‘Empathy Games’ (Audio)


Please feel free to comment on my review.

Leela’s Story of the Z’nai Continues

At last! I’ve continued to listen to the rest of ‘The Z’nai Trilogy’ of ‘Doctor Who’!

Back in 2016, I reviewed ‘The Catalyst’! It was the first story to feature Louise Jameson as Leela in her first ‘Companion Chronicle’ of ‘Doctor Who’ and it was also the first story to be featured in ‘The Z’nai Trilogy’. It’s taken me a while to get around to hearing the rest of the trilogy, but I’ve done it. 🙂

I purchased ‘Empathy Games’ as part of the ‘Doctor Who Returns’ sale by Big Finish to tie in with Series 12 on TV, shown in early 2020. I had the third story of ‘The Z’nai Trilogy’ called ‘The Time Vampire’ already. I was surprised I did not have ‘Empathy Games’. This was the opportunity to get it!

‘The Z’nai Trilogy’ of ‘Doctor Who’ featuring Louise Jameson as Leela is a unique set of stories by Nigel Fairs. They take place towards the end of Leela’s life when she dies. This is presumably after the events of the Time War where Gallifrey is ‘destroyed’ and Leela had been abducted by the Z’nai.

I’m not sure why Leela was abducted and why the Z’nai wanted her. Whatever the reasons, Leela’s recollections of the adventures she’s had with the Fourth Doctor emphasise the sadness she has as an older woman about to die. Louise Jameson does really well as Leela in these ‘Companion Chronicles’.

Interestingly, there wasn’t going to be a follow-up story to ‘The Catalyst’. Nigel Fairs had initially thought of leaving it there open-ended. But producer David Richardson wanted a second story featuring Leela out of Nigel Fairs before wanting a third story. This ended being a trilogy of stories. 🙂

‘Empathy Games’ continues where ‘The Catalyst’ left off with an older Leela being on the verge of death. She is trapped inside a prison cell where she is presumably telling her story of the ‘Empathy Games’ to a terrified woman who is weeping. This must all be on the Z’nai homeworld or something.

The main story of this ‘Companion Chronicle’ is around ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ and ‘Horror of Fang Rock’ time. I assume this is right before ‘The Invisible Enemy’ considering the Doctor and Leela lose the wooden TARDIS console room, explaining why they went back to the original console room.

In the story, after the TARDIS disaster with console rooms happens, Leela and the Doctor visit the capital city of Synchronis. It’s a world renowned for peace and civility. I like how Nigel Fairs approaches this two-part adventure by setting it on an alien world compared to ‘The Catalyst’ story.

As Leela and the Doctor enjoy the peace on Synchronis, it’s short-lived when a vicious rodent-like creature attacks them. The Doctor ends up in a coma and Leela wakes up from unconscious to find him in a coma. I liked that moment when Leela was by the Doctor’s side in a hospital bed in the tale.

There’s even a moment where Leela assumes the Doctor to be dead and she mourns for him, crying. But after being told the Doctor’s not dead by Co-ordinator Angell, Leela is soon persuaded to fight in the forthcoming Empathy Games. These games reveal intriguing insight into the world of Synchronis.

Louise Jameson and David Warner in ‘Empathy Games’.

Louise Jameson, once again, is a lovely narrator and performer on audio. She clearly loves playing Leela according to the CD extras and it shows in her performance for this story. I like how these ‘Companion Chronicles’ featuring Leela present her insight and viewpoint over how events play out.

It was interesting to hear how Leela coped with the mind-boggling Empathy Games during ‘Part Two’. Her code of honour gets tested when she’s being compelled to kill a rodent-like creature with a face of hers. Leela refuses to kill cold-bloodedly, which was so intriguing to hear in this audio story.

Louise also continues to do a good voice for Tom Baker’s Doctor. It’s not an exact impersonation of Tom’s voice, but the tone is clearly there. It was nice when the Doctor turned up out of nowhere to help Leela during the Empathy Games and how he handles the situation with the Synchronis people.

It was very interesting when hearing this story how the people of Synchronis have transferred their negative aspects into rodent-like versions of themselves during the Empathy Games in order to kill them. I can’t claim to fully understand the scenario, but it was very intriguing to hear that in the tale.

I did find ‘Part One’ of this story easier to listen to than ‘Part Two’. ‘Part Two’ is where the Empathy Games actually happen and like I said, they are mind-boggling. It was fascinating that Leela and the Doctor lost aspects of themselves once inside the Empathy Games and were trying to get them back.

The story’s special guest star is David Warner as Co-ordinator Angell. It was a delight to hear David Warner in this Big Finish audio, having met him in real-life at conventions. He’s done lots of things in his career. As well as ‘Doctor Who’ on TV and audio, he’s also done some ‘Star Trek’ in TV and films.

David Warner has also worked with Louise Jameson prior to this. They’ve done ‘King Lear’ together, both on stage (I believe) and in Big Finish’s audio adaptation. The character he plays in Angell is intriguing. He’s someone who prompts Leela to partake in the Empathy Games and be his champion.

The adventure does conclude on a positive note compared to ‘The Catalyst’. The Doctor manages to solve things regarding the Synchronis people by giving them a brighter future. I don’t think Co-ordinator Angell sees it like that, but at least the tale ends on the positive note with the TARDIS duo.

Meanwhile, with the older Leela, she continues to tell stories to the scared woman with him whilst on the verge of death. How Leela’s story ends is yet to be determined in ‘The Time Vampire’. It’s sad to think Leela will die after such brutal torture and interrogation by the Z’nai. But at least she’s brave. 🙂

The CD extras are as follows. There’s a trailer for ‘Home Truths’ with Jean Marsh as Sara Kingdom. There are also behind-the-scenes interviews with Louise Jameson and David Warner, conducted by writer/director Nigel Fairs on the story. These three clearly enjoyed chatting to each other in this. 😀

I enjoyed ‘Empathy Games’ very much. The first episode is better than the second I believe, but Louise Jameson gives it her all as Leela, narrating and performing throughout this story and having David Warner as the story’s guest star is equally delightful. Just how will Leela’s journey end though?

‘Empathy Games’ rating – 8/10

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2 thoughts on “‘Empathy Games’ (Audio)

  1. Timelord 007

    Great review Tim, a very unique intriguing Companion Chronicle, Louise Jameson’s performances throughout as Leela have always been excellent but she truly excelles in this trilogy of stories,

    Must admit i had goosebumps throughout this story, especially when Leela’s involved in the games, brilliant writing from Nigel Fairs & of course any audio featuring David Warner ain’t going to be dull.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tim Bradley Post author

      Hi Simon.

      Very pleased you enjoyed my review on ‘Empathy Games’.

      Yeah, Louise Jameson is always a positive as Leela in these ‘Doctor Who’ stories as well as in this trilogy of Companion Chronicles. I like how Louise adds various layers to Leela’s character both in the TV series and the Big Finish audios.

      I’m pleased you had goosebumps throughout this story with Leela being involved in the games and that you enjoyed Nigel Fairs’ writing. I agree, David Warner always brings that extra level of excitement to a ‘Doctor Who’ story whenever he’s in one. 🙂

      Many thanks.

      Tim. 🙂



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