Sunday, 23 November 2014

The sweetest hangover

Week 9: Top 8 Perform - 22 November 2014

Last week: BLACKPOOL! Most of the couples' dances delivered on the heightened level of expectation (although the judges were still overly generous with their scoring) apart from Sunetra and possibly Steve, and regrettably it was the final set for Judy, but at least she went out on a high - literally, as she dangled from a bunch of balloons way above the ballroom floor. As any Strictly scholar will tell you, this means we face BLACKPOOL hangover week, where the atmosphere sinks like Ian Waite in a showdance, everyone seems to take a giant step backward progress-wise, and the whole experience becomes incredibly depressing. So as you can imagine, I'm thrilled that this ended up being my week to do the recapping. Let's hope 2014 is the year that we buck the trend, right?

Conveniently, now that we've had a bit of a lady clearout (not a euphemism), the top eight is now evenly balanced on the gender front, and the opening VT brings this to our attention as the men and the women decide to have a dance-off to see who'll be waltzing off with the trophy. It's all very competitive and good-natured and utterly redundant because Aljaž arrives at the end and informs everyone that, as the reigning champion, the trophy is still his for another four weeks. I really hope that means Bloody Clancy hasn't had her grubby mitts on it all this time. That would make me feel so much better.

Titles! I miss Judy already.

We're live from BBC Elstree, and the big news on the presenting front is that Claudia's back! Obviously I'm sad that this means no more Zoe, because I think she's done a fantastic job of filling in over the last three weeks, but it's great to see Claudia back in the ballroom - and, of course, seeing her back presumably means her daughter is well on the road to recovery, which is wonderful. And Tess is visibly delighted to have Claudia back as well, so anything that humanises Tess can only be a good thing. [Tess was so sweet with Claudia tonight.  I loved Zoe but I don't want to break the TessClaudmance up.  Three presenters anyone? - Rad] Daly Dresswatch: simple white floor-length gown offset by a neckpiece that looks a bit like a centipede. What Winkleman's Wearing: simple black sequinned jumpsuit. No obvious clangers from wardrobe this week, although obviously we still haven't seen Caroline yet. There's a huge appreciative round of applause for Claudia's return, and you can see even at this point that she's only just keeping it together. In the audience: Mary Berry and Hairy Biker Dave, sitting together, presumably swapping recipe clippings.

Tess recaps the events of last week, while Claudia reminds us that it's a mere four weeks until the final (I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm not ready to deal with Strictly being over just yet, so I'm just going to push that to the back of my mind). The judges sashay on once again, and there's a brief comic bit about Len being asleep and missing his cue, and all I'm going to say is that that's the sort of joke they used to make about Bruce, and then it started coming true, so be very careful with that one, show. Darcey is even less interested in her walk-on dance than usual, for those keeping score.

The stars of our show: Jake and Janette, Pixie and Trent, Steve and Ola, Mark and Karen, Frankie and Kevin, Caroline and Pasha, Simon and Kristina, and Sunetra and Brendan. Points of interest: Steve is dressed as an American football player and carrying a helmet, so presumably they've finally given him the protection he needs against VICIOUS BULLY OLA, Kevin appears to have been given James Jordan's old hair, and Caroline actually looks fine this week so perhaps wardrobe have finally forgiven her for whatever she did to upset them pre-series.

Steve and Ola are on first tonight, and their opening gag is how Steve has been annoying Craig with his sticking-up thumbs in recent weeks, so Tess asks him if he's got that problem under control now and Steve gives her a thumbs-up in response. It's sort of reassuring when you can see the punchline coming a mile away, especially when you realise it's not going to involve Tess actually having to say anything. Steve found the BLACKPOOL experience to be "magical", and Ola was worried that he would mess up the lifts - but unnecessarily, it turns out. Steve notices that, as the herd has thinned, he's generally found himself in the bottom third of the leaderboard (a quick stats run suggests that this has been in the case since week six, although obviously there's some room for debate as not all of these weeks have a number of contestants that's easily divisible by three etc). This week they have the jive, which is an absolutely brilliant dance to have when your ankles are totally fucked, so I suspect this might just be the week that the wheels fall off the Steve train. The dance has the theme of "American football and cheerleaders", because it says so in the script, so Ola takes Steve off to watch some cheerleaders practising and that's when I realise she's been STEALING HER CHOREOGRAPHY FROM THE CLOVERS! We can't enter this at regionals now! Quick, somebody call Sparky Polastri! Ola explains that the bounce and precision being displayed by these professional cheerleaders (off a floor which I notice is covered in gym mats, which is probably going to make lightness and bounce somewhat easier than the solid floor of a television studio) is what they need to do in their jive. Steve promises to bring it, but presumably it's already been broughten.

They're dancing to 'Little Bitty Pretty One' and the routine opens with Steve bursting through a screen and pretending to play American football. For a minute I think he's actually going to kick the ball at Ola (so much behind-the-scenes tension!) but he feints at the last second and starts jiving instead. There's really not a lot I can say about this routine that's positive - it's incredibly heavy and flat-footed, Steve's rhythm seems to be off, he seems to be on the wrong foot several times, his free arm is entirely shapeless, and there are several sections where he's either running around aimlessly or just standing there not doing much of anything. There are some well-executed lifts, though, and I suspect that most of the problems with this routine are down to Steve's knackered legs as much as anything. Blackpool hangover rating: three bottles of wine washed down with a dozen Jägerbombs.

Tess asks Steve and Ola if the number 10s on their uniform are intended as a hint to the judges. If so, I sense disappointment all-round. Len says that he was surprised by how well Steve did because he knows that he was under pressure this week and the jive is (wait for it) "a tough dance for big chaps". (*cough*), but he noticed a few problems, at which point the audience boos and Len does a face as he inevitably must, but he concludes that while this wasn't Steve's best, he at least gave it his best. Bruno says that Steve tackled the jive like a charging quarterback, but he kept slipping back into American time - "between five and eight hours behind". Craig found it stompy and flat-footed, and says that the timing at the beginning was atrocious. Darcey thinks the image suited him and he played it well, but "the boys are right" (sigh), he wasn't on top of the beat - though she thought he did a brilliant job of handling Ola in the lifts. Tess calls Darcey "the voice of reason", which just goes to show what a terrible state we've found ourselves in already.

Ola makes a great show of cheering all the way up to the Clauditorium, where Steve says it went in an absolute flash. Presumably he means "all sense of rhythm". Ola says that he did really well, because she knows how much he struggled this week. Claudia says that she loves Ola's face. Scores are in: Craig 4, Darcey 7, Len 6, Bruno 6 for a total of 23. Steve and Ola look a little winded by Craig's score, but Steve good-naturedly says that it could well have been "fours across the board", so he'll take that.

Up next: Caroline and Pasha. We revisit the horror of Len saying that he would dive off the pier naked if Caroline was in the bottom two, which Caroline compounds by saying that it could have worked against them, because "a lot of people would like to see you naked, Len". Not being funny here, Flackers, but if I didn't get to see Thom Evans naked on the show this year, I am going to do everything within my power to make sure I don't have to see Len Goodman in the skinny. In this week's VT, Pasha asks Caroline to join him at the Savoy, where this week he will be playing the role of a smooth-talking bar steward. Pasha explains that this is to help get Caroline in the mood for her American smooth foxtrot (why do we have to keep calling it that these days? I blame Len, but then I blame Len for most things), to recapture the golden era of Hollywood where men were suave and the women were impeccably dressed. For some reason this makes me long for someone to do an American smooth inspired by the food poisoning scene from Bridesmaids. Now that's Hollywood glamour! Pasha even provides a swing band so they can practice, and Caroline says that she didn't realise quite how smooth Pasha really was. Dammit, did wardrobe make him wax again?

They're dancing to 'Mack The Knife', and unfortunately it seems that wardrobe hasn't quite finished derailing Caroline just yet, because despite a good start with an elegant lift, Caroline stands on the hem of her dress after landing and stumbles very noticeably. She recovers quickly and doesn't miss a beat, but throughout the rest of the routine you can see a hint of fear on her face because she knows that's going to count against her, and I think she's worried about getting through the rest of the routine without it happening a second time. It's a shame, because that's really the only thing wrong with the routine, which is a gorgeous piece of choreography from Pasha, danced beautifully by both of them. There's even a proper old-Hollywood bit at the end where they dance up some steps, followed by Caroline just dropping into Pasha's arms from the top step. Swoon. To hell with the stumble, I'm going to say that's my favourite of Caroline's dances by a mile, and probably in my top five for the whole series. Blackpool hangover rating: should've said no to that last G&T. [Stumble aside, that was AWESOME.  I love Caroline and Pasha so much.  - Rad]

Caroline, who has done a first-class job of keeping her composure throughout the routine, immediately needs to let all that emotion out at the end, and Pasha immediately pulls her into a hug to reassure her, which is sweet. Tess honks "DID YOU HAVE A LITTLE STUMBLE?" and Caroline admits that she nearly went right over. Bruno says that "the lady is the vamp" and says that the routine oozed sex appeal - he loved the choreography, and says it had elements of jazz and contemporary dance, adding that he would like to see that dance again because he enjoyed it so much. I think that's just superceded Len's naked threat for "judges' comment most likely to backfire", because in order for Caroline to do it again she'd either need to be in the bottom two tonight or make it to the top three, and sadly I think the former is more likely. Craig thinks she opened well until she almost fell, but she "made a great save" and got back into it. He thinks the routine was really good and classy. Darcey says that Caroline needed to be very brave to pull off a lot of those moves because they can easily go wrong, but she would say there are moments where the extensions of the legs and hands could stand to go a little bit further. Len says it was as smooth as a butter knife, but he would've liked a little bit more in the foxtrot hold, because: Len.

Caroline and Pasha walk up to the Clauditorium, and Caroline makes a point of carrying the hem of her dress to avoid any more embarrassing incidents. Her first words to Claudia are "what a wally!", which endears her to me immensely. Caroline explains that she was barely even moving, but she just trod on her dress and nearly landed on a lady in the audience, so she apologises to the woman in question for the near-miss. I bet the woman in the audience was just disappointed that it wasn't Pasha falling on her, I know I would've been. Scores are in: Craig 7, Darcey 8, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 33. I feel bad for Caroline because without the stumble that would totally have been a Bruno 10. Claudia says that Anton was shouting "undermarked" and that a seven seems like a ridiculous score, but Caroline says it's fair because she fell.

On third tonight are Pixie and Trent, performing in the first half of the show for only the second time this series, and making her first appearance in The Death Slot. Tess teases that the routine will feature Pixie's first lifts of the competition, and it's kind of bizarre to think that in the Age Of Gilkison, someone can actually make it all the way to week nine while keeping at least one foot in contact with the ground at all times. I kind of want Pixie to win just for that alone. Last week's paso was amazing and landed Pixie at the (joint) top of the leaderboard, but she's still striving for the perfect score. In a throwback to the days when Pixie's schedule was BUSYBUSYSOBUSY, this week Pixie is going up to Edinburgh to do a couple of songs at an awards ceremony, so Trent comes along for the ride. Pixie sings without even bothering to take her coat off, possibly because she was JUST TOO BUSY, and meets a few of the winners, who are local people who've done great things for charity. Pixie tells us that charity is good, and Trent has a go at teaching one of the winners to dance.

They're dancing the charleston to 'Sparkling Diamonds' from Moulin Rouge!, making it the second week in a row to use a song from that soundtrack. Will we be working our way through the entire thing before the end of the series? Personally I can't wait for someone to do a quickstep to Jim Broadbent's cover of 'Like A Virgin'. [Mute the sound on Frankie and Kevin's tango and play the Green Fairy song over it and it'd probably make as much sense as a music choice - Rad] It's an interesting routine that fuses the charleston with Broadway, and Pixie and Trent ham it up royally. There are moments where Pixie's swivel looks more like plain old bowlegs, and the routine doesn't really feature enough Trent for my liking, but it's performed with so much energy and spirit that I still love it. I did see a fair bit of criticism online for this routine not being a proper charleston, to which I say a) the definition of a "proper charleston" on this show has been extremely loose on this show ever since the genre was first introduced, and b) I'm fairly certain that all of the charlestons on this show are choreographed by Bill Deamer anyway, so I don't see how this is Pixie or Trent's fault. Blackpool hangover rating: functioning alcoholic.

Craig thinks she danced with precision and exactitude, and an enormous amount of detail. "So much content!" says Tess, like somebody at a conference on the future of online journalism. Darcey is impressed at how many steps there were in the dance, and how Pixie still managed to nearly outshine Trent in the process. She would just like Pixie to throw herself into the lifts a little bit more. Len says he was out of breath just watching it, and it was full of razzle-dazzle. Bruno says that Pixie had "the explosive brilliance of a firework display", and as far as he's concerned, too much is never enough.

There's a very excited reception for them up in the Clauditorium, where Claudia says that Bruno couldn't help but stand up, which must be a good sign. Pixie: "He does stand up quite a lot though, doesn't he?" Ha! This was the dance that Pixie was most looking forward to doing, and she loved it. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 10 for a total of 37.

After a preview of the five dances yet to come, Claudia joins Tess on the dancefloor, wearing a fez. Well, at least now we know what it would've looked like if the Eleventh Doctor had regenerated into a woman like certain sections of the fandom wanted him to. This is all in aid of next week's brand new theme, "around the world week". I was hoping that this meant every dance would be performed to this, but apparently it means that each dance will have a sensitive and nuanced and definitely in no way grossly stereotypical theme of different countries.

Up next are Mark and Karen, and Mark is still on a high from BLACKPOOL and Craig saying that he was starting to fall in love with him. This week Mark has been in Tenerife for his day job, filming Take Me Out: The Gossip. The whole theme of this VT is that Mark's work is keeping him BUSYBUSYSOBUSY [Mark Wright is a legitimate celebrity who in no way is famous because of TOWIE, OK? - Rad] and not leaving him enough time to rehearse. I mean, I don't wish to disparage the work of the television professionals working on it, but it's the spin-off series to Take Me Out. How long can it realistically take? Still, apparently it is an intensely demanding shoot that leaves Karen very little time to teach Mark the routine.

They're dancing their tango to One Republic's 'Love Runs Out', which is yet another questionable choice of tango music. Also, this means that now everybody remaining in the competition has danced the tango, so no more tangos for us unless someone decides to reprise theirs in the final. Mark's tango face is a bit "where did I leave my keys?", but the performance isn't too bad if they genuinely did have as little rehearsal time as they're claiming. It does feel like a lot of manufactured drama and no real content, but *insert TOWIE joke here*. Blackpool hangover rating: sick in a neighbour's garden on the way home.

Darcey likes the "strong, serious Mark" and says he brought the drama, and she loved the frown. Mark says he doesn't think he planned that. Darcey says that he tired in the second half, so the right shoulder started coming up and there were moments in the transitions where he needed more finesse. Len panics that he doesn't want to be too complimentary in case he turns Mark gay for him as well, but he liked the staccato and the intensity, though he agrees with Darcey that it got a bit frantic near the end. Bruno says that he thought Mark was a nice boy (excuse me while I go and curate a series of clips from The Only Way Is Essex that would debunk that theory easily) but he can be rough when he wants to. He says that at the end it got a bit like Caesar from Planet of the Apes, but it was a proper convincing tango, albeit with a few missteps. Craig thinks he leapt on Karen "like a feral dog with rabies", but it was full of testosterone and focus.

Claudia congratulates Karen on teaching Mark that routine in "eight seconds", and Mark says that he's normally a happy-go-lucky person, but he quite enjoyed being all moody for the tango. Claudia tries to get him to do his tango face again and he looks more like an anxious squirrel. Scores: eights all round for a total of 32. Claudia teases Jake getting his hips out again, which leads to a mini fiesta with Tristan playing the trumpet and Simon running around with a sign saying "Jake's hips".

Tess is sitting in the audience between Antony Costa and Mary Berry. Tess says that Frankie and Kevin are up next, doing a Viennese - "don't worry Mary, it's the waltz, not the biscuit", and Mary admits to being a fan of the waltz because it's the one dance she can do, albeit not very well. Tess hopes that this Viennese waltz will be light, crisp and without a soggy bottom in sight. "Just as it should be," says Mary, and Tess repeats this louder, because that's what Tess does. [And Antony Costa got completely ignored, as it should be - Rad]

Frankie enjoyed BLACKPOOL, particularly because it was a chance to redeem herself after messing up in the previous week. The VT for their Viennese waltz is the usual "ugh, I'm really dizzy" stuff, and Frankie panics that she'll either get disoriented during the live show or just projectile vomit everywhere. Kevin comes up with various suggestions for dealing with this, including not focusing on anything and closing her eyes, but Frankie doesn't find any of this to be useful. Oh my god, what if she spews all over Mary Berry? Think of the outrage in the Daily Mail.

They're dancing to 'What's New Pussycat?', and I don't think I'd realised what a maddeningly repetitive song that is until now. It's the sort of song they would play on a loop in hell. I'm surprised that years of performing it haven't prompted Tom Jones to snap entirely and go on a killing spree. Fortunately (or disappointingly, depending on your perspective), Frankie manages to make it through the entire routine without fainting, vomiting or blacking out, so the job's a good'un. Blackpool hangover rating: never ever ever drinking Lambrini again.

Frankie says to Tess that she "might need a sick bucket", but then I'm sure Tess has that effect on a lot of people. Len loved the fleckerl, and he loved the detail, like the way Frankie's hand was so light on Kevin's shoulder. Bruno purrs in appreciation, and he says that Frankie made it look easy and natural, and he thinks Craig will go into meltdown because there was nothing wrong with her hands or fingers. Craig agrees on that front, but says that she does need to watch for her right foot turning out. That said, he thought it was gorgeous. Darcey thinks Frankie's technique is clean and lovely, but there was some sickling of the feet - at which point Len and Bruno start muttering conspiratorially about ways they can get rid of those two on the end.

Up in the Clauditorium, Frankie points out that they always seem to leave the judges a little bit divided, and she rather likes that. Claudia reveals that the thing she loves about them is the way that they're always still practising before the results show, just in case they're in the dance-off. Obviously Claudia hasn't been here for the last three weeks, so I'm just going to assume she got that note from Zoe or Joanne or Wayne Bridge or Mollie and Una or Hot Greg The Floor Manager or somebody. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 38. Claudia: "That's your highest score, apart from Donny week, which we all know doesn't count." I will never tire of Donny shade. Claudia lists some Tom Jones songs in her own unique fashion while Ola brandishes a plush cat from the sidelines.

Next we have THE RETURN OF JAKE'S HIPS and Janette Manrara. Jake feels like BLACKPOOL was a comeback for him, and hopes that he can continue to bounce back from here. This week he decides to invite Janette to come and visit him on the set of EastEnders, where they catch Danny Dyer hanging out by the community centre learning his lines. Danny congratulates Jake on his "beautiful thing" of an American smooth and I'm sure you'll all support me when I say that the campaign for Danny Dyer for Strictly 2015 starts here. (Paired with Natalie, obviously. Just imagine!) Jake shows Janette where Max Branning's house is, but says that they can't go in because Max wouldn't like "your sort". Janette assumes he means "happy and sparkly", but I'm taking it to mean "of Cuban heritage", thus sowing the seeds for a "Max Branning is a massive racist" storyline to come at some point. Then they run into Natalie Cassidy outside the Queen Vic, who expresses fear about them having to do the samba, because it was one of her worst dances (it got the same score as her rock-and-roll, which I think tells you all you need to know).

They're dancing to 'Macarena', and while it's lovely to see Jake's hips back in action, the whole thing feels like a bit of a mess. It's very flaily, and I'm beginning to feel concerned that there's an issue with Janette's choreography where she just isn't giving Jake enough to do generally. That said, I think he does the samba steps that he's given well enough, he absolutely throws himself into it, butt-shimmies and all, and it's the campest thing I've seen on this show since Erin retired to have babies, so there's still a lot working in its favour. Oh, and it ends with Jake launching his crotch into Janette's face, if you like that sort of thing. Blackpool hangover rating: drank far too much, but at least remembered to line its stomach by eating first.

Bruno: "JACKO WACKO THE TWERKING WONDER." Quite. He says there were some sticky moments, but the less said about what happens under the judges' desk, the better. Craig didn't think the rolls went anywhere, but the shoulder shimmies were great "and your bottom went off like a jackhammer". Darcey comes over all giggly and calls Jake "a box of surprises", and openly laughs at his facial expressions, but thinks there was a lot of samba going on there. Len calls it "a wamba of a samba", which I'm fairly certain is not an actual thing, and says that what it lacked in technique, it made up for in fantastic dancing and spirit. [Loved it in all its weird glory, but can't help thinking I wished this had come before the salsa so that could get this score instead of missing tens because it was too early in the series to start chucking them about - Rad]

In the Clauditorium, Jake says it was so much fun, and he loved it. We're obviously running behind because that's all we have time for before the scores come in. Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 9 for a total of 38. Jake's first tens of the series there, slightly undercut by one of them coming from Len who'd openly admitted to there being a lack of technique in the dance. Oh, Len. Claudia: "Coming up next - celebrities dance, the judges score." Anyone else think the show's scriptwriter has lost some of their passion for their work?

Our penultimate couple of the night are Sunetra and Brendan, with a routine set in a railway station. Sunetra was pleased to make it to BLACKPOOL last week, but it was tarnished slightly by being in the dance-off last week. Sunetra is pleased that she was up against Judy and was in no danger of going home the judges gave her another chance. Sunetra has the waltz this week, and talks about how it was a conversation with her son that inspired her to sign up for the show, because Noah said that he'd love to see her on Strictly. Sunetra goes to visit Noah at his school, and Noah's classmates have set up the assembly for that day to be like the Strictly studio. This certainly beats my school assemblies, which were more likely to take the form of a week of lectures about Hernán Cortés. [Get you!  Ours were basically just 'this week in notices'.  At secondary school I mean, unless your primary school was incredibly swanky - Rad]

They're dancing to 'Last Request' (bit ominous), which has been rather awkwardly transposed into waltz-time [it sounds fucking dreadful.  The waltz music this series is about as good as the tango music - Rad] and the first thing I notice in this dance is that Sunetra's outfit doesn't quite seem to fit properly because her dress is all bunched up under her ribs, which rather spoils the line of the dance when you see her from behind. Essentially with the dress and the song there's a lot working against Sunetra here, and that's compounded by a bit of a stumble in the middle and her ongoing collapsing-frame issues, but it's a pleasant enough routine. Blackpool hangover rating: maybe stick to the virgin cocktails next time.

Craig tells Sunetra that she's definitely better in hold, but her hand could be lighter on Brendan because she was performing a death grip at one point. Darcey thinks there was a great improvement here, but Sunetra came unstuck at times. Len liked the feel of it, and says that it was like a scene from Brief Encounter. He liked the rondé and the pivots, but it was a bit shaky and he noticed the stumble. Bruno compliments Sunetra on her improvement on her turns and body contact, but he cites her continued issues with her topline and wonders if it's because she's got "too much luggage in the carriage". Erp.

Sunetra tells Claudia that the whole experience that it was very magical. Brendan admits that there were stumbles out there, but Sunetra managed to pick herself up again and that's the important thing. Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 7, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 30. Fun fact: Darcey gave that one point less than she gave Sunetra's samba. LolokaythenDarcey.

Closing the show we have Simon and Kristina. Things went rather well for them in BLACKPOOL and they got three 10s, and Simon's starting to feel the pressure again. The theme of their salsa is that Simon is a famous movie star, and Kristina is his biggest fan. The VT then segues into a fake trailer for the romantic comedy they star in together, but the entire concept of spoof trailers has been ruined forever for me by 30 Rock's peerless Martin Luther King Day trailer, so let's just move along.

They're dancing to 'Let's Hear It For The Boy' by Deniece Williams, which is a song that I love. [Ditto - Rad] Their salsa routine is lively, spirited and energetic, and a great routine to cap off a surprisingly good Blackpool hangover week. There are a few sloppy lifts, but Simon looks entirely comfortable throughout and really brings the routine to life. Blackpool hangover rating: designated driver, was on Red Bull all night.

They're both completely out of breath afterwards, and Darcey thinks Simon's like a different man now, looking completely relaxed in everything. She thinks that Simon maybe got overexcited at times (she's a fine one to talk) and that some of the basic moves got lost in the enthusiasm, but she thinks Simon came very close to repeating the excellence of last week's Argentine tango. Len says that sometimes the week after BLACKPOOL can be a bit flat (has he been reading my notes?), but this has been a fantastic night. He doesn't really mention anything specific about Simon, but I think it was implied. Bruno says that was footloose and fancy-free, just how a salsa should be. Craig loved the incredible armography. He says that Simon needs to get slightly more rotation in his hips, but he's come on in leaps and bounds.

Simon and Kristina scoot up to the Clauditorium, where Simon says he's starting to enjoy this all a lot more now. Claudia reminds us that Craig has never scored Simon higher than an eight, so I think we all know what's coming: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 36. After the jubilation at the score, things take an unexpected turn: Kristina tells Claudia that it's so good to have her back and Claudia, who's done an exemplary job of keeping herself together after that little wobble at the start of the show, suddenly mists up again and you can hear her voice cracking. After she finishes reading the numbers, Claudia sniffles that "it's bad if you're nice to me", at which point Simon puts a reassuring hand on her shoulder and Claudia swiftly informs him that "that includes being nice". I don't think anyone has ever been so grateful for the appearance of the judges' leaderboard just so poor Claudia can not have to be actually on screen while she fights the urge to cry.

1=. Frankie & Kevin - 38
1=. Jake & Janette - 38
3. Pixie & Trent - 37
4. Simon & Kristina - 36
5. Caroline & Pasha - 33
6. Mark & Karen - 32
7. Sunetra & Brendan - 30
8. Steve & Ola - 23

Looking at that leaderboard, I would think a Steve vs Sunetra dance-off is pretty much a given, but Caroline could be in danger as well. Performance recap: Steve's non-starter of a jive, Caroline's great-despite-the-stumble American smooth, Pixie's showgirl charleston, Mark's angry hamster tango, Frankie's vomit-free Viennese waltz, Jake's camp-as-a-row-of-tents samba, Sunetra's possible-last-hurrah waltz and Simon's fast and furious salsa.

And that's it! Claudia tells us that tomorrow night's results show will feature Barry Manilow singing twice, and a cops-and-robbers themed group routine (WITH SAME SEX COUPLES apparently) [As if Tess'n'Claud haven't been flying the flag for same sex dancing for ages already.  Also didn't the epic partner-swapping good Katya and Pasha v evil Brendan and Natalie series 9 pro dance already have same-sex dancing to no tabloid shocks? - Rad]. And also, someone will be going home, but let's not focus on that.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

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

- Alison kept her promise to go to BLACKPOOL.
- Jake wasn’t very busy at EastEnders last week so he had more rehearsal time than usual.
- If you watch Jake’s American smooth from the right angle you can see him almost dropping Janette.
- Like the main show, this show has forgotten Craig's first 9 was not given out in BLACKPOOL week, but the week before.
- Craig quite enjoyed it when Mark kissed him.
- Judy has only ever hit Craig twice. And that was in the bar.
- Craig would like to retroactively give Judy’s Viennese waltz a 5.
- It took Anton four-and-a-half days to teach Judy how to do one spin in her first waltz at the start of the series.
- Judy’s Strictly highlight was being Cruella De Vil in the car. As it should be.
- Judy will be dancing on the three Scottish dates of Anton’s tour.
- Judy doesn’t care who wins. Attagirl.
- Sunetra and Trent give good Dynasty face.
- Pixie and Trent haven’t done any lifts yet. It’s almost like they’re playing by the actual rules or something.
- You should always be doing something with your arms in the samba.
- Karen Hardy was in New Zealand, not Benidorm.
- Frankie eats the dancefloor alive (according to Karen Hardy).
- Karen Hardy was about as impressed at the lack of Jake in his and Janette's routine last week as we were.
- Karen Hardy is impressed with Mark's feet swiveling because he is a MAN (which means Charleston is added to the ever-growing list of things that are hard for men).
- Sunetra averages around nine hours of training a week,
- Tess was showing off her moves with Brendan in a club in BLACKPOOL after Saturday's show.
- Brendan knows how to do the Heimlich manoeuvre.
- Zoe has a bit of a touching the celebs and pros fetish.
- There are a lot of Ian Waite fans in Holland.
- Ian Waite was very sad not to be in BLACKPOOL.
- Kristina is very proud of Simon. She might have mentioned this once or twice.
- Samba is a 'street dance'.
- Brendan has some very nice kitchen surfaces.
- Brendan’s daughter is adorable.
- Joanne and Brendan managed 37 New Yorkers in the pro challenge, but with five penalty deductions, leaving them in third place overall with a total score of 32.
- Ian thinks all Steve's dances look the same.
- Frankie was worried that her thing was going to be “being the one who makes mistakes”.
- Frankie is getting sick from all the spinning. Dr Zoe recommends motion sickness pills.
- Me, Mark Wright is quite a happy person, which is funny, because it's the opposite of how we feel watching him.
- Caroline’s Union Jack dress is Pasha’s favourite of all of her outfits so far, not that the competition is especially fierce.
- Dressing up as a beefeater this weekend is the first time Pasha has ever worn a uniform. (Feel free to make jokes about the vanilla-ness of his sex life.)
- Caroline does heel leads all the time in her day-to-day life but struggles with them in dancing.
- Caroline thinks Pasha gets furious (which he denies).  She may be mixing up real Pasha with Caroline's fanfic Pasha.
- Pasha likes dancing with himself. (Hurr hurr.)
- Robin and Anya are back for the group number this week. One of these is slightly more surprising than the other.
- Iveta finds it hard to dance after a large shish kebab lunch.
- Aljaž is the naughtiest pro dancer.
- Jason Gilkison choreographs by writing a lot of 8s on paper.
- Steve had a rock climbing fall in 2008 where he fell around 30 feet, broke his back in two places and smashed up his ankle. He has since had 13 operations on his ankle and doesn't have an ankle joint in his left foot.
- It's now ok to have a pre-credits Human Centipede recreation before the watershed.
- Mark's Charleston looks even worse in recaps than it did on the night.
- Mark and Karen were 'doing it' everywhere in Tenerife.  OVERSHARING.
- Anita Dobson has given up dancing.
- Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton will be in a Victoria Wood-directed TV film at Christmas. (Steve has seen it, and it's great.)
- Mel Giedroyc is obsessed with Sunetra's legs.
- Songs from Moulin Rouge! are more expensive to get the TV rights to than pop songs.
- Mel Giedroyc thinks you use a bat in American Football.
- Anita Dobson thinks the key to topping the leaderboard is a combination of technique and selling it.
- Michael Ball thinks Mark has stopped doing the 'cheeky chappy' routine.  Must have missed that moment.
- It was Zoe's birthday on Friday and they surprised her with a video from her kids, a visit from her dad and a string-vested Guido inside her cake.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Judy Gloom

Week 8: Top Nine Results - 16 November 2014

Last night! BLACKPOOL brought out some fun performances, some dodgy VTs and some inflated scores! (Business as usual, then). Simon and Pixie topped the leaderboard, Judy remained at the bottom, with Sunetra and Steve being the lowest-scored of the alright-and-above pack.

We open with a 1920s-prohibition-themed-costuming-to-70s-disco-soundtrack-because-BLACKPOOL pros-and-extras Charleston-esque dance, which features the celebrities being drunk backstage. Caroline and Judy are ‘acting’ their roles especially well. It makes not a lick of sense and it’s not up to the standards of last year’s Ballroom Blitz, but I still completely love it, mainly because it looks like the best wedding disco ever and it’s full of a lot of energy and fun.

Tess and Zoe enter and do hip bumps. Daly Dresswatch: Blue, Grecian. Ball’s Gown: Black, sparkly.  They’re also both donning Blackpool novelty sunglasses and fake tan. Can you imagine Bruce doing this? We then get a ‘they can’t blame it on the sunshine, they can’t blame it on the moonlight, they can only blame it on their boogie’ joke which just about works. The judges disco on and I am, sort of, warming to disco as a dance theme if that’s what all this is leading to. I mean, rather disco as a distinct genre than disco masquerading as salsa and getting fucking tens not that we’re still bitter about that. Tess and Zoe tell us former winner Harry Judd is here in the ‘home of his victory’ (remember in 2011 when they randomly combined BLACKPOOL week with FINAL week?) to play with McBusted. OK, now I kind of wish Bruce was here, just so he could try and bat them all away with cue cards.

Recap of last night.  Backstage bits of note: all the judges except Bruno stand on the glass floor on top of the tower; hot Greg calling everyone to order; all the judges’ positive comments about Judy and Anton and Sunetra and Brendan getting cut out of the recap; Simon being happy to get the first ‘three 10s’ of the series.

First set of results. Safe are: Caroline and Pasha, Pixie and Trent, Jake and Janette. The first couple in the dance-off? Sunetra and Brendan, which I think we all saw coming, including them. She says it’s OK and a fair comment for her to be there, and it’ll be quite nice to dance twice in BLACKPOOL. Craig says he was hard on her because he believes in her and he wants her to smash it. Except the only person she’d be against where the dance-off would genuinely make a difference is Steve, surely? The judges would save her over Judy and everyone else except Steve over her.

In the Ball pool, Zoe is excited that Jake has a samba next week and tells Pixie that Sophie Ellis-Bextor sang to everyone after BLACKPOOL last year so she’d like a Pixie, Frankie and Simon supergroup please. Pixie is quite up for the idea.

First musical guests of the night are McBusted doing ‘Air Guitar’. Matt Willis is trying to look a bit Billie Joe Armstrong these days, isn’t he? Harry is elevated on a platform to drum with lights all round him and the glitterball resting on his drum kit. I never cared much either way for McFly or Busted but as tired old pop stars who need to give it a rest go, this is much more convincing as a performance than whatever Annie Lennox was doing the other week and the tragedy of the S Club 7 reunion. [I got to see Harry's arms again. That was all I needed from this performance. - Steve]

Tess drags Harry up for a chat and fondles his guns. Harry reminds us of the stage invasion and Bruce getting annoyed. He says SCD makes being in a band really easy and he has a soft spot for Judy. See, I knew she had that cougar thing going on yesterday.

We may be in BLACKPOOL but sadly we still have to endure Len’s Lens. The judges are still trying to make Mark happen. Again. Bruno talks about Judy improving. Enough to stay? We’re about to find out.

Safe are: Simon and Kristina (who thanks his lucky stars Zoe didn’t interview his mum), Frankie and Kevin, Mark and Karen, Steve and Ola (which I wasn’t expecting giving the bitchface she pulled the whole time, or maybe that’s because she wants to go, if those TABLOID RUMOURS have any substance). Judy and Anton are in the bottom two and Judy says she’s just happy to be here. Len’s advice ‘show us what you’ve got’. Both he and Craig have given such helpful hints tonight to the dance-offers.

In the Ball Pit asks if BLACKPOOL gave Steve a boost – he says it sort of did, but also made it more scary. She reminds us Mark is a PROPER PRESENTER and is going out to work in Spain next week but he says he’ll still have time to rehearse. Simon is happy with his three tens and the judges boosting his score so he doesn’t end up in the bottom two confidence.

The next guest is Dame Shirley Bassey singing ‘Goldfinger’ with Brendan and Iveta, Pasha and Janette and Aliona and Trent picking the keys from the bowl and doing sex writhing in front of her, including some very literal choreography where Brendan gives Iveta the kiss of death and she collapses. Also: memo to that person in the Radio Times who said this week that guest performers are better without pro dancers: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA no. Especially when their evidence was Annie Lennox’s dad dancing the other week. [Never believe anything you read in the Radio Times. - Steve, Who Writes For One Of The Other Listings Magazines That Are Available] Although we’d feel less guilty about fast forwarding them if they didn’t have the dancers, I suppose.

Tess and Zoe fangirl about the Bassey and we cut to a trail for ITT with Ian and an angry donkey statue. Not sure where Robin is this week, maybe Lisa Riley wouldn’t let him out.

Judy gets her lines right and says she gets to ‘fly across the floor with the king of ballroom and fly up to the roof… perfect’ as she and Anton get ready to dance. Sunetra says she’ll have to enjoy her dance because they’re in BLACKPOOL. Brendan tells her to fill up the space with her personality and ‘danceability’.

Judy and Anton dance first and she seems more relaxed, perhaps because she doesn’t really care so much this time. It’s better than first time round and if she does leave tonight, she has definitely acquitted herself well and her dancing saw more improvement than, say, Gregg, Jennifer or Scott’s.

Sunetra also benefits from the ‘ah, fuck it’ factor and relaxes into her dance more. It’s still sloppy as all hell in terms of precision but the drunk woman dances with lothario barman works even better second time round and the sloppiness kind of works with the character of the dance. She also keeps up with the pace better than before. [Although she does blatantly trip over at one point and would've gone flat on her face if Brendan hadn't been there to catch her. - Steve]

Craig and Darcey save Sunetra and Brendan. Bruno says both couples were entertaining but he’s saving Sunetra and Brendan. Len would also have saved Sunetra and Brendan but thought Judy and Anton gave a great performance. Judy thanks Anton for being an incredible teacher and having a great sense of humour. Anton says he’s been thrilled with how Judy’s experience has been and praises her humour, spirit and personality. She looks like she’s going to cry, bless her. They exit to ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ with a very undignified knicker-showing leap from Judy and a patented Anton chuck your partner at the floor move. Caroline, Frankie and Sunetra all talk about how close they were to Judy and Simon says he’ll miss her smile and her shortbreads. Steve enthuses about BLACKPOOL and Jake promises his hips will be back next week.

Steve will see you through it all (and offer you protection, a lot of love and direction) then!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Blackpool score inflations

Week 8: Top Nine Perform (BLACKPOOL Week) - 15 November 2014

Last week! We reached the stage in the series where all the women now start to drop like flies as the men did in the early stage! Caroline’s mum was in the audience and so she ended up in the dance-off! But Alison’s luck ran out and she and Aljaž were sent home, denying us ‘It’s Raining Men’ this week for which I JUDGE YOU ALL. [ME TOO. - Steve]

This week! BLACKPOOL!  Cue more comedy VTs and vox pops with the good ol’ British public than you could ever dream of!

We open with a montage of…you guessed it, members of the public being excited that Strictly is coming to BLACKPOOL and our pro-celeb pairings packing their buckets and spades. It all ends, rather unfortunately with Anton clicking his fingers and flashing a great big purple erection. What?  It’s what happened.

Tess and Zoe enter, Zoe dancing on, Tess kind of swaying a bit.  Daly Dresswatch: a neon pink skirt that sits very high on the waist, with a black blouse thing that isn’t the most flattering to her bosom, but we’ve seen far worse. Ball’s Gown: A navy sparkly velvet slinky thing. They welcome us to the Tower Ballroom in BLACKPOOL.

Cue our first comedy VT of the night: this one featuring young versions of all our pros dreaming of one day visiting BLACKPOOL: “Anton” in a 60s-ish home watching Come Dancing on TV; “Natalie” (sounding very British) and “Brendan” ‘Down Under’ looking at a globe and also seeming closer in age than they really are; “Joanne” and “Kevin” dancing together in Grimsby with their dad telling them they’ll dance in Blackpool; then finally “Iveta” as a Lithuanian princess with attitude whose music box plays the Strictly theme tune. This segues into our opening pro dance with Iveta on a sparkly staircase dropping glitter on the pros whilst junior “Iveta” sings a slowed down and tune-free ‘I Have a Dream’. [Between this and Children In Need, I feel like I've exceeded my recommended yearly allowance of children singing in one single weekend. - Steve] All the pros start to come to life slowly in the background and whirl around as the professional singers take over and the two Ivetas watch them.  It becomes a lovely ballroom showcase with lots of fairy light trees and spinning and whirling and then the celebrities come on and it still manages to look lovely which is an achievement giving how these things usually go – and then Iveta rises above them all as queen of all the pros, as well she might.

The judges dance on doing Saturday Night Fever moves, and it’s telling that this and Thriller are the most Darcey’s got into any of these routines all series – such a 70s/80s queen, I love it.  Zoe and Tess wave at Alison who is in the audience as she promised.  Go on, let her do her dance, it doesn’t have to count, I just want to see it. [I can't help thinking it would've been a much better use of everyone's time than McBusted. - Steve]

Our pairs come in: Jake and Janette; Pixie and Trent; Steve and Ola; Judy and Anton; Mark and Karen; Frankie and Kevin; Caroline and Pasha; Simon and Kristina; Sunetra and Brendan.  It must be the BLACKPOOL effect or something, as most of them actually do the theme tune shimmy this week.

The first couple of the night are Frankie and Kevin.  They had a bad week last week, which is the cue for Tess delivering a ‘water under the Frankie Bridge’ pun. Bad scriptwriters. Stop it. Their VT storyline is about how fast the quickstep is and Kevin gets Frankie to play Dance Dance Revolution as practice. [Best pro challenge ever, neva 4get. - Steve]

Their quickstep is to ‘A Town Called Malice’ (YES!) and sees them both in fifties (er?)-style outfits, Frankie’s a lovely yellow and black, Kevin’s a tight grey tartan that sort of treads a fine line of tightness. Vicky Gill’s sterling work on the trouser front for lovers of men’s anatomies continues, but the waistcoat looks more like ‘someone ate too much inbetween their costume fitting and the big day’ than anyone would want. They’re accompanied by backing dancers which really clutters up the stage in a couple of places – a shame, as this is a nice little routine – not, perhaps, the sharpest quickstep ever, and the rock’n’roll stylings make it feel quite jive-y in nature, but it’s fun, frenetic and fast and they both perform with a lot of joy, which makes it an enjoyable breeze of a routine, backing dancers aside.

Len says it was fast and they got three points for speeding straight away.  He calls it a ‘kiss me quickstep’ (GROAN) and declares it Frankie’s best dance.  Tess asks if the larger ballroom is an issue but Bruno says not for these two who flew across the whole thing.  He says he was counting throughout and Frankie didn’t put a foot wrong.  Craig says they used the floor brilliantly and because of that Frankie slightly lost her frame in places, and her feet didn’t always come together when they should, but it was bright and lively.  Darcey calls it a frantic, rocking quickstep and says Frankie had a great topline and Kevin provided excellent choreography.

In the Ball pool (can’t really call it a Ballcony given they’re just sort of in a corner on the floor), Zoe shows us a photo of Kevin and Joanne at the Tower Ballroom when they were kids and jokes that it was just two years ago.  Scores: 8, 9, 10, 10 for a BLACKPOOL-inflated total of 37.  I am mesmerised by Trent’s outfit, by the way. He looks like Avon from Blake’s 7 except wearing seals of Rassilon. [NERD! - Steve] Now don’t get me wrong, I love an amoral sci-fi badass as much as anyone, I just didn’t picture Trent as one.  (Brendan, obviously)

Jake and Janette are next and Tess reminds us that Jake is in need of a redemption arc.  Do I smell a JOURNEY coming? Both say they’re doing the ‘American Smooth Foxtrot’ – are we officially calling American Smooths by the name of the dance they’re using as the base material now?  Is this a thing since Len saved Scott (LOL) over WUTHERING HEIGHTS the other week for foxtrot content? Jake and Janette walk around rainy BLACKPOOL a bit and Jake says he can’t wait to get inside. And get out of the rain. He greets the ballroom with his usual enthusiasm.

Their American Smooth (Foxtrot) is to ‘Feelin’ Good’ and starts with Jake getting into a face-off with two backing dancers for his woman. Jake is in tails and Janette in red not that we want to take anything from this. They only just get going when the two backing dancers muscle their way back in, lift Janette in the air and throw her into Jake’s arms. As impressive as the move was, I’m not really into all this MACKIN ABAHT with human props. The dance is sexy and punchy and both perform it well in terms of acting the story of the dance, but it does seem to be quite the Janette showcase and Jake doesn’t really get to do an awful lot but act as a Janette stand as she jumps at him and poses around him - what he does get to do, he does well - lifts, turns, posturing etc - but it doesn't seem like there's enough content. It gets a standing ovation though (although it’s BLACKPOOL so I imagine most things will).

Bruno praises the acting and storyline and says Jake is back in the game. Craig praises Jake’s hands and calls it a Herculean performance and says Jake knows the value of ‘stillness’. Yes, because he was standing still most of the time. Darcey praises his catching skills like this is Strictly Come Cricket or something. Len loved the feel and all the judges think he’s back in the game. Is this just a ‘comeback’ because he was due one in the script or was there more to it than I saw? I enjoyed watching the routine a lot, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t see Jake doing that much in it – and I really like Jake and want to see him get out of the rut he’s been in, but even upon watching it over again I don’t quite get what was quite so fantastic about it.

Still, I’m in a minority as both Tess and Zoe reiterate it as a comeback and the scores are 9, 9, 9, 9 for a total of 36 and Craig’s first 9 of the series.

Last week! Sunetra went wrong and cried, and Darcey was nice to her and she cried some more. This week, Brendan is teaching her about Brazil in preparation for the Samba and takes her to a Brazilian restaurant. 

Because Brendan uses this show entirely to live out his 80s fantasies, he opens as Tom Cruise in Cocktail, shaking his thing in front of a gaggle of horny hens in a neon-lit bar. (The music is ‘I Don’t Feel Like Dancing’ which feels like one of those songs that must have been used a thousand times, but apparently has only appeared once before, way back in series 4 for Ray and Camilla’s samba. (Thanks, Ultimate Strictly!). Brendan then goes and sambas with all the other women whilst Sunetra mum-dances on the side like a spare part for a bit. Given we’re now three for three on this extra dancers thing, I’m going to have to accept it, aren’t I? Doesn’t mean I have to like it, mind. When they finally get together, Sunetra gives it plenty of personality but it’s a bit fast for her and she looks like she’s struggling to keep up pace at several points. She is better in the side-by-side parts where she gets to shimmy and pose than in the in-hold parts, which look somewhat clumsy. It’s a shame in the year of the samba that this didn’t work so well – I think Brendan was being a bit ambitious with the music choice and the amount of running around the ballroom that entailed – something more contained might have worked OK. [Samba was never going to be Sunetra's dance, but I wonder if she might have coped with this slightly better had it happened in any other week, on a more managably-sized dancefloor. - Steve] Still she gets to chuck a drink in Brendan’s face at the end like she’s on The X Factor. [Or The Real Housewives Of BLACKPOOL. - Steve]

Craig says it looked a bit heavy and when a moment went wrong it was quite awkward. Brendan snipes ‘funny how that happens on a live show’ – not sure what he’s getting at here. Darcey says her Latin has improved and it was full of energy and party although she needs to work on her technique.  Len says it was the most energetic and vibrant of Sunetra’s Latin dances despite some stumbles. Bruno loves the people in the audience dancing and says it was ‘flirtful’ and sexy with a party mood and Sunetra covers up mistakes up top but needs to be able to do that with her feet.

Over at the ball pool, all the women are in pink Kiss Me Quick cowboy hats and feather boas to be Sunetra’s hen party. Aww. Sunetra can’t believe she’s here and Brendan does his annual thanking the production team speech.  Scores: 6, 8 (Sunetra: ‘Wow, we got an 8 for THAT?!’ Love her.), 8, 8 for a total of 30. Oh, BLACKPOOL.

Simon and Kristina are the fourth couple, with the series’ first Argentine Tango. Tess says it’s her favourite dance and asks Len what they’re looking for. He says the ganchos with the legs, the lifts and the mood of a sleazy nightclub in Buenos Aires. He and Bruno then start to get a bit unnecessary as is their wont and Tess sighs that it doesn’t take much to get them started. Blee.

Last week, Simon had a comeback which surprised him. Their VT shows him struggling with the footwork and the leading. He gets very, very sweaty, too, if you like that sort of thing.

They’re dancing to the Moulin Rouge take on Roxanne and he is in a black velvet suit, with Kristina in purple. For once, there are no extra dancers, and the lighting is all central meaning they don’t have to use the whole dancefloor like the others. In some ways, this gives them a slightly unfair advantage, but in other ways it means the focus is more on them than on the faff, so mistakes would be easier to spot. I don’t think Simon’s a natural at the ‘mean and moody’ acting, but his movement and posture aren’t too bad and the routine overall is pretty good and much better than I expected from him. There are some parts in the middle where he’s looking at Kristina for guidance so I’m not sure if he went wrong or is just a bit nervous, but then the footwork gets more intricate and it ends on a showpiece lift with him holding Kristina upside-down by one arm which earns them a standing ovation and lots of whooping.

Darcey says ‘Wow’ and is glad that he was ‘in charge’ of the dance, at which, Kristina’s ‘bitch please’ face is a joy. Darcey goes on some more about how amazing it was. Len declares it finger-licking good and says the atmosphere of BLACKPOOL is responsible. Bruno calls him the ‘dark Lord of Buenos Aires’. Is that a racialist moment? He loved the atmosphere and thought the climax was spectacular. Craig says it was a bit stiff in places and his hands are like ice-cream scoops (at which Darcey attempts to strangle him). As he advises on technique the audience boo him so he can’t be heard and he clarifies ‘I did love it’. Simon thanks everyone, including his mum, who seems to be in the audience. BAD MOVE SIMON.

In the Ball pool, Simon says it felt amazing and Zoe reminds us that his mum is present in case that’s a premonition. Scores: 8, 10, 10, 10 for a total of 38. Whilst I’ve enjoyed everyone so far tonight, there is a serious case of BLACKPOOL scoring going on.

Coming up: ‘Me, Mark Wright, humble ol’…’ FAST FORWARD.

Tess welcomes us back standing behind Craig and Darcey and Darcey looks so super-awkward I love it. We cut to Judy and Anton, the next couple, then back to the judges where Bruno is scoffing candy floss, Len is picking at it grumpily and Darcey is holding it under her face wondering what she does with it. Craig just sits there serenely going ‘number one in the charts, bitches, I couldn’t care less for comedy posturing’.

Darcey then looks at Tess for guidance (and when Tess is the person you need to steer you right, we’re in trouble) pulls her candy floss out of its container with a confused face and then picks a bit off. There’s some punchline or other about Craig being a donut but it’s clearly something left over from ye olde funtime Bruce Forsythe Craig is so MEEN gag book so let’s move on.

Judy VTs that she loved the storyline last week where she got to be a fierce boss bitch and chuck Anton in jail, but ‘the bits I find difficult are the bits where I have to kind of dance.’ Love Judy Murray so hard. Her VT is soundtracked by Pink’s ‘So What’ which is perfect. Bravo, VT makers. They’re dancing to ‘Let’s Go Fly a Kite’ which will involve ‘kiteography’ – meaning they get to dick about on BLACKPOOL beach wearing woolly hats and wincing at the cold.

They’re dancing a Viennese Waltz and Judy’s in a candy pink ballgown whilst Anton’s in pastel-striped Dick-Van-Dyke jacket and boater. They enter flying a big yellow kite and there are backing dancers and giant props lurking ominously on the stage. Judy accidentally gets bumped into by a young man and then she dances with him and another young male dancer and can actually dance, unlike with Anton. I kind of want Anton to get injured and Tristan or Aljaž to come in as rent-a-pro to see if she’s actually been a ringer all along and all she needed was some toyboy action to spark her to life. [I still lament that Judy wasn't paired with Pasha. Now that would have been a pairing for the ages. - Steve] The moment Anton grabs her, quality declines (maybe she looked better with the other dancers as she was more relaxed than in the ‘main’ section?), although it’s not a disaster. Her footwork isn’t very clean – she’s a bit lumpen and static as usual, but her top line has improved massively and she’s got the rhythm of it for the most part as well as grinning through the spins. It’s lumbered by a pointless static lift slung in because Anton’s decided that’s the way to go, and then she ascends on balloons, hurrah.

Len calls it candy floss – light and fluffy but a little sticky in places, but declares it her best dance so far. Bruno says it was actually recognisable as a Viennese Waltz, sloppy in parts but there’s hope for the future. Craig says it went wrong at the beginning. Anton blames it on an ice-cream cone. Bloody props. Craig says her posture is appalling and the lifts were heavy as lead but she had a good fifteen seconds and it was her personal best. Darcey was pleased that she was travelling and turning and needs to lean out more. Scores: 4, 6, 7, 7 for a total of 24 and their best score yet. Judy laughs that it’s too much for her.

Zoe teases Pixie and Trent going back to ‘Ancient Rome’. Ancient Rome as seen through the lens of 70s sci-fi, presumably. Tess introduces Mark and Karen sitting next to Kacey Ainsworth AKA Little Mo from EastEnders, who is surely due a return to the Square (Impromptu Slater ranking anyone?  Jean/Little Mo/Belinda/Charlie/Big Mo/Zoe/Lynne/Kat/Stacey/Sean). [Hang on, which direction are you going in? Either way, I have severe objections to that ranking... - Steve]

Me Lil’ Ol’ Mark Wright can’t believe he’s going to BLACKPOOL. His cousin Sergio dances a bit like every other child vaguely connected to a celeb has done this series, and sort of teaches him a magic trick because Mark and Karen’s routine is based on magic. Mark tells Sergio he’ll be dressed exactly like him (white shirt, black waistcoat and trews) on Saturday and will do a magic trick for him. Sergio is seriously unimpressed with the whole thing and makes Mark do ‘fifty-two card pick-up’ by sullenly dropping the cards (rather than flinging them everywhere) and bolting out of the rehearsal room as fast as possible.

Their Charleston is to ‘We No Speak Americano’ which will always and forever be Holly and Artem’s music and one of many Artem-hates-Charleston routines. I kind of miss that sullen white toothed tan fan.  Anyway, for this one, Karen is wheeled on in a box by two backing dancers, whilst Mark is a tight-clothed magician (wearing skin-tight black and red braces so… not exactly like Sergio’s outfit). The dancers (not Mark) attempt a poorly-executed ‘woman sawn in half’ trick and then Karen comes out, dressed like Frank-N-Furter, and they get going, accompanied by the dancers for some of it. Now, I know Charleston is a bit sloppy, but Mark is very sloppy and his gurn face isn’t so much Charleston over-acting as yet another iteration of ‘Me Mark Wright Am Happy. Make Open Mouth Smiley Face.’ He looks lost in several places, too. That said, he does try and keep the pace, but his footwork is lumpen and dreadful and he isn’t putting anywhere near enough energy or bend into it. The routine itself is good, but I don’t think he’s up to it – or up for it, whichever. I swear that wasn’t even as good as what Judy did, but I suspect the judges will still be trying to MAKE MARK WRIGHT HAPPEN.

Bruno says he likes a man with plenty of tricks up his sleeve and can’t believe how much Mark has improved. He says he was swift on his feet and comical. Craig says he’s starting to fall in love and Mark bounds over and kisses him. That’s the first time I’ve vaguely liked Mark’s personality. [And even then Ben Cohen did it better. - Steve] Darcey says she’s seen more strengths in him that she doesn’t feel he’s ever going to produce, whatever that means. Len makes a knob gag. Scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 for a total of 36. And I know BLACKPOOL scores are about as valid as Donny scores, but seriously, WHAT THE FUCK? [I feared it might actually get 10s, so I considered this overscoring to be a comparative relief. - Steve]

Pixie and Trent are next and Pixie, with big hair in her VT, jokes she kept last week’s do. Pixie wants them to do fun stuff like donkey riding and not just boring rehearsals. So their BLACKPOOL promo VT involves them being cold and windswept on a big wheel, eating fish ’n’ chips (or holding them, anyway) and a comedy prop sign saying ‘Donkey’s gone south for Winter’ which I am choosing to assume means a donkey, singular, called Donkey, rather than being a grammar abomination. Trent then dresses as a Donkey and sleaze-voices ‘donkey rides for everybody’. So much fan fiction being started with that moment, I betcha.

Their Paso is to ‘Eve of the War’ and Pixie is basically Servalan to Trent’s Avon (LOL Rome what now?), with two kinky leather-clad ‘soldiers’ accompanying their intergalactic foreplay (indeed, the opening has a lot of, um, four-play). Pixie’s snarling paso face is a bit too cutesy, but the kicking is very her and whilst there are clearly some fumbles, they make up for it with dramatic posturing and shaping, flaming torches and the adoption of every 60s and 70s sci-fi and cult B-movie cliché in the costuming (which is amazing, obvs). I love how camp and ridiculous the whole thing was, despite its imperfections, and I never would have thought a couple who started out so seemingly beige could pull out the level of high-concept theming and epic dramaz we’ve had recently in their routines. [I never thought I'd say this, but I think I want Pixie to win? - Steve]

Craig loves it and thinks Pixie’s pretty much invincible. Darcey loves the attack but says she needs to make her upper body as strong as her legs. Len says if she was Blackpool rock, she’d have brilliant written right through. Not, um, BLACKPOOL?  Bruno loved her having three men and wonders if he can borrow one and loved that they had substance even with a big concept.

A breathless Pixie declares how much she loved it in the Ball Pool.  Scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 for a total of 38 and the joint-highest score tonight. Zoe declares Trent a great Spartacus. Anton, Brendan and Kevin then each do the ‘I am Spartacus’ line and then Judy squeaks out ‘I am Spartacus’. Aww, I love the camaraderie between the cast and the way they’ll all do daft things like that. [I know - it was clearly as rehearsed as all hell, but Judy squeaking totally sold it. - Steve]

Steve and Ola now. My seven-year-old goddaughter told me to ‘just wait’ until I saw this routine so I’m not sure whether to be scared or excited by what’s ahead (bearing in mind she liked Dave Myers when he was in this). Their VT is soundtracked by Kylie’s ‘I Was Gonna Cancel’ and having seen the Kiss Me Once tour twice now, I still can’t decide whether or not I wish that had been in the set-list. (Although I would totally have taken it over Beautiful. For why did you do that, Kylie?) The storyline involves Steve checking out the Blackpool wildlife. I thought that was Sunetra’s hen night routine, ho ho. Oh wait, the wildlife is the ‘dancer’ and he spies on all the pros, including the randomers who’ve been on backing duties tonight. [Not entirely random, incidentally - one of them is Trent's wife Gordana. Gordana as new pro for 2015 plz. - Steve]

Their American Smooth (Unspecified) is to ‘Rolling in the Deep’ and involves two of the backing dancers waving around sheets like it’s parachute day in PE (which I assume is what excited my seven-year old friend). Dry ice and blue lighting fills the room as Steve (pinstripe waistcoat and trews) lets Ola (glittery Princess Jasmine-type dress) dance around him and then lifts her, amid a sea of fabric that keeps hiding them. Ola gives him a bit more to do than Janette seemed to give Jake, even though Jake is clearly more capable. Steve copes OK with the spins but his frame is somewhat ungainly and his face looks quite pained in places, and then he ends with a lift and Ola’s skirt falling over his face. I trust and hope James Jordan was suitably outraged on Twitter.

Tess comes over all ‘phwoar, TESS LIKES MANZ’. Good job he’s not a rugby player, eh? Darcey says it was clean but with his physique and strength he can mark things too much and needs a bit more light and shade. Tess gets all giddy about his strength and manliness some more. Len says it showed the smoothness of the dance but like a small man at a urinal, he has to get on his toes. Can we retire him yet? Bruno says he was rolling along and Craig says he was calm and collected.

In the Ball pool, Zoe asks how the guns are holding up and he flexes them and is mobbed by the female pros. Hee. Scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 for a total of 31.

Finally, we have Caroline (dressed as Ginger Spice at the Brits) and Pasha (dressed as a toy soldier). Last week, they were in the bottom two. She goes to see a “clairvoyant” (Pasha in a costume doing his usual bad acting) for reassurance. He tells her she’ll be dancing with a tall handsome guy. She perks up and goes ‘What, Aljaž?’ and Pasha gets all wounded. Boy knows his fanbase (watch those hurt/comfort fics on AO3 increase tenfold). [I'M ON IT. - Steve]

Their jive is to ‘Crocodile Rock’ and involves Caroline running on with two female friends to find three handsome beefeaters, one of whom is Pasha. They dance about trying to get a reaction and then Caroline nicks Pasha’s hat and they dance (as do the backing dancers of course). I love how brazenly she flirts although I bet this makes her a big hate target from certain sections of the audience. Like most dances tonight, it has its technical issues, but the performance and energy are really selling it and her grin is infectious. It’s a very fast and bouncy routine and lots of fun.

Len says if she’s in the dance-off, he’ll run to the end of the pier and dive off naked. I can’t work out if I want them to be in the bottom two just so someone calls him on it, or if that is an image made entirely of DO NOT WANT and I should be pressing the redial button continually, but I suspect the latter. The thought certainly terrifies Pasha. He says ‘you can’t half flick, Flack’ which he has been clearly dying to say all series. Bruno calls her the best of Britannia, says he loves the concept and then shouts RULE BRITANNIA like the, er, Italian that he is. Craig says it was sharp and clean and executed with military precision. Darcey says it was clean and exact, just as THE BOYS said.

They bounce over to the Ball who implores us to vote for Steve and Ola (because they gave out the wrong number earlier, but way to take the shine off Caroline there).  Scores: 9, 9, 9, 10 for a total of 37.

Shall we have a look at that BLACKPOOL-inflated leaderboard then?

Simon and Kristina - 38
Pixie and Trent - 38
Frankie and Kevin - 37
Caroline and Pasha - 37
Jake and Janette - 36
Mark and Karen - 36
Steve and Ola - 31
Sunetra and Brendan - 30
Judy and Anton - 24

Quick recap: BLACKPOOL being cold! Frankie and Kevin taking the 80s back to the 50s! Jake fighting two other men for Janette! Sunetra and Brendan having a drunken party dance! Simon and Kristina being the only people blessed with no bloody backing dancers getting in the way! Judy and Anton flying kites! Mark being sloppy and unconvincing and praised to the hilt again anyway! Pixie and Trent’s big camp retro Roman space opera! Steve and Ola rolling in sheets of fabric! Caroline and Pasha jiving in the most BRITISH way possible!

Tomorrow!  Someone will be going home.  I’d say Sunetra was the most in danger, although Simon does have the disadvantage of a mother in the audience.  We get two musical performances including SHIRLEY BASSEY and some other people who don't have the range.  Join me then!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

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

- Kevin thinks the one week you don't want to go out is pre-BLACKPOOL week, but no-one else seems that bothered.
- Craig giving positive comments to Simon has boosted his confidence, BUT NOT THAT MUCH, less you think he's a CONFIDENT MONSTER.
- Kristina talks to herself a lot.
- The only two pros who’ve ever earned 40 for an Argentine tango are Aliona (with Harry) and Kristina (with Jason).
- The competition question about how many 10s Abbey and Aljaž got last year omits the correct option: D) Too many, FUCKINGDISCOSALSAABOMINATION
- Craig thinks Pixie and Jake are the ones to beat this series.
- The scores are getting lower because the judges are being more mean.  Instead of just, you know, saving high scores until they're merited.  God, they wouldn't pass a QAA inspection for their marking.
- Craig thinks Judy will leave this week.
- Dancing is hard for people with dance training, according to Craig.  
- Craig gave Mark an extra point because Mark gave Craig one of his calendars. ACTUAL BRIBERY SCANDAL.
- Craig went off on the wrong foot on the Thriller dance, and he is happy for us to go back and check it on iPlayer.
- Alison loved her charleston outfit because black is slimming.
- If Alison had made it to BLACKPOOL she would have been dancing to ‘It’s Raining Men’. This is my most-mourned non-dance since Thom’s topless vampire Hallowe’en paso that never was. :(
- Alison wants Jake to win.
- Zoe has vowed to avoid people's mums from now on because of the curse of the mummies.
- Pasha squeezes you extra hard when you’re in the bottom two.
- Pasha will teach you how to do body ripples, but only on a private one-to-one basis. WHERE DO WE SIGN UP?
- BLACKPOOL Tower Ballroom was in huge demand for dancing even during the two world wars.
- Soldiers billeted in BLACKPOOL practising their drills in the ballroom, and it was also used for sewing parachutes in.
- Zoe's grandparents used to dance in the BLACKPOOL tower ballroom.
- Karen Hauer thinks that the quickstep is the first dance where Mark started believing in himself. But not too much, still so humble, can’t quite believe he’s made it this far etc.
- Karen Hardy has been whale-watching in Benidorm.
- Natalie thinks you can teach anyone to dance - but to what level of ability is another question.
- Jake didn’t really enjoy the rumba. It was quite uncomfortable.
- Aljaž has been teaching Jake how to do the swing-and-sway. They make a very cute couple.
- Pixie finds Darcey very inspiring because she’s so classy and elegant.
- Pixie and Trent are going to be Roman gladiators for their paso. Trent made himself a little costume at home, because of course he did.
- Trent's idea of Britishness is a couple called Pat'n'Marge.  Whether Pat is male or female is unspecified but perhaps it's a name thing, rather than a gender thing.
- Trent has danced at BLACKPOOL many times, but not since he was fifteen.
- Aliona is off somewhere on a secret mission for the Christmas special. Has she scored herself another free holiday to Florida?
- Trent and Aliona managed 39 New Yorkers in the pro challenge but incurred three penalties, which puts them on 36, two points behind Pasha and Natalie.
- The pros under-dance to make their partners look better.  At least that's Anton's excuse for his Latin.
- Anton is concerned that he’s running out of body parts to throw Judy around by.
- Anton broke Judy in nice and slowly.  THANKS ZOE FOR RUINING MY BRAIN.
- This time of year is good for gulls in BLACKPOOL.
- Sunetra swallowed two halfpenny coins when she was little. Shame they weren’t Jill Halfpenny coins, then her Latin might’ve been a bit better. (Thank you, we’ll be here all week.)
- Robin’s back has recovered enough for him to teach some teachers how to dance in a special ITT segment.
- As per usual, he’s choreographed a routine that’s well beyond the level of his students.
- One of the teachers is a dead ringer for Sonya from Neighbours.
- Lisa Riley still won’t go away.
- Everything in BLACKPOOL can look really small if you’re not good at it. *eyebrow*
- Kevin’s parents critique his dancing every week.
- Wayne Bridge has also started critiquing Kevin’s dancing based on the rehearsal footage on It Takes Two. Poor Kevin just can’t catch a break.
- Zoe is loving the prevalence of late 70s and early 80s music this series.
- It takes over 350 people to get Strictly to BLACKPOOL but Sunetra and Steve still had to share an earpiece when reporting from there. (Mark and Judy, on the other hand, got one each)
- One of the backstage Strictly crew looks like Andrea from X Factor.
- The BLACKPOOL props are going to be bigger than ever.  Surely that should have been their approach for the cavern that was WEMBLEY.
- Zoe thinks cameramen do lunges to warm up.
- Sunetra calls the Clauditorium/Ballcony/Ball pool the 'where we hang out area'.  Our names are catchier.
- Taxi drivers love the Ball.

- Iveta hosting a backstage segment is a thing that is AMAZING and must happen regularly.
- Iveta calls Vicky Gill 'Dicky'.  The very shade of it.
- Iveta's "sincere listening" face is basically Phoebe Buffay.
- You only notice the BLACKPOOL floor bouncing when lots of people are on it.
- Linda Robson thought Zoe won her series.
- Gareth Malone doesn't think Sunetra is very snappy; Linda Robson doesn't think she will win.
- Gareth Malone's All Star Band did their worst ever rendition on the day they recorded their single.  WAY TO SELL YOURSELVES.
- Gareth Malone doesn't think Mark is a natural performer but Larry Lamb thinks he has the blip bloop needed.
- Pixie and Trent are dancing to the Eve of War from War of the Worlds, the soundtrack of which used to play in the Cleethorpes (which is not Grimsby despite how much this show tries to claim it is) lazer zone, The Labyrinth of Doralia.
- Pixie went to stage school (RINGER) with Linda Robson's school.
- Larry Lamb thinks Steve isn't in the right mileu and he makes Gareth Malone hide behind the sofa.
- Gareth Malone thinks 'Julie' will be leaving, whoever she is.  Linda Robson and Larry Lamb think Judy.
-  Zoe apologised to Julie for them all thinking she would leave.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Cheese, and Hammond toast

Week 7: Top 10 Results - 9 November 2014

It's Remembrance Sunday (thanks Simon!), so inevitably the results show opens with a sepia-filtered dance number for the pros paying tribute to those who gave their lives to fight in the war. (I wonder how they'd feel if they knew that part of their legacy 100 years down the line would be sentimentalised group dances on a light entertainment show and an annual row about TV presenters not wearing poppies?) The female pros are workers in a munitions (at least I assume) factory, with Iveta as the supervisor, staring lovingly at a framed picture of Anton while she waits for news from the front. The idea that Anton would be found fit for military service is possibly the biggest issue for my suspension of disbelief here. (Also, just as an aside, they're dancing to 'Stuff Like That There', which will always for me be the song that gave Kelly Clarkson the moment that basically won American Idol for her right there and then.) Iveta doesn't appear to be very good at her job because everyone's slacking - though at least Aliona, Kristina, Natalie and Ola are trying to look like they're working. Joanne is reading the paper, Janette's just slouching on a desk and Karen's reading a letter from her sweetheart. Not that it really matters, because ultimately they all decided to junk it off and do a jitterbug instead, as I understand was often the practice in wartime. Then all the male pros arrive in service uniforms, and whisk the ladies off for a dance. It's enjoyable enough, and thankfully it's not too on-the-nose for a wartime-themed routine - it's nice to see one where the women are the stars and the men are basically just decoration. (And very nice decoration too, because damn those uniform trousers are tight. Then again, all the trousers seem to be tight this year. Vicky Gill knows her audience.)

The pros disperse, and Tess and Zoe arrive - both dressed in black, as befits a sombre occasion [Poor Claudia.  I hope her daughter recovers soon.  Oh, the OTHER sombre occasion. - Rad]. We're reminded once again that this is the highly important occasion that determines which couple will not join us in BLACKPOOL next week. The judges are brought back on, and Len and Bruno skip on arm-in-arm, making me wonder exactly how much free sherry was available in the green room between shows. Once again, Darcey is wearing a very short and very tight dress so we'll probably all be her honorary gynaecologist during Len's Lens again. Forewarned is forearmed and all that. Oh, and Katherine Jenkins will be here later, so have your finger poised on the mute button.

The recap of Saturday night features numerous references to BLACKPOOL, Jake saying that he's the captain of a boat (ship, Jake. Ship. Don't make me come down there and explain the difference between a ship and a boat to you) [A ship is what involves us imagining Jake having some fun with, let's say Aljaz.  A boat is cockney for face.  An EastEnder should know that - Rad]. The summaries given for certain dances are interesting: Alison's charleston is portrayed with mostly positive comments, as is Steve's paso, while Sunetra's and Jake's setbacks are highlighted. You probably don't need me to tell you how they present Judy. We see Frankie wiping a tear on her way up to the Ballcony, which I admit I missed in yesterday's recap and can only apologise, though Frankie later explains that it was nothing to do with Craig and she just "lost her bearings" (what, from the dancefloor to the Ballcony?). Also having her negative critiques highlighted? Caroline, which is an early indicator that things are not destined to go her way this evening. We get to see Simon being excited about his nines some more, and Pixie and Trent celebrating their first 10 (Donny or otherwise).

Tess has got the cards in her hand, but we're not getting results just yet - first there's a quick glimpse of the leaderboard, and Zoe's planted in the audience next to Jo Joyner from EastEnders and Caroline's mum Christine. Did Caroline not get the memo? (Also, positioned immediately to Zoe's right but apparently not getting to speak tonight: This Morning's Matt Johnson, who's presumably there supporting Alison.) Zoe points out Jo's conflict of interests because as well as being Jake's ex-screen-wife, she was also in No Angels with Sunetra. Zoe asks Jo if she's feeling torn in her loyalties, and Jo says she was for a bit, but now she's backing the girls. Heh. Christine says that she thought Caroline was fabulous last night. I'm beginning to think that Mumchat is not really worth the price of admission sometimes.

Over to Tess now with the first set of results. The following four couples are unequivocally safe and going to BLACKPOOL: Frankie and Kevin (obnoxious screaming from Kevin), Sunetra and Brendan (muted joy from Brendan, apparent shock from Sunetra), Steve and Ola (Ola squeals and jumps for joy and hugs Steve, so apparently their working dynamic isn't that irrevocably tarnished) and Mark and Karen (both make an unseemly amount of noise). The first couple facing the dance-off? Alison and Aljaž. They sprint over to Tess, and Ola reaches out and pats Aljaž on the arm as he rushes past, which I thought was rather sweet. Maybe she's not a demonic bullying monster after all!

Tess asks Alison if she's disappointed, and Alison says that she won't pretend she's not gutted, but "it's one of those things" and "somebody's got to go in the bottom" (hurr hurr). Tess goes to Darcey for guidance, and Darcey advises Alison to just give that joie de vivre that she gave the first time round.

Zoe's got the four safe couples up on the Ballcony, where Sunetra says that she only ever went to BLACKPOOL in the past for candy floss and donkey rides, whereas now if she wants to see an ass and a load of sickly sugar she can just watch Mark and Karen. There follows possibly the most ill-advised moment of the entire series (and that includes choreographing a tango to 'Defying Gravity') where Zoe gives Mark an opportunity to respond to Kevin's impression of him from last week. Mark opens by going off-script and telling Frankie it's fine to cry (Frankie shoots back "that's why I was a bit embarrassed, Mark", which is not bad for off-the-cuff shade), and then attempts an impression of Kevin which a) sounds nothing like Kevin, b) doesn't actually sound like words that Kevin would say, and c) goes for "Grimsby" via "Yorkshire" and "Groundskeeper Willie".

Everyone guffaws politely at this, even though it was terrible, which is probably all the indication that you need that this show is fully behind trying to Make Mark Wright Happen. I grow more convinced with each passing week that he is probably going to oust one of the Big Four from the final (my money's on Caroline, with an outside possibility of Pixie), and all I can say that if he does get that far, then I will be powervoting so hard for whoever has the best chance of beating him, because I will not stand idly by and let another Clancy happen. Not two years in a row.

Oh, and Steve says some stuff about how much he really likes his jacket.

Obligatory Remembrance Sunday Stuff: some of the Strictly stars go to Trafalgar Square to collect money for the British Legion. Darcey gives us some spiel about the Everyman statue that serves as a tribute to all of the men (and women, although given that it's called Everyman and not Everyperson I'm guessing the women were a rather late addition to the briefing). The Everyman statue is in a see-through container with poppies blowing all around it and making the whole thing look a bit like The Crystal Maze. Everyone gets to the serious business of collecting for the Poppy Appeal, but Mark makes time to stop and tell the cameras how he just never thought he'd be any good at charity collecting, little Marky No Poppies, etc etc. Frankie mentions that her granddad was in the navy, and Simon looks faintly terrified when cornered by a woman who wants to talk about how this means a lot to her family because her grandfather was captured as a POW at Passchendaele, so all Simon can do is put his arm around her slightly awkwardly and murmur how it means a lot to all of them as well. Then they do a bit of dancing with the assembled tribute-payers, and Darcey declares the whole experience wonderful.

Back in the studio, it's time for Katherine Jenkins to sing 'We'll Gather Lilacs'. I'm sorry, but I've already put myself through Mark Wright this weekend, I'm not sitting through Katherine bloody Jenkins singing like she's gargling Listerine with her nose as well. No, I don't care that Pasha and Ola are waltzing to it. *fast-forwards*

Once that's over, there's still no light at the end of the tunnel as next we must endure Len's Lens. Educational content: Caroline done a développé, Alison done some trenches, Steve done a thrust. Then Zoe accuses Len of twerking at the end of Saturday's show (whatever he was doing, Darcey was making sure she got an eyeful of it. GET IT GURL). Len would like to discuss Jake's arms in his rumba, and Len explains how important the thumb is, and also suggests in some sort of roundabout way that Jake's arms are ungrammatical, which is a bit rich coming from Len. Darcey gushes about Pixie's reverse attitude turn for a bit without ever really saying why she broke the 10 out. Craig discusses the gapping in Sunetra's foxtrot and how in an ideal world she should be conjoined with Brendan. Then we have the obligatory slo-mo shot of Bruno wafting his arms around, and we get a sneak preview of the judges in animated form for their forthcoming Children in Need appearance.

The cards are on the table - or rather, they're in Tess's hands - so let's see who else is in the dance-off. Definitely booked on the coach to BLACKPOOL are: Judy and Anton (Judy's jaw positively unhinges with surprise), Pixie and Trent (quiet relief), Simon and Kristina (Kristina makes enough noise for the both of them), and Jake and Janette (humble thumbs-up and thanks), which means Caroline and Pasha are in the dance-off. Pasha kisses Caroline on the forehead, and honestly I'd quite happily be in the dance-off every week if that's what follows.

Tess asks Caroline how she's feeling, and Caroline is BREEZY, and pleased that she gets to dance a favourite dance again. Tess asks Len if they should work on getting the rise and fall in that he said they lacked earlier, and Len says "no, don't be silly, just get out there and dance, we're going to save you regardless". Not content with that, he goes on about how the British "like an underdog, but I think more we like justice, and there's no justice you being here." I get that that was meant to be reassurance to Caroline, but I'm a bit sick of Len telling me who I can and cannot vote for at this point, because it's not like Len hasn't:

a) dragged Lisa Snowdon well beyond the level that she would've reached on natural talent alone, throwing Austin under the bus in the process
b) routinely overmarked people just for being SPORTSMEN
c) deliberately undermarked Kara twice just to win a pissing contest with Artem
d) been as guilty as anyone else on the panel this year of artificially inflating Mark's scores on more than one occasion
e) said he would have saved Scott Mills in last week's dance off because he did more foxtrot than Alison even though Alison wasn't meant to be doing a foxtrot

So what I'm saying here is we're all guilty of playing favourites and voting with our hearts instead of our heads, but only one of us, Leonard, is actually being paid to give an unbiased judgement based on our expertise. So in conclusion, turn up, put up, and shut up, and don't fucking try to tell me I can't vote for Judy Murray if I damn well want to. 

Up on the Ballcony, Pixie wasn't expecting to get a 10, and also I'm struck by now much her inflection reminds me of Jess from New Girl. Judy hints that her routine may involve a kite next week, and Zoe reveals that Simon will be doing the first Argentine tango of the series. In BLACKPOOL. Jake is not addressed.

And speaking of BLACKPOOL, let's all treat ourselves to a poorly-acted VT where everyone talks about BLACKPOOL! It involves everyone singing along to 'I Do Like To Be Besides The Seaside', where it turns out that Pasha's singing is about as good as his acting (<3) and then it ends with some lulz as Sunetra goes to Paris by accident because she went to the wrong tower. Cuh! Women drivers, EH LADZ?

Zoe and Tess are on the Ballcony/Tess Circle with Caroline and Pasha and Alison and Aljaž. Caroline says that she doesn't think she gave the waltz her best the first time around, so she's quite glad she's getting another shot at it, and Pasha says that he just wants her to melt into the dance. Wink at her again, Pasha, that should sort that out. They head down to the dancefloor, while Tess talks to Alison who says that she doesn't really want to perform this dance again because it's so very fast, but she's just got to do it. Aljaž says he'd love to take Alison to BLACKPOOL, but they've just got to go out there and have fun tonight.

Caroline and Pasha reprise their dance - I'd say it's perhaps a little shakier than the first time, and Caroline doesn't do the reverse-attitude-turn-or-whatever-it-was thing at the end. Alison and Aljaž perform their charleston again, and her energy has dipped a bit since the first outing, but she makes a better fist of supporting Aljaž during the assisted handstand, and it's still delivered with all the pizzazz that Alison always brings. At the end, Caroline and Pasha come over to join them (Pasha actually jazz-handses his way over, which is adorable) and it's hugs all round before they get into position to await their fate. (We don't get to see Pasha and Aljaž hugging, but I'm just going to assume that it happened and nobody can take that away from me.)

Over to the judges then, and it's a clean sweep for Caroline and Pasha, as expected. Tess asks Alison if she's gutted not to make it to BLACKPOOL, and Alison says that Caroline was amazing tonight and she wants her to make it all the way to the finals, and that everyone on the show is amazing, and she's coming to BLACKPOOL anyway whether anyone else likes it or not. Heh. She finishes by saying that anybody considering doing the show should totally do it, regardless of what colour or size they are. Because those are the two things stopping me from competing in Strictly 2015: my colour and my size. Alison adds that she felt like she'd won anyway when she got paired with Aljaž, and thanks him for being so patient and kind and she loves him as a friend. Aljaž says he can't describe how much fun they've had together, and gets all choked up saying that he's going to miss seeing Alison in rehearsals, and that this definitely won't be their last dance.

Zoe reminds us to tune in to her other show on Monday to hear Alison's exit interview, while Tess teases the Children In Need special with extra added Brucie on Friday. Alison and Aljaž have their last on-show dance to 'Miss You Like Crazy'. The post-show chats reveal that Caroline and Alison were good mates, Steve, Mark and Sunetra wistfully reminiscing about the laughter and joy that Alison brought to any room she was in, and Jake, Frankie and Judy talking about BLACKPOOL. Frankie's crying a bit again, bless her. 

Next week: BLACKPOOL. Remember to kiss Rad quick and squeeze her slowly.