Sunday, 4 January 2015

Jack The Giant Ringer

2014 Christmas Special: 25 December 2014

It's Christmas! (Okay, fine, it's not Christmas when I'm writing this, but it wasn't Christmas when it was filmed either, so I think you can give me that one.) This year's special is pantomime-themed, which means we can expect lots of elaborate set pieces, high-camp villains and the audience booing the fuck out of everything. No, I'm not sure how we're meant to tell this apart from a regular episode either.

We open outside the Palace Theatre in London, where Bruce climbs out of a cab to the cheers of an adoring crowd (which seems to be mostly men, so I assume they're cheering because they felt like having two women present the show was One Feminist Step Too Far or something) and makes his way into the lobby, where Aliona and Joanne are decorating a tree - before being joined by Natalie, Iveta, Robin, Ian, Tristan and Aljaž for a bit of a dance. Aliona swoops over to the side and meets her celebrity for the evening - 2012 champion Louis Smith, who's dressed as Jack (of "and the Beanstalk" fame) and brandishing a glittery axe. Presumably this means he was off somewhere getting wood. The dancers continue up to wardrobe, where 2012 "fan favourite" Lisa Riley is waiting, dressed as Dorothy and ready to be reunited with former professional partner Robin. This, of course, makes him a friend of Dorothy, very clever show, we see what you did there. In one of the other wardrobe rooms, we find 2009 champion Chris Hollins (Dick Whittington) and 2008 runner-up Rachel Stevens (Tinker Bell, and I never even knew that was two words, so I guess I've learned something already), and they are partnered with Iveta and Tristan respectively. Everyone goes down in a lift (STEADY) and makes their way to the stage door, where Aljaž meets his Christmas partner, 2013 finalist Sophie Ellis-Bextor (Sleeping Beauty). With everyone else seemingly partnered up, poor Joanne is just left to frustratedly rub her lamp (*eyebrow*) and out pops official 2011 nuisance Russell Grant as The Genie. So that's our line-up for this year - and while it's a shame not to have any unknown quantities to experience for the first time, I think this is probably better than everybody pretending that the likes of Ronni Ancona, Bobby Ball and Katy Brand are "too busy" to commit to a full run.

Then we cut to the studio, where Tess descends from the ceiling on a hula hoop wrapped in rainbow ribbon, everyone does a quick group dance to 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' and Anton gets literally wheeled on as a pantomime dame on a giant moving platform. We're informed that Bruce is "back for Christmas!" (/allowed back into the studio because it's a pre-recorded show so we can actually afford for him to fluff his lines and do re-takes), and for the first time this year, we see poor Tess have to suffer the leg-up-and-grab move that she's been spared for so long. She doesn't look especially thrilled about it. (Daly Dresswatch: strapless floor-length sequinned gown, not cut terribly flatteringly.) Bruce tells Tess that he's spending Christmas with his entire family, including his identical twin: "the same masculine features, the same dapper moustache...poor Daphne". Oy. I have not missed the Bruce jokes, I really haven't. COME BACK TESS ALL IS FORGIVEN.

Bruce tells us that "six of the best" contestants will be back to perform tonight, and Tess tells us that "a certain showbiz icon" (Bruce) will be treating us to a song and dance. [Merry FUCKING Christmas - Rad] Then he introduces the judges: Darcey, Len and Bruno, who are all dressed up for panto as the Fairy Godmother, Baron Hardup and Buttons respectively. Gosh, but where is Craig? What could possibly have delayed him? Oh, there he is: sweeping in as the Evil Queen (*sigh*) so the audience can shout "he's behind you!" at Bruce. His make-up does look fabulous, though, I will admit that.

So let's meet the stars of our Christmas show: presenter Chris Hollins and his partner Iveta Lukosiute, pop princess Rachel Stevens and her partner Tristan McManus, astrologer Russell Grant and his partner Joanne Clifton, pop star Sophie Ellis-Bextor and her partner Aljaž Skorjanec, actress Lisa Riley and her partner Robin Windsor, and finally Olympic gymnast Louis Smith and his partner Aliona Vilani. Bruce tells them that they're all his favourites, because it's Christmas. He also adds that they're all either winners, runners-up or semi-finalists...except one. Heh. I love it when they remind Russell that for all he likes to sell himself as a "fan favourite", he only made it to week eight. Tess reminds us that there's no phone vote, because this was all recorded weeks ago, so we'll have to trust the judgement of the audience. Do we have to?

Up first are Chris and Iveta. Iveta is dressed as a cat, so I am already more than happy. In his VT, Chris says that he can still remember winning the show as if it was yesterday, and he's very excited to be dancing again. He's been given the charleston to dance tonight, and says that the last time he did it, he got "a full house of 10s" (neat way of sidestepping the mess that was the scoring in the 2009 final, because this show has never needed and will never need five judges - also, I think even Chris knows that the perfect score was basically the judges going "eh, we all know you're going to win regardless of what we think, so let's just act like we approve before it's too late"). He adds that Iveta is not familiar with the concept of pantomime, so he's going to have to teach her about panto while she teaches him the dance (/to dance). To be perfectly honest, Iveta does not seem terribly interested in learning about pantomime. I think she's just gradually processing the horror that despite being promised an actual winner, the reality is not quite what she was expecting. When they've finished their little cultural lesson, Chris mentions that everybody talks about the swimming move from his original charleston, so Iveta "desperately wants" to incorporate it into this one. Hmmm.

They're dancing to 'Sleigh Ride' and I think this routine reveals a lot about how things have changed since Chris won. I will credit him with having good charleston swivel, but so much of the rest of his dancing revolves around gurning, and while I think he had the element of surprise the first time around, we've seen so many better charlestons since then that this just doesn't feel like the crowd-pleaser it once was, even with the swimming move incorporated. It's not terrible, it just feels dated, and I'm pretty sure the other finalists are going to wipe the floor with him.

Bruce welcomes the fabulous singers, Dave Arch, and his wonderful, wonderful orchestra, and turns to the judges. Len says that it was "more fun than roasting your chestnuts on an open fire", and "it's not Christmas without Chris". Bruno says that he's "missed that little face" and asks if Chris has overindulged on the Christmas pudding. Bit rude. He adds that it was "always fun from beginning to end", though. Craig thought it was flat-footed and lacking in swivel, but he's going to overlook that because it's Christmas and he loves Chris's "cheeky nature". Darcey thinks he wasn't as sprightly as he was in 2009 (none of us are, surely?) but he's still "just lovely and cheeky". Important audience sighting: Trent in a brilliant cardigan. [I never cared much for Chris when he was an actual contestant but the judges were so uneccesarily rude to him on this that I felt so sorry for him - Rad]

Chris and Iveta head up to the Tess Circle, where Tess purrs her approval of Iveta's catsuit, and Chris says that that was the whole point - he wanted everyone to be looking at her instead of him. Tess asks him how it feels to be back, and Chris grumbles goodnaturedly about Bruno calling him fat, but says it's fantastic to be back here. He explains the reality of teaching Iveta the swimming move ("Right, you lie down there and I jump on top of you." "...vat?") Tess asks Iveta if she'll be going to pantos every year now she knows what they are, and Iveta stares Tess right down and chirps "he's behind you!" Amazing. Scores are in: Craig 7, Darcey 8, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 31.

Up next, we have Rachel and Tristan. Rachel, of course, was one of the many people who was ROBBED by Tom Chambers in series six, and ever since then she keeps coming back for Christmas specials only to get robbed again. (She once lost to Ali Bastian in a Christmas special. Ali Bastian.) However, like the tiny force of unbridled optimism that she is, Rachel's back and hoping that this will be the time she actually gets to win. Tristan breaks the news to Rachel in training that she'll get to fly in this dance, and Rachel's excited, not realising that in her absence flying has become a sort of Strictly short hand for "this person cannot dance, let's keep them off the floor as much as possible". Rachel tells us that she's had two daughters since she was on Strictly, and I get briefly sidetracked by my fantasies of how amazing it would be to have Rachel Stevens as your mum. I mean, you'd get to tell everyone that your mum made one of the all-time most underrated brilliant pop albums. Sure, she'd have that racist friend who drops around every now and again, but whose mum doesn't? Rachel and Tristan will be doing the Viennese waltz, which Rachel says is always something that she struggled with. (Rachel's score for the Viennese waltz back in series six: 32 in week six, joint second on the leaderboard. OKAY RACH.) Then Rachel brings her daughter in for training to give her some tips on how to be the ultimate fairy. Same she didn't get partnered with Robin, really, then she wouldn't have needed outside assistance. Rachel's adorable daughter Amelie explains that the secret is all about waving your wand and having wings, and then they run around the training room pretending to fly. Bless.

Rachel gets lowered from the ceiling in the giant hula hoop and then she and Tristan dance to 'Please Come Home For Christmas'. It's an enjoyable Viennese waltz, danced well by Rachel, although there are illegal lifts in there for no discernable reason other than to give us all a quick glimpse of Rachel's underwear. Also there's too much fussing around to get her into the hoop at the end, time that could have been spent on dancing - and I'm aware that makes me sound like a grumpy old man, but honestly, if you saw Len Goodman on Room 101 the other night, then you'll know how much worse this could actually sound. (Things Len doesn't like: choice, foreign food, and the metric system, I shit you not.) [Can you IMAGINE if this show was scored in imperial.  Egads - Rad]

Bruno calls Rachel "Tinker Bell of the ball" and "forever young", which I'm sure is music to the ears of Fat Old Chris Hollins up there in the Tess Circle. (It is amazing how Rachel basically has not aged since she was first on the show, though. If she ever releases a skincare range I will be first in line.) Craig tells Rachel that she reminds him of himself: a sweet, innocent beauty, without any need for a scrap of make-up. Heh. He'd forgotten how amazing Rachel's dancing is, possibly because he like Len believes that Lisa Snowdon is the greatest female celebrity dancer never to win the show. Darcey says she couldn't have asked for more, and she really enjoyed those "Tinker Bell lifts", which weren't actually supposed to be there. Len says it was "like a warm hug on a cold Christmas morning" and calls the performance "terrific".

They fly up to the Tess Circle, where Natalie Lowe is now dressed as famous panto character T-Bag for some reason. I don't normally do screengrabs, but look:

God help us all if she ever realises that Sally Simpkins is alive and well and currently the landlady of the Queen Vic. Tess gets all excited about Rachel having "two new additions to the family" since they last saw her, and Rachel admits that she's "been busy", which makes everyone laugh because we all know she's had sex at least twice, the hussy! Rachel says she's loved being back, and doesn't mention the word "rollercoaster" at all, which is a turn-up for the books. Tristan says she's been great to work with and they're "mates now". Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 38. Well, so much for Darcey not being able to ask for more. Tess tells us that Louis was booing the nines, which I think is possibly the most invested Louis Smith has ever got in this show, including the entire series that he was on.

Bruce now introduces "2011 favourite - not mine - Russell Grant". I am quite enjoying the "for god's sake, go home Russell" subtext of this episode. Bruce says that "as you can see, Russell has been painted blue from head to toe". The camera then cuts to Russell, whose paint-job clearly ends at his jawline. Whoops. In his VT, Russell says that the public's main memory of him is being fired out of a cannon at Wembley. Yep, that's the moment that lingers in my mind, chiefly because it was the week he was eliminated, Hallelujah praise the Lord. However, Russell's own highlights were all the Latin dances - he can't pick between them, possibly because they all looked the same in the end anyway. This time around, he's been paired with poor Joanne (I may not have particularly rated her this year, but she still doesn't deserve this) [I'd like to see her with a good dancer, or even a mid-range one on a JOURNEY, to ascertain whether or not it was just KOMEDY KONTESTANT mania that made her so... so this series - Rad] who will play Aladdin to his Genie, and the two of them will do something vaguely resembling a cha cha cha after she rubs his lamp. Joanne tries to make the best of a bad situation and describes dancing with Russell as "amazing", even though he can't keep the various sections of his dance apart and keeps salsa-ing when he's supposed to cha cha cha. Joanne says that she's had to give funny names to the steps to help him stay on the right track, and somehow I suspect that even that won't get her very far. Joanne just hopes Russell will get it right on the night.

They're dancing to 'Could It Be Magic' (not entirely sure what makes that a Christmas song) and Russell-as-Genie spends about 16 bars being wafted around on his magic carpet [a move last seen being performed by the husk of Ashley Taylor-Dawson - Rad] before he actually does any dancing, which is probably a merciful outcome for us all. There's not really a lot of cha cha cha to speak of, and his timing is fairly dreadful, and frankly the best part of the whole routine is when Natalie appears in a puff of smoke as Princess Jasmine (oh, that's who she's supposed to be) and dances with Joanne in a total Robin-baiting same-sex partnership while Russell goes and has a little Stephanie Beacham-style sit down on his magic carpet. Why couldn't the whole routine have been Joanne and Natalie? That would have been much better.

Craig calls it "wickedly eccentric", and says that he loved the disco diva stuff. Darcey declares it "unforgettable". Len says it was "camp as Christmas" and says that Russell was "like a turkey chasing the stuffing". That doesn't even make sense! Bruno tells Russell that he's always fantastic with his feet in the air, and I'm sure it's not the first time Russell's been told that. Bruce then expresses his own concern about those moments when Russell gets "that look on his he know's what he's doing". Indeed, truly those are the most terrifying moments of all.

Russell and Joanne float up to the Tess Circle, and Tess says that if she had a wish, she'd wish for Russell to be on the show every week. I thought he already was? Tess asks Russell if he's kept up the dancing, and Russell says that he has, because he's been keeping fit and losing more weight. Joanne says that she had three wishes for her partner: to be fun, to be happy and to be enthusiastic, and they were all granted. Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 8, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 29. Russell points out that this is his highest mark ever on Strictly. I hate to break it to you, Russell, but a Christmas score is like a Donny 10: it doesn't count.

Up next are Sophie and Aljaž, and you can tell that Bruce really hasn't missed having to pronounce "Skorjanec" while he's been gone. In her VT, Sophie says that it's lovely to be back on the show, and that Christmas is a big family affair for her. She thinks that Aljaž will make a very charming Prince Charming, so the pressure is on her not to send the judges to sleep with her Sleeping Beauty. Aljaž (wearing a reindeer hat, because reasons) reminds us that last year he and Sophie were rivals, but now they're working together on an American smooth foxtrot. Sophie tells us that this is Aljaž's first Christmas away from his family, so she's bringing a bit of Christmas into the training room to cheer him up: they put a tree up and exchange gifts. She's bought him a novelty Christmas jumper that lights up (which Aljaž is very excited about) and he has given her a coupon for a free dance lesson. Hmm.

They're dancing to 'White Christmas', and the most important thing is that Vicky Gill's Christmas present to us all has been to put Aljaž in white trousers again so we can remember how truly glorious his ass is. As far as the actual dancing goes, it's a lovely, gentle American smooth with some very elegant lifts, and I briefly wonder whether the outcome of series 11 might have been very different if Sophie had been partnered with Aljaž all along, but I don't want to start messing around with history too much in case I create a parallel timeline where That Charleston never existed and everyone just kept gurning through that genre instead. *shudder*

Bruce asks Princess Sophie how long she was asleep for. "A hundred years," Sophie replies, to which Bruce's response is "you must be dying for a grapefruit." Congratulations, writers, I think you have definitely found the most old-man punchline in history. Darcey says that she will "never forget how stylish you are when you come out on that dancefloor all that time ago". Remember kids, this is how Darcey sounds with the benefit of retakes and editing. Yeah. Think about that. She thinks Sophie created a "sweet, stylish American smooth" and it was a pleasure to watch. Len says that it was a classic Christmas song, and a classic American smooth to go with it. Bruno tells Sophie that she dances with style, and it was a magic Christmas treat. Craig calls it "bewitching", with beautiful lifts, and summarises it as "really fantastic stuff". Bruce sends Sophie off to have a grapefruit. Sophie pulls a face that makes it clear she doesn't really care for grapefruit.

Up in the Tess Circle, Sophie dorks that waking up inside the Strictly ballroom is one of the most surreal things she's ever done. Tess asks the former rivals what it's been like to work together, and Sophie says that it's been really nice because they were already friends, and she's very happy to be with Aljaž if she can't be with Brendan. Tess asks Sophie what it would be like to win, and Sophie says that although she came here for fun, "if you give it to me, I won't give it back". Hee. Tess asks what it was like to go back into training, and Sophie says that she basically made all the same mistakes, and Aljaž told her all the same things that Brendan did, so she figures she must have just remembered all the wrong stuff. God, I love Sophie. WHY DIDN'T SOPHIE WIN? Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39. Tess points out that this equals Sophie's best ever score on the show, and Sophie mock-protests that she didn't get 40.

Our penultimate couple for the evening is Lisa and Robin. In her VT Lisa says that Strictly is the best thing that ever happened to her, and she also got her best friend Robin out of it [I feel it's at the stage where someone needs to stage an intervention and rescue Robin from her as it's all got a bit Stickholm Syndrome.  And I don't even much care for Robin - Rad]. Now I'm picturing Lisa, Robin and Marcus Collins all hanging out together, and thinking how that is a party that I am quite happy not to receive an invite to. Her favourite moment was doing the splits at Wembley, and she's happy to be back with Robin doing what they do best: filming obnoxious segments for It Takes Two that feel like they go on for hours. Sorry, that should be "bringing that bundle of fun that we always have been straight to the dancefloor". In training, it all comes flooding back to Robin that Lisa is incredibly bossy and refuses to be led (BEST FRIENDS!), so he brings in a pantomime horse costume. Apparently being a horse's ass will help her to learn to follow properly. Robin claims that wearing the costume helped to get the two of them in synch (although the filmed evidence...suggests otherwise) and Lisa says she just wants to get out there and make people smile.

They open their jive to 'Step Into Christmas' with Lisa on the stairs, dressed as Dorothy, clicking her heels and lisping "there's no place like Strictly" in a baby voice. I have genuinely not been this freaked out by an adult dressed as a child since Coco Montrese on season five of RuPaul's Drag Race. As well as Robin as the Tin Man, Lisa also briefly as Ian as the Scarecrow and Natalie as the Cowardly Lion, and I'm quite sad they're not around for longer - mostly because the routine is the usual bunch of Lisa 'n' Bobby tricks, like him doing all the bits that you'd normally expect the woman to do, and because Lisa's footwork is really leaden. It ends with Lisa doing a forward roll and giving the camera a thumbs-up. Lisa Riley is 38. [I HATE that Natalie and Ian only get to be prop dancers.  Stupid show - Rad]

Len says that it's not Christmas if you don't see a Robin, and says that the routine was "great fun, lovely dancing, well done". Bruno says that Lisa doesn't just perform, "she explodes on stage". Yes, whether she's meant to be there or not. Sounding like he's giving a quote for her panto poster, he adds that you can rely on Lisa for festive fun for everyone. Craig snarls "I'll get you my pretty, AND YOUR LITTLE DOG TOO!" at her, and people boo like he actually meant it, and this is the audience that is going to pick our winner tonight, good grief. He says it's fantastic to have her back (like Russell, I wasn't particularly aware that she ever left) and he's missed her "energy and commitment". Darcey finishes off by saying that Lisa "brought the dancefloor alive".

LISA AND BOBBY BEST FRIENDS 4EVA make their way up to the Tess Circle where they get showered in gold confetti. Tess asks them what it's been like being back together, and Lisa says it's like nothing's changed and that they could have just done it in the living room. I think many of us would have been more than happy with that. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 8, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 32. That is apparently Lisa's joint highest-ever score, along with her foxtrot.

Rounding off the performance part of the show, we have Louis and Aliona. Bruce tells us that Louis will be introducing a pantomime cow in his routine, and once again I am saddened by the total lack of respect that this show affords Aliona. The show makes the mistake of saying what an important year 2012 was for Louis, because winning Strictly was basically the third best thing that happened to him that year, after the two Olympic medals and the MBE. It's not the best advert for your brand, is it? Louis says that he misses Strictly all the time (but probably most when he had to be a judge on Tumble for six weeks in the face of widespread public indifference). His favourite memories from the show are his charleston and doing the Dirty Dancing lift in his salsa, and being a previous winner, he doesn't want to let himself down tonight. Louis will be doing the quickstep, which he never actually did in his original series, so Aliona has a bit more teaching to do than some of the other pros. Louis says that he struggles remembering to smile while he's dancing, and Aliona offers to help him by bringing in a panto dame to create the atmosphere. Louis does not look impressed when "Dame Dotty Trotty" turns up to assist, although the good dame does appear to get some actual expression out of his face in their short workshop together, so all's well that ends well say I.

They're dancing to some horrible Bublified version of 'Jingle Bells', and it's a lively quickstep, though I'd say his frame is a little bit loose. It's perhaps a bit sloppy about the edges, but it's enjoyable and very energetic and there's enough going on at all times to ensure that your attention doesn't wander away, with some nice gymnastic tricks thrown in for good measure.

Bruno tells Louis that he pushed all the right buttons and jingled all the right bells. Craig calls it "fab-u-lous!" ("Fab-u-Louis", surely?) Darcey calls it "amazing", and Len finishes off by saying that he agrees with Craig for once, before pretending that he's going to get up and show Louis how to do a cartwheel properly. Yikes.

Louis and Aliona climb up to the Tess Circle, where Louis says that Aliona has been working very hard. He adds that he messed his quickstep up last time (while he didn't do an actual quickstep, he did a quickstep-based American smooth at Wembley), so it was good to have a chance to come back and correct his mistakes. He tells Tess that the backflips were in there just in case he messed the rest of it up. Tess asks if it's competitive behind the scenes, and Louis says that apart from Chris having a few digs at everyone (JUST JOKING TOP BANTS etc), it's all very harmonious. Scores: 10s all round for a total of 40.

Christmas leaderboard, then:

1. Louis & Aliona - 40
2. Sophie & Aljaž - 39
3. Rachel & Tristan - 38
4. Lisa & Robin - 32
5. Chris & Iveta - 31
6. Russell & Joanne - 29

No ties. How novel. After a quick recap of the evening's performances, Tess welcomes "the ultimate Christmas cracker" to the floor, because it's time for Bruce to arrive and speak-sing his way through 'Winter Wonderland', accompanied by Natalie, Joanne, Iveta and Aliona as his dancing girls. Point of interest: Aliona only looks fractionally less comfortable dancing with Bruce than she did with Gregg Wallace. Also, Natalie is called upon to give him an Eskimo kiss which so alarms Bruce that he stops the song there and then - if only we'd known that years ago, think of the pain we could've spared ourselves. [My dad beat me to the loo during this, so I had to actually endure it.  I'm such an amateur - Rad]

As per the terms of her contract, Tess declares that Bruce has "still got it!" before joining the class of 2014, who are in the audience. If you'd like to read anything into the seating arrangements, as far as we can discern them from this camera set-up: Alison, Kristina, Simon, Judy, Tim, Mark and Karen are in the front row, Brendan, Sunetra, Gregg, Steve, Thom and Trent are in the third, and Jake is several rows behind. (Apparently Jake and Sunetra were doing It Takes Two the day this was filmed, which may explain this.) Tess explains that this lot have been spreading some Christmas cheer, which involved Alison, Aljaž, Anton and Joanne going to the Sunrise Residential Home to treat the residents to a Strictly tea dance. In a segment clearly filmed separately, Frankie says that she is looking forward to it, and thinks that if the residents are anything like her granddad, they'll be well-up for some dancing. Judy speaks to a woman who is 94, a sprightly old man offers to try and lift Frankie, Janette speaks to a woman who explains that you went to tea dances to find a boyfriend, Kevin hands around some mince pies, one resident tells Frankie and Kevin about dancing with his wife and Frankie has a bit of a cry. Then Aljaž and Joanne do an American smooth for everyone, while Judy seeks out 92-year-old Renee, who's "the queen of this place" and fist-bumps her. Alison says that some of the residents really know their stuff, and Joanne says that her current partner is better than Anton. Jake says it's been great to recreate the atmosphere from their youth, and the residents of the Residential Home wish us all a very merry Christmas.

And now it's time to reveal the results. After a quick reminder of what the judges said about each couple, the Christmas champions of 2014 are...

...Louis and Aliona! So they take home their second trophy each, while Rachel and Sophie sadly go home empty-handed once again. Tess asks Louis how it feels to be the Christmas champion, and Louis says that it's "a nice present" and they've had a really fun time together. 

To round things off, we have the big finale to this year's panto: Strictly Cinderella, with Natalie Lowe as Cinders - an apt piece of casting for several reasons. Fairy Godmother Darcey arrives to allow Cindernatalie to go to the ball, where her prince is Ian Waite in some very tight trousers. Wicked Queen Craig interrupt the party to try on the shoe that will tell the prince the identity of his loved one (hang on, this plot is all back-to-front), and perches in the throne with one leg over the side, looking uncannily like Dr Frank N. Furter. Bruno Buttons attempts to remove Wicked Craig's shoe without success, and then once they give up, Baron Hardlen kicks them out so Natalie can take her rightful place on the throne and wear the shoe, and dance with her prince to 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday' while all of this year's Christmas contestants parade around them.

Once it's over, Bruce plugs his new show Bruce's Hall Of Fame, and then it's all over for another year. Now, when do the casting rumours start for Strictly Come Dancing 2015?

Monday, 22 December 2014

Taking the Flack

Week 13: The Final (Part 2) - 20 December 2014

Back in the ballroom, and the spotlights are on Frankie and Kevin, Mark and Karen, Caroline and Pasha and Simon and Kristina, with the glitterball trophy looming in front of them. They're all dressed to reprise their favourite dance of the competition and...oh god. Sorry, I'm just remembering what happened last year, when Sophie was stood there all dressed up for her charleston and then we didn't get to see it. I'm going to need a moment, sorry.

Right, where were we? Tess intones that 15 weeks of work have led up to this moment, and it's been "the closest competition Strictly has ever seen" (and citation needed on that one, because don't say things like that if you don't plan to back it up by releasing the voting statistics). One couple is about to get the boot, while the other three will get to dance again.

Truncated final titles! This time just featuring our four lovely finalists, making it clear that we're not here to fuck around tonight.

Claudia and Tess welcome us back, and they've changed outfits sine the first show, so let's do this all over again. Daly Dresswatch: shoulderless purple gown with a white stripe across her boobs. What Winkleman's Wearing: v-necked black lace gown and a string of pearls. I think they both looked better earlier, so let's just pretend they never got changed. They re-introduce all of the finalists and leave a bit of a gap for a cheer after each one, but it takes the audience a little while to realise, so basically Frankie and Mark hardly get anything and Simon gets the biggest whoop of the lot. I did wonder briefly if that was meant to be some indication of who had the most support among the public, and then I remembered that it really didn't seem very likely. Tess tells us that the vote is frozen, so we mustn't vote at the moment because there's some kicking-out to be done. But once that's out of the way, the lines will reopen and the other three will dance one more time, and that's always nice.

But before all that, somehow, we still have time for filler, sweet sweet filler, featuring Dress Down Friday judges. Amusingly, Darcey is still entirely presentable in this mode, pairing a sparkly black top with a smart pair of jeans. The others, however: Craig's in a check shirt and sludge green trousers, Len's in a plain blue shirt and trousers, and Bruno's wearing a hoodie unzipped to his navel and a pair of red jeans. The judges have a bit of business about not knowing who currently has the trophy, but apparently Darcey's totally on top of it, you guys. (Imagine, after an entire series of "the boys are right", we've finally reached the one thing that only Darcey knows about!) There's lots of shots from hair and make-up, while Frankie and Caroline have a little hug for luck backstage, Simon hopes he won't be the first one kicked out, and Darcey retrieves the trophy from Aljaž. All credit to her for tracking it down, but frankly I'm a little disappointed that she was the only one who considered that maybe last year's winner might have it. Looks like my spec script for a spin-off series where the judges team up and solve mysteries in their spare time is going to need extensive retooling. (Conspicuously absent from all of the backstage action: Hot Greg The Floor Manager. Some Christmas present this turned out to be.)

We return to Tess and Claudia and the Cue Cards Of Doom, and at long last Tess wastes no time in confirming that the couple finishing in fourth place is...Mark and Karen. I don't think this result came as a particular surprise to anyone (although Simon and Kristina can be forgiven for sweating a little bit before Mark's name was called, given his repeated residence in the bottom two during the competition), and you can tell that Caroline's day job has given her loads of experience of lifting the spirits of the recently-eliminated because she high-tens (seriously, both hands) Mark and tells him he's great. Tess asks Mark if he's sad to go, and Mark admits that he is, but "I've said it so many times, I'm boring everyone." Heh. Well, at least he's going out with a modicum of self-awareness, that's definitely a point in his favour. He says it's been the best experience of his life, and the show is the best thing anyone can ever do. Meanwhile in Germany: the scientists and engineers who landed a spacecraft on a comet in November are like "shit, we've been wasting our lives! We should have been doing a caterpillar for Len Goodman!" Karen declares that he's definitely not Marky No-Moves no more, and we close the door on that horrendous journey arc forever. Hooray! Mark says Karen is a "diamond girl" who managed to get him to the final. I'm not sure how much of that was Karen and how much of it was the judges being capricious in the dance-off, Mark, but I guess we should let Karen have her moment. (Point of interest: now that he's danced his final dance, Mark is the first finalist never to receive a 10 at any point in the competition since Julian Clary way back in series two. This observation comes courtesy of the very sharp-witted Mark Salem on Twitter.) After a final VT of Mark being very Mark-like about everything, he is officially dismissed and goes to join the others in the Clauditorium.

The lines re-open, with Claudia reminding us that our votes from earlier will still be carried forward to count in the overall total. After everyone's voting numbers get read out again, it's time for Frankie and Kevin to reprise their paso doble - but not before we watch Frankie's Strictly Story. Frankie explains that it was a hard decision to join the show, because she's used to having the rest of The Saturdays around her, and there was the fact that she had a baby who wasn't even a year old when she signed up - but she'd always fancied having a go at Strictly, so she couldn't bring herself to say no. Besides, Rochelle was probably about to go off and do more panel shows, and Una was busy with her hot husband and judging The Voice of Ireland, and Mollie and Vanessa were doing...whatever it is that they do. Frankie remembers starting out with her waltz and how it was unlike anything she'd ever done before. Glasses Kevin (hooray!) says that he's insanely proud of Frankie, and that people think she's AN EVIL RINGER (PROBABLY NOT AS MUCH OF AN EVIL RINGER AS THAT CAROLINE FLACK BUT DEFINITELY STILL SOME SORT OF RINGER), but it's taken her a lot of time and effort to get herself up to performance standard. Frankie recalls finding her paso hard because she had to get herself in character and really let go. Another one where she had that problem was her tango, but Kevin solved it by telling her to close her eyes just before the dance, and then when she opened them, to just believe that she was "the green witch" (I'm guessing Kevin's not a Wicked fanboy, then). Frankie giggles that the one thing she's learned from this show is that she looks better green. Presumably someone got that idea from that time Letitia Dean did an entire live show with a nasty bout of gastric flu or whatever it was. [People who did not look better green even though there was still a charm about them: Shrek Pasha. - Rad] Kevin says that Frankie is a ballroom dancer now, and Frankie says that she was bound to go far with a brilliant teacher like Kevin. We hear from Frankie's mum and husband, who are both very proud as you might expect, and then we see Frankie and Kevin rehearsing for their last ever dance on the show.

This dance, of course, was from Movie Week, and is therefore danced to 'America' from West Side Story. (Entirely shallow observation: the costume for this performance was a much, much better use of red trousers to showcase Kevin's arse.) I've always liked this routine, but I'm not sure it was quite as good the second time around - Frankie seems a little scattered in places, though that may well be tiredness from rehearsing three routines. There's still some lovely shaping in it, though, and Frankie does "haughty" to great effect here. When it's over, she curls up and wraps herself around Kevin, and then walks over to Tess, who pulls her into a hug and congratulates her on being in the final three. (Sidebar: I know Tess will never be Zoe or Claudia, but I think she was actually...fine in the final? She kept the off-script chattering to a minimum, she kept the whole thing running on schedule, and she seemed genuinely warm with the contestants. Maybe there's hope for her after all.) [I think the problems with Tess come when the scriptwriters try and make her Bruce.  No to the jokes, no to the commenting on the dance, no to the burns on the judges - she's fine otherwise - Rad]

Len says that great dancing requires great music, but rather than turning this into a tirade against the producers for some of the dafter song choices we've enduring this series (I think trying to make poor Sunetra waltz to the clearly-not-even-slightly-in-waltz-time 'Last Request' was the nadir), he salutes Dave Arch and the band instead. I guess that's fine, they've mostly been on form this year and the silly song choices weren't their fault. Len says that dance wasn't just Frankie's favourite, it was everyone's favourite. Bruno says that Frankie "set the floor on fire" and that the dance was a "Puerto Rican firecracker". Craig says it was strong, feisty and had a good amount of danger in it, and calls it "commendable". Frankie's all "well, he didn't liken me to any sort of animal, that'll do for me". Darcey says that Frankie made this even hotter than last time, and her attitude was perfect.

Tess ushers them up to the Clauditorium ("for the last time!" she squeals) where Frankie says that she loves this dance, and it felt like a moment for her the first time she did it. Kevin says that he's really proud of her, and Frankie cries a bit because whatever the result, the competition is over for her now. Claudia reminds us that it got a Donny 10 last time, but we all know those don't count. This time around: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39. Claudia asks Frankie how it would feel to win, and Frankie says that it would be "the icing on the cake", but making it to the final was the most important thing.

Then, reprising their charleston, we have Caroline and Pasha. In their VT, Caroline says that this has been one of the best experiences she's ever had, and Pasha says that working with her has been a lot of fun. Caroline says it's made her a bit more optimistic "about everything" (except maybe the waltz?), while Pasha says that he always knew she could be a good dancer - it was his job to get her to realise that. Caroline says that she always worries about things that could go wrong, which Pasha always counters with "well, the moon might fall on your head, maybe you should worry about that." I'd let Pasha's moon fall on my head, etc. Also, I assume this means that Pasha was never able to get the good ending on The Legend Of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Caroline gets a bit weepy and says that Pasha has "completely looked after her", and that even the tough bits have been enjoyable. Pasha says she was "like that flower without the sun - she was beautiful, but she wasn't ready yet, and now after so many weeks, she has opened up". Poor Rachel. Caroline says that her whole family has got massively involved in the process: Caroline's mum says she's very proud, her sister Jody says she'd be so happy for Caroline to win, and her dad says it's really got his heart beating. Caroline says that she chose the charleston because it was the one dance she'd been looking forward to all series. They've been practising her swivels to get a 10 from Craig this time, and "melt his cold heart" as Pasha puts it.

So Caroline's charleston begins again, and I'm...conflicted. It's probably my favourite dance of the entire series, and Caroline danced it brilliantly the first time (even with the whole fez incident - I notice that Pasha sensibly discards his fez before lifting Caroline over his head this time around), but - and I can't quite believe I'm saying this - I think it really suffers without the extra dancers. What was once a crowded marketplace now looks deserted, the more spectacular lifts have been changed or cut altogether, and bits like Pasha rowing an imaginary boat on the floor now look really daft when he's doing them on his own. [Yeah, I agree TBH, but this is the only dance (other than Erin Island) that has made good use of prop dancers so I don't want it used as an excuse to bring them back - Rad] Equally, I always felt it was a great showcase for Caroline that she was perfectly in sync with all of these professional dancers surrounding her. So while it's not a bad performance by any means, it just lacks the atmosphere and the punch of the first time she did it, and that's a shame. And perhaps that's something they should think about when organising theme weeks next year - don't add anything that's going to be a logistical nightmare if you want to reprise it in the final (I'm guessing that's the same reason Frankie didn't do her tango again - there wasn't enough time to paint her green, or alternatively to remove it, depending on where that dance fell in her running order). Still, I think Caroline's one of the best charleston dancers the show's ever had - she's got that elegant-but-goofy quality that very few people have ever managed to master successfully. I can only think of three off the top of my head: Caroline, Kara, and Sophie. (Yet another sidebar: Pasha's facial expressions in this dance are my favourite of all of his facial expressions throughout the series.)

Bruno likens it to being "in a luxury suite on the Orient Express", because it was beautiful and perfect and the ride of your life, or something. I think I prefer it when his similes are at least tangentially related to what we've all just been watching. Craig confirms that his heart has melted, and there was definitely enough swivel in there for him. Darcey calls Caroline "the perfect naughty flapper" and says that for her it's still the best charleston of the series. Len tells her that there can only be one winner on the show (though they manage to have two runners-up easily enough, hmmm) and Caroline's done her chances no harm with that performance.

Up in the Clauditorium, Claudia clarifies for about the ninetieth time that Caroline decided she wanted to do Strictly after she saw Sophie and Brendan doing it last year. Claudia asks how it would feel to win, and Caroline outright steals Frankie's answer. Tsk. Scores: 10s all round for a total of 40. Claudia tells Caroline that she's the first person in Strictly history to get full marks in three dances in the final. She doesn't add that that's only because they only scored two of the dances the year that Lisa Snowdon competed. (What I wouldn't give to see the judges trying to score Snowdance. It truly defies scoring, though frankly if they'd given it 10s, I would've understood.) Caroline thanks literally everyone in the universe.

Bringing us our last competitive dance of the series, here's Simon and Kristina. Simon is one of the few contestants who I think is legitimately allowed to describe his journey as "a rollercoaster", because his trajectory has been safeBOTTOMTWOsafeBOTTOMTWOsafesafesafesafesafe BOTTTTTTTOMTWOOOOOsafetheend. It's been a bumpy ride, let's at least give him that much. But somehow he made it to the final, and he's had a blast. Kristina says that she's beyond proud of him. Simon says that his goal was to find himself during this series, and it turns out that Himself was hidden somewhere inside a Cockney Charleston and an Argentine Tango in Blackpool. I mean, you can forgive him for not initially thinking to look in either of those places. Simon says that in Blue he had three others to hide behind (although I suppose you don't so much hide behind Lee Ryan as you duck and cover), but this has been a chance for him to take charge. Simon's mum Marlene says how proud of him she is, and Simon's daughter Alanah encourages him to go full-out for the final. Simon also says that he's doing it for Moss Side, because he didn't have the opportunity to learn ballroom growing up there. Kristina tears up a bit and says that she just wanted Simon to succeed, and that he's (wait for it) a friend for life. Simon encourages everyone for whom Strictly comes calling to grab it with both hands. They've chosen their Argentine tango for their final dance, and I think they were absolutely right to do so because not only was it a genuine turning point for Simon (and I think the point where the public finally started to appreciate why the judges had kept him around), but also because it's a dance that probably deserves a slightly higher score than it got. From Craig, at least. Simon says he's going to take this last chance to get out there and really enjoy himself.

So here we go: Simon and Kristina reprise their Argentine tango to 'El Tango de Roxanne' and god, what a dance to go out on. It loses nothing from being moved to a slightly smaller space - if anything, that actually helps with the intimacy. I think Simon really manages to lose himself in it this time as well - in Blackpool there was the slightest hint of self-consciousness about it, but not here. And I'm not sure Kristina has ever been better than this. It's seductive and dangerous and just very, very good. I'm still not sure that Simon merited being pulled along this far by the judges when it seems like he never entirely caught on with the public, and I can't really go in with the people who say he deserved to win on this dance alone (I think you need more than one good dance to be a decent Strictly champion, which is why Chris Hollins will always be lurking near the bottom of my best winners list), but all the same, it's a heck of an ending to the competition. [Loved it.  I was team Caroline but I wouldn't have minded a Simon - or Frankie - win.  I kind of feel sorry for Kristina, too, as she really went for it and gave him some great routines - Rad]

Simon's so overjoyed and full of adrenaline when it's over and he realises he nailed it that I'm slightly worried for Kristina, whom he's still holding upside down. DON'T DROP HER NOW, SIMON. Simon cops to having watched the week eight version of that routine quite a lot, which is quite sweet. Tess asks Craig if this was a fitting end, and Craig says that this is not the end of Simon's journey, it's the beginning, and he thinks Simon will go on "somewhere absolutely brilliant" from here, win or lose. (Looking at Blue's upcoming tour dates, I think that brilliant place is the Portsmouth Guildhall in March.) He thinks that Simon and Kristina have been an extraordinary partnership, and it's been a joy to watch them together. Darcey thanks Simon for performing that routine again, and says that it just "hit a nerve down the back of my back". How poetic! She singles out the end as being particularly perfect, if you can have varied degrees of perfection. Simon says that Kristina is brilliant, and never wants to take any credit. Tess: "It takes two to tango!" Oh Tess, you were doing so well. Don't ruin it now. Len tells Simon that he's been in the dance-off three times, so he's climbed mountains where the others have merely climbed hills. Len thinks that we still don't know who's won, but there's nothing more Simon could have done to state his case than he did in that routine. Bruno says that Simon has become a true leading man, and then shouts YOU NAILED IT, just in case that wasn't clear. Simon points out that his mum is smiling in the front row. D'aww.

The emotional couple make their way up to the Clauditorium, and Simon says that it was even better doing it this time than it was in BLACKPOOL, because this is the final. In the absence of Brendan, he thanks all the unseen backstage crew and then goes on to say that he's fallen in love with ballroom, and he's even learned the names of all the specific moves. Scores: 10s all round for a perfect 40. Kristina's face at Craig's 10 is absolutely wonderful. Claudia congratulates Kristina for steering Simon to that 40.

Doubleplus final leaderboard?

1. Caroline & Pasha - 40+40+40=120
2. Simon & Kristina - 39+39+40=118
3. Frankie & Kevin - 39+38+39=116

Claudia reads out the voting numbers and asks us who we want to win. Gregg Wallace shouts "me!" in the background. It's kind of cute the first time, but he will be doing that repeatedly for the rest of the evening to rapidly diminishing returns. [Poor Aliona - Rad]

After a recap of all of the evening's performances, Claudia introduces a VT of "what you have loved most about Strictly 2014". If it features any mention of Mark and his journey, I'm informing Trading Standards. First of all we have BIGGINS and Scott's mate The Hoff in their panto costumes, saying little of import. Someone who apparently is a Blue Peter presenter (the days where I could recognise these people without their badges are long gone - the last one I could pick out of a line-up was Helen Skelton and apparently she left over a year ago) says it's been the best series ever. Fatboy from EastEnders enjoyed the glitz and the glamour, while Eamonn Holmes puts forward the controversial counterargument that he in fact enjoyed the sparkle. So there. Maria Friedman liked the live music. Ruth Langsford asks "what's not to like?" and this statement is immediately followed by a shot of Pasha, so I feel like the editors are speaking my language. There is an excellent clip of the Good Morning Britain presenters where Ben Shephard says that he thinks the standard is so much higher than last year, while sitting next to Susanna Reid. That is an impressive commitment to trolling, because I'm pretty sure Susanna could take him in a fight. Eamonn Holmes liked Scott Mills, and Miranda Hart sympathetically points out that he didn't even have the most basic grasp of rhythm. Some people on the street mention the crab costume as a high point, but there's no accounting for taste. Some people express enthusiasm for Alison Hammond and say that she was gone too soon (TRUFAX), then there's appreciation for BLACKPOOL. The editors show their skill for soundtracking once again when a montage of Judy walking her way through all her dances is accompanied by The Proclaimers' 'I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)'. The same Blue Peter presenter who said this was the best series ever returns to say that Len is the best judge, and can we please check this woman for signs of head trauma before it's too late? Then we highlight this year's cultural legacy by having a load of people talk about Jake and misuse "twerking" yet again. Gabby Logan tells Clare Balding that she was a big fan of Pixie, and now I kind of want Gabby and Pixie to form a club where they meet every Wednesday for cocktails and talk about what a fucking fix the dance-off is. Some people talk about Simon's impressive progress, and one lady adds that he has a nice bottom. (Nobody talks about how nice Kevin's bum is, which goes to show once again that they're talking to all the wrong people.) Matt Baker and Miranda go to bat for Mark Wright, so they're both on my list now. People discuss the "Mark Wright cries all the time" meme, even though he hasn't done it in ages, mostly because he's never actually stopped talking long enough to make it possible. Clare Balding says that she wants to be Frankie, and all the women express envy for Caroline's legs. Donna Yates and Pam Coker from EastEnders (why didn't we get to hear more from these two?) talk about Caroline getting the first 40 of the series, and The Hoff says that he would have given her a 10 every week for being hot. Well, that's his guest judge slot for 2015 secured then. People express sadness at the prospect of it being over, and then there's a keeeeeeep dancing to sign off.

The filler continues afterwards with a performance from what's left of Take That, singing 'Greatest Day' (and I continue to grade all Take That songs on a sliding scale of not-being-'The Flood', but this is still one of the worse ones) quite some time ago, as evidenced by the presence of Ola dancing with the rest of the pros rather than being in traction somewhere. Their terrible outfits, both here and on The X Factor final last week, suggest to me that Jason was the one chiefly responsible for saying "we're not going out there dressed like that, we'll look like total bellends". As Joni Mitchell said, "get the fuck out of here before I call the police, I told them not to give my room number to strangers." Sorry, that should be "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone". Then the song switches into 'Never Forget', and the pros struggle to actually do any sort of dance to it and just end up clapping along, because it's the path of least resistance.

Once that's over, it's time to hear from this year's non-finalists about their Strictly experience. In shortform: Gregg liked doing the red carpet, Steve just wasn't prepared for being inside a giant glitterball, Jennifer remembers it feeling weird when she was waiting to see which partner she would get, Alison felt like she'd already won when she was partnered with Aljaž, Judy thinks that Anton picking her up right away when they were partnered was a sign of things to come, Sunetra says that the training is basically a crash course, Tim says that you have to give it your all, Scott recalls the nerves of the first live show, Thom remembers the amazing energy of the live shows, Gregg says that the most emotional part is completing a dance, Alison and Pixie both recall that feeling quickly deflating when you realise you're going to get judged now, Jake never expected to get a 10, Pixie loved the theme weeks, Jake particularly liked Hallowe'en, Steve loved BLACKPOOL, as did Judy, Alison says that they all genuinely liked each other, Pixie says that the most emotional part is when it's all over, Thom is going to have to pinch himself to remember he was ever even a part of this (to be honest, I think most people will also need some sort of aide-memoire for that), Judy says it was one of the biggest highlights of her life, Sunetra might do a few ballroom dances around her living room from time to time (NOT LATIN THOUGH), Alison thinks that if you can tackle Strictly, you can achieve anything.

And with that, the vote has closed! While we're totting up the final scores, the Class of 2014 return for their victory lap, performed to 'Love Will Keep Us Together' by Captain and Tennille. Gregg, Scott and Tim are restricted to a largely chair-based part of the routine while Thom and Steve fight over Pixie (interestingly, it looks like after she leaves they consider dancing with each other instead, but the camera pans away before we can see where that goes, DAMN YOU BBC). Scott puts his crab claws on FOR THE LULZ, Natalie waves a fan, Alison and Aljaž dance around a table, Jennifer climbs out of her boat, all the female pros fawn over Thom until Anton gets jealous, Judy descends from the ceiling and LEAPS into Anton's arms, the music changes to 'Right Back Where We Started From' as Sunetra and Brendan do a few bars of quickstep, Steve swings in on a vine and dances with Sunetra [Have celebs ever danced with each other before? I don't recall seeing it until this - Rad], Pixie has a little showcase moment, Jake shakes his arse at the camera (still not twerking, if we're keeping score), then it changes into a very uptempo version of 'We Are Family' and all the glitter cannons go off and I lose track of what anyone's doing. Sorry. But it does end with Bruno's hand on Scott's arse, if anyone's been shipping that specific pairing.

Tess and Claudia are up in the Clauditorium to present a teaser for the Christmas special, featuring all-stars Rachel Stevens, Louis Smith, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Chris Hollins. Also Russell Grant and Lisa Riley took part, because they haven't actually left the studio since they were eliminated and it turned out to be impossible to stop them.

Claudia is joined by the 11 eliminated celebrities for a final chat. Gregg says that he's been watching the whole thing to see how his mates were getting on, and he was sad when his "bald mate" Jake got kicked off. Alison has missed the people, the dancing and Mark's beautiful crying, but most of all Aljaž - although Claudia actually has to prompt her to say that. Tim has managed to dance with his wife, as he intended, and says that his favourite dance was the paso doble. Presumably not with his wife, though. Judy tells us that she's been playing tennis with Anton at Wimbledon, where he said they were "beyond brilliant". And she brought lots of shortbread with her tonight. Jake's enjoyed being back for the final, but is slightly gutted not to still be competing. Pixie says it's nice to be able to watch and enjoy the show without the pressure of having to take part. Steve, Sunetra, Thom, Jennifer and Scott are also present but are not invited to speak.

We then have another VT, taking up time that could definitely not have been given over to trivial things like announcing who finished in third place and giving them a quick interview, where the judges talk about this year's finalists: ah-may-zing, the boys are right, GIVEITSUMGERCHA, *falls off chair*.

Finally, the bit we all paid our money for: the Cue Cards Of Doom come out for the results. The votes have been counted and verified, and the Strictly Come Dancing champions for 2014 are...

...Caroline and Pasha! The right result, I think - I think the judges may have lobbed a few too many 10s in her direction tonight, but she was the best dancer of the night, and quite possibly of the entire series, and she's the first winner I've actually voted for since Harry, so hurrah for that. Caroline squeals in disbelief, and Pasha lifts her into the air. [Aww, I loved her.  Pasha needs a total comedy/old/both contestant next year though - Rad]

Claudia asks Frankie if she's a bit disappointed, and Frankie's pretty much fine - she made it to the final, and that was the main thing for her. Kevin tells us that he's proud of her once more for good measure. Tess talks to Simon and Kristina, and Kristina says that Simon is her hero tonight, and Simon thanks the public for keeping him in. Maybe don't thank us too much, Simon. Kristina adds that she's very happy for Pasha and Caroline, but next time that trophy is HERS, dammit! (I may have invented that last bit.)

Caroline still can't believe it, and is burying herself in Claudia. Caroline says that it's the best feeling in the whole world, and the whole thing has been the best experience of her life, "mostly because of Pasha" (heh) but also because the rest of the contestants were so brilliant and supportive. She says that it's been a bonding experience for everyone. Pasha says that Strictly is a big family and he's glad Caroline experienced that. Caroline thanks the voters, Tess, Claudia, the judges, Zoe, Vicky Gill, Dave Arch, Greg the floor manager, Marian Keyes, Kevin's Arse and anybody else who knows her. Tess hands over the trophy, the rest of the cast mob Caroline and Tess and Claudia struggle to make their closing links heard over the sound of Alison screaming. 'Celebration' by Kool And The Gang plays again, and we're done here until Christmas Day.

And time for my own Mark Wright moment before we finish: thanks to everyone who's been reading and commenting this year, and we hope you've enjoyed the blogs as much as we've enjoyed putting them together. I personally never thought I could do this, having never blogged before, little Stevie No-Blogs, my mates used to call me. We'll be back for Christmas, and all being well we'll be back for series 13 in 2015 as well. Just before we sign off, here are my list of requests for 2015:

- Actually give Anya another chance while you're at it
- Get rid of the bloody dance-off
- Stick Zoe on the main show, she's earned it
- By all means have theme weeks, but try not to make them actively ruin the dances
- Suggested cast off the top of my head: Danny Dyer (with Natalie), Mary Berry (with Pasha), Tomasz Schafernaker (with Iveta)
- Failing that, just give Natalie a ringer please


Sunday, 21 December 2014

Many crappy returns

Week 13: The Final (Part 1) - 20 December 2014

We open on a shot of the glitterball trophy in a dark, empty studio, giving it such significance that I half expect a giant boulder to roll out of the Clauditorium and crush anyone who dares to move it. It's the symbol of everything that this year's couples have been working towards, of course, but before we move forward we must go back - 15 weeks back, to be specific, right back to the launch show, when Aliona got another no-hoper, Pasha got another attractive young woman, Kevin got left until last for the second year in a row and for a very brief time indeed some of us actually believed that Iveta had been given this year's obvious champion. However, this was a most unpredictable series, where our finalists have a record seven dance-off appearances between them (compare to last year, where the finalists shared had a grand total of two dance-off appearances - this year, both Simon and Mark beat that total individually). Rather than spend time dwelling on the dances that got us to that point (although believe you me we'll spend plenty of time doing that later this evening), we skip ahead in time again to the present day, as the finalists attend a press conference for the more telegenic members of our nation's press (when was this? Why weren't we invited, eh?), and as a result Mark says "rollercoaster journey" a mere 29 seconds into the final. It all gets a bit X Factor as we follow them all on a whirlwind montage tour of TV and radio appearances and everyone talks about how this is literally the most important thing that will ever happen to any of them (and that's quite possibly true, but I think it says more about the collective achievements of this year's finalists than it does about Strictly Come Dancing in and of itself).

Titles! As usual they've been remixed a tad to put the four finalists at the end, but at least the other 11 contestants are still featured. This is your last chance to savour Iveta crawling up Thom's back with a fiendish glint in her eye. Sooner or later you're certain to meet / In the bedroom, the parlour, or even the street / There's no place on Earth you're likely to miss / Iveta Lukosiute. (Doesn't quite scan, does it? Needs work. Someone get Kander and Ebb on the phone!)

We open with a pro dance that starts with Aljaž beaming down the camera lens, presumably in his capacity as defending champion. The bank strike up with Kool And The Gang's 'Celebration' as Aljaž does a bit of Disco Latin and then Janette leaps/is chucked into his arms from somewhere off-camera. God bless Janette and her apparent absence of any sort of skeleton. Whatever your feelings about Jake Wood and whether he deserved to still be in the competition at this stage or not, can we all just agree that we were probably robbed of a showdance that would have redefined human anatomy as we know it? They're quickly joined by Tristan and Joanne, and Trent and Anya (presumably subbing for Ola, who broke herself training for Channel 4's The Jump and is therefore now probably more than ever not returning next year, because I'd imagine the producers were a tad miffed that this happened while she was - I assume - still under contract with this show). They're joined shortly after by Natalie and Brendan, and Iveta and Anton, and Aliona, who does not get a partner to dance with. Poor Aliona - truly the Edith Crawley of Strictly Come Dancing. Everyone continues with more Disco Latin (sigh) and some fairly inelegant lifts until the four finalist pros arrive on the scene - dressed in black/blue and silver, as opposed to everyone else's black and white. Then the giant glitterdome at the back opens and Caroline, Mark, Frankie and Simon emerge to join their partners. Fireworks erupt left, right and centre, doing their best to disguise that this is a bit of a damb squib, opening-number wise.

The glitterdome rises into the air, revealing Tess and Claudia. Daly Dresswatch: strapless red gown. What Winkleman's Wearing: asymmetric purple one-shouldered gown. They both look terrific, so well done everyone. Glad we could make this happen for the final. In the audience: Michelle Keegan, Jessica Wright, Lee Ryan, Wayne Bridge. Where are Caroline's loved ones, eh? WHERE IS HARRY STYLES? Tess tells us that it's been a "glamorous series" with 37,000 sequins, 280 dresses, 120 cans of hairspray, and 87 gallons of fake tan - "and that's just me and Claud". Ho ho. Well, at least her comic timing is improving slightly. Claudia, attempting to make this show seem fractionally less shallow, also points out that it has also involved 1300 hours of training from the finalists, performing over 60 dances between them.

Claudia welcomes the judges, who are putting in a bit more effort tonight since it's the final. Well, with one obvious exception: Craig charlestons on, Len shakes his hips with Natalie and Iveta, Bruno emerges from a puff of smoke (probably having a sneaky fag backstage) and Darcey...gets carried on by Tristan and Trent. Darcey Bussell: giving the minimum fucks possible since 2012. Claudia reminds us that the judges' scores are "for guidance only" tonight, and that the outcome will be decided 100 per cent on the public vote. Which is nice, considering how casually the wants of the public have been tossed aside for most of this series, with the judges repeatedly telling us "NO! YOU ARE WRONG! YOU WANT TO SEE MORE OF SIMON AND MARK, YOU JUST DON'T KNOW IT!"

Our finalists emerge: Mark and Karen, Frankie and Kevin, Caroline and Pasha, and Simon and Kristina. The show's been keeping the dances being performed in the first round - Judges' Choice - close to its chest all week, but the costumes are an obvious giveaway here: Mark's doing his cha cha cha, Frankie's doing her samba, Caroline's doing her cha cha cha, and Simon's doing his charleston. That's two week one cha cha chas on the bill tonight. Oy. There'd better be a damn good explanation for this. (Spoiler: there isn't.) On the bright side: everyone shimmies to the music.

Claudia tells us that the lines will open after round one, and then we'll get the showdances. Then after a break for Atlantis (sidebar: now that Atlantis is officially Darker And Edgier, Jason isn't getting his Atlantits out nearly as much as he used to. Such a shame) and the Lottery, we'll be back to boot out Simon Mark the contestant with the fewest votes so far, and then the three remaining couples will reprise their own favourite dance from the competition. Claudia also promises us an appearance from the understaffed, undertaxed Take That at some point in the evening, and the return of the entire cast of the year. "Don't worry," she says. "It's a group dance, we're not starting the competition again." Don't joke, Claudia, some of us would really appreciate a do-over this year. #justice4pixie #justice4trent

Opening the show, we have Frankie and Kevin. Tess points out that Frankie did cock this routine up a little bit the first time she danced it and had a bit of a Mark Wright over it (back when "Mark Wright" meant "crying like a baby", not "giving a tedious and unprompted speech about how you never expected to be here"). In her VT, Frankie recalls doing her rumba last week and getting a mixed response from the judges, but getting a much better reception for her Argentine tango. (Advance warning: I will not be recapping any bits of anybody saying that they never expected to make the final, it's a dream come true, the pressure is on, three dances to perform, the real work starts here etc, because I'll be here all week. Just assume that everyone says it, repeatedly, and you won't be too far off the mark.) Frankie and Kevin go to meet the judges on the set of Alexandra Burke's 'Hallelujah' video, for some reason. Kevin is wearing his glasses, which he hasn't been doing nearly enough this year if you ask me, and you almost certainly didn't. Bruno tells them they'll be doing the samba, and Frankie facepalms, but ultimately looks upon it as a chance to improve what she got wrong last time. Len reminds her that she got 32 points this time, and this time he'll be expecting 40. (Note: at this point, the samba and the rumba are the only two dances in the competition for which no one has ever received full marks.)

The return of Frankie's samba also means the return of Kevin's eye-searing TopMan t-shirt and high-waisted granny pants (truly the biggest scandal of the series - when you've got an arse like that at your disposal, why would you dress it in such awful trousers?). I'll admit to being one of the few people who actually liked Frankie's samba the first time round, but even so this feels like an improvement: Frankie looks more comfortable here than she ever has done in Latin, there's sharpness and bounce in the routine, and the energy levels remain high throughout. I'm pretty certain they still finish a beat or two ahead of the music though.

Tess welcomes the singers while Frankie gets her breath back, and then Kevin and Frankie applaud Derek The Donkey for his sterling supporting work. Len liked that the routine both had the quantity of steps he expected, and the quality of the technique. Bruno says that Frankie was "saucy tonight" and had the exuberance and the carefree feeling that he wanted, while also managing to finish everything properly. Tess reminds Craig (who is wearing an absolutely horrible jacket) that last time she performed this he said it was her worst dance, and Craig sniffs that that was Frankie's fault, not his (pretty sure Frankie isn't in charge of the words you say, Craig, but okay) but she has redeemed herself with this performance and shown great improvement with her rhythm and bounce. Darcey admires the ease of Frankie's moves at this point, and how she brought the carnival vibe to the dance floor.

They badabadalalabamba their way up to the Clauditorium, where Frankie registers her extreme distaste for having to go first because it really puts the pressure on. Claudia asks if it's nice to have everyone back there (for the entire class of 2014 is back in the Clauditorium tonight) and Frankie says that it's so lovely to have them all there cheering her on. Since Frankie didn't enjoy her samba the first time round, Claudia asks if she was "livid" to be asked to reprise it, and Frankie's all "actually yeah kinda", but now that she got through it without fucking up she's feeling a bit better about it. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39, which is Frankie's highest score to date and the joint-highest samba score ever on the show (alongside Abbey and Aljaž). Frankie declares this "a great start", as well she might.

Up next, we have Mark and Karen. Tess says that Mark's dancing has improved throughout the series and by this point he's done lots of dances that we'd all love to see again.

*considers that statement*
*runs through all of Mark's dances in head*

But which one have the judges chosen? In his VT, Mark says that being in the dance-off last week was rotten, but he's done it twice before so he knew what was required of him. Being saved over Jake was one of the biggest shocks he's had in the competition (but not bigger than actually being able to dance, he didn't see that coming, he didn't even have any legs before, Marky No-Legs his mates all called him) but now that he's here in the final, he really wants to win. Mark and Karen arrive in the judges' lightbulb chamber, where they're welcomed by Bruno, and Mark says that he can't believe it, and I can well believe that they cut out around five minutes of oration from him here. Thankfully, we immediately cut to Darcey (now there's something I never thought I'd say), who tells Mark that the judges want him to do his cha cha cha again. Bruno explains that it was a bit overenthusiastic the first time around and his timing used to be all over the place, and Darcey wants him to show us how much he's learned since then. Mark says that he really wants to do it again, because he loved it. Len says that he is ANNOYED that Mark did the caterpillar the first time around (because it says so in the script), Craig says that he was overjoyed by the presence of the caterpillar (because it's the opposite of what Len thinks), and Mark asks for permission to include the caterpillar in this round (because apparently Mark is a fucking milquetoast these days). Mark is sure that he can do it better, and he thinks that this dance could be the difference between him being a winner, and "someone who nearly won". I think the word you're looking for is "loser", Mark. "Loser".

So Mark reprises his construction site-themed samba to 'I'm Your Man' (God, I'd forgotten the music for this, and how painfully on-the-nose it was). It is definitely better than the first time around, but it is also a week one cha cha cha, so it really couldn't fail to be. (At least when Natalie Gumede reprised hers in the final last year, it was actually a reasonably demanding routine.) But while Mark's technique is a little cleaner these days, his timing is still inconsistent in this routine, the choreography is embarrassingly basic for a finalist, and he's also chewing away at the air madly like he's on a meth comedown. Was he doing that in rehearsals? Because Karen really should've put a stop to that a long time ago.

They walk over to Tess who says "I don't know about 'men at work', that was more like 'men at twerk'!" Right, that's it. By the time series 13 rolls around, everyone involved in this show needs to either a) learn what twerking actually is, or b) agree to NEVER EVER MENTION IT, because we've reached a point where any piece of choreography involving moving one's bottom is being referred to as "twerking", and not only is that a problematic piece of cultural appropriation[/tumblr], it is also fucking ridiculous. [It's like that time Strictly got Gangnam Style and then tried to make it happen two years in a row.  Sometimes this show really is an embarrasing older relative  - Rad]

Mark, entirely unprompted (natch), tells us that he remembers the judges telling him to go up on his toes for this dance, but he must have done it too much this time because he's broken his shoes. Then again, it's only to be expected: Mark had never even worn shoes before he signed up for this show. He'd seen other people wearing them in clubs, but had never experienced them for himself. Marky No-Shoes, his friends would call him. Tess: "Bruno, he was in the dance-off last week, did that prove he was a worthy finalist?" I know the "that" in that sentence is meant to refer to Mark's performance that we've just seen, but it kind of sounds like Tess is asking if the fact that Mark was in the dance-off proves he's a worthy finalist. And judging by how this series has turned out, I guess the answer is "yes". Moar dance-offs for everyone! Bruno calls Mark "a cheeky chappy with a lorry load of charm", and says that his timing was sketchy (audience boos) in the past, but not tonight! Craig thought the walks were stiff and it needed more hip action, but Mark's confidence is extraordinary now. Yes, of all the people who came into this competition needing a higher opinion of themselves, Mark Wright was at the very top of the list. Darcey says that the timing has really improved from week one (yes, IMAGINE THAT) but the presentation was also fabulous, but she's really going to miss Mark's smile. Tess asks Len if he's still allergic to caterpillars, and Len says that they're growing on him. Len compares Mark to a red wine that gets better with time (and as someone who doesn't drink wine, I'll hand over to Richard Butler on Twitter to respond to that one), and he saw terrific improvement in that routine.

They go up to the Clauditorium, where Claudia says that the thing she loves about Mark is that he can't believe he's in the final. Yes, if only he weren't such a shy, retiring type who couldn't possibly express that emotion for the viewers at home. Mark says that this was his highlight of the series, because it was his first time performing for an audience. Something tells me that Mark has spent his entire life performing for an audience, but there you go. Claudia points out Karen's mum and sister in the audience, and Mark says that he hasn't met them yet. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 35. Mark is happy, because that's 11 points more than he got for it last time. Claudia: "Later, Frankie and Kevin get happy. That's the name of the song, they're not kidnapping one of the seven dwarfs."

Our third couple this evening is Caroline and Pasha. Caroline says that last week was one of the best nights of her life - she got off to a good start with the foxtrot, but the salsa was where things really turned around and she got the first 40 of the competition. She and Pasha go to see the judges in the Chamber Of Lights, and they will also be doing their week one cha cha cha, good grief. Len reminds her that she lacked hip action the first time around, and Craig says that it was her lowest scoring dance (BECAUSE IT WAS WEEK ONE, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. THAT IS WHAT IS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN. JESUS) but it has the potential to be perfect. Caroline says that last time she missed an underarm turn and she was really nervous, so this time she's got to get everything right.

They reprise their cha cha cha, and sadly Caroline's dress is no more flattering than it was the first time around. That amount of fringing is nobody's friend. Much as with Mark's return to this same stomping ground, there's a real improvement in technique and performance, and while Caroline's routine is a little more taxing than Mark's was, it is still a week one cha cha cha. It's kind of hard to get that excited about it, especially now we've seen what Caroline is actually capable of.

Craig says nothing, but simply applauds. Darcey cackles that she can't believe Craig didn't actually say anything, and goes on to say that she loved the phrasing, the dynamics and the "bum-and-leg action". Len admires the clean, crisp movements, and he could hear the audience responding to it appreciatively. Are we sure that wasn't just for the occasional glimpses of Pasha's nipples? Bruno calls her a "golden sex goddess" and says that he's still "basking in the afterglow". That' way to describe his general state of mind in the final every year, yes.

Caroline, Pasha and Pasha's Nipples head up to the Clauditorium, and Caroline says it's so lovely to have everyone back. Claudia points out that Caroline got 27 for this routine the first time she performed it, and asks if Caroline thinks she's grown throughout the competition. Caroline says that she's learned how to perform, because that's the thing she didn't really know how to do before. (I kind of love the subtextual admission here that she totally knew how to dance already.) Scores: Craig 10, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 40. I have conflicted emotions about this, because I don't think that was a perfect cha cha cha, and I don't think it was technically better than, say, Natalie Gumede's, but at the same time, the only cha cha cha ever to receive a perfect 40 prior to tonight was this one, and that didn't deserve it either, so eh, what are you gonna do?

Closing this round, we have Simon and Kristina, who have been in the dance-off "a few times", according to Tess. That's certainly one way of putting it. Simon's samba last week was a bit of a colossal fuck-up, to be honest, but he pulled it back in the second round with a charming, delicate and very skilful foxtrot. Simon and Kristina head in to see the judges, and Simon appears have donned his old school blazer for the occasion. Len congratulates them for making it this far, and Bruno tells them they'll be doing their week four charleston again. Craig says that this was the first time they saw Simon's personality (/ability to gurn like a good'un). Darcey says she's confident he can achieve a higher score this time. (Simon's original score for his charleston: 31. The last time a dance scored 31 or less in the final: Matt Dawson's samba in series four.) Darcey tells him to bring more technique, cheeky character and detail to the routine this time. Simon says that this is a dream come true, because it's one of his favourite dances.

I wish I could say the same, because this is exactly the kind of charleston that leaves me cold: gimmicky, flaily, and gurny. Sadly, I also think this performance of it doesn't really do Simon justice as a dancer - his legs are rather slugggish, his swivel is not as good as it should be, and it feels rather stilted in places.

So, what are the criteria for the selections in this round, exactly? It's clearly not one of those years where the judges go "this was a brilliant dance, we want to see it again", but it also doesn't appear to be a series 10-style "this is a dance where you obviously fucked up, here's a chance to get it right" round either, despite the inclusion of Frankie's samba. If anything, it seems to be "here's a dance that you did fairly early in the competition, do it again so we can manufacture a journey narrative for you with minimal effort". Because I can't imagine anyone was clamouring to see any of the routines in this round again. Shouldn't the final be a celebration of the best routines of the series? Also, shouldn't there be some effing ballroom in it, somewhere? [Also, wasn't Simon's Charleston the first of many comebacks for him, whilst the others had dances they either fucked up or were in week one, so there doesn't seem to be much equity... Ugh, I hate judges' pick.  Just pick the other best dance from the one the contestants have chosen and have done with it. - Rad]

Tess tells Simon that he "sold that performance". Whether he can do much with the "magic beans" he got in exchange, that's another matter. Simon does a bit of a Mark, telling the judges that he understands what they mean now about the importance of coming out of one's shell, and this show has really done it for him. Tess asks Darcey if she can still see the "star dancer" inside Simon that she saw last time he did this, and Darcey replies "still shining, mate". I think we need to add "mate" to the list of words that just don't sound right coming out of Darcey Bussell's mouth. She loves that Simon is still finding details and accents in the music (bad Cockney accents, mostly). Speaking of Cockney, Len says it was a "treat for me mince pies" and it "put a smile on me boat race". It's almost like Danny Dyer's here, isn't it? (Suggested casting for next year: Danny Dyer and Natalie Lowe. Just putting that out there.) Bruno loves that he's really seen Simon blossoming into a strong, confident woman who does not need to smoke and versatile person and performer. And we all know how much Bruno loves a versatile performer. Craig finishes by saying that this was Simon's breakthrough dance, and they've really seen him take off since then - and this reprisal was tight and full of swivel, which he loves. And we all know how much Craig likes a man who's tight and full of swiv--oh, hang on, I've just done that exact joke, haven't I? (What do you mean, "it doesn't usually stop you"?)

Clauditorium: Simon says that this is a fun dance, but one that also requires a lot of technique. Kristina giggles that he nailed it. I love how giddy Kristina is all night - given how outraged she usually is when she gets eliminated, it's nice to at least see her get to go all the way to the end, even if she's clearly not winning again. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, "a Len from 10" (if you will insist on having silly catchphrases, Len, don't come crying to me when they backfire on you), Bruno 10 for a total of 39.

Shall we have a quick look at the leaderboard after round one?

1. Caroline & Pasha - 40
2=. Frankie & Kevin - 39
2=. Simon & Kristina - 39
4. Mark & Karen - 35

Whatever specific scores you might have been anticipating, I think we can all agree that that's at least the order we all expected. Claudia declares the voting for this year's champion officially open until 8.15pm, whereupon the lines will be frozen and whoever is in fourth place will get the boot.

After a quick recap of the first round, Claudia joins Tess back on the dance floor ready for the start of the showdance round. But before we get to that, Claudia asks Len what the rules of this particular round are - this being the only point in the entire series where the concept of any of these dances actually having rules has been addressed, and even now only to say that of course there are no rules in the showdance - you can do as many lifts as you like. know, that dance that you can't do lifts in. Which one was it, again? It's on the tip of my tongue, I swear. There is a dance you can't do lifts in, right? [The judges' opening dance-on I think - Rad]

We'll be going in exactly the same order in this round, so Frankie and Kevin are up first again. They'll be dancing to 'Get Happy' by Judy Garland, and Frankie describes it as "American smooth-foxtrot-quickstep all-in-one", adding that they've "gone for a bit of a Fred and Ginger style". I love the way that Frankie says "Fred and Ginger" like she has literally no clue who either of those people might be. I think she thinks they're Kevin's parents. Frankie says she's always wanted to dance like she's in a black-and-white movie, and Kevin says that there's a whole section where they'll be dancing on benches, jumping on and off them. Kevin really likes jumping on and off things in his choreography, doesn't he? Frankie admits that this section has a lot of potential for error, but she wants to be pushed now because it's the showdance. She says that Kevin has been a brilliant partner and she can't imagine dancing with anyone else. Kevin tells her that he's proud of how far she's come in her time on the show, and Frankie says she owes it all to Kevin being an awesome teacher. Bless. I like their dynamic, actually - they've got the "good mates with no sexual tension whatsoever" thing going on, which I think is probably the ideal for this sort of environment.

I'll admit I was slightly nervous about this routine going into the final, if only because sometimes Kevin's ballroom choreography veers towards the twee and the overtly theatrical, and while there are elements of both in here, it's actually surprisingly restrained - especially considering it's a showdance, which is the one time you might think he'd really let everything go. Also, I'm glad we've got at least one dance with a ballroom element to it this evening, because otherwise it would have been extremely lopsided. My biggest problem with this routine is the benches - not the part of the routine that uses them, but the part that doesn't, because having Chekhov's benches there waiting to be incorporated only leaves them about a third of the dance floor to play with the rest of the time, and that really hampers the quickstep elements of this routine because they simply don't have the space to travel with it properly. Still, enough griping: it's gorgeous and elegant and full of razzmatazz, and the bit where Frankie hops around the benches is visually arresting and impeccably danced. Frankie screams "I loved it!" as soon as it's over.

Len tells Frankie that it was fantastic. Bruno says that it was a fitting tribute to Fred'n'Ginge and that Frankie was "absolutely radiant" out there. Craig puts his Resident Grump hat on to say that he wasn't all that taken with the benches part, because it looked a bit like Kevin was "training a horse" as he led Frankie around in circles. He loved all of the quickstep and jazz stuff, though. Frankie whinnies indignantly. (I really wish we'd seen more of Sarky Frankie on the show - we saw a bit of her on It Takes Two and she was great fun.) Darcey says that this routine showed that Frankie has grown into a stylish and sophisticated dancer, and she loved the side-by-side bit as well.

Up in the Clauditorium, Frankie explains in more detail that Kevin put the benches bit in because that's something she's always wanted to do, like 'Sixteen Going On Seventeen' in The Sound Of Music. Claudia says that she likes that it was a digression from the usual approach to a showdance (i.e. it wasn't a shitload of lifts and gymnastics vaguely performed to music), and it had an old-fashioned quality to it. "That's just us: old," says Frankie, and giggles. Everyone expresses their envy for Frankie's dress, and then the scores come in again: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 38. Frankie's relieved because she was expecting worse after Craig didn't like the dressage bit, though she points out that telling her she looked like a horse was kind of uncool. Frankie whinnies again, and as Claudia reads out the numbers, Natalie starts doing a horse impression behind her which eventually leads to everyone joining in, with Judy getting slightly carried away.

Mark is up next, and tells us in his VT that he's really excited about his showdance because he can just go out and have fun. As opposed to his cha cha cha, where he had to go out and sit an A-level physics exam followed by the endoscopic removal of his kidney stones. Mark explains that his showdance is "based on the jive", in much the same way that the movie Catwoman was "based on" the comic books. Karen says that she's pushing Mark to the limit to get this dance right, and everything has to be just right. Mark says that it's "trick after trick, not much time to think" (which I think is a line from Bruno's autobiography), and Karen thinks this could be the dance that defines whether they win or not. Mark tells Karen she's a friend for life, if she wants to be. Oh god, Mark's going to be an honorary Clifton. He'll probably be one of the pros in 2016 at this rate. [I thought it was quite hilariously creepy when Mark was all stalkerish going 'you'll be my friend for life' and Karen looked terrified and then he remembered he needed to actually get her consent - Rad]

In possibly the greatest example of vanity trumping self-awareness since Snowdance, they're dancing to 'Don't Stop Me Now' and it opens with a projection on the floor of all of Mark's results show faces. Because he doesn't want us to stop him now, do you see? Look, we can see him having a ball! Also, Mark is wearing cricket whites for no apparent reason and Karen has come dressed as the Absinthe Fairy from Moulin Rouge!. I think you know exactly where this routine is going when Mark actually turns to the camera to mouth "don't stop me" along with the band, and several members of the audience openly laugh at him. After a brief reprisal of their jive, Mark and Karen pretty much spend the rest of the routine running around the ballroom, including up and over the staircase that generally only gets used for everyone's entrance at the start of the show. There's very little dance content, and what dance content actually exists is basically "drunk couple at the end of a wedding disco" standard. Even the lifts aren't particularly impressive, and if you can't wheel out a couple of crowd-pleasing lifts in this sort of showdance I don't know why you'd even bother turning up. (I spent most of this week fretting that by some fluke Mark would actually end up winning, but I relaxed after seeing this, because it was basically a direct retread of Dani Harmer's final, and was clearly going to end the same way.)

Mark collapses from all that running around, but eventually makes his way over to Tess where he tells her that that dance sums up his entire journey on the show. Attention-seeking, ill-advised and stretching a trace amount of content over an agonisingly unnecessary length of time? No, apparently it's "coming out here and just having a good old time". My mistake. Bruno wants to know how many coffees Mark's had - presumably because he wants to meet him backstage later to sell him something that'll give him exactly the same buzz but won't make him need to wee so often. (It may also cause insomnia, panic attacks and spontaneous combustion, please consult your physician.) Bruno says that this is about engaging with the public, and he's sure Mark has done that. Yes, that's why he's been in the bottom two three times. Craig says he felt like he was in a "Jane Fonda aerobic class" and that Mark could possibly sell DVDs of that, but he thought the athleticism and joy was absolutely brilliant. Darcey calls it "a high-energy performance", and then accidentally shades him by saying "it was jive all the way through, except for all that running". Heh. Len says Mark was "flying about like Harry Potter on a Nimbus 2000". He reminds us that Mark didn't have any limbs until September, and says that this was exactly what you want to see in a showdance. Or in the Olympic steeplechase.

Claudia opens by saying to Karen "you have a totally blank slate", which I thought was uncharacteristically rude of her until I realised she was talking about the showdance preparations and not about Mark. Karen says that Mark did quite a bit of the choreography. Yep, looks like it. Mark says that if it's his last dance, he just wants to have fun - and he would love to go out and do it again. Claudia informs him in no uncertain terms that he can't. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 35 again. Mark's happy with that. Claudia says that Mark's fiancée and sister were just staring at him the whole way through that in rapt attention. Something tells me that they probably stare like that a lot, generally.

Now it's time for Caroline and Pasha. Pasha wanted to do something different this year (so no Disco Latin to Beyoncé this year then), and suggests doing something slow and emotional. It's going to be rumba-influenced, and Pasha reckons it's the hardest routine she'll have had to do in the entire show. Caroline says that there's one lift where Pasha lifts her up from behind (I'd let Pasha lift me up from behind, etc etc), and Pasha says that anything could go wrong at any point. They tell each other how much they're going to miss dancing together; Caroline says that Pasha has changed her in a good way, and then sobs on him. She thinks she's in a completely different place in her life now.

They're dancing to 'Angels' (apparently the Beverley Knight version rather than Robbie Williams, but it's not really like you'd notice), and it begins with Pasha bearing Caroline aloft while yards of fabric fasten her to all the corners of the room. At first I wondered if this was wardrobe's ultimate revenge on Caroline, rendering her immobile for her showdance, but apparently it's just because they're doing wafto-contemporary stuff. After the initial bout of wafting, Caroline is consciously uncoupled from the extra acres of fabric and it turns into an extremely overwrought rumba. There are some nice lifts and extensions in it, but it is very wafty and as such I think it's likely to be a bit polarising. I liked it, certainly more than when Louis Smith did something similar for his (perhaps because here it feels a bit less of a busman's holiday), but I think I preferred Frankie's showdance overall just for feeling more Strictly and less So You Think You Can Dance. Though I will say there was probably more rumba in this routine than in either of the ones we saw last week. [I enjoyed it - well, for a Pasha show-dance, anyway - Rad]

Craig calls Pasha "a brave man to even attempt to do that on live TV", as though Nigel Lythgoe didn't build an entire format around precisely that. He loved the theatricality and the contemporary feel, and the way Caroline pointed her feet. He thought the lifts were amazing, and the storytelling was gorgeous. Darcey says that there are so many sides to Caroline, and the preparation into every lift was seamless. She says it was like watching a beautiful contemporary ballet, and she'd have Caroline in her company any day. Yeah, I am so sure. Len liked it, saying "sometimes a whisper is louder than a shout" and this was quiet and understated. It was many things, but I'm not sure "understated" was one of them. You could see those faces from space. Bruno goes on one of his sprees of dropping references that yer average Strictly viewer is probably unlikely to pick up, saying that he spotted "the earthiness of Martha Graham" and "the dynamism of Twyla Thorp" (then again, we'd maybe stand a better chance if he got the names right in the first place) and the inventiveness in the lifts was pure Matthew Bourne, apparently. He thinks any of the people he just listed would be happy to work with Caroline, and...again, so sure.

Claudia greets Caroline in the Clauditorium by telling her that she "thought [she was] going to go", and Caroline admits that she nearly started crying, but managed to stem it off. She says that it was emotional, but it felt "very appropriate for now", and says that that's totally the sort of dance she'd do alone in her house while listening to that song. I think the lifts would be a bit messy if there wasn't anyone there to catch her. Scores: 10s all round again for a total of 40. Caroline collapses into Pasha, as any sane person in her position would.

The final showdance comes from Simon and Kristina. Tess says that it's an "incredibly ambitious routine" (I'd expect nothing less from Kristina) and involves three dances in one. Simon says in his VT that he's sad that this is coming to an end, because his experience on the show has been golden. I don't want to be that guy here, but it could have come to an end much sooner, and nearly did on more than one occasion, so maybe try to look on the bright side? He says that Kristina has been his best friend on the dance floor, and Kristina tells him they made a great team. Simon thinks nobody else's experience will have been as great as theirs. He wants to use his showdance to remind us of all the dances that he did well over the course of the series, so this will be a combination of his salsa, his jive, and his charleston. [Which is... odd, given how much he likes ballroom.  I would have thought an American Smooth style dance would suit both of them much better - Rad] He adds that there are seven lifts, and Kristina says that if they fuck up the lifts, there'll be no way to hide it. Simon says that if he doesn't nail this dance, it could all be over for him.

They're dancing to 'A Little Less Conversation' and start by jiving on some boxes before shedding their outer jackets and going into a charleston section. Then they shed more clothes and I start to worry that this is all going a bit Bailando por un Sueño, but thankfully that's the last time they do it. This is probably the most traditional showdance of the evening, in that it's basically "my lifts, let me show you them", but that's not necessarily a bad thing if done well, and I think by and large they pull it off. They're a skilled and enjoyable enough couple that they make it look fun but also accessible. It is occasionally ever so slightly sloppy in one or two places, but given the pace and the ambition, I think that's forgivable. Simon slumps when it's over, genuinely worn out.

Tess says "seven lifts in one routine, it could be some kind of record!" Tess, this year I think that's basically a quickstep. Darcey enjoyed it because Simon took his clothes off (paraphrased). Len says that it was a trip down memory lane, and Simon's greatest hits. And it probably was, but I think it worked better than a lot of "greatest hits"-style showdances because it took inspiration from other dances rather than explicitly trying to recreate them. This one worked on its own merit, I think. Len particularly enjoyed the body-popping. Bruno says that Simon gave "plenty of action and total satisfaction". Simon says that this could be his last time dancing with Kristina, and he's getting emotional. Craig tells Kristina that she taught him brilliantly, and he can't believe it's the same person that walked in here back in September. To be fair, Simon has had a haircut since then. That can make things very confusing.

Up in the Clauditorium, Simon says that Kristina has been really drilling it into him (I'm not making that joke, don't even look at me) and believes in him. Kristina tells him that he always delivered and never said no to anything she asked him to do. Simon says that he'll be doing his Argentine tango if he makes the final three, and that's as good a call-to-arms as anything you're likely to get on this show. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39.

Leaderboard after two routines?

1. Caroline & Pasha - 40+40=80
2. Simon & Kristina - 39+39=78
3. Frankie & Kevin - 39+38=77
4. Mark & Karen - 35+35=70

A quick recap of the evening's dances: Frankie's much-improved samba and her Fred'n'Ginge showdance, Mark's serviceable cha cha cha and sprinty showdance, Caroline's stepped-up cha cha cha and her wafty rumba showdance, and Simon's Cockney charleston and his little-bit-of-everything showdance. After that, we get a VT from everyone talking about how much that they want to win: Mark just wanted not to be out first, second or third (jeez, why stop there?) but never thought he'd make the final, Frankie just wanted to get to BLACKPOOL, Simon had his expectations lowered by all those dance-offs, Caroline would love to have the reward of lifting the trophy for all her hard work, Frankie has enjoyed being a person in her own right and not just 1/5 of The Saturdays, Caroline has surprised herself with what she's capable of, Simon wants to win it for Kristina, Mark had NO EXPECTATIONS coming into this competition, let's just reiterate that.

That's it for the first half of the final - when we return, someone's getting the boot. Unless they suddenly decide to re-institute the dance-off to save Mark or Simon one last time, and frankly I wouldn't ever rule that out.