Sunday, 31 December 2017

A Very Derham Christmas

2017 Christmas special
Broadcast 25 December

Hello, and Merry Christmas! Last year, we reached the no dear (this was meant to be nadir but either works, let's face it) of the Strictly Christmas specials and poor old Steve had to suffer his way through recapping that, so this year it’s my turn and at least we are not going to be in the situation where the first boot from the current cast is voted through because all their mates in the audience-although that’s not to say this thing can’t still be won by, say, Robbie Savage if he bribed them all beforehand. Still, we have mulled wine, mince pies and the promise of a Katie Derham and Brendan Cole partnership to look forward to, so let’s raise our glasses and watch a bunch of former contestants attempt to dance once more!

Cue the festive credits-this year featuring robins unwrapping a glitter ball and skating on CGI ice, leading us into our opening routine.  Normally these have a whimsical storyline of some sort, but this year has a very distinct feel of 'will this do' about it?  The whole story is that Karen Clifton is running to a big mansion house because she is late and the other pros welcome her in to watch a bunch of choirboys sinisterly singing tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock over and over again whilst the pros waltz around. How sinister. It soon turns into 'Carol of the Bells', the most serial killer-esque of the Christmas songs. Then we see which celebrities will be the victims of our sadistic professionals/judges. Kimberley Walsh is first, getting a solo caption, then Jeremy Vine and Robbie Savage have to share one. The choir’s song turns to 'We Wish you a Merry Christmas' as Katie gets her own solo caption.  Judy Murray and Colin Jackson have to share one-so a working theory I had that only finalists got a solo caption has already been blown out of the water. 

As to this casting then - Robbie Savage would not be my preferred choice of celebrity to revisit, and if we must have comedy contestants I guess Judy and Jeremy are fine, but the other three I’m quite looking forward to revisiting, so overall I'm not mad at this mix. Also: obligatory #poorchloe mention for not getting even a Christmas celeb.

Tess and Claudia enter on the arms of Giovanni and Aljaž for a festive change. Daly dress watch: Bright blue with silver trim-not especially festive, but quite nice. What Winkleman’s wearing: a sparkly red dress. They both look pretty good so well done wardrobe (spoiler alert: the couples fare less well).

Time to welcome the judges and see how much festive sherry Shirley has imbibed and whether or not she can make her mark. Darcey enters in white, Bruno in glittery red like a Christmas bauble, Craig in green velour, and Shirley in a huge red dress that looks like she’s ready for festive paso. She does, you’ll be relieved to hear, just about make her mark and then brings Darcey in for an embrace.

The celebrities and pros enter and by God what turn assortment of outfits we have on display. We'll come to them in more detail as we get to each pair, but Vicky Gill’s minions have clearly been working overtime at exacting their revenge for backstage crimes presumably committed by several of these people that I would very much like to hear about. They are described thus: 'football-something I can’t make out and I’ve rewound it several times. I'd assume 'pundit' but it doesn’t quite sound like that?' - Robbie Savage and his partner Dianne Buswell; 'tennis coach' Judy Murray with Neil Jones; 'Olympian and broadcaster' Colin Jackson with Amy Dowden; 'journalist and broadcaster' Jeremy Vine with Karen Clifton; 'BBC Proms and Radio Three presenter' Katie Derham with Brendan Cole and finally 'entertainer and popstar' Kimberley Walsh with Pasha Kovalev.

Robbie and Dianne are first.  Apparently their routine is set in the 1940s, which is quite a leap from what they’re wearing, which looks like they’ve had a runaround in Helena Bonham Carter’s offcut box. They're in dark greys and blacks accented with plums, reds and violets - but it’s less the colour combination and more the fact that they’re wearing a mismatch of fabrics and patterns. I guess the 40s were a time of austerity so perhaps this is a bizarre homage to that (like I’m looking for logic in Strictly Christmas special, this is not going to end well for me, is it?)

Their VT reminds us that he somehow made to the quarter-finals in series 9 despite not being very good. They have also given him the most deeply unflattering shade of fake tan that makes his skin appear a light tangerine shade reminiscent of Trump, which is surely not the best way to go about making him seem endearing towards the viewing public. Apparently the storyline for their dance will be Dianne waiting at home for her husband (presumably who has gone to war but this is not stated) and he comes home and it’s a Christmas miracle. So, basically the Doctor Who Christmas special from a few years ago but without Matt Smith or Claire Skinner trying to at least put some likeability into all the schmaltz so really what is the point?

They are dancing what is ostensibly an American smooth to 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)' and Dianne’s onstage home is rather elaborate for austerity 1940s Britain-with a humongous Christmas tree festooned with lights and decorations and a giant enormous patterned rug (albeit one projected by the lights). Clearly this is the 1% we're talking about, not your ordinary family. Robbie turns up, looking very un-soldier -like, and the concept breaks apart even further when he chooses to channel John Travolta in Saturday night Fever so much of the dance-seriously, when he is in standing position, he is totally pulling disco frame. In hold, it’s a little less awkward-and his face is giving it all 'dad who’s had a few too many sherries', which is at least the normal vibe of the Christmas special, I guess. As you might expect, Dianne is doing much of the work here-it’s full of lifts and kicks and it’s about as smooth as his stubble, but I guess kind of better than I was expecting? Ish? Beats treadmills in honour of our war dead anyway.

In the audience we see several of this year’s celebrities whilst this year’s pros have been allowed up to the Clauditorium, yes, even #poorchloe. We welcome the singers-the classic combination of Hayley, Lance, Andrea and Tommy.  Tess says six years ago the American smooth was Robbie’s highest scoring dance and asks if he still has it.

Shirley says it was a glorious way to open the show and it’s very difficult to do lifts and she was extremely impressed, plus he is 'dashingly handsome'. Bruno says it was like a great big Christmas turkey-what like those rancid ones they served in Tesco, nice year for that analogy.  Oh no, wait, because 'it was full of meat and crunchy bits'.  Pretty sure you're not meant to eat the bones, Bruno, but I salute your commitment to the war on waste. Craig says he is still as stiff as he was six years ago (fnar) and that his hands were doing really odd things but he is pleasant on the eye and he loved all the lifts although 'there should only be three, not 23'. He’s decided to overlook this one though, because it’s not Debbie McGee and because Christmas isn't canon.  (Newly Damed, congrats etc) Darcey says there was so much in there to love. She’s also wearing a really glittery star-shaped fake tattoo, such a rebel this year.

The studio audience are going crazy, but it’s full of this year’s cast who are presumably tanked up, so we probably don’t need to read too much into that.

In the Clauditorium, we learn that Robbie was nervous and that one year he was supposed to cut the Christmas turkey and forgot to turn the oven on. Ho ho ho. Scores: seven, eight, eight, eight for a total of 31.

It’s now time for Claudia’s comedy corner to make a Christmas detour via the medium of a sack of fake letters she gets Robbie to read out including one asking for a 'choo choo train' from Bruno. That has been so clearly sanitised for the daytime audience, hasn’t it?

We cut to Tess and our ghosts of Christmas specials future a.k.a. this year’s cast, and she has a meagre amount of Judy's famous shortbread to share between them, which Brian is all over. Karen Clifton, however, is out of reach, how mean.

Judy Murray now, who is partnered with Neil and she says 'he’s been part of "the Strictly family" for some time now so that’s great' and don't tell me that isn't shade happening right there. Anyway, she had a charleston last time and it went terribly wrong and now she has a Charleston again so she’s just going to take the paycheque and the complimentary drinks and enjoy herself. I mean, sorry, 'it’s going to be a Christmas cracker'. Apparently they’re going to be playing toys in their dance which suggests that Neil has just stolen his wife’s Charleston routine from the series proper. They manage to get a swivel in, but the rest of their training footage looks poor so they stuck it off and go to the Glasgow Children’s Hospital to give out presents to the kids. The presents look underwhelming even by BBC budget standards (a 'big hug mug', an anonymous brand stationery/toy combo that looks like the kind of thing you get from The Works) and the best bit is when one of the sassy teenagers laughs 'good luck Neil and Judy' as she watches them dance.

If you thought Robbie and Dianne had fairly unattractive costumes, they're are about to be made to look like haute couture. Judy is dressed in what looks to be an old school shirt shredded a bit on the last day of term, with a skirt made from cutup tissue paper and make up that likes her look like a pantomime dame/witch/lunatic. She winds up a jack-in-the-box, and Neil jumps out, in a white shirt, with red trousers and braces and clown make-up - and I feel like they got the wrong memo about theme weeks - Halloween was in October, you guys. They are dancing to 'Let’s misbehave' (festive) and it’s every bit as uncomfortable as you would expect. Neil is hamming it up to the heavens but Judy takes a while to look like she's into it -indeed, the part where she only really seems at home is a move where she Neil on the arse, which is very telling, poor Andy and Jamie. It’s kind of fun, I guess, but very slow and laboured and half the time Judy forgets to do the actual steps - so, much like the majority of her time on the series last time out. There’s even a tribute to Gemma's Samba where she appears to fall asleep halfway through and then Neil somersaults over her. The end. We cut to Aston Merrygold wondering how Judy lasted longer than the competition than he did.

Bruno says what actually happened to Judy Murray? She can almost dance!  And 'she took those balls and flung them in the air'.  Never change Bruno, you minx, never change.  Craig says he can officially announce that she swivelled. (Well, about once). He says there was a fun story and it was probably the best she ever danced.  Darcey says she loves the cheeky Judy and it was bouncy and springy in her feet did what they were supposed to. Some of the time. Shirley says she loves Christmas Charlestons and Judy is made from sugar and spice and all things nice, she liked that there weren't many mistakes and she thinks Judy and Neil have nice chemistry. #pooranton

In the Clauditorium, Claudia notes that the judges, aren't being mean like they used to be. Oh, the magic of Christmas. In the background, Katya is wearing a scarf made of tinsel and trying to pull focus as much as possible. Scores: seven, eight, eight, eight for a total of 31. Claudia says her highest score on the show was 24 - but 31 and Christmas is worth about 22 in real money so don't enjoy that too much, Jude… Claudia offers Judy a present-what appears to be a wrapped-up tennis racket.  What's the betting they asked Judy to bring one in just for the purposes of that gag rather than wasting a fiver popping down to Decathlon?

Colin and Amy now and Colin has the honour of being the only contestant not Christmasified. He’s wearing your standard bloke Latin outfit and doesn’t even have sparkly make up.  He says he’s been away from dancing longer than anyone else and he's slightly anxious. He, also has skin that looks uncomfortably orange so maybe it’s the lighting rather than just the fake tan and make up? Their VT reminds us that they are the first fully Welsh team and Amy saying she’s watched the show every single Christmas that she was a little girl.  Strictly started when I was in my mid-20s so let's just gloss over that little announcement, shall we? They go out to Cardiff's Christmas market and look at some lights. I’m wondering if Robbie Savage is the only one who hasn’t got to do something Christmassy his VT and I’m feeling marginally sorry for him. Colin and Amy turn on the Christmas lights... on a Ferris wheel and then go and sit on there by themselves and look fucking freezing.

To the dancefloor! They are dancing the rumba to 'Run' and there is a vague nod to Christmas by adding some sleigh bells into the arrangement and having some stars in the background. It’s bloke rumba by numbers - and it's camp as tits, and I say this knowing he was previously partnered with Erin so that's going some - I’m guessing he's really enjoying his newly found out status, so fair play to him.  In places you can still see some of the technique he had that got him to the final all those years ago, but it’s definitely rusty, with lots of elements of awkwardness and some stumbling around in there as well. Still, it gets the full firework curtain treatment as if it were the pimp slot performance. It gets a standing ovation and Katya Jones blowing one of those party hooters at him.

Craig says it was 'absolutely brilliant' with some fantastic, lovely hip action and he loves the weirdness of Collins hands as all the judges demonstrate. Darcey says he has wonderful phrasing, sweet accents and she loved his physicality and how he pushes through the floor with his legs, with his expressive arms finishing every line. Tess tells us that Shirley has the rumba as her favourite dance, such a random goddess, and Shirley says if she could wrap any rumba to put under her Christmas tree it would be this one.  Shirley wraps her own presents?  Guys I think we all need to club together to buy her something next year, because that makes me sad.  That, or pass-agg tweet Mark Ballas to tell him to treat his mama better. She says she loved his good cucarachas, sliding doors, lifts and sidesteps-it had so many goodies in it and he wrapped it perfectly. In the audience, we cut to Jonnie Peacock and Gemma spotting opportunities for future high scores in Christmas-specials-to-come by doing just what they did on the main series albeit slightly worse. Bruno says it was hotter than Christmas in the tropics and he loved it.

In the Clauditorium, we are reminded it was 12 years ago since Colin did the show, Aljaž plays with Kimberley’s antlers, and Oti is wearing some truly terrible make up, but I guess Lisa "has things on her mind" at the moment, so.... Scores: nine, nine, nine, nine for a total of 36. My favourite part is Colin saying 'I’ll take a nine from Craig', then getting a nine from Darcy and saying again, 'I’ll take a nine from Craig'.

Coming up: Jeremy Vine says quickstep is often just people running around the room and it’s made for people who can’t dance.

He is dressed in a golden/amber outfit with horrible glitter all the way around his hairline. I haven’t got the faintest clue what he’s supposed to be other than a creature from our nightmares.

Yet another Claudia comedy moment now-something to do with her putting all the Christmas lights into the mains, pulling a switch and sending the studio into darkness. 

Jeremy’s VT says he went out on the quickstep before, so he’s up for doing it again-those watching the VT faces - yet another orange one.  Their rehearsal footage is camp as all hell, with both he and Karen pulling goofy faces. Their Christmas moment? Him taking Karen home so that she and his daughter can do his Christmas decorations for him #everydaysexism.  Karen eats all the chocolate Christmas decorations because KAREN LOVE FOOD and, for some reason, Jeremy Vine’s Christmas tree apparently lives right in the middle of the floor of his living room which I’m sure is where he puts it all year round and not just for VT purposes. There is a cute spot of a dancing shoe ornament and a star that's had '10' marker penned onto it though, so points for that, VT monkeys.

The dance opens with him sitting on a star suspended in the air above the tree, it looks very very flimsy, even by the standards of floating props on this show. And I realise his gold is meant to represent him being the star... which would have worked better if the star prop wasn't silver.  They are dancing to 'All I Want for Christmas is You', only the music has been turned into one of those Puppini sisterr type jazzy interpretations which is so twee it's making my teeth itch. As for the dancing, his posture is completely awful-but he’s almost trying to play that up for comedy purposes. His footwork is quite stumpy and static, although Karen’s doing her level best to pull focus where possible. The music is so fucking grating and the singing really high-pitched and twee and I’m sorry I just can’t. *Presses mute*.

Jeremy tells Tess that he never got to fly when he was on the show and he did now. His voice suggests that he perhaps regrets all that moaning he did about having gone out before doing that entrance before. Darcey says he did well not to get his long legs tangled around each other and she really liked the first lift he did. Shirley says he's what Christmas is about- and he's like a caramel treat in that suit and then she tarts laughing uncontrollably. Bruno says there were some stumbles but it doesn’t matter because it’s Christmas. Craig says all he wants for Christmas is to never see that dance again and it did look like he'd been on the mulled wine but he did his best.

In the Clauditorium, Jeremy points out he also has gold shoes on and we don’t cut to such shoes. Those camera people aren’t deviating from their standard cue list for anyone, Vine. Jeremy praises Karen’s patience and she says she has quite a lot of it. She really sounds like she means that as well. Scores: two, at which Darcey pushes Craig and tells him he can’t say that at Christmas, so he reaches under the desk and pulls out the seven. I genuinely laughed really loudly at that part.  Then he gets three eights for a total of 31. The Clauditorium go wild at the score of 31 and Claudia can’t control her laughing.  There's another comedy moment in which Jeremy retrieves a burnt turkey from the oven. Nadiya looks incredibly invested in this as if it were her real turkey. As ever, the brief insights we get into Nadiya’s childhood are fascinating and I demand a lifetime movie be made of them some day please.

Katie and Brendan now, and whilst they’re dressed in fairly classic ballroom attire, their faces are covered in crazy amounts of snow make-up and glitter and their hair all sprayed grey - I guess to be a kind of Jack Frost and his wife kind of thing? Unless it's just to remind us that they ARE OLD?  Katie’s VT says one of her favourite things about Christmas is 'when we actually get a white Christmas' - so once every 15 years or so? Katie must have some really tough Christmases in her past. Their VT involves Brendan taking her to a room full of artificial snow. And I thought they'd treated Robbie badly.

They are dancing a Viennese waltz to a jazzy version of 'White Christmas' and it opens with them as the figures in a snow globe, which is quite cute. They then descend into more dry ice than you can imagine, and start dancing. The music arrangement is even more irritating than Jeremy's - there’s A LOT of scatting going on with has absolutely no place in this song and it just sounds fucking rubbish. Which is a shame, because the dancing is actually really nice-romantic, smooth and, best of all, Katie has her drunk face on the whole time and is laughing throughout rather than bothering with getting into character (other than the character of Drunk Durham) what a goddess. We cut to Aljaž
 and Janette realising they're on camera and pulling of cracker and blowing a party horn.

Tess reminds us the last time Katie did a Viennese waltz, she topped the leaderboard. It's still weird to ever think of Anton Du Beke and the phrase 'top of the leaderboard' isn't it?  Shirley says Katie is really easy on the eye and has a real regal look about her and it was beautiful. Katie points out her make up.  Bruno says she’s the queen of the Christmas dream, waltzing about like a snowflake in a winter wonderland and it was extremely classy, so beautiful and very very elegant. In the auditorium, we cut to Debbie McGee judging harshly. Craig says she still has some trouble with her spotting, but it was elegant and he loved the amount of rotation and it was gorgeous. Darcey says she has the most glittering topline and it was beautiful all the way through and she says that Katie gives 'really sparkling lines'. I’m not quite sure how a line can sparkle but that’s Christmas metaphor for you.

So we only have one couple left and somehow we still have nearly half an hour to go-I can’t wait to see all the filler coming up. In the Clauditorium, Katie loves the Viennese waltz and Brendan loves the intensity between them. Scores: nine, nine, 10, nine for a total of 37. My favourite bits of her reaction? Going 'I never got a nine ever from Craig' and then looking marginally disappointed when Shirley's ten is only followed by a Bruno nine.

The final couple of the evening are Pasha and Kimberley- cued in by Tess and five of the audience wearing some flashing red noses to be Rudolf because that’s who Kimberley and Pasha are playing-reindeer. Kimberley’s VT features Bruno looking remarkably young considering she wasn’t on the show that many years ago and Kimberley not being sure about the theme of their dance being jiving reindeer. Although she calls them 'reindeers'. She brings her eldest child, Bobby, to the dance studio so he can run around chasing her and Pasha. Pasha then takes her and the children to meet Mrs Claus and two reindeer - Prancer and Dancer, see what they did there - and Bobby feeds the reindeer in order to suck up some of the ovary vote. Kimberley says all she’s asked Santa for this year is one ten from the judges-surely he can manage that. Given it's a Strictly Christmas special and you're on last, I’d say there was a pretty good chance, yes.

Their dance opens with a comedy Santa saying 'time to load the sleigh, five minutes to takeoff'.  They're both wearing red noses, so no idea who is meant to be Rudolph.  Pasha is wearing a cuddly reindeer suit and Kimberley a standard jive dress with reindeer make-up and antlers.  The jive is to 'Run Run Rudolph', and, as with Colin, you can see here that she has got some natural ability, but is clearly suffering from a lack of practice. The dancing is rhythmic but fairly leaden in places, although she is hamming up the comedy and the performance pretty well. It’s also somewhat slow in execution even given the fairly fast background music. There’s a nice ending where she cartwheels across his back and then they stand and look cute in front of the sleigh, which is fun. We cut to the other pros, Kevin Clifton looks mightily disapproving and like he is so ready to smash the Christmas special this time next year with let’s face any of his partners probably.

Bruno calls it 'a real Christmas cracker of a jive' and says she was more like a gazelle than a reindeer-always on the right spot at the right time. What did reindeer do to Bruno can we have that story please.  Craig calls it clean and precise and says he loved it. Tess says you know it’s Christmas when he uses the L Word. What, liquor?  Lube?  Darcey says it was a real celebration of the jive and she liked the compact, clean lifts and Father Christmas would make her his favourite reindeer, at which Pasha woobie faces. Shirley says they had enough reindeer dust to deliver.  If you could just deposit it by Bruno's desk and he'll slip you the cash when Tess is talking, thanks.

In the Clauditorium, we're reminded that Kimberley wasn’t very excited about getting the jive after having five years off and two kids, but did you see who you got cast against Kimberley, of course you were going to get a fast one. Claudia says Pasha looks brilliant and he says 'that's the right thing, right?' Pasha humour remains as always a special beast. Scores: nine, 10, 10, 10 for a total of 39. And I appreciate we're within the realms of bullshit Christmas scoring, but no way was that better than Katie’s unless they were taking points off that one for the singing.

In the background, AJ and Oti apparently being friends who knew.

Christmas leaderboard time?

Kimberley and Pasha 39
Katie and Brendan 37
Colin and Amy 36
Robbie and Dianne 31 
Judy and Neil 31
Jeremy and Karen 31

Bottom of the leaderboard pile-up!  Father Christmas then comes on, all sub-Brian Blessed booming, and gets mauled by the cast, who shout all over Claudia’s links,  He reminds us of the dances in the campest voice possible-bear in mind this is a show that has featured Colin Jackson and Bruno Tonioli.  The recap takes almost as long as the show we’ve just seen so far. *Fast-forwards*.

Time now for a special guest performance from the Kaiser Chiefs a.k.a. yes they are still going who knew The Voice could reignite a career given how little it did for its contestants. They are, however, performing 'Merry Christmas Everyone', rather than one of their own. Ricky Wilson’s voice is not sounding at its best tonight unless Shakey is something that requires a surprisingly difficult range? Still, the drummer has a Christmas pudding frontage over his bass drum so that’s nice-I appreciate it. For some bizarre reason, we don’t get any pro dancing in front of this for ages. Eventually Oti and Anton (okay, sure) come out running around like crazy things in a kind of quickstep. Oti looks like she’s wearing a sweet wrapper and Anton is wearing a black sparkly jacket and the amount of sequin and glitz on the pair of them is quite blindingly distracting especially when they’re dancing so fast you can barely see what they’re doing. I’d love to know whether that was any good or not but it was kind of hard to tell. At least now I realise why the dancing didn’t happen until most of the way through the song. They come back on for a little floor spin then run away again to catch their breath they then reappeared to do some charlestoning around and fight with the fake snow falling from the roof, before going back into the quickstep and streamers fly everywhere as it finishes.

Time for our next bit of filler-some of the Strictly team are invited to a tea dance at Buckingham Palace, part of a campaign on behalf of the osteoporosis Society to get older people moving and Camilla, who is patron of the charity, tells Craig how important it is the people to move. Jeremy Vne engages in some conversation with a woman who says she loves the foxtrot and he tries to mime doing it 'is this what it looks like' and she says 'no'.  Such an education the man has had on this show. My favourite guest? A woman who looks like Shirley’s mum - all decked out in flamenco-esque gear.  Get her on the show more please. We also see the pros doing a dance where poor old Chloe is the only one without a partner so she has to run around watching everybody else dancing in hold. #poorchloe

Results time now.  The winners? Katie and Brendan-and there’s something hilariously tragic about one of Anton’s former partners winning this in a rare year where he’s gone too far in the competition to be involved in the Christmas special-not least as he lost out to Brendan. Katie says she's stunned and Brendan doesn’t get to say anything, which is a weird change.

We then get another group routine, to 'Step into Christmas'-featuring Pasha as a glamorous wardrobe assistant and Kimberley trying out a sequinned jumpsuit; Robbie wearing tight red trousers with a tight blue top and black sparkly jacket, no hun, Jeremy in velour, Colin wearing black with a sparkly red jacket, Katie wearing a 60s style multicoloured sequin dress, and Judy getting the best frock of the lot in plum velvet, before cutting to the judges or pretending to play instruments: Bruno on the drums, Craig on the bass, Shirley on keys and Darcey on guitar. Nobody gets to be the lead singer how very PC. Everyone then does a combination of the jive and the conga and weirdly, the conga comes across worse. It then morphs into some sub-Hairspray dancing and just descends into the annual car crash that these usually turn into and wouldn't you be disappointed if they didn’t?

So a former finalist wins the Christmas special, order is kind of restored and that was a fairly entertaining Christmas special at least compared to last year so well done people.

Thank you all for reading with us this year, we hope you have a great Christmas season and a happy New Year and we will see you all sometime in the summer for series 16!

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Above-Average Joe

Week 13: The Final - 16 December 2017

Imagine some wibbly-wobbly lines descending over this blog, because we open by going back in time to August 2017, when the contestants were recording their very first "blimey, I'm on Strictly" VTs before fast-forwarding through time to December, as our four finalists wake up on 'final day' (even though it was probably filmed a few days earlier). Important things to note: Joe's home contains an extremely ugly mirror, we still don't know if Alex's house has any books in it (I feel like that revelation was where she lost the competition, to be honest), and that Gemma has spent a lot of time on trains this series. Joe tells us that Strictly has been more than he ever thought it would be, Alexandra says it's brought more highs and lows than she imagined, Debbie says it all comes down to this, and Gemma brings it on home: "me, my partner, and the dancefloor".

Titles! As ever these have been edited for the final, so that the four finalists are now at the end and superimposed over a giant "FINAL" graphic. They've been positioned in alphabetical order, which (spoiler alert!) will also be their performance order tonight. The former librarian in me finds this pleasing.

We open with yet another montage (oh god, so many montages still to come) reminding us that this year has brought us 15 celebrities, 141 dances, 3,962 training hours (of which I think Mollie did approximately half), and now four remain and only Joe can win! Sorry, only "one" can win. Terrible typo there. We transition to a pro routine to 'What A Feeling' by Alex Gaudino ft Kelly I'm Trying To Help You Rowland, where I can confirm that Pasha's finally figured out what to do with his hair, and it only took him 13 weeks! Well done, Pasha. Also, I'm not going to get into tabloid rumours, but it is quite strange to see Karen and Kevin not dancing together when neither of them is partnering a finalist. (For the most part, Karen's with Neil and Kevin's with Janette.) [Well, there have been a lot of pro partner swaps this series which makes it a little less weird, but yeah...- Rad] There are four catwalks at the back of the ballroom, which are initially occupied by Gorka, Giovanni, Aljaž and Katya, who then leap off to make room for Alexandra, Debbie, Gemma and Joe. They all take it in turns to vamp down the catwalks when their names are called, and Gemma makes a "fuckin' 'AVE IT" gesture which really makes me laugh. I think personality-wise I've enjoyed Gemma more than any other contestant this year. [And yet Aljaž has been more annoying than ever before, so... - Rad]

Tess and Claudia arrive: Tess in a red two-piece pantsuit with no sleeves (and giant hexagonal earrings that make her neck look like an incomplete game of Blockbusters), and Claudia in gothic black with lots of transparent overlays. Tess rolls off some more stats (including 1,276 spray tans) and Claudia tells us that each of the finalists will be performing three times. Tess warns us that Ed Sheeran will be on later, but since there's no break for Casualty this year that seems like a good time for a loo break. The judges make their entrance, and once again Shirley has been stitched into her dress so tightly that she can't move anything above the knees, but she does manage to shuffle to her mark on time somehow, god love her.

Claudia reminds us that the judges will be scoring tonight, but those scores will be for guidance only as our votes alone will decide this year's winners. And I'm not really sure how useful the guidance is going to be, because neither Shirley nor Bruno is giving anything less than a 10 all night. The contestants are introduced for the final time, in the traditional order: Gemma & Aljaž, Debbie & Giovanni, Joe and Katya, and Alexandra and Gorka. And since Rad will definitely want me to report this: only Debbie and Giovanni dance to the music (though Alexandra and Gorka can be given some leeway since they only make it to their mark just in time for the final sting). Claudia confirms that the voting lines will open after the first dance, which is judges' choice - then after that, we've got the car-crash showdances, and finally the contestants' choice.

Opening the show tonight are Alexandra and Gorka, with their American smooth from Movie Week to 'Wouldn't It Be Loverly'. Alexandra tells us that last Saturday was the most content she's ever been during her entire stint on the show. We then cut to Gorka dancing in celebration with his shirt open after their perfect score for the salsa, and I can understand why. Even though Tess has just told us what dance they're doing, we still have to sit through the judges announcing which routine they've chosen: Bruno tells her that he loved the character she brought into it, but she needs to refine her arms, and Shirley encourages her to really "take the space". Craig says he thinks she can get full marks for this one if she really focuses. Alexandra says she loved doing this routine first time around, and she just hopes she can recapture that magic.

Interestingly, Alex has a completely different dress for the routine this time around: I don't know whose idea that was, but it's a good call considering most of us thought she looked more like Mary Poppins than Eliza Doolittle last time. Gorka's costume is pretty much the same, minus the hat, but when you consider just how those trousers cling to his butt, why mess with perfection? Anyway, perhaps the dress helps things but either way, the improvement is clear to see here: Alexandra has finally achieved that level of soft, lyrical ballroom that she's always hinted she was capable of. It's a much more confident and nuanced performance than it was in week three, which is one of the reasons why all of these pointed comments about her "previous experience" are of no interest to me: she hadn't done ballroom dancing before, and this routine shows how much her dancing in this specific discipline has improved over the last 13 weeks. (Also because "previous experience" comments are usually 99% garbage, as demonstrated by the fact that Joe hasn't had even a tenth of the stick Alexandra has had, despite his own background in musical theatre.) Point of interest: Alexandra no longer gets given a bunch of celery by Gorka at the end. What's she supposed to dip in her hummus now?

Alexandra tells Tess that she just wants to do that dance again because she loves it so much, and squeals that she's in the final. Tess welcomes the singers: Hayley, Lance, Andrea and Tommy, so if anyone was wondering if Tori was going to get a chance to redeem herself with a second go at 'Can't Take My Eyes Off You', it ain't happening, sorry. [Has anyone actually checked that Tori's alright?  I mean, I'm not sure I'd want to make Dave Arch mad now we've learned from ITT that he weilds all the power - Rad] Shirley opens for the judges by saying that Alexandra has captured the essence of everything the final is all about - she took the most gorgeous expression in her arms, and brought a much more feminine, softer side to the dance this time. Bruno declares it "lovelier than ever" and tells Alexandra that she gives all of her heart and soul in everything she does. Craig says it was "absolutely dreadful...because I couldn't find a single thing wrong with it". Darcey agrees, and says that Alexandra expresses emotion through every movement.

They run up to the Clauditorium where the entire cast has been reassembled. Alexandra says she was giggling in Gorka's face every time they went back over it because she couldn't remember any of the steps, but she just had the best time. The scores are in: tens all round for a total of 40. Claudia points out that everyone else was very happy for her - particularly Karen, randomly. [Because she made off with the celery, hence Alexandra not getting any?  KAREN LOVE FOOD - Rad]

Debbie's next, and she'll be reprising her salsa. Tess says that it contains some tricky lifts that didn't quite work the first time, which is not how I remember it at all: I remember the underarm spins being a bit sticky and the dance suffering from the same general problems as all of Debbie's party latin does, but as far as I can remember the bit where Giovanni inserted his fist into Debbie's vagina and held her up by sheer sexual magnetism alone was the one bit that everyone loved. [Word - Rad]

Debbie tells us that in the run-up to the semi-final, she remembered how she used to feel when she was performing with Paul, and she knew she was going to have a good time. She feels like she really has to up her game now she's in the final. Shirley counsels Debbie to be aware of her arm placement this time around, and Darcey suggests that she sell it like she's never sold it before. Debbie wants the salsa to be perfect this time or she'll NEVER forgive herself.

It opens as before with Debbie as an optician pointing to an eye chart and Giovanni reading out "D-E-B-B-I-E", but halfway through he almost loses himself to the giggles, which is charming. This time around I think Debbie's hip movement is a little looser and they've clearly worked very hard to rehearse the underarm turns and get them right (although there's still one that looks like it didn't go 100% as planned). The Foof Lift is still magnificent (and aided by Andrea actually coming in with the chorus at the right time, sorry Tori), though it loses a little bit of its magic without the element of surprise. I think it's a shame that Debbie was lumbered with having to do party latin again in the final, but I think this is the best she's ever done any of it, so kudos to her.

Tess makes Giovanni say "Debbeh" one last time, and Bruno likens Debbie to the Tardis - well, if she's bigger on the inside it would explain that lift, I suppose. Oh wait, he means that she defies all the laws of physics and the concept of time. Craig says that there was lovely rotation in the hips and the underarm turns worked really well that time. Darcey loves the chemistry between them, and she loves how Debbie keeps that smile on her face when she's upside down with that hand in between her legs. I think you've answered your own point there, Darce. Shirley admires Debbie's peripheral focus that made the underarm turns better this time, and she says that both she and Darcey gasped at the lift.

Debbie tells Claudia that she was nervous about having to do That Lift again, particularly in a week where she had to rehearse three dances, as well as rehearing for panto and having the flu, and Giovanni says he's very proud of her. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39. Giovanni keeps shrieking "DEBBIE!" at her. One of the great joys of Strictly is how your feelings toward a pro can do a total 180 as soon as they're given the right partner, and while I've never been that fussed about Giovanni prior to this year, now I think he's a keeper. [He has easily been the standout pro this series.  Best partnership in years - Rad]

Next are Gemma and Aljaž, who will be reprising their powerful paso. Gemma says that the semi-final went really well for them - "I enjoyed the dancin'" (<3) - but admits that landing in the bottom two put a bit of a damper on it. After the dance reveal, Shirley tells Gemma that she'll be looking for more angles in her body this time, and Darcey tells her not to bury her chin. Aljaž says that they're going to work on intention and shaping and character, and Gemma giggles "that's a lot of work!" She vows to do Aljaž proud.

I'm really pleased they got to do this one again, because this is definitely one of my favourite Gemma dances and one of the ones I felt really suited her. Also I really love the bit where she high-kicks in time with the chiming bells in the background (they're dancing to Coldplay's 'Viva La Vida', just in case you've forgotten). It's perhaps not as polished as Alexandra's or Debbie's performances were - there's perhaps still a bit too much softness in her topline, and she still dips her chin a bit too low, but this is still absolutely a final-worthy performance. In fact, that's one of the things that's really cheered me about this year's final - nobody feels like they've been carried here, or that they're here to make up the numbers. Everybody's bringing something to it, and Gemma's doing the "plucky trier who may not be as technically accomplished as the others but works incredibly hard and frequently confounds expectations" angle very well tonight. Also the bit at the end where they clap out a cloud of glitter is one of my favourite visuals of the entire series.

They head over to the judges with Aljaž still absolutely covered in sequins in his hair and all over his chest (which Gemma seems to have mostly escaped) - Craig admires her strong lines and fantastic intent and purpose. He thinks this dance really suited her frame and she made it work brilliantly. Darcey loved that she held the passion right to the last beat of the music, just like they wanted her to. Shirley confirms she got the angles and shapes she was after, and she praises Gemma for taking criticism on board every week and learning from it. Bruno tells Gemma she was really leading the dance, and she's grown so much over the last few months - she's improved and improved and peaked just at the right time.

On the way up to the Clauditorium, Aljaž is significantly more excited than Gemma is, as we've come to expect at this point. Claudia reminds Gemma that her mum used to call her "the baby elephant", and now she's in the final. Gemma: "I love it - this is me favourite Strictly series ever!" Hee. She thought she'd be able to pick this up easily because it was a dance she loved so much, but when they practised... Aljaž steps in and says it was "easy-ish", which I think is about as close to negativity as you're likely to get from him. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 38, making this the joint highest-scoring paso of the series - with Aston. Remember him?

Closing off the first round, we have Joe and Katya. They're doing their Doctor Zhivago-themed Viennese waltz from Movie Week again, though I regret to confirm that Joe has not regrown the moustache, and therefore cannot expect any votes from me this evening. Sorry Joe, but you were aware of the rules in advance and you chose to ignore them. Katya gets all choked up that this is her first ever Strictly final. You've been doing this for two years, hon. It took Anton 12 years, dial it down a notch. [Also, it's Gorka's first final too and no one gives a fuck about that - Rad] They go to meet the judges, and learn that they've got some pivots in store. Bruno tells Joe to can it with the rise-and-fall, and stop his bum sticking out. Katya says they're going to put in better footwork and "more posture"(?) this time.

So, I'll be honest: there's a lot of swirly camerawork going on throughout this routine which makes it very hard for me to say whether he's eliminated the rise-and-fall or not, but I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he has. The posture still isn't great, but it's better, though the one thing I am noticing is that the whole thing feels a lot more naturally-paced this time around. Looking at the first time he danced it, it felt a little skippy because he was trying to keep up with the music, and this time he looks a lot more confident in himself and that translates into a steadier flow throughout the whole dance. There is, unfortunately, growing evidence of Tom Chambers Face throughout, and I can only point out that regrowing the moustache could have prevented that. Oh, and Joe totally loses his balance right at the end where he's holding Katya up while she does her kicks and nearly topples over. Oops.

Tess reminds Joe that he's the last man standing, and Darcey says that he improved his posture with wonderful glide and flow. It's one of her favourite dances of the whole series. Shirley thought it had everything - it was big, bold and beautiful, and if she could score that fleckerl 11, she would, because it was as good as any professional she's seen. Yes, it's almost like he wasn't a complete novice coming into the series after all, isn't it? But no, do tell me again how the presence of the Alexandra Burkes and Debbie McGees of this world make a mockery of the very concept of fairness, please, I'm still listening even if my eyes are closed and I'm snoring. Bruno declares it lovely and romantic, and he thinks they've added an extra effortless flow - it looked like they were skating on a frozen lake. Craig calls it a "no-nonsense Viennese waltz" and he loved the storytelling and DRAMAH.

Claudia reminds Joe that he wasn't really getting on with the Viennese waltz the first time he did it, and Joe says it's been nice to come back to it because it was so beautifully choreographed. Katya likes that all the judges agreed this time. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39. By the way, literally every non-10 score tonight has been booed, it's that kind of evening.

Round one leaderboard:
1. Alexandra and Gorka - 40
2=. Debbie & Giovanni - 39
2=. Joe & Katya - 39
4. Gemma & Aljaž - 38

The lines are open, and the pros in the background who've been given individually-letter paddles mess around with them to spell out "NOPE".

There's still time for a Comedy Interlude, and Tess and Claudia tell us that they're going to do their own showdance, incorporating the lift from Dirty Dancing. Tess doesn't think it's a good idea, but Claudia insists that they're a team and it's fine. Claudia disappears off camera, Tess prepares herself to catch her, Claudia leaps and misses and lands on one of her beloved crashmats. When we cut to the wider shot, we can see the trampette that she jumped off and it looks like she almost missed the crashmat entirely. What a trouper, our Claud.

Right, it's showdance time! Alexandra and Gorka are doing theirs to 'There's No Business Like Showbusiness' and Gorka promises it will be like a Hollywood movie with loads of different bits of different styles thrown in. Gorka says he wants to push Alexandra to her maximum. Tess and Claudia pop in to training to see how it's all going, and Tess tells Alexandra that she's better than Gorka. Because that worked out so well for her last time.

It opens with Gorka holding a clapperboard and screaming "TAKE ONE! ACTION!" as Alexandra sits in a silky robe with a giant feather fan, looking into a make-up mirror. I love that the entire theme of this dance is "to be honest, I don't even care if you think I'm a diva (babes)", and it may not turn out to be a vote-winner, but I think it's the right thing for Alexandra nonetheless. She doesn't have to apologise for being who she is. Once the routine gets going, it's a full razzmatazz, tits-'n'-teeth Broadway number, with recognisable elements of previous routines thrown in - particularly their Argentine tango and charleston. I must admit, I'm not particularly a fan of "greatest hits" showdances because they always feel a bit unimaginative to me, but I will never tire of seeing these two do that move from their Argentine tango where Alexandra walks across Gorka's ankle and seemingly steps into the air because it looks like actual magic.

Shirley declares it fun and bright, and she loves the fact that they took up the whole space. She feels like Alexandra's energy is boundless, and she thinks that she feels every single step from her heart. Bruno says it's like Top Of The Pops - hit after hit after hit. He thinks everything was in it, and he loves how they wrapped it in a tribute to the movies. Craig thinks Alexandra has a natural ability that oozes out of her. Darcey is impressed by Alexandra's "versatality" and her flair and exuberance.

Claudia congratulates Gorka for making his first final, and Gorka says that there were so many moments that he would have loved to do tonight but it wasn't possible, so he just tried to squeeze as much as possible into one minute. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39. They're now allowed to tell us which dance they'll be reprising for their final dance, and of course it's the jive - they briefly contemplated the paso, but knew that the jive was the one for them.

Debbie and Giovanni are next, and Debbie looks like she's having a small anxiety attack. Debbie loves her showdance because it's beautiful, and Giovanni says he's going to push really hard. Tess and Claudia pay them a visit, and Giovanni says that there are a lot of lifts and therefore a lot of pressure to get them right. Claudia screams "WOW!" repeatedly in rehearsals though, so they must be doing something right. Giovanni tells Debbie he's choreographed this routine specifically for Debbie, and he's loved every single moment of the whole experience. Aww.

They're dancing to 'One Day I'll Fly Away' and it's all very balletic and contempowafty and lifty and really quite emotional - which may be the song doing a lot of the heavy lifting, I'll admit, because that one always gets me going. But it's the only showdance of the night that made me cry - well, except for Joe's, but that made me cry for very different reasons. They include one or two personal highlights as well, such as a repeat of the "look ma no hands" lift where Giovanni lets go and Debbie supports herself just with her hands behind his neck.

Bruno says she was flying like an angelic ballerina and an ethereal creature - he thinks she just danced every little girl's dream. Craig says it's quite dangerous to consider doing classical ballet when Darcey Bussell's going to judge you on it (heh), but he thought they pulled it off really well. Darcey says Debbie is perfectly petite, and the control and quality of every step was wonderful. She was impressed at how Debbie managed to find her balance after that spinning lift. Shirley says she got quite emotional at it, and she feels like this dance shows how Debbie dared to dream by taking part, and this final is showing how Debbie's dreams have all come true. Except her dreams of winning, because she's not male. [I think having three female finalists really didn't help any of their chances of winning - it was like Louis Smith's year all over again - Rad]

In the Clauditorium, Debbie says that it wasn't the lifts that she was worried about, it was the music - because every time she heard it in rehearsals, she cried, so she was really worried she'd get too emotional and lose focus on the night. But she didn't! Hooray! Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 38. They're going to be doing the Argentine tango later for their favourite dance.

Next we have Gemma and Aljaž with their showdance, which will feature light-up letters spelling out Gemma's name. Yeah, but unless Aljaž is going to say it out loud in a comedy accent, you'll never compete with Debbie. Gemma says she's worried about the lifts, because she's really scared she might hurt Aljaž. Claudia and Tess pop in for their visit, and Aljaž tells them that it has a cabaret feel (or possibly a Cabaret feel?), and it's very "woman-strong" and all about Gemma, which is, Tess notes, as it should be (try telling that to Katya). Tess and Claudia's comments are "strong", "fast" and "yes", and they say that they wanted to join in and do a little shoulder-shimmy with them.

They're dancing to 'Show Me How You Burlesque' from the film Burlesque, and frankly I hope this routine involves a wagon wheel watusi or I want my money back. It's quickstep-based, but with a lot more booty-shaking thrown in and taken at a lick of about 160mph. The lifts are fairly laboured and the technique is not quite there for the actual quickstep bits, but this is the most nakedly fun showdance of the night by far and the one that feels most like a quintessential Strictly showdance for me (in that it's kind of a trainwreck but I enjoyed it anyway).

Tess jokes "that had your name written all over it", which is quite a good one. Craig grits that he liked it but he didn't love it, but he's going to focus on the things he liked, which is that Gemma danced outside the box and showed a side of her that we've never seen before, and he can see in this routine how Gemma has grown as a dancer since the series began. Darcey likes to see "sassy Gemma" and she loved the staging and the choreography, particularly with the quickstep and the nods to Chicago. Shirley doesn't agree with Craig, and thinks that Gemma has absolutely graduated from being a beginner at the start of the series and just gave it one thousand per cent. Bruno wonders where this Gemma has been hiding all series (Manchester, I think?) and he thinks that she was erotic and sultry, and the quickstep itself was technically perfect.

Aljaž tells Claudia that his thinking behind the routine was that 13 weeks ago, Gemma was afraid to go onto the dancefloor even with him, let alone by herself, so by starting that routine all by herself, he wanted to show how far she'd come and really own that dancefloor - and she did. Gemma says that the whole thing was Aljaž's idea. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 37. Unsurprisingly, Gemma has chosen her American smooth from Blackpool for her third dance.

With our last showdance of the night, we have Joe and Katya - who have apparently chosen a Cinderella theme. Tess and Claudia go to watch it, and it looks pure panto - and your mileage on whether that's a good or a bad thing may vary, but to me it looks like something that belongs in the Christmas special more than the final. Joe hopes everyone watching will enjoy it as much as Tess and Claudia did.

They're dancing to 'You Make My Dreams' by Hall & Oates, which is playing far too slow at the beginning, and it opens with them kissing under a clock ("consider the role played by clocks in Joe McFadden's Strictly Come Dancing victory" - potential future media studies exam question) as it strikes midnight and Katya flees. Joe picks up a shoe and dances with it, and that's about all the focus Joe's going to get in this dance because then Katya returns in rags and holding a broom and then Joe gives her the shoe and the tempo of the song increases a hundredfold to the point where it's now too fast, they hoof around a bit in a way that mostly involves Joe being a human pole for Katya to support herself on, then Katya unfolds her rags into a sparkly gown in a way which is impressive if you've never seen a small child's fancy-dress outfit, and they do a bit of quickstep, then there's a fucking stupid bit where they just shuffle around on the floor, then Joe flips Katya 360 degrees and presents her with a wedding ring and I mean, go for the under-12s vote all you want, but that was a mess and Joe barely featured in it. It was more like "Katya's Showdance, introducing Joe McFadden", and that's far from the first time I've felt like Joe's the spare part in this relationship. [It was a fucking state, and if they'd waited to open the vote after all the dances I wonder if it would have harmed his vote any - Rad]

Darcey tells Joe that he's come a long way and become a real snappy mover - she loved the mix of his quickstep with playful jive, and she didn't want the story to end. God, I did. Shirley says that Joe is the true Prince Charming, because she happens to know that this is Katya's first time in the final, GOD IS IT REALLY WHAT BRAND-NEW INFORMATION. Bruno thinks that this partnership has been creative week after week, and the showdance really played to Joe's strengths. Craig thinks the shoe might fit him, and he wants to try it later. He thinks Joe is complete and absolute showbiz, so all he needs to do is turn it on and smile. I mean I've watched it twice now and I'm pretty sure that's all he did do.

Claudia compliments Katya on playing to Joe's strengths, which if that showdance is to be believed are "standing in the background". Katya thinks that leaving him alone with the shoe was quite risky. Yeah, he might have pulled focus from you. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39. Katya wishes she had another dress to change. Well, you do have to go and get changed for your next routine, which is...oh god, it's their charleston. I've not cared for the charlestons at all this series (I've just compiled my shortlist of favourite dances for the whole series, and there wasn't a single charleston on there - and on a year where I managed to find three rumbas worthy of inclusion and even a foxtrot that I liked, that's a sign that something's gone very wrong) and even within that Joe and Katya's was one of the ones I liked least. Too twee, too gurny. Oh well.

So, let's check back in with the leaderboard:

1. Alexandra & Gorka - 40+39=79
2. Joe & Katya - 39+39=78
3. Debbie & Giovanni - 39+38=77
4. Gemma & Aljaž - 38+37=75

So the main changes there, not that it matters, are Joe pulling slightly ahead of Debbie, and Gemma drifting slightly further away from the pack.

After a recap of the eight dances we've witnessed so far, it's time for the final dance from Alexandra and Gorka. Alexandra says that the experience will stay with her forever - now she knows how to do a jive, a cha cha cha, an Argentine tango and so on, and that brings her a lot of joy. She says that she owes Gorka so much, because he's always made her feel like they're a team. Gorka says he's beyond proud of her, she's always been incredible and she never gives up. Her brother, dad and boyfriend (three separate people, just to clarify) all tell her how proud they are of her, and Alexandra is really excited to get to do her jive one last time because everything felt right when they did it. Gorka says that he's getting emotional at the prospect of this being the last time he will be holding Alexandra and telling her "let's do it" - well, depending on what they intend to do at the wrap party, I suppose. Alexandra finishes by saying that she thinks her mum would've been proud of her, knowing that she continued doing something that was a shared dream for both of them.

They reprise their jive to 'Proud Mary', and it's every bit as much of an event as it was the first time out - perhaps a little bit more finessed in terms of leg placement, not that much improvement was needed there. I was kind of hoping they might have choreographed in some Proud Mary arms, but there's a lot to be said for having the courage of your initial convictions, I suppose. It's a hell of a note for Alexandra to end the series on, anyway.

Tess congratulates Alexandra for the energy she created, while Gorka collapses on the floor. Bruno yells that he and Shirley were turning into Ikettes during that routine, and Shirley says that it was brilliance from beginning to end. Bruno says that it was like watching Tina live, and it was his favourite dance "of the season", and he thinks it will go down in the hall of fame alongside Jay McGuiness and Jill Halfpenny. Oh, I see Ore's already been cast out, then? Craig simply gets to his feet wordlessly and claps. Darcey finishes by saying that Alexandra is "outdoing Mr Gorka", and she just wants Alexandra to tell her when she's going to perform next so she can come and see it.

They scoot up to the Clauditorium where everyone's doing Proud Mary arms (or at least attempting them). Claudia tells Alex that her boyfriend Josh was sobbing during that, and Alex says she doesn't want to cry (Chizzy is already crying at this point by the looks of it), and Susan immediately reaches forward to hand her a tissue. Aww. Alexandra says that dancing with Gorka has brought so much joy to her life and she's so happy. Scores: 10s all round for a total of 40. Claudia says well done to Alexandra and also to Gorka, since she thinks they never say well done to Gorka. I say it every time I look at his Instagram, but maybe that's just me.

Back for the last time after that are Debbie and Giovanni. Debbie says that the experience has been better than she imagined, and Giovanni says that she's an amazing partner and friend. Debbie giggles that it's great to have a friend you can talk to about anything, and who laughs at your jokes. The VT sweeps across family members - including stealth star of the series Babs McGee - telling Debbie how proud they are, and Debbie says that she lost a lot of confidence after Paul died, and now she's got her confidence back that she can do things on her own. Debbie says she's working on loosing her legs in the gauchos on the Argentine tango, per Craig's advice last time they did it.

This, for me, is the performance of the final, I think. It's a reprisal of a fairly recent dance so the original is still lodged in my memory, but it's crisper and more precise this time, and the chemistry between the two of them is absolutely electric. We've not had that many Argentine tangos overall this series, but I feel like if this was the only one we had, it wouldn't matter - it's that good. The intricacy of the leg work and the electricity it generates is just magnificent. [I would legit watch a Debbie/Gio tour.  I've seen he's touring in 2018 (including going to Grimsby, fact fans) but if it were the two of them... - Rad]

Bruno says it was sublime, and that Debbie set the benchmark for the Argentine tango tonight. He says that talking not as a judge, but as Bruno, Debbie has exceeded his expectations week after week, and she's been such an inspiration for people of a certain age to prove that they still have plenty to give. Craig takes this opportunity to point out that Bruno is 62, and says that he completely agrees - this is a new beginning for the lovely Debbie McGee. Darcey tells Debbie she is stunningly fearless, and the finesse and strength of every move she makes is incredible. Shirley agrees - Debbie is brilliant, and she loves that Giovanni is so sensitive and caring and allowed her to be so daring. Giovanni babbles a bit in response, and Debbie steps in and says that from day one, he's put her first because all he ever wanted to do was let her shine. No, shut up, you're crying.

In the Clauditorium, Debbie thanks everyone - including her brother, who's at home, because they couldn't get enough tickets for him to come tonight. Heh. Giovanni says that this has been his best Strictly experience ever, because they've had such a good time in rehearsals and become great friends. Scores: 10s all around for another perfect 40.

Gemma and Aljaž are taking us back to Blackpool with their final dance, and in her VT Gemma describes it as one of the scariest and most exciting rollercoasters that she's ever been on. Aljaž says that they got along from the very beginning, and Gemma confirms that Aljaž's patience and understanding is what's kept her going. She thanks him for changing her life and giving her confidence that she never had, and Aljaž says he's made an incredible friend in her. Gemma's family say she's worked so hard for this and they love her, and Gemma really wants to do the American smooth again because she got 10s for it in Blackpool with her mum in the audience.

So they're dancing a slightly scaled down version, minus backing dancers, but I think that actually helps the routine to not have any distractions. This was the obvious choice for Gemma to reprise at this stage, but I just wish the dance as a whole had a bit more "wow" about it because it's so slow and gentle and doesn't really have much about it that will inspire anyone to rush and vote for her in these closing moments, but then I'm not sure it was ever really about winning for Gemma anyway. It fits what we've seen of her personality that she'd rather do a routine she genuinely loved as her last dance over one that might be more likely to inspire votes.

Craig says it was quiet, simple and understated - everything Blackpool is not. Bruno falls off his chair at this, having suddenly realised he's gone a whole series without doing it. Darcey tells Gemma she should be proud, because it was clean and serene and assured. Shirley says it was a musical extravaganza from a young lady who's turned into the most beautiful dancer. She notes that Gemma's frame has improved so much since the beginning, it's almost professional now. Bruno finishes by saying that this dance was the turning point for Gemma and then sings, so let's just move on, shall we?

Claudia asks Gemma if that lives up to the first time she did it in Blackpool, and Gemma assures her that it did - especially since she had her mum and friends in the audience. Gemma says that her mum's tried to get tickets for six years, and now she's been three times and once in Blackpool. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39 - a personal best score for Gemma. Aljaž tells her he has never been prouder of anyone. [I think Gemma was the surprise of the night - outdanced Joe, which I wouldn't have expected - Rad]

For our final competitive dance of the series, we have...whuzzat say? Katya and Joe's charleston? Ugh, this is always death. Joe says that being on Strictly has been intense, brilliant and bonkers, and remembers how much he fucked up the tango. Katya says that it was a struggle to rebuild his confidence after that, and Joe says he realised that if he wanted it he'd have to fight for it because it wouldn't just be given to him - which is ironic, because that's pretty much what happened in this final. They mark the paso as a turning point, and Joe says it feels amazing to have never been in a dance-off because it shows how much the public support you. Joe's family tell him they're all rooting for him, and Joe says that Katya's been the right partner for him and they're both looking forward to doing the charleston again in the final.

I'm not looking forward to seeing it again, however, because I didn't care for it at all the first time, as I mentioned above. It's all silly faces and mugging at the camera, which is my least favourite variety of charleston, and I find Joe's dancing of it kind of sloppy. But hey, they crowdsourced their choice of final dance and this one apparently won by a clear margin, so apparently my tastes are out of sync with the wider public - and it's not like it's the first time.

Darcey comments that it was one of her favourite dances of the series, and she's very grateful to have seen it again. She thinks Joe expresses every emotion as he performs, with a lot of detail - she thinks this is the perfect end to a great final. Shirley says she called him DJ so many years ago - Detail Joe, Dark Horse Joe, and he never gave in, Not An Inch Joe (which is presumably the nickname she gave him after she forced him and AJ to whip it out and compare them) - she thinks they were completely synchronised and together, and he's become a magnificent dancer. Bruno says it was clever, exciting and original and everyone has given them a fantastic final. Craig finishes with a 'fab-yew-luss' and oh thank goodness we're finally done here.

In the Clauditorium, Joe says that Katya persevered with him and cracked the whip, and Claudia giggles that Katya's been building a hardwoman image all series that she's ruined by crying all over everyone and everything for the last couple of days. Scores: 10s all round for the perfect 40, Joe's first, and also last, obviously. Katya screams "FINALLY!" and Chizzy bursts into tears.

Final meaningless leaderboard!

1. Alexandra & Gorka - 40+39+40=119
2. Joe & Katya - 39+39+40=118
3. Debbie & Giovanni - 39+38+40=117
4. Gemma & Aljaž - 38+37+39=114

Claudia reads out the last terms and conditions of the series, and Gorka gooses her repeatedly.

Next: a montage of members of the public talking about their favourite moments. Anyone mind if I skip this because I've been here for six hours now? No? Good.

When we return, Claudia warns us that the vote will be closing in five minutes, and then it's time for Ed Sheeran performing his single 'Perfect' - sadly without Beyoncé. Although imagine Alexandra's face if they suddenly brought her out. Pasha and Karen appear towards the end to do a bit of a Viennese waltz around it, which is rather nice. Sorry, I'm a bit low on adjectives at this point. As I said, I've been here for six hours and I'm still fending off a streaming cold.

Claudia declares the lines OFFICIALLY CLOSED and the fates of the contestants officially sealed. But before we find out the results: another montage! Let's speak to everyone who's already been booted out and find out what they thought of their experience. Aston says that Janette was definitely his top pick for a partner (lol more fool you), a shiny-looking Jonnie says that Oti was perfect for him, and Ruth is still somehow pleased she had Anton as her partner. Brian reckons he's never worked so hard in all of his 40-plus years in showbiz, and Davood remembers 'Tearful Tuesday' when he used to have a good old cry about his inability to do the dance. Susan recalls that magical moment each week when the dance finally clicked. Ruth was so nervous on the first show that it felt like someone had poured concrete into her shoes. Rev Richard is glib as usual. Ruth recalls the elation of getting four sixes, bless her. Mollie reflects on the dance-off, and Davood says that it makes you stronger. On the other side, Chizzy points out that losing your place on a show that you love is crushing. Susan feels like she's climbed Mount Everest. Simon thinks he's a different, nicer person now.

Time for the obligatory end-of-series not-quite-as-much-of-a-car-crash-as-it-was-on-the-launch-show group dance! They're dancing to 'Walking On Sunshine', and there are hallmarks of magical moments in there - notably the way it starts with AJ chucking a devil's trident from one hand to the other. Of the returnees: Chizzy's clearly delighted to be back and dancing with Pasha again, Richard comes down on a cloud and we have to cut away to Charlotte and Brian while he gets himself out of the harness, then poor Charlotte has to marry Brendan again, Simon lifts up a cloche to reveal Karen beneath it eating a drumstick because KAREN LIKE FOOD, Aston chucks Janette around in the air as if to say "LOOK AT THE SHOWDANCE WE COULD HAVE DONE!", Ruth and Anton reprise their samba outfit reveal, only with Anton struggling to get his outer layers off this time, newly-shorn Jonnie (who looks even handsomer, if that were possible) is back on his blade to quickstep with Oti. Susan and Kevin do their Morecambe and Wise bit again, Davood puts Nadiya in another bum-lift, Mollie gets to recreate that lift where she wrapped her thighs around AJ's neck (who says it's only the men who use this show as a vehicle for their fantasies of starring in a James Bond movie one day?), confetti explodes everywhere and they strike one final pose on the judges' desk. Then Ruth and Anton collapse, just as spontaneously as the first time, and everyone falls on top of them.

There's a quick promo for the Christmas special, in which Pasha will be a reindeer, Katie Derham is an ice queen and Judy and Neil are elves. Sounds unmissable.

We're almost at the end, but Claudia's having a final chat with with class of 2017, and Susan says that as a Strictly superfan, it's a joy to be here at the final with the best seats in the house, and she couldn't have been prouder to be part of the show. Claudia compliments Jonnie on his haircut and then points out that he's nominated for tomorrow's Sports Personality Of The Year award. Jonnie says he's probably going to be hungover then, and pulls a proper Father Dougal face down the camera when he realises he probably shouldn't have said that. Claudia tells him that whatever happens, everyone at Strictly thinks he's won. Ruth says that today is the first day she's been here dancing and hasn't been terrified. Aston says that his partner is still pregnant but hasn't had the baby yet, unless anything's changed in the last half-hour or so without him knowing.

One last montage? The judges have had a really lovely time this year, and they want to have one last word on the finalists. Alexandra is a real artist, who makes everything look natural - her salsa is listed as a particular highlight. Darcey doesn't quite believe Debbie is real, and Craig thinks every inch of that tango was perfection. Gemma has worked hard, and is stronger in ballroom - particularly with her American smooth in Blackpool. Joe is "exceptional" in the ballroom and "confident" in the latin, according to Darcey. Shirley admires his frame, and Bruno thinks he's gone from dark horse to frontrunner. Shirley thinks they're all worthy in their own right...but who's going to win?

Well, we're about to find out, because Tess and Claudia have got their cue cards. The winners of Strictly Come Dancing 2017 are...

...Joe and Katya, of course. Joe starts, and Katya screams. Joe says that it's really surreal, and then Katya hurls at him lest he be allowed to speak for himself for too long. It's hard to hear the chats with the runners-up over the general screaming, but from what I can make out: Debbie has loved every minute, Alexandra has had an amazing time and she's so happy for Joe, and Gemma thinks she might keep dancing and says "thank you for having us", bless her. Wouldn't it have been nice to have a proper talk with all of these people we've invested in for the last 13 weeks though? It's almost as if trying to fit one winner's interview and three runners-up interviews into approximately 90 seconds is a REALLY STUPID IDEA, just putting that one out there.

Back to Joe, who never imagined he'd win, and he's completely in awe of everyone who's been on the show, and everyone who's standing there with him is a winner too. He thanks Katya for sticking with him and being "an amazing artist" (lol) and dancer and counsellor and slave-driver. Katya shrieks "WE DID IT!" at him and sobs a bit more. The rest of the cast flood on (with Neil at the front, who I gather had a not-minor role in a lot of Katya's choreography this year), 'Celebration' plays, and we're officially outta there for 2017.

So, a quick moment to reflect? I came into the final liking all four contestants and considering them all worthy winners, and taking the series as a whole into account, I think I still feel that way. But on the way the final played out, I'm disappointed with Joe as a winner. It felt like a replay of series 13, where the winner had been decided long in advance and nothing anyone else could have done would have made any difference. If Joe had really come out in the final (not like that) and made an absolute statement for himself as a deserving winner, I'd feel better about it, but it felt to me like he mostly won by turning up, which made the end result a little anticlimactic. [Yeah, compared to Ore last year, who legitimately was the best on the night, this one felt a bit like an even-more-phoned-in Jay/Louis victory.  I expected him to be worse than Alexandra and Debbie but I thought even Gemma did better tonight.  I like him a lot as a person, but he really is a boring and disappointing winner in that his victory seems more based on being a man than anything else - Rad]

Still, it was an enjoyable series, and a strong final, and I look forward to doing this all over again next year, but not as much as I'm looking forward to having a long break from recapping. Join Rad at some point over the Christmas/New Year period for a Christmas special recap, and we'll see you at next year's launch show!

Saturday, 16 December 2017

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

- Mollie and AJ are considering choreographing a showdance anyway, to show their families at Christmas.
- AJ thinks the 4 for Mollie's samba was unfair, and she didn't deserve anything less than a seven.
- Mollie is contemplating taking the "Pivot Queen" nickname on board permanently.
- Debbie had a hairpiece pinned in during rehearsals that flew out halfway through her jive.
- Darcey absolutely would've worn Bruno's speedos if Alexandra hadn't made the final, and might even wear them anyway.
- Darcey thinks that Craig's reluctance to give 10s means that she doesn't beat him enough.
- Craig thinks 10s have to come late in the day.
- The wrap party is going to have crowns everywhere.
- Darcey and Shirley do 'boomerangs' before the show on Saturday.
- Shirley's biggest pet peeve is when the pros don't give you a chance to finish what you're saying, BRENDAN.
- Darcey thinks at least one pro is a skiver but won't reveal who.
- Paul Daniels used to sleep for four hours a night.
- Giovanni isn't happy that they're the only couple that get the 10-second rule thrown at them.
- Debbie and Giovanni both agreed on what their personal favourite dance would be straight away.
- The judges have picked the salsa for Debbie and Giovanni to reprise.
- Joanne thinks Alexandra needs to focus on hooking her right rib to Gorka's.  Sounds painful.
- Joanne would like you to know she doesn't know what Gorka's morning breath smells like, honest.
- Joanne doesn't think Debbie and Giovanni's foxtrot should've been docked a point for spending too long out of hold, and she also thinks Debbie has the best ballroom hold she's seen on the show.
- Joanne's dance teacher used to put a handbag between her legs to get her used to how they should be positioned for ballroom.
- The secret to good tango posture is to imagine a rod going through your bra.
- The show has bought Aljaž a custom name aston to hang round his neck.
- Gemma thinks she did the rumba as well as she could have done, but it was weird doing it with Aljaž.
- Apparently the two words you need to say to get Gemma in a sexy mood are "Tom Hardy".
- Gemma's got the paso for her judges' choice dance in the final.  Not going to lie, whilst it was a good dance, I'm somewhat disappointed it's not Debbie or Alexandra reprising theirs (unless either of them choose it for couples' pick).
- The showdance is the first one Gemma's actually liked the choreography for, and it will combine their 'best bits', which is a little scary going on what some of the concepts of their dances have involved...
- Debbie and Giovanni will be showdancing to 'Someday I'll Fly Away', Gemma and Aljaž to 'Show Me How You Burlesque' from Burlesque (!), Alexandra and Gorka to 'There's No Business Like Showbusiness' and Joe and Katya to 'You Make My Dreams Come True'.
- Chris Hollins used to keep his glitterball trophy in the toilet, but now he's moved it into his study to keep it away from his two-year-old.
- Tom Chambers is still really fucking annoying.
- Ore thinks Joe is a unicorn.  Wasn't Debbie one on Saturday as well?  So unique, so special.
- Ore had a little word with everyone backstage at the weekend and told them all to just enjoy it.
- Debbie is Tom's favourite.
- Chris thinks Debbie will win because he doesn't want to be the oldest Strictly champion any more (even though when Joe wins, he'll be the new oldest champion), Tom also thinks Debbie will win but thinks it's anybody's game, and Ore thinks it's all still open.
- Ian's cross because he wanted to use 'Show Me How You Burlesque' for his tour but Gemma and Aljaž got there first.
- Ian has emotional shoulders.
- Giovanni, Janette and Dianne all think Dianne is the messiest of all the pros, while Oti, Amy, Chloe, Neil and Karen think it's Oti.
- Asked who was the most childish of all the pros, Anton, Aljaž, Pasha, Nadiya and Karen all said Brendan, while Janette and Dianne went for AJ, and AJ, Katya, Chloe, Amy and Giovanni went for Neil.
- Alexandra's X Factor fam (well, Joe McElderry and Caroline Flack anyway) are wishing her luck.
- Alexandra reckons the semi-final was the first show all series where she'd felt relaxed.
- Gorka is upset he won't get to see Darcey in Bruno's Speedos.
- Alexandra has now broken the record for the number of dances to score 39 in one series, having scored it for five different routines. Rachel also scored 39 five times, but two of those were for her rumba.
- Shirley is always offering to make people cups of tea.
- Claudia has tried Shirley's tips for improving her posture but isn't good about it.
- The contestants are always shaking with nerves when they go over to Tess.  She likes to think this is about the dancing and the judges rather than fear of the claw.
- Claudia loves a crashmat.
- Claudia gets very nervous before the show, and sometimes grabs Tess's arm a little too tightly.
- If Claudia and Tess did a showdance, Claudia would be the man.
- Alexandra's showdance may involve some sort of costume change mid-routine.
- Janette can do a good mannequin impression, if they're looking for another movie week inspiration.
- Joe was worried his American smooth may be Scottish and lumpy.
- That lift at the end of Joe's Argentine tango went wrong 90 per cent of the time in rehearsals.
- Joe and Katya's showdance will be "Christmassy".
- Joe hasn't yet finalised his moustache plans for the reprisal of his Viennese waltz.
- Bonnie Langford is now stanning for Debbie McGee. Davood who?
- Louise Redknapp can't really remember much about last year's final. That's probably for the best.
- Zoe sometimes finds herself doing the samba in the bathroom.
- Merry Christmas in Slovenian is "vesel božič".
- Gemma told her mum she wanted to be partnered with Aljaž way back when they did the group dance training in Roehampton.
- They had a stand-in for Brian in rehearsals because he was busy.
- Chizzy hasn't kept up dancing.
- Debbie was a girlie girl when she was little.
- The glamorous woman sitting with Babs McGee on Saturday was indeed Debbie's sister, Donna.
- Debbie has a nephew who's a bit like AJ.  With better hair.
- Giovanni thinks it doesn't matter if Debbie doesn't win because the important thing is the JOURNEY.
- Susan still hasn't got that "I Love Grimsby" tattoo on her foot because she's doing the tour, but she's booked it in for March.
- Ruth Langsford thinks the showdances are the best bit of Strictly.  She is wrong.
- The final Friday panel is Rufus Hound, Tom Allen and Ian Waite. Eeesh.
- Tom is alarmingly obsessed with Debbie.
- Rufus wants everyone to win, Tom wants Debbie to win, and Ian wasn't allowed to say who he wants to win because he works for the show.
- Joe is forever going to have Katya's voice in his head saying "if you're doing to do something, do it right". That's going to be quite offputting during sex, I imagine.
- Mollie has been too scared to talk to judges in the corridors all series.
- Alexandra has got some props in her showdance.
- Alexandra wants to smile the whole way through the final.
- Everyone, including Zoe, cried through the last show.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Moll flounders

Week 12: Top 5 Results - 10 December 2017

Last night! Two-dance week was upon us! Alexandra, Debbie and Joe all fared well, quelle surprise, whilst Mollie plus samba went even less well than you might expect. Tonight!  Expect lots of 'no-one wants to go home before the final' content, but lose one we must, as Steve's already down to recap about 13 or 14 dances next week, if not more, and he doesn't need to add to that total.

We open with a pro-plus dance to Aretha's 'Rock Steady', which features lindy hop and break-dancing: together at last! I actually don't mind the combination insofar as it works with the music, but the floor is so stuffed of bonus dancers (including the female equivalent of those two kids they had in Diversity) that it's not always easy to see what's going on - and much of the work directly in front of camera is the breakdancers rather than the regular pros, and it's always a bit less emotionally investing to see strangers doing these things. Anton is also involved and I miss the days he used to just not bother with this sort of thing because he. is. not. good. Then they all fall over at the end and make snow angel poses, and I'm sure that's meant to be symbolic of something, but god knows what.

Tess and Claudia enter; Tess in a black dress with (natch) an asymmetrical neckline, and Claudia in some blue monstrosity with white and black line detailing that makes her look exactly like a hipster-fied cello. I don't know what she's done to anger the wardrobe gods this series. Perhaps she fastforwards 'Putting on the Glitz' when she watches ITT, I don't know. They thank the dancers, including the 10 and 13 year old 'B-girls' and this show actually using the phrase 'B-girls' is quite a thing. A thing that Mrs Confused of Tumbridge Wells is penning an email to Points of View about right now.

The judges enter, Bruno with Shirley and Craig with Darcey - who's in a virginal white dress, to counter the absolute filth of the lacy see-through one she wore on Saturday, her wardrobe being an ever-intriguing phenomenon this series. Shirley makes her mark, perhaps because of Bruno, and then she pulls Darcey in for an embrace.

Now for the recap of last night, in which the following is noteworthy: Gemma's rehearsal hair looks an absolute STATE; Katya wears a fluffy black dressing gown with silvery spots/stars on it; Gemma's trying to coin the phrase '30s club'; there is a lot of emphasis on Mollie's mistakes.

And so we come to our final safety results of the series, barring the ones we'll see after the guest performance. Our couples are all dressed in the outfits they wore for their second dance last night, so either they all chose that, or there wasn't time to change to reprise dance one (to be fair, most of them had a better second dance, except perhaps Joe). Joe and Katya and Alexandra and Gorka are both safe, and Alexandra goes absolutely crazy. The first couple in danger? Gemma and Aljaž, meaning the storyline has gone as we might expect. They give what sound like farewell speeches, saying how happy they are to have got so far, and Tess says the couples had the choice which dance to reprise, and they chose the tango. Shirley says they've had a spectacular journey but advises Gemma to get down more in her legs and fix problems with her head. Gemma says it's a fighting dance, so they'll go out and fight.

With the safe couples, Joe says those were the nicest words he ever heard and we try to pretend musical theatre leading man Joe hasn't danced before. Claudia reminds Katya it's her first time in the final. Of the two series she's done. It's also Gorka's first final, but that's apparently not remarkable. Alexandra thanks everyone for voting for them. Even though people haven't been very much going on the last two weeks. Gorka says Alexandra has real inner strength and fights for everything.

We get a trailer for ITT which previews Darcey, Shirley, Tess and Claudia coming on to the show and 'some of our favourite champions' which appears to be permafixture Ore and... Chris Hollins. Mm-hmmmm. Guest performance time now, with Craig David and Bastille (or one of Bastille anyway).  Actually quite a welcome change for this show to have some contemporary music. Janette and Aljaž do a little contempo-waft-meets-Latin dancing in front of it, consisting 90% of lifts and one bit where she opens her legs right in front of his face to allow him to give her gynaecological area a proper inspection. Romantic.

Dance Debrief opens with the judges doing the robot as they enter to... Whitney Houston's 'So Emotional'. We cover Alexandra being committed and outstanding; Joe stumbling his way out of a lift and the unusual gravity-defying thing they did at the end; Mollie's shoulders kind of raising, a fraction, if you squint; Bruno being the only person giving Debbie a 10, because 'there's nothing wrong to it'. And nothing about Gemma, because it's more worthwhile to spend our time with a recap of this segment, apparently. It does feature lots of footage of Shirley and Darcey homoeroticism, some clips of the judges more than once because there really is so little of note to recap, and not one mention of the single iconic moment of this segment, Shirley vs Claudia, so what a waste of time that was.

So we come to revealing whether Mollie or Debbie will be dancing off - and, of course, it's Mollie.
She says they're grateful to be in the semi-finals and that they'll go out and give it their all in the waltz. Mollie says she'll keep her shoulders down and try to nail the footwork. Darcey says 'you're in the arms of AJ', which is a fun play on the song lyrics of the sort we'd normally expect from Bruno and tells Mollie to be confident in him and in the dance.

Debbie says Strictly had brought happiness back into her life, and given her her sparkle back, which seems quite sad, poor Debbie. Claudia asks how many lifts Giovanni will put in their dance and he says 'I think all of them'. Heh.

Recap of the five semi-finalists' moments from the whole series now, which is an entirely superfluous bit of filler.

Tess reminds us that both Mollie and Gemma got 32 for their dances, in case we were trying to jump to conclusions about who will be saved before they even dance. Mollie and AJ dance first and they do a good job. It's very sweet, and Mollie doesn't seem to let the nerves hinder her, dance off queen that she is. I'm not expecting her to be saved third time out, but it's a good shot. Gemma and Aljaž
also dance well - it's still lacking a bit of fluidity but there are no glaring errors (unless you count the choice of keeping all the filthiest/most risque lyrics in the song, which is nothing to do with the dance).

Craig says both couples were neck and neck and both pulled out the stops, but Gemma and Aljaž just had the edge. Darcey also saves them for being more confident and assured. Bruno congratulates both couples for improving but thinks Gemma and Aljaž stood out more to his eyes. Shirley says she would have saved them too, which is a total lie, surely. [I must admit I thought if Shirley had been given a vote, she would've saved Mollie. This year is full of surprises. - Steve] Everyone gives Mollie and AJ a standing ovation and Mollie congratulates Gemma for dancing her socks off, wishes everyone luck and thanks AJ for being her hero. Aww. Tess says they're so cute that they've even started to look alike. We get a best bits as is often the case at this stage: Mollie luffing AJ; Mollie training hard; neither being remotely comfortable doing VTs; lots of hugs; Tallulah the Tango Queen.  Mollie thanks everyone again.

Claudia reminds us that public votes determine the result in the final and we then send Mollie and AJ out to 'Can't Smile Without You' with a very dizzying lift, whilst the judges sway along in opposite directions to one another. The post-show post-mortem features our four final couples being very excited. But who will triumph? Join Steve next week to find out!

I want two-dance with somebody

Week 12: Top 5 Perform (Semi-Final) - 9 December 2017

Last week! Strictly went to the musicals! A bunch of ties on the leaderboard led to a dance off between Alexandra and Davood, with the latter being sent home following his clumpy Argentine Tango. We also saw the last of short episodes as tonight sees the return of two dance week and next week brings us yet another bloated final - good luck with that Steve. [*weeps* - Steve]

(Also, apologies for the lateness of this, it coincided with one of my busiest weeks of the year.  Also also I've just got in from Wizard of Oz at the Sheffield Crucible which was adorable).

We get a pre-credit teaser full of dramatic music and harsh spotlighting borrowed from the X Factor/an interrogation chamber in which the contestants pretend to be in one of those army recruitment videos where they spout out words like ‘fearless’ ‘fast’, ‘flexible’, ‘dedicated’, ‘determined’, ‘disciplined’, ‘strong’ and…that is all the alliteration we can afford this week apparently.

Credits! For some reason my brain refuses to commit Charlotte’s last name to memory and every time I tried to think of it I end up running through all the surnames of Charlottes I know, then ‘Hathaway?’ ‘Hilton?’ ‘Houston?’ Charlotte, we have a problem (SORRY).

Tess and Claudia enter, flagged by Pasha and Kevin who are both flaunting a lot of chest. Daly dresswatch: sequined and red, very Christmassy. What Winkleman’s wearing: black trousers and a top with some slightly weird fringing around it. The judges arrive, Darcey in a very revealing lacy black dress, Bruno in a natty mauve jacket, Craig in black or at least a deep navy/purple/something and Shirley in a sequined black dress. The camera has clearly caught on to everybody watching to see if Shirley makes her mark, because instead of zooming out on all four of them as they take to the podium, it focuses solely on her. I don’t know if this is its way of trying to get her to her mark on time or not but she just about manages it so hooray for that.

The stars enter: Mollie and AJ, Gemma and Aljaž, Debbie and Giovanni, Joe and Katya, Alexandra and Gorka. We will come to their outfits as we get to each couple in turn, but some of these people have definitely lucked out more than the others. When it comes to dancing to the theme tune? Just Giovanni and Katya can be bothered these days. For shame, everyone else.

The first couple of the evening are Joe and Katya. They are both wearing blue and looking fairly snappy, but Joe has been painted a really unappealing shade of orange by the fake tan team and it’s massively off-putting. Their VT features a bit of training footage and then we get onto the annual business of sitting down with an iPad to see who your target audience is a.k.a. the pros pretending they put together a compilation of footage for their celebrity - I really don’t know why they need to keep it that pretence but there we are. [Considering we're still keeping up the pretence that the pros choreograph all of the routines including the charlestons and the Argentine tangos, this feels like a drop in the ocean. - Steve] They seem to appeal to people of all ages and genders and also dogs. People’s Champion! (I’m steeling myself already for next week when he goes full Tom Chambers, sorry Joe, you still seem lovely and I'd be happy to see your Viennesse Waltz again so do that please.)

They are dancing the American smooth to 'Have You Met Miss Jones?' (See what they did there?) The Bridget Jones theme promised earlier in the week is absolutely nowhere to be found, and I honestly think a Bridget Jones themed dance for movie week next year could work - you could choose from the fireman's pole bit, the big pants bit, the Christmas jumper bit, or even, if we have same-sex couples, the bit where Hugh Grant and Colin Firth roll around on the floor together.  Is Renee Zellwegger even doing anything these days? Get her booked. [Guest judge! - Steve]

I think Joe has had one of the more favourable dance draws this week. American smooths are always likely to be crowdpleasers but doing one in the semi-final surely has to make you a lock on unless you are incredibly unpopular (which we know he isn’t). This is a foxtrot themed American smooth and very much in the old Hollywood Fred and Ginger style. It’s definitely one of their better routines and is very well performed, making the most of his musical theatre routes, even if the Tom James a vocation [post Dragon edit: Tom Chambers-ification] of him doesn’t seem to have slowed down any. There are some nice lifts although one or two of them are a little awkward in the transition and there’s a very odd part where they look like they’re strangling each other, but other than that a lot of fun, playing to his strengths and, unless they (or even if they) royally mess up their second dance, it should see them comfortably through the next week. There were no surprises here, but having seen what they did last week and what they're about to do later, perhaps we don’t always need a surprise.

We cuts to our celebrity guests in the audience-this week Danny Mac and Judge Rinder before we welcome back Dave Arch, the orchestra and this week’s selection from the rotating roster of singers: Hayley, newish boy Jamie, Andrea and Tommy.

Shirley says his timing was extraordinary, his personality exquisite and there were some glorious movements. Henrik from Holby City nods approvingly. Bruno says one of the lifts gave him palpitations and getting out of the last lift was nothing short of miraculous. He praises the jazzy swing. Craig says he lost a little balance and his posture sometimes meant he leant towards Katya a bit too much, but it was fantastic and explosive, charismatic and stylish. Darcey says she enjoyed the lifts and they could have been really awkward but he brought plenty of glamour and sweeping lines.

In the Clauditorium, Claudia reminds him he is the first Scot to make to the semi-final. [Does Scott Maslen count? - Steve] Jo says his mouth is too dry to talk. Scores: eight, nine, nine, nine for a total of 35. I can’t believe Bruno only gave him a nine after those comments.

Terms and conditions time and they drag out Ore again, clutching the glitter ball. It looks to me as if there are only space for a maximum of 16 names on that thing-what are they going to do after next year?  Replace it with a new model a la the World Cup?  Take off the names they'd rather hadn't won?To be honest, I’m surprised it lasted this long given the quality of the build. I would be very surprised if it hasn't undergone multiple fixes along the way. (Also, I'm a semi-regular guest on Radio Sheffield, I know, get me, and they have one of the Pudsey glitterballs in their reception - don't ask me why as I'm sure none of the presenters have been on it - and it is basically a small toy glitterball stuck on a Pudsey soft toy and almost certainly would fall to pieces if you picked it up.  Still kind of awesome though.)

Alexandra and Gorka now, and they are looking rather swanky in white, Alexandra having feathers at the bottom of her dress and some coloured beading down the middle over nude/brown fabric panels. Their VT features Alexandra crying a lot that she ended up in the bottom two in a full on LEADERBOARD PLUNGE despite having bottomed out the week before and realising that that this means people probably don’t like her very much. Still, to cheer her up, here are her supporters: the young and beautiful, the gays and the ginger. And a random Scotswoman, because apparently regional voting isn't even a thing they want to pretend exists any more.

They are dancing the Viennese waltz, replete with plenty of dry ice, to a syrupy version of 'Everybody Hurts' (apparently a Tina Arena cover but no thanks whoever it is - and I'm not especially even precious about the original). The light beams and the dry ice and Alexandra’s emoting bring to mind her triumphant 'Hallelujah' performance from the X Factor and if that was deliberately done on behalf of production, have a clap for that. It’s clearly set up to give her a big public boost and I think it mostly works. It’s not the smoothest footwork we’ve seen from anyone in the VW - Debbie probably had that this series, or even Alexandra's VW-themed American Smooth - but it's glamorous, crowdpleasing and, as is traditional, covered in so much skirting and dry ice that you can’t really see what they’re doing with their feet half the time anyway. Still, with them both dressed like angels and that heavenly lighting maybe it will subconsciously remind people of the time they voted for her all those years ago and prompt them to do so again. As a comeback dance, there are definitely worse choices she could have had (*cough. Mollie's imminent samba*).

Bruno said it had a soft, dreamy quality and flowed like there was no tomorrow. He said it was like the softest, silkier/meaner [post Dragon edit: silkiest pashmina] that you want to wrap around you. Craig says there was one place her feet didn’t come together and he can’t get as mushy as Bruno but there was a good amount of rotation and not many surprises - there was one, Craig, the VT didn’t mention motion sickness once. Darcey praises it for having a wonderful, ethereal quality as if they were coming off the clouds and says that she could have over-pushed it when the music kicked up but her control was amazing. Shirley says it was an emotional performance and praises wardrobe for the outfit - as we see light gleaming all over the sequins, nicely done camera operator. She loved the sincerity, the finishing, the way Alexandra held her fingers and thinks everything about it was stunning.

In the Clauditorium, we are reminded that Alexandra has had a tough week but she’s also had a lot of support. Claudia asks how she is coping with doing two dances and she doesn’t have a response, so Gorka starts to jabber on instead and it's not entirely legible.  We already have a Bruno for that, Gorks. Scores: nine, 10, 10, 10 for a total of 39 and Gorka lifts Claudia in the air to celebrate.  She tells him he’s not allowed any more caffeine - oh how I love it when they throwback to VT jokes from several weeks ago. (I actually do, I'm a dork like that).

In the audience, Tess has stalked Judge Rinder and Danny Mac and is caressing their thighs. Judge Rinder is entirely not down with this, whilst Danny doesn't appear to notice. Danny says two-dance week is really hard because you have to learn two dances. Insightful as ever there Danny Mac.

Mollie and AJ now, and she has a head full of hair extensions that makes her hair almost as big as AJ's. She's wearing a golden dress not that dissimilar to the one she wears the opening credits, whilst he’s in black sequins with his top partly undone.

Their VT reminds us how disparate their scores were last week - from 6 to 9, bless Shirley and her weird crush on these two. Their VT shows Mollie not being able to do the Samba in any way shape or form. I honestly think giving her the Argentine Tango would have been preferable - I can’t think of the dance less suited to her personality than the Samba. Mollie’s supporters are: pre-pubescents, people in pubs, policewomen, panto dames.

They are dancing to 'Whenever, Wherever' and there are some palm trees and random Egyptian columns in the background that the epitome of someone rooting around in the props cupboard and going ‘will these do?’ [What better accompaniment to a Brazilian dance performed to a song by a Colombian singer? - Steve] It opens with them both clapping glitter into the air in a throwback nod to Gemma’s paso. That’s about as good as it gets, to be honest. Mollie looks uncomfortable the whole time, her arms are doing God knows what and her legs keep forgetting to actually have any life in them. This is honestly the kind of Samba we usually see the comedy contestant giving and I just feel so mortified on her behalf that she had to get this at this point in the competition rather than earlier on when it could have been masked by lots of other people. If that doesn’t see her locked onto the bottom two, I’ll be shocked. [I kind of loved it, but mainly because her training VTs all week had been promising a glorious trainwreck and I was not disappointed. - Steve]

Tess tells her she looked happy when she was dancing (I thought she looked terrified, but Tess is always a glass half full kind of person) and that the two of them are so cute together. Oh Tess, stop shipping it, it’s never going to be a thing (at least I don’t think is unless I’m the only one that doesn’t see any sexual chemistry between them). [I see about as much sexual chemistry between Susan and Kevin, if that answers your question? - Steve]

Craig says the palm trees they had on set had more bounce in them than she did, says the changes of rhythms weren't seamless, she has difficulty going from one step to the next, she was behind with the music and out of time and it was really awkward. Darcey says Mollie looks the part, calling her a 'gold goddess' and says the Samba is notoriously difficult and that that combined with the music meant her body ended up in the wrong place and when she lost the timing that meant the transitions didn’t work and the routine didn’t connect. Shirley says she likes her body going for it and that she had some nice solo pieces in it but that she got discombobulated when she got together with AJ. Shirley says overall she thought she was really going for it and I do like how Shirley has basically managed to give what seems a really positive response without actually praising the dancing-that’s some skill there so that Mollie isn’t entirely crushed but nor was she sugarcoating the truth. Well played, Shirley. Bruno repeats the same criticisms of the others and says it looks very forced and it isn’t her best dance, but he's sure she’ll do much better in her second routine.

On the way up to the Clauditorium, AJ tells her she 'did fantastic' and she apologises and he tells her not to. Aww. Claudia tells them to focus on Shirley who was positive and adorable and Claudia says she’s always told Zoe she was trying to avoid the Samba as there’s no dance less suited to her. They really should have given her it in Halloween week or something and ramped it full of distraction just to get out of the way. Scores: four, seven, seven, six for a total of 24 and that’s both incredibly low for a semi-final score and incredibly high the score that dance actually deserved. Poor Mollie. Now Susan's gone she's the official woobie yes?

Gemma and Aljaž now and Tess says tonight'a a chance to prove herself after last week, starting with the rumba - cut to Gemma looking very 'nope'. DED NORMAL. 

On that subject, I was at my book club last week and they were discussing the show. None of my friends outside of Steve and Chris actually watch it so I rarely get to hear 'normal' opinions on it. [How VERY dare you. - Steve] They liked Joe, were split on Alexandra's personality and believed Mollie and AJ were getting it on, so very much what you'd imagine. And then one of them said, in a way that I genuinely couldn't tell was sarcastic or genuine (he's one of those people) 'Gemma's just dead normal.' So either it was a hilarious reference or everyone in my book club just buys into really uncomplicated narratives (I couldn't say what they like in their reading matter because most months everyone just piles in on the book. It's cathartic, perhaps? We all just go to eat cake and drink tea and hot chocolate basically.) [Sounds great, can I come? - Steve]

Her hair down makes her look exactly like Jade English from The Apprentice. Who is probably this year's female hottie if you're wondering whether that's a compliment or not. The dress she's wearing is really weird, it looks like it has strings coming off it, a bit like a fly curtain (what happened to them? Did all flies die out after the 1970s and 80s decree that all households must use them?). I guess strings on an outfit could work if you pull them to reveal something more sexy as some kind of costuming trick, but I'm not sure pulling off a Bucks Fizz-themed rumba is going to happen in a semi-final. Although Aljaž is weird as fuck this series, so...

Their VT features Gemma being really upset and struggling (spot the theme of these), so we get to meet her supporters: men in high vis jackets and people with glow sticks.  So she'll be able to spot her fans in the dark, anyway.

Their rumba is being danced to 'Beneath Your Beautiful' (and I believe we discussed our thoughts on the grammar in this way back when) and, I’m sorry, but that dress - it’s so, so ugly. Gemma looked very nervous throughout, rather than romantic and sultry. Her movement isn’t terrible - it’s stilted in a couple of places, but not quite as ungainly as 'Gemma rumba' might suggest on paper. It doesn’t have a huge amount going for it in terms of content, however, and there are a lot of moments where they're standing still - not just posing, more waiting for the next movement to begin.  Not a car crash but nor was it a triumph and it's one of those dances that nobody will remember in a week's time. [I actually thought this one was pretty decent - I see where you're coming from in that not a lot happened in it, but I thought she danced the basics well. - Steve]

Darcey says there was a 'lovely aura' between them. Do auras go between people? I thought they were an individual thing, now we have to worry about them flitting about and getting in the way of dancing? Darcey says she can see how hard she was working on a straight leg she wanted some more breathing into her body so that it seemed more expressive and emotional. In the audience, or a nod along. Shirley says she has a beautiful set of pins and complements Aljaž on his choreography, but she does think it lacked musicality. Bruno says it was very nice and not smutty. The camera really misses a trick here by not cutting to Brendan I am disappoint. He says it did look as though she was overthinking, which stops the flow of the movements throughout the whole body-an actual Bruno critique that makes sense, guys. I’m a little bit worried. Darcey says Craig scored her a six last week and asked if it was better tonight. Tess, have you not learned that asking that question never goes well? He says he agrees with the others - the straight legs and the hip action worked, even though her upper body wasn’t working as hard. However, he loved the routine.

In the Clauditorium, Claudia reminds us that Gemma gets up at 430 every morning and is probably entirely burnt out by now. Scores: seven, eight, seven, eight for a total of 30.  Claudia plugs the website by saying this week Craig will be talking us through his favourite condiments. I like to hope that Claudia’s surreal gags about the website are her way of burning it for the lack of content. [I keep hoping she's saying all this in a firm belief that doing so means the web producers actually have to provide that article now. - Steve]

We now come to Debbie and Giovanni. I kind of want to say our final couple of the evening, but of course we have to go through all of this again in a minute. Anyway, her hair's been curled up and put into a high pony and it really doesn’t particularly suit her, sorry Debbie, not your fault. Their VT replay how they got good comments last week, but their favourite was Craig purring at them even though he gave them a nine when everybody else gave them a 10. I love how all the contestants on the show gets so super needy for any tiny little bit of praise from Craig, it’s like a really abusive parent/child dynamic. Their supporters are groups of women, people who like a good scarf, Anna Karen lookalikes.

They are jiving to 'I’m So Excited' and Debbie’s dress is also really unflatteringly cut and is quite reminiscent of school gym skirts in its fitting. She’s dressed like somebody far younger than she is-and I’m not talking in the mutton dressed as lamb kind of way, just that it's really inappropriate styling that looks awkward and makes her look uncomfortable. As for the dancing - if you watch Giovanni only, it’s amazing. If you look at Debbie, however, it’s a different story altogether. There’s no denying her energy, but good God this is a laboured mess. There’s no sharpness in her kicks and flicks - it all looks incredibly lumpy and ungainly although performance wise her face is selling it as much as possible. Would her waltz have been much better than this? Of course it would. Sorry Debbie, I still love you. Now, give us a perfect foxtrot. I only hope Babs McGee was at her jive class tonight rather than watching that because I’m pretty sure she could have given us much more exciting jive. Actually, can somebody check the rules? Are relatives allowed to sub on, because if that’s not in there, I think they missed a trick by not bringing her out at this point. And while you’re looking at those rules can you clarify if there really is such a thing as a 10 second rule and if it actually applies to anyone other than Debbie, just asking for a friend. You never know when that might come in handy as a piece of knowledge. 

As I say that, we cut to Babs McGee in the audience. She's smiling, such a trooper. I guess that’s what they talk about when they refer to blitz spirit. She has a glamorous lady sitting next to her who must be Debbie’s sister - either that or a Debbie McGee lookalike hoping to cash in on her resurgent fame.

Shirley says she was worried because Debbie has a lovely straight leg and she didn’t know whether the jive would suit her, but Debbie did a good job of bending her knees and she also praises Giovanni’s choreography. Bruno says Debbie always 'delivers on time and in perfect condition'.  He says her timing was incredible-and that she maintained her energy throughout. Craig says it lacked a little attraction and her body could have been over her feet a little bit more and it looked a little bit spiky instead and her facial expressions were reminding him of judgement. We cut to him pulling a face at Craig-come on Lindy, being told Debbie McGee looks like he will surely a compliment? Not for her. Darcey praises her energy and the neatness of her kicks. She asks what Debbie's taking and says she wants some of it. He's called Giovanni and not sure she'll be relinquishing him any time soon.

In the Clauditorium, Claudia says she’s like a unicorn. Always horny? Scores: seven, nine, nine, nine for a total of 34 and I love Debbie very very much, but that is some classic overscoring, right there.

Time for a halfway leaderboard?
1. Alexandra and Gorka - 39
2. Joe and Katya - 35
3. Debbie and Giovanni - 34
4. Gemma and Aljaz - 30
5. Mollie and AJ - 24

Claudia’s comedy corner now and she says it’s time to talk about the elephant in the room. Tess says 'what elephant in the room, whether or not Mollie and AJ are dating?' (The punchline is, obviously, that there is a real elephant in the room according to the sound effect). The audience actually makes noises approaching boos at this and when the audience boo something like that, you know you've gone too far (or you should know that anyway). This show always likes to hint at its showmances but I can’t recall it being as overt as this before, except maybe with Georgia and Giovanni, and it all feels rather uncomfortable. I’ve seen Tess taking a lot of flak for this, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t write the script. Anyway, a) it’s a bit naff and feels unfair on Mollie and AJ and be b) any reference to elephants in the room that doesn’t have anything to do with Alexandra is a poor, poor show.

Joe and Katya are back for the second dance of the evening and they are dressed in some very weird grey outfits in multiple hues with chain like rings on them – Fifty Shades product placement? As it’s the semi-final, we get our annual trip to judges' holodeck. Joe is the surprise contestant still, allegedly, despite being a front-runner from relatively early on and certainly over the last few weeks. His strengths are acting and attention to detail and they mostly gloss over his weaknesses. (I'll help you out - Party Latin, Katya's personality, worrying echoes of Tom Chambers). With their Argentine Tango, Darcey is worried about the lifts and Shirley is looking forward to the ganchos. Craig thinks it could be quite a good routine and we also see some training footage where Joe stands on Katya's foot. Hilarious.

They are dancing to Rag and Bone Man's 'Human' and it begins with Joe looking at himself in one of those giant mirrors they like to get out every couple of weeks or so - usually for the men because god knows how apoplectic the internet would go if a woman dared to have that level of confidence. He does a load of posing in front of it and it is the campest thing I’ve seen in... at least a week. The dance itself is a bit of a weird one. It has elements of contemporary and uses them with the more traditional Argentine Tango moves. There is a very weird lift where he holds onto Katya's foot which I would have liked more if they didn’t spend ages building up to actually getting her into hold and got on with it quicker. The legwork is a mixed bag-in places it’s good and then there are other places where it looks incredibly awkward and stilted. The dance is much more of a showcase for Katya than Joe, and she spends a lot of it in front of him masking him from camera, which is in the best tradition of strictly female pros, I guess. There’s then a really bizarre but quite fun bit where they do a strange kind of front-facing somersault thing where she is picking him up by his ankles. I don’t know what was going on there but it defied gravity and not in a Frankie Bridge way.  An Argentine Tango though? Not so sure. I wouldn’t have minded the gimmicks if they hadn’t just done a very very gimmicky samba and a fairly gimmicky quickstep after a sort-of gimmicky sort-of-salsa. I think there’s too much overkill on the theming at the expense of dancing. I know earlier in the series I thought Katya had given him some interesting choreography in places but I’m wearing of it quite rapidly by this stage.

Tess says she’s never seen anything like it before. You could say that about many things on the show, Tess, it doesn’t make them any good. In fact, isn't that usually the comment you give after comedy routines? Bruno calls it an Argentine Tango from a different angle that was true to the style and feel of the dance and phrases the choreography. Yes, I’m sure Katya had a lot to do with that. I assume it was another Vincent Simone special, but given it was quite different I don’t know if that’s the case - anyone know? [Vincent was credited at the end of the show, so I assume it was at least 99% his work, though it wouldn't surprise me if that final lift was shoved in there by Katya - Steve] He then babbles incoherently cos Bruno gonna Bruno. Craig says his steps were little plodding and obvious and he could do with a looser leg in the ganchos. Craig’s all about loose legs this series isn’t he? He did think the inventiveness paid off, however. Darcey again praises the choreography and his strong core whilst Shirley says again that he is the dark horse. Basically the judges are on autopilot and are just repeating their stock phrases for this and I thought we might have lost that when Len boogied off (that was meant to say buggered off but in this case I prefer Dragon's rehashing). Must try harder, all of you.

In the Clauditorium, we learn that Katya doesn’t allow Joe to have any safe words.  In this 'current climate' not sure that's something to boast about, to be honest. Also, I remain bewildered as to how this woman is married to Neil. Scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 for a total of 35.

Alexandra and Gorka again now and the judges say that she's 'brought her best to the table' (I thought it was usually Kevin Clifton’s partners that bugged about on tables). Bruno says she gets in touch with character really well. Darcey praises her consistency. Her weaknesses are her sickled feet and social media hate campaigns. Her salsa training footage sees her wearing Debbie McGee-esque patterned leggings which is at least one way to try and garner public votes and tears me in pieces as to which of them is going to get my two votes in the final next week assuming they’re both there.

They are dancing the salsa to CeCe Peniston's 'Finally' and I love that one of the random song choice monkeys this year has gone for late-80s-early-90s club classics can we have more of that please. As salsas go, this is head and shoulders above the rest of the ones we’ve seen this series (I appreciate that isn’t necessarily saying much). It’s fun, energetic, bouncy, with Alexandra’s mouth going wild and a weird moment where it looks like she’s giving birth, as well as some unusual lifts, delivered really quickly with easy dismounts. If were having party Latin, then this is the kind of party you would want to be invited to. It ends with Gorka giving her mock cunnilingus and then swinging her legs around his neck in an amazing spin, which is a not very euphemistic euphemism, take that Mollie and AJ. Then they dismount and Alexandra seems to command sparks from her hands in a well timed action on behalf of the lighting team.

We cut to the judges who are dancing and shimmying and rubbing themselves. Well, Shirley and Bruno anyway. Tess pronounces it ‘sol-sa’ and I realise ‘solsa’/‘sallsa’ is probably one of those sconn/scohn things - though, gotta be honest, I’d have thought Tess would be on the side of the flat vowel, the northern-roots traitor. Craig begins by listing moves and techniques: ‘body roll, rotation in the hips, continuous flow’ but does so in his meen judge voice so he gets booed. I suppose, as we've learned from Debbie McGee currently being in one, that panto season is well and truly upon us. Of course he goes into a 'fab-u-lous' and Tess and Darcy both gush about how they love it when he does that. If that’s the kind of thing that gets them excited, they should really watch The X Factor where Simon does it about six times episode on average (I assume he still does anyway). No, seriously, they should watch it. Nobody else is doing and if the viewership doesn’t pick up soon it won’t be long before we have to face Louis vs Sharon on this show and nobody wants that. Darcey praises the amount of detail and says if they’re not in the final she’s going to get into… Bruno's speedos. Shirley screams and Darcey looks like she can't believe what's come out of her mouth, but I'm all for it, hooray for 2017 Darcey. [The rebirth of Darcey has definitely been my favourite thing about this series. Long may it last! - Steve] Shirley says it was super clear with lots of rhythm and it was party time all the way. Bruno starts singing 'I Wanna dance with somebody'. Stop Bruno, that’s reality show poison. Stop it now! Also, as Bruno stands up it looks like he’s got a girdle around his waist - and a badly fitting one at that.

Everyone welcome to the Clauditorium screaming (I think) '10'! Alexandra struggles to get her breath as Claudia tells her she makes it look 'effortless' - not the best object lesson right there, to be honest. Alexandra is having the best time wants to have some fun. Talk to Gorka’s face if you end up in the dance off again. Scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 for the second 40 of the series and Alexandra’s first. Claudia and Alexandra hug and Gorka, feeling left out, hugs himself. I didn’t even know he had a sense of humour, so good to note. Claudia previews Gemma dancing to 'My Sharona' and says she believes it’s Italian for my Sharon. Ho ho.

Mollie and AJ now - he with a dapper white bow tie and Mollie with her hair tamed into half-braid ponytail with a shoulderless sparkly dress. In the judges holodeck we get more claims from Shirley that they have chemistry between them, judges praising her as being wonderful in hold but say she has a wobbly core and her shoulders end up too high. They admire that she’s been in the bottom two twice and got through it - nobody bothered about Alexandra hitting the bottom, but I guess she didn’t take out an almighty ringer and have to face the public wrath for that (one of the few things she didn’t have to do deal with). Their waltz training features Mollie worrying that there are so many elements to the waltz. Stop trying to make the waltz sound like a hard dance, show. It’s never going to fly. Speaking of waltzes, of all the missing dancers, I think Debbie’s waltz is the one I’m most sad about - primarily because I had to watch her party Latin in all three genres instead of that, which would have been much more suited to her ringability.

This routine, to 'Angel', feels as though it’s been entirely set up for Mollie to have a moment - it opens with her sitting on the steps surrounded by LED candles with the stage lit with moody blue lighting although when she gets into hold with AJ he begins by making strange motions like he is either trying to kill her or operate her like a puppet which is an odd styling choice for a romantic waltz. I guess they don’t want Joe and Katya to have all the BDSM play. Once they get going properly, though, it’s mostly a sweet lovely charming waltz and Mollie looks more comfortable than she has done in many of her dances. There’s a part where her feet seem to get a little lost, but she manages to keep her upper body in character rather than falling to pieces. It ends with a nice floor spin and then they go and sit romantically among the LED candles.

Darcey calls it a serene, romantic, waltz and praises her posture but says towards the end her shoulder started coming up and she felt there was still an edge of nerves in there which made her arms look a little stiff. Shirley says she is much more comfortable in the waltz than the Samba. No shit Shirley. She praises Mollie’s efforts and says although there was a little hiccup, she’s a gorgeous girl who executed it well. Mollie starts crying at this point, in a very reserved, very Mollie kind of way. Bruno says the waltz is hard because it needs a lot of control and the most factually that beautifully and despite the slight mistake it was much better. Craig says that besides all of the criticisms about her mistakes in a shoulder, she has redeemed herself. Tess wipes a tear from her face and says don’t cry, your gorgeous. Tess Daly there, reinforcing the beauty equals happiness myth. I guess once the model. In the Clauditorium, Claudia reassures her that the judges liked it much more than her previous dance. Mollie stutters that she was crumbling away and Claudia says there’s no crumble other than apple, which she'll bring to her later. Scores: eight, eight, eight, eight for a total of 32 and Claudia says this is the highest score of the competition. Mollie looks very surprised that but seems happy, which is quite nice given the it’s been a difficult night for her, she’s the only one of the semifinalists not have joined the 10 club and, barring a final-related miracle, is unlikely to.

Gemma now and Tess introduces her by saying she’s had an up-and-down competition in case you weren’t sure which two contestants the judges would rather not win. Judges holodeck opens with criticisms of Gemma rather than praise, talking about how her Latin is pretty bad but have American smooth demonstrated real promise. They say they liked her paso so they hope this will translate into Tango. Craig says they need to see perfection for finalists and wonders if Gemma can deliver and Bruno answers with making a ? shape in the air. In training, Gemma is struggling to memorise the tango. Ruth Langsford managed to pull this one off but I guess it is always the dances you least expect that fluster them.

Gemma is in green, with her hair knotted up in an unusual arrangement giving her a spiky mohawk kind of vibe. She’s also wearing very dark severe make up to accentuate the face of rage she wears throughout. Unusually for Gemma, she looks quite scared in places, holding onto Aljaz for grim death and whilst there is a sense of intensity in her face, her body feels a little rigid and some of the movement lacks precision. It was okay, but I thought she would suit that dance a little bit more than she did.

Shirley says she did well, especially as she had to master two dances. Bruno loved the determination, her figures and her lines but says when she over pushes things it can look a bit too snappy. Craig says he would like some lovely shaping in the upper body and her left hand was in the wrong position but he loved it and thought it was great overall. Darcey repeats that she loves her determination and passion and her facial expression showed she was going for it. She praises - you guessed it - Gemma’s core. If some fitness DVD company isn’t trying to market some Darcey Bussel core workout soon, then they’re missing an opportunity. I mean, I’m not sure anyone would actually buy it, but who would have thought that Sonia from EastEnders and Charlotte from Geordie Shore would make a success of those things, so who knows? [Funnily enough... - Steve] The buying public are weird, is what I’m saying. Scores, eight, eight, eight, eight for a total of 32.

In the background, we see Janette looking happy and Pasha looking like didn’t think much of that at all. Either that, or he’s just forgotten what it was like to get this far in the competition and is wondering why Aljaz gets so few duffers.

Final couple of the night - Debbie and Giovanni. Judges holodeck reminds us that she works hard, is mature, has lovely legs. Bizarrely they don’t cover Debbie and Giovanni’s chemistry despite them having bucketloads of it. The only vague notes of criticism they have is that her Latin isn’t quite good enough. I think they could have gone to town a bit more on her, Alexandra and Joe’s weaknesses but I guess they want to really reinforce who their three preferred finalists are.

They are dancing the foxtrot to 'Isn’t She Lovely ' - I see what they did there, even if there is some weird dissonance in getting your oldest contestant to dance to a song about a newborn baby. Debbie is in a lacy nude and black fully skirted dress and Giovanni in tails - I've been waiting all series to see them do this kind of routine, so I’m glad they got to do it eventually. It’s the full Hollywood glitz and glamour, with some sweet romantic touches and, sure, it’s a foxtrot which isn’t the most exciting of all the dances, but given the abysmal quality of the majority of foxtrot this series, very refreshing to see one that actually works well. The chemistry between the two of them comes across really nicely as well - lots of smiling and laughing together, with some really cute sidesteps and hand movements. It ends in a parade of tickertape which, if you’re into subliminals (or even very unsubtle gimmicks), makes it look like she’s already won the thing. I don’t think anyone other than Joe is likely to, but I would be very pleased with the Debbie McGee victory - it’s like the time when a group finally won the X factor - maybe a mature contestant could finally win Strictly. [Well, Joe's 42 so he'd still be the oldest winner we've had yet. - Steve]

Bruno says if she’s not through to the final, he will wear Darcey's tutu to to with no knickers and a tiara. Even though I really want Alexandra and Debbie in the final, there is a slight disappointment that either way we won’t get to see both Bruno and Darcey living up to their promises. Of course it may also be good for the nation’s mental health that they don’t do that. Come to think of it, aren’t we due many occurrences of Len pickling his walnuts? Got to be at least a fraction more entertaining than half the content of The One Show at any rate. Everybody apart from Craig is in hysterics - especially Bruno who is laughing so much is crying. Craig says they were out of hold a bit too long and thinks that Giovanni might know that - Giovanni clearly doesn’t as he says no no no and asks Craig for clarification. He doesn't get any. Do you think we will hear of that rule ever again beyond this series? Or beyond Debbie's ballroom? That aside, Craig loved it. Darcey praises the smoothness of it and Shirley says there were some beautiful sweeping moments in the dance and she thanks them for closing the show like that.

Tess says let’s see where that leads them on the leaderboard, but they can't be any higher than second, as Alexandra’s already scored 79 tonight. In the Clauditorium, Debbie says she loved doing the foxtrot and she says it’s been hard this week but Giovanni then says isn’t she lovely. 1 million miles more chemistry the Mollie and AJ. Scores: eight, nine, nine, 10 for a total of 36. Giovanni hugs and kisses Debbie some more. I don’t know where his storyline can go next year - obviously comedy contestant would be the on paper choice, but those tend to be older and he can’t possibly top the older lady dynamic he's already had. Maybe if there is an equivalent of Susan next year? Either that or, if he wins the glitter ball (unlikely as anything other than a Joe victory seems at this point) maybe he’ll do the thing that the female pros usually do and quit while he’s ahead unlike the male pros who turn up to cash cheques to ever diminishing returns series upon series.

Final leaderboard:
1. Alexandra and Gorka 39+40 = 79
2=. Jo and Katya 35+35 = 70
2=. Debbie and Giovanni 34+36 = 70
4. Gemma and Aljaz 30+32= 62
5. Mollie and AJ 24+32 = 56

The vote is declared open with glow sticks. There is definitely a frustrated raver on staff this year, isn’t there? We get a recap of the dances, a reminder that everybody wants to be in the final next week, and a trailer for some kids show featuring some very bizarre cartoon versions of Tess, Claudia and the judges. Claudia is the only one that is obviously recognisable.

So, only one show remains before the final but before that we have to lose someone. Will Alexandra or Debbie hit the bottom two yet again? Will Joe not quite have the level of public support we think he does? Or will the likely outcome of Gemma vs Mollie finally happen? Join me tomorrow to find out!