Dancing on Ice is back on our screen (or ”Strictly with the risk of concussion” as it is more accurately known). For nearly a decade it ran as the second most dangerous celeb reality show (The Jump being the daddy of shows that left celebs permanently damaged). It ended when Torvill and Dean decided that they wanted a break, but they are now back for a 10th season.
The series began not long after the BBC piloted a Strictly on Ice Special (won by ex-England goalie David Seaman who went onto to appear in season one of Dancing on Ice). But ITV had long had a tradition of trying to get people into skating. In 1998 they tried out Ice Warriors which was basically Gladiators on ice. It failed because as one TV Exec said “with Gladiators, kids go and play in the street and pretended to be Wolf, Jet or Saracen. With Ice Warriors, you just couldn’t do that”. (For younger audiences” playing out in the street” was what children did in the 1990’s before the invention of the smartphone).
Not being a great winter sports nation, effectively we only have five true surviving Olympic ice dance legends; Robin Cousins, Torvill and Dean and Karen Barber and Nicky Slater (who never quite got the status of being able to be referred to as simply “Barber and Slater”). All of them appeared in the shows original incarnation, but they seemed to alternate between judges, trainers and mentors. Torvill and Dean always did the choreography, Karen Barber sometimes was the trainer, sometimes a judge, Nicky Slater was sometimes a judge, sometimes not, ditto Robin Cousins. The judges were always Australian Choreographer Jason “don’t call me Craig Revell Hall” Gardener; a skater and a random person who had something to do with dance, or had a least seen someone dance. This time round, we have Craig…sorry, Jason, Torvill and Dean and Ashley Banjo (who earned his judging stripes on Dance, Dance, Dance which we reviewed last year).
Phil and Holly are back, the late Tony Gubba has been replaced in the commentary box by Matt Chapman, but it looks like he has been bequeathed “Tony’s Big Book of Ice Skating Puns”. The celebs are the usual collection of soap stars, reality TV stars and forgotten stars. Some good, some mediocre and as always, one who is stand out bad. Strictly had John Sergeant, Dancing on Ice had Todd Carty. This year’s “Todd” is Cheryl Baker. She hasn’t even skated properly but we already know she will be the first one to go out. In the team dance we saw her literally being pulled, pushed and dragged across the ice like Bambi.
As with all this format of TV we saw the training sessions so that we can appreciate the stars ‘journey”. In Strictly this usually takes place in a plush dance studio. On Dancing on Ice it happens in a provincial ice rink. You can almost smell the vinegar from chips soaked into the rubber matting. For the ice rinks, this must be a brilliant cash generator. Most of the Northern celebrities’ train at Silver Blades in Altrincham and their advertising hoardings are full. They even now have brands you have heard of instead of the usual local taxi cabs, plumbers and engineering companies who seem to advertise at ice rinks.
I have to say that I think I am at odds with the rest of the UK audience in that I actually prefer Dancing on Ice to Strictly. It’s not just because there is the thrill that the competitors could really hurt themselves, but I just find it easier to identify the good ones from the bad ones. I’m not observant enough to notice “splayed fingers” and “sloppy footwork” on Strictly. With Dancing on Ice, if a contestant gets around without ending up face down in the ice, then that’s a win. If they can skate without looking terrified, in my opinion they are semi-professional. If they can skate without clinging onto their partner, book them on a flight to South Korea for next month’s Olympics. There is nowhere to hide on the ice compared to the dance floor. I’ll certainly be tuning in next week, but mainly to see if “doing a Todd” may finally be put to rest and transformed into “doing a Cheryl”.