My own personal Strictly viewing journey this series so far can be summarised thus:
1) Love: Louis, Kimberley, Richard. Falling for: Dani. Fingers crossed for: Lisa (£5 at 18-1). Want to love but can't quite: Fern, Victoria, Nicky. Don't love: Denise, Michael.
(Terms and conditions: Emotional investments can go down as well as up.)
2) No one should ever make Dave Arch wear a costume. Seeing him dressed up as Dracula at Halloween made me think of a giant bear that's been chained to a post and poked with sticks to make it dance.
3) Despite another duff partner/early exit for Anton, I have chosen to stop seeing him as an object of sympathy. This is a powerful psychological breakthrough for me. No longer do I picture him weeping the sad tears of a clown into a smart lambswool V-neck while other couples march on to Wembley and sodding Blackpool. Instead I think of him as liberated and free, having more time to do the things he loves, which I imagine to be: taking a special lady friend for a picnic in one of the greenhouses at Kew Gardens, 'motoring' down to a classic car rally at the Beaulieu Museum, or caddying for Ronnie Corbett and Bruce Forsyth at St Andrews in an attempt to further infiltrate the upper (well, up-ish) echelons of light entertainment.
4) I feel quite strongly that Strictly may be running out of songs. How can this be? There are more songs in the world than there are rats in London and insects in the rainforest. This is scientific fact.* Yet people must apparently STILL waltz to Kiss From A Rose.
ANYWAY. This week.
Bruce Forsyth and I share many similarities. We both enjoy our morning porridge with nuts and blueberries (I saw this on a documentary once). And he, too, is celebrating half-term. But I imagine Bruce's break – unlike most half-termers – amounts less to a trip to the Harry Potter Studios tour and a Burger King, or spending the whole day in Topshop eating Pick and Mix, and more to quality time with a tartan blanket, some crackers and Stilton, and a DVD of the Ryder Cup. And, awkwardly, I must report to Brucie and the writers of his 'jokes' that this is the first show in recent memory where I actually laughed out loud at something that was intentionally funny (and not just at Michael Vaughan's hair, for example).
Firstly, I love the opening montage. It's got Miranda in it, why wouldn't I? It would be easy for me to mock Su Pollard at this point, but she's the one apparently owning this season's gold brocade trend, not me, so I know which one of us is more likely to be invited to the Balmain Christmas party. (She's welcome to it. I reckon the buffet would be rubbish.) I also love Tess and Claudia back together. Tess no longer has to painfully perform a series of 'reaction' faces to Bruce's hi-jinks and can get on with the business of solidly competent presenting. Claudia can be demented in a safe, controlled environment while dressed as a sci-fi dentist. (Tess, by the way, has come as a bunny girl who's chosen to start dressing slightly more conservatively since having children.)
On with the dancing. First up are Denise and James. I'm not saying James was threatened by the reappearance of Ian Waite (who rehearsed with DVO while James was injured) but their paso seemed to be a lot about Le Jordan. 'Yes, Denise, first of all I have to spend AGES twirling a cape right in front of the camera while you stand behind me and can't be seen. No, a bit longer. No, you see I HAVE to, it's not a proper paso if I don't. And now I'm going to do a knee slide RIGHT INTO THE CAMERA for all my fans.' Their paso is brilliant, of course, and scores four 9s, but I think I speak for everyone who's ever watched Strictly when I say that I really, really miss Ian Waite.
We all love Richard, right? Funny, self-effacing, suitably deferential to Erin (who I like more and more when she's with him, a bit like Taylor Swift when she was dating Jake Gyllenhaal, only Erin and Richard's partnership has lasted longer). His and Erin's Charleston is no Hollins 'n' Ola, but it's great value, and for fans of dance faces, he has some of the all-time best ever. Also, fans of men in their 40s doing Penelope Pitstop runs won't have been disappointed by that either. Richard's little face (©CWinkleman) when he's awarded a string of 7s and 8s is one of my favourite Strictly things in history. I mean it's no Vincent trying to do a roly-poly, but come on...
Louis and Flavia are dancing the waltz. All the dancers, pro and celeb, have their individual crosses to bear – a partner who's too tall/too short/does 'impressions'/does 'jokes'/has no rhythm – and with Louis, I think it's important to remember how weird it must be to be 23, and have lived all your professional life with the discipline and routine of a sportsman, then suddenly have to be all intimate and expressive with an older lady. We can't all be totally down with it like Aaron Johnson-Taylor-Wood. Never mind, Louis's mum has come along to training to make sure no one's mean to him. Too bad she didn't save a mum smackdown for Craig in the studio, who unaccountably gives Louis a 6. He says it was a bit saccharine for him. It's a waltz, Craig. Surely you've seen one before. Entre nous, I think Craig is dismayed by the presence of the Strictly swing, a reappearance that's about as welcome as a coldsore, having propelled Matt Baker to the brink of a nervous collapse (in my own parallel Strictly narrative) almost exactly two years ago.
Fern and Artem are doing the salsa. Artem does have a shirt on again but it's open to the waist. He's put the chest out there now, he can't take it back. Craig immediately erases all my Louis-related bad feeling towards him with the look of utter contempt he gives to Fern coming at his face with a feather duster. Fern gives it some welly and has nice hair. It's the hair that Kimberley had a few weeks ago. I wonder who will have it next week? I'm hoping for Michael Vaughan and I think he is too. After a kindly round of judging, Claudia asks Artem if he's over the moon with their comments. Artem deadpans: 'I am very much so,' like a bored escort crossed with a really sexy Russian droid.
Now. Pendleton. Are we all agreed that the judges have received a memo ordering them not to upset her under any circumstances, in case the subsequent cascade of salty tears melts the studio floor and up from the dark oblivion below surges the angry vengeful figure of Chris Hoy, grown to the proportions of an ogre? Good. Yes, Sir Chris is lovely and charming and benign, AS FAR AS WE KNOW, but who can say how the golden god may react when forced to defend the honour of the queen of British cycling. It's either that or Sebastian Coe has made some dark and terrible pact with the IOC that the UK will only get to host the Olympics again if Victoria Pendleton wins Strictly Come Dancing. On a plinth in his turreted castle sits an eerily glowing GB Pendleton cycling helmet symbolising the pact. What we need, of course, is some young knight – Jason Kenny would do it, or Laura Trott for sexual parity – to battle their way inside on a magic wall-penetrating bicycle, smash the helmet with an axe, and thus break the spell.
It's just possible I've overthought this.
In summary, Brendan wheels (hahahahaha - she is a cyclist! I made a joke) Victoria around and the judges treat her like a frail endangered species. She's improving A LOT but not to the extent where Craig is justified in marking her higher than Louis.
Also important to note: Brendan falls over harder than Philip Hindes, at a similarly critical moment, but possibly with less deliberation. I love Brendan these days.
It's Danni and Vincent. I LOVE Vincent SO MUCH. I like Danni. That means that, on balance and using simultaneous equations, I love (Vincent + Danni). A note from me to the Strictly producers: please stop treating Vincent like a joke and forcing him to wear stupid blonde wigs. You're making us forget that he's awesome and used to date Flavia, who's really fit, and doesn't date just anyone... Oh. Well, anyway, she's really fit. (I'm just joking. She's been dating Jimi Mistry for at least three series). And the good news is that with the Fonzie Jive and the Phone Box Tango, Danni seems to be resuscitating Awesome Vincent. HE LIVES.
Next up, Nicky, who starts his foxtrot with a brilliant solo section which makes me 'Oooh!' out loud. Not as much as when Gethin did the salsa, but still, Nicky's really blossoming. It's as though he is, in the metaphorical language of Westlife, rising up off his stool and walking with purpose and a boyband air-grab to the front of the stage. He is living a key-change. He and Karen make great use of their microphone prop, although it's not turned on. Just like in the Westlife days. I'M TOTALLY JOKING, WESTLIFE FANS. AND ANYWAY, WE ALL KNOW YOU AND YOUR MOBILE PHONES ARE TAKING NICKY TO AT LEAST THE SEMI-FINALS.
During his judges' comments, Cheryl
Kimberley and Pasha are dancing the Viennese Waltz. Kimberley says they are dancing to a beautiful song, and this makes me worry for my potential friendship with Kimberley as I think it's one of the most boring things I've ever heard. Kimberley is clearly the sensible one in Girls Aloud, and I am the sensible one in any friendship group, which should make us so compatible, but now everything I thought I knew has been thrown into question. What would we play at our slumber parties where we have a chocolate fondue and tell Nicola Roberts she should always stick to her natural ginger? However, I do love Kimberley's 'yearning' expression at the top of the stairs, which should see her at least win a part in the next series of that ITV drama about military wives when this is all over and Girls Aloud have a massive bust-up on their reunion tour. It's all nice enough, but doesn't change my opinion that the world could live quite happily without the Viennese Waltz. Viennese Whirls, however = indispensable.
Michael Vaughan has found some good form in recent weeks. This seems to have woken the terrible kraken that is Natalie's competitive streak – a beast that had lain dormant during Michael's lovable but hopeless early weeks. We could see the warning signs earlier tonight when Natalie was caught on camera applauding Louis's waltz with gritted teeth and flashing eyes. It's like Vesuvius, ominously smoking, and primed to erupt. I am aware, by the way, that I am mixing my metaphors beyond salvation in this paragraph. Let's just say that salsa is not really for Michael and move on. Good lifts, though.
Come the results show, it's time for the SHOCK! we all knew was on the cards after weeks of perfectly appropriate evictions. And it's Kimberley and Pasha in the dance-off, which I'm blaming on mid-table forgettability and bland song forgettability, and also Cheryl hanging around in the studio wearing black like a tiny beautiful doomy raven. But ultimately it's Fern who's going home. Artem went topless too early. Like I said, where could he go from that?
See you for the semi-finals! Maybe!