Sunday, 28 September 2014

Bridge over troubled waters

Week 1: Nine Couples Perform - 27 September 2014

Last night: the first six celebrities performed - the good, the bad and the Scott Mills. (Not that I'm implying he's ugly, just that he really is a category in his own right.) Tonight, the remaining nine contestants show us what they've got. Will anybody be able to knock Jake Wood off the top of the leaderboard? And will anybody be able to knock Scott off the bottom of it? Neither seems impossible, which is all part of the fun. To the ballroom!

Titles. In retrospect, Thom's frozen smile that doesn't reach his eyes should have been a warning sign, shouldn't it?

We open with what I hope is a promising sign of things to come from the pro-choreography team: a routine to Bastille's 'Pompeii' (with a bit of 'The Rhythm Of The Night' thrown in) featuring a shitload of fancy graphics that the pros seem to be producing out of the palms of their hands, as well as Anton smashing Aljaž in the chest and turning him into butterflies and an entire army of Karens and Kevins [and multiple Alionas pulling bitchface <3 - Rad]. It's just such a joyful and energetic piece. Honestly, the only way I would've liked it better is if they'd all been dressed as octopuses. But I can see where that would've been problematic from a logistics point of view, so I'll let them off. It all ends with Janette laying her hands on that glitterball trophy, which does seem a distinct possibility after last night's strong opening, but all the same, it's a bit premature, Jan.

Tess and Claudia arrive in a more traditional fashion (from the wings, in other words) and things are very much back to normal for Claudia tonight: she's back in black and eyeliner, so somebody obviously paid the ransom since Friday. Daly Dresswatch: a black vest top and a red wraparound skirt. It's simple, but it works. Tess and Claudia thank the pros for that spectacular opening, and Claudia warns the contestants that this is the standard they're looking for in this series. There's a shot of the audience, and all of The Saturdays are here tonight to support Frankie, which is sweet. (*narrows eyes at Girls Aloud*) The judges arrive in the same comically overblown way that they did last night, and I hope that is just going to be an opening weekend thing because it might be a bit much on a weekly basis. [Darcey was very half-arsed about it all.  I mean, I know she's ballet, not ballroom/Latin, but a plié or something could have sufficed - Rad]

The celebrities and their partners parade in: Jake and Janette, Pixie and Trent, Steve and Ola, Judy and Anton, Mark and Karen, Alison and Aljaž, Gregg and Aliona, Frankie and Kevin, Tim and Natalie, Caroline and Pasha, Simon and Kristina, Jennifer and Tristan, Scott and Joanne, Sunetra and Brendan, and Thom and Iveta.

Claudia and Tess remind us about the scoring, and the no-one-going-home-ness, and then we get straight down to business with our first couple, Mark and Karen. Tess's intro runs as follows: "Before the series started, Mark's friends called him 'Marky No-Mates', 'Marky No-Moves'. Slip of the tongue, Mark!" And to think we all assumed failed autocue readings would be a thing of the past after Bruce retired. In his VT, Mark explains that Essex boys have this image of being too cool to dance (do they?), but it's not true at all. He's thinking that once this is all over, he'll be able to dance rings around Kirk, Bobby, Dan, Mario, Dave, Dave 2, Joey Joe-Joe, Ethelred The Unready and anyone else from TOWIE that I might have forgotten. Mark tells us that several of the other lads wanted Karen (although as we discovered last night, Scott wasn't one of them), but he got her, so he's feeling pretty good right now. Karen says that she sees a lot of potential in Mark, so she'll be working hard. In what I hope is really not an attempt to launch a catchphrase, Mark concludes that "this could go terribly wrong or terribly (W)right, all I need to do is hit my Mark on the night." Oh lawd. [I wonder what Tess and Claudia, who are actually TV presenters, think when they have to describe the likes of Mark Wright and Abbey Clancy as such - Rad]

In training for the cha cha cha, Karen explains that their dance is NYC-themed, so she's trying to get Mark to channel his "inner New Yorker". In turn, Mark attempts to get Karen to channel her inner Essex girl, and I'm reasonably certain we went through all of this two years ago with Nicole Scherzinger on The X Factor, so let's just keep it moving.

They're dancing to Wham!'s 'I'm Your Man', and I'm pleasantly surprised by how it turns out. Mark's got a good sense of rhythm, he keeps up with Karen pretty much throughout, and he looks like he's enjoying himself. There's some work to be done as far as technical precision goes, and he's curiously camp in the way that red-blooded heterosexual Essex boys often are (we actually had a saying at my university: "he's not gay, he's just from Essex"), but on the basis of this first presentation, I'd say he's probably the most natural dancer that Karen's been given to work with since she started on the show. I realise that's extremely lukewarm praise considering her only other partners have been Nicky Byrne and Dave Myers, but hey, at least this guy has some potential. If the public like him enough to keep him in (and from what I'm told, he came across as a fairly nice guy on I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!, so there's hope on that front), I think Karen could get some good routines out of him. They will both, however, need to rein in the worst of their excesses, since Karen lets him do both a handstand and the worm as part of the routine, neither of which is a particularly great idea. (Although Darren Gough did the worm and won, so who knows?) [I thought this routine was really fun, although Wham! plus bright colours will always win me over.  Also, despite not ever being a huge Karen fan before, nor having any interest in the TOWIEs, I think I'm going to love these two, mainly because I can see them attracting a lot of hate on the internet which they won't give two shits about and that is always entertaining - Rad]

Mark gets a standing ovation, though we're going to see many of those over the course of the evening. Tess introduces the singers and the band, getting all the punctuation in the right place this time. Len thinks Mark started out very encouragingly, but then he got "overexcited" and started to go a bit quickly. Michelle Keegan boos him for this. Obviously Len didn't care for "the silly handstand" and "the Free Willy", so he tells Mark that he has fantastic potential, but he just needs to calm down, keep on time and "take out the Free Willy". Can't you get arrested for that? Bruno tells Mark that he has "chutzpah" and he likes the confidence of his performance, but he just needs to control his energy in future. Craig thought the walks were very stilted and Mark's hands were very flat, amongst other things, but he liked the caterpillar and thought the routine was cute and cheeky. Darcey warns Mark to watch his bouncing shoulders, but generally she thinks he's going to go far in the competition.

They make their way up to Casa Claudia (I'm sticking with that name, at least until Rad or I think of a better one), where Mark tells Claudia that he just wanted to get through it. Claudia asks him if he feels emotional, and Mark says that he does, "that's why I want to stop talking". Heh. He tells her that it's been hard work and he got through it, so he's pleased. Claudia squeals that he is JUST THE CUTEST and Karen says that she's very proud of him. After a quick look at the "leaderbird", or indeed the leaderboard, it's time for the scores: Craig 5, Darcey 7, Len 6, Bruno 6 for a total of 24.

On second, we have Alison and Aljaž. Aljaž is wearing lopsided aviators and grinning like a loon and already I can sense that I'm going to love him this year. In her VT, Alison explains that as This Morning's roving reporter, she does everything from celebrity interviews to travelling the world. She tells us in no uncertain terms that she is entirely fearless where Strictly is concerned, and she was born ready to dance. As we might have noticed, Alison was thrilled to be paired with Aljaž on the launch show - and he seemed genuinely excited to get her as well, so I had a quiet confidence about these two. Aljaž says that he is "very fortunate to be the reigning champion of Strictly Come Dancing" (you can say that again, bloody Clancy) and says that he's going to do his best to keep hold of the trophy.

In training for their cha cha cha, we hear for the umpteenth time this weekend that the cha cha cha is a cheeky dance. Aljaž thinks this is a very good way for the two of them to start their competition. Alison, meanwhile, is focusing on other things, telling us that she is "so not getting bored of his beauty", and that she thinks it's very helpful that he's so gorgeous, because it makes her not want to disappoint him. She cackles that he's "the sort of teacher you want to marry". Alison explains that their routine is based on The Bodyguard, so she's Whitney Houston and he's "the security guy looking after me". Hmm, if only there were a way of describing that job in a single word. Alison says that she just hopes Aljaž is proud of her after they perform together on Saturday.

And here they go! Their routine is to 'I'm Every Woman', and it's impossible to put into words how much fun it is. However, I shall try, because that's what I'm here for. First of all, Alison is having the time of her life right here. But I was kind of prepared for that. What I was not prepared for is that so is Aljaž. This routine is basically Aljaž camped up to 11, and I had no idea just how entertaining that would be. It actually makes me even more annoyed with Abbey Clancy in retrospect for being so bland that we never really got to see this side of him. For those of you interested in whether it's any good technically, I imagine that's not really the point of this routine but even so, Alison is impressive: she moves well and hits the beats, even if her footwork is a little bit slow at times. It goes a little bit wrong in the last 20 seconds or so as the energy level that Alison was showing at the beginning starts to subside a little bit, but it's so much fun that it's hard to care about that. There are some obvious parallels to Lisa Riley to be drawn here, and I wonder if Alison might suffer a little bit from the "been-there-seen-that" effect, but one of the things I was always sad about with Lisa was that she just plateaued after an amazing start, so I hope that Aljaž turns out to be a better teacher than Robin and that this is just the beginning for Alison.

"Viva la diva!" exclaims Bruno. He liked Alison's "wholesome, uplifting radiance", but advises her to work on getting on the balls of her feet a bit more. Craig says that's one of the most confident first-time performances he's ever seen (and Alison is thrilled by this) - he agrees with Bruno that it was a bit flat-footed and suspects that's due to Alison wearing slightly lower heels, but he thinks she has an "instinctive gift for music and rhythm". [NATURAL RHYTHM KLAXON - Rad] Darcey agrees that Alison is "infectious" and thinks she's never going to get bored watching her. Len says that Alison is his kind of girl: "big, bold and bouncy". Well, I think we all know Len's been looking at the top shelf in the newsagents. He finishes by saying that Alison is good in the mornings, but fantastic at night.

They run up the stairs, Aljaž positively beaming with pride, and Alison is mobbed by the other contestants. This cast does seem to get along well, at least at first glance. [The ones I follow on Twitter all tweet pics of each other which is sweet and Mrs Mrs Brown got them all some sort of picture thingy made from Max Spielmann or whatever like the cast mam she so clearly is - Rad] (I swear this is the first time I've seen Aliona smile all weekend.) Alison says that she feels like she's in a dream and this is all not real. Aljaž taps her on the shoulder and says "it is!", because he is just absolutely precious. Claudia reveals that all anyone can hear backstage is Alison laughing and Aljaž trying to coax her back into training. I have a feeling that their backstage VTs on It Takes Two are going to be quite something. Alison says that she's loved every minute of it, and Aljaž has been a brilliant trainer. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 6, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 26. Alison tells Claudia she was just hoping to get above fives, so she's very happy.

Next we have Steve and Ola, and Ola is quite clearly dressed for another patented Ola Jordan Rock Tango, so I'm already excited. Tess intros that Steve has faced some of the deadliest creatures on the planet, blah blah blah we all know that the punchline is going to be Craig. In his VT, Steve talks about being wee and going out and catching snakes and spiders. He tells us that he once spent an entire summer in the Arctic (I spent four years living in the Outer Hebrides, so I know how that feels) and didn't change his clothes the entire time, and now suddenly he's got people throwing glitter and hair product at him. Steve adds that when he was told he was dancing with Ola, his "fear factor" went through the roof - presumably because he knew this meant he'd have to make social niceties with James at some point. Ola calls him Steven (<3) and says that she hopes he's ready for her honesty.

Ola works him very hard in training, ordering him around and Steve says that it's an awful lot of information to take in at once. They do a bit of business where he decides to treat it like an expedition and is showing Ola everything he's packed, and she chases after him with "glitter spray". Is it not a bit early for the comedy VTs?

They're dancing the tango to 'Born To Be Wild' (of course): Steve starts it sitting on a motorbike which he then cartwheels over, and Ola is dressed like Vampyra The Strange. It's everything that you'd expect from one of Ola's tangos and more, including a few bits of random paso shaping thrown in for good measure. I think Steve's having the problem that burly men get on this show sometimes where it's harder for him to get the posture right because his muscles are in the way, but his energy is good, his attitude is good, his footwork shows potential and if he can sort out his hands he could do very well.

Tess gets all giddy over Steve's shoulders, as does Craig. He liked the cartwheel, but scolds Steve for not pointing his feet in that cartwheel. He thinks Steve dances a bit with his left elbow which loses his frame a bit, but he thinks it was a strong performance. Darcey says that Steve's focus and strength were kept up all the way through, adding "you did not die". O...kay. She was similarly distracted by Steve's arms, and tells him to make sure he stretches his arms to avoid them looking bent. Len thought it was "not quite a Triumph, but definitely not a moped". He thinks it was clean and precise and well-danced, although he got over-aggressive at one stage. Bruno calls him "somewhere between Popeye and Marlon Brando", actually quite a good summary of Steve. He sees a lot of great potential there for Steve to work on, but he just needs to "release the bulk a little bit more". Hey, Steve can release his bulk for me any time.

Steve and Ola head up to Casa Claudia, and Steve says he's really pleased to get lots of constructive criticism because he knows there's still a lot to be worked on at this stage, and he was even happier that the comments were more good than bad. Bless him, he is such a kids' TV presenter. He also points out that with Ola in that barely-there dress, everyone will be looking at her and not at his feet. Claudia: "They're not looking at your feet, love." Ha! Scores are in: Craig 6, Darcey 6, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 26. Claudia tells us that they've got the cha cha cha next week. Who knows what Ola won't be wearing for that? In the meantime, Claudia and Tess have some suggestions for more animal-themed bands for Steve to dance to: Arctic Monkeys, the Beatles, Def Leppard, Seal, Llama Del Ray and Swan Direction. Don't call us, etc.

Jennifer and Tristan (and Tristan's Chest Hair, hello there) are next. Jennifer tells us that her character in Mrs Brown's Boys, Cathy, is not known for her dance moves. Is she known for anything? I mean, I don't really watch it so I'm probably not best-placed to judge, but I assume the characters were basically known as "man in a dress" and "everyone else". After being paired with Tristan on the launch show, Jennifer noticed that they are both Irish, and therefore hopes that they will indeed have the luck of the Irish. Tristan is also happy with this partnership, as Jennifer has a "super personality" and "seems really determined". Jennifer likens the relationship to "dancing with your little brother", so that's at least two out of a potential 15 showmances well and truly scotched, unless you happen to like incest.

In training, Jennifer gets frustrated easily, but Tristan thinks that's good because it means she cares. Jennifer admits to being "a bit of a perfectionist". Looking for some guidance in these early days, she goes to talk to series 10's Nicky Byrne. I mean, I realise he is also Irish, but surely there must have been someone better she could've asked? Someone who can actually dance? Nicky advises her to take some deep breaths, and to do it for Ireland. Thanks Nicky!

They're doing the jive to 'Happy', which came out just long enough ago for most of us to be completely sick of it by now. They have a bit of a theme of a front room, complete with sofa, table and telly (fun fact: the table was originally meant for Alison until someone showed the producers a clip from Big Brother 3), which sort of gets in the way a little bit. Jennifer's legs don't really have the necessary swiftness, but for a week one jive from a tall 50-year-old woman it's fairly decent overall. [JIVE IS HARD FOR TALL PEOPLE - Rad]

Jennifer tells Tess that she's relieved because she made it from start to finish without falling. Tess asks Darcey if she was happy with it, and Darcey replies that she is "happily exhausted". Is that a thing? Darcey says it's a very difficult first dance, and Tristan gave her lots of dance content. She needs to watch that her shoulders don't lift, but it was good that she was enjoying it. Len says there was a touch of Riverdance included, but "the problem was, as you did the jive, your feet were still in the river". So the kicks and flicks needed to be sharper, but he thought the spirit was there. Bruno says that Tristan was a hard act to keep up with, and Jennifer managed to do all the steps, but next time she just needs a bit more energy and attention to her presentation. Craig says that her arms were all over the place, and she was a little hunched of back. He thinks she flagged towards the end and lacked the stamina that she needed.

They get another great reception on their arrival in Casa Claudia, and Jennifer says that she loved every second of the routine. Scores: Craig 3, Darcey 5, Len 5, Bruno 5 for a total of 18. Next week they have the waltz, which should be a little easier. Tristan hopes they'll get four fives next week. Bless him and his carefully-managed expectations. [I love Tristan so far.  Even if he seems a bit short to be Jennifer's partner as if they just cast on nationality like they would ever do such a thing - Rad]

Thom and Iveta are next, and Thom is still staring down the camera as though he thinks there may be an assassin hiding behind it. He says that as a former rugby type, he's clearly going to be quite competitive. He also mentions that he's been known to take his top off (it'd be more honest if he said he'd been known to occasionally put some clothes on), so he's not particularly uncomfortable in the revealing outfits. Iveta says that she thinks all the girls wanted to dance with Thom. Thom thinks Iveta will be "pushy, but in a good way", and Iveta declares that they'll work so hard that they'll go straight to the final.

Iveta's first comment in training is that "social media has been going mad about Thom and how handsome he is". Nothing excites me more than the prospect of Iveta Lukosiute: Social Media Correspondent across this series. I can't wait until she discovers Tumblr. Iveta tells Thom that her mother told her never to trust a man with brown eyes. Thom asks why. Iveta doesn't know. Okay, I find these two hilarious already, possibly for the wrong reasons. Thom shows Iveta some of his own moves, and she declares them "quite interesting". (It does look like he might turn out to be quite good at the jive when that rolls around, but I reserve the right to entirely delete this comment if I'm wrong.) Thom says that he finds the waltz strange because it requires him to look away from his partner. He's looking forward to getting out there on the night and dancing.

So let's get to it: Iveta is going full-schmaltz and making him dance to 'You Raise Me Up'. [The singers aren't great tonight, but they're up against it with the dreaful re-imaginings of songs that don't suit 3/4 time at all to try and make them waltz music.  It's like a rash this weekend and it sounds bloody awful - Rad] To be honest, it's a bit of a let-down. His face is locked in the same grin-of-terror as it was up in Casa Claudia, and the whole thing is rather stilted and stumbly. There's one moment where he seems to go quite seriously wrong because there's suddenly a massive gap between him and Iveta that she's frantically trying to close up, like he led her somewhere she wasn't supposed to be going. It's decent, pleasant, inoffensive, but - and I never thought I'd say this about anything that involved staring at Thom Evans uninterrupted for 90 seconds - it's nothing to get excited about. If he wants to be in with a chance, he needs to either develop a personality or get much better at dancing very quickly. I don't think hotness alone is enough to see him through this. (Of course, personality is overrated. Let's not forget this competition has been won by Abbey Clancy and Louis Smith. And as much as I loved him, Harry's personality was about 70 per cent knitwear.)

Tess tells Thom "you raised all of us up, that's for sure". That one's too easy, I'm not going anywhere near that. Len thinks that Thom's waltz was a little bit careful - the frame was good, but there was a mistake that left him on the wrong foot for a while. Next week, apparently, Thom's got the salsa, so let's hope he'll get his cleavage out, shake that moneymaker and leave this routine as a distint and unfortunate memory. Bruno says that it was a very kind waltz, that he was treating Iveta like she was made of glass, and he was clearly trying very hard to get everything right. Next time, he wants more impetus, more drive and a bit more sex. Craig thinks Thom let Iveta down by overbalancing her on a promenade turn, and his hand-shaping is not good. He points out that Iveta got away from Thom "almost by a metre, I don't know how you got back together" - but he did love it. Darcey says she was expecting him to lead because he's tall and elegant, but he was being safe, so she wants him to open his shoulders, "stick those pecs out, and be proud". Amen, sister.

A rather subdued Thom and Iveta head up to Casa Claudia, where Iveta says that Thom definitely did not let her down. Claudia is shipping this partnership hard already and says that she was hoping they were going to kiss at the beginning, and she wants them to at least consider it for future. I think if we check Claudia's hard drive next week, we will find reams of Thometa fanfic on there. Thom mumbles something about needing to build up to a kiss, and I dissolve into helpless laughter about the guy who posed for this suddenly being hit by a debilitating attack of shyness. Scores: Craig 5, Darcey 6, Len 6, Bruno 6 for a total of 23. Tess asks if they're happy with that, and Thom mumbles that the judges are right, he did mess up on one particular step, and he'll try to take that all on board for next week. I really, really hope this is just a bad case of first night nerves rendering him so utterly dull, because otherwise his stint on this show is going to be such a bonershrinker.

After a midway preview of the four couples yet to come, we return to Tess and Claudia on the dancefloor, where Claudia has her arm in some greaseproof paper that I think is meant to suggest a sling. Claudia asks Tess if she can guess who's next from this subtle visual clue, and I'm not sure what it says about me that my initial response was "is James Jordan back?" Of course, it actually means that Casualty's Sunetra Sarker is next to dance. Sunetra tells us in her VT that she didn't realise how comfortable she was in a hospital until she first stepped onto the dancefloor. (She does know that she doesn't actually work in a hospital, right?) She was convinced that she wouldn't get Brendan because he's tall and legendary (it says here), but now that she's got him, she's feeling the pressure of having to be his partner. Sunetra frets that she's really unfit, but Brendan assures us that fitness will come if you have the right energy. Sunetra hopes she'll be a good student.

They have the tango first, and Sunetra is struggling with the pivots in training, constantly losing her balance. She asks Brendan what will happen if it turns out she can't do them; Brendan assures her that he will simplify things as he sees fit, but that he won't need to do it because Sunetra is going to learn how to pivot, dammit! The idea of having a routine simplified due to her own shitness does not sit well with Sunetra, so she stiffens her resolve and throws herself right back into it.

They're dancing to Robert Palmer's 'Bad Case Of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)' and for a second I worry that Brendan's gone off the theming deep-end as they start it in surgical gowns and tapping out rhythms on hospital beds, divided by a screen. Fortunately that gimmick doesn't last too long. Sunetra's dancing seems pretty good - her footwork is nicely staccato and she delivers some nice little flourishes that are very impressive for a first outing. I'd say her posture needs a little work, but other than that, this seems promising. (Worrying: the band appear to be singing "doctor, doctor, give me the noose". I know it's been a long evening, but things can't be that bad, can they?)

Bruno opens for the judges and tells Sunetra that it was a firecracker of a tango - he likes her bent back, but he thinks she goes a bit wobbly in hold, but he thinks that will all come together with experience. Craig says that she has great rhythm and she acted it very well, but she just didn't have the right frame for the tango. Darcey liked the attack and the story of the dance, and she liked the neck, but agrees with the others that some energy was lacking when in hold. Len thought there was far more right with it than wrong with it, but singles out Sunetra's left arm as an obvious problem area.

They make their way to Casa Claudia, where Sunetra likens the experience to "stepping up to take a penalty for England". "Doesn't that mean we're going to lose?" cracks Brendan, and then ducks upon realising that he may get a hostile reaction to that sort of observation. Claudia asks Sunetra what it's like working with Brendan, and she says that she thinks he may have met his match, because she's been bossing him around all week. And so the annual "has this woman finally tamed Brendan?" storyline rolls out once again. Scores: Craig 5, Darcey 6, Len 6, Bruno 7 for a total of 24. Sunetra waves hello to her son Noah, and says she hopes he'll be going to bed soon. [Sunetra <3 - Rad]

Gregg and Aliona are our seventh couple of the evening. Tess's intro refers to Gregg as a "top chef" - surely no one in the UK with a pulse and an iota of interest in MasterChef thinks Gregg is a chef, do they? I mean, he does remind us all that he's a greengrocer fairly often. [In the last series of MasterChef: The Professionals, they didn't even call him a greengrover, but a 'diner'.  A 'diner'! - Rad] He even says this as his opening line in his VT. Gregg explains that he'll be filming the new series of MasterChef while he's on Strictly, which I'm sure has already started at least three threads on the Digital Spy forums entitled "IS GREGG GOING TO EAT ALIONA???!!!" Gregg says that he was very happy to be partnered with Aliona, because she has a reputation as a very good teacher. Aliona still seems...less enthused about the partnership, commenting that Gregg tells jokes all. the. time. Gregg resolves to train really hard and prove to Aliona that there's more to him than just being a joker.

In training, Aliona does her best to get Gregg to stop telling jokes and start focusing on his dancing instead, but she is just one solitary human being, so it's perhaps a limited success at best. Gregg asks Aliona if he can film her feet while she does the routine so he can practice at home, and Aliona says "absolutely" he can, but I'm sure she's half-expecting to find herself the star attraction on a foot fetishist website within 24 hours. True to his word, Gregg does indeed practice at home, though I didn't necessarily need the footage of him cha cha chaing around his house in a pair of shorts. I would've taken it on good faith. Aliona says that Gregg is putting a lot of hard work in, so she hopes it will all go well on the night.

They're dancing to 'Hot 'n' Cold' by Katy Perry, and there's a load of business involving a restaurant table and a dropped napkin before either of them does any dancing, which turns out to be a blessed relief considering what follows. Gregg really doesn't have much of a clue what he's doing, and I think Aliona's made the same mistake that Joanne did: she's sent him off to the other side of the dancefloor to cha cha all by himself, when she would've been much better off with him in hold where she can keep a closer eye on him and guide him into the right steps. (This is, of course, assuming that Aliona actually wants to advance in the competition, which is still to be determined.)

Craig, of course, is ecstatic to finally have the opportunity to turn the tables after his stint on Celebrity MasterChef ("you were really nasty about my pink peppercorns, darling, I recall"). He vows to be nice by telling the truth, which is one way of looking at what follows, I suppose: he likens Gregg to a wind-up toy, and like a pressure cooker about to explode. He also points out the double-bounce action which belongs in a samba, not the cha cha cha, and notes that Gregg's limp wrist and strutting very camp. "You need to iron that out, Aliona," scolds Craig. "You must have seen that in the mirror, darling!" Aliona nods wearily, as if to suggest that we really don't want to know what she's seen in the mirror over the last three weeks. However, on the other hand, Craig knows that Gregg has been practising really hard because they've all seen him rehearsing backstage wherever he goes, and Craig can only encourage that level of enthusiasm. Darcey says that she "weirdly liked that" - she points out that Gregg's bottom sticks out and his shoulder are all over the place, but there's "something okay" about it all, and she likes him without his glasses. [Gregg looks really really weird, like Dr Evil weird, without his specs, which I found quite unnerring.  Sorry Gregg - Rad] Faint praise, party of one! Len found it too small, neat and dainty, and worries if Gregg has been practising so much that he's lost the flair of the whole thing. Bruno says that Gregg's dancing brought to mind "a mince pie with a soggy bottom", but at least there was a lingering sweet aftertaste.

Up in Casa Claudia, Gregg says that he loved dancing and really enjoyed himself, but he's fairly certain he messed up a bit. A bit?!? Scores: Craig 3, Darcey 5, Len 5, Bruno 5 for a total of 18. Claudia gives Gregg a trifle to celebrate completing his first dance, and Gregg sticks his face straight in the whipped cream. I wonder if that's ruined custard for Aliona forever.

Our penultimate couple of the night is Frankie and Kevin. Tess is sitting in the audience with the rest of The Saturdays and explains that Frankie has been very busy of late, because as well as practising for her first dance, she's also been out on tour with the band. In her VT, Frankie says that she's used to getting nervous before going out to perform, but normally she has the rest of the band there to share it all with, whereas here the focus is all going to be on her. (If it's any consolation, Frankie, most of the focus on Twitter last night appeared to be on Kevin's arse, so that's some pressure off you.) She's looking forward to all the sparkly costumes, though. Frankie says that Kevin seems to have high hopes for her, and she doesn't want to let him down.

Kevin (complete with glasses <3) starts training Frankie for the waltz. Due to her touring schedule, Frankie's a bit tired, and Kevin is aghast that she's yawning during training. He goes to see her performing at Wembley and proudly sticks a VIP pass onto his jacket. We get a sample of Frankie's hectic touring schedule, but she promises us that she's trying to fit in some training wherever she can, with Una serving as the judge. Una does not seem to be particularly discerning as a critic. Frankie gives Kevin a shout-out during the Wembley show and Kevin throws his hands up in the air, waving them around like he just don't care. Kevin opines that if Frankie brings some of her tour energy to Strictly, they could go all the way to the final.

They're waltzing to a very slowed-down version of Adele's 'Someone Like You', which has had to be shoehorned into waltz-time a little bit. There's some business with an umbrella which I'm not sure is completely necessary, but other than that it's an excellent first dance. Frankie's arms are soft and lyrical, her posture is good, the chemistry with Kevin is coming along nicely, there are even some head-rolls in there. This girl's got potential.

There's another standing ovation for Frankie, and Darcey declares it a "major hit" for Frankie. She loved the arms, but would just like Frankie to pull out of the waist even more when she's in hold. Kevin shoots The Sats a big thumbs-up. Len declares it the best dance of week one. Bruno calls it "deliciously romantic" and says that Frankie gave meaning to what she did. He was particularly impressed by the extensions of her lines. Craig says that she danced a lot of it on her toes, but there were lovely arms, and it was graceful, elegant and romantic.

In Casa Claudia, we learn that Frankie didn't sleep at all last night because she was so nervous. Claudia asks Frankie if she enjoyed the performance, and Frankie replies that she doesn't know, because it feels a bit like the performance didn't actually happen. Kevin says that she did an amazing job, and he didn't sleep either because he was listening to The Saturdays' Greatest Hits all night. He's such a dork. Scores are in: Craig 7, Darcey 7, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 30 - the highest score of the weekend. "The pressure's on now!" gulps Frankie.

Finally, we have Simon and Kristina. In his VT, Simon says that he's been to the gym a lot in the last month, mostly to do boxing which he seems to think will help with his footwork. It's not a strategy I've heard of before, but I won't knock it before I've seen the results. Simon jokes about teaching Kristina his famous shoulder pop, and Kristina tells us that Simon will need to work much harder than that to impress her, never mind the judges.

They're starting out with the jive, and Simon says that he's finding the whole thing very difficult, but he's glad that he has Kristina to show him how to do it all. Kristina tells Simon that because he's a musician (/has already done the Christmas special and therefore knows how this all works), she's going to give him a solo spot in the routine and allow him to choreograph it himself. Simon seems a little alarmed by this, but Kristina insists he's up to the challenge. Simon then suggests doing Gangnam Style, and Kristina begins to doubt her own judgement.

They're dancing to 'Good Golly Miss Molly', and the routine opens with Simon miming playing the piano before breaking Strictly Commandment No. 7 ("Thou shalt not play thy partner's body like a musical instrument"). That aside, it's a very slick performance - Simon's very energetic and his movements are very crisp and clean. He's a little bit stampy in his feet in certain sections, but he and Kristina are well-matched and he really sells the number. The crowd love it, and it's another standing ovation.

Len says that there were plenty of kicks, tricks and flicks - he liked the freedom that Simon danced with. Bruno says that Simon has a wonderful, frisky bounce, and he spotted some Michael Jackson steps in there, but Simon needs to remember to point his feet. Craig thinks Simon needs to be up on his toes a bit more, which is why the dance looked flat-footed. He loved the cross-legged turn, but there was a wobble in the middle, but all the same it was a great performance for week one. Darcey loved Kristina's detailed choreography, but advises Simon to keep it crisp all the way to the end.

They bounce all the way up to Casa Claudia, and Claudia's impressed with how quickly he went from only being able to do shoulder moves to being able to turn a jive out. Simon says that he's disappointed with himself and everyone else is positively scandalised - he explains that he knew what the judges meant flat-footedness. Kristina tells him to lighten up and enjoy it. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 7, Bruno 8 for a total of 27. Based on the comments, I'd been expecting the scores to be higher than that. It's still a good week one score, but I thought he'd get more.

That's everyone. Phew! Let's see the final week one leaderboard, then:

1. Frankie & Kevin - 30
2. Jake & Janette - 28
3=. Caroline & Pasha - 27
3=. Pixie & Trent - 27
3=. Simon & Kristina - 27
6=. Alison & Aljaž - 26
6=. Steve & Ola - 26
8=. Mark & Karen - 24
8=. Sunetra & Brendan - 24
10. Thom & Iveta - 23
11=. Tim & Natalie - 18
11=. Judy & Anton - 18
11=. Jennifer & Tristan - 18
11=. Gregg & Aliona - 18
15. Scott & Joanne - 16

Points of interest: a lot of people scoring 27, a lot of people scoring 18, and we have a Clifton at the top of the leaderboard and at the bottom.

We get a recap of all of this week's routines: Caroline's promising start, Tim's eccentric energy, Jake's moody tango, Judy's tortuous waltz, whatever the heck that thing was that Scott did, Pixie's hot pink jive, Mark's better-than-expected cha cha cha, Alison's effervescent cha cha cha, Steve pouting his way through our designated Ola Jordan rock tango of the year, Jennifer's scattered but enthusiastic jive, Thom's stuttery waltz, Sunetra's haughty tango, Gregg's hot mess, Frankie's charming waltz, and Simon's possibly-underscored jive.

So that's it for the weekend. Next week someone's going home, and also the performance show is 130 minutes long. Yikes. Rad will be here to guide you through that. I hope she's got a very comfortable sofa.

When's it gonna stop, DJ?

Week 1: Six Couples Perform - 26 September 2014

Welcome back to another year of Strictly Come Dancing and, by extension, another year of Strictly Come Bitching. We're still here, and we still know about as much about dance as we did when we started but by gum we've got some opinions, so we're going to post them on the internet as per our inalienable human rights. The drama began long before the show did this year, as ITV decided to schedule an extra episode of The X Factor on Friday nights to make a serious dent in Strictly Come Dancing's ratings (not quite sure how this fits into that "gentleman's agreement" that Simon Cowell's so keen to uphold - you know, the one where they never schedule the two shows against each other, and where he inevitably gets all uppity if he thinks the BBC is reneging on the alleged agreement,  which seems chiefly to mean that The X Factor should get all the primetime slots because it starts earlier in the year and Strictly should just be happy with whatever's left, but I digress), [That they showed THREE episodes of it this weekend makes me more and more glad we're not recapping that hot mess any more - Rad] and the inevitable result was that both shows were severely wounded by it. Ultimately more people opted to watch Strictly Come Dancing during the live broadcast on Friday, but the ratings for both shows weren't pretty - and while I'm not insane enough to actually check James Jordan's Twitter feed of my own free will, it wouldn't surprise me at all if he hasn't already claimed that the drop in ratings is entirely due to him not being there any more. Anyway, shall we put all that behind us and just get on with things?

The Voice Of Tess (which, just to clarify, is not a reality show that she and Vernon play at home where she sings in the dark and he sits in a big red chair, at least not as far as I know) reminds us that three weeks ago this year's 15 celebrities were paired with their professional partners. The show begins with an indifferently-acted VT where various people get excited about watching the show, starting with an older woman and a young boy who can't agree whether they're more excited about Steve Backshall and Mark Wright. Given what follows, there's a possibility that either or both of them may be connected to Steve and/or Mark in some way, but I don't know enough about Deadly 60 or The Only Way Is Essex to confirm or deny this, so for all I know they could just be some randoms plucked from the pages of Spotlight. What I do know is that the four women settling down to watch Frankie are the rest of The Saturdays (is it just me, or is Mollie gradually turning into Holly Willoughby?), and that a bunch of rugby players are excited about watching Thom Evans and Caroline Flack. I can't help feeling that if they actually wanted realism here they should've cut to a bunch of gays with their underwear around their ankles talking about how much they were looking forward to seeing Thom, but maybe that's a bit racy for this show even in a 9pm slot. There's also a very confusing scene where Mac and Tess from Casualty are watching the show on an ECG monitor (for god's sake let's hope Jeremy Hunt didn't see this flagrant misuse of NHS resources otherwise Holby General will be privatised faster than you can say "where's the bloody anaesthetist?") and see Sunetra Sarker on it, which apparently means that both Sunetra Sarker and Dr Zoe Hanna exist independently of each other in the Holbyverse. This is already far more confusing than a show about celebrities dancing should be. Also, there are some people who may or may not be related to Tim Wonnacott, and the rest of Blue are getting ready to watch Simon Webbe even though Lee really should be out somewhere saving the elephants. On with the show.

The new titles are quite fun. My favourite parts include:
- Aliona not allowing Gregg to touch her AT ALL
- Natalie waving her arm right in front of Tim's face
- Janette somehow looking half a head taller than Jake
- Aljaž playing peek-a-boo behind Alison
- Iveta emerging from behind Thom in the most predatory way imaginable
- Scott actually lip-syncing the "ho!" <3 <3 <3
- Judy getting the prime spot right before the title

Then we cut live to the studio, and something feels weird. Oh, that's right: the presenters can now actually enter from the top of the stairs, because we no longer have to worry about whether the insurance will cover an octogenarian for it. Tess and Claudia have some arm candy to lead them down the stairs (because even though we now have two women hosted they can't be trusted to arrive without male supervision ZOMG SEXISM) in the form of Aljaž for Claudia and Brendan for Tess. Also, Claudia is wearing hot pink and no eyeliner, which I can only assume is a cry for help, since we all know she'd never do that of her own free will. Maybe it's a sign to communicate that she's being held captive in the studio against her will, like in Five On A Treasure Island when the bad men captured Julian and George, and George sent a message to Dick and Anne but signed it "Georgina", knowing that they'd realise she'd never call herself that and deduce something was very wrong. Don't worry, Claudia! Dick's coming! (Daly Dresswatch, by the way: a black playsuit with lace. It's a decent enough start.)

Tess reminds us that six cubbles (I only mock because I care; Tess's mangling of the word "couples" is second only to Cat Deeley's idiosyncratic pronunciation of "judges" in my heart) will perform tonight, while the other nine will be on tomorrow. The judges enter showily, wafting their way across the floor, while Bruno does some of the slowest pirouettes I've ever seen. Well, he is getting on a bit these days, I suppose.

Let's meet the stars of our show. As is traditional for the first show of the series, I shall transcribe their bio lines verbatim. EastEnders star Jake Wood and his partner Janette Manrara. Pop princess Pixie Lott and her partner Trent Whiddon. Wildlife expert Steve Backshall and his partner Ola Jordan. Tennis coach Judy Murray and her partner Anton Du Beke. TV presenter and radio DJ Mark Wright and his partner Karen Hauer. This Morning reporter Alison Hammond and her partner Aljaž Skorjanec. Star of MasterChef Gregg Wallace and his partner Aliona Vilani. From The Saturdays, pop star Frankie Bridge and her partner Kevin Clifton. Bargain Hunt's antiques expert Tim Wonnacott and his partner Natalie Lowe. TV presenter Caroline Flack and her partner Pasha Kovalev. From Blue, pop star Simon Webbe and his partner Kristina Rihanoff. Star of Mrs Brown's Boys Jennifer Gibney and her partner Tristan MacManus. Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills and his partner Joanne Clifton. Star of Casualty Sunetra Sarker and her partner Brendan Cole. And finally, rugby star Thom Evans and his partner Iveta Lukosiute. As it's still early days, most of them have still got enough enthusiasm left to shimmy, although I note that Gregg can't even clap in time. Poor Aliona. (Lucky Aliona?)

Tess comments on all the legs on show tonight, and adds that she's not just talking about the girls, before running over and launching her vagina right at Thom Evans's crotch. Sorry, my mistake: before cooing at Anton, who's wearing a kilt because Judy is Scottish. Anyone who remembers Fiona Fullerton's cha cha cha last year (and if you've managed to forget it, more power to you - I'm scarred for life) will no doubt be anxious about the thought of Anton unleashed, so let's just hope the mouse stays in the house, as a wise man once said. (I think it was Gunther from Friends.)

Claudia reminds us that nobody is going home this weekend, but the judges will still be scoring the performances. Tess adds that the judges scores from this week and next will be combined, and then the public vote from next Saturday will be added to that total score to see who's going home. We all know all of this by now, of course, but it never hurts to be reminded. Tonight's six performing couples are Tim and Natalie, Jake and Janette, Judy and Anton, Scott and Joanne, Pixie and Trent, and Caroline and Pasha, who are up first. Tess says that Caroline has been working on her cha cha cha face, but will she have a "happy face" at the end of the routine? I don't know whether it's Tess's general inability to land a joke, or the writers scrambling for material now that they can't rely on "lol Bruce is old" any more, or some combination of the two, but all I can say is I hope that isn't their A material.

In her VT, Caroline says that she's banned her family from attending because she doesn't want the added pressure of having them there in the audience. There's an unspoken "for now" in all of this, but Caroline wisely doesn't vocalise this lest the audience whip themselves into a white hot rage at any woman assuming she might last long enough in the competition to start planning for the future. WOMEN, KNOW YOUR LIMITS! Caroline says that when she met the dancers for the first time, there was something about Pasha that stood out (that's funny, I'm sure Rachel Riley noticed the same thing), so she gave a little squeal of delight when she was paired up with him. What Caroline neglects to mention here is that she immediately turned into Patty Simcox, pawing Pasha to death and telling him how they were going to havesomuchfunandbelifelongfriends. Caroline claims that it's impossible to tell what Pasha's thinking because his expression never changes. That doesn't really match up with my experience of Pasha on this show thus far, so I'm wondering if maybe Pasha is just not really paying Caroline much attention. However, he does his best to persuade us otherwise, saying that Caroline is passionate and a good mover, and he thinks they could go far, maybe even win. Or maybe he can just get to the final and lose, again. Caroline exclaims that she's really excited about training because it's "almost being a dancer" (...are you going to tell her, or should I?) and she's going to buy legwarmers and everything.

Pasha tells her in training that the cha cha cha is a fun, playful dance. Caroline asks him if it's the hardest dance, and Pasha's all "lol no it's a piece of piss, that's why it's been a week one dance ever since this show began. Even Rachel got 27 for it last year, come the fuck on". Caroline is alarmed by this. Pasha tells Caroline that she has a very serious concentratey face, which isn't really appropriate for the cha cha cha, so she needs to work on that. Caroline vows to get out there and get the party started, and shit.

They're dancing to 'Can You Feel It', and I must immediately remark on how unflattering the dress is that they've stuck Caroline in. It's a short strappy gold number covered in fringing, which looks fine when she's standing still, but when she's whirling around for the actual dance the fringing makes the dress look about three times the size it actually is. All the way through this dance I kept thinking about that time a friend of mine came to our Hallowe'en party in an inflatable pumpkin costume. Sorry Caroline. Anyway, it's a pretty decent start for the series: Caroline obviously has natural dancing talent (which is how she won Dancing On Wheels, but it seems the show doesn't really want to talk about that), but she's a little stiff, particularly in the arms. I think she's focusing so much on remembering to smile that she's forgetting that there just needs to be a bit of give in her limbs to create that party atmosphere. Speaking of atmosphere, I'm pleased that our first dance of the series has no theme and no gimmick, since we're inevitably going to be overwhelmed with them before too long - this is just a straightforward competition cha cha cha. It goes a little bit wrong in the second half when Caroline fumbles an underarm pass, and Pasha's choreographed in an ugly bit where he gets down on his knees (steady) and she rests on him at a 45-degree angle, pushing herself around in a circle with her legs. It's just a bit messy.

Tess inherits Bruce's inability to place a comma in the right part of a sentence by introducing the singers "Hayley Lance, Andrea and Chris" (Hayley and Lance are two separate people, just fyi). Len says it's nice to start the nice with a glass of champagne and that was "sparkly, fizzy and effervescent". Isn't that three ways of saying exactly the same thing? He noticed the mistake, but calls her "Sweet Caroline" nonetheless. Bruno calls her "Caroline Flash", and loves the expressiveness of her arms, but agrees with Len that there was a problematic pass. He'd like to see a bit more hips, too. Craig liked the musicality, but would have liked more hip action and reminds Caroline to finish her lines properly. Darcey: "Caroline, you are what you definitely feel to me one natural performer and one natural dancer, and with those legs they are pretty good in a cha cha, well done well done." Is Darcey ESL? I've heard Paula Abdul give more coherent critiques than that. Hell, I've heard Janice Dickinson give more coherent critiques than that.

They run up to the Tess, Casa Claudia? I guess we're going to need a new nickname for this bit. [Didn't we call it Claudia's Counselling Circle/Centre?  Or is that a Monkseal phrase? It's like trying to remember if a comic book character is DC or Marvel, or if a part in a film was played by Glenn Close or Meryl Streep - Rad] [We did call it that before, yes, but I always felt that was mostly appropriate for it being the results show and everyone needing a pep talk after waiting to hear if they were safe or not. I just thought there might be a better name to use now that Claudia has it full-time. - Steve] Claudia reveals that earlier Caroline was saying she'd be fine as long as she didn't have to go first. Whoops. Caroline says that she loved it all the same, and the audience were amazing. Pasha says that it's hard to start the show, and Caroline nailed it. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 7 Bruno 7 for a total of 27, which is everyone seems happy enough with. I'm surprised we didn't see any 8s, but maybe the judges are trying to be restrained this year. (Also, you can tell it's early in the series because Craig gets cheered for giving someone a six. That won't last long.)

Second to perform are Tim and Natalie. In his VT, Tim describes himself as "amusing", "a bit eccentric", and "a snappy dresser". I guess now I'm starting to see why they paired him with Natalie. He vows that he might be the oldest contestant this year, but he can still show these kids a thing or two, as long as they KEEP OFF HIS LAWN. Natalie says`1 that she was "praying to get Tim" (I'm fairly certain that's the sound team manipulating her original statement that she was "praying to get Thom"), because she thinks he's "like unpolished silver that needs just a little bit of TLC". If she's going to make him dance to 'No Scrubs', I am all for that.

In training, Tim is full of praise for Natalie's skills as a teacher because she breaks it down into bits to make it easier to learn. Mind you, at Tim's age I'm sure he's used to people breaking things down to make them easier for him to manage: dance routines, corn on the cob, anything like that. Natalie insists that she wants to incorporate Tim's "Bargain Hunt kick" into the routine, but first she wants to see it in action, so Tim takes her along to the filming of the show. Personally I'm floored that Bargain Hunt is still in production; I just assumed they made like 1000 of them over a six month period back in 1998 and Tim's been living off the repeat fees ever since. So Natalie goes to Bargain Hunt, sees the kick in action, and squeals with delight. Bless Natalie. If I could even be half as optimistic as she is in my daily life, I think I'd be a much happier person. Natalie then asks if she can join in and have a go, and Tim gets a little bit chagrined that she can kick higher than he can. You mark my words, that's the point where this previously charming partnership began its descent into "irreconcilable differences".

Tim's cha cha cha starts with a "bit", with him as an auctioneer and Natalie as a bidder waving a 10 paddle. Frankly this just makes me yearn for the point in the future where she will be Head Judge Natalie Lowe. It's all very stilted and goes on for too long, so it's actually a relief when Tim starts dancing to 'Shop Around'. I don't think anyone expected Latin to be a natural fit for Tim, but he's giving it a damn good try, and it's...not terrible? I mean, for someone who was obviously cast to fit an "older/eccentric/comedy" contestant mould, I appreciate that he is genuinely trying to dance it, and Natalie has genuinely tried to teach him, and they didn't just dress it all up in a load of silly costumes and minimal choreography and attempt to ride the lolz train all the way to Blackpool and beyond. There's nothing happening in the hips, and he's rather heavy-footed, but there's a sense of rhythm in there somewhere, and I'm kind of enjoying the prospect of how Natalie might do with her first full-on comedy contestant, assuming the two of them can stick around long enough to make an impact.

Tess declares that was "so much fun!" and calls him a "cha-cha-charmer". Tim says "wasn't my Natty fantastic?" and I love him a little bit. Bruno's in hysterics already, and says he appreciates Tim's confidence, "because if you can sell this, you can sell anything". Bruno claims he was actually crying at one point (though I'm sure Bruno lost that ability about two eyelifts ago) and says that Tim's technique is "difficult" to define and "very personal", though he thinks it needs a bit of work. Ultimately he enjoyed it, but "I'm crazy, so..." Heh. Craig, surprisingly enough, did not enjoy it. He says that Tim's gait is extremely wide, to the point that "it looked like you were wearing a soiled nappy". He says that Tim's knees were bent and his free arm was "getting a bit Julian Clary". Hey, Julian Clary made the final! "But it's not where you start, is it darling?" Craig says, in a limp attempt at reassurance. Tess appeals to Darcey to be the voice of reason, so I think we all know there's no salvaging this. Darcey: "Well, I mean dance is about it being entertaining, and I am a judge, and I'm here to judge you on your ability and your style, but for me that was so entertaining. It was cheeky, it was fun, and surprisingly, um, entertaining. *cackles wildly*". Remember when Alesha left and they hired Darcey and people were all "hurrah! No more mangling of the English language!" I'd say they should be feeling pretty silly right now, but then Darcey is white and posh so they probably haven't even noticed that she can barely string a sentence together. Len tells Tim not to step forward on his hell in the cha cha cha: "Natalie's told you, I know she has." (Len's unfaltering belief in Natalie's skills as a teacher <3) He says that the footwork wasn't too clever, but "your feet are a long way from your heart, and you came out full-on with personality and you gave it everything, so well done you." I'm sure I can't be the only one who's hoping for Len's Biology Lessons to be a recurring skit on It Takes Two. Next week: "the leg bone's connected to me pickuwd wawnuts", or something.

The other dances are chanting Tim's name up in Casa Claudia, and Tim says he loves Darcey, and she's his favourite, without a doubt. Tim dad-jokes that he thought Craig's "soiled nappies" comment was a bit below the belt. Claudia says that it looked like they were having a great time out there, and Tim says that they've been having such fun in rehearsals, and he hopes this is just the beginning. Scores: Craig 3, Darcey 5, Len 5, Bruno 5 for a total of 18. I thought that might have been the lowest score Natalie had ever received, and then I remembered the So I Married An Axe Murderer jive, which only got 15. So there's something for Tim to be proud about, especially his jive's bound to score more than that, given his natural kicking skills. Assuming he lasts long enough to do it.

Next we have Jake and Janette, who will be doing our first (and indeed only) tango of the evening. Jake's VT reminds us that he plays Max Branning, Walford's resident sex addict. Apparently Jo Joyner, who played Max's long-suffering wife Tanya, told him that he had a "granddad" dance that involved sticking his bum out, and that he should probably be nervous. How supportive of her. Jake is then at pains to point out that he's nothing like Max, in that he's happily married and he actually smiles. Having watched a lot of EastEnders lately, I can confirm that this is indeed testament to Jake's fine acting abilities. Jake's pleased to have Janette as a partner because he thinks she'll be "no-nonsense". That's certainly one way of putting it. Janette is pleased because she thinks Jake has already got dem loose hips going on. Maybe that's why Max's pants won't stay up?

Janette explains to Jake that the tango is a passionate, manly dance (unless you're the woman, presumably), and she's created a storyline wherein he comes home and she finds lipstick on his collar. She suggests that he plays it as Max, which I guess is fine for the tango, but is really not going to work as a tactic for the charleston. [You say that, but the thought of Max Branning Charleston-ing makes me splutter with giggles and now I want them to MAKE THIS HAPPEN - Rad] Jake turns up for training one morning with an actual lipstick mark on his collar, which he explains was his way of getting into character. He seems quite pleased as he points out that Janette seemed genuinely upset by it. Jake hopes that he can stay in character and produce a great tango on the night. Considering it's a character he's been playing since 2006, one would hope he can indeed stick with it for the 90 seconds it will take to complete his tango.

The staging is a bit reminiscent of Scott Maslen's jive (must be a Branning thing) with the big glittery door and the adultery, only obviously this time it's a tango, and Jake and Janette are dancing to 'Toxic' by Britney Spears. It's actually a very good result for a first dance - it's perhaps the tiniest bit skippy, but the technique looks good, the attitude is excellent, and Jake seems to have huge potential. It's nice to see what Janette's capable of now that she's got a competent partner, too. Janette squeals and throws her arms round his neck after they finished and Jake, bless him, asks "are you happy?" I would say so, Jake, yes.

The audience (including Jo Joyner, who may be regretting that "granddad" comment now, and Scott Maslen himself) is on its feet as Jake and Janette make their way over to Tess. Craig declares himself impressed, because Jake had a strong frame and took total control of the routine with his sharp, staccato moves, and declares him "one to watch". Darcey thinks it was "cool", and was shocked by the drama and attack of it. She also praises Janette for how hard she must have worked to get Jake to that standard this quickly. Len agrees that it was far better than he expected it to be, and that Jake coped well with a lot of choreography. Bruno enthuses that Jake is "a brute", but is looking forward to seeing his softer side as well.

Jake and Janette make their way up to Casa Claudia, where Claudia points out that Jake seemed rather surprised by everyone's reaction to his tango. Jake mumbles that he was so focused on the dance that he'd forgotten he was actually going to get critiqued on it afterwards. Claudia posits that this may in fact have been Craig's first use of the word "impressive" in 12 series, and Janette agrees that she's never heard it. Janette, who only joined last year and was partnered with an irritant with no rhythm. Oh, Strictly. I've missed you so. Janette adds that Jake is the best student any dancer could ask for. Jake waves to his kids, Buster and Amber, and tells them "Daddy'll be home soon", and I'm fairly certain I just heard ovaries melting all across the nation. I've never ever understood the appeal of Max Branning in any context (give me Mick Carter any day), but Jake Wood seems utterly delightful. [I agree.  Loving him - Rad] Scores: sevens across the board for a total of 28, putting Jake at the top of the leaderboard so far.

The fourth couple of the night is Judy and Anton. Claudia's voiceover in Judy's VT refers to her hilariously as a "sporting matriarch" (that's certainly the nicest way I can think of to say "you're chiefly famous because a Wimbledon champ came out of your foof 27 years ago"). Judy recalls the red carpet launch, and how surreal it was when they were all hiding behind a giant glitterball. She admits to being terrified of falling on the steps, because "I'm a tracksuit and trainers kind of girl". She wanted a partner with "patience, a sense of humour and a six-pack - so two out of three ain't bad". Judy and Anton are getting on well: she says that he's "so funny", and Anton says that Judy's sense of humour is good for him because he hasn't changed his material in the last three years. I think that was meant to say "13 years". Judy points out that the others are calling them "Sir Anton and Lady Judy". I'm suddenly disappointed that none of last year's VTs revealed what Fiona was calling Susanna behind the scenes, because I'm sure it was very colourful.

Anton goes to Scotland to train with Judy, and they're dancing the waltz to 'Mull Of Kintyre', because Anton is nothing if not a panderer. [He isn't pandering to me.  I hate Mull of Kintyre with a rage that could burn a thousand suns.  I hate it more than I hate every other terible song in the world fused together and played on a loop for eternity.  I've never been a fan of Anton but I doubt I'll ever forgive him for putting me through that.  Still love Judy though, obvs. - Rad] Personally after this particular shitstorm, I half expected Anton to put Judy in a Geri Halliwell-style Union Jack minidress and make her do a waltz to 'Happy Together' by The Turtles, so I'm quite glad they decided to go entirely in the opposite direction. I'm really not sure that Andy Murray's political affiliations have that much bearing on the voting patterns of your average Strictly Come Dancing voter anyway. In training, Judy admits that she's not particularly graceful or rhythmical, but she's having a great time nonetheless. During the week, it's Judy's birthday and Anton brings her a cake in the shape of a tennis racquet.

So yes, they are waltzing and Anton is in a kilt and it's all very terrifying, which might be why Judy looks so nervous. She actually starts off reasonably well, and her footwork looks good in places, but she's concentrating so hard that her face has gone all rictusy, and you can see her lips moving faintly as she counts the steps. There's also a point halfway through where her posture just seems to collapse. But on the other hand: there's a bagpiper! So it's sort of a mixed bag, really. Not dreadful, but not especially encouraging either.

Tess asks Darcey if she was moved, and Darcey (regrettably) does not reply "MY BOWELS WERE!" and make a fart noise. You're no fun, Darcey. Instead she leads us down this particular circumlocutious cul-de-sac of patronising piffle: "Well, the waltz is about moving effortlessly, it's an elegant, controlled dance, and much harder than it looks, and I did feel, Judy, that in that beautiful smile of yours, those nerves were coming through. It was a bit edgy for me. Bit edgy. And it's so, as Anton says, to control that rise and fall is hard, and to come out on that dancefloor for the first time is not easy, I don't think people realise how nervous you come, so I think when you come out next week you're going to show us what you really can do, okay? I can feel the nerves and you shook a little bit all the way through." I think that's the longest anyone's ever taken to say "you were shit, but never mind, eh?" Also, lolerama at the very idea of Judy's real strength being in the Latin next week. In Anton's Latin, no less. (To be fair, all the judges say something similar to that, so I'm going to let Darcey off the hook a bit for that one. I don't think anyone ever takes the "you'll be so much better next week!"-type comments seriously, it's just a very convenient piece of judging fluffery for week one.) Len and Anton have a bit of banter about Anton's sporran and his "Bonnie Prince Charlie" and...pardon me a moment...

*retches into bucket*

...sorry about that. Len thought Judy's footwork was Mull Of Kintyre, but her posture was "Mulligatawny". As possibly the only remaining person in the UK who still really likes Heinz Mulligatawny soup, I resent that comment. He advises her to lift up her diaphragm and get further away from Anton. Sound advice for us all there, I feel. Len then spends a very long time telling us all that the waltz is a "very difficult dance" and, well, see what Pasha said to Caroline about the cha cha cha. That pretty much covers it. (Len also seemingly reveals that Judy has the cha cha cha next week. I'm nervous already.) Bruno describes it as "a maiden flight into a new sky that got hit by turbulence" and advises her to "land safely and try again next week". Craig says he was on the edge of his seat throughout, because he felt like Anton was dragging Judy around a little bit. He says that Judy's arms out of hold need serious attention, her posture is appalling, and her head needs to be a lot more to the left, but well done for trying anyway. Anton tells Judy not to listen to anything that Craig says, because it's not like she's going to be here long enough to bother trying to improve. Or something.

Up in Casa Claudia, our hostess tells Judy that they loved the routine up there and Judy hoots "I'm glad someone did!" Judy <3. Judy tells Claudia that she was a bit nervous, but she did really enjoy it. Anton adds that he did too, "thank you for asking". Scores: Craig 3, Darcey 4, Len 6, Bruno 5 for a total of 18. Judy declares herself "delighted" with that score, because what else can she do, really?

Who's next? Why, it's Scott and Joanne. Tess crows that they'll be doing their cha cha cha to "a Robbie Williams classic" and already you can just tell this is not going to end well for anybody. In his VT, Scott says that every single thing about appearing on Strictly terrifies him. And that's without having to make small talk with Bruce, so think on that. Scott reveals that even his boyfriend has never seen him dance, because at parties he's always the one clutching a drink for dear life and being all "nah, I don't want to spill it". (Incidentally, how nice to have a gay contestant on the show whose sexuality manifests in the form of him casually talking about his boyfriend rather than having his partner dress him up in primary colours and making him erupt out of a seashell or whatever. Not that I have anything against camp, obviously, because I am watching this show in the first place, but if Scott can be a gay man on this show whose sexuality isn't used to either infantilise him or entirely desexualise him, then he's already justified his casting irrespective of whether he can dance or not. *steps off soapbox*) Scott reveals that when there were just two female pros left waiting to be partnered up, he was really hoping he'd get Joanne. Somewhere, Karen Hauer is watching this all "well, fuck you too, buddy". Joanne says that she was thrilled to get Scott because she got him in a ballroom pose straightaway. Scott says that Joanne is adamant she can teach him to dance, but he's not convinced.

To training, and much like Caroline, Scott isn't at all convinced by his pro telling him that the cha cha cha is one of the easiest dances to learn. (Though as we'll discover in a minute, that's pretty much where the similarities end between Scott and Caroline.) Joanne tells him that he's getting the steps right, but he's basically walking like a gorilla. Joanne is very excited because Scott is actually mates with Robbie Williams and, to prove it, [Joanne's super-gurn makes me think we may have another Karen Hardy on our hands - Rad] Scott gets a message from Robbie during rehearsals. Robbie's  message is basically "lol 'Rock DJ' Scott stole my tiger underpants from the video BANTA!" Strictly Robbie isn't that much fun. I much prefer drunken, incoherent X Factor Robbie. Joanne asks Scott if he's going to wear the tiger underpants on the night and Scott is all "you know I don't actually have those, right?" and then Joanne starts tickling him. Hmm, maybe I was a bit premature with the whole "gay man not being infantilised by partner" comment.

Oy, so where to begin with all of this. First of all:

Yeah, that. Scott's dancing is terrible. Really, really terrible. I'm genuinely amazed that a DJ can have so little grasp of rhythm. But however bad Scott's dancing is, Joanne's choreography is worse. She's given him the start pose of putting one hand over his ear which I get is meant to be a DJ with his hands on his earphones, but just makes Scott look like he's got a stiff neck. Things don't improve when they get move - it's all static poses, arm-flinging, gyrating and very few steps that are actually recognisable as a cha cha cha. I think a big part of the problem is that so much of it is out of hold, and I just don't think Scott's ready for that yet - Joanne might have done well to keep the two of them closer together throughout the routine so she could keep him in place, rather than constantly sending Scott off on his own to flail in confusion. It's all so strange because I don't doubt Joanne's credentials as a dancer at all, so I'm wondering what went so wrong here: was she just going for the fun/comedy vote at all costs, or did she just completely misjudge the mood? [I wonder if, given Joanne's speciality is SHOWDANCE and she's never sticking around long enough to choreograph one going on Scott's form, she's trying to chuck in as many gimmicks as possible.  That, or someone in production forced LOLZ on her, IDK. - Rad]

Tess asks Len if Scott rocked his world, and Len says that it was the sort of dance that would be better on the radio: the footwork was poor, the hips were non-existent, but at least it was entertaining? Bruno tells Scott that he had the "club vibe" going, in the sense that you might see someone dancing like that at 2am off their face on pills. Or something. Bruno thinks Scott needs to work on his rhythm and timing. Craig tells Scott that a zimmer frame has more movement than that - it was stompy and he was lifting his knees like he was having a tantrum. Darcey liked the "cheeky connection" between the two of them, and thinks that it might have worked better in a nightclub than in a ballroom, but she liked how hard Scott worked at selling it. As if that entire experience hadn't been humiliating enough for Scott already, Tess finishes by saying never mind what those mean old judges think, LOOK THERE'S YOUR MUMMY IN THE AUDIENCE AND SHE'S EVER SO PROUD! Scott is 40 years old. ['I'm 34, Brendan!' -Sophie Ellis Bextor]

Up in Casa Claudia, I watch Natalie very closely for any sign of the "shit, there goes my comedy vote" light draining from her eyes, but she's not giving much away. Scott is relieved that it's all over. Claudia reminds Scott that his boyfriend Brad is in the audience and has never seen him dance before. Scott suggests that that is "probably for the best". Scores: Craig 2, Darcey 4, Len 5, Bruno 4 for a total of 16. "That's where you want to start," Claudia assures him. "It's about the journey." It's funny how Claudia can make such a bullshit reassurance sound 100 per cent genuine. She really is so good at her job.

Finishing the evening, it's Pixie and Trent. Pixie's VT tells us that she's used to topping the charts, but then her last single peaked at number 114 so she panicked and signed up for Strictly. Possibly. Pixie tells us that she's used to performing to large crowds, but only in the context of being a singer doing the singing, so this is a very different ballgame and she's hoping Trent will help her adjust. Claudia's comment from the launch show about them looking like twins is brought up, and they both giggle that it's true, and that they'll have a brother-sister relationship. Kudos to Natasha R on Twitter for suggesting the specific brother and sister in question:

At least that's their routine for Movie Week sorted, right?

Trent tells us that Pixie is very busy with her pop career and London Fashion Week. Yes, I can see how the latter would be far more important than rehearsing to perform in front of millions of people on national television in the hope of endearing yourself to them so that they'll vote for you in subsequent weeks. We start with Trent sat in the studio all by himself, waiting for Pixie to arrive. He has a sort of laid-back enthusiasm that I find very sweet. I think I'm going to like Trent. [Me too.  He seems like a really good fit for this show -Rad] Trent tells us that their first routine will be a jive, and the theme is that he's a photographer and she's a model at a fashion shoot. Pixie takes Trent with her to Fashion Week to get a feel for the occasion and Trent gives an adorably awkward interview about how he's watching all the photographers and trying to get a sense of the angles they shoot from. It's like he's been having nightmares about Craig telling him that the routine was excellent and Pixie danced it perfectly, but Trent just wasn't believable as a photographer so the best he can give them is a six.

They're dancing to 'Shake It Off' by Taylor Swift, and things start off well: Pixie can sell a performance and the two of them have great chemistry together. Things go a bit wrong in the first full kick-and-flicks section: Pixie's very heavy-footed in it and doesn't generate a lot of bounce, and I think she actually goes wrong somewhere because she ends up just sort of kicking wildly by the end of it. So she's perhaps not the total ringer many of us assumed she would be, but there's clearly a lot of natural talent in there, so I think Pixie will be around for a while. The routine ends with her pulling all the film out of Trent's camera and holding it up to the light, at which point the creative director runs in and screams at her that she's just completely destroyed all the negatives and thousands of pounds of studio time.

Tess calls Pixie "little lady". (Pixie Lott is 23.) Bruno calls her "tricksy Pixie" and says that the routine was like "Lolita does the jive". Let's move on from that comment immediately before any of us get dragged into Operation Yewtree. He tells her that she needs to work on getting the placement right on the balls of her feet, but otherwise: tick vg. Craig enjoyed it too, but he noticed a slight hesitation when she went to do her side kick. So it wasn't perfect, but it was great. Darcey agrees that the energy was wonderful, as was the armography, but she wanted to see more leg action and bounce. Len finishes by saying there was Lotts of energy, Lotts of kicks and flicks, and there will be Lotts of marks.

In our final visit of the evening to Casa Claudia, Pixie says that she loved it, but she was surprised by how nervous she was. Since we're running a little behind schedule, there isn't really time to talk to her any more than that, so we go straight to the scores: Craig 7, Darcey 6, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 27. Interesting observation: for all that Pixie and Caroline were both identified as ringers when they were cast, they both got lower first-week scores than Susanna Reid and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, neither of whom were seen as obvious contenders (on a previous experience level, at least) before last series. Not that that necessarily means anything, I just thought it was interesting.

So let's see that first night leaderboard, then:

1. Jake & Janette - 28
2=. Caroline & Pasha - 27
2=. Pixie & Trent - 27
4=. Tim & Natalie - 18
4=. Judy & Anton - 18
6. Scott & Joanne - 16

Bit of a gulf there between the frontrunners and the others, isn't there? It'll be fun to see how Saturday's scores play into that. Speaking of which, Claudia's joined by Saturday's dancers to see how they're feeling: Alison's nervous after seeing how good everyone else was, Gregg says that all he can do now is dance. We get a quick preview of everyone's training: highlights include Frankie doing a cartwheel, Simon being very sweaty, Alison nuzzling Aljaž, Tristan's lovely face, and Gregg asking Aliona if he's ever going to get it. We'll go through it all later in exhaustive detail.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Two hot to trot

Launch show.  Sunday 7 September 2014.

We're back!  Yes, it's time to polish the sequins, slip gel cushions in the stilettos and get those vocal chords ready for repeated shouts of 'Fuck off Len'.  It's time for Strictly Come Dancing 2014!

We open with a slightly surreal sketch set in Brucie's stately manor as his official 'handover' begins - he's been set a mission to retrieve 'the team' via the means of a comedy VT.  The narrative of this VT is thus: we cut to Tess'n'Claud in a wardrobe room with Claudia on a sewing machine (Great British Sewing Bee represent!).  He rings Kevin in some mock-up chippy called 'Grimsby's Fish and Chips' as if there is such a place (TBF I am just assuming it's not a place.  Or plaice.  I might be wrong).  He retrieves Anton, Aljaž and Brendan from the golf course (now there's as an unlikely a set of golfing buddies as there ever was), Natalie and Ola from a spray tanning booth, Janette, Kristina and Karen from a shopping trip and Pasha, Iveta and Aliona from a snowball fight (LOL FORRINS).  We then get a weird glimpse into Bruce's severance package whereby Darcey serves as his secretary, Len as his chauffer, Bruno his tea boy and Craig his shoeshine boy (What makes it delicious is everyone else camping this skit up and Len very visibly FUMING at the indignity.  And that is exactly what I pay my licence fee for so well done everyone.  The only thing that would have enhanced it is a quick cut to the Big Brother house to see James dying inside as he watches Gary Busey playing with his man bits yet again).

We then get our second introduction, involving everyone on the red carpet, including Bruce, Tess and Claudia being announced together (and Bruce is still the alpha presenter on the website.  God, he has a gooood agent).  Some woman in the crowd cries that she has waited all her life for this.  For the rerecorded launch show of the twelfth series of a celeb reality dancing show in which there is barely any dancing (and some would say barely any celebrity, miaow).  I feel for her.  The celebrities talk about how excited they are to be there. Max Branning says it beats a night at the Queen Vic.  Given that an average night at the Queen Vic involves at least four shouting matches, a fist fight, at least one arrest and some sort of familial revelation, I expect a stint on this show is going to be like a nice up of Horlicks and a sit down in comparison. [Max is hardly ever in the Vic these days, anyway. He's usually just slumped at his dining table looking surly and being rude to his daughters. - Steve]

We open with a pro partner-swap dance to 'I Haven't Stopped Dancing Yet' which makes me shudder at the memory of this - and don't tell me you're not having nightmares about being made to recreate it, Scott Mills [I was entirely unaware of this before I clicked on the link, and now I'm scarred for life. You're a cruel, cruel woman. - Steve] - before replacing it with a new horror in the form of Brucie tap dancing.  And to think I was hoping we'd be spared all of this with his new 'role'.  Then a bunch of randoms (let's assume they are more associate members of the Clifton family) join them and they dance off the red carpet and into the ballroom (with a glitterball projected on the floor and stage) where all the judges get to dance on, and then Claudia and Tess arrive, held aloft on thrones reminding us of the grand tradition that is the Strictly sit-down.

Brucie welcomes us and does the nice to see us to see us nice bit and tells the audience they're better than the audiences of the past ten years and gets a stooge to ask him why he didn't leave ages ago.  Bruce says he'll miss the show, Davearch and the band but he's perfectly happy to be able to shag Poor Wilnelia every Saturday instead.  He introduces Tess and Claudia as beautiful young women which I can't help but feel is a BBC dig at those who claim it retires women once they hit their 40s, given its two biggest shows are now both presented by over-40s female presenting teams.  (This is, of course, brilliant, by the way, although we've still got a way to go until octogenerian women grope their younger male counterparts' thighs openly on primetime Saturday night, eh, Bruce?)  Also, you know, a bit safer in these post Operation Yewtree days, I suspect. Daly dresswatch: a nice enough long black thing with a white trim.  Claudia dresswatch: black. [I suspect Claudia Dresswatch is going to be a fairly repetitive strand in these recaps. Also, to keep the alliteration going I would like to suggest renaming it What Winkleman's Wearing. - Steve] With sparkly stripy bits.  Bruce tells us he's not really leaving, he'll still be hanging round like a particularly eggy fart for the Children in Need and Christmas specials.

Anway, enough of Brucie, it's time to see whose agents are working for the money and getting them the most hyperbolic introductions!  Star of MasterChef, Gregg Wallace!  Pop Princess Pixie Lott!  Wildlife expert Steve Backshall!  Tennis coach Judy Murray!  TV presenter and radio DJ Mark Wright!  Star of Casualty Sunetra Sarker!  Bargain Hunt's antiques expert Tim Wonnacott!  From the Saturdays, pop star Frankie Bridge!  Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills!  This Morning reporter, Alison Hammond!  Rugby star and model Thom Evans! Star of Mrs Brown's Boys, Jennifer Gibney!  From Blue, pop star Simon Webbe!, TV Presenter Caroline Flack! EastEnders star Jake Wood!  Or, as you might otherwise know them, 'Surely he must have already done Strictly?', 'Are times that hard already love?', 'Not sure who he is but he's not Ray Mears or Bear Grylls', 'That's someone's mum, OMG WORST CAST EVER', 'HIM OFF TOWIE GOOD GOD THIS ISN'T CELEBRITY BIG BROTHER', 'Zoe Hanna off Casualty, so underappreciated when we could have had the Connie/Zoe ruling bitch team of awesome', 'David Dickinson lite', 'The one from the Saturdays whose name you might know', 'Radio 2 is beckoning'. 'HER OFF BIG BROTHER ARE YOU SHITTING ME WHAT IS THIS', 'Tess Daly's latest harrassment victim', 'Mrs Mrs Brown, who is also Mrs Brown's daughter and what people get up to in the privacy of their own bedrooms is their own business but I'm not thanking you that now I have to think about this', 'The one from Blue that isn't Duncan, Lee or that one that pisses in the street' [that we know of, anyway - Steve], 'OMG EVIL OLD HARPY DIE (Harry Styles fans) / Ha!  Fuck you Simon Cowell! (others)', 'Max Branning'.  (Actually, despite all the grumbling on that there internet, I think this is actually a pretty good cast that should appeal to a wide demographic). [Yep, I'm generally pretty happy with it. Although I think the real test will be their chemistry as a whole over the coming weeks. I'm dying for something to rival the epic Susanna/Fiona hatemance from last year. - Steve]

Tess and Claudia remind us how the show works and that after tonight's pairings, the training will begin in three weeks' time.  They welcome the judges back.  The judges tell them all the usual gubbins about working hard and Craig lies about how awesome last year's standard was (I mean it was good, but I can think of at least two series, probably three or four, where the overall standard of the best dancers was stronger). [And really, when your overall winner is ABBEY FUCKING CLANCY, there's always room for improvement. - Steve]

We meet our first male celebrities.  Gregg Wallace tells us he likes eating pudding and he's about to be "40-10".  Oh boy, we know how much fun that narrative was when Patrick Robinson was on the show.  GET READY EVERYONE. [No one's landmark Strictly birthday will ever have the longevity of Letitia Dean turning 40. - Steve] Jake Wood says he hopes people don't think he's actually Max Branning and he begins baby warz early by getting a cute picture of his kids in there.  Steve Backshall tells us about all the dangerous animals he's filmed with and we get our obligatory Craig joke.  Thom Evans has played rugby but got injured and then made a career taking his top off [and how! - Steve], so he'll be right at home here.  He also claims to have choreographed N*Sync routines with his brother as a kid, which would be super adorkable if it didn't make me feel old (N*Sync ARE kids aren't they?).

Gregg's partnered with Aliona whose bitchface is a sight to behold as you might expect.  Cheer up Aliona, he might secretly have a house in an exotic country like Tony did last year.  Or else he might be in the market for yet another young wife.  I mean, win/win right?  Tess introduces Jake as Jaykwood, like Jedward.  He is partnered with Janette and looks vaguely scared at the prospect.  Steve is paired with Ola who seems happy enough with her inevitable mid-table placing.  Tess pets Thom who is paired with a surprised and happy Iveta.

Len says he thinks he fancies Thom the most of the final four because he is a SPORTSMAN (not in so many words, I mean, he attempts some pun around the word scrum, but we all know what he means).  Up in Claudia's counselling circle, Claud pervs over Thom but is too far away from him to pet his gunz.

It's now time to meet our new pros: Trent Whiddon from Australia, Tristan McManus from Ireland and Joanne Clifton - Kevin's sister - from Grimsby.  Trent introduces himself as a 'dance champion' from Australia.  Very specific there, Trent.  Joanne is the current 'world ballroom showdance champion'.  Tristain has won the 'All-Ireland championships'.  They jig about to 'Rather Be' and are then joined by the other pros.  There seems to be a lot of partner-swapping in the pro dances tonight so it's probably a bit too early to say who's paired with who - although that was pretty tricky last year too. [Pasha is definitely paired with Ola, because James made a huge deal out of it on Twitter. That's all I know. - Steve]

Up in Claud's counselling centre, we welcome Davearch, the singers, the audience and the remaining celebrities who are all nervous, obviously.

We then have 'special' guests Five Seconds of Summer, who sound like they were named after one of those dramatic Hollyoaks trailers that promise SPLOSIONS and DEATH.  Their music sounds like hot fried arse, however.  Kevin and Karen do some wafting in front of it and Karen almost has a wardrobe malfunction.  5SOS (as I assume they're nicknamed) look like what would happen if McFlea, Alex Parks, the Zaynwreck  (<3) and Benjamin Cook had progeny, by the way.  Which is... a look.

Tess and Claudia remind us of all the filler that we have waiting on our way to the actual good stuff - the routine where we try to decide which celebs can actually dance.

Time to meet our first female celebrities.  Caroline Flack is more sensitive than teenage girls give her credit for and also fuck you Simon Cowell.  Jennifer Gibney is on Mrs Brown's Boys which is not a thing that I know anything about save that it is very much not my thing.  But it IS lots of people's things and she does seem like quite good fun so mark her down as this year's menopausal goddess for the mams' vote. [I can't bring myself to enjoy Mrs Brown's Boys, but whenever I've seen her being herself she seems like a laugh. - Steve] Pixie Lott tells us she went to stage school but is not a DIRTY RINGAH.

Claudia gets Caroline to do paso face.  She is partnered with Pasha, who seems quite shocked given he's long overdue a Widdy or a Fern.  Claudia calls their pairing adorable on every level.  Jennifer wants to have fun and she's partnered with Tristan so cue all the cougarly VTs and Oirish banter, which they get in early so that I hope the whole of Ireland votes for you get the message (can the Irish vote in Strictly, or am I just making assumptions here?). [Online, maybe? I've never seen heard them read out ROI phone numbers at any point. - Steve] Fourth place in the final, I'm calling it now.  Pixie is paired with Trent and Claudia says they look like twins.  I look forward to their recreation of all the incestuous twin storylines from Phil Redmond soaps but via the medium of dahnce.

Abbey and Aljaž are welcomed back to remind us they existed: you know, Scouseness, army VTs, surprise winning, me nehves.  They recreate their 'Kissing You' waltz involving Aljaž's bum in white trousers which is all very lovely.

Claudia has the newly created pairs up in the counselling circle and Pasha seems slightly nervous as Caroline starts to reveal the madness encased within that suggests she might be much more fun than I expected.

Footage of the celebs and pros meeting for the first time and rehearsing the group dance follows with everyone talking about the first day of school feeling.  Caroline and Mark have a wee ITV2 reunion which basically goes 'I can't believe we're on actual BBC One!' 'I know!  It's like being on proper telly!'  The men seem... a bit star jumpy.  The women a bit... aerobics at the community centre.  Tess still can't pronounce Ola's name.

The rest of the male celebrities are introduced now.  Simon Webbe has done one of the Christmas specials before and I remember absolutely nothing about it, which bodes well.  He wishes to point out that even though he was in a boy band, he's not a RINGAH as all they did was shrug their shoulders a bit.  He's been down the gym and seems quite willing to get his tits out, which is probably good given his partnering.  Tim is not actually David Dickinson.  Yes, he does Bargain Hunt, but his gimmick isn't Ronseal, his gimmick is some sort of awkward leg kick thing.  OK then.  He seems rather game for a laugh for such an obvious first boot.  Scott does quite a good Nick Grimshaw impression.  Mark has a poor grasp of grammar, saying 'there is so many things to be excited about' and jokes that he's never worn fake tan despite being from TOWIE.

Simon is paired with Kristina.  I voted for her to win in Monkseal's pro poll so I'm vaguely hopeful, boy band and all that - but then Kristina's had people who looked like contenders before and they were either not (Joe, Ben) or they wore themselves out (Jason) - and boy band members aren't always a shoo-in (hi Nicky Westlife and Nicky's no-no). [Also, Simon got the same score as Barry McGuigan when he did the Christmas Special, which doesn't seem to bode that well. - Steve] Anyway, Kristina is suitably excited about her potential to go full on Camilla-Flavia and get the hell out of here running as fast as she can with the glitterball under her arm good god hasn't she done enough years on this show already surely now is Kristina time.  Tim is paired with poor Natalie, who is surely overdue a ringer, but perhaps she's being eased back in gently this year after her injury.  NATALIE LOWE FACT: I saw her on the train in the summer hiding in the corridor bit on her phone the entire journey, wearing all white and looking immaculate.  Scott is paired with Joanne and he twizzles her around a bit and says he's very happy because he was secretly hoping for her.  This means Mark and Karen get to be the Digital Spy villainous couple of the series.  Can you IMAGINE the amount of hatethreads there probably already are on there?  We haven't even started yet.

Craig says he's looking forward to judging Gregg Wallace after Gregg judged him on Celebrity MasterChef.  These celebrity reality shows are all getting a bit meta aren't they? [I love how nobody ever mentions that Gregg and Brendan were on the same series of Just The Two Of Us. And Brendan thrashed him. - Steve]

In Claudia's counselling circle, Natalie lies that she's wanted Tim all along but they do at least seem to be able to make each other laugh.  Claudia points out to Scott that Joanne is a world champion.  Mark says Karen is really kind and he wants her to be patient with him.  Karen's LOLWHUT face is quite adorable.

Time for more filler!  It's Smokey Robinson duetting with Imelda May on a version of 'Get Ready' that manages to completely change the tune - and not in a good way.  Can we get an SOS out there to Paloma Faith please?  Pros dancing together in front of it: Pasha and Ola; Brendan and Aliona; Kristina and Trent.

The final women are introduced now.  Alison Hammond is basically now the most successful person to come out of civilian Big Brother think on that.  She likes glitter.  Judy Murray is famous for having successful sons but also coaching tennis.  Her sons don't want her to embarrass them on TV and she thinks it's hilarious.  She likes the idea of a challenge.  Judy = <3.  Sunetra Sarker can do minor first aid but isn't an actual doctor, y'know.  Her mum used to dance but she's NOT A RINGAH.  She's doing it for her kid Noah.  But if you think the BBC drama stars got the baby wars in early, Frankie from the Saturdays and S Club Juniors has a baby that's actually still a baby.  Also she's not a RINGAH and the Saturdays are on tour.  They've got a Greatest Hits out and with her and Rochelle doing all the reality shows I think we can smell the splitting up vibes a mile away.  Sorry Mollie, whichever one is Una and whatever the fifth one is called. [Vanessa. She's already done Popstar To Operastar. - Steve]

Alison is paired with Aljaž and she screams about Ali and Ali.  There are quite a few alliterations among pairings, both pro and pro-am, this year.  Claudia asks if Judy would put all the boys' tennis trophies in the bin if she won the Glitterball and Judy agrees.  The smile is then wiped off her face when she's lumbered with Anton.  I was rather gutted that Judy and Brendan didn't get to be the fierce evil team of awesome, but as people pointed out on the Twitters, Judy isn't going to let Anton get away with his usual shit, and watching her take him to task might be quite fun. [I really wanted Judy and Brendan too. Or Judy and Pasha, for the lulz. - Steve] Also, the, er, complexion of the final four might have made it obvious who was being paired with Anton.  Sunetra gets Brendan and is thankful for it - it could be a fun pairing.  Kevin and Frankie are then paired up which means he could, potentially, have another finallist.  He says he loves Saturdays.  Given the lack of definitive article, he presumably means the day.  Sneaky way of pretending to compliment your partner Kevin, I like it.

Len says he fancies older men so hopes Tim sticks around.  Claudia asks Bruno which pair will make him fall off his chair and he says Tess and Claudia but also all the contestants are sexy.  Can I also just point out that I didn't quite get why the internet was full of congratulations to Tess and Claudia on their 'first' show.  They presented much more of the last series (if we include Sundays, which we presumably do) than Tess and Bruce did, so they're hardly inexperienced.

And now for the bit we're all interested in - which celebs can move.  Unfortunately we don't get as much of a look at them as usual, but on first glance, the pop stars seem good as you might expect from NOT RINGAHS HONEST, Alison and Judy can keep time and Tim and Jake seem a bit cumbersome.  The pros and celebs all pretend to be happy with their pairings - and that's it for a few weeks.  We'll be back when the live shows start - join us then!