Saturday, 31 December 2016


2016 Christmas Special - 25 December 2016

Welcome back for our final recap of the year, for that oddest of shows that is filmed in November, broadcast in December and usually recapped in January (I'm a little ahead of the game this year - just) [I'm late, by contrast, because I was trying to forget this ever happened - Rad]. It's going to be even odder this year because we spent all that time saying goodbye to Len in the finale, and now he's going to be back for this. Not that Len's contribution to the episode is going to be terribly game-changing - in fact, he could've sacked off the whole thing and just propped up a 10 paddle in his chair instead, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

We open on a winter's night at a sprawling country manor, and I have to pause and double check that this isn't the same one where The Rocky Horror Picture Show was filmed. (I went to a wedding there once, and even though the wedding itself was not Rocky Horror-related in any way, it was still awesome.) Once we get inside, it's Christmas and Pasha, Gorka and Anton are dressed in their finest tailcoats as they twirl Karen, Janette and Chloe around. Oh, you'd better believe it, Chloe's making her competitive debut on this episode. I'm so excited. As they twirl around the building to the strains of 'It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas', we meet the celebrities who will be appearing in this episode and the Christmas films that their dances will be themed around. Anton finds Denise Lewis (Meet Me In St. Louis, which I thought briefly was a very clever Lewis/Louis pun until I realised that it's pronounced "Louie" for the film, at least) playing the piano, while Pasha opens the door to reveal Pamela Stephenson holding up one of those wretched handwritten placards because she's going to be doing Love Actually. Karen sneaks down the stairs holding a candelabra to find her accomplice Ainsley Harriott robbing the place because he's doing Home Alone and, having heard about this theme already, I'm just relieved neither one of them is going to be playing Kevin McAllister. Gorka finds Frankie Bridge hiding behind a snowman because she's doing Frozen, while Janette finds Melvin Odoom handing out presents in a silly hat because he's drawn Elf and finally Chloe finds Gethin Jones hiding behind a train set because he's doing The Polar Express. (I can't believe Gorka isn't partnering Gethin, what a wasted opportunity to capitalise on all of that untapped sexual chemistry.) I should probably warn you now: I have only seen two of these six films (Frozen and Home Alone), so there may well be cultural references ahead that will be entirely lost on me. (And if you're planning to comment exhorting me to watch Elf or Love Actually immediately, I'd advise you not to bother because they both look fucking terrible and it's no accident that I've made it this far without ever having seen either of them.) [I've seen both.  Barely remember Elf but Love Actually is one of the worst films I've ever seen - Rad].

Pamela and Pasha pull a curtain open and suddenly we're in the studio, where Tess and Claudia arrive, escorted by Giovanni and Brendan respectively. They're attired suitably Christmassy, with Tess all in white and Claudia all in red. (I discovered while spending Christmas with my family that my mum can't stand Claudia Winkleman, which just adds further fuel to my suspicions that I was sent home from the hospital with the wrong parents.) Claudia 'n' Tess welcome everyone to the show (including the various members of the cast of 2016 scattered across the front row - Daisy looks very excited to be here, bless her) and explain for anyone who was asleep during the opening VT that each dance tonight will be themed around a classic Christmas movie. If you watched this episode with anyone who complained that they weren't doing Die Hard: leave them. Claudia also promises that Matt Goss will be here tonight to sing 'White Christmas', because this episode has a 75 minute timeslot and you'll probably need a wee at some point. The judges enter dressed as characters from The Chronicles of Narnia: Len as "the King of Narnia" (which one? Frank I? Peter The Magnificent? Edmund The Just? Caspian VIII? Come on, if you're going to have as explicit a theme as this, you can't allow the wheels to come off at the very first corner), Darcey as the White Witch (she's been called worse), Bruno as Prince Caspian and Craig as a Cowardly Lion costume they clearly dragged out of an old Wizard of Oz skit Aslan the Lion. Craig will be dressed like that for the whole evening, bless him. Also, there are no jokes about anyone having been in the closet, so let's just be grateful for small mercies.

And then we meet our Christmas stars, even though we've already met them in the VT: from The Saturdays, pop star and presenter Frankie Bridge and her partner Gorka Marquez, celebrity chef Ainsley Harriott and his partner Karen Clifton, writer and comedian Pamela Stephenson and her partner Pasha Kovalev, radio and television presenter Melvin Odoom and his partner Janette Manrara, former Olympian and presenter Denise Lewis and her partner Anton Du Beke, and finally TV presenter Gethin Jones and his partner Chloe Hewitt. Claudia reminds us that there will be no phone vote tonight: instead the studio audience [comprised of the 2016 cast, which may become relevant  shortly... - Rad] will vote for their favourite, and their votes will be combined with the judges's scores to crown our Christmas champions.

First up are Ainsley and Karen, who will be doing a jive to 'Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree' from Home Alone. His VT opens with an understandably short selection of highlights from his brief stint on the show last year - that tomato-themed salsa being the obvious standout - and Ainsley tells us all how he's thrilled to have been invited back and partnered with Karen, explaining that they're playing Harry and Marv and they'll be trying to break into the house to steal the Christmas trophy. Well, I'd say a sizeable chunk of Digital Spy posters just rushed to their laptops to confirm that this just proves everything they've always said about those dodgy Cliftons. He apologies to Natalie for the shift in his pro-partner loyalty, and Natalie's like "bothered, I got an athlete this year". In training, Karen says that she loves dancing with Ainsley and that he has a "natural groove" (that's basically the same as "natural rhythm", right? Just want to know if I should add that to the counter). Ainsley points out that he got knocked out of the competition the week he did the jive, so he feels he's got something to prove here. As it's Christmas, Karen and Ainsley are also dispatched to spread some good cheer by putting up a tree in a local care home and dancing with some of the residents. Ainsley says that bringing people together at Christmas is what it's really all about. That's odd, I thought it was about doing the hokey cokey and turning yourself around.

The routine begins (with Neil making a cameo as Kevin, looking at his hand-drawn battle plans to stop the burglars) as Ainsley and Karen scramble in through the fireplace before deciding to heck with robbery - let's do a jive instead! There's a slight Shakin' Stevens quality to Ainsley's dancing, and the fact that he's hunched over most of the time probably doesn't do a lot for his balance or bounce, but at least there's a lightness to the routine. The less said about the kicks and flicks the better, though. Anyway, Ainsley looks like he's having a blast, and honestly it's just quite nice to have him back - he was always pretty fun during his short time on the show. The routine ends as Ainsley and Karen remember their mission and make a dash for the trophy, just as Neil snatches it away from them at the last moment.

Tess tells Ainsley it's lovely to see his big smile again, and Len declares that this is how you get a Christmas party started. By entering through the chimney and then forgetting what you went for in the first place? He adds that Ainsley attacked it like he was stuffing a turkey - full of energy and full of go. I usually just use Paxo myself, but each to their own. Bruno says that you can trust Ainsley to cook up a storm, and he's sure it wasn't a turkey this time - it was more like "a juicy jiving goosey... a bit loose around the trimmings, sometimes". Craig thought the kicks were laboured, but "because it's Christmas" he's going to focus on the good bits - he loved the Elvis knee knocks, the personality and the showmanship. Darcey finishes by saying that he put a smile on her face from the outset, and he made those long legs work very hard.

They head up to the Clauditorium, which is apparently "Claudia's grotto" for tonight's purposes. Ainsley says it's a joy to be back here opening the show and surrounded by people dressed up for Christmas. Claudia asks Karen if Natalie gave her any tips on how to work with Ainsley, and Karen claims that Natalie told her "just make believe you're cooking bacon the whole time". Judging by Natalie's ill-fated stint on Celebrity MasterChef, I don't think I'd be terribly quick to take that advice. Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 9, Len ("Christmas, it's a time for giving and being generous!") 10 and Bruno 9 for a total of 35. Claudia points out that that is a 14-point improvement on Ainsley's last attempt at the jive. Mmmm. As there are no terms and conditions because there is no phone vote, Claudia simply welcomes some dancing pigs wearing blankets ('pigs in blankets', you see) to join her for a quick boogie.

We cut back to Tess not a moment too soon, because one of the pigs' heads looks like it's coming loose and we don't want to scare the children, so we move onwards to Gethin and Chloe. We're reminded that Gethin made it to the semi-final in 2007, and Gethin says that he's never really lost touch with the extended Strictly family - he went to America and worked on Dancing With The Stars for a bit doing their answer to It Takes Two, and then came back to work on the original It Takes Two and flirt with Gorka. This time he'll be dancing with Chloe, who is new to the show but is also the world European and Latin national champion, and he thinks she's going to be a harsh taskmaster. In training, Chloe says how excited she is to finally have a partner on the show, and Gethin is the perfect partner. They're doing a quickstep (which appears to have sizeable chunks of charleston thrown in) and Gethin notes that Chloe is working him so hard, oh no he's so sweaty, why are there no towels around, gosh I'll just have to use the bit of my t-shirt that normally covers my chiselled abs to mop my feverish brow. Don't worry everyone, I've got this covered:

You are all quite, quite welcome. Gethin and Chloe proceed to swap presents: he's bought her ankle weights to help slow her down, and she's bought him a lycra outfit so we can all get a proper look at the good stuff to help him speed across the floor. The main takeaway from this bit is that for such a buff, athletic man, Gethin has tiny skinny calves. 

Back in the studio, Gethin is lowered to the dancefloor inside a massive train to dance to 'The Polar Express' from The Polar Express. Gethin is the conductor (he can stamp my awayday anytime, etc etc) and Chloe a glamorous passenger who stops the train to quickstep with him, to what I presume is the fury of the other passengers who all have places to get to and connections to make. It's a lovely smooth quickstep, with lifts chucked in because apparently nobody cares about the rules at Christmas. The charleston section feels a bit unnecessary, and Gethin messes up his hands during the side-by-side shuffle section, but it's still very enjoyable and bodes well should Chloe get a proper partner next year.

Tess remarks upon Gethin being Chloe's first partner on the show, and Chloe says "thank you for making this such a joy for me - my first". Calm down hon, it's not prom night. Bruno declares his intent to buy a season ticket, and tells Gethin that he's still got it. Craig says that Gethin's thumb popped up briefly, but it was bright and lively and he loved the charleston interlude and he'd forgotten how good Gethin is. Darcey tells Gethin he "steamed through that with ease" (someone's after Len's job when he goes) and he kept in sync from beginning to end. (Apart from that one bit where he quite obviously didn't, but hey ho, she's probably going to be head judge next year and there's nothing we can do about it.) Len calls it a Christmas cracker and says that Gethin got his baubles bouncing, and on first viewing I think this was the bit where I felt some of my Christmas dinner attempting to make a reverse exit. He likens it to a glass of champagne: crisp, clean and delicious.

They head up to the Clauditorium, where Claudia says he "practically won" when he was on the show before (and could in theory have topped the public vote the night he went home, and might well have beaten Alesha if he'd made it to the final instead of Matt, and Strictly history could've been very different indeed) and he's basically part of the family now. Gethin says it's a very different feeling out there for sure, Claudia tells Chloe she's amazing, and the scores come in: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 38. Claudia informs Gethin that this bests his previous quickstep by four points, and Gethin wryly congratulates her on her "good knowledge". A choir appears, sings 'Ding Dong Merrily On High'.

Pamela and Pasha are next with their Christmas cha cha cha. I'm actually thrilled that Pamela's back, because I really disliked her during her stint on the show and it was only in retrospect that I came to appreciate how hilarious she was - I think it had something to do with the peace of mind of knowing she wasn't going to propel James Jordan to the win. In her VT, Pamela says that Strictly created "a bit of a dance monster" in her and you can't stop her these days. She's very excited to be partnered with Pasha, and has been admiring his arse work from afar. Their dance is based around Love Actually with Pasha as Hugh Grant and Pamela as Martine McCutcheon, and Pamela recalls that when she did the cha cha cha the first time around she got 32 for it; she hopes the judges will take the hint of her dance being set at No. 10. In training, Pasha says that it's going well, but Pamela's such a perfectionist that she sometimes stops in the middle of the dance because she wants to get it exactly right. Pasha tells Pamela to "hop on my Pasha Santa sled and I'll take you to Cha Cha Land". Pretty sure Pamela only heard "hop on and I'll take you" if her sex advice columns are anything to go by. Pamela says that she's enjoyed partying with Pasha in training, and she just hopes she can bring that to the ballroom.

They're dancing to 'Jump (For My Love)' by Girls Aloud, with Neil making another cameo as the security guard outside No 10 Downing Street. Pamela once again puts contestants who are at least 30 years her junior in the shade by moving incredibly easily through the routine, and Pasha's imitation of Hugh Grant's dorky dancing is adorable. The only real downside is that it's a cha cha, which is rarely the most impactful of dances, so I don't necessarily think this effort is going to get the credit it deserves in the vote, which is a shame. Also, the lift at the end where she does a handstand up onto Pasha's shoulders is a little unsteady.

Pamela says it's such a wonderful Christmas gift to be able to come back and strut her stuff again. Craig says he was "scared for his life" in that last lift but she made it up there, and she was fantastically on time and she "hasn't lost a thing". Darcey loved the cleanness of her accents and the cracking finish of the tumble-turn into the lift. Len says that she's like Santa because she's always on time and she always delivers - "what a cha-cha-charmer you are". Bruno finishes by saying that Pamela is "the top whip in the cabinet".

As they run up to the Clauditorium, you can see where half the make-up on Pamela's face rubbed off on Pasha's trouser leg in that final lift. Hee. Claudia tells Pamela that she and Tess cried for a week when she left, Pamela says that Pasha's amazing and then she and Pasha do the "no, you're amazing" thing back and forth and it's cuter than it has any right to be. Pamela says that at her age she's "just glad to be able to get around upright", and the scores are in: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39 - a seven-point increase on her previous attempt.

After a preview of the three dances yet to come, Tess and Claudia do their intermission comedy bit where Claudia is waiting under the mistletoe for Gorka to give her a kiss, only for Gorka to sneak up and kiss Tess instead while Claudia's got her eyes closed. That Gorka appears to be the show-approved target for everyone's lust this year gives me hope that he'll be back next year.

Denise Lewis is next, wearing the slightly forced grin of someone who's been away from the show for so long that she's now officially Anton-fodder. Tess reminds us that Denise made it to the final of her series but was beaten by Jill Halfpenny: Famous Original Megaringer. In her VT, Denise says that she has "such happy memories" of her time on the show: the glitz, the glamour, that time in the semi-final when she was in the bottom two despite being top on the leaderboard. However, it was 12 years ago, and that's a long time. Denise tells us that since her time on Strictly, she has retired from athletics and turned pundit - we may remember that time she got really excited watching Mo Farah win in 2012, but she's even more excited to be doing this Christmas special. Sure, Jan. Denise thinks that Anton is "the King of Ballroom" and it's just perfect that she's going to be dancing with him on Christmas Day. I feel like someone is threatening her family to make her say these things.

They're doing a Viennese waltz to 'Meet Me In St. Louis, Louis' from Meet Me In St. Louis, and Denise informs us that she's had three children since she was on the show, so she thought she'd bring "the little one" to training. Kane (for that is his name) pulls a cracker with Anton and then forgets Anton's name shortly afterwards. Harsh but fair. Kane scores his mum a 10 and wishes her a merry Christmas. Awww.

Denise still gives great ballroom and shows that she's not especially rusty despite her 12-year absence from the dancefloor as Anton whirls her around and around, though there are a few skippy moments where she seems to be struggling to keep up with him. Her posture is fantastic though, and she looks fantastic and elegant throughout.

Tess tells Denise that she looks better than ever, which immediately sends Anton into autopilot chirping out "better than ever! Younger, I'd say!" with his typical level of sincerity. Darcey loved the stunning fleckerl that kept going, and Len literally just word vomits a stream of consciousness about merry-go-rounds, pickled walnuts and the like, and he really could not be phoning it in any more at this point could he? Bruno calls Denise "radiant" and says that he couldn't have wished for a more precious Christmas gift both in terms of presentation and content. Craig says that the spotting was a little stiff in the turns, and it got skippy, but she maintained her frame and was graceful and gorgeous.

Up they go to the Clauditorium, where Anton shouts "MERRY CHRISTMAS!" and twirls Claudia around like he's had too much shandy, and Claudia tells us that Denise spent all of her time in training laughing. I imagine Anton has that effect on a lot of people. Denise says it's lovely to be back, and dancing with Anton. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 38. Anton grabs Denise and starts screaming "TENS! THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE!" I imagine Denise is feeling tens(e) at this point as well, Anton. Put her down.

Now Tess is sitting between Laura and Lesley, and introducing Melvin and Janette as the camera pulls right out to show us the class of 2016. From left to right, if you're interested: Tameka, Claudia, Laura, (Tess), Lesley, Greg, Naga, Louise, Ed, Danny. Poor Daisy/Rinder/Ore/Anastacia. I wonder if Will's even in the WhatsApp group any more. In his VT, Melvin states that he left Strictly "really early" but he's back and very excited. He's also, conveniently, the only celebrity paired up with his original partner tonight, so there's no awkward getting-to-know-you stage for Melvin this Christmas. They're dancing a charleston to a song from Elf that is apparently called 'Sparklejollytwinklejingley' (and you wonder why I have been avoiding this film?) and Janette says that Melvin is putting everything into this routine because he wants to come back with a bang for Christmas. Melvin does a Buddy the Elf impression and I idly wonder where I left the extra-strength Panadol. Janette takes Melvin to Hamley's for inspiration and like all visitors to that store in the run-up to Christmas they emerge several hours later, battered and bruised and swearing to get themselves sterilised at the first available opportunity. Or they meet some "elves" and go to Santa's Grotto, or something. Let's just start it so we can end it.

Well, the first thing I can say about Melvin's charleston is that it's better than any of the dances he did during the series proper. [It was basically a week three would-be-second-to-bottom-given-Ed dance - Rad] Sadly, that doesn't mean it's particularly good: there's zero swivel as far as I can see, he's not particularly in sync with Janette, and the second half of the routine basically features Melvin barely moving his feet as he serves as a human prop to get Janette through a series of increasingly acrobatic lifts. Still, it gets a roaring reception because it's a charleston and as long as you get through it without literally dying, you're pretty much guaranteed a standing ovation. The Class of 2016 remain on their feet and hollering long after everyone else has taken their seats, and you just know the second row is thinking "I don't care if you're Louise Redknapp, sit the fuck down".

Len tells Melvin that it was a parcel of joy, fun and entertainment, and it's a lovely Christmas present to see him back dancing again. Bruno says that it was "a festive pick-me-up" (literally, for Janette), exploding with energy and joy. Craig says that he's smiling "inside", and that it was compact and perky "with enormous attack" and he adored the lift. It's great to see Melvin's full potential, he adds. (Isn't it funny how so many people achieve their "full potential" with a charleston despite being absolutely crap at everything else? Genuinely starting to think we should just bin charlestons altogether at this point to level the playing field.) [I like Charlestons but this was hardly an advert for keeping them, though the last series' charlestons were only saved from being the worst by the tangos, so you may have a point - Rad] Darcey finishes by saying that she loved the routine, also citing the double cartwheel lift.

Tess refers to him as "Melfin" for the fortieth time this evening, like thanks Tess but we got it the first time, and sends him up to see Claudia who points out that his highest mark on the show was 23. Melvin says he'd be happy to get any score, he's already so happy. "ARE YOU? AWWWWW!" hoots Claudia, and please god Claudia, don't start getting as patronising as Tess is, I rely on you for much-needed respite from that. Scores: Craig 10, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 40. I know it's the season of goodwill and everything, but even taking into account Christmas score inflation and the standard charleston score inflation, that is some hot bullshit right there. Seriously, I know Melvin went out in rather unfortunate circumstances and the show probably feels like they owe him some sort of redemption, but this veers right into "he is in possession of incriminating pictures" territory.

Someone hands in some "Christmas crackers" on a platter - literal crackers, like biscuits - and gets the celebrities to read out some cheese-based jokes, but honestly nothing could be funnier than Melvin getting 40 for that charleston right now so I don't know why they are bothering.

The final couple in this year's Christmas special are Frankie and Gorka. They're dancing an American smooth to 'Let It Go' from Frozen, which means that Frankie is obviously Elsa and Gorka is wearing a powder-blue suit and some blue eyeshadow, and I am super into it. [Frankie's uber-highlight and golden fake tan, less so - Rad]

Also, no disrespect to the hair and wardrobe team but if you'd told me Frankie was playing Faye Tozer from Steps in this routine I would've accepted it without question.

In her VT, Frankie tells us she had so much fun during her series (evidently, since if I've done my maths correctly she was pregnant by the time it was over) and since then she's been very busy with her two kids, but she's hoping she can go one better than runner-up this time. She's particularly excited to have drawn the American smooth, because it's the one dance that she never got to do with Kevin (although Kevin did give her an American smooth-inspired showdance to make up for it). She's worried about the lifts, though, because she's never been very good with lifts and she's very nervous. In training, Gorka admits to being a big fan of Frozen, "but don't say to anyone, you know?" Gorka, hon, you're a professional dancer, I don't think liking Frozen's going to do much further damage to your macho street cred. To get Frankie in the mood, Gorka takes her to some sort of dodgy ice attraction thing and gives her a ratty blonde wig. (Gorka's "yes, this is stupid but just go with it" look to camera is adorable.) Frankie says she truly feels like the Snow Queen of Arundel and is then forced to do a bit of business where she pretends to have been frozen to an ice throne.

In terms of structure, this ends up being not drastically unlike her Hallowe'en week tango to 'Defying Gravity', and as a wise person on Twitter on Christmas Day (I've forgotten who it was, please forgive me) pointed out, they're basically the same song anyway. This is mostly evidenced by the routine ending with Frankie being carried up into the air on a tiny platform, but before that we get a cute bit where they lie on the floor and make snow angels with the visual effects, some you-really-didn't-need-to-worry-after-all elegant lifts and a lovely bit of Gorka emoting his little heart out to give Frankie enough time to get into her safety harness. Not a bad way to end the competitive element of the show.

Tess is all "that was cool! Eh? Eh? D'you get it?" Bruno says it was beautiful and magical, a perfect dance to end a perfect night. Craig says it melted his heart and he thought her lines were wonderful, and she makes the dance exciting. He loved Gorka's solo too. (*searches xtube for "gorka solo",  just on the off chance*) Gorka does a cute little "aw, shucks" bow at this. Darcey says seeing Frankie brings back wonderful memories, and her exits from the lifts were seamless. Len wraps up his time on the show by saying "the movie was Frozen, but you were on fire". Thanks Len.

Up in the Clauditorium, Claudia rattles through literally everything that we learned in the last 10 minutes including Frankie never having done an American smooth, Frankie having a baby since her series finished, and Gorka doing his little solo. Scores are in: Craig florp, Darcey wibble, Len blerg, Bruno yomp for a total of hurgleburgle, since in the wake of Melvin's charleston all scores are meaningless anyway. (Oh, fine: it gets 40 and Frankie's chuffed because she never got a perfect score during her series.)

What a way for Len to exit though, giving literally everything a 10. What a legacy to leave for yourself: the absolute death of your critical faculties.

Christmas leaderboard:
1=. Melvin & Janette - 40
1=. Frankie & Gorka - 40
3. Pamela & Pasha - 39
4=. Gethin & Chloe - 38
4=. Denise & Anton - 38
6. Ainsley & Karen - 35

[Thank fuck Christmas isn't canon.  This is probably the worst one yet - Rad]

Claudia suggests that we need a snowman because it's Christmas, so of course Aled Jones appears to lip sync to 'Walking In The Air'.

After that, there's a recap of the evening's performances, and then Matt Goss comes along to sing 'White Christmas'. Giovanni and Karen dance to the last third of it. *checks watch* Then it's time to get festively serious, as Claudia and Tess remind us that Christmas doesn't necessarily provide any respite for people with mental health problems, and cue up a VT of the cast going to a Mind event in North London. The message is very much about the importance of talking openly about mental health at Christmas, and indeed all year round, and someone points out in an Elle Woods-esque style that dancing creates endorphins and endorphins make you happy. Karen leads everyone in a cha cha class, and a woman tells Gethin how learning to dance helped her to cope with her diagnoses of OCD, anxiety and depression. Natalie asks a Mind volunteer what the main message she wants to get across to the world is, and the volunteer tells her that people should not give up hope, and that they should look to the future even during the dark days when you can't really focus on it. Gorka and Janette do a showcase routine, and Anton says how honoured he is to be a part of it all.

Back in the studio, it's time for the result. And the Christmas champions are...

...Melvin and Janette. Well, that's it. I guess it's time we started breathalysing the Christmas audience before we let them vote [or at least not invite contestants FROM THE CURRENT SERIES whose mates make up half the audience - Rad], because this system is clearly broken. I bet the three finalists and the semi-finalist were just thrilled to be defeated by a first-boot - good luck trying to cast top tier returners next year, guys, they might not be quite so keen once they know they're going to lose to Tony Jacklin.

Melvin declares this the best Christmas ever, and vows to put the trophy on his front door. The class of 2016 rush the floor, thrilled that their pal has triumphed, and the show closes with a dance themed around It's A Wonderful Life (oops, never seen that one either) where everyone gets to bid goodbye to Len one last time. It's a group jive to underrated festive banger 'Underneath The Tree' by Kelly Clarkson, where the men are all wearing really high-waisted trousers and this really highlights Gorka's, um, finest asset. The routine goes off fairly smoothly, though I have my suspicions that Pamela gets quite lost in the last 30 seconds or so. When it's over, Len joins Tess and Claudia centre-stage and that is officially a wrap for Len Goodman on Strictly Come Dancing.

That's it for us for this year too. All being well, we'll be back in just under nine months' time for the start of Strictly 2017 paving the path for Tomasz Schafernaker's march to victory. (Look, if I wish for it enough times, it'll happen, right?) Until then: happy new year!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Hip Hip Ore!

The Final: 17 December 2016

Hello and welcome back! So, we have survived 15 pro-celebrity dance pairings; Halloween, musical and movie weeks; week before Blackpool week, BLACKPOOL week, Blackpool hangover week; many quite excellent quicksteps and several terrible tangos; and last week, two dance week, which saw off Claudia and AJ.

Tonight! Just three couples remain: Danny and Oti; Louise and Kevin; Ore and Joanne - they probably weren’t the three I would have locked on for the final from the very first episode, simply by virtue of Will being in the cast, but once he left, I think we established quite early on that these three were going to be the ones to beat, combining technical skill with popularity in a way that it was clear none of the others, except possibly late-stage Claudia, were going to match. [Although Ore's popularity had a bit of a question mark hanging over it, given his two visits to the dance-off. - Steve] Over the course of this series, all three of them have turned in some excellent dances and have all also come across well in interviews. Obviously Danny has been the most consistent as well as being the overall most gifted, but he is also the biggest ringer and that doesn’t always translate into a win - just ask Denise Van Outen or Natalie Gumede. Hollyoaks plus talent doesn’t always equal the win either – ask Ricky Whittle. [Or Ali Bastian - Steve] Having never hit the bottom two, Louise could possibly be seen as the favourite going into the evening, but Ore has a JOURNEY on his side, having never danced at all, no, not ever, what do you mean that Comic Relief thing, as well as probably having stronger standout dances than Louise, despite a lower standard of achievement across the series as a whole. What I’m saying is that it’s a pretty open final (and anyone of them winning would make more sense than when Abbey Clancy won, not that we’re still bitter about that or anything). I have voted for all three of these finalists at least once during the series, have enjoyed dances from all of them and think they all seem like nice people, plus I’m from Grimsby (which has not been mentioned anywhere near enough this year after the overload of Kevin’s first series) and I’m in awe of Oti, so I would be quite happy for anyone to win tonight. [I went into the finale feeling much the same way - I was backing Louise, but also that I was happy for any of them to win and potentially any one of them could get my vote on the night depending on how the final went, and that's something I haven't felt for a while. - Steve] Another thing I’m happy about? A three couple final. Hooray! 

We open with a reminder of call of the celebrities we have loved and lost in 2016. No, no, not like every news bulletin we’ve had in this godforsaken year, this just refers to the contestants who’ve been knocked out of the competition, a.k.a. probably the only celebrities still living (at time of writing anyway). On the subject of celebrity passing, I’d like to dedicate this post to my friend Diane who sadly passed away unexpectedly this week and would, I’m sure, have liked to be thought of as a celebrity, at least given the many star turns she had in Sound of Music singalongs. She was the reason I started watching Strictly on a regular basis back in series 3 after only dipping in and out of it for the first two series, and I’m sure she would have really enjoyed this final.

Still on we go - cue credits! I still don’t understand why Melvin Odoom is coming back for the Christmas special.

We open with a montage of our three celebrities stalking the glitter ball and talking about how much they want to win it, whilst looking at it as if it is a bomb threatening to blow up in their faces. It’s not that bad, guys, the worst thing that will probably happen is you coming back next year to do an underwhelming reprisal dance - and nobody really remembers those anyway. This then moves us into an opening dance to ‘When Love Takes Over’, where all the loser pros (plus Neil and Chloe) reach for the glitter ball, fail and are reduced to doing some substandard disco with very badly executed lifts as a punishment before Joanne, Kevin and Oti turn up to remind them how to actually dance and then they are saved from their dance sins. Such a touching seasonal message! At one point, Oti is flanked by either Clifton, as if to demonstrate that they’re her bitches now. Heck, after this series, we are all Oti’s bitches now! Golden glitter ball signs lift up to reveal each of our final celebrities, perched atop glittery silver hoops: Danny, Louise and Ore. Louise’s hair is looking worryingly like her cha-cha hair, which I am guessing must be a hint as to judges’ choices. [Ha, I leapt to the exact same conclusion. We're so cool. - Steve] Hard to tell what the other two will be doing from their hair, unsurprisingly.

Tess’n’Claud enter down the staircase.  Daly Dresswatch: black, sequinny.  What Winkleman’s Wearing: Silvery party dress.  Both suitably celebratory, I think, so a rare well done to their wardrobe team. They remind us how the final will work and welcome our judges. Craig’s panto beard is more panto stubble tonight and he looks unusually unkempt.

Our celebrities enter for the final time, and we get to see what they’re wearing for their first dance, which must be the judges’ choice: Kevin and Louise are, indeed in their cha cha outfits (booooo!) whilst Danny and Oti and Ore and Joanne are wearing quickstep and American Smooth respectively.  So, in the past few series, judges’ choice has, ill-advisedly, been a random and fairly rubbish dance from earlier in the draw under the guise of the celebs needing to improve – when all we as the audience want are their greatest hits, surely? However, tonight, with Danny and Ore, it looks exactly like what we’re getting. We already know from ITT that Danny’s also reprising his samba and Ore his jive, which means they’re both revisiting arguably their most loved dances of the series (I’d add the American Smooth in there for Danny, but he did just perform that in the semi-finals so I can see why they didn’t go there), whilst Louise is reprising her Argentine Tango later and therefore the obvious second choice would be her amazing paso. Now I know they don’t have prop dancers or BLACKPOOL staging and her costume’s on loan elsewhere, but I’m sure they could have figured out a way round that. I mean Louise’s cha-cha FGS. Cha-chas rarely, if ever, deserve to be in the final anyway, but especially not that one. [It did feel like she was playing catch-up from the outset, didn't it? I guess they were treating her Argentine tango as ballroom and wanted a Latin to balance it out, but...why not her jive? Her charleston? Even her rumba would've probably been a better bet. - Steve] She already looks a bit defeated and it hasn’t got going yet.  I wonder if she was running away with the vote and they needed the big guns to hobble her tonight. /tinfoilhat

Oh, well, let’s see how the FINAL OF THE YEAR OF THE MAN pans out, shall we? To further compound the message, Tess and Claudia cue up the couples’ choices as being ‘that jive from Ore’, ‘Danny’s record breaking samba’ and ‘oh yeah Louise is here too’.

The first couple of the evening are Ore and Joanne and they’re summoned to the judges’ throne room (Darcey on a silver throne and the others on gold. Who knew there were gender-coloured precious metals?) The judges tell them to get a 40 and ensure Ore has correct posture in their American Smooth. Ore says he feels they can smash it. They got a 35 last time, but he’s hoping they can better that. Guys, it’s the final. You could better that even if you just sat down for the whole routine.
I did enjoy this ‘Singing in the Rain’ American Smooth and it’s just as lovely second time round as before. I do think it’s technically better as well. Ore seems to be really on it tonight, and really enjoying himself. I’ll be very surprised if that doesn’t get a 40, or at least a 39 if the judges are wanting to see marks rising during the evening. Ore thanks everyone for how amazing his experience has been and we wave at the singers, Dave Arch and the orchestra for one last time this series.
Len says he was screaming the whole way through (I guess a sports presenter is as close as we have to a SPORTSMAN in this final for Len’s inner fangirl) and Ore is the ‘boy that brings joy’. Bruno says it was a beautifully crafted tribute to Gene Kelly without being an imitation. Craig says his frame was vastly improved and he was higher on his toes although there wasn’t some foot pointing at one point. Darcey says she wished she could watch it on rewind (anyone want to tell her about the iPlayer?) and calls it heaven to watch.

Up in the Clauditorium, we’re reunited with all our returning pros and celebrities in their promo-shot outfits who cheer them on (Will seems to be absent, which is a shame, but I guess that was to be expected.  Hope you’re OK, Will!). We then cut to Gene Kelly’s widow in the audience who looks way too young to have ever been married to him, even though it was a late-life marriage (for him). She twirls for the audience. Alright love, you’re not Billy Connolly. You’re barely even Jamie Redknapp.  Scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 for a total of 39. 

The second couple of the evening are Louise and Kevin.  In the throne room, they laugh when they’re given the cha cha cha. The judges’ rationale for the choice?  They won the cha cha challenge so they should be able to redeem it. Craig says he thinks they can get a perfect score for this dance. I highly, highly doubt it.

This reprise of their ‘What a Feeling’ cha cha is…not especially good, as if it ever could be, hobbled with that hair, that theme and, well, being a cha cha. There are several little mistakes, Louise looks like she hates it the whole time and I do really feel for her because if they couldn’t reprise her paso, at least some lovely traditional Kevin Clifton ballroom should have sent some votes her way, but this 
dance is hardly going to convince the floating voters. [It just felt very low-energy, didn't it? Like she was marking her way through it. I think this was where I became fairly certain that, without something miraculous for her showdance, Louise wasn't winning this thing. - Steve]

Bruno calls it saucier than ever. I suppose it could be that cheese sauce you get with nachos. B
But cold. *shudder*. He claims the movements were well-placed and it was a feel-good routine. Not for Louise, I expect. Craig says he used to do this in his drag act and he thinks Louise’s hip action and timing have improved. Darcey says Louise never overdoes things [I'LL SAY - Steve] and she’s a joy to watch. Louise, with shards of silver foil covering her from the glitter explosion end moment, smiles patiently. Len congratulates her for not wearing a skirt. Seriously.

In the Clauditorium, we’re reminded that Louise’s official JOURNEY is about her growing in confidence. Scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 for a we’re-clearly-on-final-scoring-here total of 38. No way was that only one mark lower than Ore’s. Or in any way a 9 or 10. And I really like Louise and think she’s had plenty of dances that did deserve those high marks. Still, onwards, and hopefully her next two dances will be great.

Now we have Danny and Oti, and the judges basically just want them to reprise their quickstep because they liked it. JOURNEY.

Not that I’m complaining at seeing this ‘I Won’t Dance’ quickstep again because it’s probably my joint favourite of his along with the American Smooth. And can we have a hand for this series’ quicksteps, please? The only one I’ve actively hated was Louise’s, which was NOT A QUICKSTEP – most of the others have been in the top two or three of each celeb’s repertoire for me. The same cannot be said of tangos. I quite liked Laura’s and that’s about as far as it goes – yet another year of terrible music choices and/or theming killing that dance, which is such a shame, as it’s a great dance when it’s done well. [I liked Greg's tango, but mostly for, erm, posture reasons. - Steve]

Anyway, back to Danny and Oti and this… is a bit of a mess. I mean, it’s still a fast, delightful and difficult routine, but there are mistakes throughout and his feet at several points look like they’re going to trip him up. I’m not sure what happened here – I assume he must have gone onto the wrong foot at one point and then tried to play catch-up with himself, but it’s not the way an almost-perfect ringer dancer wants to perform in their first dance of the final and I hope that doesn’t knock his confidence too much for the rest of the evening.

Tess says Oti’s dress got caught in her heel, but these things happen on live TV. I had to rewatch it to see that part and it was minimal - the dance was struggling before that happened, sadly. Danny says he loves that dance and despite ‘whatever happened’ it was good to do it again.

Craig says the timing of the first pendulum was out and then the final promenade just went and it was a shame as he’d hoped it’d be fantastic, but it was still bright, light and elegant, and he is a fantastic dancer. Darcey says she still loves the dance, and it was a shame there were mistakes, but she loves Oti’s choreography. Len says he is a superb dancer who has made everyone else dance better because his standard has set the bar. He’s disappointed that Danny did loads to please Len, like cut down the conducting, but there were some big mistakes. Bruno says he should forget about that and focus on the next two dances as he’s one of the best showmen they’ve ever seen.

In the Clauditorium, Danny says he could feel in his body that it went wrong but he wasn’t sure exactly what happened. Scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 for a total of 36, the same score as he got last time when there weren’t any mistakes. Oh, this show.

Leaderboard 1:
Ore and Joanne 39
Louise and Kevin 38
Danny and Oti 36

I’d say that was a deserved round one to Ore. [Me too. - Steve] Claudia asks Len to open the vote and the judges wave paddles spelling OPEN. In the Clauditorium, everyone claps and shouts and Claudia can’t be heard over them. We then get our first recap of the evening and I’m sure looking forward to however many more of them we’ve got coming.

Claudia’s Comedy Caper yet again features her with a rope holding an invisible prop and promising not to break it as she feeds through the never-ending rope… and then lets go and drops it.  New material needed please thanks.

Ore and Joanne are back for their second routine, and their VT features the rare sight of Tess’n’Claud visiting the training room. Ore says he’s nervous about falling from a great height and they demonstrate dancing on a rehearsal-room metrodecking platform that looks somewhat more robust than yer average Strictly prop and Tess gasps as she wonders how she will cover a contestant falling and breaking themselves live on Saturday night.

This showdance is to ‘I’ve Got Rhythm’ and Joanne’s clearly taken a leaf out of Camilla and Tom’s book (albeit with a likeable celebrity partner) and gone for a full-on Hollywood musical crowd-pleasing routine, fusing together tap, Charleston, foxtrot, quickstep, tango, American Smooth and about fifteen other genres, along with jumping around on a giant drum kit and sliding down very, very wobbly looking giant cymbal slides. It’s a touch rough around the edges in places, especially when clambering around on the props, although they presumably wouldn’t have had much time to rehearse with those, but it’s super-fast, full of variety and remains quite elegant despite it being frenetic. It’s an ambitious routine, and one of the more enjoyable show dances I can recall. Credit to these two, because they could have looked like underdogs after more bottom two appearances than the others, but they have pulled the stops out this week and Ore is really giving it everything. I think the momentum could well be with them for the win if the others do underwhelming show dances, and I’m not sure I would have said that before the show kicked off. [Agreed. At this point I decided I was voting for Ore to win, and I was quite surprised about that. - Steve]

Darcey says the dance was full of everything she likes, and the section on the drum kit was incredibly difficult to pull off and she loved how he didn’t miss any of his jumps. Ore says it was close. Darcey says she loved how it revisited his best dances of the series. And that Charleston which we all still have nightmares about. Len gives it a standing ovation and Bruno says it exceeded all expectations. Craig calls it an aerobic step class and says he was blown away by the number of dance styles and steps.

In the Clauditorium, Ore says there’s no-one better to choreograph a ballroom show dance than Joanne Clifton and whilst this series has been a mixed bag for her, I think this is one of those moments where you really could see her talent coming through. Ore’s mum and unflappable dad are in the audience and he waves at them and says he’s lost a stone through dancing. Scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 for their first 40 and the first of the evening.

Louise and Kevin now and he says this will be a dance that showcases Louise’s journey from slightly embarrassed looking ringer to slightly embarrassed looking ringer with fruit on her head. Such a long way she’s come. The training footage makes it look like contempowaftorama including one lift where Louise looks dead and hangs limply over Kevin’s arms. Tess and Claudia visit them and wear their coats the whole time, before reminding Kevin that he always ends up in the final but never wins as if we (and Kevin) weren’t well aware of this.

As predicted, this is contempo-waft-a-go-go, complete with Whitney (‘One Moment in Time’), dry ice, white curtains, purple and pink lights, ballet shoes and floaty purple costumes, with fireworks erupting at the crescendos in the music to make the audience cheer regardless of the dancing.  It’s quite balletic in places and there’s some earnest reaching, a bunch of lifts and some very odd arm movements in places. There’s also a bit where Kevin walks around holding Louise for ages that looks like he’s forgotten what to do, and she is grinning her head off throughout. I haven’t even seen Danny and Oti’s showdance yet and I suspect Louise and Kevin are going to be the worst of the three. I mean, it wasn’t entirely terrible, but compared to what Ore and Joanne just did? I like Kevin, you know, I really do, but I’m starting to suspect that he is the main reason he never wins this thing. Give him a few duffers for a bit so he can ponder on that for a while, hmmm? [See, I think Kevin is usually pretty reliable where showdances are concerned - Susanna's was fine, Frankie's was fine, Kellie's was probably the best of last year's rum bunch. This I think was a rare misfire from him, and compounded by Louise dancing like she didn't really care if she won or not. - Steve]

Len says it’s one moment in time she’ll never forget. RETIRE. Bruno says – and with a straight face despite him SURELY being on a bet – ‘the best lift was the one you gave my heart.’  Egads. Craig says it was expressive but there was something I don’t quite understand about the knee and the foot that wasn’t great. Darcey says it was daring to wear ballet shoes instead of heels but it made her more expressive. If I’d been dancing in heels for three bloody months I’d be wearing ballet shoes the first moment I got as well, TBH.

In the Clauditorium we recover Jamie Redknapp’s journey from a bit non-plussed to raging superfan and we cut to him beaming up whilst Harry sits beside him looking THOROUGHLY UNIMPRESSED. Scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 for a total of 39.

Tess introduces Danny and Oti sitting next to Carley Stenson whose face is all ‘you better all be voting Danny or so help me God I’ll set Oti on you.’ Can I get a pass for being out all night and not voting for anyone? [No. My friend was out all night and made me text her when the lines opened. - Steve.] Tess and Claudia visit the training room where Oti says the story of their dance is Danny being nervous, at the start, ONLY BEING IN SHAMEFUL SECOND PLACE before finding his place at the top of the leaderboard from then on. Presumably it climaxes in him hitting the dance-off as we- ouch, Oti, that stings! No, please, not my eyes! Ahem. Anyway, Danny thinks having Tess and Claudia at training was great because it meant he had the two most positive people in the world in the room and if Tess Daly is the most positive person Danny knows then I am super sad for him and feel like we need to rescue him.

To the show dance! It’s set to ‘Set Fire To The Rain’ which automatically equals EMOTIONAL AND BOMBASTIC but that could equally mean it’ll be either TOUCHING THE DIVINE or a mega-car crash on the scale of Dummy Dance, so I’m nervous. It starts with them facing each other through a mirror and then he pulls Oti to him before she drags him back over to her side to teach him the evil wicked ways of dance. It’s all tango and paso and contemporary and stomping about and earnest fist bashing, with fire erupting at the requisite moments and the floor also resembling the fires of Hades, and then they end up on separate sides of the mirror again, he in water, she in fire, before the picture frame collapses into the realm of hellfire dance villainy and she leaps into his arms to be saved. SYMBOLISM! I’ve seen that a couple of times now and I’m still a bit baffled. I like it, I think, but it is also a bit A-Level Performing Arts (which I have, so I’m allowed to use that as a critique) and it kind of makes (justice for) Natalie and Greg’s rumba look understated. Quite a fun watch though, with a lot of energy and passion, and better than Louise and Kevin, for sure, but I think it’ll be quite divisive for the voting public. [It went down like a cup of cold sick in my house, but my friend who was actually in the audience for the final said it was electrifying to watch right in front of you. So yeah, I guess "divisive" is right. - Steve] That said, the voting public did go for Louis and Flavia’s stupid gym ball show dance nonsense and this is way less ridiculous than that...  

As the audience go mental, Oti strokes his face like she’s going to kiss him, then leans away with a cheeky grin, the saucy minx.

Bruno calls it a firework of passion and he loves Danny’s commitment to telling a story, where everything he does has a meaning and perfectly choreographed. Craig calls it ‘totally brilliant’.  Darcey says ‘there was sparks [sic] coming off that dancefloor’ and it had lots of genres in it, the perfect show dance. Len says it was showy and a dance. Come on Len, you only have one more set of critiques (except Christmas, although that’s already been filmed), please try to reach for something other than the name of the song or dance.

In the Clauditorium, Claudia says it looked like Carley couldn’t breathe. Oti says she wanted to show Danny’s passion and bring some fire. Scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 for a total of 40.

Round 2 leaderboard?
Ore and Joanne 39+40=79
Louise and Kevin 38+38=76
Danny and Oti 36+40=76

Who would have seen that coming before tonight?

So we’re two dances in, and yet the show is not even half-way over. What unholy manner of filler awaits us? Bruce isn’t going to do a little sing over Skype is he?

Another recap, in which they picked a moment of Ore and Joanne’s show dance that looks a little out of sync, moments of both of Louise’s dances that look AWFUL, and Danny’s show dance’s DRAMATIC ENDING. They might as well have put ‘Don’t vote Louise’ signs on the footage.
Time for our three finalists to talk about what this experience has meant to them: wonderful public, growth, confidence and also Louise would like to win so the storyline of Kevin always being in the final but never winning could finally come to an end please god.

Instead of going to more filler, we’re straight in with the third dances.

Ore and Joanne’s VT is about how he’s progressed. From OK to good to OK again to good again WHAT A JOURNEY. Also, being in the dance-off is not that nice and these two love each other. Yes, yes, but what is going on with Joanne’s hair in this VT that makes her look just like mid-era P!nk?  Also Danny’s wife loves him and Joanne has some orange trainers. EDUCATIONAL.

Their final dance is their jive, which apparently is not so sacred that they are refusing to taint its legacy by performing it in the final. I also love that there are what appear to be Aliona and Jay baiting v-s wiggling past eyes movements (I wish I knew the terminology for that) in this dance, which I hope is deliberate. [Me too, because Aliona was *such* a dickhead about it the first time. - Steve] I think what makes this jive work so well, apart from the dancing, of course, is that it is a great marriage of lighting, costume, song (‘Runaway Baby’) and movement – mixing traditional jive moves with a bit of cheeky fun AND NO SODDING PROPS OR COMEDY BEARDS. It even has less Joanne skirt-swishing this time than last. So much fun.

Craig says he hates not having anything to criticise and calls it ‘virtuosic’. Darcey praises the sharpness and cleanness of the kicks and flicks and says he knows how to work and that makes him a true dancer. Len says people like him give Len the most pleasure. On Strictly, but there was a mighty long pause there. Also he’s the ‘spirit of Strictly’ for not being [as much of] a ringer. Bruno calls him sheer perfection. The audience go crazy with screaming and foot stamping and, you know what, I think he has this. And he probably deserves it. Something’s happened with him this week that’s really ramped up his dancing, whilst the other two seem to be floundering a little. [Yep. I think he certainly made a convincing case for himself in the final, even if he didn't necessarily manage to do it over the series as a whole. He managed not to have a single weak round in the week where it mattered most, which Danny and Louise didn't quite manage. - Steve]

Joanne cries and thanks him for working so hard. Scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 for a total of 40 although Jo only really reacts to the Craig 10, because it’s still the only one that counts (EXCEPT WHEN HE IS GIVING COWGIRL AND BOLLYWOOD NONSENSE HIGH SCORES AND AMAZING DRAMATIC CONTEMPORARY RUMBAS 4S OF COURSE).

Louise and Kevin’s story. Louise thinks the Argentine Tango and Viennesse Waltz aren’t things people have any opportunity to learn. Surely some dance schools must teach them somewhere? Or are they some sort of magical knowledge only bestowed on you through the dark arts? Louise says she wouldn’t still be in the show if she didn’t have Kevin as a partner, but it sounds like she says ‘Kevin’s father’ which sounds like an epic burn. Then Kevin completely LOSES IT and cries all over the VT in a manner of Oksana randomly self-destructing after Judge Rinder left. Also Jamie and the kids love Louise.

I’m so glad for Louise that she gets to end the final on her Argentine Tango as it’s easily the best of her three dances tonight. It’s still full of drama and attack and has the epic gravity-defying bit where her legs scale a table and ascend into the sky. Who knew that Louise Redknapp would most excel in the DRAMATIC dances? It makes me weep for the lost opportunity that was her crappily-themed tango last week. 

Len says she never had a SEV-UHN. Well, not from him. Darcey and Craig chucked some her way.  Bruno says there’s a real quality to her dancing and the musicality really thrills him. Craig says he’s pleased it’s the audience who decide tonight as that was superlative. Sure, you’re glad now, but I bet you’ll be carping about it in interviews soon enough. Whatever the outcome. Scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 for a total of 40 and I’m so pleased for Louise and Kevin that they get to go out on high – if they won without a 40 they’d no doubt be pilloried and if they don’t win it at least demonstrates that they’ve been (mostly) great all the way through. [Agreed. I was pleased she pulled this one off - it was probably too late to make any difference to her chances of winning, but it reminded me why I wanted her to win in the first place. - Steve]

Danny and Oti’s VT is chock-full of clips of all their amazing dances and I’d forgotten how awesome their jive and Charleston were, in particular. Also he loves Oti and Carley and apparently the samba was the first time Danny was himself on the dancefloor. That doesn’t quite resemble the Danny I’ve seen in VTs and on ITT, but maybe the off-camera Danny is ALL about monkey arms and insane tribal rhythms, who knows?

The dance is as crazy (in a good way) as before and I know we’ve said it several times this series, but Oti’s choreography has been a revelation. She’s brought something really fresh to the table and obviously it helps having Danny, probably the most naturally skilled male celebrity they’ve ever had on the show, as a partner, but I genuinely don’t think his memorable dances would have been as memorable with anyone else – not least as his personality is not quite at the level of many of this year’s other contestants’. I do feel a bit sorry for Oti as she’s bound to get a duffer next year but maybe her komedy choreography could be fun and interesting, too. I just hope she doesn’t get lumbered with another broken contestant like last year. Even though I think it’s close tonight between Ore and Danny, with Ore probably shading it marginally, I’d love Danny and Oti to win for their overall performance across the series. Joanne’s brought a lot of good stuff with her too, but her choreography’s been fairly 50/50 in terms of hits and misses, whereas I’d put Oti’s ratio at about 80/20 and that 20 was mainly things that could possibly have gone either way, like the big red string. Still, I’m glad they both had a great year as last year must have been really deflating for both of them. Now, let’s give Chloe a ringer and see what she can do next year.

Len says you can’t improve on perfection; Bruno says they’re sex on legs and the dance will never be forgotten. Craig and the audience do a panto FAB-U-LOUS and Darcey says the body isolations and free abandonment were a winning combination.

In the Clauditorium, Oti’s crying so much her make-up is streaming down her face and a sweaty Danny thanks the audience and everyone else in the universe. Scores: an ‘I hate this’ 10, an ‘I don’t hate this’ 10, 10 and an ‘I absolutely love it’ 10 for a total of 40. The Clauditorium erupts in jumping, clapping and singing.

Final final leaderboard?
Ore and Joanne 39, 40, 40 for a total of 119
Louise and Kevin 38, 38, 40 for a total of 116
Danny and Louise 36, 40, 40 for a total of 116.

Whilst I don’t think any of the dances were really, truly, perfect tonight, I actually don’t begrudge those 40s for the last dance per couple tonight – they were all of a fantastic standard and have a really strong rewatch value, which I don’t think I’d say about their equivalents in all the other series necessarily. And it’s been a genuinely close to call final, which is great.

As is traditional, let’s take a look at what we could have won had the celebrities done their missing dance. Danny and Oti might have given us a lovely waltz, but I think I can safely say that Louise and Kevin’s salsa and Ore and Joanne’s samba are no great loss to the world.

Time for another recap, and an interminably long and boring VT of members of the public praising the show, and some people even claim that Naga, Tameka and Laura were their favourites. Whether they're also their personal friends or not is hard to call. Also some medieval re-enacters pretend to be Anastacia, Brendan and Gorka for some reason I can't fathom.

More filler time! The return from obscurity of Emily Sunday, looking unrecognisable, wearing a nightie and singing some mediocre album track about highs and lows. I actually quite like the two singles they've released off her new album, couldn't she do one of those? This is rubbish. Also Katya, in a bin-bag jumpsuit, dances a bit with Giovanni and he does more of those endless spins he did when he was covering up for Laura's injury. As final dance showcases go, it's no Anton'n'Nat do a bit of lovely ballroom, that's for sure.

We then have a tribute to Len, in which my favourite bit is some footage from series one, featuring the backdrop being a dusty red curtain with a string of Poundland fairy lights strung over one end of it, the judging order being Bruno, Arlene, Len and Craig, and the images of the four of them: Bruno in a casual jacket and T-shirt with short cropped hair; Arlene in a Per Una style mum top with a tragic bob; Len in a Burton's suit with a green tie and brown hair, looking like a used car salesman, Craig in pinstripes with an ugly turquoise tie and terrible dark hair, and their chairs are all stacked so closely together they must have constantly been kicking each other's feet. Also loads of old celebrity contestants return to pay tribute, which is lovely. And (present day) Anton wears a blue jacket with ugly blue and black lapels and pretends a '7' is better than a '10'. Len says he'll miss everything about the show and the three best judges on television, which I am sure is a burn against Alesha, but why no love for the Scherzy, Len? It will be unusual without him, so for one last time, let's have a collective FUCK OFF LEN!! (Also, hope you have a nice retirement and that). [Enjoy all of your Dancing With The Stars money! - Steve]

To see him off is a classic ballroom pro-dance to 'May Each Day', and here's the lovely Anton and Natalie ballroom we've been needing tonight. They're then joined by the others, gradually, for a mostly-waltz-but-with-other-bits starlit routine that's all very sweet and nice. The dancers and audience give Len a standing ovation. Aww, even as someone who's not a Len fan, that was lovely.

Time for our annual end-of-series car-crash group dance! We are reminded of the rocketship entrance, but not the bizarre fever-dream opening sequence that preceded it, funnily enough. Then we see clips of everyone's training and dancing and they all tell us how hard it was, how much they loved their pro, how it changed their lives etc etc. Also, Judge Rinder wears an unusual denim suit and... I don't hate it?!

Their group routine opens to 'Never Gonna Give You Up'; which is hilarious in and of itself. Melvin and Janette DJ before she jumps at him in an awkward lift that bodes well for Christmas (WHY?), Tameka sits on a throne and recreates her credit sequence hand gensture. Then we move into the Spice Girls' 'Stop' (BURN) and Naga sits down for a bit before half-heartedly doing a few Charleston steps, Lesley reprises her old-lush-at-the-bar routine and is flirted with by all the men <3. Anastacia dances on a podium a bit, Laura poses at the bottom of the staircase and then utterly fails to dance two steps onto some moving stairs. Daisy and Aljaž stand atop their diner set from their cha cha, then Greg jumps over it and dances a few steps with Natalie before we go into a random 'Gangnam Style' which the singer can't pronounce and is not done to the actual tune. This segues into S Club 7's 'Reach' and some Rindy breakdancing, before Claudia does a load of gymnastics. Then Claudia ends up at the front of a jive section - and Claudia's jive is not a thing I wish to remember, thanks all the same. It soon falls into a generic party dance and then it's over! 2016!

We get a trailer for Christmas, which doesn't look like it's going to contain some good dancing, but Melvin and Janette apparently are going to 'redeem' themselves with an a-may-zing from Craig. And former Christmas contestant Matt Goss will be singing. SPECIAL!

Back with the celebrities and Ed Balls cries and says it's been a special experience. Daisy has still been dancing and says she's going to dance every day and the rest of them, clearly having already stopped, all laugh. Tameka is sitting on a random stool - coupled with the throne from earlier, I'm a bit worried she's properly injured, so best wishes to you, Tameka. We're also reminded of Greg and Judge Rinder's bromance and how we all wish we'd seen more of that.

Is that enough filler for you yet?  Well, get ready, because here are the judges' opinions of our final three. Danny's dances have a lot of detail in; he looks like a pro; he has excellent storytelling; that samba. Louise has wonderful musicality; is charming and elegant; wasn't confident at the start and the Argentine Tango CHANGED HER LIFE. Ore has never 'trained' before; he gives it his all; he nails the characters; that jive. Well, I feel enlightened, don't know about you.

So, around 45 minutes after the dances ended, it's finally results time! They're lined up as follows: Ore and Joanne; Louise and Kevin; Danny and Oti, aka the order in which they danced. The winners are Ore and Joanne, who can't believe it and sink to the floor, before Kevin grabs his sister and whirls her round. Aww. [Or BOO! CLIFTONS! depending on your taste, I guess]. Ore cries and Joanne looks utterly shell-shocked. Claudia rubs it in that Kevin's sister has won in her first series with a decent contestant, whereas he's had four and still never managed it. Oh and Louise is grateful to have danced with him. Danny thinks it's one of the best experiences of his life and that Oti's brought the best out of him. Oti thanks the audience for being amazing. Ore tells Joanne he loves her with all his heart and they cry some more. He says he's loved this show for twelve years and he thanks 'every single one of you' including Frances in wardrobe whose birthday it is (aww), props, hair, judges, Len. [Psst, Ore! Thank YOUR WIFE! - Steve] Jo thanks him for working so hard and becoming a dancer.

They lift the glitterball and are mobbed by the rest of the contestants, whilst Brendan carefully slips the glitterball away. Yeah, he might be pretending it's for its safety but how do we know he wasn't struck by a case of 'I won it first, it's MINE', huh? Ore and Joanne are lifted up to the sounds of 'Dancing on the Ceiling' and that's it!  

Thanks to all involved for what's been a pretty good series, all in all, I think.  I'd also like to thank Steve for that mid-series swap he needed which meant I got to recap mostly good weeks and he, er, didn't so much. [Yeah, you're welcome. - Steve] And w'd like to thank you, as always, for your loyal views and comments.  Join us for the Christmas special sometime before the end of the year, and until then, KEEP DANCING!

Saturday, 17 December 2016

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

- On a scale of one to gutted, Claudia is really gutted to have missed out on the semi-final.
- AJ thinks that Claudia's quickstep could've won any competition.
- Claudia is relieved to have finally had the chance to do something in her life other than gymnastics, and to get to be happy.  I kind of want to rescue her now.
- Claudia's family are quite cute, but it's a bit late to be wheeling out kids and nans, now, isn't it?
- Everyone is trolling Giovanni by pretending that Kevin won the pro challenge.
- The thing Len will miss most is the expectation each Saturday.
- If Len had been in charge at the BBC, he would've scheduled series one "Wednesday after Newsnight" to see how they got on. This is why Len is not in charge at the BBC.
- Len thinks pruning the pros every now and then keeps the show healthy.  Wonder who he's burning with that?  I imagine it's more than a couple of them...
- Len used to dye his hair when he was first on the show before realising it wasn't working for him.
- In the first series, Bruno sat on the left, with Arlene next to him, then Len, then Craig on the right. Imagine that!
- Len doesn't mind who replaces him but wants it to be someone from the world of ballroom and latin.
- Olly Murs wears weird trousers with go-faster stripes down the side.
- The jump in the American smooth was Danny's idea, and Oti didn't originally want to do it because she doesn't know him that well.
- Zoe thinks Danny is one of the only people who can pull off dancing in a jumper.
- Moreover, Oti damaged her contact lenses so she couldn't really see very well and just had to aim for the blue blob in the distance.
- Danny is quite resolute about having been in the dance-off, as he wouldn't have had the full Strictly experience without it.
- Danny and Oti will be reprising their samba in the final.
- Danny and Oti's showdance music will be 'Set Fire To The Rain' by Adele, Ore and Joanne's is 'I Got Rhythm' from An American in Paris, and Louise and Kevin's is Whitney Houston's 'One Moment In Time'.
- Karen Hardy loves nothing more than the smell of napalm in the morning pros desperate for the trophy.
- Karen Hardy thinks an Argentine Tango is an essential component of the semi-final.
- Tom Chambers is still a smug tap-dancing prick with a face you'd never tire of punching.
- Darren Gough keeps his Strictly trophy in his office, Jill Halfpenny keeps hers next to her record player, and Tom's dad looks after his.
- Darren thinks Danny is the best dancer but Louise has had the biggest journey.
- Jill thinks the secret to winning is dancing like you've already won.
- Tom Chambers thinks Ore is a man after his own heart.  Yeah, I'm sure you're all he's been thinking of.
- Jill Halfpenny quite diplomatically sidesteps questions about whether Jay and Ore's jives should be considered in the same breath as hers.
- When Zoe did her jive, Darren told her she looked like the ponies at Katie Price's wedding.
- Darren and Jill think Louise will win, Tom thinks it will be Ore.
- Louise is very relieved that her legacy will not be "the one who couldn't get Kevin to the final".
- Even Kevin seems mildly embarrassed by his endless glut of 'second place' ringers.
- Kevin was really pleased Jo ended up doing so well after having been sidelined last year.
- Kevin didn't realise he was on camera when he did the air-punch for Joanne at the weekend.
- Louise's showdance will be about her Strictly story, incorporating how she has grown in confidence since the beginning.  We look forward to her wearing a dress made entirely of fruit with an even bigger hat, in that case.
- Zoe doesn't remember the steps to her showdance any more.
- No 50-somethings have made the finals of Strictly, but one over-60 has (Dr Hamela).
- Being in your 30s is your best chance of getting to the final, but when you get there, being in your 20s makes you more likely to win.
- It's rare for finalists to be better at Latin than ballroom.  Natalie Gumede is the only finalist who was equally strong in both genres. (At least according to Jeremy Vine's stats)
- Tess and Claudia text each other commentary on It Takes Two.
- On Claudia's last year hosting It Takes Two, she had terrible morning sickness so the whole set constantly smelt of sick.
- Claudia makes excellent brownies and brings them to the studio with her.
- Tess most wants to dance the Argentine tango, and Claudia most wants to dance the paso doble so she can pull a 'pirate' face.
- The contestant Tess and Claudia would most like to have back on the show is Alesha. Hooray!
- Claudia would like Alaistair Campbell on the show and Tess David Cameron.  That's twice his name's been uttered.  Let's not have a third, because I hear bad (or at least, even worse) things happen then.
- The train on Louise's paso dress was 10 metres long.
- Louise's paso dress is currently being used by Dancing With The Stars in Lebanon.
- Some celebrities buy their outfits after wearing them.
- Zoe's favourite thing about her post-Strictly body was having no bingo wings.
- Louise will be wearing ballet shoes in her show dance.
- Jamie Redknapp is now a Strictly superfan, It Takes Two addict and voracious consumer of related media.
- Even Ore's friend Iain Stirling thinks he needs to stop crying a little bit.
- Iain Stirling and Natalie Anderson seem quite up for competing next year. Jamie Redknapp - still not so much - although he would have liked a go at the pro challenge.
- Nine previous winners have been the top scorers of their series - the exceptions were Darren Gough, Tom Chambers, Chris Hollins (by over 90 points compared to Ricky Whittle) and Louis Smith.
- Ore's parents never came to watch him for school sports days, plays etc and the trauma's stayed with him, which is why he cries so much.  Marginal between-the-lines-reading of his actual words may have occurred.
- Ore feels he had a lucky dance draw in the semi-final that really allowed him to be dramatic and grab attention.
- Ore was going wrong right up until the dress rehearsals in the semi-final.
- The Michael Ball/Alfie Boe duets album sounds fairly unlistenable.
- Danny and Oti start training at 9am and don't leave the studio until 10pm.
- Danny has three siblings, including a (presumably younger) brother who looks like a more camera-shy version of him.
- Gorka's floppy rehearsal hair is super-cute.
- Michael Ball is watching the final with Miranda.
- Michael Ball reckons he correctly called the correct top three early on.
- Michael Ball wants Danny to win (because he was in Michael's fan club when he was 12 years old), Chelsee Healey wants Ore to win (because Journey) (despite now being in Hollyoaks), and Alfie Boe wants Louise to win (because Kevin).
- Louise's kids are better at reading a script than AJ is.
- Louise's gay friends liked her Argentine Tango the best.  Colour me shocked.
- Ore hasn't cried much this week, but he's worried that means "it's going to come like a torrent" on Saturday.
- Melvin and Janette are still trying to make "Team J-Boom" happen.
- Poor Chloe has to dance with Anton during the Christmas special.
- Ian was secretly teaching Gethin how to be a man during series five.
- Gethin thinks that the dynamic really changed when Ed left.
- Ian was really impressed with Oksana and Gorka in the pro challenge.
- Gethin's favourite dance of the series was Claudia's salsa, and Ian's was 'Gangnang'.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Claudi with no chance of winning

Week 12: Top Four Results - 11 December 2016

As promised on Friday's It Takes Two, we open with a professional jazz-contemporary routine to 'Chandalaheeeeeeer' by Sia. Janette is a bird stuck inside a cage (with bars sufficiently far apart that someone with a tiny waist like Janette's can clearly get out without even having to turn slightly sideways but okay, let's just go with it), she is on her perch, she is confined and unhappy. Outside, other birds played by Natalie, Chloe, Katya and Karen rise from the floor, Natalie opens the totally-unnecessary-for-the-aforementioned-reason door and Janette escapes! Then suddenly they are joined by the boy birds, played by Pasha, Gorka, Giovanni, Neil and Aljaž. Everyone pairs up and there's a part where the women pirouette and spin round while eventually wrapping themselves around their partners like a belt, and the various couples seem to carry this off with differing degrees of success: Aljaž and Natalie and Giovanni and Karen seem fine, while Gorka and Chloe and Neil and Katya don't seem to have quite such a smooth time of things. I don't want to be one of those traditionalist sourpusses who screams "no! Ballroom and latin only!" every time a non-standard genre appears in a professional routine, but...these people aren't professional contemporary dancers, and in some cases, it shows. It improves vastly when the whole thing basically becomes a vehicle for everyone to lob Janette in the air like she weighs nothing, and oddly enough Pasha and Janette, the two pros here who managed credible finishes on So You Think You Can Dance (where half the fucking competition is contempowaft, bloody hell) are the two that make the best job of it. Anyway, Pasha and Janette fall in love and return to the cage...because? The end. So, yeah. I'm sure on So You Think You Can Dance this would have looked lovely, so I'm just going to file it under "nice idea, brave effort, wrong show".

(Rumours that I was spotted in the studio running after Gorka trilling "who's a pretty bird? Who's a pretty bird?" are of course filthy lies and slander.)

Tess and Claudia return - Claudia in a black sequinned dress, and Tess in a tight red number from which her boobs seem to be forever threatening to escape. Tess reminds us that the semi-final saw the judges award 13 tens - and no doubt if you check the Digital Spy forums right now, they'll be swearing blind that every single one of those 10s went to a Clifton because the show is rigged!!!1111! That dirty ringor Louise got 50 for that samba and she never even done a STARFISH Ola said, where is the JUSTICE11! (Seriously though, bless all the people on Twitter on Saturday night trying to convince me that either of the Jordans appraising a routine by a Clifton is judging objectively on the purity of dance alone. I have a bridge I'd like to sell you, if you're interested?) The judges parade in from backstage, meaning Darcey gets spared the stairs, which I'm always grateful for. Tess threatens a performance from Sting later, while Claudia promises that tonight will be the last ever Len's Lens.

But first! Our behind the scenes highlights from last night, where everybody is very anxious at the prospect of not surviving the semi-final, and everyone is very stressed by the thought of two dances and a mid-show costume change. Also, AJ's rehearsal hair is ludicrous, like that year James Jordan tried growing his out and he looked like Lion-O from Thundercats. Anyway, Claudia is a bit disappointed with the feedback for her rumba, but AJ tells her she was amazing. Kevin tells Louise he wants the "same again for the next one" after her tango. Danny and Oti are feeling upbeat after his salsa, and Ore absolutely loved his quickstep. Then everyone runs off to get changed, and we don't get to see the good stuff, boo. After the samba, Kevin tells Louise he's so proud of her, Claudia is thrilled to have received two 10s for her quickstep, Danny shrugs that he's done everything he can and it's out of his hands now (lol foreshadowing) and Joanne congratulates Ore on "a heck of a semi-final".

Yass, Tess, bring me those sweet Cue Cards Of Doom. In case you're wondering which dance everyone's going to reprise in the dance-off: Louise is wearing her tango outfit, Danny his American smooth, Ore his Argentine tango, and Claudia her quickstep. No real surprises there. The first couple safely through to the final is...Ore and Joanne. Joanne basically collapses with shock, and Ore's in tears, of course. Kevin punches the air in triumph on his little sister's behalf, and I think that's quite sweet: sue me. The first couple in the dance-off is...Danny and Oti. Wow. What's interesting here is that prior to the reveal, Louise and Kevin look absolutely resigned, expecting to hear their names - and I don't think anybody in that line-up is expecting that twist. There are howls of outrage from the studio audience, and Louise, Kevin, Claudia and AJ are left looking pretty darn nervous, knowing that whichever of them is going into the dance-off is pretty much guaranteed to be sitting opposite Zoe on Monday's It Takes Two talking about how it feels to have come so close and missed out.

Oti admits to being "shocked" that this has happened, and Danny says that if this is the last dance they're going to do, he's really glad it's this one. Tess asks them which of the two dances they are going to reprise, and THEY ARE WEARING THEIR AMERICAN SMOOTH OUTFITS, TESS, BUT HEY, MAYBE DANNY'S GOING TO PUT ON LOUISE'S FRUIT HAT AND DO HER SAMBA IN THE DANCE-OFF? [Gotta bet everyone'll be doing that at the after-series party, right - Rad] I mean, Christ, I know they need to go through this shit for the people in the audience who don't pay attention to what anyone's wearing, but would it kill them to just get Tess to say "you've chosen to reprise your American smooth" and therefore look like she achieves the bare minimum standards of competent hosting. Bruno tells Danny that he's been one of the most consistent performers the show has ever had, so he just needs to relax and do what he does. Tess points out to Darcey that she was the only judge that didn't give Danny a 10 for this, and Darcey says she's shocked that this has happened and waffles on for about half an hour about how he just needs to do exactly as he did on Saturday night but not exactly as he did on Saturday night, THANKS DARCEY.

Up in the Clauditorium, Claudia reminds the three people living without electricity on a small island off the coast of the Shetlands that Ore has never had any dance training ['cept Let's Drag Up For Comic Relief - Rad], thereby completing the show's mission to inform every. Single. Person. In. The. British. Isles. Of. That. Fact. Ore cries a bit more and says that it means everything to get there, and he thanks everybody - particularly Joanne for putting in the hours with him. Joanne sniffs that she was just happy to get to BLACKPOOL, and thanks Ore for working so hard.

Next: Sting sings 'One Fine Day'. Christ, it's dull. But Pasha and Oksana turn up eventually, and Pasha clearly knows we're all bored as hell because he's got his nips out. God bless Pasha, such a trouper.

After a plug for It Takes Two this week (featuring more Len, Darren Gough and Tom Chambers, NEAUXP), it's time for the very last Len's Lens. Len takes another look at Louise's maypole, while I take another look and realise I still can't see Kevin's. Darcey wants to talk about Claudia F's weave in her quickstep, though I'm pretty sure the point of this segment isn't to discuss hairpieces. Craig reminds us that he didn't see enough figure-of-eight in Danny's salsa and demonstrates it to Claudia's infinite delight and the great distress of the other three judges. Bruno revisits Ore's Argentine tango and how masterful and commanding Ore was when Joanne leapt into his arms. Bruno says it's very difficult to command a screen when you're doing so little. Yes, Bruno, that's true, but Tess remains gainfully employed nonetheless. I notice that Craig has his initials on his shoes. Finally, in honour of it being the last ever Len's Lens, we get a recap of highlights from the series. It is mostly people pulling faces in slow motion. Finally, our national nightmare is over.

Over to Tess, who has the Cue Cards Of Doom one last time, before they become Cue Cards Of Joy next week. The other couple in the dance-off is...Claudia and AJ, and there's a yelp from the audience. Louise and Kevin are through, and are both in tears.

If anyone's wondering what we can discern about the public vote from this, my fiancé and I crunched the numbers, and the facts are these: Louise was no lower than second, Danny was no higher than third, Ore was no lower than third, and Claudia was no higher than second. (Basically we know that Louise got more votes than Danny and Claudia, and that Ore got more votes than Danny, and you can work the rest out from that. What we don't know, and what I imagine will be a huge bone of contention for Claudia fans, is whether Claudia got more votes than Danny and/or Ore. It's mathematically possible for her to have beaten both of them in the public vote and still ended up here. I'm just saying. It's also mathematically possible, of course, that she beat neither of them. We'll never know.)

Claudia tells Tess that she's very disappointed, but she's just going to try to go for it with her quickstep in the dance-off. Len tells her to put everything on the line and treat it like an Olympic event. Craig says that the reason he didn't give them a 10 the first time around was just because of a tiny bit of gapping, so if they can keep their bodies connected a little bit more, that will help a lot. He adds kindly that Claudia has grown both as a dancer and a performer, and it's been wonderful to see.

Up in the Clauditorium, Ore and Joanne are still crying, and now they're joined by an also-crying Louise and Kevin. Louise says that she's so grateful to everyone who voted for her to go through, and she's made a friend for life in Kevin. Claudia goes to Kevin, who can't actually say much because he's crying, but says that Louise has been so lovely in training, and he couldn't be more proud of her - and he's proud of Ore and his sister as well. Aww.

There follows a time-filling montage of our four finalists and those who fell beneath them on the way here, then Claudia and Tess are joined by the two couples in danger tonight. Danny says that everyone is so good, and there's no one who doesn't deserve a spot in the final. Oti says that Danny has been amazing throughout, and they just have to go out there and put their hearts into it. They head down to get ready, with Danny very sweetly stopping to wish Claudia and AJ luck on the way. Tess tells Claudia F that she's come so far, and she's reached so high, and she's looked each day and night in the eye, and she's still so young, and she hopes for mooo-oooo-ooore. Claudia F does the best she can to pretend that there's any chance of her winning this dance-off (see, she's actually not so bad at the acting when she puts her mind to it), and says that whatever happens, she feels like she's become a better person thanks to AJ. No, no, just a bit of sawdust in my eye, leave me, I'll be fine. AJ tells Claudia he's so proud of her, and she's truly been an inspiration.

Danny and Oti run their American smooth again. It's still lovely, still easily one of the best dances of the series, though the bit where Danny wears Oti like a hula hoop doesn't go as well this time and the dismount from that lift is a little shaky. Oti does the dive of death again, Danny catches her, I am very relieved. (It really does seem like a swizz that Oti might not win after giving this series her all. I'm more upset for her than I am for him.) [I dunno.  Never underestimate the bounce - Rad]

Claudia and AJ repeat their quickstep, and they're really going for it at a proper lick, though that does mean that the gapping issues still aren't quite sorted out. I've seen far worse gapping in an acclaimed quickstep on this show though, and you don't need me to tell you when. If nothing else, and I'm far from the first person to point this out, it's nice that the two dances in the dance-off are dances that I'd happily watch again. Well, not "nice", but you know what I mean. At least we're not all enduring two dances we couldn't stand the first time.

It's a much closer contest than I could have ever predicted, though the result is inevitable: the judges unanimously vote to save Danny and Oti, ostensibly on the dance-off alone though I'm sure his stronger body of work over the series as a whole is a factor here too. But both couples get told how wonderful they were by all the judges, with Craig even going so far as to say that both couples deserved 10s for those dances.

Danny and Oti rush over to huge Claudia and AJ, while Danny's mum cries in the audience. The (small) consolation for Claudia is that there is huge cheering and stomping of feet for her as the audience rise up to give her a standing ovation. Tess coos "down't cwy, dawwing!" and I know Claudia's like a third of her size but I still think she could cartwheel her in the face or something. Tess asks Claudia if she can believe it's all over, and Claudia says she can't believe she made it this far in the first place. She repeats that she feels like a different person now, thanks to Strictly. She adds that AJ has been amazing and he's really boosted her confidence. AJ gives her a hug and tells her that he's proud of her again while Tess makes more patronising noises.

Claudia gets the best bits montage that's usually reserved for It Takes Two as she and AJ cry in the corner of the screen. Tess tells them it's time to take their places for the final dance, and suggests they pass her their tissues - Claudia does so, but AJ says he's going to hang on to his and tucks it in his inside pocket. Heh. Claudia (Winkleman) reminds us that our finalists are Danny and Oti, Louise and Kevin, and Ore and Joanne, and then Claudia (Fragapane) and AJ have their final dance to 'The Love I Lost', which seems a bit harsh. Their final dance is a bit of a non-starter, mostly because Claudia really wants to do a handstand into a shoulder-lift and keeps trying to explain this to AJ who doesn't seem to quite get it, so it's mostly just them staring at each other each trying to figure out what the other's saying, but eventually it happens, then the others arrive to sandwich them in hugs.

Post-mortem: Louise says that Claudia was amazing, and it's always hard to see someone as talented as Claudia go home. Danny says that it's hard standing there waiting to hear if you deserve to go through, knowing that the person you're competing against definitely deserves it. Ore says that she's shown everyone that she's an amazing gymnast and an amazing woman. Oti says that they're so blessed and lucky to still be here. Louise is "as proud as punch" to be in the final, and Ore and Joanne squeal in triumph.

So, an interesting result. Going into the final, the momentum would seem to be behind Louise, but post bottom-two outrage votes could push Danny into the lead. At least the final feels much less predictable than it did last year, which is the bright side I'm choosing to look upon.