The Catalyst

Posted in Audio by - February 10, 2019
The Catalyst

Released January 2008

The second collection of The Companion Chronicles draws to a close with Nigel Fairs’s ‘The Catalyst,’ allowing Louise Jameson who had previously reprised the role of a more mature Leela in Big Finish’s Gallifrey range to once more explore her famed character alongside the Fourth Doctor.

Season fourteen was arguably the darkest and most violent of Tom Baker’s tenure to match the more savage and instinctual nature of his new companion, and the tonal shift in ‘The Catalyst’ compared to that of ‘The Beautiful People’ that likewise featured the Fourth Doctor in this range is immense and clear right from the start. Yet Fairs wisely doesn’t simply try to imitate the stories of this time period and instead adds in a moral complexity that serves as a brash reminder of the possible interpretations of the nuances of the Doctor’s darker decisions that became less prevalent on screen as the teacher-pupil relationship initially in place became less pronounced. For a character who often sees things in black and white, Leela is the perfect vehicle through which to examine the Doctor’s motives and disdain for taking lives despite obliquely being involved in so many deaths, and Louise Jameson plays the necessary combination of righteousness, indignation, and confusion perfectly to allow this exploration to resonate so powerfully.

Interspersed with the revelation that the Doctor for some considerable time traveled through time and space with Lord Douglas whom he has chosen to visit to teach Leela some table manners, Fairs delves into the pride of the Sevateem by describing a cavern deep in the forest that is the location of their first warrior’s remains and symbols of battle holding the spirits of so many other fallen warriors since. The framing device sees Leela in an interrogation with an alien warrior, and the flashback narrative that brings Leela to a most unexpected trophy room reveals her introduction to the Z’nai and the last remaining member of that race whom the Doctor is keeping alive but imprisoned. The Doctor’s mysterious and furtive behaviour here as Leela comes to slowly uncover the truth behind the actions of both the Z’nai and the Doctor is what sells the darker connotations of the Doctor’s assumed previous actions against this race that was once devoted to eradicating injustice throughout the galaxy. This is a brutal story in which the supporting characters cannot escape the ultimate fate, a tone perfectly befitting of Humbrackle as an individual who turned his people to commit unconscionable crimes with primitive time travel technology in a quest to purge the galaxy of deviant races, humanity in particular that once stool at the Z’nai’s side before betraying them. With his new plan to convert humans into clones of himself, Humbrackle always presents an eloquent but constantly conniving source of danger that helps exemplify Leela’s trust but also apprehension for the Doctor at this point in their travels.

Louise Jameson is unquestionably one of the most talented actors in the lengthy history of Doctor Who, and she rises to the occasion spectacularly with a raw and nuanced performance that encapsulates Leela’s power and ability to monitor and take in everything around her as filtered through her own perspective and experiences. Understandably, there will be no potential confusion with her interpretation of Tom Baker that the Fourth Doctor is once more beside her, but the journey that Leela goes through is profound and engrossing every moment of the way both in the presence of the Doctor where she realises she is the catalyst for a particular disease and as a more elderly woman where her fate is deliberately left uncertain after she speaks of her own dead world. Fairs with control of every aspect of this production has brought his vision to life with aplomb, and ‘The Catalyst’ is a tense and evocative piece that resonates on every level.

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