gorka, Charlotte and Brendan (who promises to keep quiet next week), Brian and Amy, Joe and Katya, and Aston and Janette. The first couple in the dance-off this weekend is...Simon and Karen. They march over to Tess and Simon says that he's been delighted with the whole Strictly experience, and whatever happens happens. Tess turns to Craig to ask what Simon can do to improve the amount of gapping in the performance that Craig critiqued earlier, and Craig's response is unsurprisingly "get closer to Karen, dimwit" (I am paraphrasing slightly).

Claudia is with the six safe couples, and the first item on the agenda is Amy's ear-splitting scream of delight when she learned they were through - Brian points out that she was so excited that she actually hit him with her elbow. Brian says that they're delighted to have survived this week. Charlotte reiterates that dancing on live TV is terrifying, and says that for the second week in a row it didn't work out how she hoped, but it's definitely going to happen next week. Definitely. Gemma was nervous again this week, but loved her charleston. Aston has a quickstep next week, and Claudia wants him to still be dressed as a troll. Alexandra has the jive next week, but apparently Gorka is a jive master and Alexandra vows to give it everything she's got. Claudia says that Joe's score went up by a full 10 points this week, and Joe says that he's still feeling the nerves but he's just trying not to let them get to him.

Next we have a musical interlude, with Sheridan Smith performing 'My Man' from Funny Girl. Interlude: I went to see Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl at the Menier Chocolate Factory - she was fantastic, but the show itself didn't really grab me. It's one of those shows where you realise why the songs that went on to be famous in their own right did so, and why the rest of the songs...didn't. Anyway, Sheridan plays the song right to the back row, complete with overexaggeration to cue the arrival of Giovanni and...Luba? Yes, that's Luba Mushtuk, who danced with Giovanni on his tour this year and also was the woman in the movie poster in Susan and Kevin's week one Viennese waltz. She's lovely and clearly very talented, but this does seem to be yet another snub of poor underused Chloe. GIVE CHLOE SOMETHING TO DO. SHE HASN'T EVEN BEEN ON IT TAKES TWO YET. [Although brace yourselves for ALL the puns if Luba does become a pro on this show - Rad]

The judges are brought up for the segment formerly known as Len's Lens, and we begin with Shirley analysing Susan's samba, specifically explaining where all of those different samba timings came in, and pointing out that Susan was striding too far in her volta promenade runs. Darcey talks about Mollie's awkward landings out of her lifts and her lack of core strength throwing her off-balance. Claudia wants to talk to Craig about the totally-not-made-up 10 Second Rule, and Craig explains that in competition you have to be in hold the whole time, but in Strictly there is totally a rule where you can break hold for 10 seconds, but any longer than that and it becomes an American smooth. Look, it says so right here in this book, juuuuuuuust below the camera lens, what's that, you can't see it, oh what a shame but it's totally there. [Right now there is someone on Digital Spy going through every quickstep ever with a stopwatch I hope - Rad] Craig then goes in to add that lifts aren't allowed in the ballroom dances (apart from the American smooth) and that Brendan put an illegal lift in Charlotte's tango that none of them actually bothered to mention at the time, because rules are rules except when Shirley's having a knife fight with one of the pros and everybody else is too excited to concentrate. Bruno concludes with a look at Joe's Viennese waltz, and says that the joy of it is how it should never feel interrupted - it should roll like a wave, and Joe did that beautifully.

From there, it's back to Tess and the Cue Cards of doom to find out who will be joining Simon and Karen in the dance-off. The six safe couples are: Mollie and AJ, Jonnie and Oti, Debbie and Giovanni, Davood and Nadiya, Ruth and Anton, and Susan and Kevin. That leaves Rev Richard and Dianne in the dance-off. I guess that lack of ties really did for him. Richard tells Tess that he's not disappointed - he's excited, because now he has another chance to wow Craig with his moves. Darcey tells him that he is "a unique Richard" (that's an insult I've never heard before) and tells him not to change anything, because he's clearly doing everything right and that's why he's not in the dance-off--oh. Actually, she does tell him to watch for those splayed fingers.

The remaining six survivors join Claudia upstairs, and Ruth says that standing under those lights isn't getting any easier each week. Debbie says she thought she might be in the dance-off this week (ok lol) and thanks everyone for voting for her. Jonnie compares Strictly to athletics and says it's a bit different to train three days for something that takes 90 seconds as opposed to training seven years to do something that lasts for ten seconds. That reminds me of the story of how I lost my virginity. We establish that Mollie's sister Ellen is a Strictly superfan, and Davood has the Viennese waltz next week. Finally, Susan wants to thank everyone for voting for her, and reveals that she'll be dancing to 'Bring Me Sunshine' - which was the first dance at her wedding. She's going to do a full Ore again, everyone!

After an It Takes Two trailer, it's time for the dance-off. Simon tells Claudia that he feels remarkably calm - he doesn't think he can do any better, and if this is his last dance, he's had a great time. Karen advises him to keep his frame, stay light on his feet and "heels on one". Heh. They head down to get ready, and Richard vows to tidy up his fingers - Dianne says she has in fact glued them together. She adds that he brings a lot of joy, and he needs to just keep doing that.

Simon and Karen reprise their quickstep, and it's probably a bit worse than it was the first time - Simon appears to go wrong in quite a few places, though to his credit he keeps going and doesn't drag Karen around that much. Richard and Dianne then go again, and it's pretty much the same glorious mess it was the first time. Bizarre to think that one of these is actually going to get to stay in the competition again, isn't it? [Honestly I thought Richard was better - if only because of how much worse Simon was than in the show proper - Rad]

Time for the judges to vote. Tess reminds us that in the event of a split decision, Shirley has the casting vote. And will vote for Simon. Craig says that he loved the entertainment value "of one couple", but he has to save the couple who were technically better: Simon and Karen. Darcey thinks they both made improvements to their dances (lol no they didn't) but again she votes to save the better technical performers, Simon and Karen. Bruno loves them both even though they're both crap, but saves the more "cohesive" performers: Simon and Karen. That means Richard and Dianne are out, and Tess checks with Shirley to confirm that she agreed with them, which of course she did. I mean, we're all praying for a Simon vs Charlotte dance-off next week and Shirley having the casting vote, right? Right? [Oh yes - Rad]

Richard tells Tess that he's enjoyed every minute, even the ones where Dianne was hissing "feet! frame! feet! frame!" at him through her teeth. He says that his highlight has been getting together with the whole group of celebs and pro dancers on the show, and makes a point of crediting the fantastic behind-the-scenes crew on the show [Adding him to my hit list - Brendan]. Dianne says she's had the time of her life, and Richard is a friend for life. Taking their cue from Dianne, the band plays '(I've Had) The Time Of My Life' for their last dance and everyone rushes on to hug Richard goodbye - it seems he was very popular with everyone else. Sure enough, in the reaction clips that play out afterwards, Mollie and Ruth say how sad they are to see him go, while Simon breathes a sigh of relief at getting to survive another day. Jonnie is very glad he never has to paso again, and Giovanni promises that The Cheeky Debbie McGee is back next week. What a note to end on! Rad will be here to bring you all the details - be sure to join her next weekend.

Twirls on film

Week 3: Top 14 Perform (Movie Week) - 7 October 2017

Last week: the class of 2017 faced their first elimination week while the producers learned the perils of back-loading the show with talent as the first 45 minutes or so left us all wondering what the hell we'd just watched. Things went well for the likes of Alexandra, Debbie, Aston, Mollie and Jonnie (and also Davood is included here in the montage even though he got the same score he'd received the week before and some fairly lukewarm critiques from the judges), but pretty much everyone in the front half of the show flatlined - particularly Charlotte, but don't even dare to suggest that was due to any flaw in Brendan's choreography or teachings, he knows where you live, he'll have you fired, he's got friends in high places! Chizzy Akudolu and Brian Conley ended up in the first dance-off, and Chizzy went out because [insert reason here when we actually figure out what it was]. Tonight, it's Movie Week, so the celebs have all been assembled in a small screening room to watch each other's training footage and throw popcorn at each other (Jonnie and Joe seemingly being the two biggest offenders, and I find myself unsurprised by this). It ends with everyone applauding Richard wailing that he can't get the hang of the dance, which seems a little unkind.

Titles! I'm still giggling at the background shenanigans in Chizzy and Pasha's segment. It's such a shame she went out first.

We open with a group routine from the pros and celebs to a La La Land medley (mostly consisting of 'City Of Stars' and 'Another Day Of Sun'), with Brendan as Sebastian (look, he just wants to open up a traditional cha cha cha club where people can come and experience a real cha cha cha and not that watered down populist rubbish that the Shirley Ballases of this world enjoy OKAY) and Nadiya as Mia. I hope they go super-meta by giving Chloe the role of Sebastian's sister, considering their shared position as someone who technically ought to be important but doesn't actually get any screen time. Or that halfway through Jason Gilkison comes out and tells them that it's actually supposed to be a Moonlight-themed routine and someone gave them the wrong envelope. They dance all around the backstage area in various riffs on the opening sequence from the movie, and let me tell you that Anton in a pastel-coloured polo and chinos is not a sight that any sensitive person should have to experience. The routine extends out into the marquee and the studio lot - in bright sunshine, in October, suggesting that this pre-record happened at least three hours ago. They return to the studio and everyone dances together and ticker-tape explodes everywhere. At this point I'm reminded of how, when I went to see La La Land, I really enjoyed the opening number but found the rest of the film never quite lived up to the standard it set. I hope that's not an omen.

Our "leading ladies" Tess and Claudia arrive in their best Academy Awards red carpet get-up - Tess is in a gold sequinned floor-length gown while Claudia is in an asymmetrical black number. I'm not sure that the cut of Tess's dress is completely flattering, but neither outfit is a disaster so let's just count our blessings and move on swiftly. Tess reminds us that some of the greatest screen legends have worked at Elstree Studios, and Claudia cites some examples: Harrison Ford, Jack Nicholson and of course Anton Du Beke. The judges make their entrance, and Shirley appears to have been placed in a dress that's rather too figure-hugging to allow her to walk down the stairs properly, so she has to hitch it up a bit to give her feet some more room and then ends up scurrying across the floor to make sure she hits her mark on time. What an icon.

Claudia holds a moment's recognition for Chizzy, who is now languishing in development hell, and then we move on to welcoming our remaining Strictly stars: Ruth and Anton (as James Bond and his latest romantic interest Gloria O'Minge), Davood and Nadiya (as Tony Manero and Stephanie Mangano), Mollie and AJ (as Maria von Trapp and that kid who turns out to be a Nazi in the end), Brian and Amy (as the Scarecrow and Amy Diamond from Over The Rainbow), Gemma and Aljaž (as Karen Smith's Hallowe'en outfit from Mean Girls and a furry), Simon and Karen (as some guy who got invited to a fancy dress party at the last minute and ended up with a Buzz Lightyear costume from Poundland, and a woman who'd had slightly more notice and went to the Disney Store), Debbie and Giovanni (as two people from Strictly Come Dancing: The Movie - 2Ed2Balls), Aston and Janette (as something out of my nightmares), Richard and Dianne (as Michael Fabricant and a sexy Deku Scrub from The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time), Charlotte and Brendan (as the living embodiment of Brendan's mid-life crisis), Joe and Katya (as a low-budget 1970s Russian porno), Susan and Kevin (as Wonder Woman and Some Guy), Jonnie and Oti (as Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood) and Alexandra and Gorka (as Mary Poppins and Bert the Chimney Sweep, apparently) [Thank God it wasn't just me who thought this and then got confused by their dance music being from My Fair Lady - Rad].

Simon and Karen are opening the show tonight with their Toy Story-themed quickstep. They reflect on last week's performance and how Simon messed up at the end (/throughout), but Karen tells him that he still did a brilliant job out there and carried himself like a professional. A professional wrestler, as far as I can tell. Simon's very excited about Movie Week, and Karen's very excited about them getting to be Buzz Lightyear and Jessie. Because this is Movie Week, we must have Comedy VTs For All, so Simon makes what he pretends is a working jet-pack and keeps wanting to play with it, much to Karen's "annoyance". Karen then has to leave training to take a woody - sorry, to take a call from Woody - so Simon puts on the jet pack, which he can't control. Oh those crazy kids.

And speaking of things that lack control, here's Simon's quickstep. I have some sympathy for him, because 'You've Got A Friend In Me' is not a song that lends itself well to quickstepping [so not.  And such a strange choice given it wasn't that many movie weeks ago that Denise and James danced to it - Rad], despite the changes they've made to the arrangement, and also because that outfit they've given him is really embarrassingly bad. [And is it just me, or did the make-up somehow make him look a bit like Ronan Keating? - Rad] At least leave the man with his dignity! On the plus side, it's the most confident performance Simon has given yet - he seems to know what he's supposed to be doing most of the time, and looks like he's enjoying himself, but the footwork is quite untidy, his hold is quite loose (and I think at one point he loses his grip on Karen entirely) and he does seem to be dragging Karen rather than leading her quite a lot of the time. Karen gets a lengthy solo at the end so Simon can be strapped into a harness and launched into space. Which, considering what's waiting for him with the judges, might have been the better plan.

Tess thanks the wunnerful orchestra and then asks Shirley if Simon has a friend in her. Shirley says that Simon always has a friend in her (yes, we noticed that last week) and she feels that when he holds his frame, he actually has one of the best frames in the competition. She also liked that Simon did some good basic quickstep and Karen didn't try to give him anything more complicated than he could handle (I like to think that pretty much everything Shirley says tonight, and indeed for the rest of the series, should come with a silent "...Brendan" on the end) and he's quite light on his feet for a strapping chap. Bruno felt that "at times you ran out of rocket fuel" and the audience start booing. His problem was the jerking and wobbling in Simon's upper frame, which needs to be still and graceful. Craig disagrees with Shirley - he thought Simon's frame was loose and he lost it halfway through, and that it looked like he was just jogging around the floor. But Craig did like the bit at the end where he flew. Darcey says it's always tough to open the show, but his scattered chassés are bothering her. She can see he's working really hard and the hours will pay off, though.

They go to infinity, and beyond (otherwise known as the Clauditorium) where Claudia says that Simon is doing it for all the dads out there. In certain sections of the gay community, that may well be true. Simon says he feels like he's getting a little bit better each week and understanding it a little bit more. Scores: Craig 3, Darcey 5, Shirley 6, Bruno 5 for a total of 19. Claudia reads out the voting number as the Jaws theme plays and Brendan and Neil pretend to be sharks.

In the death slot tonight, we have Ruth and Anton. Ruth says she really enjoyed her charleston last week, but thinks she could have done it better. Still, she was pleased to get some positive feedback. This week they have the rumba, and Ruth says that she hopes Eamonn will be okay with her doing such a sensual dance. It's an Anton rumba Ruth, I think he'll be fine with it. Still, they bring Eamonn in to make sure, and Eamonn arrives with the cardboard cutout of Ruth he's been using for company while she's been off training, and let's not think about that too deeply, eh? Anton refers to it as "Wooden Ruth", which seems like a Freudian slip. Eamonn says that the rumba is "sensual and intense, and Ruth is maybe one of those things on a good day". Lovely.

They're dancing to 'The Diamonds They Are Forever SIRRRRRRR', and the dry-ice machine has been set to "nuclear winter" which suggests that Anton doesn't have total confidence in Ruth's footwork. Ruth is absolutely feeling her long blonde wig [which, combined with the outfit, made me think we were living the second coming of Dr Hamela.  Well, before she started dancing, anyway - Rad] and playing the whole thing with an icy aloofness which in theory is a valid performance choice, but it does mean that there's not much connection between her and Anton here. The routine opens reasonably well, and for the first few bars I think that it might be a decent rumba, but before long it just feels like Ruth is marking it through - there's no finesse to her arm extensions and there's no movement in her hips. I like Ruth, and I'm pleased that her confidence is improving (plus I think she is improving as a dancer, albeit gradually) but the routine promises rather more than it ends up delivering.

Ruth admits to Tess that she has "wept" over this dance in rehearsals, and Bruno says that she could start an ice age with that rumba, but the hips need defrosting. He tells Ruth that she needs to respond to her partner and follow his movements, and her timing went right off. Craig says that the rumba walks were stilted and she needs to have smoother transfer of her weight changes, and to still "live" the four and one beats even if she isn't actually moving on them. Anton bursts in saying that he had a lovely time, as if this is even remotely about him, and says that he feels stirred in a way that he hasn't felt since Fiona Fullerton's cha cha cha. Darcey is desperate enough to tell Ruth how amazing she looks, and to hold on to that look (erm), and advises Ruth to lift her eye level which will help her balance. Shirley says that the rumba was her dance back in the day, and Ruth needs to learn that there are four beats to the bar and she is moving on three of those beats. She adds that there are seven types of rumba walks and "you weren't able to execute them very well today" (ouch), but it was "a good try".

They Bond their way up to the Clauditorium where Claudia says that it is the hardest dance (apart from all the other dances that are also the hardest dance when the narrative calls for it) [also, I thought that sentence always came with a 'for men', what even is this show any more? - Rad], and Ruth says that she loves to watch a beautifully-danced rumba, but she is aware that hers was not one of those. Claudia tells Ruth that her 15-year-old son was watching with total pride, and poor Jack is going to get a lot of shit for that at school on Monday. Scores: Craig 3, Darcey 5, Shirley 3, Bruno 4 for a total of 15. Anton says that if they added up all of their marks for the first three shows, he doesn't think they'd score 42. Why he picked "42" there, I have no idea. (Also Anton I have a spreadsheet and your cumulative score so far is 51.) Anton says that it's a work-in-progress, and he reckons they'll be on 45 points by March.

Claudia's link: "Still to come, Gemma and Aljaž dance to The Jungle Book, the story of a little boy lost among some lovable dancing animals. Which reminds me: has anyone seen AJ?" Heh. As a matter of fact, Tess has seen AJ, because he and Mollie are up next with their American smooth to The Sound Of Music. In their VT, AJ says in his weird VT voice that he's really proud of how well Mollie did with her tango last week. Mollie was pleased that her scores are moving upwards, and hopes to continue that trend this week. They've got 'Climb Ev'ry Mountain' and AJ robot-voices that they need to go and train up a mountain. Except, lolifically, it's not a mountain, it is actually the artificial hills of Northala Fields, which is about five minutes' walk from where I live. So pleased that my area has been Strictlified, this is going to do amazing things to the house prices. Mollie turns up in her best "city chic" gear and AJ turns up in what apparently passes for mountaineering gear on this show, including what looks like a yoga mat hanging off his backpack? They scale the mountain, plant a flag, do a little dance, make a little love, and get down tonight.

Their American smooth is reasonably strong - what dancing they actually do seems decent to me, although I'm a little alarmed by the giant strides they seem to be taking. I know they're both quite wee and have to work harder to cover the floor than some couples do, but even so that seems a little excessive. It loses some of its appeal for me in the second half when it just turns into a colossal liftathon where Mollie's feet barely touch the floor, though.

Craig loved the lifts this week, although Mollie needs to work on smoothening out her landings a little bit. Darcey says that Mollie's control was beautiful throughout, and she just needs to keep her core strong when she comes out of the lifts. Shirley says she's very excited about Mollie because she did an amazing outside spin with her feet closed, with all of her footwork exquisite and she made Shirley's night. Bruno says it was as uplifting and crisp as fresh mountain air, and he thinks their partnering and chemistry is getting better every week.

They climb ev'ry mountain, by which I mean the set of stairs, up to the Clauditorium where Mollie declares herself speechless and about to cry, which Claudia calls "a full Ore Oduba". Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 7, Shirley 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 30 - a personal best, and the highest score of the night so far.

Up next are Richard and Dianne, dancing the paso doble. Dianne says that on Saturday night there were a few mistakes, and Richard cops to "this whole chunk" that he forgot, and that he thinks the 3 Craig scored him was fair. Onwards and (possibly) upwards to the paso doble, and Dianne says that she thinks Richard's personality is like a big cuddly bear. Either that or she's been reading his Grindr profile. Richard says he's having to dig quite deep in his personality to find his inner macho man. Dianne reports that Richard's getting closer to getting it right as the week goes on, and Richard thinks the dress rehearsal went perfectly. Let's see, shall we?

Well, Richard's paso shaping is not great from the outset, with his arm movements being more like a failed attempt to fly. While the camp value of the routine is tremendous, the actual dancing is fairly alarming: heavy, plodding, and also soft in a way that a paso doble really shouldn't be. And the bit where he tries a paso leap is...ill-advised, at bit. [I would KILL to see this again with someone who could dance because the music and camp factor suit the paso so well - Rad]

Tess tells him he deserves a 10 for the wig, and Darcey describes the routine as "strangely powerful". She says that his splayed fingers are distracting, but the grand jeté en tournant (which I think is the bit I meant when I said "paso leap") at the climax was fabulous. Predictably, Bruno giggles at the word "climax". Shirley tells him that she can't fault his commitment, and she wasn't sure with the flamenco arms if he was knitting, but there were places where he had an oval shape. She would've liked more rotation in the body - it wasn't his best dance, but it was a good try. Bruno calls it "out of this world" and "a paso doble that took an alien form". He thinks Ridley Scott would be proud, and calls it "pure science-fiction". Craig finishes by saying that Richard was stomping around like a tantrum-throwing three-year-old, and the hand shaping was peculiar, and the jeté en tournant was a disaster.

They are dispatched to the Clauditorium to determine whether Gordon is indeed alive, and Richard tells Claudia that he experienced g-force in that performance. He adds that he promises to change his hair before the parish harvest festival tomorrow. Scores: Craig 2, Darcey 4, Shirley 4, Bruno 4 for a total of 14.

After a teaser for some of the routines yet to come, we move on to Debbie and Giovanni. Debbie still can't believe she was top of the leaderboard last week, and says she felt like she was in a fairytale. They do their obligatory meta magic/camera trick gag (this time Giovanni clicking his fingers to summon Debbie to the training room, and Debbie complaining that he's stolen her bit). They have the quickstep this week, and Debbie says that she finds the running bits quite difficult. Debbie jokes that Giovanni keeps telling her she has to be a Ferrari, but he's forgotten she's vintage. She hopes she'll be able to keep up with him this week.

They're dancing to 'Let's Call The Whole Thing Off' from the FRED 'N' GINNNNGE movie Shall We Dance? and it delivers a lot of old Hollywood razzmatazz. It's probably the weakest of Debbie's three dances to date, though that's not to say it's bad in and of itself, but she's right in saying that she finds keeping up with Giovanni a bit of a struggle. There's still some lovely footwork in there though, and it's a fantastic routine from Giovanni, who is absolutely coming into his own this year. I love this partnership and I never want it to end.

Shirley starts by saying that she's "not a fan" of having drawn-out sections at the beginning before they start dancing (lol good luck working on this show then) but she's not going to deduct any points for it - she just thinks that because Debbie is a dancer there's no reason she can't just get on with it. Shirley loved Debbie's scattered chassés, but just wants to give her a thought for the next ballroom dances - to aim for more stillness in the frame, like an elegant swan keeping still above the water. Bruno loved the classic Hollywood style, and says that Debbie must have watched Ginger Rogers closely because she even echoed the mannerisms accurately. Craig says that they broke the "ten-second rule". If you're unfamiliar with this (which you will be, because it appears to have been invented on the spot), they're only allowed ten seconds out of hold during the routine. It's odd how Simon also spent significantly more than 10 seconds out of hold in the middle of his quickstep, and yet Craig didn't feel inclined to invoke this very important rule then. He says he has to mark them down for that - they danced very well, "but rules are rules". Even rules that I'm pretty sure have never been mentioned in the 10 or so years I've been watching this show, even back when they used to claim there were actual proper ballroom rules they were supposed to be following. Darcey loves the way that Debbie uses her neck in hold, and the way she hides every preparation - she thanks Debbie for surprising them every week.

In the Clauditorium, Claudia says that she has never heard of the 10-second rule, and Giovanni's like "yeah, me too, odd that isn't it?" Debbie says that this was a hard week - she really struggled to get through to the end of the routine, and to keep up with Giovanni in training. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 8, Shirley 7, Bruno 8 for a total of 29. Claudia points out that this is Debbie's lowest score so far, but it's still a good one. I guess they have to ding Debbie and create some sort of journey narrative somehow, even if they do have to make up new rules to do it. [I can't believe that you missed out Giovanni kissing her lots of times as the results were coming in - Rad]

Brian and Amy are next, with their Wizard of Oz-themed American Smooth. Amy asks Brian how he felt about last week, and he says he enjoyed Saturday night "but the results show, I don't want to be there again". Pretty sure you have to turn up to the results show every week, Brian. From a tearful Brian post-last week's dance off, we cut to training for this week, which seems to be going better. Amy drags Brian to a field to be at one with his inner scarecrow, and then they go to meet Amy's friend Charlie, who is a horse. This VT was brought to you by the Strictly Come Dancing Random Comedy VT Generator, which appears to be malfunctioning slightly this week.

They are, of course, dancing to 'If I Only Had A Brain' (I can't believe we've got this far without any "if I only had a Brian" jokes, but there we are), and I'm as surprised to be writing this as you must be to be reading it, but it's actually quite good? There are lots of comedy bits where Amy lets Brian go and he immediately flops to the ground because he is made of straw, but they don't feel as grating as Brian's normal comedy efforts, and when the two of them are actually dancing in hold you can definitely see an improvement in him. His frame still needs some work, but the dance as a whole is smooth and elegant and actually kind of charming. I'm not a huge fan of Brian, but I'm pleased for the two of them to have come back strong after last week's dip into the dance-off. [Same.  I actually enjoyed that - a real 'in character' dance - Rad]

Bruno begins by applauding Brian's characterisation and the detail he put into the performance, but he feels like he loses the vitality when he goes into hold and starts dancing. Craig would've liked to see more ballroom in that routine and more power in his drive, but he can definitely see an improvement from last week. Darcey is impressed with the timing and the lack of mistakes, but it felt very safe to her. Shirley loved the bits of foxtrot that were in there, and thought the footwork was good. Brian grins "we needed that" to Tess, and the two of them skip up the yellow brick staircase.

In the Clauditorium, Amy says that Brian has worked very hard all week and she's extremely proud of him. Brian, sweetly, says that it's Chizzy's birthday today and wishes her happy birthday on behalf of everyone. (I kind of assumed they'd cut to Chizzy in the audience here but maybe she just decided to go out and get bladdered instead?) Scores: Craig 5, Darcey 5, Shirley 6, Bruno 6 for a total of 22. Brian and Amy squeal with genuine delight at every single one of those scores, and so help me I'm honestly finding them rather adorable tonight.

Gemma and Aljaž are next, dancing a charleston to 'Bare Necessities' from The Jungle Book. Aljaž compliments Gemma on recovering so well from the little mistakes in last week's waltz, and they're both very happy to have received six points more for their second dance than they got for their first one. This week they've got the charleston, and Aljaž takes Gemma to a safari park to get in the mood. Gemma spots a meerkat and immediately does the "Alan! Alan! Alan! Alan!" routine, and then they get into a jeep to go and look at some rhinos and lions and bears, oh my! Gemma goes "look! look!" and for some reason this makes Aljaž go "hmm, yes, I can see you are really getting into the character" - she's meant to be playing Bagheera, mate, I don't recall the part in The Jungle Book where Bagheera just sat there excitedly pointing at other animals, but to be fair it is quite a long time since I've seen it. Gemma hopes the judges find their dance bearable on Saturday night.

I'm finding Gemma's "sexy Bagheera" costume quite alarming, and I'm also wondering if not having stopped fancying Aljaž despite his significantly less sexy Baloo costume makes me a furry, so let's just move right along before this gets any weirder. Gemma and Aljaž have both heeded the warning from Craig last week about how charlestons have to be all gurning, all the time (sigh) so this one is played right down the camera, but there's a good energy level throughout (so much energy in fact that one of Aljaž's bear-ears falls off mid-routine) even if Gemma's not displaying a huge amount of swivel. The whole thing comes across well, generally - as has been the case with a lot of the couples tonight, you can definitely see how much more comfortable Gemma is on the dancefloor than she was two weeks ago. [I enjoyed it a lot - although the blue lighting wasn't the best choice to highlight Gemma in a black costume.  I am SHOCKED that the comedy in the routines is generally landing tonight.  Maybe Halloween will actually... be good? - Rad]

Tess remarks on Aljaž's missing ear and Aljaz says "I can't hear anything!" I'm pretty sure he's not the first person to have faked deafness just to get out of talking to Tess. Craig opens by telling Aljaž that he might want to take the other ear off now, and Aljaž's hurt face in response hits me right in the ovaries. Craig bemoans the lack of basic charleston with cross and swivel in the routines, and remarks that Gemma only swivels on her right legs, but he thought it was full of character and energy and it was brilliant. Darcey tells Gemma she is "one fit lady" who just doesn't tire, because she thought all of her lifts were great, including "your little starfish upside down" [Ola Jordan will be seething - surely she's the only little starfish allowed? - Rad] And here I was thinking Jonnie having his flies open for an entire segment on Monday's It Takes Two was going to be the most exposing wardrobe malfunction of the week. Her only criticism is a slight lack of consistency - she thinks Gemma switches off during the easy steps and only works hard when it gets difficult. Shirley compliments Aljaž on the charleston choreography (which Aljaž then credits to Matt Flint, although you can't really hear him over the roaring approval of the crowd) and admires Gemma's energy, and Bruno calls them "the bear and the pussycat" and asks if he can take them both home. Well, there's a story for the Sunday tabloids. He liked the jazz elements of it and thought it really worked well in these circumstances.

In the Clauditorium, Claudia compliments them on the routine and Gemma says that it was so tiring, and that the professional dancers are all really fit and she doesn't know how they do it. Claudia asks Aljaž if he's nice and cool in that bear costume and Aljaž is all "what month is it? July?" Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 8, Shirley 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 31. Aljaž wishes happy birthday to his little sister, who is in the audience.

Halfway point (oh dear god) leaderboard:

1. Gemma & Aljaž - 31
2. Mollie & AJ - 30
3. Debbie & Giovanni - 29
4. Brian & Amy - 22
5. Simon & Karen - 19
6. Ruth & Anton - 15
7. Rev. Richard & Dianne - 14

Up next are Charlotte and Brendan with their Top Gun-inspired tango, hoping to keep out of the "danger zone". They flash back to last week, and Brendan consoles Charlotte that it was "one mistake, it doesn't matter". I guess if you could the entire cha cha cha as that one mistake, it sort of works. Charlotte cries that she spent hours and hours working on a dance and then couldn't do it. She is very grateful to everyone who voted to save her (from doing it again in the dance-off). She's determined to make this week's tango work, so Brendan takes her to an aerodrome to <strike>live out his fantasies as he weeps internally at the passage of time</strike> embrace her inner fighter pilot. They go up in a plane and do the loop-de-loop and I know we need ("need") comedy VTs this week but I think this is time that would have been much better spent learning how to dance, goddammit.

So yes, they're meant to be Maverick and Charlie (classic Brendan, reading Top Gun as a heterosexual love story rather than the tragic tale of suppressed gay love we all know it to be), but the thing is that my main point of reference for 'Danger Zone' at this point is Archer, so I can't help assuming that they're playing Sterling and Mallory Archer. And given Charlotte's general stiffness and the lack of any real chemistry between them, it doesn't not work as a viewpoint. The dance actually starts out reasonably enough, but Charlotte's very floppy in Brendan's arms and struggles to keep up after a while, ending up just sort of stumbling around the dancefloor. At the end of it Brenda pops her back on the motorcycle that they've been dancing around the whole time and looks like he's going to bite her neck. Someone's already planning his routine for Hallowe'en Week, I suppose.

Charlotte tells Tess she enjoyed it more this week, and Brendan immediately steps in to claim fault for a mistake that no one has actually mentioned yet, so this is going to go well. Darcey tells Charlotte there's a clear difference this week, and she saw the focus there this week. There were bits that went wrong, but she produced some very nice lines - she just needs to work on smoothing out those transitions. Shirley says it's definitely "a little bit better than last week". Brendan: "A little bit?" Shirley: "Yes, definitely, just a little bit Brendan, unfortunately." Shirley then proceeds to address all of her criticisms of Charlotte directly to Brendan, bypassing Charlotte entirely ("she needs to stand on her own two feet" etc) and says that there needs to be no rise-and-fall in the tango. Brendan's all "um, excuse me, there was none". Shirley tells him to watch it back, and Brendan says he certainly will, good DAY Madam. And all the while Charlotte stands in between them biting her lip. Poor Charlotte, basically now just the McGuffin in her own Strictly story. Bruno thought she played the part well, but there are just too many mistakes and Charlotte needs to not cling on to Brendan when she goes wrong. He then adds pointedly that he thinks Shirley is right, and Brendan needs to be more respectful. Brendan blathers "no, I respect all of you, I just don't think there was any rise-and-fall in there", looking very much like the guy who started a fight with the skinny kid in the playground and didn't anticipate that the skinny kid had friends. Craig says that Charlotte did well to recover from last week, and she's much safer in hold, so she's going in the right direction - but it's not going to be a high-scorer.

In the Clauditorium, Charlotte says that she loves to dance and she just wanted to come back and do the best she could and make it work. And probably not to have to deal with her partner trying to have a dick-measuring contest with the head judge, I imagine. Scores: Craig 4, Darcey 5, Shirley 4, Bruno 4 for a total of 17. Brendan says that they're going to have to watch it back, because it felt really good. Yeah, I bet Charlotte can't wait to relive this.

Next we have Jonnie and Oti. Jonnie appears to have more eyeliner on his face than you would find in an entire branch of Boots, and his hair is down again. It's working for me, I can't deny it. Tess sits with Jonnie's mum in the audience, and she says that she's never seen him dance before and it's wonderful. Jonnie really enjoyed last week's jive and says that being so close to 30 is amazing (easy to say when you're only 24, sunshine) but he does feel that puts pressure on him now to live up to that score again. This week they've got the paso, in which Jonnie will be playing Indiana Jones, so in order to get under the skin of the character, Oti takes him to meet the nearest real-life equivalent to Indiana Jones. Harrison Ford? No, Ray Mears, of course. They meet where Ray tells Jonnie that he needs to be fearless, wear a hat, be ready for anything, and always come prepared. Jonnie gives this VT the level of commitment it deserves, which is to say not much.

They're dancing to 'The Raiders March', and it begins with Jonnie swinging in from atop the judges' desk on a rope. I think he's meant to flick his whip when he lands, but by the looks of it he has a bit of trouble untangling it so he just pulls it off his belt and discards it in order to get into position with Oti on time. His paso movement is a little stilted and he doesn't seem to know what he's doing with his arms a lot of the time, but his timing is pretty good considering that this isn't really the best music for a paso. Also his butt looks great in those khaki trousers. Hey, I'm just here to report the facts. On a technical level it's not great, but I think he manages to sell it from a performance level - or Oti does, at the very least.

Shirley compliments Oti on an excellently-choreographed routine, and says she was very impressed with the barrel roll turns (I think you have to press the Z button to do those), but she'd like him to work on his hip line, which needs to be slightly more underneath, which will stop his butt sticking out quite so much. NO SHIRLEY WHAT ARE YOU DOING. Bruno says that Indiana Jonnie can take him anywhere, and he thinks that while Jonnie has a nice butt, he does need to remember to tuck it under. Jonnie says he thought he might get an extra point from Bruno for the butt. Heh. Craig says it was a little bit square and the body-shaping was off, but otherwise brilliant. Darcey agrees "with my judges" that Jonnie needs to lift his ribcage, but she's impressed with Jonnie's commitment.

Claudia says that Jonnie wasn't a big fan of the paso, and he admits that it's been his nightmare dance. Oti says that he's been saying "I can't do this! I don't wanna do this!" all week. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 6, Shirley 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 26. Jonnie says he just wanted to beat his waltz score, so he's very happy with that.

Next we have Susan and Kevin with the first samba of the series. Kevin says that their aim last week was to get a 6, so to get two 6s and a 7 was even better than they hoped. Susan informs us that she will be playing Wonder Woman in this routine, which is our segue into our comedy VT about Susan actually becoming Wonder Woman with super-speed, super-strength, and super-jumping. Both Susan and Kevin play the whole thing with a rather delightful B-movie level of acting, which I appreciate.

It begins with Kevin trapped under a giant one-tonne weight - you know, the sort of thing that just happens to anybody on an average day. So Susan does her spin to turn into Wonder Woman (even though she's already wearing the outfit) and then pulls him out from underneath it. A lot was made in advance of this routine of the fact that Susan would be leading, because she is Wonder Woman. I'm not sure how evident that is in practice, but Kevin has choreographed the routine so he is the one who gets twirled around by his partner and does the floor spins, and I am absolutely here for Kevin Clifton: Feminist Choreographer. There's not a lot of bounce in Susan's movement, but this is definitely her strongest performance yet: despite the camp, comic-book nature of the set-up, it's clear she's been taking the samba seriously and doing her best to learn it properly, and Kevin has actually choreographed a proper routine for her with minimal faffing. I enjoyed it very much, and hurrah for smashing the patriarchy on primetime BBC1, quite frankly. [Another success for comedy routines tonight - what is going on? - Rad]

Susan runs up to give Craig a kiss afterwards, and Tess asks her what she would've thought if someone had told her this time last year that she'd be doing a samba dressed as Wonder Woman. Susan: "Yes please." Heh. Bruno says she had him spinning and he loved how much Susan was in charge. Craig giggles that he's never seen anything quite like that - he felt the routine was a lot of fun for everyone at home, but she does need to have bounce in the samba and that largely was missing - so that's something to work on, if she ever gets to the final. Darcey says that Susan needs to straighten her back leg and get her weight forward, but she loved the "100 per cent performance". Shirley says that there are nine different timings that can be used in the samba and Susan covered at least four or five of them, and she did see the bounce in Susan's voltas even though she was travelling too far.

Up in the Clauditorium, Claudia breathlessly exhorts Susan to watch her performance back to see the judges' reactions, and we get a shot of Susan's Lovely Wife Lee in the audience wearing a Wonder Woman crown. Scores: Craig 4, Darcey 5, Shirley 5, Bruno 6 for a total of 20. Two less than last week, even though I'd probably say that was Susan's best performance of the series. Eh, what do I know.

Next we have Joe and Katya, who admit their tango last week didn't go that brilliantly. Joe says that he needs to learn not to force things, and trust what he and Katya are doing. This week they're doing a Doctor Zhivago-themed Viennese waltz, and to get Joe into the spirit of playing a Russian character, Katya takes him to...Hemel Hempstead? To use the indoor ski slope. Sure, why not. A rosy-cheeked Joe says that he thinks it helped, and that there's snow way he'll get a frosty reception on Saturday and get left out in the cold. I need a lie down.

They're dancing to 'Somewhere My Love', and I'm quite impressed with Joe's swiftly-grown Russian pornstache first and foremost. It's a definite return to form after the wobbles of last week - he needs to work on his posture a bit and some of the footwork is a bit scattered, but it's much more assured-looking and confident, and the chemistry between Joe and Katya here is really great.

When it's over, Katya flings herself at Joe so hard that she almost takes him down entirely, and Tess compliments Joe on his facial hair which he masc4mascs is definitely all his own with no need for enhancement. Craig gives it the thumbs-up. Darcey says it was beautifully traditional with lots of travel and rotation. Shirley says that it's twice the speed of the waltz, and a much flatter dance, and he brought that today. Bruno says he was swept away by the romance of the whole thing.

They make their triumphant run up to the Clauditorium, where Joe enthuses that Craig actually enjoyed it, and thanks Katya for her hard work this week. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 8, Shirley 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 32. Claudia tells them that they're top of the leaderboard and Katya's all "at the what of the leaderboard?"

Aston and Janette are next as we round the final corners of the show. They reflect on last week's salsa, and Aston says he's happy with how it went, but a little disappointed with that last lift. This week they're doing the cha cha cha to 'Can't Stop The Feeling!' by Justin Timberlake, from the movie Trolls. I have no hesitation in saying that the thought of a routine to 'Can't Stop The Feeling!' pains me more than the thought of one to 'Despacito' ever did. Janette takes Aston to Tower Bridge because trolls live under bridges and... *fast-forwards*

I'm sorry. I'm almost comedy VT-ed out, and this one is exceptionally stupid. Just let me have this. [The saving grace was how much Aston is over comedy VTs already - Rad]

So they do the cha cha cha and it is really very good indeed, almost certainly the best one we've seen this series - very slick, very clean, and nice and playful. I am also a very big fan of Janette being a troll in a very literal sense by choreographing in a pot-stirrer for herself and doing it flawlessly. I don't think the pot is the only thing getting stirred here, if you know what I mean and I'm sure you do. [I loved this - and the cha cha is usually my least favourite Latin.  The hair, make-up and costumes though.  She looked like Shoshanna from Girls when she lived in Japan and he looked like the kind of mess wardrobe and make-up usually save for Pasha.  Kudos to the two of them for just rolling with it - Rad]

Darcey says that they were made for each other and all of their moves were so clean - she was impressed with the straight leg action and the way he directed the amazing turn. She says that she didn't want that dance to stop. Shirley says that she could see Aston was making an effort with his feet this week to stop the sickling, which was great. She then turns her attention to Janette and says that she could have overloaded this routine for him but she didn't ("...Brendan") and the pot-stirrer is a very difficult step ("...Brendan") and she really appreciated the effort put in by Aston to ensuring that Janette was able to do it. Bruno says they are "deliciously cartoonish" and every move they did seemed to pop - "it was like watching HD 3D, nothing fuzzy". I bet it's been a long time since Bruno's vision has been like that. Bruno liked how they included the hip hop touches without losing the cha cha cha feeling. Craig concludes simply: "you're very good, aren't you darling?"

Aston says that Janette makes the whole week fun, drilling the routine into him, and then makes sure he has fun on the night. Claudia says she loves that Aston's mum comes to the show every week but can't actually watch him, and just covers her eyes. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Shirley 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 35.

Our penultimate couple of the night are Alexandra and Gorka. They're dancing the American smooth to a song from My Fair Lady. Last week's paso was electric, according to Alexandra, and Gorka says he will always remember it. Alexandra says that it's out of this work to have received the best score of the competition so far. This week she has to play a sweet girl who is trying to be sophisticated and elegant, which is something that she's struggling with - although she doesn't specify which of those things she's finding difficult, so have at it, people on the internet who don't like Alexandra! To get in the mood, Alexandra takes Gorka for an etiquette and elocution lesson (while the theme from Keeping Up Appearances plays in the background, and now all I want is for Alexandra to emerge in a floral dress with a string of sturdy pearls and play the whole thing as Hyacinth Bucket), and Gorka's attempt at an RP English accent is really quite something. As is the way Alexandra accidentally biffs Gorka in the head with her elbow when they run out to do some dance practice on the croquet field.

They're dancing to 'Wouldn't It Be Loverly', and it is indeed loverly - simple, elegant, grounded, and classy. Although I'm not entirely sure about the bit at the end where Gorka hands her some celery to go with the flower she's holding.

Shirley tells her that the technique was very good - she was rolling through her feet and she had some lovely pivot turns. But she would like to explain the difference between the American smooth foxtrot and the international one - basically the international one is all in hold, but the American smooth one is 50 per cent in hold and 50 per cent open, and the open work would normally cover much more space. Shirley advises Alexandra to think about that if she gets another American-style dance like that...of which there are none. Thanks Shirley! Bruno thinks that Alexandra's artistic sensibility is flawless, and he couldn't see a moment that wasn't played absolutely right. Craig says that he won't give them a standing ovation tonight - her free arm does need more work, and she must remember to tell a story with that arm, but the stuff in hold was gorgeous and the routine was beautifully constructed! Darcey admires Alexandra's versatility week in, week out and the cleanliness of her movements - she thinks she's one to watch.

They blossom and bloom their way up to the Clauditorium, where Alexandra tells Claudia that she had to put last week aside because she was worried about not living up to the standard set by her paso, but this one gave her a chance to show a different side of her personality because it's a really cute dance. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 8, Shirley 8, Bruno 9 for a total of 33. Gorka and Alexandra are both very happy with that score, which puts them in second place.

That just leaves Davood and Nadiya to close the show. Last week's performance went well, but Davood wants to make sure that he harnesses his energy properly and doesn't slip below that 27 marker that he's scored for the last two weeks. Nadiya tells Davood that they'll be doing a samba themed around Saturday Night Fever, which Davood instantly proclaims to be "iconic" and says he's going to try to focus his energy into his hips. Davood's comedy VT theme is that he's gradually becoming discofied - wearing flares, a psychedelic shirt, star-shaped glasses and a chest wig. Davood takes them to a proper lit-up disco floor and says that he hopes he'll be staying alive to dance another week after this performance. I'm just glad that I haven't been killed by all of these dreadful puns.

They're dancing to a fairly strange arrangement of 'Stayin' Alive', and I'm starting to sense a recurring problem in all of Davood's routines - they're all too fast. This is something that Nadiya really needs to be reining in, because I think he's got the ability, but whether it's her choreography or her natural enthusiasm, every time he comes out on the dancefloor he hits it at such a rate of knots that any nuance or finesse just goes out the window. There are some decent attempts at hip rotation to the extent that I can see why this one got the pimp slot [I was flummoxed by this pimp slot placing. I get that they wouldn't want Aston or Alexandra in there again yet, but Gemma's seemed much more suited to the slot - Rad] but it just all feels so rushed. I just want the two of them to slow down.

Bruno calls Davood "a beast of fun" and says that all the pelvic thrusts looked like he had ferrets down his pants - but he needs to be smoother. Craig says that all the hip wiggles and gyrations are wonderful crowd-pleasers but have very little to do with samba bounce or samba hips. Also, he needs to sort out his spatulistic hands. Darcey says that Davood definitely doesn't hold back and she doesn't know how Nadiya holds it together because he was really chucking her around - she loves it when someone really goes for it, but Davood just needs to hold back very slightly. Shirley finishes by saying it was much better than last week with plenty of samba content, but he needs to get his posture right because it was a little bit collapsed in the middle, like a filleted fish. She thinks if he gets that right in future, it will help him in all dances.

Upon arrival in the Clauditorium, Davood announces that it's hard going last because you're constantly going over your routine in your head while everyone else is on, and psyching yourself out. Scores: Craig 4, Darcey 7, Shirley 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 25. Davood's a little bit disappointed but styles it out as best he can.

Final leaderboard, then:

1. Aston & Janette - 35
2. Alexandra & Gorka - 33
3. Joe & Katya - 32
4. Gemma & Aljaž - 11
5. Mollie & AJ - 30
6. Debbie & Giovanni - 29
7. Jonnie & Oti - 26
8. Davood & Nadiya - 25
9. Brian & Amy - 22
10. Susan & Kevin - 20
11. Simon & Karen - 19
12. Charlotte & Brendan - 17
13. Ruth & Anton - 15
14. Rev. Richard & Dianne - 14

The main interesting thing about this one is that we have 14 couples and no ties. It is literally unprecedented to have this many couples dancing on one night and have no ties at all. This basically means it's much harder for the couples at the bottom of the leaderboard to leapfrog over the middle-tier ones, so the likes of Richard, Ruth, Charlotte, Simon and even Susan should watch their backs. (Brian too, but he's just high enough to be out of the hazard zone, I think, plus a decent comeback performance should ensure a bottom-two bounce for him.)

Claudia declares the vote open, and Karen starts screaming at Aston for trying to eat her giant bucket of popcorn (not a euphemism), which makes him crack up. Recap: man in a bad costume doing a bad quickstep, Ruth's icy rumba, Mollie's airborne American smooth, Richard and his bad wig doing a terrible but hilarious paso, Debbie's quickstep that breaks a rule none of us knew about, Brian's delightful comeback American smooth, Gemma's bestial charleston, Charlotte's tango that sparked World War 3, Jonnie and his eyeliner raiding the Temple of Doom, Susan and her feminist triumph of a samba, Joe's Moustache getting him back in the game, the best cha cha cha of the competition if anyone still cares about cha cha chas after three weeks, Alexandra's loverly understated American smooth and Davood's frantic but fun samba.

That's it! Join me for the results show when the box office numbers come in and we'll see who hasn't delivered the bums on seats...