Bwa-ha-ha-haaaaa. That’s right, glitterball ghouls, it was time for the BBC dressing-up box to be raided for Strictly’s annual All Hallows’ Eve spooktacular.
Mercifully, there had been no Covid casualties or injury withdrawals this week. We were back to full strength with all 10 pro-celebrity pairs hitting the Elstree Studios dancefloor.
So who delivered choreographic treats? And who found themselves in danger of the devilish dance-off? Here are the top 10 talking points from the supernatural sixth live show…
1. Rose Ayling-Ellis scored first perfect 40 of the series
Italian pro Giovanni Pernice has an enviable record when it comes to Strictly spooktaculars, having topped the leaderboard in every Halloween special since 2015 – twice scoring a near-perfect 39 points in the process. He kept up his winning streak here and even went one better score-wise.
His twisted tango with EastEnders actress Rose Ayling-Ellis, playing an imperious ice queen, was technically flawless and full of fierce storytelling. It was another routine where the hold meant Rose couldn’t look at Giovanni for counting cues, so had to feel it in her body. You’d never have known she couldn’t hear the music. The judges showered her in accolades such as “perfect”, “epic” and “amazing”, with Craig Revel Horwood signing that she “smashed it, darling”.
They danced to “Shivers” by Ed Sheeran and got a video message from the man himself. Screen dad Danny Dyer also visited Rose in the training room for extra cult-hero cool points. They’re become a dynamic, inspiring partnership and the earliest perfect 40 in Strictly history made for a magical moment. Gio was weepy. Jubilant Rose leapt into his arms. The nation cheered.
Strictly’s first ever deaf contestant is also making a difference off the dancefloor. After the pair incorporated sign language into last week’s routine, Google searches for “how to learn sign language” went up ten-fold. “That’s the whole reason why I’m doing this,” said a delighted Rose on spin-off show It Takes Two this week. She’s been looking like a likely finalist. Now she’s surely the glitterball favourite. Fab-ew-lous.
2. AJ Odudu’s Medusa waltz was mythic and magical
She’s been a consistent presence in the upper echelons of the leaderboard and scored her first perfect 10 last week for an Argentine tango. Now TV presenter AJ Odudu slithered snakily into a Medusa-themed Viennese waltz and notched another maximum.
Assertive AJ put a spell on pro partner Kai Widdrington, turning him into stone. She enchanted the judges too. The panel were effusive in their praise for the dramatic, dynamic, creatively choreographed routine to “Dangerous Woman” by Ariana Grande. A score of 37 points was AJ’s best yet. Just the odd technical detail with her footwork and head position prevented those three nines turning into 10s.
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There have been showmance rumours about the pair, partly because they’re both single. AJ’s cute nieces and nephews did their best to fuel gossip during their rehearsal VT, begging the couple to kiss. They didn’t oblige, of course, but teased viewers just enough. Canny. A finalist-in-waiting, surely?
3. Halloween theme was flogged to death
There was zero danger of anyone at home forgetting this was Halloween Week. Strictly just loves a themed show and the production duly went into over-the-top mode.
As well as the creepy costumes and spectral soundtrack, we had not one but two introductory montages which saw Anton du Beke creeping around in a Scream mask and Craig Revel Horwood auditioning villains. This segued into a ghoulish group routine from the professional troupe playing movie baddies, including a glittery Darth Vader, a camp Voldemort and a hip-shaking Hannibal Lecter.
Every training room VT had a tenuous Hallowtheme. Bandleader Dave Arch was in a Count Dracula costume. Even the judges were fancy dressed and waving ghost-shaped scoring paddles. Everyone enjoys an autumnal party but there was no need to whack viewers around the face with a soggy-bottomed slice of pumpkin pie.
Still, the wardrobe, hair and make-up departments did a superb job, conjuring up lavish mini-horror movies on a limited budget. They’ll now breathe a sigh of relief that it’s back to “normal” shows for the next few weeks. Frankly, so will I.
4. Winter could be coming after Sara Davies’ Couple’s Choice
Entrepreneur and surprise package Sara Davies has so far been a ballroom girl, topping the leaderboard with an elegant foxtrot and a traditional tango. Now she got to unleash her serious side with a Couple’s Choice routine – the first ever for her partner Aljaž Škorjanec, despite this being the smiley Slovenian’s ninth series as a Strictly pro.
Sadly it was something of a dance dis-ah-ster. Set to rocky empowerment anthem “Queen of the Night” by Whitney Houston, the paso doble-esque number riffed on her Dragon’s Den role by styling Davies as Daenerys from Game of Thrones, complete with chains, fire and dodgy CGI dragons. It was fierce and moody but badly lacked musicality. Sara spent far too much time walking around with her arms outstretched.
Bottom of the scoreboard with 23 points, Aljaž gallantly took the blame for his creaky choreography. Meanwhile, social media was lighting up with comments about his S&M-styled outfit. Might this, along with Sara’s popularity, help save them? After such a hoofing horror show, Westeros and crafting fans might need to mobilise.
5. Werewolf John Whaite was fine, not fangtastic
There might have been a bad moon rising for chef John Whaite but high-scoring paddles were raising too. Opening the show with a werewolf quickstep, he and pro partner Johannes Radebe were light on their feet and full of energy, if not as clean and precise as their best form.
The judges didn’t quite howl at the moon as much as make approving woofs. Team John-hannes scored 33 points, five down on last week and leaving them in the middle on the leaderboard. There might not have been An American Werewolf In London but there was definitely a Lancastrian baker in Borehamwood.
Sadly, there was no reappearance from John’s local pub landlady via videolink this week. BBC bigwigs presumably bottled it for fear of her having too many Halloween punches and saying something unsuitable for pre-watershed. Spoilsports.
6. Dance-off survivor Rhys Stephenson came out bullfighting
CBBC presenter Rhys Stephenson made a shock appearance in last week’s dance-off, despite being the third highest scorer in the contest so far. He needed to bounce back and certainly did so with a petrifying paso doble.
Alongside pro Nancy Xu, his War of the Worlds routine demonstrated a man on a mission. It had fire and ferocity, stag leaps, knee walks and Spanish line, although a little too much mincing about on tiptoes for my liking.
The judges were divided. Shirley Ballas and Motsi Mabuse loved it. Anton du Beke said it was stiff and jerky. Craig Revel Horwood thought it had too much attack and lacked fluidity. Rhys’ scores ranged from seven to nine, leaving him mid-table on 33 points. Nancy became endearingly emotional about how much they wanted to stay in the contest and they definitely deserve to. If Rhys is in the dance-off again, it would be a huge injustice.
7. Tilly Ramsay’s Frankenstein cha-cha wasn’t monstrous
Teen chef Tilly Ramsay was the subject of a body-shaming controversy in the build-up to last week’s show. She must’ve been relieved to leave all the tabloid headlines behind and get back to dancing – even if she was caked in lime green Frankenstein face paint.
Her chilling cha cha cha to obscure Sixties tune “Spooky Movies” by Gary Paxton was crammed with sassy character and cleverly choreographed by pro partner Nikita Kuzmin. Poor Tilly’s face almost turned from green to red when her dad Gordon sent a cringe-inducing video message. Still, three nines and third on the leaderboard did very nicely indeed. In your face, Steve Allen from LBC.
8. Adam Peaty’s “derrière” did all the work
Olympic swimmer Adam Peaty made the judges go “a bit twitchy” during last week’s samba with his snug jeans and pelvic-thrusting. The contrast couldn’t have been much greater as he donned a Regency wig for a vicious Viennese waltz with pro partner Katya Jones.
Set to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” (impressively played on piano by Katya during the VT), their routine was intense and dramatic. It’s just the dance details which were lacking, looking laboured, low in the knees and lacking flow.
However, once again Adam’s mid-section hogged most of the panel’s attention. Head judge Shirley Ballas demonstrated how he should tuck in his “derrière”. Craig Revel Horwood concurred. Perhaps Peaty should wear Speedos next week to really give them something to look at.
9. Tom Fletcher’s tango was devilishly wobbly
Closing the show, McFly frontman Tom Fletcher and Welsh pro Amy Dowden were on a “Highway to Hell” with their terrifying tango. Dressed as horned, red-faced devils, it had plenty of traditional tango content but was way too wobbly on the topline.
Fletcher looked cheesed off by the judges’ justified criticisms, which didn’t do him many favours, but was scored generously. Left fourth from bottom, he’ll likely be safe for another fortnight. Amy won a Welsh BAFTA this week for her affectingly honest documentary about her battle with Crohn’s disease. Shame she couldn’t continue her hot streak.
10. Judi Love and Dan Walker in dance-off danger
She was back from her sickbed, babes. Loose Women’s Judi Love tested positive for Covid-19 last week, meaning she and Italian pro Graziano DiPrima missed a show while they were self-isolating. Happily, Judi was fully recovered and returned to the ballroom, albeit with a mere two days of in-person training time.
To compensate, they were allowed to perform the routine they’d planned for last week: an 80s disco cha cha cha to “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John, accessorised with legwarmers and leotards. They’d made it Halloweeny by adding a gratuitous horror twist: a slightly bizarre zombies-doing-aerobics theme. There’ve been grumblings that it’s unfair Judi didn’t have to learn a new dance.
Her timing was sharp, her hips had motion and it was entertainingly put-together. However, she was flat-footed, stompy and there was a lingering sense that Judi’s race might be run. Before her week’s sick leave, she’d survived two consecutive dance-offs, successfully seeing off Katie McGlynn and Greg Wise. It could be third time unlucky.
BBC Breakfast presenter Dan Walker has been a textbook mid-ranking Strictly contestant – likeable, entertaining and enthusiastic. He’s working hard and improving week-on-week, falling in love with dance and going on that oft-used J-word (a journey™). However, Walker’s time might be up after a lobster jive which left them in hot water.
Alongside Ukrainian pro Nadiya Bychkova, his pincer-clad routine to “Rock Lobster” by the B-52s had comedy value but lacked spring, speed and retraction. The jive tends to be tricky for tall, long-legged male celebrities and so it proved. Choreographically, this lanky crustacean was all at sea. At least Dan scored more than a seven for the first time. When Motsi Mabuse gave him an eight, he sprinted around the balcony in celebration.
Alongside Sara Davies, Dan and Judi look in most danger. Tom Fletcher and Adam Peaty might also be looking over their shoulders nervously tonight. Judges’ scores will now be combined with the public vote and at 7.15pm on Sunday, the bottom two will face off. Someone will board the pumpkin-shaped carriage home.
The nine survivors will hit the floor again at the earlier time of 6.45pm next Saturday, safe in the knowledge that they’ve reached the midway mark of this year’s contest. Join me here afterwards to run a sparkly rule over the routines. In the meantime, don’t forget to put your clocks back tonight. And, of course, keeeeeeep dancing.