Victoria dares to take a different approach in the penultimate episode of Series 3. But does it prove to be seventh heaven for the third season running?

Whether it’s by accident or design, Episode 7 just so happens to be the strongest entry in each season of Victoria. Series 1 gave us The Engine of Change, a well-oiled and tightly crafted story about steam trains. Series 2 then gave us The King Over the Water, a hearty Highland fling which thrust Victoria and Albert into the lives of common folk. Going into the seventh episode of Series 3, then, there are exceedingly high expectations to be met. Is third time still the charm? Let’s find out if Jenna Coleman’s Queen managed to recapture the magic of previous years…

Before we get stuck in though, let’s focus on the sub-plots for a change, which continue to unravel in the background. Joseph and the Duchess’ affair is in full swing, and they now plan to run away to America together. However, they are blissfully unaware that the Duke suspects their infidelity. Desperate to find some evidence and wreak a terrible revenge, he employs Mr Penge to help his cause. The outcome is both predictable and surprising. The couple get found out – but rather than simply scold his wife and go after Joseph, the Duke dials things up a notch. He baits her with their child, and accuses the Duchess of becoming a lunatic. It’s a deliciously evil twist: we look forward to the Duke (hopefully) getting his comeuppance in next week’s season finale.

“It seems to me your husband is not a man of taste”

Lord Palmerston also appears to be spiralling out of control again. Following the plight of Don Pacifico in Athens, he decides to avenge the poor man’s dignity. In fact, to make a decisive point, Palmerston implements a naval blockade, risking war with Greece and her allies in the process. Everyone disapproves of the Foreign Secretary’s actions: the Prime Minister, Prince Albert, the press. Everyone, it seems, apart from Victoria herself. Naturally, as someone driven by public opinion, she is sceptical of the blockade at first. But, in true Palmerston fashion, he sticks to his guns and proves himself to the young Queen. Laurence Fox puts in a winning performance, completing his unlikely transformation throughout the series. No longer is Palmerston the slimy creep from the start – now, he’s one of the most captivating characters in the cast. We particularly enjoyed his little analogy about novelists and politicians: one tells fiction, one tells lies, but anyone will believe a story if it’s told well enough.

Victoria’s newfound admiration for Palmerston’s influence doesn’t end there, either. Still concerned about the future of her marriage, she unexpectedly seeks the Foreign Secretary’s advice. They discuss tactics: on the surface, they’re talking about the situation in Athens. But, deep down, Victoria wants to know how best to tackle Feodora. His advice? Turn your enemies into allies. This leads to a welcome shift in gears, where the Queen stops all the arguments and accusations. Instead, she holds out an olive branch, making peace with her sister. They sketch together in the garden, they play a game of archery, and Victoria even invites Feodora’s daughter to the palace. It’s not an instant victory, but it’s nice to see them finally getting on after the last six weeks of conflict.

“A feat of engineering such as the world has never seen”

We’ve saved the best ’til last though. Albert works best when he’s putting his mechanical mind to good use, and here he takes on his most ambitious project yet: the Great Exhibition. It’s an admirable idea, and he’s keen to make his mark by putting the world’s achievements on display. But it seems he’s bitten off more than he can chew. The logistics become more and more impossible as the episode goes on – causing the public to turn against the Prince’s plans. At first Victoria tries to divert his attention from the exhibition and spare his blushes. Indeed, after one too many failed ideas, he prepares to accept defeat. But, with Palmerston’s advice in the back of her mind, Victoria realises that Albert needs this triumph. It all builds to an instantly iconic scene where the Queen and Prince reconcile in the pouring rain. She married a dreamer, not a soldier, after all… this is a show that must go on!

In summary, this week’s episode was a relief. On the surface, it gave us a much-needed breather from all the conflict between Victoria, Albert and Feodora that has overwhelmed the previous episodes. But it also gave us a little dash of magic: there was a lightness and a charm that made this episode feel like something extra special. With soaring music, unparalleled design, and world-class acting from Jenna Coleman et al., everything that made Victoria so great in the first place clicked into place again this week. Most of all, it once more proved that seven is this series’ lucky number, easily ranking as the best episode this year. Let’s hope next week’s finale is half as good as this. Long live the Queen!

Victoria Series 3 concludes next Sunday at 9pm on ITV.

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