Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles
Leela is hooked up to a hospital bed dying in an alien prison. Leela hears a girl crying and tries to remember why the girl was crying. Leela recalls a time when the Tardis console room was bruning and she saw fear in the Doctor's eyes. They escape to the planet Synchronis, an isolated planet of peace. Unfortunately, while wandering the marketplace, a giant rodent attacks. Leela fends it off, but is nearly killed in the process. After waking up, she finds the Doctor in a coma and is offered to fight for the mysterious Co-ordinator in the Empathy Games.
First off, his is not a rip off of the Hunger Games, though there are some minor similarities. They both came out around the same time. Empathy Games tries incredibly hard to be deep and poignant. Unfortunately, it would have been better off if they'd focused more on the world and made the games longer. Instead Leela goes into some dream states and runs around some tunnels. After the hook at the start, it meanders around with a lot of passing out and reawakening.
Leela is our narrator for this adventure. Her in a hospital bed dying at the beginning is not exactly the kind image for a beloved character, but it could have been forgiven. Unfortunately, the effect of contemplating death ends up more as a side note than the main track. It probably would have been better to focus on this point rather than the fear tangent which gets a bit tired.
The Fourth Doctor is in a coma for the majority of the story. As with most of the Companion Chronicles, he appears toward the end to save the day. Leela does a good job of fighting and figuring some of it out, so the Doctor could have done a bit less.
Bakora is a native who befriends Leela and acts as a kind of guide. She falls into the big trap of being less a character and more an information feeder and eventual plot device.
The Co-ordinator is an arrogant and controlling opponent. He is a typical tyrant afraid to lose power and eager to use Leela to keep it.
The ideas behind the waterfalls of empathy and the hospital are cool. So are the methods that the city uses to control the population. Unfortunately beyond their initial descriptions they come off as rather bland.
In the End
The end tries to wrap everything up, but it is all a rush of explanations. The the final fate of the Co-ordinator is a good one. There is a great bit of Leela's backstory revelaled at the end, but I would have preferred it used as more than an emptional end note.
Empathy Games is a simple case of trying too hard. There are the concepts of fear, empathy, death, and life all vying for space in this story. That is way too much to focus on and make it an enjoyable or thought provoking listen. It has some interesting points and I think the idea of death on its own would have made a fine focus. If you like Leela, give it a listen, otherwise there are better Fourth Doctor Adventures to occupy your time.
Buy it here from Big Finish!