Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Two hot to trot

Launch show.  Sunday 7 September 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 29 December 2013

A Hound is for Christmas, not just for life

Iiiiiit's Chriiiiiiistmas!  Time to neck some gin, nibble a pickled walnut and chuck tens out like confetti!  Welcome to the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special!

We open with titles - I think the same ones as last year (i.e. sans snowmen) - but THEN, we get an extended cut of the titles - the TV equivalent of a 12" remix, I suppose, in which we get a full sequence  featuring this year's celebrity guests with name captions and everything.  It begins with the pros getting leathered in that country cottage from the Wham! 'Last Christmas' video - Robin, Janette, Pasha, Aliona, Flavia and Ian.  They get an invite to Lapland to meet their new partners, and Aliona hams up the glee at wrangling another international trip out of them.  What I would give to see the list of demands she made when they came begging to her to come back.  Anton and Karen then usher them into a garden centre yard filled with trees covered in snow spray... I mean a winter wonderland.  If there's any doubt who the dance ho is, by the way, we're a few seconds in and Flavia has already danced with Ian and Robin.  (For those keeping count of random pro pairings, add Pasha/Janette and Anton/Karen to that list)  You can basically tell this was filmed after Fiona and Dave went out - all the pros who were out before them have been partnered up (except James who was injured/doing Children in Need/throwing a hissy fit) and those two keep popping up to do random bits here and there throughout the evening.

Our celebrities then get to join in the dancing fun in 'Lapland': Rochelle Humes with Ian; Matt Goss with Aliona; Sara Cox with Robin, then Ricky Norwood (with Janette) and Rufus Hound (with Flavia) have to share a screen just like B-part characters in sitcoms.  Finally Elaine Paige and two husky dogs get the star billing before Pasha pops into shot.  The pros then have another randomly matched dance (Flavia/Anton; Ian/Aliona; Pasha/Janette; Karen/Robin) before the celebrities join in and dance with them and a load of snow falls on them.  That was a lot of fun and a lot more effort than credit
sequences usually get. [Points deducted, however, for soundtracking the whole thing to the Glee version of 'Let It Snow', from the godawful 2011 Christmas special which would easily count among the five worst episodes the show has ever done - and that's really no mean feat where Glee is concerned. - Steve]

The studio is lit with frosty lights and trees and stuff because awww, Christmas.  We welcome Bruce and Tess and I was actually quite surprised Bruce bothered to turn up to do this extra show given his 'commitment' to the regular gig this year.  He grabs Tess's thigh and sleazes 'you're never gonna get away.'  Leave it out, Robin Thicke.  Daly Dresswatch: A silver mirrory sequinned thing with a short bit underneath a long layer of sequins.  Nice colour, nasty style.  Tess hopes we're having a wonderful Christmas Day and Bruce says they were filming in Lapland UK lest we think BBC LIEZ or BBC SPENDS OUR MONEY ON FORRIN THINGS.  Bruce makes a joke about his big chin and then Tess says they've got a young man with a 'voice of an angel' coming on, at which Bruce says 'thank you Tess' and Tess gives awesome fake deadpan face.  As per the rules, if a Bruce joke makes us laugh, it goes in, and I did find that one fun.  We also get a cutaway to our 2013 contestants.  Incidentally, I was watching this episode in Grimsby with my parents and grandmother, who revealed they voted for Susanna and Kevin in the weeks they were low on the judges' leaderboard so that they'd get into the final, but once the final was on, they were stanning for Natalie all the way.  Not sure why Abbey then won (going on this very representative sample, obviously), but if Kevin couldn't even get the support of I hope the whole of Grimsby votes for you in the final, then they were never going to win.

We welcome our stars 'West End legend' Elaine Paige and Pasha; 'EastEnders star' Ricky Norwood and Janette; 'DJ' Sara Cox and Robin; 'Comedian and actor' (and actor) Rufus Hound. 'from The Saturdays' Rochelle Humes and finally ALIONA VILANI IN A HUGE WHITE FUR GIVING IT THE BIG 'LOOK AT ME BITCHEZ' LOOK.  Oh, and 'musician' Matt Goss.  This lot are giving the theme song boogie a lot more welly than the sad sacks they cast on the main show (except Rochelle) - Elaine Paige in particular is hamming it up, because of course she is.

Bruce welcomes them all and we get a cutaway to a very white-haired Anita Dobson in the audience.  Tess reminds us that the scoring goes on a combination of the judges' scores and the studio audience's vote.  Bruce then makes a joke about being old, the audience laugh, and he tells them off for laughing.  Oh, Bruce.

Ricky Norwood is our first Christmas sleb.  He's happy to be with Janette because she's about as loud/loveable/annoying as he is.  He says he's had dance experience before (my favourite bit of that is the two former Strictly contestants being the worst dancers in it and Strictly Christmas Ringah winner Charlie Brooks putting in a better Argentine Tango than anyone managed in this year's Strictly proper - with Gary Lucy of all people.  Also: how have I never seen this before?  Amazing.) but he's NOT A RINGAH.  Janette says posture is hard for people with a 'street' background so she makes him dance with a pole in his back.  It's My Fair Chelsee all over again, people.

Their quickstep is to 'Merry Christmas Everyone' and opens with him flying on a snowboard and knocking the head off Janette's snowman.  It's quite pacy and though his leg work is a bit pedestrian in places it's still got (marginally) less gapping than Abbey and Aljaž.  There's a lift that involves Janette's skirt covering Ricky's face which looks entirely wrong but doesn't throw him and a bit where they do the funky chicken and it's all quite enjoyable in a Christmas kind of way.

Over with the judges and Len says there are no rules at Christmas, the pairs can do what they want and everyone will get a 10 anyway because no-one cares.  Hooray!  He says they started well and lost some energy as they went through but they looked gorgeous anyway.  Bruno says it was like a gltzy hamper full of surprises and it had a lot of content.  Craig says he was using his shoulder to lead, there was some gapping and some posture problems but it was lively and bright and he was a good dancer.  Darcey says it was sugary, crisp and light with some nice bonus dance styles in there.  Up in the Tess Circle Ricky says there's a lot more bling and prettiness than Albert Square.  Scores: 8, 8, 8, 9 for a total of 33.

Next are DIRTY WEST END RINGAH Elaine Paige and Pasha.  Elaine's VT sees her bedecked in pink and makeup, not looking a million miles away from Dame Sally Markham.  She writes a letter asking for 'a package...from Russia... with love'.  SCREW YOU FIONA FULLERTON, ELAINE CAN DO BOND GAGS TOO.  She gets to get her claws into lovely Pasha and squeals every time he has to lift her from her special place.  What we wouldn't give to... [snip - Ed]

Their cha cha cha to a strange version of 'Jingle Bells' tells the story of a woman who 'accidentally' drops her presents so Pasha will come to her rescue.  Hey, we've all had that dream, sister.  A shout out to the projection team for their flooring which is in the style of snow-covered glitterball cobbles.  Awesome stuff.  Their dance?  It's standard early cha cha fare - perhaps a touch above that, in fairness - she can move, but you'd expect that from a DIRTY WEST END RINGAH, and she's giving it appropriate levels of ham.  Points off for Pasha's bum being in black trousers and not white.  Bruce welcomes the fabulous singers Davearch and calls the orchestra a bunch of winos.  Charming.

The judges fawn all over Elaine Paige like the big musical theatre afficionados/big gays and bisexuals/divas/utter hams that they are.  Darcey likes how she took charge of Pasha and makes a note to add that to the mental fantasy bank along with all those images of Patrick's rumba she stored there the other week.  Up on the Tess Circle it's noticeable just how tiny Elaine Paige is as even Pasha (who I always assume is average-sized) towers over her.  Scores: 10, 10, 9, 10 for a total of 39 because she sang 'Memory' and 'I Know Him So Well' and because Craig, Darcey and Bruno don't fancy being the subject of Elaine Paige's weekly Radio 2 bitching hour any time soon.

The third couple of the special are Sara Cox and Robin Windsor, which feels a somewhat appropriate match of personalities - after Deborah made him a lot more likeable to me, if he was paired with a Coxy next year I might actually begin to warm to him (although not as much as if his choreography started to be good).  Their VT features Robin in a onesie, and not because Sara is, just because he is, apparently.  Robin says she's not used to the man taking the lead and this time, she has to be the fairy (what?  It's what he said!).

Their waltz is to 'Silent Night' and opens with Sarah on a sweet lit-up swing before Robin asks her to dance.  That's about as much storytelling as you're getting here.   It starts off sweetly enough although her knees are bent a bit awkwardly.  Then there's some odd faffing with her skirt and some very un-waltz like clumsy turns, which I blame on Robin's choreography and this world of no rules.  Then it goes back into waltz and is quite sweet again.

Craig says it was a bit like a Christmas cracker that didn't explode - her frame left a lot to be desired, she didn't spot much in her turns and was a bit pigeonholed.  Darcey says it was like she was ON ICE.  (PS don't take that as a hint that Bitching on Ice will return.  Helen and I don't watch it and I'm not sure whether or not Steve and Carrie still do).  Len says it's like when you look out of the window on Christmas morning and it's bright and light.  Len's Christmas mornings do not resemble mine.  Bruno says the wild child (because that NINETIES LADETTE DAILY MAIL MINOR MORAL PANIC will never die) has been tamed and it was lovely.

Tess says she looked like a princess.  Sara says she loved it but it was scary - she found her inner princess although she'd been replaced by a coal miner at home.  She and Tess have a MOTHERLY bonding moment and Robin declares Sara the best Christmas present he could have had.  Oh come on, Robin, like you weren't hissing at Pasha ever since he got Elaine Paige.  Scores: 7, 8, 9, 9 for a total of 33.

The next couple are her from the Saturdays that's married to the worst one from JLS, and LOVELY IAN WAITE.  Ian is wearing glasses as if to say 'well if that's all it takes to get Grimsby Kevin some love, maybe it'll work for me'.  WAITE/LOWE DOMINANCE 2014 PLEASE.  Rochelle's VT is all about how she's a mum and married to him out of JLS.  Have they split up yet?  Can we get a clarification on that one?  Rochelle would like to stay on her feet because even though she's in a girl band, she's NOT A RINGER etc.

Their dance opens with Karen and Anton being put to use as comedy props.  They're workshop elves who give Ian the key to winding up his mechanical dance doll Rochelle to do a salsa to 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town'.  There are some very ungainly lifts and spins and it seems a bit too fast for her to cope.  Her feet are all over the place although her hip action isn't bad and she gives good hair, and in these post-Natalie Gumede days, we cling to small mercies.  It's a total trainwreck, albeit an entertaining one.

Darcey says she sparkled with good hip action although there were issues with the footwork and Ian had perhaps given her too-difficult choreography.  Len compared it to a party popper - bits flying everywhere and a bit messy.  Bruno says she basically looked drunk and Craig says it was all over the shop.  Tess lies that she did herself proud and Rochelle makes a joke about thrusting her post-baby vagina in Ian's face.  Tasteful Christmas entertainment.  Tess welcomes Ian back and the audience give him a huge cheer as they should.  Scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 for a Christmas-inflated 31.

Next are Matt Goss from Bros and Aliona Vilani.  Matt Goss's face looks somewhat special these days, doesn't it?  Bruce wishes he had a twin so he could harvest him for spare parts.  We're reminded that Matt Goss was the one in Bros that everyone fancied and has probably had the least-successful post-pop career, what with Luke doing an acting every now and then and Ken being a proper pop manager and looking almost unrecognisable. (Also, what kind of sick post-Smash Hits world do we live in where not one of the first three pages of Google Hits for 'Ken from Bros' is accurate?) [It's a ruddy swizz - Ed]

Matt Goss's selective memory and bad recall of mathematics leads him to believe that Bros was 'twenty' years ago.  I'll say this for him - he's gotten a Christmas dancing slot and a random guest singing spot on this show so he must have a good agent.  Speaking of his agent, he apparently has a job headlining in Vegas, at one of the stages at Caesar's Palace.  I mean, it's presumably not one of the bigger ones, given they're taken up by Shania Twain, Elton John, Celine Dion and Jerry Seinfeld, but still - good job, Matt Goss's agent.  Matt Goss being in Vegas is also good news for a certain Ms Vilani who gets to fly out there to do a bit of training and presumably spend the rest of the time drinking champagne, playing the slots and living the dream.  She says 'as a teacher, I'm quite different depending on which pupil I have'.  She makes Matt her bitch and, as he's clearly a sub, he loves it.

Their American Smooth is to 'Winter Wonderland' and features Aliona sashaying down the stairs in fur, before Anton is her wardrobe bitch and takes her coat.  All the fabulousness for Aliona in 2014 please.  I am LOVING her post-fired self.  She does a gorgeous, glitzy AS in a fabulous frock with some lovely kicks and drops.  Oh, and Matt Goss is in it too.  He's a bit static and clumpy but OK, as a frame for showing off Aliona goes.

Bruce then declares himself Aliona's agent.  He's clearly been giving her lessons in 'how to never get fired even though everyone hates you'.  I think it's working better for her than him this series.  Presumably this also means he represents Anton?

Len makes a terrible joke that I won't repeat, Craig says Matt needed to lift his shoulders and chin but otherwise the lifts were fantastic and it was classy and elegant.  Darcey says he reminded her of Fred Astaire but he needs to watch his chin and lines.  Bruce says 'when a singer dances, he really dances to the music' and takes up so airtime that Bruno gets none.  Tess declares it 'the smoothest American Smooth' and takes the opportunity to stroke Matt Goss because she was totally a Brosette.  Well, she didn't go as far as the ripped jeans but she once contemplated drinking a bottle of Grolsch to get the bottle top and she had a poster of them alongside her Duran Duran one.  I'm thinking Tess wasn't so much a Smash Hits girl, more Bunty, Blue Jeans and Just Seventeen. Those male models!  So dreamy!  A free lip gloss from Constance Carroll that tastes of pineapple!  So cool!  Also, Tess just loves a photo story, I bet you.  Scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 for a total of 35.

The final contestant of the evening is Dirty Ringah Rufus Hound whose ringerness not only extends to winning a TV dancing show, he is even on the West End stage.  He is dancing with Flavia and can't pronounce Cacace.  God, it's like Antongate all over again.  Their dance will involve dogs so they're rehearsing with cuddly puppies and Santa hats.

They're dancing a tango to 'You Must Never Do a Tango With an Eskimo' and the theming is, well, that.  It's actually pretty good, although he's bending his back oddly at times, possibly because of their height difference, and there's a bit where Flavia kicks him in the nuts that appears to go wrong and actually hurt, not just as a comedic touch.  Other than that, it's quite (deliberately) funny and there are some nice tango moves thrown in, but then he is a DIRTY RINGAH.  Also: I miss Flavia.

Bruno says it was funny and perfectly pitched.  Craig says it was one of the most abnormal, unusual and curious tangos he's seen but he loved it.  Darcey says it was entertaining, with drama and attack.  Len says 'what it lacked in technique it made up for in entertainment' which seems a fairly rote phrase trotted out without him actually looking at the dance - which contained more technique than lots of the others tonight.  Up on the Tess Circle, Rufus is sporting a cut to the face which he sustained from a comedy prop fishline hooking him in the eye.  Yowch.  Scores: 9, 10, 9, 10 for a total of 38.

Christmas-scored leaderboard then?

Elaine and Pasha 39
Rufus and Flavia 38
Matt and Aliona 35
Ricky and Janette 33
Sara and Robin 33
Rochelle and Ian 31

Gotta love those Christmas-inflations - good job these specials aren't canon, isn't it?

Whilst the studio audience vote, we get a recap, even though those of us at home aren't voting, so this is slightly pointless.  And now!  Joining the wonderful roster of tedious music on Strictly this year!  A fairly-average sounding choir boy who goes out of tune in places!

Jack Topping is doing a horrible version of 'Tomorrow' that's just not a song that suits British choral sounds - it's surely supposed to be all super-American and fun, not slowed down and dreary.  I feel bad about dissing a child's singing, but this is super-tedious and it's no 'Walking in the Air'.  Pasha and Karen do some 'wheee!  Spins!' in front of it, too.  God, 2013 has been a year for truly terrible performances, hasn't it?

And now!  Time for some padding! Our 2013 contestants invade a children's hospital and Deborah does some patented Drunken Aunty Debby guffaws as she reads out a cracker joke.  Then Janette and Kevin (for those still tracking this series' myriad random pro pairings) do a jive and Aljaž plays a rubbish version of Twister on a play mat with four coloured corners in.  We're reminded that children's hospitals are great (they are: I have a cousin who works at one and know several children who've made use of them too).

Results time! The winners are: Rufus and Flavia!  She seems slightly surprised to win and join that illustrious club of people who've won both the proper glitterball and the silly star-shaped one that they usually give to pros who'll never win a real one like Kristina and Vincent.  (Darren and Lilia are the only previous contestants to do the double, but as they won with former champions before they changed the Christmas format, they don't really count).

The Christmas special stars (plus Anton and Karen) do a little dance to 'Fairytale of New York' (Anton and Flavia get the starring role, with Robin and Karen, Ian and Aliona, Pasha and Janette joining in, and then the celebrities and judges come out).  It's still a more enjoyable pro dance than half the most recent series ones.  The singing is about as good as you'd expect, by the way.  You can tell this is pre-recorded because Bruce ends by wishing us Merry Christmas and not shouting at everyone that they're doing things wrong.

Hope you all had a merry Christmas and that you have a Happy New Year.  We'll be back here in the summer for the 2014 series.  See you then!

Sunday, 22 December 2013

My Abbey ending

Final Results: 21 December 2013

We return to the ballroom with the top four couples all dressed in their outfits for their third dance - so that's Susanna and Kevin with the paso, Abbey and Aljaž with the quickstep, Natalie and Artem with the American smooth and Sophie and Brendan with That Charleston - but they're very much in the background, as the camera goes in close on the glitterball trophy. It sort of helps to see how naff the trophy looks. I mean, no one will ever believe that I don't take this show far too seriously, but at least moments like this occasionally puncture the cloud and remind me that it's just a silly dance-and-popularity contest where the winner gets a gaudy tchotchke and brief career boost. Tess reminds us that this is the first all-female final that Strictly has ever seen (I'd grumble about how long it took us to get there, but we've only had all-male finals twice, and in both cases it was due to only having a two-person final because a contestant had to pull out through injury at some point during the competition, and we've never had an all-male top four in any series). One couple is about to leave, and then the other three will battle it out to be champions. Eep, here we go.

After a truncated titles sequence that just features the four finalists (in the following order: Sophie, Natalie, Susanna, Abbey, just in case any conspiracy theorists particularly want to read anything into that), Bruce and Tess welcome us back to the studio and remind us that voting lines are currently frozen. The couple with the fewest votes so far is about to get the boot, and then the other three couples will dance one last time. Then before we get the results, there'll be a giant showdance from the cast of 2013 and a performance from Robbie Williams. This seems like as good a time as any to remind you all that recapping this show means that I have to sit through the Robbie Williams performance twice, so if you plan on criticising my efforts, that's fine, but please take into account the traumas I endure just to get this done.

Anyway, since this show does not care that my heart has been pounding hard enough to power a turbine since about halfway through Atlantits, we have to wait a little bit longer to learn who's finishing in fourth because first we must fit in the first of countless VTs. This one is recapping the first show for those who didn't bother to watch it but have apparently suddenly appeared all super-invested in the outcome. I'm really not sure we should be rewarding that sort of behaviour, but there you go. Moments of interst: Kimberley in the audience, Aljaž reminding Abbey not to forget about technique but also to have fun, Natalie looking exactly as nerve-ravaged as I imagine I would look in her position, Kevin telling Susanna he wants her to enjoy Every Single Second, the women all seeming to genuinely enjoy each other's company, which is nice. Susanna celebrates getting two 10s in her quickstep, Abbey can't celebrate her perfect waltz score because she's all-too-aware of needing to rush off and get changed for the next routine (heh, I guess you can take the girl out of modelling, etc etc), a shirtless Artem is impressed that Natalie's cha cha cha was a full eight points better than last time, Sophie thanks her "Captain Von Trapp", Susanna accepts that her fate is in the public's hands, Abbey says that she just wanted to have a ball in her showdance in case it was her last dance, Natalie thinks that the showdance was the most special thing she's ever done and she's so grateful to Artem, and Sophie's enjoyed the whole experience of Strictly.

Bruce and Tess have got their cue cards in their hands, so we know it's officially Time To Get Serious. Bruce says that they're all winners, which is always a difficult message to swallow when someone's about to be eliminated in fourth place. And that couple is...Sophie and Brendan. NOOOOOOOO! God dammit, the one thing I wanted from this final was to see Sophie's charleston again, and now I won't even get that. I had kind of seen this coming, though: I think Sophie suffered from a combination of an underwhelming showdance (in a year where no one's showdance was particularly disastrous, I think Sophie's might have ended up being the weakest purely because it didn't play to her strengths like the others' did) and the general impression I got that while the other three really seemed to be fighting to win, Sophie was giving off more of an aura of "just happy to have got this far". I guess people are less inclined to root for you if they're not even sure that you want it all that much. [I was so disappointed we didn't get Brendan on a wanting to win rampage.  Not because it would have clinched it for them, just for the lulz - Rad]

To her credit, Sophie seems to have seen this coming as well and accepts her fate with a smile. And if you ever doubted that these four finalists really like and respect each other, Natalie stands back and applauds heartily (Artem's clearly taught her everything he knows) while Abbey and Susanna fling themselves at Sophie as she walks over to Bruce and Tess. Aww. That really makes me like every single one of them a little bit more. Sophie skips over to Tess, and everyone gets to their feet including the judges. Bruce says that he's sorry to lose them, and he thinks that in another year, they could've been winners. Again, a nice sentiment, though I'm doubting the credibility of it - I can't think of a single recent winner Sophie would've had a chance of toppling. Sophie implores Bruce not to say sorry, because she didn't come here to win, she came to have fun and the whole thing has been incredible. Tess asks Brendan if he's proud of Sophie (yes, this is truly a question that has gone unanswered all series in all of his eight-minute monologues) and Brendan says that he's had the best series and Sophie's been the best partner a guy could wish for. Sophie says that Brendan has been brilliant, and she's really happy - and she's going to do the charleston at the wrap party. WELL THAT'S NO BLOODY GOOD TO ME, IS IT? We see Sophie's best bits VT, which focuses a lot on her ballroom and her charleston and less so on her Latin, understandably. Back in the studio, Bruce thanks Sophie again, and Sophie thanks Bruce, and thanks everyone in general. Then there are hugs with all the other finalists and Sophie wishes them all to "have fun out there" and then she and Brendan skip up to the Tess Circle as Janet Ellis looks on, beaming with pride.

So here's our top three, then: Susanna and Kevin, Abbey and Aljaž and Natalie and Artem. Tess informs us that all the votes from earlier have been carried over, and now the lines are open once more for us to vote for our preferred winner. We're going in the same order as we were before, so Susanna and Kevin will dance first. Or ninth, depending on how you're doing the counting at home. First, we get to see Susanna's Strictly story. She tells us that she's loved every single second, and she was addicted to the experience immediately. She thinks that nothing will top her paso doble, because of the setting at BLACKPOOL and how it all just felt like the planets aligned for her and Kevin. Kevin says that you never know how you'll get on with the contestant you're paired with, but he and Susanna grew very close very quickly. He adds that Susanna has come from the beginning of being a complete non-dancer (RUBBISH, EVERYONE KNOWS THAT ABBEY WAS THE NON-DANCIEST DANCER OF ALL, EVERYONE ELSE WAS JUST TRYING TO HIDE A SECRET RINGER PAST!), just throwing herself around and being thrown by him, and has really progressed throughout the competition. Susanna points out that she's been at the top of the leaderboard and at the bottom, and her cha cha cha was a definite low point, but she's just got used to picking herself up and getting on with things. Both she and Kevin get a bit teary at the thought of it all being over, and Susanna thanks her family for all the love and support. Susanna's partner Dominic says that it's been wonderful for him and the kids to see the smile on Susanna's face throughout the whole process. Susanna says that being able to dance her favourite dance again means the world to her, and she feels it's right that the last dance they'll do together combines drama and emotion. And faces. Lots and lots of faces.

The music strikes up, Kevin flamenco-taps among the flames and Susanna curls her hands as their oh-so-memorable BLACKPOOL paso begins again. The slight problem with repeating a routine from BLACKPOOL in Elstree is that there just isn't as much space, so the routine looks a little bit cramped in the smaller studio. It's still a wonderful, dramatic routine though, and there are few things I have enjoyed this series more than the "COME ON THEN, I'LL 'AVE YER" look on Susanna's face as she and Kevin do the clapping section. I wasn't sure if we were going to get the giant red sheet flying over the top of them at the end, but we do, and then Susanna drops to the floor, and her last dance on Strictly is over. She remains there for a while, breathing heavily, as the crowd leap to their feet. Kevin stretches out a hand to her and she gets up, looking tired and relieved. [I love that dance.  God bless her paso face and Kevin's ridiculous love of this one - Rad]

Len: "Paso doble? Pass the smelling salts!" That's one of those jokes that only really works in Len's voice. Well, I say "works". He thinks it was full of energy and attack, and he loved it. Bruno tells Susanna that she's a drama queen, and that's what this dance is all about. He thinks she was dancing for her life, and he loved it. Craig says that the shoulders tend to raise, the fingers were all wrong - NO, HE'S JOKING, HE LOVED IT. Darcey finishes by saying that Susanna came out on top in her last dance of the series.

Up in the Tess Circle, Susanna just seems completely spent - physically and emotionally. She's leaning on Kevin for support as she says what a privilege it was to get to do that dance again, and she can't believe that was the last one. Kevin, welling up, thanks her for an incredible series. Tess asks her how she feels about having a 1 in 3 chance of lifting the glitterball trophy, and Susanna says that the real prize for her has been getting to do the series at all, because it's been four months of bliss. Kevin agrees. Scores are in: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39, same as last time. Well, I guess Craig did say he thought Susanna would never be a 10-girl for him. Kevin says that they felt like this was their best dance, and that it's been an amazing series. Meanwhile Sophie is stood behind, still in her charleston outfit, and OH MY GOD STOP RUBBING IT IN, UNIVERSE.

Next it's time for Abbey's Strictly story: Abbey thinks it's been great from start to finish, and Aljaž says he couldn't have asked for a better partner for his first series. Abbey says that she didn't think she'd even make it through week one, because of THE NEHHHVES and the LACK OF DANCE EXPERIENCE (*twitch*). Her lowest ebb was being in the bottom two with her rumba in week six, and she feels honoured to be in the competition with all these people who she considers to be much better than she is. The high point was, of course, that salsa and the accompanying perfect score. Aljaž says that every day of rehearsals has felt so much fun that it didn't feel like work, and he and Abbey are going to be FRIENDS FOREVER. Peter Crouch and Sophia appear to say how proud they are of Abbey, and Abbey's nan Theresa says that she loves her so much that it makes her cry. Aww. Abbey can't believe how emotionally attached she's become to the show, and she's so sad because it's coming to an end. Her favourite dance of the series was the quickstep. [Why the HELL this one and not their beautiful Viennese Waltz?  Their sexy rumba?  Their lovely American Smooth?  Madness. - Rad] She's chosen it because she's felt like she's been walking on sunshine (DO YOU SEE?) for the last three months, so it feels like a fitting way to end the show. Abbey's sad that it's going to end, and she wants to win it for Aljaž as the best thank you ever.

Hooray! The comically-oversized bucket and spade are back! Unfortunately, so is the gapping. I briefly got my hopes up at the beginning because for the first 20 bars or so it looked like they'd fixed it, and there was barely any light peeking through between Abbey's torso and Aljaž's. But as the dance goes on, unfortunately the gap reappears and grows wider, possibly even wider than it was first time around. That's a shame, because as much as I get annoyed by this show's narrative of Abbey as this total novice who couldn't dance a single step before she arrived, because I think it's exaggerated and unconvincing, one thing I have enjoyed about Abbey in the last week or so is how she really does seem to have learned a lot about technique over the course of the show. I was pleasantly surprised to see her on It Takes Two talking passionately and in detail about spotting her own mistakes and working to improve them. So part of me was really rooting for her to have sorted the gapping in this dance out because it would've served as an excellent coda to Abbey's actual journey of improvement on the show, and it's a shame it didn't happen on the night. It's also a shame for them that there's a clear error at the end, where Abbey goes into a leap and Aljaž doesn't, and it looks like Abbey lands on the hem of her skirt and skids along on it. I don't know whether that was a mistake on Aljaž's part, or whether they originally planned to have a jump there and took it out at the last minute, but it's fairly hard to miss. That said, Abbey retains her composure impressively throughout.

Again, the audience leap to their feet, and like Susanna, Abbey seems almost too exhausted to get up out of the deckchair. (What I wouldn't give for Alesha to still be a judge at this point, and to remind them that in her day the final was FIVE dances.) Bruno says that it was absolutely dazzing in its brilliance, and he thinks it's up there with the best quicksteps he's ever seen on Strictly. Craig thinks she was brave to reprise this one because he gave it a 7 the first time out - there was gapping, the chin was down, the frame was loose, and the arms were a mess - "but you've managed to correct just about all of those things, so congratulations". (That's the nearest we're going to get to any of the judges actually mentioning the gapping, by the way. But that's just the way things go in the final, I guess.) Darcey says that Abbey wasn't walking on sunshine, she FLOATED, and it was a seamless quickstep. Len tells her that she's top of the league with wonderful movement and great posture, but unfortunately there was that little snafu at the end, even if he's inclined to blame Aljaž for it rather than Abbey.

Abbey sprints up to the Tess Circle screaming "OH MY GAHD!" and Tess reminds her that it was her last dance of the series. Abbey says that she can't bear to think about being without it, and she thanks Aljaž for being so wonderful and making it all happen, and the public who voted and kept her in. (Except for in week six, but we won't talk about that.) Tess asks Aljaž how proud he is of Abbey, and he says that she's amazed him every single week, and he's so happy he got her for his first series on the pro. Tess asks what it would mean to win, and Alja&#382 grins "dancing on sunshine!", and Abbey says it would just be the most perfect ending to the most perfect experience she's ever had. She's just lucky to have made it to the final and she couldn't ask for more. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 9, Bruno 10 for a total of 38, a one point increase on last time.

Time for our final competitive dance of the series, from Natalie and Artem. Bruce informs us that he's been up and down those stairs 60 times over the course of the series. I don't know what he's complaining about, most of us would kill to have that level of cardio included in our day-to-day work. Natalie's Strictly story is about how she's a superfan: she's watched since the beginning and has always wanted to take part, and now she's in "the inner circle". Hee. Artem says that with Natalie he's been able to do whatever he wants, because she has no limitations. Apart from that week when she fainted and couldn't do her jive, which is Natalie's personal low point of the series - she's gutted that she never got to do it. (As am I - Artem released some low-res footage and it looks like it would have been awesome and would easily have swiped the highest-scoring jive honour away from Ashley.) [I am so gutted.  This series was such a poor showing for jives so it needed it - Rad] Natalie says that Artem has always wanted the best and "hasn't let me get away with 'good enough'", and she's pleased that he saw something in her even if nobody else did. Artem admires her work ethic and says that it puts him to shame. Natalie says that he's a quiet man who doesn't speak much, but he expresses himself through dance. Natalie says that she's had so much support from her family and friends, and that this has given her the best feelings of her whole live. She says that she's never felt "more myself - it's a very rare gift we've been given." Hee, she's such a ham, I love her. They've chosen the American smooth, which Natalie says she picked because it felt like doing a scene from a film the first time they did it, and she really appreciated the magic of Artem's choreography. She sobs that she hopes the love she feels for it reaches through the screen and grabs people and captures them.

I don't know if Natalie is Doing The Acting at the start of the routine or if she just got caught up in this being her last dance on the show, but she looks close to tears as they begin. This reprisal feels like one in the eye for anyone who ever said that Natalie and Artem lacked chemistry because the routine absolutely sings with it - it's a well-chosen end for them because their obvious sadness at this being their last routine on the show together fits perfectly with the story of the dance. Particularly right at the end, where Natalie's face just comes alive with emotion and she practically flings herself at Artem. Much like as soon as the routine was over, I flung myself at the telephone yelling "THAT'S IT, I DON'T EVEN CARE THAT SHE'S GOT NO CHANCE OF WINNING, I AM VOTING FOR NATALIE BECAUSE HOW COULD I NOT AFTER THAT?!" That, for me, has just overtaken Sophie's charleston and Susanna's paso as dance of the series. I'm going to be watching that back and having feelings for years to come, I guarantee it. [Yes, it was lovely.  And I think they'd be my top three of the series, too, with Abbey's VW a close fourth - Rad]

It's three for three on the standing ovation front, although Natalie at least finds the strength to get back to her feet a little quicker than Abbey and Susanna did, despite all her back problems. She and Artem make their way over to the judges with their arms around each other, and a shot of the Tess Circle shows Fiona and Deborah in tears. Craig declares that there's nothing finer than everything coming together - the music, the song, the dance, and Andrea's voice in that rendition (at which point Natalie turns and bows to the band, heh), and Natalie's dancing was even more spectacular. Darcey says that you can see how much Natalie loves that dance: "it just came out of your skin". Ew. Len reminds us that last time he gave it an 8 because there wasn't enough in hold, but that's more of a critique of Artem's choreography than Natalie's dance performance, so he watched only Natalie and the performance she gave was "beyond stunning". Hee, I can just imagine Kara Tointon at home throwing whatever she was drinking at the screen and screaming "oh, so NOW YOU'RE WILLING TO OVERLOOK IT, ARE YOU? WELL, ISN'T THAT JUST DANDY FOR ME?" Len says that it's been a great series, and that was a fitting dance to finish it. Finally, Bruno declares it "flawless, like a precious jewel that you want to keep with you for the rest of your life". He says that this was one of the highlights of any series he's judged, either here or in America.

A very emotional Natalie and Artem make their way up to the Tess Circle (in another lovely moment, Abbey pats a stray strand of hair back into place for Natalie as she arrives). In possibly the greatest moment of the entire series, Natalie says through sobs that she feels like she's "touched something divine, dancing with Artem". Tess giggles "What a lovely way to talk about Artem!", doing the full nudge-nudge-wink-wink at the camera as she does so. Artem says that words can't describe how he's feeling, and Natalie absolutely blew him away. Scores are in: Craig 10, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a perfect 40. (And while the tens have been chucked around with gay abandon tonight, I'm impressed that the judges only gave out three 40s across the whole night. I expected more.) Tess hands out tissues to both of them, Natalie giggles and everyone "awww"s at the two of them.

Fun fact interlude: Natalie has now overtaken Alesha as the contestant with the highest overall average score, with 36.8 to Alesha's 36.5. I'm sad that Alesha has finally been gazumped after hanging on to it for so long, but with all the DIRTY RINGERS they were casting it had to happen sooner or later, and Natalie seems as good a choice as anyone to inherit the mantle. Also, as I said on Twitter, frankly I'm impressed that Alesha managed to hang on to that record through three years of her own scoring. That's an achievement in itself.

Final leaderboard:
Natalie & Artem - 39 + 40 + 40 = 119
Abbey & Aljaž - 40 + 38 + 38 = 116
Susanna & Kevin - 37 + 36 + 39 = 112

In further "stop being so adorable, you're making this very difficult" news, we return to see Abbey wiping tears off Natalie's face and checking to make sure her mascara hasn't run. We then get a recap of all of the evening's dances: Susanna's sprightly but sloppy quickstep, her cheesy as hell but entirely delicious showdance, and that epic paso; Abbey's sweet but basic waltz, the simultaneously dramatic and dull showdance, and the fun but gappy quickstep; Natalie's CHA CHA RASPUTIN, that amazing showdance that I couldn't 100 per cent commit myself to because of the fugly dress, and the American smooth that I really can't watch again or I'm going to need yet another box of tissues.

Tess tells us that we have 10 minutes left to vote and that it's been months of hard dance labour for the finalists (at which point Abbey and Natalie dissolve into giggles over some private joke). To fill time while everyone's waiting, there's a montage of Things That Happened This Year And Things That People Thought About Them, featuring BARROWMAN, the Krankies, Strictly alumnus Alex Jones, Emma Willis and Marvin Humes in their new role as hosts of The Voice UK, somebody who thinks Ben's rumba was "beautiful", a man saying that Julien seems "quite a character", someone lying that he was "pleasantly surprised" by Vanessa, a theatrical type reminding us that it's an "all-girl final", Mary Berry declaring herself firmly Team Susanna because she has such great rhythm and always looks gorgeous, Eamonn Holmes saying that he supported Susanna as per the Union of Breakfast Presenters stipuations, Lorraine Kelly thinks Natalie is brilliant, an adorable small boy likes Abbey, lots of people like Sophie and THE PAIN IS STILL RAW.

Back in the studio, Bruce suggests a break from all the tension, so we all stop for Robbie Williams. I wish I lived in a world where Robbie Williams didn't make me tense. He's singing 'Puttin' On The Ritz', poorly, but at the pros are there to distract us from his awfulness. Also, Pasha is in tails. LOOK, OKAY, I really didn't get much Pasha-time this year. I have to take it where I can get it. Meanwhile, Robbie Williams fails to get the entire way through the song without having the crowd sing bits of it to him. I think he really should be allocated some sort of performance-related pay system where he only gets paid for the bits of the song that he actually delivers.

Credit to the show's continuity monkeys for ensuring that Artem and Kevin are both absent from the Tess Circle when we cut back to it, on the basis that they were both featured in that clearly pre-recorded routine with Robbie. I mean, nobody believes it was live but I always appreciate commitment to the illusion of liveness. Then it's another highlights VT: everyone remembers the launch show fondly and all the excitement that accompanied it. The transition from the launch show to actually learning how to dance was less enjoyable for some people, such as Rachel and Patrick. Dave says that his knees were knocking as he walked down the stairs for the first live show (arguably the most rhythm his legs had all series). Ben liked all of the theme weeks (especially the lesser known "Nice Lie Down On The Floor Week"), while Fiona thinks the experience of being in BLACKPOOL will live with her forever. Deborah says that there are things in life that money can't buy, and the experience of doing Strictly is one of them. Tony appears to say that he did it for the older generation, and I can't bring myself to take that away from him. Ashley likens the whole experience to "jumping back into the past", Rachel says it's "every little girl's dream, in terms of the hair and costumes" (at which point the editors court accusations of homophobia by cutting to Julien talking about TEN THOUSAND CRRRRRRYSTALS). We're reminded that it really was a rum year for men with a revisit of Craig lauding Patrick as the best male dancer of the year (no offence, Patrick, but let's be real here). Everyone hated being eliminated, but being part of the show was wonderful. Deborah hopes the experience of being part of the show will stay with her, and she plans to keeeeeeeep dancing, as they say. Lots of people seem to have gained confidence from it - even Julien, who I find it hard to imagine particularly lacking that trait beforehand.

We return to the studio floor, where Tess confirms that the lines are now closed, and while the votes are being counted and verified, it's time for a special treat - oh yes, it's the Cast Of 2013 Lap Of Honour. They're dancing to Donna Summer's 'Last Dance', and it's nice to see that the celebrities are being featured a lot more than they were last year. Indeed, everyone gets their own little showcase spot, themed around their day job: Tony comes on with a golf club while the pros dance around him with clubs of their own, Vanessa has a microphone and headphones, Julien is on a red carpet being snapped by paparazzi Iveta and Karen (okay, that one's somewhat questionable), Deborah gets wheeled in in an armchair while Anton dances around her with a briefcase, Rachel spells out "Strictly" on a glittery version of the Countdown letters board, Dave revs up a stationary motorbike, Fiona emerges from some feathers clutching a cocktail glass (I have no problem believing that that is indeed Fiona's day job), a surprisingly overdressed (well, he's in a shirt and trousers) Ben chucks a glittery rugby ball, Mark just gets to be on the stage reprising his MC Hammer dance AND The Dinosaur (♥), Ashley flies in on the magic carpet again as one final slap in the face, and Patrick and Anya arrive in the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car. Okay, so some of those day jobs were a bit of a reach, but come on: on the whole, that was awesome. Also, it's nice to see them all here and all enjoying themselves and doing their best, but it also makes me think that the right four couples definitely made the final. So that's good. [Me too but that was a nice little routine - Rad]

Tess is up in the Tess Circle with the three remaining finalists, and while we wait a bit longer for the result, it's time for a Christmas Special trailer, which basically suggests that there's going to be quite a lot of gurning and Pasha might get his chest out a little bit. MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ME!

Then we're in the Tess Circle again with everyone who finished in positions 15 to 4. Dave reveals that he's still dancing (if you believe he ever started), and says he's more supple than he used to be. Deborah says she's missed all the sequins, and she's so impressed with the JOURNEY that the finalists have all been on. Mark has missed being part of the show and is very happy to be back, especially now he no longer has to feel nervous. Ben's glad to be back where it all started and to catch up with everyone. Vanessa has been bowled over by everyone this evening and lets slip that Fiona's been sobbing all night.

Tess reminds us that whoever wins tonight with join the Strictly Champion Hall Of Fame alongside all the previous winners, "some of whom are in the audience tonight!" (Shot of Chris Hollins and Louis Smith sat together, and Tom Chambers elsewhere all by himself. MAKES SENSE.) Tess announces that there have been six million votes tonight, and I promise you not all of them were from me. [I laughed so hard at that given the X Factor's less than two million votes last week.  I mean, you shouldn't kick a dog when it's down but HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA - Rad] But before we find out who the winner is, the previous champs would like to weigh in, in VT form: Tom says that there is nothing on the planet like Strictly. Louis says that as soon as he got the call, he knew he wanted to do it. Alesha says that Strictly came along at a time when she really needed a pick-me-up, "and boy, did it pick me up." (I for one CANNOT CONTAIN my giddiness that Alesha isn't being airbrushed out of history despite having defected to ITV, especially since Craig gave that sniffy interview earlier this year about how she BETRAYED them all and none of them speak to her any more. Clearly someone on the show still likes her.) Kerplunk says that only those who have been on the dancefloor out there can possibly understand the terror. Ramps can still remember the adrenaline and fear that he felt when the music would come on. St Jill remembers throwing up a little bit in her mouth beforehand. Kara remembers thinking "what have I done?" (And if your response to that question wasn't "Artem", then your mind is much cleaner than mine is.) Harry points out that the reward is so much greater when something is that scary. Chris describes the experience as addictive. Jill and Alesha agree that the show does something strange to you that really sweeps you up into it. Kara adds that you start out thinking it's all a bit of fun and then you realise how much you don't want to go home. Everyone remembers how tense the atmosphere was on final night because you don't want it to end. Darren opines that "nobody remembers the runner-up". Everyone agrees that the moment in which you're waiting to find out if you're the winner is the tensest of all, and then they shout out your name, and you sort of cry and cheer and laugh all at once. And since it's an annual tradition, let's all just watch Alesha winning again.

I know it's not about that right now, but I had this conversation with several people on Twitter during the final, and I think it's worth saying again that I never stanned for anyone to win as hard as I stanned for Alesha, and I don't think I ever will. Just in terms of the sheer investment I had in someone as a dancer, and their JOURNEY, and how much I wanted her to win, and I also wanted her to win FOR HER, because she'd had such a shitty year leading up to it. I've had attachments to other contestants since then, of course, and rooted for them passionately, but it's never felt as personal as it did with Alesha. If she hadn't won, I don't know if I'd have bothered watching any further series. [She's still my favourite winner too and probably my favourite contestant ever- Rad]

Anyway, the VT is still going as the contestants talk about how the show stays with you, and people always want to talk to you about it on the street, and how they'll always be grateful to the show. Alesha says her life has become better since 2007, and she owes that to Strictly. (See? Told you.) Tom says that life is about experiences and making memories, and Strictly is one of the best.

Right, Tess and Bruce have got the cue cards, everyone. Bruce reminds us that there can only be one winner (but there can be two people in second place, apparently). The winners of Strictly Come Dancing 2013 are...

Abbey and Aljaž! Honestly, I think that's the first time in all my years of watching this show where I have been genuinely surprised by the winner. The closest I've ever been before was Kara beating Matt in series eight, but even then the bookies odds started to come in on her winning during the show. The bookies had Susanna out in front pretty much the whole way through, with Natalie edging out Abbey for second place after the third round, so I genuinely didn't see this coming at all. And as anyone who follows me on Twitter will know, I was angry in the wake of the result and declared Abbey "the worst winner ever" (yeah, not really one of my finest moments), but this is where writing this blog comes in incredibly handy, because it gives me a chance to re-evaluate the show a day later with a clear head. I had pretty much written Abbey off on the night, because the maths indicated that Susanna or Sophie must have been topping the vote for the last two weeks to stay clear of the Dread Dance Off, and once Sophie went out in fourth place I assumed Susanna had the whole thing locked. I allowed myself to think that Natalie maybe, just MAYBE, might edge it out after the American smooth, but I honestly never thought Abbey had a chance. Watching it back, however, I can start to see her appeal even if it never worked for me: she seemed like she was genuinely having fun all the way to the end, she had a sweet partnership with Aljaž, and she really was very good at ballroom (I remain unconvinced by her Latin, sadly). She's still my least favourite of the four finalists this year, and I'm still amazed that despite everything that I would've thought would count against her (blond and pretty, model, in the Dread Dance Off at the midway point despite being second-from-top on the leaderboard), she managed to turn it around and take the win. Ultimately I'm just going to have to chalk it up to one of those situations where someone who just never really clicked with me obviously struck a chord with a majority of voters. And that's fine. (Although come on, NATALIE WOZ ROBBED, etc.) [I am totally surprised she won but there are at least three or four past winners who were worse than her and I didn't really mind which of the four finalists won this year (although she was probably my least favourite of the four) as they've all had amazing dances and they've all had some clunkers - Rad]

Anyway, where were we? Abbey sinks to the floor in disbelief and then Aljaž sweeps her up into his arms. Natalie and Susanna are both applauding, both looking sad that they didn't win but happy for Abbey that she did, and again, that's fine. I'm not going to be one of those emotional fascists who says you must do Gracious Loser Face at all costs and never let on that you hoped it might be you. Abbey jumps up and down and screams, while Julien Macdonald suddenly leans in and hugs Abbey's mum in the audience, which is as hilarious as it is surreal. Bruce and Tess are frantically trying to get everyone in place for the final interviews but Abbey's too busy hugging Kevin. Tess manages to get Natalie and Artem onto their marks, and Natalie says that it's been an emotional night and the best experience of her life, and she's so grateful to everyone who's supported them. It's a little bit hard to hear her over Abbey's gleeful screaming, so Bruce attempts to calm her down and tell her that they just need to have a word with the runners-up. (Some corners of the internet have taken this as confirmation from the show that Susanna and Kevin finished second, but frankly I don't buy that - both Denise and Kimberley were "runners-up" last year. I'd imagine that Susanna probably did beat Natalie but I'm not about to take a casual remark from Bruce as cast-iron proof of it.) Susanna says she's going to miss it all, and echoes that the greatest prize for her was dancing with Kevin, so she felt like a winner every day.

Then we get to our champions: a breathless Abbey says that she can't believe this. Bruce asks her what Sophie's going to say, and Abbey says that she'll love the trophy, and it'll be going in her room. (Hang on, in one of her VTs earlier she said she was going to give it to Aljaž! Poor Aljaž - so close the glitterball only to have it yoinked from under his nose to go to an adorable small child instead. Some guys just can't catch a break.) Abbey giggles that she's so shocked to have won. Aljaž can't believe it either, and tearfully hugs Abbey, and thanks her for being "incredible". Peter Crouch looks on proudly from the audience. Bruce calls her "a pro now", and frankly if Abbey winning was all it took to never have her referred to as a glorious novice again, then it was probably worth it.

Bruce hands over the trophy (which does indeed have little plates on the bottom for each winner, though I hope this show is not so cheap that it can't make a new one each year, because I'd be super-pissed if I had a trophy and had to give it back). Bruce encourages Abbey to hold the trophy high, and calls her "Sophie" in the process. Oops. The rest of the contestants rush out to congratulate them - Sophie's there first, but steps on Aliona in the process and you can hear her squealing "ooh, sorry!" Hee. Tess offers one final round of congratulations to the champs, and Bruce thanks all the couples and the judges for another wonderful year, and Abbey and Aljaž have their victory dance to 'Dancing Queen'.

So it seems only right for me to thank you all for reading and giving us a reason to sit behind our laptops for hours every Sunday, typing out all sorts of nonsense, attempting running jokes that never really land and saying things about Pasha that frankly probably border on sexual harassment. You're all great, and we hope you'll join us next year for the 2014 series [in fact we'll see you sooner than that, for the Christmas special - Rad], which will hopefully be won by Natalie Lowe and her long-overdue RINGER. Well, a boy can dream.

Dancing Queens

Final part one, December 21 2013 

Last week! The last man was vanquished! Tonight! A woman will ascend to the glittering heights of... lifting the glitterball! We open with a generic Latin type pro dance – in which Robin and James are both back, but there is sadly no sign of Natalie Lowe [on one hand I'm gutted that they kept promising she'd be able to return for pro dances when she ultimately couldn't, but on the other hand, if she had recovered sooner we would've been denied the glory of Aliona giving it the full "yeah well if you liked it then you should've put a ring on it, LOUISE RAINBOW" in the pro routines, so *scales gesture* - Steve] – and then to the strains of ‘I’m Every Woman’ our YEAR OF THE WOMAN contenders: Abbey, Natalie, Sophie and Susanna step out and have a little disco boogie.

Bruce and Tess enter – Daly dresswatch – some kind of horrific thing with white fringing and what looks like mirrored panelling on top. It’s kind of a Greece-meets-Vegas-via-Cleethorpes-Sunday-Market (shoutout to my man KFG) look. Still, in a series where she’s had her share of OK dresses, it’s good to know that some traditions are being upheld – and speaking of upheld, the Bruce leg grope gets an enormous eyeroll from Tess tonight.

In the audience: JELUS KARA OMG and Kimberley Walsh. YEAR OF THE WOMAN.

Bruce makes a gag about sexual harassment (of himself) and then takes a selfie of him and Tess – I wait for the punchline, but no, it seems he really did want to take a selfie. He then goes in for another Tess grope with a ‘come here my beauty’ and her face is even more ‘where the fuck is Claudia’ than usual. Our finalists enter with only Susanna and Natalie making any effort to shimmy to the theme tune. Susanna then gives the audience a huge clap, the big ham, and Sophie and Abbey copy her. EVIL DIRTY RINGAH BITCH Natalie does not.

Bruce introduces all the global pros and calls Brendan ‘Brenda’ in a total Monkseal shoutout and then he gets the crowd to shout ‘GRIMSBY’ lots when they introduce Kevin. I’m going back there this week and I fully expect to see the place festooned in Kevin banners and a giant statue of him (in his glasses, obviously) outside the Barge which is where he’s taken Karen Hauer for a lovely time, according to his Twitter. The last time I went to the Barge we drank ridiculously-named cocktail jugs full of cheap colourful booze (on offer at 2 for... something? IDK - we'd already drunk several pints and a couple of cocktail jugs in BOTH Wetherspoons at that point. It's a classy night out, Grimsby) , for it is that kind of sophisticated establishment. [I'm so glad you've been able to provide all this local colour for Kevin this year. I can only hope to return the favour should a pro from East Kent ever turn up. - Steve]

Kevin and Susanna are first to dance this week and they’re dancing the judges’ choice – their quickstep to ‘Good Morning’. Hooray for Susanna possibly recreating another SOFA! CRASH! , her signature move of the series. They got 33 last time and Darcey says they should be able to get some 10s this time – well, it’s a Strictly final, so ba’duh. This remains a fun and energetic routine and their footwork is better than last time, I think, although still not perfect, especially towards the start. Susanna’s arms aren’t quite extending far enough but she is giving it a good old gurn. And then they attempt the sofa jumping bit and actually succeed, which makes Kevin do a huge fist pump in triumph. Bruce thinks she did it perfectly and can’t wait to see what they do next. Craig says there was some gapping and her top line needed work, plus there was some issue with the feet but her performance was great. The camera cuts to Natasha Kaplinky looking ‘shit, don’t look at me, they might force me to come back and do another stupid dance where I look embarrassed the whole time like they did last year’.  Darcey says it was cheeky, sweet, fast and fun with no faux pas in the footwork.

They bound up to the Tess Circle where the old contestants are present. Susanna is pleased to have finally conquered a sofa. She was pleased not to let Kevin down this time, and Kevin says she was amazing. Scores: 8, 9, 10, 10 for a total of 37. [Darcey's scoring remains a mystery - "no faux pas" is worth a 9, and "it was perfect apart from one error" is a 10. God, I wish we could be rid of her. - Steve] Behind them are all the vanquished men. And lovely Pasha smiling down the camera just for us. Hi Pasha!

Abbey and Aljaž are next and Bruce makes an old joke to introduce them and basically makes it a political comment on BLAHDY BBC REPEATS OMG. You think this show is bad at repeating content, Bruce? I had to sit through X Factor last weekend where there so many recaps I swear the recaps were recapping the recaps. [And then we had to recap the recaps which recapped the recaps. I felt like I was in Inception. - Steve]

Abbey and Aljaž are repeating their waltz to ‘Kissing You’, which was Abbey’s favourite dance. They repeat the lie that Abbey ‘came from the dahnce guttah’ and Craig says this time she needs to get a 40 – no real hints about how to improve her technique, but I assume the answer to that is simply ‘turn up in a Strictly final’. Not that I’m complaining because I love their ballroom (but only the rumba from their Latin). It’s beautiful and all but reprising a waltz (or a cha cha) in the final is a bit… easy, no? [It did seem interesting to me that both Natalie and Abbey were reprising week one dances where the scope for improved technique and thus improved scores seemed limitless. - Steve]

Bruce welcomes our fabulous singers Davearch, and his wonderful orchestra for ‘the final time’. What, ever? Bruno says he’s experiencing everlasting love. A flirt to the last, and calls her a winner, regardless of the vote. Craig says he had a hunch about them in week one and was right, they were amazing. Abbey starts crying. Darcey says her top line is incredible and she hasn’t seen a celebrity achieve that before in this show. Len says the dance should be designated an area of natural beauty and no ‘girl celebrity’ in this show ‘and in America’ has had such a good top line. Obviously Benz Titz wins for the men. Bruce then says Abbey’s ‘bottom line’ is also nice, the filthmonger.

Tess welcomes them to the Tess Circle and I see Deborah and Mark. I’ve missed you both. And Tony – standing several feet away from Aliona. That restraining order she presumably got immediately after they left is clearly working wonders. Scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 for the first 40 of the final (oh come on, it’s hardly going to be the last). Tess says they got 32 last time so that shows a huge improvement. [No mention of the fact that she topped the leaderboard in week one with this dance, so they can continue the bizarre "Abbey is such a novice who's been on such a journey!" narrative. - Steve]

The third couple of the evening are Natalie and Artem. We’re reminded that last week they were actually good again after a few weeks of not being that great, but fat lot of use that was, as they ended up in the dance. The judges’ choice for them is the cha cha cha to ‘Ra Ra Rasputin’ (ZOMG CONSPIRACY! JUDGES CHOOSING EASY DANCES FOR THEIR FAVOURITES!!1111!!! CALL OFCOM NOW!!111!!1). I really, really wish we could have seen their jive instead of them reprising this one. Still, Natalie is giving it lots of wink and it’s always nice to be reminded of Artem’s Ross Geller impression, I guess. [I think they just wanted to see if they could actually make him turn purple this time. - Steve] It’s fine, but it’s a cha cha and these two can do so much more - although now I’m thinking about how underwhelming Natalie’s journey has been overall – she’s such a fierce, crazy loon who is a talented ringah and should have wiped the floor with everyone, yet so few of her dances have wowed me. I blame Artem’s dedication to injury porn being greater than his dedication to the dahnce. And let’s face it, they should have done that fierce Proud Mary hair jive, because that would totally have been the best thing ever. A minute or so of swingamajig is no consolation. Sulk. [It's interesting - I almost feel like Natalie has been holding back to attempt to counteract the ringer accusations, which meant that a lot of her dances really didn't make the impact they could have made, so her journey was more like "gradually learning to release" - which doesn't really make for great television, but I loved her finally releasing and going Full Ringer for the final. It was totally worth it. - Steve]

The judges love it – Darcey says it was even cleaner than last time and Bruno says everything was flawless. Up in the Tess Circle Tess congratulates them on being in the final, whilst Ola glowers at Artem because she would have done so much more to try and be the first pro to win twice than he seems to have been bothering to do. [Eh, based on some of the Olagraphy she's been churning out this year, I doubt she's that fussed about winning again. - Steve] I wouldn’t worry Ola, Brendan’s got the tryhard thing licked. Scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 for 39, an improvement on their previous 31.

The final couple to dance are Sophie and Brendan. Bruce decides to then do some filler showing us how hard it is to present and why he needs a week off every other week – it involves climbing up stairs to get his cue cards from a random pillar, apparently. He snipes that Tess does nothing but swan about in the ‘penthouse’. Except the weeks when she does your job. He gets the audience to agree that he works as hard as the dancers. Except that they turn up every week. And for both shows. AND some IT Takes Two. He then shouts ‘WELL TELL THE BBC’. Someone’s feeling a bit precious about tabloid headlines and Radio Times readers letters, aren’t they?

Sophie says Bruno is her favourite judge for giving her her first ten. Oh, Sophie, haven’t you learned what an old lush he is? He’ll get it out for anyone. Sophie wears very sparkly eye make-up to go into the judges’ chamber. The judges want them to do their Viennesse Waltz from week 10 and improve the top line. Now this is a dance I genuinely don’t object to seeing again as I really enjoyed it first time. However, I did not want to hear the singer murdering ‘My Favourite Things’ again. I have an ear owee. The dance remains lovely, but I think Sophie’s neck is still stuck too far out a lot of the time, not that the judges will care. It gets a standing ovation but not from Janet Ellis, who remains seated. Although she does cry.

Darcey says she looked more comfortable in hold than last time. Bruce says her neck was like an ostrich tonight. Not really a compliment, Bruce. Len says there were some lovely turns, pivots and fleckerls and the issue with her upper body is sorted out. Bruno says the ease of movement was gorgeous and she can spin his head. He says Cecil Beaton would be proud and he and Bruce get into a conflab about who he was. Craig says her posture let her down a bit but she and Brendan move together beautifully. Tess asks if she’s used to the spins and Sophie says yes. Brendan says she is beautiful to dance with and Sophie says ‘it could have been any of us’, indicating the other contestants. Why yes, a final four of Vanessa, Julien, Dave and Tony was always likely. Scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 for a total of 39.  Craig’s 9 gets booed. Oh, the Strictly final.

Leaderboard time!

Abbey and Aljaž 40
Natalie and Artem 39
Sophie and Brendan 39
Susanna and Kevin 37

Always with the leaderboard ties, this series. Tess implores everyone to vote. Yet again, I can’t (although I’d have been no use as I’d probably have given them one vote each given I’ve voted for all four of them over the two times I’ve actually voted). Showdance time! Tess reminds us that the first rule of showdance is that there are no rules in showdance. The second rule of showdance is that at least one of them will make you go ‘What. Was. THAT?’ and probably get awarded 40.

Susanna and Kevin are back and they’re sad to be leaving. Susanna bought him a toy robot because she’s trying to usurp Peter Crouch. They both blub a bit. Their show dance is to the Moulin Rouge version of ‘Your Song’ and Kevin’s in tails, whilst Susanna is in a white and sparkly ballgown with lace sides. There is a LOT of footwork-hiding dry ice. It is a very ballroom-inspired dance that is lovely and romantic with a crazily long lift and spin involving Susanna holding Kevin’s neck and nothing else - and some fireworks at the end. It’s quite lovely but rather sensible and therefore not really in the spirit of Strictly Showdance Crazy. Where’s the random hip-hop break? The gym ball? The bacofoil?

Len said it was great to stick with what you know, Bruno says it was lovely, glossy and glamorous and Kevin must have a neck of reinforced steel. Craig says it was lovely and he liked the gravity-defying spin. Darcey says it had ‘no wow factor’ but had sophistication. [Apparently not realising that "no wow factor is the biggest insult you can throw at a dance on this show. I suppose it stands to reason that Darcey can only critique harshly when she's not doing it on purpose. - Steve] Susanna says Kevin’s neck is the wow factor. And OK, it may not have been crazy exciting, but I’d agree that lift was pretty spectacular. It did lack a SOFA! CRASH! though, which is surely what we all wanted. Up in the Tess Circle, Susanna says she does want to dance her favourite dance again, but she wants to dance it with Kevin. I think that is the plan, Susanna. They thank each other for being wonderful. Scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 for a total of 36.

Abbey and Aljaž, we’re reminded, were the first couple to score a 40, even though it was for DISCO and that isn’t even a jahnre (unless they’re sneaking it in via the back door) so it DOESN’T COUNT. Guess what her VT is about? Her nehves at doing the showdance. She gives him a present of their day at the assault course. They call their dance ‘a paso, tango, thing’ which gives me fusion week flashback shivers (thank goodness that seems to have gone into the drawer of things we shall never mention again alongside rock’n’roll, Anton’s racism and Hayley Holt).

Abbey is wearing a gold slashed dress thing whilst Artem is wearing a leather waistcoat and has a painted on tattoo. They’re dancing to ‘Sweet Child O’Mine’ and whilst I think Abbey, on form (i.e. not Latin), is possibly the best dancer of these four, this is largely a series of walking about bits, ugly face-pulling, posing and slightly awkward lifts and at once point so much dry ice you can’t see them at all. It’ll probably get a 40 though. [I liked the beginning, the end and the massive blasts of dry ice, but the middle was super-dull, I thought. - Steve]

Bruno screams ‘GET THE FIRE BRIGADE I’M BURNING THIS GIRL IS ON FIRE’ and then quotes a million more lyrics. He also mentions ‘I love rock’n’roll’. Shush, I thought we’d banished its memory. Craig loved the passion and the shapes they created. Darcey says she loved the intent but there was a bit she couldn’t see although ‘fortunately we’ve got a TV’. So have I, Darcey, didn’t mean I could see it. Len loved the mix of ballroom and Latin but thinks part of it were surplus to requirements. The audience boo and he snits ‘am I bovvered?’ Bruce declares them his favourites. See, I knew it was a bit rubbish. Tess declares it ‘possibly the most rock’n’roll routine on Strictly’. Pah. I saw Erin set fire to Richard Arnold last year. Scores: 9, 10, 9, 10 for a total of 38.

Natalie and Artem are excited about their showdance. The training footage does not look like their jive to me although it featurs some dicking about with canes. And a pole. BAN THIS SICK BBC FILTH. Natalie says the showdance could be the difference between fourth place and ‘being in the final three’. Such high ambition there Nat! (Or an awareness of where she probably is in the voting). She buys Artem a reindeer onesie as a present. [It's like she doesn't even want my vote, isn't it? - Steve]

They’re dancing to ‘Steppin’ Out With My Baby’ and Artem is wearing a lemon suit with a red waitcoat and Natalie, descending amind a tent on a pole, is dressed like a genie out of a lamp or something in green and gold. [I thought her costume looked like Hulk She-Ra. - Steve] Costume-wise, they look a hot, fried, mismatched mess. Dance-wise, they begin with a nice (if out of sync with each other) series of tap and quickstep moves and then there’s a bit with some canes, some nice trotting about and a few lifts, followed by them swinging around a pole, then some Charleston bits and a lift. It was nice and energetic and fun with a lot of variety in it but quite messy throughout and not much in hold. It didn’t really bring any new moves to the floor – and I still would have preferred to see their jive.

Craig says wow, it was magnificent and Darcey declares it fab-u-lous. She loved the tap dancing and the rhythm changes. Len calls it eye-popping, jaw-dropping, show-stopping and says the Brits like an underdog, but like justice more and if she’s not in the final three… Bruno says it was a Fred Astaire number and Bruce talks all over him like the professional he is. Bruno declares it a total smash and I wonder what they’re all seeing that I’m not, because I’m so far underwhelmed by all of these show dances, although Kevin and Susanna’s is probably my favourite (and I was expecting them to have a car crash of a show dance so I’m surprised how well it worked). Still, Brendan always brings something ludicrous to proceedings, right? Bruce then declares them his favourites as well. Natalie declares that dance the best moment of her life. Scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 and Len begging for an 11 paddle. Well if you only used the 10 only when it was deserved and discovered paddles 1-6 you might not have such a problem, Len.

Sophie and Brendan are going to be dancing to Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ (because Brendan is King of the 80s), which is the curse of reality shows, so this could be fun, especially as Brendan’s letting Sophie give him ideas. Their VT involves lots of falling over. She gives him a mini karaoke machine as a present. I bet it's all Madonna, all the time.

We start with Sophie sitting in a giant glitterball descending from the sky. She’s wearing pink sparkles and Brendan is dressed as Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing. I briefly mourn for the 80s-tastic combo Brendan and Flavia would have made. Every dance would have been Dirty Dancing AND ALL THE BETTER FOR IT. Steve would disagree here, but he has never actually seen that film as far as I’m aware so his opinion on this matter is null and void. Sorry, Steve. [I've tried to watch it on several occasions and never lasted more than about half an hour before passing out from SHEER BOREDOM. - Steve] Many of the Latiny-disco-y moves are, indeed, lifted wholesale from Dirty Dancing here, although Sophie’s hips aren’t really all that and the short dress she’s wearing leaves nowhere to hide. There are some nice enough leg-splaying lifts and a good one where she spins upside down from his crotch. It’s a bit of a mess technically, and kind of rubbish, but it’s a lot of fun and endearing rubbish rather than Louis Smith's gymnastic whatever-it-was last year. [I feel like a Latin-based showdance for Sophie was always going to be a poor fit - I think they were attempting to prove that she can do Latin when really it proved that she can't, particularly. Still, I agree that it was fun to watch and that there were no legitimate car crashes in the showdance round this year, which is both reassuring and slightly disappointing. - Steve] 

Darcey declares it Heaven because she, like Brenda and Sophie and myself, is a woman over 30 who has watched a certain film too many times. Bruno likes to see Sophie having fun with her legs in the air, because he’s a perv. (Where’s Brendan, king of PURITY this week?) Craig and Len don’t get a say but there’s enough time for Bruce to declare them his favourites as well. Sophie hopes people at home think it a feelgood movie and it was like the end of the movie. If they get through, they’ll be performing THAT CHARLESTON. Scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 for a total of 35.

Leaderboard update:

Natalie and Artem 39 + 40 =79
Abbey and Aljaž 40 + 38 = 78
Sophie and Brendan 39 + 35 = 74
Susanna and Kevin 37 + 36 = 73

So that’s basically an inverse of the (alleged) voting leak from last week then. Tess reminds us to vote and that at the start of the results show one couple will leave and then the other three will continue dancing. We get a recap of the evening: Susanna defeating the sofa and spinning around in dry ice; Abbey being romantic (two Baz Luhrman film inspired dances back to back in this recap, by the way) and then stomping and posing, Natalie loving Russia and then tapping her way to a 40, Sophie going from prim Maria to dirty dancer.

We then get another VT reminding us that they’ve all loved dancing and would like to win and Natalie cries some more in it and declares it the most she’s 'ever lived' because she’s completely broken. And then we’re back in the studio and Natalie’s crying again. And we end, as is now traditional, with Bruce shouting at everyone that they’re doing things wrong.

Well, that was all a bit underwhelming, which is a shame as I like every single finalist this year. Still, the dances they’ve all chosen to reprise were enjoyable so part two can only be better, can’t it? Well, except for the bit where Robbie Wiliams turns up, anyway. Join Steve then to discover who wins!