Sunday, 28 October 2012

The fright stuff

Top 12: 27th October 2012

Do not adjust your set. Unless you've just had digital switchover in your region, in which case you might have to. But what I mean is that we open this week's show with static and shots of the test card. (I feel they missed a trick by not photoshopping Daly into it and turning it into the Tess card, but I'm sure they had their reasons.) This is, of course, because it's Halloween week - yes, we've got two theme weeks in a row, and by the end of tonight's show I think we'll all agree that's best avoided in future. Too much enforced zaniness, too much "comedy" - just too much, generally. [Agreed.  Although I'm the only person in the world who quite likes Halloween week, nobody needs that straight off the back of stupid film week - Rad] Anyway, first we must revisit last week, in which we went all Hollywood: Nicky actually managed to dance a bit, Louis did TEH LIFTZ from Dirty Dancing and Richard's attempt at rebutchification involved playing Dolly Parton. Oh Erin. Meanwhile, Denise topped the leaderboard and Victoria had another wardrobe malfunction - or, quite possibly, the wardrobe had a Victoria malfunction, given that her problems generally seemed to be caused by not moving quickly enough. And we drawled goodbye to Jerry and Anton, because while Holly Valance taught us last year that not giving a shit can be incredibly entertaining, it usually helps if you do at least attempt to dance a bit. And then we move back to tonight, in which it's clear the comedy VTs will be out in full force and we'll be subjected to more ham than Nigella's larder at Christmas, because it's Strictly Halloween: LIVE!

Titles! Now with added skeletons and pumpkins at the end to remind us that it's that most wonderful time of the year. No, not Christmas, the other one. Naturally, we open with a spooky group dance to 'Thriller', because this show is nothing if not original. All the pros are made up to look undead (or in Anton's case, more undead than usual, etc etc) - worryingly, Zombie Karen Hauer is a dead ringer for Nancy Dell'Olio. Brendan is having far too much fun with the whole thing, and the celebrities get a chance to parade in as vampires halfway through. It's not a patch on last year's Addams Family theme, but it'll do. There's a bit where Anton faces off against Richard for...reasons, then everyone pairs up and it becomes a bit more obvious why they've let Lisa do lots of fast Latin routines and not very many ballroom ones so far. Then everyone does Thriller moves, obviously, and Kimberley looks a lot more comfortable here than she generally does during her own routines - I'm guessing because it's a bit closer to the sort of dancing she's used to. Oh, and at the end, it turns out that Craig is the lord of all the undead. Frankly I'm surprised the show just stops at that and doesn't make a "queen of the damned" joke.

After that, Bruce and Tess make their entrance. Daly Dresswatch: actually not too bad this week. She's wearing an olive-green gown cinched in at the waist with a black belt. I'm not crazy about the drapes of fabric over her shoulders, but the rest of it is acceptable. Typical that Halloween would be the one week of the year where Tess's outfit isn't actually scary. They go for the leg-kick again, so I'm guessing that the first-bumps have been exiled for good. Bruce's opening joke is lengthy and laboured and not worth the effort of transcribing, so let's all save ourselves the trauma and move right along, yes? Although I should probably acknowledge the reaction shot that shows us Tom Daley is in the audience supporting his Olympian pals. And yes, he's fully clothed. Perverts, the lot of you.

In fact, let's get on to meeting the stars of our show and the ridiculous things they've come as in honour of All Hallows' Eve (which is on Wednesday, but whatevs): Kimberley and Pasha (Little Red Riding Hood and an extra from MTV's reboot of Teen Wolf), Nicky and Karen (Elton John and Nancy Dell'Olio), Fern and Artem (the Wicked Queen from Snow White and the Huntsman and her gay son), Michael and Natalie (the Go Compare man and She-Ra), Lisa and Robin (Grotbags and the missing sixth member of One Direction), Louis and Flavia (Snoopy's butler and the bride of Captain Colgate), Dani and Vincent (Velma from Scooby Doo and Swedish pop sensation Robyn), Sid and Ola (I'm not even sure I can make their beige sequinned jumpsuits funny, they're just rather sad), Denise and James (Curly Sue and Mr Freeze from Batman and Robin), Richard and Erin (Lord of the Fireflies and Vampira), Victoria and Brendan (Amy Lee and a silver service waiter), and finally Colin and Kristina (Vampire Batman and Gretchen Weiners at Halloween). Oh, it's going to be a long night, isn't it?

Bruce tells us that tonight we'll be seeing every form of dance, except "Gangnam Style" - at which point the music plays, and everyone does Gangnam Style, so that statement was FACTUALLY INACCURATE. Tess is surprisingly good at that dance, while Darcey does it like she's riding an imaginary pony - which, to be fair, she probably is most of the time anyway. Oppa Fulham style! Bruce warns us that two more couples will be facing the "Deadly Disgusting Dance-Off", which he calls "a fate worse than death". I've been saying that for weeks. Meanwhile, up in the commentary booth, Karen Hardy is joined by Larry Lamb, and in honour of the amazing Friday panel from It Takes Two this week, she's done herself up as Paloma Faith. Now we just need Claudia to pop in dressed as Mel Giedroyc and we've got the full set!

Up first are Dani and Vincent. She was worried about her performance last week, but is pleased that it seemed to go well. She even loved that Len called her a munchkin, for the 46th week on the trot. We're reminded that Betty/Toto bit Vincent last week, and then Vincent tells us that he's finding himself dancing with another dog. This is not, as you might fear, a sign that things have severely soured in his working relationship with Dani, but rather an allusion to the fact that this week's dance has a Scooby Doo theme to it. We're officially up and running with the comedy VTs, as Dani and Vincent interview nervously that it feels like somebody's watching them as they rehearse and doing wacky things like tying their shoelaces together. Dani asks "Vince" if he did that, and I get distracted wondering if this is the first time one of Vincent's partners has referred to him as "Vince". Then they hop into the Mystery Machine and go to Thorpe Park (other amusement parks are available) where Dani finds herself sat next to the grisly ghoul. It chases them around the park until they escape, and their VT ends.

And if you're worried by the lack of resolution to that "being chased by a ghoul" storyline...well, first of all, you should possibly take up some sort of hobby. And second of all, don't worry because the ghoul is a key component of their dance! Well, he's standing up on the balcony looking vaguely menacing throughout, anyway. Dani and Vincent are dancing the cha-cha-cha to the theme from Scooby Doo, of course, and I'm not sure who had the bright idea to dress Vincent up as Shaggy but put him in a bright blond wig, because that's completely the wrong colour and it makes him look more like Boris Johnson. As far as the dancing goes, it's not bad - Dani needs to be a little bit more precise in her arms, but the leg movements are good, and Vincent's added a few interesting flourishes to the standard choreography to stop it from getting too dull. Dani's still a little unstable in her spins, as well - I think she still hasn't quite mastered spotting yet. At the end, they unmask the ghoul, and - shriek! - it's Anton, who announces down the camera that he would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for those meddling kids. This whole ending-the-first-dance-with-a-one-liner thing needs to stop. Now.

Bruce manages a moderately funny joke where he apologises for saying Craig had no heart last week - after all, they hope he does have one, otherwise they won't know where to put the stake. Well, I laughed. Len likens the dance to a sausage sandwich - tasty, satisfying and sets you up for the day ahead, while also leaving you feeling rather guilty that you didn't opt for something that's better for you. Bruno (who's wearing a jacket that has a sequinned hand on his shoulder - oh, Bruno) says that he can't stop looking at Vincent, who looks like Denise Welch. He advises Dani to remember to extend her lines, but her timing and placement is good. Craig thought it was clean with fantastic spins, but he agrees with Bruno that Dani must extend her lines and accentuate her finishes. Darcey cuts him off with "I'm sorry, no." Rude. She tells Dani that if she can do something that fast with that many moves, then that's amazing. Well, I'm glad Darcey interrupted Craig with something important and not just some meaningless inanity.  She then turns to Craig and says "you're wrong". Awfully sassy for someone who's only been here four weeks and whose main feedback for every dance is "so much better than last week", isn't she? [Fuck off Darcey.  She should be grateful The X Factor is disappearing up its own arse this year or there would be much more angry grumbling about her, I'm sure.  I can't believe Alesha got so much stick and Darcey's received comparatively little so far.  She is abysmal - Rad]

They run up to the Tess Circle, where Tess basically admits that everyone was openly laughing at that routine. Vincent bemoans his terrible wig and says that "I look like the monster". Poor Vincent. Tess patronisingly calls him "very special", then asks Dani why she always looks so scared while the judges give their comments. Dani says that it's just quite a scary experience, especially at Halloween when all those malevolent spirits will probably make them all even meaner. Or in Bruno's case, even more incomprehensible. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 6, Len 8, Bruno 7 for a total of 27.  Interesting scores there, particularly Len's. It wasn't bad, but I'm not really sure it was worth an 8.

Second to take to the stage tonight are Richard and Erin "Boagyman" Boag. I'm sure she's thrilled with that new nickname. Bruce makes a joke about Richard building a campfire wherein the punchline is LOLGAY, as you might expect. Last week Richard fared better with his quickstep, so he's feeling good this week. That is, until he discovers that Erin has chosen 'O Fortuna' for their paso doble, because it's not exactly "a floorfiller". Tell that to Simon Cowell, it's worked out well for him. Well, until this series, anyway. I do hope this was a deliberate attempt to bait The X Factor: "look, we've stolen your viewers and now we're stealing your opening music as well. BAHAHAHAHA!" Richard's comedy VT is about hearing that music everywhere he goes. That's pretty much it.

As you can imagine, with that music and Erin's general sense of theatricality, this paso doble is not subtle. There are flames everywhere - in the studio, on the screens, on their outfits. And if you're expecting me to make a "Richard's flaming" joke, shame on you. I'd never stoop that low. Well, probably not. Richard does some fairly decent caping, and then they start dancing. I think the music's hampering him a little bit - it's quite hard to pick up the paso rhythm from it, so his timing's a little bit off in places. It needs a bit more attack as well, but his frame is good, and the paso face is acceptable. He actually makes for quite an imposing matador, all things considered, though I'm not sure about the drawn-on stubble. They could at least have continued the flames motif and given him Seneca Crane's stubble from The Hunger Games.

They finish, and I surely can't be the only person expecting Peter Dickson to bellow "IT'S TIME! TO FACE! THE MUSIC!", can I? It would've been so amazing if the Halloween theme for their paso doble had been The X Factor. They could've captured the true horror of this year's show by dressing Richard up as Gary and Erin as Tulisa. Bruce makes a joke about the flames only "half-cooking my sausage" (and I hope Monkseal won't mind if I steal his "poor Wilnelia" gag here) and he tells Richard that if he's in the dance-off, "you can finish it off for me". I can't even tell if that was meant to be a LOLGAY or not. I rather hope not. Bruno tells Richard he was like Gary Numan in a bad temper - but while the drama was good, the lines, the posture and the timing weren't refined enough. Craig liked the cape work and the turn out, but thinks it needs to be a lot more earthed, and he thinks Richard shouldn't have attempted the jeté en tournant because pretty much nothing about it was right. Overall, he's disappointed. Darcey says the character was "the most spooky matador I've ever seen", and Richard obviously worked hard, but she needs more tilt in the hips, and advises Richard to clench his glutes. Richard quips that he's always doing that anyway. Len liked it because it was BUTCH and says that he used to practise the clenching by putting a threepenny bit up his bum - at least until that unfortunate incident that led to a long explanation which the A&E doctor didn't entirely believe. But he loved that Richard CUMAHHTANGIVITSUM.

They head up to the Tess Circle, where Erin says that their aim was for a mince-free paso doble. A Linda McCartney paso, if you will. Tess asks Richard how he embraced his dominant side, and Richard says he "called Sinitta". Tess explains the 'So Macho' reference for the younger/slower members of the audience, and then tells him the crowd were on their feet. "Were they getting up to leave?" asks Richard. Scores: Craig 5, Darcey 5, Len 7, Bruno 5 for a total of 22. It's not their best score, but Erin's willing to accept it. Richard starts yelling in his butchest matador voice.

Next are Lisa and Robin "Wicked" Windsor. I hope we get to name all the pros after West End shows. I'm thinking Vincent "Mamma Mia" Simone, James "A Chorus of Disapproval" Jordan and Anton "Les Miserables" Du Beke. Anyway, here they be in training: Lisa can't believe how well things have been going so far, even though she didn't have enough jump in her jive, and her weight is falling off. She's vowing to improve on her footwork for Len. This week, they're doing a charleston to 'Witch Doctor' [A song which I never needed to hear again in my life, so thanks, Robin.  You can go off a person you know - Rad], so Robin decides to take her to visit Hogwarts at the Warner Brothers Studio Tour in London. This doesn't feel so much like a comedy VT as it is blatant product placement, to be honest.

So their charleston casts Lisa as a witchcraft teacher and Robin as her geeky student. The problem with Lisa at present is that she's turning into a case of diminishing returns: this is the third time she's basically done a school disco party dance, and each time it's been slightly less good than the previous one. Her legwork is pretty sloppy, and she's off-time a few times. I think Robin might have got himself into his familiar trap of getting carried away with his choreography and working in too much stuff that his partner can't really do. Lisa's giving it a good go, but there are some parts where her arms and legs just aren't moving sharply enough. [There are a few diminishing returns dancers this year - I'd throw Colin and Sid into that mix too - but I think it's more noticeable because Lisa was on top in the first week, because Sid and Colin's first week performances seemed a bit flukey anyway, and because of Robin's choreography - Rad]

Bruce belatedly wonders the fabulous singers [Yes, just perfect after that chipmunk-voiced HORROR they inflicted on us with Witch Doctor - Rad], Dave Arch and his wonderful orchestra (with Dave Arch dressed as Dracula), and Craig opens for the judges, saying it was acted well but danced poorly. There was no cross, and the swivel on Lisa's left foot wasn't happening - she was just doing step-touch-step-back. Darcey opens "again, no", and she really needs to learn how to disagree with the others without sounding quite so snotty about it. The reason for her disagreement with Craig? It was "one of the fastest charlestons I've ever seen!" So essentially Darcey likes anything as long as it's fast. Maybe she'd fit in better on Top Gear. I can only assume she hasn't seen many charlestons either, because I'd say Kara's was faster, and that's just off the top of my head. Besides, Robin might have been doing a fast charleston, but it doesn't necessarily follow that Lisa was. She thinks Lisa pulled it off, but "on some of the syllables, they're missing a bit". Whatever that means. Len thinks it had "plenty of ting-tang-wallawallabingbang" and it was fun and fast and energetic. He thinks it was a "sort of a parody of a charleston". I think he meant that as a compliment. Bruno thinks Lisa was "going at it like a spinning banshee" and doing facial aerobics - he gets up to dance, swatting at the hand-brooch on his shoulder and knocking it off in the process. He thinks the footwork could've been cleaner and sharper, but it was enjoyable to watch.

Up in the Tess Circle, Robin says he doesn't think they can get any faster. Well, let's hope not. He says he's going to take responsibility for the lack of swivel, because he put rubber soles on Lisa's shoes to stop her slipping over. Next week, they've got the tango, so Tess asks if they can do serious. They promise that they can. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 6, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 26. So that's the second time Darcey's disagreed with Craig tonight and yet they've both ended up giving exactly the same score. It's hard to say who's at fault: probably both of them, to be honest.

Who's next? Sid and Ola, that's who. Bruce announces that there's been "a bit of drama" this week, because Ola had to fly back to Poland so Iveta stood in for her during rehearsals. "A bit of drama" seems like a rather callous way to refer to Ola's mother recovering from a heart attack. Perhaps if they didn't have to fit in a comedy VT for everyone this week, they might have been able to address that a tad more sensitively. Sid says that he thought he did well last week, so he was surprised to get a grilling from the judges. However, he vows to pick himself up and carry on. Their VT works along the same themes as Dani and Vincent's, in the idea of the training room being haunted. Iveta's acting is about as good as Pasha's, but when it turns out they've been locked in and have to spend the night in the training room, man can Iveta assemble a tent in style. They should hire her next year for that alone. And obviously they should keep Pasha around, because he also helps me to pitch a te-- [that's QUITE enough of that. - Ed] Anyway, the punchline of sorts is that...Ola turns up and asks why they're not training? Yeah, that one really didn't work.

They're dancing a cha-cha-cha to 'Ghostbusters', and it opens with Sid doing a bit of breakdancing. Despite Sid having trained with Iveta for most of the week, he's dancing with Ola for the show tonight, which I feel can't really have been a good thing for him. I don't know whose decision it was to have Ola back for the main show, whether it was hers or the producers, but I suspect it might have been in Sid's best interests just to let Iveta be Rent-A-Pro for the whole week. Also, Sid's dancing holding a prop again, which really ought to have been vetoed by someone after last week's fiasco. It's all a bit of a mess, to be honest - Sid's rarely in time with Ola, the hip movement is a bit loose and he just looks quite unsure of what he's doing a lot of the time. The New Yorker section is good, I suppose. And there are some decent cha cha walks in there. More than anything, it makes me feel a bit sorry for Sid - I suspect he could probably have pulled off that routine much better without being passed around quite so much. [I wondered if the  producers just really, really wanted rid of him.  It was a bit of a bussing all in all - Rad]

Darcey thinks it's fabulous to see more dance content from Sid, and tells him not to worry about going wrong, because she doesn't want to see all that concentration on his face. She wants him to come back with attitude in the Latin next week. Len tells Sid he's got the perfect partner: "Ola-ween". I think Ola's "wut" face sums that up better than I ever could. Len tells Sid that it's all too safe, and he needs to go for it more and take risks - because Sid's so careful and fearful of going wrong, he...goes wrong. Bruno agrees - Sid dances like he's "smothered in ectoplasm" (that joke's too obvious, isn't it?) and he needs to believe in himself. Craig calls it a "Halloween nightmare". "Well, it was very apt, isn't it?" says Sid, and when Craig offers no further comment, he finishes with a sarcastically sunny "THANKS CRAIG!" Heh.

They're joined by Iveta up in the Tess Circle, and both Sid and Ola sweetly thank her for stepping in. Sid says it's been like a "Ola-day" without Ola. Oh, the terrible Ola puns still get worse. And despite all the puns revolving around the correct pronunciation of Ola's name, Tess still calls her "oh-la" twice. It just goes through one ear and out the other with her, doesn't it? [Bruce too.  The pair of them should be ashamed - unless it's some kind of weird deliberate burn on Ola - Rad] Scores are in: Craig 2, Darcey 5, Len 5, Bruno 5 for a total of 17 - the same as last week. "Who you gonna call?" asks Tess. Nobody responds, and it is delicious. I suppose nobody listening to Tess is appropriate payback for her never listening to anyone else.

We go back to Bruce, who hiccups mid-intro. It's funny, because hiccups are always funny. Our next couple are Nicky and Karen. He thinks last week went very well, and it was his first week when he could stand in front of the judges and smile, and now his competition has actually started. Their comedy VT involves Nicky taking her to see "his house". It's a load of ruins. Karen hides in a corner and asks if they can go. She then runs out. That's pretty much the second VT in a row that forgot to have any sort of punchline.

They're dancing a tango to 'Weird Science' - apparently the strange white coat and glasses on Nicky are meant to make him a "mad scientist". [Looked more like David Byrne and Max Headroom had a baby to me - Rad] I'm still not really seeing it, but okay. Encouragingly, his dancing is actually pretty decent this week - there's a good form to his frame and he's got the staccato nature of the tango down quite well. It's still a little stilted in places, and he and Karen still aren't entirely working smoothly as a couple, but he's definitely getting better.

The routine ends, and they giggle because Nicky's realised he's still wearing the glasses that he was supposed to have removed. He's standing side-on to the camera once again, which means that Little Nicky is on the loose as well. Seriously, that thing is huge. That everyone manages to get through the next section without addressing it clearly makes it the hung-like-an-elephant in the room. (I'm so sorry.) Len thinks there was more good than bad - he could've had a tighter hold and the footwork was a little stompy, but it was sharp and crisp. Bruno thinks he went at it "like a rooster with a booster", and he's glad that Nicky's finding his focus - but he must remember the style when he's giving it his all. Craig tells Nicky that he needs to sort his posture out, and he's kicking his feet up too much, but he really liked the routine. Finally, Darcey found it entertaining all round, but he lifted the knees too much so it looked like he was marching.

Up in the Tess Circle, Tess opines that Nicky dances better in character, and he agrees that's probably true. They've got a rumba next week if they're still around, which sounds like it'll probably be disastrous. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 6, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 26. That's actually lower than the score for his quickstep last week, even though this dance was a lot better. I'm not sure I understand what the judges are up to tonight. Nicky's just happy to have stayed out of the teens. Hey, just like-- [POOR TASTE JOKE REDACTED].

Back on the dance floor, Bruce is aghast that Len delivered his score perfectly straight, rather than giving it the usual "sev-unnnn!" Len says that he thought he'd give it a rest, just this once. That's more than I ever hoped for, so I'll take it. Next are Fern and Artem. Last week's Fern's charleston was a little sluggish, but she felt some warmth from the audience, so that's all right. This week they've got an American smooth to 'Killer Queen'. As per the comedy VT rules, Artem has a potion for her to drink - though by the indifferently-CGIed flames over the "goblet", I think it might be a Flaming Moe. Mind you, I suppose you can never have too many flaming moes on this show. Fern drinks it (without blowing it out - how dangerous) and it turns her into the Killer Queen, by which I mean it puts her in a dodgy crown and robe. And by "killer", I mean "puts Artem in lots of dodgy outfits", as that seems to be the sum total of her powers as she variously turns him into an elf, a bunny and a pumpkin. Artem's acting face throughout this is positively joyous to behold.

There's quite a lot of faffing at the start as Fern poses on her throne and admires herself in her hand mirror, but that's to be expected with Fern at this point, I suppose. Once they get going, it's more of what we've come to expect from Fern - most of the moves are right, but danced with little panache. The soundtrack doesn't really help this week - her dancing doesn't have enough attack in it for a killer queen, though as an American smooth in its own right it's decent, if frustratingly slow at times.

Bruno tells Fern it was "too beige" for him, and that she needs to channel Craig in panto to truly capture that sense of a killer queen. Darcey liked it because it was smooth, and also American. THANKS DARCEY! Len says that's neat and precise - Fern's got the how, but not the wow. He tells Artem that he needs to push Fern harder, at which an alarmed Fern begs "no more, please!" Len's not to be moved, however, and tells Fern he wants more out of her. Desperately, Fern tells Len that there was something in there just for him - a heel turn. "I saw that," says Len, "and I would've loved your feet to have been together." Denied! Poor Fern.

Fern and Artem carry their magnificent cleavages up to the Tess Circle, as Fern gets all wrapped up in her wrap. The prop cauldron is smoking in their faces, and Artem tries to waft it away with little success. Fern says that she was trying to channel Artem in her dance, since he's the Terminator. The Arteminator, if you will. (Oh, please yourselves.) Tess calls Fern "quite simply the loveliest woman I know." And Tess knows Holly Willoughby, so THINK ON THAT. Fern says it took a long time to get the killer queen into her head, but she's just loving the whole experience, and she loves Artem like he is right now - apparently he was meant to have a shirt on, but then the wardrobe department realised that would just be silly. Fern starts feeling Artem up, and then ducks out of the way as Kara embraces the Halloween theme by going full Carrie and TK-ing bread rolls at Fern all the way from her living room. Scores are in: Craig 4, Darcey 5, Len 6, Bruno 6 for a total of 21.

Back to Bruce, who does a bit of vaudeville-style business with a prop arm, and then it's time for Denise and James. Obviously last week went very well for them, and they were thrilled to get four eights and be top of the leaderboard. This week they're doing a cha cha cha as circus freaks, so they go to meet some professional circus types who are quite good at hanging from hoops and doing acrobatics. (Hello, Professional Circus Guy. I'm just saying.) It's time for Denise and James to have their go, and James struggles even to get into the ring in the first place. (Fnar.) Denise decides just to leave him up there, BANTER BANTER BANTER.

They're dancing to 'Superfreak', and if you got all the way through this without shouting "can't touch this!" (or indeed "I didn't do it"), then you're a better person than I am. Apparently their idea of "freaks" is pretty much just "a higher than average level of eye make-up", [I thought James had come as Mark Foster - Rad] which is rather disappointing - although my disappointment is soon eased by Denise tripping over as she exits the cage she starts off in. Ha! She begins the routine by sitting on a chair (OMG RINGER BITCH SHE DID THIS ON THE WEST END STAGE!!!!!!!!1111) and despite the overt sexuality of the routine (there are a LOT of pelvic thrusts in it), it's...kind of dull to be honest. It's as well-danced as anything else Denise has done, but the choregraphy isn't all that exciting, and the slow tempo of the song just makes it all feel a little bit too leisurely. [Stupid James.  He can't even get it right with a BLOODY RINGER - Rad]

Craig starts by saying that he thought the leg-to-hip action was a bit jolty, but the timing, energy and spins were superb. Len says that Denise never disappoints, but if she's going to wear a short skirt, she's got to have fabulous leg action, and it wasn't quite there. Bruno thinks the most theatrical parts were done well, but Denise needs to work on the basics a little bit. Bruce rubs salt into the wound by saying "you're not used to criticism you two, are you?" Denise blusters that it's good, because she can learn.

Up in the Tess Circle, they remind us that Denise Gets Very Nervous Every Week. Tess asks if they might make it a third week at the top of the leaderboard, and Denise is all "I don't know, so much pressure." James says she's good - but she still tripped over getting out of the cage. Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 7, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 28, the highest of the night so far. James continues to harangue Denise for falling out of the cage.

Next up are Michael and Natalie. Bruce deploys a variant on the "taking my wife to the West Indies"/"Jamaica?" joke that tries to make the joke's unfunniness into a punchline in its own right. It doesn't really work, but at least they tried. Last week they were in the Dread Dance-Off and just about managed to stay in the competition. Michael's VT is about being haunted by Craig's comments, and it's as funny as it sounds, though much like Michael's dancing, he commits more to it than it perhaps deserves and it sort of works through sheer force of will.

Now, most of tonight's routines have been a little underwhelming, but I think most of us would agree that if there's one person on whom you can rely to choreograph something amazing, it's Natalie Lowe. And sure enough, her circus-themed quickstep to 'That Old Black Magic' starts off with her as a showgirl doing a quick change inside a shimmering tube (that looks like a Like Like from the Legend of Zelda games) and emerging with a bright pink cape-skirt on, and then taking Michael onto the dancefloor for...a really good, sprightly quickstep with few gimmicks. Natalie has very sensibly reserved the crowdpleasing moments exclusively for the start and finish, so that the dance itself runs entirely uninterrupted, meaning that Michael doesn't have to worry so much about his concentration being broken, and as a result delivers a genuinely impressive quickstep. Natalie is a very, very clever woman and I'm only just starting to realise how much this show needs her. [Agreed.  Natalie4eva - Rad]

When the routine's over, they're both absolutely giddy because they both know they nailed it, and it's adorable. There's a bit of business about Michael learning a new magic trick (he shouts "abracadabra!" and the judges produce their 10 paddles, basically), and then we get on to the real commentary: Darcey thinks ballroom is Michael's thing, and his top line was beautiful throughout, and his feet were precise with no messy transitions. Len's very glad that they saved Michael in the Dread Dance-Off last week, because it means they got to see this routine in all its glory - and that he knows Michael's wanted a seven from him since week one, and this could be his night. Bruno thinks it was more than magical - "it was a miracle!" He thinks that in hold Michael was incredible. Craig says nothing, but just slow-claps. A good slow-clap, I think. I hope.

They scarper to the Tess Circle, where they get a rapturous reception. Tess asks Michael if the Dread Dance-Off was the push he needed. He says that he's worked hard every week, but this week they've basically lived, breathed and slept dance. He and Natalie do a bit of "you're the best, no you are, no you are" for a bit, and normally that'd be a bit sickening, but you know what? This week, they've totally earned the right to do that. Michael says that Natalie "knows exactly the way I like to be taught", and everyone giggles. Scores are in: Craig 8, Darcey 8, Len ("sorry, Michael, no 7 tonight") 8, Bruno 7 for a total of 31. Bruno gets a few boos for that, but Natalie and Michael are not caring because they're thrilled either way. Also, Michael Vaughan is now ahead of Denise Van Outen on the leaderboard. Let me repeat that: Michael Vaughan is now ahead of Denise Van Outen on the leaderboard. Amazing.

Up next, Victoria and Brendan. In her VT, she eyerolls herself for getting tangled up in her dress repeatedly during last week's rumba, and the editors treat us to a bit of footage with the sound from Victoria's mic included. It's quite special, let me tell you. Still, she's philosophical: "Rome wasn't built in a day," she says. More like velodrome wasn't built in a day, amirite? (Wow, tough crowd.) Brendan decides to use Victoria's competitive spirit by getting her to take part in the Halloween Games, narrated by Colin Jackson, with events like the eyeball-and-spoon race (won by Brendan) and apple-bobbing (Victoria disqualified for dunking Brendan).

They're dancing a tango to 'White Wedding', and Victoria's getting into the role of zombie bride quite well. I'm beginning to think we've entered into some sort of bizarro-Strictly tonight, because we've just had Michael Vaughan breaking the 30-threshold, and now Victoria Pendleton is doing a very competent tango. Her frame's very much improved, her footwork is much sharper, she's getting her spins right - again, it's not perfect, but it's a vast improvement on all her other dances to date. Much like the previous routine, Brendan's thrilled when they finish because he knows she finally delivered on all that potential he kept insisting was in there. [It  helped that her dress didn't skim the floor either so there was less chance of a malfunction.  I really liked that - Rad]

Len tells Victoria that he had faith in Victoria, and she's got to have faith in herself - this was a proper tango with no "larking about" at the start - there was a little moment where it went wrong, but he doesn't care because the overall feeling of it was good. Bruno loved the gothic melodrama, and congratulates Victoria on getting her spins right. Craig points out that she lost a bit of posture, and her hand needs to be flatter to the floor, but he really thought the routine was brilliant. Darcey thinks the musicality was brilliant, and Victoria was "the true tango woman of the night". Hang on, did Darcey just call her a tango prostitute?

Up in the Tess Circle, Brendan hangs back Artem-style to give Victoria a round of applause, and Tess asks Victoria if she's starting to have fun. Victoria says it's still nerve-wracking, but she's loving it and wants to stay in. We go straight to the scores: Craig 7, Darcey 8, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 31. Hilariously, this means Michael and Victoria are now in joint first-place on the leaderboard. Who saw that one coming?

Three couples remain, so who's next? Why, it's Colin and Kristina. Last week went pretty well with his Argentine tango and those elaborate lifts, and gave them their best score to date. This week, thankfully, he's not gallivanting off to Canada again, so he has plenty of time to practise his wizard-themed salsa to 'Superstition'. His comedy VT is about having avoided bad omens all week, and then ended up in Training Room 13. If they'd left it at that, it would've worked, but for some reason somebody decided to add a blood-effect to the sign on the door after they go in - like, whose blood is that supposed to be?

Colin starts by stroking his pussy - no really, he's got a prop cat, which then gets "turned into" Kristina using some visual effects that would've looked passé in the 80s. He's perhaps a bit more tentative this week, but his hips have good rhythm. It's a shame the routine doesn't showcase him a bit more - it's Kristina front-and-centre a bit too much for my liking.

Craig thinks the footwork was a little bit haphazard, and he was nervous about the lifts because they looked messy. It was flat-footed, but Colin's disco groove was good to watch. Darcey liked the long arms, and was disappointed that it wasn't dirty, but at least it was saucy. Len thought the rhythmic tick to it was lovely, but there was a very big, noticeable mistake - and apparently we can't just overlook it on the occasion.

Up in the Tess Circle, they pretend that there was no big incident, and Colin says that he very much enjoys doing the "disco thing" (ugh, disco Latin - rarely a good idea). Tess says "Kristine's pushing you hard, isn't she?" and Colin very pointedly says "Kristina works as hard as anyone I've ever met", so he just tries to live up to that. Scores: Craig 5, Darcey 7, Len 6, Bruno 6 for a total of 24. They're still struggling to break out of that mid-20s area.

Our penultimate couple for the evening are Louis and Flavia. Last week: TEH LIFTZ. (I love the sound editors for switching out of '(I've Had) The Time Of My Life' and into 'The Time/Dirty Bit' as soon as they can get away with it. DIRTY BIT! This week, they've got a tango to 'Disturbia' by Rihanna, which sounds like it should be AMAZING so let's skip straight past the comedy VT and go right to it.

And it is indeed amazing: Louis does some very good zombie moves as he gets into position, and then takes hold for a very impressive tango indeed. So much so that beyond the footwork being a little skippy in places, there's not a lot I can find wrong with it. The characterisation is great, the posture looks solid, movement around the floor is very impressive - dance of the night, without question.

Bruce is impressed with Louis's acting, and heads straight to Craig, who calls it "ineffable" (which, oddly enough, is the exact opposite of the response most people on my Twitter feed seem to have to Louis, but perhaps I'm just misunderstanding that word for comic effect) and says he loved it - but Louis needs to stop having his thumb sticking up on Flavia's back. Darcey thinks it was spookily good - it has a wonderful beginning, a great end, and an even more fabulous middle. She warns him to watch his kicks, because his leg must not go higher than the woman's. This surely spells disaster for Colin, whose leg is higher than Kristina even when it's resting. Len says he knows the clocks go back tonight, but he wishes they could go back right now so he could watch that again. Bruno loved the seamless transitions from character to dance, and he thinks it was the first killer tango of the season. Except Sid and Ola's, which was killer for slightly different reasons.

We head into the Tess Circle, where Tess says that even Louis's eyes are scary (he's wearing creepy contact lenses), and he apologises. Tess asks how it feels to have smashed it two weeks in a row, and he says he was nervous, but feels they did really well. Is he finding his inner actor now, Tess wonders? Louis says he's still struggling with the romantic stuff, but this was the sort of role he could get his teeth into. Tess brings up Louis's kick being higher than Flavia's, and Flavia says that they've been working on matching it, while Louis talks over her, saying that they've been working on her flexibility too. Heh. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 35.

Our final couple of the night is Kimberley and Pasha. Kimberley loved her Hollywood glamour last week, and Pasha was pleased that Len liked their dance. This week, they're dancing a paso to 'Hungry Like The Wolf', with Pasha as the wolf, but Kimberley thinks he's more of a puppy dog. This segues into a VT in which Pasha tries to scare Kimberley with smoke and rats and masks to no avail. Of course Kimberley wouldn't be scared of rats - did nobody see the contestants who didn't make the cut on Popstars: The Rivals? If she can survive Chloe Staines and Javine, she has nothing to fear from rats. Of course, Pasha then produces a 1 paddle, and Kimberley screams. Lolz.

So, yes, Kimberley is Red Riding Hood and Pasha is the (Teen) Wolf. I'd say 'Hungry Like The Wolf' isn't the best music choice in the world for a paso doble, but Pasha's done a great job of tailoring the choreography to the musical flourishes of the song, and Kimberley's paso shaping is up there with some of the best I've seen on this show. It's a shame that poor blocking leads to part of the routine being obscured by a camera, but on the whole, this is a good performance. Not enough to topple Louis, but very impressive.

Darcey liked the intensity in Kimberley's eyes which sold the whole routine, but she also liked Kimberley's rond de jambe and the general attack of the whole piece. Len says it was "very, very competent", but he would've liked a tad more aggression here and there, saying it looked like she was "popping off to Sainsbury's" early on - but as she got into it, there was lovely shaping. Bruno thought it was a bit Twilight-esque, and loves her lines and the extension of her spine. Craig agrees - it was fiery and punchy with fantastic shaping.

Tess greets "Sexy Red Riding Hood" and says that she's afraid of "the Big Bad Wolf that is Pasha." Kimberley giggles, "I'm not." Heh. Poor Pasha. Too cute to be properly scary - it must be awful for him. Tess asks Kimberley if she's found her Strictly stride, and Kimberley says that she's working really hard and putting in lots of hours, and things are starting to sink in, but she's really enjoying it. Off. Kimberley's really not good at these light-hearted banter sessions, and I worry that may cost her further down the line. I wouldn't be surprised if she's the first of the early frontrunners to hit the Dread Dance-Off, to be honest. Tess asks if she's used to being sexy because of being in Girls Aloud, and Kimberley giggles that she wasn't trying to be sexy, she was just trying to tell the story of the song. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 8, Len 7, Bruno 8 for a total of 31 - Kimberley's highest score so far, and putting her right alongside Michael and Victoria. Pasha glowers down the camera. So adorable! *smooshes his cheeks*

So, that very unanticipated leaderboard, then:
1st: Louis & Flavia (35)
2nd: Michael & Natalie (31)
2nd: Victoria & Brendan (31)
2nd: Kimberley & Pasha (31)
5th: Denise & James (28)
6th: Dani & Vincent (27)
7th: Lisa & Robin (26)
7th: Nicky & Karen (26)
9th: Colin & Kristina (24)
10th: Richard & Erin (22)
11th: Fern & Artem (21)
12th: Sid & Ola (17)

Truly, such madness as this can only be the work of the darkest witchcraft - but then that's the judges for you. Join me tomorrow as two more couples face the Dread Dance-Off and one more celebrity is left for dead. Er, undead. Oh, something Halloweeny, anyway.

1 comment:

Ffi said...

I've just recently discovered this blog and I absolutely love it! It's so, so funny and so well written, thank you!