Strictly Come Dancing 2017, week 9 Blackpool special: Alexandra Burke quicksteps to top of Tower Ballroom scoreboard

Michael Hogan
Alexandra and Gorka's quickstep - WARNING: Use of this copyright image is subject to the terms of use of BBC Pictures' Digital Picture

  • Alexandra Burke pips Gemma Atkinson to top of Blackpool leaderboard
  • Debbie McGee down in fifth, her worst placing for five weeks
  • Susan Calman bottom of standings. Jonnie Peacock and Mollie King also in dance-off danger
  • Surprise appearances from Peter Kay and Lenny Henry
  • Results show airs Sunday at 7.15pm on BBC One

The Strictly Come Dancing charabanc trundled up the M6 for its annual trip to Blackpool's Tower Ballroom. Who was a big fish and who had their chips? Here's all the seaside talking points and social media reaction...

Alexandra Burke fell agonisingly short of perfect 40-point score

She's the contest's highest overall scorer but Alexandra Burke is yet to notch a perfect 40. She was a single Craig Revel Horwood point from doing so here.

Classily choreographed by pro partner Gorka Marquez, her Hollywood-style, money-themed quickstep was jazzy, jaunty and jumpy, topping the leaderboard for the second week running. It might have looked light and effortless but was testament to hard training and detailed technique. Her rivals might ebb and flow but Alexandra is the most consistent star of the series. The main question remains whether she's too trained - or indeed popular enough - to claim the glitterball trophy? 

Susan, Jonnie and Mollie are all in dance-off danger 

Blackpool is often a nice point of the series at which to bow out: the celebrities have passed the halfway mark, experienced the ballroom grandeur and said farewell in style. But who will follow the likes of Greg Rutherford, Felicity Kendal, Jamelia and Judy Murray with a Blackpool exit?

Susan Calman was stranded at the bottom of the scoreboard after a paso doble that lacked technique and shaping. Although a dance-off appearance is due, both her and pro partner Kevin Clifton are hugely popular so she could well get lifted clear of the bottom two by viewer votes.

Just above Susan on the judges' scoreboard? Jonnie Peacock, who finished second bottom again for his stompy tango,  and Mollie King, whose jazzy, feathery charleston was creatively choreographed but lumpen and lacked classic style.

Two from those three deserve to fight it out in Sunday's seaside dance-off. Yet as we know from Aston Merrygold's shock exit a mere fortnight ago, anything could still happen. Better vote for your favourites, people. 

Susan and Kevin's paso doble

Richard Cardall‏ @Hum_Con 22s23 seconds ago More Felt like a lot of flashy stuff to hide the fact that Mollie didn't have the basics down. #scd #strictly

Mollie flies up for her charleston finale

Most improved dancer Gemma deserved her first 10s

The Lancashire lass has wobbled in recent weeks but Gemma Atkinson lifted her performance in her beloved Blackpool, which holds a special place in her Bury-based family's hearts.

Gemma and partner Alijaz Skorjanec's American smooth delivered the wow factor with lovely shaping and leggy lifts, flowing around the floor with elegance. The judges were particularly impressed with how hard-working Gemma has taken on their criticisms and corrected her weaknesses.

She duly earned her first 10s of the series, finishing just one point behind Alexandra Burke. What a way to celebrate her 33rd birthday. Could the likeable actress be a dark horse for the final?

Gemma and Alijaz's American smooth

Are judges being unfair on Paralympian Peacock?

Amputee sprinter Jonnie Peacock explained the reasons for his "sticky-out bum" last week: lacking any power from the knee down, he has to overcompensate with his hips to push into the floor and get the drive he needs. With a prosthetic leg, his balance and vertical lines are inevitably different.

However, the judges are still consistently picking up on his posterior. Tonight it even seemed to exasperate the patient, placid Jonnie. He's the first Paralympian to appear on the main Strictly series. Perhaps the panel are feeling their way but they're currently looking a little harsh and unsympathetic. 

Peter Kay and Lenny Henry's surprise cameos were Blackpool bonus

Not one but two much-loved comedians appeared in Claudia Winkleman's "area" - it's less of a balcony-cum-Clauditorium in the Tower Ballroom, more of a velvet-roped-off VIP enclosure - to liven up proceedings.

First came Boltonian car sharer and garlic bread enthusiast Peter Kay, popping down the road for the second consecutive year to cause chaos by plugging his upcoming stand-up tour when he was supposed to be reading out the voting terms and conditions.

Sir Lenny Henry followed suit at the end of the show, having fun with the autocue and even busting out some rap stylings as he declared the phonelines open. The pair's unexpected cameos made this seaside special feel a little more, well, special. 

Staging tricks worked well but backing dancers were a distraction

In an attempt to fill Blackpool's dancefloor, four times bigger than the usual Elstree Studios space, everything goes large for these annual seaside specials. Choreography is supersized. Costumes, props and sets go over-the-top. The sequin-spangled kitchen sink gets thrown at routines.

Saturday night's production flourishes were suitably spectacular: there were high wires, pyrotechnics and special effects trickery. Perhaps nothing quite as memorable as Judy Murray floating away on a bunch of balloons, Ed Balls playing a flying, flaming piano or Anton du Beke wiping the floor with a banana-yellow Ann Widdecombe, but excellent entertainment all the same. 

However, the presence of extra dancers detracted more than it added. They drew the eye away from the pro-celebrity couples and - especially when outfits were matching and camera angles were confusing - it was sometimes hard to tell who was who. Were they more for the benefit of the live audience than viewers at home? In some ways, it will be a relief to go back to basics in the Elstree Studios ballroom next week.

Mollie and AJ's charleston, complete with backing dancers

Debbie McGee suffered her biggest dip of series

Her Spice Girls samba promised to be the most talked-about routine of the night but perhaps the girl-powered gimmicks distracted Debbie McGee from what really counts: the dancing.

Looking a little "fancy-dressed hen night" in her Ginger Spice wig and Union Jack dress, Debbie and pro partner Giovanni Pernice's samba was more Blackpool disco than Rio carnival. Her flirty confidence and plunge into the splits still belied her 59 years but it was spiky, lacked classic content and for once, her stamina seemed to flag.

It's testament to the high standards that she's set that 33 points and fifth on the leaderboard felt like a fall from grace. Her lowest score for a month was surely just a blip. 

Debbie and Giovanni's samba

Are Joe and Davood jostling for a place in the final?

Alexandra Burkeand Debbie McGee (Blackpool blip aside) are surely destined for the grand final. The real race is for the third spot. Gemma Atkinson is a contender but the ding-dong battle between leading men Joe McFadden and Davood Ghadami is becoming an intriguing sub-plot.

They were third and fourth on the scoreboard tonight, a single point apart. Davood's Bond-themed paso doble was powerfully dramatic, while Joe's Nineties salsa rave-up closed the show in infectious style, despite its technical flaws.

It would be good to see a celebrity male in the glitterball final. The question is which deserves it most: consistent Joe or improving Davood?

Joe and Katya's salsa
Davood's entrance for his Bond paso doble

9:51PM

Saturday night's show in full

Here's your routine-by-routine recap of all the Blackpool action...

8:08PM

The voting lines are open

The rather random pairing of the Sheriff Of Lancashire and Sir Lenny Henry announce the Ts&Cs. As they recap the routines on-screen, stay with us for reaction and analysis... 

8:02PM

Joe and Katya's salsa

He conquered the notoriously tricky rumba last week. Now the consistent couple are throwing everything at this spicy, saucy party dance. Joe flies down on a giant clock (I said clock). Too much walking around to start, before they launch into a neon-dressed, Nineties rave-tinged salsa. Lifts and tricks, Joe struggling slightly at times but lots of attack. Disco rather than classic salsa. Huge fun, bright choreography and infectious feel. Wobbly finish. Strictly Come Raving, says Tess. 

Music:  Ride On Time by Black Box

Judges' comments: Darcey says "exciting attitude, some sticky moments, lost smoothness but phenomenal lifts". Shirley says "amazing energy, good floor pressure and you recovered from the wobbles like a gymnast". Bruno says "you went delirious, great party mood, saved by the bell at the end". Craig concludes "lacked fluidity and hip rotation, lost balance, but what... a... routine! That was something". Eights a-coming, do we reckon?

Judges' scores: 8, 8, 9, 9 fora total of 34 points. A little generous? Fourth on the leaderboard. 

Joe and Katya's salsa

7:54PM

Alexandra and Gorka's quickstep

They were joint top of last week's leaderboard with their intimate Argentine tango. Now Alexandra can unleash her energy and power for a skip around Blackpool's big bouncy floor. They open on giant coins, then do Charleston steps and travel around the floor at quite a lick. Sharp feet, lots of bounce, lovely shaping and jazzy, classic Hollywood feel. Glamorous, gorgeously choreographed, all-round great. 

Music:  The Gold Diggers’ Song (We’re In The Money) from ‘42nd Street’

Judges’ verdict: Craig says "a bit of gapping at the end but is there nothing you can't do? Incredible, amazing". Darcey says "loved the choreography, stillness in topline was effortless". Shirley says "loved the musicality, high-energy, full of life, light and bright". Bruno concludes "precious as 24 carat gold - detail, style, accuracy and intricacy, it was magical like a classic Hollywood movie". Could she get her first perfect 40?

Judges' scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 for a total of 39 points. Nearly! Top, obviously. 

7:47PM

Davood and Nadiya's paso doble

Thanks to his breakthrough dance a fortnight ago,  Davood has now delivered two high-scoring routines in a row. Now he gets to fulfil his 007 fantasies. It's Nadiya’s first visit to Blackpool as a Strictly pro and this big Bond-themed dance should suit the big space. Davood descends onto the dancefloor under a Union Jack parachute. He's wearing a sheer black top "for the laydeez", Nadiya's in an emerald green Bond girl gown, the backing dancers are baddies. Flames belch. Great routine but not convinced there's enough paso doble shaping and content. Powerful, dramatic and terrific storytelling, though. 

Music:   Live And Let Die by Paul McCartney & Wings  

Judges’ verdict: "Mission accomplished, licence to thrill, you can wear that outfit any time of the week," coos Bruno. "Splayed hands but powerful performance," says Craig. Darcey says "sparks flew, superb drama". Shirley concludes "masculine, great twist turns, extremely impressive". Eights en route?

Judges' scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 for a total of 35 points. His second highest and second on the leaderboard so far.

Davood and Nadiya's paso doble

7:39PM

Gemma and Alijaz's American smooth

Gemma Atkinson has flatlined in recent weeks. Can she now raise her game? These surroundings should inspire her - the Bury lass hails from 40 miles away and holidays in Blackpool every year. She also turned 33 on Thursday, so her family are in the audience, ready to celebrate her birthday weekend. Blackpool tram theme, sweet storytelling and a chic candy-striped gown for Gemma. Like Jonnie, she's improved after recent wobbles - lovely shaping and travel around the floor, leggy lifts. A dollop of Hollywood glamour. Her best for a while. Alijaz is "so proud, chuffed!". 

Music:  Downtown by Petula Clark

Judges’ verdict: Shirley says "you're a great student, listened to the man leading, I'm quite emotional - wonderful". Bruno says "you're moving uptown with this dance, weightless flow, exquisite arms, elegant and magical, you're working hard and getting better every week". Craig says "toe pivots and rigor mortis fingers, but lines and flow, fantastic to see". Darcey concludes "control, quality, kept body taut in the lifts, I loved it". Nines?

Judges' scores: 9, 9, 10 (blimey), 10 (blimey again) for a total of 38 points. Top of the leaderboard and her first tens. 

7:29PM

Jonnie and Oti's tango

Last week's dance-off survivors and this week's bookies favourites for elimination. Now the Paralympian needs to rise to the occasion like he does on the athletics track. It's a futuristic tango, with the pair teleported onto the dancefloor sci-fi style. Lots of stalking and travel, head-snap from Jonnie. Needs to get down in the knees but this looks an improvement on his recent wobbles. The odd spot of hesitant footwork but lovely choreography by Oti. Pyrotechnics to finish. Much better. Bravo. 

Music:  Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics

Judges’ verdict: Darcey says "focus, determination and attack was all there, you should've got lower and got your bottom in but you worked hard on the topline, a big difference". Shirley says "frame a little better but posture needs to improve". Bruno says "loved the techno tango but you've got irreversible bum syndrome". "You're obsessed," quips Jonnie, amusingly. " Craig says "you were leaning over Oti like the Tower Of Pisa, missed the V-shaping, too stompy, didn't lead but loved the routine'. Darcey mumbles "rubbish". Craig says "Not rubbish actually", Handbags on the panel. We like it. 

Judges' scores: 6, 7, 6, 7 for a total of 26 points. Five more than last week but second bottom again. So far. 

Jonnie and Oti's tango

7:21PM

Debbie and Giovanni's samba

The lovely Ms McGee has special memories of Blackpool, where she and late husband Paul Daniels did a summer season at the Opera House.  A salsa last week, now another Latin party dance. She's in a Union Jack dress and red-headed wig for full Geri "Ginger Spice" Halliwell, while the backing dancers play the other four Spice Girls (Baby, Scary, Sporty and Posh, in case you need reminding). Takes a while to get into samba content, then there's lots of samba rolls, promenade runs and travel around the floor. Confident and flirty in the solo sections. but this is often more gimmicky disco than Rio carnival. Not her best. 

Music:  Spice Girls medley  

Judges’ verdict: Craig says "spiky, stiff but I loved the splits and timing was exceptional". Darcey says "I loved the shadow rolls and travel but energy flagged". Shirley says "amazing vertical line through your body, outstanding shadow rolls". Bruno says "thank you for bringing girl power to the Tower, sizzling and a great treat". Eights and nines?

Judges' scores: 7, 8, 9, 9 for a total of 33 points. Top so far but a notch down on recent scores. 

7:12PM

Susan and Kevin's paso doble

A routine inspired by Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 Aussie romcom from which Strictly partly takes its title. It’s a concept that Kev has been trying to crowbar into the show for five years and the producers have finally relented.  Red flamenco dress for Susan, bare chest for Kevin. Knee slides, lots of pouting and drama, although Susan's flat-footed and walking around at times. Struggling to keep up with the steps. Hey, she's only got little legs. Rhythmic stomping, skirt-swishing, spins, swivels, storytelling... But enough Spanish shaping?

Music:  Scott & Fran’s Paso Doble from ‘Strictly Ballroom’

Judges’ verdict: Bruno says "Penelope Cruz meets Craig in panto, great intensity but keep the shaping big in your body, it looked like it had shrunk in the wash". Craig says "it needed more of everything, too soft and wafty but I loved the flamenco stamps". Darcey says "you were trying to catch up, needed to travel and step out". Shirley concludes "keep shaping tighter but you covered the floor well". Susan answers back, which might not go down too well. Sixes?

Judges' scores: 5, 6, 7, 7 for a total of 25 points. Bottom so far. 

7:02PM

Mollie and AJ's charleston

Following two consecutive dance-offs, they had a reprieve last week after their wholehearted paso doble. Now Mollie King needs to commit to another characterful dance. She's in silvery feathers, emerging from a birdcage in a rather literal interpretation of the song, Little Mix's Wings. There are flapping birds, daring lifts and, yes, some of that crucial swivel. It's a contemporary charleston that takes an age to get going. Lacks a little bounce and energy. Not enough classical content for the judges, I fear. Mollie finishes by flying up to the ceiling. 

Music:  Wings by Little Mix

Judges’ verdict: Shirley says "there was attack and difficult lifts". Bruno coos "the bird took full flight, it was like a ride on the Big One down at Pleasure Beach, more confidence and strength, you lost concentration but great improvement". Craig says "no turnout in your swivel, lumpy, clumpy, erratic and floppy footwork,  but the lifts were a triumph". Darcey concludes "lots of precision in your swivel but hold your frame, yes?". Sevens? An eight?

Judges' scores: 6, 7, 8, 8 for a total of 29 points. Her second highest score. Generous. 

6:58PM

Debbie McGee's gone Ginger Spice

Yep, the dressing-up box has been raided again. There's sci-fi outfits, there are feathery fairy wings, there's Kevin Clifton's surprisingly hirsute bare chest.

6:56PM

Here come the judges

Shirley Ballas is in flamenco red. Darcey Bussell's looking tres Audrey Hepburn. 

6:56PM

Frockwatch

Tess Daly's in egg yolk yellow. Claudia Winkleman's in a green tiered affair. For once, I think Tess wins it. 

6:54PM

Welcome to the most spectacular show on earth

A group routine to open, going from black-and-white retro clips around Blackpool to a circus-themed routine inside the Tower Ballroom, set to Let Me Entertain You by Robbie Williams. Joe McFadden is a top-hatted ringmaster. Anton Du Beke's a clown (obviously), pros and celebs rub shoulders in a scene-setting fancy-dressed fandango. 

6:50PM

Donkey alert

Who had "gratuitous donkey shot" on their Blackpool bingo card?

6:49PM

And we're off!

Roll handsome shots of Tower Ballroom! Roll the first of several billion Blackpool references tonight!

6:42PM

See ya, Celebrity Pointless 

Last knockings of the quiz show on BBC One now. Last chance to marvel at host Alexander Armstrong's ample ears. Can you smell the donkeys and chips yet?

6:39PM

What's on the Blackpool jukebox?

A mixed musical bag tonight, with pop hits by Wings, Little Mix, Black Box and Eurythmics, alongside some Sixties hits and musical showtunes. Five minutes until that familiar ba-ba-da theme tune...

6:35PM

Kev's got his pecs out

Word from Blackpool is that for tonight's Strictly Ballroom-themed paso doble with his partner Susan Calman, pro Kevin Clifton is bare-chested beneath his Spanish jacket. Be still, beating hearts of Grimsby. Ten minutes until we head to the choreographic Pleasure Beach... 

6:31PM

Seven different dances tonight

There's big variety among this evening's eight routines, with seven different dance styles: two paso dobles, plus a quickstep, a tango, a charleston, an American smooth, a salsa and a samba. Plenty for both viewers and judges to get their teeth into. Fifteen minutes to wait...

6:23PM

Prepare for backing dancers and prop overload

To fill up the Tower Ballroom, our eight couples are throwing everything  - possibly including the kitchen sink - at their routines tonight. We can expect extra dancers, sci-fi special effects, flying contraptions, belching flames and at least one fibreglass donkey. It's going to be gloriously glittery and camply over-the-top in a way that only Strictly at Blackpool can be. Twenty minutes until seaside showtime...

6:13PM

Kiss me quick and score me a 10!

Yes, it's the ninth weekend of Strictly 2017 with our remaining eight pro-celebrity pairs taking to the Blackpool Tower Ballroom's big, sprung, history-steeped dancefloor for the show's annual seaside spectacular. 

We go live to the Vegas of the north at 6.45pm on BBC One. Can pace-setters Alexandra Burke and Debbie McGee continue their dancefloor dominance? Can leading men Davood Ghadami and Joe McFadden close the gap? And who will be thrown onto the sequin-spangled scrapheap to console themselves with fish, chips and sticks of rock?

I'm Michael, the Telegraph's donkey rides and candy floss correspondent, and I'll be liveblogging from 6.15pm, providing build-up, rolling coverage, analysis and saucy seaside gags, so do join me and watch along with this blog. 

And please join in too - you can email me on michael.hogan@ telegraph.co.uktweet me on @michaelhogan or leave comments at the bottom of this blog. I'll keep an eye on them all and report the highlights here. 

Nearly time to staaaaart seaside dancing!

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