Iiiiiit's Chriiiiiiistmas! Time to neck some gin, nibble a pickled walnut and chuck tens out like confetti! Welcome to the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special!
We open with titles - I think the same ones as last year (i.e. sans snowmen) - but THEN, we get an extended cut of the titles - the TV equivalent of a 12" remix, I suppose, in which we get a full sequence featuring this year's celebrity guests with name captions and everything. It begins with the pros getting leathered in that country cottage from the Wham! 'Last Christmas' video - Robin, Janette, Pasha, Aliona, Flavia and Ian. They get an invite to Lapland to meet their new partners, and Aliona hams up the glee at wrangling another international trip out of them. What I would give to see the list of demands she made when they came begging to her to come back. Anton and Karen then usher them into a garden centre yard filled with trees covered in snow spray... I mean a winter wonderland. If there's any doubt who the dance ho is, by the way, we're a few seconds in and Flavia has already danced with Ian and Robin. (For those keeping count of random pro pairings, add Pasha/Janette and Anton/Karen to that list) You can basically tell this was filmed after Fiona and Dave went out - all the pros who were out before them have been partnered up (except James who was injured/doing Children in Need/throwing a hissy fit) and those two keep popping up to do random bits here and there throughout the evening.
Our celebrities then get to join in the dancing fun in 'Lapland': Rochelle Humes with Ian; Matt Goss with Aliona; Sara Cox with Robin, then Ricky Norwood (with Janette) and Rufus Hound (with Flavia) have to share a screen just like B-part characters in sitcoms. Finally Elaine Paige and two husky dogs get the star billing before Pasha pops into shot. The pros then have another randomly matched dance (Flavia/Anton; Ian/Aliona; Pasha/Janette; Karen/Robin) before the celebrities join in and dance with them and a load of snow falls on them. That was a lot of fun and a lot more effort than credit
sequences usually get. [Points deducted, however, for soundtracking the whole thing to the Glee version of 'Let It Snow', from the godawful 2011 Christmas special which would easily count among the five worst episodes the show has ever done - and that's really no mean feat where Glee is concerned. - Steve]
The studio is lit with frosty lights and trees and stuff because awww, Christmas. We welcome Bruce and Tess and I was actually quite surprised Bruce bothered to turn up to do this extra show given his 'commitment' to the regular gig this year. He grabs Tess's thigh and sleazes 'you're never gonna get away.' Leave it out, Robin Thicke. Daly Dresswatch: A silver mirrory sequinned thing with a short bit underneath a long layer of sequins. Nice colour, nasty style. Tess hopes we're having a wonderful Christmas Day and Bruce says they were filming in Lapland UK lest we think BBC LIEZ or BBC SPENDS OUR MONEY ON FORRIN THINGS. Bruce makes a joke about his big chin and then Tess says they've got a young man with a 'voice of an angel' coming on, at which Bruce says 'thank you Tess' and Tess gives awesome fake deadpan face. As per the rules, if a Bruce joke makes us laugh, it goes in, and I did find that one fun. We also get a cutaway to our 2013 contestants. Incidentally, I was watching this episode in Grimsby with my parents and grandmother, who revealed they voted for Susanna and Kevin in the weeks they were low on the judges' leaderboard so that they'd get into the final, but once the final was on, they were stanning for Natalie all the way. Not sure why Abbey then won (going on this very representative sample, obviously), but if Kevin couldn't even get the support of I hope the whole of Grimsby votes for you in the final, then they were never going to win.
We welcome our stars 'West End legend' Elaine Paige and Pasha; 'EastEnders star' Ricky Norwood and Janette; 'DJ' Sara Cox and Robin; 'Comedian and actor' (and actor) Rufus Hound. 'from The Saturdays' Rochelle Humes and finally ALIONA VILANI IN A HUGE WHITE FUR GIVING IT THE BIG 'LOOK AT ME BITCHEZ' LOOK. Oh, and 'musician' Matt Goss. This lot are giving the theme song boogie a lot more welly than the sad sacks they cast on the main show (except Rochelle) - Elaine Paige in particular is hamming it up, because of course she is.
Bruce welcomes them all and we get a cutaway to a very white-haired Anita Dobson in the audience. Tess reminds us that the scoring goes on a combination of the judges' scores and the studio audience's vote. Bruce then makes a joke about being old, the audience laugh, and he tells them off for laughing. Oh, Bruce.
Ricky Norwood is our first Christmas sleb. He's happy to be with Janette because she's about as loud/loveable/annoying as he is. He says he's had dance experience before (my favourite bit of that is the two former Strictly contestants being the worst dancers in it and Strictly Christmas Ringah winner Charlie Brooks putting in a better Argentine Tango than anyone managed in this year's Strictly proper - with Gary Lucy of all people. Also: how have I never seen this before? Amazing.) but he's NOT A RINGAH. Janette says posture is hard for people with a 'street' background so she makes him dance with a pole in his back. It's My Fair Chelsee all over again, people.
Their quickstep is to 'Merry Christmas Everyone' and opens with him flying on a snowboard and knocking the head off Janette's snowman. It's quite pacy and though his leg work is a bit pedestrian in places it's still got (marginally) less gapping than Abbey and Aljaž. There's a lift that involves Janette's skirt covering Ricky's face which looks entirely wrong but doesn't throw him and a bit where they do the funky chicken and it's all quite enjoyable in a Christmas kind of way.
Over with the judges and Len says there are no rules at Christmas, the pairs can do what they want and everyone will get a 10 anyway because no-one cares. Hooray! He says they started well and lost some energy as they went through but they looked gorgeous anyway. Bruno says it was like a gltzy hamper full of surprises and it had a lot of content. Craig says he was using his shoulder to lead, there was some gapping and some posture problems but it was lively and bright and he was a good dancer. Darcey says it was sugary, crisp and light with some nice bonus dance styles in there. Up in the Tess Circle Ricky says there's a lot more bling and prettiness than Albert Square. Scores: 8, 8, 8, 9 for a total of 33.
Next are DIRTY WEST END RINGAH Elaine Paige and Pasha. Elaine's VT sees her bedecked in pink and makeup, not looking a million miles away from Dame Sally Markham. She writes a letter asking for 'a package...from Russia... with love'. SCREW YOU FIONA FULLERTON, ELAINE CAN DO BOND GAGS TOO. She gets to get her claws into lovely Pasha and squeals every time he has to lift her from her special place. What we wouldn't give to... [snip - Ed]
Their cha cha cha to a strange version of 'Jingle Bells' tells the story of a woman who 'accidentally' drops her presents so Pasha will come to her rescue. Hey, we've all had that dream, sister. A shout out to the projection team for their flooring which is in the style of snow-covered glitterball cobbles. Awesome stuff. Their dance? It's standard early cha cha fare - perhaps a touch above that, in fairness - she can move, but you'd expect that from a DIRTY WEST END RINGAH, and she's giving it appropriate levels of ham. Points off for Pasha's bum being in black trousers and not white. Bruce welcomes the fabulous singers Davearch and calls the orchestra a bunch of winos. Charming.
The judges fawn all over Elaine Paige like the big musical theatre afficionados/big gays and bisexuals/divas/utter hams that they are. Darcey likes how she took charge of Pasha and makes a note to add that to the mental fantasy bank along with all those images of Patrick's rumba she stored there the other week. Up on the Tess Circle it's noticeable just how tiny Elaine Paige is as even Pasha (who I always assume is average-sized) towers over her. Scores: 10, 10, 9, 10 for a total of 39 because she sang 'Memory' and 'I Know Him So Well' and because Craig, Darcey and Bruno don't fancy being the subject of Elaine Paige's weekly Radio 2 bitching hour any time soon.
The third couple of the special are Sara Cox and Robin Windsor, which feels a somewhat appropriate match of personalities - after Deborah made him a lot more likeable to me, if he was paired with a Coxy next year I might actually begin to warm to him (although not as much as if his choreography started to be good). Their VT features Robin in a onesie, and not because Sara is, just because he is, apparently. Robin says she's not used to the man taking the lead and this time, she has to be the fairy (what? It's what he said!).
Their waltz is to 'Silent Night' and opens with Sarah on a sweet lit-up swing before Robin asks her to dance. That's about as much storytelling as you're getting here. It starts off sweetly enough although her knees are bent a bit awkwardly. Then there's some odd faffing with her skirt and some very un-waltz like clumsy turns, which I blame on Robin's choreography and this world of no rules. Then it goes back into waltz and is quite sweet again.
Craig says it was a bit like a Christmas cracker that didn't explode - her frame left a lot to be desired, she didn't spot much in her turns and was a bit pigeonholed. Darcey says it was like she was ON ICE. (PS don't take that as a hint that Bitching on Ice will return. Helen and I don't watch it and I'm not sure whether or not Steve and Carrie still do). Len says it's like when you look out of the window on Christmas morning and it's bright and light. Len's Christmas mornings do not resemble mine. Bruno says the wild child (because that NINETIES LADETTE DAILY MAIL MINOR MORAL PANIC will never die) has been tamed and it was lovely.
Tess says she looked like a princess. Sara says she loved it but it was scary - she found her inner princess although she'd been replaced by a coal miner at home. She and Tess have a MOTHERLY bonding moment and Robin declares Sara the best Christmas present he could have had. Oh come on, Robin, like you weren't hissing at Pasha ever since he got Elaine Paige. Scores: 7, 8, 9, 9 for a total of 33.
The next couple are her from the Saturdays that's married to the worst one from JLS, and LOVELY IAN WAITE. Ian is wearing glasses as if to say 'well if that's all it takes to get Grimsby Kevin some love, maybe it'll work for me'. WAITE/LOWE DOMINANCE 2014 PLEASE. Rochelle's VT is all about how she's a mum and married to him out of JLS. Have they split up yet? Can we get a clarification on that one? Rochelle would like to stay on her feet because even though she's in a girl band, she's NOT A RINGER etc.
Their dance opens with Karen and Anton being put to use as comedy props. They're workshop elves who give Ian the key to winding up his mechanical dance doll Rochelle to do a salsa to 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town'. There are some very ungainly lifts and spins and it seems a bit too fast for her to cope. Her feet are all over the place although her hip action isn't bad and she gives good hair, and in these post-Natalie Gumede days, we cling to small mercies. It's a total trainwreck, albeit an entertaining one.
Darcey says she sparkled with good hip action although there were issues with the footwork and Ian had perhaps given her too-difficult choreography. Len compared it to a party popper - bits flying everywhere and a bit messy. Bruno says she basically looked drunk and Craig says it was all over the shop. Tess lies that she did herself proud and Rochelle makes a joke about thrusting her post-baby vagina in Ian's face. Tasteful Christmas entertainment. Tess welcomes Ian back and the audience give him a huge cheer as they should. Scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 for a Christmas-inflated 31.
Next are Matt Goss from Bros and Aliona Vilani. Matt Goss's face looks somewhat special these days, doesn't it? Bruce wishes he had a twin so he could harvest him for spare parts. We're reminded that Matt Goss was the one in Bros that everyone fancied and has probably had the least-successful post-pop career, what with Luke doing an acting every now and then and Ken being a proper pop manager and looking almost unrecognisable. (Also, what kind of sick post-Smash Hits world do we live in where not one of the first three pages of Google Hits for 'Ken from Bros' is accurate?) [It's a ruddy swizz - Ed]
Matt Goss's selective memory and bad recall of mathematics leads him to believe that Bros was 'twenty' years ago. I'll say this for him - he's gotten a Christmas dancing slot and a random guest singing spot on this show so he must have a good agent. Speaking of his agent, he apparently has a job headlining in Vegas, at one of the stages at Caesar's Palace. I mean, it's presumably not one of the bigger ones, given they're taken up by Shania Twain, Elton John, Celine Dion and Jerry Seinfeld, but still - good job, Matt Goss's agent. Matt Goss being in Vegas is also good news for a certain Ms Vilani who gets to fly out there to do a bit of training and presumably spend the rest of the time drinking champagne, playing the slots and living the dream. She says 'as a teacher, I'm quite different depending on which pupil I have'. She makes Matt her bitch and, as he's clearly a sub, he loves it.
Their American Smooth is to 'Winter Wonderland' and features Aliona sashaying down the stairs in fur, before Anton is her wardrobe bitch and takes her coat. All the fabulousness for Aliona in 2014 please. I am LOVING her post-fired self. She does a gorgeous, glitzy AS in a fabulous frock with some lovely kicks and drops. Oh, and Matt Goss is in it too. He's a bit static and clumpy but OK, as a frame for showing off Aliona goes.
Bruce then declares himself Aliona's agent. He's clearly been giving her lessons in 'how to never get fired even though everyone hates you'. I think it's working better for her than him this series. Presumably this also means he represents Anton?
Len makes a terrible joke that I won't repeat, Craig says Matt needed to lift his shoulders and chin but otherwise the lifts were fantastic and it was classy and elegant. Darcey says he reminded her of Fred Astaire but he needs to watch his chin and lines. Bruce says 'when a singer dances, he really dances to the music' and takes up so airtime that Bruno gets none. Tess declares it 'the smoothest American Smooth' and takes the opportunity to stroke Matt Goss because she was totally a Brosette. Well, she didn't go as far as the ripped jeans but she once contemplated drinking a bottle of Grolsch to get the bottle top and she had a poster of them alongside her Duran Duran one. I'm thinking Tess wasn't so much a Smash Hits girl, more Bunty, Blue Jeans and Just Seventeen. Those male models! So dreamy! A free lip gloss from Constance Carroll that tastes of pineapple! So cool! Also, Tess just loves a photo story, I bet you. Scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 for a total of 35.
The final contestant of the evening is Dirty Ringah Rufus Hound whose ringerness not only extends to winning a TV dancing show, he is even on the West End stage. He is dancing with Flavia and can't pronounce Cacace. God, it's like Antongate all over again. Their dance will involve dogs so they're rehearsing with cuddly puppies and Santa hats.
They're dancing a tango to 'You Must Never Do a Tango With an Eskimo' and the theming is, well, that. It's actually pretty good, although he's bending his back oddly at times, possibly because of their height difference, and there's a bit where Flavia kicks him in the nuts that appears to go wrong and actually hurt, not just as a comedic touch. Other than that, it's quite (deliberately) funny and there are some nice tango moves thrown in, but then he is a DIRTY RINGAH. Also: I miss Flavia.
Bruno says it was funny and perfectly pitched. Craig says it was one of the most abnormal, unusual and curious tangos he's seen but he loved it. Darcey says it was entertaining, with drama and attack. Len says 'what it lacked in technique it made up for in entertainment' which seems a fairly rote phrase trotted out without him actually looking at the dance - which contained more technique than lots of the others tonight. Up on the Tess Circle, Rufus is sporting a cut to the face which he sustained from a comedy prop fishline hooking him in the eye. Yowch. Scores: 9, 10, 9, 10 for a total of 38.
Christmas-scored leaderboard then?
Elaine and Pasha 39
Rufus and Flavia 38
Matt and Aliona 35
Ricky and Janette 33
Sara and Robin 33
Rochelle and Ian 31
Gotta love those Christmas-inflations - good job these specials aren't canon, isn't it?
Whilst the studio audience vote, we get a recap, even though those of us at home aren't voting, so this is slightly pointless. And now! Joining the wonderful roster of tedious music on Strictly this year! A fairly-average sounding choir boy who goes out of tune in places!
Jack Topping is doing a horrible version of 'Tomorrow' that's just not a song that suits British choral sounds - it's surely supposed to be all super-American and fun, not slowed down and dreary. I feel bad about dissing a child's singing, but this is super-tedious and it's no 'Walking in the Air'. Pasha and Karen do some 'wheee! Spins!' in front of it, too. God, 2013 has been a year for truly terrible performances, hasn't it?
And now! Time for some padding! Our 2013 contestants invade a children's hospital and Deborah does some patented Drunken Aunty Debby guffaws as she reads out a cracker joke. Then Janette and Kevin (for those still tracking this series' myriad random pro pairings) do a jive and Aljaž plays a rubbish version of Twister on a play mat with four coloured corners in. We're reminded that children's hospitals are great (they are: I have a cousin who works at one and know several children who've made use of them too).
Results time! The winners are: Rufus and Flavia! She seems slightly surprised to win and join that illustrious club of people who've won both the proper glitterball and the silly star-shaped one that they usually give to pros who'll never win a real one like Kristina and Vincent. (Darren and Lilia are the only previous contestants to do the double, but as they won with former champions before they changed the Christmas format, they don't really count).
The Christmas special stars (plus Anton and Karen) do a little dance to 'Fairytale of New York' (Anton and Flavia get the starring role, with Robin and Karen, Ian and Aliona, Pasha and Janette joining in, and then the celebrities and judges come out). It's still a more enjoyable pro dance than half the most recent series ones. The singing is about as good as you'd expect, by the way. You can tell this is pre-recorded because Bruce ends by wishing us Merry Christmas and not shouting at everyone that they're doing things wrong.
Hope you all had a merry Christmas and that you have a Happy New Year. We'll be back here in the summer for the 2014 series. See you then!