Monday, 14 October 2013

Seven Valley

14 Couples Perform: 12th October 2013

Last week: Sophie wowed with her charleston while Natalie's head-spinning waltz propelled her to the top of the combined leaderboard, while Dave's American smooth was kind of crunchy, Julien's tango was more of a Tesco Value Orange Fizz and Rachel's salsa could've done with a few more jalapeños. It was Tony, though, whose lethargic charleston turned out to be his last dance, allowing him to go and have a nice long rest in his Florida mansion (it's a hard life) while Aliona was finally united with her dream partner - her pay cheque - and skipped off to sweet, sweet freedom.

Tonight, it's Lovey Dovey Dove Week, which does feel like the flimsiest attempt at a theme since the last time The X Factor pulled out the old "songs that you think will get you into the final" routine. [Or 'Songs that were number one somewhere in the world except the ones that weren't' week - Rad] I still think Hate Week would've been a better choice (everyone does an angry tango or a paso doble, and the musical guests are Mumford And Sons), but I guess we're stuck with this one. Titles! (Which have been amended to read "Strictly Come Dancing Love", which is what I assume this show is called in the north west.)

We open with a group dance to 'Chapel Of Love', the theme of which is basically a re-enactment of James and Ola's wedding with Craig as the vicar. I think I would have preferred it if the central couple had been Janette and Aljaž, just so she could spend the entire routine screaming at all those skanks to KEEP AWAY FROM HER MAN, but this is an acceptable substitute, I guess, especially since it's James and Ola's tenth wedding anniversary this week. (Although if they planned the whole theme night around that particular event in the diary, I will be having words, otherwise we could end up having a theme night next year in which everyone's dances have to relate to Tess's visit to the dental hygienist.) Anyway, Ola throws the bouquet and Bruno catches it, and then the band switches to playing 'Kiss The Bride' by Elton John and the choreography gets a bit...odd (I don't care if it's love week, nobody wants to see actual wedding dancing on this show), and obviously the whole thing ends with Craig getting a face full of wedding cake, because lolz.

Everyone disappears as if by magic, and then we have a Bruce and a Tess. Daly Dresswatch: it's a high-necked sleeveless red number with a gold collar and what looks like a strip of packing tape extending from her neck down to her navel. Maybe there was a last-minute wardrobe malfunction and nobody had a needle and thread? Alan Carr's in the audience, looking very excited. Bruce tells the audience that they're better than last week's, which he knows about because he was watching. Yes, but the real question is did he switch over to The X Factor as soon as it started, or did he wait for this show to finish and then watch it on catch-up? The people must be told!

Tess reminds us that Tony was sent home last week, and Bruce mumbles over her the whole time that it was a real shame and that Len was very upset about it, and maybe this is why Bruce doesn't do results shows any more. Anyway, Bruce manhandles Tess to a degree that human resources might have to get involved, grabbing her so tightly that she almost falls down the stairs as they slink away. And here are the remaining stars of our show: Sophie and Brendan, Mark and Iveta, Susanna and Kevin From Grimsby, Ben and Kristina, Natalie and Artem, Julien and Janette, Vanessa and James, Abbey and Aljaž, Ashley and Ola and also Ashley's Abs That You Could Grate Cheese On, Deborah and Robin, Patrick and Anya, Rachel and Pasha, Dave and Karen, and Fiona and Anton.

Once everyone's introduced, Bruce explains that for those who are surprised to see him on the show this week, he was away last week because he had the flu, not because he'd been voted out. (Genuinely funny Brucie joke ahoy!) Our first couple tonight is Abbey and Aljaž. In her VT, Abbey says that it's important for her to know that she's done her best, and she knows that she didn't do that last week. Not that the judges noticed, mind. "I thought the judges were really, really generous with their scores - I was really happy," she beams. Right, so I assume that while it's important to her to know that she's done her best, she doesn't get upset as long as she gets good scores. I'd scoff, but I was a bit like that at school. Abbey's Thing That She Loves is her home city of Liverpool, so she decides to take Aljaž off to see it. They go to see the Liver Building, the Liverpool Docks, the River "Maisey" (as Aljaž calls it), the Cavern Club, Brookside Close, Liz from Atomic Kitten's house, etc. Then Abbey's dad and brother try to teach Aljaž some Scouse sayings and laugh at him when he can't quite get his tongue around them. I look forward to another VT in which Aljaž takes Abbey off to Slovenia to meet his friends and family, and they all laugh at her when it turns out she can't master a Slovenian dialect in an afternoon.

They're dancing the jive to 'Can't Buy Me Love', which opens with Abbey sitting on the wall of "Penny Lane" for so long that I begin to wonder if this routine might have been inspired by Denise Van Outen's account of her time in Chicago. Also, Abbey's dressed for the sixties, which includes wearing knee socks, and apparently even a renowned fashion model can't make knee socks look good. Abbey's jive is surprisingly sluggish - it's very stompy and she doesn't get much bounce out of the floor. It might not be quite so noticeable if she didn't have Aljaž next to her dancing like he's made of pistons, admittedly, but either way it's more disappointing Latin from Abbey. Either she's had an unlucky couple of weeks, or she's going to be one of those contestants who's only ever at home in ballroom. Still, Sophie and Janette seem very enthusiastic about it up in the Tess Circle.

Bruce tells everyone that he's still got a touch of the flu (so expect us to be four couples and two judges down next week, then) so he's made himself a hot toddy, and brings out a giant mug from next to Bruno. Novelty oversized prop gags will always get a laugh from me, so well done, whoever came up with that one. Bruce jokes about how it's half lemon and half whisky, and let's not pretend you could leave that much alcohol next to Bruno for more than two minutes and still expect it to be there when you got back.

Len says it was a bit like a Beatles medley - "a lot of 'Please Please Me' and a little bit of 'Help!' near the end." He thinks her attack was great, but her technique sometimes needed a bit of work, because she could've had a bit more swivel in her toe-heel swivels. Abbey giggles involuntarily at "swivel", which is the first time I've liked her all series. Bruno calls her "grrrrrrrrrrroooovy", and says it was like a photo shoot for Mary Quant. He thinks she gave it her all, but agrees with Len that the kicks and flicks needed to be sharper, and she needs to pay more attention to where her free hand is. Craig points out that she sat down for too long, and her timing was out at the beginning, and her pas de bourrées were slightly laboured. That's odd, I didn't even see her do any baking. He disagrees with Len and thinks that she lacked attack, and Len and Bruno get all "OH COME ON" and talk over him in a way that Craig never does to anyone else. Darcey reminds Abbey that the jive is HARD FOR TALL PEOPLE, but the energy and the story and the style were lovely.

Up they scoot to the Tess Circle, and Abbey looks at her reflection in one of the camera to check her fringe is still hanging just-so. Models, eh? Tess asks Abbey if she's done Liverpool proud. What is this, The X Factor? Tess then asks Aljaž to do some of the Scouse slang that Abbey's family taught him, and he ends up sounding like this. Everyone laughs at Aljaž some more, and seriously: how many languages do the rest of you speak? Scores are in: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 8, Bruno 7 for a total of 28. The only possible explanation for Len giving that routine an eight is that Dancing With The Stars-related jet lag made him think it was 2008 again and that he was watching Lisa Snowdon. Tess makes Aljaž be a comedy foreigner one more time and this time only Abbey laughs. Well, I'm glad that joke ran out of steam quickly.

Our second couple tonight is Patrick and Anya. Patrick thinks that all of his hard work from last week paid off with his tango, and as 'Unforgettable' cues up on the soundtrack (which is hilarious, because every single time Patrick appears on screen, I'm like "oh right, he's doing it this year!"), Patrick tells us he's doing a foxtrot to 'Let There Be Love', which reminds him of his dad playing Nat King Cole on Sunday mornings. Anya thinks we'll see a different side to Patrick in this dance. Hopefully that'll be the side that makes for memorable, entertaining television. Patrick explains that his dad is mostly in Jamaica these days, but he thinks his dad will be proud to see him dancing to this song.

Anya is perched on a piano that Patrick is pretending to play, and leaps into his arms for a rictus-grinned foxtrot. It's a little unstable, and I'd wager that Patrick goes wrong a few times because there are definitely points when he and Anya seem to be heading in entirely different directions. To be honest, I find foxtrots fairly soporific at the best of times and this one does nothing to change my mind: it's not particularly exciting or notable in its execution, it's just sort of...there.

Bruce thanks Dave Arch And Friends for their musical contributions this evening, and then we're over to the judges. Bruno tells Patrick that it was a very correct and proper performance, except for the times when he messed it up. He tells Patrick that mistakes don't matter as long as you keep the flow. Craig would've liked to see more movement around the floor, and he thinks swing and sway need to be added. Also, there were gapping issues, but he tells Patrick "you are style". Gangnam style, possibly, given his posture throughout most of that routine. Darcey tells Patrick that he brought panache and style and that "I wasn't expecting that at all". Darcey Bussell: master of the stealth insult. She thought it was too neat and tidy, but she liked the connection between them. Len tells them that it had an ease and an elegance to it, and it had "style with a smile". Maybe it's just me, but I feel like the judges' comments to Patrick each week basically amount to "that's nice, dear."

They style their way up to the Tess Circle, and Patrick says that he really enjoyed that dance, and that he's loving the whole experience and would like to do more. Scores are in: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 27 - exactly the same as last week.

Next are Dave and Karen, "doing the Spanish paso doble". Which is notably different from the Swiss paso doble, in that involves more capes and fewer cuckoo clocks. Dave thinks that his American smooth from last week was a huge improvement from his first time out, and that the paso will be his signature dance. He works on his paso face, which basically involves scrunching up his mouth like Ada Shufflebotham. Karen giggles that she's never seen a matador quite like that before. She tells him that he needs to connect with his passion, and since Dave's passion is for "motorbikes and the open road", the next thing we see is Karen riding pillion and screaming bloody murder. And that was just when she realised they were going to Milton Keynes.

They're dancing to 'I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)', and it's impossible to even think about that song without us all needing to have a few moments' silence in memory of The Snowdance. Occasionally imitated, but never bettered. Anyway, returning to the matter at hand, I think this paso might be where the bloom started to come off the rose for me as far as Dave is concerned. What I liked about him in week one was that, although Karen had clearly recognised her best chance of survival was to go with the comedy angle and choreograph the routines accordingly, she did give Dave some actual dancing to do and Dave, bless his heart, actually tried to do it. Here, sadly, it feels like both of them have abandoned all that in pursuit of the lulz - Dave barely moves off the spot for the entire minute-and-a-half and does almost all of his dancing with his face. It just feels more like this than, say, this, and that saddens me. I genuinely don't care if someone turns out not to be much of a dancer, because it's ridiculous to expect that all 15 celebrities will turn out to be supernaturally gifted, but I just want to see people actually trying to learn and improve. Watching people come out and fart their way around the room each week, knowing full well that they'll get low scores but get enough votes from the public to stay in just becomes tiresome quickly, and it's disappointing to see these two taking the easy way out when I thought they were at least going to attempt to balance the comedy with a smattering of technique here and there.

Still, it gets a standing ovation because there's no possible way that it wouldn't. Craig just glowers and sums it up in one word: "Dreadful". The audience boos, but he's not wrong. Darcey thinks Dave had a very strong attitude - "maybe not a matador" - but it didn't follow through into the shaping, and she tells Dave he needs to pull up his pelvis. Len says it was like being waxed - "painful when it's happening and lovely when it's over." He tells Dave that he may not be the judges' champion, but he's the people's champion. In week three. After one public vote. (Also, I'm sure Lisa Riley is thrilled that this is who her successor turned out to be.) In the audience, former people's champion Chris Parker cheers and applauds. Bruno says that "this tops everything I've ever seen" and that Dave's face looked like he was smelling some bad cheese. Bruce tells Dave to say what he said at dress rehearsal (ooh, spontaneity!) and Dave says that "some people have different ways of showing love". Is that the latest Stonewall campaign? Then there's a weird bit where Bruce thanks them for the flowers, and says that he can't influence the judges but he can influence the audience, and I genuinely have no idea if that's meant to be a joke, or if Dave and/or Karen really did send flowers and Bruce really did seem to think it was all part of some scheme to rig the outcome of the show, as if they were Olivia Pope and Bruce a voting machine in Defiance, Ohio. (Have you been watching Scandal? Because I can't recommend it enough - it's quickly replacing Revenge as my ludicrously OTT soap of choice.)

Up in the Tess Circle, Tess requests another glimpse of the paso face, and Dave describes it as "arrogance, dominance and attitude". So he mixed three designer fragrances together and then just replicated the face that he pulled when he smelled the result? Tess asks if the audience loved it, and I don't think you need me to tell you what their response is. Scores: Craig 2, Darcey 5, Len 5, Bruno 4 for a total of 16. "I think I need your votes!" Dave yells down the camera. Then there's an awkward moment when Tess asks Dave what "that" is and it takes him slightly too long to realise she's referencing the song he just danced to.

So let's move swiftly on to couple number four, Fiona and Anton. Her VT starts with a recap of last week's performance, which is traditional, but which also means we're also subjected to the site of Anton's trouser-bulge one last time. Great, that's another three weeks of counselling. Thanks for nothing, The BBC. Anyway, Fiona was distressed last week for reasons entirely different from everyone else's - specifically because she went wrong and kicked Anton in the shin - but she vows to carry on and try to get it right this week. Her interpretation of love is all about her family, and Anton notes that it's Fiona's birthday this week, so he arranges for her husband to turn up and surprise her with a cake. Fiona says that the best birthday present ever would be to make it through another week in the competition. Well, Julien's still around, so I'd say your chances of survival are pretty high, even if you're in the Dread Dance Off. Happy (belated) birthday, Fiona!

They dance a waltz to Pat Boone's 'True Love', and the most important thing that I must report first is that Anton is wearing a blazer that covers his crotch, so we should all be safe this week. Praise the Lord! There's further good news for Fiona, as this turns out to be a recovery week for her: her waltz is light, poised and smoothly delivered, although it's super-bland and instantly forgettable like so many early-stage waltzes before it.

Darcey tells Fiona that she has turned into Grace Kelly (I bet Mika's furious about this, because he was only ever to be a little Freddie) with her ease and elegance tonight, but she wants to see Fiona open up her shoulders so she can use her neck more. Len thinks Fiona's playing snakes and ladders - "last week you went down the snake" (didn't we all? ANOTHER FOUR WEEKS OF THERAPY) but this week she's back up the ladder. Bruno calls her "Princess Fiona" and says that her turns and balance are better, though he can still see her losing focus from time to time. Craig echoes Darcey in saying that her chest needs to be higher, and adds that she overbalanced once, but he thought it was all extremely elegant. Bruce asks Fiona if she enjoyed her birthday, and Fiona parrots "yes thank you Bruce I had a lovely birthday" as though she's been programmed by the Demon Headmaster.

Bruce leads the crowd in an admittedly slightly subdued chorus of 'Happy Birthday To You' as Fiona and Anton head up to the Tess Circle - although, don't you need to clear the rights to perform that song on TV? He should've gone for 'It's Your B'day, Bitch' by Snooki's Mom instead. Tess asks Fiona if getting the routine right was a great birthday present, and Fiona agrees that it was an amazing feeling. No more time for banter, we've got a lot to get through, so the scores are in: sevens all round for a total of 28, with Bruno trying to out "sev-UNNN!" Len. It's going to be that sort of night, you guys.

Rachel and Pasha are up next, and the stylists have seemingly dressed Rachel up as Ke$ha for the evening, and I briefly get my hopes up that they'll be dancing to 'Kiss n Tell' or 'Dinosaur', although I guess they'd probably stretch the definition of "love songs" to breaking point. In her VT, Rachel says that she tried to have fun in her salsa last week, and she thinks that some of the judges comments were really mean. Maybe this means she'll be dancing to Taylor Swift instead? While Rachel refuses to engage with Craig's "slug in salt" comment, she admits she does need to work on her strength and the sharpness of her dancing. Rachel's contribution to Love Week is to talk about how much she loves Strictly, like how she had a Strictly-themed 21st birthday party. Everyone got dressed up in diamanté and sequins, and then at the end they scored each other and made their family members vote someone out. Fun had by all! Rachel says that she's loved the show for so long that she hopes this week's routine will allow her to continue the love affair.

They're dancing a cha cha cha to 'When Love Takes Over' by David Guetta featuring Kelly Rowland. Rachel's clearly been working on her hips, which are definitely better than last week, and I think her footwork is generally impressive, but this is still lacking any sort of performance value - everything from the waist up feels so robotic. This is so frustrating for me because I really like Rachel as a person (and I don't think you really need me to reiterate how I feel about Pasha at this point) and I really want her to do well, but I need her to GET THERE FASTER. I'm feeling gently encouraged by the signs of slow improvement, but I need quicker improvement than this, please. Also, if this is the sort of thing that appeals to you, this week Pasha is wearing a white vest and braces. It's not a look that particularly excites me, but each to their own.

Len praises her for getting her hips moving. He thinks she had good leg action, Cuban breaks and timing, but she occasionally lost a bit of control. God, if only. Bruno says that Rachel is "starting to feel the tingle". She should get some cream for that. You want to stop a cold sore before it gains a hold. He says that she's done well tonight, and has started to use her assets to her advantage. He wants her to have confidence in herself, because everything is there, and she is at least moving in the right direction. Craig says that the look of concentration on face was "startling" and a smile would've brightened it up. He adds that she placed herself heavily on the finishes, but her free arm placement is much better. Finally, Darcey says that she's clearly taken on board last week's feedback and the choreographic finishes are there now, and she feels Rachel's confidence was much higher this week. Well, if it wasn't before, it seems to be now.

They scurry up to the Tess Circle, where Rachel says that she was "a bit crestfallen" upon learning that she had the cha cha cha immediately after the salsa, but she really enjoyed it. Tess asks if it's hard to dance when you don't have a performance background, and Rachel says that she's normally happy and bubbly, so it's hard for her to be serious and sexy, but Pasha's been teaching her some stuff. I'm not sure Pasha's a good tutor on sultriness. Sweet cute adorableness, absolutely, but sultriness...I may need some more convincing. Possibly on a one-to-one basis. Scores are in: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 27. Bruno is upset that Len didn't do the "sev-UNN!", so he does it for him. Thanks for that, Bruno. Really.

Next to take to the floor are Mark and Iveta. While I don't usually enjoy the gurning that the couples do when their names are announced, Iveta making a face like someone just tucked an elastic band around her ears and her incisors is one of the better examples. In his VT, Mark says that he's very happy to have had lovely comments so far, and like Patrick and Fiona before him (and Ben, Sophie, Vanessa and Ashley yet to come), Mark's thoughts on the theme of love turn to his family. Cogent points on this matter: Mark's house looks really nice, and his kids are adorable. Mark says that his kids are aged between 8 and 15, and the great thing about Strictly is that it appeals to all ages. Mark's son Archie is coming to watch this week, and he's even bought a suit especially for the occasion. Bless. Mark says that he thought being on Strictly would embarrass his son, but it hasn't: a few kids at school have said stuff, but he's just told them to shut up. I'm actually starting to really like Mark, possibly because he can play bum-bongos in a vomit-coloured shirt one week and do a sweet, low-key VT about how awesome his family is the next. He just seems so refreshingly devoid of bullshit.

For their American smooth (to Madness's 'It Must Be Love'), Iveta has choreographed a routine in which she plays Mark's crazy stalker number one fan. And that's why I love this pair, because they're so yin and yang: Mark's the salt-of-the-earth type and Iveta is the BATSHIT CRAZY DANCE GODDESS. It's an interesting routine - I think there's possibly a bit too much going on in it, and it might have benefited from a slightly less-is-more approach, but it's danced well - despite a brief moment when they accidentally bump into each other ever so slightly at the end of one of the walk sections - and they continue to have lovely chemistry when they perform together. Also, despite everything I said earlier about it needing less "business", the best moment by far is the end when Mark wanders off into the giant "stage door" prop while Iveta's too busy dancing by herself (not a euphemism) to notice, only for her to suddenly realise she's alone and run up to the door looking crestfallen, then just as she turns away dejectedly, Mark comes back out and they put their arms around each other like BFFs. It's cheesy and ridiculous and I think they're about the only couple in the entire competition who can get away with something quite so hammy, but I LOVED IT.

Bruno enjoyed the happy ending (no comment) and thinks it was played beautifully, but there were a few rough patches. Craig says that Mark is a fantastic storyteller, but he has to work on his hands because they're ruining the finish of his lines. Darcey says she missed the glamour and flair of the American smooth, and that Mark dances rather small for a tall gentleman, so she wants him to use his height more. However, she was very impressed that he supported Iveta so well during the arabesque moment. Len tells Mark that he captures the essence of every dance, and while the dancing itself may not be top notch, he enjoys watching Mark because he Gets It.

Iveta swishes her skirt all the way up to the Tess Circle, where Tess makes all sorts of "awww, he's in his new suit, LOOK AT HIS WIDDLE FACE!" comments about Mark's son (who is 15, let's remember, not five), which may mean he'll have to tell a few more people to shut up on Monday. Thanks Tess! Scores are in: Craig 6, Darcey 6, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 26 - their highest score so far.

Next are Ben and Kristina. Ben is sporting the whole dress-shirt-with-an-unbuttoned-collar-and-an-untied-bowtie thing that is clearly meant to be much sexier than I ever find it to be. I mean, I'm not saying I'm entirely unmoved by it (he's still Ben Cohen, and I am still a human person), but this particular ensemble tends to leave me thinking "it'd look a lot nicer if he'd had time to finish getting ready". In his VT, Ben takes us through his thoughts during last week's dance: "Don't mess it up. Oh, you have a little." Hee! Ben vows to relax in future and sort his nerves out. Ben's love is, of course, his family - he says that he's not been spending much time at home since he's been doing the show, and he misses his beautiful wife and adorable children, as you would. Ben's wife Abby tells us that Ben ticks all the boxes as a husband and father, because he cooks and he cleans and does everything that's expected of him, and LOOK JUST STOP BEING PERFECT BEN COHEN BECAUSE YOU ARE MAKING IT VERY HARD FOR ME. Er, phrasing. Anyway, Ben proceeds to hang around at home, doing adorable things with his adorable family, and an entire nation's ovaries wave white flags at their televisions.

This week Ben and Kristina are dancing a blokerumba to 'Make You Feel My Love', and since it starts with Kristina gazing into a mirror while Ben stands moodily some distance behind her, I have high hopes that it's about to get all Black Swan and Kristina's reflection will start snarling and clawing at the glass trying to get out. No such luck, unfortunately, but what we get instead is a surprisingly tolerable blokerumba - I never imagined in a million years that this would be Ben's breakthrough dance, but there's finally some good hip action going on, and he's dancing with an intensity and conviction that I've not seen before. I mean, it's a blokerumba so he doesn't really have a lot to do, and there's clearly still a lot of work to be done on his overall technique, but there's still enough improvement here for me to feel at least a little bit hopeful that Ben might not always be the lumbering breezeblock he appeared to be for the first two weeks.

He gets a surprise standing ovation for his efforts, which Bruce spends about ten minutes pointing out. Bruce then expresses his appreciation by telling Ben "you've got a certain way with you", and equality campaigner Ben Cohen responds to this by making a stand for less heteronormativity in competitive dance-based reality shows - in other words, he puts a hand on Bruce's shoulder, slides up behind him and murmurs huskily "do you like me?" and basically scares the living crap out of Bruce on live television. "With all the women on your side, don't do that!" Bruce admonishes him. Yeah, because all the women watching this show hate the gays. That seems likely.

Craig tells Ben that he's been willing him to do well and dance well, and he did. Ben, clearly on the rebound after being so cruelly rejected by Bruce, yells with delight and runs up to the judges' desk to plant a big smacker on Craig's cheek. Such a hussy. "I'm not Stonehenge this week!" he says to Bruce as he makes his way back. Bruce is still all "yes, fine, just stand over there where I can see what your hands are doing at all times, Feely McBadtouch". Darcey says that she wanted to see connection, and he gave it to her (fnar) and created a true intensity in that dance. She even saw some fluidity and hip rotation, and advises him to keep it up (fnar) because she wants to see that next week as well. Len thinks it's nice to see a big butch bloke being gentle. I've got a few movies I could send him if that's what he's into. He thought there needed to be more hips going on sometimes, but he liked seeing Ben's feminine side. "I want to see more of that side as well!" says Bruno, predictably. He adds that it was like watching "a series of erotic friezes". Is that like when you buy those trays that make ice cubes shaped like willies?

Ben and Kristina hurry up to the Tess Circle before Bruce's restraining order comes in, and Tess tells him that he's achieved a Strictly first - he made Craig blush. Ben tells his daughters that he loves them, just in case we aren't all completely destroyed already, and then the scores are in: Craig 7, Darcey 7, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 28. Len declares that "it's a seven-fest". I don't know whether he means this particular dance or the whole bloody night, but either way, he's right on the money.

After a brief trailer for the dances yet to come, it's time for our next couple: Sophie and Brendan. Last week Sophie's charleston was amazing, and she says that all the stars aligned for her on the night. She adds that she had mixed emotions about how it all went: on one hand, she was thrilled to get 36 points, but on another, she couldn't help worrying that it might be the first and last time that happens for her. (Brief aside: only three contestants in Strictly history prior to this series have got 36 for their second dance, and all of them managed to score as high if not higher at least one more time before the end of their time on the show. The odds should be in her favour, s'all I'm saying.) Anyway, we segue from here into Sophie saying how lovely it was that her husband, Richard Off The Feeling, was there to share the experience with her.

This week, Sophie and Brendan are dancing a samba to 'All Night Long (All Night)' by Lionel Ritchie, which has special meaning for her because it was the first dance at her wedding. When Brendan finds out about this - around the same time that Richard conveniently happens to stop by their rehearsals - he's very keen to find out what the choreography was like at their wedding. Oh, Brendan. Brendan and Sophie demonstrate their new routine, and Richard says he's so proud of Sophie. Then Brendan demonstrates one of the moves on Richard himself, which mostly involves shoving his arse into Richard's crotch, and Richard's all "...any chance you can do this routine without touching my wife? No? Oh well, it never hurts to ask."

There are lampposts containing multi-coloured bulbs out for this routine, which I'm choosing to see as a promising omen because they remind me of this, and indeed the dance is a good one. I mean, they weren't ever going to top last week's charleston with this, and it would've been foolish to try, but this stands on its own terms as a very strong samba: it's light and playful, Sophie's hips and legs are working brilliantly, and they've really developed some great chemistry over the last few weeks. At this point I catch myself thinking of the pre-show predictions, when even the biggest Sophie Ellis-Bextor stans on the internet were all "we love her, but she's always been a really awkward dancer" and everyone assumed that she was going to be a bit rigid and rubbish, and now I wonder if somehow Sophie knew it was her destiny to be on this show one day and, in a bit to avoid any DVO/Gumede-type ringer accusations, has been playing up the whole awkward dancer thing for the last 13 years or so as part of THE GREATEST LONG CON OF ALL TIME? I may have to do further research into it. Anyway, it's a fun, enjoyable samba - opinion seems to be split on whether Sophie's trademark expression of ironic detachment works for party Latin, personally I was fine with it but I'm sure it won't work for everyone. I just suspect that Sophie's going to be the dancer I most look forward to watching each week.

Darcey tells Sophie that the dance content was fabulous, but she would've liked to see more of a party vibe than a "cool" vibe, and warns Sophie about overextending her arms in the running promenades. Len says it lacked some toning on occasions, but they included so many of his favourite moves including the Corta Jaca, that he loved it. Bruno thinks it was a sophisticated samba from an uptown girl. Craig thinks she could've done with more double-bounce action, but other than that he loved it, especially the bachacatas.

Sophie yells "thank you very much!" to the judges as they run past on the way to the Tess Circle. Such lovely manners. Sophie says she was so nervous beforehand that she was probably scaring Brendan. Scores are in: Craig 7, Darcey 8, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 31. Sophie and Brendan are both very happy with that, and Tess says it was one of the coolest sambas they've ever seen on the show. "Only on the outside," replies Sophie. Heh.

Julien and Janette are next with their jive. Really this should've been saved for J-week rather than love week, but maybe they've put that theme on the backburner for now. Julien says he's very relieved to have the tango behind him - he suspected he'd be in the bottom two last week, and the worst thing was having to do the dance again. For his contribution to the Things I Love VT Compilation, Julien brings his dog Jake to training and shows how Jake can do a high-five. Cute! In a bid to get the necessary bounce action out of Julien, Janette makes him rehearse on a trampette. Julien gets Jake onto his trampette with him, a decision which I feel is unwise at best. [All I noticed in this VT was LOUD! DOG! LOUD! Pets don't really do it for me, VT wise.  Now, coot ickle kiddies, that's another matter.  BABY WARZ > PET WARZ - Rad]

They're dancing to 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love', dressed up in their own super-sparkly take on the Blues Brothers (Janette's lolling head and bored expression as she gets her mugshot taken are possibly my favourite part of the entire show). It's a bit of a mess, obviously, because it's Julien, but I'm heartened to see that there are points where he does genuinely pull off some pretty impressive jive steps. They tend to be isolated and fairly infrequent, but at least they are in there. Much like with Ben earlier, I don't expect miracles but it's always nice to see progress of some sort. This is why it pains me that the general public have appointed Dave as their official Comedy Underdog of the year rather than Julien - neither one of them can dance, but based on this week's performances, one of them is at least trying to get better and it ain't Dave.

Len tells Julien that he really enjoyed it because of the devil-may-care attitude, and he thinks it was his best dance to date. Nothing like clearing a low bar, is there? Bruno says it was a criminal attack on the jive, full of wacky attitude - he admits he enjoyed it too, but if Julien sticks around, he needs to learn to stay on time all the way through because the rest of the dance won't work without timing. Craig says the energy was great, but it was like a three-year-old at a dance recital after ten bags of sweets. Julien bellows "Craig, but it's love weekend! Please help me!" Bruce, who must be the only person in the northern hemisphere not to have heard that, asks Julien what he just said, and Julien repeats it for Bruce - hilariously in a much quieter and more lethargic voice than he used the first time round. I guess when you're as hyper as Julien is, it's quite a rarity to have to say anything more than once. Darcey finishes by saying that Julien brought the energy and love, but she wants him to point his feet more to make those kicks and flicks sharper.

Up in the Tess Circle, Julien says that he's worked so hard, and Janette compliments him on his work ethic. Tess asks Julien if being in the dance-off made him realise that he wanted to stick around, and Julien says that he loves the show, although he finds it difficult, and he is trying his best. Scores: Craig 4, Darcey 5, Len 7, Bruno 6 for a total of 22. They're happy with all of those scores, even Craig's - as Janette points out, it's more than what he gave them last week.

Susanna and Kevin From Grimsby (he is from Grimsby, she is not, just so we're all clear) [Which presumably therefore makes me the Kevin and you the Susanna of this blog, which is... an interesting but very strange thought - Rad] are next, and Susanna's waggling her eyebrows down the camera to remind us that she is now officially in Strictly mode, not dignified broadcast journalist mode. Hooray! Last week they did a tango that I didn't really get, but that the judges seemed to like, and that's the main thing, I guess. This week they're dancing the Viennese waltz, and having apparently been told by the producers that far too many people have already picked "family" as their presentation subject, Susanna and Kevin From Grimsby opt for another passion that they share: football. Apparently Susanna is a big Crystal Palace fan. Kevin's allegiance is unspecified, but I'm going to assume he supports Grimsby Town. GWORN YOU MARINERS! (It says here.) [I feel I have taught you well.  Although I'm not sure if we've ever talked about football so maybe you learned by osmosis.  Also, I read somewhere that he has some involvement with Scunthorpe United, which would be a bit of a traitor thing for someone whose surname is From Grimsby to do so I choose to believe he's exercising Humbersidian pride by supporting both teams - Rad, who only sings when she's fishing] They go off to Crystal Palace's grounds for the day where they can have a bit more space, because Kevin keeps adorably bumping into the gymnastics equipment in the training room. Susanna says that we "wouldn't think there was any connection between football and the Viennese waltz", and we'd be entirely right. Sorry Susanna, but I am not convinced by your suggestion that footballers glide and so do people dancing the Viennese waltz. Nice try, though. Anyway, I'm not really listening to what anyone's saying in this VT, because Kevin is wearing his glasses and a blue checked shirt, and if Ben's VT hadn't completely destroyed my ovaries already, this would definitely have finished them off. However, they do manage to sort of make the whole football thing relevant at the end because Susanna points out that dancing on a football pitch has given her a much clearer idea of how to use the space on the dancefloor to its fullest effect. Well, I'm glad this was all profitable for someone.

They're dancing to 'Annie's Song' (you know, that one from the TalkTalk adverts about filling out your census in a forest, or however it goes). A very literal design team has given them an autumnal set, complete with golden-leaved trees, and more leaves projected all over the floor. I've never been a big fan of original flavour waltzes, but their Viennese cousins are far more up my street, and Susanna does a fine job here - she and Kevin From Grimsby completely sell their connection, and there's a lovely fluidity to her movements. It's perhaps a little bit too slow and modest for my taste - after all that talk of learning how to fill an entire football stadium, I suppose I was expecting big strides rather than the measured, delicate steps we actually get, but it's still lovely stuff.

Bruno tells Susanna that she's wonderfully versatile, and says that just watching her makes him happy. He thinks she's going to go far in the competition. Craig reminds Susanna to keep her chin up and her shoulder down. Darcey says that Susanna has some lovely extensions, but suggests that she use her shoulders and her upper body to make the most of her top line. Finally, Len says that this is LOVE WEEK and he is IN LOVE with that dance: in fact, it's the best he's seen tonight. Susanna seems visibly winded by this comment.

Up in the Tess Circle, Susanna confirms that the feeling's mutual as far as Len and love are concerned. Tess asks if it was hard to create the romantic atmosphere, and Kevin says that every time he asked her to look into his eyes, she laughed at him. Yes, I can see how that would be a bit of a mood-killer. I'LL LOOK INTO YOUR EYES WITHOUT LAUGHING, KEVIN! DANCE WITH ME INSTEAD! (I will eventually learn to stop behaving like Pepe Le Pew in heat, I promise. Hopefully before the end of the series.) Susanna says that it's easy to be in love with Kevin for two minutes because he's a lovely man and a beautiful dancer. Kevin can't help but pick up on the whole "for two minutes" caveat. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 8 for a total of 34. Susanna practically hyperventilates when she sees Darcey's and Len's scores, and says that those scores are entirely down to Kevin being such a great dancer and choreographer. "Only for two minutes, though," adds Kevin. Hee.

Our preantepenultimate couple (oh yeah, I've been increasing my wordpower) is Vanessa and James. Vanessa appears to be wearing a cronut on her head. Honestly, these food fads just get more and more niche, don't they? I refused to queue for three hours to eat a £15 burger, so I'm certainly not going to eat a deep-fried pastry off a broadcaster's pate. In her VT, Vanessa says that last week's performance felt magical - like watching a scene in a beautiful musical, except getting to be the star of it as well. She was very pleased with how well it went. However, James is unsure about what lies ahead for them this week as they've drawn the tango, and Vanessa admits that it's "jolly fast". Things aren't going brilliantly in training, but Vanessa's day improves when her fiancé Ben appears with a bunch of flowers. He tells her how well she's doing, and how proud he is of her. Vanessa says that she wanted to do Strictly because Ben is such a wonderful dancer, and it would be a dream to dance properly with the man she loves. By my reckoning, that's three different reasons for signing up that Vanessa's given in three weeks, after "I want to dance with my unborn grandchild" and "I'm doing this for the older lady". Has she got a separate one lined up for each week?

Their tango is to 'Lay All Your Love On Me', which is one of those songs whose awesomeness I frequently forget about until I hear it. The routine casts James as a love rat who's busy flirting with all of the female pros when he should be lavishing his attention on Vanessa, who's waiting for him at a restaurant table. On the bright side, if she gets too hungry she can always eat that cronut she's wearing. Vanessa runs over and yanks James away from the other women, shooing them off with her skirt. Heh. She hasn't really got the attack right for the tango, sadly - her face looks unfocused, like she's too busy counting steps in her head to look appropriately angry. She doesn't point her toes in the kicks either. That said, she does an admirable job of keeping up what is obviously a very fast routine for a relative beginner. There's just no strength in her top half, though - as James leans her this way and that, she moves her whole torso rather than just her shoulders, which spoils the shape of the dance. It really is a shame, because she's obviously put a lot of work into getting her feet right, but sadly that's only half the job.

Craig tells Vanessa that her left wrist is broken (I hope he means this figuratively; if not, he's one hell of a diagnostician if he can tell from that far away) and her head needs to be more to the left. It lacked sharpness, focus and the head movements weren't sufficiently staccato. Vanessa replies that Craig is "full of aperçu as ever" (well, he's certainly full of something) but pleads that for the first half of the song it was all she could manage just to keep up with James, and she thinks it's progress to have even got that far. Darcey liked the fire and attack, but "it's not about liking the smell of your man, you're not meant to like the smell of him". I have no idea where she's going with this, but she's driven James to sniff his armpits to see if the answer is in there. Darcey explains that the tango is about keeping your head away. I think maybe it might have been better to just say that right out at the beginning. Vanessa's an intelligent woman, obviously, and she's perfectly capable of unravelling a metaphor, but I think when you're giving dancing feedback to someone who's clearly struggling, it's probably better for all involved if you're direct and to the point. (Says the man who has written over 8100 words on the last 90 minutes of light entertainment television.) Len applauds James for cramming so much content into the routine and not taking the easy way out, but says that the overall effect was that of a decaf coffee: it looked all right, but it didn't have much kick. Bruno thinks she played the woman scorned very well, but she messed up her footwork and sometimes stopped driving the dance. He tells her that it's important to keep going.

Vanessa keeps going all the way up to the Tess Circle, where James says that she gave it everything, and he's pleased Len commented on how much content there was in the dance. Vanessa says that she's adoring being on the show: "even if I look awful on the outside, on the inside it feels fantastic." That's the same argument I use to convince myself when I'm considering buying a burrito for my lunch. Scores: Craig 3, Darcey 5, Len 6, Bruno 6 for a total of 20. James says that that's not a bad score, because the show is all about THE JOURNEY and he's very proud of Vanessa. He really makes for much better company when he hasn't been issued a ringer, doesn't he? [I actually like him with Vanessa.  I was convinced the show would be trying to ramp up BANTERWARZ between them - Rad]

Three to go, and the first of them is Ashley and Ola - they'll be doing our second samba of the night. Last week went well for him, and he got his first nine - although it was a Darcey nine, so its validity is up for debate. Ashley struggles a little with the samba at first, complaining that he looks "like someone who's had a hip replacement" when he tries to shake dat ass. So Ola brings in some hula hoops for Ashley to practice with: he is not very good at it, and Ola is completely brilliant at it. I suspect she might have known that would be the outcome all along. Sneaky Ola. Ashley's wife/fiancée/girlfriend/partner/second cousin once removed Karen comes to see him in training, along with his two sons, because it's LOVE WEEK and Ashley loves his family, of course. I'm just waiting for someone to really go for broke and say that the thing they love most is their country, and start singing 'God Save The Queen' while a Union Jack suddenly floats into view behind them. Of course, that might bring back some slightly painful memories of recent BBC1 Saturday night filler programming, so perhaps it's best if everyone just sticks to showing off their spawn.

Literal choreography klaxon: they're dancing to 'Love Is In The Air', and Ola starts the routine sitting in a heart, suspended above the stage. LOVE IS LITERALLY IN THE AIR. Oh, Ola. You seldom disappoint. Ashley's samba moves suggest that any doubts about his Latin after that stiff-hipped week one cha cha cha were premature, because he is shaking it like the rent is due tomorrow. For some reason, Ola has decided to interrupt the dance with a dance break, which seems a little superfluous, but I guess there's no harm in a little showboating if you know that your celeb can deliver, and Ashley can. His arms still need a little bit of work, but there's some good bounce action in here, and I'm inclined to say that Ola going for broke with the theme pretty much paid off - this is by far the most Love Week of all the Love Week dances.

Bruce asks Ola if she's all better after being unwell earlier in the week, and Ola assures him that she is. Darcey says that she liked the dance because it had passion and rhythm all the way through. The only thing bothering here was Ashley's eye-level - she thinks he needs to lift his chin up and that'll make his eyes better. She also suggests that he does up his shirt next week so she'll be able to concentrate better. Len thinks the voltas and the running promenades were a little heavy, but Ashley coped well with a very difficult dance. Bruno thinks Ashley will get plenty of love after this dance. His partner's just had a baby, Bruno, she might want a little bit more time to recover before you start making sexy promises on her behalf. Unless Bruno wasn't actually talking about Karen, and let's face it: he probably wasn't. He does manage to get it together enough to tell Ashley that he got his feet wrong in the corner, but otherwise it was good. Craig tells him that the hip rolls were absolute filth, and he loved it.

Ashley, Ola and The Abdominals (that's the name of my new band) crunch up to the Tess Circle, where Tess asks if Ashley is feeling the pressure to deliver after being the highest-scoring male celeb last week. Yeah, I'm sure he's really feeling the pressure of having Dave Myers and Ben Cohen nipping at his heels, Tess. Ashley thinks he was "all over the gaff", but Ola assures him it was good. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 8, Len 7, Bruno 8 for a total of 31 - the same as Sophie's samba scored early. "All that and he's got a weak, old baby!" Tess crows. That's really not very nice, Tess, all babies are puny and shrivelled. (Oh, a week-old baby. Right.) Tess takes a moment to announce that Ola is celebrating "ten years of wedding marriage" this week. She's also celebrating eight years of Tess mispronouncing her name. We get a look at their wedding photo (which is sadly not as hilarious as we might have hoped) and Brendan brings a cake out for them.

Not getting an opportunity to partake in cakey shenanigans, however, are Natalie and Artem, who will be taking to the floor to perform their ladyrumba instead. Natalie VTs that she's learning how much she loves to dance, and she's pleased to be getting good comments from the judges because it means she's on the right track. Presumably the track that carries the Ringer Express all the way to Runner-Up Junction. Natalie's big loves in life are her family (drink!) and friends, so she invites Artem around to spend some time with them - but he doesn't realise until he gets there that it's a girl's night! (I think this may have been the plot of an episode of Miranda.) (Also, it looks like one of Natalie's friends is Karen from Shameless.) (That's enough parentheses for now, yes?) Also, they're all in onesies, and thus a miserable-looking Artem is forced into a cowprint onesie as well. All right, let me lay it down for you: I have no problem with ringers, in fact they often turn out to be among my favourite contestants, so I have no previous beef with Natalie, but the fact that she and her friends voluntarily wear onesies has convinced me that SHE IS EVIL AND SHE MUST BE STOPPED.

The soundtrack for their rumba is 'Love The Way You Lie (Part II)' (such a romantic song!), and the routine is very balletic and intense, if a little bit heavy occasionally. Other than that, it's excellent. I think Natalie's going to be one of those people who's very hard to recap because she never really does anything wrong. Damn you, Gumede! Make more mistakes! Throw me a bone here!

Len declares the performance "fabulous". Bruno thinks it was "beauty in perpetual motion". Craig says "love, love, love." Darcey thinks Natalie speaks with the whole of her body, and then throws out a lot of ballet words. See, even the judges are giving me absolutely nothing to work with, although that might just be because it's nearly the end of the show and we're a little tight for time.

Natalie and Artem travel up to the Tess Circle - perfectly, of course - to an ecstatic reception, and Tess asks Natalie if there's anything she can't do. "Dance with my hair down, I think - I couldn't see half the time!" replies Natalie. That's still no help to me, Gumede. I can't criticise you for your hair's inability to defy the laws of physics. Meanwhile, Artem's getting a bit teary because it was all so beeyewtiful. Tess snarks at him to go and put his onesie on, and Natalie laughs in his face. So much for the Russian Terminator, folks. He's more like the Russian Alpha from Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Ay-yay-yay-yay-yay! Scores are in: all the nines for a total of 36. Tess reads out the voting numbers. Natalie is still laughing at Artem. By the looks of things, the editor who put together that montage of her constant fits of giggles on It Takes Two wasn't exactly short of material.

Our final couple of the night (finally!) are of course Deborah and Robin. Deborah appears to be this year's resident contestant who actually bothers to listen to the judges, as her VT sees her agreeing with Craig that she was a bit stompy last week and that she must do better in future. Lest we forget it's still Love Week, Robin tells us that he thinks there's no more fitting pairing for such a theme than himself and Lovely Deborah. Whatever, Bobby: we all know that Robin/Robin's vests/Robin's ever-present nipples are OT3 4eva. Meanwhile, Deborah talks about The Joy Of Life like a cheap motivational speaker on a wet Tuesday afternoon in Market Harborough. Deborah loves horses, and takes Robin off riding because she loves Robin and also horses. They are, after all, best of all the animals. They're her friends! Deborah is just so pleased to have found something like dancing that she loves so much even at this late stage in her life. Gosh, that VT was all over the place, wasn't it? Or maybe it made perfect sense to everyone else, and I'm just completely wrecked in what appears to be my twenty-seventh consecutive hour of recapping.

Anyway, they're dancing the quickstep to 'Your Love Keeps Lifting Me (Higher And Higher)'. It's very fast-paced, even for a quickstep, and I'm quite impressed that Deborah seems to be keeping up with it. She's occasionally still a little wobbly on her feet, but for the most part she's conveying the impression of being swept up in the dance and thoroughly enjoying herself. I am a little bit confused as to why this dance ended up getting the pimp slot, because while it's an admirable effort, it's not exactly a showstopper - but then maybe they just decided it would be best to end LOVE WEEK with someone lovely like Deborah who the majority of viewers seem to like? I can certainly think of worse reasons to give someone the showcase spot.

They get a standing ovation from the lower floor, and Bruno declares that "the Dragon is turning into a butterfly!" He says she was more light-footed than ever, but warns Deborah against losing her neck. Craig says that she put a smile on his face, because he really enjoyed that. Darcey calls it "fast and furious" and she loves the pleasure that Deborah gets from dancing. Len finishes by telling her it was her best dance to date.

Up, up and away to the Tess Circle they go, and a thoroughly out-of-puff Deborah says "you're not expecting me to talk, are you?" Tess's advice for her is "just breathe! Take in air rapidly!" Tess is the worst first-aider ever. Robin says that Deborah's worked so hard this week and improved so much, and he's very proud of her. Deborah manages to wheeze that she loved the routine, and she's loving dancing. Scores: a full house of sevens for a total of 28, Deborah's highest score by a clear four points.

So that's it for the dancing, and here's the leaderboard:

Natalie & Artem - 36
Susanna & Kevin - 34
Sophie & Brendan - 31
Ashley & Ola - 31
Abbey & Aljaž - 28
Fiona & Anton - 28
Ben & Kristina - 28
Deborah & Robin - 28
Patrick & Anya - 27
Rachel & Pasha - 27
Mark & Iveta - 26
Julien & Janette - 22
Vanessa & James - 20
Dave & Karen - 16

A lot of ties, aren't there? Look at that four-way pile up on 28 points. I guess that's what you end up with when the judges get a bit seven-happy. Tess declares the lines officially open, and in the background Janette enthusiastically mimes out all the ways people can vote for her and Julien. You keep dreaming big, Janette.

After a recap of all the performances, everyone gathers on the dancefloor where Bruce reminds us that Love Week has to end soon, and tomorrow someone is getting dumped via text message. (Actually, he says it will be conducted via the Dread Dance-Off, which is even more undignified.) Tess encourages to stay tuned for all the pectorals and homoeroticism of Atlantis, and we're done. I'll be back (hopefully) tomorrow with a recap of the results that you all know already by now. Please join me. It's Love Week, after all: you wouldn't let me be alone on Love Week, would you?


Commuter No1 said...

Re. Ben's deshabille, that particular look only works late in the evening after several wines, to my mind.

Steve said...

Is this based on personal experience? Enquiring-slash-nosey minds want to know.

Soph said...

I missed Ben terrifying Bruce so rewatched and promptly died laughing. THIS is how they will get Bruce to retire!

Steve said...

Forced retirement by the gay panic method. Should be fun to watch!

robjones75 said...

Agree 100% about Dave. It's been easy to despise the comedy turns in recent years, what with them being hateful Tories, believing in sky pixies, being batshit mental or whatever. But I quite like Dave in his day job and was hoping this wouldn't happen. Wonder how long his public vote can hold out.

Steve said...

I would imagine Dave's public vote will hold out for a while yet. He's far more likeable than Widdecombe, and she made it all the way to sixth place.