Empathy Games

Posted in Audio by - February 27, 2019
Empathy Games

Released October 2008

Given the commanding presence with which Louise Jameson revealed Leela’s imprisonment by and her elimination of the Z’nai in ‘The Catalyst,’ it comes as no surprise that Leela is the first companion to repeat as the focus in The Companion Chronicles. Now trapped alone in the complex with only the machines sustaining her life while sadly repeating stories to herself to stave off her own sense of desolation, Leela now recounts her visit to the capital city of Synchronis, a world renowned for peace steeped in a shrouded darkness, in Nigel Fairs’s ‘Empathy Games.’

Unfortunately, the story that unfolds is not quite as engaging as this harrowing continuation of the framing device, but it does make excellent use of Leela’s physical and reflexive nature while allowing Jameson to masterfully portray the continuing development and more reasoning side of her character. Truly, with the Doctor unconscious for most of the story following a fire that destroys the secondary console room before conveniently showing up at the tail end to offer a resolution and put everything into perspective, this is truly Leela’s time to shine, and her willingness to face fear to earn the title of warrior in her mind, her dedication to the Doctor whom she believes to be dead when guarding his body against spirits, and her honour and uncanny ability to see the bigger picture when confronting the rodents beneath the city as the Co-ordinator’s champion highlight the epitome of what the Doctor looks for in a companion.

The story as whole doesn’t quite reach its potential, however, because everything presented has been done just as effectively or better elsewhere, meaning that what are intriguing notions instead come off as fairly commonplace and generic. This idyllic world filled only with positive thoughts and actions holding a dark secret is ground that has been tread countless times before, and though it is intriguing to note that any negative potential from the citizenry is funnelled off into the rodent population and then brutally killed off in one bombastic sequence each year, it likewise is ultimately predictable that the only two elements of this world are so closely entwined. Fairs does his best to make this world a more living and breathing locale with brilliant locales such as the Palace of Golden Tranquility and the Waters of Empathy, but the overall progression of events on Synchronis is simply too linear and the development of Leela too disconnected from much of the story to fully resonate. With Chris Boucher’s Match of the Day novel likewise putting Leela into an arena situation, even the central hook of exploiting Leela’s unique abilities compared to other companions feels altogether less than unique.

Obviously the remit of The Companion Chronicles is to focus on the companion, but doing so to the extent that the Doctor is absent from events but still utterly crucial to the resolution without the companion’s knowledge is an ineffective format that hardly showcases the need for the companion. Despite that overt misstep, however, Fairs and Jameson still manage to offer fascinating insight into Leela, the telepathic link she forms with her intended prey and the continuing exploration of the older Leela in the Z’nai facility particular highlights. ‘Empathy Games’ sadly does not live up to many of the strengths of ‘The Catalyst’ and cannot even be saved by the excellent David Warner in an all too stereotypical bureaucratic role, but it nonetheless shares Big Finish’s usual polish from a production standpoint and offers plenty of engaging material even in a more generic plot that allows Jameson to excel and again show why Leela is so rightfully beloved.

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