I have to say, last night's show was one of the best ever. You could see that it would have potential, with the promise of dramatic, sensual tangos, and cheeky, lively Charlestons - but it exceeded all expectations. I even laughed at some of Bruce's jokes.
Tess's dress was the sleekest and loveliest of the series so far, a black, one shouldered number. The only problem was that my eyes were drawn to its left armhole which seemed to be unnecessarily deep. That probably wasn't quite the point. Thankfully when she went up to her tower, that side was away from the camera.
Anyway, first up were Jimi Mistry and Flavia Cacace. I wondered if we'd landed in Eurovision land when their routine started off with them in light boxes. They gave a whole new meaning to having fun with the neighbours as they each exited their respective "houses" and danced an energetic and fun Charleston which included cartwheels (Craig was right, though to point out that Jimi needed to straighten his legs), leapfrogs and cane twirling. Flavia really goes for broke. If Jimi had missed those leapfrogs, I shudder to think what state her neck would be in. I was shocked that it wasn't as well received by the judges as it should have been. Despite warm words about the storytelling, Craig only gave it a 6, which I thought was very mean.
Next was Scott and Natalie's Tango. Last year, while I liked Natalie, her choreography just didn't inspire me. I wasn't over keen on Ricky Whittle, so I thought that might have had something to do with it because I've been blown away with her dances with Scott so far. Last night, though, all the judges were full of praise, saying it was the best dance of the series, but I just didn't get it. It was good, but not spectacular. I felt that they hadn't quite maximised the drama and captured the staccato element of the Tango. I was not alone, as several friends on Twitter agreed with me. I felt hat Natalie's dress, in a hideous shade of yellow, didn't help. Having said all that, the way Bruno says Scott with his whole body, is becoming a favourite moment of every week. What will he do by Christmas if, as I hope, they stay in? I felt the dance was overmarked at 35. I'd have given it an 8 rather than a 9, I think.
It was great to see Tina O'Brien back from her absence with Chicken Pox. I had that particular disease as an adult so I know how much it takes out of you. That she could come back within a week and dance a cute and utterly charming Charleston was incredible. It wasn't the best, and Craig was right about her footwork being a bit sloppy, but it was extremely enjoyable if a little overmarked at 29. Tess's joke about her knocking the spots of the competition was taken in good grace by Tina. I remember I used to get really annoyed about it.
Just as an aside, I found the image put into my head by tweeter @willjpatterson suggesting that Jared looked like David Miliband. Cruel. Too cruel.
Introducing Felicity and Vincent's tango, Bruce reminisced about her series The Good Life, talking about cars which ran on parsley. He said that he wanted to see a train that ran on thyme. Not a bad effort. A bit like the Tango, which had all the atmosphere, passion and just the right amount of sleaziness. Her kicks didn't have as much oomph as they could have but they did a beautiful floor spin and the tango ended in a full on kiss. The training footage was hilarious - Felicity not knowing her left from her right so Vincent putting a banana in one boot and an apple in the other. Their score of 29 was pretty much on the money, I thought.
Patsy Kensit looked like a very frightened Velma Kelly from Chicago in her dark wig. Their Charleston was competent but to be honest it didn't really grab me. In fact, in the middle it lost me completely. She does seem a lot more comfortable and confident out of hold. It was outrageous that Craig marked this the same as Jimi's because the latter was much better in my opinion and I'm not sure it deserved 28.
Then came Gavin and Katya. Gavin's training footage included an entirely unconvincing attempt to psych out Scott, Jimi and Matt. Their Tango may not have been toxic, but it was certainly slightly contaminated. Gavin's face looked like Katya had farted. His footwork wasn't positive enough and had none of the sharpness and staccato that the Tango needs. 23 was just about what it deserved.
Not even Gary Lineker turning up in training and Erin in an incredibly sexy short skirt, waistcoat and stockings outfit could save Peter Shilton's Charleston. To describe it as dire would be possible if I were in a very charitable mood. Peter just didn't get the steps or the timing and the transitions to and from the lifts were awful. Nice guy, like him, love Erin, but the 17 they got was where it's at. Erin was on the ball, making a plea for votes as soon as the score was in.
The Pamela and James comedic power struggle continued. I wondered if James would repeat his actions on Friday's It Takes Two where he made Pamela get down and give him 20 press ups in the middle of the dance. It was great to see Billy Connolly visit them in training and suggest that he may have picked up a few hints and tips from James in how to handle Pamela. Good luck to him on that one. If he wants to delude himself of that, then we should probably just humour him.
The Tango itself was everything a Tango should be. Maybe (whisper) Pamela's kicks weren't quite as pointy toed and sharp as they could have been, but it had enough staccato for everyone. It was sharp and stealthy and passionate and dramatic. And undermarked at 34.Another sensational performance from Pamela.
Matt Baker had adorned himself with a really hideous handlebar moustache, white braces and a very cheeky grin. Aliona had adorned herself with a tutu. Before a note was played, it looked like this could be Strictly's quirkiest dance ever - and Matt's entrance on a unicycle confirmed that. I felt that their Charleston was almost too cleanly executed, but that really didn't detract from its overall brilliance. It had that bendy legged look down to perfection and was probably the most slapstick one since Chris and Ola's last year but had a much higher level of difficulty. I would have had them on top of the leader board rather than Scott and Natalie, so I felt that they were slightly undermarked.
Sadly, Brendan Cole's dad passed away last Saturday. I totally admire the professionalism which got him through last week's rumba and I'm full of sympathy for him. His departure for New Zealand meant that Tango king Ian Waite took his place. This was his first competitive Tango since the spectacular dance he performed with Zoe Ball in series 3. I think this was Michelle's best dance yet, although she still doesn't have that certainty in her legs or footwork. Her arm movements were good, but again could have been done with greater flamboyance. The major mistake in the footwork was Ian's, which he was quick to own up to. Michelle's dress was a bit bizarre, with a flesh coloured bodice underneath big holes in the silver fabric. I just loved seeing Ian back. It would make the series perfect if he, Darren, Matthew and Lilia were given celebrities again. Their 27 was about right.
It was a pity, or maybe not, that they'd run out of budget for a dress for Kara, sending her out in a silver fringed bikini. Her Charleston was lovely and performed with absolutely no gimmicks. It was quite serious until she had her bottom spanked during one of the lifts.
And then came the Ann and Anton Tango, heavily trailed in the press as Ann was to be the first celebrity to make an airborne entrance. Ann really is a game old bird, saying to Anton "I can flap if you want me to". She looked lovely - her hair had been tamed into a sleek style and she wore black sparkly trousers and flapped her arms as she was lowered to the floor. It seemed to take quite a while to get her out of the harness so we had to watch Anton prowling about on his own. Nowt wrong with that. The surprise of the routine is that Ann actually did some proper footwork and the end, where Anton presented her with a rose and she kicked him back was beautifully done. They said that they were aiming for 19 points and they ended up with 21.
Ann gets the first word in with Craig every week - this week it was that the Ark Royal had been decommissioned so she was the Flying Fortress. Craig retorted that they were like dancing hippos. Len rightly observed that watching her descend was easily worth half the tv licence fee.
What was remarkable is that Ann said in Tess's tower that she was terrified of heights. You would never have thought it the way she just got on with it. And she pushed all the buttons of the Anton fans by saying that "if you had Anton waiting for you on the dance floor, wouldn't you fly in?" Oh yes. And then some.
How on earth this show is going to be bettered next week, I don't know.
I just hope they stay in. There are a few who should go before those two - Gavin, Peter and Michelle, that would be you I'm talking about.