Saturday, 29 December 2018

Merry(gold) Xmas Everybody

Christmas Special 2018 - 25 December 2018

Fun fact: this year I curated a Christmas playlist for my family for Christmas Day in the hope of ensuring a soundtrack that no one would want to complain about. Despite the difficulty in trying to please everyone, only three songs were outright vetoed: 'Fairytale Of New York' (because I don't want to spend my Christmas Day hearing anyone getting called a faggot, thank you very much), '2000 Miles' (because it makes my husband leave the room), and 'Wonderful Christmastime' (because it is arguably the worst Christmas song ever recorded, and yes I am including 'I'd Like To Give You One For Christmas' by Hotpantz in that). So our family's only brush with the hated McCartney ode to the season this Christmas Day was in hearing the samples of it in the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special theme tune, eliciting a collective groan like we'd all just lost our own personal Whamageddon. [Fucking Paul McCartney ruins EVERYTHING - Rad]

We open, of course, with a festive group routine that reminds us who's signed up for a one-off return to the ballroom this year, just in case we're all too full of sprouts at this point to remember the press release. Bafflingly, it stars Darcey Bussell as some kind of Hallmark Original Movie Distracted Modern Mother, too busy making phone calls and... writing in a book(?) to realise that her adorable daughter just wants to spend quality time with her mum at Christmas, dammit! So the daughter takes the only possible course of action: she imagines herself into a storybook world full of celebrity dancers. As the band erupts into the uptempo section of 'All I Want For Christmas Is You', the little girl suddenly finds herself in a beautiful party dress (and credit to both the costume team and the child actor/dancer in question here for the pretty perfect synchronisation of her dancing behind the big screen and the quick wardrobe change that occurs while we're watching the pre-recorded version of her), and her toy soldier comes to life in the form of blighted 2017 ringer Aston Merrygold. He runs off to join 2015 Gleb enabler Anita Rani and a dancing snowman (containing Neil Jones, according to the behind-the-scenes reports from It Takes Two), and they're soon ushered away by rhythmless Tory monster Ann Widdecombe (scenes from my family Christmas: my mum said "oh, not her" when Anita appeared, but there were no vocal objections to Widdy. Pretty sure I'm adopted). The little girl finds herself at a signpost directing her to "Lost Boys" and "Neverland", so it's best we don't think too much about the symbolism of jive axe-murderer Michael Vaughan appearing beneath it. Ann tries to steal the little girl's story book, which is clearly a comment on the devastation wreaked upon public libraries under the Conservative government (no, wait, come back), and the little girl defeats her by turning the page and crushing her. Hooray! Over the page is a toy factory, staffed by busy worker elves and also housing 2014 champion Caroline Flack as Sexy Pinocchio [this was so random but I kind of loved it because Flackers - Rad]. She picks up a toy frog and kisses it (presumably having mistaken it for Pasha), and it turns into our final contestant for the year: Jake Wood, the second of our one-time presumptive winners who had their victory trains derailed by the Janette Manrara express. Ann steals the storybook and runs off again, representing the resurgent Conservative government once again heartlessly defunding valuable public services, but it's okay! Because the little girl runs back home and finds that her mum has left her a snowglobe for Christmas, prompting the return of Darcey, who it turned out loved her all along, and also somehow managed to snatch the story book back from that nasty Tory. Hooray!

Tess and Claudia enter on the arms of Johannes and Graziano respectively, who are dressed as little soldier boys come to life. Wardrobe Watch: Tess is in a red jumpsuit with winged sleeve, and Claudia is in a gold sequinned dress with spaghetti straps. They wish the audience a merry Christmas, thereby continuing Strictly's habit of evilly lying about what day the show was recorded. For shame! Tess informs us that the six returning stars will be performing routines inspired by fairytales and Christmas stories, and Claudia adds that the Kingdom Choir will be performing (again) later. The judges make their festive entrance: Bruno as Prince Charming, Darcey as The Princess (no, not that one), Shirley as the Fairy Godmother, and Craig as the Genie (who appears to have gone slightly overboard on the tan). Then it's the turn of our Christmas stars to enter: TV presenter Caroline Flack and her partner Gorka Márquez, ex-England cricket captain Michael Vaughan and his partner Nadiya Bychkova, from EastEnders Jake Wood and his partner Luba Mushtuk, television presenter Anita Rani and her partner Neil Jones (I like how Caroline is a "TV presenter" and Anita is a "television presenter", I guess that's how they let us know that one does Love Island and the other one does Countryfile), former politician and ongoing irritant Ann Widdecombe and her partner Anton Du Beke, and pop star Aston Merrygold and his partner Janette Manrara. So that's just the last two reunited with their former partners, and everyone else in a new couple, for those of you keeping score. High Kick Watch: just Janette, although Gorka does do a little flourish with his bowler hat that I quite like.

Claudia reminds us that the phone lines won't be opening because this was all recorded over a month ago (and anyone with access to Digital Spy has known who the winner is since then), so the winner tonight will be decided by a combination of the judges and the studio audience. Oh, goodie. I mean if there's one thing wrong with the main format, it's that it's just not dependent enough on people giddy from the studio atmosphere, wouldn't you say?

Making the first bid to be Christmas champions of 2018 are Anita and Neil, with a foxtrot about a little girl who makes friends with a cold and frosty snowman. We're reminded that Anita made the semi-final in 2015 and did a paso flanked by shirtless men, and Anita says it's so good to be back "in the glitterball". Wait, does the entire series take place inside the trophy? That would be a twist. She adds that it's a little bit different this time because she's got a new partner, and she's hoping to summon a little Christmas magic. Neil tells her that The Snowman is the inspiration for their routine, and Anita declares it "amazing", because who hasn't wanted to fly and dance with a snowman? (Me, as it happens: I was a very timid child and also a very literal one, and that whole flying section made me very nervous because I kept thinking of the improbability of a creature made of snow being able to keep a firm grip on a small boy to stop him from plummeting to his death.) They do a bit of business in the VT where Neil spots something wrong with Anita and she tells him that she thinks the whole day will be ruined if they don't have a white Christmas, so she's going to sort some snow by meeting "somebody I've not spoken to in a long time". Was I the only person hoping for this? Sadly there is no Sexy Santa Gleb cameo, Anita's just off to meet boring old regular Santa Claus, who sorts out some CGI snow for them. Yeah, but can he do a Gleb Special? I bet he can't.

They're dancing their foxtrot to 'Winter Wonderland', and it's all very nice and elegant and classic - aside from a genuinely ridiculous bit where they lie on the floor as a moving snowscape gets projected over them to make it look like they're sliding down a hill. Why? What is this adding? [I am a rare advocate for floor projection but this was too much even for me.  It just looked shiiiiit.  Although I thought it was meant to resemble them flying - Rad] There's also an illegal lift in there which I'm assuming will be ignored because Christmas. Anita's technique looks good, at least, and the whole thing is pretty fun to watch, if a little forgettable - although I do like that when Neil turns back into a snowman at the end, they've given the snowman some ginger hair.

Tess thanks our festive singers - the classic line-up of Hayley, Lance, Andrea and Tommy - and of course Dave Arch and his orchestra. Shirley opens for the judges by saying that Anita managed to melt all the ice - there was some beautiful footwork and lovely heel turns, and Anita brought the magic to Christmas. Bruno says Anita was like a snow angel, and he was completely taken with her. Craig loved the big band section that they went to town on, and the accents that they provided - he thought the whole thing was beautiful. Princess Darcey finishes by saying that they brought razzmatazz and finished it off with a beautiful top line, proving that Anita has lost none of her flair.

In the Clauditorium, Anita says it's so nice to be able to dance again. Claudia asks if it's weird to go from Gleb to Neil, as if anything could be weirder than dancing with Gleb in the first place. Anita says that it's actually lovely because "Neil likes to keep his top on". Oh, so that's why they won't give him a partner for a full series. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Shirley 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 35. They seem very happy with that score, though I expected slightly more for it.

In the death slot, if such a thing exists at Christmas, we have Aston and Janette. Tess is sitting with the cast of 2018 in the audience and asks Joe if it's nice to be reunited with everyone, and he confirms that it is (having seen them all presumably quite recently when this was filmed), then Tess turns to Ranj to ask him if he's looking forward to seeing Janette again, and Ranj confirms that he's a huge fan of Janette and Aston and he feels like a proud parent right now. That's...a little odd, but okay.

In his VT, Aston says that he feels like he has unfinished business from his time on the show. Weeks eight to thirteen, wasn't it? He also says that he feels very lucky to be dancing with Janette again. [citation needed] He tells us that since he was on the show, he's got engaged and had a baby (presumably not personally). In training, Janette tells him that their dance is the epitome of what Christmas is all about: a jive to The Nutcracker. Ah yes, love to be reminded of all those Nutcracker-jives of yore. The song is 'What Christmas Means To Me', which I don't think I've ever heard before, but Aston explains that it's all about spending time with your loved ones, which is an extremely convenient segue into going to visit Aston's fiancé and their little boy Grayson. (It blows my mind that there are people out there who actually call their children "Grayson".) Janette goes over to Aston's big-ass house (which my niece informs me features heavily on his Instagram), where Aston tries to sell her on the values of parenthood, possibly in some sort of bid to talk her off the show entirely since most of the pros who have babies in the off-season never come back. Well, the female ones don't, anyway. Janette gifts Grayson a Nutcracker teddy bear, and Grayson doesn't look hugely impressed to be honest. Aston's fiancée Sarah shows off Grayson's jive moves, which are quite impressive for someone so young. If he gets a few more classes in before, say, February, he's probably in with a decent shot of replacing Graziano.

Forgive me, I don't really know The Nutcracker that well (/at all) so I can't comment on the faithfulness of this adaptation (and to be honest I'm a bit exhausted on the faithfulness debate after Poirot The Priest in The ABC Murders), but I am a little bit over seeing Janette Manrara (35) playing children in routines. The jiving looks pretty good to me although I'm sure I spot Aston getting a little bit behind the rhythm in places, and the routine suffers from a resurgence one of the problems that led to me never fully getting on board with Aston in the first place: it's just too full of "look what I can already do!" tricks instead of actual dancing. Also he proper overbalances when he's getting Janette onto his shoulders in the lift. (Which again shouldn't be there, but again: Christmas!) [I thought it was a bit lumpen and boring to be honest, but that might be as much the fact that Christmas dances are longer than usual, or at least seem to be? - Rad]

Shirley gives it a standing ovation, and Janette gives it a "YASSSSSS". Tess calls the routine "classic Aston", and I guess there's no arguing that. Bruno says that Aston is "born to jive", and that it was a "technical tour de force". He thinks it's one of the best jives they've ever had on a Christmas special. Yeah - take that, Helen Skelton! Charlie Brooks better get some ointment for that burn! Moving on: Craig loved the acrobatics, and the way it came across like a street jive (...okay?). Darcey thinks Aston must have springs built into his feet, and Shirley finishes by saying it was a firecracking performance, and she was glad to see him squeezing his leaps and tricks into there.

They march into the Clauditorium where Aston says that Janette is incredible and brings the best out of him in every routine they've done on the show. Even that Viennese waltz? Claudia reminds us that Aston has spawned and gets everyone to wave to Grayson. Scores: 10s all round for a perfect 40. Aston does a celebratory backflip, Claudia runs for cover. [I'd shout bollocks at it but I remember the special from two years ago so I've long stopped giving too many fucks about the special.  Although Katie and Brendan's win last year was still great - Rad]

Next up are Ann and Anton, playing the wicked stepsisters, so only the "stepsisters" part requiring any acting. In her VT, Ann says she hasn't danced a step since finishing on Strictly. Or indeed at any point while actually on Strictly. She says that she wouldn't have done the Christmas special if they'd asked her to dance with anyone other than Anton, and honestly that's the best argument for not renewing Anton's contract right there. She's very happy to be reunited with Anton, because it means they can be horrendous people together. Anton says there are no rules about dancing with Ann, apart from "no bumping and grinding", so we can be grateful for small mercies. They don't reveal which dance they're doing - and it's not really like it matters, is it? - but in rehearsals it looks like a paso. There's some business about Cinderella in there too, but I have already spent more time than I care to detailing the actions of Ann Widdecombe, so let's just get right over to the dancefloor.

Apparently they're actually doing an American smooth (see, I told you it didn't matter), and Ann is carried in on a sedan chair by Aljaž, Kevin, Graziano and Johannes, with Aljaž drawing the short straw and having to kiss Anton's hand when he drops Ann off. There's just not enough Blistex in the world, is there? They're dancing to 'Sisters' from White Christmas, so at least the song's nice? The rest is the same stompy, arrhythmic shambles that we've come to expect from Ann Widdecombe, and quite why we're being exposed to it yet again is anyone's guess. I guess the BBC One audience loves familiarity and mediocrity? [I just laughed that they've basically made Widdy do dirty filthy same-sex dancing and that was enough for me -Rad] 

The camera cuts to Susannah applauding wildly, and I guess she would be your go-to for Widdecombe support out of this current cast? Tess says "eight years on, and it's good to see you still dragging her across the floor, Anton!" For my money it would've been funnier if she'd said "Ann" at the end, but w/evs. Tess asks Craig if Ann's still got it, and Craig says she never had it. Ann says that Craig has "always given me one" (there's a mental image I could've lived without), but since this is Christmas he should give her two. Number of times Craig actually scored Ann 1, out of the 10 dances she got to perform? Three. Darcey says they were "so glamorous" out there, and claims that Ann was doing "jétés en tournants", which I highly doubt. Shirley tells her to ignore Craig, because she's going to the ball. I thought that was on the list of things Ann refused to do? Bruno says that he is overwhelmed, and it's impossible to find the correct terms to describe any of this, so he just shouts a lot and sexually harasses them instead.

They amble up to the Clauditorium, and it's just not the same without Michelle Williams squealing "we love you Ann!" Ann says it's wonderful to be back in Anton's arms, even when he's dragging her around the floor. Anton says drily that he loves dressing up in a frock and kissing Bruno Tonioli. Scores: Craig 2, Darcey 6, Shirley ("I love you, Ann!") 7 and Bruno 7 for a total of 22, beating Ann's personal best of 21 for the tango.

After some midway madness with Tess and Claudia, it's onwards to Michael and Nadiya. Michael says that his eight-year-old daughter is actually, genuinely a dancer, so she's finding it very amusing that her dad is dancing again. Nadiya tells Michael (44) that he'll be playing Peter Pan in this dance, and Michael says it's hard to get into a youthful mindset when you're all old and that - so they go to visit his daughter Jemima at school. Michael asks the class for tips on how to be young, and one little wisecracker says "get Botox". Nadiya gets Michael to dress up as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (because...?) and they dance for the children. He gets a good review from the class, but concedes they may be a little biased.

They are dancing the Viennese waltz to 'Please Come Home For Christmas', and in the history of people flying on wires on Strictly, I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone look quite as unsteady as Michael does here. Even Ann Widdecombe made it look less awkward. Also they have a giant St Bernard sat with Nadiya at the beginning to no great effect, but I'm a sucker for a cute dog nonetheless. I remember quite enjoying Michael's ballroom back in the day, but he's clearly gone a little off the boil since then - he's dancing most of the routine on tiptoes, his frame looks flimsy, and there's no real sense of him leading it at all. Mind you, it took Natalie Lowe a lot longer to work miracles with him than Nadiya's had, so maybe it's my own fault for not correctly managing my expectations.

Tess thanks Michael for "flying in from Neverland" and he grumbles that it was a bit tight around the mid-regions. Heh. Darcey tells Michael that he's a great leading man, and that he was swift and fast around the dancefloor - occasionally too fast. Shirley says she liked parts of it, and this is definitely a Viennese waltz that would go down well after roast dinner "and Nanny's sherry", because the timing was a bit off - but she liked the flying, and she liked the dog. Over to Bruno, who says that Michael looked like he was in a rush to get back to Neverland, but he "made it back in time" in the end. Craig thought the dog had more grace and his timing was ropey, but he loved the lift and the presentation.

They fly (/walk) up to the Clauditorium, and Michael jokes that most people watching will be shitfaced by now anyway so the timing will probably look okay to them. Hee! Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 8, Shirley 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 30. Michael says that is "plenty".

Our penultimate Christmas couple are Jake and Luba. Tess reminds us that Jake was nicknamed "Snake Hips" when he was on the show, but since it would be ridiculous to make him dress up as a snake, they're going to make him be a frog instead. Jake says that even though it was four years ago that he did the show, people still talk to him about the hips. He's excited because he gets to be on BBC One on Christmas Day twice this year, thanks to Strictly and EastEnders. Luba tells Jake that they'll be doing a cha cha cha themed around The Frog Prince, because it would be a crime to lose those Latin hips to ballroom or something. Their VT storyline is that Jake isn't feeling very Christmassy, possibly because nobody's getting married or divorced or falling off a roof. Luba tries to win him over with a festive hat and mince pies, but nothing doing. In the end, she arranges a choir to sing 'Merry Christmas Everyone' for him a capella, and finally Jake is feeling appropriately seasonal. Hooray!

They're dancing to 'Could It Be Magic', and it opens with poor Jake having to leap out of a well with a green stocking and a foam frog's head on his bonce, which seems particularly cruel. Anyway, Luba kisses him and he turns into a handsome prince, and then they do a cha cha cha. Sadly the cha cha cha curse of 2018 appears to have extended right into the Christmas special, because it's not great: the hips are still present and correct but the routine itself is fairly uninspiring and relies far too much on Jake waving his bum at the camera every 20 seconds. Like Aston's routine, a bit too much time is wasted with showy tricks at the expense of the dancing too.

Shirley is cackling with delight when Tess comes to her for feedback, and she says that she never expected to want to dance with a green frog, but Jake is fantastic: he's got rhythm, fun and personality. Bruno says that Jake has lost none of his reptilian skills (much like Ann Widdecombe), and the snake hips are in perfect working condition - he turned up the heat on a cold winter's day. Craig says he's kissed a lot of frogs, and they've never danced as well as that. Jake obligingly runs up to give him a kiss. Darcey says she's really missed Jake, and his accents were sharp and strong - "those hips don't lie".

Up they hop to the Clauditorium, where Jake says that he hopes he's made his kids proud. He says that Luba is an amazing teacher and dancer, and it's an amazing privilege to dance with her. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39.

Closing the competitive aspect of the show are Caroline and Gorka with a charleston. Caroline says that she can't believe it's four years ago since she and Pasha lifted the glitterball trophy, and she's up for any opportunity to be on the show again - so here she is, dancing for Christmas with Gorka. She says it's a strong field (is it?) but she's not doing it for the points. Gorka tells Caroline that their theme is Pinocchio, and she says that the tale reminds her of herself as a child because she was quite naughty back then, "but I'm not any more". Gorka is going to be Jiminy Cricket, and Caroline asks Gorka if she's Pinocchio because she's got a big nose. "Yes," Gorka replies. Gorka's got jokes now! They have a comedy VT about Caroline missing rehearsals and lying about where she's been, which causes her nose to get bigger. Hmm, that's not the part of my anatomy I'd expect to get bigger around Gork[yes, that's quite enough of that, thank you - Ed]. Also, Caroline's fake nose is literally held on with string, I guess the entire BBC One CGI budget went on Watership Down this Christmas. It nearly falls off at one point when she leans forward. Oh dear.

Their charleston is to 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town', and the good news is that Caroline clearly learned a lesson from that asthmatic reprise of her salsa at the start of series 13, because this routine is nice and light and well-rehearsed. Charleston was always the dance that suited her best, and that hasn't changed in the last four years. There's good swing and swivel, and also this is a genre where you can actually justify a load of tricks, although the bit where Caroline disappears in a cupboard and reappears down the chimney still feels quite time-wastey. [That bit was dumb but otherwise my favourite of the special, and, not gonna lie, I was quite surprised, going on her S13 reprise - Rad]

Someone on the sound team probably needs to dip Caroline's microphone because you can hear her panting for breath throughout Tess's little chat, and then Bruno says that special Christmas treats don't come any better than this one. Craig says he'd forgotten how good she is, and she was ah-may-zing. Darcey says that Caroline was so impressively supple, it was a packed and delicious routine. Shirley says she's never seen Caroline perform before, but she's everything she looks for in a dancer - exact in detail and light on her feet.

They head up to the Clauditorium, where Claudia asks why Caroline wanted to do a charleston again - Caroline says she was so lucky to be able to do her first one with Pasha and her second one with Gorka. Seriously, that is some plum luck right there. She says he's a little shorter than Pasha and a little more strict, but she's very lucky to have had both of them. Er, as dance partners. Scores: 10s all round again for another perfect 40. Gorka earns my undying love here by mimicking Aston's "everybody out of the way" pre-backflip machinations from earlier, and then just rolling around on the floor.

Christmas scoreboard!
1=. Aston & Janette - 40
1=. Caroline & Gorka - 40
3. Jake & Luba - 39
4. Anita & Neil - 35
5. Michael & Nadiya - 30
6. Ann & Anton - 22

After a joke that involves a fair misunderstanding of the entire concept of charades and a recap of the dances we've seen this evening, the Kingdom Choir perform 'Silent Night' accompanied by some lovely dancing from Johannes and Amy. Poor Johannes, overlooked for a partner once again. Then again he's far too tall for all three women taking part in this one, I'd imagine.

Before we find out who's won, it's time for the obligatory charitable causes bit, as the contestants and pros join forces with the Make A Wish Foundation and Spread A Smile to make some kids very happy. Kevin is very popular with the kids, though I can't imagine "I want to be trilled at by Ann Widdecombe" was on anyone's list - but then Gorka and Janette do a special jive for everyone, and what is the true spirit of Christmas if not Gorka's arse, eh?

Right, let's end this: Anita and Neil had beautiful footwork, Aston and Janette gave one of the best Christmas jives ever, Ann and Anton "had lovely sweeping lines...on the floor", Michael told the story very well, Jake and Luba turned on the heat, and Caroline and Gorka delivered a fairytale to end all fairytales. But when the studio audience's votes were included, who emerges on top?

The Strictly Come Dancing Christmas champions 2018 are...Aston and Janette! This whole thing really is just turning into the Janette Manrara Redemption Roadshow isn't it? Put money on Christmas champion Dr Ranj for 2019 now. [I call 2020, they seem to save it for the years you're recapping - Rad] Aston says he's had the best time, and Janette's brilliant. Tess hands over the trophy and instructs them to "hold it high!", though there's a fairly obvious flaw in that plan.

We end on one final group dance to 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday', with everyone whirling around the dancefloor in Christmas jumpers, which I can only imagine made everyone very sweaty indeed. Points of interest: Michael almost has to jive again, Ann is conspicuously left out of all choreography until the very end, and even then she just sort of sways on the spot while everyone else is kicking and flicking, until Anton picks her up and twirls her around. Money well spent on that booking, I'm sure.

That's it! We're officially done for 2018, but barring any incidents of force majeure, Rad and I will be back to see you through series 17 in the autumn. Until then, have an excellent 2019 and thanks for reading!

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Dooley scrumptious

Week 13: The Final - 15 December 2018

Top of my list of requests for Louise Rainbow's successor? No more 150-minute finals. It's too long. We need a break, they need a break, everybody needs a goddamn break. (Also on the list: reveal who finishes second, third and fourth, chuck Couple's Choice in the bin forever, bring back Trent, give Johannes a partner, world peace, no more hunger, a signed Gorka calendar.)

Anyway, we open with some mean 'n' moody shots of the empty studio soundtracked by a cover of 'In The Air Tonight', which lead to the finalists' first interviews from way back in August being played on the screen at the back of the stage. Stacey was very ready for Strictly, Joe said it was very different from anything he was used to, Faye felt a little bit sick, and Ashley was very excited to dive in and learn some ballroom. Now they're the last four standing, and after a portentous shot of the trophy, and the music changing to something that the internet tells me is 'Live Like Legends' by Ruelle, Faye voices over that it's been a phenomenal journey, we see everything getting plugged in and switched on ready for the show (I'm assuming one of the cords was for charging the Tessbot), Faye says that reaching the end is "just off the scale" [of sanity, presumably, given Faye's personality - Rad], Ashley is ready to bring her heart and her energy, Joe never thought he'd make it to the final (you never check your subscriber numbers, hon?), Stacey says that all she can do now is go out and give it her all. They're ready! Are you ready? This is the final of Strictly Come Dancing 2018!

Re-edited titles to put the four finalists at the end! I only noticed this week that Seann and Katya are flossing in the background of theirs, how very 2018.

We open with a big pro disco number around a couple of Amazon Echo Dots underneath a giant mirrorball to 'This Is It' by Melba Moore (or, more likely for this show's demographic, by Dannii Minogue). There are four giant cubes suspended above the floor, and tradition dictates that this is where the finalists are hiding right now. Each of the four finalist pros gets a solo spot (with Giovanni being the only one who forgets to look into the camera), and then Ashley's, Faye's, Joe's and Stacey's faces appear on the aforementioned cubes, which rotate and drop down to reveal our finalists in their best disco gear. (I mean clothes, not the kind of disco gear we usually assume Bruno is on.) The music segues into 'Don't Leave Me This Way', the finalists join their pros for a bit of a shimmy, confetti explodes everywhere, you know the drill.

Tess and Claudia arrive: Tess in yet another asymmetric white dress (but a good one, hooray!) and Claudia in a sequinned navy blue trouser suit. In the audience: Mary Berry, who's clearly a superior person to be able to sit down for 150 minutes uninterrupted at the age of 83. Also, several rows behind her, I'm pretty sure I can see Sir Lenny Henry. You'd think they could have put him a bit nearer the front, wouldn't you? Tess welcomes us to the final, Claudia thanks our pros and finalists for an incredible opening number. As well as 12 competitive dances tonight, there's music from Michael Bublé and an encore from all of the 2018 contestants. The judges are summoned: Craig (in a black tuxedo), Darcey (in purple), Bruno (in a black suit), Shirley (in what's basically a wedding dress, maybe she's marrying Darcey at the afterparty). Claudia reminds us that the judges' scores are just for guidance (except Bruno's, who will be giving nothing but 10s all night and is therefore neither use nor ornament), and we welcome our Strictly stars for the final time: Faye and Giovanni, Stacey and Kevin, Joe and Dianne, and Ashley and Pasha. Final high-kick watch: just Stacey and Kevin, with Kevin even pointing out which camera Stacey should be looking down, though she appears to be taking no notice. Claudia points out Joe's red dye-job, since he kept his word actually kind of suits him? It was very red earlier in the week but now that the colour's settled, it's a good look.

Tess and Claudia run through the schedule for the night: the judges' pick, the lines open, the showdances (which we've apparently been looking forward to all series, even though Couple's Choice is essentially the same thing?), and then the couples' own favourite routine of the series.

Opening the final are Ashley and Pasha. We can tell from the costumes that they're dancing their Movie Week Dirty Dancing salsa, and I'm guessing the judges figured that even though they can't get anyone to vote for Ashley, they might be able to get people to vote for Dirty Dancing? [Boo, bring back her foxtrot. - Rad] It's worth a try, I suppose. In her VT, Ashley says that having two dances last week was a challenge, and even though they were at the (joint) top of the leaderboard, you never know if you're safe. Despite (because of?) a third successive dance-off, they made it to the final and they're just happy to be here, ma'am. They meet in the judges' disco to find out what they'll be doing for their opening routine, and Craig tells them that this routine has been chosen because there is room for improvement and he knows it could be worth 40. The lights dim, and the giant telly reads "SALSA". Darcey advises them to tighten up all of the smaller details because the overall package is already lovely. Pasha goes "Baby and Johnny, back in town!" in his best American leading man voice, bless him. Their plan is to make it less stiff, give it more hips and fluidity, and in Ashley's words, "give 'em a smasher". Isn't that what Gavin Henson did to Bruno?

So yes, they're dancing to '(I've Had) The Time Of My Life)' and it's definitely a crowdpleaser as far as the studio audience is concerned. And yes, I know, Ashley is a megaringer and was overqualified for this competition from the get-go, but it's definitely better the second time around - I think as much as anything because they've gelled as a couple more in the interim and you can really feel the interplay between them. Also Ashley nails the lift this time after being a bit on the wobbly side last time she did it. Her dismounts are a lot smoother too. After it finishes, Melody Thornton is teary-eyed in the audience.

Ashley exclaims to Tess that this was the best they've ever done the lift, and Tess welcomes our for-one-night-only five-piece singing sensation of Lance, Hayley, Jamie, Andrea and Tommy, and of course Dave Arch and his "best band in the business". Shirley says that she didn't think it could get any better (that's not what you were saying in the disco room, Shirl) but Ashley took it to another level. She thought every move Ashley took could be felt by everyone watching. Looking on proudly from the audience: Kimberly Wyatt. Bruno whirls around, Shirley ducks, and says it proves the first time around was not a fluke, and he thanks her for bringing so much love and passion for dance to the dancefloor. Craig congratulates her for taking all the notes on board and making that dance ah-may-zing. Darcey applauds Ashley for nailing the lift and for her fearless determination.

In the Clauditorium, everyone's singing the chorus, and Ashley is so pleased to have "her family" back in the room. Ashley says she had so much fun out there, and she loves dancing with Pasha. Pasha says they were expecting the judges to pick another dance, but they were "chuffed" it was salsa. Oh, he's picking up some Britishisms! Scores: four 10s for a perfect 40. Everyone chants "undermarked!", which I'm sure will endear Ashley to the voting audience to no end. Ashley teases that her showdance will be "empowering".

In what would be the death slot (but isn't, because it's generally a good idea to be on as early as possible in the final), we have Stacey and Kevin. Stacey says that she had a great night in the semis, and Kevin says he "lost control" when he heard they were through to the final. Yeah, we saw, hon. They head to the Judges' Disco, where it's revealed that they've got the foxtrot. Stacey's pleased with this choice, and says that she thinks she can improve on the frame "because clearly now I'm an expert". Heh. Craig advises them to reduce the gapping and "just get a little bit more technical". Helpful! Bruno tells her she's got all the tools. In rehearsals, Stacey says she hopes her frame will be stronger and she'll be stuck to Kevin's right hip like glue - and she just wants it to be a massive party.

So yes, this is the one where their motorbike and sidecar broke down on the way to Grimsby [And I got grumpy because it's actually Great Grimsby and that's one of the things they should have improved and still haven't, so 1/10 - Rad], and it was another one of Kevin's mod ballroom efforts, which I'm not the biggest fan of (see also: Kellie Bright's tango). Again, you can see the improvement in her frame and the reduction in gapping, although I'd like her to drop her right elbow down just a smidge, if I'm being really picky. Also, I'm hardly the world's biggest foxtrot fan, but how much actual foxtrot even is there in this routine? Someone get Joanne Clifton and her stopwatch!

Stacey tells Tess that the first time they did this, it was Kevin's birthday and he was 36. Heh. Bruno tells Stacey that she has this ability to bring all of her characters to life within a dance, and her technique has improved enormously. Craig says he can tell she's really been working on the frame, and he thought it was absolutely gorgeous. Darcey says she had really strength in her topline and her core, but she also brought a lovely natural charm and elegance. "You know me, it oozes out!" replies Stacey. Shirley says that Stacey's had low scores, high scores and middle scores throughout the series (really just the one low score, but since she does have the lowest individual score of any of the finalists by a clear six-point margin, I'll let it go), but she's stayed glued to Kevin's right side throughout and her musicality was second-to-none.

Kevin roars "I'm so proud of you!" as they run up the stairs to the Clauditorium, and Stacey says she was absolutely determined not to lose her frame in that. She says that she loves ballroom, which was really unexpected - she thought she would love latin and struggle in the ballroom, and it's been completely the opposite. Kevin says that Stacey brings a natural heart to her dancing, and he loves dancing with her. Scores: Craig 9 (boos), Darcey 10, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39, a six-point improvement on last time. Stacey tells Claudia she was worried how embarrassing it would be if she got less than last time, and if that had happened she wouldn't have bothered coming back for the showdance, she would just have been in the car park. Stacey says that their showdance will be telling their Strictly story.

Our third dance this evening comes from Faye and Giovanni, with their Viennese waltz from week two. Faye is overjoyed to be able to call herself a finalist, and I wonder if - as a superfan - that as really her goal coming into the competition, knowing that she was too ringery to actually win. Hell, she got here without ever having to do a dance-off (thanks in some part, I suspect, to her giant Ashley Roberts-shaped shield), which is more than I ever dared to hope for. In the Judges' Disco, they learn that Darcey is looking for a stronger topline, and Bruno wants her to marry acting with technique. Shirley is hoping for some of the best footwork they've ever seen on the show. In training, Faye says she hopes her nerves don't get the best of her.

They're dancing to 'It's A Man's Man's Man's Man's Man's Man's Man's Man's Man's Man's World', and like Ashley, the improvement may be less obvious because this was very accomplished the first time out anyway, but it's definitely there - as much as anything, she seems less nervous this time which makes her acting a lot stronger, and again, like with Ashley, she has the benefit of a much more established working partnership with Giovanni to help her really throw herself into it.

Craig says that he "rather enjoyed that", even more than the first time he saw it, and Faye has come so far in this competition. Darcey calls her the best ballroom dancer in the competition, and she loved the drama and the emotion and that superb fleckerl that they finished with. Shirley says she loves it, and then puts her glasses on to read out a quote from week two: "Don't listen to Shirley about technique so early in the competition, it will come later, I disagree with her." Heh. She says that she really feels like Faye did listen to her, and worked on the technique, and she was amazing as a result. Bruno, to whom that comment was directed, tells her she's right and he really agrees with her. Heh. Bruno says that Faye never fails and always delivers, and he doesn't think he's seen her make a mistake at any point, and he's never seen such a sensual Viennese waltz.

In the Clauditorium, Faye says that tonight feels like a big celebration - she's come so far, she's happy to be here, and it feels good. Giovanni says he's proud of Faye for working so hard to take the judges' comments on board. Scores: four 10s, a perfect 40. Giovanni calls her "ballroom queen", and Faye giggles with delirious excitement. Claudia asks them what their showdance will be like, and Faye says it epitomises everything showbiz and what she loves about it. Fair enough.

Bringing round one to a close now, it's Joe and Dianne. Tess fills us in on the evening's narrative by pointing out that Craig has never scored Joe higher than an eight all series. Joe was shocked to get voted through last week, and he can't believe he's a finalist. In the final trip to the Judges' Nightclub, they learn that they've got the paso doble to reprise. Darcey wants him to work on his free arm, Shirley wants him to stroke the floor with his toe and be more stealthy with his feet. Craig just advises him to "crank it up". In rehearsals, Joe takes this all on board, and remembers that the first time he did this routine on a live show, he got up on the wrong foot after his knee slide, and says that he's had nightmares about that since.

I'm not sure this dance is ever going to really suit Joe because he's just so skinny and gangly, which isn't really the right built for a paso, but he has definitely worked on some of his weaker areas from last time, his frame looks stronger in hold, he gets up from the knee slide on the correct foot, and he's a bit more in control of his free arm. The only downside is he does slightly scramble for the final slide of Dianne through his legs, as he doesn't seem to grab her hand properly the first time.

Afterwards, he tells Tess he's chuffed to have got up from the knee slide correctly, and Darcey says the difference is outstanding - his command of the dance is impressive, and he was shaping his arms much more cleanly. She really felt he owned this dance. Shirley said that she saw him giving a little grin when he didn't mess up his knee walks, and she loved his elevation on his toes and his oval shape through the body. She thinks that having started as a beginner and delivering that performance 13 weeks later is extraordinary. Bruno says it's not just Joe's hair that's red hot - the paso was "incandescent", and he loved that Joe really gave him the matador stance: "Olé, Joe-ay!" Oh dear. Craig says he thought the shaping was a little bit forced, but he loves Joe's commitment to the whole process all series long, and it has been wonderful to watch.

In the Clauditorium, Joe says he thinks that's the first time he's smiled in a dance in a long time, even though you're not supposed to smile in the paso, and that Strictly has been the best experience of his life. Even more than Ultimate Roommate Revenge Prank? Wow. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 ("stretched enough for you, Craig?" - which, ewww) for a total of 39. Dianne says that since they said "no rules" for the showdance, she just went for it. Blimey.

Round 1 scoreboard:

1=. Ashley & Pasha - 40
1=. Faye & Giovanni - 40
3=. Stacey & Kevin - 39
3=. Joe & Dianne - 39

Almost as if there's some kind of narrative of ringers versus novices being played out, isn't it?

It cuts back to the Clauditorium and both Katie and Vick have got roadworks-style "GO" signs in front of them until they realise that no one else has, and then quickly try to hide them. Reading the final terms and conditions of the series, it's the one and only Alan Carr! He gets a little overexcited throwing some shapes and accidentally whacks Claudia on the head in the process. He also gets the honour of declaring the vote open, and Vick and Katie are almost obscured from view at this point, so maybe that's why they decided to get in early? [So, Alan Carr is OK and all, but if they had both Mary Berry and Lenny Henry in, why wouldn't they use one of them? - Rad]

After a quick recap of the round one dances for ease of voting, it's showdance time! Alarming joke corner: Claudia tells Tess she's exhausted because this afternoon she spent two hours in the band pit huffing and puffing away, working up a sweat. "Oh, is Dave Arch teaching you how to play the trumpet?" asks Tess. Sure, let's go with that, replies Claudia. Poor Dave Arch. #himtoo

Ashley reveals in their VT that their showdance is to 'Keeping Your Head Up' by Birdy, and Pasha says that they're planning a real showstopper with lots of lots of lifts and flying around. Ashley: "Tricks take a second to kind of feel how it all works together and flow nicely." Yes, that was my experience in my 20s, for sure. They've got a revolving stage in theirs, just to really show what they can do. Ashley giggles that she has faith it will all come together, because she has to. Tess and Claudia come in for their obligatory sneaky preview of the rehearsal, and Tess says that it gives her goosepimples all over. Ashley tells them that if they're not in the right place at the right time... it could all go to shit basically. Oh, and she says "empowered" again.

Ashley descends from the heavens on those long acrobatic tissues, untangles herself and embarks upon a strongly contempowaft showdance, which is pretty much what I expected. The addition of the revolving dais is a nice touch to make sure it's a challenging routine even for a super-ringer, but in terms of showcasing her abilities, I'm not entirely sure I'm seeing much in here that I didn't see in her Couple's Choice routine, which was kind of my problem with Couple's Choice as an addition for most of the series. It's a good performance, but I can't imagine it converting any floating voters to the Ashley Roberts cause.

Tess tells Ashley that she doesn't do things by halves, and Ashley says that she feels like she's 15 and a cheerleader again. Shirley tells her that out of respect she's going to stand up for her comments (lol), and that Ashley is the epitome of extraordinary - she's stretched herself beyond limits and learned techniques that she wasn't familiar with before. Shirley says she's grateful to Ashley. Poor Ashley has got lipstick on her teeth. Bruno says that the athleticism required for that dance is incredible, and Ashley managed to put storytelling and artistry into it too. He thinks she takes risks and succeeded beautifully. Craig snarks that he "had a small problem with your right toe" (does she only have the one?) but then he got over himself. Darcey says it was showcasing all of Ashley's strengths, and she didn't miss a beat or a move.

As they sprint up to the Clauditorium, Pasha quietly points out the lipstick on Ashley's teeth, which Claudia then gets rid of for her: "that showdance was so good, I'd lick it off". Heh. Claudia tells Ashley that she made Janette and Seann cry. Ashley thanks Lukas McFarlane for his amazing choreography, and says that they have had a rollercoaster ride (drink!) but they're here and they just wanted to be powerful. Scores: another perfect 40. Time for the reveal of their final dance: Ashley says they've gone for a really glamorous one - the charleston, because she wants to end on a fun, goofy note. And also not to do any of the ballroom she was so excited to learn at any point in the final, apparently. Can't believe Ashley has decided that our final glimpse of Pasha in this series will be painted green and sporting a fake belly: I am officially fine with her never having had a chance of winning after that.

Stacey and Kevin are next. Kevin says their showdance is something that's never really been attempted live before, and it's going to tell the story of them preparing for the final - with a bit of jive, a bit in ballroom hold, and a bit of commercial, "so there's a lot thrown at it". Literally, I think. Stacey is excited that they can really go for it, and thinks that you might as well take a risk in the final. Kevin says there is a 20-30 second bit at the beginning where he can't see Stacey and therefore cannot help her. He adds that the sets will be constantly moving, so if the sets move at the wrong time, it's all going to fall apart. Yes, but that's not really your fault, is it? Tess 'n' Claud come to watch and grin their way through it. The props team appear to be moving even faster than Stacey and Kevin are.

They're dancing to 'Land Of 1000 Dances', and it gets off to a worrying start when Stacey's robe gets caught on her chair and she drags it behind her when she gets up, but she manages to untangle herself. As a piece of stagecraft it's quite impresssive for all the moving parts, as an actual's a mess, sorry. It is Kevin Clifton writ large: too much flailing and running around, not enough actual content beneath it all. I'm sure it was very fun to do, but it's not terribly exciting to watch - although Stacey flipping over Kevin's head twice in quick succession at the end is pretty cool. But yeah, not a fan of this one, I'm afraid. [It was a fucking shambles - Rad]

Anton's on his feet in the Clauditorium, presumably pleased that he's no longer responsible for the most calamitous showdance in recent memory. Bruno flips his tie up in excitement, and declares it a medley of "Stacey's greatest tits". Heeheeheeeheehee. I love that Kevin's response to this is to cover Stacey's ears, like a woman who has made documentaries in war zones is too delicate to hear a dirty word for boobies. Bruno tries to drag the whole thing back onto the tracks, but it's too late: everyone's in hysterics. (Particularly Dr Ranj up in the Clauditorium, bless him.) Craig, unsurprisingly, was not keen: it may have been a crowdpleaser, but it wasn't a Craig-pleaser, that's for sure. He found it too bitty, and there was a lot of running around to get to a place and shaking it. Kevin pulls a face compliant with this idea that Craig has it in for him somehow, and says "running around, is it?" Darcey says it was a great mash-up of "your iconic moves", particularly when they were Minions - except because she's Darcey Bussell, she pronounces it "mignonnes". I die. Shirley says it was power-packed, and Kevin has enough energy for the whole room ("not right now!" Kevin replies) and he didn't give Stacey anything he didn't think she could cope with. Shade?

Claudia decides to pick up the one positive thing that Craig said ("crowdpleaser"), and Stacey says she was worried about not being able to see Kev, and then her robe got caught on the chair. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Shirley 9, Bruno ("it was a great hit") 10 for a total of 35. Kevin says he expects that from Craig in every final he's been in. You got two perfect scores in the final with Kellie Bright, sweetheart, don't pull that shit. Stacey says you can't win 'em all. They've chosen the "paso Dooley" for their final dance.

Faye and Giovanni next, with their showdance to 'Lullaby Of Broadway'. Faye says she's a big fan of Fred and Giiiiiinge, so she really wanted to have a bit of "old-time fabulousness" in there. They've got elements of quickstep and theatre-jazz in there, and she's worried about having to roll off the top of a platform that's basically taller than she is. Tess and Claudia come to watch, and Claudia's impressed with how glamorous their routine is - Tess points out how clear it is that Faye loves this routine. Giovanni tells them that they are living the dream, and he wants everyone at home to live the dream with them.

It begins with Faye dancing on a giant top hat, before being joined by Giovanni, who then steps down and Faye rolls off elegantly into his arms. The whole routine is quintessential Faye - classic, elegant, slightly hammy, and just exuding the joy of dahhhhnce throughout. There's one real showstopper of a section where Faye and Giovanni dance in alternate spotlights, and it all ends in a shower of sparks as Faye runs back up onto the hat and poses with a little bowler hat of her own. I'm genuinely floored by this routine - not only was it huge fun to watch, but it's one of the rare occasions where someone claimed that their showdance was going to be a representation of all of the styles they love and are good at and then actually delivered. It's almost like nobody told them the showdance is supposed to be a pretentious trainwreck or something. Best showdance since Alesha's? I think it might just be. [Best of the night by miles and actually made me wonder if Faye could have a last minute surge to take the title - Rad]

Faye's clearly overjoyed with how that turned out, and Craig declares it "fab-yoo-lous". Darcey says she loves a classic, and that was clean with crisp accents and stylish lines, much like Darcey herself. And it never felt forced, which is slightly less like Darcey herself. Shirley felt that Faye brought Broadway to Strictly, it was synchronised to a T, and the choreography was outstanding. Bruno finishes by screaming "hooray for Faye" and nearly decapitating Shirley in the process. He says that she embodied all the Hollywood dancing goddesses: Fred Astaire (erm?), Ginger Rogers and Ann Miller.

They soft-shoe up to the Clauditorium, where Claudia reveals that Chucky Venice thought they were amazing. Faye says that this showdance for her was what Strictly was all about: beauty, glitz and glamour, and she's so happy and proud to be here and she really enjoyed herself. Giovanni says that they really showed the best part of Faye with that performance. Scores: all the tens for another perfect 40. They have chosen their Couple's Choice theatre/jazz routine for their final routine. Ooh!

One last showdance to go, from Joe and Dianne. They're dancing to 'I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor' by Arctic Monkeys, and Dianne promises it will be a rock and/or roll showdance. They've got quickstep in there, jive, lindyhop and even some elements of street. Diane tells us it will be epic: there's height, lifts, speed, and Joe adds it will be a real celebration, with a lot that could go wrong. She wants this to be the most amazing dance, and one that Joe will remember for the rest of his life. Tess and Claudia come to watch their final studio rehearsal and Tess declares the routine to be full of content. Joe says it's full-on, but that's what it takes.

Okay, here we go: they're dressed a little bit like Riff-Raff and Magenta in an illicit am-dram Rocky Horror Show, and it opens with Joe playing Dianne's leg like a guitar. Can we not? They're dancing on top of giant amps, one of which conceals a trampette that Joe is leaping up and down on. [A++ for the set design for all four showdances tonight - Rad] It definitely delivers rock 'n' roll and danger, that's for sure. The quickstep parts are a little bit scrappy, but that's so far from the point of this routine that it doesn't really matter - it's just all about wild abandon and making a lasting impression. I'm not sure Joe keeps up with it all the way through, but in terms of sheer spectacle (including the bit where he leaps through the front of one of the amps), I think this one absolutely achieves what they set out to do with it. And anyone who trampettes 6ft up in the air gets my admiration. Although it ending with Joe smashing a guitar might mean that he has well and truly forfeited the "nice young man" vote. [It wasn't very strong from a technical point of view but I really enjoyed it - Rad]

Tess tells him he "literally smashed that", and Joe immediately reaches to regain the nan vote by apologising to whoever owned that guitar and promising to buy them another. Darcey says "the wild beast has been let loose on this dancefloor" (lol) and she thought he was going to lose control, but he kept it all together. Shirley thinks Darcey said it all, and that she's turned into a "head-banging, body-banging, guitar-smashing person" even though she doesn't normally like that kind of music. Blimey. She thinks Joe didn't miss a beat. Bruno wants to know why Joe didn't show off his bad boy side before, and says that he definitely rocked everyone there. Craig really enjoyed it - it had the quirk of a charleston.

They run up to a Clauditorium that is busy doing boom-boom-clap, and Joe tells Claudia that this feels amazing - he doesn't know where this energy has come from, but it's brilliant. He says that the trampoline was nerve-wracking, and he didn't test it before, so it was going to be a surprise for the audience one way or another. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39. And their favourite routine will also be a charleston. Good luck inviting direct comparison to Ashley, I guess? Joe says he picked this because he wants to show how much he improved from so long ago.

Round two leaderboard:

1=. Ashley & Pasha - 40 + 40 = 80
1=. Faye & Giovanni - 40 + 40 = 80
3. Joe & Dianne - 39 + 39 = 78
4. Stacey & Kevin - 39 + 36 = 75

So Joe inches ahead of Stacey, not that it makes any difference since the judges' scores don't actually count for anything tonight. And if anyone's interested in my personal showdance ranking of the evening, I would say Faye > Joe > Ashley > Stacey. [That's the exact same order I had - high five! - Rad]

Final round! We can do this! Only an hour to go! [You're a hero - Rad] We begin with Ashley's Strictly story: she and Pasha have had an amazing bond and partnership, Pasha has enjoyed being her friend, the contemporary piece was a particularly magical moment and Ashley will hold it dear to her heart forever, finding out you're in the dance-off is not fun, but Ashley's amazing mom and friends have been by her side throughout. Kimberly Wyatt is "beyond proud" of Ashley, and Peggy Roberts has watched her blossom into an amazing ballroom dancer (not that we're going to see any of that tonight). Ashley says that the charleston was one of her favourite routines because she got to show her silly side. The whole experience has been a rollercoaster, but it was totally worth it.

So yes, they're doing this charleston again, and make-up clearly had a bit of a struggle getting Pasha sufficiently green in time, but they did their best. I'll be honest: I was not a fan of this routine the first time around because it was too silly and gimmicky for my tastes (not to mention what they did to poor lovely Pasha), and I don't like it any more the second time. I can see why she wanted to do it, but it's still not really to my taste, as well-danced as it may be.

Shirley says it was one of her favourite dances and Ashley is a beautiful troll. She hopes that Ashley has enjoyed her experience whatever the outcome (lol), and she has wowed them all from the top to the bottom. Bruno calls it "a feast for the senses" (maybe one of those Roman feasts where everyone ran out to vomit afterwards?) and he loves that Ashley keeps raising the bar every time she comes out. Craig is happy she chose this dance because it's full of character, and he loved seeing Pasha's little belly - he wishes he could dance like Ashley. Darcey finishes by saying this shows what a versatile dancer Ashley is (one who has not done any of the traditional ballroom and latin 10 dances tonight, sorry to keep harping on but I'm just saying), and she wants Ashley to tell her that she'll never stop dancing. Well, she never stopped before the competition, so why stop now?

Claudia tells Ashley that everyone's delighted she chose this routine, and Ashley says they really wanted to go out on a high note and celebrate, so that's what they did. She turns to Pasha, who says "rub mah belleh?" Heee. Ashley declares Pasha "such a good human, a gem, my Miyagi". Scores: one last perfect score, because why not? Claudia says "Tess is going to announce the winner" and I'm like "what, already?" but then she adds "...pretty soon", and asks Ashley what it would mean to her if she said Ashley's name. Ashley says it would be a cherry on the top of this amazing adventure, and she's loved every piece of it, so she feels like she's won whatever happens. Just as well, really.

Stacey and Kevin are next with their paso Dooley. Their Strictly story VT shows Stacey saying that she underestimated how much she would love this, and Kevin says she's become a really, really good dancer. They chose the paso because it was "just magic", and Kevin thinks Stacey smashed it out of the park. Di says that it's amazing to see how Stacey has blossomed, and Stacey's boyfriend Sam tells her she's got this. Stacey says that Kevin has been an amazing influence, and there's nothing that she doesn't rate about him. Kevin says he doesn't want this series to end, because he doesn't want to stop dancing with Stacey. Stacey says it's no coincidence that Kevin has made the final as many times as he has. Because he keeps getting ringers? Oh, apparently it's because he makes his partners "feel like [they] can do this". Kevin says that the fact that Stacey has got so much enjoyment out of this means everything to him, and Stacey says there's so much mutual respect between them that it will be odd when they're not hanging out all the time, but "all good things come to an end".

They reprise their paso, and it's certainly a good choice in that it's a clear crowdpleaser, and one where they can mask any shortcomings in technique with an excess of drama - which is just as well, because I turned to my husband during this routine and said "well, Stacey's never getting that 10 from Craig, then", because although it's good, it still lacks a little bit of precision. I think a more restrained partner would have probably made a better dancer out of Stacey, but I also think a lot of Stacey's appeal has come from her chemistry with Kevin, so maybe a different pro would never have got her this far in the first place. It finishes and Stacey squawks "we can't do much else!" to Kevin. Heh.

The audience is chanting her name, and she tells Tess that it doesn't matter what happens now, because Kevin is a gent and a sweetheart and she has had the best time. Bruno says that was "an authentic, beautiful paso doble", but she danced it with even more power, passion and a bit of sass this time. Craig agrees 100 per cent - it was powerful and driven, and he loved the release and the slow walks. Darcey tells Stacey that she must have some Latin blood in her because she was really commanding the dance, and she loves her in this character. Shirley says that Kevin has done an amazing job with Stacey, from the beginning of the show to the end of the show - Stacey has brought so much joy to so many people.

They make their final sprint to the Clauditorium, and Stacey says that dance was a real highlight for them. Strictly has been a complete dream for her, and they got to the final, so anything else is a bonus. Scores: Craig 9 (Kevin does a complete Kevin at this), Darcey 10, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39. Stacey tells Claudia, "remember Craig asked me to go and throw his do weeks ago? I'm not coming." Heh. Claudia asks Stacey what it would mean to win, and Stacey says she doesn't want to entertain that thought too much, but she's just had the most incredible time, and she's going to have a great Christmas and she's got the tour in the New Year, so whatever happens, she's fine.

Over to Faye and Giovanni for their Strictly story. Faye says that she's going to be so proud of what she's achieved when she looks back on this, and that she's never been the most confident person (that was Lisa), but you grow so much through the experience. They loved doing the first theatre/jazz in Strictly history, and Faye felt like they became a better team from it. Giovanni reminds us that Faye Does Not Know How Good She Is, Faye sobs that her family know what this means to her, her husband Michael says it's given her the confidence to go away and land a West End leading role do stuff on her own. Faye says she's doing it for her family, Angus and Dorothy tell her they know she can do it, Benjamin says he's proud of his mum. Giovanni says that Faye is "possibly the most hard work celebrity I've ever had on the show" (I hope he means "hardworking"), and Faye says that Giovanni has pushed her to her limit because he knows that she can do it. Giovanni hopes that this time the sunglasses won't slip off Faye's face and they can get a perfect score.

They're doing it sans spooky skull make-up this time [Boo, 1/10 - Rad] (presumably because Lisa and the team were too busy trying to greenify Pasha). There are no sunglasses-related incidents this time, mercifully - although given that that was really the only thing that went wrong first time out, it's maybe a slightly low-impact dance to finish on because we already know how good it is, and it doesn't really hold any opportunity for surprises. I'm glad to see it again though, because it really is great, and one of the few occasions where Couple's Choice didn't make me want to write an angry email to Louise Rainbow.

Craig's opinion? "Love. Love. Love." Darcey thinks it just got better and better. Shirley says that Faye has blossomed and bloomed and grown as a dancer. Bruno says that he thinks everybody can join in with him on this one: "ah-may-zing". Unfortunately nobody figures out what he's doing until the second syllable, which does dull the impact ever so slightly.

Faye and Giovanni and Faye's amazing ponytail rush up to the Clauditorium and Faye just about manages to hold the tears in long enough to say that it really meant a lot to her to do the first theatre/jazz routine on the show. 10s all round again to cement a perfect final for Faye. Thank yew, thank yew, etc. Faye is sobbing, and Claudia asks her what it would mean to take home the trophy, and Faye says "it would mean both Joe and Stacey were somehow incapacitated". Sorry, she says: "it would be the icing on the cake, but everybody has worked so hard".

And with the final competitive dance of the series, here are Joe and Dianne. In his VT, Joe says he will look back at this experience with nothing but fond memories. Dianne knew from the first day of training that they could do anything because Joe would just work until he got it. Joe says that Blackpool was one of the best evenings of his life, his nan was there, his family was there, he got 10s. "Zoe Sugg" (someone's reinventing herself for a new, more grown-up audience) says that the show has made Joe so much more confident, and Joe's nan says that he's just got to do his best. We revisit the girls at school screaming for Joe, and Joe thanks Dianne for getting him this far, adding that hers is the only opinion that matters to him. Hear that, YouTube fans? You're dead to him? He only needs one fan now! The Di-fan! (Maybe that's where he lost it?) Diane cryterviews that Joe has done her proud and this has been the best time of her life. Joe says he's proven that you can become a dancer even if you're not a dancer. Surely the only way to become a dancer is to not be a dancer in the first place? Joe is looking forward to applying his new-found confidence to an early routine and seeing the difference it makes. He thinks he couldn't have done this brilliant experience with anyone other than Dianne.

They reprise their charleston, which definitely benefits from Joe's increased confidence as a showman, but is still rather ropey on the technique front. By this point I was fairly convinced that Stacey and Kevin had biffed it right at the last and Joe was going to take it, and I was trying to look on the bright side, but the fact remains that as a winner's final dance, this would definitely be fairly underwhelming. I'm glad they picked a fun one to end on though, because it does remind me that I've ended up liking Joe far more than I ever expected to. [Yeah, I thought they'd go for ballroom here which I think might have worked in his favour - Rad]

Darcey tells Joe that he's the big surprise of this series, and he's put in an extraordinary amount of work that has definitely paid off. Shirley agrees with Darcey that Joe's work ethic has been second-to-none, and Joe is a superstar. Bruno says that Joe is the "last man stunning", always bright-eyed and full of energy, and it's great to see him close this fantastic series with the perfect high. Craig says that the swivel on Joe's left foot was a little slow, but he doesn't care because he loved it. I've just noticed that they put freckles on Joe for this dance which, combined with his new hair, really makes him look like Archie Andrews.

Claudia feels like it was a bold move to pick a week two dance as their favourite since everyone else picked week six or above (Faye and Ashley both went for week six, Stacey for week 10). Joe hopes it paid off because he really enjoyed that dance, and it's one that's close to him "because of the roof-thatching thing". Heh. Dianne says that Joe has been the perfect student and is one of her best friends for life now. Like and subscribe! Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 38. What would it mean to Joe to win? He'd love it, but he thinks everyone deserves it equally, and he'll be happy for whoever wins it. Such a nice young man!

So, that final scoreboard:
1=. Ashley & Pasha - 40 + 40 + 40 = 120
1=. Faye & Giovanni - 40 + 40 + 40 = 120
3. Joe & Dianne - 39 + 39 + 38 = 116
4. Stacey & Kevin - 39 + 36 + 39 = 114

So that's all of the competitive dances out of the way! I have to say that based on the final in isolation, I think Faye deserves the win more than anyone, for really not dropping the ball at any point and for delivering easily the best showdance. Over the series as a whole? Probably Stacey for improvement and memorability, but not so much based on this evening which was rather disappointing. [Yeah, agreed. Though I voted for everyone except Joe so I'm no use - Rad]

After a final recap, Claudia confirms that they have never had more 10s in a final, and informs us that the lines are losing in around 10 minutes. Time for a filler montage! People love Strictly! Someone thinks that the question on everyone's lips was "where is Anton hiding?" during Susannah's samba, although I think most people would have been able to answer that one quite easily given the giant comedy prop dress she was using. Two people go to bat for Graeme's salsa, a handsome bagpiper loved Charles's samba, one woman loved Movie Week, one man liked seeing Seann Walsh defy gravity in his paso (although another man thinks there wasn't much dancing in it), some police officers think it was criminal that Lee Ryan went out so early, one woman admires Kate for styling out her trip as Jessica Rabbit, some people fangirl Darcey for her positivity, people love Hallowe'en Week, some ladies loved Stacey's gender-role swapping Doctor Who tango, people admire Katie for putting herself out there "after all she's been through", kids and paramedics love Dr Ranj, Joe's progress is admired, Lauren is a great role model, Russell Grant thought Faye and Giovanni's charleston was incredible, a railway worker loves Craig for being grumpy, some airport staff liked Danny's jive, people are forced at gunpoint to say how much they love Couple's Choice can I go now please don't hurt my children, a pearly queen loves Shirley, they've also managed to find the only people in the country who favoured Vick and could identify the fact that there were three new pros this year (albeit not actually name them), the opening dance at Somerset House was great, as was the Harry Potter dance and the inclusive group dance, one woman incorrectly states that Tess and Claudia "always look amazing", Carol Kirkwood thinks the standard of dancing has been amazing, lots of people say keeeeep dancing. See, wasn't that a much better use of everyone's time than knowing who finished second, third and fourth? [It was for me, I got my washing up done - Rad]

Everyone's in the Clauditorium and the vote is closing in under five minutes! While we wait for that, Michael Bublé is here to sing 'Such A Night' with a mic that doesn't appear to be working properly. Is it just me or is he starting to look like Rick Astley? I spend ages waiting to see if they've booked any of the pros in for this bit, and eventually Aljaž and Janette appear to jive and throw each other around. Well, for Aljaž to throw Janette around, obviously. I can't really imagine it working the other way.

We return to Tess and Claudia, who confirm that the vote has closed. The winners will be announced very shortly, but while the vote is being counted, it's time to hear from the class of 2018 in another filler VT. Graeme would sum up his Strictly experience as a magnificent one, Kate has gone from being a non-dancer to performing in front of millions and feeling confident, Ranj says it's the toughest thing he's done in his life, and he works in A&E. Katie says the training was a revelation, learning something new each time, Susannah says that she's never laughed so much in her life, Ranj remembers feeling sick, Seann says that messing up the rehearsal is terrifying, Danny says that you can't go on stage with doubt, Seann says that the rush of getting a dance right is unmatched, Vick says she was getting her life in her jive, and then came smashing down to earth when the judges criticised it. Lauren says that she and AJ had a difficult run with the judges, but she doesn't know how she would have improved without the constructive criticism. Lee says the waltz and the jive were his favourite, "but that's two out of three". Vick liked making her mum proud. Chucky got very emotional when his street/commercial routine came together. Katie says she knows her jive lacked technique, but she really had fun even though that was the dance that got her eliminated. Graeme recalls doing four dance-offs, Ranj says he wasn't ready to go when he did but at least go out with a bang. Kate didn't like going out but at least she got to do it at Blackpool. Ranj thinks it's like leaving a party too early. Lauren says her last dance on the show won't be her last dance. Susannah is featured an awful lot in this sequence for someone who was barely even on the show. Everyone is asked to sum up their experience in one word, and it goes as follows: Lauren "dazzling", Seann "unforgettable", Kate "magical", and that's all the time we have.

Final group dance time! They're dancing to 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go', and Vick gets to be the opening act but is mostly being lifted rather than dancing. Dr Ranj gets to dance with lots of lovely ladies on the steps up to the judges' desk. Graeme presses Oti on his shoulders again and reprises that ludicrous aerobics routine. The music switches to 'Dance With Me Tonight' and Not A Geek Just Smart Gorka tries to give Katie his flower, then changes his mind and gives it to Neil instead. Bisexual dancing! Yes, give me it. Susannah has that ludicrous oversized dress again and hasn't even managed to position herself behind it properly, but this time half the cast are somehow squeezed in under it. The music switches to 'The Boy Does Nothing' (if the lines were still open, I would totally claim this was a conspiracy to RIG IT AGAINST JOE, but they're closed so I can't) as Lee, Seann and Danny do some jiving with Lee at the front, then Danny and Amy get whisked off to reprise their aeroplane wing routine. Seann and Katya do their slo-mo Matrix schtick and somehow manage not to swallow each other's tonsils in the process. Chucky and Karen do the funky chicken for some reason. (Trying to curry favour with Shirley at this late stage?) Kate emerges from behind a curtain and manages not to fall down the stairs this time. The music switches back to 'Dance With Me Tonight' and AJ whirls Lauren around some more while everyone does a little bit of climactic jiving.

After that, it's time for a trailer for the Christmas special - which I will be recapping in full detail at some point between 25 December and 24 January, so I'm going to save my energy for that.

Claudia's in the Clauditorium with the cast for one last chat. Charles says it feels like a dream to be back, and he can't believe he's part of this incredible show. Kate says that her family are happy to have her home, and that the whole thing is so all-consuming that her Christmas officially starts tomorrow. Ranj says he's missed dancing, and he's been dragging all his mates out dancing - he's learned he's definitely a latin boy. Lauren is happy to be here without the usual pressure, and she thinks it's been an amazing show tonight. Kate says the finalists should all feel really proud of themselves. Graeme isn't missing Oti shouting at him, because she's set the alarm on his phone to scream "GET UP! GET UP!". Heh.

Final thoughts from the judges: Shirley thinks it's been amazing, Craig thinks this series has exceeded all expectations, Darcey thinks there have been lots of great surprises. Craig finds Ashley extraordinary, Shirley reminds us of her great lifts, Bruno reckons that Ashley is the rising tide who lifts all the boats, and that you can tell she loves dancing, and the judges agree that her jive was one of the best they've ever seen. Shirley says that Faye has had a great musical ear from the beginning, and Craig says she's been incredible throughout. Shirley is still in love with Faye's feet, the perv. All the judges loved Faye's charleston. Craig thinks Joe and Dianne are a great partnership who are fun and effervescent and give it their all. His Blackpool quickstep is singled out for particular praise. Darcey loves Stacey, and Shirley thinks what you see is what you get - and pronounces "minion" correctly Darcey. Craig admires her for working on her technique so much over the course of the series. Her paso is singled out as a highlight. All four finalists are deemed worthy winners, and we're left with Shirley's words that it will be a difficult choice for the whole of the nation.

But what have the nation decided? All four couples are lined up and waiting to hear. Each individual couple gets cheers and applause (I think Joe gets the loudest, but there's not a lot in it). The Strictly Come Dancing champions are...

...Stacey and Kevin! Kevin falls to the floor (of course), Stacey covers her face and Joe rushes in to wrap her in a big hug. Stacey's boyfriend is on his feet, Di rushes the floor to embrace her daughter. Stacey's crying, Kevin's crying, Neil runs over to hug Di, and Kevin declares it a Christmas miracle. We have to rush through the runners-up interviews so much so that Ashley and Faye have to share one (they've both had a lovely time), and Joe says he's going to miss Dianne a lot, but she says she's going to miss him more. Stacey is recovered enough to talk at this point: "I should say something quite poignant, shouldn't I?" Heh. She tells Kevin he's the biggest gem, he's patient, he's talented, and his choreography is second to none, and she's had the most incredible time. She felt silly and like an idiot, doing all of this for the first time, but Kevin walked her through it all and she tells him "you so deserve this". Anyone else kind of feeling like Kevin won and Stacey's a bit of an afterthought? Because to be honest after Kevin's fairly grating, entitled behaviour tonight I'm a bit annoyed that Stacey's barely getting a look-in on her own victory. Claudia congratulates Kevin on being "the bride" (heh), and Kevin thanks Stacey for being so amazing and being the most wonderful person to work with. She's worked so hard, and always with a massive smile on her face, and he thinks the world of her. Tess hands over the trophy, and everyone rushes over to congrulate...Kevin, mostly. Oddly enough, Karen's the first one on the scene, screaming "you did it!" and giving him a big hug. I guess the split wasn't that acrimonious after all. The pros lift Kevin onto their shoulders and...yeah, I'm starting to think we're getting overinvested in the pro dancers, after Anton in 2015 and now this. (Giovanni is now the pro with the most appearances in the final who has yet to win, so I assume the "always the bridesmaid, never the bride" narrative now passes to him.) The band play out with Tina Turner's 'The Best', Stacey finaly manages to get some of the limelight, and Neil hoists her up on his shoulders to join Kevin in the air - better late than never, I suppose.

So that's it for the 2018 series! It was a little odd to get the winner I wanted (or one of the winners I wanted - I would have loved a Faye victory, but it never really felt feasible) and yet to be so unsatisfied by it, but I think that's just a result of Stacey's performance in the final being ultimately underwhelming. [But mostly that show dance - Rad] I enjoyed her across the series as a whole, though, and I think she feels like the right winner for the way the series played out.

I'll be back for the Christmas special at some point in the future. I hope you'll join me for that!

Saturday, 15 December 2018

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

- Ashley has a lot of piercings in her ear.
- Faye thinks they had twice the dances in half the time last week.  Only if you had four dances or rehearsed for just half the week, Faye.
- Joe promised not to dance better than Stacey in the semi-final.  And didn't.
- Bruno and Shirley's verdicts are that Stacey has had ups and downs but never lost her focus, Ashley didn't put a foot wrong until the paso, Joe was born to dance but can't allow his confidence to get knocked by the fact that he fucked up this week, and Faye has not only got technical excellence but also artistry.
- Shirley notes some people can fall apart in the run-up to the final.  Yes, usually the pros.
- Bruno thinks Strictly is like Doctor Who. Its fans are famously mental/grumpy, there are always conspiracy theories about the production, more men have had the top role than women, the early series were put together on tuppence, the villains aren't as good as they used to be and they play around with the space/time continuum (or because both shows rengenerate all the time, whatever).
- Bruno thinks he looks better now than he did 15 years ago. Well, he's entitled to his opinion, isn't he.
- Bruno and Shirley are not very good at recognising sillhouettes from this series.  Even when it's themselves.  (Except the goatherd dance, that's in everyone's minds forever)
- AJ loved Lauren's samba. I'm glad someone did.
- Lauren wishes there could be four trophies, AJ wants Kevin to win.
- Giovanni had to "have a word" with Faye before they went on to do the samba because she was so  nervous.
- Faye would like to do the Argentine tango again.
- The judges have picked Faye's Viennese waltz to be reprised in the first round.
- Zoe thinks Neil had the best seat in the house on Saturday. I dunno, I still think it's probably Aljaž or Gorka.
- In the rise and fall in a Viennese Waltz debate, Neil's on the side of 'have a little bit but not much'.
- All the female pros were crying at Joe's VW.  Presumably because they're all out and that made for a semi-final routine?
- Neil thinks it's impossible for male celebrities to learn to lead in a few days.
- Ashley and Pasha's impressive lift was actually the same one Ed and Katya did, but done right.
- Neil has never done ballet.  Maybe it's Darcey keeping him from getting a pro out of revenge?
- If you're not sure what to do with your free arm, do a bit of skirtography.
- The show repeatedly telling viewers off for not voting for Ashley is probably not going to help her cause.
- Pasha wore a suit and bowtie on the show and claims he 'wasn't going for cute'.  It's just inevitable, Pash, stop fighting it.
- Pasha forgot the ending of Ashley's paso doble, so Ashley had to make it up on the spot.
- Ashley and Pasha's dance-off American Smooth was his favourite of all their routines.
- The judges have chosen Ashley's Dirty Dancing salsa to be reprised in the final, possibly because they know Dirty Dancing is always worth a few votes at least.
- I really want Ashley's lipgloss from Tuesday's show.
- Ashley's showdance will be to 'Keep Your Head Up' by Birdy, Faye and Giovanni's will be to 'Lullaby Of Broadway', Joe and Dianne's will be to 'I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor' by Arctic Monkeys, and Stacey and Kevin's will be to 'Land Of 1000 Dances' by Wilson Pickett.
- Birdy is a descendant of Dick Bogarde.
- Joe McFadden is much more adept with a cane than Chris Hollins and Harry Judd, and can do most of the 1000 dances.  Musical Theatre Ringerrrrrrr.
- Joe McFadden keeps his glitterball on his bookcase, Harry Judd keeps his at his parents' house because his wife won't allow it in the house, and Chris Hollins keeps his on a top shelf but the D has fallen off.  The S has fallen off Harry's and he's had to blu-tack it on.
- Joe M will be in a play coming to a town near you soon.
- Chris H didn't get through everything in his final dress rehearsal properly.
- Joe M thinks he's like Stacey (?!?).
- Chris H thinks it's annoying that people hate on both ringers for being too good and on 'journey' contestants for not being good enough.
- Chris once got upgraded on a flight because he'd been on Strictly.
- Joe M keeps thinking they're talking about him every time he hears Joe S's name.
- Dianne told Harry that Joe YouTubed Harry's Viennese waltz in preparation for his own.
- Chris thinks the final will all come down to the showdance.
- Joe doesn't want to say who he thinks will win, Harry would say if pushed that he thinks it'll be Stacey, and Chris thinks the real winner is dance.
- Tess thinks being a parent is good training for hosting this show.
- Claudia wants Dave Arch to do the final terms and conditions.
- Claudia asked Charles if he could come back and do the show again next year because she loves him.
- Tess likes lifts (as in the dance moves, not like elevators).
- Tess's favourite part of the show is going into the showdance training rooms. 
- Ian would get a 10 paddle out for a showdance if it was emotional with lots of lifts.
- Ian and Zoe were too knackered to put many lifts in their showdance.
- Ian doesn't like none of your modern showdance music for young people - and includes songs from 13 years ago in that category.
- They are still trying to make Nell De Jaunse happen. No.
- Joe followed through on his promise to dye his hair red, including his eyebrows, but may not be keeping it that way for the final.
- Dianne's hands got dyed bright red in the process.
- Jake Wood nearly got lost in the maze at the location for the Christmas special opening number.
- There is a bit of a Nutcracker theme for the Christmas special.  Bet they thought that Disney film ws going to be a bigger hit than it was, huh?
- Michael Vaughn hasn't danced a step since leaving the show.
- This week's special musical guest was Englebert Humperdink and he was relegated to Thursday because Friday is presumably going to be packed full of #content.
- Stacey doesn't know what works in a showdance, but thinks that Kevin is the best person to lead her through it because he's been in hundreds of finals. (You might want to consider the fact that he didn't win any of them though, hon.)
- Vicky Gill's favourite outfits from this series include Katya's paso catsuit and Oti's waltz dress.
- Vicky Gill has a big checklist to make sure she doesn't forget to do an outfit for anyone.
- All of Amy's dresses from this series have been shipped off to Ireland for use on Dancing With The Stars.
- Oti is very vocal with the wardrobe team on Fridays.  Surprise.
- When designing for the couples, Vicky and her team always start with the woman's outfit first and then build the man's outfit to complement that, regardless of whether they're designing for a male or female celeb.
- Faye and Giovanni's showdance looks quite Charleston-esque.
- Ashley and Pasha's showdance involves a revolving platform.
- Claire Richards can't watch the show live with Faye on it because it's too stressful, so she records it and watches it later.
- It's possible that Stacey doesn't have many famous friends, because the person they got on to speak for her was Maya Jama who openly admitted "we're not that close".
- Kimberly Wyatt thinks "don't you wish your Strictly finalist could dance like Ashley?" is a persuasive argument.
- Caspar Lee is weirdly inarticulate for a professional YouTuber.
- Apparently Ashley and Joe are both underdogs.
- Karen is always doing cat impressions.
- Gorka is so afraid of cats that he crosses the street to avoid them and gets sweaty if they come near  him.
- The rest of the pros think that's a ridiculous fear, meanies.
- Amy was a prefect at school.
- Joanne went back and watched all the Viennese waltzes from the series and calculated that Stacey and Kevin had the third-most VW content of anyone, do not mess with the Cliftons.
- Kevin thinks the charlestons this year have been too commercial. Yeah, they're such sellouts! It used to be all about the dance, man!
- They let them in the big studio for Friday's show.
- Jessie Ware is a Stacey fan.
- They're making Dianne's 'first final' in her second year almost as big a thing as Katya's.  These people don't know they're born, Talk to Anton.  Or Janette.  Or Karen. 
- Dianne loves funny people.
- Vick has about as many ear piercings as Ashley.
- Graeme got a blue BMX for Christmas when he was eight.
- Zoe thinks Pasha has been her favourite version of "Pashpot" of all this year, and credits Ashley with that.
- Danny, Vick and Seann have all been allowed back in the building.
- All of the non-finalists went out on the razz on Friday night but the finalists had to go to bed.
- The final Friday panel of the year was Michael Ball, Alison Hammond and Ian Waite.
- This might be Michael Ball's favourite series of all.
- Given I haven't had to recap him singing with Alfie Boe, it might be mine too.
- Ian doesn't think Joe's dancing is awkward.
- Michael wants Stacey to win, Alison thinks Ashley should win, and as a BBC employee Ian is backing Faye and Joe for balance.
- Apparently Faye collapsed on the floor crying with joy when she found out she was going to be on Strictly.
- Faye's mother-in-law has been doing the washing and leaving hotpots for her.
- Zoe has given Stacey the "Leisure Two-Piece Training Outfit Wearer Of The Year" award.
- Stacey's favourite dances were the paso and the charleston.
- This show gets incredibly repetitive when we're down to four couples, doesn't it?

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Ready, Steadman? Go!

Week 12: Top 5 Results (Semi-Final): 9 December 2018

Last night! A very mixed bag indeed, with Joe and Lauren massively tanking in comparison to everyone else and Faye killing the samba dead but still getting a Bruno 10 for it. Tonight! Let's see if AJ makes his third semi-final crash-out in a row and Giovanni his third final in a row! Or whether Faye vs Ashley battle of the megaringers will happen and mess the judges' brains up! (We'll also find out the fate of the two other couples but let's face it they're both safe).

We open with the promised couples' therapy pro-dance, to 'In My Blood', all moodily lit and costumed in red, and I assume its title is 'The absolute state of heterosexuality'. Graziano and Karen open, and I think their problem is that they're so poor and destitute that Graziano can't afford buttons to close his shirt in the cold winter months and neither of them can afford shoes in #maysbritain. Neil and Katya next and we all know what the problem is there, so moving on. Luba and Johannes are struggling with being super sexy focus-pulling titans of dance yet never getting partners, or even airtime on It Takes Two. Aljaž, meanwhile, is being sexually harrassed by Amy and Oti but all Janette can do is give him a hard time about it. Gorka and Anton are, presumably, a cosy same-sex couple having a perfectly happy life off-screen. Then Nadiya turns up and seduces Oti. And then Graziano. And then blood covers them all because, I dunno, filthy bisexuals infiltrating their world or something, but at least Graziano and Karen now have something covering them to protect them from the cold and it ends with them finally getting a good night's sleep. That was very... red. It was very red.

Claudia and Tess enter, Tess in a strapless black pant suit that would be OK were it not for yet more bosom fringing, whilst Claudia's in a plastic mac with bits of shredded tinsel. They thank the pros and choreographer Nathan Clarke. And if you need help with the issues depicted in tonight's pro dance, presumably a BBC helpline is available.

The judges enter - Craig in a jacket not a million miles away from the one Bruno wore 'last night', Darcey in bright pink, Bruno all black and Shirley in a sequinned purple frock that's pretty nice but makes her look ALLL bosom.

Interminable recap of last night, in which the following of note happens: Anton welcomes us, just to remind us he still exists, presumably; Faye planning on keeping the same eye makeup for both dances, where's her commitment?; before the show, Dianne thinks Joe's conquered two dances in the same week and Joe foreshadows 'err, I don't think quite conquered'; Faye's samba looks even worse in flashback; Ashley's mum Peggy is proud of her; Darcey's critique of Stacey's elbow is illustrated with actual footage; Craig can't wait to 'see' who is in the final. Don't you mean 'decide'?

And we're about to learn at least one couple who will be: Joe and Dianne. Stacey and Kevin will be joining them, whilst Ashley and Pasha are, yet again, feeling the joy of LEADERBOARD PLUNGE, but this time from the (joint) top. This means they're leaving Faye's nerves to fight it out with Lauren. Ashley looks sad but says she'll give her all and Tess reveals they'll be dancing their American Smooth. (Of the others, Stacey would have Charlestoned, Joe AT (Um, OK), Faye AT and Lauren Tango.) [Now I'm imagining Faye's AT versus Joe's AT in the dance-off, and lol. - Steve]

In the Clauditorium, The People's Champions (probably) are with Claudia and Joe says his uncle told him he couldn't even walk in a straight line, let alone dance. Dianne's having her first Strictly final. In her second year. Let's hope they don't make as much of this as they did with Katya last year. Joe's going to be a Rocky Fred Astaire in their showdance... but Dianne then clarifies she means rock'n'roll, and Claudia reminds Joe he has to dye his hair. Stacey thought she'd only be in the UK for a couple of months doing the show, and says Joe's her best pal in the contest. Wasn't he also Chucky's best mate?  Kevin's showdance will involve a lot of complicated sets. Bet the crew just love that idea. Stacey says she's used to the idea that Kevin's always the bridesmaid and never the bride. Kevin says he may be 36 but don't cast him out yet, he's fallen more in love with dancing, he's not gonna Brendan himself, honest.

Time for the guest performance from Little Mix, doing 'Woman Like Me', which seems to have been around for ever, but OK. Perrie's wearing trousers and a blouse made of curtains, Jade a black dress, Jesy a basque and trousers, whilst Leigh-Anne's in a flasher mac, but I guess equal opportunities mean all roles should be available to women, so you go girl etc. It takes a while for the pros to appear, but eventually Katya, Luba, Janette and Nadiya turn up and flirt with the Lil'Mixes and same-sex dance all up in the place and if they don't just extend this into filming these pairings for next year's Children in Need special, they're missing a trick.

Dance Debrief / Frame by Frame covers Darcey calling the 'smack the pony' move 'slap the donkey' after Stacey's charleston and she styles it out by dancing it, suggesting slapping the donkey is just the opposite side to smacking the pony. Although she says 'slap the pony'. Someone had too many sherries in judges' holodeck (aww, I miss the days when Alesha did those and they had little bowls of pretzels and it was filmed in a cupboard). We discuss Shirley and Craig having different preferences in tango frame, with Shirley liking a flat back and Craig a 'V', whereas he wants an Argentine Tango to be an 'A'. Yeah, so would we all, but you give it to Joe, Lauren and a broken Kate so it's no wonder you're getting D-. We also cover why you shouldn't have rise and fall in a Viennese Waltz - because it makes you look like a kangaroo. And now I can't get the image of Joe as Roo from Winnie The Pooh out of my head, thanks Craig. It's followed by judges' best bits: the gay-off, Darcey getting hot flushes, Shirley liking Seann's hair. It's not been the most classic of years, has it?

Promotion for all the paratexts: It Takes Two, BBC Three, social media, podcast, hip flask, willy warmer, copy of the 2019 calendar, but with Seann, Vick and Danny's faces all scribbled out in black marker.

So will Ashley trounce Lauren in the dance-off, or will the judges be forced to play Sophie's choice with the ringers? It's the former, of course. Bruno advises her to do her best 'because everything is all yours to take' - the bus, the tube, the DLR, the Overground, take any of them home with London's integrated transport system! [Not from Elstree, she can't! - London Transport Expert Steve]

In the Clauditorium, Faye cries and thanks her nana, Rach and Rob, Benjamin and not her parents or husband. Giovanni says 'always when I do show dance' (calm down Kevin) he wants to show the personality of his partners, so he says 'clean and sophisticated... and Tragedy.'

We then get a retrospective - heading back to the heady days of the summer of 2018 when we were all much younger and more innocent, followed by lots of dancing, some of it pretty good.

As for the dance-off, Pasha's still adorable, Ashley's still smiling and showing her pants, Lauren's still OK but a bit awkward, AJ's still getting decent-but-not-brilliant young things and going out in the semi-finals. I mean, probably. (Please, please, can we give AJ an older woman next year? Maybe even a Komedy Kontestant? See also: Giovanni, Kevin)

They all save Ashley and Pasha (Craig for being clean, precise and dynamic; Darcey for a more finished performance and Bruno for being more accomplished).

So there we have our final four, and it's... pretty much as anyone would have predicted from early on in the run, what a series.

Everyone gives Lauren and AJ a standing ovation and Lauren says she's loved it, and it's so much more than anyone ever tells you it'll be. AJ says he couldn't have ever expected to make the semi-final (except... that's all he ever does) and trots out 'ability not disability' again, which is a bit awkward. Lauren says he's sometimes a bit hard on the outside but is squishy and marshmallowy inside and she's glad she got him as a partner. As it's the semi-final, they get a best bits Strictly Story: lots of variations of lovely waltz, rocking the goth look, sporty VTs, apple-bobbing, Lauren becoming World Champion, several less-great dances, more lovely waltzes. Still, she's going out looking goth, so as send-offs go, it could be worse. They dance out to 'Didn't We Almost Have It All' and the end-of-show pile-on looks a bit sparse when there are only five couples, doesn't it?

In the post-mortem, Lauren says she's never acted before, Ashley's glad to survive dance-offs, and I don't get to hear what comes next because the iPlayer app on my TV has taken to autoplaying something random at the end of shows before the credits are even out. Still, I assume they're all happy to make the final.

So we're almost there! Just 12 more dances, plus the reunion car crash group dance, a pro dance or two, a guest performance or two and a whole ton of filler to go! Join Steve then to see if men named Joe really are more likely to win this show than women, if Stacey will finally kill Kevin's main storyline in this show (soon to also be Giovanni's), or if a female ringer can actually win this thing!