Monday, 30 November 2009

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

- The show's floor manager is Brian Conley's brother.
- Natalie Cassidy has never said anything more than she was going to give it a go every week. Except that handful of times she said she wanted to win, of course.
- Lots of dancers have requested Lady GaGa's 'Just Dance' for their cha cha chas this year, but have been rejected because it's too electronic for the live band. BOO.
- Lilia is really not very good at arcade dance games.
- Ricky Whittle holds his hands up in a C shape repeatedly in the House of Tesstosterone. Apparently the C was for Carley.
- Future Head Judge Karen Hardy thinks brothers and sisters watching the show should do the swimming sex move from the very end of Chris and Ola's Charleston. I love you, Future Head Judge Karen Hardy, but please, let me help you see the problem here.
- Natalie Cassidy wants Tess's job. PLEASE GOD NO.
- Spandau Ballet liked Chris's Charleston.
- If she weren't a dancer, Natalie Lowe would like to be an ice dancer or a policewoman.
- Flavia used to be a bank cashier, while Darren once worked for a mail order shoe company.
- There are few sights in the world more disturbing than having to watch Claudia clutching Len's buttocks.
- The mere mention of the word "samba" is enough to make anyone on this show shiver.
- Claudia doesn't give a shit about the football. Good for her.
- The proudest moment of Kristina's career was dancing for the royal family of Japan. (Not her paso doble with John Sergeant?)
- John Barrowman wants to have Ricky Whittle in his head. Do with that knowledge what you will.
- People pulling country names out of a hat so some other people can go around the world kicking a ball is apparently more important than us getting the full 30-minute show we tuned in for. FUCK THIS NOISE.

Sunday, 29 November 2009


Top 5: 29th November 2009

Last week on Strictly Come Dancing: Jade officially withdrew from this year's competition, and must you remind me of this? SHE'S BARELY EVEN COLD. *sobs bitterly* Anyway, Alesha called Ali and Brian the frontrunners of the series, Len called Craig a donut, Craig called Len dull, and I called the off-licence to ask if they do home deliveries. Ricky Groves squared off against Laila in the dance-off, and the latter emerged victorious, and Erin faced yet another embarrassing elimination: last year she went out with bits of her hair all over the floor, this year she went out dressed for a date with Snufflupagus. Poor Erin.

This week, the competition gets fierce. Has it not been fierce already? I think Alesha certainly thinks so. The contestants are tackling two dances that have never been danced competitively before, and there'll be dirty tricks afoot in a scored group dance. At least, I think that's what Tess says - the absurdly dramatic score here drowns her out so significantly that for a second I thought I was watching The X Factor. But I'm not, because this is Strictly Come Dancing - live! Cue titles.

Bruce is looking lively. Tess is wearing a hot pink Chinese finger trap. There is also something resembling an enormous gold medallion dangling from her neck, about which I have several theories. One is that she has petitioned the Ministry of Magic for a Time Turner and is simultaneously presenting this week's show and next week's, for reasons best known to herself. Another is that with Jade no longer in the competition, the bottom was about to fall out of the UK bling industry and therefore three weeks' worth of Jade's accessories were quickly welded together and hung from Tess's neck so that the BBC could be seen to be supporting British industry. Another still is that this was the only one of those picture-holding pendants she could find that was large enough to fully contain Vernon's teeth. Feel free to send your own suggestions at the usual address. [That she's crap at dressing and accessorising? Her hair was more distressing, anyway. - Carrie]

Bruce pretends to be on the ball by talking in txt spk. OMGWTF, indeed. The stars of the show arrive, still in that weird abridged format. There's Chris and Ola, who look quite spiffy, Natalie and Vincent, who've come tonight dressed as VV Brown and a gay motorcyclist, Ricky and Natalie, Ali and Brian, and Anton and Laila. Laila, it seems, has to leave the studio immediately after the show to attend another audition, this time for a live-action remake of She-Ra: Princess of Power. At least, that's what her outfit leads me to infer.

After a tired gag about Bruno being a drama queen, Tess explains that tonight will be the competitive debut of the Charleston and the "rock and roll" on the show, and Bruce adds that there'll also be a group Viennese waltz, and we'll be told how that will all work later.

But first, to business: Chris and Ola are the first couple to dance tonight. They'll be dancing the Charleston, and Bruce cracks a joke about the BBC bar, which does actually make me laugh because I used to go there quite a bit. I know, I know, I'm such a shameless media whore. Apparently Dick & Dom used to be in there all the time, but I never saw them. Which, now that I think about it, is probably the better scenario. Anyway, let's have a look at Chris and Ola's training, shall we? Chris recalls his Viennese waltz from last week quite proudly, though he notes it was close to a disaster because he forgot a bit and had to make it up on the spot. They're enjoying the Charleston - Chris gets to play the idiot, but he hopes he doesn't get typecast. We also get a look at Chris's swanky new house, where he will be living with his Very Serious Girlfriend, and for the purposes of this VT, he has roped Ola and James in to lift the boxes. James is carrying a very small box, which seems unlike him. Surely with guns like that you go for the big boxes? Chris says that they have to put in the performance of their lives, and hope that looking like such enormous tools on television doesn't wreck either of their careers. I'd say it never did Tom Chambers any harm, but I've been watching his "acting" in Waterloo Road, and therefore I'm not sure I can say that entirely truthfully.

They're dancing to 'Fat Sam's Grand Slam' from Bugsy Malone, and this routine suits Chris so well because he can make all the ridiculous faces he likes and they won't look out of place at all. It's light and very silly, but ultimately the choreography is not very challenging and the pace is a little bit slow, so it's not quite the Charleston I've been dreaming of. It ends in a very bizarre place where Ola supports herself on Chris's thighs as he lies on the floor and shuffles along while she mimes swimming. I'm beginning to wonder what we've all let ourselves in for.

The crowd goes nuts, of course, and following the traditional welcoming back of the singers/orchestra and the judges. Bruce tells us that it was Bruno's birthday during the week, and then asks Alesha if she's also had one recently. She looks a bit confused and says that she hasn't, and Bruce says that he saw her out celebrating. I assume that's a reference to this, and Alesha looks abashed. Len's asked what they're looking for, and Len replies that Bruce would be better placed to judge, since the 1920s was his era. I'm so glad we're getting the evening off to such a sophisticated start. Hilariously, Bruce rather takes umbrage here, huffily informing Len that as it happens he does know a lot about the Charleston, but he would still like Len to explain it. Snerk.

Anyway, Len explains that it was a scandal of a dance because the girls wore short dresses and did scissoring actions with their knees. It was all about emancipation of women too, apparently. Any chance of some feedback on the dance, Len? Yes, finally: he says that Chris and Ola provided fabulous entertainment, though he would've liked more swivelling feet and crossing of the legs, but he did enjoy that last little bit. Alesha says she's seen a whole new side of Chris tonight and that he owned the dance - she found it very enjoyable, and he's set the standard for Charlestons tonight. Bruno thought it was exuberant and exciting, a good competition of "slapstick and dancing, creative, Egyptian, hamster, the swimmer, everything". At least, I think that's what he said. It's Bruno - who really knows? He thinks it's Chris's best performance to date. Craig thought it was very crowd-pleasing, which makes everyone think he's going to slate it, but no - he loves it. Hurrah! They scamper back to the House of Tesstosterone in great excitement.

Tess kicks tonight's backstage shenanigans off in FAILTACULAR style when she begins by saying that it's the first time we've seen the Charleston, which prompts Chris to shout "highest score ever!". Tess responds that they haven't seen it yet, and stumbles over her words until she catches up with what he meant. Oh, Tess. Clearly all of this hosting two shows at once business is making you tired. Return the Time Turner to the Ministry and find a less exhausting way to reduce your workload, eh? In the background, by the way, Anton is finding this hilarious. Heh. Tess moves on to safer ground, saying that it looks like they enjoyed themselves, and Chris says that they really did - they're enjoying every moment of the competition, especially now he's found a dance that matches his facial expressions. Scores: Craig 8, Len 8, Alesha 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 34. It's their joint-highest score with BLACKPOOL, and then Tess adds that it's the highest Charleston score in Strictly history, which would've been funny had Chris not cracked that same joke thirty seconds ago and had it not flown entirely over Tess's head at the time. Oh well, better late than never, I suppose.

Ricky and Natalie are next. Bruce recalls their American smooth to 'Over The Rainbow' just so he can crack a joke about being asked to play the lead in The Wizard of Oz - "I am not Dorothy, Dorothy I am not." Sheesh. The VT reminds us of the epic hissyfit between Len and Craig over whether their lift was appropriate or not, at which point The Fonz (who is doing panto, but not IN WOKING) appears and says he didn't think that it was controversial. Well, given that it made two judges argue quite so vociferously, I don't really think that's your call to make, Mr Fonzarelli. They're finding rehearsals tough because Natalie hasn't done rock and roll dancing before. The Fonz pops in to one of their rehearsals, because he is doing PANTO in LIVERPOOL (not WOKING), and enjoys it very much. Hmmm. That was a bit of a narrative cul-de-sac, wasn't it? [It had THE FONZ in it. Thus worth doing. - Carrie]

They're dancing to 'Hound Dog' and it's a typically showy and acrobatic routine from them. It's not entirely winning me over, because it just feels a little bit too restrained, and also as Craig pointed out on Friday's It Takes Two, Ricky's free arm just hangs there for a lot of the dance and it really does look quite unpleasant. It ends with a really ambitious final pose where Ricky flips Natalie upside down and she somehow supports herself on his thighs, but it's spoiled when he overbalances and has to put a hand out to steady himself.

Len is asked once more what we're looking for in this dance, and he says high energy, quick turns, a flash of knickers, and some throws and tricks - essentially what we saw from Ricky and Natalie tonight. Len thinks it could've been wilder, and there was a mistake early on. Alesha says that Ricky is certainly king of the lifts, and she loved all the throws, but she wanted to see him let go more, and she thought it was lacklustre on his part because she knows he can do better. Bruno says he can clearly chuck a girl up, down, left, right or centre with ease. Or behind, in the case of Carley Stenson. (Too soon?) But, he says, we're getting towards the quarter final and he wants to see Ricky go all the way through without making a mistake. Is this Laila's old storyline that he's suddenly inherited? It seems to have come out of nowhere a little bit. Bruno thinks he's good, but he has to produce dances at a higher level. Craig agrees with Bruno - the timing was appalling at the top, and he needs more height in the lifts, and he was off-balance at the end. It was okay, it just lacked pow. Bruce says that they had less rehearsal time this week than they anticipated. Is Bruce hosting Have I Got News For You this week or something? He seems to have been studying the papers very closely.

In the House of Tesstosterone, Ricky says that they've really enjoyed the dance and being able to learn at the same time. Natalie seems entirely unperturbed by having been nearly dropped at the end. [Because she's a crazy robot and being dropped wouldn't hurt her titanium skeleton at all. - Carrie] Scores: Craig 7, Len 8, Alesha 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 31. That's their first seven of the competition, and consequently their lowest score of the competition. Ricky hopes that the people at home enjoyed it. Tess reads out the voting numbers and says that one couple will be leaving this week and they don't want it to be them, which leads Natalie to make a hilarious "nooooooo" face. She's crazy and I adore her.

Next up are Ali and Brian. Ali was thrilled that Alesha called them the frontrunners last week, though admits her disappointment at ending up one place behind "the Incredible Hulk" on the leaderboard. Haha! It's a shame we don't get to see sarky Ali more often - I rather like that side of her personality. Again, they're finding it strange rehearsing the Charleston because Brian doesn't know it, though he thinks it was fun for them to go "back to school" together. I wonder if Naughty Ali was smoking behind the bike sheds. We then relive that hideous moment from their rehearsals where Ali slips in the middle of a high kick and her kicking leg slams into the ground (which still makes me wince even though this is about the fourth time I've seen that clip, just to give you an idea of how thoroughly painful it looked). Ali goes for some painful-looking physio, but the good news is that she hasn't structurally injured anything, apparently. She says it's just going to make it an even bigger challenge, and she's determined to get to the quarter-final, injury or no injury.

Their routine is fantastic - it has a proper narrative and everything, with Ali as some kind of broken puppet who's pushed into life by Brian. They've got the "legs flailing as if independent from body" aspect of the dance that was missing from Chris and Ola's routine, and it's even genuinely funny, because the two of them are selling the hell out of it. Let me put it this way: after seeing this, I felt vindicated for wanting the Charleston to be added to the roster of dances, because they do it really, really well. It's a shame they're dancing to that godawful Paolo Nutini song where he seems to think he's Jackie Wilson, but never mind. Quite possibly my favourite dance of the series - a dead cert for my top five, at least.

Bruno calls Ali a "fabulous flapper", and says it reminded him of Chicago. Craig thought it was goofy and gangly, but absolutely gorgeous. He says that if Josephine Baker were alive today, she'd be giving her a run for her money, at which point I swear to God that someone says "who?" It may have been Brian. Heh. Len says that he's seen another side to Ali, because he thought she just did elegant ballroom, but she came out and cocked her leg up and this was great. Alesha thinks they proved her right for calling her the frontrunner - it was quirky and allowed Ali to show her Acting Skills, and was even more impressive considering the week Ali's had.

Backstage, Ali says that when the adrenaline gets going you don't even notice the injury, but everyone's been injured this year and she's not going to dwell on it. Attagirl. Scores: nines from everyone except Alesha, who whips out the ten again, for a total of 37. There are some "awww"s because Chris has now lost his record for the highest-scoring Charleston. Heh. Brian addresses the camera to thank the people who "wrote in" to support Ali this week after everything that happened.

Next it's Come Back Christine Bleakley All Is Forgiven and her partner Vincent Simone. The VT recalls her hideous samba from last week, which inexplicably did not land her in the dance-off. Natalie says that she needs to come back with a dance that wows everybody. In rehearsals, Natalie crows endlessly about Vincent not knowing the dance and how this means that this week she's better than he is, and I gave my lecture on how unsporting I think this sort of thing comes across last week, so suffice to say my opinion on the matter has not changed. Vincent is struggling with the acrobatics of the dance, and they have to nix their planned cartwheel lift because Vincent can't do it. There's more of Vincent's inability to do a roly poly that we saw on It Takes Two, and then we're out.

Natalie starts by clicking her fingers off the beat, which is rather inauspicious. [I know, right? She had some little bops later in the routine, entirely out of time. - Carrie] Their routine is livelier than Ricky and Natalie's was, but the technique is sorely lacking - the bit where she "slides" between Vincent's legs particularly sticks out as poorly executed. I can't fault them for effort, but it ultimately doesn't lead to much.

Craig comments that it was lacking and very one-dimensional. Len says that "we all love Natalie" (OBJECTION! Sustained) and that it needed more of a wow factor. Natalie interrupts here and attempts to justify their difficulties by saying that she and Vincent are exactly the same size. Now, I know it's in the nature of this blog to be unkind, but the obvious comment about their relative girth is too cheap a shot even for me. I will, however, draw your attention to the following:

Even height-wise, I think to say they're "the same size" is stretching the truth a tad.

Anyway, she says that lifts are very difficult for them. Alesha says that Natalie can sell the dance on her personality, but she was distracted by the clumsiness of it, especially when Vincent was pulling her through his legs because her legs should've been together. Bruno says, "You're a goer, we love you for it" (heh) and proceeds to have a go at Vincent for Natalie's lack of technical finesse, which Bruno perceives to be the result of poor teaching.

In the House of Tesstosterone, Natalie remarks that the judges are in a bad mood at this point. She loved the routine, but accepts that this one was particularly difficult because they're the "same size". Scores: Craig 5 (Natalie repeats this in disbelief), Len 7 (Natalie is still on "five?", heh), Alesha 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 26. Natalie and Vincent concede that it's "better than last week".

Tonight's final couple are Laila and Anton, who will also be dancing the Charleston. There's a very odd bit here, first because Bruce can't say the word "speakeasy" (yes, I spotted the irony there too), and then because he explains how people in speakeasys would hide their alcohol in teacups in case of a raid - which he asserts is "like Tess's area backstage". Then there's a protracted pause before we cut to backstage, where everyone (including Katya, Brendan, Mattthew and Aliona, who've been roped in somehow) is drinking out of teacups and cheering. It would've worked - possibly - had the cut to backstage been instant, rather than as it stood where we had to listen to Bruce reiterating what he'd already said a few times first. The pacing of tonight's show is very odd.

Laila's VT sees her bemoaning her lack of rehearsal time. It neatly sidesteps the bit where she buggered off to Morocco, mind. Laila says that being in the bottom two has given her a kick up the backside. She thinks the Charleston was made for Anton, who looks like he should be in the 1920s. Anton is enjoying the opportunity to ham it up. Anton is not, however, enjoying being taught to dance by someone else. Laila says that she has to do all the rehearsal that she can do and go out there and give it some welly on Saturday.

Anton and Princess Adora, He-Man's twin sister, take to the stage, and again, they've got a nice little narrative built into theirs, with Laila being a surprisingly bashful flapper. There's some lovely hammy Acting in it, anyway. And all this without having to call on the services of Barrowman! Laila's legs aren't flyaway enough for my liking, but aside from that she's embracing the kookiness of the dance, which works for me.

Alesha thanks Laila for getting Anton so far into the competition - she enjoyed the fooling around and the storytelling and thought it really suited Laila. Bruno calls it "a glitzy panto" and for once Laila didn't go wrong. Craig thought it was very heavy and laboured and poorly danced, but he loved the storytelling and the fun. Len, who has been sat there looking like he's just eaten a whole bar of shit before Craig even said a word, decides to get on his high horse again and calls Craig "absolutely 100 per cent wrong", saying that it was brilliant and wondering whether Craig does it "just to create boos". Yes, Len, truly Craig is the judge who blindly panders to the audience. Those of you who are drinking along at home, take a swig for the obligatory "you're getting on my wick". Laila sticks her tongue out at Craig for some reason - perhaps there's something innately Charlestony about it.

In the House of Tesstosterone, Laila thanks Jenny and Ryan the choreographers for all their help. Tess says to Anton that you "can teach an old dog new tricks" Anton agrees that "you can make good soup with an old chicken". Laila says they'd love to avoid the dance-off and make the quarter finals. Scores: Craig 6, Len 9, Alesha 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 31. Anton wonders if "whatsisname at the end" was holding his paddle upside down.

Leaderboard: Ali at the top, Chris in the dizzying heights of second place, Ricky and Laila tying for third, and Natalie in last place.

Bruce explains that the remaining couples will be doing a group Viennese waltz, like what they do in real dance contests. We see a VT of their training, led by the almighty Flavia. Something very odd has happened to the grading of this whole section, incidentally - everyone looks really washed out. The couples are informed that it is a competitive dance; Ali queries whether this means they're allowed to elbow each other. Flavia confirms they can do whatever the hell they want. They have lots of fun crashing into each other. Anton clarifies that they all have to follow the line of dance, but it's a fairly loose rule. Flavia points out that if they're seen to be deliberately obstructing each other, they will lose points. Chris and Ola think they're "easy meat" because they're so small. Natalie Cassidy elbows Ricky "in the kidneys", assuming his kidneys are inside his ribcage. Ali notes that it could be "carnage" come Saturday.

It's over to Len to explain how it's going to be judged. Len takes a very long time to basically say that someone will stand out as being the best, someone will stand out as being the least, and the others will all be ranked in turn. Seriously, it takes him like five minutes to make this very simple point. He says there should be a bit of bashing and bumping, and couples will have to stop and carry on, but he can't wait to see it.

Crikey, this is going to be hard to recap. So everyone dances at once - Ali and Brian look the most comfortable, but her arm is still shaking a little bit. Natalie (Cassidy) is rictus-grinning her way through it. Anton and Laila seem to be bearing up well enough. Chris and Ola are doing lots of pivots, as you might expect. Ricky and Natalie are, oddly, not shown all that much, except in group shots. Then towards the end the anticipated carnage arrives, as Ali and Brian collide with Anton and Laila (with their hands going into Laila's head, or so it appears) and then from there bump into Ricky and Natalie, who fumble momentarily but quickly get back on track.

Each judge has been monitoring a different couple: Len was watching Ali and thought she did a great job moving smoothly about the room. Alesha was watching Chris and thought he stood out despite being the smallest, and did a good job of leading. Bruno thought Laila coped well, though she had Anton in the driving seat which is an obvious advantage. Craig watched Natalie and thought she redeemed herself with this dance, and was particularly brilliant in how she narrowly escaped being boxed in. And finally back to Len, who also watched Ricky, and thought he coped beautifully with leading despite being up against three male professionals who are used to dancing in groups. The five couples head to the House of Tesstosterone while Bruce explains the scoring: the judges will get together to discuss the performances, and Len will give out the individual scores, which will be marked out of 10.

Backstage, Chris says that he thinks he got lapped twice, and it felt like driving Formula 1 cars with L-plates. Ricky says it was hard because the routine wasn't choreographed and they were all ad-libbing, and apologised to Brian for bumping into him. Natalie (Lowe) taps him on the shoulder and assures him that Brian did it on purpose. Snerk. Ali, who's the Strictly record-holder for the Viennese waltz, really enjoyed it, and Natalie (Cassidy) loved it, saying she could spend all day in Vincent's arms, and loved just following him without having any choreography to remember. Laila felt very safe in Anton's arms, and thought it was an amazing experience to have to ad lib a dance.

Time to deliver the scores. Chris and Ola are awarded a 7 for a good job despite being a bit skippy, Ricky and Natalie get a 9 for their "lovely and lyrical" performance, Ali and Brian get another 10, Natalie and Vincent needed more musicality, but get a 7 for a well-danced performance, and Laila and Anton are given an 8 for a "good job".

So, let's see how that affects the scores: Ali now has a total of 47 and is top of the leaderboard, Chris has a total of 41 and is second, Ricky has a total of 40 and is third, Laila has a total of 38 and is fourth, and Natalie has a total of 33 and is fifth. The lines open to much cheering - Ricky and Chris pantomime trying to find phones inside their jackets.

After the video recap, which is more enjoyable this week considering how lively all the dances were, we're back with Tess. Ali is really relieved to still be on top Viennese waltz-wise. Natalie is scared to be at the bottom and hopes the public save her. Ricky is asked whether it's a fair comment that he was told he constantly makes mistakes, and Ricky sensibly says yes it is, although he rather swiftly undoes this good work by complaining that he didn't make any mistakes last week and was still marked down for it. He says that he's got his "first 40", which feels rather a presumptuous comment.

There follows a puff-piece of a VT about the introduction of Darcey Bussell to the judging panel, where the judges sound excited about it and the contestants sound terrified. Anton wonders how it might feel to get 50 points. I think he'll be wondering for a while.

After that, we get a "foxtrot with a bit of a modern twist", as Matthew, Aliona, Brendan and Katya do a hyper-sexualised routine to Muse's 'Time Is Running Out'. I like Matthew Cutler as much as the next person, but does he have to do the exhibition dance every week? [YES. MOAR CUTLER. - Carrie] It's enjoyable enough, anyway, and I don't think last year's finale would have been quite so tedious if even one of the THREE(!) foxtrots had been done like this.

Time for some judges' feedback: Bruno says that he's seen Ali in a new light and finally having some fun with her choreography, and also that Chris stuck a great balance between performance and choreography. And then that's it. Oh well - brevity is the soul of wit, I suppose.

A late contender for the most bizarre piece of filler of the series follows: a VT in which "national trinket" and former runner-up Julian Clary comes to talk to the contestants. He gives them a bit of a pep-talk, suggesting that Ricky camp it up a bit more - "there's a camp man in there trying to get out - in Chris's case, he got out some time ago". Snerk. Anton and Laila are greeted with "hello - you still here?" and some Footballers' Wives jokes. Julian does a Vincent impression, suggests that Chris gets his jaw wired up, and then asks where Ali and Brian are. Ali's off at physio, so Julian offers to send some "psychic healing". Julian asks about Brian, and Chris comments, "I think he's helping with the healing". Dirty! He finishes by asking them to get his corset back from Craig, and saying "may the best man or woman win". And don't fuck it up.

Backstage with Tess again, they look ahead to next week. Chris has the samba, and whines that it's taken him 11 weeks to get four judges on side, and now they're adding a fifth one. Heh. Laila loved every second of her Charleston, and thinks she did her best.

AMAZING IT TAKES TWO TRAILER: this week the professional dancers were forced to undertake a "dance mat challenge", the results of which will be shown this week. Claudia asserts that "blackmail is an ugly word" but that certain dancers ("I'm looking at you, Brendan Cole") may wish to get in touch with a cash offer. This is going to be the most brilliant thing ever.

Before the results, there's another guest performance: Riverdance. Come on, I'm not recapping this. No way do you need me to tell you what Riverdance is. Although if they're adding any more dances in future, they should totally stick Riverdance on the shortlist just for the lulz. Apparently it's 15 years since Riverdance first appeared on our screens. Egad.

The lines have now closed, which means time for just one further performance: a world exclusive, James Morrison and Nelly Furtado performing 'Broken Strings' live together for the first time, apparently, which seems surprising since it came out a year ago. James Morrison sings rather sharply for the first verse or so, and Nelly Furtado is wearing some scarily tall shoes. Aside from that, it's a decent enough performance, and it's just refreshing to have an act performing whose demographic skews a little bit younger than the sort of people they've been getting on recently. Oh, and Darren and Lilia perform a lovely rumba at the front. At the end, James and Nelly don't seem to know quite what to do with each other, and he kisses her on the cheek rather awkwardly. Aww.

Obligatory filler VT: I LOVE MY DANCING PARTNER. I DON'T WANT TO GO HOME. You get the general idea.

After all that distractingness, it's time for the results. Only three couples have a guaranteed spot in next week's quarter final, and they are: Ali and Brian, Chris and Ola and a visibly shocked Laila and Anton. That leaves Ricky and Natalie to face off against Natalie and Vincent in the dance-off, so whatever happens tonight, we're definitely losing a Natalie. Also, as my boyfriend pointed out, it suggests the general public does not care for rock and/or roll. [Or Natalies. - Carrie]

Ricky and Natalie reprise their routine and are demonstrably giving it a lot more energy this time around, with Natalie being whirled in the air every which way. Crucially, they also manage to get their balance right on the finishing pose this time, which does look a lot more impressive. Though Ricky does suddenly get overcome with an urge to cover Natalie's boobs, which is quite funny. Natalie and Vincent then perform their routine again with the kind of spirit that comes from knowing that whatever you do, you're going home, so you might as well just enjoy yourself. It's still rather clumsily executed, but then the problems with this routine the first time around were not the sort that were likely to be fixed in an hour.

The judges cast their deciding votes, and obviously it's a formality: everyone says that it's been lovely to have Natalie and Vincent here and they did really well to get this far, but Ricky and Natalie are the ones who are staying.

Natalie says that she's had the most amazing time on the show, and they get a standing ovation from everyone, including the judges. Natalie gets a bit tearful, and vows to stay friends with Vincent, who's also getting a bit weepy.

Next week, the couples face two individual dance routines, and Bette Midler will be the special guest, along with DARCEY BUSSELL! Exciting stuff indeed.

Monday, 23 November 2009

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

- The show's head of make-up is Lisa from Deuce.
- Claudia doesn't believe in saving shoes for best.
- If you can press a barbell, you can lift one of the ladies from this show. (It might be advisable to ask her permission first, mind.)
- Vincent has a courtyard.
- Apparently the studio audience have a Pavlovian reaction that makes them clap every time someone does a pivot in a Viennese waltz.
- Future Head Judge Karen Hardy told Vincent off for his poor samba choreography. This is why she is the queen of everything.
- Len has always wanted to kiss a man with a beard, just to see it if prickles.
- Even Matt Dawson thinks Matt Dawson was shit.
- Ali is the latest contestant this series to get a serious injury and has bruised the bones in her foot after a really nasty fall. Seriously: what the hell is happening this year?
- Len will give you one point for turning up, one point for each leg you can move, and one point for starting and ending with the music, hence why he hasn't scored anyone lower than five all series. This, just in case anyone's forgotten, is our head judge. BRING ON THE REIGN OF KAREN HARDY!
- Matthew Cutler would like to be made out of metal.
- Poor Heather Small is still haunted by her four dance-offs.
- The Charleston was banned in some dancehalls back in the day for being too scandalous. I bet Brendan's gutted he doesn't get to do it.
- Anton thinks his acting skills are hammy. He's not wrong.
- Chris has a Very Serious Girlfriend. Whether it is the relationship that is Serious or the Girlfriend is up for discussion.
- Vincent doesn't know how to do a roly-poly.
- Erin has an autobiography for each of her celebrity partners so far, except for Ricky Groves - and that's only because he hasn't written one (yet).
- Laila practised on her own when she was in Morocco.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Oh Ricky, what a pity

Top 7 6: 21st November 2009

Last week on Strictly Come Dancing, Tess's VO intones gravely, the line-up was "a little short". Can you guess what's coming next? Of course you can: a shot of Ronnie Corbett. I'm still trying to decide whether the utter predictability of the gags on this show is cosy and reassuring or just plain lazy. Anyway, Bruce was off with flu, Jade was off with a knee injury, and Laila attempted her rumba despite an ankle issue but couldn't quite manage to finish. Zounds!

This week, the remaining couples are fighting it out to stay in the competition. Everyone discusses how it's getting intense, in much the same way as they have been doing for about the past two months. Jade is pictured doing her bit of narrative in a grey room, as opposed to one of the usual training arenas. I probably should've known that was a bad sign. Anyway, this is Strictly Come Dancing, recorded last night and recapped by an admittedly biased guy on the internet! Yeah, that doesn't sound as catchy.

Post-titles, we're live in London, and Bruce's entrance earns huge cheers and applause. [Not from me. - Carrie] Tess's does not, for she is wearing some ungodly beige one-shoulder number that just washes her right out. Sigh - and she's been doing so well this year, too.

Tess welcomes Bruce back as the audience continue to cheer - and then the cheering abruptly cuts out. Hmmm. Either someone in the sound booth accidentally leant on the fader a little bit too soon, or they've been piping in that audience appreciation all this time! I just don't know any more. Chris Moyles is in the audience. Cunt. Sorry, just had to get that off my chest. Bruce chatters excitedly about last week's drama, like Ronnie Corbett nearly falling down the stairs. Oh, and the two seriously injured dancers. Having listed the many things that were unusual last week, Bruce reveals he was glad when Craig gave one couple a three, because it proved he wasn't hallucinating. I'd roll my eyes at this, except my boyfriend and I watched last week's show after going for some drinks with friends, and we did start to look at each other about halfway through all, "seriously, how drunk are we? Is this even happening?" Bruce then thanks Ronnie for filling in last week. No one thanks Claudia, of course, because it's not real work when women do it.

The couples are introduced: the first-names only thing from last week continues [and no occupations either - Carrie], and it's still weird and I still don't know why they've suddenly started doing it this way. Anyway, Ricky and Erin are here, along with Chris and Ola, Natalie and Vincent, Ricky and Natalie, Ali and Brian, and finally Laila and Anton. And at this point, every Jade fan in the country who'd been on tenterhooks the whole week in anticipation of some good news finally let their breath out and said, "Well, shit".

And so Bruce confirms that Jade will not be dancing tonight, following medical advice. That leads us into another explanatory VT of last week's injury, hand how everyone thought everything was fine until she tried to get up from her finishing position and her knee went RATATATBANG, or whatever happened, and then Jade went very pale and shivery and it was all very horrible. In a cold grey room, Jade VTs that you don't realise how much you want something until it's taken from you. She explains that following her scan on Monday, she was informed that she had a Grade 2 tear on one of the ligaments in her knee, and she spent the rest of the week in and out of physio. Come Friday, she still didn't know: the last that we heard was that her physio said yes, while the BBC physio was saying no, and clearly, the BBC physio won. And I suppose that makes sense, because the BBC doesn't want an insurance headache on its hands if Jade dances tonight and someone worsens her injury. But still: my heart is a little bit broken right now, and if that's how I'm feeling, I can't even begin to contemplate what this must be like for Jade - or indeed Ian. Jade says she's had a wonderful time, and she's really going to miss it.

And then Tess is in the audience with Ian and Jade. Tess asks Jade how she's feeling, and while Jade's face doesn't give anything away, the hesitation before she speaks suggests to me that she's trying hard not to cry. She keeps it together, though - she admits that seeing the VT made it really hard for her, and her knee is sore, but she's fine. Ian says that they've grown very close, and Jade's grown as a dancer and a person. There are several mentions of Jade's JOURNEY, and finally there is some good news: Tess asks Jade, if she is recovered in time, if she'd be willing to come back and dance her tango in the final. Jade consents, and the audience cheers. And that's the end of Jade's Strictly Come Dancing JOURNEY, and man, it must really suck to go out like that. And I really thought we might survive an entire series without anyone pulling out this year. So this means either a non-elimination week ahead, or the dreaded two-person finale (and if I were a betting man, I'd suggest it'll be Ricky vs. Chris).

Bruce says it's an awful way to start, that Jade will be missed, and that she was a possible finalist. Which is nice and all, but everyone is a possible finalist - that's kind of how these shows work. I mean, at one point Richard Dunwoody was a possible finalist. Anyway, the show must, and indeed does, go on: the first couple to dance tonight are Ali and Brian. Last week Ali tried very hard to be raunchy for her cha cha cha (she did?), but was found wanting in that area, though her dancing itself was very good. Claudia's raccoon voice (yay!) reappears in the VT, and Ali says that she must keep working hard because everyone else is coming back fighting. They're dancing the foxtrot this week, and she and Brian are rather enjoying it. Ali suggests they do a "naughty Foxtrot" (DO A LIFT! SAY BUMHOLE! ADMIT THAT WHEN YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE IN THE HOUSE OF TESSTOSTERONE YOU'RE SECRETLY OFF WATCHING THE X FACTOR!) and promptly mucks around a lot in rehearsals, much to Brian's consternation. Then they start to take it seriously, and Ali promises to come out and be graceful.

Apparently she has to leave directly after this to attend an audition for the Hollywood blockbuster remake of I Dream of Jeannie (starring Zac Efron as Larry Hagman), if her outfit is anything to go by. They're dancing to 'Haven't Met You Yet' by Michael Bublé, [yay! Mickey Bubbles! - Carrie] and it's choreographically reminiscent of quite a lot of their other ballroom routines, but what's most noteworthy about it is that Ali is literally shaking quite a lot of the way through.

The volume of the audience cheering fluctuates quite a bit at the end of this routine as well, so I can only assume tonight's sound operator is an embittered Jade fan who's determined to take the show down from the inside at any cost. Bruce welcomes back the singers and orchestra, and so on, and the lovely judges. I'm not sure what the hell is going on with Bruno's jacket tonight - it's two tone and looks like it has some kind of pawprint motif. Is this fashion? I have no idea. Where's Hadley Freeman when you need her?

Bruce asks Alesha to start us off, and she says it was a beautiful opening, and that one again they've made a difficult dance look easy. Her only criticism is that Ali needs to elongate her stride on the backward steps just to accentuate the difference between the slow and the quick movements (Alesha technical criticism score out of ten: 8.5) and she thinks they're the frontrunners. Bruno says Ali produces moments of sheer bliss, and her arms are some of the best he's ever seen. He's concerned, though, that sometimes she tightens up a bit, which stops her embracing the full range of the dance. He thinks she's good, but she could be better. Craig saw her nerves, and noticed her foot got stuck on the floor and stepped on Brian's "left toe" - "which one?" interjects Bruce, who's on form tonight after his week off - but he thought the dance itself was gorgeous. Ali says that she really felt she was enjoying it tonight, and then - I don't know if Bruce is saying that he thought she looked nervous or whether he's just confirming that Craig thought that, but either way: Bruce says she was nervy. Len says that if that dance was a pudding, it would be an Angel Delight (not suitable for those with a lactose intolerance?) - there were a few slips, but he thought it was very nice overall.

They sprint to the House of Tesstosterone, which has been reclaimed from Claudia's clutches, and Tess says that Ali puts the fox into foxtrot. Tess says that their last ballroom got a perfect score of 40, and asks if they think they can repeat that tonight. Ali's about to say "clearly not" before Brian goes into super damage limitation mode and says that he hopes so and that he really hopes the British public know how hard she works and how much it means to them to be there. Someone's anticipating having to do that dance again before the night is out, I feel. Scores: Craig 8, Len 9, Alesha 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 35. Ali takes the opportunity to quickly wish her Auntie Joan a happy 80th birthday. Aww.

Natalie and Vincent are next. Bruce does another joke about Vincent's height and the audience laughs too soon. Natalie was thrilled last week by her (overly-generous) score and decided there and then that she wanted to win. Lord knows what she was doing prior to that. Since she's back at work on EastEnders now, Natalie takes Vincent to look at Albert Square, though I find it hard to believe Louisa never showed him around at any point. Vincent asks her if she can get him in EastEnders - Natalie bargains that if he gets her to the final, then she will. Some cast members wish them luck, and Natalie says that the visit gave her a real boost. They sit on the Arthur Fowler Memorial Bench Of Sudsy Sorrow and hope not to be eliminated this week.

They're dancing a samba to Madonna's 'Holiday', and I suppose I should be grateful that it isn't a disco routine, but it's a pretty woeful samba, since she has no hip movement whatsoever, and indeed barely even seems to be dancing at all sometimes. Craig says that he was distracted by her mouth hanging open like a Venus flytrap, but he thought the routine was just okay - it lacked bounce and the content was lame, but he thinks Natalie is endearing and very watchable. Len says he didn't notice the mouth because he was looking at the feet (funny, at one point I could've sworn they were in the same place), and that Natalie messed up one of her simple steps, and "success went to your head or something", which is an oddly cutting remark, considering it's Len. Vincent attempts to salvage the situation by saying that it's the only time she's ever got it wrong, and Natalie tells him that it doesn't matter, since she's done it now. I know it's meant to be banter and everything, but I'm rather uneasy with the way Natalie seems to consider Vincent's opinion to be of such little worth. I'm probably getting antsy over nothing at all, but on the heels of the "you're ALWAYS here" comment from last week, I find myself wondering if Natalie can find a way of expressing herself that isn't quite so condemning of Vincent (who, may I say, really does pull off his hot pink shirt impressively well). Len continues by complaining that so much of the routine was in hold, and lost exuberance as a result. Alesha says it was fun and colourful, and that there's never a dull moment with Natalie - however, she agrees with some of Craig's comments, that it could've had more bounce and she sometimes looks down too much. Alesha then segues into a reminiscence of how the samba was her least favourite dance, and Natalie starts talking over her quite loudly in agreement. Natalie: I know it's only Alesha, but could you at least try to actually listen to her feedback? She might actually be saying something useful. Anyway, when Alesha is allowed to be heard again, she says she thinks Natalie did a good job. Bruno thinks it was more Bournemouth than Brazil - her weight was often in the wrong place, and she was often out of time. "Bournemouth would be lucky to have you!" interjects Alesha, for no real reason, and Bruno chuckles that they probably won't have him now he's said that. [She was telling NATALIE that Bournemouth would be lucky to have her. Still, heaven forfend that this show isn't all about the judges. - Carrie]

In the House of Tesstosterone, Natalie says she knew the samba would be technically hard, and it's a cursed dance because it claimed her BFF Zöe. Tess says she looks pretty in pink, and Vincent, channeling Ian, thanks Tess, and says he has to make sure people can see him because he's little. Heh. Tess asks if they can beat last week's score, and Natalie's all "bitch, please". Scores: Craig 6, Len 7, Alesha 8, Bruno 5 for a total of 26. "Probably one of your lowest totals in the competition," says Tess, who apparently can't be arsed to check. (I can, incidentally: it's her lowest score since her first week in the competition, when she got 24 for her tango and 26 for her cha cha cha.)

Chris and Ola are next, and despite the terrible fate that befell Arlene in similar circumstances, Bruce decides to make a "Pole dancer" joke. The VT tries to disguise that only Alesha liked last week's paso doble, and Chris is looking forward to doing ballroom again. Chris is struggling to learn his steps. "This is not a rocket science!" Ola admonishes. Heh. Ola then drags in some child ballerinas to help him out, though quite what she expects to achieve by this, I don't entirely understand. Unless she's hoping people at home see them and go "CUTE!" and then don't notice what happens for the next two minutes.

They're dancing a Viennese waltz to 'A New Day Has Come' by Celine Dion, and the choreography is rather nice, with Ola doing some Rachel Stevens-style resting her head on Chris's shoulder, though Chris's footwork is a little leaden at times. At the end, Bruce asks Chris if he's finding this easier than football or cricket, and Chris says he likes the hugs in this more than he does in the football. Homophobe! Bruno thinks Chris is doing better, and led with confidence, and even his face was under control this week. Craig found it a little tight of shoulder, and he thinks that Chris is wearing the tension on his face, and needs to smile more. "I have a friend at Harley Street," Craig offers. Heh! Len thought this might not be Chris's dance, but he thought he came out with confidence, and his pivots got a great reaction from the studio audience. Alesha says he can pivot well, but there were too many in the dance - she felt there was something lacking, and she didn't feel the romance. His facial expression was clinical, and it felt like lots of different sections stuck together with no binding fairydust. Oh my God: ALERT, ALERT. ALESHA HAS OVERWRITTEN HER PROGRAMMING. GET A TECHNICIAN DOWN HERE, NOW! It's a bit unfortunate that when she actually decides not to be all silver-lining about something, she criticises the person widely suspected to be leading the public vote. Then again, perhaps she thinks that she's never going to be accepted by the viewers and she might as well just say whatever the hell she likes, and I'm not so sure she's wrong. ANYway, Chris is alarmed by Alesha doing her stern face, and scurries back to the protective arms of Tess.

Chris says that he never expected to get this far, and that they felt BLACKPOOL was their turning point, so they're hoping they can stay in it. Scores: Craig 7, Len 8, Alesha 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 29. I love how Alesha's and Bruno's comments were so wildly different and yet their scores were the same.

Halfway leaderboard: Ali is top, Chris is second, Natalie is third. That's it.

Ricky and Natalie are on next. Bruce blathers on about BLACKPOOL for a bit, and to no great purpose, and then we get to the training VT at long last. Ricky's auntie Carol was there last week, and thinks he's brilliant. This week they're doing the American smooth, and Natalie warns that she doesn't want mediocre lifts, she wants crowdpleasing ones. Ricky is unsure that he can get the hang of this dance, but he wants to do his auntie proud. I'm so glad there was a "proud" on the end of that sentence, because otherwise...ew.

Their routine is to 'Over The Rainbow', and I'm quite surprised by their dance - since the American smooths on this show are usually all about being showy and really crowdpleasing, and this dance is...nice but boring. I guess I just expected more, somehow. And then one of the lifts basically involves Ricky lifting Natalie over his head, strongman-style. And sure, it's impressive from a physics point of view, but I didn't think it fitted the dance at all - they'd cultivated this air of quiet, introverted romance with the choreography and then this just came out of nowhere, and didn't seem to me to fit the story they were telling in any way. That said, he holds her up like that for a good ten seconds, so bravo to both of them for pulling it off. [FNAR. - Carrie]

Bruce clarifies for the record that Natalie was not on a wire when Ricky lifted her, and then Len says that Ricky didn't up his game this week, but neither did he lower his standards. He thought the whole number was gorgeous, but it was like Leonardo da Vinci painting the Mona Lisa and sticking a moustache on the end - he doesn't understand why they did that "stupid great big lift", which was completely incongruous. Oh God - I agree with Len. Someone take me out to pasture now. Len was disappointed, because it was disappointed - that sort of thing should be left for the finale (IF THEY'RE THERE, he says), and shouldn't wreck such a lovely dance. Alesha thinks every woman would like the opportunity to be lifted up like that, and it shows a lot of trust between the two of them. She thought it was gentle, understated, and absolutely beautiful, a showstopper. Bruno calls him "the romantic soul with the strength of Samson", and Ricky rubs the back of his head as if to remind us that he doesn't have any hair. Bruno advises him to watch his arm placement, which is a slight point, "but at this stage we have to - even as good as you are, everybody has something to do." Craig agrees with Bruno, but he thinks Ricky is the first celebrity man to lead and add swing and sway, and he loved the lift, and there's a "yay!" at this which I can't tell whether it comes from Natalie or Alesha, but if it's the latter, well: poor form. Len clarifies that he loved the lift itself, but it didn't fit the dance. "You're dull!" Craig chides. And then Len calls Craig a "donut" and refuses to argue any more.

Backstage, the pros are all being very supportive of The Lift, and Natalie admits that she knew Len wasn't going to like it, but she wanted to do a performance for the people at home. Well, this Person At Home had the same reaction as Len, so I'm not entirely sure what her point is here. Ricky clarifies that they knew this was their only chance to do a lift outside of the final, and they couldn't guarantee they would get there. Scores: Craig 9, Len 8, Alesha 10, Bruno 9 for a total of 36.

Next are Laila and Anton. After Anklegate last week, Laila feels like she has something to prove. She says she would've kicked herself if she hadn't tried, and she got really upset, because she was convinced she was going home. She really appreciates the public support, but she has survivor's guilt over Ricky and Tuffers being in the dance-off. This week, she's got the go-ahead to dance, but they've only been able to do two days' training because of her injury. She's feeling better, but it's still painful and she knows she just has to work through it all.

They're dancing a waltz to a song called 'Fascination' (not the Alphabeat one that Jade and Ian did their quickstep to, just to clarify). It's quite nice - very gentle (I suppose possibly more through necessity than anything else) and involving lots of pivoting. Bruno says that despite That Mistake There, which they will have to take into account, it was good, though her posture was not. Craig didn't think she was following Anton - she was more of a hindrance than a help. It wasn't her best dance, but a miraculous recovery under the circumstances. Len says she hasn't had enough time to practice which explains the lack of finesse (at which point the ghost of Kelly Brook appears behind him and gives him a wedgie), but she did spectacularly well all things considered. Alesha says she had high expectations, and that Laila's posture wasn't right, which she thought they would've sorted out by now, but she was very pleasantly surprised that they got all the way through it, but she'd like to see Laila work a little bit harder so she can really show them what she's made of.

House of Tesstosterone: Laila says that they've only had about six and a half hours training, and she's not great at learning routines, so she's surprised they even made it through, and Anton's mid-way through saying something complimentary when Tess cuts him off with a sharp "SCORESAREIN". Snerk. Craig awards it 6, Len 8, Alesha 7 and Bruno 8 for a total of 29. Tess points out that this is their lowest ballroom score so far, and Anton's all "yeah, thanks for the reminder."

And finally, it's Ricky Groves (with some stubble, looking like Ming the Merciless, while Erin is bedecked in some hideous purple fringed number that makes her look like the unholy result of someone splicing the genes of the Honey Monster with a bag of pickled onion Monster Munch). Ricky was in the dance-off last week, but is determined to avoid it with this week's tango. He didn't expect to be saved over Phil and Katya, and says he's going to come out fighting this week - before having a lovely meta moment of acknowledging he says that every week. He is lacklustre in rehearsals, so Erin gets all Miss Whiplash on him, and basically shouts him through the routine. This may not have been the best strategy, as we're about to see.

They're dancing to 'U Got The Look', which is an odd choice. Also odd: Erin's choreography for this routine, which is not all that exciting. Although, in all fairness to Erin, Ricky goes wrong quite early in the routine and then has to be steered through the rest of it, so it's entirely possible that what we saw wasn't quite what Erin had laid down for him. Erin puts her arms around him at the end, and it's clear from his face that he messed up. As they walk over to the judges' desk, Ricky is clearly frustrated with what happened, and stamps his foot. Bruce comments that he thought there was a paso doble happening behind him. Heh.

Len is asked if this performance proved he was right to save Ricky from the dance-off last week. Len replies that Ricky deserved to win the dance-off, but tonight's performance had too many mistakes in it, and he kept going wrong. Ricky speaks up: "It's a dance competition after all, and if you make mistakes, you've got to go. Maybe it's my time to go, I don't know." Alesha says she feels bad for him - she'd have scored him higher if it hadn't been for the mistakes (well, yes) and she thought he came out with determination considering his lack of success in recent weeks. Bruno says that Ricky is a gentleman for what he said, and that Alesha is right: he wanted to do it so badly, but it ended up very badly. Craig concludes that there were "mistakes galore" and it was sterile and mechanical all the way through even without that, which he thinks is rather sad. Ricky asserts that if he's in the dance-off this week he'll get it right, and then runs off too soon, so Bruce has to call him back and tell him that he's his favourite.

In the House of Tesstosterone, Ricky still looks very unhappy. He confesses that the first couple of steps went through, which threw him, and then he mucked up. He says that if he deserves to go in the dance-off, then he will, and he can try to get it right. Credit to him, he is behaving very responsibly about this, though I'd hazard that if a woobielicious display like this can't keep him out of the dance-off, then nothing can. Scores: Craig 5, Len 6 (ouch), Alesha 6, Bruno 5 for a total of 22.

Final leaderboard: Ricky and Natalie at the top, then Ali and Brian, then a tie between Chris and Ola and Laila and Anton, then Natalie and Vincent, and then Ricky and Erin at the bottom. The phonelines open for 15 whole minutes. I throw a vote in for Ali and Brian, since Jade isn't there any more and I thought they were in danger this week, and Ali's probably my favourite celebrity now that Jade's gone, but I don't even like her that much. Sigh.

Recap: Ali's shaky foxtrot, Natalie's rigid samba, Chris's pleasing Viennese waltz, Ricky W's LIFT LIFT LOOK AT MY LIFT American smooth, Laila's 100% completion bonus waltz and Ricky G's entirely made up on the spot tango.

Tess asks Ricky Whittle how he's feeling to be top, and he is very excited he didn't drop Natalie. So is the show's insurance underwriter, who probably hasn't slept all week with all the Jade drama. Ricky Groves doesn't know if the viewers will save him from the dance-off, but vows to go out fighting if they don't. Natalie is worried that she's slid back down the leaderboard, so she's going to try to climb back up.

To kill time while the phone lines are open, Darren and Lilia are going to do a swing routine to 'Wild Young Hearts' by the Noisettes, which involves a lot of kicking and throwing Lilia around. If you've not seen swing dancing before, just imagine a clown doing the jive, and that should give you some idea. It's fun, but a little relentless, which makes me fear for the celebrities who have to do it next week. (Spoiler!)

Bruce is with the judges, and asks Alesha why Ricky got a ten. She says that all the elements came together - music, choreography and chemistry, and she got carried away watching it. Bruno is asked who he'd put his money on "in lira", except Italy hasn't used lira since 2002. Finger on the pulse as ever, Bruce! Bruno wants to split it between Ali and Ricky - which confuses Bruce, who thought he meant that he wanted to see Ali Bastian dancing with Ricky Whittle, and then Bruno admits that he would quite like to see that anyway. Heh. Craig is asked who disappointed him, "apart from Len". Snerk. He says Ricky and Erin, and says that it's awful when something goes wrong from the beginning and you can't get it back. He adds that it's something they've all been through - "well, I haven't, but I'm sure Bruno and the others have." Hee! I can't speak for Bruno, but we all know Alesha has some experience of what it's like when you can't get it back:

God, I love that song.

Len is asked what he thinks of the standard this series, and he thinks it has had peaks and troughs throughout, and he doesn't think tonight was a great night, though he thinks Ricky and Ali have the potential to go all the way. He thinks the dynamic's changed because "dear Jade" has had to withdraw and he thinks she's the main one who was chasing them, and the rest of them need to buck their ideas up. I'm sure I don't remember the judges being anything like as enthusiastic about Jade when she was still here. You don't know what you got 'til it's gone, I suppose. (Shoo-bop-bop-bop-bop. Shoo-bop-bop-bop.) Then he tries to restate his point and says Laila's name instead of Ali's, and Alesha has to correct him. Heh.

Then BEST NEWS EVER: there are to be two new dances next week, either a rock 'n' roll style dance, or (wait for it) the Charleston. Yippee! I have been dying for them to include the Charleston as a competitive dance on this show ever since I saw this:

(I know she's not technically very good, but isn't that choreography awesome?)

VT time: the judges are very very excited about the new dances. The Charleston takes us back to the roaring '20s, and is quirky and full of character. The girls will be saucy flapper girls, and it's a fun and silly dance. And rock 'n' roll looks much like the swing demonstration that Darren and Lilia just did. It's a lot of lifting for the men, and a lot of vaulting for the women. These aren't dances for the meek and mild, Len cautions.

Tess is very excited, and reveals that Ali is doing the Charleston next week if she's still around. Ali's thrilled to have such nice comments from Alesha, but doesn't feel safe because anything can happen with the public vote. And that's it from the House of Tesstosterone. Damn, that was quick.

After a fleeting It Takes Two trailer, Bruce is out front again (Jade is behind him - hi Jade! We miss you already!) and introduces a rumba from the professional dancers. They're dancing to 'Frozen' by Madonna and bathed in eerie blue light. The dancing is lovely, but the white and black outfits they're all wearing makes it look a bit like a GCSE Drama practical presentation about saying no to drugs, or something. The lines close in the middle of this, incidentally.

Bruce stammers through the whole "the lines are closed, if you're the sort of idiot who calls now your vote won't be counted and you may still be charged" bit, and then attempts to introduce "Dame Shirley Bally". Oh dear. However, this is all made up for by a little skit in which Bruce attempts to talk to her in her dressing room, where Dame Shirley is wearing a fierce (faux?) fur hat. Bruce says that he enjoyed her duet with Dizzee Rascal on the Children in Need concert, and asks if they can do a duet. And at this, Dame Shirley pulls Dizzee's phone number OUT OF HER CLEAVAGE and gives it to Bruce. Amazing.

And then Dame Shirley sings her new single, written by Gary out of Take That, and the song itself is okay, I guess, but I'm not really paying that much attention because it's DAME SHIRLEY BASSEY, and who cares what she's singing? She is THERE, and that is all I care about. Ian and Natalie dance to her song, and Natalie's hairdo goes all fluffy halfway through from all the twirling around, which is quite funny.

Finally, it is time to reveal the couples who are safe. In no particular order, they are: Chris and Ola, Ali and Brian, Ricky....and Natalie (I love how they brace themselves while waiting for the second name, and it's SO cruel to keep them hanging on, but also brilliant) and Natalie and Vincent ("Mamma Mia!" Vincent exclaims). So the dance-off this week is between Laila and Ricky.

Laila and Anton are on first with a reprise of their waltz. I think they're a little improved this time around, as it seems a wee bit more fluid, and Laila does appear to be making an attempt to sort her posture out. Ricky and Erin attempt their tango a second time, and he is looking very determined, and there don't seem to be any serious mistakes second time around, but as tangos go, it is a little bit limp.

Laila and Anton return to the dancefloor to join them, and after the usual explanation of how the judges' votes work, it is time for those votes to be cast. None of the judges waste much time explaining their decisions, but Craig, Alesha and Bruno all vote to keep Laila and Anton, so it's third time unlucky for Ricky and Erin. Len is asked what his vote would've been, and he says that although Ricky danced much better in the dance-off than previously, he would still have saved Laila.

Erin says that Ricky has been a wonderful partner, and has given it 100% (only 100? That's positively lacklustre considering the sort of percentages the contestants allegedly "give it" on The Apprentice or The X Factor). Ricky is classy in his exit and asks everyone to applaud Erin, which is rather nice.

Bruce reminds us that that the contestants will be taking on two new dances next week, either a rock 'n' roll dance ("a sort of jive") or a Charleston ("a sort of quickstep") - ahh, variety. Well, despite the absence of Jade and thus the departure of most of my interest in this series, I am very excited about the new dances, so they came in at exactly the right time. Join me next week, and we shall discover if they were worth the wait...

Monday, 16 November 2009

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

- The wardrobe department attach cycling shorts to the bottom of the men's shirts to avoid them riding up while the contestants are dancing.
- The rules for Strictly state that if a doctor forbids a celebrity from dancing, they are permitted to be absent from the show for one week only.
- Len basically thinks Jade and Laila are big girls' blouses for not dancing properly with their various leg ailments, since Phil danced after his knee operation. Way to spectacularly miss the point, Len.
- As of Tuesday, Jade is still not allowed to dance. If we were the type of people to include emoticons in our copy, this is where we would put a sad face.
- The jive and the quickstep are the two dances which put the body under the most strain.
- That choreography corner is so much better when Future Head Judge Karen Hardy does it.
- Tuesday is the worst day of the week for rehearsals - it's the day when the choreography is not there yet and you can't do it with the music, so the panic sets in.
- Claudia has to watch the show lying down on Saturday nights.
- Russell Grant does not approve of all of the music choices.
- Feeding Len's god complex is apparently more important than finding out if Jade is well enough to dance on Saturday.
- Ola once broke James's nose on the dancefloor. He almost certainly deserved it.
- Craig Revel-Horwood doesn't like cats because he was in the musical for far too long.
- Natalie Cassidy sings quite a lot in rehearsals.
- Len doesn't like ketchup.
- Ricky Whittle's feet shrank two sizes at some point.
- There's still no official verdict on whether Jade can perform on Saturday. *bites bottom lip*
- Michael Ball thinks 'Holiday' is the worst Madonna song out there.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Tuf gets going

Top 8: 14th November 2009

So! Last week we were in BLACKPOOL, lest we forget, where Ali got a perfect score, and Craig Kelly was the unfortunate recipient of a Blackpool elimination (geddit?). Now we're back in stupid, smelly London, and if that feels like a bit of a come-down, well...just wait until you've seen what a hideous mess is in store for you tonight. One couple's journey ends tonight. This is Strictly Come Dancing - live! Cue titles.

You may have noticed that poor Bruce is ill with the flu, and so there are some changes to the presenting line-up tonight. Tess is here (in a cream-coloured dress that inexplicably has a shoe-shaped piece of felt attached to her right breast), and will be joined for one night only by...Ronnie Corbett? Sure, why not. Ronnie slips down the stairs, so he goes back up and walks back down again, but is too late to meet Tess in time for the orchestral flourish - nonetheless, they proceed with the finishing pose, which involves her catching his leg, just for a change. Ronnie gets a standing ovation just for being Ronnie Corbett, which is fair enough. He reports that he is there to keep an eye on things in Bruce's absence, and fulfils Bruce's contractual obligation to do the "nice to see you, to see you nice" bit. There's a gag about Ronnie helping out at "short notice", and after a few more height gags, it's time to introduce the couples.

This is the first of many things that feels off tonight: rather than introducing the couples by their full names (and the celebrity's profession), they're simply introduced by their first names: Ricky and Erin, Chris and Ola, Natalie and Vincent, Ricky and Natalie, Phil and Katya, etc. This has the unnerving effect of making everything feel very rushed, to the extent that by the time the band is wrapping up and the camera is panning down the line-up, there are only five couples in it. [I blame Tess. She gabbled this. - Carrie] Ali and Brian arrive just in time for the shot to cut away, and Laila and Anton don't even make it into the shot at all. Now, you may think "hang on a minute, that's only seven couples - where are Jade and Ian?" And you'd be right to do so, but we'll be getting to that in a minute.

"There they all are!" says Tess, ignoring the elephant not in the room (not that I'm calling Jade or Ian an elephant, obviously). [Even if their dancing did send vibrations through Len's arse last week. - Carrie] After a bit more filler about what dancers used to look like in Ronnie's day (cut to a shot of him in drag from The Two Ronnies), Tess gets to the nitty-gritty: specifically the lack of an Amazonian athlete and her professional partner. The reason for this is that Jade sustained a serious injury in this afternoon's dance rehearsal, and was told by a doctor not to participate in tonight's show - but she and Ian are backstage now, with the lovely Claudia Winkleman, who is playing Tess for one night only. I feel like I should rename the House of Tesstosterone in her honour, but I don't really know what to call it. The House of Claudacious Behaviour? No. The House of Winklemen and Women? No, that's even worse. Oh, fuck it: it always has been and always will be the House of Tesstosterone, regardless of who's currently stationed in there. Sorry, Claudia. I still love you, obviously.

Anyway, Jade and Ian are decked out for the tango, and I can't even begin to tell you how disappointed I am that we're not going to get to see it because I've been looking forward to this routine all week, but that's not really the matter of prime importance right now. Jade looks utterly crestfallen, by the way, and is pretty much on the verge of tears, while Ian is maintaining a professional persona but is, I should imagine, similarly a bit gutted. We see some footage of the dress rehearsal, where Jade is limping around at the end of the dance. Ian explains that the dance itself went fine, but he went to pick her up from the floor at the end of it and her knee popped. Jade says that she heard a loud sound in her knee, and then felt a lot of pain, and now she's panicking, as she doesn't know if she's going to be able to start training for her long jump in January. And that, right there, I think is one of the reasons I like Jade so much: as competitive as she is in this competition, she's got her priorities in order, and when something like this happens, her first concern is her actual day job and how this is going to affect it. She's upset, because she really wanted to do the tango. As we come back from the VT, Jade is crying - and I am in my living room on the verge of tears myself, because the whole thing is utterly heartbreaking. It's just as well that the ever-empathetic Claudia is managing the House of Tesstosterone today, because her condolences sound far more sincere than I imagine Tess's would've done in the same situation. Jade explains that she's had lots of injuries, of course, being an athlete, but she feels like she's letting people down by not dancing - Ian, chiefly, and also the people who've supported the two of them. She really wanted to do the dance. Ian says that she's been brilliant, and it's been a fantastic dance for Jade, but the most important thing is that Jade gets her knee better. And as a result, they are off right now to get it seen to properly. Claudia wishes Jade well, and hopes that we will see her next week - as do I, because this would be such a horrible way to go out of the competition.

Back in the studio, Tess is all "aww, poor Jade! The tango is her favourite dance!" in a cloying sort of way that confirms my earlier assertion that Claudia was the more suitable person to be interviewing an injured and distraught contestant. Further weirdness: at this point, Ronnie announces that he won't actually be helping Tess out all evening - he's done his bit and is off to sit in the audience, but he will be keeping in touch with Brucie over the evening. I don't really get that - either Ronnie should've co-presented all evening, or not at all, but it felt weird to just have him pop up randomly during the show to do things that Claudia could've easily done. [Bruce and Tess are both jealously defending their jobs. - Carrie]

Tonight's first couple are Phil and Katya, dancing an American smooth. Last week he got 28 for his rumba, and was a bit disappointed, even though Len said it was his best Latin dance. He's looking forward to being debonair in his American smooth. Continuing tonight's injury porn theme (and there's still more to come), Phil talks about his knee operation, and limps around the training room, wincing. I have visions of this show's insurance underwriter watching tonight's programme with a cold flannel over his or her head and nails bitten down to the quick, because the way things are going, you half expect all the celebrities to be leaving on crutches this week. Phil is phearful about lifting Katya, because of the extra pressure it will put on his knee - and he's nervous that Katya's mum has flown over to come and see her perform this week.

Their routine is to 'Come Fly With Me', and this isn't the most comfortable Phil has ever looked - when Katya twirls in his hand, he seems to be expecting her elebow to hit him in the face. Aside from that, though, it's a pretty decent routine - there's a plank lift in there which goes seamlessly enough, and it's all nicely elegant. Tess compliments Phil on looking so dapper, and asks after the knee: it's fine, thankfully. She welcomes the fabulous singers, Dave Arch, and his wonderful orchestra, and gets the comma in the right place. The job's yours, Tess!

Craig admits to being marginally disappointed, because he didn't think it was showy enough - it was cool, but not confident until after the first lift. Len wasn't disappointed at all, possibly because Phil is a SPORTSMAN, but ostensibly because he's seen a change of attitude in Phil (hmm, must be catching) who's much more determined and has the will to win. Alesha thinks Phil has his swagger back, and loved the freeness of this dance. She compliments his transitions into the lift, and adds that it was very entertaining. Bruno ends by saying Phil has a blissful look "like someone who just joined the mile high club". Oh dear, it's going to be one of those nights. He points out that Phil lost his timing a few times, but he coped with it well. Katya adds that he performed well, and she was very proud of him. Tess throws to Ronnie to ask what Bruce thought of the lifts - the answer is, of course, "higher, higher". Tess then discovers that it's easier to be thrown to than it is to throw to someone else, as she tries about three different lead-ins for Claudia in the House of Tesstosterone, and none of them seem to take. Poor Tess.

Backstage, Phil says it was good fun, and he didn't drop Katya, which he'd been worried about. Claudia asks if they're angry about Craig being disappointed; Katya confesses to being "a little bit livid". Heh. Scores: Craig 7, Len 8, Alesha 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 31. Phil's highest score to date. Claudia grabs Katya's hand on the excuse that "I'm new" while she reads out the voting numbers. Hee.

On second are Ricky and Natalie. Tess teases that the upcoming jive could be the fastest one we've ever seen on the show. Last week they fucked up quite massively, yet the VT undermines the entire show by showing the scores of one eight and three nines while Natalie wonders backstage how the judges missed so many colossal fuckups. In this week's rehearsals, Natalie insists that 35 with a few mistakes is not good enough - and Ricky's chasing Ali now that she's received a perfect score. He's hoping he can survive and not make a mistake on the big day.

Natalie starts the routine perched on the judges' desk, so I kind of hate this already. It's certaily a fast jive, but the problem is that the execution is not precise enough to stop it from looking a little bit sloppy in places. To be honest, I'm not a massive fan of the choreography Natalie's come up with for this, which is just a bit too manic for my tastes, and seems to be more about showboating than actual dancing. It ends with Ricky holding Natalie under her arms and whirling her around between his legs, which is impressive, sure, but just looks cumbersome.

Len says that Ricky is the most consistent because he's never had lower than an eight from him. Len, sweetheart, there's hardly been a contestant on this show in the last three years that's got less than seven from you, so that's such a redundant point. He's worried that Ricky is "the hunted" and everyone's after him, so he mustn't get complacent. Oh, and it gets better: "think back a year ago," Len tells Ricky, "and Austin Healy was in the same spot that you're in. Everyone thought he was going to win. You have one dance where it's not quite so good, you're in the dance-off against somebody who's really great, and you're out." Except the other person in that equation was LISA SNOWDON, so it's less a case of being up against "somebody who's really great" and more a case of being up against "someone who the judges are determined to drag into the final at all costs". Still bitter? Me? Not in the slightest. Anyway, he finishes by telling them to maintain this standard, so essentially Len spoke for about a minute, of which only about five seconds was actually commentary specifically relating to this dance. Alesha might as well be head judge at this rate. Speaking of Alesha, she doesn't know how they kept up - but she noticed Ricky's timing went out occasionally and he was looking down too much for her liking. Still, he brought "the fun-ness" to the dance. Bruno says, "Talk about a tight package full of power" - I'd rather not, thanks Bruno. He says that the power and energy were high, but the accuracy suffered as a result, though Ricky's work throughout the competition has been amazing. Craig loved it, but thought it lost technique because of the speed. He thought Ricky was behind a lot of the time, and he didn't think the choreography was up to the normal standards. Ricky defends Natalie by saying that she had to tone down the choreography because he had a dodgy leg, and yet there is no "NO FACKING EXCUSES" interjection from Len and Craig like last week.

In Claudia's House of Tesstosterone, Natalie confirms that they slowed it down four times, which I assume means by a factor of four, but I'm open to other interpretations if anyone has any. She takes Craig's comments on board and promises to up the ante next week. I love that neither of them bothers to add "if we're still here", because everyone knows they're not going anywhere. Scores: Craig 8, everyone else 9, so this got the same score as the tango of fuckupitude from last week, and I can't really make sense of the marks they're giving Ricky any more, but I need to save all my energy to make sense of the scoring for Laila later. After the scores come in, Ricky sends love to Jade and Ian on behalf of everyone backstage, and comments on how amazing their tango was looking. Excuse me, I have something in my eye. *runs off sobbing*

Tess is standing next to Ronnie Corbett and Craig Kelly (this is not where Ronnie was sitting a minute ago, by the way), and reminds us that Ricky and Erin were in the dance-off last week. Erin has styled herself as Baroness Thatcher this week, for reasons I can't quite pin down. Last week's salsa got a lukewarm reception, and Ricky is hoping not to be in that position again. Erin remarks that Ricky's fighting spirit has departed him, so to give him a bit of a morale boost, she shows him a video of his nan, Hilda. Hilda is lovely, but seriously, the battle of the celebrity nans has already been won by Alesha, and no one else is ever likely to trouble her for that trophy.

They're dancing the Viennese waltz to 'Nights In White Satin', and it's a bit stilted. Ricky's balance seems off, and it feels to me that the gravitational pull of Erin's professional smile is the only thing holding him upright for the most part. He's concentrating very hard (and wearing his glasses, incidentally), which I think prevents him from being able to sell it properly - however, it has enabled him to get his shoulders in the correct position for possibly the first time in all of his ballroom efforts.

Bruno says that the Viennese waltz made him spin in disbelief - but in a good way, as he's never seen Ricky so composed and restrained, and he kept on time all the way through. His hold on Erin was scarily firm, though, and looked set to crush her at points. Craig felt like he couldn't relax watching it, because Ricky looked so tense, but he thought he coped very well with all the changes of steps and that it was a great job overall. Len disagrees with Bruno and Craig because he didn't see much wrong with it - he noted Ricky's elbow dropping, "but I'm not even going to worry about that because I was fascinated with your glasses." Seriously, Len: I know I'm not your biggest fan, but I would consider it a personal favour if you at least attempted to maintain some small pretense of professionalism. [Len's "I'm not even going to worry about that" has been a bugbear of mine for years now but it has been pleasantly absent for much of this series. - Carrie] He adds that Ricky got all the steps in, and he recovered well from his bad week last week. Alesha says she's seen real improvement in him - he probably felt vulnerable this week, but he should feel proud of himself for what he's achieved this week. Alesha seems so bored tonight. [She would rather be SINGING WITH SHEPHERD'S BUSH, probably. - Carrie]

Backstage, Ricky tells Claudia that the dance-off really does knock your confidence, but he thanks Erin for helping him to get it back. Scores: Craig 7, Len 8, Alesha 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 29. Ricky and the former prime minister are happy with this score.

Chris and Ola are next, and we're reminded of their high-scoring foxtrot from last week. He was thrilled to be only one point behind Ricky Whittle, and it has improved his confidence. They're doing the paso doble this week, and Chris is trying to get used to being in charge, even though we all know that Ola is in charge AT ALL TIMES. They needle each other about it fairly adorably in training.

They head out to the floor, with Chris carrying a cape. Their paso is to 'I Believe In A Thing Called Love', which is a dreadful song choice, and not just for the obvious reasons. It's actually a lot of fun to watch because the choreography is very dramatic, and for once Chris's scrunchy concentration face sort of works for the dance, but any time he does an appel or tries to look commanding, it's quite hard to take him seriously. It's the whole Christine Bleakley "I'm too nice for this dance" thing all over again. Afterwards, Tess says that she was loving the paso face, and Ola pretends to have been scared.

As does Len, who "nearly pooed [his] pants". Lovely. He didn't think Chris would pull off the paso, but he CAME OUT and gave it plenty - he says that "Craig or Bruno will probably bring it up" (stop leaving the actual judging to other people, Len!) and then tells Chris he could've been firmer in the buttocks. I run into the kitchen, grab the sharpest knife I can find, make an incision in the top of my head and pour an entire bottle of Domestos directly onto my brain. Mmmm, bleachy. Anyway, Len loved the attack of the dance. Alesha tells Ola she's doing a great job with Chris, but picks him up on his hands again, and says that more shaping in the body was needed, but she thought it was intense all the way through and performed brilliantly. Bruno comments "that was awful, but I liked it" - he thought Chris looked like a child having a tantrum, prompting Len to start in with the "no! no!"s in the background, sounding not unlike a child himself. Bruno then continues to the valid point of Chris needing more refinement in his dancing, particularly in something like this where he really needs to capture the essence of the matador. "Fair points - well done, Bruno," says Chris. Don't make me hate you, Hollins. Craig thought it had danger, menace and aggression, but it lacked dancing - it was all just placed, and it lacked the dignity, honour and authority of a matador. Which is basically a refinement of what Bruno just said, and I concur. Tess asks them to comment on the caping, since Chris is only the second male celebrity this series to attempt a cape, and frankly, unless it's Kelly Brook and the PINK SPARKLEE CAPE OF YEY, I have no interest.

Backstage, Claudia thought it was brilliant, and asks Ola for her comments on Bruno's comments. Ola says that Chris isn't an angry person, so it was hard to get that out of him. Claudia babies Chris a little bit. Scores: Craig 6 (look of disdain from Len, and seriously, FUCK OFF, GOODMAN), Len 8, Alesha 9 (Alesha, I try to defend you at all times, but even I am drawing a blank right now) and Bruno 7 for a total of 30. Claudia promises to have a go at Craig on Monday for that six.

Midway leaderboard: Ricky and Natalie are top, then Phil and Katya, then Chris and Ola, and Ricky and Erin at the bottom.

Laila and Anton are next. Laila has also received an injury "in training", Tess tells us. Their rumba training is not going well, as Laila is finding it hard to generate the appropriate aura of sexuality with Anton. In fairness, she does say they are "like husband and wife", so that's probably why. She vows to fancy the pants off Anton come Saturday night. Unfortunately, a few hours before the show, Laila tripped on the stairs on the way to her dressing room and sprained her ankle. And obviously I'm sympathetic, but that's not really a training injury, is it? Tsk, Tess. Laila goes to the hospital, but she vows to continue her rumba, "even if I have to hop it, and it's the unsexiest rumba you've ever seen in your life."

Even before they go on, Laila is looking rather unwilling, and her ankle is all tightly bandaged up. They're dancing to 'Rule The World', and it's all so very very tentative, because Laila can barely walk on her ankle, much less dance on it. You can just tell she's concentrating on making it through , but after about a minute, it becomes clear that she wants to stop, and then she covers her face with one hand and breaks down, at which point Anton, being genuinely chivalrous for a change, scoops her up in his arms and swirls her around to spare her the indignity of being stood there unable to finish the dance. She could've always gone for a little sit down on the steps, of course. Then she would've got 40 next week. The audience applauds.

Anton delivers a tearful Laila to the judges, and Tess informs us that it was touch and go whether Laila would be able to perform tonight, and that everyone appreciates her for having a go. Admittedly I'm unsure of the timeline, injury-wise, but I suspect that Laila's decision to go ahead and perform may have been the fact that Jade was already out with an injury, and she didn't want the show to have to lose two couples - which is very laudable, of course, but I don't necessarily know if it was the right decision for her. [I was thinking the same. Tess's word choices were interesting - the doctors forbade Jade from dancing, which makes sense if it's cartilage or ligament damage, but left it up to Laila, because dancing on a sprained ankle won't make it any worse once the injury's been incurred. And then Tess was fulsome in her thanks for Laila's bravery. I wonder if some gentle pressure was applied. And not on an ice compress to her ankle. - Carrie] Craig says that it's too bad that she was concentrating so hard on her injury, because there were glimmers of promise in there, but he can only really grade her on the first part of it. Which I guess is pretty much the only thing he can do, since if you start grading people on how you think they might have done had they not been hampered by something or other, then everyone will start getting scored the same way that Ricky Whittle does, and it'll all be chaos. Len says "the rule is" (where is this rulebook, please?) that if you get through at least 50% of the dance, they will mark it on what they've seen, and he thought Laila was doing really well considering she was injured and in pain. He was enjoying it, so he's going to judge it on what he saw. Alesha feels sorry for Laila, and tells her she looks beautiful, but what she lacked in technique she made up for in passion, and she enjoyed what she saw before it went wrong. Bruno thinks it could've been beautiful, but he has to comment on what he saw, and it was a dance Laila couldn't do justice to, because of circumstances out of her control, and in fairness to the other dancers, he - join in at home if you know the words - can only mark on what he saw. I THINK WE GET IT.

Tess wonders what the hell is going on (seriously, I'm right there with you, Tess), and backstage, Claudia hands Laila a tissue. Laila says that she was just concentrating on trying to get through it. Claudia reiterates that it was Laila's decision to dance, and admires her dress with all the fringing. Scores: Craig 3, Len 7, Alesha 6, Bruno 6. Craig gets booed for his score, but I'm not entirely sure it was that unfair - she only did half a dance, and wasn't even able to do that particularly well because of her injury. I know that there were mitigating circumstances, and I wouldn't have wanted to be in the position of having to assign this dance a score out of ten given everything that's happened, but I don't think he was particularly out of order there. Laila and Anton both take the score gracefully, even managing to giggle that it's the same score they got for their jive. Claudia cautions them not to say "the J word". What, journey?

Next are Natalie and Vincent. NATALIE HAS A BOW MADE OF HAIR. I mean, it looks fugly, but I appreciate the engineering that brought it into being all the same. Sort of like an electricity pylon, in that regard. Natalie is very proud of her quickstep from last week, and likens herself to the tortoise out of The Hare And The Tortoise, complete with terrifying tortoise impression. Louisa Lytton comes in to oversee their rehearsals, cunningly disguised as Jessie Wallace, and does not do her jive for us, which saddens me. Natalie thinks she could be a contender at this point.

Their foxtrot is to 'Magic Moments', which can't ever be anything but cheesy, and...well, it's a foxtrot, isn't it? It's not very exciting, and there are some nice bits of choreography in it, but it just feels like a bit of a genteel stroll around the dancefloor to me, and is the latest in a line of disappointing dances this evening. I know we're not in BLACKPOOL any more, but come on, everybody: buck your ideas up. They finish with air kisses, and I am glad it ended before it gave me diabetes.

Natalie kisses Tess's hand in Bruce's absence, and sends him get well soon. Bruno thinks Natalie has gone all posh, and he can see she was really trying to work on her body contact. He thought it lacked a bit of freedom of movement, and counsels her to remember that both things are important. Craig agrees in that it lacked the flow around the floor, but he thought it was beautifully simple and honest. Len says it was "quality right up my street" and "full of magic moments" (KILL ME NOW), and declares it was Natalie's best dance. Christ, I thought her jive was better than this. Alesha loved the song choice, which she thought suited both of their personalities (if she means trite, then I agree, but I suspect she does not), and she found it elegant, composed and beautiful. I'm so on a different page to these guys, bceause I just did not get this one at all.

Backstage, Natalie throws her arms around all "I'm a lady! I'm a lady!", sounding a bit like Emily Howard. Natalie says that she's very excited this week because Claudia's here and Ronnie Corbett's here. Vincent chips in, "And I'm here!", which prompts Natalie to scowl, "You're ALWAYS here", which did at least make me laugh. Scores: Craig 8, Len 9, Alesha 9, Bruno 8 for a total of 34. That's pretty much up there with the 40 given to Lisa Snowdon's cha cha cha in the WTF Scoring Hall Of Fame for me.

Out in front, Tess is with the judges, and we're ending with Ali and Brian. We're reminded that she got 40 for her Viennese waltz last week. Tonight she has a cha cha cha to perform, and a lot to live up to. They were on a massive high after the comments, before the scores even came in. Ali says it was a real Cinderella moment of the kind that doesn't normally happen in life. Brian says that he's trying to show her wild side in the cha cha cha. Predictably, Ali struggles a bit with being sexy in rehearsals, and is being kind of intense about wanting to do well after her brush with the bottom two the other week.

They're dancing to 'I Gotta Feeling' by the Black Eyed Peas, and thankfully, this is a pretty decent dance, just when I was beginning to abandon all hope. It lacks the raunchiness that a cha cha cha probably should have, but there's some really nice choreography on display, and it's certainly the best executed dance of the evening to my eyes. Alesha compliments Ali on her technical excellence, specifically her arms and her cha cha walks, though she thought it was a tad polite for her tastes, and she would like to see more fire in her belly. Bruno agrees entirely - Ali is one of the very few people that always finishes her arm movements properly, but she's a nice girl, not the bad girl this dance needs. Craig thought the music didn't suggest a cha cha cha, but he thought the choreography that came from it was spectacular. He points out that Ali was a bit early on one kick, but he likes the partnership. Len liked it, but thought it was "a Darcey Bussell" cha cha cha - in that it was "airy fairy". I am interested to see how the aforementioned Ms Bussell responds to that when she joins the judging panel in a few weeks. Ronnie then pretends to phone Bruce, and reports that Bruce's temperature has gone up following the hip action. That was such an abortive attempt at a running gag, having Ronnie phoning Bruce. I realise they probably had to come up with it at short notice, but I'm inclined to think they'd have been better off not bothering.

Ali and Brian hustle back to Claudia, and Brian is pleased that his choreography was complimented. He agrees that Ali is a polite girl. Claudia remarks in a baby voice that Ali is so very sweet, and then realises that she "probably shouldn't do the raccoon voice". Heh. Scores: Craig 9, Len 8, Alesha 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 35. They're happy with that.

Final leaderboard: Ricky W and Ali are tied for first place, with Natalie behind, then Phil, then Chris, then Ricky, then Laila at the bottom with two points. Claudia ceremoniously opens the phone lines, and does a little jig. The usual recap VT follows, but I have no real desire to relive any of those performances. D'you know what the kicker is? If Jade hadn't injured herself, there's a good chance she might have actually been top tonight, because everyone else was so off their game and her tango was looking good. Ah, I weep for what might have been. [On Dancing With The Stars, if someone is injured in training, they give marks according to their dress rehearsal. - Carrie]

Post-VT, Claudia is joined by all the couples, and clarifies for the record that Jade was expressly forbidden from dancing tonight, while Laila was given the option of deciding for herself and elected to go ahead. Laila's ankle is still very sore and quite swollen. Natalie can't believe she got 34 (neither can I), and she might be a contender now, so she wants to stick around.

After this, we have a bolero demonstration from Brian and Kristina, which Tess comments is a new dance to the show. Part of me hopes this means the contestants will have to dance it at some point, thought I don't know if this is actually the plan. It basically just looks like a rumba with a few more lifts in it, but it's wonderfully danced by Brian and Kristina, and if we're nicking dances from Dancing On Ice, I wonder how long it will be before wire work gets weaved in somewhere.

Tess is now in the audience with Ronnie, who is sitting in front of Lionel Blair and next to Craig Kelly again. He tells Tess that she's his favourite. Heh. And following that, it's time for the inaugural VT of the Great British Public saying who they're voting for. Some schoolboys like Jade, as do some nurses, and a drummer. Some people in anoraks like Chris, as does a horsey lady and a woman with curly blonde hair. Some people enjoy Ali and Brian's "love on the dancefloor", and an elephant keeper at Whipsnade Zoo doesn't think Ali will be packing her "trunk" for a while yet. Does anyone even carry a trunk any more? Isn't that joke officially so archaic now that it should be pensioned off? (Insert Bruce Forsyth joke here.) Some Liverpudlians love Ricky, as does a woman in a costume shop. A bell-ringer likes Natalie Cassidy, as does a woman in a long scarf. A man painting a wall is voting for Ricky Groves, while a man in a kilt fancies Laila, and a random market trader who has apparently recently suffered a head trauma thinks Laila is good at Latin American dances. Seriously: WHAT? A cab driver likes Tuffers, and a footballing chap thinks that if Darren Gough can win it, then Tuffers has a good chance of making the final. If Darren Gough can win it, I should think a discarded football boot has a reasonably good chance of taking the glitterball trophy home, personally. Len would give it a ten for being SPORTS EQUIPMENT.

Tess asks Craig whose performance he enjoyed most, and he names Ali and Brian, since her arm placement is great, and her timing is always excellent (except for that one kick), and she's good at ballroom AND Latin. Len's asked who should be worried, and he says Laila, albeit through no fault of her own. Alesha is asked who she's looking forward to seeing next week, and she says Jade, because she was really missed tonight (AND HOW) and she wishes her a speedy recovery, and then also mentions Chris for good measure, suggesting he could be a contender, and Bruno says that the biggest improvement tonight came from Phil, who's advanced from a bum-shaker into a proper dancer.

We're back with Claudia again, and Tuffers is thrilled to have been singled out. He says that if he's lucky enough to come back, he'll be aiming for a nine or a ten. Chris says that he's just calmed down now, and is pleased that he's one of Alesha's favourites.

Tess is up in the gallery again, and introduces a performance from the professionals, and initially confuses me by saying "for one night only", which is odd because all of the dances on this show are for one night only, until it turns out that they're dancing to 'One Night Only' from Dreamgirls. Taking part are Darren, Lilia, James, Kristina, Matthew and Aliona. It's an impressively acrobatic display, and I'm probably a bit biased because I love this song, except when Pirate Jessie is doing it.

Tess announces the closure of the phone lines and a performance from the Jersey Boys while the phone votes are totted up. They're singing 'Beggin'', and I assume this is a pre-record because surely they would've been on stage at the time this show was on. A dance troupe (Boy Blue, apparently) comes on to do some hip hop moves to it, and seriously, can we just get this over with already? This is quite possibly the worst episode of the series because everything's just felt like such a shambles, and while this is all very nice, I mentally checked out of this episode about fifteen minutes ago.

It ends eventually, and Tess is impressed that there is breakdancing on the show. It's then time for yet another fucking I Don't Want To Go Home VT, and why must we always sit through one of these? Nobody ever wants to go home on this show, except for Stephanie Beacham, and she'd have far more class than to talk about it in a VT. Ricky Groves tears up a bit at the thought of going home. Oh, grow a pair.

Finally, it's time for Tess to reveal the results. In no particular order, as always, the following couples are safe: Ricky and Natalie, Natalie and Vincent, Ali and Brian, Chris and Ola, and Laila and Anton, which leaves Ricky and Erin and Phil and Katya in the dance-off. Natalie Lowe runs over to hug Erin. Bless.

There's no asking of advice from Len (hurrah!), and instead we're straight to business: suddenly Claudia is out front for the first time all night, and welcomes Phil and Katya back to the floor. The level of performance is improved second time around, though there are a few moments of uncertainty in the dancing which may be actual mistakes, though I don't remember the first outing of the dance well enough to be certain. Then Claudia's in the gallery, and wastes no time in welcoming back Ricky and Erin, who are also giving it a bit more welly this time around, but the whole thing still feels a bit awkward and unbalanced to watch. I'd have given the edge to Phil and Katya, personally.

It's decision time: Craig says that it's difficult, as Phil and Katya made "a big ol' boo boo in their dance", so he saves Ricky and Erin. Alesha saves Phil and Katya. Bruno also votes for Phil and Katya. And so we go to Head Judge Len and his casting vote, who opts for the couple who gave the "cleaner and more precise" performance - Ricky and Erin. So Phil and Katya are out.

Tess asks Phil if he's enjoyed himself, and he barely has enough time to say "yes" before Katya launches into a fairly blatant "let me come back next year" plea: "It was the most amazing experience - it was so amazing to be part of this family and to feel so welcome, and I had the best partner." I hope she comes back, anyway, because I like her a lot. They take to the floor for their farewell dance, and Ronnie and Claudia join Tess, who points to next week's show, with the return of Bruce and a performance from Shirley Bassey. Claudia implores us to join her on It Takes Two during the week, and that's that.

If I can indulge myself for one last paragraph: this was such an odd show, where everything just felt a bit off - whether it was the amount of injuries, or the absence of Bruce, or the faint aura of boredom hanging over the judges' table, or a particularly protracted post-BLACKPOOL comedown, I don't know, but it really just didn't feel right at all. Fingers crossed that all is back to normal next week, and super-extra fingers crossed that Jade will be well enough to continue competing. See you then!