We were meant to see five celebrities battle it out for a semi-final place on Saturday night. Instead, we got the shock news that Nigel Harman had been forced to drop out – just hours ahead of the live show – after suffering a rib injury in rehearsal, meaning that his castmates are all progressing automatically.
It’s a blow to what has become a really excitingly contested season, with a closely matched final group and plenty of movement on the leaderboard. Harman’s abrupt exit halts the competition for this week at least, but it adds a fascinating new element to the semi-final, as I explain below.
It made for a very peculiar Sunday night results show, however, with no tension, no dance-off and no, well, results. Tess Daly joined Claudia Winkleman on the balcony for extended interviews with the remaining celebrities, and we got extra filler via video messages. Still, it set up an intriguing finish to this wildly unpredictable season.
Three finalists – and three dances
Instead of this year’s finalists being decided purely on the semi-final’s two dances, they will actually be judged on three – strictly speaking. The judges’ scores from Musicals Week will be carried over, meaning that the semi-final leaderboard will be based on the accumulated scores of three dances.
Who will that benefit? Surely the most consistent celebrities, and those with the most range, since they will have to impress with a trio of very different routines over two weeks. Layton Williams might have landed a perfect score with his Moulin Rouge! paso doble, but he’ll have to sustain that success in both semi-final routines too.
Conversely, Bobby Brazier could well have gone out this week following his underwhelming Dirty Dancing routine. Instead, he now gets another chance – or two more chances, technically, with another pair of routines to come.
Viewers will also have a challenging task ahead. Will they base next week’s votes purely on the semi-final performances, or attempt to take into account this week’s dances as well? Williams will be hoping for the latter; Brazier for the former. Let us know in the comments below how you’ll be placing your votes.
Strictly made the right choice
We’ve already lost one celebrity this year – Amanda Abbington, who dropped out mid-season – so if the programme had continued with weekly eliminations, we would only have had two finalists.
That’s not impossible. In season four, Mark Ramprakash and Matt Dawson went head-to-head in a two-person final; the numbers were skewed after Jimmy Tarbuck withdrew for health reasons.
Likewise, season five saw Alesha Dixon versus Matt Di Angelo in the final (Kelly Brook withdrew after the death of her father), and season seven’s two finalists were Ricky Whittle and Chris Hollins (an injured Jade Johnson quit).
But it’s not as enjoyable as a three-person final, and it would have felt especially unfair given the level of talent this year. All four remaining celebrities deserve a chance to fight for their spot in the 2023 grand final – and viewers deserve a thrilling three-way contest, not endless padding with montages.
How did Nigel get injured?
Speaking to Winkleman on Saturday night about his accident, Harman – who was slightly loopy due to his painkillers – quipped that he had leapt off a rostrum (meaning a raised platform) and “was about to be caught by some very handsome men”, but instead he’d ended up in A&E.
That sounds like the extra backing dancers who are brought in for theme weeks were responsible for either dropping him or catching him in a way that cracked his rib. We can’t entirely assign blame without seeing what happened, and perhaps the error was Harman’s – and so far the show isn’t telling us anything further. But it’s another argument, in my view, against adding more dancers unnecessarily.
We saw Ellie Leach’s quickstep being horribly overcrowded on Saturday, while Layton Williams’s paso doble looked more like a fully-fledged musical. Yes, both met the Strictly brief, but they were unsatisfying as partner dances. I’d much prefer to see the couples that we’ve invested in over the weeks performing together, rather than suddenly having busy ensemble numbers.
Harman’s is an extreme case, but bringing in new people is a risk too. It takes time to build up trust in someone to lift you, or vice versa. Given how much this strong cast has been pushing boundaries to try to outdo one another (one reason that Abbington reportedly quit), pairing strangers with dangerous maneuvers is asking for trouble.
We lost our leading man
He was maddeningly inconsistent, but Nigel Harman was also a charismatic force on this season of Strictly. At his best, the EastEnders actor brought a leading man swagger that no one else could match – and he was brilliantly paired with creative choreographer Katya Jones.
Harman set pulses racing across the nation right from his first dance, a powerful paso doble to Nirvana. His smouldering week four salsa drew flattering comparisons with Patrick Swayze (another reason why it was foolhardy for Brazier to attempt that Dirty Dancing routine), and those hips returned in his cheeky cha cha cha.
Harman clocked up 9s for his dynamic tango and his modern jazz Couple’s Choice (plus more admiring comparisons, this time to Gene Kelly). His Blackpool quickstep didn’t quite go to plan, but there were definitely moments where he owned that huge floor. He even conquered the rumba, the downfall of many a male celebrity.
It’s heartbreaking that Harman went out in Musicals Week – the theme show best suited to his theatrical talents. But I’m grateful for how much he gave us this year, and I hope that Jones gets another celebrity worthy of her skills next season.
Wouldn’t it be loverly
In their second musicals number of the weekend, our Strictly pros paid tribute to My Fair Lady. Cue the cod-Cockney knees-up, incongruous cartwheels, and a certain reluctance to get to the church on time. (Playing Eliza Doolittle’s marriage-phobic dad, “Ginger” Neil Jones drew the short straw with those pink trousers.)
We also got a performance from Joss Stone, singing This Time from her new musical The Time Traveller’s Wife. Stone collaborated with Dave Stewart and Lauren Gunderson on this stage adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger’s best-selling novel, which is currently playing in the West End. She had dance accompaniment from Michelle Tsiakkas and Graziano Di Prima, doing a teeny bit of rumba in between overwrought lifts.
Billie Piper is supporting Layton
Completing the current mind-bending Doctor Who time warp, with David Tennant and Catherine Tate back in the TARDIS, we also got Billie Piper (who played companion Rose) popping up with a video message of support for Williams and Nikita Kuzmin – the first of this show’s extended, time-killing interviews. Kuzmin revealed that their contrasting semi-final dances will be rumba and Charleston.
Not to be outdone, Annabel Croft got a video fan message from Bear Grylls. (Are we getting a gradual preview of next year’s cast? Or the producer’s fantasy version?) Croft is dancing a Viennese waltz and a salsa in the semi-final. She looked...less than thrilled about the salsa part.
No celebrity backing for Ellie Leach – she instead got a rather endearingly cheesy message from her primary school teachers. Next week, Leach is doing a cha cha cha to Mambo Italiano, presumably as a tribute to partner Vito Coppola (who delighted us with another meandering metaphor). Her second dance is likely Couple’s Choice, since she’s the only one who hasn’t (sighed) treated us to that yet.
Lastly, we learnt that Bobby Brazier is doing the paso doble and the quickstep in the semi-final. He’s very excited to wear tails for the latter – bless. His video message came from his handily cute godsisters. You know we’re nearing the final when family members are deployed with military precision.