Last week: we were down to 12 couples and there were strong performances from most of the usual suspects, though Sophie's cha cha cha underdelivered and an injured Patrick found himself in the bottom two for his salsa up against Deborah and Robin, whose Viennese waltz that cast them as travelling table salespeople proved inexplicably unpopular with the voting public. Patrick triumphed in the Dread Dance-Off, meaning that Deborah was sent home and the grumbling about That Hairy Dave Still Being Here When Good Dancers Are Being Sent Home officially began in earnest.
This week: it's Hallowe'en, and you know what that means: industrial quantities of make-up, the return of the Comedy VT, and the scores making absolutely no sense whatsoever. Oh yeah, that's the scariest part of all, believe me. Cue titles!
We open with a spooky pro dance to 'The Time Warp'. I realise that there is probably a finite number of suitably Hallowe'eny songs that can be used for this theme night, but in much the same way that I wouldn't ever want to see another jive to 'I'm Still Standing' or another cha cha cha to 'Crazy In Love' because perfection has already been achieved, I think we should just let this stand as the quintessential Strictly 'Time Warp' interpretation. Also, because it can't really be ignored, I assume that the rehearsals for this are when this happened. DANCING DRAMAZ! (Also, I'm not attempting to validate Karen's "shit dancers go at the back" theory, but the choreographer of this routine seems to have done their utmost to ensure that the camera never sees Anton actually moving his feet at any point.) [He didn't even jump to the left or step to the right - Rad] Anyway, make-up and wardrobe have done their best to make sure everyone's costume is the appropriate split of "scary" and "showing your tits off" that is de rigeur for Hallowe'en as an adult. Also, Iveta's hair is a real feat of engineering tonight, but we'll come to that in more detail when we get to her dance with Mark. Anyway, Bruno gets to dive off the judges' desk into a crowd of men, thereby fulfilling that particular clause in his contract, Craig shimmies in his post-operative chair because that's really all he can be asked to do, and Len and Darcey are in the middle of the dancefloor making claws at the camera. I'm a bit disappointed that Darcey's "costume" that she promised us on It Takes Two is basically a black dress with a glittery skull brooch on it, but at least they've crimped her hair to such an extent that you could make a case for her having come as the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Then the celebs flock in halfway through, and Dave gets to be front and centre because tonight is unofficially Dave Night as we'll see later. It ends, and everyone collapses because TIME WARP, and while this bit is not a competitive dance, I would definitely give Natalie Gumede 10 for her extremely dramatic sway-and-slump [and gurn - Rad].
Now we reach what would normally be the most terrifying part of any episode of Strictly: our first look at what Tess is wearing. Despite this being the one episode of the year where she can justify looking like an absolute fright, she actually looks rather good: a black gown with lots of intricate sequinning going on, cinched in at the waist with a belt and the hem trailing a few inches across the floor like Morticia Addams. She could still do with a little bit more support around her bust, but otherwise it's a flattering fit and her hair looks amazing. Is it too early in the series for me to suggest that Tess's outfits are improving this year? I realise they are still hit-and-miss, but I feel like the ratio is about 50:50 at this point, which is a considerable improvement on any other year I can think of. Why not tell me your thoughts in the comments below? (NB. I am definitely not saying this just so people will leave comments.) (NB. I actually might be, a bit.)
A fair few alumni are in the house tonight: Louis Smith and Lisa Riley are sitting next to each other in the audience. I bet that wasn't awkward at all:
"I'm last year's champion."
"Yeah, but I'm last year's PEOPLE'S CHAMPION."
"Whatevs, I was only one place above you in the leaderboard the week you went home and I wasn't even in the Dread Dance-Off."
"Yeah, but how many behind-the-scenes segments have you presented on It Takes Two this year?"
"Sorry, I can't even hear you over the sound of my glitterball trophy sparkling away on my mantelpiece. And by "my", I mean Flavia's. But she still lets me look at it every Wednesday night and every other Sunday."
"Yes, but who's hosting the fucking tour, eh?"
And so on.
Brucie welcomes us all to "Spooky Come Dancing" with "it's rotten to see you, to see you..." and the audience shouts "RICE!", because nobody seems to have briefed them on whether they should be shouting "rotten!" or "nice!" and this is what happens when you try to make people think for themselves on live television [I just assumed they were a week behind on the Anneka joke - Rad]. There's the obligatory "Bruce is undead" joke that goes on for too long, and Tess suggests that Deborah is haunting the ballroom after her exit last week. I mean, sure, she was needy and clingy towards the end, but with the way the injuries are piling up this year, we've probably got some actual spirits in the ballroom already (and I don't just mean the ones Bruno hides under the desk). The Ghost Of Artem's Nose is probably hovering around somewhere, for starters. Tess fumbles her words a little bit and Bruce is all "well, that's both of us off to the scrapheap after this series then. They've already got Claudia Winkleman and Russell Grant optioned for series 12".
It's time to meet the stars of the show. I'll tackle the outfits in more detail later, otherwise this will be the longest paragraph in the history of this blog. So we have: Sophie and Brendan, Mark and Iveta, Susanna and Kevin, Ben and Kristina, Natalie and Artem, Abbey and Alja, Ashley and Ola, Patrick and Anya, Rachel and Pasha, Dave and Karen, and Fiona and Anton.
Bruce declares that he can't recognise anybody, but of course, that could just be the cataracts. Our first couple tonight are Patrick and Anya. It seems a bit unfair to make the guy who was in the bottom two last week open the show, but then again...it's Patrick. Does anyone really care? Patrick's got one of those glittery finger-brooch things on his shoulder, and Anya has half a skull made-up on her face. I hope that's dictated by the theme of the dance, and not just another sign that the universe as a whole is so uninterested in this couple that make-up forgot they hadn't finished Anya. Half-decent Brucie joke alert: "during the show, if you hear a bump in the night, don't worry - it'll just be Bruno falling off his chair."
In their VT, Patrick talks about the slightly lukewarm reception he got for his salsa last week, despite the fact that he had to do it more or less one-handed. Anya says that being in the bottom two is an "indescribable feeling". Well, you've had six years to think of some words though, Anya. This week they've got the quickstep, and Anya is wearing a witch's hat in rehearsal. Despite the fact that trying to do a Comedy VT was precisely what broke Patrick last week, it's Hallowe'en, so "here we are doing some dancing in a studio" isn't going to cut it. Instead, Anya goes all mad doctor to find a way to turn Patrick into some sort of genetically-engineered dancing machine. Or as the rest of us would say, "Natalie Gumede". The actual result is a comedy Frankenstein's Monster mask and some loo roll wrapped around his head. Maybe the make-up budget went on all that tit-shiner they needed to buy for Ben Cohen this week.
Someone's decided it's a good idea to do Simpsons Treehouse of Horror-style introductions for the dances this week, so it's the "quivering quickstep" danced by Patrick Robinson and "Anya 'Gruesome' Garnis". The show's website informs me that the track is 'Man With The Hex' by The Atomic Fireballs; I've never heard it before so I'll have to take their word for it. As quicksteps go, it's a little slow: not quite as crushingly leaden as Ben's was last week, but still lacking the energy that I want from a dance like this. Also there's some nasty gapping. On the bright side, though, they've given him a much nicer cast this week that actually matches his costume. So that's nice.
Len declares that he was "bewitched, bothered and bewildered" - bewitched by the routine and the performance, bothered by the lack of body contact, and bewildered by the energy and speed. Patrick is also the recipient of the very first "if you're in the [dread] Dance-Off tonight, I'll pickle me walnuts" of the series. ("Tonight"? Oh, Len.) Bruno thinks the magic spell had all the right ingredients, and Patrick put more content in his dance tonight than ever. However, due to the body contact issues, his frame was a bit loose. Craig "can only but agree" (BAD GRAMMAR! CALL OFCOM!) - he loved the energy and the theatricality of the performance, it was full of character and the timing was exceptional. Finally, Darcey thinks Anya worked with Patrick's strengths in the choreography and declares the footwork "spellbounding" (MAKE A SECOND CALL TO OFCOM!).
Patrick and Anya race up to the Tess Circle and are briefly hassled by someone in a Frankenstein's monster costume on the way (in a previous series, this would probably have been Anton's job). Patrick tells Tess he has no breath left. Tess asks how the wrist is, and Patrick says it's healing. Also, there's a big cauldron right in front of Tess with green smoke wafting out of it. I think they should have that there every week. Having exhausted every often angle of questioning Patrick, Tess asks him what his kids make of him dancing on the telly, and Patrick says he wants to say hello to Olivia Grace, who "couldn't make it here on family day". This is all a bit BBC local radio, isn't it? Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 8 for a total of 34. That has a little whiff of post Dread Dance-Off artificial inflation about it, but it's Hallowe'en, so I feel like expecting the scoring to make sense is a fool's errand. This ain't going to be the worst of it, either.
Up next, we have Fiona and Anton. They are dressed as raggedy scarecrows, which doesn't feel especially Hallowe'eny to me. [Have you never seen that episode of Doctor Who with the terrifying scarecrows? Worzel Gummidge, I think it was called. Eyethangyew - Rad] Also, Anton's nose is painted a dark brown, and I can't decide whether to go for the obvious "brown-nosing" joke or whether to investigate whether there is such a thing as "blacknose" and if so, if it's inherently racist or not. I mean, this is Anton, after all. Last week Fiona staged something of a comeback from the bottom of the leaderboard, and while she feels like she hasn't entirely conquered her nerves, she at least feels like she's recovered from that disastrous party rumba a bit. Anton asks Fiona what her biggest Hallowe'en fear is, and apparently it's "letting the judges down". God, be more needy, why don't you? Anton's remedy for this is for Fiona to carve the judges' faces out of pumpkins and then try to impress the pumpkins. To be honest, given what lies ahead this evening, I think some of those pumpkins are going to be more discerning than the actual judges.
They're dancing the "chilling charleston" (Anton's spook-name is "Anton 'Deathly' Du Beke", although I originally misheard it as "Anton 'Destiny' Du Beke", which I hoped was his secret drag alter-ego") to 'Jeepers Creepers'. All credit to her: Fiona's got some excellent charleston-swivel going on. It's not quite as good as Sophie's, obviously, but it's not far off. This is a dance that suits her pretty well, and it's enjoyable to watch, but it needs a little more energy than Fiona's giving it, especially in the legs. Also, there's a bit where Anton makes them dance with hoes, and I think you can all make those jokes for yourself. Although given that they casually discard them halfway through the routine I was hoping it might end up leading to a Sideshow Bob moment. So, yes, not perfect, but I feel fairly comfortable in saying this is my favourite of all of Fiona's routines thus far. [Eh. I am a staunch charleston defender and found it quite underwhelming and too 'nice' for my taste, so I was very pleased when Craig went on to say the same thing. - Rad]
Bruno says that there was nothing creepy about the routine - in fact it was so prim and proper that it was like "Hallowe'en at Doris Day's house". He appreciates the neatness of the routine, but it lacked the energy and abandon of the charleston. He also points out that Fiona's timing keeps letting her down, at which the audience boos and Bruno screams back "WELL EXCUSE ME, I'M NOT BLIND!" Hee. Craig agrees - it was too polite. He says that back in the twenties, there were signs up saying "PCQ", which stood for "Please Charleston Quietly", which is apparently a genuine thing that happened, and he thinks people should be going against that sign. He agrees that the timing was out, and tells Fiona that she needs to have her hands near her knees in the monkey step, but he commends Fiona on her swivel, since he's always looking for that. Bruce then calls for "Dave" to give an opinion, and there's a brief, frosty pause before Darcey reminds him that her name is, in fact, "Darcey". The best bit about this is Bruce holding up his cue cards and going "well, it says Dave!" I love the idea that this is somehow Darcey's fault for not being called Dave in the first place. (Bruno's contribution: "I know she looks particularly butch today!" Well, I guess someone on that panel has to.) Anyway, Davearcey giggles politely at the confusion and commends Fiona on her storytelling and the cleanness of her placement (that sounds weirdly dirty to me), but agrees that Fiona's out of sync with Anton a lot. Bruce then calls Len "George" just for shits and giggles (♥) and Len says that he doesn't agree with the others, because he thought it was a PROPER CHARLESTON and Fiona had that swivel action that so few people manage. So if charleston is now officially a dance where Len gets huffy about technique, does that make it a ballroom dance?
There's support on offer in the Tess Circle, where Tess declares the routine "adorable". Fiona cops to being disappointed in the comments, sniffing that "I thought we did everything as we were told". By whom, I wonder? Does this mean ANTON DIDN'T CHOREOGRAPH THAT CHARLESTON? *shock horror* Tess reveals that Fiona twisted her ankle in training, and Fiona is not here for injury porn, thank you very much, so she immediately dismisses that as "not a big deal". Anton glibs that it was "only a small dislocation". Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 8, Bruno 7 for a total of 28. I'm a bit torn here: I feel like that is an acceptable score for that particular routine, but on this night of nights where the scoring is generally bumped up a bit because everyone's high on cheap sweets, I feel like it should have got more. Does that make sense? [It was (just) a 7 for me, so I think it was marked just right - although I get your point about most of the other dances this episode being marked... oddly - Rad]
Next: "get ready ladies, get ready ladies! It's Big Ben time!" Bruce's intros for Ben Cohen get more and more stripperiffic by the week, don't they? Bruce explains that Ben and Kristina are meant to be the Ice King and Queen for their paso doble this week, so this feels like as good a time as any to discuss Ben's make-up, because in an attempt to make it look like he's frosted over a little bit, they appear to have just dabbed dried semen on his cheek and tits. I mean, I realise that is the fantasy of about 90% of this show's gay male audience, but still - I don't think "frost" is generally that texture.
In his VT, Ben recalls his slowstep from last week and how the judges went nuts for it and how all that dancing hurt his calves, even though he was really not going very fast at all. Ben hopes that he can take things a step further with the paso this week. He says that his fear is not looking "fierce" enough in his paso doble. Well, I'd start by having a word with make-up and asking them to avoid making you look like Spunky The Jizz Lord. Kristina makes some faces at him to demonstrate how one does a paso, so Ben decides to practice his paso face by taking his adorable kids trick-or-treating. Ben's kids remain adorable, as does Ben's paso face, and the climax of the Comedy VT is that they knock on Kristina's door, and OH NO KRISTINA IS SO TERRIFYING EVEN THOUGH SHE ISN'T WEARING A COSTUME. Really? That's your punchline? I mean, I could get that as a punchline with Bruce, or Anton, or at a pinch even Artem or Brendan, but Kristina? I mean, at least have her like she's just got out of bed or something. You cannot have Kristina looking like Kristina on an average day and try to sell that to me as a legitimate scare, unless you want to put in the groundwork and pretend she's a terrifying taskmistress in the training room who Ben's afraid of or something. See, this is why I hate Hallowe'en week: it's not so much the Comedy VTs themselves as it is the fact that they frequently DON'T MAKE ANY SENSE.
So yes, Ben's got his tits out, so I think we all know how this is going to go down. Disappointingly, however, he's got no presence in this paso whatsoever. Kristina 'Rancid' Rihanoff is working so hard, she's packed so much into the routine, and Ben just looks like he's walking the steps through while he's being filmed for Waite's Wednesday Warm-Up. It's such a waste of that torso, and for that matter a waste of 'Supermassive Black Hole', to just have it all danced so mimsily. In fact, I'm reluctant to call this dancing at all - he's barely doing anything. I know that a lot of male pasos are just posing and preening, but even taking that into account, this is awfully nothingy. [He was pretty good at cape swishing though. And bless Kristina, she's dancing her socks off in the hope we won't notice Ben being inanimate behind her - Rad]
However: TITS, so of course it gets a rapturous reception from the audience. Craig admits he was "slightly distracted" throughout and wasn't looking too much at the footwork, but it was "full of power and machismo", but it was blocky and lacking in shape. However, he thinks Kristina choreographed it brilliantly. Darcey thinks there was so much more attack and dance content in it, and she wasn't too distracted by Ben's chest (well, LAH DEE DAH), but cautions him that he needs to use his waist properly if he's going to show it off like that. Finally, she thanks him for giving her a "great lasting image". I am not entirely sure how comfortable I am with being this familiar with the contents of Darcey Bussell's wank bank. (Although I guess someone's deposited their wank bank all over Ben already this evening, so...) Len cracks that he and Ben have got so much in common. He says that he was hoping for fireworks, but unfortunately there weren't any, and the audience "ahhhhs" too quickly because the end of that sentence is "IT WAS AN EXPLOSION!" I think it was more of the sort of explosion that Wile E. Coyote gets from his Acme dynamite before he goes up to have a closer look at it, but whatever. Len thinks it could have had more finesse, but it was fabulous for "sheer guts and getoutthereson". Bruno slathers over Ben's muscle power, but agrees with Darcey that he needs to shape it and use his waist more. Ben, being Ben, shouts "let me feel it" and runs up behind Bruno as he's bending over the desk. I swear, this all actually happened. WON'T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN? Bruno then collapses off his chair again, and asks if he can change his score. Presumably he wants to change it from a 10 to a 15.
Kristina, Ben, and Ben's Tits head up to the Tess Circle, where Tess says that he got a standing ovation, though she's not sure whether it was for the chest, the dancing, or both. When she says "dancing", she points at his crotch. Draw your own conclusions. Tess asks Ben if he's starting to feel like a dancer, and he says that he's slowly getting there. Meanwhile, there's clearly all sorts of business going on in the main ballroom, because the audience keeps laughing at things that are nothing to do with what's going on in the Tess Circle. Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 8, Len 9, Bruno 8 for a total of 32. Craig's score gets some booing, which I think says a lot about how ridiculous this whole night is, considering that's more or less what it deserved. Anyway, Len's gone into full SPORTSMAN!-mania mode now, judging from that score. I'm finding this all very confusing. I like Ben, I like Ben's Tits, but he's just not that great a dancer. He should not be getting scores in the 30s. He should not be the current holder of two "highest score in a given genre" titles for this series (salsa and paso doble). I could understand them shoring him up with scores if he was unpopular with the public, but come on: a man who looks like Ben Cohen is never going to be unpopular with the public on this show. I'm really starting to think he might actually win. [Yeah, I'm thinking they need to do some solid deramping if they don't want that outcome to be a possibility. Maybe they've just figured Kristina is going to go full-on Camilla/Flavia anyway so they may as well let her have a clear run at the trophy - Rad]
Sophie and Brendan are next. For some reason, Sophie has been dressed as Pepe The King Prawn. She's meant to be a vampire, but I don't know what she's got all those flaps around her waist for. (Ooh, matron.) Sophie admits that her cha cha cha didn't get a great reception from Len last week, but the judges were pretty kind overall with their scoring. This week she's doing the jive and she needs to be a predatory vampire, so to help get into character, she has a party with
They're dancing the "nerve-jangling jive" (what?) to 'Maneater' by Hall & Oates. Now, I always had a feeling that the jive was going to be a struggle for Sophie, given how she hasn't exactly been strong in Latin so far, especially given the fact that the jive is notoriously Hard For Tall People. But she needed to come back strong after last week's dismal cha cha cha, and that isn't happening here. Brendan, for some reason best known to himself, has choreographed a routine in which she spends a worrying amount of time hunched over, and an awful lot of time...not actually doing the jive. What little jive content there actually is, is danced fairly indifferently - there's very little bounce going on in Sophie's feet. There's a bit where she cartwheels over Brendan's head in a "hey? Remember how much you loved our charleston?" moment, but really all that does is remind me of how worryingly far she's sunk since then. I'm in two minds here: in one sense it's good that Sophie got to dispense with a dance that was never going to suit her a) in a theme week where you can get away with not doing very much and b) sufficiently early in the competition where there are hopefully weaker people still around to cushion her from the Dread Dance-Off and where she's still got a lot of residual goodwill from the aforementioned charleston. But on the other hand, I'm starting to worry: Sophie seemed like a real contender a couple of weeks ago, given that she had a likeable personality and a fair amount of dance skill, but if she carries on like this, I'm worried her support is going to wane considerably. Sophie is probably my favourite of all of this year's contestants, so it pains me to sound like her prep school housemistress but BUCK YOUR IDEAS UP, ELLIS-BEXTOR, BECAUSE THIS JUST ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH. Anyway, they finish by running around a bit in a non-jiving fashion and the actual dance content gets worse and worse, and then Sophie bites Brendan behind a fence. Seriously, there's a good five seconds or so of this routine in which we can see neither Sophie nor Brendan. Ye gods. [And it only gets worse with the dry-ice-athon that is Artem and Natalie's dance. But yeah, this was... not good - Rad]
Darcey starts by saying that the jive is high-energy and full of sharp kicks, but Sophie's knees were bent throughout, which is a shame. She didn't see any strong, sharp kicks, but Sophie still has "fabulous entertainment value" and style and energy. Len tells her that she is a "very, very competent dancer", but she needs to come out and perform with more confidence and more impact. He says this dance was "better than last week", but he knows there's more to Sophie than this. Bruno says she was "a bit leggy and heavy", but certain dances require much more precision and her kicks were laboured tonight and her timing wasn't as good as usual. Brendan openly admits that Sophie went on the wrong feet a few times but does the whole "eh, live show, whaddayagonnado?" shrug-off. Craig doesn't get to comment, which might be just as well.
They head up to the Tess Circle with more bounce and energy than we saw at any point during that jive. Sophie admits that her nerves got the better of her tonight, and says that sometimes when the music kicks in she just feels it, but that didn't happen tonight. She adds, however, that she doesn't want to make excuses because everyone's trying their best. I love her, she's such a square. Tess asks Sophie if she can get back up to the standard of her charleston and Sophie says that she hopes she can get the opportunity - I think clearly sensing that she might be in trouble on the leaderboard. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 8, Bruno 7 for a total of 28. Joint bottom with Fiona so far, and with Patrick and Ben already ahead of her. That's got to put the wind up Sophie a bit, I should think. Brendan takes the opportunity to thank the lighting, sound, costume and make-up teams for MAKING HALLOWE'EN HAPPEN, because I think he realises that part of Sophie's appeal is her lovely manners and maybe that's what she needs to save her now.
Next, we have Natalie and Artem. Which means it's time for Artem to do a Comedy VT - hooray! To whit: Natalie is afraid of fucking up, and claims that Artem is haunting her thoughts, so Artem in a blonde wig is the woman serving Natalie in the coffee shop, Artem's head is revolving inside Natalie's microwave, Artem is inside Natalie's television, Artem is lurking in Natalie's bathroom. I love how queeny Artem is when they make him act. Case in point: this. (Also, Artem blatantly freezes before the music stops. Bloody cheat.)
They're dancing the Viennese waltz to 'Devil In Me' by Natalie Duncan, which is another song I'm not familiar with. It's a beautiful routine, danced exquisitely: Natalie's movements are spot-on as ever, and she and Artem are in perfect synch, and I think everybody watching knows that this is the point where they're going to feel comfortable in finally giving her some 10s. [I felt like they'd decided this week was her time to get 10s whatever she did. I wish there had been less dry ice so I could see if it was worthy of the score although what I could see was lovely - Rad]
Oh, and they were dancing in a big misty swamp or summat, which I only mention to make sense of the fact that Bruce gives her a piece of bread "for the ducks" at the end. Well, "make sense of". As much as one can. Natalie, to her credit, asks if it's stale and then starts tearing it up and chucking it around. Bless her. Len says it was lovely and he thinks she's a wonderful dancer, but the challenge in the Viennese waltz is to stay in hold, and to him it felt more like an American smooth style of Viennese waltz. Yep, tonight's definitely "Len has a huff about proper dancing, except when it's a SPORTSMAN" night. Such a shame Aliona isn't around any more to play her usual role in this. Len tells Artem to challenge Natalie and get her to do the right dance to the right music. Bruno thinks there isn't a person in the country not screaming "this was magic!" Craig tells Natalie that she makes him sick with her fab-u-losity. Natalie eats some of the bread. Darcey tells Natalie that she expects so much from her, but she never disappoints, and everything about the dance was lyrical and flowed.
Natalie and Artem both studiously ignore the monster on the way up to the Tess Circle (SNOOTY RINGER MCSNOOT!) and Natalie throws what's left of the bread into the cauldron. Hee! Tess asks Artem how his nose is, and Artem woobies that he's fine now. On the subject of pushing Natalie harder, Artem says "we'll see", and Natalie giggles that that is really scary. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 9, Bruno 10 for a total of 38. Natalie's 10-face is magical.
Following that? Mark and Iveta. Mark is in a glittery spacesuit with his hair spiked up like that kid from My Parents Are Aliens and Iveta's hair is basically this. Mark was pleased with how his waltz went last week, because he got to dance rather than doing silly tricks. In particular, he was pleased to get good comments from Craig, but he hopes Craig won't be getting nasty now it's Hallowe'en. This week they're doing a space paso, which isn't Hallowe'eny at all, but it is very Iveta, which is the next best thing. Mark's VT is weirdly non-comic: it's all about him going to the main studio to prepare for lift-off in a harness, and then going to Wicked to get advice from the current serving Elphaba on how to fly. It's all very nice, but where are the Hallowe'en lulz?
Oh, here they are: they are doing a paso to Sarah Brightman's 'I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper'. This is probably the finest harness work that I've seen since...well, since the show started doing harness work, in that it's all over very quickly and there's minimal faffing in getting Mark out of it. As for the paso itself, it's very camp in the way that any routine danced to this song can't fail to be. And there's a disco breakdown in the middle. That said, it's still a far more credible paso than whatever it was Ben was (not) doing. And it was fun in a way that very few routines have been so far. I enjoyed it, anyway, and I'm glad Mark's still around, because for me he bridges the gap between "having a bit of a laugh" and "actually trying to dance" perfectly. [Me too although this dance was more disco than paso, and I love me a good paso, so that was a shame. But still, alien paso is a concept I'll never forget, God bless Iveta - Rad]
Bruno calls him "Astro Dave doing the disco doble". WHY IS EVERYBODY CALLED DAVE TONIGHT? He says it was "more space cadet than matador", and while it was fun, it wasn't the right concept for a paso. Craig thought the paso element was stompy and shapeless, but Mark's isolation was good and his rhythm was typically impressive. He wasn't really sure what the disco thing was about, but he quite liked it anyway. Darcey liked the entertainment and conviction, but advises Mark to curve his arms a bit more to improve the shaping. Since Mark is not a SPORTSMAN, Len is grimly disapproving: "it was long on performance, but short on technique". NOT UNLIKE A CERTAIN OTHER PASO I COULD MENTION THAT YOU GAVE NINE OUT OF TEN TO, LEN GOODMAN. Bruce asks if that's it. Len replies "yes, we've been told to be quick." Heh. [Quick, Mark! Uncover a secret rugby past and you too could get 9s! - Rad]
They blast off up to the Tess Circle where Mark says that he loved being airborne. Tess picks up on Craig saying that there's a dancer inside Mark, and asks if Mark agrees - he says he hopes so, but he's still trying to find him. Iveta says that working with Mark is fun every day. Tess gets Mark to do his Iveta impression, which is funny mostly for the part where he goes "what is this? What is this step?" in a suitably Iveta-esque accent and I can imagine that this is something he hears on a more or less hourly basis. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 6, Len 7, Bruno 6 for a total of 25. Again: on a regular night I can see the sense of that score, but on Hallowe'en night when Ben Cohen got 32 just for turning up and taking his top off, it's an absolute nonsense.
Tess does a big, theatrical "something wicked this way comes!", which is the cue for the VT of the routines yet to come. I still don't really see the point of this bit, so this is all the attention it's getting. Sorry 'bout it.
Rachel and Pasha are next. Rachel's paso from last week was pretty lamentable; Rachel expresses some disappointment over the fact that she thought the character was the one part of the dance she'd got right last week until she got her feedback from the judges. Rachel says that she's really got to fight to stay alive in the competition. Then we segue into the Comedy VT where Rachel and Pasha decide to concoct a Strictly potion that will make this dance magical. (The acting is every bit as dazzling as you'd expect from these two.) Rachel is dressed as a witch, and Pasha is her cat. Well, I assume at least one group of niche fetishists was very happy about that. They mix in some of the good comments they've had from the past in the hope of creating the perfect Hallowe'en American smooth, but URGH, IT TASTES DISGUSTING! Well, of course it does. You're drinking three-week-old Len Goodman, what did you expect?
They're cast as portraits in a haunted house that come to live at night to dance, and they're doing a Viennese waltz-based American smooth to 'I Put A Spell On You'. Rachel's still a bit ragdollish, but she's far closer to her comfort zone in this routine and actually manages to deliver a fairly strong routine with great flow and some impressive lifts (more than are strictly allowed, I think, but frankly who even knows any more?) There's a slight wardrobe mishap near the end when Rachel's trailing dress nearly strangles Pasha, but luckily they both manage to carry on and nobody dies.
Craig welcomes Rachel back into the competition. Hooray! Darcey says that the difference from last week is brilliant, she kept her form all the way through, and that the top line was very impressive, but she needs to remember to point her feet in the lifts. Rachel gives Pasha a big, appreciative hug. Len tells Rachel it's her best dance to date. Bruno declares "the zombie bride has found her mojo!" A giddy Rachel and Pasha zoom up to the Tess Circle, where Rachel says that she loves the ballroom, despite all the blisters it's giving her. Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 7, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 30. Rachel reacts to the eights in the way most people would react to a ten, bless her. She's absolutely thrilled.
Next we have Ashley and Ola. Ola is wearing some spooky lenses and has red make-up all around her eyes like an extremely infectious case of conjunctivitis. Ashley says he was excited about his jive last week and it was great to get "positive praise" off the judges. This week, they've got the tango, but Ola's worried about his childlike hyperactivity in rehearsals, so she's come dressed in spooky outfits! Although they're not so much "spooky" as they are "rubbish", and all she does is spray him with silly string. Some of these VTs feel rather half-finished, don't they?
Bonus points to whoever wrote the script and decided on the name "Ola 'Jabberwocky' Jordan", by the way. Their zombie tango is to 'Beautiful Monster' by Ne-Yo (/Neil, if you watch The X Factor), and it's arguably the first time Ashley's seemed in complete control of his body during a dance. He's still a little too hunched over, but on the whole his frame is much better and his hands actually have purpose instead of just flailing around at the end of his arms. Helpfully, Ola's choreographed a speedy and dynamic tango for him to do, and they execute it beautifully, particularly all the staccato head and arm movements. I'm inclined to say that's the dance of the night so far.
Darcey admits to being "very attracted to the evil Ashley", but advises him to watch himself in the turns and pivots. She loved the clipped moves and staccato beats all the way through, though. Len says "if you want to shine, you have to polish" and says that it's the detail that's missing: Ashley got the character down, but he needs to get his top a bit better and have crisper feet. He knows Ashley's busy, but he just wants him to take the time to finesse it a little bit more. Bruno agrees that he just needs to hone his technique a bit more and avoid those little faults, but he's very impressed. Craig loved it, but wants Ashley to sort his head out. He hasn't slept for six months, Craig, I think his head's about as sorted as it's ever likely to get.
In the Tess Circle, Tess outs Ashley as the contestant who was keenest to get all dressed up for Hallowe'en. Ashley says that it's been a big laugh backstage until you realise you actually have to dance. Tess points out that they've been stuck on 31 for the last three weeks, can this be the week they finally move upwards? Scores are in: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 33. I really don't want to sound like a broken record, but really Len? You really think Ben's paso was better than that? Seriously? Tess asks the audience if that tango put the willies up the audience; Robin giggles in the background and Ashley pops an eyebrow right into the camera. Heh.
Antepenultimately, we have Abbey and Alja. Bruce explains that Abbey will be playing Miss Havisham from Great Expectations this week, and in her VT Abbey says that she's much more comfortable doing the ballroom dances. But this week she's got the rumba, womp womp womp. (Although it's about as ballroomy as the Latin dances get, so...) Alja says he's going to confront Abbey about HER NEEEHHHHHVES (Christopher Maloney neva 4get) to help exorcise them, so he takes her to a haunted house and makes her wander around in the dark. Abbey squeals and grips Alja as tightly as possible. To be fair, I think most of us would happily do that, haunted house or no haunted house. Still, at least this whole segment has some sort of narrative that it follows through to the end, which is more than can be said for "Nicky Byrne Lives In A Pile Of Bricks" last year.
Abbey begins her rumba (to 'Stay' by Shakespears Sister, which the band struggle with in the way they've struggled with quite a few of the songs tonight) with two massive swathes of fabric running from the back of her dress right up to the balcony, like she's an aircraft emergency slide. Meanwhile, Alja has some sort of sequin tattoo on his face. There's a little bit of disruption when Alja can't quite get Abbey unhooked from the giant slides quickly enough, but aside from that this is a beautifully delicate and lithe rumba. I've not exactly been Abbey's biggest cheerleader before now, and I've never really bought her chemistry with Alja, but for some reason it's really working for me tonight. [I thought she looked awesome too with that hair and make-up, despite the daft wardrobe malfunction - and this was one of my favourite performances of hers - Rad]
Bruce tells Abbey that he admires the eye-mask that's glued to her face, and Abbey laughs that she can't move. Get used to that sensation, Abbey; I expect in five years or so you'll be paying someone to stop you being able to move that part of your face. Len tells Abbey that she's amazing FOR A NON-RINGER (specifically who this is a dig at, I'm not entirely sure; also she was in the girlband Genie Queen, so I imagine the idea of her having had zero dance-training prior to this show is a bit of a fib). Bruno tells Abbey she's here to stay. Craig has one word, but it's not "FAB-U-LOUS", it's "impressive", which feels like a bit of an anticlimax somehow. Darcey warns her to watch the smoothness of her transitions, but she loves the chemistry between them.
Up to the Tess Circle they go, where Abbey says she's really happy with those comments. I am really happy with Aljaž's abs being so prominently displayed. (She also says that Alja is "like me little brother" now, so I'm afraid showmance fans may have to look elsewhere to get their giddy thrills). Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 8, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 34.
Dave and Karen are next. If Dave can't get the pimp slot at Hallowe'en, I find myself doubting his comedy contestant credentials. VT: blah blah blah, trying so hard, people are voting for us, must be doing something right, etc. Dave's worried that he can't quite be scary enough for Hallowe'en. Maybe Karen yelling at Ola was meant to be a demonstration of what she wants from Dave? Anyway, back in Comedy VT land, Karen says that she needs to get the monster out of him. This is entirely the opposite of the problem she had with Nicky Byrne last year, where she was forced to expend most of her energy keeping the monster contained. Anyway, they go to the London Dungeons, and it is scary. I'm not sure how this is supposed to teach Dave how to be scary rather than to be scared, but details details.
They're dancing "the jinxed jive", which is sadly appropriate (also Karen is Karen 'Howling' Hauer, which is unfortunate given the reports that followed this broadcast a few hours later). They're dancing to 'Monster Mash' and the theme is a ghost train where Dave is one of the spooks lurking within, but despite all that...it's just really dull. At least now I understand why he didn't get the pimp slot. I mean, the only frightening thing about the whole routine is the way Dave kicks as though he's trying to ward off rabid hellhounds. [Why was Dave dressed as Beetlejuice if he didn't dance to Jump in the Line? This vexed me very much - Rad]
Bruno is a bit lost for words, because he doesn't think there was any jive to judge - it was a "soft shoe shuffle mashed potatoes", so it was kind of funny, but the jive was non-existent. Craig says it was like the weather today - cloudy, grey and dismal. Darcey says she knows that Dave is trying, but it's too sweet for her and he was far too flat-footed. She wants him to get on the balls of his feet. "Balls," says Dave, because suddenly this is The X Factor. Len describes it as "like a cumberland sausage chasing the mustard". What? But he applauds Dave for being a trier.
Up in the Tess Circle, she calls him "Demon Jayvid". I can't believe the one time we actually have a Dave around, people still manage to call him by the wrong name. He says that he quite enjoyed the jive. Tess asks Karen if Dave has been undermarked by the judges, before the judges have marked him at all. Oy. Speaking of which: Craig 4, Darcey 5, Len 6, Bruno 4 for a total of 19. "It's been worse, I can live with that," declares Dave.
Closing the show tonight (for the second time in three weeks, no less) are Susanna and Kevin. Kevin is meant to be a werewolf, but kind of looks more like a hirsute leprechaun. Susanna is pleased that her American smooth last week managed not to be "an American little-bit-rough". This week they've got the charleston, and Susanna's hoping it'll be fun. The central joke of their Comedy VT is Kevin slowly transitioning into a werewolf. Ha! Joke's on you, editors! The next full moon isn't for another fortnight! Gee, I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder.
The music for their dance is 'Bad Moon Rising' by Creedence Clearwater Revival (best charleston music ever? I'm going to say yes). Like so many of Susanna's dances, this lacks precision, but she makes up with presentation, really going for it with all of the gurning as the flapper who realises her date is a werewolf. There's not quite as much swivel as I would've liked, but there's Susanna's usual inexhaustible energy, and I think these two as a pair - with the possible exception of Mark and Iveta - have come closest to mastering how to have fun on the dancefloor while still allowing the viewers to feel like they're part of that fun as well. [I agree. I liked this a lot because of Susanna's energy and gurn faces - it didn't flow as smoothly as it could but it was at least a lot of fun and Kevin seems to really have a lot of energy for this dance too - Rad]
Bruce tells Kevin he doesn't look anything like a werewolf. Kevin replies that he's come as Jethro. As a Cornishman (by birth, if not by accent any more), I appreciate Kevin pandering to my demographic [Well, given he appeals to my birthplace demographic each week I am happy to share him, but he's still ours - Rad][. Craig says that he loves Susanna taking full advantage of the freedom of expression within dance. If your reaction to that was "bzuh", let me translate: HE LIKES THE GURNING. Darcey agrees that it was sweet, fun and cheeky, and she liked the positions Susanna hit in the lifts, but she would like more crispness in the moves. Len liked the content, the technique, the tricks and the treats. Bruno says that Susanna was totally charming, and he loves her sense of joy and her energy level, particularly her side kicks.
And here's why I love Susanna and Kevin: upon seeing the monster at the foot of the stairs, Susanna full on Olive Oyls her way up to the Tess Circle while Kevin goes all feral and starts scratching and dodging his way away from it. Hee. Tess asks Susanna if the charleston was tricky, and Susanna says she loved it, especially Kevin being "the Grimsby werewolf at Elstree". Tess reveals that Susanna put her back out in training this week, and asks if Kevin's pushing her too far. Susanna, like Fiona before her, is briskly dismissive of this sort of thing and says she thinks it was her own fault, if anything: "I was pushing or pulling too hard on something." Fnar. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 8, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 34.
Leaderboard then, is it?
Natalie & Artem - 38
Patrick & Anya - 34
Abbey & Alja - 34
Susanna & Kevin - 34
Ashley & Ola - 33
Ben & Kristina - 32
Rachel & Pasha - 30
Fiona & Anton - 28
Sophie & Brendan - 28
Mark & Iveta - 25
Dave & Karen - 18
That's a pretty disastrous result for Sophie and Brendan in particular, however you look at it. The lines are open, and then we have our speedy recap: Patrick and Anya existing but still being pretty forgettable, Fiona's skippy but still charming charleston, BENZ TITZ, whatever the hell it was Sophie and Brendan were doing, Natalie and Artem's Viennese waltz of misty wonder, another amazing piece of Ivetaography in Mark's paso, Rachel finally regaining her mojo and her dignity, Ashley's sharp and snappy tango, Abbey finally making me feel like I get what the judges ares seeing, Dave running on fumes and Susanna making a bid for more classic rock on the show.
And there we have it. Based on that leaderboard and gut feeling, I'd say that any of Mark, Fiona and Rachel could be in trouble in the Dread Dance-Off, and that while I think Sophie's fanbase is strong enough to save her, she needs to not ever let this happen again. Who will be vanquished this week? We'll find out tomorrow...