Saturday, 30 November 2013

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

- Craig rehearsed his lines a lot for the baking-themed pro dance. All three of them.
- The Christmas cast is as follows: Sara Cox, Rochelle Humes, Elaine Paige, Rufus Hound, Ricky Norwood and Matt Goss.
- Abbey punched Aljaž hard in the face during rehearsals for the live show on Saturday.
- Susanna was very excited to be sat next to Mary Berry in make-up.
- The brown-haired floor manager is not as hot as the red-haired one.
- Ben always went by Kristina’s timing because he couldn’t hear the music properly.
- Ben is kind of relieved he never got to the stage where he had to learn two dances in one week. Kristina took the elimination slightly harder.
- Kristina’s favourite phrase is “…and again.”
- Kevin has no moves, flirting-wise.
- Susanna and Kevin want to be amazing and brilliant or a disaster, but not be somewhere mediocre in between.
- Zoe is more excited about Musicals Week than anyone.
- It looks like Anya’s foot stayed on the floor in the Viennese waltz after all. Craig has promised that if it turns out he really was wrong about that, he’ll make a national apology.
- Iveta only hears what she wants to hear when Craig is talking.
- Mark’s plan for the samba is to dress up in a head-to-toe tiger suit and replace himself with Pasha when nobody is watching. - The Viennese waltz was too fast for British people, so that’s why we adopted the normal waltz instead.
- Ola gets very excited when the voting lines open.
- Aljaž is happy if Abbey does her best and isn’t bothered about the score. That sound you just heard is Kristina choking on whatever she’s drinking right now.
- Abbey just can’t stop laughing. Although she’s probably due a bottom two appearance again soon, so that might cure her.
- Abbey’s nervous about this week because she’s so high. Er, in the air, that is.
- Robin is the pro who eats the most, while the two pros who are most addicted to their phones are Pasha (for the games) and Kristina (for communication).
- Karen Hauer’s favourite dance of the season so far is Patrick and Anya’s American smooth.
- Iveta’s dress for this week has a tail. Chances are Mark’s outfit will too.
- Natalie and Artem have amassed 300 hours of training so far.
- Natalie just can’t resist lip synching to ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’. She’s only human, to be fair.
- Deborah Meaden is the dancer that Darcey misses seeing the most.
- Sophie has seen some rumbas that have really freaked her out. Presumably this one is at the top of the list:

- The Viennese waltz was one of the dances that Patrick really wanted to do.
- Patrick started out doing am-dram musicals. He was Danny Zuko in Grease.
- Lucky the predictive pup tips Abbey and Aljaž will top the leaderboard this week. He obviously has more confidence in that training footage than we do.
- Aljaž looks like he should be presenting CBBC when he wears stripy jumpers.
- No one seems entirely sure of the lyrics to ‘You Should Be Dancing’ by the Bee Gees.
- Rufus Hound thinks Susanna will win, Victoria Silvstedt thinks Patrick, Aled Jones thinks Sophie and Brendan. I don’t really know what any of them said about anything else because this is the first time ever I’ve fast-forwarded through the Friday panel, since Rufus Hound was somehow worse than Biggins and Barrowman put together.

Monday, 25 November 2013

The GUNZ of 'Now Go Home'

Top 8 Results: Sunday 24 November 2013

“Last night!” Everything was all a bit restrained and boring! “Tonight!” I get a genuine surprise as I haven’t had the result spoilered for me before writing this recap, despite it being Monday night as I write. Although I guess ‘surprise’ is a loose term given I am expecting it to be Mark and I probably wouldn’t be shocked at anyone else joining him in the bottom two.

We open with a cake themed pro dance to ‘If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake’ and ‘Candyman’. Our random pro pairings this week involve Pasha and Janette, Artem and Karen, Aliona and James and Craig and Bruno as pastry chefs. They wheel in a cake, filled with Mary Berry. It’s entirely random, especially given Bake Off is over (except the Junior version) but still: MARY BERRY. Can we just crown her Strictly winner and be done with it? [Anything as long as those Paul Hollywood contestant rumours never come to fruition. - Steve]

Claudia and Tess enter: Claudia dressed in an apron and chef’s hat over something pink, carrying a tray of cakes. DALY DRESSWATCH: Wallpaper. I mean, quite nice wallpaper, but still. Coming up: Il Divo. Oh FFS I had to watch those shitty tenors and now this?

Recap of last night. New bits of note: Mark does what Iveta tells him regarding wearing his glasses (surprise); Susanna appears to be the new warm-up artist; Ben and Abbey appear to be striking up a dance partnership; Ashley went missing before the show (probably to catch some sleep); Sophie’s dad and granny wouldn’t want to see her do a FILTHY RUMBA.

Results time and safe are: Natalie and Artem; Ashley and Ola and Susanna and Kevin(who gives a big ‘thank you thank you’ right down the lens, the ham). The first couple in the dance-off will be Mark and Iveta, so I guess we know how that’s going to go.

Len says Mark needs to try and get some sway in the dance. Mark says he’ll enjoy it.

In Claudia’s Counselling Centre, she laughs at how nervous they all were. Artem is crying, I’m guessing from some sort of pain we haven’t yet heard about, unless the programme has broken him as well. Ashley says he’s going to shop for a new head this week. Susanna is through. Claudia asks what their quickstep will be to next week. Kevin, excitedly, says ‘Good morning’.  Susanna’s all: ‘um… yeeeeah’ in the manner I imagined Rough Copy greeted the news they’d be covering an En Vogue song that no-one really associates with the X Factor this week for the ‘best of’ night.  (So much LOL at them trying to make 10 years of X Factor happen on the same night as Doctor Who’s 50th and in the same week as James Arthur imploded. Props to ITV’s marketing people for that idea).

Il Divo are up now to perform, warbling Tonight whilst Kristina and Aljaž twirl around, showing off that they have the two best bodies in Strictly

Len’s Lens is next and highlights are Bruno having shot his load too early in the pro dance (his confetti gun didn’t fire – looked like it had already been used); Mark not having the proper posture in his foxtrot; BENZ GUNZ DONE AN ACTING; Bruno giving a 10 for Natalie and Artem whilst all the other judges look incredulous (his reason?  It was the best dance of the night.  Oh Bruno).

Final set of results now. Safe are: Patrick and Anya; Abbey and Aljaž and... the biggest pause in the world, during which I can just feel Steve going mental... Sophie and Brendan. [I would've been going mental if I hadn't checked the Digital Spy spoiler thread the night before. Although even then, there was a part of me that thought the Ben/Kristina spoiler was some wonderful dream that was about to implode. - Steve] Well, I’m somewhat shocked at Ben and Kristina ending up in the bottom two but I can’t see them saving Mark for a third time unless Ben and Kristina screw up the dance-off like Anton and Fiona did.

Bruno tells Ben to be sharper in his feet and enjoy it. Ben says he’s been living on borrowed time for ages and begins his exit speech. I love how much he really wants to win this. It’s a shame we don’t see Kristina giving him the death stare as he says that, although we do get a bit of a side view of it afterwards. 

In Claudia’s counselling circle, she says they’re all delighted to be through as the camera focuses on Sophie looking like death. Heh. Next week, Patrick will be dancing to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  Claudia says Sophie nodded when they were last to be called safe. Sophie said she thought ‘Let’s get ready to rumba’. I love it when she does dorky jokes. She then says she’s excited about the musicals week next week.

Cue VT of them all singing, most of them deliberately badly. Most of them ask things like ‘shall we go for a coffee?’ Ben’s line: ‘I’m really tired and I want to go now’. HA. 

Claudia is with the dance-off couples.  Iveta is crying on Mark’s shoulder, whilst Kristina looks like she will cut Iveta up if she dares to get through another week. Claudia asks Ben and Kristina if they thought they’d be in the dance-off. Kristina says yes, ‘with those awful scores’ and that she thought it was his best dance. It probably was, but many of the other recent ones have been hideously overmarked.

I don’t think Mark and Iveta’s dance is quite as good the second time, but it’s still a lovely, happy thing and I’m really going to miss their partnership if they go tonight.

Ben and Kristina’s is probably better at first but his face is already a bit over the whole thing and it totally falls apart halfway through when he muffs one of the lifts and forgets some of the moves. His footwork is as ungainly as ever and the bit he seems to enjoy most is when he collapses on the floor.  Hey Ashley – wonder where all your sleep went?  Ben’s been stealing it.

Craig says both couples made mistakes but he will save Ben and Kristina. Darcey saves Mark and Iveta, ‘based on tonight’s performance.’ Bruno calls both endearing but both with obvious mistakes and saves Mark and Iveta, but Len has the casting vote. He says they both went wrong but one made a small mistake and one two blatant ones, meaning he is saving Mark and Iveta. Iveta can’t believe it, and neither can I, given Len’s SPORTSMAN lust. Maybe it was the only way to guarantee they’d quash his phone vote, given Mark is dead in the water next week and Ben would probably get a bounce. [Also the conspiracy theorist in me wondered if they wanted to hold on to Mark for a tiny bit longer just to cushion against the potential for any of Abbey/Patrick/Sophie to appear in the bottom two next week, but that's probably reaching a bit. - Steve]

Ben has enjoyed it, and thinks Kristina has been great. Kristina says if there was a trophy for most improved it would go to him. She says he has given her her most rewarding experience on Strictly because she took someone with no talent and got him here. JOE CALZAGHE BURN! Their final dance involves Ben lifting Kristina, then standing around a bit. Never change, BENZ TITZ N GUNZ.

Next week!  The theme weeks are back!  This time, it’s musicals week!  Join Steve for that one.

Bored of the Dance

Top 8 perform: Saturday 23 November 2013

Last week! BLACKPOOL happened and Fiona and Anton were dispatched in a dance-off against Mark. This week!  Time for the annual VT of the celebrities attempting to sabotage each other. As usual, Patrick and Ben are not especially invested in things.

Bruce and Tess enter. DALY DRESSWATCH: Some kind of white Greek goddess thing. Quite nice, at least in comparison to last week. Bruce makes some sort of laboured joke about sat navs at which I zone out.

Bruce then makes a factually incorrect joke about breakfast presenters never getting 39 before at Fiona Phillips’ expense (punchline – it was the total of all her dances.  Actual total of all her dances – 60) to a Susanna eyebrow and an audience boo. Susanna was overwhelmed by their BLACKPOOL score last week and gushes a bit at everyone down the camera. This week they’re doing the cha cha cha and Susanna is moaning that walking is hard, even though It Takes Two taught us that this is the easiest of all the dances. [Although just about every style of dance is HARD this year if you listen to Len. Which is why I don't. - Steve] To help her walk, Kevin gets her to walk on a gym beam then Susanna/”Susanna” does a back flip off one. The wink she gives to the camera makes it art.

Their cha cha is to ‘Hound Dog’ and it seems weird seeing something quite basic so far in. Susanna also seems to be chanelling Lilia in hair and costume. And gurn. It’s perfectly fine and everything, albeit somewhat leaden - but cha cha chas are the boringest of all the dances, especially at this stage of the game, so it was never going to exactly thrill me.

Over with the judges now. Len says it’s time that the judges will pick on things they’d overlooked until now. O RLY? We shall see. Len says she lost some leg and hip action – it was acceptable, good enough, but not exceptional. (The audience boo him and he gets all shirty with them.  MAN OF THE PEPUW). Bruno says her hip action wasn’t as pronounced as it could have been, but otherwise well done. Susanna says she’s found it hard to make friends with the cha cha. Craig says it had personality but it didn’t really pop and was a bit mumsy. Darcey says it’s a shame BLACKPOOL is over, and with it, their overscoring, but there we are. Or words to that effect. Let’s see how this whole THIS AIN’T BLACKPOOL NO MORE schtick plays out with Ben, shall we? (Note: I am writing this as I go so I have no idea what Ben will do tonight). Susanna says she didn’t realise no breakfast presenter had ever got 39 before. They did: Chris Hollins, samba, week 12 series 8. Although that was 39 from 5 judges, not 4. Susanna says she knew she had no chance of getting last week’s score with the cha cha. Scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 for a total of 31 which Susanna and Kevin are pleasantly surprised by.

Next up are Ashley and Ola. Bruce makes a joke about these newfangled three name celebrities like Ashley Taylor Dawson and Anton Du Beke then sighs that he misses Anton like he’s died or something. Bruce is so odd. To teach Ashley to be light on his feet, Ola takes him to an aquarium to swim with sharks and do some underwater dancing. Ashley confirms that he did, indeed, feel weightless.

Their waltz is to ‘I Will Always Love You’ which is arranged in a weird way to try and fit ¾ time but only sometimes seems to get there, surely not conducive to helping the dancers.  Ashley’s hands are still a bit awkward when out of hold, which he seems to know, for he shakes his hand at Ola at the end as if acknowledging his nerves. His head is also a bit off. Other than that, it was perfectly sweet and everything, but again, waltz. Eh.

Bruno says they did a good job when the music and timing were so difficult (i.e. ridiculous) and it was a wonderful waltz. Craig says they coped well with the music and Ashley’s expressions were good but his head keeps inclining. Darcey says it was lovely but Craig is right about the head and he needs to tilt more. Bruce keeps asking for clarification as if it’s his dancing that’s being judged.  Len says Ashley is like his initials: ATD: Attention to detail. Oh Len, you just thought of that this week and were desperate for an excuse to use it, weren’t you? Because I’d say whilst Ashley is a good dancer in general, it’s the details that are letting him down. Len snits that waltz isn’t easy, it’s a PWOPAH BALLROOM DANCE FOR MEN WIVAHT ANY FAFFIN ABAHT. Or words to that effect.  Tess baits him with the possibility of a 10 like all the other boys and girls (except Mark). Still, not tonight: 8, 9, 9, 9 for a total of 35.

Natalie and Artem overcame injury to do a hideously overmarked Charleston last week and even though they both admitted on ITT that it was overmarked, Natalie is still moved to tears by her score. I think this one might be broken, guys. [She's already far more fun to me this way. - Steve] Then they go to a primary school to try and get in on that sweet BABY WARZ action by dancing with the kids.

Their tango to ‘Where Have You Been’ sees Natalie in Dairy Milk purple with a Rebecca Ferguson style high pony. Fans of the afro will have to wait a while longer before it returns. It’s very spinny, to the extent even watching it makes me feel a bit dizzy (not helped by the spiral light pattern on the floor). I am not loving it though, it just seems quite average and underwhelming, especially for them, and a bit clompy in places – it just doesn’t have any storytelling or passion. [Also that music choice is just flat-out ludicrous. - Steve] This evening’s dances are really not doing it for me. 

Bruce welcomes the fabulous singers Davearch and his wonderful orchestra.  Craig says Natalie’s arm was in the wrong position and she hopped around in one of the pivot steps and the whole thing lacked drama.  Bruno screams ‘WHAT?’ Darcey snits, ‘ignore Craig, for me, I loved it’. Gah Darcey is so useful this series, no? She says she needs to watch her top line a bit though. Len says she looks like a Quality Street and it was a quality performance, she needs to watch her head, but that’s him being picky – which is what you said the judges would be at the start, Len. Bruno says she was fabulous and is going to be in the final.  Constructive there, Bruno.  Scores: 9, 9, 9, 10 (FUCK OFF BRUNO) for a total of 37.

Bruce makes another joke about being old – seeing a fortune teller who said he had a long life line – he says ‘I do hope so’ – possibly a dig at certain tabloid stories from last week?

Mark and Iveta are next. Iveta is not happy because Mark is always getting criticism when he works hard. Mark shows that he’s got hold of some books on dancing. His wife Sarah comes to see their training and talks about how much she loves him. D’aww. Mark says the foxtrot is a lovely happy dance and he wants to dedicate it to Sarah. Excuse me a minute, I might have something in my eye…

Our opening shot to this dance is Mark sleeping in a spangly bed. It’s as if Iveta saw Kristina putting Ben on the sofa that time and went CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. [Even being "asleep" in that bed, I feel Mark was more alert and active than Ben in about 90% of his training footage. - Steve] But then! He is standing up, not lying down, and rips off his pyjamas to reveal a suit, because Mark is always ready to dance. Or something. I hadn’t heard this song before but it sounds exactly like Just Haven’t Met You Yet by Mickey Bubbles – unsurprisingly, it’s another Micky B song, this time, ‘It’s a Beautiful Day’. The dance is very straightforward and sweet, and if it’s a bit lumbering at times, Mark is at least giving is a good go, and it’s quite lovely – if this is their last week then it’s a nice way to go out. Iveta also looks amazing tonight.

Darcey loved his performance although she would have liked more flow in his travelling.  Len says he’s been trained but not tamed and says he was like a Dalek, he moved him but had no swing.  I wasn’t really aware the point of the Daleks was to move people (other than in the sense of moving them to run down corridors).  Bruno says it’s hard to lead in a foxtrot but Mark always has a smile.  Craig says there was too much side by side and a lot of the swing and sway was missing.  Scores: 6, 8, 7, 7 for a total of 28.

Tess tells us who is yet to come and asks if she can see BENZ GUNZ again, at which Kristina flexes her own guns (very impressive, because Kristina is impressive) and the others cop a feel.

Sophie and Brendan are next. Sophie suffered from being first out at BLACKPOOL and says she wanted Len to love their quickstep because he loves ballroom and she hopes the judges will see how much she loves dancing. This week is the rumba, and knowing Sophie’s love of being touched by a man other than her husband, this could be fun. She takes Brendan to a recording studio and tells him she loves music, so hopes that passion will come through in the rumba.

They’re dancing to an acoustic version of ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ and Sophie’s hair is very weird – like a schoolgirl’s, with plaits circling round the rest of it. The music doesn’t evoke passion or sensuality and coupled with the hair and Sophie grinning, it’s hard to buy into the emotion of the dance, which is a shame as the movements seem rather graceful and elegant. Maybe if I put on a different song and covered over Sophie’s grin and stupid hair I would absolutely love that. [I quite liked the choreography and the concept, but Sophie not even pretending to find Brendan alluring sort of spoiled it as a rumba for me. - Steve]

Len says there wasn’t enough flair or chemistry but it was a pretty dance. He then says Brendan’s choreography gave it the flair and no-one knows if he is trying to compliment Brendan here or put a burn on him, given his previous statement. Bruno says it was pretty but he prefers rumbas to have raunch.  Brendan moans that it isn’t about sex.  Bruno says not sex, but passion. Brendan says it was about ‘intimacy and a beautiful story’. I love that Bruno suddenly thinks he’s Catherine Cookson or something. Craig says it was in and out for him (fnar). Darcey says they needed more intensity, especially with their eyes, although they made lovely shapes with their bodies. Bruce screams ‘But you got a standing ovation, don’t forget that’, as if such things count any more.

Up in the Tess Circle and Sophie says it felt intimate to her because Brendan was the only person she could see – well, the lighting would kind of make that happen, Soph. She says it’s confusing.  Brendan says it’s about creating choreography and launches into a speech about how he doesn’t want to create ‘filthy dirty rumbas’ which gets the best collection of guffaws, eye-rolls, ‘oh-no-he-actually-means-that’ faces and ‘What have you done with the real Brendan’ faces you have ever seen.  Susanna and Tess, in particular, are a delight:

Brendan keeps going on about wanting to do a beautiful clean, classic rumba. Sophie says this was the kind of rumba her husband approved of with the right amount of touching. It’s all got a bit Silver Ring Thing, hasn’t it? Scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 for a total of 31. Tess says Brendan is not impressed. Brendan snits that he’s so over the ‘we need more performance thing’. Righteous chastity warrior Brendan <3

The announcement that ‘Big Ben’ and Kristina are next is cheered by whoops from the audience. He really might win this thing. Kristina says that last week he performed his best. By, er, holding Kristina up in the third of the dance she let him do. This week, another great lumbering SPORTSMAN Charleston of our time to join the classics.

The storyline (danced to No Diggity) is that they’re two gym bunnies (and there’s a pommel horse in there to remind us of Louis) and Ben thinks he’ll show her, but Kristina is just BETTER and ends up by standing on him, flexing her gunz, as the champion. I can’t help thinking that this is essentially the narrative for this series (in Kristina’s head at any rate). The dance itself is one of his better attempts in that his rhythm has improved, he has to move around a lot and some of the steps (the little jumpy ones) are quite good. It still relies a lot on him lifting Kristina though, and he has no swivel whatsoever in his legs. It’s not an unqualified triumph, but it’s not an unmitigated disahster, and certainly better than I was expecting. It’s not worth whatever Len will give it though, I suspect.

Bruno says it was like Charles Atlas or Arnold Schwarzenneger doing the Charleston. His timing was good, his feet could be sharper, but it was wonderful for a guy of his size. Craig says it wasn’t the most enjoyable Charleston he’s seen. Ben says he found it hard but enjoyed it. Craig says his heart bleeds for him. Darcey says she loved the storytelling but thought it looked a bit careful because Ben was concentrating so hard. Len calls him a Time Lord [OH GOD - Steve] and liked the swivel action and lifts and said there needed to be more freedom in the movement.

Tess begs to see BENZ GUNZ and he duly obliges, then flexes Kristina’s. Ben says he’s really enjoyed it. Tess says every woman has wondered… what it means to be lifted… that high… by Ben. I think Tess just went to a special place, folks. Scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 and I can’t believe I actually agree with Len for once and even think they may have been a tiny bit (like one mark tiny) undermarked.  *CRIES* [I think the marking was bang-on for once. But don't tell Kristina I said that. - Steve]

We’re told that there are two couples next, and not sure how well it bodes for Abbey and Aljaž that I could only remember Patrick and Anya were left. [I did the opposite - I got to this point and couldn't remember who hadn't been on yet apart from Abbey. - Steve] Anyway, Abbey loved being in BLACKPOOL last week and Aljaž was proud of her. Abbey couldn’t believe they got three 10s last week and neither could we, with all that GAPPING. Abbey has been told to do her fierce walk wherever she goes, so she’ll get a surprise. Her ‘surprise’ is a phone call from her nana on a not-quite-as-handy-or-functional-or-attractive tablet as the X Factor Product Placement one. Anyway, this serves to tell us that Baby warz is so last week, we’re into GRANDPARENT WARZ now.

Their paso is to ‘You Got the Love’ which is a bit flowing and not dramatic enough for my liking but then I’m apparently very down on the music choices tonight. It has nice energy and I quite liked it, but it’s not got the attack or drama I’d want and it doesn’t compare to the drama of Kevin and Susanna from last week. It gets a small amount of ovation and Bruce declares that Abbey’s nana loved it.

Craig says some aspects needed more work and it was a bit cutesy but he loved the dance. Darcey says it was hard choreography but she wanted to see more, something more dramatic. Len liked the shapes and choreography but in places it was out of control although he enjoyed it. Abbey says she was slipping everywhere. Bruno says some of the moves were beautiful for a non-dancer and she worked very hard but lost control because of the slips. Abbey doesn’t want to leave. Scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 for a total of 32.

Bruce reminds us that Doctor Who is coming and lies that all of the Doctors are in it (well, I suppose they kind of were) and then makes a load of Doctor Doctor jokes, and then the theme tune plays. He then says "Mustn’t keep the Doctor waiting." "Here’s Patrick – how many times in your life have you said that – and Anya." Well, Bruce, I’d wager not as many as you would have if you didn’t take a holiday every two or three weeks.

Patrick says he has played many romantic roles (aww bless, Patrick, you may have, but the only role we associate with you is Ash from Casualty and romantic lead isn’t the first thing that springs to mind with that character) that will help him prepare for this week’s dance, and does Romeo from the stage at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff to Anya’s Juliet.

Their Viennese Waltz is to ‘A New Day Has Come’ and it starts well but then Patrick stumbles on the floor in the spins and he almost falls over.  Maybe someone got a bit enthusiastic with the floor polish tonight.  Darcey says it had nice elements but he needs to not make mistakes. Len says parts looked beautiful but parts were awful and it wasn’t his worst, nor his best – like everyone tonight. SUCH A MEDIOCRE EPISODE. Bruno agrees with Len. Craig reminds us about Patrick’s great RHYTHM but his technique wasn’t great and the end move was an ILLEGAL LIFT because Anya’s foot came off the floor as if anyone cares about such things. Bruce reminds us that the judges are more picky tonight (to cover up for the dances being more shit?).

In the Tess Circle Patrick asks for clarification on what Craig said. Ola apparently thinks he was wrong and Anya claims her feet didn’t come off the floor. Scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 for a total of 32.

Natalie and Artem - 37
Ashley and Ola - 35
Abbey and Aljaž - 32
Patrick and Anya - 32
Susanna and Kevin - 31
Sophie and Brendan - 31
Mark and Iveta - 28
Ben and Kristina - 27

Some overmarking at the top there, and maybe a tiny bit of undermarking at the bottom, but overall, a reasonable reflection of a very below-par night.  Of note: when Tess reads out the phone lines, she pronounces Ola's name properly.  So she can do it sometimes!  Anyway someone will be leaving tomorrow – I suspect Mark, but I could be wrong.  Join me to find out!

(PS Apologies for the lateness of this recap - I was in That London for some sci-fi anniversary thingamajig, you might have heard about it, and I didn't get back until late Sunday night.)

Friday, 22 November 2013

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

- The Tower Ballroom has a “sorry corridor”, so named because it’s very narrow and so everyone walking down it is constantly saying “sorry!” to everyone they meet.
- Fiona was a bit disappointed not to get a chance to do the salsa. (Anton, less so.)
- Abbey calls Fiona “mummy”. Creepy.
- Craig was horrified when he saw the other judges getting their tens out for Abbey’s quickstep. You and us both, sir.
- Craig enjoys being whipped.
- Craig isn’t sure whether Susanna is “ever going to be a 10-girl” for him. (He'll miraculously get over this if she makes the final, because at that point he usually gives 10s out for any old shit. Scientists have named this "the Snowdon-Hollins Principle".)
- Sophie concentrates on footwork before frame but promises to change that if she ever gets to dance ballroom again.
- Brendan choreographed Sophie’s quickstep assuming they’d have slightly more space to run around than they actually did.
- Brendan would like to know if you can tie your snake in a knot. Monday's episode clearly brought out all the fetishes.
- There were only a couple of moves from Hairspray in Mark’s jive, and the rest was all Iveta.
- You should not leave your fruit unsupervised around Iveta, because she will eat it all.
- The reason behind Mark’s dodgy knees is that he tore the cartilage in both of them in week two of training, but kept it quiet because he didn’t want the sympathy vote.
- One of Mark and Iveta’s plans to grab votes this weekend is for her to go topless and him to go bottomless.
- The cha cha cha came from Cuba via the Mambo and a French teacher called Monseur Pierre brought the steps over.
- Some people think its name comes from the sound of shuffling feet, others from the sound of a guiro.
- The cha cha has been performed more than any other times in Strictly – 111 times.
- The cha cha was the first dance Pasha learned. Also, Pasha's impression of himself as a baby dancer is the cutest thing you will ever see.
- You can dance a cha cha cha to any song with four beats to a bar. Which is pretty much all modern pop songs, according to Janette.
- Despite Craig’s requests, Patrick and Anya are kind of non-committal about reprising their samba if they make it to the final.
- The button Karen Hardy never pushes in her car is the sport one. (?)
- Karen Hardy agrees with Craig, and us, on Abbey and Aljaž – SO MUCH GAPPING.
- Karen also notes the lack of gapping in Sophie and Brendan’s dance and thinks the only thing that wasn’t perfect was her hand. We love Karen quite a lot this week.
- You need aesthetically lovely legs for the rumba. Well, that’s me out then.
- Susanna gave Abbey “a little mum-chat” before her quickstep on Saturday, and Abbey thinks it worked.
- Abbey can’t remember what dance she is doing this week. (If you're reading this Abbey, it's a paso doble.)
- Mini-Aljaž on his first trip to BLACKPOOL looked a bit like Andy from Emmerdale.
- Abbey would like to go back to the assault course.
- James is considered the loudest of the professional dancers by his colleagues, while Kristina is the most high-maintenance.
- Susanna still doesn’t think she’s a 10.
- Despite us learning on Tuesday that cha cha cha is the easiest dance, Susanna thinks it is really hard.
- Susanna thinks about Pasha a lot. Well, she’s only human.
- Kevin in a Pasha mask with his glasses over the top gives us many complicated feelings.
- It only took about half an hour to get Natalie’s hair under that wig on Saturday. So now we know.
- Artem didn’t think Natalie’s charleston wasn’t worth a 10 on Saturday. Neither did Natalie.
- In an ideal world, costume designer Vicky would be able to level all of the dresses with a hedge trimmer to save time.
- The vibe for Sophie’s dresses all series has been ‘Audrey Hepburn’.
- Ashley owns a few Robin-worthy vests.
- Kristina still wasn’t happy with their score at the weekend because she thinks Ben was undermarked on Saturday. Yes, UNDERmarked.
- The theme for Ben and Kristina’s charleston is him working out at the gym. It’ll be a miracle if he’s wearing any clothes at all, won’t it?
- Ben would like to do a rugby player dance-off with Austin Healey and Matt Dawson at some point. No doubt Austin will be ROBBED, as per fucking usual.
- It is sometimes not the choice of the pros or the celebrities to attach a theme to a given dance. *face of surprise*
- Aljaž really misses Janette and Julien.
- Rachel’s exit was all about Abbey, and don’t you forget it.
- Natalie is very upset that she wasn’t around to say goodbye to Dave.
- Vernon Kay thinks Abbey has a chance of winning. OK, Kay.
- Jenny Eclair wants to see someone good lose it partway through. She also wants more wardrobe malfunctions and someone to lose a bra (doesn’t Ben do that every week?)
- Gabrielle of 'Dreams' fame has a bit of a thing for Patrick Robinson.
- Jenny Éclair wants Ashley to win, Gabrielle Sophie and Vernon Kay ‘one of the girls’ – YEAR OF THE WOMAN.

Monday, 18 November 2013

BLACKPOOL eliminations

Top 9 Results: 17 November 2013

Despite holding a degree in English Literature (joint-honours with Drama and Theatre Studies, if we're being precise about it), and making my living by putting words in a given order and using them to describe things, there are times in my life when my command of the English language feels woefully inadequate to truly describe how I feel. This is one of those times, because I just don't know enough superlatives to describe the opening number of the BLACKPOOL results show. It's being performed to 'Ballroom Blitz' and the theme is all of the professional dancers taking part in a ballroom competition, looking positively murderous in their steely determination to win at any cost. The director of this segment makes full use of the Tower Ballroom's cavernous ceiling to get some aerial shots that really capture the frenetic movement of the dance and in particular the women's costumes in a variety of lovely pastel shades. [It's also so frenzied I just kept rewatching to try and make out the random pro (and associate) pairings, which were very random indeed - Rad]

Oh, and it's not just the pros taking part either - we're officially at the stage of the competition now where the celebs are trusted with a part in the group dances, and Sophie, Susanna and Abbey lead the charge out onto the dancefloor, with Sophie in particular nailing the look of haughty disdain for her opponents (I know, who would've thought Sophie would be good at that?). They march over to reclaim their partners: Sophie yanks one woman (who I believe is Kevin's sister Joanne From Grimsby) away from Brendan by her hair, while Susanna unceremoniously defrocks the one who Kevin is dancing with. In possibly my favourite moment of the number (no mean feat), Fiona picks a fight with Iveta after catching her dancing with Anton (no offence Fiona, but my money's on Iveta in that particular brawl), then Mark briefly dances with Anton in the background. Eventually everyone meets up with their proper partner and dances crazily with them before realising that Len is lurking on the stage with the glitterball trophy and lurching towards him like dance zombies, ultimately climaxing in Len getting trampled underfoot but just managing to pass the glitterball into Darcey and Bruno's hands at the last moment. Hooray! BEST PRO DANCE EVER! (Or at least, the best one since the epicmazing Pasha/Katya/Brendan/Natalie Dance Battle Of Good And Evil back in series nine). I don't usually do this because normally I like to think my words do a passable job of capturing how good or bad something was, but I know I could never do justice to this routine, so here it is on YouTube if you want to watch it again:

Tess and Claudia arrive, both wearing Kiss Me Quick hats. The hat might actually be the most tasteful part of Tess's ensemble: she's wearing a bronze sequinned figure-hugging dress that does NOTHING for her figure whatsoever (the bow across her stomach is possibly the biggest mistake of the whole piece), while Claudia's in her usual shiny black number. They remind us all that we've had a marvellous weekend in BLACKPOOL, but the fun must end later because of Len's Lens. Sorry, that should read "because someone's going home". Also, there are performances from JLS and the possessor of the world's smuggest face, André Rieu.

First things first, it's time for a quick recap of last night, with extra added BLACKPOOL: Len gets dragged into the ballroom by a donkey, Susanna explains that BLACKPOOL hair and make-up is a little more cramped than it is in Elstree, somebody sprays Natalie's hair down and makes me wonder if it's somehow not a wig after all, Kevin poses with a stick of rock and some candyfloss, Natalie invades the mobile gallery and has a lot of fun manipulating all the switches JUST LIKE WHEN THE EVIL BITCH MANIPULATED POOR LOVELY TYRONE (they let her loose on the vision mixer and she awards someone 40/40, which probably still makes her a more restrained scorer than Len, Darcey or Bruno), Greg the hot floor manager is wrangling everyone into place as usual, and there's quite a lot of nervous gurning into the camera. Post-dance, Sophie giggles something about how much she was smiling during that quickstep, Anya is impressed by how receptive the audience was for their samba, Ben is over the moon with his score, Ashley thoroughly enjoyed his paso, Fiona cackles that she wants some champagne now, Aljaž picks Abbey up and jabbers "TENTENTENTENTEN!" adorably at her, Mark confirms that he really loved doing his jive, Susanna is still speechless about her three tens, and Natalie is just cackling as Artem skips around like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.

So, let's check dem results then. In no particular order, the following couples are safe: Susanna and Kevin, Abbey and Aljaž, and Ashley and Ola. The first couple in the Dread Dance Off is Mark and Iveta, neither of whom looks especially surprised at this turn of events. Tess points out that this is a rotten thing to hapepn to Mark on his birthday, and he goodnaturedly shrugs it off. Darcey is asked what Mark can do to save himself at this point, and she tells him to do exactly what he did the first time round. That landed him at the bottom of the leaderboard. Thanks Darcey! Tess asks Mark how he feels, and he just chuckles that he's happy he gets to do it again. "Me too!" crows Tess. Oh Tess, I don't think you get to do it again. Although to be fair, there are so many extra dancers tonight, you could probably sneak in at the back and no one would notice. Not even in that outfit.

Then it's over to Claudia's Counselling Circle, where she gently goads Susanna about being a massive crybaby when those scores came in. Susanna says it's all down to Kevin. Claudia asks Kevin if it's the best night he's ever had, and he cautiously replies that it's the best night in BLACKPOOL he's ever had. No point in incurring Karen's rage unnecessarily, is there? Claudia makes Aljaž turn around again while she and Abbey squeal over her three tens, and Ola is very happy with how it all went. Well, that was brief.

Over to André Rieu, who will be smugly playing 'Music Of The Night' for our enjoyment. Also here for us to enjoy are Iveta and Anton, who deliver a smashing showcase waltz and naturally Iveta makes the most of several opportunities to show us her inner thigh area yet again. She even throws in a few Natalie Lowe head-rolls for good measure. When's Natalie back? Is it next week? I hope it's next week.

Then from the sublime to the ridiculous, it's time for Len's Lens. Claudia wants to begin with "SOMETHING FOR EVERYBODY!!!!", which she calls her favourite group dance ever. Was she not watching the one that opened this show? Holy smokes, Claudia. Len's Lens has captured Darcey throwing some shapes in the background, which is quite funny. Then Len's Lens has filmed the junior ballroom dancers, which is a little creepy, as is Len's explanation of the rules about how they're not allowed to wear too much make-up these days. Next, Len's Lens would like to show us Susanne imitating the cape in her paso doble, and it would also like to give us a much clearer view of her bottom in the process. I'm sure the six straight men in this country who watch this show probably enjoyed that. After that, Darcey wants to talk about Ben's pressage and how he created a beautiful line with Kristina because of his GUNZ or something. Bruno wants to talk about Natalie's charleston and how she's reinvented the swivel. Claudia decides that they should all just clap Artem because of that. Then Len explains all the reasons why Abbey's quickstep was worth a ten, while his lens highlights all that gapping. I'm beginning to think you could fit the entirety of Susanna and Kevin's paso in the space between Abbey and Aljaž at certain points. Also, apparently Abbey screamed "WHEEE!" when she did a jump, which is easily the most endearing she's been all series.

With Len's Lens mercifully over for another week, it's over to Tess for the second batch of results. She says that "no one wants to face Mark & Iveta in the [Dread Dance Off]", though I'd imagine that Sophie might be thinking that she'd much rather be in this one than potentially up against Patrick or Abbey in a couple of weeks' time. Anyway, that's all academic because the following couples (in no particular order, of course) are safe: Patrick and Anya, Sophie and Brendan, Natalie and Artem, and Ben and Kristina, which leaves Fiona and Anton in the Dread Dance Off. Incidentally, the look on Kristina's face when they're down to the last two couples is terrifying - her mouth is twitching so hard that it looks like she's seconds away from going full Black Swan on everybody.

Tess asks Bruno what Fiona needs to do to survive the Dread Dance Off, and Bruno tells her that she must maintain focus and try not to disconnect with the music and fall behind like she did the first time round. Asked how she's feeling, Fiona launches into her goodbye speech about what a marvellous time she's had and how she didn't expect to get this far in the first place. Tess reminds her that it's not over yet, and Fiona's all "like fun it isn't".

Before we can determine who's outta here though, Claudia's chatting to the remaining saved couples. She begins by informing Natalie that she came back with a bang, and Natalie says that she loved it, before suddenly thinking of a joke and cries "a bang bang!" and cracks herself up. I love Natalie a little bit. Speaking of turning into a real live person, Patrick's also doing sterling work by giggling uncontrollably at the mention of the word "swallow". Then it's time for Brendan's obligatory well-meaning but enormously condescending oration, in which he refers to the pros as looking after their "little girls and little boys", at which point Sophie decides she's finally had enough and giggles "I'm 34, Brendan!" at him. I love their dynamic - him trying so hard to be the great charming magnanimous gentleman and Sophie hovering in the vicinity rolling her eyes at him. Claudia points out that this is Ben's second time at being left last to be declared safe, and that he'd specifically requested not to be in that position again. Ben says it's never easy not knowing if it's your last dance. Because Ben's level of investment in this competition so far is so intense. I mean, I'm sure he's enjoying it and everything, but I imagine if it all ended tomorrow he'd go back to getting his baps out on the cover of Gay Times and be quite happy about it.

Next we have a musical interlude from JLS. Aren't they supposed to be splitting up by now? This is the Letitia Dean's 40th birthday of band splits. GET ON WITH IT.

After that, there's a trail for It Takes Two in which Ian Waite plays Nick Kamen in a spoof of that Levi's advert. Inspired casting.

Claudia's with the two couples in jeopardy, and asks Iveta what her last-minute advice is for Mark - she tells him to do what he does best, and just have fun. Mark and Iveta head out to get ready, and while they're doing that, Fiona admits that she's not particularly surprised to be in the Dread Dance Off at this point, and she's had a lot of fun just getting this far.

Mark and Iveta reprise their jive first, and it's still a little flat-footed, but Mark's joy in the routine is palpable. I think he genuinely expects to be going home after this, and his thought process is something like "I get to do the jive, to Hairspray, which I love, in BLACKPOOL, for my final dance. Could be a lot worse." If that turns out to be his last dance, it is indeed a hell of a note to go out on. Far better than last week's rumba.

The Strictly elves hurriedly strike the set and line everything up for Fiona and Anton to reprise their American smooth. Interestingly, I get the feeling Fiona's approach is much the same as Mark's - I think she thinks she's going home and is just trying to enjoy the moment without thinking about what comes next. Unfortunately for her, she's doing a routine that requires slightly more precision than Mark's, and there are a few fumbles - though I'm pleased for her that she manages to do that final lift a second time, because to flub that closing moment would've really been a shame for her.

It's time for the judges to decide, and the first Dread Dance Off vote this series that could conceivably go either way. Craig votes to save Fiona and Anton. Darcey votes to save Mark and Iveta. Bruno votes to save Mark and Iveta. This means we have officially activated THE EMERGENCY LEN to deliver the casting vote. Len says that it's a very close thing, because he "gave them both eights the first time round". Maybe think about judging on a scale wider than three points then? However, he thinks one couple upped their game and another let the nerves get to them and caused a lot of mistakes, so he votes to save Mark and Iveta.

"CONGRATULATIONS, MARK AND IVETA, YOU'RE THROUGH TO NEXT WEEK!" bellows Tess. Indoor voice, Daly; I'm sure the acoustics in the Tower Ballroom are a bit different from Elstree, but I think the sound team have got you covered either way. Fiona says she can't thank the producers enough for asking her to take part, and it's like being a guest at the best party in the world. She adds that Anton "has been unbelievably patient, I honestly have a memory like a colander", and Anton tells her that "she is just a joy, every day I come in and I get to dance with you, you are truly lovely". Aww. A lovely, gracious exit from Fiona there. I mean, I can't pretend there wasn't a teeny bit of me hoping that she'd go full Jan Ravens on the way out, but this would definitely have been my second choice, so I'm happy with that. [She was very much on the brink... -Rad]

And that's BLACKPOOL for this year. Next week we're back in boring old London. How will we ever cope?

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Pier pressure

9 Couples Perform: BLACKPOOL Week - 16 November 2013

Maybe I've just spent far too much of my life watching sentimental American dramas aimed at teenagers (actually, there's no "maybe" about it), but when the continuity announcer opens the show by referring to this as "a very special Strictly", I immediately assume that it's going to involve somebody developing a drug problem (maybe Natalie and Artem are HOOKED ON PAINKILLERS?) or coming to terms with the sudden death of an elderly relative (no, not Bruce, I definitely wasn't thinking Bruce and you can't prove anything). Of course, this isn't California Dreams, but Strictly Come Dancing, where "special" simply means that we're off to BLACKPOOL, the Spiritual Home Of Dance. It also means that nobody has to pretend that Wembley Arena is the spiritual home of dance like they did last year, which is surely good news for all involved.

We open with what is referred to as "local colour" in the trade, i.e. a montage of people from BLACKPOOL all saying how excited they are that the show is coming to their home town tonight. My favourite of all of them is the well-presented older lady in a red parka who drives a black cab for a living, if only because I've never seen such a glamorous black cab driver here in That London. Clearly the BLACKPOOL tourist board are doing a fine job if the aim of this VT is to make it seem classy and exotic.

Bruce switches on the lights (it's a brave showrunner who trusts Bruce with the electrical work, though I suppose we should all be glad that Very Special Work Experience Trainee Lisa Riley didn't somehow end up doing it) and once the titles have rolled, it's time for one of the most spectacular and frankly incomprehensible showcase numbers of the series. It's a very samba-esque carnival-style piece, and they've wheeled out some talented junior ballroom dancers to be a part of it. Obviously it's lovely that the programme is showcasing the Professional Dancers Of Tomorrow, but I can't help finding something a bit terrifying about these kids and their general razzle-dazzleness. That said, it's a lot of fun to imagine that they're all treating this as their audition to be the new pro intake for the 2025 series, and spending all their time backstage plotting how to upstage "that fucking fake diva Tristan" or whatever. As for our actual, on-the-payroll pros, they're working with a hot pink dress code and dancing to 'Young Hearts Run Free', which gets the following additional bizarre spoken intro from the band: "What's that? I don't know! Hey, it's something - something for everybody!" Something For Everybody seems like the sort of clean-cut dance troupe that would only exist in The Simpsons. Incidentally, I know that it's nigh-on impossible to track the pro-dancer pairings this year, but it really is very strange to see Ola dancing with Aljaž.

The contestants themselves make their entrance - the men are wheeled in as part of a giant roundabout that gets put together in the middle of the floor (with Patrick sporting his very best Sinister Uncle At A Kids' Party face), while the women are entering in giant CARNIVALE! dresses that take up enough room for about six people. Then the weird spoken word bit kicks in again - "I'm telling you, it's something for everybody!" (dude, okay, we heard you the first time) - and suddenly the entire population of BLACKPOOL is on the dancefloor, young and old alike, and it is HEARTWARMING. Point of interest: there are several BLACKPOOL sexagenarians taking part who are dancing rings around Ben Cohen. Meanwhile, Mark and Ashley are right at the back having their own private gurn-off with each other, so they're already my favourites tonight. It ends, the glitter cannons erupt, and the toe-tapping tots do their very best exiting-the-dancefloor flourishes. Bless.

Bruce and Tess arrive, and...oh, Tess. What is THAT? She's wearing a full-length black gown with slits up to the top of both legs, a slit across her boob cleavage, and both of the shoulders cut out. I mean, if you're going to have that much of the dress removed, why bother wearing anything at all? It looks like she's just made it to her cue after narrowly escaping an encounter with an axe murderer. Bruce declares that it's "lovely to be baff in BLACKPOOL [sic]" and adds that he can "smell the pickled eggs from here". I fully expect the punchline to that to be "no, that's just Len", but apparently the pickled eggs part was the punchline. Ah, Strictly humour - always keeping us on our toes. Bruce congratulates Tess on "last night", and I think he's gone senile yet again until I realise he's talking about the £31m raised on Children In Need - which was, of course, all down to Tess. Tess asks Bruce if he's having a good time in BLACKPOOL, and he says that he was until dinnertime last night when he was mugged for his fish and chips, except Brucie says "seagulls" far too early, so the laugh comes too early and Bruce carries on trying to tell the joke anyway. Oh Brucie.

There's a brief moment of mourning for People's Champion Dave Myers (emphasis on the "brief") and then it's time to meet the stars of our show. There are no stairs to descend in BLACKPOOL, so this part feels kind of workmanlike since they're just ambling out from backstage. Still, here they all are: Sophie and Brendan, Mark and Iveta (IVETA IS DRESSED AS AMBER VON TUSSLE OMG OMG OMG ♥), Susanna and Kevin (both of whom are wearing so much make-up that it looks like they've had a racelift), Ben and Kristina, Natalie and Artem (Natalie has been given Liza-in-Cabaret hair and I am NOT HAPPY ABOUT THIS AT ALL. I assume it's a wig because I don't see any possible way of making her actual hair do that without cutting it, but it's still a TRAVESTY all the same), Abbey and Aljaž, Ashley and Ola (Ashley is dressed as a gay cowboy, which would be the best costume of the night if Iveta hadn't already upstaged him), Patrick and Anya, and Fiona and Anton.

Faced with the task of opening the show in BLACKPOOL are Sophie and Brendan. Thinking back to her Argentine tango from last week, Sophie is generally pleased with how it went and the positive feedback that she got, but notes that there was a unanimous desire to see a bit more actual passion from her. Sophie says that she used to watch the original Come Dancing with her mother Janet Ellis, so it's very exciting to be here in BLACKPOOL. Speaking of J-Ell, Sophie tells us that we might not know Janet originally trained as an actress before rising to fame as a Blue Peter presenter, so she's going to ask her mum for some tips on how to fill her performance with character. She is going to do this while the two of them nibble scones and finger sandwiches at afternoon tea, not that Sophie is in any way aiming for the middle-class vote or anything. Janet tells her daughter that her feet are fine, so she just needs to give her head permission to be fine as well. In other words: "have fun!" We get a little montage of Janet weeping in the audience in previous shows as she says that every time she sees Sophie dancing, it's like watching her doing a ballet show at the age of 10 all over again. Wait a minute, Sophie had ballet lessons? WHAT AN EVUL RINGER BITCH etc etc. [I can't express how much I want J-Ell for Strictly 2014 - Rad]

This week, Sophie is dancing the quickstep to 'The Lady Is A Tramp'. She begins by making her way down the steps accompanied by several men dressed as silver-service waiters (she's so playing all her middle-class cards tonight, and I love her for it), then she takes hold with Brendan and they begin to dance. There's a table in the corner, purely so they can have a bit where the waiter-dancers whisk the chairs away at the last minute and Sophie and Brendan can dance around it. Note to Robin Windsor: this is the maximum amount of involvement a table should have in any routine. It's an extremely fast-paced routine, even for a quickstep, and Sophie's hair is flinging itself around like it's dancing to Willow Smith. (Perhaps since Natalie's hair is so restrained this evening, all that follicle energy had to go somewhere.) She's occasionally a little bit stumbly here and there, but it's definitely a return to form for Sophie and her best performance since that week four foxtrot. I'm particularly impressed by how she's right up against Brendan the whole time she's in hold, because it would be easy to end up with a lot of gapping in a performance like this with such a tempo and so much travelling, but she's obviously worked very hard on keeping up with him.

Bruce welcomes the judges - thankfully, someone did manage to remind Darcey during the week that it was BLACKPOOL week so she didn't end up sitting outside the Brighton Winter Gardens wondering where everyone else was. (Although, given how little use Darcey's been so far this series, I can't really pretend I'd have missed her.) Per my rule of only transcribing Brucie jokes if they at least make me smile, Bruce says that Craig made the most of the sea air and helped to rehabilitate his hip by going for a long walk: "what a shame BLACKPOOL hasn't got any short piers." Len says "shut up, close the door and call me Mary", which I'm fairly sure is a comment he was supposed to save for Ben Cohen. He says that the routine was full of intent, full of character and that Sophie was flying around the floor - "it was absolutely spot-on". Bruno declares that this lady "definitely is not a tramp", and he thinks BLACKPOOL worked its magic because Sophie's performance level tonight was so much better. However, he wants her to check her topline. Craig loved the story and the dancing around the table, however her topline was a bit loose throughout the dance and she sometimes forgot about her left hand. Finally, Darcey says that Sophie came alive tonight and this was just what she wanted, but she just needs to pull out of her waist and improve that topline.

Sophie tells Bruce that she's very happy with that feedback, and they sprint off to the Tess Circle, relocated to the back of the ballroom because BLACKPOOL, and Tess asks how it felt to have a standing ovation in BLACKPOOL. Sophie says that she'll "have to change [her] CV". Presumably it'll fit in somewhere between "House Drama Captain" and "Divisional Secretary of the WI". Brendan says that he feels a bit "moist in the eye". I'm officially docking one point for use of the word "moist", Brendan. That shit is NEVER okay. He turns to Sophie and says "that was DELIGHTFUL, young lady", so it's clearly not just Sophie who's gunning for those valuable middle-class votes. Sophie says that she loved this dance and just wanted to let people know that she's loving what she's doing.

Scores are in: Craig 7, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 34. Yes, I know the score doesn't usually get its own paragraph, but I have a lot of feelings on this subject so please bear with me. First of all, Craig's score gets booed, and Sophie tells everyone that it's fine. And the thing is, I objected to that seven very vocally on Twitter last night, largely because of the context of this episode. A seven for this dance is a bit stingy, but still understandable on any standard night. A total score of 34 is, again, a little bit under-generous but sort of makes sense. However, this is BLACKPOOL - a night in which people are frequently overscored just because they're in BLACKPOOL (as we shall see much later on) and a score of 34 is likely to put Sophie in a precarious position on the leaderboard. I feel like going out first in BLACKPOOL can be a very dangerous position to be in - the sense of occasion hasn't quite kicked in with the judges yet, they aren't yet so drunk on the occasion that they're handing out 10s like copies of the Evening Standard, so it feels a bit like Sophie got a "general episode of Strictly" score while many of those following her are going to get a BLACKPOOL score. And if that sounds like I'm stanning for Sophie, I probably am, but only because I've been watching this show long enough to know how it works, and I can't help feeling that if she'd done that exact dance later in the show, she might well have got a higher score for it.

Where was I? Oh yes, it's time for Patrick and Anya. Last week Patrick's American smooth was genuinely excellent, and Craig called him "the best male celebrity in this competition", which is really hollow praise when you think about it, because it basically only means "you're ahead of Ashley". Patrick says that getting a 10 last week was incredible, and if he wants to improve on that, then his samba needs to fill the floor at BLACKPOOL. Anya says that Patrick has "a lot of natural rhythm" (drink!) and she needs to find an appropriate way to capture that. In previous series this might have been the segue into a Comedy VT, but in these days of a return to the PURITY OF DAHNCE, it simply means that they're off to see and hear a samba band. This gets Patrick moving, and he even has a go at drumming. (I'm sorry, that's about as far as my attempts to make Patrick interesting are going to go. I'm not a miracle worker.)

They're dancing the samba to 'Copacabana' (at BLACKPOOL, which is a threefer as far as thefts from St Jill of Halfpenny go). I give props to both Patrick and Anya for this being one of only two routines of the night not to rely heavily on, er, props or backing dancers, but they hit a snag about 20 second in when a kick leaves Anya's heel snagged in her dress and she has to hop around for a while trying to get it out. To be fair to Patrick, he is both supportive of Anya in trying to help her, and he does get back into the routine instantly as soon as her shoe is freed (albeit with a giant "OH SHIT" look on his face for the rest of the routine), but as snafus go, that's hard to ignore. I could have done with maybe a little bit more energy, but it's another well-conceived routine from Anya (and I genuinely do have a lot of respect for her in this era to come in and let her choreography do the talking rather than throw giant signposts or boardroom tables into her routines), danced capably by Patrick.

Afterwards, Patrick does a giant "OH MY GAAAAAHHHHHD!" face when he gets over to Bruce (hooray! A personality is beginning to shine through, and it's the personality of Leslie Jordan!) and Bruce tells him what a professional he is for handling the skirt incident. Anya stares at the floor. Bruce welcomes the orchestra while Patrick and Anya get their breath (/dignity) back, and Bruno opens for the judges by saying that he felt like he was in Rio. However, Bruno doesn't really know where he is 95 per cent of the time, so whether this is Patrick or just general intoxication is hard to pinpoint. Bruno tells Patrick that everything was close to perfection apart from he messed up a pass and "a tiny incident" (LOL WHATEVER) - but he's still one of the best male samba dancers they've ever had. Craig agrees with that point, and says that it's just unfortunate that it all went "horribly wrong" tonight. Darcey and Bruno start protesting that it was a "tiny" problem, and seriously, Anya was HOPPING ON ONE FOOT FOR ABOUT FIVE SECONDS. That is not a "tiny" slip-up from where I'm sitting. However, Craig hopes they get to do it again - not in the Dread Dance Off, but in the "semi-final". Which has historically not been an occasion in which people reprise dances, but I can't see into the future, so who knows? He finishes by saying that it "could have been dazzling". Darcey says that the samba is "an extraordinarily difficult dance", and there were a couple of "tiny, tiny faults", but it was superb. Len says it wasn't a samba, but a "whamba". (Actually, Carol Smillie's samba was a Whamba. She danced it to 'Club Tropicana' and everything.) He admits that Patrick messed up one set of stationary samba walks, but he thinks it was fantastic and Patrick is a terrific dancer.

They head to the Tess Circle, where Patrick says that it was fantastic. Anya's still cringing about what happened with her skirt, and Tess reassures her that she is not to be held to account for wardrobe malfunctions. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 35. (Oh my god, they went the whole hog and stole St Jill of Halfpenny's scores for a samba to 'Copacabana' in BLACKPOOL!)

On third tonight is (sigh) "Big Ben Cohen" and Kristina. He really enjoyed his jive last week, but he got a four from Craig which hampered the experience a tad. Still, he tried his hardest, apparently. Ben is excited about BLACKPOOL, because it's like being in TWICKENHAM for a rugby player, so he can relate to that. He hopes he can do the BLACKPOOL ballroom justice. This week, they're dancing the American smooth (based around a Viennese waltz) to 'Fallin'' by Alicia Keys, and Ben thinks he's lost his "competitive edge" since retiring from rugby, so Kristina brings in some "board games" to help reignite it. Except the two that we see them playing are Buckaroo! and Twister, neither of which are board games. And frankly I'm surprised that the show focuses on Buckaroo! in the way that it does, when they could have shown BEN COHEN SEXILY PLAYING SEXY TWISTER WITH HIS SHIRT OFF SEXILY or something. Maybe this is their attempt at bussing him, although it's rather half-hearted if it is. [Or maybe they're cooking up slightly kinky ideas for his Fusion week routine - Rad] Ben loses at both games, because there is no universe in which he is less competitive than Kristina, so she takes him to the arcade to whack one of those strongman machines with his GUNZ instead.

Literal choreography alert: Kristina begins by falling into the arms of the backing dancers. And what's Ben doing while this happens? Just standing there. So much of the first 30 seconds of this dance gets delegated to the hired hands that have been hired that I'm not actually sure what Ben's contribution to any of it is. I get that you've got to fill the space with something at BLACKPOOL, but getting in substitutes to dance in the celebrity's place feels somewhat against the spirit of the show. Anyway, eventually Kristina remembers to choreograph something for Ben to do, and he's not actually that bad. He's still not especially graceful, but he's moving fluidly, and more to the point, he's moving, which is more than can be said for several of his routines, or indeed the first third of this one. Sadly, for all that Kristina's attempted to create a dreamy romantic atmosphere, Ben kind of looks like he's mentally planning out his diary for the next week.

Craig declares that "Big Ben is back in the ballroom", and is impressed by the speed of the routine. I assume Ben is being judged against his own standards here, because by general Viennese waltz standards it was about average. Craig would have liked a bit more style, but it was a vast improvement all the same. Darcey likes that Ben is such an attentive partner in all of those lifts. I dislike how Ben is such an attentive partner who stands there watching for a chunk of the routine while Kristina subcontracts all of the actual dancing out to other people. She wants him to watch his arms out of hold, but thinks it's such an improvement. Len huffs that it's not that Ben's back because he NEVER WENT AWAY (oh Len), and he fully committed himself [Keep that kind of comment for your fanfic, Len - Rad]. Len liked the footwork, but does grudgingly admit that it was "too whimsical" out of hold. Bruno liked the warmth and care of the performance, and says that he did the Viennese waltz part very well, but when they're out of hold he needs to extend those lines properly.

Tess asks Ben if he's finally got his eye on the prize, and Ben's all "LOL NO". Tess asks Kristina if she's still fuming about that four last week. Obviously, yes. Scores are in: eights all round for a total of 32. I feel like Craig is straight-up trolling me now, giving Ben more points than Sophie for only dancing about 70 per cent of a routine.

Ashley and Ola are next. Bruce says that Ashley has decided he's going to be a cowboy (yes, because everything about this theme reeks of Ashley's decision-making). Brucie joke: Ashley asked the wardrobe department for a pair of wrinky old chaps, they sent for him and Len. Ashley was very happy with how last week went, though he notes that continued improvement just means more pressure on himself from week to week. So they're doing a paso doble with a Wild West theme. I'm already disappointed that Ola didn't cast herself as the giant robot spider. Ashley is struggling to be a badass, so Ola brings in a lasso for him to embrace his inner cowboy. That doesn't work either, so she takes him off to a fancy dress saloon in BLACKPOOL to have his photo taken and start talking like he's swallowed a beehive. This, naturally, seems to be far more successful.

They're dancing to 'You Give Love A Bad Name', with Ashley playing the aforementioned dirty cowboy and Ola as the queen of the old West. (Insert Bruno Tonioli joke here.) It's a fairly prop- and set-heavy routine, but it manages to escape those confines and emerge as a genuinely good paso. Ashley's still haughtiness feels a little bit half-hearted, but the dancing and shaping is very good, and the energy doesn't let up at any point.

Darcey points out that a cowboy is not a matador, but she loved the shaping, the attack and the lines - though she would have liked a bit more drama in the ending. Len thought Ashley got stronger and stronger as it went along, and he liked how Ashley captured both the speed and the stillness of the paso. Brucie adds to his Inappropriate Comment quota for the night by pointing at Ola and shouting "who do you thank? That little mite!" Bruno thought it was powerful with plenty of thrust, and he liked the light and shade as well as the focus of the routine. He adds that it's a good sign that Ashley was dancing alongside two professional boys, and yet Bruno couldn't take his eyes off him. And Bruno's stared at a lot of professional boys in his life, I'm sure. Craig says that a cowboy defending himself with a cape doesn't really do it for him, "but each to his own, darling" - he thought it was bizarre, but he liked it.

Tess reminds Ashley that he is a NORTHERN boy dancing in THE NORTH, and Ashley's all "yes, geography, thanks." Ola is very proud of Ashley, and thinks he can go further. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 35 - Ashley's joint-highest score, tied with last week.

Our fifth couple are Fiona and Anton. Fiona was thrilled with her paso last week, but she was "a little bit hurt" when Craig declared her to be forgettable. She doesn't want that to happen again. She's excited about BLACKPOOL because she's a Strictly superfan. I love that she can only view BLACKPOOL through the prism of this show. The editors soundtrack Fiona's training with Lily Allen's '22', which is some excellent stealth shade, and in rehearsals Fiona struggles with the lifts because she's never done anything like that before. In an attempt to get Fiona comfortable with heights, Anton takes her up the tower (FNAR). Fiona thinks this has really helped. Maybe we should have the whole show up there?

They're dancing an airport-themed American smooth to 'Come Fly With Me', and frankly any sort of airport-themed dance is inevitably going to invite unfavourable comparisons to this, so I feel like they're set out to fail from the beginning. To be fair, it's not terrible - Fiona looks fabulous and absolutely nails the old-Hollywood glamour of the theme, but she just looks unsure and uncomfortable for a lot of the routine, she's out of sync with Anton constantly and she's awfully cadaver-like in the lifts.

Len thought the attitude was first class, the movement was a bit business class, and the lifts were a bit economy. I think that's bang-on, actually. However, he adds that it had an air of style and class about it. Bruno declares "VIP lounge for you, my darling!", but he agrees - the attitude was elegant, but she looks a bit lost when she changes direction, saying it's a bit "oh, where's my handbag? Oh, Anton's there!" Did he call Anton a handbag? Craig would've liked more smoothness and points out the timing issues and the problems getting into the last lift. Anton cracks a "first-class take off" joke, and Craig admits that the soft shoe element in the middle was definitely first-class. Darcey loved the subtle details, but agrees with the men on the lifts - she thinks Fiona needs to dance with more pizazz and just watch her position in the lifts.

The time comes for them to head through security (although from what I hear, security on the night was a tad lax) to the Tess Circle, where Fiona sad-sacks that she knew she was going to blow that lift. Tess tries to help by pointing out that she didn't manage that lift AT ALL in the dress run thereby making it an improvement, though I'm not sure that Fiona is particularly grateful to have that secret failing broadcast to ten million people. Fiona credits Anton with getting her into the lift, "somehow". Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 29. Fiona's happy with that score.

Our next couple is Abbey and Aljaž. Aljaž is looking delightfully Brideshead Revisited in a striped shirt, cravat and braces. Abbey reminds us that she "was in the bottom two the week before [last], even with high scores". I love that she's going to great pains to remind us that she's deeply unpopular. Last week she got high scores but was not in the bottom two, so it's very much onwards and upwards for La Clancy. Abbey used to go to BLACKPOOL with her family as a child to see the illuminations at Christmas, and never dreamed etc etc be there dancing in the ballroom. They're dancing the quickstep this week, and Aljaž (wearing an I FEEL sLOVEnia t-shirt ♥) decides that the best way to get her into the correct frame of mind for an old-fashioned dance take her to a tea dance. Abbey asks the clientele at the tea dance for advice, and they provide tips such as "stay close", "be on your toes", "imagine you're wearing a beautiful necklace" (okay, maybe not that last one) and then Abbey and Aljaž showcase the quickstep for the tea dancers. The tea dancers suggest that it's worth an eight, maybe a nine. I love the tea dancers. Can the tea dancers replace Darcey and Len? Abbey talks about how amazing it's been to come here today and how she wants to make everyone at the tea dance proud, while everyone at the tea dance sits behind her not giving one solitary shit.

They've got a seaside theme for their performance, complete with deckchairs, one of those pictures where you stick your face through it and have your photo taken, and a bizarrely oversized bucket and spade. I hope the story of this dance is that they're going to get comically shrunk halfway through and have to spend the rest of their quickstep trying not to get captured by crabs or squashed by careless tourists. They're dancing to 'Walking On Sunshine', and it's a little stilted at times. It's clearly a quickstep that's going for precision over speed, but it's marred throughout by a gap between them so vast that you could store all of their props in it, including the comically large bucket and spade. (On a positive note: well done to wardrobe for putting Aljaž in cream trousers once again; it's the best colour to fittingly highlight Dat Ass.)

Peter Crouch is on his feet (shot from beneath so as to look taller than the tower itself). Bruno calls it a "quickstep of pleasure beach" and calls for champagne for Abbey. He makes sure we know that Abbey is a NON-DANCER and that it's unbelievable for her to be able to pull off a dance of this quality. Craig notes on the gapping and says that her chin was too far down on the standing spin, and the frame was loose throughout. Also, she was dancing with both arms in the charleston section. Bruno screams "NOOOOOO!" like someone's trying to wrestle his drinks cabinet out from under the desk, and Craig insists that these are minor details and he loved it. "Oh, cut the crap!" snorts Bruno, and immediately clamps his hand over his mouth. Eh, it's no "the hills are alive with the sound of bullshit!", but it'll do. Darcey reminds us that Abbey is TALL and LEGGY and how hard it is for someone like that to handle those quick moves. There was one part where Abbey got overexcited and her elbow started acting like a metronome, but otherwise it was beautiful. Len tells Abbey that if she were a stick of BLACKPOOL rock, she'd have "talent" written all the way through. He then snorts in Craig's general direction that if you look hard enough at anything, you can find fault. I feel I should point out that I was cooking spaghetti bolognese while this dance was happening, so I had my back to the screen for most of it and I still saw most of that gapping, so nice try, Len.

Back in the Tess Circle, Tess makes sure to apologise for Bruno's potty mouth first and foremost. Tess asks Aljaž if this is his first time in BLACKPOOL (somebody clearly doesn't watch It Takes Two) and Aljaž says it's not the first, but definitely the best. Oh, you old smoothie. Tess asks how it would feel to get a 10 in BLACKPOOL, and Abbey says it would be amazing. Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 37. I now feel more confident than ever that a BLACKPOOL 10 is equivalent to about an eight on a normal day, because come the fuck on. [Since POOR ABBEY and POOR PATRICK hit the bottom two I can't help view their scores through anything but the prism of judges overmarking to keep them safe - Rad]

We cut back to Bruce, who's recovering from Abbey's score and saying "I still can't believe that!" You and me both, kiddo. Mark and Iveta are next, and Mark admits that he found the rumba extremely difficult last week and being in the Dread Dance Off made him feel like he'd let Iveta down. "She deserves the best from me, and that's what she's going to get," vows Mark. He says he wants to give it 100 per cent this week - unfortunately, they've got the jive which is about as natural a fit for Mark as the rumba was. Mark has bad knees, which is going to make all the bouncing quite tricky. Mark and Iveta hit the town in BLACKPOOL and eat chips on the promenade, hoping that everyone's going to enjoy their jive. Iveta is wearing a hooded cape, because Iveta continues to be amazing.

So they're dancing to 'You Can't Stop The Beat' from Hairspray, as you've probably already inferred from their outfits. Again, this is a song that invites comparisons that won't do it any favours, and Mark struggles with the kicks and flicks part of it, but he's clearly spend a lot of time on getting his footwork right, and for someone of Mark's general level of ability in Latin who already has dodgy knees, it's a very credible effort. Some of the choreography appears to have been lifted more or less wholesale from the actual Hairspray choreography, which I suspect he may have some prior experience of, but fans of It Takes Two will be pleased to hear that this is the routine in which Iveta finally caved and incorporated The Dinosaur, following weeks of badgering from Mark. I wonder if she thought maybe this was her last chance.

They head over to Bruce who crows "if ever there was a dance that wasn't for you, it was this one, but my golly, you really pulled it together". I think Bruce and Tess attended the same school of accidentally insulting someone while trying to compliment them. Craig thought it was flat-footed and stompy, "it looked like you had flippers on the end of your legs". He knows it was entertaining, but he's looking for more technique. Bruce: "sometimes, Craig, you remind me of a funfair: you're no fun, and you're not fair." Oh, all right: heh. Bruce continues "for a guy of his size to do a jive!" and OH MY GOD, STOP GOING ON ABOUT MARK'S SIZE WHEN HE'S RIGHT NEXT TO YOU. Jeez, Bruce, have some class. I know you're trying to help, but shush. Darcey calls it "a show-stopping performance", but advises Mark to shift his weight a bit forward to get properly onto the balls of his feet. Len says you come to BLACKPOOL for fun, and that's what we got - it was lighthearted and joyful. Bruno finishes by saying that Mark gave them a fantastic ride that put the feelgood factor through the roof, and he danced more than he ever has.

Tess declares that they "bring the feelgood factor in bucketloads", but does not specify whether this is one of Abbey and Aljaž's buckets, or a regular-sized one. She also points out that it's Mark's birthday, and Mark says that he's had a great time all week. Asked if he wanted to come back with a vengeance after last week's Dread Dance Off encounter, Mark says he just wanted to have fun with this one. Scores: Craig 5, Darcey 8, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 29 - Mark's highest score to date, possibly courtesy of BLACKPOOL Inflation.

Next up are Susanna and Kevin And All That Slap They're Wearing. Last week's waltz went very well, and Susanna was thrilled to get four nines, "especially one from Craig Revel-Horwood". Heh. This week, they have the paso, and Kevin explains that as a boy he was always taking part in ballroom competitions, so he was in BLACKPOOL quite a lot. Susanna, on the other hand, has mostly been there covering party conferences as a journalist and hasn't been there for fun. Kevin decides it's high time she experienced The Fun Of BLACKPOOL, so they go out shopping for rock, with Susanna buying Kevin one with "for my teacher" through the middle (adding "and frankly, you have been my rock", because like all breakfast TV presenters, she's a little bit cornball at heart). Kevin takes Susanna for her first look at the ballroom, and says "now I'm going to show you something that few people get to see." Ooh, Karen's going to be FURIOUS! Oh no, never mind, they're just playing on the Wurlitzer. (Not a euphemism.)

Their paso is to 'Les Toreadors' from Bizet's Carmen, aka that piece of music that everyone had as their ringtone around the time that polyphonic phones first came into existence. Along with Patrick and Anya's samba, this is the only other dance of the night not to prominently feature props or backing dancers - all they have is a couple of naked flames behind Kevin (let's hope he didn't have the chilli for lunch) which are quickly dispensed with. It soon turns out that additional help would've been entirely surplus to requirements anyway, because Susanna and Kevin have got paso face FOR DAYS. I've seen a few grumbles on the internets that this routine was all about Kevin and that Susanna was an afterthought, and I'm not sure I agree. For starters, the paso kind of inherently favours the man (in much the same way that women get a lot more to do in the rumba), and while it starts with a bit of dramatic tapping from Kevin, as soon as he and Susanna come together, they just create such a sense of drama and occasion that clearly requires input from both of them, and Susanna's giving as good as she gets. It's extremely sharp and staccato and there's some genuinely impressively nimble footwork from Susanna throughout. As disgustingly pretentious as this sounds, I just feel like this is one of those dances that really rewards you for looking at the details. SORRY BOUT IT.

Darcey says it was a wonderfully traditional paso, adding that Susanna "ate up that dancefloor" and calling her a "beautiful gypsy girl". "Lovely gypsy," echoes Bruce, a little bit seedily. Len says it was like a buffet of Spanish tapas, "full of tasty morsels all the way through". Bruno agrees that the flavour of Spain was definitely there. Craig thinks she was "channelling Chita Rivera tonight", adding that he means Anita from West Side Story for anyone who didn't get that reference, and chucking a "FAB-U-LOUS!" on the end for good measure.

They trudge through to the Tess Circle, with Susanna apparently feeling a little embarrassed by just how much she threw herself into that paso. She says that it's very inspiring to be here in BLACKPOOL, especially looking over and seeing a matador in front of her. Kevin says he just wanted Susanna to experience BLACKPOOL the way he experienced it as a boy, and that's why he took her to that house of bawdily dressed ladies last night. Or something. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39. Susanna has a full-on meltdown over getting three 10s and just starts thanking Kevin repeatedly. Tess congratulates her on "the highest score of the series so far", and a shaking Susanna says that she's kept saying to Kevin "I'm not a 10-sort of person." Hee. Susanna starts crying as Tess reads out the numbers, and Ben, Sophie and Ashley (who are standing behind her) all start rubbing her shoulders, while Karen gives Kevin a kiss. Awww. [I know I'm a bit of a Susanna/Kevin stan but that was pretty much the only dance (other than Sophie's 7 - I would have given 8) I thought was just a tiny bit overmarked - if not marked right - rather than vastly inflated - Rad]

Closing the show tonight, it's Natalie and Artem. Bruce reminds us of Natalie's near-death experience last week, as does the VT, in which we watch the wobbly-cam footage again and Natalie explains that she fainted in rehearsals on Saturday morning, then again in the dress run. Did we know she'd fainted twice? I knew about the one in the dress run, obviously, but I don't think I knew she'd already fainted once that morning. Anyway, on Monday morning Natalie went back to the doctor, who confirmed a diagnosis of exhaustion and declared her fit to dance this week. Natalie says that she's just really glad to still be here, and she's just going to enjoy herself whatever happens. She tells Artem that she feels like she's let him down by not being around to do the jive, and Artem tells her not to be silly, he was just concerned about her. This week they've got the charleston, which includes a couple of tricks that they've had to practice on crash-mats and Natalie's a bit nervous of them. She reminds us that she's a Lancashire lass and looking forward to coming home, via BLACKPOOL.

Their charleston is to 'Bang Bang' by William, and Natalie's in full-on gurning flapper mode. I don't know whether it's the band struggling with the song or if it's a problem with the dancing, but after an encouraging start, Natalie and Artem fall out of time with each other a little bit. I know it's the charleston, which is arguably the least precise of all the dances, but I just feel like it could benefit from being a little sharper, and also maybe from having fewer acrobatics and a bit more actual dancing. It was good, and it's going to get 10s, but it feels like a BLACKPOOL 10 dance rather than an actual 10 dance, which is a shame. [I feel like they're giving Natalie excellent scores now for dances that don't really merit them rather than giving her lower scores for excellent dances at the start, because Strictly scoring generally seems to go off which week they're at in the "journey" than the actual dancing.  This was so overmarked - and I say this as a fan of Natalie, of at least 50% of Artem's choreography AND of charleston.  I mean, I enjoyed it, but it was scrappy as all hell and their timing was rubbish - Rad]

Len calls it "spectacular". Bruno says it was "like watching Josephine Baker doing William at a Great Gatsby party". Well, there's a mental image to keep you awake at night. He declares that performance a suitable finale to a fantastic night in BLACKPOOL. Craig liked the modern twist on the dance (indeed, something tells me that Artem isn't really a big fan of period-appropriate charlestons) and says it was sensational. Darcey finishes by saying that Natalie always gives brilliant details, but this time she added character and personality. Wow, character AND personality!

They zip into the Tess Circle where Tess mews that she was ever so worried about Natalie last week, and Natalie says that she's "very sorry to scare everyone", but she's back and there'll be no more drama: "no more fainting, no more epidurals, no more broken noses". Talk is cheap - with this pair's track record, I give it a fortnight tops before one of them is in traction. Artem says he's very proud of Natalie for that performance. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39.

There we are, then. Here's the BLACKPOOL leaderboard:

Susanna & Kevin - 39
Natalie & Artem - 39
Abbey & Aljaž - 37
Patrick & Anya - 35
Ashley & Ola - 35
Sophie & Brendan - 34
Ben & Kristina - 32
Fiona & Anton - 29
Mark & Iveta - 29

Tess declares the BLACKPOOL phone lines open, and we see that all-important reminder: Sophie's ROBBED UNDERSCORED quickstep, Patrick and Anya's samba (minus wardrobe malfunction), the bits of Ben's American smooth where he was actually dancing, Ashley's gay-cowboy-eating-pudding paso, Fiona's American smooth experiencing a bumpy lift-off, Abbey's SO GAPPY IT MIGHT AS WELL BE SELLING CHINOS quickstep, Mark and Iveta's paying tribute to his day job, Susanna and Kevin's dramarama of a paso, and Natalie's pretty-good-but-not-quite-as-good-as-I-hoped charleston.

So it's been fun in BLACKPOOL, but one couple will be getting BLACKPOOLIMINATED on Sunday. (I'm so sorry.) If Sophie is in the Dread Dance Off, believe me, I will be KICKING. OFF. Won't that be fun for everyone?

Saturday, 16 November 2013

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

- Natalie's collapse from exhaustion was, according to her, due to not having enough cake and telly.
- Natalie is feeling much better and will be able to dance in BLACKPOOL this weekend, unless she and/or Artem manage to maim themselves in the interim.
- Pasha SELFLESSLY volunteered to dance with Susanna because Kevin had a cold last week. Such a hero.
- Dave and Karen's Paso Doble got one of the biggest standing ovations ever on Strictly, according to what Dave was told.  Surely a proper standing ovation would always be roughly the same size?  I am doubtful of the methodological validity of such a claim.
- Craig thinks he was lucid for the first time this week because he was finally off the meds.
- Not having given 10s by this stage in proceedings is apparently something Craig now has to justify.
- It was Craig’s wheelchair that got used to take Natalie out of the studio after she fainted.
- Craig thinks Charleston is a very individual thing and based on the personalities of the dancers.  Mm-hmmmm.
- Sophie’s charleston is still the best of the series. SOZ ABBEY.
- Craig thinks people only really like Ben because of how he looks. IMAGINE THAT.
- Fiona had to deal with Anton's bull out on the floor.  Insert joke about his cha-cha incident here.
- There is a goat near Anton and Fiona's training room that she's named Gary.
- Iveta believes Mark can do anything.
- Mark has been teaching Iveta to improve her English pronunciation in exchange for her teaching him how to dance. With mixed results, obviously.
- Janette and Aljaž are cohabiting, the SINNERS. (Their flat is really nice.)
- Aljaž likes playing soccer video games and drinks a lot of pineapple juice.
- Janette only owns two cookbooks and they are both Hairy Bikers ones.
- Which would explain why their diet seems to be solely ham and bananas.
- They also seem to be quite into Game of Thrones.
- Janette and Aljaž's flat has a view of the Gherkin and the Shard. Damn, how much do you get paid for being a pro dancer on this show, exactly?
- Karen Hardy is surprised that the things she writes on Twitter are not held in the utmost secrecy.
- Karen Hardy would like to point out that when she danced with Ramps, they didn't get 10s for ages.  Not that she'd want to make a thing of that or anything.
- Patrick's dancing character was ' I want to dance with this girl'.  Such an acting challenge!
- Len had an hour-long attack of the vapours during the slip-up in Patrick and Anya's dance because he'd clearly been itching to get his ten out for some PROPA BALLROOM WIV NAH FAFFIN.
- Ian Waite is not impressed by Blackpool having been there hundreds of times.
- Abbey and Aljaž had already discussed the possibility of her hat falling off in training.
- Abbey got thrown out of ballet classes (dirty ringer) as a little girl for looking at her hair in the mirror and not paying attention.
- Natalie Lowe is due to see her doctor on Friday and should hopefully get the all-clear to dance again the pro routines.
- Mel and Gordon's wedding dance will be a fusion. Don't think we didn't spot that attempt at foreshadowing that it might be back, show.
- Natalie has received her invitation to the wedding of the couple she's been teaching to dance, but has not bought her hat yet.
- Ben has been greeted with "hello, sailor!" a lot this week.
- Kristina loves it when the judges fight.
- The Gumede/Chigvintsev Injury Train rolls on: now Artem's hurt his neck trying to lift Natalie.
- Artem is very kind to snails.
- Artem doesn't remember the last time he was at BLACKPOOL and got two tens because he was too busy being injured.
- Brendan and Sophie's Argentine tango wasn't supposed to be flamboyant. So there.
- Sophie has a lovely big bruise on her knee from that Argentine tango.
- Karen Hauer is the grumpiest dancer in the mornings, closely followed by Kristina and Artem.
- Kristina thinks Brendan is the vainest dancer. Brendan thinks it's Kristina. Pretty much everyone else thinks it's Artem.
- Susanna has mastered the steps of the paso, but is finding it hard not to giggle.
- Kevin's entire family is going to be part of a big dance number this weekend.
- BLACKPOOL is bigger than London. (The dancefloor, that is, not the town itself.)
- Jason Donovan gets upset when the pro makes the dance all about them. Can't imagine how that might have happened.
- Frank SINATRA performed in BLACKPOOL.
- Artem and Natalie will perform the first BLACKPOOL Strictly Charleston.
- The chap who hand-sews all the sequins is referred to as the Chief Embellishment Officer.
- Janette isn't sure that Blackpool is all that compared to Miami.
- Zoe doesn't know what twerking is. This may be for the best, all things considered.
- Ana Matronic wants BENZ GUNZ to win. Jason Donovan is rooting for his kindred spirit, Patrick, whilst La Prenj favours Abbey.