Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Thom to say goodbye

Week 5: Top 12 Results - 26 October 2014

Ballroom aficionados look away now: we start with a group number from the professionals, and it's a hoedown to 'Cotton Eye Joe'. Now, I like a man in a plaid shirt as much as the next person, and I can't pretend for a second that it isn't completely adorable for Aljaž to dance the entire routine while chewing on a strand of hay, and I'd have to be blind not to appreciate the value of Kevin and Tristan in tight jeans, but...this is still Strictly Come Dancing, right? And it's not Nashville week or anything? (Although that would be amazing, if they are looking for themes for next year.) It just all seems like a very random idea, even if we were braced for the concept by watching Zoe rehearse the routine on It Takes Two during the week. I warm to the concept halfway through when the song mashes into 'Timber' by Pitbull and Ke$ha, but then I wonder why they couldn't have just done the whole thing to that. Also, this routine was apparently choreographed by MATTFLINTMANIA!, if you're missing him. I'm not, but there you go. [I am fearing hoedown as new dance being introduced by stealth because I assume it's on DWTS.  I assume lots of things about DWTS having never seen it.  It's become this mythical entity of Bristol Palin and theme tune weeks and FKIN DONNY - Rad]

Tess and Claudia enter wearing stetsons, and the lasso guy who kept appearing and doing tricks during the pro number loops them up and drags them across the stage. Tess introduces him as Jimmy Johnson, just as he's leaving (more on this later). Daly Dresswatch: a white jumpsuit with silver decorations around the midriff and a hint of cameltoe. What Winkleman's Wearing: a straightforward black dress with a raised white neck. Tess and Claudia welcome the judges back to the stage, all of whom are wearing stetsons and performing some line-dancing steps, although as always some commit to the concept more than others (I'm sure it will shock you to learn that Craig and Bruno are more invested in this idea than Darcey or Len). Tess introduces them as "the good, the bad, the ugly, and Darcey". I love that Darcey is now essentially the Zoidberg of this particular ensemble. Tess teases the upcoming appearance of Culture Club performing 'Karma Chameleon', which Tess claims is the first single she ever bought. Claudia says that hers was 'Agadoo'. The kids in the audience, meanwhile, are all like "people actually used to buy songs?" [Ah, it's the look my students give me when I talk about records how quaint grandma - Rad]

As always, the results themselves are preceded by a recap of the performance show (imagine how it might feel to have one of those!), now with 100 per cent more Bruno in a golf cart. Points of interest: Kevin and Aljaž in their hoedown outfits with their arms around each other's shoulders (if there isn't slashfic of this already on the internet somewhere then Rule 34 is completely useless), Hot Greg The Floor Manager massaging Steve's shoulders (see above), Kevin videobombing Mark, the word "businesslike" being randomly edited out of the middle of Bruno's comments to Jake (perhaps because it didn't sound as complimentary as Bruno probably intended it to?) and Karen screaming some more about getting a nine.

Before we go to Tess with the results, Claudia's in the audience to chat to the friends and family of this year's contestants. Well, specifically Barbara Windsor (who appears to be growing a spare Boris Johnson in the back of her head) and Jamie Murray. Babs tells Claud that she's known Jake for 20 years and he's a "wonderful, sweet, lovely guy who doesn't get into any of the gossip", and nobody could believe it when they saw dem hips moving. Jamie says his mum is doing brilliantly and having a great time. Claudia: "How sad would you and her be if she left tonight?" Jamie: "I think she'd be more sad than I would." DAYUM. (Fortunately Judy has a healthy sense of humour and is positively hooting at this from her spot on the stage.)

Right, results then. The following five couples are safe and guaranteed a spot in next week's show: Pixie and Trent, Steve and Ola, Sunetra and Brendan, Caroline and Pasha, and Scott and Joanne. The first couple in the dance off is...Thom and Iveta. There's a moderate amount of horror from the studio audience, befitting the revelation that that nice boy who seemed to be doing quite well but you didn't actually care about that much might be going home. Len tells Tess that it's "nonsensical" for Thom to be in the bottom two, since there are "loads" worse than him. Actual number of people who Len scored lower than he did Thom: three. Len of course then goes into his usual rant about people thinking that everyone in the middle of the table is safe and doesn't bother to vote for them, as if this isn't a thing that's been happening for the last two weeks. (Also, let me tell you, you don't get a chance to forget that mid-table is a dangerous position if you follow Deborah Meaden on Twitter, because she really does like to remind people about that.) Len says that Thom's being in the bottom two is "undeserved". Thom says that of course nobody wants to be in this position, but it's a very strong field this year and everyone was great last night, so he's just going to give the dance off his best shot. "We'll do it better, yeah?" Iveta chirps. They've plastered on grins to save face, but they're both clearly a bit gutted that they're not more popular with the public.

The saved couples are up in the Clauditorium, where Claudia says that seeing Scott and Joanne react with shock every time they're saved is her favourite thing. (Personally I'm getting a little bored of it, because they're both so OTT about it. Looking shocked and grateful is one thing, but squealing "REALLY? REALLY?" like Joanne did this week is taking things a bit far for my taste.) Sunetra tells Claudia that she gets her lines muddled at Casualty because she's thinking about Strictly and the other day she said "a possible fatal oversway" instead of "a possible fatal aneurysm". I wouldn't worry, Sunetra - if James Jordan lasted his entire tenure on this show without murdering one of his partners for fucking up, I'm sure Brendan won't do it either.

Then: Culture Club! Boy George has a moustache these days. He's sounding a little underpowered on the vocal front as well - if the backing vocalists weren't there, I'm not sure 'Karma Chameleon' would've had a bridge at all. Then when the chorus kicks in, Kevin and Karen and Aliona and Tristan come out to dance a severely frenetic jive. Seriously, if you though Kevin was looking to take someone's eye out during the promenade section of Frankie's foxtrot, wait until you see this.

After that: Len's Lens. The first item on the agenda is Thom's free arm, which was on his hip most of the time in his cha cha cha. Len wants us to know that he's not saying it was a bad routine, but Thom's free arm should probably have been doing something else. Darcey is enlisted to talk about Mark and Karen, and Darcey's all WOW THE BATUCADAS ARE BRILLIANT LOOK HOW HE'S SELLING IT okay fine it's actually supposed to be turned out and he's not actually doing that at all BUT STILL SUCH WOW FOR TRYING. Thanks Darcey. Craig talks a bit about Pixie's skill with isolation, so if the pop career continues to falter, at least she can be an electrician. Also, we get to see Bruno rolling his eyes at Craig at one point. Also, even though Len's Lens is only supposed to work on Saturdays, there's a brief clip of tonight's show, where apparently right after the camera cut away from Jimmy Johnson saying goodbye to Tess and Claudia, he turned around and tripped over a haybale. I'm not going to say "so staged" or anything but in slow motion it does look kind of deliberate. Here endeth Len's Lens.

Over to Tess to see who Thom and Iveta will be facing in the dance off. In no particular order, these five couples are safe: Jake and Janette, Frankie and Kevin (he calls her "Frankenstein" as they celebrate, which: okay), Alison and Aljaž (she squeals that she definitely thought she was going this week), Judy and Anton, and Mark and Karen. Leaving Mark until very last is brilliantly cruel of the producers because he's clearly on his last nerve throughout this section and bursts into tears when Simon and Kristina are told that they are the ones who'll be in the dance off.

Tess asks Darcey if she's shocked to see Simon here again, and Darcey is once again outraged even though...I mean, once it's happened one time, is it really that much of a shock when it happens again? Anyway, she doesn't think she should be there because he's improved so much over the last two weeks. Tess asks them if they're disappointed, and Simon's all "eh, the public want what they want, I'm not going to cry about it, Mark." Or something.

Up in the Clauditorium, Mark is still sobbing like an actual child. He gasps that he can't actually speak, and oh god, the Mark Wright Comeback Narrative Train is going to be unbearable, isn't it? (Not that I have anything against Mark in particular, but I can see the producers really getting behind him now it's clear that it doesn't actually require much prodding to break him. I have this strange feeling he's going to start getting Clancy Marks for the next few weeks, just to make his inevitable departure that much more resonant.) To cheer Mark up, Claudia asks Judy which Hollywood superstar she channels when she's dancing. The answer is "Sharon Stone", and Mark does indeed laugh, because the idea that Sharon Stone is a Hollywood superstar is hilarious. Mark manages to regain the power of speech long enough to claim that he has some sort of PTSD from being in the bottom two last week, and croaks out a thank you to the people that voted for him. Then Claudia asks Frankie and Jake if they're shocked by who's in the bottom two, and Jake says that the last three weeks have demonstrated that nobody is safe, although I feel pretty confident that Jake, Caroline, Pixie and Frankie are probably safe for a good few weeks yet. [I'm not sure about that.  I reckon at least one (probably a woman after manageddon) will be an actual SHOCK!  BOTTOM TWO! within the next three weeks, betcha - Rad]

Trailer for Hallowe'en week: the celebrities recall some of the judges' harsher comments and run off screaming. Eh.

Dance off time, and Tess and Claudia are both up on the balcony with the two couples who are in jeopardy. Thom tells Claudia that he's not really shocked to be here because everyone else is so good, but he's bonded with everyone here and thinks Simon's amazing, so whatever happens tonight, he's made a true friend. Simon, under his breath: "I wanted to say that first!" Ha! Most likeable Simon has been all series, right there. Simon shoots a "love you, man" at Thom and winks at him (seriously, Rule 34, don't let me down here) and Thom and Iveta are sent down to get into position, but each of them insist on hugging both Simon and Kristina first. Aww. I know Thom does come across a bit like the sort of well-meaning sap who thinks that everyone they've ever met is their best friend, but there does seem to be a real camaraderie among the cast this year, and they do all seem to like each other very much. [I love it.  I'm such a sap for when reality show contestants get on well with each other.  I even think Big Brother 4 was more sweet than boring - Rad] As Thom and Iveta head down to the dancefloor, Tess asks Simon how he's feeling, and Simon says he's still got butterflies, but this was his favourite dance so he's happy he gets another chance to perform it.

Thom and Iveta reprise their cha cha, and ugh, it didn't even occur to me to register that this meant we'd have to listen to 'It's My Party' again. Thom and Iveta are both giving it all they've got, and I think Thom's timing is slightly better second time around, but his footwork is still a bit on the heavy side. When it's over, Iveta gives Thom a hug and a little pat on the back, and then shoots him a "well, we've done all we can" smile which is rather sweet. Then Simon and Kristina reprise their Viennese waltz, and Kristina's going even more overboard than she did the first time around. At least Simon's smile looks a little more 'relaxed and genuine' this time as opposed to the sort of 'fixed and terrified' way it looked before. It is definitely a tough one to call - neither one is perfect, but neither one made any obvious mistakes either.

Over to the judges: Craig says it's a nasty one because he likes both couples equally for different reasons, but he's voting to save Thom and Iveta. Darcey "[doesn't] think we should choose between these two lovely gentlemen". It is your job, Darcey, now suck it up and get on with it. She votes to save Thom and Iveta as well. Bruno says he wants to save both of them because they're good in different ways, but the most polished dance off performance came from Simon and Kristina, so he's voting to save them. Len has the casting vote for the first time this series, and says that you could probably watch both performances again and come to an entirely different conclusion, but he was looking for the most precise footwork, so he's voting to save Simon and Kristina, which means Thom and Iveta are out. They both look stunned, but Thom recovers a little faster than Iveta and awkwardly walks over to give Simon and Kristina a hug.

(Incidentally, there was a rumour on the Digital Spy forums from someone in attendance that Darcey was actually crying at this point. She does look a little bit upset, but I can't see any actual tears - and also the mercenary TV producer inside me thinks that if you had footage of Darcey actually crying about the outcome of a dance off you'd be an idiot not to use it, so I don't know if I'm entirely convinced that this actually happened, but I love the idea so much that I can't help but mention it here anyway.)

Thom says that the whole experience exceeded all of his expectations (a cynic might say perhaps not his expectations of how far he would get, but I don't really want to be that guy right now) - he says that everyone involved in the show does such a fantastic job and makes you feel so confident and it's a joy to be here. He thanks Iveta for being so patient with him, and says that she couldn't have worked harder or given him better choreography. Iveta says that "she wasn't ready for this speech this early" (no, I'm not crying, it's just really dusty in my eyes right now) but she thinks Thom has changed so much "in every single department" and it was a joy to be there to see it happen. She adds that she loved how much Thom was enjoying it, because dancing isn't a job to her, it's her lifestyle and it's her love, "so to see someone else falling in love for the same thing, it was like butter to my heart". I wonder briefly if that's an idiom that lost something in translation from Lithuanian, but whatever the reason, I immediately resolve to add it to my lexicon. Iveta goes on to say that she's loved meeting Thom and he's such a wonderful person, at which point he begs her to stop. Heh.

Thom and Iveta have their last dance to 'I Try' by Macy Gray, and Simon is properly crying with red eyes and everything, and Caroline has her arm around him. It does all seem very solemn, with people lining up to give Thom and Iveta huge, disbelieving hugs. To my immeasurable distress, the show cuts away to the "after the event" VT right as Pasha is going in to hug Thom and seriously WHY WOULD YOU NOT LET ME WATCH THAT? God, it's like this show doesn't even know its audience. (Come on, Rule 34.) VT summary: Alison can't believe Thom won't be around any more, Jake thinks that was a tough choice for the judges and it's only going to get harder each week, Frankie says that everyone thinks they're going home every week, Pixie's excited for her Hallowe'en dance, as are Steve and Sunetra.

So, if you'll grant me the indulgence of editorialising at the end, where did it all go wrong for Thom? As a hunky sportsman with a boyband past, I think a lot of us assumed at the beginning that he'd be a ringer, possibly even the one everyone else needed to beat. But somehow the contestant he was on paper just didn't translate on screen. I don't think he necessarily did anything wrong, just that he took a little bit too long to warm up. [Plus also the Kurse of Kristina which I am convinced is a thing - Rad] I think a lot of viewer allegiances are formed very early on, and Thom did himself no favours by establishing himself in the opening weeks as a mediocre dancer with very little personality. He did develop both as a dancer and as a personality over subsequent weeks, but his persona seemed to essentially boil down to "nice polite man who is always thanking everybody and seems to be gradually improving week-on-week", which is all very nice but doesn't exactly scream "compelling reality TV narrative". You could even argue that Steve was already filling the same niche by that point, and doing it better. I think it was too little too late in Thom's case - by the time he'd got himself into competition mode, everyone else had already got there before him and staked their claim for the voters' affections, so while people might well have liked Thom well enough, he probably wasn't a favourite to that many people.

The sad thing is, as disappointed that I am that he went out this early (because, even taking the fact that I find him immensely attractive out of the equation, I did like him and Iveta as a partnership and I did think Thom had a lot of potential as a dancer), I can't even particularly argue that it was shocking or unfair. He probably did deserve his placing in this week's leaderboard - he just got extremely unlucky that he had a below-par week when nearly everyone else had a pretty good one. Personally I would've saved him over Simon in the dance off, if only for the reason that it seems pretty clear at this point that viewers flat out aren't interested in voting for Simon, whereas this was only Thom's first slip and he still had potential to rebound - but as I said, it was a very close dance off and it really could have gone either way. Really, as sad as I am to lose Thom, I'm even sadder to lose Iveta, especially before we even got to Halloween. I was really looking forward to seeing what the brains behind the spaceman paso doble had in store this year.

Anyway, I'm going to go and have a lot of feelings with my collection of Dieux Du Stade calendars. Rad will be here next week for Hallowe'en, and I'll be back in two weeks when I might just have recovered. Hopefully.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Samba enchanted evening

Week 5: Top 12 Perform - 25 October 2014

Last week: the top 13 took on a non-theme week for a change (and yes, "what the fuck is Donny Osmond doing here?" counts as a theme). Some people did well, others not so well, and there was an OMG SHOCK DANCE-OFF for the second week running after another mid-table bloke who'd done an only-okay routine in an early performance slot ended up dancing for survival. Luckily for Mark (for 'twas he), he was up against Tim Wonnacott, and even though I'd have chosen Tim's (well, Natalie's) paso a hundred times over Mark's bland quickstep, the judges voted to grant Mark a stay of execution, and so we lost Tim. More importantly, we also lost Natalie. I try not to use emoticons in recaps, but I feel it's justified here: :(

This week, even though it's another theme week, the opening VT has decided it's "back to school" week (at the start of half-term, thumbs up to whoever was behind that particular piece of scheduling) for the celebs this week, so we have all of the contestants as the pupils with varying degrees of dedication (Jake's the sarky one at the back, Thom's the dedicated student, Caroline's writing lines on the blackboard) and the pros as their demanding teachers (particularly Pasha, Janette, Karen and Iveta, although it's times like this when I really miss Erin, because she would have been absolutely terrifying). It goes without saying that if Pasha had been my teacher at school, my attention would have been diverted away from the matter at hand every time he turned around to write on the blackboard. (Yes, the blackboard. I am quite old and I went to a school that hadn't even embraced the whiteboard yet, never mind anything more modern than that.)

Titles! Sunetra really did used to have her elbow in some weird places before Brendan taught her how to stand in hold properly.

In the ballroom, Claudia and Tess are escorted in by Aljaž and Kevin, and it gives me no pleasure to say that neither of them is looking their finest this week. By which I mean the boys: Aljaž's hair is all slicked back and oily-looking, while Kevin is wearing a maroon suit that wouldn't out of place on Quentin Crisp. All I can say is: Pasha had better be picking up the slack this week. In terms of Daly Dresswatch and What Winkleman's Wearing, I think this might be the first time in Strictly history that Claudia's outfit is far, far more alarming than Tess's: Tess is wearing an ankle-length red dress with a black belt and black lace at the top, while Claudia is wearing a giant black gown with slashed sleeves that looks like she's turned up in her Elvira costume a week too early. What on earth did Claudia do to upset Vicky Gill?

Claudia and Tess introduce the judges (Claudia refers to them as "the four who score", which I rather like) and Bruno, Darcey, Len and Craig make their entrance. Interestingly, Craig's the only one who's even remotely interested in showing off and twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom as he takes to the stage at this point: the other three just do a bit of half-hearted vogueing and then tromp off to their seats. Following the judges, as they inevitably much, are our remaining Strictly stars: Jake and Janette, Pixie and Trent, Steve and Ola, Judy and Anton, Mark and Karen, Alison and Aljaž, Frankie and Kevin, Caroline and Pasha, Simon and Kristina, Scott and Joanne, Sunetra and Brendan, and Thom and Iveta. Clearly aware that Aljaž and Kevin are poorly attired this week, Pasha and Thom have both opted to get the girls out. In an ideal world I would just freezeframe that and stay here forever, but sadly this recap won't write itself.

Tess reminds us yet again of last week's SHOCKITY SHOCKING DANCE OFF and how it just goes to show you that nobody is safe. I mean, yes, both Mark and Simon were in the dance-off earlier than I expected them to be, but in both cases it happened after disappointing performances in the first half of the show that left them mid-table at best, so pardon me if I still don't seem entirely shocked by it. I'd say we're a week or two away from the point where we usually see someone plummeting into the bottom two from a comfortable second- or third-place position on the leaderboard, and that maybe all involved should save the pearl-clutching until it happens to Frankie, Caroline, Pixie or Jake. (I'd be very surprised if it happened to Jake.)

Anyway, shall we? Jake and Janette are up first this week. Tess says that since they needed to be nimble for their quickstep, Jake suggested that the he and Janette go for a spar, "unfortunately for Janette he didn't mean the sort of spa where you can have a body wrap and a sauna." I'd say that's fairly unfortunate for all of us, because exhibit A:


[RIP Lucy Beale.]

Part of me was hoping that, in the grand tradition of comedy VTs, Jake would actually be taking Janette to Spar and they'd spend the afternoon buying ready meals, Twixs and a copy of We Love Pop magazine, but then I remembered that the last supermarket-related comedy VT I can recall was Jason Donovan twatting around Tesco in a sombrero, so perhaps it's best we never tap that well ever again.

Last week's jive went quite well (apart from the Pamela Stephenson-esque stumble in the middle) and Jake admits that it's as much of a surprise to him as it is to everyone else that he's so good at this dancing lark, but points out that one of the benefits so far has been that people in the street call him "Jake" now, whereas before they were probably shouting "BRANNING SCUM I'LL KILL ALL OF YOU!" He smiles bashfully and says that he's quite enjoying being recognised for his own achievements and not just for bedding every woman in the E20 postal area. It turns out that going sparring was actually Janette's idea anyway, and I mean it's not like I'm looking for Tess Daly's introductory anecdotes to be so robust and well-considered that they could be used as GCSE set texts, but it would be nice if the show itself could go more than a minute without directly contradicting them. They get into the boxing ring together and bounce around a bit, and then do a quickstep in their headguards and boxing gloves, which is still probably 100% less silly than anything anyone had to wear for Movie Week.

They're dancing to 'I'm Still Standing', and...eesh. I mean, I know that coming up with new song choices every week must be difficult, but I feel like there are some that are so intrinsically associated with a particular dance when it comes to Strictly that they really shouldn't ever be used again. I'm more than happy to entertain a debate on which ones qualify for canonisation, but I'd say for starters that 'I'm Still Standing', 'Crazy In Love', 'Hot Hot Hot' and 'You Do Something To Me' should be off-limits in future. The story is that Jake and Janette are commuters who literally bump into each other at "Walford Station" (first of all, it's Walford East, and second of all, let's not kid ourselves that anyone in Albert Square needs to walk further than 100 metres to get to their place of work) and decide to quickstep their way through their anger issues. Janette makes a slightly questionable choreographic decision by opening with a section that is weirdly languid and not the sort of thing I picture when I think of a quickstep, but it does then pick up into a much more fast-paced routine. It's a little skippy in places and Jake's frame's a little loose, but you couldn't squeeze a butter knife between them and on an entirely superficial level I love the happy-puppy look Jake gets on his face whenever he has to do something that's light in tone like this is. Happily, it does not end with thousands of angry District Line users pummelling Jake and Janette to death for preventing them from catching the next available train to Fulham Broadway.

The audience (including Babs Windsor) are on their feet in rapt applause, and Tess welcomes Dave Arch and his incredible orCHEStra (weird emphasis there) while Jake tries to stop hyperventilating. Len tells them that it's "light, bright, fun and fast - everything that the Underground isn't". He admired their footwork and the heel leads, although he noticed that Jake occasionally lost his hold. Bruno praises their body contact and says that the judges are always looking for that (really? REALLY?), but adds that Jake needs to watch his top line. Craig thinks the hold "wasn't too bad", but he thought that sometimes Jake was letting his frame do the dancing, and says that Jake's right foot sometimes turns out more than the left - but he's only being picky because Jake is so good. Darcey closes by saying that the boys are right (IMAGINE THAT!) but she was very impressed with how hard Jake was working, but she encourages him not to show the effort in his shoulders.

Up in the Clauditorium, Jake says that it's a privilege to go first, and he feels very honoured to open the show. Janette says that the judges were right to pick up on Jake's issues with his frame, but she's very happy with the positive comments they did get. Claudia tells us that Jake's adorable kids have got their own leaderboard at home (which I'm pretty positive we've seen before, but I can't remember whether it was here or on It Takes Two) to earn him a few extra DILF points with the viewers at home, and then it's time for the scores: Craig 7, Darcey 8, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 31. Claudia asks Jake if he's disappointed with the seven, and Jake's like "are you nuts, lady? I'm not saying that on camera."

Next up are Sunetra and Brendan with their Viennese waltz. Tess asks Bruno to explain what one of those might be, presumably for the benefit of the few audience members who think it's a type of biscuit. In her VT, Sunetra says that she's very happy with how her salsa went, and she's always very grateful when she gets to stay in another week. They're dancing to 'Anyone Who Had A Heart' by Cilla Black, and I cry "theft!" because that's what I was going to dance my Viennese waltz to, goddammit. Oh well, at least I have a back-up plan ('÷' by Aly & AJ, or possibly 'Boom Bang A Bang' by Bloody Lulu) [I'm after something similar to Anyone Who Had a Heart with Anyone by Roxette - Rad], but just don't expect me to react so calmly if anyone beats me to using Laura Branigan's 'Self Control' for their paso doble. Anyway, back to Sunetra and Brendan: Sunetra is finding all the spinning rather difficult, so Brendan takes her off to a children's playground for acclimatisation training for centrifugal force. Brendan spins Sunetra round and round on the roundabout (while Dead Or Alive's 'You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)' plays on the soundtrack, and you know how much I love my on-the-nose soundtrack choices) and she tries to focus on different points, and also not to projectile vomit in his face. She manages it. Just.

Sunetra's given us some excellent ballroom so far, and this is another one to add to her collection: it's sweetly acted and elegantly danced, although she does start to turn green a little bit towards the end, so maybe she could've used a few more sessions with the roundabout, but perhaps Brendan was getting restless and wanted to go on the slides and swings?

Tess says that she felt dizzy just watching it (I imagine Tess feels dizzy in most scenarios) and Bruno says that Bruno is such a good driver, "like the Lewis Hamilton of ballroom", because he disguises Sunetra's habit of raising her shoulders so well, but Bruno notices nonetheless that she's still doing it. Craig loved the double spin into hold, but warns Sunetra not to look down at her feet when doing turns out of hold. Darcey says that Sunetra is clearly happiest when she's in hold, and says that doing turns with your arms up like Sunetra did is hard even for professionals. Finally Len says that it was terrific - he loved the precision and poise and of course the fleckerl.

They bounce up to the Clauditorium, buoyed by the positive feedback, and Claudia asks if it's true that Sunetra watches herself back on Sunday and has no memory of doing the dance? Sunetra confirms that this is indeed true, and I'd imagine she's probably going to have even less memory of doing this one thanks to the head trauma she received from all those spins. Brendan says that he can't take credit for the choreography because that was all down to Anya Garnis (hi Anya! We miss you!) and then the scores are in: Craig 7, Darcey 7, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 30. Claudia reminds us that Sunetra has a very busy schedule at Casualty and can only train for about 20 minutes a week, and I love that they've basically decided at this point that no one was buying the "Pixie Lott is very busy and important" narrative so they've just moved it over to Sunetra, who can actually back it up.

Up next we have Scott and Joanne, dancing the charleston. Because Scott is playing a photographer in the dance (oy), Tess does a bit of business where she pretends to take a picture of the judges but only if Craig actually smiles. It succeeds not because of Tess, but because Craig can't actually keep up the sternface as long as they need him to without bursting into a fit of the giggles. In his VT, Scott says that he felt like he was progressing until last week, but now he feels like he's back at square one. Oh Scott, that's unfair: you actually got more points in week one than you did last week, so this is more like square minus-one. Scott says that it's demoralising to hear comments like Craig's from last week when he's put so many hours into his training. Their gimmick for this week is that Joanne follows Scott everywhere so they can rehearse whenever he has a spare minute, although I'm sure that the second she heard S Club 7 were reuniting she'd have been down to Radio 1 before you could say "hoochie mamas show your nanas" anyway.

They're dancing to 'Flash, Bang, Wallop', with Scott as a photographer and previously stated, and Joanne as some sort of smirking débutante. The sort of character you could imagine getting one snarky line in Downton Abbey before being cleft in half by Lady Mary. It's a routine that embraces all of the worst of the charleston's excesses: character over content, winking at the camera, throwing in any old shit if it stops you having to actually dance for a few seconds (I swear on my life at one point they are on the floor doing the dance to 'Oops Upside Your Head') [The whole VT had me thinking Joanne had spent too long at the Roadrunner disco - Grimsby represent - as a kid and made me afraid of this dance even before I saw it - Rad]. Scott is trying, but there's no swivel there at all, and there's a cringeworthy moment where Joanne slides through his legs and can't quite get herself back on her feet in time, so a bit that was clearly meant to transition into a showy left ends up merely leading into Scott vaguely picking Joanne off the floor and dangling her for a few seconds before putting her down again. It's just all very regrettable from start to finish.

Craig opens for the judges, saying it was "positively hellacious", that it lacked swivel, his feet never came together, and even a three-year-old could have done it better - but he put some personality into it and it's his best dance to date. I'm not even sure I'd give it that much credit, but maybe they're just trying to avoid spurring people into righteous sympathy voting. Darcey says that he "weirdly pulled this off", and ends up just advising Scott to work on strengthening his core because there's probably not much else you can say at this point. Len says it was fun and entertaining, and he loves that Scott always comes out and tries no matter how much grief he gets. He's being quite well paid to do that, Len. Bruno says that Scott's dance skills are "unique, undefinable and definitely unforgettable", and suggests that Scott could be the love child of Ann Widdecombe and John Sergeant. Ho boy, here comes my lunch again.

Recharged by lukewarm praise, Scott sprints up to the Clauditorium where Claudia tells us that Scott's dad and boyfriend are in the audience and will be very proud, and then tells us all that it was Joanne's birthday yesterday and she'd probably like four 10s from the judges. "That would be nice," says an unconvinced Joanne. Scores: Craig 4, Darcey 5, Len 5, Bruno 5 for a total of 19. Scott reassures us that he's "loving it" (sure, you definitely don't look like you would rather be keeping an electric chair warm between occupants or anything) and wants to make it through to Hallowe'en week. So that's Scott not going anywhere yet then.

Up next, we have Thom and Iveta. Thom gives a little half-hearted shoulder shimmy when he hears their names. Bless him, he is trying to be a bit more present, little by little. Thom was very pleased with his foxtrot last week because it was the first time he didn't make a mistake. He was also pleased to have his brother in the audience, because they're very close. This week he's got the cha cha cha, and Thom decides it's time to actually introduce Iveta to his brother Max. Iveta becomes the envy of every man who's ever bought a copy of Attitude by sitting between the two of them and asking them questions like who's the better rugby player, have you always been competitive, which one's the top, etc etc. Iveta makes them arm wrestle, just for her personal enjoyment, and Thom wins. Then she decides to see who the better dancer is, and the pair of giant goobers do the routine to *NSYNC's 'Bye Bye Bye' for her, and then they high-five each other afterwards. Neither one looks remotely embarrassed about this, in fact they look quite proud of it, and that only makes me love these dorks even more. Max says that he's very proud of everything Thom's achieved so far and encourages him to keep going. I love how "awkward visits with the family" seems to be a running gag for this year, what with Trent considering faking the death of a loved one to get out of an evening with the Lotts, and now Iveta sitting between Thom and his brother and starting to wonder if she is in fact surplus to requirements. To the dancefloor!

Their cha cha cha is to 'It's My Party' by Jessie J (ugh), and it's another sign of how much Thom's improved since the early weeks. His dancing may still not be terribly precise, but in terms of sheer presence and performance he's like a different person at this point. There's a lot of grinding and pelvic thrusting which is all very nice, but there are some moments where it doesn't feel like Iveta has given Thom all that much to do - or at least she hasn't taught him properly how to gloss over it if he hasn't got much to do. Also it could do with a bit more hip movement. But it does end with a bit where Iveta does a back bend over Thom's knee and it looks like fireworks are shooting out of her mimsy, and I'm always down for that.

The audience are on their feet again, and Tess tells Thom that he's improved so much. Darcey tells him that she could see him slightly overwhelmed at the beginning, but he warmed into it - which is impressive because the cha cha cha is a very technical dance (*twitch*) and it's even harder for the boys (*twitch twitch*) [Is there a single sodding dance that isn't hard for TEH MENZ?  Is there anything women are allowed to find hard? - Rad], but he upped his performance and came out with plenty of energy. Len says that he felt Thom didn't quite know what to do with his arms, and his feet occasionally lacked conviction, but having said that, he came out and performed it strongly and gave it lots of hip action. Bruno calls him "the toyboy for any occasion, he goes with everything!" Oh Bruno, that's no way to talk about Kelly Brook. Bruno says that Thom's personality keeps expanding over the last few weeks and he's coming alive, and that this was a good performance, but sometimes his feet weren't quite right and it looks more like a salsa-samba-disco. So I think what Bruno's saying is that if Thom were Abbey Clancy he'd be getting 10s right now. Craig thought it was pigeon-toed and that Thom needs to have a straighter leg, but he thinks Thom's rhythm is very good and he's "quite marvellous at grinding".

Up in the Clauditorium, Claudia tells us that Thom's mum Sally is here from Portugal, and Thom waves to his mum and then, without missing a beat, tells Claudia she looks lovely. Claudia melts into a puddle of goo. Thom admits that he messed up a few steps, but that he's just trying to up his performance level every week, and hopes he'll get another chance to dance. Claudia tells us that Thom's not competitive with any of the other dancers, just with himself. Thom says that he's always been that way, and I imagine that approach didn't sit well with the rest of his rugby team. Scores are in: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 27. Hmm. Considering he's in THE DEATH SLOT (there's always been at least one couple in the dance off every week who performed somewhere between second and fourth), I'm worried a score like that might put him in danger.

Frankie and Kevin are next, and I should probably warn you: IMPENDING CUTE ALERT. (And I don't mean Kevin.) (Well, maybe I do a bit.) Frankie's pleased that she did well again last week, because she was really "unconfident" about her cha cha cha, but still got 32 for it. This week they have the foxtrot, but let's not waste our time with trivialities like dancing when we have COOT to deal with, because Frankie's husband Wayne has brought their son Parker along to rehearsals. Parker is adorable. And not just in that "all babies are cute" way, but in the "has a brilliantly expressive face and is just generally precious" way. Parker plays with a balloon and crawls around the training room with a big grin on his face and seriously WHY WILL MY BBC ID NOT LET ME VOTE FOR PARKER?

Over to Frankie and Kevin's foxtrot, to 'Daydream Believer'. Now, let me be clear: I love Kevin. I think Kevin is great. I don't always agree with all of his decisions, but I think his instincts on what will work well for his partner are generally pretty on point. So it pains me to say that I...don't really like this routine. It's not the dancing because Frankie is as polished as ever, and keeps up with him every step of the way. It's just the theming, where they're a couple having a picnic under a rainbow and they're so impossibly in love that they just start skipping across the room and...no. It's too sweet. It's saccharine. It's twee. And there's a bit where they just zip across the length of the dancefloor waving their arms like they're trying to attract passing helicopters and Kevin has his face all scrunched up and CALM DOWN, KEVIN. I like Frankie, and I like Kevin, but I don't like this. (Kevin's arse looks cracking as always, though, so it's not all bad.) It ends, and Kevin exclaims "that was awesome!", so maybe I'm on my own here.

Tess coos over Series 12 Breakout Star Parker Bridge and suggest he's a future Strictly star in the making. Maybe he can be the youngest pro ever? He can't be any worse than Jared Murillo, etc. (Poor Jared. I think he gets more stick than he necessarily deserves, but he was also the easiest punchline there, and sometimes you just have to go with what life gives you.) Tess points out that this is Frankie's first ballroom dance since week one, and Len says he's really missed seeing her in ballroom - she had lovely fluid movement throughout, but she just needs to work harder on getting her upper body away from Kevin. Kevin: "She's only human, Len!" Bruno liked the contrast of the coyness of the opening and the showbiz mid-section, and he liked the foxtrot content, but he wants Frankie to arch her back a bit more. Craig thought the opening was sweet and it was a very wholesome performance, but agrees that Frankie needs to push her top line. Darcey says that "the boys are right" (sigh), Frankie looks too comfortable in her top line. Hang on, didn't Jake look too uncomfortable in his? Where exactly is the perfect mid-point? I'm so confused.

Naturally, the hot topic of conversation in the Clauditorium is Series 12 Breakout Star Parker Bridge, and Claudia volunteers the entire rest of the cast for babysitting duty. Frankie, with the weariness of someone who's there for all of the moments of her child's life and not just the telegenic ones, says they can have him whenever they like. Kevin says that he's tried eating cheese and onion crisps to make Frankie arch her back more, but it turns out she quite likes them. Scores: 8s all round, again, for a total of 32, again.

Alison and Aljaž are up next, and Tess comments that Alison's having a wonderful time on the show, before saying that nudge-nudge-wink-wink Alison's been living the life of Riley. Oh god, we all know what's coming, don't we? Look, just stay with me - nobody try to break away, nobody try to be a hero, and we'll get through this together. Alison loved doing her samba last week, and Aljaž loved how they got the party started. Alison confesses that she's feeling quite fatigued, and she wasn't expecting to get this tired, so Aljaž tells her he's going to bring in a previous contestant for a pep talk. Yep, it's Lisa Riley, whose start-well-and-then-totally-flatline narrative Alison has been following so closely. Lisa says that her aches and pains just made her work harder, and gives Alison some tips on how to achieve that proper ballroom stance. Good grief, technical advice from Lisa Riley. Presumably this is the first of a series of masterclasses; the others include:
  • Learn To Samba The Widdy Way!
  • Accepting Your Elimination Gracefully With Jan Ravens
  • Scott Maslen's Stamina For Success
  • Tess Daly's Guide To Landing A Punchline
  • A Comprehensive Approach To Latin American Choreography With Anton Du Beke
Alison and Aljaž are dancing the tango this week; I'm not familiar with the song but Wikipedia assures me it's 'Addicted To You' by Avicii. I'm not really a fan of this "club music for tangos" approach this year (Caroline and Pasha were similarly afflicted), and as much as I enjoy Alison, I'm starting to question whether she's ever likely to improve that much. There's some good acting going on here, and in general I'm fine with most things that are going on above the waist (the hold could do with being a little firmer, but it's not her greatest problem by a long stretch), but her footwork is just not delivering, in this number particularly. [I agree.  I love Alison but I really don't know if she has anywhere to go - Rad]

Afterwards, Alison has a bit of a giggle with Tess about how they've both turned up in red tonight, and Tess congratulates Alison on managing a good tango face after saying all week that she was struggling with it. Bruno says he can see the effort that she's putting in, and she changed her whole persona, and that's all stuff that he loves, but she needs to be much sharper in her movements. Craig thought it lacked drama and was very soft around the ages, and she took forever to get into hold. Alison says that she listens to Craig and she takes on board everything he says. Darcey says that it does need to be crisper and cleaner, but Alison did look in control of it, and she did love the storytelling. Len tells Alison not to take on board what Craig says, because "it'll set you back weeks". He agrees that it took a while to get started, but he thinks Aljaž is getting the best out of Alison, and he thought there was actually some drama going on.

Claudia asks Alison if she enjoyed this new persona, and Alison said she found it hard to be cold with Aljaž because she wanted to hug him straight away. Scores: Craig 5, Darcey 6, Len 6, Bruno 6 for a total of 23. Claudia declares that the judges always get strict in week five. This time last year they gave out six nines in the first two performances alone, so I'm not entirely convinced by that.

After a brief trailer of dances yet to come, it's time to return to Tess on the dancefloor, where Claudia suddenly appears behind her with a sheet over her head going "WOOOOOO!" and Tess has to remind her that Hallowe'en is in fact next week [Which means it's my turn for a theme week o yay.  Still, better Hallowe'en than Movie week or FUCKING BLACKPOOL SLASH WEMBLEY - Rad]. Again, it's Claudia's commitment that sells this: I for one was deeply moved by the plight of Ballroom Ghost and found myself empathising with him or her. Claudia returns with some plastic fangs, while Tess introduces Mark and Karen. Or at least attempts to, while Claudia removes the fangs from her mouth and tries to insert them into Tess's, screaming "put them in!" How much Claudia/Tess fanfic is there on AO3 right now, does anyone know? Not as much as there should be, I'm guessing.

Last week, of course, Mark was in the dance-off and everyone huffed about how he "shouldn't have been there". In training, Karen is worried that he's lost his confidence, so she takes him out clubbing in Essex to have a dance off of their own with his mates. Mark has some TOP BANTZ WIV MATEZ (which basically amounts to "you're good but you're no Thom Evans", and I really think Mark's mates could try harder than that) [Are his mates from the OWIE as well, or just some randoms? - Rad] and as the dance-off intensifies, Mark admits that he "even pulled the worm out". Well, that'll probably get you a 10 from Bruno. Mark says that he's feeling better now and he's just going to give it his best shot on Saturday.

They're dancing to 'That's The Way (I Like It)' by KC And The Sunshine Band, and Mark starts atop the judges desk, shaking his ass but not really moving his hips all that much. Karen arrives and vamps like mad, rivalling Kristina, Kevin and Iveta this week for the position of "professional dancer determined to make this dance happen by sheer force of will if nothing else". It's a much better performance than Mark's quickstep from last week, and he seems to be enjoying it, but it suffers from a lot of the standard Bloke Latin problems in that the hips aren't really going anywhere, it's all a bit placed and deliberate, and there's not as much bounce action as I would like. Also, his trouser legs are really flappy and I'm finding that really offputting, but I accept that might just be a problem for me alone. Mark attempts some batucadas, and all credit to him for having a go, but again the hips are a bit too static for me to be impressed. To conclude: it's a good routine, danced with energy, and a significant rebound from last week, but not really as impressive as everyone's about to pretend it is. [Also, as much as I quite liked it, I think the show should really get to grips with the fact that neither Karen or Mark were ever likely to get the public vote, even less so when paired, so them hitting bottom two - which I expect them to do again next week TBH - was hardly a surprise - Rad]

Craig says that he "could've done without all the vulgar gyration" (which he seemed to like when Thom was doing it 20 minutes ago, but Craig seems to veer between old maid and horndog as and when it suits him). He says that the samba is really difficult for male celebs (sigh) but Mark did it brilliantly. He loved the shimmies and the tricks, but thought it needed a bit more bounce. Darcey slurs that Mark's hips know how to party, and says that he was "stuck in the Seventies". I only watched The Only Way Is Essex for about two series, but most of the men in it seemed a good five or so decades behind the times, at least in terms of Joey Essex's fashion sense and Mario Falcone's attitude towards women. Len thinks Mark did exactly what he had to do post-dance off: come back the next week and do your best dance. Bruno says he now understands why Brazilians are huge in Essex and offers up a heartfelt "well done" for the actual dancing.

In the Clauditorium, Mark says that being in the dance off last week was "like the last day of the best holiday of your life". What, even better than Marbs? Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 33. Karen's reaction to Darcey's score is priceless - it's equal parts shock (I thought this might have been the first nine she'd ever actually received on the show, given the general standard of her celebrity partners, but I checked back and Nicky Byrne got 36 for his charleston) and utter incomprehension. I imagine my face must have looked pretty similar: go home, Darcey, you are drunk. Karen's lost for words when the total score comes up, and Mark rather sweetly tells her that she should be proud because it was her routine.

And speaking of previous victims of a lacklustre public vote, it's time for Simon and Kristina. After mounting a successful charleston-based comeback last week, Simon's feeling a bit better this week. He's drawn the Viennese waltz this week, but because he's off on tour with Blue again, Kristina is "worried" (for VT purposes) that they won't have enough training time. Oddly enough, they reach the exact same conclusion that Frankie and Kevin reached when faced with the exact same problem: Kristina goes to practice with him at the concert venue. Simon gets a bit of stick from the backstage crew, and Antony Costa tries to attract the attention of casting agents by doing a Bruno impression. The boys in Blue say that, all things considered, they think Simon's doing very well with his training.

They're dancing to 'Somebody To Love', and the floor is awash with dry ice, so good luck any diehard ballroom analysts looking out to see if he's doing heel leads or not. Kristina earns my ire by becoming the latest Janey-come-lately to steal The Patented Natalie Lowe Head Roll to use for her own ends, and as for the rest of the routine, it's a bit limp, and when the smoke eventually clears, Simon's footwork looks rather skippy to my eyes.

Darcey says that Simon became an "elegant, suave gentleman" and was impressed with the improvement in his posture, but would've liked it to be smoother across the floor. Len says that Simon did look classy, but he didn't find the performance overly classy - it was hectic at times, and it lacked the lyrical movement that Len was looking for. But it's a hard dance (egad) and Simon did well with his frame. Bruno says that if Simon does the dance again, he needs to learn not to bounce on the count of one. Craig tells Simon that his right thumb was up, and then grimly states the the others have said it all. Tess Daly, Room-Reader Extraordinaire: "Oh, well if that's his only complaint from the picky one, that's not bad!

Claudia says that she saw Simon telling Zoe on It Takes Two that this is his favourite dance, and Simon says that where he's from, they don't get to do this. Claudia: "Where are you from?" Simon: "...Manchester?" Claudia tries to get a bit playful with this, saying that she asked in case it's a special place that's allergic to the waltz, but Simon's not really in the mood for banter, because he's from Moss Side and is actually being quite earnest here about not having that many opportunities in his life as far as ballroom dancing goes. She comes across as condescending, he comes across as chippy, it's not a great moment for anyone involved, so let's just move on. Claudia asks Kristina if she thought it was skippy, and Kristina bats away the question by saying that she just enjoyed the routine so much. Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 7, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 28. Simon says that he's happy with that score, and admits he was expecting lower. Claudia does her deadpan delivery of some Queen song titles while reading the terms and conditions because that's a thing that she does brilliantly. Tess then picks things up with a dropped Queen song of her own and...oh look, is that the time, I really must be going.

Judy and Anton are next with their charleston. Tess calls it "a rubber dance" and points out that Jamie Murray is in the audience tonight. If I know anything about the Murray offspring, they won't want to think about their mother and rubbers in any context. Judy enjoyed last week's tango, and says that getting a four from Craig was the highest score she's ever had from him. Her goal is to get a little bit better each week, she says. Judy's concerned about getting the facial expressions right for her charleston, so she and Anton act out some silent movie scenarios in which she once again proves herself to be surprisingly deft, comedically. If Dance Judy ever learns to be as much fun as VT Judy, she could be unstoppable.

They're dancing to 'Varsity Drag', sitting in a rowing boat, and Anton is in cricket whites for reasons that are never clearly explained. If, like me, you thought of "rigor mortis" Judy doing a charleston and were expecting a trainwreck, then I can only report that she's...actually not that bad. I mean, I can't pretend there's any swivel in here at all, but she's surprisingly supple considering how rigid she's been in all of her other dances. More to the point, she finally looks like she's actually having fun out there. She and Anton aren't in sync for very much of it, but she's just so game throughout and giving it so much energy that I'm really quite pleasantly surprised here. At the end, we cut to the Clauditorium where, if her frantically-waving arms are anything to go by, Sunetra really enjoyed that. I knew I liked her.

Len thinks she's "gone a little bit back this week - not much, just a little bit", but he likes to see her smiling and having fun. Bruno is laughing hysterically and says that it was like the Titanic of charlestons - it was all going so well until they hit the iceberg at the end. Please Bruno, don't talk of the Titanic in Anton's presence - I've already lived through this once and have no desire to repeat it. Craig was worried that Judy would be as wooden as the oars, but he's pleased to see some life in her at long last - there was some good polka action, but there was no swivel and the timing was atrocious. Darcey says that it was wonderful to see her get so involved in the performance, but it was a shame she got out of rhythm in a few places.

Judy gets possibly the best reception of anyone all series up in the Clauditorium, and Claudia makes an intriguingly cryptic comment about how the judges didn't see the rehearsal. Anton does yer typical Anton and claims that they planned to be out of sync with each other all along, because all the other charlestons are done in the right rhythm and it's dull. Judy says that she's having a great time, and everyone cheers Judy for bringing in shortbread, then Judy tells us that there's been a bit of role-reversal because Jamie is now coaching her and telling her which videos to watch on YouTube. Hopefully there weren't any awkward moments where he accidentally emailed her the wrong link. Scores: Craig 3, Darcey 5, Len 5, Bruno 5 for a total of 18. "Undermarked!" cries Brendan, and honestly, any universe in which that got less than Scott's charleston is waist-deep in some sort of Illuminati bullshit, because COME ON. [Word.  I mean, it wasn't great, but it was kind of enjoyable and her best dance by miles, and way better than Scott's. - Rad]

Next up are Caroline and Pasha and Pasha's chest. Tess tells us that they're doing the paso doble this week, which is a very theetrical (sic) dance that requires lots of acting. So for this week's VT, Pasha takes Caroline to the Dominion Theatre in London's West End (and if you want to know something really soppy about me, right outside that theatre is where Chris and I met on our very first date) (to clarify, we weren't going to see We Will Rock You, which is what was on there at the time, it was just a convenient central location to meet where neither of us was likely to get lost) for Caroline to learn how to project her emotions. Yep, that's right: Pasha is teaching Caroline to act. Pasha. Teaching acting. I really should have added that to the list of unlikely masterclasses earlier, shouldn't I? Anyway, Pasha really gets into the role by wearing a black turtleneck and looking like a total pseud, and if you haven't already added "Pretentious Artist Pasha" to your mental list of Dress-Me-Up Pasha accessories, then you're a better person than I am. Anyway, where were we?

Oh, right: the paso doble. They're dancing to 'Live And Let Die', and I can tell Caroline's doing a good job because Pasha's got his chest out and I'm still managing to look at her at least 60 per cent of the time. It's very dramatic and Caroline does the shaping beautifully, even managing a paso face that doesn't make her look psychotic.

Bruno loved the passion and the drama and the feline quality to her movements. "I think I'm turning!" he declares. God, when is Bruno ever not turning? Craig agrees that it was heady and powerful and they used every accent in the music to their advantage. Darcey feigns being struck dumb by Caroline's talent, but let's be honest: it's Darcey, so an inability to form a coherent sentence is unlikely to take anyone by surprise. She does manage to go full yah long enough to inform Caroline that her flamenco arms were "SO YUMMY". Len says he would've liked a bit more shaping on the cape and on the twist turns, but it was a fantastic performance.

Claudia gets all proud teacher with Caroline up in the Clauditorium, addressing Pasha directly to discuss how Caroline doesn't realise just how good she is. Caroline says that she loved it, and she really has to thank Pasha for being the best teacher ever, and Pasha says in turn that it's easy to work with Caroline. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 8, Bruno 9 for a total of 34, knocking Mark and Karen off the top of the leaderboard.

The penultimate couple performing are Steve and Ola. Steve loved the salsa last week because he got to be all dramatic and show off his guns in the lifts. However, all four judges picked him up on his lack of hip action. None of that is relevant this week anyway because they're doing a waltz. As it's their first time doing a proper slow routine, Ola takes him to a tea dance to learn how to be appropriately refined. Steve talks to a selection of ladies at the tea dance to find out how it feels to be led by someone who knows what they're doing. Do I detect a hint of wistfulness in his voice? I'm sure Ola could have called in a favour from James if Steve really wanted to know. Steve dances with the patrons of the tea dance, and everyone seems to enjoy it. There really wasn't much of a story there, to be honest.

They're dancing to 'I Wonder Why' by Curtis Stigers. It starts with a bit of that "in hold but with the man basically spooning the woman" positioning that everyone seems so fond of these days and evolves into some pretty cheesy but essentially sweet and well-delivered choreography. And because it's an Ola Jordan ballroom routine, you'd better believe there are pivots. Oh boy, are there pivots.

Craig loved seeing a gentle, soft side to Steve, but reminds him to get his thumbs down when he's out of hold. Darcey wasn't expecting Steve to master that "grace and elepha--elegance" (oh Darcey) of the waltz, never mind the romance. She's also impressed that he's worked very hard on controlling his core, and she thinks Steve led Ola around the floor effortlessly. Len loved the footwork, but he thought Steve crunched in a bit too much in the pivots. Finally, Bruno says that Steve has become a romantic lead and he's done a "proper, no gimmick waltz". He's also pleased that Ola's got Steve's shoulders under control this week.

Claudia tells Steve that after Craig's comments, he "looked like a three-year-old about to eat a massive chocolate cake". Doesn't Steve kind of always look like that, though? Steve says that he wasn't sure what to expect because this routine was so very different from everything he's done before. He praises Ola for her choreography, and she tells him well done for his delivery of it. Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 8, Len 7, Bruno 8 for a total of 30.

Closing the night are Pixie and Trent. Pixie loved doing her rumba last week, and we get to relive her little sob at the end in washed-out tones all over again. This week they've got the samba, and Trent has cast Pixie as a singer in a café, so Pixie decides to take Trent along to an open mic night where she sings 'Copacabana' by herself and then makes Trent duet on 'Stay With Me'. Trent looks about as comfortable singing as he did meeting her family. It's quite fun at this point how Trent has such a laid-back relaxed attitude in training but always becomes so very self-conscious when they ask him to do anything even remotely cheesy for comedy VT purposes. I can't wait to see how he copes with Hallowe'en week.

They're dancing to 'I Yi Yi Yi Yi (I Like You Very Much)', and Pixie opens by shaking her maracas. This isn't an innuendo; she is literally shaking her maracas. However, then she puts the instruments down and starts shaking her more metaphorical maracas. I may not be Pixie's greatest fan, but I really like this routine - I think it works for her because she can just camp it up massively and really go to town on it, so she looks probably the most relaxed and comfortable she's looked all series. And beyond that, it just seems to be a good natural fit for her as a style of dance anyway - she takes to all the samba rolls and the double-bounce like she's been doing it all her life. (Feel free to have your ringer conversation at this point.) There are a couple of points where the bouncing is a little jerky, but other than that, this is a great routine. Arguably the first routine of Pixie's that I can see myself voluntarily rewatching once the series is over.

Darcey says that Pixie was like a new-age Carmen Miranda, and she loved how Pixie didn't hold back. Len says that it was a proper carnival dance full of fun and energy, and they were both terrific. Bruno says that she's ending the night on a high with a high-camp extravaganza. Or at least she will do when he takes her off down G-A-Y afterwards. Craig says of her shimmies at the beginning that he's "never seen beading move so fast". He says that her isolation was excellent, and the whole number was amazing.

As they trot up the stairs to the Clauditorum, Pixie's babbling excitedly: something about how she "didn't even know what was going on" but she's not really miced properly so I can't make out the whole thing. Claudia wants to have a closer look at the outfit, and asks Pixie if it was terrifying to close the show. Pixie agrees that it was, and repeats that she doesn't really know what just happened. Claudia: "It happened. That's all you need to know." Heh. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 35. "I yi yi yi yi like it!" declares Trent. Bless.

Leaderboard?

1. Pixie & Trent - 35
2. Caroline & Pasha - 34
3. Mark & Karen - 33
4. Frankie & Kevin - 32
5. Jake & Janette - 31
6=. Sunetra & Brendan - 30
6=. Steve & Ola - 30
8. Simon & Kristina - 28
9. Thom & Iveta - 27
10. Alison & Aljaž - 23
11. Scott & Joanne - 19
12. Judy & Anton - 18

So obviously since this recap is later than usual being posted, we all know what the result was this week, but I don't like to cross the timelines so I shall just post my actual prediction that I made on Twitter at this point during Saturday's show and leave it at that.

Claudia gets everyone to declare the voting lines open together, which backfires slightly when Alison is a little quick off the mark. Quick reminder, anyone? Jake's sprightly quickstep. Sunetra's graceful Viennese waltz. Scott's hot mess charleston. Thom's slightly stilted cha cha. Frankie's sugary quickstep. Alison's atmospheric but sloppy tango. Mark's comeback samba. Simon's underrehearsed Viennese waltz. Judy's surprisingly spry charleston. Caroline's dynamic paso (and Pasha's exposed chest). Steve's schmaltzy but sweet waltz. Pixie's show-stopping samba.

Tess teases an appearance from Culture Club in this week's results show, as well as the professional dancers having the hoedown that we saw Zoe rehearsing on It Takes Two. We'll bring you all of that as soon as possible - hopefully tomorrow, assuming that still gives me time to work, sleep and eat.

Friday, 24 October 2014

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

- Pixie is naughty. (So says Tim.)
- Craig went out dancing with some of the cast at the weekend and they all bonded. Zoe is hurt that she wasn’t invited.
- Craig does not wish to retract his comments about Scott from this Saturday.
- Sunetra was not familiar with the Viennese waltz before this week.
- Frankie can (just about) make balloon animals.
- Craig is desperate to give Pixie a 9.
- Tim is hoping to keep his paso outfit, because it’d be very good for Christmas.
- The main differences in Tim since he started on Strictly are that he now has a neck, and he has fewer chins.
- Mark’s tactics for learning how to do the salsa pretty much amount to “watch Jake”.
- Karen Hauer enjoys making puns around Mark’s surname.
- Karen Hardy is worried that Khoreography Korner doesn’t have as many fans as she thought it did, or that if it does, they just aren’t listening to her. Imagine!
- Janette is reasonably confident that she could turn Jake into a professional dancer: “he’s already got enough shoes.”
- Scott does not believe he is going to win this competition.
- The dancing children are still out there. We cannot rest until they have been stopped.
- Thom likes to try out different accents during training.
- Iveta is not great at recognising specific British regional accents. (Then again, Thom is not great at doing them either.)
- Judy and Anton’s training footage got stuck on a plane that was delayed by the aftermath of Hurricane Gonzalo. That old excuse, eh?
- Alison is training in wellies, for some reason.
- During their salsa training, Iveta elbowed Thom in the face. This taught him not to put his head in the wrong area, which will surely serve him well the next time he does a homoerotic photoshoot.
- Thom’s favourite outfit from the series so far has been his sailor outfit, hands down. (I’d like to get my hands down Thom’s sailor outfit, etc.)
- Steve thinks he can’t be emotional because he is a BLOKEY BLOKE. It’s like the last nine series never even happened, isn’t it?
- Costume-wise, red and black are the favoured colours, so there’s a race every week to see who gets to wear those. (But is there a rush for the men to see who gets to wear those ass-enhancing white trousers? Strictly Come Bitching insists: We must be told.)
- The celebs don’t find out what they’re wearing until Vicky Gill announces it on It Takes Two.
- Alison’s eye make-up alone took an hour last week.
- Alison is sorry to anyone who doesn’t like her constant cackling. (Don’t apologise, Alison. It’s the best cackle this show has heard since Alesha left.)
- Iveta will be wearing a very heavy outfit this weekend. 
- Judy’s mum Shirley makes shortbread, which Judy brings in to share with everyone every Friday.
- Zoe finds it hard to tell when Pasha is being truthful.
- Pasha is “quite stubborn and will never take it out”, according to Caroline. Sounds good to me.
- Simon will be channeling Aljaž in his dance this week. (Whether he has the ass for it remains to be seen.)
- Jamie Murray will be in the audience this week, but Andy Murray will not because he won at the tennis. No offence, Jamie, but your discomfort is not what we’re all here for.
- Everyone on the crew was really excited to have Jane McDonald on the Friday panel. It’s almost like this show is made by gays or something.
- Rufus Hound believes he is “the reigning champion” because he won the Christmas special. Genuinely struggling to determine if he’d be worse than Clancy or not.
- Marian Keyes might be the only person in the world whose obsession with Pasha is more out of control than ours.
- Jane McDonald fancies Kevin.
- God, SHUT UP, RUFUS HOUND.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Timmy Time (to go home)

Week 4: Top 13 Results - Sunday 19 October

Last night! Everyone was adorable! Nobody danced without error, but a lot of the dances were enjoyable anyway!

We open with a pro-dance to 'Counting Stars' that begins with Ola and Pasha dancing against a door, pretty much recreating Kevin and Joanne’s much-maligned bedroom Spice Girls tango from the other week. Speaking of things that were criticised in the past, Janette’s swinging from the ceiling again although at least this time she doesn’t look like she’s been hanged. She does, however, appear to fall off a rope ladder. Ropey beginnings (ho ho) aside, this Latin mega-mix dance is quite enjoyable – fast, sexy, frenetic and long enough to enjoy, but short enough not to outstay its welcome. The make-up is decidedly odd though, all black squiggles and scrawls.

Daly Dresswatch: white. Badly cut around the bust, cut so low but square it makes her look like her breasts are at her stomach. It was too good to last really. What Winkleman’s Wearing: a badly fitting sparkly blue thing. The judges waft on (except Darcey who sort of struts about) and Tess and Claudia tell us to get excited about Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett coming on, but to worry because Len’s Lens is still a thing. There’s also a joke about Len wearing a meat dress and my mental eyes will never recover.

Recap of last night featuring bonus backstage footage! Of note: Scott accidentally (or "accidentally") walking into someone’s dressing room. But whose? Could we get a Freedom of Information Act request to find out? Scott also seems a bit upset to be the comedy contestant and like he actually does want to be able to dance, despite his natural inability. Mark is "static" overall. I thought that was Judy’s schtick. Kevin calls Frankie "Frankenstein".  I so hope that’s a theme for their Halloween routine. Janette thinks Elvis Presley is the king of Saturday night (and also that Jake is like him). 

First set of results.  Safe are: Thom and Iveta; Sunetra and Brendan; Caroline and Pasha; Simon and Kristina; Judy and Anton. The first couple in the dance off? Mark and Karen. Bruno gets huffy about this, but does this count as a shock bottom two?  I mean, maybe, if Simon and Kristina did, but I judge this as simply the public’s revenge for Donny/Superman (/general lack of public interest in Karen coupled with someone from an ITV2 show who is probably not that familiar to at least a medium-sized proportion of the viewership and, if Simon can’t get a decent enough segment of the vote, Mark was probably never likely to). [Agreed. Looking at the leaderboard this week, I did think Mark might be in trouble. Also, I feel like the judges are playing their chagrin card too early, because surely it can't be that much longer until Frankie/Pixie/Caroline falls into the bottom two and by that point we'll be too outraged out to care. - Steve]

In the Clauditorium, Caroline said it was brilliant and unexpected to top the leaderboard and Simon can’t believe that he’s safe. Also: JUDY AND ANTON ARE DOING THE CHARLESTON NEXT WEEK OMG.

Time for our special guest performers, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. She is dressed in a tinfoil dress with a curly brunette work that is just this shade of looking like she’s put an afro on and is therefore a bit racist. As it is, it does channel Jewish mother from the 70s so is treading a fine line. They’re singing 'Anything Goes' and her voice goes to shit several times although it seems to be deliberate, so I don’t know what's going on, but then, since she did that thing with R Kelly I’ve kind of not cared about her being on my radar – and I suspect most people gave up on her way before that. [Me too, sadly, although I did go away after this and listen to 'Bad Romance' and have a little cry. - Steve] They then go into a version of 'It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)' which is a bit better although they both seem to be singing off an autocue. And their voices do not blend well together at all. Anyway, who cares about the music when you have Natalie Lowe and Trent (sadly not Ian but we take what we can) doing some lovely super-fast American Smooth style ballroom in front of them, which is much more like it. They finish singing and Gaga introduces Tony Bennett in a British accent for some reason, then he her in a manner that suggests they just met in the dressing room, then she (back in an American accent) implores us to clap for Natalie and Trent, which is a good job, given the whole segment would have been dire without them.

Time for Len’s Lens now oh yay.  Thom is getting better, Steve is great, Craig explains an arabesque and a bird flap, Jake’s knees are awesome, Tim’s wafting is rubbish. Yes, despite Caroline, Pixie and Frankie doing remarkably well (and Judy and Alison probably having huge fanbases), this is still trying to be the YEAR OF THE MAN as barely any women feature. We see the judges gasping at Brendan’s wardrobe malfunction and get a big close up of Sunetra’s manic grin. Heh.

More results. Safe are: Steve and Ola; Jake and Janette; (we get a close-up of Natalie looking SO SAD as she’s worked out the odds of her and Tim being in the bottom two); Pixie and Trent; Frankie and Kevin; Alison and Aljaž and Scott and Joanne, leaving Tim and Natalie in the bottom two and almost certainly leaving, which they were both expecting, and I think so were most of us. I’ll miss them though.

Tess asks what they could do. Darcey says "of course" he can get better as even though not every dance will suit him, he puts his all into every performance. Len is disappointed to see Tim in the bottom two but does some pelvic thrusting in his direction and a "gworn".  Anyone got clarification about whether Tim is secretly a SPORTSMAN? [I bet he plays a mean game of bowls. - Steve]

In the Clauditorium, she reveals Jake is filming Ye Olde EastEnders Christmas FunTime Hour at the moment. Bets on who dies? [Lucy Beale! No, wait... - Steve] We then get the campest VT ever as a promo for It Takes Two, with Robin playing Ian and Zoe’s domestic bitch who needs to get them some crisps and he and Ian trading barbs across the coffee table.

With our bottom two couples, Claudia asks if Mark’s terrified. He says that he isn’t shocked as Simon was in the bottom two last week despite being incredible (really?). Mark says if he goes out it will at least be to one of the nicest men he’s met. Karen says Mark is incredible and so are Tim and Natalie. Claudia asks Tim how much he wants to be back next week and Tim asks how you rate these things, does he need to say what he’d pay? Ever the bargain hunter, hey?  Tess reveals he calls Natalie his rock and Natalie says she wants to cry. Awww.

Mark and Karen dance first and in places it’s better than before, but in other places it’s a total state and his feet come out at some very weird angles and overall it's more of a shambles than first time round, which was also a bit messy.  It just makes me a bit mad because it’s such a good choice of quickstep tune and the dance is still not living up to its music. Tim’s paso is better than before – it’s still quite static and forced, but Natalie is giving it everything and he is trying really hard, although he still struggles with dragging her across the floor. He then beams a lovely "I’ve had a nice time and thank you for having me but thank fuck it’s over" type smile.

Over to the judges! Craig saves Mark and Karen. Darcey does, too. Bruno makes it a hat-trick and they say their goodbyes. The audience give Tim and Natalie lots of cheers and Tim says he’ll miss everyone and it’s been great for a man in his 60s to come on and that he’s fitter and a better person thanks to the programme and to Natalie. Aww. He says he’s going to move to Australia to stalk Natalie and Tess reminds him he learned to dance for his wife. The audience give them a standing ovation and then Tim backs away to give Natalie the limelight. She then flings herself round him in a big hug. And no, that’s just my contact lens irritating my eye, honest. They showboat about to 'Don’t Stop' in the middle of all the others and then they get mobbed. The end credits VTs have everyone saying how much they loved Tim, Mark and Scott being relieved they got through, Judy being excited for the Charleston and Frankie being glad the cha cha is over.

Next week! It doesn’t sound like a Halloween special unless they’re still making their mind up about that. [Nope, Halloween special is the week after. - Steve] Either way, Steve will be here to guide you through it!

Strictly Come D'awwwwing

Week 4: Top 13 perform - Saturday 18 October

Last week Steve took you to the movies. Kevin once more proved to be the king of Paso, Simon found his way into the bottom two and, Mamma Mia! Jennifer was sent home after wearing a denim apron over a ballgown couldn’t save her. Seeing as she went straight back to work filming Mrs Brown’s Boys, I’m not sure she was actually too bothered.

Tonight! It’s no-theme week! And the show manages to come under the two hour mark! (Barely, I grant you, but I’m counting it.) We get a pre-titles montage of the remaining contestants making half-arsed attempts at exercising, which are somewhat incongruous with Tess’s voice over insistence that no-one wants to go home.  Oh well, cue titles!

Tess and Claudia arrive, this time accompanied by Pasha and Anton.  Daly Dresswatch: a deep purple thing with white feathers that look almost like a skeleton’s bones (it’s not a disaster but I do think it might have been better kept for Halloween week). What Winkleman’s Wearing: black, but spattered all over with pink so it resembles a child’s party frock. I kind of like it though. The judges are still dancing on and Darcey is even less invested in this nonsense this week than normal, walking on cringing and then standing about until Craig gives her his hand to walk down to the judges’ chambers.

The stars enter: Jake and Janette; Pixie and Trent; Steve and Ola; Judy and Anton; Mark and Karen; Alison and Aljaž; Frankie and Kevin; Tim and Natalie; Caroline and Pasha; Simon and Kristina; Scott and Joanne; Sunetra and Brendan; Thom and Iveta. Investment in theme tune jigging? Most are attempting something, except Judy who stands stiff as a board – although that is dancing for her – Jake, who looks a bit embarrassed, and Caroline who has Pasha all messing about with her skirt.  I’d take Pasha mess- [Redacted as usual – Ed]

The first couple of the evening are Frankie and Kevin. Last week their paso got the highest score of the series (and kind of the first ten, but we will return to that later). This week, it was Kevin’s birthday so they go to Grimsby. Sure enough, they arrive at Grimsby Town station, and sure enough that’s the hypnotic paving in front of it. BUT THEN! The rest of the VT (including a wee catch-up with Kevin’s parents who bring him a shop-bought cake still in its plastic. So invested.) is filmed in CLEETHORPES and not Grimsby at all. OMG BBC LIES! CALL OFCOM!  (Cleethorpes also has a train station so they may as well have just got off there and wasted less VT time). [See, this is the kind of local colour you just don't get on Digital Spy. - Steve]

Their cha cha cha is to 'Call Me Maybe' and they’re both in a bright blue. Frankie’s dress has fringing but is much more flattering than the kinds they put Caroline in. It’s pacey and watchable, but her legs are a bit bent throughout and there’s some pointless posing at the start. Still, always good to get cha chas out of the way and get onto the good dances, right?

Tess welcomes the fabulous singers, the band and Dave Arch. Somewhere, Bruce is shaking his head as she has not only said that in entirely the wrong order, she’s not waited until song six and someone barked it in her earpiece. Bladdy women.

Len says Frankie went for it full-on but her footwork sometimes went a bit loose. Bruno says it had plenty of cheek and she’s a good dancer, but she needs to stretch her knee and press more through the ball of her foot. Craig says her right arm was unplaced at the beginning and she needs straighter legs, but she has expressive hands and great musicality. Darcey loved the way she finished each step cleanly and says it was well-performed, she could have achieved a straighter leg, but it was fast, fun and cheeky.

They bounce up to the Clauditorium, camera firmly positioned over Frankie’s chest area in case of wardrobe malfunction. Frankie says the comments were fair enough and Claudia says she wants to eat Frankie’s eyes. [Again, I'd say someone is a bit early for Halloween week, but on the other hand...Claudia. - Steve] Yum. Scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 for a total of 32.  Claudia asks if they were pleased with that given they got a ten last week. "Well, a Donny ten… which is half a normal ten." GODDESS OF ALL OUR HEARTS FOREVER.

Mark and Karen are next. He declares last week’s Superman atrocity an out-of-body experience and says he hates having his family in because it makes him cry and look like a "bit of a wussy". Mark seems to have run out of story already. To liven things up, he’s wearing a woolly hat to channel his inner Tim and they’re rehearsing in a church hall rather than the nice dance studios/gyms/etc other people seem to get. He brings Nanny Pat from the TOWIES to training and seems to call Karen Sharon. Nanny Pat tells him to keep "in tune". If Mark is singing, I am OUTTA HERE. My ears haven’t yet recovered from Len last week (or the Strictly singers weekly).

Their quickstep (featuring him in white PJs) is to 'Tiger Feet' (surely that should have been Steve's?) and I judge the lighting people for not having the lights go ‘That’s Wright, That’s Wright’ in the appropriate moments. This is excellent quickstep music, by the way, and I was surprised to learn it hadn’t been done before (at least not according to the lists on Ultimate Strictly). It starts well, punchy, kicky and, er, steppy, but then he starts to lose confidence and his footwork gets a bit sloppy and out of time, and his skipping is rubbish and it gets very messy by the end, which is a shame, as I think there was probably a lot of good material in there but the execution didn’t really work in the second half of the dance. [I didn't like any of it. The beginning wasn't even so much a dance as it was a casual jog around the edge of the dancefloor. - Steve]

Tess can’t believe Mark hasn’t danced before and Karen says he’s wonderful. Bruno calls him a fancy white White Knight and says he didn’t go wrong and it was very intricate, but sometimes he didn’t get the footwork right. So did it go wrong or not, Bruno? Craig says he liked the arabesque but Mark’s top line and hand went a bit wonky, and he loved all the Charleston sections. [Remember when people actually saved the charleston steps for the actual charleston? - Steve] Darcey says she knows ‘the boys’ are complaining about his top line but it has improved and he kept in sync.  Len whines that the trotting was a bit ‘mincified’ (SMH) and then he whines at the audience when they boo for ‘picking on the old bloke’ and snarks that he’s a pensioner. You want to be careful Len, you know what happened to the last pensioner on here, and there are plenty of fans who’d be more than happy with Head Judge Ian Waite/Erin Boag.

Up in the Clauditorium and everyone goes wild.  Mark says he was nervous but was so excited that he did it afterwards.  Claudia says his other grandma is here (Fie! Only Alesha is allowed two nans!).  Mark says so is his granddad, who’s his hero and we cut to them in the crowd.  Scores: 7, 7, 7, 8 for a total of 29. Claudia previews Alison as Beyoncé and Alison does the finger sizzle pose.  Heh.

The next couple are Judy and Anton. Last week she enjoyed her quickstep more than its predecessors but she needs to clearly loosen up. She reminds us of her tennis sons who are playing some dumb game or other in Europe instead of getting their priorities straight and whines that they’re never there when she needs them, so she forces them to awkwardly Skype her whilst she lies on the sofa. Jamie teases her about Craig saying she had rigor mortis. She then takes great pleasure in telling Andy the Tango is sexy and sultry and he gives the "aww no mum" embarrassed response we’ve been waiting for whilst Judy cackles. Hurrah! She tells Andy to sleep well and he says he’ll just watch her last performance. I love her, but now I kind of feel as if her arc is done, given this is pretty much all we wanted from her. [NEVER! I need Andy Murray actually there in the studio, CLEARLY DISPLAYING PHYSICAL PAIN. - Steve]

What I’m not sure I wanted is her in a dress with fleshy bits and then Anton chucking her so hard across the floor she ends up in a heap, legs akimbo, knickers on show.  They’re dancing to ‘Jealousy’ and tango posture actually suits her because it’s a fairly upright and static dance and although she’s mainly walking around, she’s managing to do so in time for the most part.  They end with her running and chucking herself into Anton’s arms where she’s caught once again in an ungainly pose and then he spins her around a lot. She tries to end by giving him a sultry sex face but just collapses into giggles instead. Hee. They get a standing ovation, like those count for anything. 

Craig says "thank goodness for those illegal lifts" for setting the piece off.  Remember when illegal lifts were the kind of thing Brendan would do when he was being a ‘bad boy’ and he’d fight with the judges over them? Now BLOODY Anton is doing them, AND getting praise? What happened to the PURITY OF DAHNCE? Anyway, Craig says her face was blank throughout but her natural stiffness came in handy. He asks for more aggression. Anton: "More aggression?  Do you think that’s wise?" Ladies and gentlemen, Anton has made me laugh with something other than his choreography. Craig says he likes the way Anton threw her around like a bowling ball. Darcey loved the beginning and end and says she gave it a lot of attack, but she wants the vase shape because she’s been cribbing notes from Ian on ITT. Len says he knew she’d be good at the tango because she’s used to the back and forth head thing from watching tennis. He says he couldn’t care less about illegal lifts and it won’t affect his mark. You’re your own worst enemy, Goodman. Bruno thought she was going to get flung out of the studio but it worked and it broke her pattern.

They walk sedately up to the Clauditorium, Anton grabbing Judy’s arm in a slightly weird way. Claudia can’t believe how much Judy trusts Anton. Anton says she had great attack and commitment. Scores: 4, 6, 6, 6 for a total of 22 which Anton can’t quite believe: "WHAT THE… HAHAHAHA".

Simon and Kristina are next and Good Lord, they’re dressed as a pearly king and queen and Kristina’s wearing a white bobbed wig for some reason or other. Last week they ended up in the bottom two and so this week, he needs his personality to come through. Uh-oh. Kristina takes him to a café and says Charleston is all about London. It is? Not about, you know, CHARLESTON or anywhere? (Fun fact about Charleston the place. They have some sort of dance called the shag and a Brit I know once went out there to work for a church and they were having one of these dances as a social event, and every time he got up to talk about ‘shagging’ in church he apparently had the natural schoolboy response we all would to a bemused group of Americans). They go to ‘the East End market’ to meet a pearly king and queen and do the Lambeth walk. However, I call BBC LIES yet again, and so soon after the Cleethorpes debacle, too. There’s no sign of the Minute Mart, Cindy’s Café, the Launderette, Peter Beale’s fruit and veg stall, Kat and Bianca’s stall of tat, Winston’s stall of tapes, nor Aleks and Donna desperately searching for anything resembling a storyline. Don’t tell me this is THE East End market. It’s probably one of those pop-up things they do for The Apprentice and they’re saving on filming costs or Summit.

Their Charleston begins in a replica of Bessie. (OMG can you IMAGINE if they did a Third Doctor themed dance? Kristina looks enough like Jo Grant to make it work and you could give Simon a bouffant wig and a cape, so that’d be a naturally dramatic outfit for a Paso, possibly infused with some Venusian Aikido for kicks). [I categorically draw the line at any Doctor Who-theming on this show. - Steve] They’re dancing to 'My Old Man' and it’s ridiculous, but Simon actually gets quite into the daftness of it, pulling his best CBeebies presenter faces throughout. He embraces the floppier steps well and whilst it might have merited a little more technique in some places, overall it’s a fun routine that seems to play to his strengths. I had no idea the silliest of all the dances would suit Simon, who sometimes comes across as a bit boring, but there we have it – as The Apprentice has taught us, in every quiet week one candidate there’s a raging loon waiting to come out.

Darcey says she knew there was a dancer in him and the fast, cheeky style really suited him. Len said he didn’t dilly or dally and he put a smile on the old boat race and if Simon doesn’t get through he’ll pickuw even more wawnuts. Bruno says he kept in character, kept in contact with his partner and had a focused performance. Craig says thank goodness for him finally showing personality. He loved the birdy flap and says the choreography really suited him. Scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 for a total of 31.  Claudia gets them into position and Simon says "yes boss", to which she replies "correct". Claudia is on fire tonight.

Alison and Aljaž are the next couple and their VT involves Alison bringing a cardboard Jay-Z to the training room to embrace her inner Beyoncé because they’re dancing their samba to Bootylicious by Destiny’s Child.  You know who else was in Destiny’s Child? CHANNEL THIS NEXT PLEASE.  (I was also surprised Bootylicious hadn’t been used before.)

Alison wears a gold dress with fringing and a headband and she’s had some blonde extensions stuck in the back of her hair.  The dance has a lot of sass and she can do the rolls fine, but when they’re in hold it’s a bit walky. The footwork is laboured and I think this is probably an issue with being a larger woman, it’s never going to be possible for her to get a huge amount of bounce or swivel.

Len says it had plenty of bounce and energy but her footwork was a bit suspect at times.  Bruno says she’s good at going "to Funky Town" but samba is all about the bounce and foot placement.  She has high energy and performance value but needs to sort her feet out.  Craig says the footwork is quite flat although he’s not sure she should have attempted the bachacadas, but Alison says she loved them and does some more, which makes Craig giggle and say she’s giving the fringing the time of its life.  Darcey says she’s got it back and she saw the hips working and she wanted to be part of that party on the dancefloor.

Claudia asks her to do the "budgerigars" again and Alison corrects her.  Claudia says Beyonce is in London and Alison says "Do you think she’s watching? Hi B, see you later." And if you’ve never seen this, by the way, it’s definitely worth 7 mins 27 seconds of your time. Scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 for a total of 27 which makes Alison very happy indeed. Claudia tries to get Alison to do tango face and Alison’s two attempts are a) confused and b) camp gay sitcom character from the 70s.

Scott and Joanne next and Scott VTs that after dressing as a crab on TV, he can do anything. Their training footage sees him failing to lift and catch Joanne so he gets in another showbiz pal – his niece Emily, who says "Uncle Scott needs to be a better dancer" and then corrects his steps and posture. Bless.

Their American Smooth is to the not-especially-obvious choice of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ as sung by an alley of strangled cats and bless the staging crew who’ve replicated the set from the video – all church windows, candelabra, dry ice and floating cloth. In homage, there is some very literal choreography, involving Scott turning around. The rest of it is pretty nothingy, with Joanne attempting some contemporary wafting and Scott pretty much just walking around or standing still but when Joanne launches herself at him he doesn’t drop her, which is something, I guess, and then, for some reason, he seems to end in a pose that crosses the Brucie and the Thinker. Scott tells Tess he did an air-grab "like I was in Westlife" and says it went wrong several times.

Bruno says it was supposed to be an American Smooth but it was more of an American Tragedy and it was really bizarre and he went wrong so many times he lost count, he says it’s like a puzzle where you have all the pieces and none of them fit together, which takes some doing.  Scott actually looks a bit hurt by this, bless him. Scott tells Craig he’s his favourite and Craig says he wishes he could say the same but Scott is the exception that proves the rule that anyone can learn to dance. Aww. The audience boo and Craig dismisses it with an ‘oh please’ and they quickly accede. Tess begs Darcey to give Scott a bit of love. She says she was having an out of body experience but saw moments in the top line and asks him to watch the male pros and how they do their lines and shapes and visualise that for himself to try and absorb it. Len says all the celebrities are taught the routine and they then have to interpret it in their own way and Scott looks like he’s taught, as if he’s doing it in bits and pieces – it needs naturalness and flair and ‘it is what it is’. 

In the Clauditorium they get a warm welcome and Claudia congratulates them on using the best song ever written.  Scott says ‘it’s Bonnie Tyler, not me.’ Claudia: ‘It doesn’t matter.’ She then lies that the singers sang it beautifully. I mean, I know we sometimes give them perhaps more stick than they deserve, but that was seriously painful. Scores: 2, 5, 4, 4 for a total of 15 and an ‘oooh’ face from Scott. Claudia says not to focus on the total. Claudia previews "Tim. Doing a Paso. To Tina Turner. All of these things are happening."  Worth.  Her weight.  In gold.

Steve and Ola are next and if you weren’t bored of ANIMALZ being his gimmick, 'Wild Thing' soundtracks their VT. Steve says he’s spent a lot of time in South America but never been able to join in. So, taking Donny’s advice to go clubbing, Ola takes Steve to a salsa night and he hits Ola in the face. Bet James Jordan took that well.

They’re dancing to 'Jump in the Line' and it’s really fun. Ola has got Steve’s tits out (he’s wearing a red shirt… just) and he beams a big grim throughout. It’s a bit dad dancing in places rather than sexy Latino and some of the lifts are a little ungainly (Ola screams ‘I’m alive!’ afterwards) but it’s an enjoyable enough routine and if he continues his Chris-Hollins-but-less-annoying journey, I wouldn’t rule out Ola as being the first pro to win twice. [I've been thinking about this a lot. He certainly seems to have a strong fanbase and I can see him going a long way. But I think one significant contributing factor to Chris's victory was the lack of any real competition - the only people good enough to win on merit were both D-listers from Hollyoaks. This year I think it might be a slightly stronger field - though as you say, I wouldn't rule it out just yet. - Steve]

Craig says he needed more hip action but the armography was good. Tess says Steve really wanted to impress Darcey. Oh Tess, I know you love a showmance, but give it up. Darcey says her husband is in the audience but she loved the lifts. Len says there was plenty of rhythm in the shoulders but less in the hips and he’s very watchable. Bruno says he made the most of his pecs appeal and screams "shake me, take me, any way you want me" and the energy and style were there but the hips weren’t.

In the Clauditorium, Steve declares dancers "nails" because he thought he was fit before but now he’s worked so hard.  Scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 for a total of 27. If anything, I think that might have been a mark or two under-scored.

Training footage from the couples coming up!  None of it is interesting enough to recap!

But what is worth recapping is the next bit. Tess announces that coming up we have Tim as a matador, Jake as Elvis and Tom as a florist, which is our cue for Claudia to come on as Elvis in a matador jacket clutching flowers and just about, kind of, keeping a straight face. She then bends down to give Tess the flowers and her glasses fall down her face. So cute.

Pixie and Trent are next and their VT reminds us that they look like brother and sister, not a couple at all, thanks, TESS. So she takes him home to meet her family. Oh, Pixie. They even get out all the embarrassing baby photos. Her sister VTs that she can’t wait to see her bridesmaid’s dress what Pixie’s got coming up next.

Their rumba is to 'Stay With Me' and features Pixie in a purple frock on a glittery bed, even though Trent’s the one who looks like he’s in (undone at the top) PJs. It’s very contemporary dance, and it allows Pixie a lot of opportunity to show off how high she can stretch her leg up and there’s a very impressive spin, but only some of it actually resembles a rumba. And, as you might expect, it’s more romantic and sweet than sexy but we all know which pro actually favours a chaste rumba. And then Pixie ends up sitting on the bed crying and Tess asks her what’s wrong, assuming it was a step or something, and then realises, with surprise, that Pixie is overcome with emotion.

Darcey says she was relaxed and into her storytelling but she’d like more physicality and tension in the body. Len says there was a lot of posing and it was missing a lot of rumba, although her dancing was beautiful. Bruno says he saw the most wonderful mood for love, with some lovely shaping but tonight all the hips are wrong and it was missing that sense of sensuous motion. Craig loved the split drag and her performance was exquisite, although her walks could do with more pressure, but he loved it anyway. Claudia offers her a tissue and Pixie says she really wanted to get into the character for that dance. Scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 for a total of 32.

Tim and Natalie are next and Natalie says "hello" right down the lens and blows us a kiss.  Hi Natalie! Tess gets a slightly-better-than-Bruce Craig jibe in when she talks about Craig giving Tim a 2 last week and she’s found something useful to do with the cape – upon which she drapes it over Craig’s head and gives us her best "come on guys, I know it was cheesy but at least give me this one" face.  Tess is endearing when she’s being a bit of a goof. Either that or being the straight woman, producers. Never try to make her be anything else. [Agreed. Anything that doesn't require her to land a verbal punchline. - Steve]

Tim’s paso is to 'The Best' and he is dressed as a matador with a golden cape.  He makes a decent attempt at caping for someone who’s clearly not the most natural mover. The dance features a fair bit of Natalie skirt swishing and pulling fierce faces down the camera to cover his moves and there’s a very awkward drag where he stumbles and she kind of pushes herself against him and across the floor at the same time. He’s not really in character much and it’s quite static rather than fluid but at least he’s giving all the steps a go.

Len says he was looking forward to the paso last week but "be careful what you wish for" although he gave it a go. Ugh, I said nearly the same thing as Len. I feel soiled. Bruno says he looked like a mildly irritated goat. Craig says it was rather strange and needed more performance, and the only bits with punch were his arms. Darcey says it was an improvement on last week but she missed the creepy perv-stalker aspect of the dance.

In the Clauditorium Natalie says he improved a lot from last week. Scores: 3, 6, 5, 5 for a total of 19 which Tim says is "quite respectable really." Adorable.

Sunetra and Brendan are the next couple (but sadly not the final one, even though it feels like this show has been on FOR EVER already). Sunetra loved her dance last week, especially getting a 9 (and not even a Donny 9). To get Sunetra in the salsa rhythm, Brendan has brought some bongos and Mexican hats, so she one-ups him and gets in a salsa band to play a song that doesn’t in any way resemble the one they’re dancing to.

Which is, in fact, ‘Turn the Beat Around’ and I can no longer hear this song without thinking of Pitch Perfect, I’m afraid. [I, on the other hand, can no longer hear it without thinking of this. - Steve] Sunetra’s wearing a pink and silver dress that makes her bust look enormous. The dance is a bit sloppy and ungainly and more like your mum after a few Lambrinis than a technically brilliant salsa (and there’s a Wagner tribute where they slap some bongos and glitter bounces off them) but, like Steve, Sunetra looks like she’s having enough fun to make it an enjoyable enough watch and vaguely cover up some of its flaws. What isn’t covered up so much is Brendan, who has a major wardrobe malfunction at the end due to the super-tight trousers he’s been shoved into. [First Kevin, now Brendan. When will it be Pasha's turn? *hopeful* - Steve]

Bruno tells Sunetra she’s nearly broken Brendan but she’s a clever girl as her performance covers up the mistakes she made. Craig says she needs to be stiffer in the lifts and to "channel Judy" and he says that it lacked some fluidity but was enjoyable. Darcey says she’s worked really hard but if she makes her steps smaller she’ll be more in control of the dance. Len says he couldn’t take his eyes off Brendan’s bits and it wasn’t her best but it wasn’t her worst. Helpful critique from the head judge there.

Aljaž goes right for Brendan’s bits once they reach the Clauditorium. [SLASH FICTION. - Steve] Sunetra says she’s never been lifted and it was an experience to then come back down and dance. Everyone is so cute tonight. Scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 for a total of 27.

Thom and Iveta are next and Thom appears to be dressed as a beige barrow boy but wearing a Technicolor cravat. It’s a look, I guess. Their VT features Iveta being the boss and Thom getting his revenge by teaching her rubgy. Of course Iveta excels because: Iveta. (This VT also reminded me of when Gavin took Katya to the rugby and made me miss Katya)

Their foxtrot is to 'Build Me Up Buttercup' and is very loosely based around Thom being a flower seller (he and Iveta both wear flowers and there’s a barrow on stage). He is, interestingly, better out of hold than in it, showing more personality and a better synchronisation with Iveta, although it’s not a disaster by any means even when in hold, and it’s quite sweet. [He does seem to be finally getting it together, doesn't he? There's even some sign of personality in there. - Steve]

Craig says he needs to watch some of his positioning but it was cute rather than saccharine. Darcey says it was charming and he held his frame and gave a nice performance. Len makes awful puns I won’t recap and offers no critique as usual. Bruno flirts a bit and says he can see the improvement in performance. Tom gives Claudia his flower and breaks the hearts of many. She tells him to just wait until the wrap party. Scores: 6, 8, 8, 8 for a total of 30.

HOORAY, there are just two couples left, and they’re both people I like.

Jake and Janette are the penultimate pairing. Jake was pleased that he gave a solid performance last week. Janette tells him he’s going to be Elvis, one of the coolest, sexiest men ever. Given the string of implausibly attractive women Max Branning has bedded, Jake apparently has no trouble being sexy. He flirts a bit with his TV ex-mother-in-law whilst, presumably, the script writers compile a hurried new plot line for him.

Their jive is to 'Hound Dog' and he has his name in lights all around him. That’s JAKE, people, not Max. His hips and legs are fantastic as ever, with some great kicks and swivels that really suit the music although there's one bit where he clearly stumbles. He recovers well, though and they even get in a few comedy moves, including some patented Jordan playing your partner like a guitar action. It’s fast, energetic, funny and lovely. The black and white outfits they were both wearing also looked good and suited the dance. Well done, everyone.

Darcey loves the dynamics, especially the height of his kicks. Len says his posture faltered in places and one of his arms was a bit unsure but it was a full on dynamic performance. Bruno says if he got his knees any higher, he’d have knocked Janette out, but whilst his legs are great, he needs to get his arms to match. Craig says there were some awkward moments where his free arm didn’t know what to do but the energy and performance were great.

Jake says he likes the jive and is a bit too out of breath to say much more. Scores: 8, 9, 8, 8 for a total of 33. Claudia then does another super-fast lyric-filled link and her punchline is to clutch her earpiece and go "What? A Little Less Conversation?" and then grins triumphantly. Imagine how long that would have taken Bruce and how much he’d have begged the audience to laugh.

Caroline and Pasha are the final couple of the night and he shows off by dancing on a treadmill. She attempts it by running in the air. Basically, it’s a VT of cheeky banter with Caroline pushing the sexual tension trolling for all its worth. I love her. [And more Pasha acting. I love Pasha acting. - Steve]

Their quickstep is to 'We Go Together' and it’s set in a fairground with both in pastels. It’s very fast, especially the spins and she keeps up with the pace well although loses her footing a couple of times. They end with Pasha grabbing a person-sized teddy bear and both of them giving it a smoosh, completing the many moments of coooot tonight. Then a load of confetti drops everywhere LIKE A WEDDING. 

Len says it was the best dance of the night for him. Bruno says he can’t believe how she changes character each week although she did have some slip-ups with her footwork and he can’t wait for her to do another quickstep in a few weeks’ time, which: WHAT? [Bruno's been making a lot of weird comments like that this year. Does he know of a format change that we don't? - Steve] Craig and Darcey also loved it.

Pasha clings to the teddy as they run upstairs to the Clauditorium.  Scores: 8, 8, 9, 8 for a total of 33.  Caroline: "LOVE that 9!" Hee.

Leaderboard time!
Jake and Janette - 33
Caroline and Pasha - 33
Frankie and Kevin - 32
Pixie and Trent - 32
Simon and Kristina - 31
Thom and Iveta - 30
Mark and Karen - 29
Alison and Aljaž - 27
Steve and Ola - 27
Sunetra and Brendan - 27
Judy and Anton - 22
Tim and Natalie - 19
Scott and Joanne - 15

So there’s… a lot of bunching and then the bottom three, then. But as we all know, NO-ONE IS SAFE so come back here soon when two of these adorable little poppets will face the dance-off. Awwww :(