Saturday, 29 December 2012

Festive baubles

Christmas Special: 25th December 2012

It's Chriiiiiistmas! (Okay, so by the time I'm writing this it's clearly not Christmas - Christmas had been and gone before I'd even finished recapping the final. But it's not New Year yet, so it's sort of still Christmas. Humour me?) [Christmas officially lasts until January 6th, so we're good - Rad] The judges are all sitting down to Christmas dinner together, as they obviously do in real life (Bruno, of course, would forgo the turkey and stick to his usual liquid lunch), and Len is carving the turkey because he's the head judge, and also because despite the efforts of the cast of 2012, he still hasn't seen enough turkeys this year. Darcey endears herself to me hugely here by sending herself up royally: "Little tip, Len: when you're carving the turkey, yah, I would imagine you've got a beautiful necklace on..." Hee! I mean, the joke goes on too long as she starts talking about hold and extension and whatnot, but this is Strictly Come Dancing after all: of course the jokes go on too long. Bruno has bought Craig the perfect gift: Australian whine. I'm more impressed that Bruno has managed to give the bottle to Craig without drinking the contents, personally.

Tess brings in the pudding and asks if there's any sign of Bruce. You can tell this is an entirely scripted scenario because none of the guests look like they're trying not to wonder if the reason he hasn't turned up is because he's dead. Bruce arrives, dressed as Jeremy-Brett-as-Sherlock-Holmes and starts crabbing about having not been invited, which rather makes a nonsense of the others wondering why he hadn't turned up. Although quite why I'm expecting cinema veritĂ© from this skit, I'm not sure. Anyway, Bruce tells them they've got a show to do, and everyone gets up from the table. Craig's jeans have got little white marks all over the thighs. *no comment* Bruce holds up some mistletoe as Tess and Darcey walk past, but is cruelly denied - at least until Bruno arrives and kisses him on the cheek for GAYLOLS. Again, the funnier part of this joke for me was the suggestion that Bruce waits for permission before manhandling Tess, considering what happens at the start of every show. As the door slams, Claudia wakes up from her state of drunken slumber on the sofa (♥) and declares that it's fine, because they don't need her anyway. If only that were true.

Christmassy titles! There are no sinister cavorting snowmen this year, perhaps because of the subject matter of this year's Doctor Who Christmas special. No, not "the perfect tears of white middle-class people save Christmas", the other one. [The message that lesbian lizard detectives are the best?   Not seeing the connection myself - Rad]

Of course, we open with a pro-routine to 'Sleigh Ride', where Santa's sleigh arrives in the studio drawn by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (played by Craig in a costume, naturally, although if they'd got Bruno to do it they could've done the red nose without the need for costume or make-up). The competing pros all hope out of the sleigh and Ian and Katya quickstep straight to the front of the stage all "yes! We are the best ones! Yes, it is a travesty that we're not on the show any more! Thank you for noticing!" We've seen some curious pro-pairings over the year, but it's still strange to see Anton and Ola dancing together. Especially since it makes me imagine the Strictly alternate-universe where Erin is dancing with James. Now that I would pay dearly to see. The other pairing is Artem and Aliona, who have danced together before even though they're not each other's official pro-dance partners. I think. Frankly, who knows any more? [Anton and Ola dancing together in the final made much more sense when I saw this.  I love the whole pro-pair mix-up thing they had going on this year though.  SUCH FUN! - Rad]

Time for the pros to open up their presents and see what they've got: Ola unwraps JB "MERRY CHRISTMAS!" Gill from JLS from a box marked "drummer boy" (it's a bit of a reach to pretend that's a nod to Alesha, isn't it?), Artem collects Blue Peter's Helen Skelton from the top of the judges' desk, Katy Brand plays some sort of fairy who's drawing Anton towards her with her magical powers (finally, a fairy story that makes even less sense than the ones in True Blood!), Bobby Ball brings Katya some chestnuts and a bin and Katya understandably turns her nose up at them until he comes back with a glitterball (dare to dream, Katya my dear), Aliona kisses a frog who...doesn't exactly turn into Fabrice Muamba as much as suddenly co-exist alongside him. I guess they didn't have enough of a budget for pyrotechnics thanks to those ever-present BBC CUTBACKS. Finally, the ever-truthy Sheila Hancock is waiting for Ian over on the stairs.

They disappear as a result of some indifferent CGI, and then we have Bruce and Tess, who are greeted by Kristina and Pasha respectively, who take their coats/shrugs and dance with them. This marks the first (and almost certainly last) time in my life I have ever been jealous of Tess Daly. Daly Dresswatch: a white linen dress belted around the waist and accessorised with a sort of Egyptian neckpiece thing. It's not terrible but it does make me wonder if she's planning to do Denise Van Outen's charleston at the wrap party. [You just know Tess has dreamed of that ever since she saw Denise being borne aloft by shirtless hunks - Rad] Tess wishes Bruce a merry Christmas and gives him his present: a pair of socks. Bruce hasn't got her anything in return, because...wait for it...you don't get anything for a pair, not in this game. "It was worth the rehearsal!" Bruce crows as the crowd join in on the second half of the phrase. Define "worth", Bruce. Actually, define "rehearsal" while you're at it.

Bruce reminds us that some Strictly All-Stars will be back for one night only, and Tess tells us that Rod Stewart is here later on. Say, did anyone see that ITV Rod Stewart Christmas special where he sang 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' and did a limp-wrist gesture to accompany the line "make the Yuletide gay"? Such a class act. In the meantime, it's time to meet the stars of our show: Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton and her partner Artem Chigvintsev; entertainer and comedian Bobby Ball and his partner Katya Virshilas; actress Sheila Hancock and her partner Ian Waite; from boyband JLS, JB Gill and his partner Ola Jordan; comedian Katy Brand and her partner Anton Du Beke; and footballer Fabrica Muamba and his partner Aliona Vilani.

Tess reminds us that the studio audience will be representing the public vote in tonight's show, since the show is not live so there can't be a phone-in. Given the studio audience's recent track record of giving every single dance a standing ovation and booing 9s for being an insufficiently low score, I'm rather scared already.

Up first are Merry Christmas JLS and Ola. Merry Christmas JLS tells us that being in JLS is brilliant, because they've won Brit and MOBO awards, they've had five number one singles, and they've never cried on Beyoncé. He tells us that of course he dances as part of JLS, but it's a very different style of dance and he's definitely not an EVIL RINGER like that Denise Van Outen. Oh calm down, Merry Christmas - it's a Christmas special, you're only here for 75 minutes, nobody cares about that sort of thing here. He says that the other members of JLS have been slightly supportive, but have spent most of their time hiding in Louis Smith's rehearsals and calling him a bumder, just like we saw during that VT in the main series a few weeks back. Ola says that she's the envy of a lot of young girls in this country, and not just because she can can actually tell James Jordan to shut the fuck up in person. They rehearse their jive, which Merry Christmas notes is "ridiculously fast", and Ola says that he was trying to put some "JLS-ness" in the routine, but she quickly stamped that sort of behaviour out. Merry Christmas says he hopes people don't think he looks like an idiot, and Ola makes fun of his boyband dancing some more. Ola is the best.

They're dancing to 'Rockin' Robin', and the narrative of the routine seems to involve Ola the Christmas Fairy freeing Merry Christmas the toy soldier from a toy shop window. Merry Christmas's dancing is a little bit skippy and a little bit sloppy, but for a jive danced with (I'm guessing) minimal preparation and rehearsal, it's certainly passable. Ola is clearly relishing actually being partnered with someone with a reasonable amount of natural talent for once (I mean in celebrity terms, calm DOWN James), and there are the usual crowdpleasing moments including kneeslides and Merry Christmas leapfrogging over a standing Ola.

Bruce welcomes our judges, who are all looking very festive, and his opening joke involves him singing at them, so let's just all agree to NEVER SPEAK OF THIS AGAIN. Len opines that "Merry Christmas" stands for "jive bunny" (this is one of those parts in the recap where I regret referring to someone by a nickname only, isn't it?) and says that the dance was full-on, and fantastic for something they put together in one week. Bruce tells us that the contestants had between 12 and 30 hours to rehearse, "which is nothing", and makes Merry Christmas "a dancer who can sing a bit". Bruno says that Merry Christmas had "the vitality and energy of a young buck". What, Uncle Buck? Craig thought it was a little bit flat-footed and there was a nasty slip moment in it, but the dance had amazing character and rhythm. Finally Darcey thinks the routine had amazing energy, and then the edit cuts her off mid-sentence. It's almost like watching the live episode of The Only Way Is Essex.

They run off to the festive Tess Circle, where Tess reminds us once more that this is not the sort of dancing that Merry Christmas usually does with JLS, and Merry Christmas agrees that it was "ten times more passionate", and immediately everyone's all "STEADY ON THERE ROMEO". Ola says that Merry Christmas has been a marvellous student, and this is the best Christmas special she's ever been to. Scores are in: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39. Oh, Christmas special scoring. Keep on keeping on. [My parents were outraged at the Christmas scoring.  I can't believe they've forgotten what Christmas specials are like since last year - Rad] Tess tells us that there are even more special guests due later: "I love a surprise, I can't wait to see who's coming." It's an odd statement from a woman whose husband was involved in a very public sex text scandal.

Our next couple are Bobby and Katya. Katya is wearing red gloves. I repeat, KATYA IS WEARING RED GLOVES. This is amazing already and they haven't even started dancing yet. Bobby's VT introduces him thusly: "Bobby Ball is one of Britain's best-loved entertainers, with a catchphrase to rival Brucie." Blimey. I didn't even know "rock on, Tommy" was his, to be honest. Also, seeing Cannon and Ball again makes me wonder what Tommy Cannon is up to these days, since Bobby's been doing Mount Pleasant and Not Going Out and things. Bobby says that the last time he danced was some time in the eighties, and then he stopped. Katya interviews that she knows Bobby has had the same partner for many years, and she's not a replacement, she's just a temporary stand-in. You can almost see her tangible disgust for the word "temporary", since I'd imagine the odds of her being asked back for the 2013 series are fairly slim, even though she remains amazing. Stupid bloody producers and their four-person finals and their lack of Katya-love. Bobby attempts to teach Katya a northern accent in a direct retread of about 80% of Pasha and Chelsee's VTs (and about 20% of Pasha and Kimberley's), and Bobby reveals that he's doing the American smooth and he absolutely loves it. He says that they bicker a lot in rehearsals - her more than him, because she's the boss. Katya's all "yeah, that's very true" and says that she calls him Robert when he misbehaves but Bobby when he's good. I miss Katya so very much. [Yeah, me too.  I mean, we got KAREN?  What sort of a trade was that? - Rad]

They're dancing to 'White Christmas', and there's a bit of business at the beginning involving Bobby wrapping presents for all the judges: pickled walnuts for Len, nutty fruitcake for Bruno, the big book of yahs for Darcey, and a one-way ticket to Australia for Craig. Len and Bruno act amused, while Craig and Darcey do their very best gawping faces in response. Also, I can't recall a single incident of Darcey saying "yah" in the last two months - can we retire that joke now? She's been very good-natured in poking fun at herself and it's all been lovely, but I think that reference has run its course now. Back to the dance: then Katya arrives in a red dress looking like the femme fatale of the dancefloor and Bobby tries to woo her with his moves. Katya seems unimpressed, but dances with him anyway due to a lack of  better offers. Bobby's moves are a little bit rigid at parts, but again, for a sexagenarian with only a week's training, it's pretty good, and there's some decent attempts at humour in it.

After the dance, there's yet another bit of business with Brucie as Bobby tries to claim that getting him on the show was all a vendetta on Bruce's part, because he knows Bobby can't dance. Katya buys into this all a little bit too much, and rather over-eggs the reassurance. Then Bruce pings Bobby's braces without warning and we get to see what happens when an entire room winces in unison sympathetically. Let's just say that even if this vendetta is an entirely fictional construct in the mind of Bobby Ball, the crowd has now all chosen a side, and it isn't Bruce's.

Meanwhile, Bruce welcomes the fabulous "carol singers", Dave Arch, and the orchestra. Bruno calls Katya and Bobby "the belle and the Ball", and says that the ball "keeps merrily rolling along". He liked the comedy aspects, even though it could've been smoother at times. Craig likens it to a Christmas pudding: "all stodgy". He thinks it lacked any swing or sway, but concedes that it was "slightly amusing". He also takes exception to the present he was being offered at the beginning, and says that he'd have given Bobby a ten if that ticket had been a first-class return. I think Craig's spent a little bit too long as a real-life villainous panto dame at this point. Darcey thinks Bobby looked "most happiest" (see, the misuse of superlatives is the stick we can use to beat Darcey with now she's stopped saying "yah") in hold, and she would've liked to see him travel a bit more, but it was a very enjoyable performance. Len makes a comment about Bobby "warming up his chestnuts" at the beginning, and then pretends that Bobby is related to Zoe and Johnny. If only that were true, the Balls would be the McGanns of Strictly Come Dancing. Katya whoops at the mention of "balls", and at this point I'm beginning to think she might have been drinking. [This has made me envisage Katya drinking with Nicole Scherzinger.  Now THAT would be a combination - Rad] Len liked the festive fun of the routine, basically.

The Belle And The Ball head up to the Tess Circle, where Tess welcomes Katya back, and Katya's all "so, about me getting a permanent BBC staff member's pass, where's my application at these days?" Tess asks if Bobby enjoyed himself, and Bobby says that he made a little bit of a mistake at the end, which Katya chalks up to him "getting so excited with rocking on Tommy". Drunk Katya is amazing. Tess asks how Katya compares to Tommy as a partner, and Bobby says that he's celebrating 50 years of working with Tommy this year, but unless he can look as good in a dress as Katya does, he's out on his ear. And suddenly seven million viewers got to see their Christmas dinner in reverse. Scores are in: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 29. Bobby's just happy that he completed the routine. Fair enough.

Next up are Sheila and Ian. Brucie joke corner: her presence on the show will cheer up Craig, because he's Australian and she's a lovely Sheila. Hey, it's one of his better efforts. Sheila tells us that she spent the early part of her career playing "titty blondes" (♥) even though she's always been a very serious person in real life, and that one of her career highlights was playing Steve Owen's mad mum in EastEnders. She's enjoyed the variety of her career, and branching out into comedy, and now Strictly is a new challenge that she's very excited by. What, no mention of her being officially The Greatest Reality TV Judge In History on Over The Rainbow? We need more judges who tell contestants that they don't give a shit about their sob stories, or that the audience will cheer for any old bollocks and it doesn't necessarily mean that they were good. As Sheila's possibly about to discover. Ian says that Sheila can do anything he asks her to do...within reason, while Sheila cackles that it's very hard to find people who can teach you anything when you're her age. They're doing a foxtrot, and Ian openly admits to putting an illegal lift in because it's Christmas so no one cares about the rules (as opposed to the way they're so RIGIDLY ENFORCED over the rest of the year), and Sheila essentially says that she doesn't give a crap if the judges object to it, because she's old. I think Sheila is basically Holly Valance in 50 years' time.

They're dancing to 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas', and it's all very slow and poised and elegant while also being as camp as...well, Christmas. There's some odd business with Ian leaving Sheila frozen in hold as he wanders around her, and there are also moments where Sheila has an obvious "lol, I don't know what the fuck I'm doing" look on her face, but hey, she seems to be enjoying herself. Then there's the promised illegal lift, and then the end.

Craig thought it was classy, graceful and warm and can't believe that Sheila is 78. "79!" Sheila corrects him, adding "I'm catching you up, Bruce!" Hee. Darcey thinks Sheila created some beautiful lines especially along the top, and she's got a beautiful neck which she used brilliantly. Len thinks it was like mulled wine: warm, smooth, satisfying and liable to give you little vinegary burps afterwards. Except maybe not that last one. Len notes in particular the bit where Sheila waited in hold while Ian "flatulated around" her, pointing out that "that's what you get at Christmas". Finally, Bruno calls Sheila "the ageless and evergreen queen of Narnia", saying that she moves with beauty, class and elegance, proving that age is just a number. Bruce calls her "a very...classy...lady", as though he really had to think carefully about where that sentence was going, and dispatches them up to the Tess Circle.

Once there, Tess says that the lifts were beautiful and asks if they were difficult to master. "Well, yes," admits Sheila. Ian says that they weren't going to do a lift originally, but then decided 'fuck it' and did it anyway. Sheila says that she's always wanted to learn to dance, and is impressed at what she managed in one week. We see her daughter and her granddaughter in the audience, both of whom look very proud, and Ian says that Sheila's taught him a lot of acting skills. So hopefully those "origin of dance" VTs in the next series of It Takes Two will be a little less painful. Scores are in: Craig 8, Darcey 8, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 36. "We're still in with a chance!" yells Ian. Yes, I can just see the 79-year-old woman overcoming the boyband vote, even in the limited sample of a studio audience. [But it's IAN.  Surely they have some love for the Ian? - Rad]

Our next couple is Fabrice and Aliona, who will be doing a salsa. Fabrice says that you can't get the feeling you get from playing football anywhere else, which feels like a bit of an unfortunate intro considering the very next part of the VT is "AND THEN HE HAD A HEART ATTACK ON THE PITCH AND NEARLY DIED". Fabrice says that he never expected to be on Strictly, but he's looking forward to enjoying the experience. Aliona says that Fabrice's personality naturally suits the salsa, because he has good natural rhythm (drink!) and we'll really see his hips moving. She adds, giggling, that she's choreographed some booty-shaking into the routine as well, but changed her mind the next day and tried to take it out, only to be overruled by Fabrice. I hope this is the story behind her American smooth with Matt Baker: she wanted to take out all the contemporary bollocks, but Matt overruled her!

They're dancing to 'Christmas Wrapping' and OHMYGOD TEN! ALL THE TENS, ALREADY! Sorry, got a bit carried away there, but I do love that song. It's got a vague Cinderella theme as Aliona begins by polishing her pumpkin (not a euphemism) before Fabrice arrives to present her with a football boot, and then a strappy dance shoe. Although the music doesn't really match the routine that well, he's rather good - he's got decent hip movement, quick feet, lots of energy and has no problems covering the routine while Aliona fits in a quick costume change. It's one of the few routines tonight that, if you removed all the Christmas-centric accessories, wouldn't have looked out of place as a competitive routine in the series proper. [Given that none of the celebrities shamed themselves too badly, I wouldn't mind them being the series proper's cast.  Especially if Ian and Katya were involved too - Rad]

Darcey tells Fabrice that it was extraordinary for Fabrice to come out and deliver that AFTER ALL HE'S BEEN THROUGH THIS YEAR. She says he charmed the socks off her, and mentions "natural rhythm" again some more (drink!). Len calls him "the netbuster thruster" and remarks that Fabrice's bum was going to town. He likes it to a prawn cocktail - "there was loads of prawns, and plenty of cocktail" - which isn't the most sophisticated simile he's ever used, to put it mildly. Bruno agrees that it was a hot dish (aren't prawn cocktails served cold? I'm no expert because I don't like them, but I'm fairly certain you can't really class them as a hot dish) because Fabrice had the moves, the grooves, and the mood. Craig agrees - he loved the hip movements, and Fabrice had "a really solid groove" going on. Bruce crows "Aliona, you helped him through it", and I'm sure he's referring to the dance and not the heart attack, but even so it still sounds weird after how much they've mentioned the latter.

Up in the Tess Circle, Fabrice is suddenly looking a bit sheepish and a bit reluctant to show off his hips. Tess asks Fabrice if he's going to take up dancing to replace the football career he had to retire from (sensitive!) and Fabrice says that no, this is definitely a one-off, even though he's had a lot of fun. He says he has a lot of respect for the professional dancers and all the effort they put in. Tess asks him if he wants to win, and he says that basically he wants to win everything he takes part in. And maybe I'm just obscenely competitive myself, but: are there really people who take part in things and don't want to win them? It's not a mindset I particularly understand. Scores are in: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 35. I can't quite believe I'm saying this in a Christmas special, but: I think that was undermarked a little bit. [Yeah, me too - Rad]

Our penultimate couple are Katy and "our new professional, Anton Du Beke". Heh. The increasingly mean Anton jokes are always funny to me. Certainly funnier than anything Katy's ever done. In her VT, Katy says that most people will know her from her sketch show. It was on ITV2 from 2007-2009, dear, I think saying "most people" is a bit optimistic. She says that she's not dignified or grown up, but will try not to do any fart jokes for the whole 90 seconds of her routine. Apparently Anton's spent the whole of the training period trying to out-funny Katy, which sounds like it might have been a wonderful experience for the people who had to stand there and film them. Katy tells us that she's doing a Viennese waltz, and jokes that she thought that was a cake. Is she just raiding material from Jo Brand now? Anton is his usual ragingly insincere self throughout, and Katy reaffirms her vow to act like a grown-up for a minute and a half.

They're dancing to 'It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year' in a routine that involves Anton somehow creating Katy in a Christmas dinner-cooking mishap. Either that or she's the good fairy who arrives to fix his Christmas dinner-cooking mishap, but I like my Weird Science-style interpretation better. Despite the inauspicious VT, Katy's dancing isn't too shabby: she moves around the floor elegantly, her posture's pretty good, and so are her arm extensions. I'm a sucker for a Viennese waltz at the best of times, but even with my obvious bias in mind, I think she acquits herself pretty well with this routine.

Len says he's glad he's not having Christmas dinner round Anton's house, but he loved Katy's movement, which was like the snow: deep and crisp and even. Bruno praises the good fairy for "rescuing Anton Ramsay from a kitchen disahhstuh". He liked her beautiful turns, and thinks she finished the movements very well. Craig enjoyed the flow, though he thought it was a bit skippy on occasion. He points out that she needed to extend her top line more, but he can forgive her since this is a one-off, and Katy quips that she's been "trying to extend my top line for years". Oh all right: heh. Finally, Darcey thinks she was spinning around magically and had seamless changes of directions, and she thinks Katy made a very graceful fairy godmother.

They make their way up to the Tess Circle, and Anton declares himself "emotionally overwhelmed", to which Tess responds that the rest of them feel that way thanks to his Christmas sweater. Heh. Anton thanks Katy for giving him a wonderful week and for also being his first partner since 2009 who didn't make him want to lean over and run headfirst into the wall, largely for understanding basic commands like "step forwards on your right foot". Katy says that being on the show is like "being dipped in molten tinsel", which is apparently a good thing, and we reminisce about that time she did the 'Single Ladies' dance for Let's Tit Around For Sport And/Or Comic Relief until the scores come in: Craig 7, Darcey 8, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 33. Anton jokes that that's more than he scored in his last four series combined. Except four series ago he was with Laila Rouass and made fourth place, received 34 points for the foxtrot alone and, in the majority of cases, only scored poorly because of Anton's complete inability to do Latin. So don't feel too sorry for him. [I don't ever feel sorry for Anton.  Laila, yes, Erin, yes. My parents almost went down the poor Anton route and I reminded them about his Latin and then they were all oh yes, of course, fair enough that he gets the duffers - Rad]

Our final couple of the evening is Helen and Artem. Bruce makes a "here's a dance she prepared earlier" joke, and we watch her VT, in which we discover that Blue Peter actually covers subjects beyond homoeroticism. Hey, I only watched the Simon Thomas/Matt Baker/Gethin Jones years, so how would I know otherwise? [Weren't you a little old for that combination?  Oh right, you weren't watching it for the craft segments.  Carry on... (PS Simon Groom/Mark Curry/Janet Ellis 4eva) - Rad] Apparently Helen's a bit of an adrenaline junkie and a daredevil, and signs up to things without even knowing if she's any good at them. I wonder if that's an omen for the show? Artem tells us that they're doing the jive, which is fast, hyperactive and happy, suiting Helen perfectly. Even in the course of the week that they're rehearsing together, I think Helen's energy is a bit much for Artem. I think he spent a bit too long with Holly Valance. Helen hopes that she finishes the routine smiling, and makes everyone else smile as well.

They're dancing to 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' (second-best Christmas song ever, only beaten by '8 Days Of Christmas' by Destiny's Child) [Wrong.  Last Christmas.  Both original and JLS flavour - Rad], and Helen pops out of a Christmas present in true Christmas-special style. Her footwork's a little bit heavy and she's a bit too slow in general, but the precision of the routine is good, and as I said earlier on the subject of Merry Christmas JLS, I should think the jive is one of the harder dances to learn in a week with no prior training, because it's so energetic. There's a good split-lift in there, but she does get her footwork a bit muddled once or twice and doesn't quite have the confidence or showmanship to cover it up properly. Still, it's a credible effort under the circumstances.

Bruno tells Helen that she finished with a real sparkler and he thinks she already has what she wants for Christmas: Artem. I'd imagine Kara might have something to say about that. Craig thinks her turns were spot-on, though a lot of the kicks and flicks were laboured, and he really enjoyed the cartwheel. Darcey thinks it was a sugary jive with beautiful dance content and clean lifts, but she would've liked more action. Finally, Len thought it was sharp and tasty like a pickled walnut, and all he wants for Christmas is to see that again.

They head up to the Tess Circle, where Tess says it's surprising that Darcey wanted more action because Helen's such an action girl. Helen replies that she couldn't look at Artem at that point, because he'd been saying "more more more" throughout rehearsals. What Helen didn't realise was that he was actually just singing along to The Andrea True Connection on his iPod. Tess reads a list of Helen's achievements off a cue card (professional!) and focuses on the time she walked a tightrope across Battersea Power Station. Helen says that Strictly is difficult in a different way because here she had to be good at something as opposed to just keeping on going - "with this, I had to be good or he shouted". Hee. Artem pouts, and Helen plants her fingers into his dimples and lifts his expression into a smile. Hee again. Tess asks if Helen put that smile on Artem's face (yes, Tess, she literally just did that, which channel were you watching?) by being a good student, and Artem says "yes" with a huge sigh. Yeah, something tells me if Helen comes back for a full series, they're pairing her with someone else. Scores are in: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 37.

Time to look at that leaderboard, then:
1st: Merry Christmas & Ola (39)
2nd: Helen & Artem (37)
3rd: Sheila & Ian (36)
4th: Fabrice & Aliona (35)
5th: Katy & Anton (33)
6th: Bobby & Katya (29)

Tess reminds us that the studio audience's votes could potentially change everything (but probably won't), and then we see a recap of the six routines we've already watched, for no particular reason.

The audience then use their powers of manipulating the space-time continuum to pick and submit their votes in the time it took to show that VT, and while the show's Christmas elves (drunken, weeping runners) count the votes, it's time for the hilarious comedy stylings of the All-Stars as we get a rehearsal VT from them. Russell Grant is dressed as Santa and acting like a tit (I know that second clause is hardly news, but still), Tom Chambers has grown his hair a bit and is acting like a tit (see above), Widdy has that expression of abject misery on her face, like she knows that somebody, somewhere is having fun and yet she is powerless to stop it (she's basically the human equivalent of the Daily Mail), Kelly Brook is giggling, Rachel Stevens is as animated as ever, then Kristina forces them all to get to work. Rachel tells us how much she's missed Vincent, Ola calls Chris Hollins fat (♥), Colin Jackson and Erin try not to discuss Dummy Dance, Natasha Kaplinsky is clearly HATING EVERY SECOND, Chelsee says that her arm movements have improved since last year and Pasha snarks that Christmas works miracles, Brendan and Kelly have great fun being The Naughty Ones, Tom continues to be utterly unbearable, and everyone hopes they'll somehow manage to pull it off on the night. Fnar.

This would seem like the perfect place to run their performance in the general sequence of things, but no: the pro routine is going at the end of the show, and instead here's Rod Stewart sing 'Let It Snow'. *fast forwards*

(What? There wasn't even any dancing during that bit, unless you count the judges shuffling awkwardly behind the desk. If it's not about dancing, or about leading up to dancing, it doesn't get recapped. THEM'S  THE RULES.)

Tess has got the special Christmas cue cards in her hands, so it's time to announce the results. We're reminded of what the judges said about each of the couples (it's all Christmas puns for the most part, so let's just skip right past), and the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas champions are...Merry Christmas and Ola! It's nominative determinism in action! (Also, I'm taking great pleasure in Ola having won the main competition once and various spin-off contests twice, and James having won...nothing, ever. LOLLERSKATES.)

Tess congratulates all the other losers for taking part, and Merry Christmas says that it feels really good to be recognised for something other than saying "Merry Christmas" that one time. And now it's that moment we've all (/some of us) been waiting for (/mildly curious about) - it's the Strictly All-Stars! Brendan and Kelly start off by twirling, twirling, TWIRLING TOWARDS FREEDOM to 'Pure Imagination' (and hey, thanks for ruining that song, Iceland) and then the music changes to 'Cool Yule' by Louis Armstrong (no, me neither) and they disperse to allow Colin and Erin to quickstep right across the floor. Colin's still brilliant, incidentally, and still so very robbed. Then Chelsee and Pasha offer up some party Latin and a lot of lifts, then Chris and Ola reprise the most memorable moments of their charleston (i.e. Chris gurning and then the two of them 69-ing) and then Smuggo Chambers comes out with Kristina, chin-first and titting around like Fred Astaire all "COME AND SEE ME IN THE WEST END! I MIGHT BE MORE TOLERABLE IN PERSON! POSSIBLY!" Then the music changes to 'Celebration' and Natasha and Ian come out, with Natasha still looking utterly despondent. She just about survives her cha cha cha section, but it's not pretty. Then Rachel and Vincent come out to do an Argentine tango (because that's a brilliant fit with this song) and it's great apart from when Vincent accidentally kicks her in the arse, and then everyone takes to the floor together as the other Christmas competitors and the top six of 2012 head down the stairs to join them. After that, the judges arrive, and it becomes clear that Darcey's dress is not practical for dancing because she's having to hold the trail up with one hand the whole time. Then there's another knock on the makeshift door, and look who it is - it's Widdy and Russell Grant! Brendan and Kelly (who appear to be on door duty for this party) react with the appropriate amount of disgust, but aren't quick enough to stop these unwanted guests from invading the party, eating all the vol-au-vents, throwing up in the plant pots and leaving an unflushable in the host's en-suite. Russell runs straight to the front and calls shotgun on dancing with Kelly Brook, while Widdy just ambles past the camera like a Muppet and Chris Hollins puts his hand on her hip for the final pose. I'm surprised she didn't consider that too sexually suggestive, but there you go.

And that's Christmas! Hope to see you back here in 2013 for series 11, and in the meantime, keeeeeeeeep reading this blog. Because we need the Google hits for search engine optimisation, you see.

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